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Castle wall, Yamagata

A few nights ago there was the Awards Ceremony for the festival, and indicative of the evident tastes of the jury, and how out of synch it was with my own inclinations, the first prize (worth about $25,000) was a film I walked out of, finding it a somewhat sloppy TV-style doc affair – The Collaborator and His Family.  The other winners in the International Competition suggested more tilt along that line:   Nostalgia for the Light, Patricio Guzman’s rather glossy paean to the cosmos and Pinochet’s victims got runner-up, Distinguished Flying Cross, some honorary mention with some cash, and The Woman with 5 Elephants, a very nicely done by-the-book TV doc got something, as did Apuda, the Chinese film of long long takes of a father dying from which I also left.   It was clearly a jury that tilted toward the by-the-numbers film-making book, with some modest nods to very conservative modes of wiggling the rules, or so it seemed to me.

Following the diminished closing party and gathering at the festival watering hole, the Koumian bar, it was departure.  The next morning Iman Kamel, who made Nomad’s Home, and earlier in the week, after seeing my film had asked me to see her film and give my thoughts, came up to talk.  She’d Googled and up had popped my capsule review with its comment about “sloppy images.”   She was charming, and said some critique is better than the usual “nice film” or no comment, though the “sloppy” clearly bothered.  I explained I meant it for a handful of parts where a camera is rather waved around while walking, in telephoto, mostly out of focus though sometimes in.  These parts were clearly deliberate, as a kind of punctuation mark, but I felt they went on too long, revealed nothing, and didn’t work as intended.   The rest of the imagery was competent enough, but not more – and in a setting where the opportunity for a lot richer imagery could have been had, and appropriately to the content and context of the film.  Just her camera person (not her) didn’t have the eyes to get it.  And she, working with a group, didn’t guide it to a better place.    Try harder next time – get better camera person, whatever.   It was meant in a way to be lyrical but it didn’t quite fly.

Naoko Komuro and Iman Kamel

Overall I found the competition films rather disappointing – the made-for-TV work ranged from really manipulative or crudely done, to very finely mounted, but “for TV”; those not aimed at a mass audience were for the most part modest in their bending of the rules of engagement, and for the most part in my view didn’t work.  I suppose if I were in the jury, recusing myself regarding my own film, I might have pressed for Day Is Done , whatever my reservations the film left in my mind about the maker, his voyeurism and his implicating his viewer in the same.

When teaching or doing workshops, or in meeting younger filmmakers and encouraging them I tell them to enter festivals (but not pay entry fees), and keep their ego out of it. I tell them festivals are like rolling dice – submitting and then if you get in, the jurying.  Like dice, it has almost nothing to do with you.  While I was in Yamagata, I got two more rejections for Imagens – from the Florence Festival and Jihlava in the Czech Republic.  They joined a list of other rejections – Margaret Mead, NYFF, docLisboa, Bilboa, Mumbai, Busan and DocSDF in Mexico City.   I’m about run out of documentary festivals to try for it.  Whatever these places say, Imagens de uma cidade perdida is among my best films, which, whatever selectors think, seems to be the view of audiences which have been very positive.   Festivals?  Go figger…

Toshi Fujiwara translating Jon pontificating

I caught the train to Fukushima, to head for a hot spring resort for a brief break.   About 40 kms away is the Daichi nuclear power plant, three reactor cores melted down, oozing radiation.  Iizaka, the little town on the edge of Fukushima seems deserted – I don’t know if because it’s a week-day, or that people have decided it’s too close for comfort.  Seems like a ghost town.  And the particular one I am in is located next to a mini-power transmission thing – the taxi driver seemed a little bewildered that a foreigner was going there.  It’s almost empty.

Jon as Max von Sydow by local artist Mochizuki Rie

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