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Truth and the Tropics

Truth and the Tropics

Articles - Directing

Bermuda International
Film Festival

Next Dates: April 16-22, 2004
Submission Deadline: December 1, 2003
Number of Films: 40 features; 32 shorts
in 2003.
Website: www.bermudafilmfest.com
Festival Director: Aideen Ratteray Pryse

I’d never been to bermuda, but that didn’t
mean I needed a lot of arm-twisting to escape the cold, wet Northeast
for a few days in April to check it out. From what I knew, I
expected to find a lush, friendly, tropical (okay, sub-tropical)
paradise a short plane ride away—and I did. What I didn’t expect to find was one
of the best-run, best programmed mid-sized festivals I’d ever experienced.
Even though 2003 marked just the sixth installment of the BIFF,
it’s obvious that festival director Aideen  Ratteray Pryse
and her dedicated staff are serious about making Bermuda one of
the circuit’s top stops.

Not that is isn’t already a very classy operation. BIFF has it
all, really, from the aforementioned unbeatable location (just
two hours from Boston and New York) to the right mix of films,
guests, sponsors and, perhaps most importantly, attitude.

“Our mission is to advance the love of independent film from around
the world and to create a community welcoming to both filmmakers
and filmgoers,” Pryse told me before a screening, in her warm but
buttoned-down Bermudian-with-a-British-flavor way. Her unruffled
demeanor belied the fact that the 2003 edition was not the easiest
festival for her to pull off successfully. Not only was sponsorship
support at first challenging to come by because of a weakened economy,
but Pryse lost her father, the festival’s spiritual founder, Stanley
Ratteray (it was his idea to start a film festival in Bermuda),
just two months before opening night.

Top to Bottom: BIFF jury member Chuck Workman with Barbara
Workman; BIFF jury members David Ansen,Valerie Van Galder and
Jeffrey Jacobs; guests enjoy the scene at an outdoor cocktail
party; executive producer Timothy Burrill (The Pianist) and
film critic Dave Poland enjoy another BIFF party.

“You know how a duck looks calm on the surface but its feet are
paddling like mad beneath? Aideen’s like that,” someone said with
a grin. She pulled it off swimmingly.

BIFF 2003 had a very strong world cinema showcase,
including a sidebar on Icelandic films called “In from the Cold: The Films
of Iceland.” Pryse conceived of the program after seeing Baltasar
Kormákur’s 101 Reykjavik. That quirky film,
plus his latest, The Sea, screened to appreciative Bermuda
audiences. Other fest highlights included a tribute to Portuguese
director Manoel de Oliveira, a diverse selection of competition
features, an incredible collection of documentaries and a couple
of excellent films for young people.

Competition winners included director Josef Fares’ farcical Kopps,
the huge Swedish hit that took top narrative feature, while Patricia
Lynn’s Discovering Dominga beat some stiff competition,
including Oscar-nominee Liz Garbus’ The Nazi Officer’s Wife to
take the Best Documentary Feature prize. One highlight for me,
personally, was The Man on the Train, Patrice Leconte’s
(Ridicule, The Hairdresser’s Husband) hauntingly
human fable about a world-weary gangster and mild retiree who “switch
lives.” This movie quietly edged its way into my personal top 10
list (MM readers can expect an interview
with Leconte in a future issue).

Along with Garbus’ touching portrait of a sweet, tough-as-nails
Holocaust survivor, the documentary Spellbound, by first-time
doc director Jeff Blitz and producer Sean Welch, about the rabid
competition for the Scripps Howard National Spelling Bee, was nothing
short of miraculous. Other notable films included Marc Ottiker’s Half the Rent from Germany, which was awarded a Special Jury Mention,
and House of Fools, by Andrei Konchalovsky of Russia. Konchalovsky
had moved to the U.S. in the early 1980s and made several high-profile
films, such as Runaway Train and Tango & Cash, but filmed
this surrealistic vision of the inhabitants of a mental hospital during
the first Chechen war in his native country.

BIFF
also pays attention to short movie­makers, and New York-based
director Brad Aldous was one of those who said he was very pleased
with the reception he and his film, Amores Payasos,
received in Bermuda. Amores played to a nearly full house
on two separate nights. Aldous said he had a great time, aside
from his schizophrenic but hardly unique desire to be simultaneously
watching films indoors and out exploring the island.

