Page 28


BOOKS & THE CULTURE The Peripatetic Moviegoer Sundance to Sarajevo: Film Festivals and the World They Made By Kenneth Turan University of California Press 192 pages, $24.95. In The Independent, Stephen Kessler’s exuberant and occasionally hilarious new send-up of downscale filmmaking, erry Stiller plays Morty Fineman, a schlockmeister who has never allowed deficien cies in funding or taste to deter him from making a movie. When theaters refuse to show Fineman’s work, he applies to film festivals. Though he is rejected by 100 festivals, he finally finds one willing, for a price, to showcase his oeuvrean event called the High Desert Film Festival held in a small Nevada town whose main industry is legalized prostitution. Not all filmmakers are whores, nor are all festivals brothels. But the world is replete with so many of both that a desert tribute to a desperate director is not implausible. As surely as deserts disappear and shopping malls take their place, film festivals are proliferating throughout the planet. Their number now exceeds the annual production of feature films in the United States. If you attended a different festival every day, you could not hit them all, even during leap year. For a life spent flitting into and out of screening rooms on every continent, all it takes is time, money, and Murine. Between Miami in February and Brussels in March, you could still catch a flick on the plane. Running the Hawaii International Film Festival every November is probably only slightly less complicated than directing Pearl Harboror the bombing of the military base. But movies are portable and compact, and film festivals do not require nearly as much capital or staff as arts events with opera companies and theater troupes. “Hey, kids, let’s put on a film festival!” is what Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland might shout if they were babes in arms today \(or if they were civic leaders eager to put their town on the same circuit as Hong Kong, Seattle, Munich, Sydney, and Attending film festivals is part of the job for Kenneth Turan, film critic for the Los Angeles Times. He admits that battling through throngs to see five films a day on deadline is not an undiluted pleasure. Besides, the variety of cinematic offerings available to Turan on an ordinary day in Los Angeles already makes his city, as well as New York and Paris, seem like a perpetual film festival that people living elsewhere \(say, south distances to attend. But Turan has been around the globe a few times, and in Sundance to Sarajevo he shares his lively observations about several particular film festivals as well as about the species. The book’s twelve chapters each concentrate on a different festival, and, although he starts with Cannes, Turan does not include many of the other major venues such as New York,Venice, Toronto, and Berlin. He makes brief reference to the Austin Film Festival’s focus on screenwriting but no mention at all of Austin’s larger and more influential South By Southwest Film Festival or of any other event in Texas, such as WorldFest Houston or CineFestival, San Antonio’s festival of Latino film. Turan’s choicesCannes, Sundance, ShoWest, FESPACO, Havana, Sarajevo, Midnight Sun, Pordenone, Lone Pine, Telluride, Acapulco, and Montrealreflect a wide range in the setting, function, and personality of film festivals. While primarily an account of Turan’s experiences at one specific festival, each chapter also offers discussion of the festival’s history and its relationship to its location. The chapter on Sarajevo, for example, not only describes the dramatic genesis of a festival in the midst of siege and combat but it also describes the extraordinary role that film has played in restoring the morale of isolated, war-weary Bosnians. The chapter on FESPACO, the Festival Pan-Africaine du Cinema de Ouagadougou held in the capital of Burkina Faso, one of Africa’s poorest nations, offers Turan the opportunity to discuss production on that continent as well as the great importance of cinema to Africans, who, outside of this popular festival, almost never get to see films made by Africans. The chapter on Havana examines economic hardships that have forced closure of half of Cuba’s theaters and political pressures that have forced filmmakers to be wary. The book’s final chapter, an account of Turan’s experience as a juror at the Montreal World Film Festival, explains the proudly cosmopolitan character of that festival in terms of francophone Quebec’s resistance to English hegemony. Most festivals are competitions both within themselves \(which is the among themselves \(which of the hundreds of festivals offers the best films or drone of promotional buzz. Turan himself succumbs to the kind of hyperbolic prose common to publicists for festivals and the films they exhibit. Almost every festival he chooses to spotlight is described in superlatives, sometimes inaccurately. It may be true that Montreal is “the largest publicly attended film festival in the Western world,” that Telluride is “the most respected small festival in the world,” and, because most other festivals offer screenings at night, that ShowWest is “the most fascinating, even the most significant dawn Superlative Buzz BY STEVEN G. KELLMAN 24 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 4/26/02