Tag Archives: Clermont-Ferrand 2014

Clermont-Ferrand: Day 4

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

I must be getting used to the local time zone because my old friend insomnia was back last night with a vengeance. I went to bed by 1am but was awake at 4am and had a very difficult time after that. Hundreds of stories swirling around in my head, and not in a good way.

Today was the first day the market was open so I kept my schedule a little bit loose in order to check that out. I actually went twice and maybe spent a total of about 30 minutes there. It turns out that today was not my day to meet people, but I’ll get back to that.

After yet another breakfast consisting of just a tiny cup of café au lait, I made it to the market by just after 11am. The only person I actually spoke to was Hayden Ellis at the New Zealand stand. After a quick tour of the room, I went across the street to Cocteau in time for the 12pm international selection I8. Not much to report, unfortunately, since I found most of the films blunt and preachy. Europe is feeling the pinch economically and is feeling a lot guilt about racism, I think. Asia has its own immigration issues now, too, and people are feeling displaced all over the world. An interesting theme I’ll return to later. America‘s (self) portrait of an eccentric, possibly alcoholic, Italian man and Counterpart‘s odd but ultimately slight story of a strangely wise wheelchair-bound peeping tom and the couple he spies on were the best of the bunch, but still didn’t rise above being just good.

Still from Behind the Curtain

At 2pm I decided to take in the first of two market screenings of Scandinavian films and I had much better luck here. I had two favourites. Finnish charmer Behind the Curtain (image above) affectionately recalls a childhood trauma narrowly avoided by the quick thinking of a friend. I’m delighted to know that director Teemu Nikki is working on another short film right now entitled The Tits. My other favourite was the very ambitious Keys of Heaven (image below), which recounts the story of two homeless brothers caught up in the Iran/Iraq war of the 1980s. Great young actors tackling some difficult historical material.

Still from Keys of Heaven

When that was finished by 4pm, I realized I was famished, but the problem here in Clermont-Ferrand is that almost all real restaurants don’t open up until 7:00. Opening hours for shops are mysterious in general. I was forced to grab some pastries and a microwaveable dinner and go back to the apartment. A good thing, too, because I got a call from Ni-Ni‘s producer Carlos asking if their cinematographer Ben Hardwicke could take my extra bedroom. I hung around long enough to let him in and get him settled. It will be odd but nice to have someone else here for the next few days, and it will help financially to have someone contributing to the cost, too.

My plan for tonight was not very firm. I headed for the film market at 6pm to catch the end of the “happy hour” and was quite surprised to find it absolutely packed. Now I don’t really enjoy crowds (and it seems to get worse the older I get) but I thought I’d try to see if I recognized anyone or could even introduce myself to some people. But I quickly realized it would be impossible. The combination of not getting much sleep last night and not eating well for a couple of days has left me without much energy, especially social energy.

Crowded Short Film Market

It might seem strange for me to admit this, but I’m that weirdest of all species. I’m an introvert who absolutely needs to be around people. But put me in a large room where I don’t know anyone and all my social awkwardness and insecurity and self-consciousness gang up on me. Every minute I spent in that crowded, hot room full of attractive people speaking multiple languages and demonstrating their superior knowledge of the film business just left me feeling more and more defeated. I know I’m feeling sorry for myself a bit, but I also know myself well. My only solution was to bail.

There weren’t any more screenings tonight that looked very compelling so believe it or not, I’ve been back at the apartment since about 7:15pm. Lame. But I figure I can get this blog post written and do some more Hot Docs screening work and I should be more energized tomorrow. But there is a lesson in here for anyone who’s even a bit like me. You need to do your homework and contact people well ahead of the festival. If you don’t make some connections in the first few days, it only seems to get harder since everyone here seems to know everyone else. And normal methods of communication that are easy at home (text, email, phone) may not work so easily abroad.

Clermont-Ferrand: Day 3

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

Slept a little later than I would have liked, which ruled out anything screening at 10am so I decided to head to the Capitole cinema to see I11, which included Melissa Hickey’s film Ni-Ni. I’d forgotten that for anything screened outside of the Cocteau, there would be no English subtitles at all. Even Melissa’s film, made at the American Film Institute, was in Spanish. But somehow I managed. The ones I really liked I can follow up on and maybe see again with subtitles at the market.

