film festivals

Cannes…from the Heart of an Outsider

Leila Hatami, Sofia Coppola, Jane Campion, Jeon Do-yeon, Carole Bouquet

An American boy on the sands of Cannes, France: that’s how I’d imagined myself ever since I was seven (maybe eight?) years old, yearning for transcontinental air travel and a responsible adult to accompany me to the grandest of the world’s film festivals.

It’s a rather odd dream for a child to want to travel to a small town that comes alive in the international spotlight only once a year to celebrate an art that’s far beyond his comprehension. It’s also rather selfish. What the kid in me didn’t understand was that spending thousands of dollars of your hard-earned coin to relish in the best that world cinema has to offer benefits little more than the airline, taxi service, and bellhop who carries your bags. Casual Cannes-goers ultimately mean nothing in the grand scheme of the festival circuit, where moneymaking is all that’s left for anyone in an industry that–when it comes down to the life and death of it–could disappear off the face of the earth with little more than a monetary crater in its wake.

I don’t think, in the early months of 1997, my little brain even knew who Ang Lee was. If you would’ve asked me to sit through LA Confidential or Funny Games, I’d have told you I wasn’t allowed to see R-rated movies. The understanding of film, however, is an ever-evolving entity, and Cannes fosters an appreciation for the various perspectives in film that make it such a diverse, captivating industry.

But, how characteristic of a child is it to yearn after the flashiest, most sensational aspects of something you don’t quite understand? I wanted nothing more than to be a part of the machine that makes Cannes tick. The stars are out in full red carpet glamor, the journalists buzz about, the businessmen shake hands and exchange their millions.

Of course, Cannes is all about business, too. Just today, a $20 million deal for a film was inked by Paramount for Amy Adams-starrer Story of Your Life. There are deals here and deals there, as beautiful films from the brightest artists still come with a hefty price tag.

I can now read about who purchased what or who thought what about which film in the trade papers, but the fact remains that I am now, and always have been, a Cannes outsider. The way I view Cannes is filtered through the lens of those in attendance, and the type of coverage I could  be giving from my cramped, wood-paneled bedroom only speaks to my career aspirations that may or may not come at a later date; most bloggers like me only have the luxury of covering other coverage when it comes to festivals like Cannes or Toronto or Telluride. I’m either building a foundation to get paid to write about Cannes–from Cannes– in the future, or I’m wasting my time on a ship that will never set sail. Either way, I’m not there now.

But, that’s the flaw of living in the quick-fix film industry of today. It’s all rather infantile, really. We’re told that we all matter. My desire to cover Cannes without being there is difficult, but Hollywood consistently pushes each of us up the ranks of self-importance. We’re told that our dollar is worth spending on every tentpole that comes out. We’re pushed en masse to the theater, encouraged to tweet our reactions, to wear the t-shirt, to rep the brand for free under the guise of engaging in an elite sort of fandom; though, when it comes down to it, we’re all outsiders to the heart of the industry that beats at a place like Cannes. We lose sight of that from time to time, so perhaps it’s best if some things are left to the protected, sacred mystery of exclusivity.

Though, it’s funny how in such a fast-paced, easily-accessible world, we can still feel so disconnected from something as widely-covered as the Cannes Film Festival. There’s only so much a review of the opening night film or a photo of the crowds lined up to see the day’s most buzzed-about feature can do to satiate one’s yearning to be there. It’s difficult to put your finger on just what makes the festival so alluring, but it has got to be something, because the appeal is wide.

Cannes draws celebrities, filmmakers, publicists, and businesspeople from around the globe; the jury that decides the recipient of the festival’s top prize (the Palme d’Or) this year is made up of Jane Campion, Sofia Coppola, Nicolas Winding Refn, Leila Hatami, and Willem Dafoe among others; essentially a mishmash of someone from here, someone from there and everywhere in between.

The films in and out of competition represent diverse artists above all else. They have a place there because their films matter. They’re different. They’re things we haven’t seen before. They’re not bogged down with spandex, capes, and cheap romantic subplots.

There are films from established directors, and films from people we haven’t seen much from before. In that sense, Cannes makes insiders of the outsiders and places them on the same plane of presentation as the big boys, giving them a stage for the rest of us to see at some point down the line when the hoopla of the festival has withered away and all we’re left with is a remote and a subscription service with On-Demand capabilities.

