Rounding out the films seen were a casually made (sloppy) but interesting and effective – perhaps owing mostly to its subject – documentary from Japan, Pyuupiru. The subject of interest was a young man, seen over almost eight years, who is gay, creative and inventive. The film was made by a good friend, Matsunaga Daishi, who traced him in DV since 2001, when he was in his early 20’s, on to his 30th birthday. Liking girl’s clothes, he made his own in outlandish mode, and went clubbing, becoming a little celebrity and a real artist in his campy manner. Along the way his parents changed their views, as did his brother; he had himself de-haired, and then castrated, fell in love (with a hetero) and lost, and while now somewhat famous seems beneath the gaudy exterior, quite unhappy. An interesting and revealing portrait.
Then I went to see a film by Luc Moullet, of whom I seen the name some decades now, but had never seen a film. This one was titled Land of Madness, about a region of the south of France where many murders have occurred. While interesting and nicely done, it was essentially a talking-head film, with interviews with locals. All nicely done, and Moullet has a mordant sense of humor which I like, but as cinema it was not much.
And lastly I went to see the “Jeonju Digital Project” films, a selection of 3 shorter works, about 30 minutes each, made by filmmakers selected last year, given a nice little budget (about $30,000 each) and charged to make a film for the coming festival. Jim Benning was one of those invited and I really went to see his film, Pig Iron. The tickets we got put us far to the side, and as the lights went down we moved to a handful left located in the middle of the central part. Benning’s film is a single HD take of a place where pig iron is loaded into gigantic ladles on a train, a long, heavy, process. His shot was typically his style, front on, in the case compressed with good telephoto, so the spatial sense was more massive. The take is 30 minutes, during which one sees the small figures of a few men going here and there; a car passes periodically on the left side of the screen, the trains shunt the great ladles here and there, the glow of hot iron comes from the top of this huge structures, sparks fly as they are filled, the sounds of the train, of sirens, deep bass rumbles punctuate the general deep hum. I was mesmerized. Others seem to have fallen asleep. Benning asks you to really look, as he does, and if you do, you are amply rewarded.
Following this came French Canadian Denis Côté showed The Enemy Lines, his contribution. On commencing the screening the festival director has said that Mr Côté had said something about telling the audience that after Benning’s single-take film, the following films would be, well, more like films or something. I.e., don’t get up and leave and miss his work. Well, his film was more “film-like” being a slight narrative of some macho posturing guys with guns doing soldier something out in the woods. It seemed to be taken seriously, though if one knows a bit about soldiering these guys would have all been dead in 10 minutes if there were a real enemy. At some point a topless punkette girl comes out of a cornfield. And the film proceeds to fritter out from there. I wanted to leave, but thought better give the third film a try, and besides leaving would have been very disruptive, requiring 6 or 7 people to stand.
The third film was Argentine, with a rapid-fire delivery of lines from As You Like It done by the actors, while the camera shifted handheld here and there. I couldn’t make heads or tails of it, aside from assessing the acting as marginal, the story as less. And I felt trapped, forced to sit through this c-r-a-p owing to having changed seats to see better.
And I was irritated by these films – the latter two having “digital” about them solely that they were shot on HD (the latter two could have been digital beta for their looks), but could have as well been shot on film since they used the medium exactly as film, and in a tired exhausted manner as well. Utterly nothing “new” about them at all. Benning’s film was digital in its use of the hyper precision which HD is capable of, and using the extended time it allows.
I was so aggravated I decided I shouldn’t go to the next film I had scheduled as my attitude was so soured by these last two pieces of junk. Côté is apparently, at least in the minds of some (and from his demeanor, also his) Canada’s gift to film-world hot-shotdom. If so, poor Canada.
Last year I saw maybe 15-20 films, of which one was a turkey and the rest from very interesting to very good. This year aside from Jame’s short, I didn’t see anything that was really good. And a lot that was mediocre to bad. Though I did handicap myself in not going to the other Benning film, Ruhr, which I’d seen off DVD a few weeks earlier, though in hindsight, I wished I’d gone to see it in the HD, which would have really been stunning. And owing to some scheduling conflicts I didn’t get to a new Pedro Costa film I haven’t seen, but he said he can send me a DVD of it. And I didn’t see his other films as I’ve seen most. And I passed on re-seeing Jancso’s films.
So maybe it was bad luck, or maybe a bad year, but I can’t say I saw much of interest. And for Jeonju it definitely seemed the audiences were thinner – previous years the theaters were almost full for everything, and this year it was not so – more like half or one-third. I’ll await their report on attendance figures.
On return to Seoul we brought Pedro Costa to Yonsei to give a talk, which he handled nicely, and went out for a Korean BBQ after. Very nice guy, which I already knew from meeting him years ago. Hopefully we’ll see him in Lisbon this summer.