We're generally anti-navelgazing here at The Playlist, but being the end of the year, it can't really be avoided. As we continue to take a look back at the cinematic year of 2012, we're trying to shake things up and keep things fresh outside of the usual Best/Worst lists. This year saw The Playlist making a presence around the world at more than a handful of festivals. And while you've already read our reviews and news, we thought we'd give you a taste of the experience of attending these festivals. Even if you can't make Cannes or board a flight to Marrakech, we hope this helps in translating what it's like to run around a foreign country with nothing more than a laptop and a love of cinema. So, without further ado, here are six personal highlights from the various film festivals in 2012 we attended.
Telluride – Marion Cotillard’s Tribute/The “Lowlife” Sneak Peek with James Gray
For me, attending the Marion Cotillard tribute in Telluride was just a way to catch up with “Rust & Bone” which had already screened at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year. The tribute to her, at only 37 years old, felt, well, premature to be honest, but it was essentially just mild icing on the cake. Not only did “Rust & Bone” turn out to be one of my favorite films of the year, but the tribute was a surprising and fascinating conversation with an artist who is clearly doing some of the best work of her career. And frankly, it's never too early to ring the bell for the actress. Candid, funny and charming, Cotillard won over the audience easily and the clips of her films put into perspective some of the great things she has done so far, including some of the notable achievements she’s pulled off in her short U.S./Hollywood career so far. The tribute also put into perspective that, at 37 and only having worked in Hollywood ostensibly since “La Vie en Rose” (though she had done a few American roles before that), she had already worked with Ridley Scott, Christopher Nolan, Steven Soderbergh, Michael Mann, Woody Allen, Jacques Audiard, Tim Burton and Abel Ferrara to name a few.
So the tribute turned into a great little meal instead and it even came with a fantastic cherry on top. Director James Gray (“We Own The Night,” “The Yards”) showed up, regaled the audiences with stories about Cotillard (he cast her before even seeing her act) and teased the audience with a five minute clip of his upcoming 2013 film “Lowlife,” which stars Cotillard as a Polish immigrant in 1920s New York who is manipulated by Joaquin Phoenix and then potentially saved by a magician played by Jeremy Renner. It’s likely no secret that many Playlist members are fans of the undervalued Gray and so getting a sneak peek of the film — with its gorgeous chiaroscuro lighting from DP Darius Khondji and its moody operatic tone in general — was a total treat. That was what I would call a great and immersive festival experience, all and all. I would also be remiss if i didn’t include being in attendance at the world premiere of Sally Potter’s comeback with her devastating “Ginger & Rosa” featuring a lovely and heartbreaking standout performance by Elle Fanning, who mark my words, will have many Academy Award nominations (and possible wins) under her belt by the time she’s 30. She is the real deal. (Rodrigo Perez) All of our 2012 Telluride coverage can be found here.
Sundance – World Premiere of ‘Beasts of the Southern Wild’
If you’ve never been, scheduling your Sundance Film Festival can be extremely nervewracking. With 200+ films playing for 10 days, there’s no way to catch everything, so you just do the best you can to see as many quality films as you can. (Identifying which are the quality films beforehand can be a nearly impossible task, and skipping over a film that ends up being the breakout hit of the fest is something that every critic and festivalgoer fears.) While I was drawing up my schedule for Sundance 2012, one film I had completely skipped over was “Beasts of the Southern Wild” from first-time director Benh Zeitlin.
Since I hadn’t seen Zeitlin’s short “Glory At Sea,” all I had to go on was a single image featuring a young girl with fireworks and a description which read: “Hushpuppy, an intrepid six-year-old girl, lives with her father, Wink, in “the Bathtub,” a southern Delta community at the edge of the world.” Despite appearing in the U.S. Dramatic Competition section — known for producing breakout hits over the past years like “Blue Valentine” and “Winter’s Bone” — the synopsis sounded like something that could very easily go wrong and be absolutely painful to sit through, so I planned to skip it.
