There is something very special in attending for the first time one of the ‘Big Three’ film festivals. Together with Cannes and Venice, the Berlin International Film Festival is one of the three major gateways for non-studio produced films to gain critical attention and break into the market. Extensive and often real-time media coverage of the premieres, of the critics’ responses and of the awards contributes significantly to the make-or-break of films, but also to the festival’s own prestige status. By the time you read this report you will have heard about the winning films, you may have read a few reviews about them, and … you might have even have contributed to the box-office receipts of the widely anticipated studio-produced erotica Fifty Shades of Grey, which also had its European premiere at the Berlinale , out-of-competition, of course.
I arrived in Berlin in the evening of the second day of the festival, too late to secure tickets for any screenings, but just in time to catch some distant glimpses of a luminous Nicole Kidman on the red carpet and get a scribbly autograph from James Franco – both of whom were in town for the premiere of Werner Herzog’s Queen of the Desert. But as star-gazing was not my priority, I was very relieved the next morning when I found a way to actually see some films: rather than queuing outdoors in the freezing cold from 7am each morning for next-day tickets, my experienced journalist friend showed me how to queue for same-day press screenings indoors instead… Excitement notwithstanding, I soon realised that the Berlinale is a trying experience even for accredited participants like me. Hierarchies abound, privileges vary, queuing is de rigueur – and often in vain. During the five days of my stay – half the duration of the festival – I saw nine out of the nineteen competition films, as well as a few films in other strands. Two competition films stood out for me: Romanian Aferim! and Guatemalan Ixcanul/Ixcanul Volcano, while two other Latin American films, both from Chile – El Boton de Nacar/The Pearl Button and El Club/The Club – were also very powerful. Pleased to find that all these films won awards, I was nonetheless sad to have missed Jafar Panahi’s Golden Bear winner Taxi – although undoubtedly its award will help it reach my nearby art-house cinema. ... More
During the 38th Göteborg International Film Festival, which took place in the second largest city of Sweden between 23 January and 2 February 2015, we saw things that one does not see every day. This blog post is a brief report from the leading film festival in the Nordic countries: The first section is dedicated to some of this year’s highlights, whereas the sections that follow focus on more specific aspects of the event, including the special focus on European Cinema, the presence of films from Greece and films related to Greece, as well a mention of this year’s award winners.
The Festival’s highlights
One of this year’s festival’s highlights undoubtedly was the presence of legendary Swedish filmmaker and actress Liv Ullmann. Ullmann attended this year’s event and received the Nordic Honorary Dragon Award, while she also held a Master Class where she discussed her relationship with the art of filmmaking and her 2014 film Miss Julie. ... More
Source: Filmicon, Issue 2
Narratives, themes and heroes from ancient Greek drama have been present on screen from the first years of early cinema to the present day. A list of films based on Greek tragedy reveals sacred or sacrilegious works, auteur masterpieces or educational television adaptations, avant-garde films, mainstream productions, parodies, and even comic twists of the tragic. In his recent exemplary book that revisits the relationship between ancient drama and film, Pantelis Michelakis shows a wide spectrum of cinematic versions of Greek tragedy, while exploring new questions and perspectives.
Despite the large number of film adaptations, rewritings and influences from ancient drama, only a limited number of monographs are exclusively devoted to tragedy in film. While there are numerous studies that examine the role of antiquity, mythology or ancient themes in film, television and popular culture [i], just a few of them elaborate in depth on the cinematic adaptations of Greek tragedy. The two major monographs date back from the 1980s: Kenneth MacKinnon’s Greek Tragedy into Film (1986) and Marianne McDonald’s Euripides in Cinema: The Heart Made Visible (1983). Both studies construct the object of tragedy into film as a homogeneous entity, through the selection of their corpus and through the categorizations they propose. This kind of construction of a homogeneous corpus is evident in McDonald’s study, which examines what can be called an auteur art-house canon, based mostly on Pasolini’s, Cacoyannis’s and Dassin’s versions of Euripides’s plays. Similarly, although MacKinnon’s book discusses a wider range of films and approaches, the distinction she proposes between what she calls films in the “theatrical mode”, films in the “realistic mode” and films in the “filmic mode” still constructs a rigid homogeneous corpus of study. ... More
Almost 25 years after the release of Jennie Livingston’s unapologetic documentary Paris is Burning (1990) and Judith Butler’s groundbreaking book Gender Trouble (1990), one might wonder what happened to the queer project. Born out of the discords of postmodern identity politics and the frustrations of AIDS activism in the late 1980s, the queer movement evolved and flourished throughout the 1990s, introducing a radical critique against the dominant heteronormative and homonormative culture and politics, as this was hammered through the movement’s unique amalgamation of theory and aesthetics (particularly if one bears in mind how queer theory has inspired New Queer Cinema’s filmmakers and vice versa). But it was not long before Hollywood contained the oppositional energies of a Gus Van Sant, a Todd Haynes, a Gregg Araki, reducing the movement to a moment, as Ruby Rich, who coined the movement’s cinematic epithet, laments (2000). However, this brief essay is not meant to be a eulogy. It is more of a re-evaluation of the way theory has engaged with the queer aspects of cinema in the last 25 years, as well as an investigation of queerness’s value at a theoretical, aesthetic, and political level in the contemporary neoliberal context where politics is replaced by “technocratic, corporate, post-political governance”, the so-called “governmentality of the crisis” (Butler, 2013). ... More
Recently, a spate of publications on the relation between cinema and religion reignited a conversation that seemed forgotten, after the grand Hollywood biblical epics of the 1950s and early 1960s. The conversation had started with Parker Tyler’s book Magic and Myth of the Movies (1947) and the psychologist Carl Gustav Jung, and was later continued with Siegfried Kracauer’s Theory of Film bearing the indicative subtitle The Redemption of Physical Reality (1960); ultimately it found its more astute articulation in Paul Schrader’s Transcendental Style in Film (1972).
