Film Festival Today

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The Art Of The Art Film

Written by: FFT Webmaster | April 18th, 2011

The 29th International Festival of Films on Art (FIFA) has just finished. It’s a non-profit organization devoted to the promotion and presentation of the finest productions on art and media art. An eleven-day competitive festival, it is the most important annual event of its kind in the world. FIFA has become a focal point for artists and artisans from the art and film communities, as well as for art and cinema enthusiasts. ( Its website is

This year’s version showed 227 films from 22 countries. The 20 special events included among the new features, an art film market. In keeping with its mandate to promote films on art and media art, FIFA launched this year the International Market of Films on Art. The Market’s aim is to foster the development and exposure of the works produced in this sector, both nationally and internationally. This first edition featured several activities and services intended for directors, producers, distributors, presenters, telecasters, cultural and government institutions, who greatly appreciated this new initiative and encouraged FIFA to continue in this direction. This year, over 220 people from 15 countries took part in the Market’s diverse activities.

Among the other events were master classes–for example FIFA paid tribute to the British writer, screenwriter, producer and director Lord Melvyn Bragg. A big figure of the small screen, he has designed and produced more than 700 programs on the arts and culture. A dozen of Lord Bragg’s works about such figures as Alan Bennett, Debussy, Eric Clapton, Iggy Pop, Ingmar Bergman, Francis Bacon and Pavarotti were on the program.

The first involved a tribute to Lord Melvin Bragg, a towering figure in the world of British culture, on Following the screening of The Debussy Film (he wrote the script for Ken Russell), the writer-director of over 700 programs discussed his multifaceted career. Interesting and articulate on the arts and his work in the field. Bragg is unhappy about the cuts going on in the UK but thinks the best will always survive. (He also talked about collecting the films and programmes he has worked on – major difficulties – and making them available to the public (which, he notes, has paid for them).

This year’s prizes are listed in sidebar 1. Sidebar two highlights the overall winner, Antwerp Railway Station. And sidebar 3 is about the closing film, The Year of Anish Kapoor.

Sidebar 1

(The international visibility of FIFA, and the prizewinners of its 29th edition, will be enhanced in the spring of 2012 with its annual world tour. Paris, Tourcoing, London, Boston, New York, Washington, and Ottawa will host screenings at such prestigious institutions as the Tate Modern and the National Gallery of Art. )

Prizewinners – 29th FIFA

Grand Prize
Sponsored by Astral
Peter Krüger (Belgium)

Jury Award
Sponsored by Zone3
Stéphane Metge (France)

Award for Best Educational Film
Sponsored by Télé-Québec
Adam Low (U.K.)

Award for Creativity
Sponsored by the National Film Board
Mathieu Amalric (France)

Award for Best Canadian Film
Sponsored by Robichaud Conseil
Jean-Philippe Dupuis (Canada)

Award for Best Essay
Sponsored by Le Devoir
Steve Elkins (United States)

Award for Best Portrait
Sponsored by Entreprises Vidéo Service
Jean Michel Vecchiet (France, Belgium)

Award for Best Reportage
Sponsored by Concept Audio-Visuel
Mark Daniels (Italy)

Award for Best Film for Television
Sponsored by Digital Cut
Louise Faure, Anne Julien (France)

Liliane Stewart Award for Design Arts
Sponsored by the MacDonald Stewart Foundation
Niels Bolbrinker, Kerstin Stutterheim (Germany)

ARTV Springboard to the World Award
Jennifer Alleyn (Canada)

ARTV People’s Choice Award
Marilù Mallet (Canada)

Art is defined broadly, of course— Comic books and graphic novels – increasingly accepted at festivals, in competitions and libraries
had 3 films (2 prizewinners) and Sur les Traces de Tintin a five-part documentary series. In addition to Comic Books Go to War and Enki Bilal : au-delà de l’image, FIFA presented five film versions of the beloved comic book classics by Hergé: Sur les traces de Tintin 1: Les cigares du Pharaon; Sur les traces de Tintin 2: Le lotus bleu; Sur les traces de Tintin 3: Le crabe aux pinces d’or; Sur les traces de Tintin 4: Le temple du soleil; Sur les traces de Tintin 5: Tintin au Tibet.

More traditionally for FIFA, film on architecture, for example, is always a strong section. LIONESS AMONG LIONS – THE ARCHITECT ZAHA HADID
shows that rare creature, a highly successful female architect. Born in Baghdad, she is long resident in London. Her strong, dynamic personality is essential to survive in a profession filled with males with large egos. Feels the extra responsibility of having her company bearing only her name Several shots of young persons working at long rows of computers. Commissions for large public spaces, many museums, many in Middle East and Asia. The style of her early work was very angular but that was replaced by rounded, flowing lines. And we also saw the museum extension in Copenhagen, the building itself and the way it belonged in its setting.

Then there are films on photography and photographers. To take but one, DAVID BAILEY. FOUR BEATS TO THE BAR AND NO CHEATING (the title is from Count Basie’s definition of jazz) Bailey is a fashion and celebrity photographer (eg Jean Shrimpton, Mike Jagger), filmmaker, painter and sculptor – the best work is the photography.

