Sunday, October 9, 2011

NYFF Spotlight: Sodankyla Forever

I have the distinct pleasure this year of covering a few of the films that are being shown at the New York Film Festival. Most of these films do not yet have U.S. release dates, and therefore this can be considered a preview review.

“Sodankyla Forever” is a four-part documentary series that includes interviews with many well-known directors taken from the two-hour discussions that begin each day at the Midnight Sun Film Festival held annually since 1985 in Finland. It’s an astounding collection of conversations that’s rather broad in scope but surprisingly focused in specific subjects.

The first part, “History of a Century,” gets fun when Istvan Szabo burst onscreen and starts talking negatively about censors, to which Francis Ford Coppola adds, “the choice to make films is not in the hands of filmmakers, but in the hands of businessman.” Part two, “The Yearning for the First Cinema Experience,” finds its footing when directors discuss their reactions to “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves” and other memorable Disney films. Victor Erice notes that he realized that people die and that they can kill each other as a result of going to see a horror film, and the importance of critics such as Andre Bazin, potentially equal to directors, is emphasized.

Part three, “Eternal Time,” includes nostalgic discussions of John Ford, Charlie Chaplin, and Alfred Hitchcock. Coppola and Irvin Kershner decry the influence of money-grubbing producers, while Robert Wise discusses the experience of editing Orson Welles. Part four, “Drama of Light,” focuses extensively on Italian actors like Marcelo Mastroianni and Sophia Loren, citing a particularly amusing instance in which Mastroianni was devastated to learn about divorce having been legalized in Italy, so now his promised marriages to many women might not be nullified by his existing marriage. Marlon Brando and Jack Nicholson are obvious interesting topics, and Mils Forman comments that Nicholson was so professional during filming, but the moment they cut, he didn’t know if he was crazy or not. Terry Gilliam provides many of the film’s liveliest moments, talking about actors and using them in ways they wouldn’t usually be utilized, as he did with Bruce Willis in “Twelve Monkeys.”

The series ends with a montage of interviewed filmmakers who have passed away, providing a fitting tribute to their lives, works, and opinions. Overall, this is an exhaustive and occasionally exhausting experience, but there’s a good deal of cinema gold to be mined from within its conversations.

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