Organizers and programmers of the World Film Festival have long argued that their event is about films and not stars, and that sentiment was perfectly personified by visiting filmmaker Paul Cox. The director, perhaps best-known for Man of Flowers and Vincent, was premiering his senior-citizen infidelity movie, Innocence, which has divided audiences into love-hate camps.
Between beers, the Dutch-born, Australia-based director acknowledged his latest film may be out of step with contemporary audiences. "Without love and beauty the human heart perishes," he said, while lamenting being seated in a non-smoking section of World Fest headquarters, the Wyndham Hotel.
"Saying this on film is difficult, because everyone's so damn cynical. Everything's been digitalized."
Audiences have been reacting to the geriatric-on-geriatric love scenes in Innocence with some surprise. The lack of older ages being represented in cinema is something Cox calls "shameful."
Cox leaves specific discussion of his film behind to lament the general state of the medium. "My work is not cynical at all. But I am deeply cynical about cinema itself. I think it's one of the greatest gifts of all time, to be able to express dreams and thoughts in this medium. But it's been abused horrifically. The films always seem to have gone through too many filters, to make it taste just so. I saw Erin Brockovich recently, on a plane, so I couldn't walk out. . . . If [the people making these films]were just selling shampoo, and managed to get everyone in the world to use it, it wouldn't be so harmful. But this is our culture. It affects us, our children and our grandchildren."
For someone who just premiered a sweet, rather naive film that lives up to its title of Innocence, Cox does sound like a somewhat bitter man. "Humans are endlessly fascinating to me. As individuals, humans are so beautiful. But as a species, we're horrid, like rats."
In its final weekend, the WFF began to take on a carnival-like atmosphere. Jazz musician Jane Bunnett, who appears in the NFB documentary Spirits of Havana, performed at Upstairs, a popular jazz bar. Her draw had clearly been underestimated, as crowds spilled out onto the street and the lineup for entry extended down the block.
Festival organizers were also thrilled at their 11th-hour coup: celebrated Bosnian filmmaker Emir Kusturica ( Time of the Gypsies; Black Cat, White Cat) and the No Smoking Orchestra, will perform two free concerts at Place-des-arts, the fest's outdoor site. German director Volker Schlondorff ( The Tin Drum) didn't mince words when discussing the contemporary state of German cinema. "German films -- especially genre films, like mysteries and love stories -- have a large national audience, but the problem is they can't be exported. They are too bad to be seen outside the country."
The veteran said young German filmmakers -- once inspired by auteurs like Fassbinder and Wenders -- have taken on Roland Emmerich ( The Patriot) and Wolfgang Petersen ( The Perfect Storm) as role models. "These days everyone wants to make Hollywood films."
Schlondorff did say, however, that there are a few younger directors trying to make quality auteur films, naming Andreas Dresen ( The Policewoman) and Tom Tykwer ( Run Lola Run). He pointed out that last year, German media conglomerates Bertelsmann and the Kirch Group invested $1-billion in U.S. productions rather than in domestic ones. "I am very upset; in fact, I'm beyond being upset."
Schlondorff was at the WFF promoting his latest project, Rita's Legends, a political thriller about the changing identity of a fugitive terrorist hiding out in East Germany, slated for a fall release. While most bar banter at the Wyndham centres around films and gossip, a conversation with Moose Jaw director Jeff Beesley ( Sparkle) and Watchmen vocalist Daniel Greaves turned to music. Beesley says the music scene in Canada is at least five years ahead of the domestic film industry. Thanks to Canadian-content quotas, Canadians are exposed to homegrown musical talent on a daily basis -- something that can't be said about film.
Beesley had to fight hard to keep the soundtrack Canadian in his latest film, Borderline Normal (a made-for-TV production shot in Regina yet, oddly enough, set in Windsor), since the Hollywood producers were unfamiliar with the Skydiggers, the Waltons and Brothers Creegan. Thanks to the musical supervision of Waltons singer Jason Plumb, Canadian viewers will find the song selection very familiar.
Greaves, who recently scored his first film, Jon Einarsson Gustafsson's Kanadiana, was smitten with the experience. The idea of adding emotions to images via music was a real turn on. "Helping a director set the tone for a film has been fascinating and I want to do more."
Judging by the animated discussion, a collaboration might happen between Greaves and Beesley.