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Friday, 10 November 2017

Canberra International Film Festival - Kiki Fung is an enthusiast forJacques Tourneur and the festival's retro emphasis

CIFF Director, Andrew Pike
(photo: Kiki Fung)
As the new Director for the Canberra International Film Festival, Andrew Pike has a conviction, a romantic and visionary one – to dedicate more than 50% of the program to retrospectives. Andrew is one of Australia’s pioneer art house and Asian cinema distributors (the titles he distributed range from Jacques Rivette’s Celine and Julie Go Boating and Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s The Time to Live and the Time to Die, along with various films from the likes of Chen Kaige, Zhang Yimou, Xie Jin, Oshima Nagisa and Imamura Shohei...the list goes on). Currently, his company Ronin Films focuses more on documentaries.

In CIFF’s 29-film program, 16 are retrospective titles. Highlights included a focus on the French director Jacques Tourneur whose career blossomed in America (and who was recently honoured at this year’s Locarno Film Festival and by La Cinémathèque française), a tribute to New Zealand experimental filmmaker and artist Len Lye, and a spotlight on British director Pat Jackson.

Jacques Tourneur
Andrew was the mastermind behind all retrospective titles including the great delights of 35mm prints of Tourneur’s Canyon Passage, Anne of the Indies, Stars in My Crown and Pat Jackson’s (a great discovery that Andrew offered his audience) Western Approaches and White Corridors. The festival’s Co-programmer, Alice Taylor put forward a good selection of contemporary cinema involving the latest international award-winning films, Australian features and documentaries and a number of Asia-Pacific titles.

Susan Hayward, Brian Donlevy, Dana Andrews
Canyon Passage
Though most often regarded as a genre and horror film director, Tourneur’s cinema says something deep about us as humans. I was profoundly touched by all the Tourneur films I saw at the festival. I had previously seen Canyon Passage (and Out of the Past), but it was when I watched it again on 35mm (a very good print) on the big screen that many of the film’s “moments” stood out and became intensified: the turning point of relationships, the revelations, the gazes, the unspoken romantic tension, all became so more real and gripping. Tourneur’s beautiful use of space and movement even more so noticeable and engaging. One was reminded how a film communicates to its audience more urgently and vividly through this medium that is “film” (celluloid prints), and this medium that is cinema.

CIFF was an intimate and cinephile-friendly festival with all screenings scheduled at the National Film and Sound Archive (NFSA). The sessions I went for (all retros!) were well attended. If one fancies a good film chat or coming across like-minded film fans one only needed to drop by the NFSA, where I ran into Bruce Hodsdon, whose elaborate articles on Douglas Sirk (among many others) on Filmalert were such a delight to read; Quentin Turnour, a good friend and the knowledgeable former Programmer for NFSA,
and Louise Sheedy who is currently running the Archive’s public programmes. Of course there was no surprise that the revered archivist and educator, founder of South East Asia–Pacific Audiovisual Archive Association (SEAPAVAA), Dr Ray Edmondson, was a regular.

Just like one has travelled back in time, things slowed down for this passionate viewer. Attending CIFF brought me back to the pure joy of enjoying cinema.

Chris Fujiwara, Andrew Pike (Photo: Kiki Fung)
The Jacques Tourneur program featured a distinguished guest – the erudite Chris Fujiwara. Chris is the author of the definitive book on the director, titled Jacques Tourneur, The Cinema of Nightfall. During his tenure as Artistic Director of the Edinburgh International Film Festival, Chris presented a number of retrospectives that were true discoveries – for example, Somai Shinji, Gregory La Cava, and an extensive retrospective on Iranian Cinema in the 60s and70s. In his other publication as Chief Editor, Defining Moments in Movies (a mammoth task and a great book dedicated to the love of classic cinema), one can find a series of articles contributed by Andrew. I believe the Chris and Andrew are in tune with their firm belief in retrospectives.

Chris introduced all of the Tourneur films except for Cat People. Needless to say, the introductions were extraordinary. Devoid of any clichés, his approach was personal, poetic, and very much centred around the filmmaker’s understanding and mastery of the film medium; as well as how Tourneur as an artist relate to audience through cinematic time and space. Introductions like these only come from those who have an appreciation for subtlety; and the talent to look way beyond the surface.

With moderation by Andrew, Chris’ eloquent talk on Tourneur covered the director’s filmic patterns and the deep and complex themes in his cinema. He discussed Tourneur’s emphasis on “traces” and “invisibility”. If Tourneur is the master of taking us into the world of the invisible, the absent and the inexplicable, Chris is the one who can guide us into discovering the codes and meanings in this universe. But by this I don’t mean an interpretation of symbolism; Chris’ provided the reading and understanding of a whole set of codes and practices. He mentioned that for Tourneur, it was not the genres or stories that interested him, but the very act and process of “directing”.

I feel that there is something in common between Tourneur and Chris: is Tourneur’s fascination for directing (the manipulation of filmic elements) not equivalent to Chris’ approach to criticism, which is concerned with how meanings are formed through the study of the combination of all filmic elements (or what we call the mise-en-scene)?

He also highlighted Tourneur’s tendency to extract natural performances from his actors and actresses, and his preference for non-sentimentalism. His is a kind of non-dramatic, distant, reserved, understated filmmaking. Something that lingers.

In a truly good film talk, one not only learns more about the subject, but is also inspired to appreciate cinema in a whole new way. This talk was precisely that.

Sarah Davy (Photo: Kiki Fung)
What joy was it also to see the play of colours, patterns and music in the Len Lye films, enriched by the introductions by Roger Horrocks (historian and author of the biography of Len Lye) and Sarah Davy (senior archivist at Ngã Taonga Sound and Vision). Their presentations offered very interesting background information and historical context. The Len Lye films screened prior to the festival’s features. Andrew had done some thoughtful pairing: for example, the cigarette commercial Kaleidoscope was paired with Out of the Past; and The Peanut Vendor, featuring the mischievous monkey dance, was paired with Anne of the Indies. Roger and Sarah also gave a talk on Len Lye which I am sure was very interesting, although I did not have the pleasure to attend due to another engagement.

Roger Horrocks (Photo: Kiki Fung)
The DVD collection of Len Lye’s films, Colour Box: 19 Films by Len Lye recently won the Best Single Release award at Bologna’s Cinema Ritrovato. See Geoff’s report here.

As our world is being dominated more and more so by consumer behaviour
And, sometimes, audiences that might favour the fast-pacing, Andrew has the vision of preserving that precious experience that is to slow down and to savour.


The Canberra International Film Festival is one that embraces an intelligent audience and one that encourages that audience to continue being so. May we all continue to search for the understated, the forgotten, the unknown and the extraordinary.

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