360|365 GEH Film Festival Recap … Where eggs come to perform

Only Sid Rosenzweig, 360|365 Programming Committee member, could introduce himself before more than one screening as an “all-around good guy” and not have it get old. Complete with a smile spanning ear to ear, Sid’s jovial demeanor never let you see the statement as anything other than a good-natured ice-breaker, leading him into the description of whatever film he was presenting next. This attitude was prevalent amongst all involved, making it a joy to attend the 360|365 George Eastman House Film Festival‘s inaugural season, knowing that the organizers, presenters, and volunteers contained the same amount of passionate fervor as I did sitting in the audience, awaiting the next cinematic gem to flash across the theatre screen. It wasn’t a rarity to see Jack Garner, John Richardson, or anyone else catching a screening without the obligation of standing at the podium or getting onstage afterwards to conduct a Q&A either. 360|365 is a film festival for film lovers, pure and simple.

If I’m not mistaken, besides the few screenings of refurbished films from the George Eastman vault, including a newly restored presentation of Powell and Pressburger’s The Red Shoes and the debut of the 1928, first screen adaptation of Huckleberry Finn, all other entries to the festival had already premiered elsewhere. I say this not as a put-down, but as a resounding positive, giving the Western New York area an opportunity to catch buzzed about films coming out of Sundance and Tribeca—award winners too, no less, often accompanied by a key figure in their creation to allow the audience insight into the history and genesis of the work. Personally, the two favorites seen in the three days I was able to attend, (I only wish I could have taken off work to spend the entire six days), were I Am Love and Cell 211, both of which screened at TIFF last year. Neither were on my radar then, but both were now eight months later. What a coup to have them in the line-up here, giving WNYers a sneak-peek at two films destined to be arthouse powers upon wider release.

My journey began with quite the treat, catching the award presentation for directing legend James Ivory. Having recently acquired the back catalog of Merchant Ivory productions to archive at the Eastman, it was only fitting to honor this man for his achievement in the medium. Genuinely touched by the standing ovation given, he spoke briefly after a clip reel with thanks and appreciation. The real prize for the audience, though—besides his fantastic new work, The City of Your Final Destination—was an extended Q&A session after the end credits rolled with 360|365‘s Jim Healy. It was an informative talk ranging from discussion on his working with Anthony Hopkins, (who always does wonders with his ‘animal noises’ on big movies, but loves working on the smaller scale stuff more), his writing process with frequent collaborator Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, and how he’s hard at work getting a film version of Richard II before cameras. Stories about his late friend and colleague Ismail Merchant were the most fascinating ones to me, however. Who knew their relationship began at a film festival, long ago, showing Ivory’s short documentary about miniature Indian paintings? He hadn’t even been to India before creating the work, but it resonated enough to catch Merchant’s interest, and that was that.

The constraints of the day job necessitated my driving back to Buffalo in the pouring rain directly after that opening night screening, sadly missing the after party that surely was a great time. It was okay, however, since I’d be returning two days later for an overnight stay and seven more films before my time in Rochester was up. Shuffling my film choices around more than a few times, (so many great selections and a two mile trek between theatres with scant time to travel the main causes), I finally nailed down my Friday schedule. Saturday’s didn’t become permanent until eating lunch at Spot Coffee that day, when the prospect of walking to the Dryden Theatre officially lost all appeal.

My return to 360|365 began with a doubleheader of Mark Lewis documentaries about the film world—Backstory dealing with rear projection and Cinema Museum pertaining to the location of its name, a privately owned collection of cinematic wonders. I actually had to leave before the second was over, unknowing how much time I had to get back in line for the next show, The Secret of Kells. If I had one complaint about the festival, it’s that there isn’t enough time allotted between screenings, especially if one starts late. A good hour would suffice, allowing attendees maneuverability, (mostly for passholders to ensure their seat quota didn’t get filled in line while you were still watching something else), and the option to skip any Q&As occurring. The twenty minute gap used was murder for my enjoyment of special guests; the decision of whether to get back in line or listen to a filmmaker discuss his/her film was definitely a touch choice to make when the next screening was my most anticipated one of the festival.

