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About Jenna Cato Bass

I'm a director, writer, photographer, aspiring explorer and retired magician living in Cape Town, South Africa

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SOMETHING IS HAPPENING AND WE DON'T KNOW WHAT IT IS

Posted May 25, 2011

Yes. Something is happening. 

But we don't know what it is. 

This, ladies and gents, is LIFE. It has been the theme of the last few months. It is a grand statement, and has a nice ring to it. Living it has been interesting. 

Despite the waiting, the wondering, the wandering, the wishing and the WTF-ing, much has happened, to such a degree that I don't know where to begin...

 

As news on the block will have it, TOK TOKKIE was invited to NYC for Focus's inaugural Story Camp - SUPER-FANTASTISCH!

Flew to NYC with David (Producer 1), hooked up with Kisha (Producer 2), and attended what was a .... (now, a warning, there seems to be no synonym for the word I am about to use, so I am forced to use it).... WHIRLWIND few days, the hight-light of which, for me, turned out to be our script development meetings, in which I realized that perhaps the only way for me to make major narrative changes is to literally have someone fly me to another country. Not very practical, in the long-term at least. Nevertheless, whether it was the dark arts, or just hard work, much progress was made. And a surprising amount of fun was had. Such a honor to be surrounded by such exceptional filmmakers. A real, real privilege.  

Back home, Cape Town has been a McFlurry (ah, see, now there's a real synonym for 'whirlwind' - sadly missed from the thesaurus) of rewrites, additions to the team, a visit from Kisha and Matt, encounters with seals, much ranting and raving. 

Q: Are we making a movie?

A: We have an amazing script now!

 

Oh dear. All this tension. 

Excuse me while I go and sandpaper my nerves. 

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At least David and I have different perspectives (and matching producer/director mugs):

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I remember writing some time ago on this blog, that making a movie is like screaming at the top of your lungs, from the inception of the idea, until waaaay after the film is released. So, if you're reading this, take a moment....

Listen. 

Just listen. 

You hear that sound? 

That's me. 

That is my voice. And if you can't hear the exact words, or don't understand my accent, allow me to translate:

"Something is definitely happening. 

BUT WE DON'T KNOW WHAT IT IS!"

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IN SUMMARY:

A crazy, amazing and damn fine movie is in the pipeline. I am so excited. As are my lovely, wonderful, occasionally obstreperous producers, David and Kisha, shown here in a rare moment of peace and harmony:

My lovely producers, David and Kisha, in a rare peaceful moment

 

Thank you to everyone who has been involved in Team TOK TOKKIE so far - thank you for not thinking I am insane, and for seeing the promise in the madness. 

One day we will look back on this moment. And know it was where everything started. 

 

Over and out.

Jenna

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"To think that I've lived here all of my life and never seen these things."

Posted March 31, 2011

Typical. Even in the interests of the coolness of 'live-blogging', I can't get it together to complete a post. Thus I'll have to make do with snippets from my recent trip to New York, which hopefully won't suffer from being a few days young (cough). Laura Palmer always says it best: 'I'm in kind of a funny mood'

+++

 

Live from New York City, where I sit in my Dog Day Afternoon pajamas and contemplate the last three days: I have listened to Ted Hope, sat on turquoise leather, eaten vegan fish, bought a ticket to see The Strokes and pitched my film to over twenty people. I'm here for a film seminar for Western Cape filmmakers (niche, I know), trying to attract interest for our local projects from the US industry. It's been a good experience and I finally feel like I'm getting the hang of this. I'm sure I was aided, however, by the fact that just before I left I finally completed a new draft of Tok Tokkie. No longer the fragile, tottering tower that with one sensible question from a curious sales agent comes tumbling down. No sir. I maybe wouldn't describe it as water tight, but it no longer resembles the first pair of All Stars I bought (i.e. nice and sentimental, but full of holes).

