Monday, December 8, 2008

SLIFF 2008 Wrap-Up

Just like last year, I’d like to provide a summary of my festival experience as a whole. I’ll start with the ranked list of films running through three simple categories. This isn’t necessarily the same order you’d get just by looking at my numerical scores, but other than that I’m done with issuing disclaimers.

Highly Recommended:
1) From Inside
2) Timecrimes
3) The Wrestler
4) The Custodian
5) Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters
6) Slumdog Millionaire

7) The Trap
8) Special
9) Alone
10) Vanaja
11) All for Free
12) Opera Jawa

Not Recommended:
13) The Pope’s Toilet
14) Yesterday Was a Lie
15) The Juche Idea
16) Stranded
17) Heartbeat Detector
18) Interkosmos
19) Shadowland

I felt that overall SLIFF has only improved since 2007. I saw five fewer films than last year, purely because I was trying to exhaust myself less, but overall I'm satisfied with the 19 I chose out of the ~260 that screened. Audiences were noticeably larger in general, but I thankfully only missed one film I was dying to see, “The Class,” due to not purchasing a ticket early enough.

Either because of better selections or my own increased pickiness about what to see, I encountered fewer forgettable films that I’ve no intention of seeing again, recommending or discussing. The top-tier films I saw were more rewarding than in 2007, though both years had excellent standouts. Even the “Not Recommended” films from this year were more interesting.

One of my biggest complaints in 2007 was the rarity of cult and genre films to break up the stodgy art house line-up. That was well-addressed by strong doses of sci-fi, horror and noir. I didn’t have any trouble staying awake through marathon sessions this time around, which is certainly one measurement of success. I did notice that there seemed to be less American star vehicles, but those don’t interest me much so it didn’t matter.

I’ve provided a genre breakdown like last year. The categories are a little subjective since I only allow each film to fall under one heading. “Heartbeat Detector,” for instance, might fall under [corporate] thriller for some. Then, too, the lines dividing drama, comedy and romance are always vague. It’s certainly a much more diverse batch this year than the ~50% art house drama glut of 2007.

Total (19)
Art House Drama: (5) Heartbeat Detector, Mishima, The Pope’s Toilet, Vanaja, The Wrestler
Dark Comedy: (3) All for Free, The Juche Idea, Special
Light Comedy: (0)
Shorts: (0)
Documentary: (1) Stranded
Romance: (2) Opera Jawa, Slumdog Millionaire
Horror: (2) Alone, Shadowland
Sci-fi: (3) From Inside, Interkosmos, Timecrimes
Noir: (3) The Custodian, The Trap, Yesterday Was a Lie
Action, Mystery, Thriller, Western: (0)

Looking back on my typical tenets for consuming a well-balanced festival diet, I find myself forced to reconsider some of my goals. I’ve listed them below.

Goal: Try to see more local St. Louis productions and works by St. Louis directors.
Result: Despite one of the largest and most prestigious local crops this year, all four St. Louis related films I saw (Interkosmos, The Juche Idea, Shadowland and Yesterday Was a Lie) fell under my “Not Recommended” heading. In retrospect, I wish I had seen “Adam Resurrected” and “The Unknown Woman,” instead, especially since I dragged my guests along and ended up somewhat disappointed.

Goal: See at least one documentary:
Result: “Stranded” also didn’t make the cut for me. Much as I want to support documentaries, I think I might let all but the most interesting pass through a couple more filters before I commit again.

Goal: See at least one film from a country I’ve never seen a film from before.
Result: Both “Stranded” and “The Pope’s Toilet” were from Uruguay, a new national cinema for me. I don’t regret “The Pope’s Toilet,” but neither film really impressed me. It’s only getting harder each year to keep up this goal!

Goal: See at least one set of shorts.
Result: Failed. Kind of sad since this is one of the things SLIFF is best known for.

What has paid off?
Seeing winners from Cannes, Venice, Berlin and Toronto.
Hitting afternoon art house stuff and late night screenings of genre films.
Seeing every film that appeals to my personal tastes over generic dramas with lots of buzz.
Taking occasional chances on new directors.
Avoiding big-name directors when the name is the sole appeal and not the movie description.
Relying on a little bit of research to filter out duds and to find diamonds in the rough.

Well, that’s my take on SLIFF 2008. I look forward to next year!


Patti said...

Thanks for all the advice (and tickets). I had fun even just with the mixed bag of the five or six films I saw. Quite the controversy you've sparked with "Yesterday Was a Lie" - but I suppose that just keeps things interesting. Here's my rankings of what I saw:

1. Timecrimes
2. Mishima
3. From Inside
4. Interkosmos
5. The Juche Idea
6. Yesterday Was a Lie

Note that I liked the first three about equally and the latter three also about equally.

Shea said...

Honestly, I kind of liked the Juche Idea and Interkosmos. They weren't the best movies ever, but I still think of them favorably. Interkosmos in particular appealed to me. Maybe it was just more my interest in the subject matter than in the actual film, but I still think it was worth watching.

Unknown said...

Mishima is exactly the kind of movie that we know well in advance you will love and I will be lukewarm on, and... tada.

I'm glad you enjoyed it so much.

I also agree with Shea, and otherwise am basically on the same page with your groupings.