Tuesday, September 14, 2004

You Are Now Entering the Narrative State 

The Toronto Film Festival is going on right now and thanks to Dan C., I'm a newly minted Film Festival addict. Unfortunately, I'm not in Toronto.

About a year ago now, Dan sent me an email asking if we were interested in going to Sundance. It's something that I've always been curious about and we all know that I love movies. But somehow, I'd never made it to a film festival.

Well, thank god for Dan. Because Dan makes your life sooo much easier. He's the world's most meticulous project manager. And once we said, "Yes, we'll go", Dan was off and running. Forwarding all the details you'd never think of and following up to make sure we were on top of everything. It was great.

We decided to do the last (awards) weekend of the Festival, arriving that Thursday night. By the time we left on Monday AM, I had seen 11 films Friday to Sunday. YOWZA. It was so great. Highlights included:

Ah, the joys of Lars von Trier. Every time I watch a von Trier film, I say in the beginning, "Wow, he really hates women." By the end, I say, "Wow, he really hates EVERYBODY. He is disappointed in the whole human race." That said, Dogville is a very strong work. What I have to admire about von Trier is that nobody walks out and says, "Eh." You either like it or you feel violently opposed to it. There's no middle ground.

The Five Obstructions
Everything I said about von Trier above is true...except when speaking of The Five Obstructions. This is a film that defies categorization. It might be a documentary, but it's hard to say. Von Trier took one of his film directing idols, Jurgen Leth, and made him remake one of his early successes five times, each time placing tremendous challenges in Leth's way. He has to do it in what he finds to be personally the scariest place on earth, he has to do it with only a specified number of frames between edits, he has to do it as an animation (which he loathes) and so on. The film is indescribable, but it is also strangely new and wonderful. It leaves you with a tremendous admiration for Leth and ultimately for the twisted von Trier. These are creative people who push themselves to the limit.

The latest no-budget, science fiction breakout (e.g., Pi) and the winner of its category. You'll be seeing this one eventually. Again, a wonderfully creative mindbender that shows just how much you can do with your parents house, a motel, an office building and a rented "u-stor-it" storage space. Time travel, stock market schemes and murderous betrayal. Gotta love it...if you can follow it.

This animated documentary is a film for alchemists and micro-historians. It explores the lifelong work of obsessive biologist and artist extraordinare Ernst Haeckel. Haeckel was something of an ecstatic visionary and he fused science and art in his illustrations of microscopic sea life. It's coming to MOMA in December 2004.

A documentary that tells the story of North Korean spies who were held hostage and tortured by the South for THIRTY YEARS and refused to renounce their communist beliefs. Finally set free in the South, these poor old men work to get "repatriated" to the North. Since the Koreas are somewhere most of us know little about, this documentary is eye-opening on so many levels. You get to see life in a small South Korean town where these unrepatriated men are placed with families. You observe how they affect their hosts and how they try to make lives for themselves in a country they believe is fundamentally corrupt. The tension between their being essentially elders and grandfathers to the villagers and welcomed as such, alongside their unrelenting efforts to sing red songs and convert the unconverted is wrenching. Their final repatriation brings a wellspring of mixed emotions. Will they find out the truth about the North's desperate poverty and be heartbroken? Or will they be shielded from reality by the Northern government and left to die with their illusions intact?

Super Size Me
This is out now and you've read the press. Look. Just go see it. Morgan Spurlock's documentary is groundbreaking on so many levels, not least of which is his mix of animation, music and agitprop film making.

We Don't Live Here Anymore
Recently released and well worth seeing. Fantastic performances from Mark Ruffalo, Peter Krause, Naomi Watts, Laura Dern. I don't want to go into plot too much. Suffice it to say, it's the fearless investigation of two intertangled marriages. The actors are fearless and the camera never looks away. (P.S. If you liked In the Bedroom, this is also an Andre Dubus adaptation.)

OK. So much for the Sundance recap. This was just the beginning for me. Then came the Tribeca Film Festival with Dan (the highlight of which was Paperclips, a wonderful doc about Tennessee middle schoolers who built a Holocaust Museum) and in a matter of weeks, the New York Film Festival with Dan. (Yeah, Dan!)

As noted by the title of this post, what I'm really headed towards here is WHY I'm a film festival addict. I think it was in Master Kevin Gallagher's class in high school that I was introduced to the concept of the narrative state.

As I recall, he used the phrase "narrative state" to describe the interior state we enter as we read; the mindset where the room disappears and we feel our consciousness enter the story. I realized when I heard this that I had been a devotee of the narrative state for years. I spent winters curled up on the radiator covers at my parent's house, lost in my books. I had my entire class exit the room when I was in third grade and I was so concentrated on my book that I didn't even notice.

One of the things that I love about film festivals is being able to devote so much time to exploring the narrative state of consciousness. It isn't about escapism. There is something simultaneously exhilirating and meditative about seeing lots of films in a few days. In addition to being exposed to so many creative products that I enjoy, I find simply the process of opening myself to that high volume of content in a compressed time period to be extremely satisfying.

It makes me wonder, is this a common reason or sentiment for being a festival junkie?
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