The 360|365 Film Festival

I thought I'd take a minute and review The 360|365 Film Festival (formerly the Rochester High Falls International Film Festival). I already wrote about some of the films I'd enjoyed; I also had a chance to meet some filmmakers — albeit at a non-sanctioned event, which made it more personal and greatly enjoyable. I wanted to address the festival itself.

My short summary: no element of this year's festival is any better than it was in past years.

In 2001, a film festival started called the High Falls Film Festival. Its charter was to highlight women in filmmaking, and host it in Rochester as (nitpicking aside) the home of both motion picture film and of the women's rights movement. I don't recall which year, but the "women in filmmaking" was thrown by the wayside. [I almost forgot to add this:] Adding insult-to-injury, the festival further slaps women in the face by overlapping Mother's Day, forcing to people to choose whether to spend time with Mom or go watch movies. And (although the official full name is the 360|365 George Eastman House Film Festival) the attachment to Rochester has been removed (although thankfully the arguably worse "Rochester High Falls International Film Festival" moniker was dropped). Not to belabor the point, but "360|365" is merely a bad pun on "all year round", it's not memorable, and it doesn't lend itself to Internet connectivity (partly because it starts with a digit, and partly because it contains the vertical bar / "pipe" character). I would guess that with its accompanying logo, it would be an acceptable "B"-graded student project in graphic design.

Once again this year, the schedule was set up so films would overlap by minutes — a simple fix would have allowed patrons to view a film at one theater and have time to travel to another for the next picture. I realize that some prints are not available on certain days, but I'm talking about adjustments of 15 or 20 minutes. Many people rejoiced that there were multiple screenings (and I did take advantage of a second screening at one point). But this means there are fewer films in the festival. And by my gut instinct, I feel that there are more films this year that will either screen at the Dryden, the Little, or attain mainstream theatrical release than in any other year. As such, this film festival has become like thousands of others: acting as previews of coming attractions more than as a venue for that which would otherwise go unseen.

[Added]And then, of course there's Fifth Year Productions (130 E. Main St.) — as major sponsors, they produced the introductory video for each screening. Rather than (as in years past) an inspiring highlight reel of the festival's crop of movies, it was a commercial for Fifth Year Productions. I can only hope that the Fuscillo's become sponsors for an improvement in quality — this one was unentertaining, uninteresting, and just terrible all-around. Following the commercial was one of a series of short films with eggs portraying famous movie scenes. The humor came from the fact that it was eggs portraying famous movie scenes. They were groan-inducing (well, except for a few audience members who, apparently, live humorless lives.) The tie-in was that the egg was supposed to recall Rochester as the "birthplace of film". Perhaps the "birthplace of mixed metaphors", or more properly, "Rochester is where film lays an egg".

I had a discussion with another film-goer and regular attendee who complained that there are fewer "big stars" to draw crowds. While I think it's fun to contemplate hob-knobing with celebrities, it's an empty exercise. I think because of that past, hold-out events from past years have become intolerable: I used to enjoy the "Coffee With …" discussions, but they have become so over-attended that it's nearly impossible to make a connection with anyone there — I didn't even bother going this year. I liked the idea of celebrating Rochester as a big city / small city; when filmmakers come here, they might meet someone in industry to promote their career, but they should be prepared to make real human contact as well. I think this important facet is being drained from the festival.

The only thing solid is the films themselves and the people who make them — an element that has nothing to do with the festival itself. As much as I liked the films I saw, I think I liked even more meeting the new faces that came with them.

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L'enfer De Henri-George Clouzot (Clouzot's Inferno) and Gone With the Pope at the Dryden

Although I didn't bother with a pass this year, I did head out to two films I wanted to see at The 360|365 Film Festival (formerly the Rochester High Falls International Film Festival): L'enfer De Henri-George Clouzot (Clouzot's Inferno) and Gone With the Pope, screening in sequence at the Dryden Theatre at George Eastman House (900 East Ave.)

