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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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Berlin Day # Last

Posted February 21, 2010

I skip the last movie I booked for and head for home. The Berlinale is over, and I wanted to try finish it on a good note, i.e. with a good movie. This turned out to be Eine Flexible Frau by Tatjana Turanskyj - not how I'd expected to end the festival, but the film is nothing if not thought provoking, and that is a good thing. Also, I think the reason I opted out early, is because one of the best and most profound things about watching dozens of films in succession (or even a single one) is that eventually this will end and you'll step back into the real world. It is only there that one can contemplate, or apply, whatever one has experienced in the cinema. For me it's more specific, not only in life, but to get to work and use what I have seen here. Things like the child's cry at the end of Red Sorghum which has haunted me since I saw it. Or the line from Solo Sunny - when Sunny has just opened her heart to her lover, making herself vulnerable for the first time, and he looks at her and she says: "You look like you're staring out a window". Best line ever, perfectly encapsulating, for me, the duality in cinema of knowing and not knowing. That line is so ambiguous and that is it's genius. Like I read Michael Haneke saying recently, cinema which gives you all the answers is useless. Right on.

There are many things about Berlin that I will miss greatly: Felafel is a big one. But far more significant (though do not underestimate the felafel) will be being able to speak with so many people on a different kind of level, about cinema. Sure I have that chance often back home - but here I have encountered a new sincerity, passion and pragmatism which has really inspired me. I think it comes from people who have grown up with a cultural history of cinema of their own. It's quite beautiful.

Also, there is a kind of excitement to be felt here. Whether or not the porgrammed films reflect it (and for the most part of what I saw, I don't think they do), despite the general conservativeness of world cinema, at the moment, there seems to be some kind of feverish curiosity for what will come next, whether in exploration of style, content or geography - for example, the great global eye which is turned to Africa at the moment seems to be unblinking in its search for new cinema. Also on the latter point, the increasing globalization one sees in all sectors is particularly felt here - in the growing accessibility to other cultures through film, or the fact that filmmakers more an more have roots in many places, a kind of cultural duality. This is something that occurred to me while I was trying to think of something intelligent to say about Fatih Akin to another great director, and then realized it was pretty interesting... especially as I potentially fall into that bracket. 

But at the same time, I'm looking forward to getting down to some work - I haven't been able to to work on anything creatively while I've been away, and thus have had this nagging feeling of redundancy. But now is the time to capitalize, as such, one whatever success the film has been having. Meetings in Berlin with Sheri, Andro and Thorsten were great - I'll speak more about those when and if things start to arise, but much good feeling is in the air. I remember last time I left Berlin, I did so with a strong sense that if I waited around for anyone to give me permission to make films, it would never happen. It was up to me to find a way to get it together, even if it meant being selective with the kind of things I chose to do. I think at the time I wasn't really confident or experienced enough to really know what that meant. But as I prepare to leave, that knowledge once again comes to me and this time I see the way forward far clearer. OK, we may not be talking crystal yet, but something else transparent. Maybe soda.  

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Films x Many

Posted February 20, 2010

I saw five movies today. And I've worked out that one could actually see six a day, if one were so inclined. Technically, you could push it to seven, but I don't know how travel time between cinemas would factor into that. Today I saw five. One particularly blew me away - Solo Sunny by Konrad Wolf (easily my favourite film of the festival, if not in a very long time too). Also brilliant to see Red Sohrgum by Zhang Yimou and Sundance favourite Zona Sur. I think this is by far the best, and most underrated, aspect of coming to the Berlinale - I say underrated, because when you're here on business, you're either in meetings/parties, or intent on watching the hottest film as soon as possible. But festivals, the Berlinale in particular, are so wonderful because they're just a chance to immerse oneself in cinema, to swim around in it and sample the flavours. Back home, cinema-going is rationed out (in some ways a good thing, maybe), and of course there's less choice. But at a festival, no matter what the critics may say about the lineup, you have this amazing opportunity of getting rid of any preconceptions you may have about how to watch movies, what they should be about and how they should be made. How brilliant. 

