Keeping the art of cinema real

THESSALONIKI – The Thessaloniki International Film Festival is now celebrating its 12th year as an event of truly international proportions, even being praised earlier this week in London’s popular Time Out magazine as the best European festival after the big three – Cannes, Venice and Berlin. It is proving its worth not just by the array of films from all over the world, but also by the eminent international figures it has attracted to participate in the event, either as guests or on the jury. The presence of personalities, most notably Miklos Jansco, Isabelle Huppert, Peter Greenaway and Abbas Kiarostami, reflects how the festival is gaining a reputation as a serious player on the highly competitive, international festival circuit. Furthermore, the willingness of these great cinema artists to sit with the public and present their work, explain their mission and share their thoughts on cinema is a treat few cinema lovers are likely to enjoy in any other context, especially in Greece. Of these presentations, one which had immense impact was Peter Greenaway’s press conference on Tuesday which followed an awards ceremony in which the cutting-edge British filmmaker was presented with the festival’s Golden Alexander by the formidable Hungarian director Jancso. Greenaway was also in town to present his latest project, «The Tulse Luper Suitcases,» a three-part project presented on film, but meant to be seen as an interactive DVD. Greenaway, while grateful for the award, was eager to present his manifesto: «This is not the first time I’ve been here and I’m always very grateful to be allowed to be able make communication. I’m always allowed, very strangely, these two possibilities: to show you the film and talk about it,» he commented before launching into an analysis of his position vis a vis the evolution of cinema today. «Cinema, like all other media, constantly needs to be reinvented. I set out to see if we could open up and recreate all the areas and margins of cinema because, obviously, post-digital revolution, it is on the change. Whether that’s an evolution or a revolution, it is up to you to decide, but certainly if we want cinema to continue, it has to be reinvented,» he said, stressing the point further. «I would argue that nobody in this room has really seen a film, all you’ve seen is 170 years of illustrated text. If you’re lucky you may have seen some recorded theater. But cinema, as an autonomous, non-mongrel, non-hybrid situation is highly debatable. We are living in a world where the key is not read, but browse. So we now have a cinema which is lateral and not linear, which is related to infinite choice and must be associated with those two contemporary buzz words, one of which is interactivity and the other is multimedia. Cinema as we conventionally know it cannot be real in either of those propositions.» Pushing for change and asking that the concept of cinema be returned to the drawing board, where it can be re-assessed, redefined and reorganized, Greenaway argues that cinema is a game «directors play with audiences, but the stakes are high because this is a social, political and a deeply aesthetic preoccupation.» Greenaway has already embarked on his reinvention of cinema with «The Tulse Luper Suitcases.» Beautiful, complex, thought-provoking and extremely odd, especially when screened at half past midnight, the first part of the trilogy suggests that there is a lot more to come from the versatile and prolific artist. «In some ways, I never feel particularly happy with the job description of film director because in all my career, while the cinema has been the most easily publicizable, I’ve always engaged in all sorts other activities which are in relation to the notion of manufacturing images of our ideas. I’ve done theater work, spent a lot of time in opera houses, a lot of curatorial work, I still practice painting and I write a lot of texts. It’s a bit like an iceberg which has one-tenth above the water and, in a sense, worldwide public audiences have only seen the one-tenth of the activities I pursue, which is essentially manifested by cinema. I have to be able, and I think I can now only since the last 10 years of technology, engage in many more such activities in a more public sphere. ‘The Tulse Luper Suitcases’ indeed is a work for the cinema, but it is also a work for the theater, for opera houses, it’s certainly related to the notion of the manufacture of a DVD, Internet and books. I want to make an interactive, multimedia performance.» Scaring the audience The result of this passion for breaking new ground in the medium of cinema is indeed a daunting experience for even the most toughened audience. «I always scare off my audience,» admitted Greenaway. «It used to be said that the audience of Greenaway films was divided into three: The first third thought that they were completely in the wrong cinema and were entirely wasting their time and they left within five minutes. The second third said: ‘Well this is a bit unusual, a little strange, but we’ll give it a bit of space,’ but then this lot would leave after 40 minutes either irritated or just simply disenchanted. But the third third stayed and stayed, and came back over and over again. If I can persuade 33 percent of my audience to stay, I think I really am winning.» The audience, especially that faithful 33 percent, weighs on Greenaway’s mind. «One of the greatest disappointments that I’ve always felt is that I have always enjoyed a film far more than you could ever imagine because I’m involved in the process. I now feel that I can involve you in the process as much as in the final product. «All over the world now people are experimenting with what be called mega-cinema or proto-cinema, or post-cinema, essentially associated with post-television techniques and the association that gets us away from those strange places called cinemas, where artificially you sit in the dark – what the hell are you doing in the dark? – you look in one direction without sensing the world around you and sit still for two hours, which is a most unlikely characteristic for the human body. With the possibilities of choice and inter activeness, you can now change the time frame, you can be part of the process.» The process, he says, is far from over, especially as far as Tulse Luper, his self-proclaimed alter ego, is concerned: «We have about 500 people involved in the project and I hope since I have many other things I wish to do as well, other people will take up that burden [after the three years he says he will definitely be involved] and take Mr Tulse Luper to places I could never imagine.»