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I have been coming to the Rotterdam festival since 1978, within a few years of its founding.  Way back then it was a small, very filmmaker friendly matter, set in a small building, cozy and comfortable, and a good place to meet other filmmakers in a close way.  I think back then I was here with Angel City, though I am not sure.  The city then was a drab and slightly depressing place, with ugly 50’s and 60’s architecture done on the cheap after the place had been flattened during WW2.  The grim winter weather didn’t help the impression given of a desolate urban realm.

DSC01595 SMNew Rotterdam

After that, once the Berlin festival – where I had been a “regular” from the 1977 to 1993 –  declined, in the mid-90’s, to accept digital work on an equal basis with celluloid film, I shifted and came rather regularly to Rotterdam, which had accepted electronic work without hesitation.  I recall a visit back then, and on arrival looking in the catalog to see which department they’d put my film – a digital feature that had cost me a few hundred dollars.  Looking in the avant-garde and whatever sections I did not find it, but then discovered it in the main program, which on the next page had some million plus dollar film.  I liked that attitude.

Over the years I returned – I don’t know how many times, but many – and watched as it grew into a major festival, yearly showing 300+ films, with new cinemas blossoming to accommodate it, and I worried it would lose its friendly manner.  It didn’t.   And I prized it as a festival that actually had an audience, a local one, which would come to any kind of film and usually provided a good house for them.  My screenings were always 2/3rds or more full, Q&A sessions were lively and intelligent.  It made coming to the festival seemingly worthwhile, even if I knew my work was not “marketable,” a matter which seemed increasingly to come into play as the years went by: they established the Cinemart, for filmmakers to make contacts with producers and buyers; they set up the Hub Bals fund (named after the festival’s founder) to help 3rd world filmmakers get on their feet; and it did what it could for those entering the business.  It was one of the best festivals I had been to for independent filmmakers.

dorsky_RedCoatFrame from Dorsky film

Last time I was here, 3 years ago, I attended Nathaniel Dorsky’s retrospective and saw him sell out a 100 seat theater five nights in a row with different programs, and the festival scheduled some repeats.  We – Nick, Marcella and myself – had a great time.  And my own film, Imagens de uma cidade perdida, also drew good audiences and responses.   Three years ago.


This time around has been a completely other story:  while a touch late in the festival, it immediately seemed  to me that there were far fewer people here – the professional kind and spectator kind – than in the past.  Inquiries with some regulars confirmed my sense of this.  And when it came screening time, at 7pm – a good hour – in a good cinema (Cinerama) I secured an audience of around 30 people, mostly older (my age, more or less, and understandably so as it is a film about/for my generation).  During the screening a handful walked out, only 3, younger, stayed for the Q&A.  Well, yes, it was by then a bit late for oldies, but not that late.  I would have liked some to stay so I could get an inkling about what older people see/think about the film.  No dice though.  The second screening at 10 pm drew 15 people, of which 7 left.   3 again stayed for a Q&A.   And, last day of festival, at an 11 am screening there were 10 people.

JAMES BAG 2SMComing to Terms, coming to a terminus

What happened?  I accept I don’t make audience grabbers, or films that work commercially – I make no effort to do so, and accept my very much minority status.  And I know well the world of fashion and style is fickle and changing, and that by most measures I am now an ancient fart.     But…    I’d like to say it was towards the end of the festival, or have some simple explanation like that, but my off-the-cuff reading is something else.

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Entering the communal spaces of the festival I noted that nearly everyone younger was either working as staff for the festival or eager newer filmmakers.  Almost everyone else was older – the pro’s, the critics, and the audience.  Aside from a cohort of younger filmmakers, these festivals feel like geriatric conventions.  As my friend Mark Rappaport told me a few days ago, having come up a week before to install an exhibition of his film-based photo-collages, everyone of the old friends he met all said something that between-the-lines read, “Oh, you’re still alive!”   I think these festivals, along with the cinema in general, is in the midst of a profound social shift, expressed in myriad ways – from attention spans to hard fiscal matters to shifts in tastes and interests.  Younger people prefer video games, texting, whiling the time away on-line with one thing or another.  They seem hardly to notice the distortions of wrong screen ratios, or have a tolerance for slow pacing, or lack of plot-as-core function of a visual medium.  And, for the most part, whether with the specifics of film or art, or the broader matter of society and politics, most seem to have almost no grasp of history.  Of course there are exceptions – even a cluster of a seeming counter-movement of those who do acquaint themselves with history, see meditative work, whether Benning or Dorsky and others, as a palliative to the frenetic pace of the times (though I observe that some of those young friends of mine seem avid users of Facebook and other fragmenting social media.)