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What does one expect from these things? Despite whatever you tell yourself, there's a small part of your brain (buried deep in the same section that holds out hope that Steve Zahn may get another serious acting role after Rescue Dawn) which really believes you will walk away from one of these one-on-one's with a cheque in your shaking fist. I'm chatting about this afterwards, when the seminar's over, probably with Sean and Mike while running between bars trying to stalk The Strokes: All you can hope for are the magic words, 'send me your script'. Later, we're drinking too many gin and tonics, and being told by a supposed software entrepeneur surrounded by blondes that 'film is dead'. So that would put things in perspective. If I had believed him. At all. This is New York. They have vegan macaroni cheese. Things aren't too bad yet. That guy should just watch this. Looks like there's plenty to get excited about. 

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My best moment so far has been ripped straight out of a movie. A comedy, yes. I get a meeting with a big agent, high up in a building in a nice part of town. Too nice for me it seems, or so the doorman is evidently thinking. Manage to convince him I have a legitimate reason to be there and I'm on my way up in the elevator. I'm 15min early. Apparently this a good thing, says the assistant. I'm reading 'The Black Curtain', trying to calm down. Eventually I get led through a maze of corridors into an office with a better view of the city than what you'd get at a $10 tourist attraction. It looks like its snowing. I pitch my film to an audience that looks at me only when the blackberry isn't saying anything more intelligent (which is not often). Oh no, I think. This is really bad. I finish my pitch: And so Louis, who is a demon, teams up with The Black Cross, as well as the only remaining ghost in the city, to find out where the city's souls have vanished to (something like that). Pause. Beat. Silence. Then the person looks up and says, 'Good. I like it.' Outside, what looked like snow from up there is actually rain. But it could be anything. This time I don't feel it. 

+++

Films watched on the plane over:

CATFISH

RAISIN IN THE SUN

SAHARA

THE TOURIST (£*%@?)

THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI (like I was never not going to watch that)

THE TAMING OF THE SHREW

No wonder over the next few days I'm so tired. 

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But before I leave the best film I see is RED BEARD. Unbelievable. 

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It's always hard seeing your role models swept into the next generation. I'm watching The Strokes for the first time ever live, since my teenage-obsession took hold and, though I've grown up, it hasn't really gone away. I could say that band is part of the reason I make movies, and not just in the sense that the things you love are the reason you do anything. But what's interesting is that in the first time in a while, the experience makes me think outside of the world of making movies. It's strange. And maybe that's why the whole night feels like an out of body experience.

+++

 

I stagger to Queens afterwards, only half attached to the real world. I stay with Zach, who I've never met, but is a screenwriter working in a side of the film industry totally foreign to me. That's also like a vacation of sorts. He writes for the Screenwriters League which is really interesting to check out. And he knows a great diner in Queens. Ask him where it is if you want to sit on pink leather, get re-fill coffee, and watch men in gold chains order croissant french toast with swiss cheese.

+++

 

But ultimately, what happened? The answer is, I'm not sure. I will maybe be able to tell you next month, once the follow up emails have been sent, then the script (once it has passed through Kisha's all-seeing gaze), and some other things potentially coagulate. I know I need to watch some Guillermo del Toro movies. I know I need to finish two short stories (one a noir diamond rush-set western and the other about a ghost in the libyan desert) for my magazine (watch this space) to be published in May. I need to finish a short documentary, and finish two music videos. I need to start a book shop with Hannes and a indie distribution company with Zaheer. I need to listen to Life is Simple in the Moonlight. Over and over again. I need to work on my script. I need to send tons of emails. I need to google pictures of Julian Casablancas (No! No! I don't need to do that!). I probably just need to lie down. After the last week, I thought things would be different. But I'm still far from the place where there's nothing to look forward to but sleep. 

 

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What if... | or: Where Has All the Pulp Gone?

Posted February 18, 2011

Writing? Yes. Still writing. After over a year of working on a script, I find I need to make up games to keep my spirits up. 'Fantasy Directors' almost drove me insane, as can be seen from previous posts. So I've come up with a new one, which started off as a joke. It's called 'What if..?' I don't mean this as 'what if we tried throwing this in the mix, how would the characters react?' That's far too tame for me. I mean a 'what if' scenario when we change the entire film. 

i.e. 'What if this was a Korean movie?'

See? interesting. 

i.e. 'What if the ghosts were elephants? Or trees? or people?'

And the one that really twisted my noodle: 'what if this was a Nigerian film'. 