Also the cinemas here - wow. Bigger than anything we have in Cape Town - larger screens and more room for audiences. I was a bit freaked out at first that our HDCAM print wouldn't hold on such a huge screen. But it looks amazing - some people even thought we'd had a 35mm print done, which I think is going a bit far, but flattering nonetheless. And I've now realised how important, vital even, an experience like this is: It's very easy, at the bottom of Africa, to forget that it is indeed eventually feasible to have your film in a cinema, and people come see it. You start to make films for other reasons, but the end goal becomes hazy and grey. But here was the chance to see, no, it is possible, it's happening. No matter what one's more conservative relatives may think, filmmaking is possible. It can happen. Goodness, it looks like it's happening for me, even if on a small scale. And we shouldn't be allowed to forget. Bumping into fellow Cape Townian, Sven, after the screening, made me think more about how I can bring this home - this is all well and good for me, but I want other filmmakers in South Africa to access this. Whether it involves organising a festival of some kind (Cape Town's main festival disbanded a few years ago), we'll see. But something needs to be done. 

Right now, the Berlinale should have already awarded it's variously gilded bears, and both winners and losers are partying it up somewhere (note my festivalled-out unenthusiasm for parties). The bears for shorts were awarded last week, and I guess the fact that this blog post isn't titled something victorious has alerted you to the fact that we did not win. I'm usually super competitive to a fault and have gone into depression for weeks over slighter defeats. But in this case, strangely, it wasn't a big deal at all. And I think this really is because I already feel like we won: Screening at the Berlinale and all that has come with it, is reward enough. Anything else is superfluous. That said, I'll admit that when another filmmaker told me that we had been shortlisted to win, that made me feel pretty good. But I'm sincere when I say I don't feel like I could ask for more. 

 

PS Sat next to film writer, Meredith Brody, at a screening of Fassbinder's Rio Das Mortes (interesting film) - she writes about the Berlinale for Indiewire here - and I get mentioned, woo hoo!

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Good Things

Posted February 19, 2010

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So I get an email. It's an invitation to dinner with James Schamus. I stare at it. I decide I can't possibly process this until I have had a shower. In the shower I see my hosts have installed a security camera. I stare at it. Normally something like this would completely freak me out. So maybe it's a sign of some kind of maturity that I eventually ignore it. It's too late now anyway. (Hold on, I'll get to the point of this now now) Out of the shower, I casually ask Maike, Alex and Dominik about the camera. It's a fake. We all laugh. I get back to the serious task of RSVPing to the dinner invitation. This is something that could easily occupy me for at least 2 hours, not because it is particularly challenging, but because I enjoy drawing out the moment. It's not every day I get to do this. Also, you though there was only one way to answer 'yes'? Well, think again, Daddy-O. And then I start worrying the usual stuff: Will I for once be able to behave myself and act normally in front of someone I admire? Whatever normally is. And then Maike does it - she gives me the advice I could never have given myself: "It's just like the camera in the shower. It's there. What are you going to do about it? It's happening." Strange, but somehow that's the best analogy ever. 

 

I think I'm starting to love the Germans: I can't think of anywhere else where people have such passion and unswerving, thoughtful enthusiasm. Really, it's wonderful. Whether it's Alex telling me about his favourite musical, or Maike Mia Höhne, the shorts programmer. And on the latter - I really must admit that the Berlinale Shorts program has literally enlightened me. Each short really illuminated the potential, possibilities, and purpose of the short format, in the sense that shorts really can, for their own sake, tell stories and experiment in a way features can't. I fell quite humbled by it, to be in such company. What's also a pretty awesome thought is for the first time I feel properly amoungst contemporaries: These people will be making films in the same age as me. Whatever our respective cultures and influences, we will be sharing the world stage at a particular time. Maybe even sharing cinemas. I love that. Whether it's swimming around in the many currents of Paul Wright's Photos of God, film as painting in Lucia & Davide Pepe's Giardini di Luce, moments of pure inspiration in Out in That DeepBlue Sea by Kazik Radwanksi, hilarious beauty in Bettina Schöller's Wo ich bin ist oben and full on crazy brilliance in In the Air by Liza Johnson. I wish I had links to trailers so I could share them around. But be on the watch - these people will make movies for you soon. 

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BERLINALE Day #... wait, what day is it again?