Over the decades I’ve noticed, as have others, that the cinema seems to go through local cultural waves – rising, collapsing, rotting inside in one place, while refreshed in another:  the focus of creative interesting work seemed to culturally shift like some kind of social Rorschach test.  Italy in the postwar period to the mid-60’s; France a touch later; then Germany and elsewhere, and in a spotty manner many other places in a handful of individual filmmakers.  These days in various Asian settings and South America.  (The same phenomenon could be seen in other arts, high and low – whether painting, music, theater.)  My impression is that the cinema is limping to a kind of death, its myriad avenues explored and exhausted, and then in the embrace of pure commerce, delivered a mode of a Mafia kiss.  To paraphrase Ingmar Bergman’s metaphor, it is like a snake-skin filled with maggots, producing movement giving the illusion of life in the throws of death.

Which, in some ways, is appropriate.  Though some few persist, for example, mosaics are not exactly the state-of-visual arts, nor in reality is oil painting.  Mediums technologically arise, are worked, and then are replaced by newer ones.   And both human and broader biological records show the same is true for any culture.

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My grimmer sense is that the cinema is a diversion from the rising avalanche of far more serious matters confronting our species, and in some highly oblique manner, the larger turning-away signals a kind of recognition, for better and worse.  The cultural reality of people buried in their electronic toys – texting, playing a video game, watching some lame TV or movie – which one can see on any subway from Seoul to New Delhi to Paris to New York, all betrays a profound disconnect, a desperate collective effort to be distracted from the obvious calamity we are already immersed in and which we do not want to see or acknowledge.  The old cinema, Hollywood’s dream factory, and all its off-shoots of “serious” work, still holds a mode of internal coherence which represents a negative challenge.  Better in these times, ironically, the short bursts of Twitter, of utterly fragmented habits, which render the world into a fractal and unreadable social cubism – seeing everything simultaneously from all possible angles which leads not to enlightenment, but total obfuscation.  The better to hide and evade the tsunami of the future, which is writing itself ever more clearly and requires ever more frenetic modes of avoidance.  And in which, in our desperate lunge to outrun it, we hasten its arrival with the very tools and toys we use.

The last time I was here in Rotterdam, I spotted Raul Ruiz wandering the area reserved for the professionals, his face betraying that death was nearing him.  He was alone, walking as if lost, among people who in the movie-biz manner all knew him, and he looked for all the world to me as if he was wondering what the hell he’d done with his life, making films, one after another, as if trying to outrun his own death.  He died a few months later, I suspect feeling empty as one of his convoluted films which tended to be formalist exercises absent any real content, much beloved by film critics if few others.

Perhaps it is a good thing that cinema is dying or dead.


On a more pragmatic level I did manage to see a few films:

Til Madness do us Part – a four hour documentary by Wang Bin, showing the daily life inside an insane asylum in a poorer area of China.   As the inmates are, the spectator is trapped in a closed courtyard, endlessly circling, entering barren and squalid rooms where 4 or more share the space and sometimes the same beds.  The doctors are harsh, delivering up the daily doses of drugs to pacify the inmates; there are those clearly off-the-beam, and others who seem not so crazed, though living in this setting would tax the most sane.  Never boring, the film catches the viewer in a cross-fire of thoughts: sometimes events seem almost orchestrated, sometimes the inmates seem wise to the game and appear to be “acting” for the camera.  One feels a voyeur, violating the space, complicit with the filmmaker.  At the conclusion some suspicions are obliquely answered as title cards indicate that those committed range from violent criminals who have murdered someone, some committed by family, some for “extreme religious belief” (it is the area of China adjacent muslim regions) or political problems.


