Poor Programming of Film Festivals

Abe-Nornes amnornes
Fri Jul 16 09:29:57 EDT 1999

I didn't think Steven's post was "angry" by any means. For those who have
only experienced the pleasures of attending a festival, it gave quite a
wonderful glimpse of (just a few) of the complexities programmers face. I
did want to note a couple things:

It's not that the programming of Asian cinema is "poor." I hope I didn't
use that word. Indeed, it has come a long, long way. I remember working at
the Hawaii International Film Festival in the 1980s when it was one of the
few festivals that paid dedicated attention to Asian cinema (and the whole
of it at that). Back then, the situation was simple enough that it was very
easy to see how the world's sense for "Japanese Cinema" was deeply marked
by a handful of people working the festival circuit. Things are far more
complicated today, but the same issue is there and might be interesting to
talk about on KineJapan. 

However, back to my earlier comments on programming and auteurism: 

It's not that programming is poor. It's that I _appreciate_ all programmers
that pay attention to film cultures beyond Europe and America....and I
_admire_ the programmers that think beyond the simple rubrick of

Stephen is obviously one of the latter (as is Kyoko Hirano, who certainly
deserves the Kawakita prize that was mentioned a few days ago). But let me
point out one interesting sentence in Stephen post:

>Within the Asano week I WAS on the verge of focusing on production designer 
>Maruo Tomoyuki at 9pm each day But it became clear that Ishii Katsuhito had 
>as much to do with the art direction on "Shark Skin Man & Peach Hip Girl" as 
>Maruo ... 

This still doesn't escape a problematic auteurism because we're talking
about conceptions of authorship, not simply director as author. The idea of
a slate of films devoted to production design is brilliant. In fact,
outside of a recent book by Charles Tashiro there is very little criticism
or scholarship on the subject. 

The reason it's a brilliant kind of programming is that it turns the
attention of spectators to a new context. It _places_ them in a different
space of the film. The problem with programmers that fall back easily on
director retrospectives is that this approach ties everything to the genius
of the individual artist. What's exciting is programming that pays
attention to the margins of the films _and_ the extra-filmic context in
which they're projected and enjoyed.

For example, one of the things we often take for granted as programmers is
the catalog. What can you do with a catalog? With writing styles? With the
length and content of synopses or articles? With the naming of categories?
The layout and photographs? Its shape and paper? Playing with all these
things can shake people up and make (some of) them approach the film in a
new way. At the very least, it creates new kinds of pleasure for both
programmers and audiences. 

Or what combinations of films might surprise people, and make them actually
_think_ about what it means to show a particular pair or group of films
adjacent to each other? For the Buddhism and Film program Birgit is putting
together, I want to see _The Matrix_! 

This is the kind of programming that I aspired to at Yamagata, which had
the financial resources and freedom to support such things. On
retrospectives, we went as far as building theaters from scratch, or
invading the other parts of the festival from the margin of the so-called
"sidebar." Yamagata had the financial resources and the freedom and
creative atmosphere to attempt such things at a pretty ambitious scale. But
I do think that anyone could try it, even at the level of a college
retrospective (as the Chicago Tamura event certainly demonstrates). 

As for events like that Kurosawa retrospective, I am thrilled that it's
being done and terribly jealous that I can't go. But programming can be so
much more than lining up films of an artist. 


PS: Steven wrote: 
        >But I guess the reason you have so much time to do 
        >the research is that you don't have to deal with the day-to-day shitty 
        >politics of securing funding, films and a half-decent box office

It is more complicated than this. The institutions are incompatible as
they're currently configured. Too few festivals are like Hong Kong and have
a strong historical sensitivity to what they're doing (their retrospective
catalogs constitute one of the most interesting multi-volume histories of a
national cinema that I can think of, especially since they were conceived
in tandem with actual programming). So from the perspective of the academy
festivals are simply festive; they have no creative or historical or
research value. Although I could have continued working for Yamagata after
getting this job at the University of Michigan, I was told in no uncertain
terms that to do so would endanger my tenure. Time is a problem; tenure and
raises tied to the "production" of publications are the institutional
mechanisms that make programming "extra." The only programming I've done at
U of M is a retrospective...the films of Lee Myun-se, Korean auteur! 

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