Shortly before gearing up for the fest, with my schedule nearly in place, I spoke to my cousin, who told me he’d worked on a little film the previous summer and that I should let him know how it turned out. I noticed that my schedule had a hole that Friday morning when his film was scheduled to have its World Premiere, so I decided to give it a shot. Obviously I had no idea when I sat down for my very first screening of the fest that this would become the hottest ticket of the fest, sending other critics scrambling to get into subsequent screenings. That film turned out to be “Beasts of the Southern Wild” and when the lights went down I, like most in the audience, was swept away.
I’m not sure if it was exhaustion or emotion but I found myself almost inexplicably moved to tears. It wasn’t a dramatic moment that brought on the waterworks, it was a simple music cue. As Hushpuppy and her friends marched over the hill to the swells of “The Confrontation” tears began streaming down my face. Listening to it now, I still get goosebumps. The feeling in the room was electric and afterwards the film’s young director and stars received a standing ovation. It was, obviously, a highlight of the festival, but I still wasn’t sure if it would have much commercial appeal. But I figured that if it got picked up by a carefully-curated specialty outfit like Oscilloscope (who seemed a natural fit), it would eventually find an audience.
Imagine my surprise a few days later while standing in line for another screening, I overheard a Fox Searchlight executive who was asked by a friend what was his favorite film of the fest so far? His answer was “Beasts of the Southern Wild.” The next day it was announced that they had bought the film. If you had asked me beforehand which film might’ve been most likely to be picked up by FS, I probably would’ve said “Safety Not Guaranteed,” (which seemed like it could’ve been a “Little Miss Sunshine”-sized hit in their hands). But credit to Searchlight for buying ‘Beasts,’ a film that doesn’t fit any pre-existing template, and managing to turn it into an arthouse hit.
Much has been made about the Sundance effect of festival crowds hyping a film that can’t possibly live up to those expectations outside of Park City, but there’s still something magical about being in the room for the very first screening of that special film that everyone will still be talking about 12 months later. In a few weeks I’ll be going back for my third round of Sundance, crossing my fingers that I don’t pass over that special film hiding in plain sight on the schedule. (Cory Everett) – All of our 2012 Sundance Coverage can be found here.
Cannes – The Weinstein Sizzle Reel Presentation
While other film festivals around the world have secret screenings and other surprises for movie fans, the Cannes Film Festival’s prestigious nature hasn’t seen them follow down that path. While one always hears rumblings of various films showing footage for buyers (if I remember correctly, “Cloud Atlas” was being shown off back in May for very select people), what The Weinstein Company pulled off was rare indeed. The distributor invited a modest number of film writers and sites (including us) for a special presentation that turned out to be sizzle reel footage from “Django Unchained,” “The Master” and “Silver Linings Playbook” (each link has that initital report). Now, bear in mind, this was months before any trailers or advertising dropped for any of the movies, but looking back, it’s impressive to see the Harvey Weinstein machine in action. Indeed, the famed producer personally introduced the event (catered too, which means a lot to fest journos who usually don’t eat very well), held in a decent-sized hotel screening room, clearly proud of the movies he would be repping for Oscar season. And while it was fantastic to get an early glimpse of all three films, it’s even more impressive to note how passionate Harvey can be. While he can still be a polarizing figure, this event cemented that there are few who will get behind a movie and run with it the whole nine yards like he does. This impromptu gathering may not have made waves with the public at large, but it’s Harvey doing what he does best, zeroing in on those who can start the conversation, and starting the kind of slow build that reaps rewards (and awards) later on. (Kevin Jagernauth) — All Our 2012 Cannes Coverage can be found here.
