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film writing by nicholas vroman

Yamagata Film Fest 2007 – boxoffice.com blog #3

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The Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival takes place basically in 3 venues in the heart of the downtown of this sleepy provincial capital. Festival attendees and goers are easy to spot walking between the venues or grabbing a quick bite to eat at Café Doutour or at a ramen shop, with their passes and name tags festooned around their necks.

Sunday brought some street action with a little International Cultural Festa across the street from the main venue at the Central Public Hall. Many a festival visitor missed the 10am screenings to gawk and take photos of the childrens’ talent shows and the local flamenco dance school recital, and to munch on very authentic curry and naan and very interesting (to be nice) Mexican tacos.

However, a quick walk through the quaint street festival brings one to a big orange Super Deluxe 35mm movie projector and an installation of pod-like paper lanterns that front the Muse Cinemas, two smaller screens largely dedicated to the New Asian Currents section of the program.

A grab bag largely of socially committed documentary, the New Asian Cinema program hides a few diamonds in the rough. It’s where one can find new talent, experimental approaches to documentary form, and cinema-as-organizing tool. One can tell from the crowds here – largely very serious looking young folk, that this is where the art and function of documentary is being deeply analyzed and discussed. And huge crowds they were. Where else would a poorly shot and edited Indonesian film on the issue of environmental and cultural changes in the small community around a small, and getting smaller, lagoon play to a sold-out house and engender a lively discussion. But it did. And though the film, Drown Sea probably made few fans, it’s festivals like YIDFF that give the opportunity for these things to play and for filmmakers to share these visions – and hopefully return some time in the future as better documentarians.

The afternoon brought one of the true highlights of the film festival, The Monastery. This loving and beautifully shot film shows the final few years in the life of an old, cantankerous, and ultimately lovable Danish eccentric, Vig. Vig decides to turn his decrepit chateau into a Russian Orthodox monastery. His musings on philosophy and life, and most importantly, his relationship with a savvy and uncompromising nun, Sister Amvrosija, create a moving testament to tenacious individuals and their Quixotic quests. A problem with documentary festivals is the relentless hours one must sit through of human suffering and personal tragedy that makes up the content of most docs. It was a welcome relief to see a funny, poignant film about frail, but ultimately inspiring individuals, making the best of their lives. With good marketing and distribution The Monastery should cross the pond quite successfully. Look for it on US screens next year.

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Written by Nicholas Vroman

October 7, 2007 at 3:21 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Tagged with , , , ,

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