It’s the job of the journalists at the festival, then, to make Cannes really mean something in the moment. We’ll all be invited to the party of opinion at some point, but these are the people who travel–sometimes on their own dime–to the waters of Southern France all for the sake of seeing, posting about, and championing films that will likely make it stateside within a few short months. These people sacrifice their sleep, sanity, and time, but it’s really a donation of all those things when you look at the big picture; world cinema–often under-appreciated in large markets like the US–is covered. It’s truly covered (in every sense of the word) by the hordes of writers who pack the screening rooms day after day and present their impressions to readers. Why? Because they’re the insiders who’ve been chosen to make it known. The prestigious torch is theirs to carry. They have a responsibility to promote the art in a climate that fosters the desire for spectacle versus creativity. They can’t afford to lose sight of the types of films that are shown at Cannes.

The journalists, while heralding films of worth, can also destroy the stragglers of the pack. Just yesterday we witnessed the downfall (more like the kick while it was already down, following a nasty dispute over final cut between Harvey Weinstein and director Olivier Dahan) of Grace of Monaco, the festival’s opening night film, which didn’t seem very Cannes-y in the first place. Still, the film’s stars (namely Nicole Kidman) and creators showed their faces, gave interviews, and upheld the tradition of a Cannes insider.

For most of us, all we’ll ever be to Cannes is someone hovering around the perimeter, holding out our basket, hoping to be thrown a few scraps here and there. We won’t show our films at special screenings, we won’t know how the sunlight hits our faces through the flash of paparazzi bulbs, how the salt air of the Mediterranean Sea wafts over the crowds waiting for the morning’s first screening. We won’t know how the wine tastes at the cafe around the corner from the best screening room. We won’t know what it’s like to be shut out of a screening because our press pass hasn’t been upgraded to “pink” from the standard “blue.”

We will always know, however, what it’s like to consume. Isn’t that the goal of it all, when you break it down? The filmmakers, the artists, the studios, the stars; each of them are vying for our consumption of their product.

We outsiders know nothing about the actual experience of Cannes, yet reap so much from it as these consumers. The kinds of films that have been shown and championed at Cannes rarely ride their glory all the way through to Oscar season, but the esteem is enough to last a lifetime. Tracking Oscar potential at Cannes is to miss the point entirely, though. Correlation is tricky to pinpoint, and it doesn’t matter. The Oscars have their ideology (and are a preservation of adult and art films in their own right), and Cannes has its own. Cannes is a celebration, a showcase, a hand on the ticker of the industry propelling world’s artists forward as they come together to say “look at what we can do,” and so we do just that. We obey, and we look on.

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I’m lucky now to be older, wiser, and more aware than my 7-year old self to know the whys, the ins, and the outs of why I want to be there in the first place: to experience that magical confluence of minds, talents, and to get swept up in the waves of collective appreciation shone from the world stage.

That’s something else I didn’t understand as a kid; the importance of Cannes across so many mediums speaks to the unison the art of cinema promotes. People spend thousands of dollars just to be there in the moment, in the magic of it all. People watch multiple movies–back to back–each day, writing about them in rented flats, cramped hotel rooms, and buzzing cafes.

People travel across oceans and trek mountains for the movies.

Though I can now experience the festival after sifting through journalist’s Instagram accounts, festival hashtags on Twitter, and hourly updates on the trade sites, I am still there secondhand, and that menas I’m not really there.

Cannes is a cloistered shell with pearls on the inside. Its mystery and allure are prestigious, and a great way to pinpoint the art we often lose track of. The exclusivity keeps the world’s eye on the prize. It elevates film to the level of the all-important instead of demeaning it to the easily-accessible. The films are challenging, complex, and fueled by creative passion from international perspectives, but at the end of the day, we’re all watching movies; alas, that’s the point–Cannes is so magical because it’s not about simply seeing a film, it’s about watching them and looking out for the ones that matter, because they often find a home there. We’ll all get that chance sooner or later.

So, as I sit here, some thousands of miles away from Cannes, I take pleasure in looking forward to upholding my end of the bargain when I buy my ticket to Foxcatcher or Maps to the Stars in a few months. It’s all about grasping the thread when it passes by, and I trust everyone at Cannes to push it in my direction.