Trust me. It doesn't make you forget what you're doing. Far from it. It just puts things in perspective. It's fun and it helps. Or at least it helped me. And when I finally finish this script then, by golly, that will be saying something!

'what if this was a pulp story?'

And here's where my pet-project intrudes on my thoughts: I've just started a pulp fiction magazine with my friend Hannes. It's called Jungle Jim. After quite some work, we've started getting submissions from all over Africa. Awesome! Some great writing. But it seems that no one remembers what was great about pulp, and why one would try take, at least it's good elements, and publish stories inspired by them. For me, what's so wonderful about pulp is that they're STORY STORY STORY DRAMA DRAMA DRAMA. But what about subtley, you cry! What about nuance? It just seems to me that we could all be reminded what makes a story (character x change=story) tick these days. Yes, even you, big blockbuster action films. 

And talking about films which are not made with lots of money: I just watched SKELETONS, a UK indie about a pair of dowdy exorcists who help unearth the buried secrets of ordinary people. Flawed, but a lot of fun. And ultimately really understood the themes it dealt with.

Oh, and where have I been since I last posted... Well, I was in Rotterdam for their Producer's Lab, connected to CineMart. Great experience - I think I may finally getting the hang of this networking thing. Namely, enjoy yourself. And if you've had enough, don't force it. Go see a movie. Actually, got to see far less films than I intended, not all of them good. The highlight was definitely Jan Svankmejer's SURVIVING LIFE (not to mention getting a glimpse of the old magic man himself - 'he's so cute!' says Alicia, and you know, he actually is) and also getting to see some (if regrettably not all) of ATTENBERG in the film library.

Tok Tokkie travels are not over - I'll be in New York next month at a financing forum specially for South African films. So watch out USA. Or at least, NYC DVD stores with good Orson Welles collections watch out... I WILL ask for Don Quixote. 

PS I've been good. I've only seen The Social Network twice more since my three day binge. Bring on Black Swan and True Grit...

 

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My Favorite Films About Death

Posted December 07, 2010

So as my script TOK TOKKIE is about death and it's the end of the year and all, it's understandable that a degree of melancholia is to be expected. So, I thought I'd make a list of the best films that deal with the subject to end all subjects. That and I also just had to kill a cockroach. So, without further ado...

 

MY FAVOURITE FILMS ABOUT DEATH: A Personal Journey...

Introduction: The first time I ever saw anyone killed in a film was Air Force 1. Yes, I'd probably seen stabbings and shootings and other family-friendly offings of unsavory characters, but the first time I saw someone irrefutably die was in Air Force 1 and I was about five years old. My first encounter with the concept that even good people will die was The Great Escape. I was about nine and my surprised parents had to deal with the nervous breakdown that ensued when Donald Pleasance walked blindly into the midst of the awaiting Nazis. The first time I enjoyed watching people die was The Usual Suspects. I was probably fourteen. It's all been downhill since then... 

The Seventh Seal (Ingmar Bergman) - I know, the obvious choice, but let's not hold that against it. Every bit as iconic as they tell you in film school. And of course, Bergman is definitely one of the greats to really grab Death by the... you get the idea.

Ikiru (Akira Kurosawa) - Kurosawa brilliance at work, which I think is even more evident in the heart of a dying man than on the epic battlefields.  

The Shootist (Don Siegel) - two aging filmstars, John Wayne and James Stewart, two old men, sit and discuss what makes a good death. 

Afterlife (Hirokazu Raifu) - This film explains it all: When we die we all go to a pleasantly derelict building, where a team of social worker beaurocrats help us choose our favourite memory, to be recreated for us to live out for all eternity. See? All sorted. Actually no, the pleasant fantasy is more terrifying, though I'm not sure if that was intentional. 

Fluke (Carlo Carlei)/All Dogs Go to Heaven (Bluth, Goldman, Kuenster) - what would a movie death list be without a few dog films (condensed into one for brevity). Possibly because for a privileged some, our first brush with death is through a pet's passing... I don't know how these films were supposed to be enjoyed by children. 

Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself (Lone Scherfig) - Despite its suicide obsessed protagonist, this film is really more about living. But this is a severely underrated film (much better than Lone Scherfig's next - An Education), so I'm putting it out there. And this is my list so I make the rules.