Japon – apparently a re-cut of the Reygadas film of some years back.  I have never seen one of his films. I took an hour of this one and left both a bit bored; annoyed with the aesthetics (extreme wide-screen, scruffy DV or some other relatively low-res medium which seemed counter to the wide-screen and landscape images); and I figured where it was headed – sex and gore.  It didn’t warrant the hour I gave it, and certainly not another.

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Bella Vista – shot in and around Missoula, Montana, a first film from Vera Brunner-sung.  An interesting and good, though flawed film, but worthy and good for taking a shot at skipping conventional modes and instead using a rich mosaic approach with the thinnest narrative thread.  Long shots, no explanations, but it held together well despite the minor problems.  Much more interesting  than the numerous American indies who imagine a “hip” sit-com in old-fashioned movie/tv cinematic syntax is worth doing.


And I think I saw another but it must have left no impression since I can’t recall just what.  Or did I even see another one?

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Dennis Grunes

I don’t recall quite when I first noticed Dennis Grunes and started reading his reviews and blog.  Seems a long time ago.  I do recall meeting him in Portland perhaps in 2005 or 6.  He came to some screening of mine (private), I forget of which film.   Later I went to visit him at his apartment on the northeast side of Portland.   Hardly enough time to call him a friend, but I liked him, and what he did, and think of him as a friend despite the very limited real-world contact.  What he does is about the opposite of what I do.   He watches 2 or 3 or is it 4 or 5 films each day, and writes concise, intelligent reviews of them.  Films of all kinds and times – old, very old, brand new and everything in between.  I hardly ever watch films – instead I make them.

Dennis has a pretty severe diabetes problem which has slowly nibbled away at him, and periodically leaves him adrift and in need of help, and lands him in the hospital seeming to be at life’s edge.  After I left Portland in 2006 I recall him having what seemed a particularly bad bout and I contacted a handful of friends asking them to drop by and see if they could offer a hand, as I would have had I still lived there.  One, Jane Wilcox, did, and has apparently been going by a few times a week for some time now, helping with shopping and such things, for which I am deeply grateful.  She’s been a real dear, helping, as well as keeping me apprised of Dennis’ condition.   A week and some ago I dropped by with her to see him, which was a treat for me.  I hope it was in some way for him.

Given his condition I am rather amazed at his stamina, when after one or another bout with the ravages of diabetes, when he’s at risk of losing a foot, or his eyes dim still more, or he’s in hospital flickering near “the end,” he seems to bounce back, immediately sit down to see another fistful of films and write his reviews.   It would be one thing if his reviews were just opinions, but he has an ability to briefly give a sense of a film, tying into a to me vast knowledge of film and its history, and convey things in a way that has prompted me to want to see any number of obscure works I had never heard of.   In some odd way, my vision of Dennis is weirdly that I see him as heroic – which is again, utterly contrary to my views of life: I don’t believe in heroes, or geniuses or the ideas and concepts that do.  We’re all just people, constricted by our own circumstances, and do what we do, for better or worse.   Dennis has taken a pretty harsh hand dealt to him, and managed to find something possible for him to do, and something he clearly loves, and make the most of it.  His blog,, is, for anyone interested or engaged with cinema, a priceless compendium of intelligence and insight, touching on a oceanic range of films.   It strikes me as a kind of personal catalog of the cinema and should stand as a kind of reference source for a long time to come.

As I left a week ago, I gave Dennis DVDs of two of my most recent films.   A few days later, he wrote this:

IMAGES OF A LOST CITY (Jon Jost, 2011)

“I think we are blind. Blind people who can see, but do not see.” ― José Saramago

Prolific Jon Jost’s videographed Imagens de uma cidade perdida, from Portugal and South Korea, now that I’ve seen it, replaces Lars von Trier’s Melancholia as my choice for the best “film” of 2011. Jost has written about “the Portuguese inclination towards fatalism and sadness,” their saudade. His portrait of modern Lisbon perhaps suggests this (although this would not have occurred to me had I not read Jost’s remark), but reflects as well its mirror-image, the sadness that derives from the gradual loss of everything to Time. Jost has dedicated Imagens to his young daughter, Clara. (For an explanation of the tragic situation involved, see my essay on his 2006 Passages.) Poetic and never poetical, it is a documentary that ferrets out glimpses of human and material disrepair. Only children at play and hands at work hammering pieces of stone into the sand to create an alley pathway—something for future feet—escape the pervasive tenor of loss, exhaustion, dilapidation. We witness people who are being, or feeling, left behind in a globalized city dropping from its historical and cultural stature into the Third World.

