The Jeonju Hanok Village outside the hotel window
Jet-lagged from the journey from Portland to Seoul, I arrived in Jeonju for what is maybe my 5th or 6th visit – I forget and don’t want to look it up. I was here in 2000, with their first issue, a spanking new eager young festival out to put this small provincial Korean city on the map. I recall that one, charmed by what seemed a modest provincial university town, suffering an inferiority complex which found them constantly inquiring of me if all was going OK, were they good enough. They were. (I had experienced the same thing in my first visit to the Yamagata Documentary festival in Japan, in 1989). Now it is 14 years later, and Jeonju has exploded, along with most Korean cities, with the standard issue concrete residential highrises (Lotte, Samsung, Hyundai, or another cheobol name signifying the brand painted on the side, along with a number – capitalist workers housing akin to the old Soviet ones of the USSR and eastern Europe, though built a bit better), stretching out from view, snaking up the nearby valleys, a version of soulless Seoul stuck in the midst of rice paddies, industrialized agriculture, and rural factories. The modest charms of 2000 have pretty much vanished. Similarly the festival ballooned, now a much bigger affair which takes over the downtown area, has its own building, and after some kind of palace coup a year or two ago, is run by other people, and seems a little less organized than before, though the ticketing policies seem draconian now.
Follies: in a little error of idiot festival politics, I let Jeonju program both my new films, a failure on my part to think ahead and realize I was squandering one of my glorious “world premiers” by letting them show both. So 120 or so people, off in little Jeonju, will see my films, and a large number of festivals will hence decline to show either of them because it isn’t a fkn premiere, a matter that no one except film festival directors/organizers could give a shit about. So they trade a good film for a virgin of dubious qualities. Real smart… While I know the ropes of the festival game I guess I find it all pathetic and indicative of some kind of warped cultural BS that those running these things should give another think. There are a handful of larger festivals that show films that have shown elsewhere, but not many. Those that insist on world premiers and such are merely slitting their own wrists, assuring that they fulfill my cynical view that festivals are by and large an institutionalized system for screening of a lot of mostly rather bad films under the least ideal circumstances for seeing good ones.
So on Tuesday I showed The Narcissus Flowers of Katsura-shima to an audience of 50-60, and got a look at the DCP of it and confirmed that the process only inflicts some damage on it (conversion from 29.97 fps to 24 fps). It was marginal damage, but visible and stupid, done only at the behest of Hollywood and its desire for a single uniform system for projection. I am 100% sure the equipment here and any place that can show off computers could have as easily shown my original h.264 file and spared the motion quirks, color shifts and other crap the DCP conversion brought into play. And spared me a $300 expense. Put it this way: assuming the next audience is the same size, I had to pay about $2 per viewer to make their experience worse. Ain’t that grand!
Even so, not having seen it for some time, and never having seen it on a good big screen projection, with good sound, I must say it is an impressive work – minimalist, beautiful, of measured (slow) pace, and intelligent – qualities which assure it will hardly be seen at all, and naturally I will never see a dime from it. Which, after 50 years of doing this, draws from me some doubts – about the world I live in, about my sanity or at least my intelligence, about at this late date in my life persisting in this. I recall a few years back seeing Raul Ruiz wandering the lounge space of the Rotterdam Film Festival looking inwardly lost, as if he were wondering the same thing I am: what’s the point? (Though Raul managed to make a decent living from what he did.)
On May 1st I was present at the second screening of Coming to Terms here (hadn’t arrived for first screening). Packed house of 150 or so, which was a nice surprise, though as the film came up it was painful for me to see the damage inflicted in the DCP conversion: slow fades turned into digital waves of light jumps, all lateral movement (cars going by) now juddered in little jumps, even relatively slow human movements became jerky. As I watched felt as if I’d been raped – another $300 to severely damage my film because the festival bought the Hollywood DCP con. They will be getting a pretty harsh letter from me (and perhaps a request to pay for the stupid conversion they required though I told them before hand what it would do.) Setting all that aside, and some remaining sound tech matters, I was very happy with the film – certainly as good as anything I have ever done. So coming full circle to Jeonju, where at a screening in 2006 my Yonsei teaching job offer began and subsequently found me wondering if, after nearly 4 “dry years” of not making any new films when teaching (I did edit previously shot ones) , I’d lost the creative moxie. The two films here, made immediately after I quit in August 2011, seem to suggest the well is not yet dry. Though I should hasten to state that it would be perfectly OK if it were dry – creative work is like that, and when the source runs out, it is fine. I intensely dislike the critical view that there is something wrong when an artist hangs it all up, or when, pursuing their work, it falters. We get old. We deplete our energies. We curl up and die. And that is as it is and as it ought to be.
However, though I am happy to feel that this work can go on, I must say I am rather fed up with the other end of it: festivals, getting things shown. And I think I will likely write an open letter to the festival and exhibition world, letting them know that while I continue to make films most likely, I won’t be sending in entry forms and jumping through all the hoops and idiocies required, and if they want to see my work, they can contact me. Or perhaps I will post it on a private Vimeo channel and they can request to see it that way. Meantime, given the nature of the cinema business these days, in a few months – once I have the time to do so – I will be placing all my work on a Vimeo channel, to view for pay per the new Vimeo set-up. However miniscule in the “real world” I do know there’s an audience for my work, and this will make it available for those who do wish to see it.
Heroic USSR-style sculpture of cinema-workers on Jeonju “Cinema Street.”
In another week and some I’ll head back to the USA, greeted more or less by a blank slate: having called off the American essay film, and having screwed up the festival politics of a ticket to Europe, it appears wandering the west, or perhaps hunkering down to catch up a a large backlog of footage, fotos, and other things is in order until (and if) some screenings in the east draw me there, or an invitation for Narcissus Flowers, flies me to Japan (to stay a month). Wait and see. Though now that I think of it I did set in motion the wheels to shoot a feature in Port Angeles in September…. silly me!