There are few screenings in my life that will ever match what I witnessed at the Fantasia Film Festival showing of “Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World” a couple of years back. Fantasia has one of the most vocal and entertaining audiences (in the best way possible) you’ll ever get the chance to experience, and they nearly tore the roof off in appreciation of Edgar Wright’s film. In short, they participate (applause, cheering, and much more), so a midnight screening of rediscovered ‘80s trash “Miami Connection” seemed the perfect fit. And Fantasia did not disappoint. Even though it wasn’t sold out, and didn’t quite reach the heights of ‘Scott Pilgrim,’ the audience rocked with the adorably awful movie, audibly ooh-ing and aah-ing at the right dramatic beats for the orphan subplot, and appreciatively receiving the action scenes. For someone who often sees films with hushed colleagues at press screenings, Fantasia is always a great reminder that cinema is also communal, with room to be silly and blow off steam. (Kevin Jagernauth)
By contrast with some of my colleagues’ highlights, the first of mine took place in a sparsely populated theater in Eastern Europe at 9 AM; the press screening of Mark Cousins’ “What is this Film Called Love” at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival. Frankly, while it was circled on my increasingly ratty and dog-eared schedule, it was always one of those films that looked like it might get shunted in favor of another movie, or a bit of a lie-in, but however the stars aligned, I found myself there, a few minutes early in fact, and with no particular desire to see whatever incest drama had the 10 AM slot (I’m guessing here, but there were a lot of incest dramas).
That day, that week, that month I had a bunch of things on my mind -- Life Decisions that had to be made -- and I think the quiet emptiness of the darkened theater appealed to me, too. Then the unmistakable voice of PJ Harvey roused me from my reverie, and I watched this guy ramble around Mexico City talking in voiceover to a laminated picture of Sergei Eistenstein for 79 minutes. And I cannot tell you why, but somewhere along the way (actually I know the precise scene), a dam broke in my brain and suddenly all my thorny decisions were made.
Sometimes a film, good, bad or indifferent, just finds you at the right moment. And this is what happened here. The weird thing is I still can’t claim that my experience had anything to do with the film’s quality - I grappled with the task of reviewing it somewhat objectively, and failed, (see here.) But I unequivocally admire the bravery of the endeavour, and the film’s simple faith that if you try to be as honest as you can, you may lay yourself open to accusations of self-indulgence, pretension, grandiosity, or dullness to most of the audience, but maybe you also make something that someone three rows back on the left will respond to in some unforeseeable, wholehearted way.
I emerged buzzing from the screening into the bright Czech sunshine, and immediately went off to set up what proved to be a hugely enjoyable interview with Cousins, whom you simply can’t have seen the film and not feel like you know. And that in itself was part of what made the experience so great, not just the film, not just the chatty, relaxed interview, but to be at the sort of small, well-run, helpful festival where you can stumble into the press office all screen-blind and incoherent, and be sitting at a table in an outdoor café with the director ten minutes later.
Films can be massive - of this we are reminded every day at the multiplex. But films can also be tiny, minuscule yet weighted with a heart of gold. And if you’re lucky enough to find the right one at the right moment, movies, I have always believed, can help. “What Is This Film Called Love” didn’t solve my riddles but it did remind me of how to do that for myself, by just being unapologetically what it is: open-hearted, curious, unafraid of ridicule, brave. It is all those things, and it is also a far-too-personal, doodly, meandering mess. I couldn’t have had a better time with it. (Jessica Kiang) -- All our coverage of the 2012 Karlovy Vary International Film Festival can be found here.
So we’re running the severe risk of James Gray overkill here, but interviewing the director at the Marrakech International Film Festival was also a highlight of my festival year, and not just because he proved such an interesting and articulate interviewee. Not doing press for a film per se (“Lowlife” will probably premiere at Cannes), and in his capacity as a Jury member, the erudite Gray seemed to have thoughts about cinema more generally on his mind, and the role of criticism and the place of narrative and… basically a bunch of things that we don’t often get to talk about with the filmmakers we admire.
The resulting expansive, thoughtful and often passionate reflections on the nature of modern American filmmaking can be read here, though I may have done them scant justice in written form. Thing is, if you get the chance to hear this guy talk at any point, I’d jump at it -- it’s hard to communicate just how refreshing it can be, in these days of soundbites and taglines and PR speak, to hear someone so amply qualified talk in complete sentences about the medium we love, peppered liberally with anecdote and analogy. Gray believes that the discourse around film is important, but on this evidence his contribution to that discourse, not just as a filmmaker but also as an observant and engaged commentator, may itself be hugely valuable. (Jessica Kiang) -- All of our 2012 Marrakech Film Festival coverage can be found here.