Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Quote for the Week

Towards the end of last week I finished reading the Penguin Classics version of Lewis Carroll’s Alice stories. I made this note, from “Alice” on the Stage, in which Carroll is discussing the actress portraying Alice in a stage version of the story:

‘But what I admired most, as realising most nearly my ideal heroine, was her perfect assumption of the high spirits, and readiness to enjoy everything, of a child out for a holiday. I doubt if any grown actress, however experienced, could have worn this air so perfectly; we look before and after, and sigh for what is not; a child never does this: and it is only a child that can utter from her heart the words poor Margaret Fuller Ossoli so longed to make her own, “I am all happy now!”

I found it a rather poignant sentiment: that we, as adults, look and judge in ‘negative’, defining things by what they are not and by what they exclude; because we have a higher level of knowledge and higher standards than children we are more aware of the concept of ‘imperfection’, resulting in a striving for ‘what is not’ which prevents us from simply enjoying ‘what is’. Perhaps if we learnt to look and judge in ‘positive’ we could start enjoying things for what they are, rather than criticising them for what they are not; perhaps what we all need is a little more child-like wonder in our lives...

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Saturday, 18 July 2009

Exosquad

Like most people, I grew up watching a healthy dose of Saturday morning kids’ cartoons, and like most people, I had my favourites. I often hear people talking about this show and that show, but for me there was one series that blew all the others away: Exosquad. Like many great works, the show seems to have been largely overlooked and forgotten by all but a dedicate group of loyal followers (see http://www.stwing.upenn.edu/~pdanner/resolute2.shtml for one of the longest running and best respected fan sites). Over the years, the fans, myself included, have petitioned for the release of the series of DVD. Finally, on April 14th 2009, this wish was granted when Universal released the first season on DVD in the States. It took me a while to hear about the release, but I ordered the disc within minutes of finding out about it – that’s how excited I was to finally be able to see the series again.

But, of course, that level of excitement is a dangerous thing. Can a kids’ cartoon from the early nineties really be all that good? And let’s face it, my taste in television programmes hasn’t exactly stayed the same over the years. So I was very worried about being disappointed. When the disc arrived, I placed it into my player with extreme excitement, but also trepidation that I was about to crumble my childhood memories to dust (I used to love this show so much that I literarily had dreams about it)...

But I needn’t have worried. The show is amazing, and every bit as good as I remember it. And it’s not just me saying it. Look at any of the fan reviews for the disc, and everyone’s saying the same thing: that it’s just as good as, if not even better, than they remember it. So, what is it that makes the show so great? Quite simply, it’s the writing. Forget about
Heroes or Lost or any of the other supposedly great shows – Exosquad genuinely delivers what those shows promised and failed to do: it gave us characters to care about, action sequences to get excited about, and ideas to actually think about. Undoubtedly one of a kind, it’s certainly one of the best TV shows that I’ve seen, and I urge you all to go out a buy the Season 1 DVD. I don’t say this only to help you discover what you’ve been missing, but also for the selfish reason that I want need the first season to be a success so that Universal will release the second.

Unfortunately I couldn’t find a version of the opening introduction which I could embed, but you can watch it here:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=52WvNMUt7Pk

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Friday, 10 July 2009

Quote for the Week

I’m currently reading Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There. Although Carroll’s work obviously offers a whole host of interesting quotes, its focus on language (and more specifically the footnotes quoting from Lewis Carroll’s Symbolic Logic) reminded me of a quote that I have been thinking of putting up for quite some time. It comes from Seamus Heaney’s introduction to his translation of Beowulf:

‘But in Hiberno-English Scullion-speak, the particle ‘so’ came naturally to the rescue, because in that idiom ‘so’ operates as an expression that obliterates all previous discourse and narrative, and at the same time functions as an exclamation calling for immediate attention’ (from page xxvii).

