"I don't know anything about life, but everything about cinema." From one film festival this January, right into another. The 69th Berlin Film Festival, also known as Berlinale, has kicked off this week in Berlin, Germany. Due to a change in the timing of the Sundance Film Festival, that festival ended and then only a few days later the Berlin Film Festival started up. Meaning for those of who go to both festivals (which isn't many people but there's a few of us out there) we didn't have any time to rest or recover. I hopped on the plane Monday afternoon in Salt Lake City and flew right over to Berlin, spending a few nights trying to get properly adjusted to this time zone (it didn't really work) while also figuring out and preparing my schedule for Berlinale. What is there to see? Well, not much. The line-up this year honestly isn't that exciting (to me).
"What I want out of art is to be disturbed. I want to be confused… I want the same thing out of a movie as a painting or a book or a conversation with someone smart." This quote, from director Penny Lane given at the "Power of Story" discussion at Sundance this year, is exactly how I feel as well. There's so many safe, middle-of-the-road films that cover stories and topics we've seen covered so many times before. But every once in a while someone comes along and shakes things up, challenging us with something that breaks the mold, goes against the grain, and forces us to confront our own prejudices or demons or fears. With the 2019 Sundance Film Festival finally wrapped up, I wanted to recap my experiences in snowy Park City this year and briefly chat about how I'm always impressed by the films that play this extraordinary festival.
"The idea of independence is global, but it means different things in different places." It's time for the 2019 Sundance Film Festival - which kicked off on Thursday, January 24th (a week later than usual) this week in snowy Park City, Utah. I'm back here for my 13th year in a row, and I am always so happy to be here. There's no where else I'd rather be every January, and I don't mind the cold and snow - it's all part of the experience. And this year there is a TON of snow, one of the best snow years they've had in Park City for a while. That doesn't make it easy to get to all the venues, but once I'm there, sitting in the cinema, nothing else matters. Bring on the films, bring on the filmmakers, take me away to another time and another place. This year's motto at Sundance is "Risk Independence" - encouraging filmmakers to be unashamedly unique.
There's a film festival kicking off this week in Poland called the American Film Festival. The AFF is the fall version of the New Horizons Film Festival (which screens mostly international films in July every year), organized by the New Horizons Association located at the Nowe Horyzonty cinema in the city of Wroclaw, Poland. This rather vibrant, distinct, energetic city is located inbetween Warsaw and Krakow, but much closer to Prague and Dresden. There's a number of big universities in Wroclaw, making it a lively university city with a student population of over 150,000. It's also the perfect place to host these film festivals, because many students love cinema and love to catch all these films from all around the world. I'm happy to be here.
There are film festivals and then there are genre film festivals. They both show great films from all over the world, and they both highlight cinema as one of the finest forms of modern art. What makes the Sitges Film Festival stand out in particular is the audience. Celebrating its 51st year, Sitges has been around for a while. It has a strong reputation and its known around Europe as the top genre festival. Horror fans from Spain and other nearby countries travel in to catch the latest, greatest offerings from talented directors, and catch up over drinks and pintxos (and tapas). This year was my second year back to Sitges, and I decided to stay the entire time to relax and catch a bunch of films over the full 10 days it runs. After my unforgettable experience last year (attending for my first time), I had to return, I couldn't stay away. And as usual, I'm very glad I did. I still love film festivals and Sitges is now one of my favorites in my regular yearly rotation.
This year at the 75th Venice Film Festival has been exhausting. It's a challenge to keep up with all the 8:30AM morning screenings and 10:30PM evening screenings every day, but it's not only that. There have been so many long films that it seems especially grueling. The length of films is a never-ending discussion, something that audiences have debated for decades. We all know the basic rules: no film can (or should) run for more than 3 hours, and no film should be shorter than 80 minutes (with the sweet spot usually being ~90 minutes, an hour and a half). It's a different discussion in Hollywood than it is at film festivals, because at festivals many filmmakers tend to express themselves by not holding back, giving us as much footage as possible. Do we really need to watch so many 3 hour films? Are they really worth it? (Of course they are!) Don't worry, there's no definitive answer to this, but the thought has been on my mind over the past week.