I’m glad to report that Ni-Ni is really good, even though I only got about a third of the dialogue (between the spoken Spanish and the French subtitles). It’s a gritty story of a young street tough in a Mexican border town who has a potentially redemptive encounter with a girl he knew in his childhood. Having met the filmmakers already, I wanted to like it, but it’s even better when my impartial self can agree that it’s good work.

The first film in the programme, Chidiya Udh, played like an Indian gloss on Upstream Color, which is not all good. Composed of some wonderful images, this almost wordless film tries much too self-consciously to be artistic and deep. It’s refreshingly different from anything I’ve yet seen from India, though, which makes filmmaker Pranjal Dua someone to watch.

Still from Nashorn im Galopp

My favourite of the programme, though, was the quirky and charming animated piece Nashorn im Galopp (image above) from German filmmaker Erik Schmitt. Using the pixilation technique of animating live actors, Schmitt creates a romantic story about Berlin and the people who live there. Even though I didn’t get much of the dialogue, this easily won me over with its playful technique.

From there, I raced over to the Vian screening room in the basement of the Maison de la Culture for the Lab selection L2. I’d already seen one of the films, the absolutely sublime Notes on Blindess, but I was curious about several of the others.

A Man on the Road is Best Left Alone and I Love You So Hard were both very silly and enjoyable, but otherwise not exceptional.

Paleosol 80 South and The Rising both tried to bring creepy sci-fi elements to documentary-like material with limited success.

And the film that bugged me the most might be one of the best-made of the bunch. Going into the screening, I was convinced that La Parte de l’ombre (image below) was attempting to be a documentary, maybe using some re-enactments and other “hybrid” elements. During the film I became convinced that the whole story might just be fiction. A tragic tale of a Hungarian photographer who disappears on the eve of his first exhibition in 1944, just as the Nazis are poised to invade Budapest, the film is beautifully made. So beautiful, in fact, that I quickly realized we couldn’t be looking at material from the 1940s. Nonetheless, filmmaker Olivier Smolders has created something quite interesting. Familiarizing myself with his other work would have prepared me a bit more, I think.

Still from La Parte de l'ombre

After a quick lunch at fast-food chain Quick, I raced back to see if I could get into the US3 programme at Conchon, but alas it was full. I even spotted American filmmaker Keith Bearden (The Raftman’s Razor) ahead of me not getting in. So back to the apartment for a head start on this blog entry, and now, a nap…

Finishing this up now at around 10:30pm. At 7pm, I was able to go over to where the Short Film Market begins tomorrow and sign up for some time using the booths of the library to watch more films on Wednesday morning. Then while lining up to go into the next screening at the Cocteau, I saw on Twitter the news that one of my absolute favourite actors, Philip Seymour Hoffman, had been found dead in his New York apartment. Very sad news, and a terrible loss to the world of film. I’ll remember so many great performances from him, and I’m sorry there won’t be any more.

The 8:15pm programme I saw was F6, so another selection of French films in the official competition. There were some truly bizarre films in this group. Maman is a wordless animated piece that just revels in weirdness and then ends abruptly. Style, admittedly good style, over substance here. Equally stylish, but even more zany, is Prehistoric Cabaret which uses all sorts of retro and horror (giallo?) references to tell its story of a woman doing a very revealing striptease. Hilarious but went a little nuts, even for me, at the end.

Extrasystole is an earnest coming-(out)-of-age film from writer/director Alice Douard. A student develops a crush on her female teacher but ultimately one of them loses courage in an emotional game of chicken. Excellent performances from Mathilde Poymiro and Laetitia Dosch. I actually saw Dosch after the screening standing alone so went up and complimented her on her performance. I suspect Douard will make the jump to features quite easily, since this was a 38 minute “short.”

I wasn’t as impressed with Vos Violences which told its story of criminal guilt and innocence with some intense performances but not much else. A lot of white liberal guilt sends a lawyer into ethical quicksand.

The last film in the programme certainly had me laughing, but it was so cheap-looking and off the cuff that it played out more like a Jackass skit. Todo se puede is about a young Mexican man who’s on the prowl for ladies, but can’t seem to score. It’s like a horny version of Slacker with a bit of Napoleon Dynamite thrown in. When our hero ends up fighting with luchadores despite his scrawny build, you too will believe that “anything is possible.” It’s a shaggy dog story that might be so bad that it’s awesome.

I contemplated squeezing in one more screening after that, but realized that I needed to make a proper schedule for the rest of the week, since the market opens tomorrow and there will be lots of people to meet.

