Tuesday 20 December 2016

Defending Cinephilia 2016 (11) - Veteran cinephile Michael Campi takes up the cudgels

HKIFF 2015 poster
When asked to contribute to this year's defence of cinephilia postings, I wondered initially what to write. Then in assembling my World Poll for Senses of Cinema it occurred quickly that quite an amount of my travels are very much in pursuit of cinephilia itself, to enjoy what other like-minded colleagues have programmed at film festivals in Hong Kong, Bologna, Sydney, Vancouver, Tokyo along with the very broad range of carefully curated films at the Melbourne International Film Festival , the Melbourne Cinematheque and the Australian Centre for the Moving Image.
As it's the first festival stop in the year for me, let's start with Hong Kong International Film Festival which I've managed to attend, with two exceptions, since 1992. The programming of this large event, running over two weeks in seven or eight venues, has been in the same inspired hands for many years. I'm lured back for their good collection of new international films, new Asian titles, side-bars and retrospectives. For a number of years the festival has commissioned four short works each year by major Asian directors and it's been announced the festival will be a part sponsor of new features for premiere appearances in the festival in 2017.

Over the years the festival has met the challenge of changing audience tastes and trends as well as satisfying the interests of basically a young demographic with a curiosity about international cinema and films from the past. Additionally there have been competitive moves from commercial cinema interests throughout the year. The festival runs an additional summer event as well as its traditional fortnight around Easter plus a monthly Cine Fan repertory programme. 

Highlights this year, amongst about sixty or more features that I viewed, were TRIVISA by Frank Hui, Vicky Wong and Jevons Au (the last of whom was one of the five directors of the smash hit TEN YEARS omnibus), Kurosawa Kiyoshi's CREEPY, Zhang Hanyi's LIFE AFTER LIFE, Johnny Ma's OLD STONE, Handl Klaus' TOMCAT, Midi Z's CITY OF JADE, Terence Davies' SUNSET SONG, Tsai Ming-Liang's AFTERNOON with Tsai and his usual actor Lee Kang-Sheng in attendance, Bellocchio's BLOOD OF MY BLOOD, Oliveira's "posthumous" VISIT OR MEMORIES AND CONFESSIONS..., Pema Tseden's THARLO, Denis Cote's BORIS WITHOUT BEATRICE, Pablo Larrain's THE CLUB, Sono Sion's THE WHISPERING STAR, Bi Gan's KAILI BLUES, Li Luo's LI WEN AT EAST LAKE, Qiu Jiongjiong's MR. ZHANG BELIEVES, Eva Neymann's SONG OF SONGS, Zrinko Ogresta's ON THE OTHER SIDE, Emin Alper's FRENZY, Ozcan Alper's MEMORIES OF THE WIND, Gabriel Mascaro's NEON BULL, Lorenzo Vigas's FROM AFAR, unusually better known by its original title DESDE ALLA.

The cinephilia though really kicks in with the side-bars. Restored classics included Griffith's INTOLERANCE, Eisenstein's ALEXANDER NEVSKY, Fellini's AMARCORD, Akerman's JEANNE DIELMAN, Brocka's INSIANG, Hou Hsiao-hsien's THE BOYS FROM FENGKUEI with Hou making a sudden appearance to comment on the Belgian digital restoration. 

Bruce Lee
Additionally there were screenings of the four restored Bruce Lee features, adaptations of Shakespeare from Akira Kurosawa's THRONE OF BLOOD to Kurzel's MACBETH, the annual panorama of the last year's Hong Kong features, selections of local and international short films, the annual Master Class series of new films by directors like Lav Diaz, Patricio Guzman, Alexander Sokurov, Frederick Wiseman and more, a selection of Japanese indie features from the punk years which included films from the late 70s and early 80s filmed on 8mm and restored to 2K - early work by Sono Sion, Tsukamoto Shinya etc., a 25th anniversary of Jet Tone Films which included several earlier Wong Kar-Wai films, avant-grade programmes by Lewis Klahr, Henry Francis and many more.

