Film Festivals [September 13-17]

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Monday September 13, 2010 – Virginia Wright Wexman (University of Illinois at Chicago) presents: The Cannes Film Festival and the Excesses of Auteurism

Tuesday September 14, 2010 –  Skadi Lost (Universität Hamburg) presents: Queer Film and the Film Festival Circuit

Wednesday September 15, 2010 – Toby Lee (Harvard University) presents: (Not) Being There: Presence, Absence, Institutional Space, the Politics of Place

Thursday September 16, 2010 – Robert Moses Peaslee (Texas Tech University) presents: The Importance of [Seemingly Permeable] Boundaries at the Film Festival

Friday September 17, 2010 – Brendan Kredell (Northwestern University) presents: The Different Hats of Toronto’s Bell Lightbox


Theme week organized by Karen Petruska (Georgia State University)

Picture from Damien D. via Flickr, used and altered under Creative Commons License permission.

  • The Cannes Film Festival and the … by Virginia Wright Wexman

  • Most film festivals market their titles by emphasizing their associations with attractive national traditions. But Cannes promotes auteurs. Directors’ names are front and center in all Cannes publicity materials. And directors are invariably the stars of the Festival’s famous press conferences.

    The accompanying video clip is taken from the 2010 Cannes Festival press conference for the film Biutiful, directed by Alejandro Gonzales Iñàrritu. The clip depicts the first question asked along with Iñàrritu’s response. To appreciate fully the implications of this exchange, one must understand the context in which it occurred.

    Before he made Biutiful, Iñàrritu had directed only three films: Amores Perros (1999), 21 Grams (2003), and Babel (2006). All three were scripted by Guillermo Arriago, an established Mexican writer who specializes in temporally scrambled, multi-character narratives. The networked storylines of all these Iñàrritu/Arriaga collaborations met with lavish critical praise. Despite their success, however, director and screenwriter fell out during the production of Babel. Arriaga gave an interview in which, to Iñàrritu’s mind, the writer took more credit for 21 Grams than he deserved. As a result, Iñàrritu requested that his scriptwriter be banned from Babel’s Cannes premiere. The Cannes staff honored the auteur’s request and, even though Arriaga had won the Festival’s screenwriting award in 2005 for his work on The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, he was shut out of the Festival’s red carpet celebrations for Babel.

    Where the critically acclaimed Iñàrritu/Arriaga collaborations had featured narratives that were complex and challenging, the storyline of Biutiful is simple and straightforward. Most critics found the plot thin and overly schematic, and called the film a disappointment. One conclusion to be drawn is that Iñàrritu—whether he wants to admit it or not— is a filmmaker who needs the give-and-take inherent in a true collaborative process to reach his full potential. The auteur-worship one finds at Cannes fosters the kind of self-destructive hubris on display in this clip. In its unreflective elevation of director-auteurs to the exclusion of other creative talents, the Festival not only shortchanges the many people whose work is essential to the success of most films but also, inasmuch as it encourages directors like Iñàrritu to discount the importance of such people, does a disservice to the auteurs themselves.

  • Queer Film and the Film Festival Circuit by Skadi Loist

  • Since May 2010, the most prestigious film festival, le Festival de Cannes, has a queer film award, the Queer Palm.  Cannes is not the only A-list festival to highlight queer film.  The “mother” of queer film awards, the Teddy, has been given out at the Berlinale since 1987 to push gay and lesbian films beyond underground and increase awareness both within film industry and general public.  Two decades passed until another A-festival created such a prize: in 2007 the Queer Lion at the Mostra in Venice followed suit. 

    The time span of those 20 years – between 1987 and 2007 – encompasses the complex relationship between queer cinema and the film festival circuit.  In the 1980s, in a climate of an active LGBT movement, the production of (independent) gay and lesbian cinema increased and queer film festivals were founded (in North America and Western Europe).  In the festival season 1991/92, innovative, edgy films with a queer note travelled the circuit and won prestigious awards at Sundance, Berlin, Toronto.  This led film critic B Ruby Rich to coin the term “New Queer Cinema,” for a wave that quickly became a niche market, helping the proliferation of queer film festivals worldwide and the growth of an unprecedented queer film (festival) ecosystem, with specialized distributors and programmers with their own networks and meetings at larger festivals (Queer Lounge at Sundance; the traditional Queer programmers meeting at Berlinale). 

    Why do we need queer film awards now?  Festival awards add value to a film, function as seal of quality, which is used to promote the film, create buzz and audience.  Queer film awards, even as “non-official” festival awards, ideally do the same and add a focus on sexuality/gender within the heteronormative film world.  If they are not discounted as “ghetto awards,” they might be a way for arthouse distributors to access an extra market: the parallel queer film festival exhibition circuit.  But: Have queer film festivals started out as arenas of community formation and counter-representation to become another revenue arm for the film industry?

  • (Not) Being There: Presence, … by Toby Lee

  • BEGINNINGS & ENDINGS  We begin with a video created for the opening ceremony of the 2008 Thessaloniki International Film Festival. The Festival opens with a journey-collage through the history of cinema. In the ceremony hall, this video is projected on three large screens surrounding the audience. A train takes us through various cinemascapes, coming to a stop in front of the Olympion, Festival headquarters, in Thessaloniki’s main square. A journey through time ends up at place.

    PLACE  For the Festival’s 50th anniversary in 2009, a ceremony is organized to honor key figures from the Festival’s history. As awards are given to people representing vastly different periods of this history, it becomes clear that the Festival’s institutional history is fractured, discontinuous. The ceremony closes with a commemoration of Nikos Koundouros’ The River, which received top honors at the inaugural festival edition 50 years ago - not only in the same city, but in the very same building, in the very same hall. Place does what a disjointed historical narrative cannot - it grounds the institution, stitches together a coherent identity.

