My dark period of festival abstinence has mercifully ended. I visited the Ashland Independent Film Festival in early April, my first visit to this intimate, well-programmed and well-run festival in the arts-saturated little town that also houses the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. I saw several films there that are prospects for the Houston Cinema Arts Festival, but the standout for me was Before the Spring, After the Fall, a ground-level view of the Egyptian revolution. The film follows some brilliant, totally committed young revolutionaries; the most impressive one is a character I could hardly believe really exists…. the feminist leader of an all-female heavy metal group (this is why documentaries often trump fiction).
In mid-May, I made it to France for the Cannes Film Festival, my first trip there in a mere 34 years. A film I caught in the Marché section, Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer, resonated strongly with Before the Spring. I may show the Pussy Riot film in the festival, but you can catch it sooner on HBO on June 10. The artistic and political courage of these women is amazing, and reinforces one’s faith that a rigid social order can be transformed by young people’s activism. I’d love to throw into this mini-series that’s forming on art and revolution another film about Egypt, The Square, winner of the audience prize for world documentary at Sundance (it got my vote). The Square also shows the role of young artists committed to changing their society. But Jehane Noujaim, the courageous director of The Square (she’s been jailed three times), is back in Egypt, participating in the ongoing struggle and revising her film.
Cannes was okay, but I think it may be another 34 years before I go again. I prefer the selection at Toronto in September, after the reviews are in from Cannes and I know better what to catch and what to avoid. As usual for me, I was particularly interested in how Cannes was displaying new media, and I got some great ideas from the Cross-Media Corner in the Marché. I liked how they displayed their well-chosen Web documentary and narrative projects with interactive screens and background documentation for each piece. Here’s one, bla bla by Vincent Morisset, I had a lot of fun playing.
In between Ashland and Cannes, I attended the Cinema Pacific film festival in Eugene, which I also happen to direct. I sometimes use the festival in Eugene as a testing ground for works that, if they’re about the arts and are well-received, I then bring to Houston (and vice versa). This year, the live cinema performance by animator Jeremy Rourke and the Chinese film, The Love Songs of Tiedan, a wonderful new narrative film about a heartsick “er ren tai” (bawdy folk song) performer in rural China, made the grade, and are likely to head South to Houston in November.