FESTIVAL FILES October - December 2021
A look back on the last three months of the year and the festivals I attended in that time.
First things first, apologies for the irregular publishing schedule: I plan on getting back to weekly entries in 2022, as I will explain in a couple of weeks, and I have one more 2021 piece planned for the end of the year. Secondly, as of this entry, this will be the format for my festival reports: a quarterly piece discussing multiple events, rather than finding the time to write about each of them separately. So, here we go with everything I attended after Venice. And a merry Christmas to all my readers!
17th Zurich Film Festival (September 23 – October 3): I’ve been a regular attendee since 2014, and I had the pleasure of serving on the Swiss Critics Jury in 2017. This year, I was invited to be part of the International Critics Jury (shoutout to my friend Kaja Eggenschwiler, who reached out to me about the opportunity), alongside two esteemed colleagues such as Guy Lodge and E. Nina Rothe (give them a follow on Twitter, here and here). The three of us were asked to pick the winner of the Emerging Swiss Talent Award, which goes to the best Swiss-produced first film in the Focus Competition. We picked Azor, by Andreas Fontana, which is available on MUBI in select countries, if you feel like checking it out. It’s a bold, hypnotic debut that deconstructs the thriller genre and exposes Switzerland’s role in Argentina’s military dictatorship a few decades back. Beyond that, the festival was the usual charming collection of arthouse gems and more mainstream fare, complete with special guests giving masterclasses. My favorite: Paolo Sorrentino, who was one half of a riveting talk with the fest’s artistic director Christian Jungen (you can watch it here).
40th Pordenone Silent Film Festival (October 2-10): the foremost silent cinema event in Europe, back in cinemas after last year’s limited edition which took place online (limited because, in addition to live music being a huge factor in the festival’s success, it’s hard to find digital copies of most silent films). Due to pandemic restrictions, the line-up was significantly reduced (only four screening slots per day), which made the weaker choices stand out: the Korean selection, most notably, was a bit of a letdown, primarily because of the restoration techniques used to make the films accessible to an international audience. Nonetheless, it was a thrill to experience all of it inside the Teatro Verdi, surrounded by veritable aficionados, and to be able to talk about the films with real people after the screening. Sadly, as will be discussed in next week’s piece, one longtime friend of the festival was absent.
13th Festival Lumière (October 9-17): having previously been unable to attend in 2018, even though I was accredited, I finally made my way to Lyon, where the month of October is devoted to the history of cinema in all its forms, including some contemporary titles tied to important guests or retrospectives (like Cry Macho as part of the tribute to Clint Eastwood’s 50 years as a director). France has always had a peculiar relationship to moviegoing, and this was evident when I attended screenings at the two major multiplexes, Pathé Bellecour and UCG Ciné Cité Confluence: the lines for festival showings were just as long as the ones for the latest theatrical releases. My favorite moment: during an early morning screening of the recently rediscovered Italian silent film Villa Falconieri, there was an audible collective hiss in the theater during a scene where a cook breaks spaghetti in half. Sacrilege! You can also click here to check out something I wrote based on the Market’s focus on Swiss film.
59th Viennale (October 21-31): the foremost Austrian film event, with its usual mix of high-profile festival hits from earlier in the year and fascinating retrospectives. On the latter front, I devoted much of my time to the screenings of the works of German horror pioneer Henrik Galeen and British maestro Terence Davies. Davies was in attendance for most of the showings, and a delight during every single Q&A, especially when he enthusiastically revealed he’s working on a Stefan Zweig adaptation and might shoot in in Vienna. Other highlights: the full house for the Austrian premiere of the very good Great Freedom, reconnecting with Sean Baker after three years since we last saw each other (we chatted about his darkly hilarious Red Rocket), and getting to dissect the ending of No Time to Die with Mia Hansen-Løve’s daughter (she was present while I interviewed her mother on the subject of Bergman Island).
27th Geneva International Film Festival (November 5-14): a great rendez-vous for people interested in all audiovisual forms (film, TV, web series, VR, etc.), the GIFF – as it’s known among attendees – is also a great place for interviews, and that was my main activity on my days of attendance. Specifically, I had great 30-minute chats with Radu Jude (whose magnum opus Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn is my favorite film of the year) and Valdimar Johansson, whose feature debut Lamb is one of the most riotously entertaining and audacious calling cards I’ve seen in a while. On the screening front, few things can beat the world premiere of a new Takashi Miike film, and the third entry in the Mole Song series did not disappoint.
25th Kurzfilmtage Winterthur (November 9-14): Overlapping with the GIFF (hence why I’ve never attended either festival all the way through, at least in-person), the short film festival in Winterthur is a lovely meeting place for all those who appreciate the fact that shorts are not just something you do before moving on to features, but an artform in their own right. As part of its 25th anniversary celebrations, the festival also teamed up with Play Suisse, a streaming platform devoted to all things Swiss, to offer cinephiles outside of the Winterthur area the chance to see some of the titles selected for a tribute to national short film production. After last year’s online edition, it was nice to enjoy the best of the short format’s recent offerings with like-minded individuals inside a cinema.
39th Turin Film Festival (November 26 – December 4): between 2015 and 2019, this was arguably my favorite festival in Italy, with its mixture of debuts, established filmmakers, juicy retrospectives, and more experimental stuff. Flashforward two years (I was unable to cover last year’s online edition due to geo-blocking), and the event, now under new management, has become a shadow of its former self. Granted, some of the issues may have been due to pandemic-induced adjustments (fewer films and the inability to use one of the main screening venues), but I think it really says something that I had no second thoughts about leaving early (the festival’s hospitality budget could only cover five nights), whereas in previous years I would have exited my last screening around midnight on the last day. Here’s hoping the festival will find its footing again soon.