I don’t think I had to worry too much, though. While a sold out opening night at the Dryden packed it in, one at the Little still had a quarter of the theatre’s seats empty—those saved for an unknown number of passholders. Maybe a solution would be giving those with passes a code that they could use to get actual paper tickets; that way festival employees would know exactly how many people would be coming and you wouldn’t have to worry about being left out in the cold. I digress, though, since I personally had no problems. I eventually found that leaving during the Q&A for Monogamy to get in line for I Am Love was unnecessary, at least as far as getting a seat goes. But I do enjoy my aisle positioning near the podiums when covering a fest; it gives ample leg room and prime location for photographing any guests in attendance.

While each and every film I saw was great, if not fantastic, the opportunity to see someone like Oscar-winning editor, (and Scorsese BFF), Thelma Schoonmaker talk about her process could not be measured. Hearing the writer/producer of Winter’s Bone, Anne Rosellini, speak about what it takes to work independently—like the budget constraints, the godsend that was the RED camera, and casting processes—may be a huge boon to understanding exactly what effort went into bringing a great indie thriller to the screen, but watching clips of Goodfellas and Raging Bull with the woman who cut them together as she laser-points important aspects is a whole other level of thrill. I like to think I abhor the whole celebrity mystique of famous people, however, something about this Hollywood legend talking resonated more than up-and-comers to the scene I’d see later in the day, even though their films were great.

Schoonmaker was a complete delight, explaining her collaborative work ethic with Scorsese and the differences and similarities between the flashy cut work that wins awards, (The Aviator), and the more subtle, yet equally impressive stylings of a Goodfellas. She even began the whole lecture—along with critic and 360|365 organizer Jack Garner asking questions—by showing the extended Steadicam shot at the beginning of that famed gangster flick. Tidbits like how Marty hates using them because he wants total control over everything in the frame fly out, as do anecdotes such as how the scene needed nine takes because of Henny Youngman’s ability to continuously flub his line at the very end of the sequence. She also divulges how she began in the documentary world, learning to handle large amounts of footage to process and cull through for the perfect shots, but when it came to Hollywood work, Scorsese taught her everything she knows. That is why they work so well together with similar sensibilities; he taught her how to be a student of cinema history, watching as much as possible for inspiration.

Schoonmaker then went into detail about how little of Leonardo DiCaprio’s airplane crash in the The Aviator was real and how the actor, along with Robert De Niro, are willing to do anything for Marty, no matter the physical abuse. She praised the expertise of sound editor Frank E. Warner and what he brought to the brilliance of Raging Bull with elephant and horse sounds in the ring, and how he never shared what he used for the flashbulb crackles. So specific in his work, he’d destroy all evidence of recorded sounds, not for fear of them getting stolen, but because he refused to willingly use the same sound twice. The editor even continued on to show a juxtaposition between her husband’s (Michael Powell) film The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp and Raging Bull; showing how Scorsese’s hatred for sports led him to make a boxing film more about the emotions and events outside the ring than in it, abbreviating a nine round fight to around five minutes.

It was a wonderful look inside the craft of filmmaking and I’m sure a great precursor to her receipt of the Susan B. Anthony Award and presentation of The Red Shoes shortly after at the Dryden. I unfortunately had to miss that event, but I’m not too sad about it since I was able to stay at the Little straight through the day to watch three wonderful movies—the Tribeca winner Monogamy, the glorious I Am Love, and the Sundance winning Winter’s Bone. Combine those with the Oscar nominated Secret of Kells and Goya sweeping Cell 211 the evening before and I don’t think I’ve ever seen that many hardware earning films in a two day period. But that was par for the course at 360|365, honoring the legacy of the George Eastman House nicely by screening what should become contemporary classics at the very birthplace of their medium. I just wish I could have seen Crystal Pix’s horror-themed egg trailer more than once. It’s use of egg cracking blew away the western and soap opera counterparts.

Here’s to year two. I look forward to more great cinema so close to home.

The City of Your Final Destination 9/10

Backstory 7/10
Cinema Museum 7/10
The Secret of Kells 8/10
Celda 211 [Cell 211] 10/10

Monogamy 8/10
Io sono l’amore [I Am Love] 9/10
Winter’s Bone 8/10

[1] James Ivory with Jim Healy, 360|365 Director of Programming, during a post-screening Q&A.
[2] Jack Garner, 360|365 Artistic Consultant and Thelma Schoonmaker, Oscar-winning editor.
[3] Evan M. Wiener, co-writer of Monogamy, Sid Rosenzweig, 360|365 Programming Committee member, and Mollie Goldstein, editor of Monogamy.
[4] Anne Rosellini, producer and co-writer of Winter’s Bone with Jim Healy, 360|365 Director of Programming.


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