BIFF
is a great place to network. Everyone is relaxed and accessible,
and the parties are lively but subdued enough to allow conversation.
Despite the prizes, the festival prides itself on maintaining
a cooperative atmosphere where, says Pryse, “fellow filmmakers
are viewed as colleagues rather than as competition.

“We’re large enough to present a good selection of films,” she
says, “but small enough that we have not lost our intimate feel.”

BIFF screened a selection of major motion pictures like Roman
Polanski’s The Pianist, (which you may have heard garnered
Academy Awards for director Polanski and lead Adrien Brody) and
island native son Michael Douglas’ It Runs in the Family (which
will not be garnering any awards, but did feature still-lucid legend
Kirk Douglas). But while the organizers have worked hard to make
the festival prestigious, they pride themselves on providing opportunities
to up-and-coming moviemakers as well.

“We’ve been encouraging local filmmakers to submit works to our
festival,” adds Pryse, “and have begun to see the emergence of
a filmmaking community in Bermuda.

“We try to draw out the best younger filmmakers—whose films that
are just below the radar, where it means something to win a prize
at Bermuda. We choose on story, acting, directing and the ‘wow
factor.’ Once we’ve gotten them here, we want to put them in touch
with contacts who will be useful to them. There’s no ‘I’ve got
to make a deal’ pressure here, but you may make a deal over cocktails.

“We’ll be tightening up the competition section next year, adding
more world films and bringing on more international sponsors,” Pryse
says.

“Do we want to get much bigger? Not necessarily.
But even better? Yes.” —Tim Rhys

Moviemakers and festivalgoers
can’t ask for a more beautiful backdrop than Bermuda.

Celebrating the Power of Documentary

Full Frame Documentary Film
Festival

Next Dates: April 1-4, 2004
Submission Deadlines: Late fall 2003 (subject to change)
Website: www.fullframefest.org
Festival Director: Nancy Buirski

Finally, a festival that tells the truth. The Full Frame Festival
began life as the DoubleTake Documentary Film Festival in 1998. It
has grown in its hometown of Durham, North Carolina to become one
of the world’s best-respected documentary festivals, attracting such
notable guests as Ross McElwee, Barbara Kopple, Errol Morris, Jonathan
Demme, Fred Wiseman and Albert Maysles.

According to festival founder and director Nancy Buirski, the festival
has distinguished itself as the largest documentary film festival
in
America
. “[Full Frame]
celebrates the power and artistry of documentary film,” says Buirski. “It’s
one of the five
U.S.
festivals
and nine worldwide to qualify short documentaries for the Academy
Awards.” It has produced several audience hits that have gone on
to great success, like The Brandon Teena Story, Genghis
Blues
and Down from the Mountain. Favorites from the 2003
competition included Flag Wars, by Linda Goode Bryant and
Laura Poitras and Speedo, a film by Jesse Moss about a demolition
derby driver.

Chris Hegedus, yet another of the prominent guests of this year’s
festival, screened Only the Strong Survive out of competition
as part of Full Frame’s special programming. The film, which she
co-produced and co-directed with D.A. Pennebaker, documents the careers
of nine great soul musicians who have kept performing despite fading
interest in their art.

“The positive spirit of the festival and the fact that it is entirely
documentaries make it special,” says Hegedus. “Besides our film screening
at the festival, I was invited to co-curate a special film program
with the head of the Ms. Foundation for Women, Marie Wilson.” The
series, entitled “Leadership through a Gender Lens,” included films
about women and leadership by Ken Burns, Paul Stekler and Judith
Helfand .

Elisabeth Shue with husband Davis
Guggenheim, whose father Charles E. Guggenheim was honored with
the 2003 Full Frame Career Award. Full Frame founder and director
Nancy Buirski addresses festival-goers in Durham, NC.

The quality of the festival’s venues, including the historic Carolina
Theatre, drew high praise from nearly all participants MM spoke
with.

“The picture and sound quality could not have been better,” says
Brett Ingram, whose feature Monster Road was screened as a
work-in-progress this year. “Every element of the festival was run
very smoothly. The organization, planning and attention to detail
by the staff was apparent.”

Full Frame also works hard to include the Durham community in the
festivities. From a selection committee made up exclusively of community
members to programs designed by the local newspaper to the Southern
barbecue awards ceremony, the festival is a local affair.

Hegedus typified the attitude of Full Frame attendees: “This is
a terrific festival that just needs support and awareness to keep
it growing.” —Jason Mann

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