Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Int'l Short Film Festival Winterthur - Films United

I felt compelled to share a little about my most recent festival adventure to Switzerland (Swaziland for a select one person). Here we go...

Obama's election swept me from the "red" state of Georgia to the country of Switzerland and more specifically to Zurich's well-dressed neighbor Winterthur. I felt rather proud to carry the Obama torch overseas and I felt like it gave a diplomatic quality to what was purely a cinematic mission. You might say, "Why Winterthur?" I might say, "A couple of reasons. No. 1: It's a short film festival and I have yet to attend a festival devoted only to shorts. No. 2: They have some very generous prizes awarded to the winners of the international competition. No. 3: They are very welcoming and generous to visiting filmmakers and suffice to say, they made it very worth my while to attend. My thanks to Reto, programmer and coordinator, for that. From my talks with other filmmakers at the festival, Winterthur's fest appears with Uppsala and Tampere as the jack, king and queen of the European short film festival deck. The ace, I think, would be Clermont-Ferrand. So I'm told. So I've heard.

On my first trip to Europe I sat next to a Colombian. On my second, I sat next to a
Colombian and he was just as friendly as every other Colombian I've met. Something in the water I guess. His name was Jesus and he works for Homeland Security. We parted ways in Paris and Charles de Gaulle airport. You know those silly cartoon representations of human organs in which dozens of workers toil laboriously maintaining the functions of the heart or brain or eye like it is some construction site or office building. That approximates CDG airport. It's a wonderful, confusing, spinning, crazy paradox. It's the embodiment of a Tati film. Well, my lodgings as provided the festival were located at the Hotel Banana City, heavy on amenities and light on indoor pools (none). This was quite a great place and I've included a short video of one of these amenities.

Our main festival venue was the Casino Theater in the heart of the city and a short walk from the hotel and it consisted on 3 floors of festivities. The first floor contained the main theater w/balcony, festival infodesk, restaurant and box office. The third floor was the smaller theater. The second, which I saved for last, was my favorite. Coat check and water closet facilities were located on this floor, but those are hardly things to holler about. In fact, there was no movie theater on this floor, but only a bar and and lounge, which for the festival, was turned into a teeming discotheque conducted each night by a host of DJs. Every year, the festival chooses a theme for this room and this year it was teddy bears and stuffed animals. It didn't seem to make any sense to me until the last day when people started pulling the animals off the ceiling and throwing them around and then it still didn't make any sense, but somehow it worked.

With a small festival like this, I got to know a number of filmmakers and festival staffers over the few days I was there and that was the true treat of the experience. Two of my favorites were Rodrigo, a Portuguese filmmaker and Tião, a Brazilian filmmaker. Rodrigo had just finished a feature film in HD and Corrente, his short film at the festival, was a trip back to the early days of cinema. He shot on 16mm reversal, developed and edited the film by hand, using only techniques available 70 years ago. I liked it very much. Tião's film, Muro (Wall in Portuguese), was my favorite of the festival. It premiered at Cannes' Director's Fortnight and it's a hard film to describe. The program reads, "Soul in vacuum, desert in expansion." That synopsis makes sense like the teddy bears hanging from the ceiling makes sense. I think maybe the film is about A race, though there are several races in the film. In one race, a group of children stand at the starting line and decide to race with one rule: they may not take a breath. The starter pistol fires...sounds pretty awesome, doesn't it? It is. I wish everyone could see this film.

I met a couple filmmakers from Tel Aviv (Rossi is pictured here next to me.), who were quite charming and funny and another filmmaker from Palestine, who was interrogated by Israeli Police for 4 hours before being allowed to board his plane at the Tel Aviv airport. I met Barbara(also pictured), a visual artist/filmmaker from Muenster in Germany and she was very nice and thoughtful and she had some insightful comments about my film. The list goes on... My other favorite films were Love You More, which I saw in Austin and ranks alongside Death to the Tinman as the best strictly narrative short films I've ever seen, and a film called Puppetboy, which won the grand prize of 12,000 CHF. It has a very Scandinavian sense of humor, probably because it's Scandinavian. If you asked me to describe what that is, I would fail, but if you saw the film, you'd come away thinking that same thought. In retrospect, it reminded me of Lars von Trier's The Boss of it All.

Originally, I had reservations about traveling overseas for a film festival for only a weekend. Now that I've returned, I would happily do it again in a heartbeat. It is astonishing how people can come together in such a small event and it seem as if the entire world and all its machinery present and accounted for. I still feel like such a child; amazed that their can be so many cultures and people driven to cinema to express the inexpressible. In full disclosure, I was interminably moved those 4-5 days. Perhaps to be moved, you must move, if only briefly. The world seemed flat and we all had our individual stories, but in reality, there was only one story. The word is 'universal'. It comes to mind whenever I think of Muro and the race. Film races through a projector. People race in the New York Marathon or to the moon. The earth is moving. We're all moving and racing at the same time. Look at me. I'm getting carried away. Forgive me.