Saturday 26 December 2015

Defending Cinephilia (11) - Neil McGlone sends a message from the Old Country

“Defending cinephilia”, I hear you ask? Defending it against what? Well, it is a term broadly defined by film critic, Robert Koehler, and is intended to be a list of five things that you believe “defended cinephilia” in the current year.

I’m going to start briefly by looking at UK Box Office statistics (I know, yawn yawn) but I believe it is important. Since 1991 UK Box Office figures have consistently been over 100 million admissions annually, with as many as 172.5 million as recent as 2012. This sounds pretty healthy to me when you look back at the slump in the 1980’s when figures dropped as low as 54 million in 1984, but we are hardly in the good old days of 1946 when they reached a record 1.64 billion! The point I am trying to make here though is that in the last 20 or so years cinema attendance has been pretty steady and I see no reason why that will not continue, even with the current climate of people watching more films online or on demand.

The final point I raise regarding “defending cinephilia” was the quality of films themselves. I consider myself to be in the fortunate position of being able to attend a few film festivals a year and have a good group of friends who consistently send me new films throughout the year, thus giving me a good grounding on seeing a varied mix of titles from around the world, some of which may never see the light of day regarding proper distribution. I am saying this with no smugness or that I am better in any way than your average cinema-goer, but I mention it because I believe it gives me a greater opportunity to see films that others may not get the chance to see and thus discover more new films. I grow tired of hearing the same statement each year “Cinema is dying, there’s no new good films being made etc.”. I have always disagreed with these statements as I never fail to be enlightened, moved or touched by some new cinematic discovery each year and thus believe cinephilia is still very much alive, well and kicking!

Anyway, to my own personal highlights of 2015 that I believe defend cinephilia.

In March I travelled to the US with my wife to see her family in Pennsylvania and on the way back we spent five days in New York. Whilst in New York I had a 3 hour conference call with a film producer friend in California who offered me a job. This was unexpected, but very welcome! She said she wanted me to work with her in her production company as co-producer where I would read screenplays, sit in on final edits, visit film sets and look at books that could be turned into films (I am still waiting to take up this post, but am told it will happen in the future once finances are in place). On top of that she had set me up with a breakfast meeting in New York with a Hollywood director to pitch my own film to (I wrote a treatment for a film last year that she is to produce).

Gramercy Park, NY
Two days later my wife and I visit this wonderful little restaurant near Gramercy Park and I pitch my film idea to him. The first time I have ever pitched a film to anyone! He loves it and tells me to spend the next three months writing the screenplay, again something I have never done. I should point out at this point, his last film made over $60m gross at the box office. So for the next three months, my wife and I write our first screenplay and it is now in both his hands and the producer. What happens next, who knows!

Also whilst in New York I had a meeting with The Criterion Collection, for whom I do freelance work, and it was really nice to visit the office and catch up with friends there.

In June I made my annual visit to the Midnight Sun Film Festival in Lapland. This was to be the first year without its director and my dear friend, Peter von Bagh, who sadly passed away in September 2014. The festival was a sombre occasion but as always it was good to meet up with friends I see there each year and catch some movies. This year I was more involved than previous years and I’d also arranged for the US director Whit Stillman to attend as one of the main guests. I got to interview Whit in one of the morning sessions and introduce one of his films, plus introduce a screening of Michael Powell’s A CANTERBURY TALE. Mike Leigh was another of the guests at the festival and I very much enjoyed getting to know him over the few days we were there and I even managed to interview Portuguese director, Miguel Gomes. Film highlights for me were discovering the films of Nils Malmros, seeing Hasse Ekman’s GIRL WITH HYACINTHS on the big screen and a new restoration of Jacques Feyder’s LES NOUVEAUX MESSIEURS with full orchestra.

Later that month saw the annual pilgrimage to Bologna’s IL CINEMA RITROVATO festival where the three F’s are forever in abundance; films, friends and food. Highlights of the festival for me were Manoel de Oliveira’s VISITA OU MEMORIAS E CONFISSOES, WOMAN ON THE RUN (1951), MUNKBROGREVEN (1935), LOVE AFFAIR (1939) and COVER GIRL (1944). The joy of this festival though is meeting up with friends from around the globe that you see here each year and enjoying a good meal with them. For me this is every bit as enjoyable as the films on show.

I left Bologna on the Sunday to fly straight to Prague and for the Karlovy Vary Film Festival. I had been invited by the festival director, Karel Och, and am pleased to say that from 2016 I have been appointed as consultant and advisor to the festival. Karlovy Vary is around a 90 minute drive from Prague and is a beautiful picturesque spa town. The festival was celebrating its 50th year and we managed to see a total of 27 films over the 6 days we were there. Highlights for me were BODY (2015), I AM BELFAST (2015), DAVID (2015), MOUNTAINS MAY DEPART (2015), 45 YEARS (2015), THOSE WHO FALL HAVE WINGS (2015) and THE LOBSTER (2015).

Ben Wheatley
I have been attending the London Film Festival every year since 1990, but this year I was disappointed by the films on show and only ended up seeing 5 films. The highlights of these were ROOM (2015) and SUNSET SONG (2015). In August last year I visited the set of Ben Wheatley’s new film HIGH-RISE in Bangor, Northern Ireland and got to interview the cast and crew for a forthcoming article in Sight and Sound. The film was screened at the London Film Festival and I was delighted to be asked along to attend both the film and the after-screening party. Ben is a great guy with a very dark sense of humour and was good to catch up with Tom Hiddleston again too, sweet and charming as ever.

The year always ends for me with the Awards Season discs and means I get to catch up on titles that I may have missed throughout the year. This past few weeks have meant I have been able to see some of the critic’s considered highlights; CAROL (2015), MARSHLAND (2015), RAMS (2015), SICARIO (2015), THE REVENANT (2015), A WAR (2015) and we still have to watch the likes of BRIDGE OF SPIES (2015), THE HATEFUL 8 (2015), THE DANISH GIRL (2015), TRUMBO (2015), SPOTLIGHT (2015) and YOUTH (2015).

I can’t close this piece without mentioning two of the biggest box office films of the year, SPECTRE (2015) and STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS (2015). I saw the Bond film on its release date in a packed house and confess to enjoying every minute. Sure it’s entertaining “fluff” and nonsense but Bond films are never likely or expected to win awards for their screenplays or acting! It’s a film that for me entertained and set out to do what it intended, and continued to uphold the Bond tradition. I’m afraid I can’t say the same for the STAR WARS film, which I’d instantly forgotten about the moment I left the cinema. It was a shameless “cash-in” using strong story elements from the original 1977 film (which it almost duplicated at times!) and where the acting at times was laughable and frankly, embarrassing. 

I look forward to 2016 with the usual sense of optimism of what may excite me, what I may discover and new experiences/encounters with folk from the film world. I have curated a programme of film events at my local cinema (The Riverside), which I am very much looking forward to getting involved in. There will also be Il Cinema Ritrovato in June as well as my new role at the Karlovy Vary Film Festival in July. 

Wishing all friends and defenders of cinephilia a healthy and prosperous 2016, may it bring you many cinematic delights!Defending cinephilia, I hear you ask? Defending it against what? Well, it is a term broadly defined by film critic, Robert Koehler, and is intended to be a list of five things that you believe “defended cinephilia” in the current year.

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