Tokyo Story (Yasujiro Ozu) & Umberto D (Vittorio De Sica) - I know I'm being unfair lumping these films together, but I'm trying to get thios list in under fifteen movies. Ageing, loneliness and bewilderment in a world which most likely forget you. Best confront these things now.

The Grey Zone (Tim Blake Nelson) - the strangest and most fascinating ending I have seen in a long time. 

No Country for Old Men/A Serious Man/The Man Who Wasn't There (Joel & Ethan Coen) - taking the giant strides across the existentialist plane as they do with all their great films, the Coens can't help but touch on Death. No Country is probably the obvious example... but I couldn't resist the other two for my Coen-completionist-compulsion. 

Mr Death (Errol Morris) - Definitely death at its more bizarre.

Harold & Maude (Hal Ashby) -  Another one wich is more about the joys of life than death itself, but still an insightful portrait on how different people cope with the shadow of mortality. And of course the best faux suicides ever committed to celluloid.

 

And then because I am a stickler for thoroughness and hate to exclude films... here are four films I haven't seen yet, but probably would have made the grade if I had: A Taste of Cherry (Abbas Kiarostami), Death Takes a Holiday (Mitchell Leisen), A Matter of Life and Death (Powell & Pressburger), Dead Man (Jim Jarmusch).

Fin.

 

 

 

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Quelle Afrique + A hard world for little things

Posted December 02, 2010

 

For one night only - a few of my favourite things... (a la Julie Andrews, not John Coltrane, sorry Jacques)...

 

OUSMANE SEMBENE

Yesterday I saw my first film by Ousmane Sembene. Yes, I intend to make films on the African continent, and I had never seen a movie by its very own doyen. For those of you who don't know, Sembene is the godfather of African cinema - not only the first black African to make a film on the continent, but one who made cinema into a career, and an art. His films deserve to be seen and respected. And I had never seen one. Yet, I don't feel particularly ashamed personally. And this is because the only way I could really see a Sembene film yesterday was by sneaking into the African Studies (not the Film) library, where I was recently given tentative permission to come, despite not being a student, because The Tunnel has been added to the collection. Outside of there, I have never seen a physical copy of a Sembene film, neither in shop or rental store. Broadband is far too slow for the most part to stream films, or even, for many, download. We were taught no African cinema at college. I only found out who he was sometime last year. So the irony: I was only able to see a Sembene film once I had made a film. Yet his works are definitely part of what should be inspiring and encouraging local filmmakers. Crikey, we HAVE got a cinematic heritage, and there it is. 

The film I watched first was "Black Girl" (one of the few not on VHS) and I was hugely impressed by its sensitive politics, powerful humanism, thrillingly poetic and startlingly frank. I don't know if I've really seen anything like it. Today I watched 'Guelwaar'. Tomorrow I may very well watch another.

I know Sembene is known and respected throughout Africa, so I am noting this lack from a South African perspective. What prompted this manhunt was the fact that I'd been asked to comment for the second time in a week on Sembene's influence on The Tunnel. It was getting ridiculous. It is ridiculous. I would get angry that people would assume I had seen all African films just because I live here. On the persistence of vision that Africa is all one big country. But at the same time, I should have seen African films. It was my loss, and all of our losses. 

 

NIGHT OF THE HUNTER

And now for a rant of a different sort: My cause this time, Charles Laughton's NIGHT OF THE HUNTER. This film crops up on various 'Best of, like, forever' Lists, and yet it seem to me, again from my bottom of the world perspective, whatever that means, that it goes largely unappreciated considering how absolutely SPECTACULAR it is. Night of the Hunter, is not only a great film, it is surely one of the greatest, the most ahead of its time, the most down right prophetic. Seldom, at the time of its release, before it, and even since, had stories been told so concisely, wound so taught, relevently, scathingly and daringly. NTH's sexual politics, its context of the depression, its disillusionment in adulthood and religion, its confrontation of the dead-end plight of children, this and more blows me away each time I watch it. So you see, No. 72 on a best of 100 films of all time just doesn't cut it for me. I really want you all to see this film, and at the same time I don't. What is it about some great films that makes us want to hold them close, keep them for ourselves alone, deny ourselves the pleasure of sharing? Maybe because a good film is like a good dream, telling you something about yourself you don't want others to know. We all love to have our own secrets, and the cinema is often our only confidante. Perhaps, perhaps. Whatever a reason, just sit back and imagine - imagine a world where Charles Laughton had been allowed to make more than just one film....imagine what that world would be like...