Jost casts his camera behind and under places and structures, favoring peoples’ backs. (A mischievous boy, though, pops his face into the camera; we enjoy following his vivid shirt to the far back of the frame and again up front.) The framing divides and otherwise restricts exterior space. The opening static, long-held shot is behind a residential structure—a house, I think—and another, an apartment building, with an alley in between the two. Children play. On a bench, closer to us, her back towards us, a solitary older woman sits; at one point, the boy mockingly kisses her and is reprimanded, presumably by his mother. The woman sits and sits; is she observing, or simply staring into space? Is she as much remembering as living?—inside her head in the past, or in the moment? Eventually she is joined by a neighbor her age. They softly converse. What of life has slipped away from them? Both are nearly as stationary as the camera—so much so, in fact, that when the first woman, alone, reaches once to the ground, this motion of hers perplexes and unsettles.

Jost’s video passes between substantiality and abstraction; sometimes, abstract images are conjoined with clear, immediate sounds, or substantial images are conjoined with abstract sounds, the echo-y or distant sounds of seeming voices of the past. Images also pass between color and monochrome. An overhead long-shot, seemingly black-and-white, studies children at play in the street. They resemble the blind, groping, evolutionary beetles in Robert Browning’s poem “Two in the Campagna.” Individually some of them may have futures; but, visually, vertically, the group of them, however young, are imagined lost to Time. In time, most everything we see and hear in this “film” becomes a metaphor.

The governing one, because it evolves into a metaphor for the creative process that is generating Imagens, as well as a wider metaphor for the narrow, peripherally blind purposefulness of our laboring lives, shows masculine hands at work constructing the aforementioned pathway. The activity is “in the moment,” direct and immediate, except that the abstraction achieved by focusing only on hands almost feverishly busy amidst speechlessness and the alienating sound of hammer on stone, consigns it to something more elusive than a material dimension. Later, a dissolve restores the activity, now approaching completion, to our view. Both passages seem to be in black and white—until a glimpse of a worker’s blue jeans enters the frame: as quietly explosive a visual gesture as when the woman on the bench reached momentarily to the ground. Is it an illusion that the present seems capable of redeeming, however briefly, whatever has been lost to Time?

For a long time, Imagens remains out of doors, in a way separating us, as well as the people themselves, from the stability of their lives. Eventually, the camera is indoors—for instance, at a window observing a municipal bus, as well as other traffic, outside. Darkness; covered with blinds, the window—or another window—is doubly mysterious. Jost applies distortion to create the illusion that the venetian blinds and window are undulating—breathing. It is a blind and labored—a mortal—breath. Sound, also, seems distant, ghostly. The occupants of the house or apartment, although it is their own struggle, are themselves blind to the struggle at the window.

Imagens de uma cidade perdida, outdoors again, closes on an older gentleman occupying a bench. The image startles for two reasons. This bench, on the street, isn’t shot from behind; we are given a lateral view. The solitary occupant, moreover, seems to be in the throes of anguish or terrible pain. Rather than sitting upright and facing forward, he is all over the bench, as though he were using it to hold himself together. We are seeing how he feels—for whatever cause. Jost doesn’t budge the camera, and we cannot help but see. Is it Portugal’s experience of fascism, which an earlier inserted passage addressed, what is weighing on this man? Is his health, like his city, in disrepair? We do not know, we will never know; but we cannot help but see.

Lisbon is a city that has never meant anything to me. Now it will haunt me for the rest of my life.

