Festival Report: Gijón, part 2


The second of two reports I’ve written for desistfilm about films I saw in Gijón is now online. This one focuses on the Convergencias films – in essence, I’ve looked at what the films have in common (interesting use of sound / silence and idiosyncratic visuals).

Links to reviews will continue to appear in the other post(s).

UPDATE (29/12/15): the 1-hour recording of El séptimo vicio that centred on Convergencias is now online (here). I am in the first twenty minute section (specifically 04:20-09:21) alongside Félix Dufour-Laperrière and Víctor Paz. The middle section consists of Martín Cuesta, Pablo González-Taboada, Eduardo Guillot, Carlota Moseguí and David Tejero discussing the state of film criticism in Spain, and then the final section is Martín and Víctor.

Postcard from Gijón: Days 7-9


My Gijón adventure is now at an end and so I will quickly round up the last few days before checking out of the hotel.

Thursday saw the second presentation of Transatlantique. I was less nervous this time and I felt that my introduction was a bit more fluid. I interviewed Félix Dufour-Laperrière while the film was screening and then returned for the Q&A. There were film production students in the audience and they asked very different questions to the previous session (most of them seemed to be specialising in sound and it’s an interesting film from that perspective).
Next, myself and Félix – and the other critics participating in Convergencias – went to a radio station to take part in a recording of El séptimo vicio (The Seventh Vice) for RNE3 (Radio Nacional de España 3). Host Javier Tolentino was amused to learn that I have listened to the programme as a podcast on iTunes – he visits a lot of film festivals and talks to interesting filmmakers (especially in terms of the kinds of Spanish films that I like – but the programme covers international cinema, not just Spanish films). The entire episode (they’re usually about 59 minutes long) will be centred on Convergencias, so I will put a link on here when it has been broadcast (you can listen to it online without iTunes). My mind went blank a couple of times (including in response to “Who is your favourite Spanish director?” and in the very last round-up with the group) but overall it wasn’t too bad. UPDATE (29/12/15): the podcast is now online – here – I am mainly in the first section between 04:20-09:21.
The only films I saw that day were shorts in La noche de cortos españoles [The Night of Spanish Shorts] – as I’ve said before, I’m going to write about the shorts as a group later, so I won’t expand any further now except to say that there was real variety in the selection.

The Road02
Friday saw the sixth – and final – Convergencias film: The Road (Rana Salem, 2015), chosen by Eduardo Guillot (you can read Eduardo’s text, here). For me, the film seemed quite different to the other Convergencias films (which share some characteristics, although each interprets them differently) although it does make use of sound in an atmospheric way. A road movie of sorts, we see an unnamed couple (played by director Rana Salem and her real-life partner Guy Chartouni) in the aftermath of some kind of unspecified upset – both of them seem distracted and the woman is clearly in an emotionally fragile state – and they set off on a journey from Beirut into the Lebanese countryside. The structure is very fragmented. There are repeated cuts to black (which are held for several seconds at a time) and what are eventually revealed to be flashbacks (the chronology of events isn’t clear until relatively late in the film) that show the two leads in different domestic/familial environments. Eduardo said in his introduction that it’s a film that asks questions of the audience rather than supplying the answers, but I was left a bit nonplussed by it overall.

Next was El movimiento / The Movement (Benjamín Naishtat, 2015), which screened without subtitles so I’m not going to claim to have followed everything that went on. Set in Argentina in 1835 (by weird coincidence the same year that Aferim! is set) in the aftermath of what the festival catalogue tells me was the emancipation war of the Provincias Unidas del Río de la Plata, a fratricidal conflict develops while the new administration settles in. Several armed groups are wandering the Pampa, looking for resources but each also claims to be the legitimate representative of El Movimiento. The leader of one of these groups, known simply as el Señor (Pablo Cedrón), presents himself with the language of idealism and the moral high ground but unleashes hideously violent acts via his henchmen. Shot in black and white, the film is visually very striking – the lighting is very high contrast (it mainly seemed to rely on light sources within the frame), casting jet-black shadows across the numerous close-ups of faces, and at times it looks almost like a painting. The soundtrack is also unusual given the era in which the film takes place because it includes electronic sounds (late in the film, a truck and a motorbike also cross the back of the frame) which build to a low rumbling threat – it becomes quite oppressive. I would watch it again with subtitles – in order to follow the subtleties of the political machinations, which were beyond my Spanish – so hopefully it will make its way to a UK festival.

