by John Gianvito
Many years ago I remember seeing a documentary on Ingmar Bergman where he was asked to give his definition of a film director. He replied that the best definition he had ever heard had come from an “anonymous” filmmaker who stated, “A film director is someone who can not think because of all his problems.”
Likely the words were Bergman’s own, and certainly these days my feelings couldn’t be more in consort. While, as a full-time teacher, I am exceedingly appreciative of the fact that I receive summers ‘off’, this ‘off’ means that due to the exigencies of administrative evaluation I work even more tirelessly during these months than while teaching. Quite apart from the steady pulls of my own work ethic loom the ever present pushes of the capitalist dictate that people must rent themselves in order to survive (a faint, pleasant memory of the film “Alexandre le bienheureux” drifts by). I write from the chaos of my apartment in a suburb of Boston, it is a rare day not in the editing room where, since late June, I have been mostly working on a feature documentary I began shooting 3 years ago in the Philippines (which now looks to be a two-part film, each feature length). I was thinking to recount some of the numerous tasks on my “things to do” list but one of today’s headaches is that I now seem to have misplaced my list. Summer pulses outside my window. So does the spot where my tooth was extracted the other day. Cinema – of others – feels far away. A growing stack of dvds sits forlornly on the floor, on my desk, on the couch, presents for a rainy day – Lino Brocka’s “Tinimbang Ka ngunit Kulang”, Katsu Kanai’s “Good-Bye”, Ruy Guerra’s “O veneno da madrugada”, Raymundo Gleyzer’s “The Traitors”, Rob Nilsson’s “Samt”, Yoshida’s “Eros + Massacre”… Somebody keeps phoning but without the courage to leave a message. Probably a solicitor. A friend arrives in two days from London, better do some laundry. Through the radio, news breaks of the passing of poet Mahmoud Darwish, who once wrote, “It is time for me to exchange the word for the deed/Time to prove my love for the land and for the nightingale:/For in this age the weapon devours the guitar/And in the mirror I have been fading more and more/Since at my back a tree began to grow.” Tomorrow I will go back to the editing room and, as if I needed a reminder, I will gaze upon a world infinitely more perilous than my own and all those many, many eyes, now turned into pixels, looking back at me, hoping, somehow, that the modest presence of my camera will make a difference.
August 10, 2008, Arlington, Massachusetts
By Bill Daniels
It was late spring and just starting to get really hot in the Dirty American South. I was 2-weeks out on a 2-month screening tour with my hobo graffiti documentary Who is Bozo Texino?, driving a big counter-clockwise circle around north America. I’m driving my good old 1965 Chevy van, very primitive but very reliable. Out of the 45 shows I had planned, the show in Pensacola, Florida sounded like it would be a blast. My buddy Mike Brodie was planning a big event with a photo exhibition of his freight-riding photography to go with my film screening. The show was indeed wild. It was packed with punks and tramps and circus freaks and sex workers. Many had driven in from New Orleans, and they were a beautiful and colorful bunch of flowers. After the show we all went to the beach for a wild party. People were playing music, dancing naked around the fire, swimming— it was a magic sight beneath the moon. A freight train parked right next to us and everyone ran and drew on the side of the train. The party lasted until noon. I was still wasted, blissed-out, and now sunburned when I asked my local friends about the drive to Tallahassee, the town of my screening that night. “Oh, about 5 hours” they say, “And don’t forget about the time zone difference, it’s really 6 hours.” Oh No! Time zone difference?!?! I realize there is no way I will make it. But, I might make it to the end of the show for the Q&A. I jump in the van and push the pedal to the floor. The Chevy has not had a working speedometer for many years, so I am driving according to the temperature gauge, going as fast as I can with out blowing the motor. It’s already hot in Florida, and I’ve got the van’s heater on the help cool the engine. We call this a “Hell Ride.” I call the venue on the cell phone, “I’m going to be a little bit late…. Can you stall the show a bit…?” They have some cartoons they can show first. Great. The van and I are sweating and maxed out. I make it to the theater and running up I can hear the music from the credit roll just finishing. Say what you will about Florida, but it has two time zones.