Ever since reading this I’ve never been able to write the word ‘so’ at the beginning of a sentence without thinking about it. Like many other words, ‘so’ is a simple, common word that we use on a daily basis and because of this we use it automatically, without even really thinking about what it means or the power that it contains. What’s great about the quote from Heaney is that it takes us back to the word itself and makes us consider language in a (perhaps) new way. Although I wouldn’t say that I hold any particularly special interest in linguistics or semantics, as a writer I like to feel that connection with language and I love the way that Heaney expresses the outright power which can be conveyed by the conjunction of two simple letters.

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Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Edinburgh International Film Festival, Part III

Please note that this is Part III of a three part post. Part I is here, and Part II is here.

Day 4: Tuesday 23rd June
Started at 09:00 at Cinemaworld for the industry screening of
Masquerades. The film took me a while to warm to, but by the end I really enjoyed it. It’s not so much funny as humorous, but somehow it’s a very human and feel-good film, and possibly one of my festival highlights. I’d certainly recommend it strongly.

After the screening I actually had a few hours with nothing scheduled, so I decided to head into the videotheque to check out
A Light in the Fog. For those that don’t know, A Light in the Fog is a new Iranian film which had two public screenings and one press screening scheduled at EIFF, and which was actually the film I was most excited about seeing (I had a ticket for the first public screening). Unfortunately, however, the political situation in Iran meant that the print of the film the festival was going to screen couldn’t get out of the country. I checked the EIFF website on a daily basis in the hope that the print would arrive in time for me to see it, but as it wasn’t looking likely I decided to settle for seeing the film in the videotheque. I later found out that the second public screening of the film did go ahead, which was rather frustrating. I heard a lot of great things about the videotheque but I have to say I didn’t enjoy my experience. Quite rightly, press and distributors get priority, but that means that as a filmmaker it took me a long time to get a machine, and when I did it was only under the proviso that I could get kicked off at any time to make way for press or distributors. For an action film that extra sense of anxiety might have been a bonus, but for a film like A Light in the Fog, it was a bit of a killer. To make things worse, the film was low quality, had a logo in one corner, and writing across the screening saying ‘for screening purposes only’. Based on what I saw on the monitors around me, this quality wasn’t typical, but it was annoying. So, obviously these viewing conditions were not ideal for watching a slow art film. But the film’s power was clear all the same. Compared by EIFF to Sokurov, the film called to my mind the works of Tarkovsky and Angelopoulos, not only because of the long takes, but also because of the texture of the images and especially the mist. It had an almost magical quality, and was a breathtaking piece even in the compromised circumstance under which I saw it. The ending was fantastic too, and I would love to see it again in better circumstances. But film distribution being what is I doubt I ever will...

Next up, at 15:00, was the public screening of Black Box Shorts 1. As it happens, the one-to-one that I was able to get after the Film Funding in the UK ended up being slap-bang in the middle of the screening (although it was originally supposed to be between 12:30-13:30!). So after seeing the introduction and the first couple of films (including my own), I rushed out to have my one-to-one meeting. The meeting was with Katherine Butler from Film4, and we discussed my feature project,
Life Just Is). Although the project is too microbudget for Film4 to consider (they don’t get involved with anything under £400,000) it was a very worthwhile meeting, and I found Katherine to be a very friendly person. As soon as I was finished with her, I had to rush straight back to the Filmhouse to do the audience Q/A. Having done a few of these things now, I’m starting to get a little more confident, even though I’m generally a little uncomfortable in the spotlight, so to speak. But I think it went well overall and I managed to answer people’s questions in a reasonably successful manner.

With my collaborator Rahim Moledina outside the Filmhouse before our screening.