Although religion as the ultimate urgrund of signification, especially through the Neo-Thomist aesthetical views on speculum mentis, underpins the theories of a staunch realist like Andrè Bazin, no systematic discussion was ever undertaken about this complex issue. Yet even in the most atheistic period of the Soviet state, Sergei Eisenstein managed to infuse his Ivan the Terrible (1944), especially the second part (1958), with Christian iconography, as he abandoned the epic cinema of his early experiments and tried to develop his central character and his psychology over time. Religious semantics found always their way into the symbolic universe of many films, even if these films totally rejected the religious tradition that had formed them. ... More
A far-reaching book printed in the UK and the US by a prestigious publishing house has been at last dedicated to contemporary Romanian cinema. It is a well-deserved and long-awaited one because Romanian filmmakers have strongly asserted themselves in the last decade or so. In order to better understand that this is of international significance we should notice that Romanian cinema – similarly to other Romanian arts – has never benefited from the honour of having a book entirely dedicated to it in English or other international language.
Dominique (Domnica) Nasta is a Professor of Film Studies at Université libre de Bruxelles and the author of two books: Meaning in Film: Relevant Structures in Soundtrack and Narrative (1992) i and New Perspectives in Sound Studies / Le son en perspective: nouvelles recherches (2004) ii, dealing with film music and sound. She has also contributed extensively to several encyclopedias and dictionaries on cinema (for instance the chapter on Romanian cinema in Storia del cinema mondiale  edited by Gian Piero Brunetta iii). Perhaps not coincidentally, the author is of Romanian origin and lives in Brussels. Being an ‘outsider’ to some extent is both an advantage and disadvantage involving a certain distancing and lack of bias, but requiring great endeavor to see and review a long list of Romanian films and access a long bibliography in Romanian. In addition, Nasta returned several times to her native country to meet filmmakers and obtain important details from the directors Nae Caranfil, Radu Gabrea, Lucian Pintilie and Corneliu Porumboiu, as well as from the scriptwriter Razvan Radulescu and the cinematographer Oleg Mutu. ... More
Financially leaner than during the previous post-crisis years, the 55th Thessaloniki International Film Festival continued to successfully serve its key aim of offering a varied, challenging and engaging programme of independent films from around the world to audiences in Greece’s second-largest city.i It also presented the most expansive programme of Greek films for years, celebrating the centenary of Greek cinema by screening a total of 36 features, of which 20 were voted online from a selection of 200 films from the past. Aside from marking the appearance of the first Greek feature-length film Golfo in 1914, the Greek programme also reflected the dynamism and international recognition of Greek cinema in the last five years. This renewed emphasis on the projection of national production foregrounds questions about the primary role of the festival: is it predominantly a space for nurturing and promoting Greek talent, or rather a Greece-based site for international discoveries? One also wonders whether the behind-the-scenes, but widely reported, tensions among the festival’s artistic director, Dimitris Eipides (whose term in office was extended by another three years in September) and the president of its board of governors, film director Yannis Smaragdis, have in any way been connected to this shift in emphasis, and whether the increased presence of Greek cinema will remain a more permanent feature of future festival editions.ii ... More
