Notes on Process
Back in Butte, after a more or less unplanned jaunt to Berlin, where I spent two weeks seeing friends and enjoying that now most-civil city. The prompt for going was a very late invitation to personally attend a screening of the film at the Rencontres Internationales Paris/Berlin/Madrid. They’d screened it in Paris, and then scheduled it for Berlin. (Madrid, being broke, has been dropped the last 2 years.) Very late in the game they secured the money – from US Embassy – to get me there to attend. Dangling a ticket in front of me is likely to bring out my travel junkie self, and so I bit. Largely to see friends.
The screening was in the Haus der Kulturen der Welt, a sizable place, though the screening was in a smaller theater, and the audience was still smaller (sort of on the scale of, kinda, for the size of the room, the size of the screen.) I usually do a head count at screenings but failed to do so there, though I suspect it was 40-50, max. Not exactly thrilling in that respect… But the response was very positive to the film, and one of the spectators, a documentary filmmaker, Rainer Komers, familiar with Butte, came to talk afterwards and on his own set up a later screening for students at the DFFB, a new and very well endowed film school nestled outside Berlin in the famed old Babelsberg studio. Had a nice screening there, and again a very positive response to the film.
Back in Paris, Mark Rappaport had gone at my request to introduce the screening there for me, and took along his friend, critic Bernard Eisenschitz, whom, so Mark informed me, liked the film very much. Given the current state of the film world in which a theatrical release or a screening in a BIG festival is about the only way to get some ink, I (typically) broke etiquette, and wrote Bernard and asked him to write something on the film. This week came this:
Coming to Terms: a title that could apply to all of Jon Jost’s films. The symmetry of life stories revolving around one axis might be the condition for coming to terms with the chaos of life. Only film (“seul le cinéma”) could imbue us with such a feeling.
Starting with the very first, each shot is a surprise. Space and time: each has an energy of its own. As if a whole world would crowd into these images, beautifully framed but above all monumental.
When looking at those Montana houses, American documentary photography, from Walker Evans to Lewis Baltz, comes to mind. But Jon Jost’s film is an epic and not a documentary. An epic is created by very simple factors. We watch slow changes in a face, in the landscape, in the light.
Then it is an epic because it tells about secrets and lies, about family ties. To each his own – past, demons, revelations. Nature, empty spaces, could turn into scenes of crime or violence at any moment (as indeed they have in other films by Jost).
Everything, too, could turn out differently than expected, except the houses and the sounds and the mountains tell you that it couldn’t. It’s a matter of perception. Of suspense in perception. Produced by movement and sound, by the off space, by things unsaid or unseen.
How to account for the real? How to show that reality could have been different? What I’m seeing, did I actually see it? The perplexed spectator has to wonder: what does he see, what is the status of reality in these images. What I see, is it real? What do I see? Why is it so? He (that spectator) is lead to question reality itself.
With his invisible dissolves, is Jon Jost (Home is the hunter, home from the hill) exorcising America’s daymares or his own? If the question weren’t worth asking, there would be no movie.
So now still trying to secure a place in New York to screen the film, in a setting where it might secure (a) some spectators and (b) some printed comments. This narrows down to really a handful of places, most of which with whom I’ve already inquired: NYFF last year, “no;” Lincoln Center Film Society, “no;” BAM, “no;” and I don’t remember but I think I also tried MoMA. I guess I will try Anthology which sometimes does one-week runs and does get print. After that the Film Forum though they have never screened anything of mine before. Though, even if I do secure one of these remaining options the truth is it will matter little – Coming to Terms is a “dead serious” film, lacking stars, way off the acceptable “narrative” track, and despite being quite accessible, just ain’t gonna make a dime. Ergo, in our present day America, it is more or less deemed “worthless.”
However, come autumn, it appears I’ll once again saddle up the Subaru (or perhaps if it is running OK the 1995 or so Windstar parked about 100 yards from where I am writing this, with a big For Sale sign on it), and head out on the road to both shoot and show: lining up appear to be a visit to Arizona State U in Tempe, something at the Santa Fe Center for Contemporary Arts place, a week at the Ross Cinema in Lincoln NE, and then the Film Center in Chicago, at all of which I’ll screen Coming to Terms (and at some, also other work).
If you are somewhere in a very zig-zag route anywhere along this track, and can and would like to arrange a screening/workshop/lecture – whatever would suit your situation – kindly contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Zig-zag route could run from Salt Lake to ABQ to Denver to Omaha, Kansas City, St Louis, Iowa City and anywhere else vaguely along this route.
And of course, if you’re in New York and run a venue that gets reviewed and would like to, well….
As it happened, rather late in the game, the Rencontres folks found the funds to get me to Berlin, and taking everything into consideration, decided to delay some summer chores, and go for 12 days (+ a full day each way in travel time). To see friends, perhaps attempt some business stuff to either sell the film to the few possible places left and perhaps to try to find funding for a new film. We shall see.
Screening is at 7 pm, June 7, at the Haus der Kulturen der Welt. If in Berlin or nearby, please come (it’s free!)
A late notice regarding upcoming screening at the Rencontres Internationale (Paris)/Berlin:
Coming to Terms will be screened June 7, 7 pm, at the Haus der Kulturen der Welt. Only an hour ago the organizers invited me to attend, saying airfare (and hotel?) would be covered. As I have many friends in Berlin I may go, though it is a bit disruptive to my summer plans. I decide once a few more things fall into place.
The screening for them in Paris a few months ago seems to have gone well – if not in audience size, then with some prominent critics apparently finding favor. I guess the word went around.
Being busy finishing up two new films, and with a mountain of other self-chosen chores to do plotted for the summer, this is rather awkwardly timed. If I can find some tangible material reason to go (like a TV sale, or some other opportunity for the film), I suppose I will. If not…. maybe they’d let an actor go to rep it? Wait and see.