Our screening was followed by the now obligatory networking up until 19:00, when I headed to the Cameo for the public screening of Lynn Shelton’s Humpday (which picked up the Rotten Tomatoes Critical Consensus Award at the festival). I know I’ve been seen to be a bit biased towards this type of cinema, but I have to say that Humpday is a really great piece of work; as well as being very funny, it also offers a good exploration of friendship, relationships and the nature/creation of art. In the Q/A that followed the screening Shelton described how the project partly came about due to her desire to work with Mark Duplass and I think that he is undeniably a large part of the film’s appeal. In its approach to onscreen relationships and off-screen creative process (as discussed by Shelton), the film reminded me of Duplass’ film The Puffy Chair. Interestingly, Shelton explained the film’s premise was inspired by a filmmaker friend who came to stay with her and, although being straight, couldn’t stop talking about the gay porn that he had seen at real life ‘Humpfest’ (although Shelton didn’t reveal the name of the filmmaker, it should be obvious to anyone who has been keeping half an eye on some her recent acting work...). She then explained that she was drawn to the idea of straight men and gayness. The reason why I find this interesting is that I would not necessarily outline this theme as one of the film’s main ideas. I guess it just proves that the film explores a strong, wide-ranging number of issues. Shelton also spoke about how they tried to make the film believable even though they thought that it was a ridiculous premise to try and make believable. The fact the filmmakers managed to pull off making it believable is testament to the skill of all involved. It really is a strong piece and I hope that it achieves the success that it clearly deserves.

After the Humpday screening, I headed back to the delegate centre for the Short Filmmakers Party, which was actually a bit of a letdown in that it wasn’t particularly well attended and it ended rather early. Still, I met some great people, and that’s what it’s all about.

Day 5: Wednesday 24th June
09:00 and time for the first industry screening of the day:
Pontypool, which was a lot of fun, and which offered an interesting spin on the zombie genre along with the best one-liners of the festival (‘We’re going to need a flamethrower!’). In all, it was a bit ridiculous and I’m not sure if it all made logical sense, but it was funny and had a few genuine scares which more than made up for all that. One piece of advice for anyone viewing it – make sure you stay till after the end credits!

11:00 bought the second industry screening of the day:
35 Shots of Rum. For me, there was a lot interesting stuff going on in this film, but it didn’t quite work – I wasn’t fully engaged, and I felt like it suffered from multiple-ending syndrome. There was one scene in the film though – when the characters go to a cafe after their car breaks down in torrential rain – which really was quite extraordinary. Later in the day I caught up with some friends whose opinions I trust, and they really liked the film and made some very interesting points about it, so I think in all I’d like to reserve proper judgement until I see it again.

Next up was the 13:00 public screening of
The Wild Angels. It was a solid, well made film with some great moments, but which, for me personally, was actually a bit too nasty to be enjoyable or to recommend; personally I don’t enjoy films which show morally reprehensible behaviour in this sort of casual way and I’m aware it’s a subjective criticism and not an objective comment about the film.

I was due to go and see
Gulabi Talkies at 16:00, but I found out at the last minute that I had been given a slot for the ‘Meet The Experts’ event, which involved having a private session with a panel of industry experts to talk about my feature. Although it was a shame to miss the film, the session was worthwhile and I was pleased to have the opportunity.

Next up I got to see the legend that is
Roger Corman live in conversation. Unfortunately, the event wasn’t as interesting as it could have been. The talk was conducted by Kim Newman and, although I have a huge amount of admiration and respect for Newman, I don’t think hosting interviews is his strong point. Corman himself was graceful and fascinating but the event contained too many clips which went on for far too long, and overall it didn’t have the appeal that it could have had with a stronger interviewer. Still, Corman did reveal some interesting facts, such as that the reason why he worked so hard and made so many films was simply because he loved it, and how he typically plans 80-90% of his films in advance in order to be able to shoot them so quickly (most were shot in just ten days). He talked about never wasting time on set, even when they’d finished shooting everything they had planned (it was in a spare half hour at the end of the day that he shot the murals in the pit in The Pit and Pendulum). He also revealed that he shot The Masque of the Red Death in England with flats left over from Becket, and talked about how he tries to put a theme or a comment in every film that he does.