Clermont-Ferrand: Day 2

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

So as expected (or at least, hoped), Day 2 was a much improved version of Day 1. There were films and people and yes, finally, some fun.

I slept quite well in my full set of clothes and got at least 8 hours of sleep for the first time in ages, so even though I woke before 7am, I was feeling refreshed. Hot water was still an issue, so I washed my hair in the kitchen sink before braving the shower for my daily 60 seconds of lukewarm water. Oh yeah, I also cleaned out enough hair from the trap to make my own wig. Yuk. But at least it kept the shower from flooding.

I was in plenty of time for the first screening of the day at 10:00am at the Cocteau cinema (the biggest one of all in the Maison de la Culture, it holds 1400 people). I even sat at a café on the way and had a café au lait. The first screening was F1 (the first of the selections from the French national competition) and featured five very different films. The standout for me was Adriano Valerio’s 37°4 S, about teenaged lovers on the island of Tristan de Cunha (population 270). Apart from the evocative setting, the film used voiceover in a surreal way and I just loved the concept of growing up with someone all your life until you become romantically involved, and then that person deciding to move away for some reason. Here’s a page with more information on 37° 4 S.

At noon I returned to the Cocteau for the first international competition selection (I1 on your bingo card). Here I found two films that impressed me. Benoit de Clerck’s De Honger (image below) was a typically strong Flemish film, with great art direction and a simple, almost wordless plot that played out like a fable. Here’s a page with more information on De Honger.

Still from De Honger

The other was from Sweden. Henry Moore Selder’s A Living Soul crossed all genres (sci-fi, horror, comedy, drama) in its 29 minutes, showing life from the viewpoint of a preserved brain in a lab experiment. Incorporating the brain’s own imaginative flights of fancy within an already imaginative storyline makes for some gutsy (and brainy, pardon the pun) filmmaking. Here is the website for A Living Soul.

I did actually meet Dustin Kaspar from SIFF, along with Kathleen McInnis from Palm Springs Shortfest, at the first screening today, but they slipped out halfway through. So at 2pm, when I was hungry, I still didn’t have any lunching companions, so I stopped at Monoprix on the way back to my lodgings and picked up a few more groceries. Then an after-lunch nap in the newly cozy apartment (temperature on its way to 20°C!) and some Hot Docs screening work.

I’d thought of returning to Cocteau for the evening screenings but had also sent an email to Gina Dellabarca, director of New Zealand’s Show Me Shorts festival asking her if I could tag along if she had any dinner plans. Those pushy Canadians, always inviting themselves places! She was gracious enough to invite me along to dinner. I met her in front of the Maison de la Culture at 8pm, where in addition to the lovely Gina, I met fellow Kiwis Adam Gunser (director of Killing Phillip in the international competition) and Hayden Ellis (from the New Zealand Film Commission) as well as Americans Melissa Hickey and Carlos Garza, director and producer of Ni-Ni (also competing in the international selection). Dustin just happened to spot me standing outside with the group and he came along, too.

After being turned away at our first choice, Creperie le 1513, we wandered a bit and found ourselves on the top floor of an enormous brasserie near the Cathedral de Notre Dame du Port. Over a long meal we got to know each other a bit better and it was the first time in several days I could feel comfortable speaking English and stringing more than a few words together at a time. So I’m grateful for that.

Home well before midnight, full but sober, and planning my day tomorrow. The festival has well and truly started for me now.

Clermont-Ferrand: Day 1

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

Overall, a bust. But hoping things are better today.

I flew overnight to Paris and wasn’t able to sleep at all. I arrived about 7:30am and had about two hours before my connecting flight. That gave me time to swap out my phone’s SIM card for one I’d bought online from LeFrenchMobile and that turned out to be the easiest thing I accomplished all day.

I got into Clermont-Ferrand about 11:00am and was at my AirBnB before noon. I knew that there was someone here cleaning and I couldn’t really get full access until 2pm or so but I wanted to drop off my heavy suitcase. The apartment I’m staying at is enormous and comes with a friendly cat, but so far I’ve had intermittent wifi problems (it’s working okay right now), and struggles to warm the place up. Maybe I just can’t figure out the thermostat. As a result I slept in a full set of clothes last night. Right now the temperature inside the apartment is hovering around 16°C which feels frigid to me.

My first shower lasted about 2 minutes as well. First the hot water gave out quickly and then the shower wouldn’t drain, threatening to flood the bathroom floor. Hoping for better luck this morning.

