Independent Spirit By Rainer Gansera

in 49th San Francisco International Film Festival

by Rainer Gansera

Tilda Swinton wore very red high heels when she delivered her wonderful moving and inspiring “State of Cinema Address” Getting a standing ovation and many questions one of which was : “Couldn’t you please run for the next presidency?” Answer: “Oh, you don’t know how I’m tempted to say yes – but with these shoes, there is no chance!” Asked about the mysteries of acting the “Red Witch” she said: “I really don’t know anything about acting. I think of myself as performance-artist, who is impersonating an actress”

The Scottish actress-performer – icon of independent cinema, who just recently learned to know big studio-production, when she played the White Witch in Disney’s The Chronicles of Narnia: the Lion, the Witch, the Wardrobe – evoked the spirit of independent and artistic filmmaking in her passionate and poetic one-hour-speech. Going back in memory to the nine years she worked and lived with Derek Jarman, she pointed out why filmmaking has to be an existential confession, why chaos is creativity, why creativity is disappearing so fast in big-budget-productions.

In this emphatic sense independent filmmaking is not a niche for eccentrics or a waiting-room for wanna-be-mainstream-directors, but the real-utopia of personal vision and the search for existential truthfulness, including the fight against social restrictions, against the banality of all the prefabricated ways of storytelling and picture making. A flaming speech which sounded like an encouragement especially for the young filmmakers in the audience.

Some films in the section “New Directors” were breathing this kind of independent spirit, above all Taking Father Home (Bei Ya Zi De Nan Hai, China 2005, who won a few days ago the FIPRESCI Price in Singapore and therefore couldn’t be our candidate) and Ryan Fleck’s Half Nelson. The Shanghai-born (1977) director Ying Liang finds images/scenes that combine elegantly a precise realistic view with rich metaphoric visions – and speaks of apocalyptic fears in the context of an archetypical odyssee.

It tells the story of a teenage boy, going from a little village into the big city, in search for his father, who left family six years ago. The boy has no money but two ducks he carries in basket, and he is not only in search of his father, but looking for identity, sense, initiation, and – like in many other newcomer-films – some kind of illumination.

Ying Liang composes scenes in long shots with minimalistic camera-movements, reminding of early Jim Jarmusch films. The young hero is not the centre of action, but surrounded by little dramas, that add up to a rather pessimistic – sometimes funny, sometimes grotesque – view of contemporary Chinese society, presented with a lighthanded by-the-way-gesture. He meets two father-figures: a dubious man with a scar, who teaches him how to eat a watermelon like a man, and a friendly, helpless policeman. And he witnesses how the city is evacuated because of a flood. Sometimes the film looks like a sciencefiction- or disaster movie. All the time he gives a richly textured feeling of space, figures and moods.

Taking Father Home is a great little film, that has a lot of the virtues Tilda Swinton spoke of: resistance against official imagery, a heartfelt personal vision of life and society. Not all the scenes have the same intensity, but there is a lot of wit and inventiveness, and a capturing mix of personal, social and spiritual themes.