Monday 11 September 2017

Canberra International Film Festival - Festival Director Andrew Pike explains the format and its focus on past as well as present

Programming the retrospective component of CIFF has had its creative challenges:  for the retrospective programmer, the world is your oyster.  The programmer can theoretically choose anything, so how does one structure it, and make sense of it all for the viewer?

I’ve chosen to follow the model of the wonderful retrospective film festival in Bologna, Il Cinema Ritrovato, and have chosen to create, where possible, strands of films, linking them wherever possible.  The intention is that you, the audience can follow the strands that interest you (or can watch everything if you have the time!).

The strands that I have constructed for this year’s CIFF involve a major 7-film survey of the work of Jacques Tourneur plus a cluster of shorter 2-film groupings.  The main strands could be summarised briefly in this way:

1. a celebration of the great film performances by Googie Withers in British cinema in the 30s, 40s and early 50s, prompted by the fact that 2017 is the centenary of her birth, and because she contributed significantly to Australian culture, mainly through the theatre, but is unknown to younger audiences.  We’ll be showing two of her greatest films:  IT ALWAYS RAINS ON SUNDAY and WHTE CORRIDORS.

-       2. A re-discovery of the early work of Pat Jackson, a British director much feted in his day as one of the great hopes of British cinema, but whose career led him to the anonymity of television, and he is now sadly forgotten.  We’ll show his first and third features, WESTERN APPROACHES and WHITE CORRIDORS - the latter starring none other than Googie Withers.  Such intersections between strands are one of the exciting aspects of this sort of programming.

Len Lye
A celebration of the rarely seen work of Len Lye, the extraordinary New Zealand animator and kinetic sculptor.  His films and sculptures have been assiduously conserved in New Zealand and we will have two Len Lye experts visiting CIFF to discuss his work.  Lye’s animated films were all very short, commissioned in the 1930s by the progressive GPO Film Unit and then by other governmental and commercial agencies during the war. Lye’s films will be scattered like sparkles throughout the Festival program – little bursts of vibrant colour, good humour and vitality that will be wonderful curtain-raisers before feature films.

-       With my co-programmer, Alice Taylor, we have tried to construct links that allow some of the contemporary films that Alice has chosen for CIFF, to speak to some of the retrospective selections.  Two brand new films will be matched with earlier work by the filmmakers involved:  Gaylene Preston’s remarkable new film, MY YEAR WITH HELEN, will be matched with her earlier drama, HOME BY CHRISTMAS; and the French-Romani director, Tony Gatlif, will be represented with his fabulous new work, DROM, and with his first break-out success, the exhilarating LATCHO DROM.

Jacques Tourneur
And then there is the exceptional Jacques Tourneur:  we will provide a rare opportunity to discover, re-discover or to re-evaluate the work of this elusive and unsung genius.  Tourneur was a French director who made films for the Hollywood studios in the 1940s and 50s, many of them ultra-low-budget, and across a wide range of genres.  We will screen six of his films as well as a new French documentary about his life and work.  Interestingly, the prestigious Locarno Film Festival in Switzerland has also just screened an extensive retrospective of Tourneur’s films and CIFF can be proud that we have had the same idea of celebrating the achievements of this remarkable “auteur.”  We will be welcoming as our Festival guest, Chris Fujiwara, author of the authoritative study of Tourneur.  He will be introducing most of the screenings and will be presenting an extended Conversation session about Tourneur’s endlessly fascinating work.

 I hope you will find unexpected pleasures in the program that Alice and I have designed:  it’s been an exciting exercise for us to bring it all together, and we look forward to sharing it with you.

- Andrew Pike, 12 September 2017

More anon....(ed.)

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