Talk Talk: Edinburgh Dispatch #3

2011-06-16 Getting Your Voice Heard

Project: New Cinephilia at Inspace. Discussions, ‘Passions: Getting Your Voice Heard, Starting a Film Publication’ Including speakers from ‘Little White Lies’ and ‘Reverse Shot’ 16.6.2011
Photo by Hannah Killoh

The stated purpose of the smartly organized, daylong Project: New Cinephilia event at the 65th Edinburgh International Film Festival was to foster a conversation around film love, criticism, appreciation and making that broke down the discussion barriers that keep most festival panels (in which a random assemblage of “experts” sit on stages above their audience and pontificate) little more than insular lectures that evaporate as soon as their allotted times run out. To that end, the curators picked Edinburgh’s clean, funky Inspace gallery, in which the sixty-strong P:NC audience casually arrayed itself across a few cushioned tiers above the speakers (including myself), who sat in a round raised “donut” structure at the bottom of the space. A smart choice that helped inform the low-key, inviting vibe of the day as a whole.

As the bleary-eyed cinephiles wandered in, we were treated to a sound installation by BAMcinematek’s Gabriele Caroti and Lili Chen that mashed opening themes from dozens of movies together into a lovely aural wash (it played throughout the event during our breaks). After a brief introduction, the day began in earnest with a series of “provocations” that afforded three speakers five minutes each to present an idea and pose a question to the audience (topics included: “Is the new cinephilia inclusive or exclusive?”; “What is the proper distance between critics and filmmakers?”; “What don’t you know about cinema?”). These mini speeches serves as a little mental stretching for the rest of the headier panels to come. The first grouping discussed different ways of reading a film, using clips from Inland Empire, White Material, and Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans and tackled subjects ranging from sound and commercial prospects to oblique narrative storytelling. This talk provided a ready reminder of the myriad pleasures to be located in close reading of filmic texts.

As the co-founders and co-editors of Reverse Shot, my partner-in-crime Michael Koresky and I were invited to speak about beginning our film publication in the early days of internet film criticism on the second major panel of the day. We were joined by Adam Woodward from the well-designed London art/film publication Little White Lies, as well as Sam Clements, the fresh-faced creator and co-host of the PictureHouse (a U.K theater chain roughly analogous to Landmark theaters in the U.S.) Podcast. Co-curator Damon Smith [full disclosure: he’s also a regular Reverse Shot and occasional SundanceNOW contributor] led us through a comfortable discussion about our processes and projects. There’s no reason why most reading this blog would have reason to be aware of Sam’s podcast, but I urge you to check it out. It’s a truly hilarious mix of cheekiness, smarts and unabashed movie love; an extended segment played that afternoon detailed the stream of text messages Sam’s mum sent him after her seven(!) theatrical viewings of The King’s Speech. There’s nothing like it here, and it proves that film crit need be neither stodgy nor serious to make deep points. Sam proves that sometimes, it can even be more entertaining than the films in question.

After lunch, further provocations (including a smart, well-received rant from Wallflower Press publisher Yoram Allon on the commercial imperatives behind being a cinephile) led into a session looking at new approaches to discussing and analyzing film. The Reverse Shot team premiered New York/New York, a video essay commissioned by the festival, and Scottish journalist David Cairns talked for a bit about his Shadowplay blog in which he isolates forgotten moments of films, but the true star of the show was young graphic artist Edward Ross, whose self-published comic Filmish turns complex film theory into accessible and hilarious material. You can download the first issue for free at his site, and he’s working on making the second and third to available to U.S. readers soon. Any fan of film owes it to themselves to check these out, before they’re gone for good.

The day’s centerpiece, “Passions: What Does It Mean to Be a Cinephile Today?” followed, in which all of the attendees broke into small groups to discuss one of the earlier provocations and report their findings. My group ended up with Mark Cousins’s question from the beginning of the day: “What don’t you know about cinema?” Our small crew headed outside to catch the a fleeting glimpse of the Scottish sun, decided the simplest answer was first: “A lot.” Then: “More than we’ll ever know we don’t know.” And finally, “But that’s okay, we’re all doing our best.” As the groups reconvened to discuss, it felt like the beginning of a new community. Conversations spilled out onto the streets following, lasted through the Twitterthon, and around films and pub trips all weekend. For at least a few days, cinephilia felt alive and vibrant. Back here in the states it’s hard to feel similarly, but, as P:NC co-curator Kate Taylor pointed out in her introduction, only forty people took in the first show by a little British punk band called the Sex Pistols. We all know how that turned out.

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