After the Corman talk I actually had a bit of spare time, and didn’t know what to do with it – it seems that only having twenty minutes between screenings is vastly preferable to having an hour and a half! Still the film that was after the break was
Steven Soderbergh’s The Girlfriend Experience, so it was certainly worth the wait. I thought it was a really interesting, powerful film about human interaction and dependency, but I’m not sure that it was quite the masterpiece I was expecting. I’ve seen it said that Soderbergh wanted to continue in the vein that he started with The Limey, and although the structure of The Girlfriend Experience raises a number of interesting reactions, I think that, as a whole, The Limey works better as a way of using cinematic language to reflect the contours of the human mind. As ever with Soderbergh, the filmmaking itself is impeccable and I look forward to peeling back further layers of the film in subsequent viewings.

The Girlfriend Experience was followed by the DigiCult Party, which was a little too noisy and sweaty for me and the people I was with, so after a while we defected to the Filmhouse. It was a good way to spend my final evening in Edinburgh.

Day 6: Thursday 25th June
I had been hoping to make the 09:00 screening of Black Box Shorts 3, but as it was my final morning I needed to start getting ready to check out and ended up just heading to the Filmhouse for the 10:45 screening of
West Point, which was also screening as part of the Black Box strand. The film was a sensual and impressionistic account of two siblings looking back over their lives and the effect of their mother’s murder while they were children. It took an interesting approach to the narrative and I’m sure it’s a film which would be rewarding in subsequent viewings. For some reason it reminded me of Chris Marker’s work, but I’m not sure why. The film played with two shorts and, although one didn’t do much for me, the other – Horse Camp – was the surprise of the festival and, if I dare say it, the film which I liked the most...So, in all, a great end to a great trip!


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Edinburgh International Film Festival, Part II

Please note that this is Part II of a three part post. Part I is here, and Part III is here.

Day 3: Monday 22nd June
Back at Filmhouse for 08:30, and this morning was the only time there was actually a big queue in front of me – it seems like people were really excited about the prospect of seeing Darren Aronofsky in conversation...

First up was the industry screening of
Süt at 09:30. The film started with a fantastic opening scene which ranks along my personal festival highlights. Unfortunately, the rest of the film didn’t continue in such a strong manner: the final scene felt especially weak, and I have to admit that I got lost amongst the symbolism along the way. I felt like the film definitely had something, but if I’m honest I’m not sure what...

11:30 bought along the first proper industry event that I attended: Compromise or Commerce? Packaging and Selling Your Project for International Markets. The panel was moderated by Ali Jaafar, and featured Peter Trinh (ICM), Jeremy Barber (United Talent), Samantha Horley (Salt) and Tanya Seghatchian (UKFC). I thought that the session was very interesting, and appreciated the candid honesty of what the panellists had to say. A few key points from the discussion were as follows:
• There are now more films being made than can be distributed, which means that people are paying less for the films that they are buying.
• There is a worldwide market for action movies and thrillers, but dramas are a tough sell and need big names to work. When writing a drama it is important to think about the essentials which make it universal.
• Getting a theatrical release in the US will help the film’s performance in foreign markets.
• Blockbusters are actually doing very badly in US right now, but are doing very well in export. They are not being solely funded by the studios. Private investors have less investment options with their money than they used to, so they are now willing to put cash into films.
• There are going to be fewer buyers in the independent sector and there will be a lot less private money for arthouse films and ‘brave’ work.
• Right now, the European market is strong enough to be able to make a film financially viable without having to target it at the US market. Some films are being made only for the UK market.
• New media and multiplatforming has paralysed the industry as people aren’t yet sure how to make money from it, but it’s clear that the traditional theatrical model will not stay.