H\e was dyslexic (undiagnosed), only exams passed were painting and drawing, not “interested in fashion pictures”, more in “pictures of girls who wore dresses”. Perhaps because of his dyslexia not good at explaining what he wanted, but instinctively knew what was right. The photographs are still wonderful to look at, presumably because they are portraits rather than just fashion photos. Energetic and charming man.

Other fashion-related docs have in the past included Valentino’s THE LAST EMPEROR and THE SEPTEMBER ISSUE (about Vogue magazine and Anna Wintour)
This year FIFA looked instead at Jean-Paul Gaultier and Balenciaga. EAN-PAUL GAULTIER OU LES CODES BOULEVERSES. This “iconic fashion designer” is hailed as the “enfant terrible of French fashion”

  • He has used unconventional models (eg full-figured women), played with traditional gender roles (eg men in skirts)
  • He is theatrical – fashion shows as a performance. “I’m not an artist. I have to be in touch with art.”
  • He is passionate, filled with infectious enthusiasm.

There’s always of course many films for music-lovers, documentaries and docudramas, from Palestrina to Darius Milhaud. For example,
LULLY L’INCOMMODE: Lully is having his portait painted, in a room at Versailles. We learn about him as a composer and his relationship with Louis XIV, as well as the period. Much time and space devoted to his rich, opulent, sumptuous music – played, in other rooms at Versailles, by the best artists in this repertory.

Then for those whose musical tastes are somewhat different there were films on, for example
Shirley Bassey, Django Reinhardt, Charlie Haden, Cab Calloway, Eric Clapton, Lena Horne
BAUHAUS: MODEL AND MYTH won the Liliane Stewart Award for Design Arts (a new prize). Founded in Weimar in 1919, the Bauhaus School was influential in modern architecture and design far beyond Europe. Staff included Walter Gropius and Mies van der Rohe, Paul Klee and Wassily Kandinsky. The film looks at the impact of the movement and examines its legacy. Other films on design included La brique Lego, a film celebrating the Lego block’s 50th anniversary and 320 billion blocks sold. Created in 1949 by Danish inventor Ole Kirk Christiansen, this revolutionary concept has become a timeless classic in the toy world.

A great favourite with Festival audiences was PARIS, THE LUMINOUS YEARS (director Perry Miller Adato). In the period 1905-1930 artists such as Picasso, Braque, Chagall, Stravinsky, Diaghilev, Hemingway and Gertrude Stein were drawn to Paris where they revolutionized painting, music, dance and literature. Exceptional archival footage provides fascinating glimpses of this era and interviews with writers and scholars help us understand the role of Paris in the growth of Modernism. (This film has already been broadcast on PBS and is available on DVD.)

And more recent artists: BASQUIAT: UNE VIE (director Jean Michel Vecchiat) received the prize for Best Portrait. Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960-88) was “the first black artist to open up modern art to the rest of the world”. His eight-year career took him from graffiti artist to painting superstar to death from a heroin overdose. This film was screened at the festival’s Benefit Gala and also rescreened by popular demand.

A very different film was POET ON THE STONE: IZUMI MASATOSHI. Stonemason and sculptor, Masatoshi travels to mountains and quarries across the world to find the stones ‘perfect’ for his creations. The stones he chooses are objects of beauty in themselves. After transporting them to his workshop he pauses, waiting for the stones to ‘tell’ him how best to proceed, helped by his long experience as a stonemason. The finished work reveals the natural strength and beauty of the stone. A quiet, humble man, Izumi Masatoshi, but he and his creations are memorable.
Dance, of course….In Alicia Alonso – For Giselle Did Not Die, the life of this ballerina, director of the National Ballet of Cuba and emblematic figure in the world of classical dance, is recounted by her colleagues, admirers and former students—and by Alonso herself. An examination of the current state of contemporary dance as seen by seven American choreographers is presented in New York Dance: States of Performance. A Wonderful Sacrifice: The Nederlands Dans Theater, produced to mark its 50th season, features four star dancers from three different generations who provide insight into the joys and sorrows of a life in dance.

Sidebar two: Antwerp Central Station – Spiritual Architecture

If you google “antwerp central station sound of music” you will find a YouTube clip of over 200 dancers performing to the music of Do-Re-Mi in Antwerp’s station, a promotional stunt for a reality TV show. This joyous video is a great introduction to ANTWERP CENTRAL STATION, the Grand Prize winner at the 29th FIFA in Montreal. Built between 1895 and 1905, the station, dubbed the “Railway Cathedral”, is considered one of the finest examples of railway architecture in the world. Director Peter Kruger blends past and present with a humorous and poetic touch.

The photo at the very beginning of this article is from

Antwerp Central Station is a 90 min. film directed by Peter Krüger, starring Johan Leysen (the narrator), and shot by Rimvydas Leipus (2010).

