The Movie Lovers

The world makes out all right at the International Film Festival

TAUBIN: Clever programmers will have a new opportunity to create tie-ins: "Come see the latest work of a director whose previous films are now available on Netflix."

CP: But shouldn't the really clever programmers be trying harder to unearth the ultra-low-budget variety of world cinema that'll never be available through Netflix? What about the thousands of films each year that are shot on digital, that lie outside conventional circulation channels, that lack reputation?

COWGILL: If you put the words trying harder in front of the MSPIFF staff right now, you might get popped in the nose.

Tim Lane


"Real" Compared to What

CP: So what's the next "big" national cinema?

RICH: For me, the most exciting cinema right now is Palestinian: That was my big revelation two years ago when I was programming for Toronto. Take Ticket to Jerusalem and Divine Intervention, for example: completely different films--their directors would probably hate each other's work, in fact--and yet they both convey the extreme surreality of daily life in Palestine. The pressure-cooker environment, the desperate circumstances, have created in Palestinian artists a kind of inspiration that's fueling some very dynamic and interesting cinema.

PERANSON: I think the next big cinema is Aramaic. I'm kidding. Seriously, I'd say we're in the midst of the biggest sea change in national cinemas that I can think of: from the nation of fiction to the nation of documentary.

TAUBIN: I don't know about "big," but Argentina and Turkey--despite discouraging economic conditions and political turmoil--have recently produced some extremely interesting filmmakers. At the same time, we talk so much about "national cinemas," but at the moment there's a whole genre of films about diaspora, about people who are stateless, crossing borders. That's really interesting.

WILDER: What about Hong Kong? American highbrows have pretty much turned up their noses at recent HK fare. But Bryan Chang, the director of Among the Stars and Under the Crescent, is the most interesting Asian filmmaker to emerge in the last few years. His movies have more to do with trends in American visual art than with the pop of '80s Hong Kong or the Antonioni-ennui of Tsai Ming-liang or Zhang Ke Jia. His movies have all the fervor and sincerity of seventh-grade diary entries. And they're suspenseful: You keep waiting for the quotation marks to arrive, and they never do.

PERANSON: I think it's mainly a matter of faddishness. Iranian films were hot, now they're less hot because people are always looking for the "next big thing."

TAUBIN: If national cinemas have cycles, it's partly a function of the fact that filmmaking energy doesn't last forever--not in individuals, and not in a culture, either. Sometimes it's the case that everything that needed to be said has been said. Sometimes criticism of the country's cinema--criticism of its popularity--can come from within, and sometimes it can be damaging. One of the things you run into all the time at festivals where roundtable discussions feature producers from developing countries is the notion that if a film plays well outside of, say, Tunisia, then that means the filmmaker has sold out, that she's making films for the "international market." That's an ongoing line, and it drives me crazy. You get this extremely fundamentalist take on what national cinema is--this absurd notion that it can't partake of international film culture.

WILDER: For some psychological reason I can't quite decipher, most thinking art-lovers suffer from varying degrees of fickleness in relation to an artist's popularity: "I liked him before he got big, but now..." The question is, "Why did Iranian art cinema or Hong Kong action cinema or Japanese horror sprout when it did and then wilt--arguably--a half-generation later?" I think the latter part is easier to figure out than the former. Film movements--especially in the hypermediated world of entertainment journalism--burn out quickly or morph into new shapes. This is a natural part of the process by which new work comes to light. The more interesting question is: What cultural forces liberated all these artists in a particular place and time to do work that in some way resonated with the feelings of those near and far? The artists aren't forming a movement in that case: History is.

PERANSON: When what's new happens to fit well with an audience, that's when you have the start of a trend. Obviously the American pop-culture trend is toward reality: reality television, reality crucifixion, whatever. And documentaries: The more "hot" the documentary topic--child abuse, for example--the better. In a way, the popularity of documentary is working in the opposite direction from, say, the popularity of Iranian and Taiwanese cinema, which was led largely by critics. In the case of documentary, the demand lies with the audience. It's a desire for authenticity.

WILDER: Most Western tastemakers like "authenticity," too--especially when it involves suffering. This is what allows Hou Hsiao-hsien to be known as one of the greatest filmmakers working today, while Abderrahmane Sissako is shoved to the back of the bus. Sissako [whose Waiting for Happiness screened at the MSPIFF in 2003] is a Russian-trained filmmaker from Mali; his movies have the geographical density of James Joyce and the switchboard quality of Robert Altman, but what flows forth from the screen is love and pleasure. Each of his movies is a euphoric testament to the resilience, humor, sexiness, and sheer oddity of the people of Mali. They are not difficult films to like--which paradoxically may explain the short shrift they've been given relative to sufferers like Hou and Béla Tarr [The Werckmeister Harmonies].

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