I note that while Imagens de uma cidade perdida played at the Rotterdam Festival, 2011, and was in competition at the Yamagata Documentary Festival in Japan in October 2011, it was rejected by a fistful of other festivals, among them the Margaret Meade, Florence Documentary, Bilbao, DocLisboa, Lisboa Indie, DOCSDF (Mexico City), Mumbai and Busan and Jeonju (Korea) fests.  Win some, lose a lot.

Thanks Dennis, and be well.

Hayashi Yumika in Kantoku Shikkaku

Another few films.  One, Kantoku Shikkaku, by famed pink (porn) filmmaker, Hirano Katsuyuki.  A careless hand-held DV work of his star, and love, Hayashi Yumika, as they take a bicycle ride from Tokyo to the northern most island of Japan.  Along the way we get some bio-backfill of how he began in the pink business with her, she became a star, he fell in love (sort of), and as they take the journey to the north it’s been six years.  They fight, camp out, phone home, talk about their pasts, all of this done in sloppy wind-popping DV.   Despite the cinematic crudeness it is interesting because she is a weird one, as is her mother, and as is he.  They return to Tokyo, years pass, they see each other once in a while.  Dropping in for her 35th birthday she doesn’t answer the door, or cell calls, but what the hell, she’s nuts.  Returning the next day, more no Yumika.  The next day the same, and noting the dog in the apartment, they get a key from the landlord and find the stinking body.  Landlord flips out, as does Hirano.   He stops making films for five years, and resumes to finish this one.  As cinema, it is a piece of junk; as pathological evidence it is fascinating and sets off all kind of internal buzzers about this guy’s morality and ethics, about whether what happened is precisely because he is always acting for the camera (and forcing others to do so as well).   Whether the film works for him as a corrective for his evident guilt complex is as questionable as whether the audience’s interest is equally perverse and sick.

Guzman’s forgiving cosmos

And then saw Patrico Guzman’s Nostalgia for the Light, which I think has been released most places.  It is an elegant, perhaps too much so, film-essay on Chile’s recent history, Pinochet’s disappeared, coupled to a cosmic view using the Atacama desert, home to the world’s best telescopes thanks to its high dry air, and likewise home to Pinochet’s murders, preserved by the same atmosphere, as a fulcrum.  For the most part Guzman weaves these strands together effectively though here and there he gets bogged down in overdone visuals and maybe a touch too much National Geographic-type gloss in the imagery. Some of the visuals are downright hokey, and some of which owe too much to Star Wars‘ ideas of the cosmos rather than science’s astronomy.  He errs in tacking on a kind of “happy ending” which doesn’t convince at all.

And the last two, seen today as I came down with a nasty cold/flu of some kind:

Nomad’s Home on the Sinai

Nomad’s Home, by Iman Kamel, from Egypt.  A kind of lyrical essay which follows a Bedouin woman into the Sinai desert, and then moves to Cairo.  It mixes thoughts and information of this woman, Selema Gabali, along with things about the director.  The imagery strains to be lyrical, but is often simply sloppy.  Voice over, quotes and music and “sound design” all combine to overload the imagery with a weight it cannot carry.  Instead one feels the tension of trying to get the cinematic imagery to express something it can’t itself express.  The list of credits confirms the sense of a film made by a committee:  separate camera person, editor, co-author, sound designer, composer, and others.  It tries, but doesn’t really settle in to a coherent work.  Fortunately only 61 minutes.

Position among the cameras

And then Position among the Stars, by Leonard Retel Helmrich.  An HBO film starting in an Indonesian village, it moves to Jakarta, following a family.  I watched for about an hour getting more and more irritated at the transparently manipulative directing and camera-work, and finally, more or less disgusted, I left.  The director claims it is in the cinéma vérité manner, but the obvious intrusions of the director and the camerawork make this a dubious claim.   I would be more inclined to call it a cinema of lies, made particularly objectionable because of its faux pose as one of truth.

I missed one film in the competition, Nénette, by Frenchman Nicolas Philibert.   Something about an orangutang in the Paris zoo.  Maybe it will win a prize and I’ll get a chance to see it.