I wasn’t feeling well on Friday night, so I didn’t go to any of the later screenings. Therefore the next film for me was on Saturday: Lamb (Yared Zeleke, 2015). The first Ethiopian film to be selected for Cannes, Lamb follows nine-year-old Ephraim (Rediat Amare) after his father leaves him with relatives in the Ahmar Mountains while he seeks work in Addis Abeba. Ephraim’s best friend is Chuni, a sheep who belonged to his late mother. Chuni brings Ephraim into conflict with his new relatives because his uncle wants to slaughter the animal for upcoming festivities – Ephraim begins to concoct an escape plan for him and Chuni to get out of there and either on the road to return to his birthplace (where he has other relatives) or in search of his father. It’s the second Ethiopia-set film I’ve seen this year (the other being Crumbs) and it makes full use of the astounding vistas of the green mountains and the valleys below. Ephraim is a sweet-natured and sensitive protagonist and the film is effectively a coming of age tale. I’m probably going to review it, so I won’t say any more for now (plus I’m trying to get this up before I leave the hotel).

Dead Slow Ahead
I went to the Closing Ceremony (again hosted by Carlos Areces) on Saturday night – the list of award winners can be found here. So the last film of the festival for me was Dead Slow Ahead (Mauro Herce, 2015), a documentary set on a cargo ship and the directorial debut of the director of photography of films such as Arraianos (Eloy Enciso, 2012). There are obvious points of similarity with Transatlantique but the two films are also completely their own things – Dead Slow Ahead puts me in mind of a sci-fi film at certain points with a soundscape that includes a lot of electronic beeping and an alien strangeness to some of its more abstract images and heightened colour palette. I actually watched Dead Slow Ahead on Festival Scope a couple of weeks ago, not realising that it was going to be in Gijón, but it is a completely different experience on the big screen and with surround sound – and it is another very immersive film. It is my intention to write something about the two films together (possibly also including Leviathan (Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Verena Paravel, 2013) because it seems to me that it would be impossible not to acknowledge that film in relation to them – although not necessarily ‘an influence’ as such, it’s more that in the eyes of the spectator a connection will be made (if they’ve seen it)), so again I’m not going to expand on the film any further at this juncture (she says, with one eye on the clock).

So that is the end of the Festival Internacional de Cine de Gijón. I will be reviewing some of the films I’ve seen (I haven’t had time to write anything other than these postcards while I’ve been in Spain), I am writing a report on the experimental section for Desistfilm and probably also an overview of Convergencias, and a report on the Spanish shorts for Eye for Film. It will take a while for me to write all of those things (not least because I return to work on Tuesday), but I will link to them on here once they’re online.
I’ll just finish by saying muchísimas gracias a Martín Cuesta y Víctor Paz por invitarme a Gijón como participante en Convergencias – ha sido una gran experiencia y espero que puedo volver para futuras ediciones (y que vemos en otros festivales también).

FICX53: Convergencias


Back in June I saw the following call for papers/proposals from the Festival Internacional de Cine de Gijón:

‘[Asociación Cultural Convergencias de la Crítica Cinematográfica] and the Gijon International Film Festival will be hosting a second edition of its critics’ strand: CONVERGENCES. This strand intends to become an opportunity for film critics all over Europe – a meeting point of discussion for a diverse and wide-ranging spectrum of cinephilia. In order to realise this in FICXixon, we are organising a call for papers. The aim is to select six films not previously shown in Spain. This strand is conceived as a place for discovery and recognition of directors who have not received the appropriate attention of Spanish programmers and curators. We encourage critics to participate by sending proposals of films to programme at FICXixon. The first edition of this strand was a great success, working as a meeting place for Spanish film critics, that presented the selection to over 1,200 spectators. This year, we would like to open this participation to our European colleagues.’