 

JAMES STEWART

Don't get me started, but he's the reason for my other latest obsession...

 

RADIO PLAYS

I grew up on these in one form or another, and being the Welles acolyte I am I have all the Campbell and Mercury Theatre shows. But I've been delving further recently, dredging up Lux Theatre, Screen Guild Theatre, Suspense, The Creaking Door (originally South African) and Victory Theatre. My main aim was to satisfy an intense and slightly morbid desire to have access to Jimmy Stewart's voice all the time, but in the process I discovered a treasure trove which has been really fascinating in terms of storytelling. Many of the episodes featured Hollywood stars reprising their roles in successful pictures, condensed into an hour (including the copious and flagrant sponsor advertising), using only sound. Some of them handle the task with the tenderness of a meat tenderizer, whereas in others the feat is truly remarkable. Case in point is the radio adaptation of It's A Wonderful Life (rewatched recently - had forgot how progressive it was - pre-postmodern freeze frames, rewinding, commentary, and who could forget the talking galaxies), which condenses a sometimes convoluted feature into less than fifty minutes. Who knows, maybe it's just the magic of Jimmy, but they're great fun. You can download tons of them sans guilt (the joys of public domain!) at the awesome Internet Archive.

 

SHORT STORIES

I tend to do a LOT of research for whatever script I'm working on, and am starting to realize that it often overloads me in ways which make the script to info heavy. So what better way to remind myself of real clarity than by reading really really great short stories, and writing some of my own again. Then again, when it comes to clarity, one could always turn to...

 

ALFRED HITCHCOCK

Reading the Truffaut/Hitchcock interviews - you can also find the audio online - hugely entertaining read and very, very informative - really great introduction to filmmaking, wish I'd had it from day one. Also - problematic but underrated Hitchcock- 'Shadow of a Doubt' - far more interesting that some of Hitch's more accepted fare like 'To Catch a Thief' et al. 

 

Starting to realise that one can only have so many favourite things... so stopping now... going to go listen to Jimmy in 'Destry Rides Again'...

 

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Angst-ique...

Posted November 29, 2010

I want to cry. Partly for myself (what else is new), but mostly for Francis Ford Coppola. I just saw Tetro. The maker of my favourite film of all time has just broken my heart. And I can't even take solace in the fact that it's in exquisite monochrome because ... well, he's done exquisite monochrome. What's more, he's done Mickey Rourke in exquisite monochrome.  I feel like I have just faced Death. And I caught him watching Christopher Nolan movies. Wow. That is so harsh. I feel worse now.

What can I say to feel better, other than, 'look to the good times.' We're now in the mercurial, end of year territory, when everything starts losing perspective in the light of another year ending and what all THAT means (if anything). I'm busy gathering the troupes (those inside my head) for another attack on the draft - we're moving into 12. It's all feeling so CLOSE... I'm wondering if it is. I cut all my hair off in the hope it would make me a better writer. But all it did was make me look in the mirror more. I think I've said it before, but the only thing worse than having someone hold up the progress of your project is when that person is you. Maybe, it is as Kisha says, I'm not Aaron Sorkin...... but as I replied at the time... BUT I WANT TO BE AARON SORKIN!!! I do. But alas. I'm also just getting to the point where I just want to direct (something other than insurance-related ads which is what I'm doing at the moment)... I must do more in my spare time... I must I must I must.....

Wow, but I saw Black Narcissus, and THAT was awesome. 'Sister Clodagh, Sister Clodagh, Sister Clodagh...' I feel better already.... 

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Winterthur Day Last...