Nénette gazes at you, you gaze at Nénette

Tomorrow is the wrap up, ceremony, awards given.  First prize is $25,000 or so, then I think 10K and a few 2K.  I don’t think competitions are really appropriate for arts, but it seems to be the usual way of stacking things up.

Oh, and I neglected to mention my screening.  The first was to a relatively small audience, early in the festival. Only a few left.  (Later, over the weekend things picked up.)  The response seemed very favorable with a nice Q&A.  Second screening, with many more viewers, I didn’t stay for, but a back-of-cinema look just before it ended seemed to show very few left.  Someone said less than 10.  Nice long discussion, and as in Rotterdam somehow this slow, modest film really seems to work on people in a magical way.  Jurors too?  Tune in tomorrow….

Imagens de uma cidade perdida

It’s been a while since I was last here – 2003 – when I attended in competition with Oui Non.  Yamagata is a documentary festival, and they have had me here now 5 times.  I’m told that’s the most anyone has been here.  For me it is a kind of little homecoming, though I find it hard to perceive of myself as a “documentary” filmmaker.  I think of the films of mine they have shown here, very few other documentary festivals would consider them as proper “documentaries”: Oui Non began as a fiction and remains one, and is rather “experimental” in its aesthetics; 6 Easy Pieces, which won a prize here, is similarly far removed from normal doc modes and methods; London Brief most would consign to the “experimental” ghetto.  Likewise Plain Talk and Common Sense, shown here at their first festival, in 1989.   In their opening ceremonies they mentioned that it had been 22 years since then, which reminds that the clock is definitely (and defiantly) ticking.  Since that first festival Yamagata has grown as a town, and as a festival, now being regarded certainly as the premiere documentary festival in Asia, and up with the best anywhere else.

Image from opening film, a rather charming TV documentary made in Yamagata in 1963, about immigrant farmers going to Tokyo to work in a bread factory over the winter.  Very nice and so unlike anything that could be made today.

This year’s festival seems subdued, clearly impacted by what they have recurrently called The Great Eastern Earthquake.  Fukushima is only 100 kilometers away, over a modest mountain range.  While Yamagata itself did not suffer serious damage in the earthquake, the neighboring areas to the east were devastated, and for some time Yamagata was a place for refugees to stay.  Clearly their economy, as all of Japan’s, has taken a severe hit.   The festival organizers, in their opening ceremony and remarks, were happy that those of us who came did so – it seems some or perhaps many of the filmmakers did not come.

This morning I saw at 10 am a first film, from Swiss filmmaker Thomas Imbach, titled Day is Done.   I found it completely absorbing, despite its self-chosen restrictions.  Made from a compilation of 35mm footage shot over a period of 15 years, largely from the window and roof of his loft-like space in an industrial neighborhood of Zurich.  The imagery is often strikingly beautiful with rich skies, rain, snow, and dramatic light shifts over the same cityscape imagery.   The sound track is a mix of telephone answering machine messages, coupled with sections of a mix of songs, used somewhat aggressively, the verbal content being used to prod the film’s seeming message along.  The film, as read between the lines, could readily be titled “Self-Portrait of myself as an asshole.”   Indirectly it paints a picture of Imbach as a voyeuristic, self-involved, irresponsible person.  Part of its fascination is in this self-exposure, but also in his seemingly obsessive voyeurism, and his ethical utilitarianism.  Using the tape recorded messages as a major part of his content, the voices of friends, bankers, ex-wife, son, father, businessmen and others are clearly manipulated to form a jig-saw puzzle of Imbach’s life at this time.  His father talks, gets ill, dies.   His affair with his wife comes, along with a child, and goes.  A number of evident lovers talk and disappear.  His career zooms along with nice notices.   The visuals are repeated shots across the city, with a prominent modern industrial chimney shot again and again, with planes taking off or landing at the nearby airport, birds, snow, rain, light and dark.  Other images show trains zipping by in time-lapse which often changes speed and exposure in the shot; the camera jerks around finding its image.  Down on the street below he obsessively tracks in hyper-telephoto a woman who goes into the same door; he catches other drama there – some fires caught on fire, a major motor-bike accident, a club opening opposite, lovers wildly kissing.   A few sequences take the viewer out of this confined viewpoint – a visit to his mother, his (ex) wife, his child at the beach – sort of home-movie.    The film is often gorgeous.   And “T”, as he names himself, appears periodically next to his camera in the reflection in a window.

