ken burns

Telluride Film Festival // Part 2

29 AUGUST 2014
Our first film of the festival was Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's new film BIRDMAN.

We made our way up to the Elementary school for our first Q and A session with documentary filmmaker Ken Burns. There was a peculiar, nostalgic and welcoming vibe that came with conducting all our symposium meetings in a primary school, with brightly coloured posters and little hooks along the wall for kids to hook their bags and jackets on. Anyway, Burns specialises in American history, most of his work airing on PBS. 

To be honest I sat there for the first 10 minutes wondering who this Mr Burns was and why hadn't I heard of any of his work. Then as the discussion progressed I eventually realised, of course, his work was all American history...not the most compelling topic for Australians. 

Nevertheless Burns did have a few philosophies about filmmaking that I found poignant. He prefers the medium of television for his type of work because he feels that it has a wider reach than feature film. As a filmmaker - if you want to influence others, there is no use broadcasting or screening your work to an audience who already agrees with you - it's useless preaching to the choir. Find the format or medium to reach the demographic whose minds need the changing.

Another interesting point he mentioned is that history and the present can never be thought of as separate things. Whenever we speak of history (in film or otherwise) our reflections and interpretations are coloured by our experience of today. When we speak of the today we are, of course, looking through a lens that is the sum of all that has happened in history. Subjectivity!!

14:00 29 AUGUST 2014
This time it was the classic Apocalypse Now. Followed by discussion with Coppola, screenwriter, cinematographer, editor and producer of the film.

It was the first time I'd seen the film and had no idea what to expect. The film upset me...a lot, watching Vietnamese civilians being gunned down from an aerial POV made me think about what it would have been like for my family decades ago. The film showed how killing in war can turn into a reflex beyond any rationale or humanity for soldiers. Regardless of how fictional (or ridiculous and psychedelic towards the end) the film was - it was still harrowing to watch. Blame it on jet lag or the lack of sleep or...PMS - I was just an emotional wreck (actually, this happened with increasing frequency as the festival went on and I gradually became more and more delirious).

17:30 29 AUGUST 2014
For dinner, main street was closed down to traffic and free Russian food made its way into my tummy. I don't have foodigrams so we'll just have to use our imagination.

19:30 29 AUGUST 2014
First film of the evening was The 50 Year Argument, a documentary on the influence and legacy of The New York Review of Books. Snore. Although intellectually the film was expansive and intriguing; covering eras and topics covered by the journal such as the civil rights movement, feminist movement and tumultuous Middle East. With each 'episode' it gradually became more and more tedious, there was nothing captivating or exciting about the filmmaking to keep us interested either - the same people were interviewed in front of the same backdrop, and you could only show the office building filled with books on desks so many times before it ceases to be something magical. The most fascinating parts were from archival footage of Susan Sontag and other literary/cultural critics engaging in lively debate. 

Overall, many of the other students agreed the film was too introspective and focussed on how the writers and personnel associated with the organisation saw themselves and the trajectory of their work and legacy, rather than offering us a perspective of how the journal was seen in the context of the wider society and people who may not have agreed with everything published. The consequence is a film that seems to be made only for the eyes a small niche of viewers  - perhaps those who are already subscribers and supporters of The New York Review - and not as accessible to the general public. Sorry Scorsese, I'm going to say no X-factor on this one.

Then. Xavier Dolan's MOMMYIt was a great film. It wasn't without its flaws, but there was emotional and dramatic honesty and made it one of the best films I watched at Telluride.et