Post-mortem Festation

DSC01201smJeonju “Cinema Street”

Back in the US now one full week, and finally almost back into local hours after two weeks in Korea flipped my ever more inelastic internal clock.  Jet-lag seems to worsen as I get older.   In Seoul managed to see a handful of friends a few nights after arrival, staying up deep into the morning – 5 am – in the Hondae area.  Not exactly the cure I needed for the jet-lag, rather its opposite – kept me firmly planted in West Coast time.

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And then it was on to Jeonju, where thanks to the festival scheduling I wasn’t present at the first official formal public screening of Coming to Terms, its damn “World Premiere,” which I stupidly let happen, since it was also the premiere of The Narcissus Flowers of Katsura-shima, and Jeonju got them both.  Had I withheld one I could have wangled another airline ticket to Edinburgh or Locarno or Venice.   Though perhaps given the jet-lag mangling it is a modest silver lining that I messed up and spared myself another transcontinental time warp.  So the day after arrival I attended the Narcissus screening – a reasonably full house, and a good Q&A, though hardly enough to warrant the trip.  And the following day a screening of Coming to Terms with a genuinely full house, and long and good Q&A.   Narcissus showed again, ditto to decent house and Q&A.

As a requirement for screening these films were put into 24fps DCPs, which, as I’d forewarned the festival would happen, and asked that it not be done, made the films pretty bad to see.  Shifting from 29.97 fps to 24 of course makes for horrible movement artifacts, and the shift in color forms also damaged the color and made all fades in and out have digital banding.  It was literally painful to watch, especially when it was totally needless as they could have easily shown the h.264 files of the film.  The few other films I saw also suffered from this conversion as most people, aside from Hollywood, don’t work at 24 fps, but either PAL 25 or NTSC 29.97 (or 23).  I wrote the festival afterward to underline that they should junk this requirement.

Meantime the festival seemed less buoyant than in the past – perhaps soured by a little palace revolution in which the past director, and most his staff, were ousted and replaced by new people.  Certainly the over-all organization seemed less tight, stingier, and less friendly than in my past visits.  At the conclusion of the festival the head of the jury, filmmaker Darezhan Omirbayev, from Kazakhstan, apparently castigated the festival for the lackluster selection of films in competition (first and second films), saying no one on the jury had been passionate about any of them, and that they were all, well, too safe and conventional.  He did manage to come to my films, both of them, and clearly liked them, telling me that if he can do so, he’ll try to arrange for me to visit and show my work there.  Just when I could do this in the dwindling time at hand is another question.   As is the question of just what purpose do festivals have anymore for those like me?

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For the work I do, there is in the present world no “market” – to say someone or place which might buy it, in hopes of in turn making some money out of it.  No distributor, no television, takes this kind of work anymore – 15 or 20 years ago I might have reasonably hoped to sell, if not for much, at least for a little, somewhere.  But this is no longer a reasonable expectation.  Instead the best one might hope for is –  well, a ticket to place X and 3-5 days in a hotel there.  And only once (or perhaps 2 or 3 times) for each film.  And, in my case, maybe some DVD sales over a long period of time.  Not exactly what one could call “making a living.”   This is in part owing to the for-the-moment victory of hyper-capitalism which has commercialized everything and done a pretty good job of convincing a sizable chunk of humanity that the only important thing in life is money and the things it can buy.  In my tiny little place in the world this translates into the kinds of pressures I get all the time about “telling a (more accessible) story” or something like that, and thinking about “the audience/consumer,”  and making something “they” would like (and pay for.)   And so on.  It falls on my very deaf ears, I suppose because actually I totally differ with the great Market Economy religion of the times and think it is dead wrong, and will in due time render us all dead owing to its perverse “values.”  So trying to convince me to accommodate its demands is rather misguided.   The other reason the “market” for my work which once existed is gone is that the electronics revolution has rather sharply altered not only the physical landscape – but also, particularly in younger people, the psychological one.  Time is more fragmented, in nearly all senses.  Attention spans are shorter.  Distractions abound, carefully constructed to grab the eye, ear and mind.   And we are basically trained to avoid anything serious or demanding – so much better to pop a pill when we’re unhappy, or answer the text message our friend just sent us, or tweet our view in a handful of words.  Actually sitting in one place for 90 minutes, or longer, paying attention to something making a demand on your mind and spirit is….  is so not now.

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Before I departed for the festival, a few people asked if I was “excited” and I had to answer, no, I’ve been making films for 50 years, and going to festivals almost as long, and it is more or less a necessary chore, the only form of “marketing” to pretend to be doing.  So I go.    And so I left Jeonju not unexpectedly disheartened as it merely confirmed what I’d known before I departed:  that what I do is rather meaningless in the present world, not that it hadn’t been meaningless in the previous one.  I make an ethereal art, something requiring a complex apparatus to send photons bouncing on a screen to disappear as soon as it is visible.  The sound waves go a bit slower, but decay just as fast.  Inside the spectator synapses crackle, and one feels happy or sad, exhilarated or disappointed, and afterwards whatever one takes away shifts, and in due time you forget, or in all events, you lay down and die.  In this case the whole impetus and seeming reason for making these things just happens to have died in advance of myself.  And then, given the content of Coming to Terms, perhaps it is all duly appropriate.

So while I imagine I’ll go to some more festivals, if only to indulge the illusion that it has something to do with practical things like eating, and I’ll continue to make films despite the reality that all it does is eat up much of my time and energy, along with some of my dwindling savings, I can’t say I will do these things blindly or unaware:  nope, I know full well it is, in the world I live in, considered a useless, worthless endeavor, unworthy of any payment at all.   And a pat on the back with nice words is about all I can expect, though naturally that means almost nothing to me.

Buddy, can you spare me a dime?

DSC01254sm DSC01213sm DSC01203 SANGHYONSEANSMLee Sangwoo, Lee Hyon-jong, and Moon Seohyun

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