We must trust that Cannes is one of the few remaining treasures left for world cinema. We trust that the filmmakers, artists, journalists, and insiders value the preservation of this congregation, that despite business deals and publicity, the fruit of the labor isn’t measured in such petty terms. They’re there for the art, for the treat of inclusivity, for the treat of being there when it all happens. They’d better enjoy it after all; they’ve moved across mountains and oceans to get there.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @joeynolfi

Facing Forward: CMU International Film Festival Showcases Women Behind the Camera

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Rasa is a girl of 20 years, bearing the burden typical of someone twice her age.

She’s uneducated, homely, and supporting her disabled father as a low-pay, thankless job as a grunt worker in a vegetable processing plant. Each day, she takes something that was once living, once sprouting naturally from the earth, and shoves it into a pre-made box of artificial components.

Rasa is the focal character of the 2012 film Eat Sleep Die. Her face is one that we pass every day on our commute. It’s the face of the worker, the face of the ever-persistent, and the face that Carnegie Mellon University’s annual International Film Festival seeks to highlight year after year with a collection of humanistic works by a diverse group of international filmmakers.

This year’s theme is Faces of Work, inspired by late CMU professor and filmmaker Paul Goodman’s dedication to giving a voice to the struggle of the common worker.

The CMU International Film Festival is often a varied showcase of all aspects of cinema so rarely represented in the mainstream. Offerings from female directors and foreign filmmakers are classic staples of the festival’s roster, actively defying the pre-constructed confines of the commercial industry.

While festivals such in Toronto, Cannes, Park City, and New York tend to garner the most industry buzz, it’s smaller showcases like the CMU International Film Festival which ditch the slimy, business-driven aspect of the more commercial festivals and places the focus on the craft and how that craft illuminates us as a people.

The struggle of the worker is one that’s easily-relatable to everyone who, well, has a job. The films on display throughout Faces of Work are not new, they’re not flashy, and they’re not making headlines in the trade papers or on the festival circuit at large. They’re merely collected and presented together as a collective work that truly speaks to a common idea. The art is in the presentation of the collective, universal affect they have as a group bolstering a theme.

The focus for us as patrons then becomes not to pinpoint which films are most worthy of distribution or awards attention as we do at most film festivals, but rather to simply indulge in and absorb the art of the craft, and let these filmmakers converse with and engage us.

Eat Sleep Die, from director Gabriela Pichler, made the festival rounds two years ago at the 69th Venice International Film Festival before touring the international circuit. It made its debut on CMU’s campus this past week as part of the festival–a fitting decision to show it on school property instead of at one of the other off-campus Pittsburgh theaters the festival has temporarily taken over. The film speaks to the universality of struggle, and the ever-evolving idea of what it means to truly struggle, which is a potent reality so many college students grapple with, and one the Faces of Work theme so effectively speaks to.

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The film really impacted me because it’s very true to what I’m going through right now,” one of my friends–a recent college graduate currently working two jobs and figuring out the next steps on her path through life–said after the screening of Eat Sleep Die. It’s hard to imagine that she’s alone in that sentiment, watching Rasa struggle to scrape together a sense of self when she loses her job thanks to company budget cuts. Rasa’s superiors tell her that the cuts are necessary for the growth and survival of the company as a whole. It’s great to know that the value of survival is placed on the company at large versus the individual with a mouth to feed and breathing to do.

The film is radical in subtle ways. Where it could have been a simple examination of character in the face of an unfortunate situation, Pichler’s film instead becomes a universal tale of the disintegration of the collective dream. Pichler’s lens consistently catches Rasa at a crossroads between adulthood and childlike abandon. At once we see her blending in with the factory workers, cracking crude jokes, smoking, discussing union politics, and maintaining a household, and at other times we see her engaged in a bike race with a friend, climbing over dilapidated structures in an abandoned playground, or hugging stuffed animals after about with bad news. Rasa is still very much a child, and the society around her has made it possible only for her to be an adult by mere placement only. Her mind is still developing, and it’s being grown in a culture where her body is a number, a placeholder, a cog in the machine.

The idea of a better life for Rasa and her coworkers is simply getting by, not overextending their reach for things like fancy clothing or expensive sportscars that belong to their upper management.

For these people, the thought of something “better” is only teased by common occurrences which only relate back to the central idea of working in the first place. Rasa is asked by a social worker assigned to help her find employment to describe her best qualities. She immediately delves into her skills as a line worker, and the pride she has for how quickly she packages food. This is a classic case that’s becoming all too familiar for students and members of the workforce alike: the job shapes the human, when we should be fostering an environment where a person can easily recognize their strengths and funnel them into a career which benefits, hones, and compliments–not suplements–their life.

