The Big Fight

in 38th Karlovy Vary International Film Festival

by Flavia de la Fuente

Between “The Coast Guard” by Kim Ki-duk and “Stupeur et tremblements” by Alain Corneau, which would be a better choice for the Fipresci prize? That was the main question in our jury and I have to say that we didn’t reach an agreement. “The Coast Guard” won, supported by three of the jurors, while the other two were angry about the final decision. The discussion here was about what kind of cinema we should support as film critics, and I discovered myself in the middle of an old and endless war. One group was in favour of supporting independent and innovative filmmaking, and the other was looking for quality films, “not slow”, “where you could see the money”, “perfect as an American film”, “interesting plot”, “professional filmmaking (not like Kim Ki-duk)”, etc. I also heard comments like “When I saw “Song of the Raggy Boy” I felt good, and when I saw “The Coast Guard” I left the theatre completely depressed” or “I wouldn’t recommend it to my mother or to my friends”. This last sentence reminded me of the story told by Truffaut about the chief editor that used to tell him his mother-in-law’s opinion on the latest releases in Paris. So, what I found out (this was my first Fipresci jury) was the impossibility of having a dialogue. You belong to one side or to the other. For instance, as a compromise, one of the critics suggested “Babusya”, a nice Russian film about two old sisters, but it was rejected because it was “too slow”. So, what about Tarkovsky, Kiarostami, Antonioni, etc, etc.? The same happened with a quite interesting Austrian movie, “Dead Man’s Memories”, an OK Iranian, “Paradise Is Somewhere Else” and the new Rudolph Tome, “Red and Blue”. They were all slow or the plot wasn’t clear enough. So, in every film where I found some signs of cinema the “enemies” didn’t see anything. And from their point of view it happened the same.

What I found very frustrating was that we couldn’t have a discussion, though we tried hard – for at least three hours. And in the end, it isn’t fair for the losing side of the jury to accept a democratic solution when they were completely against the final choice. So, it seems we found ourselves confronted by a big problem with no solution. I have to confess that I would have also felt very angry and frustrated if Alain Corneau’s film had won. This time I was lucky. But I know it easily could have been the other way around.

This subject is linked very strongly with the issue of festival programming, which is also very problematic. At a certain point in the discussion, I said that I would never show Corneau’s kind of movie in the Buenos Aires Film Festival, where we support risky and independent new cinema. From then on, I was considered as an “intellectual”, A very funny statement given that I was defending Kim Ki-duk, maybe the least intellectual of filmmakers. What I came to understand is that you are considered an intellectual if you don’t support mainstream movies, if you like low budget films, if you like the national cinematographies to be what they are and not to try to imitate the American cinema. [Coming back to the programming issue,] I think that film festivals are losing their sense of purpose if they concentrate on showing films we will all be able, sooner or later, to see in the theatres. The main arguments by “conservative” programmers is that they have an audience and they have to keep it, and that they have sponsors and they are afraid to lose them. What I can say from personal experience is that in Buenos Aires we have a radical selection, and every year the audience increases, as do the sponsors, and the same could be said about other festivals. In the end, I think that the Fipresci prize should be given to audacious movies, in order to encourage programmers from all over the world to dare to show real cinema. But what is cinema? So, we are back at the beginning of this story…