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Cambridge film festival. (Festival Wraps).


The ancient city of Cambridge, England, is by its very nature a place of fantasy and magic. Its medieval colleges and echoing courtyards suggest another world, a perfect backdrop to the modern magic of cinema. This festival describes itself as: "Tracking filmmakers across the globe to bring discoveries and surprises from both up--and--coming and established talent." The result was an extremely enterprising festival, that opened with Pedro Almodovar's Hable Con Ella (Talk to Her) and closed with David Cronenberg's Spider. In--between came films from countries as far apart as Kazakhstan, Tunisia, Zimbabwe, Thailand and, notably, Canada.

The 100 or so films ran in three theatres and were divided into categories such as Before They Were Famous, which included Sally Potter's The London Story and Ken Russell's Amelia and the Angel; Revivals with Jules Dassin's Rififi and Jean--Luc Godard's Vivre sa vie; and a Children's Film Festival with Rob Minkoff's Stuart Little 2 and Gauray Seth's Passage to Ottawa.

This year there was a particular emphasis on Canada, with a total of 12 features and shorts, and the ample presence of Peter Wintonick, who both introduced his films and hosted an open forum entitled Talking Shop. Robert Schlaht was also present to speak about his first feature, Solitude, set in a rural monastery. The story concerns the interactions of several people who have left their normal occupations for a summer of contemplation. Its strength lies in its documentary quality. Everything is understated and for a while it seems as if nothing is going to happen. Then relationships develop between individual visitors and the monks. Frustration and anger reveal themselves, always convincingly played. At the end, anxieties about faith and identity remain unresolved. "We took our meals in the refectory and questioned the monks about their decisions to become Benedictines," said Schlaht. "Their replies affected how the story developed."

Treed Murray (William Phillips) was another first feature. It is an intensely suspenseful drama that unfolds around and up a single tree, during one night. Murray, a successful advertising executive is set upon by a ruthless youth gang while crossing a city park. He escapes up a tree, to be challenged and tormented by Shark, the group's charismatic leader. As the long night draws on, there are fights in the branches and attempts to persuade him to come down. It emerges that Murray is a far from perfect father and a husband who has cheated on his wife. The characters of his attackers are gradually defined allowing a comprehension, if not a sympathy, for their behaviour. Issues of violence, class and race bubble on the surface of this exceptionally well--crafted feature.

Three of Peter Wintonick's documentaries were shown: Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and the Media (1992); Cinema Verite Defining the Moment (1999); and Seeing Is Believing, a work in progress currently running 55 minutes. In Manufacturing Consent, Wintonick trailed Chomsky at public rallies across seven countries over three years to record "America's best-known dissident," challenging U.S. foreign policy.

Chomsky's analysis of the role of the press and other media in controlling our lives is both lucid and disturbing. Co-director Mark Achbar's brilliant flexible framing provides the illusion that we are present at each event. "1 fear that what the film demonstrates is that the U.S. is a more closed society than most other democracies." Wintonick said. "It's sad that this 10-year-old film is still relevant today."

Cinema Verite follows the history of bow hand-held cameras and light-weight sound equipment were seized upon by filmmakers such as D.A. Pennebaker, Richard Leacock, Wolf Koenig and Fred Wiseman to reveal a new reality. This film is a masterful account, beautifully shot and edited, of an extraordinarily important piece of cinema's history. Wintonick commented: "Thank you, NFB. This is the first time after 25 years I didn't have to go after money!" Seeing Is Believing is a sort of "follow-up," to Cinema Verite, which explores the present-day political and social uses of handicams.

In the forum Talking Shop, Wintonick gave details of his extraordinarily varied life as director, editor, producer and teacher. He believes the power of communications technology to change the world will remain very limited while "there is a digital divide between the haves and the have nots." He summarized his philosophy as that of a Buddhist who doesn't meditate. "A philosophy that I will be very happy to discuss further with anyone who cares to meet me in the bar afterwards." He did.

Henry Lewes is a film journalist, who has reported for Cineaste.
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Author:Lewes, Henry
Publication:Take One
Date:Sep 1, 2002
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