3rd Ibiza International Film Festival – review

June 12th, 2009 - 1:44 pm Posted in ibiza, international film festival 2009 | Comments (0)

By Helen Donlon

iffThe Third Ibiza International Film Festival was held at the Palacio de Congresos in Santa Eularia which, alongside Hotel Aguas de Ibiza was the focal point for jury, guests and press throughout the event. One of the nicest parts of this experience was having the use of the excellent auditorium in which to sit and watch films.

The jury (American actor Cuba Gooding Jr,. Scottish director Bill Forsyth and ABC’s renowned critic Jose Eduardo Arenas) watched the six competition films separately, only coming together to discuss them all at a party at Can Talaias, the house in San Carlos built by actor Terry Thomas, on the day before the awards ceremony.

“We’ve been separate parts in this whole experience” Cuba Gooding Jr. told me at Can Talaias. “You’d think that after every movie you’d talk and then you’d move on but with this festival we’ve seen all of them and only now we’re going to have our first discussion. That’s a little weird. Even when I was going over my notes I was like why did I put that? So it’ll be interesting!”

The festival in general was run to a very Ibicencan schedule. Well, we’re used to it (the awards ceremony slated for 8pm actually took place at 1am, and so on), but how does a Hollywood celebrity like Cuba Gooding Jr. deal with this? Surprisingly well, as it turns out. “This is a festival made for me. I’m not a morning person. Yesterday I saw my last film at 2am and had dinner at 5am. Woke up today at 1pm. But I just go with the flow, you know. It’s island life. It’s them. It’s controlled chaos. I think it’s great!”

Dieter Kosslick
Dieter Kosslick

Another welcome festival guest was the Berlinale’s hugely popular director Dieter Kosslick, who was given an award for his outstanding achievements in the worldwide promotion of film as a whole, and of German film in particular.

The first film of the competition was Humboldt County, a directorial debut from actors Darren Grodsky and Danny Jacobs. It was a perfect opening film for the Ibiza audience with its often humourous but sensitive portrayal of the ups and downs of life in the pot-growing regions on the US north-west Pacific coast. Starring Peter Bogdanovich, Fairuza Balk, Brad Dourif and Frances Conroy the film, which premiered at last years SXSW festival is an amalgam of beautiful cinematography, a mature and non-judgmental script, some outstanding acting and brave direction.

Grodsky and Jacobs were festival guests and they were delighted to find such a warm reception here. The film was inspired by Grodsky’s own family. “I have family that moved into Humboldt County about twenty years ago. My uncle was a UCLA physics professor and he and my aunt moved into the woods in 1980, so I grew up visiting there a lot. We actually went up to Humboldt to work on a different script and when I introduced Danny to the place we both realised this was a really fascinating setting for a film.”

“Peter Bogdanovich emerged as a star director in the 1970s (we wanted to give the movie a whole 70s feel) and he’s also a very talented actor. It was a very surreal experience. He lives in a hotel suite in LA and when we met him he was wearing an Ascot and pajama pants, as he usually does, and Danny said ‘you play assholes really well’. And he listened, and then defended the character. That was when we realised he was going to bring a lot to the table, because it was important to us that the character was not just a villain.”

Darren Grodsky and Danny Jacobs
Darren Grodsky and Danny Jacobs

The aunt figure, played by Frances Conroy, is the character keeping them all together. “She’s like a jazz musician. In the editing room we were trying to figure out which of these wonderfully different takes to use. She makes strong choices every time you do a take, like she’s playing with different notes. Some brilliant actors do the same things over and over, and Franny does something different but equally brilliant every time.”

Perhaps the real star of the film is Madison Davenport, who was nine at the time of shooting. “You know we had all these really amazing actors in the movie but we had to give her the least amount of direction. She came up with a lot of ideas and made the character better.”

Also starring a child actor was Li Tong, another directorial debut from Chinese director Nian Liu. It was a great shame that due to last minute visa problems the director couldn’t be here, because this beautiful film took seven awards including the Special Falco d’Oro at the closing ceremony awards. Set in Beijing, it follows the protagonist, played by Zhao Zhicun as she makes her way home across the city from school having lost her bus pass.

While the highlight is definitely the outstanding Zhao, it is the film’s confident pace and lack of refuge in any over-sentimental or dramatic interludes that show a strong sense of maturity on the director’s part. In fact the only emotionally charged moment is the scene Zhao shares with fellow child actor Kang Yao, but is is played to perfect pitch. On the basis of this, the jury decided to grant Kang the Falco d’Oro for best supporting actor in the competition.

