Six Points on Independent Cinema By Gabriel Klinger

in 18th Ljubljana International Film Festival (LIFFE)

by Gabriel Klinger

A bright light of Balkan culture, LIFFE (The Ljubljana International Film Festival) is a garden of cinematic delights for local audiences who hunger after adventurous films. The first-time duo of Simon Popek, programmer, and Natasa Bucar, general manager, has produced one of the most enjoyable mid-sized festivals that Europe — or indeed, the world — has to offer. Partly accounting for their success is the digestible number of offerings spread out over five cinemas (all within a stone’s throw of each other) that included galas, lightweight art-house fair, more demanding films (which were nevertheless amazingly well attended), and retrospectives. The films wouldn’t stand a chance, however, if it weren’t for the lively environment and efficiency of LIFFE’s organization that allowed filmmakers and audiences to connect in meaningful ways.

The audience issue is important at a time when the national cinema faces a slump. Looming over the festival were questions of artistic and commercial independence. What are the alternatives to the high profile European model? How can Slovenian filmmakers reclaim their share of a public? At a symposium organized by the indispensable “Ekran” magazine, a rag-tag group consisting of a Brit (Neil Young), an American (yours truly), an Austrian (Christoph Huber), a Filipino (Alexis Tioseco), and an Australian (Adrian Martin) came forward with their proposals, as well as some evidence. Young curated a mighty selection of low-budget American features in an attempt to reinvigorate the definition of “independent”. In the description for his talk, he attempts to dispel myths about the current trend of “AmerIndies” such as Little Miss Sunshine (2006). This gave me a good launching pad to enter into my talk, which focused on the American avant-garde tradition. The next day, Huber and Tioseco talked about the cinema of their respective countries. On the third day, Martin gave a summation outlined in six points of the entire conference.

For Martin, independent cinema must be fundamental in its cinema. It must vividly express dreams, ideals. As an example, he used a scene from Pedro Costa’s Bressonian The Blood (O Sangue, 1989), in which a combination of long and medium shots and close-ups, moving and static points of view, and sudden jarring edits combined to make a moment of pure cinema.

Martin quoted Bill Krohn in his second point: “If you want to understand a film, follow the money!” The film-within-a-film example Masculin féminin (1967) was shown to us. Godard found Swedish money with one stipulation: that he had to film for two days in Sweden. If independence means sly ways of raising money, Godard, a perverse gesture, made his slyness perfectly visible in the final product.

Independent cinema must be an author’s cinema. The tools must be in front of the filmmaker, and he/she is not limited by questions of time. Showing Matthew Claydon’s In Absentia (2002), Martin gave us an example of a work made in various countries over several years with no interference.

Independent cinema is also a “minor” cinema, taking from Deleuze’s idea of “minor literature”. A minor look at minor peoples — the homeless in Aussie filmmaker Brian McKenzie’s films (Winter’s Harvest — Raccolta d’inverno, 1980) were used as a reference

New languages, new forms. Filmmakers must not use the lazy formulas of independent cinema such as the road movie or chamber drama. The Dogma 95 movement mostly spurted bad films. Martin talked about the misguided ways people use Cassavetes as a model (perpetuating myths about his scripts and work with actors). If one looks at a work like Minnie and Moskowitz (1971), which Martin excerpted, one can plainly see a film full of elbow grease and thought.

Which leads into Martin’s final point. Godard’s phrase “cinema is the goodwill of a meeting” was employed powerfully to preface the idea that independent films are necessarily tied to independent thought, to communities, towards showing the audience new ways of living and seeing the world. Independent cinema must show our love of life here on earth.