Published in Ekran, 2008 (April/May)
By Veton Nurkollari
As I am about to write this postcard from Kosovo I can not help but mention cinemas in Prizren, the second largest city in Kosovo. The long gone cinema Radnik, or the beautiful open air cinema Lumbardhi, whose future doesn’t look very bright either. Those were places I spent countless hours in, places I never ceased loving and ultimately places that inspired me to do something about my own city. But I am not going to lament over their fate because otherwise this would be another story about the dying of cinemas. Instead I’ll try to tell you the story of a city in Kosovo where lack of cinema paradoxically paved way to the birth of film festival.
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By Neel Chaudhuri
A daydreaming cinephile or film student will often develop a certain kind of obsession over a film. This is where you wish it were your film, your filament that gave light to the idea in the beginning and your voice that called the wrap. It is certainly not an uncommon preoccupation, but an altering one for most. That is to say the films often change, the obsession remains the same. For me, however, the object of this sort of fantasy has for long been constant. I first saw Woody Allen’s Manhattan as a student, alone in a dark screening room, with the New York skyline spread across the wall and Gershwin blowing out of the speakers. When I returned to my room I picked up a dictaphone and recorded – as does the character of Isaac (Allen himself) – my list of the things that make life worthwhile. Right at the top, alongside Lolita and Casa Piccola’s profiteroles, was the film itself.
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Volvia de caminar durante dos o tres horas por unas calles deshabitadas de las afueras, La verdad no se bien que buscaba, estaba pensando en lugares y tratando de encontrar algunos rasgos communes y actitudes de la gente que vivia por alla, Yo habia llegado como diez o quince dias atras y las calles del centro las conocia como si ahi me hubiera criado de chico. En realidad estaba cansado de buscar sin saber adonde me llevaba la busqueda, estaba imposibilitado de decicir y conversar con las personas, entonces planificaba donde iba a comer pero sobre todo que iba a tomar, si empezar con vino, cerveza, whisky, todo dependia de la hora del dia y de como queria llegar al final de la noche que en realidad era corta porque en esa epoca anochecia muy tarde y aclaraba bien temprano, pero lo que me importaba eran esas horas de noche y quien caminaba por las calles porque estaba buscando un hombre de bar, un bebedor que me de cierta informacion sobre los que beben sin importar la hora. Ahora estaba en la cama de una pension familiar mirando el techo casi por empezar a dormir una siesta, ya habia hecho algunas llamadas a Buenos Aires y las cosas seguian normal, los imprevistos vendrian mas adelante. Recuerdo las voces de la casa , sobre todo las de los hijos corriendo por la cocina y peleando con el televisor, las paredes eran muy finas y se escuchaba todo con claridad, tambien estaba el abuelo de los chicos siempre contando estupideces. Ellos tambien me escuchaban llegar a cualquier hora pero como viajaba solo no les ocasionaba mayores problemas. Habia decidido filmar una pelicula en el sur de Argentina, algunos le dicen el fin del mundo pero en realidad no es para tanto aunque uno se siente bastante alejado, perdido… decia que queria filmar algo que tenga que ver con el mar, con estar lejos de todo, alguien que regresaba sin saber porque, talvez para ver si su madre todavia vivia en el mismo lugar donde el habia nacido, talvez para saber si todavia su madre estaba viva, pero a lo mejor eso solo era una excusa para bajar del barco y dedicarse a vaciar vasos, volverlos a llenar y vaciarlos de nuevo. Yo no sabia bien que buscaba y entonces era dificil encontrar algo, claro que hay veces que uno a primera vista percibe algo extraño, gente que parece estar fuera de lugar, y para encontarlos solo hay que estar ahi y esperar que aparezcan. Dias atras habia pasado unas horas en una escuela de discapacitados, pasando el rato con ellos y hablando con los profesores que ponian musica para hacerlos salir de su propio mundo o compartirlo un rato, un mundo que siempre me dio mucha curiosidad de conocer, entrar en ese misterio pero no para quedarme solo para ver que se siente, habia de todo pero en general eran cariñosos, saque algunas fotos a las chicas con menor grado de discapacidad porque tambien buscaba una chica discasitada para la pelicula, aquellas que podian ir al baño solas y caminar sin problemas, Estar en la escuela era un respiro porque no sentia la presion de caminar por las calles buscando algo, estar entre los chicos y llevarlos en sillas de ruedas de un lado para el otro me hacia sentir util y ademas me hacian reir bastante, tambien podia decir cualquier cosa que se me ocurriera sin tener que dialogar o esperar una respuesta que tenga sentido, Como te llamas? le dije a una, me dijo Montaña. Despues de esas cuatro o cinco horas que pasaba en la escuela no hablaba mucho, solo para pedir comida y algunas cervezas, despues volvia a la casa a leer un rato y mirar el techo. La pelicula se va a llamar Liverpool y espero que les guste.
