Monday, November 19, 2007

SLIFF 2007: Thoughts on Genre and Marketing

More reviews from the St. Louis International Film Festival 2007 to come, but first a rambling shameless rant about festival ads, promos, genres and selections.

One thing that became very tiresome at the St. Louis International Film Festival 2007 was sitting through the same introductory speeches, ads and festival promos more than twenty times. Sitting through AT&T’s “Hollyorkizona South Ameriland” commercial for the first film made appreciate that they had sponsored the festival, but hearing it for what must sum up to six years of wasted time made me rue the entire telecommunication industry. Even Atomfilm’s amusingly bizarre collection of fake teaser-trailers got very, very old. Granted, OCD fanatical marathon viewers like me are not the target audience for Midwestern film festivals, but between Katie and myself we did spend several hundred dollars supporting this material.

As for the festival promos, Cinema St. Louis wisely commissioned a set of three to help reduce the repetition. Coolfire Media provided the spots and they showed quite a bit of polish, though more so in the animation than the C-quality acting. What irked me most, however, was that two of the three promos emphasized genre: a mad scientist mixing colored liquids with genre labels and a speed-dating service where actors were dressed in genre stereotypes. However, the idea that science-fiction, horror, romantic comedy, action, western, noir or even mystery (many of them explicitly mentioned in the ads) were well-represented is extremely misleading.

I broke down the films I saw this year by loose genresque categories:

Art House Drama: 12
Dark Comedy: 5
Shorts: 3 (one set being entirely dark comedies)
Thriller: 2 (The Method, The Walker)
Documentary: 2
Light Comedy: 1 (Big Dreams, Little Tokyo)
Romance: 1 (Emma’s Bliss)
Sci-fi, Horror, Action, Mystery, Noir, Western: 0

For ‘romance’ I imposed the rule that it had to ultimately be a positive, non-dysfunctional relationship (for which even “Emma’s Bliss” is a definite stretch). Films that were mysterious, but ultimately ambiguous, were counted as ‘art house drama’ and not ‘mystery.’

Admittedly, there is bound to be plenty of bias in the types of films that I personally selected to see, but I did go into a couple of screenings blind (little or no prior research). I kept my promise to see at least one set of shorts, one documentary and one film from a country whose cinema I’d never before experienced (Chili and Croatia). As a general rule, whenever I catch even a whiff of cult potential or genre-blending anarchy, I usually bite. I say all this because despite eccentric personal preferences, I tried to make my picks as opened-minded and horizon-expanding as possible.

There was one movie in the festival which might be classifiable as horror, but which I didn’t see: “Ghost Image.” The conspicuous absence of the midnight movie features (and the former cult sidebar), always one of the most popular and lively events, certainly hurt the sci-fi/horror offerings. It used to provide a nice, adreline-pumping break in the flow of lugubrious, downbeat dramas and it pulled in a type of viewer not often seen at regular festival screenings: young, casually-dressed unwashed masses who are often a long way off from employment, let alone retirement (such as myself, last year).

Frankly, nothing I’ve said is surprising to anyone who has been to any film festival ever. The phrase “festival film” (often used derogatorily) even carries with it certain connotations about the genre, theme and production value you can expect. Still, there is no shortage of aspiring independent and foreign genre filmmakers out there. One could certainly do a sidebar on, say, indie heist films, future-sports, post-apocalyptic adventures, zombie invasions or any other popular indulgence into crime and fantasy.

The problem is that none of those themes carries much prestige or international legitimacy (having fun rarely does), though I would argue that they can [occasionally] be just as thematically complex, emotionally resonant and culturally relevant.

Instead we get politically correct sidebars like “global lens” and “interfaith” that sound strangely vague and bland, but are unassailable in terms of asking for donations, sponsorship or NEA funding. Then we have things like the “Midwest Music Silent Film Sidebar” which has that local grassroots flavor, but generates about as much excitement as a potluck square-dance. It’s unfortunate that Hollywood markets solely to a homogenous ahistorical, apolitical youth market, but should our festivals be aimed exclusively at retired doctoral aesthetes? Where’s the global perspective in targeting such narrow demographics?

I’m not saying we can’t have our usual array of depressing existential crises, loveless labyrinths of infidelity and preachy odes to multiculturalism (seriously, I love those films too), but every once in a while I need to see a spaceship fire a laser-shotgun into an undead dragon. This is especially true if I have to sit through a couple dozen repeats of a promo telling me that genre variety is the reason I should be excited about film festivals.

1 comment:

Mad Dog said...

Why AREN'T there more movies about spaceships and undead dragons?