Interviews Sightsurf and Brainwave: Blake Williams’ PROTOTYPE by Michael Sicinski In the Shadow of the Magic Kingdom: Sean Baker on
First of all, thanks to the Toronto Film Critics Association, without whom there would be no award for the appreciation of film in Canada. But seriously, thanks guys, I’m just trying to do what I can as best as I can.
Speaking of critics, one curious effect of the ongoing decimation of film criticism in North America has been the increasing porousness of the boundaries between criticism and programming, as more and more critics move from one cherished and petty profession to a new one with the same characteristics. The names are out there (some are in here), and more will surely follow. Some commentators have been alarmed by this development, but those who practice both jobs best share a love of film—more to the point, obscure films that can benefit from the love and the efforts these folks put forth. As far as I’m concerned, the less traditional film criticism the better: put the dinosaurs out to pasture. One way of approaching Cinema Scope, to me, is as a curated work that has always straddled the boundary between criticism and programming, attempting to provide an overview of a particular kind of contemporary cinema that is, by popular consensus, festival-based, and trying to guide readers through trends, and exposing them to films they might otherwise have ignored because the MSM (in Canada, at least) doesn’t care.
I write this mainly because I sense there’s a popular conception that a snooty elitist magazine such as this one that nobody reads and internet commentators wish would die off deals with films that are hard to see—or denigrates films that most people truly like such as, oh, I don’t know, dreck like Up in the Air (a far less valuable film about modern labour than Extract ). It only takes a few minutes of surfing to see that many of these “obscure” films—such as Sweetgrass, to name one example—in fact have dedicated, hard-working distributors like IFC or Cinema Guild in the US and Filmswelike or Mongrel or E1 in Canada, and that cooperating with these distributors is a duty of both festivals and magazines such as this—cooperating of course with complete editorial freedom. (Oftentimes festival exposure arguably leads to its distribution, so let’s also add that festivals play major roles in helping such things happen, and probably have just as much power in that regard as critics, if not more.) There are of course other worthy films that don’t manage to secure this kind of support—so, if you want to see The Anchorage, email me and I’ll put you in touch with the filmmakers.
In these pages, then, which include many reviews of films that played at fall festivals, many still without the holy grail of distribution, one theme about nature and the environment runs through the mix, from sheep to the sickening Alberta tar sands to a desolate island off the coast of Sweden, down to Colombia and all across the ocean again to the Ruhr Valley. Associated with contemporary ways of seeing fiction and nonfiction, next issue it will extend to Mexico with a look at To the Sea, one of the only legitimate premieres at the past Toronto International Film Festival. (I don’t use “discovery” because that term is too loaded with other meanings, like, you know, Columbus “discovering” America.) True, much of this stuff may have zipped under the radar of rabid cinephiles who might have gorged on 40 or more films at TIFF or other festivals, but let me make a controversial statement: by and large, a film that most people have heard of is by its very nature less interesting than a film that only a few programmers or critics have seen. As Michael Haneke so wisely teaches us, the (film) environment is in a mostly toxic state. We need something like an international convention to deal with cinematic climate change, but I’m not holding my breath.
Last of all, a short note about the end of the decade in cinema, polls, lists, awards, and otherwise. Despite this magazine essentially being founded alongside an in-depth analysis of the films of the ‘90s, my personal view about lists et al has been made repeatedly in this space, and will be further elaborated in the next issue, which may or may not feature something poll-like summarizing the past decade’s activity—I still haven’t decided. Perhaps an outpouring of support from the readership will sway things one way or the other, but I’m not holding my breath on that one either. Anyway, I suspect that by the time you read this, you’ll all be as sick of the whole list craze as I am.