Posted November 16, 2010

Last night in Winterthur. Walked the length and breadth of this silent city (made even more surreal by the fact there is a visiting delegation of hearing impaired soccer teams, signing there way across town. For real) This really is a place where you can hear your own thoughts, at present not such a good thing for me. I suppose I have a lot on my mind. I'm tempted to insert my credit card into the nearest autobank just to prove to myself I exist. Yes, folks, it's a meltdown, not surprisingly as a result of the schizoid experience of watching an estimated 160 films within 4-5 days - a barrage of visions, highs and downers. I purposely made the decision to completely immerse myself in films while here, ensuring I caught a screening in every possible slot (also with with alterior motive of spending more time in the cinema and less socializing... but not really). But what was I hoping to gain from this? If a good film ideally gives you something to take home with you, then an entire festival of shorts should at least provide you with a forklift to transport the swag. And it has. Now I'm looking at all these technicoloured goodies, pearly with wisdom, and thinking, now what? How do I use this? And does it go with the carpet?

PAUSE

I'm very grateful. Because for all the artistic and personal confusion I'm currently suffering from, there really can be no way I can return home the same filmmaker I was before. I fell like I've learnt things, been exposed to the rituals of far-flung cults, viewed up close the the mechanisms of mysterious machines. Things have changed. And that is never a bad thing.  

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Winterthur Day 3...

Posted November 16, 2010

See, the fact is I find it hard to make friends. Doing it in 'real life' is hard enough, but in the shifting, glutinous world of the film festival, the weight drags heavy. So what a pleasure it is to bump into people from festivals past - seeing Davide in his black fur jacket, waiting in a corner before the screening of his awesome film GIARDINI DI LUCE (a ghostly ode to man's celebrations and impermanence, a bird's eye view of the come-and-gone fireworks of life), I almost keel over with happiness. Also seeing Paul Wright (UNTIL THE RIVER RUNS RED, already discussed) again - wonderful. And these guys are really good at what they do. It's an honor to be known and recognized by them, let alone have a film screened alongside theirs. 

Check out Davide's site over here to see what this great Italian experi-mentalist is up to.

So, some temporary allies to ad to the mix when navigating the marshy ground of cocktail mixers and the like - 'Long live the new flesh!' as I've taken to saying when things go well. Aside from being a Videodrome quote, this is also the title of Nicolas Provost's competition short - screened here and in Berlin and no doubt elsewhere - wow, it's great. Provost digitally degrades, pixellates, warps and artefact-izes footage from horror films, from The Shining, to total schlock-fests I don't recognize, with healthy doses of irony and Cronenberg. The result is a fantasmagoria of digital decay that hints at death, our bodies, what compels and revolts us, and where we may be headed as a civilization. Absolutely Awesome. Five stars - and I gave it so.  

More Nicolas Provost over here (or at the very least this excerpt from LONG LIVE THE NEW FLESH)- share with your friends, ad to your art-cred rating, and most of all, enjoy.

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Winterthur Day 2...

Posted November 14, 2010

Great things were expected from David O Reilly's THE EXTERNAL WORLD (from me, and so it seems, er, the rest of the external world). His previous short, "Please Say Something" was nothing short (ah! enough of these unintentional puns!) of genius and TEW follows up in spectacular fashion, delivering more of O Reilly's tar-black zeitgeist, spewed out to splatter satisfyingly on the face of normality. And oh, how we deserve it. Instead of an existential romance between a highly neurotic cat and mouse (as in PSS), in TEW, O Reilly has assembled a whole ensemble of twisted-nerve characters to populate this multi-plot on amphetamines (from pregnant turds to rape-victim frogs) - or is it perhaps that O Reilly is under the influence of only the madness that comes with a blinding clarity, the gift of sight bestowed on but a few, enabling the chosen to see us as we really are. Stay tuned - I sense our generation's Robert Crumb. Catch more of his work (and you should, yes you should) at davidoreilly.com and related blogs/vimeo/etc. 

I'm also aware I've used the term 'genius' in two consecutive blog posts. Well, what of it - such was the nature of Winterthur, and good short festivals in general... but more on that later. 

OK, and look, if you really aren't going to take my advice and make your way over to David O Reilly's site (like, right now, screw this blog post) and browse for hours and hours and hours, then at least, check out PLEASE SAY SOMETHING over HERE. Really, it'll save you loads of money on therapy, drugs and whatever your poison may be these days. 