Published in Ekran, 2007 (November/December)
By Ben Slater
What do you usually write on postcards from far-away places? Something about the weather perhaps. Well, it’s been raining hard these past few weeks in Singapore. Rarely a day goes by when the light doesn’t fade from the sky, still air roughly shaken by wind, and then a downpour begins. Except it didn’t rain on National Day (August 9). By some well-organised miracle, the country was spared the sight of this annual mega-million dollar spectacular (live and televised) parade being drenched in warm water. This is the day that Singapore celebrates its independence (since 1965), a combination of excessive Vegas showbiz with North Korean-style displays of military might. Singapore on ice – with weapons. A demonstration of stealth attacks segueways into a Finding Nemo rip-off, 500 schoolkids dressed as colourful sea creatures. Thousands more extras are martialed onto the stage, singing, dancing, waving glow-sticks, lights and kites, as an ersatz narrative of the country’s ‘emergence’ is represented by an in-line skating lion-fish-man. The audience, waiting for the fireworks, look awed and bored in equal measure. But National Day is actually rain-proof. Not to say that the state can control metereological conditions – but rather if the clouds do disgorge, the show will just go on, and the national myth – endurance against the odds – is only affirmed.
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By Mathieu Ricordi
The general proclamation echoed around Vancouver residents is that the city – commonly nicknamed »Hollywood North« – is THE place to be for movie people. Putting stock in such a statement may not depend on determining its validity as truth or fabrication, but on a person’s own cinematic priorities. I cannot speak for Metropolises in lands abroad, but when it comes to Canadian cities, not one comes close to Vancouver’s mystifying display of the seventh art form’s split personality – the age old confusion between its role as glamour machine on wheels, incorporating any group or individual that either plays a part in greasing its wheels or the simple excited waving as it travels by, and its function as a cultural and creative outlet for skilled artists to form, and astute human receptors to ruminate over. Therefore, the stone-chiseled local outlook in my home city – the one that deems the area the »it« place to be for cinematic aspirations – is an assertion that will reveal itself in a person’s own determining of what side of the movies’ dual persona is most relevant and identifiable to them. Make no mistake; Vancouver is a movie service town, equivalent to an olden day railway town. Whether it’s the X-Men franchise or the latest Ben Stiller blockbuster, this city is a prime pit-stop for some of the most vaunted Hollywood production vehicles passing through for a complete working, before returning back to their home-base for the final creative touches prior to being shipped off to the multiplexes― where proud Vancouver residents can point to the screenings’ end credits at the names they recognize. There seems to be an inordinate amount of pride for most people here in knowing anyone who rolled cable or served Craft service on one of these movies; as there is gratification in recognizing a nearby street, or acquaintances’ living room. In this respect Vancouver is a booming movie spot, a strip of land that somehow managed to come close enough architecturally to be able to mimic certain American cities on celluloid, and that took advantage of a weaker national currency that enabled the transient Tinseltown producers to keep a longer leash on their budgets. But what of the Vancouver citizens who actually want to create moving pictures? As a bourgeoning filmmaker, I can speak from experience when I say it is a different picture than the one always painted by the city’s biggest promoters. It is one thing to have practically no industry to call our own, but it is even sadder when independent work is prevented from happening at every turn. Since Vancouver knows only the servicing of Multi-Million dollar Hollywood films, every business, residential home, and other potential set is wise to the highest value of a day’s filming in their space. Unions and the municipality are scarcely less helpful― the former charging high minimum fees even for non-professional crew members or actors, the latter making any second of outdoor shooting an extremely expensive and restrictive process. The only form of leniency from any of these gatekeepers comes solely through participation in promotional film contests where the participants have 48 hours to write, shoot, and edit their short works. It is particularly irksome to fathom that the only way to get support in your city as a filmmaker is to have to lessen the quality and preparation of your work to fit into a certain »festivity«. Then again, these back-handed encouragements to build some sort of cinematic foundation with our own talent goes hand in glove with the unspoken mantra of the city – the appeal and surface are what make the cinema, and those who take part don’t need to build, so long as they share a part of the glitz; Vancouver has chosen its side of the movies’ dual persona.
Published in Ekran, 2007 (July/August)