Friday, June 12, 2009

Open Roads Wrap-Up -- and a "thank you" to animation artist Ursula Ferrara

I miss Italy already. Eight days and a dozen films are not nearly enough. The worst thing is that few, if any, of these eminently deserving movies are likely to be seen again on these shores. I'll keep you posted, should I hear that one or more of them is turning up elsewhere -- theatrically, on DVD, or even "streamed."

I was finally able to view Alessandro Baricco's LECTURE 21 again, at last seeing and hearing those few minutes that I'd missed the first time, when I saw the film on a defectively transferred "screener." This second viewing did not disappoint. If anything, the film now seems richer, more understandable and disciplined than I had thought. Not a moment of its 92 minutes is excessive or wasted; Baricco succeeds near perfectly in providing everything I want in a movie: intelligence, investigation, charm, wit, feeling, music, visuals, and even -- odd though it is -- a wonderful story. That it's a tale of a professor and his lecture, students and teachers, creativity and its creation, love and death, history and rumor makes it all the more enticing. Further, the writer/director's use of "talking head" interviews (complete with nude body!) is perhaps his most delightful, unusual and provocative touch.

Well, for me, at least. There were a number of walk-outs during the film's final Lincoln Center screening, and I attribute these to the above subjects not being of much interest to the walkers. Lecture 21 is a movie for people who know some history (and some Beethoven) and can appreciate ideas (about education and the deity, among other things) -- even though these often conflict with each other. Signore Baricco (shown above, directing a young cast member) was supposed to have attended the festival but did not. What a loss. The opportunity to have spoken even briefly with this writer/director would have been a treat and, most probably, a further education. I hope that some enterprising distributor will take a chance on his unique film and get it out to the U.S. public in some form. To revel in it again, TrustMovies might even -- finally -- learn how to "stream."

For the rest of Open Roads, the films ranged from rather wonderful to just fine to simply OK. I am happy to have seen them all. My pushing the "darkness" angle inherent in so many of these movies may be attributable as much to what is going on in Italy today as to the movies themselves. From year to year the films of Open Roads are often dark, but the ever-present, ever-growing combination of politicians, corporations and Mafia/Camorra as the seat of power is likely to turn this country an even darker shade.

In addition to my posted interviews with screenwriter Sandro Petraglia, actor Silvio Orlando and writer/director Maria Sole Tognazzi, I also spoke at length with writer directors Marco Amenta (The Sicilian Girl) and Dino Gentili (I Am Alive), as well as to actors Donatella Finochiarro (shown above, in last year's The Sweet & The Bitter) and Filippo Timi (shown at left in his newest film Vincere), two fine actors who had lots of interesting things to tell me. I don't know just when I will transcribe and post these interviews -- perhaps in connection with whichever film from each of these talented folk next graces our shores.

Finally, good things must be said of the the one-time screening last Saturday afternoon of some of the amazing works of animation artist Ursula Ferrara. It's fortunate that each of her works is so short (generally somewhere between two and five minutes) because each one is also beyond dense. There is so much to see, hear and consider that I should think a dozen screenings of each piece would still leave us wanting another.

Metamorphosis is an important theme in her oeuvre, and while this is true of many animation artists, she handles it in her own distinct manner. As she has grown, so has her style, with her work progressing from black-and-white to color (a snippet of which is shown at left), from never-simple line drawing to even more complicated collage. This deliciously inventive woman appeared in-person to introduce her films and offer a post- screening Q&A, in which she answered any and all questions from her small (far too small for work this special) but rapt audience.

Ferrara told us that she moved easily from black-and-white to color, which seemed to her a very natural progression. Regarding her "writing"of these dialog-free pieces, she told us she often felt herself a kind of voyeur, looking into the brain, trying to grasp it all. "I don't know why or how," she explained. "It is like going two steps forward and three steps back. Or rather, more like moving on the bias. We have not really understood how the brain works. Or maybe that is what inspiration is about." To my question about her interest in metamorphosis, the artist said that she felt this was normal for many animators. "It begins with a single line that evolves." She also told us that she began her career self-taught and then went to art school.

Interestingly enough, the program started with the sound missing. The audience watched a minute or two without being much troubled, I think. But then the film stopped -- we waited -- and when it returned, the sound and music were present. What a difference! Consequently one audience member asked about her use of sound and music: Did it come before or after the animation process? "I started out rather random and casual about it," Ms Ferrara explained, "but now I make certain that the music fits."

Another audience member asked about the state of animation in Italy today. "There was a very fine tradition of animation quite long ago," she explained, but then this faded, and then turned into a kind of vacuum. That was when I began. Now, I think, there is a growing interest in this art." As there should be, with someone like Ms Ferrara in the field. The entire program -- introduction, eight shorts and the Q&A -- lasted only one hour. But what an hour! So far as I know, there is no way to see Ms Ferrara's work in this country today. Could not some enterprising firm -- Facets, perhaps -- put these eight shorts
Lucidi Folli (1986)
Past Future (Congiuntivo futuro, 1988)
Asymmetrical Feel (Amore asimetrico, 1990)
As People (Come persone, 1995)
Almost Nothing (Quasi niente, 1997)
Five Rooms (Cinque stanze, 1999)
The Match (La partita, 2002)
News (2006)
onto a DVD and give animation lovers something to revel in over and over again?

For another interesting "take" on Ms Ferrara, read Acquarello's notes at her always enjoyable and educational Strictly Film School site.

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