The Movie Lovers

The world makes out all right at the International Film Festival

TAUBIN: There's nothing inherently wrong with marketing or publicity. How would we know that something's available otherwise? The problem is that the marketing and publicity tend to focus on what
people already know--on stars, usually, or on a hook like "Local kid makes good."

PERANSON: The rhetoric surrounding any festival is inevitably misleading. Publicity doesn't seek to tell the truth--it seeks to stretch the truth. Almost any festival's program notes tend to refer to films on the schedule as life-changing masterpieces.

RICH: The glut of tributes and honorary awards at festivals is dubious, too. But the range of programming is crucial--particularly for a U.S. audience that otherwise has no access to the subjectivity of people in other cultures. It's nice to get to know the folks before our government bombs them into oblivion or deposes their leaders.

 

Kidman and the Killing Machine

COWGILL: Clearly, festival programming could be a meticulous intellectual enterprise: In theory, the programmer could look at all of the films that are made in a given year and create a perfectly balanced, globally representative, and fully coherent program out of it. But in practice, the resources this would require are simply not available to [the MSPIFF], not by a long shot. At Minnesota Film Arts, there's a total of three staff people who work on the festival--and working on the festival is hardly their only responsibility during the year.

CP:It has to be said that the volume and quality of work those three people do--in a few short months--is truly astounding.

COWGILL: Yes, it is. Ideally, the festival in Minneapolis would have a year-round staff devoted to its development; it would be liberally funded--something every nonprofit wants, of course. These are real things to want to have. But at the same time, we need to hesitate before we yearn to have our festival become more like, say, Sundance. Because while that kind of energy is vibrant and sexy--it attracts money and power and press coverage, it pays for salaries and helps sustain the enterprise, it's fun--we know that such energy tends to call the shots, that it tends to appeal to the controlling forces of corporate media.

CP:How much does a festival like the MSPIFF need the "major" films--the films that'll inevitably open at Landmark [e.g., Lagoon Cinema, the Uptown Theatre] or even in gigaplexes?

RICH: I think festival programmers would generally prefer to show only those films that aren't going to be available in the marketplace. But they're forced to invite celebrities in order to ensure the local media coverage that's needed to bring in the audience and the sponsors. Even Toronto, with its hundreds of films and blue-ribbon curatorial staff, has to fight to get the local press to pay attention to anything other than celebrities.

TAUBIN: As a film journalist, I need to have a hook to sell my editors on doing a story about a festival. Often the hook is a star or a preview of a major release. So what you hope is that the person who wants to be the first on her block to see the new Nicole Kidman movie--let's say Dogville [featured in this year's MSPIFF]--will also buy tickets to something she might otherwise not have gone to see.

COWGILL: Whether or not that's true, celebrities do help a festival's viability. If some movie star with a little panache came out of the woodwork and said, "Hey--I want to adopt the MSPIFF," that would be our fastest road to growth and glamour. I mean, Sundance is Sundance because Robert Redford has always been connected to it.

RICH: And now Tribeca has [Robert] De Niro.

WILDER: It seems to me that it's not only festivals that could benefit from celebrity salesmanship. I think you could argue that all of art cinema ought to adapt to the circumstances of our market-driven, celebrity-driven movie culture. It's crazy to try to sell Unknown Pleasures or Millennium Mambo in a marketplace where finding the next Il Postino is the order of the day. You have to get the films in front of an audience that'll respond to them; you have to allow them to be heard over the din of Armageddon 2. I say, be an absolute whore about it. Take a cue from the way that DVDs are sold. Get Scarlett Johansson and Sofia Coppola to explicate Rivette's Joan of Arc, or Ethan Hawke and Richard Linklater to wax rhapsodic on Rehearsing "In the Company of Men", and you'll see those pictures outpace The Barbarian Invasions in no time.

CP:The MSPIFF has succeeded in hosting a few celebrities over the years: Robert Duvall, Josh Hartnett, Peter Bogdanovich. Is Peter Bogdanovich a celebrity?

RICH: What's interesting is that festivals offer a different definition of celebrity: a cinephile's definition of celebrity. So instead of needing to have, you know, Mel Gibson, they'll try to get Wong Kar-wai. I think it's crucial for regional festivals to get the filmmakers in town; it's part of the branding of a festival, one of the things that distinguishes a festival from ongoing exhibition. On the other hand, I was on the jury at the Sydney Film Festival this year, and they bring in fewer filmmakers--and keep them longer, to encourage more fruitful interaction--than any festival I've ever attended.

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