From Venice to Reykjavík

Eldfjall

“Social disease and a new energy coming from a new generation is quite visible in the films I’ve seen, but cinema continues to be have a avant-garde view of the new society we’ll have to face. In a sense you can discover the roots of the crisis and the new hope of the Arab Spring in the films we have seen in the last two years. Documentarians are now ready to show us what happened and what will happen; fictional movies will use reality to help us understand more,” says Giorgio Gosetti when asked about the way films have changed along with a changed world.

The films Giorgio is talking about have not always been seen by the masses. This is because Giorgio is a festival director and organizer, and thus views some 800 films each year. Giorgio Gosetti also happens to be the new programme director of RIFF, the Reykjavík International Film Festival. Welcome to RIFF, Giorgio!

RIFF’s new programme director grew up in Venice, home to Italy’s biggest film festival, and that’s the festival he’s at when we contact him. “I moved to Rome under the pretext of studying at the university; but the real goal was to discover the film community and find a way to be part of it. Like anyone, I dreamt of being an artist—in my case a screenwriter—but I got the chance to prove myself as a reporter and I thought it was the best way to get in contact with filmmakers and producers. But then I discovered how important is to know the cinema system in depth, and also discovered a certain talent in organising events and in programme festivals.”

AN OLD-SCHOOL SALESMAN
But what is the job of the film festival programmer like? “A festival programmer is like an old-school salesman, he’s always ready with his luggage, always moving from a market to another, looking for rumours, screenings and meetings. Every one of us sees at least 800 films over the year, in order to be up to date. You receive suggestions and DVDs, but you have to fight to make sure your favourite films get shown. You need to gain the trust of the filmmakers and every-one involved.”

But how can we, the audience, trust Giorgio’s tastes? The simplest way to gauge that is to ask him about his favourite films. “I can mention three films by three directors close to my heart: ‘Barry Lindon’ by Stanley Kubrick, ‘Il conformista’ by Bernardo Bertolucci and ‘Le Havre’ by Aki Kaurismaki,” he says and adds the names of directors such as Sergio Leone, Ingmar Bergman and John Cassavetes to the mix.

I ask him how the Venice festival is shaping up. He says it’s too early to judge; the best films often come near the end, yet the films so far have been good. “Everyone was impressed by the quality of George Clooney’s ‘The Ides Of March,’ and the emotions raised by the French film ‘All Our Desires’ (‘Toutes nos envies’), but I could also mention films like ‘Historias’ by Julia Murat, ‘Twilight Portrait’ by Angelina Nikonova and the Argentinean ‘El campo.’

RIFF Preview Bitter Branches -  983fb19b2ed226a9.jpg

‘VOLCANO’ AND THE THIRD OLSEN SISTER
At RIFF, Giorgio is in charge of New Visions, the festival’s main category (it focuses on directors making their first or second feature film). And for the first time, there’s an Icelandic film competing: Rúnar Rúnarsson’s ‘Volcano.’ “I saw ‘Volcano’ in Cannes and was really impressed: he’s a visionary in describing emotions and characters. I think he will be a prominent personality in European cinema and we are proud to host him in the New Visions’ programme.”

The beauty of film festivals is often the unknown, even the buffest of film buffs will be unfamiliar with most of the films in the New Visions category—the exceptions being ‘Volcano’ and ‘Martha Marcy May Marlene,’ which already made waves at Cannes and Sundance, and seems to be making a star out of its leading lady Elizabeth Olsen (a younger sibling of the Olsen twins, fancy that!).

But the trouble is that many of them are destined to remain ‘festival films,’ films seen only at festivals—and if you miss one of the three screening RIFF offers, there often won’t be a chance to view them later. Acquiring a DVD or illegally downloading them might even prove bothersome.

So what is the best way forward to make sure people have better opportunities in seeing independent and non-English speaking films? “This is the crucial question in the distribution all around Europe—and in the U.S. it is even worse,” says Giorgio. “Festivals are responsible for offering an almost unique chance to many very talented filmmakers who are sometimes totally unknown by the larger audience. I think that in the future, the digital system will offer a very different landscape and could be a major chance for art cinema. But the risk is that it will transform cinema into a very personal platform, in which you are pretty alone facing your choices, and cinema must be a collective experience, not just an extra click on the web. But just like with every revolution, you can’t really imagine the consequences right now. Somewhere along the way, we’ll have to take stock and shape the changes of the future.”

Halldór Kolbeinsson

PJ Harvey, Ceausescu and Limahl in a swimming pool: RIFF previewed
RIFF will commence on September 22 and go on until October 2. The schedule was still taking shape at the time of writing, but here are bits of the news that had already leaked out of RIFF headquarters:

Danish director Lone Scherfig is the guest of honour. She’s directed films such as dogme flick ‘Italian For Beginners’ and Hollywood movies like ‘An Education’ and the brand new ‘One Day.’

Documentary director James Marsh will also attend. He is best known for ‘Man On Wire’ and has recently directed ‘Project Nim’, which seems to be sorta like ‘Rise of the Planet Of The Apes’, apart from the sci-fi part.

Kevin Smith will not attend in person, but he will be here in spirit after a midnight screening of his horror film ‘Red State.’ After the show he’ll do a Q & A through satellite from the US.

Romania will be this year’s FOCUS COUNTRY. Romanian films have performed strongly at festivals over the last decade, and a Romanian film, ‘The Death of Mr. Lazarescu’, won RIFF’s main award a few years back. The catchiest title of the new crop must be ‘The Autobiography Of Nicolae Ceausescu,’ at least as long as you like your dictators truly mad (batshit crazy, even).

In the music films section there are two adaptations of recent records. A collection of twelve short films based on the songs on PJ Harvey’s ‘Let England Shake’ andSpike Jonze’s adaptation of Arcade Fire’s ‘The Suburbs’ (before becoming known as one of Hollywood’s most original directors, Spike worked on numerous music videos for the likes of Björk and Beastie Boys). Finally, Gina Belafonte will come and present a documentary about her father Harry Belafonte, called ‘Sing Your Song’.

RIFF will participate with Couch Fest Films this year, where film buffs will show short films at home and invite guests over. But there are other unusual locations on offer. You will be able to see the classic ‘The Neverending Story’ in a swimming pool, and they say there is a screening in the centre of the earth. The details are sketchy but we’re expecting a cave of some sorts (here’s hoping they don’t mean an active volcano).

Ásgeir H Ingólfsson

Photo of Gosetti: Halldór Kolbeinsson

Originally published in The Reykjavík Grapevine on September 19th 2011.

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