Tag Archives: Clermont-Ferrand 2014

Clermont-Ferrand: Day 9

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

Well, it’s pretty much over now. This morning, I only headed to the Maison de la Culture because I’d been emailing Paul Tom, the director of Un pays de silences, and he told me he was taking part in the Expresso Q&A session this morning at 11:30am. I got there before 11, and kind of forgot that these are conducted about 99% in French. Even Paul’s interview would be in French, so I wouldn’t get much out of it, but we’d hoped to meet up afterward. Things ran a bit late with the other interviews and so it was after noon when I finally caught up with Paul and his editor Alain Loiselle after the session. We had a brief chat and arranged to meet up at 5:30pm to get seats for the awards ceremony at 6.

Then I just wandered down to Place de la Jaude again to browse for DVDs at FNAC. I had been looking at some of the titles in the Warner “films criminels” but I didn’t really know where to start (or stop), and then I found all the other Warner and other studio “treasures” that don’t seem to be for sale in any retail outlet I’ve seen in North America. Again, overwhelmed. So I decided to look at Blu-rays. I have a region-free player and so that opens things up considerably, but most French discs just don’t bother with English subtitles, so I stuck with English language films. I found a great new edition of Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation which is one of my favourites from him, and then I grabbed a special edition of Le clan des Siciliens, a 1969 crime film from France that stars Alain Delon, Jean Gabin, and Lino Ventura. Lots of special features, hoping some are subbed in English since the film itself has both an English dub and subtitles. Then I spotted something my wife Brooke would love: a Blu-ray edition of Kenneth Branagh’s 1992 film Peter’s Friends. Unable to stop myself, I grabbed the following as part of a 3 for 30 Euros deal: The Red Shoes, Looper, and a bit of a double-dip, a Blu-ray copy of Gondry’s L’ecume des jours. I can give the DVD away to a French-speaking friend.

My FNAC Haul

Then a quick meal at Quick, and back for a small rest. I have to pack and it’s making me a bit nervous, because my suitcase is huge and almost always close to the weight limit. Lots of heavy stuff is going to be jammed into my carry-on, which is a backpack.

It turned out that our tickets for tonight’s ceremony were assigned seating, but luckily we were just one row and a few seats apart. For the first time, I grabbed a pair of special headphones through which the festival provides simultaneous translation for the live presentations. It was actually pretty amazing, and though they were extremely uncomfortable, I thought how great it would have been to have something like that to wear around here all the time. Or you know, I could just learn French.

Clermont-Ferrand 2014 Award Winners

The ceremony was late getting started and filled with the usual thank you speeches, and I actually hadn’t seen more than one or two of the awarded films. It was nice to see hometown filmmakers Walter Woodman and Patrick Cederberg’s Noah recognized again (it won two awards) but I’d seen it before so I skipped it here. After all the speeches were over, they showed two of the awarded films: Butter Lamp and My Friend Nietzsche. I’m very happy that Butter Lamp continues to scoop up awards and festival selections (it’s playing at True/False, where I’m headed later this month.) But I found the other film, a Brazilian short comedy about a schoolboy struggling to read who finds a copy of Nietzsche’s Thus Spake Zarathustra, the sort of pandering crowd-pleaser that often wins awards but which leaves me cold. It’s played for cute laughs, but I’d rather see a film in which a real child Nietzschean or Marxist takes on Brazilian society. Not so funny, perhaps.

Though there was an announcement about a closing party “just outside of town” with shuttle buses waiting outside, I thought it was best to just get back and finish packing. Paul and Alain were going to do the same. I hope to keep in touch, since Paul’s film is one that I really enjoyed and I think it could use a little bit of support. Maybe we’ll get a chance to show it later in the year.

I grabbed some frites on the way home and am now comfortably finishing up this post before 10pm. The airport taxi is all arranged for 8am tomorrow and I just have to make sure I’m up and ready. Look for a summary post in the next few days. It will certainly take me that long to sort through all the business cards, DVDs, catalogues, and other material I accumulated.

Clermont-Ferrand: Day 8

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

I was out the door by 9am today to get the market library for my 10am appointment and as I walked through the market you could tell things were wrapping up. Booths were empty or in the process of being packed up, and nobody was browsing anymore. I suspect quite a few people were leaving town sometime today. I had a solid 90 minutes in the library watching some stuff cherry-picked from competition slates I missed or didn’t want to see in their entirety.

The knockouts here were very different from each other. First, the amazing calling-card short Habana (image below) which featured incredible CGI, documentary-style black-and-white cinematography, and a not-so-subtle political dig at the US. Street kid Lazaro takes a film crew through a near-future Havana, occupied by a foreign army who are building a bridge to the mainland and using the island for its resources (oil?). At 23 minutes, it felt at least 5 minutes too long, but the craft is impeccable and I could easily see this working as an interesting genre feature in the vein of District 9.