A critic could participate if they were frequently publishing articles or discussing film on TV or radio. You had to submit a CV and a covering letter as part of the proposal to explain why you were interested in taking part. The film proposal itself had a word limit of 1,000 words in either English or Spanish – within the conditions set out (a film produced between 2014 – 2015, preferably one that had not yet been shown in Spain, and relevant to contemporary trends / delivering fresh ideas for the evolution of film language), you had to make the case for the importance of your chosen film and why it should be included in the festival’s programme. The final choice would be made by the section’s coordinators, Martín Cuesta (Cinema ad hoc) and Víctor Paz (A cuarta parede).
I wasn’t sure that I published frequently enough to qualify because I tend to have bursts of activity when I go to festivals followed by slow periods when I watch more than I write. But I knew that I had various upcoming festivals in September and early October (I didn’t know that I’d get derailed by the brouhaha over at the old blog during August) and I thought that it was worth going for given that they specifically stated that ‘only the quality and depth of the several points developed in the texts will be taken into account, no matter what the previous experience of the film critic is’. That seemed like an admirably open door and to be worth the effort of applying. But what film to choose?
At that point in the year, the only festivals I’d been to were in Barcelona and Edinburgh – obviously anything I’d seen in the former had already been shown in Spain, so that was a dead end. There wasn’t a great deal in Edinburgh that fitted the bill either (incidentally, it can be quite a faff to work out which countries a film has screened in). I was giving this proper thought while I was in Edinburgh, and looking through the festival catalogue there seemed to be two films that might fit the bill – films that were unusual enough that I’d probably be the only person suggesting them but that also sounded like my kind of film (liking the film wasn’t one of the conditions – but I would struggle to argue for a film that I didn’t actually rate). Anyway, I saw one of them but wasn’t bowled over by it. The other one – Transatlantique (Félix Dufour-Laperrière, 2014) – wasn’t screening until after I was leaving Edinburgh but it was in the videotheque so I headed there to watch it, only to be stymied by the fact that there was something noisy going on in the next room and this had been described as a silent film (which isn’t entirely accurate but it’s certainly a quiet film). So I bailed on that plan. In the end I watched it on Festival Scope….and I found it to be a singular and mesmerising film. So I wrote a proposal about it.
All of which is a very longwinded way of saying that I was one of the six critics chosen – Transatlantique is screening at FIXC53 with its director in attendance, and the festival is paying for my flights and accommodation so that I can be there too. I’ll get to meet the other chosen critics and discuss the films with them. I’m really thrilled to be taking part and to be meeting the other participants, and I’m intrigued by the other Convergencias films, none of which I’ve seen before (I’m also really looking forward to seeing Transatlantique on a big screen because it is visually stunning in a way that a computer screen cannot do justice to).
I will return to Transatlantique on here is some form, but I thought that I’d give a brief outline of each of the films in the section. The festival’s press release about the chosen films says that they’re connected through the use of sound in a creative capacity as a narrative element and through an expressive use of silence – I shall find out more when I watch them, but I can already see other potential overlaps in the descriptions below.

André's Eyes

André’s Eyes / Os Olhos de André (António Borges Correia, 2015) – chosen by Jesús Choya.
Synopsis: An experimental docudrama in which the actual family members themselves participate in the recreation of their own story. Set in a small village in the Portuguese countryside, the film follows the struggle of a divorced father to keep his family together after his youngest son is taken away from them and placed in a foster family.

In the Crosswind

In the Crosswinds / Risttuules (Martti Helde, 2014) – chosen by David Tejero.
Synopsis: In a series of black and white tableaux vivants, the film tells the story of an Estonian woman and her young daughter struggling to find their way home after being deported to Siberia by the Soviet occupiers in 1941. The imagery looks fable-like, and the detailed description on the TIFF website says that ‘carving out an uncanny space between motion and stasis, these images evoke a state in which the past seems solid and the present like a dream’.


Krisha (Trey Edward Shults, 2015) – chosen by Carlota Moseguí.
Synopsis (taken from the official website): ‘Following a prolonged battle with addiction and self-destruction, Krisha, the black sheep of the family she abandoned, returns for a holiday celebration. But what begins as a moving testament to the family’s capacity to forgive soon spirals into a deluge of emotional bloodletting, as old wounds are torn open, and resentments are laid bare’. The cast includes several members of the director’s family.

The Road

The Road (Rana Salem, 2015) – chosen by Eduardo Guillot [not on Twitter].
Synopsis: Rana and Guy, a young married couple, live in today’s city of Beirut. Drifting away from reality with no sense of time and space, Rana is trapped in memories and dreams. Guy decides that they must go on a trip. The director says that ‘the film is inspired by my life with my partner, but the characters are not us, even though we’re the actors. The Road is a very personal project, and it takes a look into how it is to be in love and maintain a long relationship in a country where it’s difficult to make long term plans due to its instability’.


Test (Aleksandr Kott, 2014) – chosen by Pablo González-Taboada.
Synopsis: Test is a story about the first nuclear bomb test which was conducted in Semipalatinsk in 1949. Director Aleksandr Kott has said of his dialogue-free film that “…have you noticed that when somebody is really close to you, you don’t need many words to communicate, you communicate with glances, gestures, and actions. Sometimes silent communication means much more than empty conversations. This film is for those who love looking, for those who remember that the cinema is, before all, an image. And when cinema was invented, it was without words.”


Transatlantique (Félix Dufour-Laperrière, 2014) – chosen by me.
Part meditative travelogue and part maritime reverie, Transatlantique is a black and white essay film – without dialogue – exploring the spaces of a cargo ship undergoing a transatlantic voyage. The brothers Félix (director, screenwriter, cinematographer, editor), Nicolas (co-cinematographer) and Gabriel Dufour-Laperrière (sound recordist) boarded the Federal Rideau in Antwerp and embarked on a 30-day journey to Montreal. The film is as interested in the architectural spaces of the ship as it is with the sea and its depths, and makes interesting use of sound…but that is all I shall say for the time being.

There is also a Convergencias video presentation by Martín Cuesta – here.