To make things worse, I’d made arrangements to meet up with Dustin Kaspar from the Seattle International Film Festival. Both of us were dog tired and after both of us napped in the afternoon, we were going to meet up for dinner. I’d obtained a ticket for the first screening of the festival at 8pm but left it in my room when going to meet Dustin since he didn’t think he’d be going and I was happy to chat over a long meal. We were going to meet in front of the Maison de la Culture at 6pm but I didn’t get his message until 6:10 and arrived about 6:30. I hung around waiting for another email letting me know where he and a filmmaker friend had gone and watched everyone arriving for the screening. By 7:45pm I was regretting leaving my ticket behind since now I couldn’t get in even if I wanted to.

I even saw illustrator Chris Buzelli and his wife taking pictures in front of the Maison de la Culture (his poster for this year’s festival is plastered everywhere in C-F, but especially on the festival venues). But I was feeling too sorry for myself to approach them.

By 7:55pm I’d decided that Day 1 wasn’t off to a very good start and headed back to my room. Luckily I’d bought some groceries earlier in the day and had a little picnic in front of my computer. But with the wi-fi out, I was reduced to writing up my day and checking for emails on my phone. I headed to bed (fully clothed) by around 10pm.

So yeah, Day 1 kind of sucked. No films, no meetings, no heat, no fun.

P.S. Juror Denis Côté was on my flight from Paris to C-F. He must be a busy guy, because he has a film premiering in Berlin in a week.

Clermont-Ferrand 2014: Before I Go

Poster for 2014 Clermont-Ferrand International Short Film Festival

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

On Thursday evening, I’ll be boarding a plane and flying to France for the first time since I backpacked around the country in 1987. The reason for my trip might seem like business but for me it’s as big an adventure as that post-college coming-of-age trip all those years ago. You see, when I started Shorts That Are Not Pants “officially” just over two years ago now, I had no idea how long it might last, or what opportunities it might bring my way. We’re still tiny, by the standards of many film festivals, and we’re not even really a festival at all, but I love everything about the work I do for our little “screening series.”

When my dad passed away in October of 2012, I came into a little bit of money, and I put some of that into Shorts That Are Not Pants. Not much, because I want us to be a self-funded and viable enterprise. But I also felt that using some of that money for opportunities to travel and learn made sense, and so as early as last summer I began making plans to attend the world’s largest short film festival and market. I’d been following it online for quite a while and now it was my turn to take the plunge.

I’m excited but also a little nervous. France can be an intimidating country. Justifiably proud of their language and culture, the French can appear to be a little unforgiving to those whose facility with the French language is rusty and basic. I’m trying to remember my similar fears in 1987, which proved mostly unfounded. My friend Dave and I landed (like the D-Day troops) in Normandy and worked our way counterclockwise around the country before tackling Paris. Everywhere we met great people (though I do recall Dave having had much better French than me) and even in Paris, where we expected the worst, people were kind to us.

I suppose I’m also intimidated by the way the French run their festivals. I’ve heard horror stories from Cannes for so many years now, about different levels of access, and endless regulations (often only published in French) and rudeness from people in the service sector. I’m trying to ignore all of that. Though I dropped French in Grade 9, my pronunciation has always been good, and I think just being in Canada means that I’m exposed to a lot of French vocabulary all the time (our packaging is bilingual, for instance).

The strange thing is that although there are probably a lot of attendees who won’t attempt a word of French (I’m looking at some of you, Americans and Brits!) and who will nevertheless have a marvellous time, as a Canadian I’ve always felt tremendous guilt for not having mastered our second language. It’s a language (and culture) for which I have enormous respect and even affection, so I hope the nation can forgive my fumbling attempts at saying a few words.

Stuff from Clermont-Ferrand 2014

All kidding aside, I’m really excited. The festival in Clermont-Ferrand not only shows 164 short films in competition (75 in the International Competition, 60 in the National (French) Competition, and 29 in the Lab Competition), but there is an accompanying film market where literally thousands of other new shorts are available to watch. As well, the world of short film converges here for more than a week, and I’m looking forward to talking to filmmakers, festival programmers and other film professionals and learning as much as I can from them.

So please stay tuned to the blog, where I hope to keep a sort of diary of what I get up to at my first “professional” trip to a short film festival. I hope it will be a little bit entertaining, if not enlightening.

Note: The amazing poster was designed by American illustrator Chris Buzelli, whom I need to thank for posting his photos from last year on Facebook and whipping up my excitement a full 12 months in advance!