Cinema is constantly changing, and today it is ever more fascinating to observe these mutations, assertions and journeys, from film stock to digital, from fiction to documentary, from the personal to the collective, from poetry to politics. This is an extremely stimulating period for auteur cinema. Such a claim might seem paradoxical, given the crisis we all know that cinema as a whole has undergone these last several years: the erosion of traditional financing systems, the film-funding TV channels’ mistrust of original projects, the wider public’s decreasing interest in cinema going, and auteur films’ problems in terms of theatrical exhibition and distribution in so many countries all over the world.
Some young filmmakers still manage to find their place within the system, and can adapt to it, others opt for a radical break with it and commit themselves, either through choice – or lack of any other choice – to what some have called “guerrilla cinema.”
The noughties have seen the emergence in world cinema of several fascinating young filmmakers, in synch with new ways of making, thinking about and showing films. Such instances now, more than ever before, take place in those observatories of contemporary cinema known as film festivals, or at least those that remain on the look out for new tendencies and above all new filmmakers, and who want to set the tone and trend rather than simply follow them. Such as the Festival del film Locarno, to be specific!
Festival’s directors, programmers have become, sometimes more than the critics and journalists, companions in arms with these young filmmakers, with their strong personalities, be they leaders or loners, whose films ring out like passwords, but whose work and talent have little to do with snobbery or the cliquishness so often associated with art cinema. It is more a matter of living up to the history of 20th century cinema, and reflecting on the metamorphoses it has undergone or invented in the last decade, from making to showing films. There are many of these new filmmakers. And many who have talent. Those who are touched with genius are fewer in number, but they do exist. They are not yet known to the wider audience and perhaps never will be; their films are sometimes critical successes, often more celebrated abroad than at home, but they represent the future of auteur cinema, in its most honest, aspirational, righteous, poetic definition. Their work is exciting and that alone justifies a continued interest in film, and its value as a living and contemporary art, not merely as a remnant of the past century. Their films are very different, one from another, but we might point out some similarities: the use of non-professional actors, a lyrical take on reality, location shooting, proximity to nature or to familiar environments, a taste for experimentation, a scepticism regarding set genres, including and especially the documentary genre, if there is really such a thing … and above all a passion for film that means every last principle of miser en scène can be called into question, or contradicted on every new production. The directors are their own producers or have a producer with whom the relationship is one – increasingly rare – of trust, loyalty and complicity. If micro-budgets are sometimes perceived as a constraint, they are above all the price that has to be paid of following a bold and worthy vision of film, and may be clear the way for a set of working conditions where time, friendship, freedom, reflection and improvisation are values and luxuries that are far more precious than money. If we are going to name names, those of Albert Serra (Spain) Lisandro Alonso (Argentina), Miguel Gomes (Portugal), Raya Martin (Philippines), Denis Côté (Canada), Rabah Ameur-Zaïmeche (France), among others, whose work we know and appreciate come to mind, as emblematic figures of this guerrilla cinema that has a different meaning for each filmmaker and in each country. In the USA, the two mavericks Vincent Gallo and Harmony Korine work in their own ways (Gallo alone, and in secret, Korine with his team in Nashville), but in recent years we have witnessed the appearance of a new American indie scène, whose most well-known representatives in Europe, through their exposure at the Cannes Festival’s Directors’ Fortnight, are the brothers Josh and Benny Safdie.
I first heard the expression “guerrilla cinema” at a press conference given by Bruce LaBruce at Locarno in 2010. This led me to associate the idea to those auteurs, no doubt less provocative, but working in comparable circumstances, who reject both the cumbersome complexity and slowness in their productions LaBruce’s film LA. Zombie will open in France in December. Next week Denis Côté’s Curling (Best Director and Best Actor at the Festival del film Locarno in 2010) will be released by Capricci.
Raya Martin’s new, highly hallucinogenic film, Good Morning España was screened out of competition at the Festival del film Locarno this summer. Les Chants de Mandrin by Rabah Abeur-Zaïmeche, also shown as a world première at Locarno, but in the international competition, will be released next year.
These are encouraging signs that the community is growing. These filmmakers, whose names are already established were this year joined by a number of newcomers who you will be hearing a lot about when their (first or second feature) films are theatrically released, all of them discovered at the Festival del film Locarno (and subsequently invited to numerous international film festivals around the world), and in years to come if they’re smart and continue to make films: Valérie Massadian (Nana, Best First Film) from France, Terutarô Osanaï (Saudade, in international competition) from Japan, the American Alex Ross Perry (The Color Wheel, in the Cineasti del presente competition), from Italy, Alessandro Comodin (L’estate di Giacomo, Pardo d’oro Cineasti del presente) … To mention only a few of the finest and most significant revelations of the 64th edition.
We will return to these films when they open in late 2011 and over the course of 2012.