Eat Sleep Die shows us the shifting landscape of what it means to live. Its filled with characters whose only expectations out of life are to make enough money to get by to the next point of indifference. A dream of betterment has been replaced with the reality of stagnancy, and striving for middle-ground has replaced the drive for something better.

Pichler’s film is not one which plays strongly to only those in the society of her origin. Eat Sleep Die is a foreign film with global implications, where the value of the worker diminishes in the eyes of the corporate puppet master.

Pichler’s Eat Sleep Die  is only one of the many examples of women filmmakers’ work shown at the CMU International Film Festival. Heather Arnet’s documentary Madame Presidenta, a film about the American political landscape and the potential for a female president, will screen on Wednesday, April 2nd. Iranian director Parviz Shahbazi’s Trapped , screening on April 3, focuses on a strong female lead, while Lisa Fruchtman’s documentary Sweet Dreams (screening on the festival’s closing night, April 5) examines an African drumming troupe formed by women on both sides of the 1994 Rwandan Genocide. Fruchtman, whose career includes directorial work as well as winning an Oscar for editing 1983’s The Right Stuff, will be holding a Q&A session after the screening.

For a full schedule of the Carnegie Mellon International Film Festival’s program, please click here.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @joeynolfi

Filmic Confluence: Oscar Potential for 3RFF Offerings

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Tickets and Showtimes:

http://www.showclix.com/events/14020/

Screening Rooms:

The Harris Theater

809 Liberty Ave
Pittsburgh, PA 15222
(412) 471-9702

Melwood Screening Room
477 Melwood Ave
Pittsburgh, PA 15213
(412) 681-5449

Regent Square Theater
1035 S Braddock Ave
Pittsburgh, PA 15221
(412) 682-4111

Waterworks Cinemas
930 Freeport Rd
Pittsburgh, PA 15238
(412) 784-1416

With Night of the Living Dead celebrating its 45th birthday just this past month, the spotlight once again turned to the innovative ideas and inspired cinematic products emanating Pittsburgh’s movie scene.

George A. Romero’s stamp on film history as the definitive catalyst for a single genre’s decades of socio-cultural critique began right here in the Steel City. A place with a rich film history with an even brighter future, Pittsburgh’s cinema-friendly roots bolster the city’s annual Three Rivers Film Festival which this year features a vibrant collection of buzzy awards season contenders, beloved classics, local productions, and various documentaries.

While the city’s future in the domestic film industry continues to blossom (studio spaces have opened across the city, industry executives have purchased homes here, and the Pittsburgh Film Office continues to bring new and exciting productions to our area), Pittsburgh’s independent scene is prospering as well. The winner of the Steeltown Film Factory (My Date with Adam) screenwriting competition will be shown at the festival, and projects from local filmmakers (Blood Brother, amongst others) will have screentime as well.

Throughout its history, high-profile films as Precious, Rust and Bone, and Silver Linings Playbook  have opened the festival’s two-week schedule of screenings preceding their own domestic release dates. A print of Leos Carax’s highly-praised film Holy Motors also played at the festival last year and was, at the time of the screening, the only print of the film in the country.

2013 is no different. This year features a variety of films submitted for the 86th Academy Awards Best Foreign Language Film category, which is spectacular—especially in a mid-sized market like Pittsburgh—given the lack of outlets that show these films prior to their nominations.  

So, let’s take a look at a select few of this year’s crop of offerings and dissect their potential at next year’s Academy Awards:

Judi Dence and Steve Coogan in Philomena

Philomena

Initially screened in competition at the 70th Venice Film Festival (winning the award for Best Screenplay), Philomena went on to garner critical and audience praise at the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival, where it won the People’s Choice Runner-Up prize.  Judi Dench stars alongside Steve Coogan (also the film’s co-writer) as a woman in search of her long-lost son, giving a performance that could very well lead to an Oscar nomination.

Oscar Potential: Philomena’s awards season potential lies largely within its appeal to the heart. As we saw last year, the change to Oscar’s voting process (as well as a shift in voting deadlines that don’t give Academy members the pleasure of using the guilds as a compass) made for a uniquely diverse set of nominees. Films like Beasts of the Southern Wild and Amour are films largely backed by passionate admiration, and Philomena could find its footing in a few categories.