The former is a quasi-documentary about the respected French director Henri-George Clouzot and how he failed to complete L'enfer in 1964.  It's also sort-of a completion of that film.  The gist is that it was to be a film about jealousy and obsession. Serge Reggiani plays an older man married to the much younger Romy Schneider. They buy a small hotel together, yet whenever the train rumbles across the trellis bridge high above, Reggiani's character grows insane with jealousy. The physical world distorts and all he sees is his the parts of his wife's actions that suggest infidelity. It may be all in his head; it may be true; it may be both.

Clouzot began some experimentation with visual effects for the distortions. When the studio saw his work, the gave him literally a blank check, so he continued experimenting — creating some astonishing effects in the process. He was late to start actual shooting, and despite his insomnia, was unable to keep the three film crews shooting efficiently. He pushed them and his actors beyond their limits. Some walked off — Reggiani eventually did. Even worse: there was a physical deadline because the lake adjacent to the location was to feed a soon-to-be operational hydroelectric dam and essentially disappear.

So he became obsessed. He tried pushing things further. He shot scenes that were already complete. He essentially drove the production full-speed into the impending deadline. But once he had his heart attack on set, that was pretty much the end. Although he survived, he never finished the picture.

The documentary explains all this, and is fully worthwhile to see even if only for the sampling of brilliant effects shots (or, if you prefer, images of the adorable Romy Schneider and her gorgeous co-star Dany Carrel mostly wearing bikinis). Clouzot's goal was to create a film like none other — an entirely new kind of film-making. And I think he succeed perfectly. He made a film about obsession, and it was never to be completed. And by presenting it in titillating bits and pieces through the documentary filter, the obsessive feeling is perfectly achieved. I desperately want to see the finished product, but I know that any real version of the film would absolutely fail to be perfect enough — the very definition of obsession. If Clouzot wasn't consciously aware of it, his artist's heart certainly was: I believe some part of him certainly knew that not completing the film was the only way to properly obey the art.

After a brief intermission, I was back to see Duke Mitchell's Gone With the Pope. In some ways it was similar to L'enfer De Henri-George Clouzot (Clouzot's Inferno) in that it was a labor of love, created only when the conditions were right. It's different in that it's a raunchy exploitation film from the 1970's and shot on a very limited budget. Apparently Mitchell was a lounge performer in Las Vegas, and used his connections with casino operators to get permission to shoot his film on weekends. Using amateur actors, a fresh-out-of-film-school talented cinematographer, and the passionate performance of Mitchell himself, he set out to make a film about mob hits and, apparently, a loving criticism of the Catholic church — nearly a prayer to God in fact.

So once he got the film shot, he edited a rough cut but eventually stopped working on it. His son Jeffrey Mitchell (who also wrote and performed several songs for the film) became caretaker when his father died in 1981. Bob Murawski of Grindhouse Releasing liked Duke Mitchell's earlier film Massacre Mafia Style and tracked down Jeffrey Mitchell. Mitchell mentioned to Murawski that he had a bunch of material from his father's incomplete film and offered it to see what Murawski could do with it.

So Murawski, being an established editor in Hollywood (editing Spider-Man, for instance) decided to tinker with editing Mitchell's unfinished film in his spare time. The result is Gone With the Pope. I think it got finished perfectly in exactly the right way. Mitchell started it as a labor of love in the 1970's — finding the best people he could to do the task. You could say that he never found a suitable editor — at least one who would work for cheap and do a good job — until years after his own death when Murawski picked it up and did exactly that.

Murawski and executive-producer Chris Innis were on hand to answer questions and provide a lot of the background story I told about the film. One last bit of trivia: Murawski surmised that Mitchell would do exactly one take for every shot, sometimes writing the dialog in marker on a legal pad for his actors to read. As such, almost every shot was included in the resulting film.

In all it's a wonderful cinematic experience, so long as you can stomach the frequent bad acting, several scenes of over-the-top exploitation of women, and quite a lot of astoundingly politically incorrect language directed at blacks.

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