Chatham, N.Y. — “This has been a really good year for cinema in general,” Laurence Kardish, co-artistic director of FilmColumbia, observed. If the 60 films selected here are any indication, indeed it has been. There may not be any theme this year for the festival, but it appears to be a very strong year. Peter Biskind (executive director and co-artistic director of FilmColumbia) and Laurence Kardish “scoured all the festivals” this year and chose the “cream of the crop.” It is truly a treasure trove of great films from all over the world.
As we approach this wonderful festival with our fall foliage so gorgeously festooned, I wonder: What do we really look for in a film festival? Is it entertainment, escapism or are we looking for meaning in an increasingly tumultuous political landscape? Are director and artists helping us understand what is happening in our culture or just helping us spend a few hours in the most escapist way?
The winner of this years Palme d’Or award at Cannes, Bong Joon Ho (director of “Parasite”), explained his theory of subversive filmmaking: “I want to make films that are entertaining. It’s fun for me to bury my political and social comments here and there in a film. I want my films to be entertaining in the moment but then stick with you and make you think about them before you go to sleep.”
As I perused this years film catalogue for FilmColumbia, I saw some films that could be classified as pure entertainment but others that really will spark controversy and understanding of what is happening in our social/political world.
The festival started off with several films produced, directed or written by James Schamus, this year’s honoree. He has been instrumental with his support in the strength of FilmColumbia. It’s been said, “No Schamus, No Festival.” This past weekend they showed “The Ice Storm” and “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” (both written by James Schamus and directed by Ang Lee). A Q&A after “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” described the difficulties and joys producing this spectacular, magical martial arts film. The fight scenes were magnificent and it can only be described as an incredible mystical extreme “parkour” experience. This film won four Oscars, including Best Foreign Language Film. Two other films that Mr. Schamus produced were shown: “Adam,” a “gender farce” that has been called a “sweetly subversive movie” directed by a trans filmmaker with trans actors in appropriate roles — a timely film. His other film that was shown was the subtle “Driveways,” which has been called a “film about kindness.” Brian Dennehy is superb as the reclusive elderly neighbor who takes an interest in a lonely child. He delivers a monologue in which he describes a lifetime of regrets that touches one’s soul.
One interesting film may be “(R)evolution is Uncomfortable: Trusting the Process.” This film examines the current political landscape through interviews conducted last year during the film festival. I am very interested in seeing how things have changed since last year, especially with every day having “breaking news” — a very unsettling but historic time.
The most intriguing film in this festival could be Bong Joon Ho’s “Parasite.” This film has many caveats, but mostly DO NOT READ ANYTHING ABOUT THIS FILM — just go see it without any preconceived notions. A lead actress in “Parasite” (Park So-dam) said, “Don’t look up anything prior, just come in without any expectations and no knowledge of the film.” My friends in Los Angeles who have seen it are raving about it and my curiosity was indeed peaked. Laurence Kardish described it as, “delicious and wicked.” I have seen several of this South Korean director’s works (“Snowpiercer,” “Mother”) and they are magnificent. He is definitely a director to watch.
There are some comedies to cheer us up during these dark days. “The Trouble with You” (directed by Pierre Salvadori) is a light-hearted French film about a detective who learns that her late husband was not the hero everyone thought he was. It’s been described as a “screwball crime romance.” This film was a favorite at the Cannes Film Festival (Directors’ Fortnight). The action scenes are hilariously choreographed, but they are really bedtime stories the mother tells her young grieving son about her husband’s bravery, which turns out not to be the truth. His corruption has led to an innocent man being framed for his crimes. When he is released, the widow (a beautiful and talented Adele Haenel) tries to help this innocent man adjust to life outside prison. Farcical complications ensue and the movie is just a sweet romp.
Although billed as a comedy, there are some very deep truths and painful realities in “Give Me Liberty.” It was a well-received film at Sundance (a nominee for the Innovator Award) and winner of the In Spirit of Freedom Award at the Jerusalem Film Festival. The director, Kirill Mikhanovsky, is a Russian-American who drove a medical transport van after he moved from Moscow to Milwaukee 16 years ago. His hero in this film is Vic (Chris Galust, a first-time actor, as is most of the cast), who also drives a medical transport van picking up people with disabilities and being constantly harassed by his boss and his riders. Why does he still do this job? It appears he is addicted to knowing and helping these people who are often overlooked by society. The film is bookended by a quadriplegic who opines on love and the meaning of life, which comes off as extremely honest and touching.
The festival opened with an absolutely gorgeous documentary about the photorealist painter and sculptor, Audrey Flack. “Queen of Hearts: Audrey Flack ” enraptured the audience and earned a standing ovation. It is a beautifully done documentary of a life well-lived. Ms. Flack began her career as an abstract expressionist, studying at Yale with Josef Albers. She turned to photorealism in the ‘60s, capturing many iconic moments, including the moment before President John F. Kennedy’s assassination. She also coped with raising two children on her own (one of whom was autistic and this was a moment in time when the term “refrigerator mother” was wrongfully used). There are some wonderful events such as happily marrying her old high school boyfriend, a totally supportive spouse, who adopted her two girls. This energetic woman, who is now a youthful 88 years old, is still inspiring others with her artwork and return to painting. She was a surprise guest at the Q&A with the directors of the film (Deborah Shaffer and Rachel Reichman). I did speak with her after the film, having met her years ago, and she is truly a force of nature. She has had an amazing life and continues to be a creative trailblazer in modern art.
One film that I am really looking forward to is Noah Baumbach’s “Marriage Story.” It has been shown at the major fall film festivals including Telluride, Venice, Toronto and the New York Film Festival. One can think of this now as the adult perspective of divorce as compared to Baumbach’s Academy Award-nominated film, “The Squid and the Whale,” (a fictionalized children’s view of Baumbach’s own parents’ divorce). The film is starring Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson and it is getting rave reviews. “Every marriage harbors the seeds of its own destruction,” and this film intimately examines this marriage of a young talented couple in New York City. He is a rising experimental theater director and she is his star. She wants to move to Los Angeles for a TV pilot. But the strains are already in place, and even with a mediator trying to help them remember why they originally fell in love, their relationship is doomed. The high-powered lawyers (Laura Dern and Ray Liotta) help to churn the waters of the already soured relationship between the couple — shades of “Kramer vs. Kramer” or Bergman’s fantastic “Scenes from a Marriage”?
There are so many other films that look promising and I suggest that you check with the Berkshire Edge calendar or call (518) 392-3445. See you at the festival.