It certainly helps Judi Dench’s case for a seventh nomination (though she has never won in the Lead category) that director Stephen Frears has a positive track record for poising his female stars for Oscar glory (Dench was nominated for his Mrs. Henderson Presents, Glenn Close was nominated for his Dangerous Liaisons, and Helen Mirren won for his The Queen). Right now, it’s on the outskirts of any major nominations, but its domestic release and critical reception will tip its Oscar prospects one way or another.

Screenings: Saturday, November 9th (Regent Square) 5:00 PM and Tuesday, November 12th (Waterworks Cinemas) 7:00 PM

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Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom

2013 has played host to a dazzling array of diverse voices. Still, The Academy has yet to recognize a black filmmaker with an award in their Best Director category. Three black filmmakers are challenging history this year with strong contenders in the awards race. Ryan Coogler’s Fruitvale Station seems poised to make a minor splash at the ceremony, while Lee Daniels’ The Butler will get a significant push once its Oscar campaign ignites in a few weeks. Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave, however, continues to lead the Best Picture race since its screenings at Telluride and Toronto thrust it to the forefront of the Oscar discussion.

Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom has played fourth fiddle to these films, though its subject material fits in perfectly with this awards season’s narrative of “minority” voices. Based on Mandela’s autobiography chronicling his anti-apartheid practices in South Africa, the film screened to glowing reviews for star Idris Elba’s leading performance.

Oscar Potential: Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom is unfortunately teetering on the edge of a select few categories, mainly because 2013 has been such a crowded year for leading men. Elba’s shot at garnering his first Oscar nomination is slim, but still present nonetheless. If anything, the film will remain a vital part of this year’s legacy as a showcase for diverse filmmaking styles and minority representation. U2 also have an original song within the film, which could prove strong enough to receive another nomination.

Screenings: Sunday, November 10th (Waterworks) 7:00 PM and Monday, November 11th (Waterworks) 6:15 PM

 

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Best Foreign Film Academy Submissions: Ilo Ilo and The Rocket

The Singaporean and Australian entries for Best Foreign Film at the 86th Academy Awards, both films seem poised for international breakthrough. Having won the Camera d’Or at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival, Ilo Ilo became the first film from Singapore to win an award there. The film also received 6 nominations at Taiwan’s Golden Horse Awards. The Rocket opened earlier this summer in Australia to ecstatic reviews.

Oscar Potential: While receiving heavy recognition from foreign institutions and festivals, Ilo Ilo faces unprecedented competition from other foreign entries in the Best Foreign Film category. Asghar Farhadi’s The Past has gotten an overwhelming push behind it and will likely find itself with the top prize come next March. Reviews for Ilo Ilo have been ecstatic nonetheless, which could push it far enough to reach the Academy shortlist in January. There’s no clear indication that it will receive a nomination in the category just yet, and its potential will simmer as voting commences in the next few months. The Rocket’s chances are extremely slim, though the quality of the film shouldn’t be diminished by its lack of awards season prospects.

Screenings: Ilo Ilo Sunday, November 10th (Waterworks) 2:00 PM and Wednesday, November 13th (Waterworks) 4:45 PM The Rocket Friday, November 8th (Waterworks) 7:15 PM

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Bastards

Women have certainly taken control of the conversation with regards to 2013’s film offerings. Whereas male-driven and male-aimed pictures like White House Down, The Lone Ranger, and R.I.P.D. tanked on colossal budgets, female-driven pictures like Gravity, The Heat, The Conjuring, and Identity Thief solidified the notion that a handful of the few remaining box-office stars are women.

It’s not only actresses getting in on the conversation, either. 2013 saw the release of plenty of quality releases from female filmmakers, including Sofia Coppola’s The Bling Ring amongst others. Claire Denis’ Bastards, screened in the Un Certain Regard category at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival, divided audience and critics alike, and will have a screening at this year’s 3RFF as well.

Oscar Potential: Zero. Nada. Zilch. But, that doesn’t mean that your purchase of a ticket is wasted. Support female filmmakers at a time when the industry so desperately seems to want to cast them out. A ticket for Denis’ film is a ticket to build a better channel for female filmmakers to share their voice.

Screenings: Saturday, November 9th (Harris) 8:30 PM and Friday, November 15th (Harris) 7:00 PM

Other opening night screenings/galas:

A Perfect Man – November 8th (Harris Theater) 7:15 PM

The Girl From the Wardrobe – November 8th (Regent Square Theater) 7:15 PM