Black, white and red all over: Sa‹d Kadiri snaps photos of the Cannes crowd en route to an evening film.

Festivals from Cannes to Marfa, San Francisco Filmmakers Reporting

Emile Bokaer, Cynthia Mitchell May 21, 2010

Emile Bokaer, May 18: I love making documentaries for many of the same reasons I love learning languages. Put simply, I want to learn about the world around me and create strong connections with people. My dream is to combine my love for filmmaking with my love of languages. I am thrilled to be spending ten days at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival among a group of 12 international film students.

I came here hoping to meet filmmakers working in North Africa and Latin America, and realized this goal surprisingly quickly. Four of the filmmakers in this program are Moroccan, and one is Algerian. These five are among the friendliest, most hospitable people I have ever met. Not to mention they are gifted documentarians, directors, animators, and producers. Within two days I also met three directors with Latin American films in the festival who are bilingual in English and Spanish: Michael and Jeff Zimbalist with the documentary feature The Two Escobars, and Michael Rowe with A¤o Bisiesto. I tried to come here without great expectations, and told myself at the very least I would get to watch tons of films and practice my French. Thankfully the experience has already exceeded my expectations.

I had a particularly beautiful first movie experience here. The Two Escobars screened at Cin‚ma de la Plage–a screen literally on the sea shore–the stage set on scaffolding in shallow water. Hundreds of audience members sat on beach chairs with blankets as dusk fell. A man selling candied peanuts called out “Shoo shoo! Shoo shoo!” I and my friend Marjorie, a filmmaker from Singapore, sat in the second row, and waves crept up to about ten feet in front of us as the film played under the stars. The Two Escobars is incredible–it weaves stories of the Colombian national soccer team and the drug cartel of Pablo Escobar into a riveting narrative that covers several decades of Colombian history, so that not only drug lord Pablo Escobar and the late patriot soccer star Andr‚s Escobar, but also Colombia itself becomes a complex character.

Each day I swim in the Mediterranean and work on the final edit of my MFA thesis film, and each night I see at least one movie. I’m finding that the greatest challenge is creating time to work, but as much as a film festival on the beach creates distractions, it also provides inspiration. Several days remain–more soon….

Maya: Amazing short documentary

There are hundreds and hundreds of short films on view in these booths at Cannes–you could literally spend the entire festival just watching short films. But there are nine in competition. There is no discrimination; short documentaries compete with short fiction pieces.

Not surprisingly, my favorite is a documentary short. Maya was directed and produced by a Spanish-born filmmaker named Pedro P¡o Mart¡n P‚rez. The film was shot in Cuba.

From the book: “Maya is a film which looks at the relationship between a fighting dog and her owner and trainer. At close quarters, we observe the three days leading up to a fight to the death.”

This is one of the most cinematic documentaries I have seen. There is little or no dialogue (and not even much sound from the dog Maya, either). It is an extremely powerful love story between a man and a dog. It feels strange to write that (and I am not even a big dog person either). I feel that there is not much I can say about this film that the film itself does not say about a thousand times more strongly (and I think this is a good quality for a film to have).

More from Emile Bokaer at Cannes at his Emile Bokaer … Cannes blog.

Emile Bokaer is a San Francisco-based director and producer of documentary films. A member of the 2010 class of Stanford University’s MFA Program in Documentary Film and Video, he was selected by the San Francisco Film Society and the Consulat G‚n‚ral de France … San Francisco as beneficiary of the inaugural “From College to Cannes” program. This blog will chronicle his experience at Cannes.

Party Daze in Marfa, Texas

Cynthia Mitchell, May 14: Marfa, Texas, if a very particular place in a country where particularity is scarce. In 1971, Donald Judd, giant and genius of minimalism, went to Marfa and began to make it his own. By the time of his death in 1996, he had done so by gradually buying up properties and molding them to his impeccable vision. It always seemed strange to me, the idea of a tiny West Texas town becoming mecca to the most austere school of art to come out of the twentieth century.

No longer strictly about minimalism, Marfa, population 2000 or so, is home to an expanding art scene. In 2008, a film festival was started there by Robin Lambaria.

Robert Arnold and I were invited to show our short film, All Animals, at the 2010 Marfa Film Festival. The invitation came unexpectedly from Ralph McKay who saw our movie when we submitted it to Rotterdam. It was heartening to be reminded that even if a film gets rejected by a festival it may still may have been seen by someone who will remember you later.

The Marfa Film Festival is young, only in its third year, and while it’s not entirely smooth, it feels supported by an incredible amount of enthusiasm. There’s a sense that something special is happening, as if the feelings people have about Marfa (“magical” is the word most used) naturally extend to the festival. This year was the first year that passes sold out and by some accounts the films were better than in the previous two years. Perhaps one indication of how things are going is that Lou Reed decided to premiere his first film, Red Shirley, here.