THE DARKNESS OF THE DAY: over 26 minutes, Jay Rosenblatt takes us on a guided tour through the history of suicide, and beyond - from our traveling window of the screen, he points out vistas of despair, plateaus of hopelessness, and the chasm of the human condition. As was always inevitable, but also what gives it its poignancy, DOTD is more than a document of death and suffering, but a chronicle of what it means to live as a human amongst humans on this planet of hours and days. 

Other notable viewings include:

FOR YOU I FIGHT: impressive graduation film by Rachel Lang (Locarno agreed) - its subject matter of female French army reservists is just screaming to be taken further - which apparently it is. 

THE SNOW COVERS THE SHADE OF FIG TREES: or THE DAY SASHA FOLLOWED US ON HORSEBACK - aside from having the best title ever, this is an eliptical, but profoundly poetic watercolour sketch of illegal immigrant life in the chill of the north. 

PLAYGROUND: by Susana Helke - getting under the skin of a group of immigrant boys in Finland, with affection and sincere humor. Nice.  

And seriously, I promise I am not being paid to do this, but really, go watch PLEASE SAY SOMETHING. Here's the link again if you don't feel like scrolling up again. 

For the first time in fact, I'm seriously hoping people read this blog - if only to get some word out about the amazing filmmakers operating in the short form... go seeeeeeee.

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Winterthur Day 1 and a Half

Posted November 13, 2010

Switzerland, or at least the part I`m in, has an almost fantastical quietness. Boots tap the street in discreet concorse,all sound is muted, buses pass without a sound.

That said, last night I was almost arrested. And I don`t mean "arrested" as in "Ohmigosh, last night, my friends and I were like totally almost arrested". I mean ARRESTED. As in, there were police dogs. Now, before those who don`t know me jump to any conclusions, no there were no drugs involved. In fact, I believe the crime was breaking and entering. And maybe trespassing. But moving along... You may think you live in a quiet part of Europe, devoid of all crime and related excitement. But just wait till the South Africans arrive. We bring the party. And, so it seems, the police dogs.

Either way, this town seems like the perfect place for a short film festival - a country of people who indulge in small fancies and bite-sized pleasures. Thus, in between the excitement, I have managed to see some very good shorts. Herewith, a chronicle:

One of the things I was most excited about seeing here was Paul Wright`s "Until the River Runs Red". I`d seen his previous short "Photos of God" in Berlin and was anxious to see how the, and I quote, "future of British cinema" would follow up. And boy, was I not disappointed. To it's credit, UTRRR is the kind of film about which it's best nt to say too much beforehand, thus I'll dispense with any description. Suffice it to say, ith UTRRR, Wright once again delves into the aftermath and often bizarre consequences of family tragedy, going far deeper than most others are brave enough, or have the imagination to explore. I would call this courageous and I would call this daring. And that's without even starting on the visual aesthetic. Though he has yet to completely win me over as a writer, Wright seems to get something which few, other than Tarkovsky, seem to grasp - the overwhelming, immersive, mesmerizing power of the single cinema image. I'm not talking here about photography, but something intrinsically bound up with the context, rhythm and movement of cinema. I'll speak no more on this (a group of people dressed in miscellaneous furs and covered in bells just walked past), other than to say Paul Wright is definitely one to watch. His storytelling is incredibly exciting, a commodity in short supply. I'll be paying good money to watch his feature, which I believe is currently in development. Thank god. 

What a pleasure it was to catch another screening of Liza Johnson's "In the Air" - also something I saw in Berlin and loved very much, covering in docu-fiction the trials, frustrations and triumphs of the teenagers in a small town circus class. Johnson does something similar, at least apparently, to Gus Van Sant in "Paranoid Park", getting her young, non-actors to act, but playing themselves. It succeeds and fails in the same way as PP, but ultimately I champion the method. As in PP, ITA as a result of this process has many moments when the acting is strained or unbelievable. However, these same flaws highten the realism and provide a hitherto unseen and unusual level of insight into the characters and personalities that would never be possible with traditional acting. The film itself is brilliant, and I wish it's speedy transition to feature, not because I believe the short format is irrelevent, but only to ensure a wider distribution, allowing more people to view "In the Air"s sincerity and genius. 

 

 

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