It’s the time of year when several smaller festivals – though they wouldn’t necessarily describe themselves as such - jostle for attention in the wake of the cinematic deluge that was Venice/Toronto (“Vento”).
Just when you thought you couldn’t see another film, for example, San Sebastian kicked off . This year, the Basque festival’s jury, led by Laurent Cantet, had the good sense to pick as its top winner the one film which was cruelly overlooked by Cannes and Venice, City of Life And Death (pictured). As it’s not even China’s candidate for the Oscar, San Sebastian’s honour becomes doubly important for this harrowing film. Locarno coasted for years on having selected The Lives Of Others in similar circumstances, so San Sebastian is in a win-win situation here.
How will Pusan make its mark? It kicked off yesterday (October 8) with a 131-minute local comedy, Good Morning President, fronting a 355-film line-up, including 98 world premieres. Every country needs at least one big film bash, but Pusan has really gone for it in 2009: the practical side of life seems to dictate however that there couldn’t be 98 top films left after Vento’s had its pick, and there are a few names in there – and in Rome’s line-up, which kicks off on the 15th – which have been doing the rounds of selection committees for quite some time.
Then again, as City of Life and Death will prove, those committees aren’t exactly infallible.
Rome runs almost concurrently to London (opening 14 October), whose star is bright this year after securing high-profile world premieres to open and close the festival (Fantastic Mr Fox/Nowhere Boy). Its New British Cinema selection is slim, though, and heavy on docs, reflecting a not-entirely-banner year for local cinema (as was first illustrated in Edinburgh in June). Of 13 titles in this section, five are documentaries and six were shown at festivals dating back to Berlin.
(One British world premiere has been bumped up to the Film on the Square section, however – 44-inch Chest, from the writers of Sexy Beast and featuring that film’s star Ray Winstone with, according to artistic director Sandra Hebron’s programme notes “some spectacularly foul-mouthed and habitually violent behaviour from a group of men well beyond any flush of youth”. Confusingly, Julian Fellowes’ From Time To Time, a family drama with Maggie Smith and Timothy Spall acting out Lucy M. Boston’s Green Knowe stories, will have world premiered shortly before at Dinard).
London is flush with a $1.5m boost of government cash and looking to raise its profile internationally as well as within the industry: its 14 world premieres seems a sane amount, and the programme is definitely a good example of a festival with strong artistic direction (there’s no confusing Hebron’s taste). There’s also the matter of the festival’s first Best Film Award and a four-day screenings programme for professionals.
If London does succeed, will the others fade back and the industry, which is now split, gravitate to the UK capital?
Venice-Toronto-San Sebastian-Pusan-Rome-Londonin six weeks: Passepartout would have been challenged. For years, people have said it is too much and it always feels like too much as we go through it. As we count-down the days to what will undoubtedly be a restrained AFM, however, it may become clear that the product available in fall 2010 won’t justify such an annual bash. Perhaps we should enjoy it while we still can.