Still from Habana

About as far as you can get from Habana in style and content was La Lampe au beurre de yak (Butter Lamp) (image below), in which an itinerant photographer and his assistant offer to take photos of local villagers in Tibet in front of different backgrounds. It’s a fixed camera shot for the entire 16 minutes, but it’s constantly surprising and funny. It also feels completely like a documentary, though I don’t think it actually is.

Still from Butter Lamp

I was on my way to Cocteau for noon for what I thought was F4, but just before the lights went down, someone from the festival came on stage with a group of filmmakers and proceeded to introduce them as the creators of I2. While I’d seen the first film already and liked it, I just jumped up and left, thinking I could make the 1pm screening in Vian instead, which I thought was L1. But it turned out that I was wrong about that one, too. I had to shake my head since it reminded me that I have, for some inexplicable reason, always confused Jeudi (Thursday) and Vendredi (Friday). No idea why, but it kind of messed up my schedule today.

But I’m still in Zen mode, and so I simply wandered up to the Place de la Jaude and bought my wife a gift, then had another great meal at Le Menhir. They had a set menu of a gallette (hot crepe with savoury/meat fillings) and a sweet crepe (I got the beurre sucre again) and coffee for under 12 Euros.

Contentedly stuffed, I came back for a nap and to catch up on some work. I double-checked the schedule and so was sure that at 7pm, I’d be catching FU3 in the Ways of Escape section. What I’d forgotten was that outside of Cocteau, there are no English subtitles on anything. Nevertheless, most of the films in this lineup were pretty easily understandable and with my rudimentary language skills, I managed to read the French subtitles.

My favourite was from Benoit de Clerck, whose De Honger I’ve already praised. The Importance of Sweet and Salt (image below) was his first film, in which a talking fish shakes a man out of his torpor, helping him to take control of his life and escape a weirdly dysfunctional relationship with his wife. Lead actor Jan Vergote has a wonderfully expressive and yet deadpan face.

Still from The Importance of Sweet and Salt

I also liked Sniffer quite a lot. It’s a wordless sci-fi fable whose art direction reminded me a lot of Roy Andersson‘s work. This 2006 film was actually projected on 35mm, too, which is more and more unusual, especially for shorts.

Because Vian is the smaller of the two cinemas at the Maison de la Culture, it’s not quite as easy to exit from one screening and go right back into the next. The lineup looked really long for the 9pm screening of US4 so I decided to call it a night. It would have been nice to see the original 2008 short film Short Term 12 which inspired the feature, but it will have to be another time.

Clermont-Ferrand: Day 7

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

I’m feeling a lot more zen about things today. A good night’s sleep helped, and the weather today has been fantastic (sunny and 14°C). I’m just seeing what I want now, and so I spent most of the morning shopping in the Centre Jaude and the Galeries Lafayette. Picked up a couple of DVDs at FNAC. First, Michel Gondry’s latest film L’ecume des jours (which will be released as Mood Indigo in North America, at some point). Even though the disc doesn’t have English subtitles, I know the imagery will be amazing and I’ve heard that it might be cut when it does come out in North America. Second, Fast-Walking, a 1982 film starring James Woods and part of an interesting series of “films criminels” put out by Warner here. The booklet that comes with the film is 60 pages long and discusses each of the 20 films in the collection.

I even stopped for lunch today at Pizza Tino, a pizzeria kind of hidden away downstairs off the Place de Jaude. So feeling refreshed and fed, I headed for Cocteau for the 2:15pm screening of I3. I got to see my friend Gwyn in No Kaddish in Carmarthen again, but the real knockout here was the first film, Un pays de silences (image below), by Montreal filmmaker Paul Tom. It’s a personal documentary about the filmmaker returning to his parents’ country of Cambodia for the first time. What I loved is that he was able to make the personal into something more universal. The title is evocative and layered with meaning, and the soundtrack, by Man An Ocean, contributes immensely. To be honest, the film kind of emotionally wrecked me, perhaps because it explores that most difficult of relationships, the one between father and son.

Still from Un pays de silences

I booked some time tomorrow morning at the market video library and also picked up my ticket for the Closing Ceremony at 6pm on Saturday. It’s where they hand out the awards, so I don’t want to miss that. I pretty much skipped the market today, especially the Happy Hour, which wasn’t making me very happy at all, and I’m all the better for that.

Spliff Records

After a quick browse at Spliff(!), the record store next door (image above), I stopped back at the apartment for a quick update (wrote the first part of this blog post and caught up on email) and then back out to La Jetée (which turns out to be about a five minute walk from my place) for US2. I’d already seen Stefan Nadelman’s 2002 Terminal Bar (image below), a documentary about the closing of a bar in the Hell’s Kitchen neighbourhood of New York managed by his father, who over the years took hundreds (maybe thousands) of photos of the bar’s colourful patrons. But seeing it on the big screen, projected from 35mm film, was a real treat, and it made me realize how innovative the film must have seemed to the documentary world when it came out more than a decade ago.