Straight from this I rushed to the delegate centre for another industry event: Film Funding in the UK. This event was split into three different panels: ‘National Organisations Funding Film’, ‘Funding from the UK’s Nations’ and ‘Regions and How to Cast Public Funding in your Film’. The first detailed the facts and figures behind what Film4, the UKFC and BBC Films can offer, and also what kind of work they’re looking for (essentially the same for all: director lead projects which stem from a unique vision and contain an individual voice). The second panel did the same, but focusing on each of the regional agencies (best tip: find someone Welsh to work with). The panel also discussed how we need to start thinking regionally with our projects and conceive projects which embody the culture of a specific town or region, so that we can get local funding in exchange for promoting the local culture. There was also talk of the changing distribution models and the need for the industry to adapt to the potentials of new media. As Suzanne Alizart of EM Media rightly stated, we need to see the rules for ‘premieres’ change, because we no longer live in that kind of linear world. In the third discussion, the panellists talked about the ways in which people can use public money in their films. By the time it started the audience had thinned, and it felt like it was the least successful of the three panels, despite the interesting panellists. At the end of the session it was possible to book a one-two-one session with one of the panellists. I gave in my CV and project pitch and found out the following day that I was lucky enough to get one....

Following this event, I spent some time catching up with an Edinburgh-based friend, before heading off to the Cineworld to see
Darren Aronofsky In Converstaion at 18:30. At the risk of seeming blasphemous, I want to be upfront about the fact that I have only seen two of his four films (π and Requiem for a Dream) and that I don’t hold either in particularly high regard (so I was very amused when he was introduced as ‘one of the best directors in the world’). Still, I have to admit that the talk was very interesting, and I’ve since purchased a copy of The Fountain to see if I can get into his more recent work. When they showed a clip from π during the talk he said ‘I haven’t seen it for a long time. It’s pretty humiliating’ as soon as it had finished, and then spoke about how he saw Requiem again recently and didn’t recognise the director that he was when he made it. This self-deprecating vein came across as very genuine, and when the interview started he seemed very shy and quiet, though he did warm up as the talk went on. Overall, I thought he was a very unassuming presence, and in fact I heard several stories about people not recognising him during parties and screenings.

One thing he said that struck a chord with me was that ‘If you do your job and you make a good film, there is an audience for it’. As well as talking more specifically about each of his first three films (they didn’t have time to discuss
The Wrestler!), he also spoke more generally about certain things; for instance, how he tries to express emotion with the camera, and how every setup has to say something about the story. In short, he sees himself as an impressionist rather than a realist. He believes in the power of collaboration and he is loyal to his collaborators. Everyone involved in π – from the director to the actors to the grips – was on the same percentage, having worked for a stake in the film rather than money. Now that they are in profit everyone gets cheques; something like $1,200 every six months.

He spoke about his opinions on 3D, which I found particularly interesting. Like me, he finds wearing glasses on top of glasses a terrible idea, stating that it ‘sucked’. Overall, he finds the whole thing very annoying, and stated that he thinks it’s a gimmick which doesn’t actually represent the world any better than 35mm. His main reason for this was that both foreground and background elements are sharp, which isn’t like life. He said that he would love to see someone like John Waters do something with it as it has that sort of kitsch value! On a more serious note, he does think that James Cameron will do something amazing with it.

He also spoke a little bit about his time on Batman, stating that he wasn’t that interested in doing it, but worked on it in the hope that it would help him get funding for The Fountain. He was only going to write it and wasn’t going to direct it. Apparently, the version he was working on was even more realistic than what Nolan did with it and it would have featured a ‘duck tape’ Batmobile. Finally, he refused to discuss what he was going to do next, and when someone asked him about Robocop, he claimed not to know what they were talking about...

Next up, at 20:30, was a public screening of
Spread, which I thought was perfectly well made, but just not very interesting. It had a strong ending, but up to that point was fairly predictable and uninspiring, while never being less than serviceable.

Finally, the day was rounded off by the Trailerblazers Party. Although I met some great people and had some good conversations, it was essentially a loud, crowded bar, which isn’t really my idea of fun (or Aronofsky’s apparently: he headed off early!).

Click here to read Part III of this three part post.