The documentary Palikari: Louis Tikas and the Ludlow Massacre (2014, Nickos Ventouras) narrates one of the “bleakest and blackest” chapters in American labor history, the Ludlow Massacre.1 A hundred years earlier, on April 20, 1914, in Ludlow, Colorado, a strike for basic labor rights by exploited miners and their families, mostly immigrants, was violently ended by state militia. In the fight, the strikers’ tent colony was machine-gunned and burned to the ground, leaving over twenty people dead, including women and children. Louis Tikas (1886-1914), a Cretan immigrant and union organizer born Ilias Anastasios Spantidakis, was shot in the back in cold blood, as were two other strikers. Still considered a politically volatile event, in fact a dangerous past for the nation laying open the synergy of state and capital to brutally put down labor, Ludlow does not commonly find a place in celebratory official memory. Historians take note of its absence in public history textbooks. However, when Colorado inaugurated the Ludlow Centennial Commemoration in September 2013, a yearlong, statewide remembering of Ludlow, it marked a significant departure, adding an official seal so to speak to remembering what functions as an enduring symbol of working class struggle in the United States.2 ... More
Στο πλαίσιο της μελέτης των δημοφιλών κινηματογραφικών ειδών στην Ελλάδα, το βιβλίο Η ελληνική βιντεοταινία (1985-1990): Ειδολογικές, κοινωνικές και πολιτισμικές διαστάσεις διερευνά την ελληνική παραγωγή βιντεοταινιών της δεκαετίας του 1980. Βραχύβια στη διάρκειά της, αλλά εξαιρετικά παραγωγική, η ελληνική βιντεοταινία αποτέλεσε την πενταετία 1985-1990 τη δημοφιλέστερη μορφή οικιακής διασκέδασης των Ελλήνων. Λειτούργησε συμπληρωματικά ως προς το τηλεοπτικό προϊόν, υπήρξε η εναλλακτική επιτυχημένη πρόταση στο περιεχόμενο των δύο κρατικών καναλιών, αλλά και του ελληνικού κινηματογράφου, και συνδέθηκε με ένα ιδιαίτερο – ως προς τον ταξική του φυσιογνωμία – ακροατήριο.
Η συγγραφέας, επιχειρώντας μία διεπιστημονική προσέγγιση, ασχολείται αρχικά με τα ειδολογικά χαρακτηριστικά της ελληνικής βιντεοταινίας. Σύμφωνα με την οπτική της, η «βιντεο-αφήγηση» βασίστηκε σε παλαιότερα δημοφιλή κινηματογραφικά είδη όπως η κωμωδία, το μελόδραμα και η περιπέτεια, των οποίων τα μοτίβα και τις συμβάσεις αναπαρήγαγε ή ανέπτυξε περαιτέρω σε έναν μεγάλο αριθμό βιντεοταινιών. Η κωμωδία, με το μοτίβο της κομπίνας ή της ερωτικής απιστίας, και το μελόδραμα, με τις «οδύσσειες» των πρωταγωνιστών ή την τελετουργική λήξη ενός ιδιόμορφου «unhappy end», μελετώνται διεξοδικά με αναφορές στον ελληνικό εμπορικό κινηματογράφο των δεκαετιών 1960-1980 και – σε μεμονωμένες περιπτώσεις – με αναφορές σε προηγούμενες εποχές, από την εμφάνιση του ελληνικού κινηματογράφου έως και τη δεκαετία του 1950. Σε αυτό το πλαίσιο, η συγγραφέας εισάγει τις λεγόμενες «ανοικτές θεματικές» των ειδών της ελληνικής βιντεοταινίας, δηλαδή ελεύθερα διαπραγματεύσιμες από τον εκάστοτε σκηνοθέτη θεματικές, οι οποίες βασίζονται σε συγκεκριμένα αφηγηματικά μοτίβα, λ.χ. το μοτίβο του αταίριαστου έρωτα με ευτυχή έκβαση στο υποείδος της αισθηματικής κομεντί. ... More
Reading the book World Film Locations: Athens – part of Intellect Books’ World Film Locations series that includes, among others, New York, Paris, and London – feels like riding a hop-on hop-off bus through time and, of course, space. The editors write: “A kind of urban nostalgia, a constant comparison between the present and the past of the city can be traced in many of the texts that comment on the films and in the photos of the locations in their contemporary state, attesting to an aesthetic and political re-evaluation of cinematic urban forms of the past and present”.
This constant comparison is evident in everyday life, still and always: A friend walking his dog in front of the Acropolis museum was approached by a family of Russian tourists. He was asked for directions towards the “Old Athens”. He tried to define what type of “old” they were looking for. Ancient old – meaning ruins and marbles and the Parthenon – or the Old City like Plaka and Monastiraki? Alas, as much as my friend tried, the Russians’ command of the English language was quite poor so that the communication ended up fruitless. Yet the city of Athens is truly old. It can afford to be divided into periods of ancient, post-revolutionary, pre-modern, quasi-modern, and what-have-you. Cinema on the other hand is – in comparison and as the cliché has it – pretty much like a baby. That does not mean, however, that it does not have a past of its own, not that it is any less intriguing. Together, they make for an exhilarating combination. ... More