VIFF 2009: Highlights of fine arts films at the fest
Mark Lewis is unquestionably the superstar of the "fine arts" component at this year's Vancouver International Film Festival (October 1 to 16). Both Backstory (U.K./Canada/Germany/France) and Cinema Museum (U.K./Canada) represented Canada at the 2009 Venice Biennale (as did "The Fight", a five-minute 27-second short about a shoving match that constantly threatens to escalate into something worse), and both of these medium-length musings deal with some aspect of Hollywood's past (the former, rear projection; the latter, old time cinematic memorabilia).
Almost equally joined at the hip are Peter Greenaway's Rembrandt's J'accuse (Netherlands) and Oeke Hoogendijk's The New Rijksmuseum. The first of these Dutch docs is essentially an offshoot of the director's earlier feature Nightwatching (Netherlands) (reiterating the filmmaker's claim that the world's most famous group portrait is actually a blueprint for murder). Meanwhile, its unofficial companion piece explores the politics surrounding the contemporary rehousing of painterly masterpieces, such as the one mentioned above in the Amsterdam of today. Together they comprise a fascinating diptych.
Architecture is well-represented by Murray Grigor's Infinite Space: The Architecture of John Lautner (U.S.) and Bo Landin and Sterling van Wagenen's Learning from Light: The Vision of I.M. Pei (U.S.). The second feature is particularly memorable thanks to its daunting project (the construction of the enormous Islamic Art Museum in Qatar), the engaging personality of its subject (even at his pushiest, the nonagenarian Pei never looses his upbeat demeanor), and the inside knowledge of the codirectors (it wouldn't surprise me in the least if Landin and Wagenen had sweated over a drafting table or two in their time).
Rocaterrania (U.S.), meanwhile, follows very much in the footsteps of In the Realms of the Unreal, a look at an unorthodox artist-writer rendered posthumously immortal by Academy-Award-winning Jessica Yu. While the success of that earlier film does give Brett Ingram's documentary an unfortunate sense of déjí vu, the fact that his chosen eccentric (Renaldo Kuhler) is still alive does give him a number of obvious advantages that Yu did not enjoy.
Finally we come to Philippe Béziat's Pelléas and Mélisande: The Song of the Blind (France), an account of the first staging of Claude Debussy's opera in Russia, a place where language, history, and culture all seemed to oppose to its success. Or maybe not.
As almost always in art, where there's a will, there's an often painful way.