Posted February 19, 2010

I am the living dead. Right now I feel, and look, like a shambling, hollow-eyed horror, arisen from the grave. I can see where those zombies are coming from: right now I could so do with some human flesh. But really - not sleeping for over a month has begun to take it's toll. I'm staggering back across town from a 35mm print screening of Herzog's Signs of Life, in which, despite pinching myself and forcibly holding my eyes open, I fell asleep. That's how tired I am: I fell asleep in a Herzog. The horror. But this did help solve a quandry which had been nagging me all evening: whether or not to go to another Berlinale party. I usually hate those kinds of events, but this one was for the Forum section and there would be lots of interesting people. It also looks to be the last party of the festival. At least that I would score an invite to. But this clinched it: If I was so wrecked I would fall asleep in a Herzog (!), then I was in no fit state for anything. 

I took the first train back to Savignyplatz. 

So as you can tell, Berlin has been intense: Don't know why I didn't see it coming - dozens of movies all across town, showing throughout the day. And mixed in with a Jamie Oliver-sized sprinkle of meetings and interviews (believe it or not). So I realise I have missed out on one of the best aspects of blogging, which is the live, 'as it happens', 'you read it here first, folks', aspect. So forgive me, dear readers (of which there are, how many? I should do a census of some kind). So the next few posts will be after the fact, I'm afraid, but what can I say? Das ist Berlin.....

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In the Papers

Posted February 11, 2010

And now for some shameless self-promotion.

That is all. 

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Ready... Berlin

Posted February 09, 2010

The Tunnel in the Berlinale Catalogue

Berlin. Already I like it. I've been here before, but I had a feeling this time I'd get more of a sense of the city. And so far yes, it looks promising. This mainly has to do with me staying with Maike, Alex and Dominik in Berlin-Mitte - my first ever experience of couchsurfing. Awesome! So far we have discussed Inglorious Basterds, the techno scene and polaroid photography. Great stuff. 

It all started badly. Almost missed my flight because of traffic. Had about 2 hours sleep and was at my wits end. Didn't get any sleep on the plane, but for a much better reason: A kind twist of fate had me seated next to a publicist representing some major films at the Berlinale. We got talking and it turned out that he had worked closely with The Coens, David Lynch, Mike Leigh and Roman Polanski - I think you can imagine my mouth dropping at every consecutive name, until I resembled something like one of those detachable-jawed snakes. Ah what fun.

Day #1: The Festival has only begun and I have my first sighting of you know who. On arriving, I decide to be brazen and ask straight out to the rather confused Shorts team, how and where I can see - just glimpse, nothing more even - Werner Herzog. They tell me there is a jury press conference the next day. I can try my luck there. Maybe I can get in. To cut a long story, thanks to a small amount of breathless and naive honesty ("I know I don't have press accreditation, my film has nothing to do at all with the press conference, but I just really really really want to go!") and a large amount of kindness on behalf of the Berlinale Press office (Danke Schön!), I get in. As soon as he appears, I start crying, but control myself quickly as I think unexplained tears may betray me as a non-professional. But its great, even if half the answers are in German. Hi Werner. I saw you today. Now I know you are real, and believe it or not, that gives me hope. Maybe one day we'll get to sit down and talk. And maybe I'll give you a hug. That's all for now. 

Paid a visit to the European Film Market to meet Sydney Levine, who I met briefly at Sundance and who runs tours of the EFM. I'd seen how the market worked last time I was here, but having her insight really helped open my eyes to it even more. She keeps a great blog called Sydney's Buzz

But dang! There are so many great movies to watch at the festival - I'm getting super excited - it's finally started to sink in. I think it's going to be a fun 10 days - just the right amount of meetings and parties, but also lots of time to watch tons of movies and go to panels - really looking forward to trying to get into masterclasses with Sir Ken Adam (production design on Barry Lyndon!) and Christian Berger (DP on The White Ribbon). And also just to see some of the older films that the Berlinale is replaying - Thin Red Line, Repulsion, some Kurosawa, Fassbinder, even a Herzog - movies I couldn't usually see on a big screen, let alone 35mm. Über Cool!

So all good so far. More soon. 

