BAFICI, Day 10

BAFICI, Day 10
By Robert Koehler

The public nature of film festivals is getting steadily mitigated by where they’re located. This dawned on me today crossing the extremely busy Avenida Corrientes, one of Buenos Aires’ major boulevards and traditionally the home to the city’s many Broadway-style theaters and cultural institutions, such as the Centro Cultural San Martin where the Lugones cinematheque is located (and immortalized in both Adolfo Aristarain’s Roma and Lisandro Alonso’s Fantasma). My hotel is located directly across the street from the Abasto shopping center, where BAFICI is primarily based. Instantly, the moment you stick your head out the door of your hotel, you’re thrust into the rush of a big, pulsating city–made even more pulsating by the crazy, never-stick-between-the-lines driving that’s rampant in the city. By the time I merely walked one block to the entrance leading to the Hoyts Cinema complex, I had negotiated a massive flow of cars, and then timed my jaywalk across another street after another stream of rushing taxis had passed–not to mention a construction overhang, and a gaggle of pedestrians going hither and thither.

Most festivals lack this big city electricity, the physical rush of an ongoing urbanity that daily slaps you in the face. Most festivals have retreated to resort locations (following the trend set long ago not only by Cannes but also the Biarritz festival in far southwest France, where Cocteau brought Godard and Truffaut together for the first time in 1949), or to culture palaces. The latter is true, for example, in New York with the New York film festival, while the former is stuffed with examples, from Palm Springs to Dubai. There are exceptions (Los Angeles film festival, Tribeca, Vienna, Vancouver among them) and BAFICI is one of the most dramatic—even if it is set inside a huge shopping mall. This energy compounds itself with the festival’s so-called “meeting point,” where audiences and festival attendees exit the theaters down a long, winding ramp that spills out into a large area full of chairs, tables, a mini-cafe, small conference area, private meeting spaces and various spots to chat or indulge in the pleasure of randomly bumping into folks. It’s really an essential part of the BAFICI experience which does set it apart from most festivals, and accentuates its identity as a true city festival.

Add to the list of items I wasn’t expecting here–mosquitoes. They’re buzzing around (I just smashed an annoying one on my hotel desk with BAFICI’s compact but fat and weighty catalogue), and they’re inflicting pain on a few unfortunates. They weren’t here last year; where did they come from? Perhaps they’ll go away when the Argentine films get better….

Festival immersion cuts the audience off from the rest of the world, and the added lack of CNN International in my hotel room tends to add to a sense of being ever so slightly cut off. Late-night web surfing resolves this problem, but there’s only so much time. So I learned that Obama is schooling Clinton in campaign money-raising, McCain remains in denial about Iraq, Bush is still massively despised by most Americans (a fact that I have found has yet to be absorbed by much of the world outside of the U.S.), and Don Imus is in the shit can. But I also learned that Argentine teachers have been going on strike this week,pressing for higher wages (in the face of a corrosive 18% annual inflation rate) and protesting the killing (by intent or by accident, no one can say) of a teacher by cops last week in a small city far from the capital. Even as we were huddled in the Hoyts theaters watching movies about efforts to make Juan Peron’s 1950s supersonic plane to fly again (Pulqui) or a desperate teacher robbing other schools’ cash registers (El Asaltante) or a young farm lad’s fear of an intimidating milk seller (Luc Moullet’s Litre du lait), thousands of teachers were marching at Buenos Aires’ Obelisco monument and down boulevards, choking traffic. We cinephiles were in our own little (big?) world, oblivious. I’m not sure that this is a good thing, but I sure know that I would’ve hated to miss Pulqui or the Moullet….

As the competitive lineups unroll and a larger and clearer picture is emerging of the overall field, I’ll be catching up with my thoughts on the Argentine films that I’ve seen to date, cognizant that I’ll have some significant ones that I won’t be able to see until I return to Los Angeles. What’s apparent at this point is that there are few if any revelations (an overrated concept that I tried to take the air out of a few days ago), a very few good films, and a building hope that the really strong stuff ends up at Cannes and Toronto—as essentially happened last year, with Lisandro Alonso’s Fantasma and Pablo Trapero’s Born and Bred. Still, like they say in baseball, the book hasn’t been written on BAFICI ’07. We wait, and hope….

And while we’re waiting and hoping, Cannes rumors circulate around the festival. With the competition lineup being announced in a week, it’s a natural BAFICI sport; surprisingly, I’ve heard no talk of any Argentine film tipped for the main competition, or even other sections. By contrast, a couple of weeks ago, rumors around the Guadalajara festival were thick with all sorts of self-serving b.s. about this or that Mexican film set for a section, ranging from the Quinzane to Critics Week. The only Mexican film that’s even close to certainty is Carlos Reygadas’ Silent Light, and possibly a film Reygadas is producing, Pedro Aguilera’s La Influencia. Google on this stuff and you read mostly sheer nonsense; but the wait between films here and the “meeting point” chatter combine to fuel the rumor mill. I can only add that I hope one rumor is untrue: That Cannes wants Zodiac as the closer, behind which is the obvious strategy of Warners picking up the closing night party tab, a typical Cannes routine. To slot this great American masterpiece into precisely the position that guarantees nobody sees the film. Everybody knows that Cannes closing nights are about bad movies, getting exactly what they’re worth. Zodiac hardly deserves this fate….

(Day 9 entry.)

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