Saturday, December 25, 2010

AIFF 2010: Features - My Choices v. Festival Choices

 Three films in each category got recognized by the Anchorage International Film Festival juries and by the audiences.

AIFF 2010 Jury Awards - Features

Winner The Wild Hunt Alexandre Franchi (Canada 2009)
Runner-Up The Drummond Will Alan Butterworth (UK 2010)
Honorable Mention Bai Yin Di Guo (Empire of Silver) Christina Shu-hwa Yao (China/Hong Kong/Taiwan 2009)

AIFF 2010 Audience Awards - Features

Winner Bai Yin Di Guo (Empire of Silver) Christina Shu-hwa Yao (China/Hong Kong/Taiwan 2009)
Runner-Up Son Istasyon (Last Station) Ogulcan Kirca (Turkey 2010)
Honorable Mention The Drummond Will Alan Butterworth (UK 2010)

My choices (With a caveat, of course.  It really makes no sense to make films compete for various reasons I'll mention below.  But I've decided to bite the bullet and pick three that make me feel most satisfied looking back at the festival.  And I've added two extras.  The first three are not distinguished in priority. The fourth is a runner up, and the fifth is in a different category as an invited film)

What Do I know?  Most Satisfying/Thought Provoking Features (three way tie)

Fanny, Annie, and Danny,  Chris Brown  USA
Temptation of St. Tony Veiko Õunpuu  Estonia
Hello Lonesome Alan Butterworth UK

Runner Up:  22:44   Markus Hautz   Austria

I'll add one more which was a special feature (meaning it was invited and not in the running for an award)

The Red Machine  Alec Boehm  S. Argy   USA

Below is the list of all the features at the festival.  As I compiled the list, I realized that we saw all but two.  Those two are at the bottom.  

Films I saw:
22:44   Markus Hautz   Austria
Ashes  Elias Matar  USA
Bai Yin Di Guo [Empire of Silver]*   Christina Shu-hwa Yao  China
The Drummond Will*  Alan Butterworth  UK
Fannie, Annie & Danny  Chris Brown   USA
Hello Lonesome*   Adam Reid   USA
Karma Calling*  Sarba Das  USA
The Red Machine  Alec Boehm  S. Argy   USA

The Silent Accomplice  Erik Knudsen  UK
Son Istasyon [Last Station]*  Ogulcan Kirca  Turkey
Temptation of St. Tony*  Veiko Õunpuu  Estonia
Ticked Off Trannies With Knives  Israel Luna  USA
The Wild Hunt*  Alexandre Franchi   Canada

Films I didn't see:  
Rocksteady   Mustapha Khan  USA
The Violent Kind   The Butcher Brothers   Phil Flores  Mitchell Altieri USA

* means in competition

My Problem with Choosing "Best"

In the Olympics, in sports like diving and gymnastics, they give people more points if they do a more difficult dive or routine. If you make a mistake in a harder routine, you could still beat a perfect, but less challenging one.

How can you compare a multi-million dollar movie with one that cost a half-million, or one that cost $50,000? How do you compare a movie that does a good job in a fairly familiar genre from one that takes risks by trying something different? I could do several lengthy posts on this topic, but you get the point. 

Why my choices compared to the Jury and Audience choices.

The Festival winners:

Empire of Silver was an epic historical drama full of magnificent photography and interesting characters. I must admit some bias against the film at first, because the reviews I read from Hong Kong and Taiwan weren't very good. From screen daily review
[Empire of Silver] will have some purchase in Asia. But elsewhere, this will face the distribution dilemma of decent but unexceptional Chinese costumers like The Banquet: there’s little beyond one relatively flatline swordfight here to keep the action fans happy, and not enough dramatic substance for more highbrow audiences. 
And this Twitch review:
Down but not completely out, then, Empire of Silver is far more than a curio. Its weaknesses may condemn it to relative obscurity outside mainland China or the main Asian markets but for anyone willing to look the other way every so often it is still very much worth watching. Gorgeously presented, with enough star power to keep the viewer engaged, while undeniably incomplete what's left here comes recommended nonetheless.

So when I finally got to see Empire of Silver I was pleasantly surprised.  The cinematography is beautiful.  The movie comes from a trilogy by Cheng Yi, so condensing three novels into a two hour movie already sets the viewer up for some confusion.  Plus viewers who know nothing about Chinese history have no context.  I was even more frustrated because two nights before I finally saw the film in Best of the Fest, I had driven director Christina Yao back to her B&B and wasn't ready to ask the questions I wanted to ask after the film.

Clearly the Anchorage audience wasn't too upset about following all the details, because they chose it the Audience Award winner.  And its coverage of a banking crisis 100 years ago certainly gives it more relevance to US viewers today.  The website - which I avoided before the movie - gives extensive explanation that I would recommend to read before the movie to help viewers appreciate it at a richer level.

I'd also like to know more about the role of Chinese women directors and what I thought was a lot more focus on women's rights than I recall from other Chinese movies.

This was clearly a well financed movie that tells an interesting story reasonably well and I don't quibble with the the jury or audience awarding this film.  I just was more stirred by other movies.

The Drummond Will

I also enjoyed this - in Best of the Fest - but didn't move me particularly.  It was a British murder comedy and I didn't think it did anything particularly new or inventive.

The Wild Hunt

I've written about this one already.  It had lots of potential as it explored notions of reality and fantasy but I found the main female character particularly empty.  While she may reflect lots of young women, we didn't learn much about her except that she dumped her boyfriend in a way that kept him dangling just in case and went off to explore some bizarre options. 

The Last Station

This one was mainly interesting to me because of its glimpse of modern Turkey.  It had the feel of a soap opera, but was an engaging movie. The discussion  after the film with the film maker and his father - the lead actor - added some context I could only guess at.  The film addressed similar issues (conflicts between old and new values as capitalism creates new winners and losers** and ethical challenges) that were addressed in the Temptation of St. Tony in a more accessible film style and with less depth.  But while the film gave us an in-depth understanding of the older generation's perspective, it wasn't clear to me how all the children went so astray.  Especially since the best friend's son did not go astray. 

Let me end here and discuss the ones I chose in part 2. 

**St. Tony's creators would probably say only losers, the winners only are materially better off.

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