Obviously scheduling one's own programme involved a lot of rides on the subway, researching new shortcuts through inevitable shopping malls and hoping to find time to enjoy all the food options of Hong Kong at a relaxed pace.  Something has to give and it's usually the last. 
In the calendar the Sydney Film Festival comes next.  In recent years I've enjoyed seeing about twenty films over a few days in Sydney in June.  But the 2016 event included the special cinephilic inclusion: "Korea on the Verge.  Social Faultlines in Korean Cinema" curated by Asian film expert Tony Rayns. The more independent aspect of South Korean cinema is not displayed often in Australia. It runs under the radar of the latest Hong Sang-soo films or the TRAIN TO BUSAN kinds of higher profile crowd pleasing epics. So for those fortunate to be in Sydney for five special days in June, there was excitement provided  by Ahn Gooc-jin's ALICE IN EARNESTLAND, Park Hong-min's 3D work A FISH with director present, Zhang Lu's LOVE AND...., Jung Yoon-suk's NON FICTION DIARY and the really very special STATELESS THINGS by the talented Kim Kyung-mook, one of my very favourite films of recent years from anywhere.
Cinephilia is completely in the foreground at the Melbourne IFF moving more and more to being completely in August. MIFF is a very large event with well over two hundred features and dozens of short works. Along with the critical blockbusters from the established festival circuit, each year there are unique sidebars and byways along with other special events to engage those more socially networked. For me anyway it's not possible to see more than at most sixty-five features in an event running just over two weeks. Films are missed inevitably by myself and like-minded friends. So the cinephile admiration rises when we discover, for example, that this year's huge success, TONI ERDMANN, was programmed with the director's two earlier features and then realise that one of these had already been programmed astutely in MIFF at the time of its first appearances, something rather overlooked a few years ago because of the sheer volume of eye-catching films in every direction. 

This year MIFF pleased me and hundreds of others by focussing a spotlight on Hara Setsuko. Included in restored copies were TOKYO STORY, EARLY SUMMER, LATE SPRING plus three more difficult to see films: Naruse's SOUND OF THE MOUNTAIN, Kurosawa's NO REGRETS FOR OUR YOUTH and Yoshimura's A BALL AT THE ANJO HOUSE.  On a Monday afternoon at 4pm., around four hundred people gathered for the Kurosawa film. Cause for cinephile excitement.

Lewis as Professor Kelp, The Nutty Professor
With Hara's passing last year, this sidebar was not so unexpected but extremely welcome.  Much more surprising however was a tribute to Jerry Lewis, presenting the twelve films he directed plus a panel discussion including such  Lewis experts as Chris Fujiwara and Alan Finney. Somehow I'd never seen SMORGASBORD (1983)  before. Although its premise is a simple construction to string many jokes together, I'd forgotten what it was like to laugh so hard, long and nearly painfully that coming up for air was necessary but difficult.

And yet MIFF presented more cinephile attractions with "Gaining Ground", six female directors who worked in New York in the 70s and 80s. Films like Claudia Weill's GIRLFRIENDS, Elaine May's A NEW LEAF and Lizzie Borden's BORN IN FLAMES.

Discovery is one of the excitements of these events and certainly the "Escuela de Barcelona" series was almost completely new to me. This 1960s New Wave movement under the influence of Bunuel was even more astonishing as it flourished during Franco's regime.  Films like Jorge Grau's ACTEON and Gonzalo Suarez's AOOM were only two of a unique selection of films not easy to see for most festivalgoers.

