Meek’s Cutoff (Kelly Reichardt, USA)
The Four Times (Michelangelo Frammartino, Italy)
Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Thailand)
The Autobiography of Nicolae Ceausescu (Andrei Ujica, Romania)
Promises Written in Water (Vincent Gallo, USA)
40-year-old Film That Threatens to Blow Everything Else Away:
A Married Couple (Allan King, Canada, 1969)
Must-See — Can’t Say More Upon First Viewing:
Film Socialism (Jean-Luc Godard, France)
I Wish I Knew (Jia Zhang-ke, China)
I Regret Not Being Able To Schedule:
A few weeks back, we had a lively and fascinating conversation about the institution of film festivals. Now let me turn my attention to the intersection of film festivals with the personal.
As I was attending TIFF this year, scurrying from one screening to the next, a question often occurred to me: For me — for a cinephile — what is the relationship between the experience of watching films at a festival a week or two out of the year, and watching them at home the other 50 weeks of the year? What are the ways in which a festival experience can productively inform — indeed, transform — one’s ‘normal’ mode of watching films?
I ask because I find that attending a high-quality, intense, immersive film festival often seems to put my mind and body, without my immediately realizing it, in a special zone. I find a heightened perceptual awareness setting in — a sharpened sensitivity to all audiovisual detail in each film I see (assuming I’ve had enough sleep!). I’m sure this is aided in no small measure by the great projections and the respectfully quiet audiences. The social, film-cultural context also plays a great role: I see films in the company of cinephile/critic friends and acquaintances who have traveled from near and far. Their not-negligible financial investment in the project of ‘doing the festival’ is more than matched by a strong intellectual and emotional investment in this experience. If we can call a cinephile a film-lover who is especially distinguished by possessing an active engagement with cinema, festivals can be a crucible experience, a distilled form of this engagement.
There are other factors contributing to the film-cultural richness of the festival experience. Filmmakers are frequently present for Q&A’s, shedding light on (or sometimes confounding) our takes on their films. In recent years, I’ve stayed in close touch with many other critics and cinephiles, meeting up with them to discuss, intensively and often in great detail, the films we see from one day to the next. The Internet has also been an invaluable tool in this process: I check blogs, Twitter, and Facebook daily in order to tweak my schedule, dropping some films, adding ones that suddenly appear promising. (Michael Sicinski’s TIFF reports at Cargo and MUBI, for instance, were a precious resource for me this year.)
Now here’s something curious: Not only does the festival experience make for a special, super-active engagement with cinema, I find that it also exercises a healthy hangover, an extended influence upon viewing habits once I’ve returned home. I become a little more disciplined about recording my thoughts upon seeing each film, I make it a point to google up criticism on each film afterward, I make a better effort to discuss the films I see with others, and the amount of cinema-related reading I do also sees a spike. Unconsciously, I suspect, I’m trying to replicate, or at least approach, the intense level of involvement I experience at the festival. The challenge, of course, is to sustain these practices, from day to day, for the rest of the year!
So, I’m wondering: Personally, as a cinephile, what are the things big and small that you value about the film festival experience? And I’m curious if this experience in any way alters or influences the way you watch, talk or write about films in the days and weeks upon your return? Finally, are there any lessons that the crucible of the film festival experience can teach us — lessons that we can apply to our ‘normal’ film-watching lives? I’m eager to hear your thoughts and accounts.