The film goes beyond presenting the history of why and how the station was build at the end of the 19th century by King Leopold II of Belgium, and beyond discussing its main architectural features. Right from the start the focal statement is pronounced “It was clearly the intention to be overwhelmed by the feeling of holiness in a cathedral devoted to world trade and traffic.”

The station, dubbed by the Belgians the ‘Railway Cathedral’, is truly an architectural marvel caught in stunning shots by the cameramen. What is shown is the real as well as a specifically focused perspective, the play of light, the architectural details, the movement of passengers through space and time, as well as the intimate mood of the narrator, the presenter of this architectural gem to the viewer.

The magnificence of the station’s exterior architecture is even surpassed by the interior design and décor. There is a lot of marble: decorative columns, balustrades, balconies, galleries, regal stairways, and the floor, laid out in a squared pattern composed of 3 different kinds of Belgian marble. This train station is indeed “a place of beauty and glory” as stated by the narrator.

The camera zooms on to and lingers over the architectural details that one finds in Christian cathedrals. The imposing Dome which lets in the light is not unlike that of the St. Peter’s cathedral in Rome. And then there is a choir standing on the marble stairway singing about Devine creation: “Let there be light, and there was light.”

The narrator chooses to compare the train station’s dome to that of the Pantheon. He comments that the dome’s supporting walls are not decorated as in the Pantheon (not with Roman Gods) but rather with the sculpted symbols of trade and commerce. He notes that “in the place where in the Pantheon an emperor’s image would be located, is placed a clock…These are the Gods of the 19th century looking down at the visitors.”

The film forces one to ask a question, if the power of trade and commerce is so strong that it runs our modern life from the late 19th century to the present, why did the architects of this building resorted to incorporate the traditional elements that were part of the spiritual worship into a seemingly mundane public building of a train station?

The train station’s main building was designed in the 19th century by the Bruges architect L. Delacenserie. What was his vision in conceiving it in such a monumental way? Did he consider that the commerce and trade would be becoming the Gods of the future centuries, the new objects of “worship”, requiring therefore the new type of a cathedral? Is this why he incorporated elements from the traditional places of worship into it, to signify the continuation of time and space through which a society moves forward?

What is also spiritualized in this building, through architecture, the interior reliefs, and the exterior roof sculptures, is the regal power of the state. The stone Belgian lion on the roof, the replica of the royal crown above the archway, and the live lion let roam freely at night in the empty station’s hall, called by the narrator “the income hall”, state that not only the past but also the present Belgian power is alive, well and strong.

Beside the Christian monotheistic and early Roman pantheistic elements of spirituality encompassed in the architecture of the station, the narrator also discovers that this monument also includes metaphysical concepts such as those of non-existence of time, the blending of time and space, and space being dissipated by areal lines and emptiness. The linear platforms covered by an immense expanse of iron and glass of the vaulted ceiling create a strange type of a perspective causing one to question what is real and what is not regarding time and space.

The station recently underwent extensive reconstruction. A new open concept was added: two new lower levels of platforms for high speed trains, passing underneath the city. This brought the light down into the underground, allowing it to be lit from above, in addition to lighting panels. The narrator comments, “By adding lighting panels one never has the feeling of descending in the underworld.” So the building’s architecture denies the existence of the underworld as well as of time and space, the same as these concepts are denied by the metaphysics.

The hall has now become a social place where people meet, have coffee, and participate in cultural events: choir singing, tango dancing, etc. The new Gods of the present century are usurping the train station’s space, and they are the Gods of culture and art.

This short video on YouTube is a series of images from the film:

Sidebar 3

The closing film, THE YEAR OF ANISH KAPOOR, was popular with audiences too.

The Year of Anish Kapoor
One of the most influential sculptors and artists of his generation, Anish Kapoor (born in Bombay in 1954) is renowned for his astonishingly complex monumental works that, increasingly, can be seen in public places. The first living artist to have a one-man show at the Royal Academy in London, Kapoor is facing the biggest challenge in his career. For the occasion, he designed a bold series of installations, notably Shooting in the Corner, a cannon that shoots red wax balls every 20 minutes that spatter the walls of the venerable institution, as well as Svayambh, a train of dripping wax that flows through five galleries. There are also pigment-based works, reflective mirrors and the curved forms for which he is famous. Alan Yentob filmed the artist in his London studio during a period of intense productivity. Kapoor recalls his childhood in India, his early years as an artist and his creative process.

The focus of the film is the year (2009) Kapoor prepared an exhibition to fill the Royal Academy in London – the first living artist to be so honoured – but we learn also about his childhood and earlier work. Early pigment-based works are colourful and pleasing, later large curved works with a mirror finish fascinate the public. (One of the best-known of his mirrored works is Cloud Gate in Chicago.) At the Royal Academy we are shown preparations for the show. We see a cannon firing crimson paint into another room and a ‘paint train’, a big red wax block, forced through the gallery’s arched doorways, in other rooms polished stainless steel sculptures and concrete sculptures. It should be a remarkable exhibition. (In fact it drew unprecedented numbers for a one-man show by a living artist in London.)


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