March 08, 2007

Good, Great, Okay

The films were good, the people were great, and the parties were okay. At least that was my experience at NSI Film Exchange this year. But then again, I'm more of a pub person than a club person. I'm not so good with yelling in the ears of people I've just met. And not a lover of skewered meat appetizers.

The Retired premiere went smashingly. The house was packed, and a number of old friends showed up, lending a charmed almost dreamlike quality to the experience for me. All of the short film programs were hosted by Shane Smith from Movieola, who did a fabulous job with the post-screening Q&As. He knew the films, appreciated the craft and dedication that went into making them, and asked insightful, thought-provoking questions. I guess this shouldn't be surprising from the man who was the director of the Worldwide Short Film Festival for the last six years and was on the shorts selection committee at Sundance this year. He understands and respects the medium.

The climax of the weekend, A Conversation With... Sarah Polley, was not to be. She cancelled due to some kind of family emergency. Which was a shame because her appearance had been hyped by the festival - rightly so - and the local newspapers for weeks in advance. I've never been a huge Sarah Polley fan, although I appreciate her work and her position on the state of Canadian filmmaking, but after seeing her feature film directorial debut, Away From Her, I'll certainly have to rethink that. The film is magnificent. Destined to become a Canadian classic in years to come. Although, now that I think back, it's not quintessentially Canadian in the usual, obvious ways. It's subtle. It doesn't pander to its audience. And it's heartbreakingly beautiful.

Perhaps one of the reasons I liked Away From Her so much was that, like my short film Flickering Blue, it starred venerable actors - Gordon Pinsent, Julie Christie and Olympia Dukakis - at the height of their craft. Gordon Pinsent was in attendance for the Q&A and, reminiscent of my friend, James Karen, answered each question, no matter how simple or petty, with class, grace and good humor, in that studied, deep, resonant voice.

And then there were those two Neil Young songs. Now, Neil Young songs in a Canadian film may seem natural and obvious. But apparently Neil hangs onto the rights to those songs pretty tightly. Quick, name another movie with a Neil Young song in the soundtrack... nope. I couldn't think of any either. One of the producers apparently spent four months trying to get a 'yes' from Neil's manager. For two songs. But, trust me, it was worth it.

Away From Her comes to Canadian theatres May 4th.

Every film festival seems to have its own atmosphere, its own culture. It's hard to say who creates this, what drives it. Sometimes it's about the filmmakers, sometimes it's about the famous guests they've managed to attract, and sometimes it's just about the festival itself. The panels seem to have their own culture, too. Many of them are optimistic, telling filmmakers to keep at it, to push through and get it done no matter what. Others seem to be saying that you can do it if you really want to, but it's tough and ugly an extremely difficult - almost impossible - but go ahead and try it. At Film Exchange both of these camps had equal representation, in my experience anyway. Canadian festivals seem to have a more realistic approach in general. I was disappointed, however, that of all the conversations about how to save the Canadian film industry (that is to say the English-speaking Canadian film industry, Quebec is doing fabulously, thank-you very much) I didn't hear a single creative idea, perspective or even a hint at a solution to the problem. And that troubles me.