It’s been an extremely busy week here in Rotterdam, where the 37th edition of the “director’s festival” is well under way. As a dutiful servant to the Seattle film going public I find myself dodging street cars (Seattle beyare of your future) as well as bicycles, who are refreshingly bountiful in Holland a nation that kindly affords them their own lanes! But the real pleasures of my sojourn in this Dutch wonderland are the images my friends, images that inspire and a festival that contextualizes those images like none other.
Spring quarter of Northwest Film Forum’s calendar is hot on the intersection of video art and cinema. The subject is so dear to the curatorial hearts here in Rotterdam that the festival has initiated a series of installations created by some of Asia’s hottest filmmakers. Most notably, Wang Bing’s CRUDE OIL, in which the outstanding documentary filmmaker shows the oil extraction industry in the Gobi Desert. The festival assures us this is indeed a film, wheighing in at some 14 hours (apparently Bing was unhappy with the cut that lasted an entire week!), a film to be presented as 2 two-day 7 hour exhibits. Bing, whose 2003 effort WEST OF THE TRACKS received much praise, is also screening his doc FENGMING, A CHINESE MEMOIR in which he tackles head on the cinematic conundrum of the talking head for a full 186 minutes.
But let me not deceive you, the festivals selections are more than the extremely long. Rotterdam is well known for exhibitng en masse, short films in a program for the second year titles SHORT AS LONG AS IT TAKES. Last night I took a couple of nice offerings in this category, with tow new films from Marie Losier. Losier, who also happens to program films for Alliance Francais in New York City, presented her new cinema portrait on Tony Conrad; experimental filmmaker, musician/composer, sound artist, teacher and writer. Losier has been building a career out conjuring fun loving cinema portraits of some of the mediums most daring experimenters. Her effort with Conrad is no exception, finding her loving camera in Conrad’s home, car, and on the streets of Suburban New York as Tony moves about like jello in a bowl, fumbling, bumbling, bouncing on the bed wearing a dress. You can’t help but enjoy the lightheartedness of this cinematic creature. so much so you can’t wait to explore his own offerings. Conrad’s ouvre is extensive, and I semll a Third Eye cinema program in the works!
In the feature category, Rotterdam prides itself on discovering new talent. This morning I took in a film entitled BARE ASS JAPAN. Exhibiting the sort of non-chalant spirit that has recently struck accord with the American Mumblecore directors, filmmaker Ishii Yuya gives us an absurdist yet grounded pic on youth in suburban Japan. A slacker comedy with some tinges of (gulp) NAPOLEON DYNAMITE. The film follows a recent high school grad as he attempts to make sense of his life by moving into a small farm with a girl he has a crush on, and his father. The three are a motely crew; the father having left his wife, the girl trying to escape the boring day to day of selling sweet cakes in the street, and the son who is trying to find himself and figure out how to love the girl . There are some odd moments where other boys uncomfortableness in the world of sexual relations leads to ackward attempts at sex. this no doubt his the reason why the director has landed him few fans amongst the female population back home. But there is a certain freshness to this work, as it doesn’t really fit the traditional categories of Asian filmmaking. It is wholly original, and I’m convinced it can find audiences Sate side. Yuya is also presenting three more titles at this year’s festival. He’s apparently a prodigous fellow back in Japan.
The screenings call, as I head off to the third one today. A festival like this doesn’t lend you much time for enjoying the famous Dutch light, nor to reflections for the folks back home. I’ll be abck in Seattle on the 29th, and will be around NWFF for the Finnish program next weekend. There’ll be plenty more to report, so stop me if you’re in the theatre. My gratitutde to the film goers of Seattle for entrusting me on this mission.
– your cinematic servant abroad.