Still from Terminal Bar

The other standout for me was Matthew Lessner’s utterly crazy Darling Darling (image below) from 2005. Starring an impossibly young Michael Cera, it features a lot of improvised dialogue in his trademark awkward stammer. The plot takes the traditional uneasiness of “meeting the parents” to new heights. Or maybe depths. In any case, I loved it, but am not sure the French subtitles could convey the extent of Cera’s discomfort.

Still from Darling Darling

Just around 9pm, I tried my luck again at Avenue and, to my delight, was able to get one of only 8 tables in their tiny space. Run by a friendly young couple, the restaurant is notable for its excellent (and bilingual) service as well as incredible food. I started with a butternut squash soup that had chopped hazelnuts in it, and then had the beef cheeks in Morel sauce. One of the vegetables it came with was a large piece of beet, which happens to be a favourite of mine. I left hardly a morsel on my plate. Dessert was panacotta with a mango coulis, and then coffee. All that and a small 250ml carafe of a lovely red Côte-du-Rhône came to 40 Euros, which for the totality of the experience was a bargain.

The restaurant is obviously popular with English-speakers because there were two other tables of them in the restaurant at the same time, including a table of five next to me who were also attending the film festival. We didn’t speak to each other, but I couldn’t help but eavesdrop on their conversation. It appeared to be a film teacher (American) from Aberdeen eating dinner with some of his female students. It was nice to hear so much English at once. It’s oddly comforting right now.

So all in all an excellent day, and I look forward to making the rest of the trip just as pleasant.

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 café 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…

Clermont-Ferrand: Day 5

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

Even though I was in bed by 10:30pm last night, I still woke up at 3am and couldn’t fall back asleep for a very long time. As a result, I slept right through my 7am alarm and didn’t get out of bed until after 9am. I had a 10:30am meeting with Diego Iriarte from Proimágenes Colombia and was able to get to the market in time but just as I arrived I realized I’d forgotten my festival badge. Another round trip to the apartment and back took me about 35 minutes and so I was late but luckily it wasn’t that busy in the market at 11am.

Shorts DVDs

I was feeling a little bit better (although still sleepless and with a nagging headache) today and so I spoke to several people at the various booths, and picked up DVDs from Poland, the Netherlands, Lithuania, Colombia, and the Czech Republic (image above, including my feet – click for larger). None of the film screenings this morning or afternoon looked compelling enough to skip lunch (again) for, so I wandered back up toward the apartment and stopped for food at Drop Zone. It’s the first restaurant meal I’ve eaten since Saturday night and it was nice to enjoy it. I even had a local beer, L’ambrée from Le Plan B (image below).

L'ambrée by Le Plan B

Since my sleep is still messed up, I decided on a return to afternoon napping, with plans to attend the Happy Hour again tonight to see if I’d be in a better frame of mind. There were still a few people with whom I’ve yet to connect in person, though we’ve exchanged emails. It’s difficult not knowing what people look like or being able to make firm arrangements in advance.

I was back out for 5:30pm and better luck at the market. I met up (briefly) with Canada’s own Danny Lennon (of Prends ça court! and Not Short on Talent fame). He introduced me quickly to Mélissa Bouchard from Regard sur la court métrage au Saguenay, where I know my Short of the Week colleague Jason Sondhi was a guest last year. I also chatted with Vancouver filmmaker Daniel Domachowski for a little while, and met up very briefly with Judy Suh, a young American filmmaker who has come to Clermont-Ferrand to support her film Portraiture, which is playing in the market.

Klezmer Band

I had no real plans after the Happy Hour ended and so wandered a little bit and found an amazing 20-person klezmer band called KtipietoK OrKeStaR (image above – click it to see a crappy iPhone video) playing in the parking lot next to the market. Sponsored in some way by one of France’s regions (Champagne-Ardenne), there was even food and, of course, Champagne, which appeared to be gone by the time I got there. After about 15 minutes of that, I crossed the street and saw a lot of people hanging out in the bar at the Hotel Oceania. It was a festival event but I think it was for directors and I didn’t recognize anyone after a quick walk around, so I continued toward home, stopping to pick up a few more groceries.

The well-reviewed crepe restaurant steps from my door, Le Menhir, was open so I decided to finally check it out. Amazingly tasty crepes both sweet and savoury. I had one of each and a small jug of alcoholic cider and my total was 13 Euros, which is very cheap to eat out here. I’ll be back for sure.

I have to be honest and say that I was disappointed not to have connected with anyone deeply enough to be included in any evening plans. Apparently, last night there was a huge party that many of the Quebeckers and Canadians attended, but about which I heard nothing. And nice as it was to share dinner with people on Saturday night, it’s the only meal I’ve eaten with other people so far. A little bit of it is down to my own shyness, but I wish there was a way for first-time attendees to be introduced to the festival and the city by someone more experienced. I know other festivals organize mixers and maybe the market Happy Hours are meant to serve this function, but someone like me just needs a little more hand-holding, and I’m sure I can’t be the only one.