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.