Fantasia – Midnight Screening Of “Miami Connection”
There are few screenings in my life that will ever match what I witnessed at the Fantasia Film Festival showing of “Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World” a couple of years back. Fantasia has one of the most vocal and entertaining audiences (in the best way possible) you’ll ever get the chance to experience, and they nearly tore the roof off in appreciation of Edgar Wright’s film. In short, they participate (applause, cheering, and much more), so a midnight screening of rediscovered ‘80s trash “Miami Connection” seemed the perfect fit. And Fantasia did not disappoint. Even though it wasn’t sold out, and didn’t quite reach the heights of ‘Scott Pilgrim,’ the audience rocked with the adorably awful movie, audibly ooh-ing and aah-ing at the right dramatic beats for the orphan subplot, and appreciatively receiving the action scenes. For someone who often sees films with hushed colleagues at press screenings, Fantasia is always a great reminder that cinema is also communal, with room to be silly and blow off steam. (Kevin Jagernauth)
Karlovy Vary – “What is this Film Called Love” Screening & Mark Cousins Interview
By contrast with some of my colleagues’ highlights, the first of mine took place in a sparsely populated theater in Eastern Europe at 9 AM; the press screening of Mark Cousins’ “What is this Film Called Love” at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival. Frankly, while it was circled on my increasingly ratty and dog-eared schedule, it was always one of those films that looked like it might get shunted in favor of another movie, or a bit of a lie-in, but however the stars aligned, I found myself there, a few minutes early in fact, and with no particular desire to see whatever incest drama had the 10 AM slot (I’m guessing here, but there were a lot of incest dramas).
That day, that week, that month I had a bunch of things on my mind — Life Decisions that had to be made — and I think the quiet emptiness of the darkened theater appealed to me, too. Then the unmistakable voice of PJ Harvey roused me from my reverie, and I watched this guy ramble around Mexico City talking in voiceover to a laminated picture of Sergei Eistenstein for 79 minutes. And I cannot tell you why, but somewhere along the way (actually I know the precise scene), a dam broke in my brain and suddenly all my thorny decisions were made.
Sometimes a film, good, bad or indifferent, just finds you at the right moment. And this is what happened here. The weird thing is I still can’t claim that my experience had anything to do with the film’s quality – I grappled with the task of reviewing it somewhat objectively, and failed, (see here.) But I unequivocally admire the bravery of the endeavour, and the film’s simple faith that if you try to be as honest as you can, you may lay yourself open to accusations of self-indulgence, pretension, grandiosity, or dullness to most of the audience, but maybe you also make something that someone three rows back on the left will respond to in some unforeseeable, wholehearted way.
I emerged buzzing from the screening into the bright Czech sunshine, and immediately went off to set up what proved to be a hugely enjoyable interview with Cousins, whom you simply can’t have seen the film and not feel like you know. And that in itself was part of what made the experience so great, not just the film, not just the chatty, relaxed interview, but to be at the sort of small, well-run, helpful festival where you can stumble into the press office all screen-blind and incoherent, and be sitting at a table in an outdoor café with the director ten minutes later.
Films can be massive – of this we are reminded every day at the multiplex. But films can also be tiny, minuscule yet weighted with a heart of gold. And if you’re lucky enough to find the right one at the right moment, movies, I have always believed, can help. “What Is This Film Called Love” didn’t solve my riddles but it did remind me of how to do that for myself, by just being unapologetically what it is: open-hearted, curious, unafraid of ridicule, brave. It is all those things, and it is also a far-too-personal, doodly, meandering mess. I couldn’t have had a better time with it. (Jessica Kiang) — All our coverage of the 2012 Karlovy Vary International Film Festival can be found here.
Marrakech – James Gray Interview
So we’re running the severe risk of James Gray overkill here, but interviewing the director at the Marrakech International Film Festival was also a highlight of my festival year, and not just because he proved such an interesting and articulate interviewee. Not doing press for a film per se (“Lowlife” will probably premiere at Cannes), and in his capacity as a Jury member, the erudite Gray seemed to have thoughts about cinema more generally on his mind, and the role of criticism and the place of narrative and… basically a bunch of things that we don’t often get to talk about with the filmmakers we admire.
The resulting expansive, thoughtful and often passionate reflections on the nature of modern American filmmaking can be read here, though I may have done them scant justice in written form. Thing is, if you get the chance to hear this guy talk at any point, I’d jump at it — it’s hard to communicate just how refreshing it can be, in these days of soundbites and taglines and PR speak, to hear someone so amply qualified talk in complete sentences about the medium we love, peppered liberally with anecdote and analogy. Gray believes that the discourse around film is important, but on this evidence his contribution to that discourse, not just as a filmmaker but also as an observant and engaged commentator, may itself be hugely valuable. (Jessica Kiang) — All of our 2012 Marrakech Film Festival coverage can be found here.