Center stage at the 20th International Haifa Film Festival stood the controversial director Peter Greenaway.
The enigmatic British filmmaker, director of Belly of an Architect and The Pillow Book, had the massive audience rushing to see his avant-garde project The Tulse Luper Suitcases, divided between those who would unquestionably follow his groundbreaking experiments in cinematic expression, and those who reacted intensely against Greenaway’s attempts to revitalize the conventions of the viewing experience.
Greenaway’s impressive performance at the Haifa Festival further fueled the debate: is he really a prophet of tomorrow’s cinema, or merely a condescending filmmaker, “creating films of and for his own without a shred of thought for an audience,” as one frustrated viewer suggested.
However, admirers and defamers both concluded he was a uniquely fascinating artist. During a five-hour master-class Greenaway had his audience of some 500 mesmerized, as he laid out his plans for and conceptions of film and the new media. With great conviction and deft rhetoric he declared the death of celluloid and hailed the potential of DVD and the advancement of digital technologies, explored in his recent projects.
“We have not seen any cinema yet,” said Greenaway, explaining that we have been watching 109 years of “illustrated text and recorded theater. And theater is primarily a matter of text. In practically every film you experience, you can see the director following the text.”
To which someone from the audience contested: “But your own frame is visually saturated with text, with the written word.”
“What itches,” replied the filmmaker contently, “needs scratching.”
Greenaway aspires to expand our conception of film, of what film is and what it can be, as he stated on stage and demonstrated on screen, with the screenings of The Tulse Luper Suitcases , Part 1: The Moab Story , Part 2: Vaux to the Sea and a segment from Part 3: Antwerp which premieres this fall — “a project that would not have been possible before digital technology”.
Greenaway’s vision of media goes beyond the walls of the movie theater as such. Indeed he confessed before the audience that festival premieres such as this are not an end of his work but a means to promote the Web site and the DVD-release: whereas the movie theater offers a passive viewing experience, digital multi-media offers interactivity.
The devices may be novel, but the concern to excite active viewing is certainly a notion familiar from Greenaway’s earliest loquacious and amusing experimental shorts to his multi-layered, worldly celebrated feature films.
© FIPRESCI 2004