The 2010 festival was programmed by the founder/director Robin Lambaria and Ralph McKay. They make a slightly odd pair, but one that feels suited to the Wild West-meets-high culture niche that is Marfa. Robin’s style–tousled, enthusiastic, and glamorous–can be disarmingly inappropriate. “A French hooker told me that putting cocaine on your feet numbs the pain of high heels.” That statement by her actually made a seamless intro to the first feature by Omar Rodriguez Lopez of The Mars Volta, The Sentimental Engine Slayer, a disorienting dream of prostitutes, traumatic homosexual lapses and angsty poetry.

Ralph McKay gives the festival intellectual ballast. You get the sense that he takes each film seriously and he’s there to break it down with you if you can catch him in a free moment. Ralph established the film department at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, has programmed for Anthology Film Archives and the Jewish Museum in New York City and Cinematexas in Austin. Since 1997, he’s served as program advisor to the Rotterdam International Film Festival.

On arrival we watched some films and then went on to a directors dinner gave us time to meet other filmmakers and locals. During dinner we learned of the Marfa Mystery Lights, untracable lights in the middle of the desert. I was thrilled when Robin’s parents, Flo and Rudy Lambaria, offered to take us to see them. Flo is passionate about the lights and she knew what to look for. Sure enough, there was a strange glimmering along the horizon. Susceptible by nature, I let myself be enchanted. Whatever it was we saw–aliens, ghosts, or headlights–I was happy.

That night we stayed in a ramshackle RV by the theater so we’d be close by for a 9 a.m. interview at Marfa Public Radio. Our hotel was out of the way and no volunteer looked likely to be up before noon. We rolled out of the RV into the radio station for an enjoyable, if sleep deprived, interview with Rachel Osier Lindley, who explained that locals call the festival “The Marfa Party Fest.”

After that we fell into a rhythm of watching films, ambling (yes ambling) down the middle of the street, eating pozole, flopping around the coolest pop-up cafe in the world (decorated with Cafe Bustelo cans, crystals and cowhides) and going to parties. We were lucky to meet up with San Francisco filmmaker Chris Brown and his wife, actress Jill Pixley, whose blackly comic new feature (think early Mike Leigh) Fanny, Annie & Danny had just come from The Kansas City film festival where it won an award for best narrative feature.

For night events, El Cosmico, a hotel disguised as a hippy art commune with a perfectly designed scattering of trailers, yurts and teepees, supports the festival with outdoor screenings, parties and live music. We considered a yurt but instead we were relocated to the hotel El Paisano (our rags-to-riches story). El Paisano is famous for having been home to Elizabeth Taylor and James Dean during the filming of Giant.

On Friday night there was a quasi secret party in the haunted “Building 98.” It was rumoured that an erotic film would be screened, an old Italian film, with lesbianism or something. Coming from San Francisco this sounded um…quaint. Although Marfa recently disbanded the police force the Sheriff still cruises for dirty-movie parties to bust up. We showed up at the party too late for the stag film but just in time to dance until 3:45 a.m.

The next day our film screened with three other shorts. I worried that the whole festival would be in bed after the previous night’s parties, but the theater was full and there were a lot of questions. The work was solid and the program felt like it was of a whole. Especially good was a film by Jason William Marlow called The Big Bends, now on its way to Cannes.

Afterward, people from the area approached us to talk about our work. It surprised me to see who responded to it and how. Encountering all that local interest, I realized that we should have tried to use the press contacts they gave us before the festival. I hadn’t considered that many people were there from small newspapers who need stories, or who might have a hard time getting to the main attractions. I know… Duh, but I’ve always been a little slow in this area. I was just proud of myself that I didn’t spend the whole festival only dancing funny with a wizened cowboy.

On the day of our departure there was a brunch with a mariachi band, a mountain of shredded pork and cocktails. There I realized my goal to meet Mona Garcia, owner of Building 98 and founder of a mysterious international woman’s foundation.

The beauty of a festival in a place this size is that you can meet everyone you want to meet and talk to everyone whose work you like. You have only to keep your eyes open, go to everything and not drink too much tequila.

After brunch we paid a last respect to Judd by visiting “the boxes,” an untitled row of fifteen sculptures that feel like the apex of minimalist thought. If you’ve ever wondered what’s to like about a bunch of squares in a dry field you need only to walk through these works and look at the way the light hits.

Cynthia Mitchell brought All Animals to the Marfa Film Festival 2010. Mitchell is a painter, filmmaker, playwright and an active member of I, Daughter Of Kong. She currently resides in San Francisco.

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