"We are a Go for launch." It's time for lift off. The Venice Film Festival begins tomorrow (August 29th) with the world premiere of Damien Chazelle's new film First Man, his follow-up to the Oscar-winning musical La La Land (which played at Venice & Telluride). This kicks off the annual "fall movie season", beginning with three major festivals back-to-back: the Venice Film Festival (in its 75th year), the Telluride Film Festival (in its 45th year), and the Toronto Film Festival (in its 43rd year). For cinephiles and Oscar pundits, this is always the most exciting time of the year. The best films are usually waiting to premiere, or be discovered in the mix of all the madness, and it's finally time to get into them. Time to see them, analyze them, debate them, and revel in their glory (or their failure). The line-ups this year look stellar, I can't wait.
"The people, they were forgotten, and we suffered most of all." There's a superb documentary titled Strike a Rock that still hasn't been officially released, even though it is one of the best documentaries around. Made by a South African filmmaker named Aliki Saragas, the film premiered at a bunch of film festivals throughout 2017. I first saw it at IDFA (the International Documentary Filmfestival Amsterdam) last fall, and it's been on my mind ever since. However, since then I haven't heard or seen any news about the film. I was hoping some distributor would pick it up for release in the US or UK but that hasn't happened yet. And it hasn't played at any other major festivals since 2017. Which is a big shame, because it's an extraordinary portrait of South African women fighting against a careless mining corporation and taking matters into their own hands. I've been thinking about it so much that I've decided to just write a post to try and help the doc.
Thank goodness for Letterboxd. I was originally going to title this article "Hitting My Mark", but I'd rather go with the catchphrase "Always Be Watching" - meaning, simply, always be watching films. New films, old films, big films, small films, just keep watching. It's my mantra and has been for years, since the early days of running this website. If I don't want to watch a film that was just released, there's always (always!) more old films to watch. And there's always something that I haven't yet seen to watch. As someone whose job it is to watch movies, my goal is to fit in a movie every day. It's not always possible, but I try. This year I decided to keep track of all the films I've seen using the wonderful Letterboxd, so I can actually keep count and look back at it all. It's the end of July and I'm already over 200 films. Do I get a medal? Nah, I just need sleep.
"You've changed things… forever. There's no going back." On July 18th, 2008, Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight opened in theaters worldwide and changed everything. The seminal sequel to 2005's Batman Begins would have an indelible impact on pop culture, the superhero genre, and movies in general. Heath Ledger's Oscar-winning performance and tragic passing would send shockwaves throughout the industry. With a groundbreaking marketing campaign leading up to its highly anticipated release, The Dark Knight became an unforgettable big screen experience. In celebration of its 10th anniversary, let's take a look back at how Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight changed things forever and remains a masterpiece to this day.
"We are our choices." -Jean-Paul Sartre. Life is all about choices. The choices we make, or that we don't make, in small decisions, in big decisions. Everything is about these choices and every choice we make, even subconsciously, leads us down one path or another. We can't go back, but we can continue to be aware and learn what influences us to make decisions. This is an endless philosophical discussion with no conclusion, but the concept of "choices" has been on my mind a lot at film festivals - ever since a discussion I had with my friend & fellow critic Pamela Jahn at the Cannes Film Festival. Then it continued while I was at the Karlovy Vary Film Festival in the Czech Republic. I chose to go to this festival because I enjoy it, and I really want to catch up with and see more films. I'm very happy I went to this festival, and strangely enough even though a number of my friends were also there we never ended up at the same screenings. This isn't uncommon at film festivals, but it did make me think more about the choices we make - especially at fests.
I'm back! Back in the Karlovy Vary groove..! Kicking off this weekend is the 53rd Karlovy Vary Film Festival, a wonderful festival that takes place in a lovely little spa town (also known as Carlsbad) in Czechia - just a few hours drive west of Prague. This is my second year back to the festival, as I stopped by last year for my very first time. And I am so happy to be back. I think I'm falling in love with this festival! The town, the people, it's wonderful. There's an undeniable cinephile vibe, campsites for those who can't afford hotels, the venues are vintage cinemas or old theater halls converted into temporary cinemas. Best of all, Karlovy Vary has a stellar line-up and that's why I'm here - to catch up with and see lots of films over the next week.