THE STATE OF CINEMA
by Gary Gach
American Reporter Correspondent
SAN FRANCISCO, April 10, 2003 -- North America's longest-running film festival returns for a 46th season, April 17 - May 1. Among the 200 films shown at this year's San Francisco International Film Festival (SFIFF= ), many are receiving prestigious prizes.
Recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award will be Robert Altman, noted for innovation, improvisation, and ensemble story-telling. The Peter J. Owens Award will go to Dustin Hoffman, for his brilliant integrity, challenging roles, and support of independent cinema. Other awards include the Golden Gate Awards, for documentary, experimental and short works; the SKYY Prize to new filmmakers; and the Mel Novikoff Award to contributions in the film community (this year, seminal maverick critic Manny Farber).
This year, SFIFF inaugurate a world first: for the State of Cinema address, film leaders will annually address world cinema issues, in the vein of the president's State of the Union address. The inaugural address will be given by Michel Ciment, director of France's "Positif" magazine, and adviser to the Venice and Berlin film festivals.
A dominant player in the ongoing diplomacy of cultural events, cinema provides a window on such current issues as geopolitics, economics, and technology, and Monsieur Ciment will address these, and more. Additionally, he'll be programming ten films.
Initially, he was going to round up some of his favorite directors, such as Marco Bellochio, Aki Kaurismaki, Abbas Kiarostami, Takeshi Kitano, Mike Leigh, Hayao Miyazaki, and Rolf de Heer. But then he decided to go for it, up close and personal: so he's programming French films, and all made within the past six months.
It's an apt choice. While France has protested the "disneyfication" of their landscape (think: MacDonalds), there's been an unbroken dialogue between our artists that's fascinating. Hollywood "B" movies, for example, inspired the French New Wave filmmakers following World War Two -- who in turn inspired such U.S. filmmakers as Arthur Penn, Jerry Schatzberg, and Paul Schrader.
France may be the only country hosting two monthly magazines engaged in aesthetic critical debate. "Cahiers du Cinema" began with a left-wing bias, but in the '70s fell into the Maoist camp (E.g., "send intellectuals to the country to be janitors; bring janitors to college to teach.")
Ciment's "Positif," on the other hand, is progressive but remaining unaffiliated with any regime. It's included American contributions to world cinema, even in the early '70s when America was put down because of the Vietnam War. But then many American directors opposed that war. And "Positif" championed filmmakers Tim Burton, Quentin Tarantino, and the Coen Brothers, early in their careers.
France, like America, produces a wealth of interesting films, but every generation still contributes. Plus, the strength of their female directors may be unequalled anywhere.
Films programmed by M. Ciment include "Almost Peaceful" by Michelle Deville, one of the elder statesmen of French cinema. Now in his 70's, his latest treats the new Spring following the winter of World War Two, set in a Jewish tailor's workshop in Paris.
Alain Cornot uses a very subjective perspective, both hilarious and frightening, of a Western woman in Japan, in "Fear and Trembling." Raymond Depardon shows us the West as seen by an African rebel, in "Untouched by the West," shot in gorgeous black-and-white in the Saharan desert.
Lucas Belvaux (born 1961) takes a cubist bent, presenting events taking place at the same time, in the same town, sharing similar characters, in three separate films, "The Trilogy," one a thriller, another a comedy, and filling in the missing pieces in a final character study. Emmanuelle Bercot puts a reverse spin on Lolita in "Clement," a love story in which a 30-year-old woman falls in love with a 12 year-old boy.
These aren't films likely to be remade by Hollywood, as were "Breathless," "La Femme Nikita," "La Cage Aux Folles," to name a few. But as mirrors onto the world, viewers can expect the shock of recognition.
Cultural differences are learned; human nature is universal. What better way to bring that fact home than the universal folk art of our time - cinema.
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Gary Gach is author of "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Understanding Buddhism" and editor of "What Book!? ~ Buddha Poems from Beat to Hiphop." Home page: <http://word.to>