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Edinburgh International Film Festival, Part I

In my first proper post in what feels like ages, here is a detailed account of my trip to the Edinburgh International Film Festival. As my film Hungerford: Symphony of a London Bridge was screening at the festival, I was given a filmmaker’s pass which allowed me access to industry screenings, events and delegate facilities. I’ve attended EIFF before as a casual civilian spectator and attending as a filmmaker is obviously a very different (and much superior) experience. If there are any filmmakers reading this, I have to say that, as a whole, EIFF is a fantastic festival to visit as a delegate and, if you don’t have anything showing, it would be well worth forking out the cash for a pass. Anyway, enough of the waffle...

Please note that due to length I’ve split this over three posts. Part II is here, and Part III is here.

Day 1: Saturday 20th June
After arriving in Edinburgh and checking into my hostel, I headed straight to the delegate centre, where I was given my pass and several booklets containing various pieces of information. It was all a bit overwhelming in some senses, but these booklets (especially the Who’s Who guide) were well worth taking the time to look through and familiarise myself with – without them it would have been impossible to make the most of the festival. As it happens, though, I didn’t have time to read them all before my first industry event started: the daily Hair of the Dog Networking event in the Delegate centre bar. We all know what networking events are like, so I’ll skip the details, but this first night was especially busy, and I met some great people even then.

The Delegate Centre

Next up, after grabbing a quick pizza, was my first screening: the international premiere of Moon. Now, I have to admit I was a bit clueless about a couple of things when I went to see this film: 1) I didn’t realise that it was a British film, and 2) I didn’t know that Duncan Jones was David Bowie’s son. I’m not outlining these facts because I think they’re necessarily important for enjoyment of the film, but they somehow seem like things one needs to know when talking about it. I must say that it’s good to see a small British film of this type; it’s atypical of the type of films usually made over here, and it’s atypical in a good way. Made on a modest budget of 2.5 million, it also proves that even engaging sci-fi doesn’t require the bloated budgets that Hollywood seems intent on pushing into films which ultimately fail on both a financial and an artistic level. I think that a lot of mainstream filmmakers could learn a thing or two from Jones and his crew.

In the Q/A that followed the screening, Jones talked about his desire to create a piece of intelligent sci-fi, stating that he wanted to do this for the simple reason that it’s the type of film that he would be interested in seeing. The film was also an attempt to emulate the ‘golden era’ of 70s sci-fi. For the most part, I think the film works well. It’s engaging and interesting, and offers an intelligent approach to themes of loneliness, isolation and long distance relationships. Personally, I think that the film could have been a little slower burning in getting going, but that says more about my personal tastes than the film itself. The film reminded me in places of Solaris, and I have to admit that, for me, this is where the film falls down slightly: it’s a very intelligent, very well made film, but what it’s not is a profound existential meditation to rival the likes of either of the film versions of
Stanislaw Lem’s novel. I should probably add that the film won the Michael Powell Award for Best New British Feature Film, and also say that Jones is planning to make another film set in the same universe. On the strength of Moon, it will certainly be a film worth seeing.

After leaving the Moon screening, it was back to more networking, this time at the Filmhouse. When I got there it was completely packed, and assuming that it would be like this every night I left early in order to finish looking through all the information that I had been given when I arrived. As it happens, it was the busiest night of the festival and, rumour has it, the busiest night at the Filmhouse bar in seven years...moral of the story: never leave a networking event early – it might be the best chance you get to meet interesting people!

Day 2: Sunday 21st June
Up bright and early in order to get to the Filmhouse for 08:30. The way the industry pass works is that you get into all of the industry screenings for free just with the pass, but if you want to get into the public screenings you need to pick up tickets from the Filmhouse ticket office. It’s worth stating that the festival only allocates a limited number of tickets to selected public screenings/events for delegates. This was something of a bone of contention for some of the delegates that I spoke to – it seems that people are loath to pay for tickets once they’ve paid for a pass. In some ways I guess they’re quite right, but as my pass was free, I didn’t feel like complaining much...