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SUNDANCED!

Posted February 01, 2010

Jenna & Katherine in Park City

Dear Readers

Sundance is over. I find myself in an Irish Pub in Park City, which is kindly putting up with me using their internet for 7 hours (and ordering practically nothing) while waiting for my train. Thank you Flanagan's on Main Street. 

Highlights? Lowlights? In the grand tradition of bloggers everywhere, here are some lists of what I learnt from America's famousest festival:

THINGS I LEARNT:

Do not step on shiny patches of road. It is ice. You will fall. And this will probably happen in front of someone important

Good boots + right combination of socks = religious epiphany

Don't get stressed: Parties are too crowded to meet anyone. You will be late for screenings. You will say something stupid in front of John Cooper. Take it in your stride. 

Take yourself as seriously as you take your work. Or not. Basically you cannot control how seriously people take you. So just don't be too serious about anything. 

Be honest. You will probably sound better.

WORST MOMENTS:

Freaking out about our print the day before the premiere. 

Waiting for 45min outside the Eccles in cold like I have never before experienced - then falling asleep in Michael Winterbottom's The Killer Inside Me. Damn!

Realizing that there is just no way you can see all the cool films. 

Not that many worst moments actually....

**Just paused for a salad - other than what came on burgers etc, the first greenery I have eaten in about 2 weeks**

BEST MOMENTS:

Um, like, meeting Walter Murch! Not only that, but his lecture was amazing - if all tertiary education was like that I'd give up this filmmaking lark and go back to college. We did give him our film - Jacques handled it very well. I just stood there almost crying. Laura invited him out for lunch which I thought was very chivalrous, but luckily he declined because I think we are all broke. Though I'm sure if he'd said yes we would have made a plan. 

Best - just being in the cinema watching our film. Off HDCAM. With an audience. Beautiful. Add to that random people coming up to me in queues and on the bus and telling me they liked the film. 

Watching Harold and Maude - why this screening wasn't packed I'll never know. Wow. 

Getting our accreditation badges which had accidentally been printed with the names of Gasper Noe's FX team. Awesome!

Realizing that no one there scared me anymore. 

BEST SUNDANCE MOVIES:

(disclaimer - I didn't manage to see half the movies I wanted to see - so excuse the absence of Blue Valentine, Temptation of St Tony, Southern District, Son of Babylon, Exit Through the Gift Shop etc)

Number 1 Movie::: THE RED CHAPEL - pure brilliance. In fact, I think this film should have won all the awards, even the dramatic ones (it's a documentary). Excellent concept, mind blowing originality, carried through to perfection with intelligent, scathing and self-effacing comedy mingled with horror. 

WINTER'S BONE: Finally! A twisted noir (a real one!) with a twist and none of the kitschyness. Best climax scene ever. 

ANIMAL KINGDOM: A little ponderous at times, but ultimately so unusual. Never seen characters like that. What music and sound design! And I think David Michod is one of the most interesting writers around - see Hesher too, below. 

THE EXTRA MAN: OK, not the best film of the festival, but definitely the funniest (except for The Red Chapel which I will champion until the end) -almost died laughing. 

HESHER: I'd read mixed reviews about this one, so I didn't have great expectations. But my goodness I enjoyed it - took a while for me to get into it, but once I did, wow, I was in love. One of those great minglings of originality, true emotion and populist cinema. Not to mention how it is a brilliant twist on the late 80s, early 90s suburban pre-teen fantasies I love. 'Home Alone' for adults! At the awards, Spencer Susser sits in front of us. My first thought is "maybe we're sitting in the wrong area" (which i think we are). I write him a note on the back of my flyer that says: "I think your film is brilliant. Thank you for making it." And I really mean it. Spencer Susser, you are cool. 

OK! Enough from me. I need to stock up for the train journey - which probably means just buying a lot of flavoured rice cakes. And Clif Bars. Lots of Clif Bars. 

NEXT: The Berlin Film Festival where The Tunnel will be playing next. Also, my first ever experience of being on a panel. yikes! Oh, and expect some Werner Herzog stalking.... or at least an attempt. Or I will eat my shoe!

 

Best, 

Jenna

 

 

 

 

 

 

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