The New York Film Festival 2012 / by KirstenStudio

Following 2012's New York Film Festival, I can't help but wish it went on for another week. I could have fit in one more event or film premiere. I didn't go to nearly as many happenings as I would have liked to, but of course life gets busy.  I did manage to hit the NYFF'S Convergence conference for one day, the films Lawrence of Arabia (breathtaking restoration), Final Cut - Ladies and Gentlemen, Cineastes Opening Night: John Cassevetes, Luis Buñuel: A Filmmaker of our Time, which screened with Lang/Godard: The Dinosaur and the Baby, and HBO on Cinema: Noah Baumbach and Brian De Palma, Leviathan and Hyde Park on the Hudson. I can't necessarily pick a favorite, but I suppose I could narrow it down to Lawrence of Arabia, John Cassevetes and Leviathan. Convergence was informative and definitely exercised my creativity. I had pages of notes with ideas of ways to implement transmedia into projects I'm currently working on and a few for the future. It was something I can use as an editor and aspiring media maker as well as in the non-profit area, as these days people wear many connected hats. The real joy of the NYFF though is seeing the films and hearing some of the talk-backs afterwards.

I had never seen Lawrence of Arabia (1962) on anything but my television screen growing up. This fall I saw it in its full sized 70mm glory. Peter O'Toole never looked more beautiful and Anne V. Coates legendary cuts never so utterly perfect. I couldn't help but marvel at the locations and the grandness of it all. This film could not be made today. It was breathtaking from the first frame through all 227 minutes of it (with 15 minute intermission) and it didn't feel slow. Last year I saw the restoration screening of Ben-Hur (1959) and I have to say, I enjoyed it immensely but it was also a bit of an endurance test. It's a long film. Lawrence of Arabia is a work that has weathered the years well. Of course the new 4k DCP restoration, scanned in 8K from 65mm negative elements helps quite a bit, but I'm referring to the whole package (although with this kind of resolution, one can really get a feel of Anthony Quinn's prosthetic nose piece). Film historian and preservationist, Robert A. Harris is responsible for the LOA restoration and for other masterpieces such as Rear Window (1954) and Vertigo (1958).

As part of NYFF's Cineastes: Cinema of Our Times, the critic and filmmaker André S. Labarthe screened his French television series, which profiled filmmaker giants. I most enjoyed John Cassavetes. Some say independent film is dead, but I disagree. In Labarthe's Cassavetes episode, the filmmaker was responding to what remains contemporary questions. Cassavetes talked about the struggle of studio money vs. artistic control, but what I found more interesting is when he gave examples of independent filmmaking genius like early forms of crowd funding. While a guest on a radio show, Cassavetes announced that anyone listening could send him a $1.00 to help fund his picture. If many people would send a $1.00, he'd be financed. People did it. Cassavetes also waxed about the freedom enjoyed from working independently and the passionate souls working for the experience of moviemaking and not for the paycheck. In a bit I'd read about before but had never heard from the filmmaker, he admits that audiences filed in the see Shadows (1959) at the Paris Theater in 1957. Viewers filed out before it was over. Due to that audience response, Cassavetes went back to the drawing board, reshooting and editing a significant portion of the film before releasing it in '59. I suppose you could refer to that as a work-in-progress screening. Seeing the filmmaker playful, funny and so extrodinarily inspired was contagious.

Leviathan was something other worldly. A friend described it as part vertite documentary, part experimental, part horror film. It's a beautifully spooky highbrid which examines hunting and gathering in the 21st century. Filmed with multiple GoPro cameras mounted on fisherman and various places on a fishing ship and underwater, the perspective is unique, surreal, sometimes inconceivably vast and sometimes as claustrophobic as the boat, which is essentially a slaughter house at sea. The only other film I've seen by Verena Paravel and Lucien Castaing-Taylor was Sweetgrass (2009), which takes a similar approach to total immersion observational filmmaking and is equally beautiful in a less haunting fashion. Leviathan's sound design makes a big contribution to the overall feel of this piece. The filmmakers talked about it during the post Q&A and said the GoPro recorded horrible sound, but they soon realized how the extreme audio distortion was of benefit. While watching Leviathan I often couldn't distinguish sounds between organic, mechanical, human or beast, screams emanating from nowhere and everywhere. A highly charged cinematic experience. In this film, is Leviathan the ship, the sea, human beings or something else? We are left to ponder.

My big regret is not getting to the Peggy Ahwesh & Joe Gibbons event. It's not like that's going to be in theaters later next year. I also am remise to have not attended Alan Berliner's latest First Cousin Once Removed, which was popular enough that another screening was added, but a person can't see everything. Luckily NYFF 2013 is just around the corner.