Clermont-Ferrand: Day 6

Director of Programming James McNally is attending this year’s Clermont-Ferrand International Short Film Festival from January 31st to February 8th

I suppose I’m settling into maintenance mode now. I don’t have the energy for these long festivals, I think. Or at least I find being around large anonymous crowds is draining my energy. I’m spending too much time by myself, too, not necessarily by choice. As each day goes by, I feel like I’ve totally missed the boat on any social situations and am just trying to see films now and maybe collect a few DVDs and business cards at the market.

I booked two hours this morning to watch films at the video library in the market, and that was a good idea. The problem is that you need to book a day in advance. I may try to book some time on Friday when I drop by tomorrow. I can cherry-pick individual films from the competition this way and can watch some of the thousands of films that didn’t get into the official competitions. The nice thing is that when I go home, I have another nine months of access to the video portal. That in itself will prove the trip was worthwhile.

I suppose it’s a little nitpicky, but it’s strange that just outside the video library is a bustling cafĂ© section, and even with headphones on, I found it incredibly noisy. Seems a strange way to lay things out, that’s all.

Still from Marilyn Myller

I was eager to see a couple of new films from animators whose previous films wowed me. Luckily, both Marilyn Myller (image above) from Mikey Please, and The Missing Scarf from Eoin Duffy, lived well up to expectations. I love how animation can be both epic and intensely personal at the very same time.

I also loved Planètes après planètes, made in the style of a French/Belgian comic book, about an astronaut who gets bored with his job and decides to make a change. And though I still don’t know if it’s the same Alberto Vázquez whose films we featured in our Spanish sci-fi lineup, Unicorn Blood (image below) feels like it’s from the same mind. This wicked tale of teddy bears gone bad packs a bit of a philosophical punch.

Still from Unicorn Blood

At noon, I braved the crowds again at Cocteau for I14 and was pleasantly surprised to find all the films generally quite strong. The strangest had to be Keeping Up With The Joneses (image below), a bit of a Guy Ritchie-style film in which a pair of gangsters (one gay and one a brown-skinned thickly-accented Scot) kidnap an MP’s wife and, at one point, beat up a man in a chicken suit. Equally funny and violent, the ending felt a little bit unearned, but Adeel Akhtar’s Jerry might be the most memorable character I’ve yet seen in a film here. Well, it might be a tie with Sion Davies’ Gwyn, from No Kaddish in Carmarthen, a bit of a Rushmore/Submarine thing that still had some sparkling writing and Davies as a memorable Welsh kid who thinks he’s Jewish (“my mother’s a Methodist. That’s…similar”).

Still from Keeping Up with the Joneses

I need to make special mention, too, of Ghost Train (the one by Australians James Fleming and Kelly Hucker; there is actually another film with the same title in the competition this year, though I haven’t seen that one). It’s a beautiful documentary made in a bit of an experimental style and it’s quite heartbreaking.

Illustration by Chris Buzelli

On my way back to the apartment, I stopped for a few minutes to check out the exhibit on festival poster artist Chris Buzelli‘s work and was delighted to see large prints of about 20 of his striking illustrations (image above). I saw the drawings and original painting of this year’s poster design, too. It must be gratifying for him that the poster is in every store window in town.

I grabbed two pastries on the way back to the apartment for a quick lunch and a nap and then I had a job to do for today’s Happy Hour. The wonderful Kellie Ann Benz from The Shorts Report visited the festival in 2009 and gave me all sorts of great advice before coming. One of the things she suggested was to bring some local beer for the day when the Canada/Quebec booth would be hosting drinks at Happy Hour. So I carefully packed (really carefully!) four 650ml bottles of my favourite local beer, Peculiar Ale from Granite Brewery. It added nearly 10 pounds to my luggage allowance, but since it won’t be coming home with me, I can bring home some other stuff instead. In any case, today was the day when Canada/Quebec (along with the UK, Italy, Australia and New Zealand) provided food and booze for the market crowds. And so I lugged the beers down, where they were poured into little plastic cups. There was also cider (and for some unexplained reason, tequila) at the booth, but I swear that my beer disappeared within about 10 minutes. I never even got a taste.

I still found the market overwhelming, and I’m not sure I’ll be going back. Insane crowds gorging themselves on food and drink aren’t really my thing, and I haven’t really made any lasting contacts there, even after several days.

Still from Light is Calling

I pressed on after Happy Hour to attend the US1 programme at Vian, the lower level venue at the Maison de la Culture. This lineup featured some older films, all the way back to 2004’s quite mesmerizing Light Is Calling (image above), which I immediately dubbed “Night Is Falling.” It plays with the deterioration of an old silent film reel to meditate on the fleeting nature of life and light. Equally mesmerizing was RIP Rich which is nothing but four guys “turf dancing” on an Oakland street corner.

After that, I was thinking about dinner, and thought I’d see if Avenue (according to TripAdvisor, the #2 restaurant of more than 300 in the city) had room for me, but no dice. I do want to eat there at least once before I leave, and it’s only about 100m from my doorstep. Speaking of leaving, I think I made a bit of a mistake coming for the entire festival. It’s too big and too long for someone like me. For my first shorts festival experience abroad, I really should have picked something a bit more intimate and a bit more familiar, like Encounters in Bristol, England. It’s in September, just after TIFF, so maybe there’s a chance I can get there this year.

It’s now just after 10pm, and having skipped dinner, I’m eating clementines and biscuits (again). I would have had crepes at Le Menhir again, but as I was walking past, I saw a large group that contained at least one person I’ve met, and so that would have been pretty awkward for me. Yes, more of my personal drama. Sorry about that…

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