VIFF Poster (not 2016)
In a perfect world, a visit to the Vancouver IFF would be a mandatory annual event but distance and other priorities have enabled me to visit at somewhat erratic intervals over twenty years. The festival has been specially notable for its Dragons and Tigers section, a uniquely programmed range of films from East and South-East Asia, curated by Tony Rayns for many years and more recently by Shelly Kraicer for the Chinese films.  In many cases these films would be otherwise very difficult to see with English subtitles (or even without). International careers have been established for more than a few of the directors after their works have been shown at VIFF.  This year sadly I couldn't stay more than a week but experiencing Midi Z's THE ROAD TO MANDALAY, Chung Mong-Hong's GODSPEED, Riri Riza's MOTHER and Komatsu Takashi's OUT OF THE FRYING PAN ...,  made the journey extremely worthwhile. Happily a few more followed me to Tokyo, see below.
The cinephiles with more time could have been thrilled by the much awaited new film by Anocha Suwichakornpong, BY THE TIME IT GETS DARK, Wang Xuebo's KNIFE IN THE CLEAR WATER or Nishikawa Miwa's THE LONG EXCUSE which I mentioned on this blog recently.
Kitano Takeshi
This year I was able to return, after six years, to Tokyo FILMeX, a very boutique one week festival, launched by Kitano Takeshi's film company in 2000. It's a pleasure to attend a festival that has been so carefully curated and fine-tuned. There are ten feature films in competition and another dozen films in special categories.
Moreover it's not only possible to see everything programmed but sometimes there's the chance for a second look as well. Add to this that all the screenings are in the same multi-purpose building accessed from the Ginza subway station, the allure of the event is very potent.

FILMeX really pleased the cinephile heart with features such as Yaelle Kayam's MOUNTAIN from Israel, (seen in Australia at the same time in the Jewish IFF and the Brisbane Asia Pacific FF). Ms Kayam is a graduate of the Victorian College of the Arts in Melbourne. Sanjeewa Pushpakumara's BURNING BIRDS is a stirring and dark tale from his own growing up experience in Sri Lanka through the disturbing late 1980s. FILMeX again provided chances to see LIFE FOR LIFE, THE ROAD TO MANDALAY, KNIFE IN THE CLEAR WATER. Two independent South Korean films really impressed. I'd been unable to stay in Vancouver long enough to see Lee Hyun-ju's OUR LOVE STORY, an exceptionally touching and well-developed lesbian narrative which not only continues the fine tradition of film-making from the Korean Academy of Fine Arts but also demands to be seen by much wider international audiences.  Yoon Ga-eun's THE WORLD OF US astonishes with such marvellous performances: the central characters are girls in primary school where one of their number is victimised relentlessly.  A very universal topic.

FILMeX opened with Kim Ki-Duk's THE NET, continuing his concerns about North and South Korea and closed with the multi-director TRIVISA which was one of the two opening films at HKIFF earlier in the year.

CInephilia was really demonstrated in Rithy Panh's achingly touching EXILE which began its career in Cannes last May. Continuing the director's memories of his experience growing up in the Khmer Rouge period in Cambodia, this is a cine-essay of enormous power and subtlety.  A young man in a single room which is constantly changing its appearance to evoke memories of family and wider society in peril. Ravaged actuality footage of those terrible events are used splendidly and discreetly. A narration incorporating philosophy and poetry is delivered quietly and is at times reminiscent in its resonance with the opening off-screen voices in Resnais' HIROSHIMA, MON AMOUR, a film to which Rithy Panh referred during a long Q&A after one screening.  This was easily a film to be seen twice in a week.  Let's hope it will find its way to a home video format sooner than later.
Edgardo Cozarisnky, filmmaker, critic and co-curator
of the vintage Argentinian selection at Bologna
For many regular attendees, Il Cinema Ritrovato's weeklong celebration of rediscovered cinema in Bologna has become an essential part of the film calendar. There is nothing more cinephiliac than this sunny week in Bologna. Happily there are more direct ways to reach this welcoming city if travel time is limited to just the festival week itself. After thirty years, this celebration of over a century of cinema reminds us that cinephilia is alive and embraced by hundreds of younger and younger participants along with the senior film programmers and archivists from the world over. It's encouraging to see university aged students flocking to eighty year old black and white Universal genre pictures or silent Keaton comedies let alone a restored Stroheim etc. We may expect a crowded piazza for yet another screening of Kubrick's 2001 but there is a special thrill to find a fully occupied open-air space for a Resnais post-modern drama revived  or a Minnelli musical.  For an excellent coverage of Il Cinema Ritrovato festivals, please refer to Peter Hourigan's  contribution to Senses of Cinema, an article that provides a much broader view of the festival week than found in many other journals.