Having secured my public tickets for the day, I went into the 09:00 industry screening of International Animation 2. As always with programmes of shorts, the quality was mixed. There was certainly some interesting work in there. From the first couple of films (
The Man and the Woman and Nicola & Guillemette) I was worried that sentimentality was going to be the running theme, though the dark finale to La Nostalgia del Sr. Alambre proved that this was far from the case. For me, the real standout film was the Swedish animation Lögner. Described as ‘Three perfectly true stories about lying’, the film was a powerful and engrossing animated documentary.

Straight after this (11.15) was the industry screening of Black Box Shorts 1, which contained my own film, Hungerford: Symphony of a London Bridge. Like all but one of the industry screenings I attended, the screening wasn’t particularly well attended, which I found a little disappointing. The films were centred on the theme of ‘Space and Place’, but the programme contained an impressive and eclectic mix of films. For me, and I believe for the person I attended the screening with, the stand out film was Dropping Furniture, though I wonder if that’s because it was also the most accessible and in some ways ‘traditional’ of the films. For me the film was about the futility and devastation of war, but my friend had his own opinion. It’s certainly a film to inspire debate and, in its own way, it was also rather captivating.

At 13:00 I jumped into the public screening of
The Raven. The film was utterly ridiculous, but very fun. I hadn’t realised it was going to be a comedy, but with a cast that includes Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, Boris Karloff and a young Jack Nicholson it was never going to be anything less than a riot to watch.

Next up (15:00) was the one full industry screening I attended:
Shane Meadows’ mockumentary Le Donk & Scor-zay-zee. It’s a very funny film, but also very light and disposable.

After that I finally had some time to grab some food before heading back to the delegate centre for more Hair of the Dog Networking, before then going back to the FIlmhouse for the UK Premiere of
Denis Côté’s All That She Wants. All That She Wants is a very hard film to write about, because in some ways it’s a challenging film, though perhaps not for the right reasons. I liked the film a lot and it’s certainly (from a photographic point of view) one of the most beautiful films I saw at the festival. But it wasn’t what I was expecting: it was somehow much simpler, and somehow much more narrative based than both the festival brochure and Côté himself would have one believe. In the Q/A that followed the screening Côté talked about how he was deliberately offering challenges to the audience by placing ellipses in the narrative. He explained how he set the film entirely in the present time: ‘the day after the storm’. Something has happened in the backstory of the characters, but we’re never told what. Côté joked that he made the film in black and white because the ‘people don’t deserve to be in colour’, before explaining that he felt that the black and white helped convey the film’s sense of ‘no man’s land’ territory. For him, the film was a play on genre, especially on the Western, and he cast the film based solely on the faces of the actors and their ‘Western’ looks. When talking about the pacing of the film, Côté stated that ‘I wanted something very paralysed’, a ‘hypnotic bubble’. The film contains many long and stunning takes and there is no music until a song at the very end. The song was included as, for Côté, the ‘ending is super melodrama, it’s grotesque’. He therefore used the ‘super cheesy’ music to play up these aspects.

While all of this makes the film sound challenging in an exciting way, what actually makes the film challenging is far less interesting: it’s not the ellipses in the narrative, the slow pace, the black and white photography or the lack of music, but instead the fact that, for all of these factors, it’s such an easy film. As a spectator I didn’t feel like I was being pushed, but more that I was watching a rather simple narrative wrapped up in a beautiful, arthouse style. So the challenge, for me at least, was trying to work out where this leaves the film. Style over substance perhaps? Or perhaps even style as substance? Some I spoke to felt that it made the film pretentious. I don’t think I would agree with that, though I can certainly understand it. It was disappointing in some respects that the film failed to offer a real, genuinely philosophical challenge to its viewers, but I don’t want to come across as too negative about the film. Though it might be little more than a simple story told in a beautiful way, it was one of the most memorable and enjoyable films that I saw at the festival, and I would strongly recommend it. I look forward to seeing it again to see if it contains any further layers that I missed on the initial viewing, but even if it doesn’t it still remains a powerful and engrossing film.

The screening was, of course, followed by more networking into the early hours...

Click here to read Part II of this three part post.

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