Cuba Gooding jnr
Cuba Gooding jnr

Other competition entries took off in completely different directions. Serbia’s Tears For Sale (which won a special jury award for visualising a complex award on a human scale) is a sort of gothic, bedraggled fairytale, nonetheless very well played by the two lead actresses. But it was too long and too over-produced. Dark Streets from the US featured a great score, great costumes and charismatic lead actors including Bijou Phillips as a dangerous femme fatale, but the blurry cinematography was offputting and somehow it didn’t really hang together to any great effect.

More promising was the Spanish/Cuban debut from Leonardo Arnas, Radio Love. This had a lot of great moments, and kept my attention, but was marred by the hyperkinetic facepulling of lead actress Beatriz Rico. And yet the fringe characters were magnificent, particularly the overtly camp ones. Fans of Bridget Jones will love it.

Vic Sarin’s Shine of Rainbows (Canada/Ireland) will also have its own audience. It was so pushily sentimental that more than half the audience were wiping away the tears as the lights came up (It took the Audience Award, in fact). Another film featuring a strong child actor as protagonist, it felt like Lars Von Trier had disappeared into a wormhole and come up in Disneyland.

Outside of the competition, the Balearic Spirit and Silver Screen section featured some interesting new films, including the much-lauded And The Beat Goes On, from Steve Jaggi and Jimi Mistry.

After a week of films, several off-piste late nights and the daytime party at Can Talaias, the festival closed with the awards ceremony at Atzaro. It was one of the most visually stunning parties I’ve ever seen on the island, with festival guests wined and dined before the awards, and hundreds still there in the early hours. It was also goodbye to the jury and guest directors and actors, and the mood was ultra-festive. Despite the teething problems the festival is still having three years in (not nearly enough bums on seats during screenings being the biggest one, while the parties of course were packed), it’s amazing nonetheless to think that such a tiny island can create such a buzz about cinema, and have the creative will to present such a marvelous annual showcase.

Terry Gilliam Interview

As with all good things, the highlights were the surprising stolen moments, like our long lunch interview with Jimi Mistry in Talamanca, our post-prandial chats with Terry Gilliam and his producer daughter Amy, and a wonderful conversation hiding from the rain with Bill Forsyth. Like Cuba Gooding Jr. it was also Forsyth’s first time here. And like his fellow jury member he found the whole pace of the festival odd but very agreeable.

“It’s great fun. And very relaxing. I was joking with Cuba that the work schedule’s really tough. I mean we have to watch movies for four hours a day! Ibiza’s a pretty wonderful place. It wasn’t hard to accept the invitation to come out here.” Forsyth is a great hero of mine, and his film Gregory’s Girl more or less kickstarted a renaissance in great British cinema when it came out in 1981. “I used to joke because I was born in 1946 which was the alltime peak year for UK cinema audiences. They’ve been on the decline ever since. I’ve lived a film career which has spanned the decline of British audiences! Of course there are so many other outlets now.”

The success of Gregory’s Girl gave Forsyth the opportunity to get financing for his magnum opus, Local Hero. “David Puttnam had by that time made Chariots of Fire and he approached me. We made Local Hero on a smallish budget, and he said the ideal thing would be if we set the film in Scotlad with a couple of Americans in it. So that’s when I thought up the idea of the oil business, because at that time in Scotland there was an awful lot of oil people coming into Aberdeen and so on, and most of them were American.”

The film went on to become a critical success on both sides of the pond, and sealed Forsyth’s reputation as an authentic filmmaker. The subject of Local Hero came up many times over the course of the festival. I asked him how his later work in Hollywood compared. “Commercial cinema likes resolution. I’m just the wrong animal for them because I always like options to be open, whether for characters or situations.”

Bill Forsyth
Bill Forsyth

“My internal philosophy is that nothing changes and we all just push through the same situations as individuals from beginning to end and there are people who have lived all the stresses and strains of my life three hundred years ago, and I’m going through the whole mess again. Basically the human race doesn’t ever learn to improve itself. So that’s where mainstream cinema and I part company, because their intent is resolution and I’m intent on open ended, and that’s just it.”

Message from Bill Forsyth for a young budding film director:
“Well I think being a filmmaker now has almost turned into performance art. There’s this pressure on young filmmakers to deliver themselves as a kind of package quantity. This is what I do and this is what I mean. And I suppose people like Tarantino who have this package image helped create that. Because of the sheer force of numbers, so many people want in, so you have to create an identity, and I know that’s necessary.”

“But behind that I would say, find out what your own predilections are rather what you think people want from you. Just that measure of authenticity. I don’t think you can actually make your way through the film business without having a little sense of your own worth. Don’t do it any other way because you’re putting so much on the line. That’s all I would say. Know what you’re good and bad at, and don’t be afraid of what you’re bad at. Just do what you’re good at. It’s horses for courses.”

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