This year I was particularly impressed by two very cinephile discoveries, both of them unique explorations of unexpected pathways in film history. Bertrand Tavernier's VOYAGE A TRAVERS LE CINEMA FRANCAIS enthralled with its expert look at an alternative French film history over its 195 minutes running time. Just as Martin Scorsese followed his own path through his studies of American and Italian cinemas, Tavernier traces his beloved French cinema from the 1930s to the 1970s when he directed his first film.  Cinephiles will rejoice in finding Becker, Melville and Sautet contrasted with lesser known filmmakers such as Grevillle and Grangier.  Favourite composers, Jaubert and Kosma, are also given loving attention.  It appears a longer version is being completed for future events and home video. Ideally screenings of some of the lesser known films should accompany presentations of Tavernier's labour of love.

Even more unexpected in Bologna, and the part of the programme which captivated me the most, was an Alternate History of Argentine Cinema curated by filmmaker Edgardo Cozarinsky and Fernando Martin Pena. Eight mostly unfamiliar features from 1935 to 1975 were presented with exceptionally warm introductions by the curators describing how one film in particular had such a will to survive that it had failed to perish in a nitrate film fire followed by a basement flood that had destroyed some reels of other films in the same inadequate storage area.

Of special cinephile interest were Alberto de Zavalia's ESCALA EN LA CIUDAD, photographed in extraordinary black and white by John Alton, much better known in Hollywood in the years to come. Pierre Chenal's legendary SANGRE NEGRA, the original English language version of Richard Wright's NATIVE SON, claimed particular attention while SI MUERTO ANTES DE DESPERTAR (1952) by Carlos Hugo Christensen included many resemblances to Fritz Lang's M and Hugo del Carrill's MAS ALLA DE OLVIDO (1955) anticipated Hitchcock's VERTIGO by a few years.

Overall this exceptional collection of unfamiliar works brought to our attention the studio system at work through Spanish speaking Latin and South Americas.  By incredible chance in the following week back at home, the Melbourne Cinematheque commenced three weekly double bills of film noir treasures of the Mexican cinema studio system, cine negro titles from the 1940s and 1950s which provided a fascinating complement to the Argentine discoveries the week before in Bologna. Director Roberto Gavaldon directed three of the titles, THE OTHER ONE (1946), IN THE PALM OF YOUR HAND (1951) and NIGHT FALLS (1952), the last featuring Pedro Armendariz, before he became better known as a character actor in Hollywood, and whose appearance in Julio Bracho's ANOTHER DAWN (1943) was the first half of the double bill. Nine years can change an actor's persona markedly. 

The dedicated organisers of Melbourne Cinematheque are cinephiles to the core providing  a diverse annual array of Wednesday night programmes, mostly double bills of films in series of directors, genres, actors, countries etc. No better 2016 opening night could be imagined than a new restoration of Lubitsch's HEAVEN CAN WAIT, screened not on DCP but a brand new 35mm print. Director tributes ranged from Visconti, von Stroheim, Farocki, Altman, Borowczyk, Breillat, Herzog and very rare 35mm prints of seminal Hou Hsiao-hsien films, perhaps the first time his DUST IN THE WIND had been seen on a screen in Melbourne. Special events included an Oliveira double bill of his long out of sight VISITS, OR MEMORIES AND CONFESSIONS plus FRANCISCA, African films, a range of Barbara Stanwyck vehicles etc.

The first of three Kobayashi Masaki programmes brought us two of his films previously unseen here, at least to my knowledge. HYMN TO A TIRED MAN (1968) and STRIKE A LIFE FOR NOTHING (1971). These were embraced joyously by the cinephile with the added richness of completely unblemished 35mm prints. 

Yet the year provided no greater highlight than the Cinematheque's double bill programme of films by Margot Nash: her 2015 THE SILENCES, the 1989 short film SHADOW PANIC and a very rare chance to see her 1995 VACANT POSSESSION in 35mm, a film which has gained even more momentum since its first appearance. Margot Nash was present for this exceptional evening, greeted by a specially enthusiastic audience asking a wide range of questions.

May 2017 provide as many cinephile joys as this last twelve months.

Editor's Note: I first met Michael Campi when we both attended university back in the '60s. He has been a devout cinephile since that time, collecting, advising, drawing attention to new and old work and passing on copies of key films. Without his devotion we would all be the poorer.

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