A few months back, on being turned down by a programmer at Lincoln Center Film Society for a screening there, it was suggested I send Coming to Terms to the folks at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, whom it was hinted, would perhaps like the film and perhaps show in their summer festival. So I sent it along, and a week or so ago got this little note:
Hi Jon,Thanks so much for submitting your film to BAMcinemaFest, and for your patience during our programming process. Unfortunately, we are unable to screen Coming to Terms in the 6th edition of our festival.This year we received an astounding amount of excellent work, and as is the case every year, we do not have space to include all of the work we want to. I really liked the film, and for what it’s worth, this was one of the toughest decisions we had to make.We are honored that you look to BAMcinemaFest as an appropriate venue for your work and encourage you to submit future projects to our festival.
“Coming to Terms” brings together, for the first time, Jost’s exquisitely meditative sense of visual surface and texture with his tragic sense of how America has been losing its soul, making this for me in some ways his greatest feature. You might even say that geology and psychology meet on the same devastated terrain — the wasted world that we all currently inhabit.Jonathan Rosenbaum
Back in Butte after 6 months of travels – showing the film in St. Louis, Mo. at the festival (US Premiere), then Rotterdam, Istanbul, and then a few places on return to USA – the Cleveland Cinematheque, Eckard College in St Petersburg. Audiences mostly thin, older, but very impacted by the work. After my return to the US it screened in Paris at the Rencontres Internationale, a usual haunt for Pedro Costa in the last years. Apparently it was very well received by some biggie critic sorts.
So now back in Butte where 20 some months ago our little company gathered and we shot the film in two and a half weeks. It is out to a few other places, being considered. In Chicago I had a private screening for a handful of friends, including critic Jonathan Rosenbaum, who having fulsomely praised a number of earlier films (Speaking Directly, Last Chants for a Slow Dance, The Bed You Sleep In and others), said it was now his favorite. In my view, as said previously, it is certainly up with my best. Not, in these days, that it matters at all: the social ground which once took such work with any gravity has evaporated into video games, texting, and the generally conservative quality of the times – what passes for independent cinema these days could mostly certainly go straight to TV. That said, today arrived another rejection notice for Coming to Terms, from what I think is a new festival in Curitiba Brazil, which I am told is the Silicon Valley of Brazil.
Obrigado por enviar seu filme para o festival Olhar de Cinema – Festival Internacional de Curitiba.
Lamentamos informar que seu filme não foi selecionado.
Infelizmente, recebemos muitas inscrições para essa edição do festival. As decisões são difíceis e complexas, mas analisamos todos os filmes cuidadosamente e agradecemos sua contribuição para nossa seleção.
Boa sorte em seus futuros projetos e esperamos sua participação na próxima edição.Saudações,
Antonio JuniorMarisa MerloAly MuritibaDiretores Artísticos_______________________________________________________________________________
Thank you for submitting your film to the Olhar de Cinema – Curitiba International Film Festival Festival.
We are sorry to inform you that your film will not be programmed for Olhar de Cinema – Curitiba Int’l Film Festival.
Unfortonately, we received many submissions for this edition.The decisions are difficult and complex and please know that we gave your film careful consideration.
We would like to encourage your contributions to filmmaking, and we hope you will consider our festival for future submissions.
We appreciate your submission and interest in our festival. Thank you, and best of luck in your future projects.
Meantime now settling in to finish editing on two new films while awaiting word on where else Coming to Terms might screen. I suspect there won’t be much more. You can buy a BluRay or DVD from me. My guess is that’s largely what it will boil down to – I can’t imagine the Sundance or IFP channels buying it for even the pittance they pay. Cinema for (almost) no one.
Yesterday in Paris Coming to Terms screened in the Rencontres Internationales, to an apparently decent audience which was appreciative. So reports Mark Rappaport, who at my request introduced it for me. On the same day I had a screening of Over Here to 4 people in New York, at the venerable and now homeless and grantless Millennium Film Workshop, which was a mainstay of the NY indie/experimental scene for decades. I got a few beers, a hamburger, and some enjoyable talk out of it. The only people present for it, in an all white room with bouncing (if dim) light from a lousy LCD projector, were 4 people who work for the outfit. Earlier I’d had a few evenings at Spectacle, another micro-cinema with a micro-audience to fit – less than half the 28 seats occupied. Oh well.
At present several other festivals or such are looking at the film – BAM here in NYC (a mixed festival of the arts, including film); another in Curitiba Brazil. Whether they take or not, who knows at this point.
I leave New York tomorrow for Columbus Ohio, and then Cleveland where Last Chants for a Slow Dance and Coming to Terms will screen at the Cinematheque. And then to Florida for screenings in Gainesville and St Petersburg, and finally, after 3 plus months of travels, back to Stanberry Mo, to shoot a new very quickie film for Blake, a few scenes of not-quite-finished film for me, and grab my Subaru and head west, to put the brakes on sometime in April.
Just a little update on things since Rotterdam (for full thoughts on that, see this). Despite the lackluster audiences in Rotterdam, it appears a programmer was there from Argentina, and not long after leaving the festival Coming to Terms was invited to the Buenos Aires independent festival. I went there in 2007 I think it was, when they showed a handful of my films. Not sure if this invitation includes passage there, or, if so, whether I will decide that is a good use of my dwindling time and energies. Haven’t decided – likely to depend on whether I can arrange some other things in South America. Meantime the film will show in a handful of places in USA when I return in mid-February, and here in Madrid, from where I write, it shows in two nights, 8 pm on Feb 6. It will also show a week later at the Cinemateca Portuguese in Lisbon.