From Day is Done, by Thomas Imbach

I am not sure it is a good film – for me it began to wear out its welcome perhaps 20-30 minutes before it ended, though it was not then boring at all.  What made it fascinating was the internal cross-fire in your own mind as you questioned the ethics of using the answering machine tapes; the somewhat lurid-feeling and repeated shots of the girl walking down the street; the constant sense of voyeurism compounded by T’s evidently irresponsible behaviors with his friends, family, wife and son.   Combined with the repetitive imagery, these all collided into a rich internal intellectual stew in my mind, and which in a sense were clearly intended to be provoked.   At the conclusion there was a kind of sour emotional sense of questioning whether one should “like” a film by someone who seemingly is a lout if a person.  An old conundrum:   good artists can often be lousy humans.

The girl

Whatever my reservations, it was a film which I enjoyed, felt was a good wedge to press the viewer to think for themselves, and certainly made me wish to see some of his other work, documentary and fiction.

Still from Travis Wilkerson’s Distinguished Flying Cross

The other film I saw today, also in competition, was Travis Wilkerson’s Distinguished Flying Cross.  Running just an hour, it consists of a set-piece of Wilkerson on one side of a table, his brother across from him, and his father at the end.  Rigidly composed, and with a few other shots of a close up of a beer glass, and of his brother’s profile inserted for a slight change of pace, this shot is interrupted frequently by very brief title cards, usually accompanied with a percussive sound or noise.  Wilkerson’s father essentially tells the story of his Viet Nam days, and of receiving his Distinguished Flying Cross medal as a helicopter pilot.  Four or five times this tableau is disturbed by longer sequences of somel minute’s length of Viet Nam combat footage taken by soldier cinematographers.  One of those sequences is strewn with VC corpses.    I found the story-telling less than engaging, in part owing to the distanced and rigid imagery, which was amplified by the sons’ less than lively presence.  Also the miking/EQ made it a bit difficult to understand as the bass and boominess of the room managed to smother the sound frequently.   Cumulatively it didn’t seem to add up, in part because the story Dad had to tell was ordinary military stuff, and failed to arouse much emotional contact one way or another.  The tepid applause at the end suggested I wasn’t alone in this view.  Travis is participating in the Far From Afghanistan omni-bus film I am taking part in, so this criticism is diplomatically touchy, but I think honesty is always the best medicine – especially for artists among themselves.

Imagens de uma cidade perdida

And then I had my own screening, first one, of Imagens de uma cidade perdida.   It was shown with an NTSC conversion of my PAL original, and apparently played off a Blu-Ray disk.  The cinema is very large and likewise the screen.  I must say it looked gorgeous, rather better than I thought it could, and sounded equally good.  The audience was not very large, and I think about 20-25% left after about 60-70 minutes.   Of those that stayed the applause was generous, and many came to a talk session in the lobby that went on 30 minutes or so, by which I’d guess the response was pretty positive.  Owing to a mistake of my own the version they saw was minus a few minutes of subtitles which should have been there, but….  My own error in sending an incorrect tape with no subtitles,  and while I said I’d send the correct one to festival they said they could take off the DVD I’d sent, which turned out to be an older one which I’d sent before changing the subtitles.  Not fatal, but, well, stupid. The price of haste when traveling.  Or an unraveling brain.

Imagens de uma cidade perdida

Tomorrow I’ll find out if the thin attendance (in the audience, at the festival HQ) is owing to it being the first day, or it being a weekday, or if instead it is because the reverberations of the earthquake/tsunami and the fear of radiation.  I’m told of the 15 invited filmmakers, only 8 or 9 are attending.  In any event I recall in my previous visits much more hustle and bustle surrounding the festival, and my guess the seeming quietness this time is owing to the disaster of last February.    Of which I will get a close look after the festival as I’m arranging to go visit some of the area devastated by the tsunami.