BAFICI, Day 1

Robert Koehler, who writes for Variety, Cinema Scope, Cineaste, and other publications, is not only one of the most dependable and active critics in Los Angeles, but he’s also a friendly and engaging cinephile. We’ve crossed paths at several film events–including a lengthy conversation after the Q&A for Honor of the Knights at this year’s Palm Springs International Film Festival–and he has graciously agreed to send in some exclusive festival reports from the Buenos Aires International Independent Film Festival, where he is serving on the jury for the international competition. –Doug

* * * *

By Robert Koehler

The rains passed over Argentina and Buenos Aires over the weekend, washing the sky clean just in time for the ninth edition of BAFICI–the Buenos Aires International Independent Film Festival.

All of the terms in the festival’s title carry equal weight, beginning with the city itself, which is a primary sponsor and supporter. (Mayor Jorge Telerman describes himself as a cinephile.) Although a vast complex of political influence and support (or withdrawal of such) continue to play out in the background, the fact remains that this festival is municipally supported as few festivals are in the U.S.; Palm Springs is one of the few cases that comes to mind.

The festival’s international focus remains consistent with the days not that long ago when the critic Quintin ran things. (He now insists that he’s “retired,” as he did when I ran into him today, mulling over what films we may and may not see, and exchanging notes on everything from Clint Eastwood’s Iwo Jima films–I was quite struck at the chasm of argument between his fine piece on the film in the current issue of Cinema Scope and Charles Taylor’s attack in The American Prospect, both of which I coincidentally read back to back last week–to Raoul Walsh, whom we agreed may be the greatest of classical Hollywood directors and the least written about; to get a sense, in Spanish, of Quintin’s sharp blogging as well as the infinitely varied interactions in cinephilic cyberspace, go to La lectora provisoria.)

Quintin organized the festival from a film-critical standpoint, which also included the position that a serious festival had to be seriously global. Although it’s a bit behind some festivals such as Rotterdam in surveying Malaysia and Filipino cinema–the new frontiers of East Asian film–the fact that BAFICI is surveying this year such key filmmakers as Ho Yuhang (from Malaysia) and Raya Martin (from the Philippines) continues and extends a fundamentally critical approach to programming, while insisting on bringing films to Buenos Aires audiences from culturally important but often neglected countries.

Finally, the word “independent” in the festival title doesn’t quite mean the same thing in an Argentine context as it does in an American. While the term has been so abused in the U.S. as to become highly suspect on its face, independent Argentine cinema has striven–at least since Lisandro Alonso’s breakthrough, La Libertad–to redefine and expand boundaries of what is visually and narratively possible, often seeking in silences and bodies what an older cinema sought for in melodrama.

Flying down here, I was hoping that this project that Quintin helped refine would continue under Fernando PeÒa’s leadership. Right now, on the night before the first full day of films, paging through the massive (512 pages!) though easy-to-handle catalog, I feel fairly confident that PeÒa’s festival (now in its third year under his leadership) is going to produce some fascinating hours of viewing and listening. Given that the first film I plan to watch tomorrow morning, AurÈlien Gerbault’s Tout refleurit, is about Pedro Costa’s filming of Lisbon’s Fontainhas slum for his masterpieces In Vanda’s Room and Colossal Youth, I am already in a strange state where I’m too tired for words (literally) yet a little too excited to be able to fully sleep. But this is part of the price paid for a bit too much festival hopping over time zones–I had just come from the Guadalajara film festival, via home in Los Angeles, and then 14 hours by air to Buenos Aires. So excuse me if I’m a bit giddy with sleeplessness, and anticipation.

Last before signing off, I want to thank Doug Cummings for welcoming me aboard Filmjourney.org to provide this BAFICI blog. We hope you enjoy it!

(Day 2 entry.)

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