    ABSENCE  The same year, 200+ of the most prominent filmmakers in Greece decide to boycott the Festival.  Unhappy with state agencies and national film policy, the filmmakers choose the high-profile 50th anniversary edition as the site of their protest, refusing to participate and to attend until new legislation is passed. Their protest takes the form of an absence - not being there - while the local Festival public accuses the absent filmmakers of trying to undermine the city of Thessaloniki. The filmmakers insist that it’s about the state; for the local Festival public, it’s about place.

    PRESENCE  Months later, the filmmakers take their protest to the Greek Film Center. This time, they decide that the best way to protest is to occupy the Center - they gather at the Center’s headquarters, they enter, they fill the space with bodies. Apart from this, they do little more. Their protest lies in their presence, being there.

    SPACE  In these various configurations of presence and absence, we sense a deep underlying investment in space and place, in being or not being there. But there being what? Apart from the products, practices and discourses generated by cultural institutions, there’s also something at stake in institutional space. The international film festival exists as event, exhibition venue, market, discursive center, but it also exists as a space: as institutional space, as a space of the state, as particular locality. And we define ourselves - as professionals, as citizens, as publics - within and against these spaces.

  • The Importance of [Seemingly … by Robert Moses Peaslee

  • Recently, I undertook two weeks of participant observation as a volunteer for the Seattle International Film Festival (SIFF). Part of my time was spent on the production team for a number of special events, including appearances of actor Edward Norton, SIFF’s honoree for 2010.

    In the first clip, Ed takes part in a Q&A session following the premiere screening of his newest film. Earlier in the day, for the run-through, I sat in the interviewer’s chair as he sat in Ed’s. Also, during this interview, I am in the projection booth of the theater running the lights.

    In the second clip, Ed is on stage introducing the Spike Lee film 25th Hour and discussing Do The Right Thing. Here we are frustrated as viewers: only split-second glimpses of the actor are afforded us, and they are not enough.

    In the third clip, Ed stands before the SIFF backdrop for an interview with AMC. At the moment the actor is giving this interview, I am just off-camera to his right maintaining the boundary between the incoming crowd and the space afforded to the media for photos and interviews.

    In the last clip, Ed introduces a midnight screening of Fight Club with an anecdote related to the completion of the film. This glimpse “behind the scenes” enriches the viewing experience of a film that, most likely, everyone’s already seen.

    Film festivals create multiple opportunities for access to extraordinary, ephemeral happenings that derive their exceptionality from both the boundaries normally set between non-media and media personnel and space and events such as these which suggest the permeability of those boundaries. Janet Harbord (2009) has suggested as much, pointing out the paradoxical juxtaposition of the recorded film and the live event (“the manufactured time of the festival” [44]). I would suggest that the paradox is pushed further in the existence of the clips presented here (especially the one with bad lighting, which only reemphasizes the importance of “being there”) as well as in my comments positioning me in proximity to that manufactured time. Norton, SIFF, the audience, and I all benefit from the process of reification inherent in the recording, sharing, and reporting upon the “live” event.

    Work Cited:

    Harbord, J. (2009). Film festivals-time-event. In Iordanova, D. & Rhyne, R., eds. Film festival yearbook 1: The festival circuit. St. Andrews: St. Andrews Film Studies.

  • The Different Hats of Toronto’s Bell … by Brendan Kredell

  • As the thirty-fifth Toronto International Film Festival draws to a close this weekend, the star amongst stars towered forty-two stories over the festival-goers beneath it, plebes and Palme D’Or winners alike. This was the year that the long-planned, much talked-about Bell Lightbox finally opened, the new year-round home to TIFF. 

    With Lightbox’s opening comes the unmistakable sense of a new beginning for North America’s largest film festival. What is much less clear, and potentially much more interesting, is what exactly this new era represents. At the risk of exploiting too obvious an analogy, this new structure has become the vessel into which all manner of interested parties – festival organizers, city planners, industry participants, cineastes in Toronto and the world over – have poured their sometimes-aligned, sometimes-conflicting hopes. In the featured clip, a behind-the-scenes tour of an under-construction building led by artistic director Noah Cowan and produced by NOW Magazine, we get a sense of the complex ballet of competing interests that produced Bell Lightbox – a partnership between a philanthropically-minded film family and a commercial real estate developer, large-scale corporate sponsorship as well as significant public underwriting, educational imperatives and a glamorous film festival. For festival staff, the new building is a chance to further build on the momentum of each fall and expand their year-round programming efforts. For visiting industry participants, Lightbox represents a centralization of the geography of TIFF, with the status of Toronto’s Entertainment District as the festival’s center of gravity further solidified, similar to the re-organization of the Berlinale around Potsdamer Platz a decade ago. And for the government, Lightbox represents a potentially powerful engine of economic growth in the heart of downtown; tens of millions of dollars have been invested, all with a keen eye towards the economic benefits that Lightbox might represent.

    With King Street blocked off on September 12th to celebrate the opening of TIFF Bell Lightbox, the atmosphere of celebration was palpable. Once this year’s festival closes, however, with it goes the spotlight of the global entertainment press, so reliably trained on Toronto each September. And it is only after that moment that the hard business of running a large-scale cultural facility begins, and the negotiations over exactly which hats Lightbox will wear, and which ones must be left behind, will commence in earnest.

Publication date (from feed): 

Mon, 13 Sep 2010 04:01:48 +0000