Apart from the screen nutrition, festivals are about logistics and practicalities. A first-time visitor to Punta de Vista enjoys the benefits of having most of the programme at the same venue. No time wasted on constant relocating. There’s always the charm of eating lunch sitting down, maybe even reading about films before seeing them. Orienting oneself in a new, exotic place is in itself a worthwhile experience – combined with navigating rows upon rows of tapas, throngs of natives and perusing a salsa-soiled map two minutes before a show starts; it’s a case of the worst of all worlds.
The doc festival Punto de Vista has a reputation for favouring the alternative, the bold innovations, the oddities, although not to the extent that they fancy the new just for the sake of novelty, as one of the festival committee members put it, adding that the financial crisis is just one reason the festival is a few days shorter this year; the other being that they are simply not interested in unnecessary growth. That might be a healthy attitude. There’s already more than an eyeful on offer, even if one should possess the unlikely ability to be present in two places simultaneously. Apart from the Official Section’s contestants for certain awards for best film and so on, there are the special screenings with directors present, where names like José Luis Guerin, Patricio Guzmán and Nicolas Philibert were listed.
The latter’s film Nenette was the festival’s opening show. Philibert’s 70-minute film is named after its protagonist, the 42-year-old orangutan who resides in the Jardin des Plantes in Paris. The typical gloomy sight of wildlife behind bars is here softened by the fact that in this case, it is the observed animal that in a sense gets to call the shots. The prying visitors are captured within the game – at least as its focus. Their observations and remarks turn Nenette into a reflection of the onlookers themselves. Point of view, indeed.1 If Nicolas Philibert could be suspected of having taken his cue from one of the festival’s treasures of the classic repertoire, he would easily be forgiven.
It would seem unfair to Punta De Vista to say that one of its finer films was an old gem in black and white from 1953, but then again, Les statues meurent aussi (Even Statues Die, 30 min) is not the work of any n’importe qui in French cinema, but a collaboration between Chris Marker (La Jetée, 1962) and the very grand old maître Alain Resnais. Familiar with the perspectives of Nenette, there are a few moments in the opening scenes of Les statues… that will ring a bell, as the camera takes the exhibited object’s place, giving us a view up the noses of scrutinizing museum visitors.
The film’s title refers to the sad reality of native Africans starting to carve out sculptures by the dozen, figures which were originally ornamented objects of everyday use, works of art as much as they were furniture, tools or utensils. Marker and Resnais show how a once devoted artistry turns into largescale production, catering to the needs of an increasing influx of Western tourists and their appetite for exotic paraphernalia. Marker and Resnais elaborate on this transition from inspired manufacture to factory alienation by showing the black man put to work on the assembly lines of industrialised mass production. Terms like aura, or loss of it, could easily be justified on such occasions – hence the film’s title.
Les statues… was one of the first films to criticize colonial exploitation in its time, and therefore officially banned in France for many years. It may seem incredible today that this half-hour of discrete radicalism (at least by any contemporary measure) was penalised, but it’s a fact, and one that speaks volumes about the cultural and political climate in which it was released.
Les statues… featured in one of the festival’s main sections, called “Tupi or not Tupi: Cannibals vs Vampires”, focusing on connections and frictions between, to quote the programme “different cultures and different film genres and forms, as well as ways in which cinema can be either a cannibal or a vampire”. For viewers who’ve had more than a lifetime’s worth of parasitic documentaries, this certainly sounds promising. The Colombian film Agarrando Pueblo from as early as 1977 is a particularly sound initiative in that respect, addressing opportunistic documentarists’ perverted quest for poverty, including manipulated examples of such.
The festival’s other main cycle, “The Personal is Political”, had a feminist repertoire with global and historical issues on offer. It also happened to coincide with the 25th anniversary of the Pamplona Women’s Film Exhibition – not to mention the 100th anniversary of Clara Zetkin’s initiative. The Heterodocsias Rewind section was one of the festival’s more rewarding angles for historically oriented cinephiles; a retrospective of Spanish counter-conventional directors, with titles dating as far back as the thirties. The show was unfortunately sold out, but I will nevertheless take the liberty of insisting that it is a good idea, and a healthy approach for anyone with more than a general interest in cinema. Looking back at the crossroads and watersheds of cinema history is always useful. Contemplating phases in which trends emerged and choices were taken to form the development of the diverse genres we see today can inspire some fancy pan-historical ideas. The invigorating What ifs inspired by such milestones may be a shot in the arm for any aspiring director struggling with the feeling of reinventing the wheel.
The Heterodocsias X films turned out to be one of the more pleasant experiences of Punta de Vista, as is often the case with things you look forward to with a certain hesitation. At the risk of forcing a point beyond its relevance, I had some concerns regarding the potential for, well, orthodoxy inherent in the semantics of “-docsias”. Its signifying of the plurality of documentaries aside: if we allow for a latent orthodoxy, and couple that with the counter-cultural bias suggested by its prefix “hetero”, then some of us may just smell a rat. Thankfully, this scepticism proved to be mostly unjustified in hindsight, just as admittedly it was a bit far-fetched in the first place.
Then again, there has been a tendency over the years, for ironic mechanisms to be at work in certain counter-movements’ orientation, too readily defined by the inverse obedience of the mainstream regime to which they’re opposed (be it arts, fashion or film). True alternatives are better sought elsewhere when professed counter-culture deteriorates into an infantile “Opposite Day”. So how did this curse of the counter-culture manifest itself in Pamplona, if at all?
One striking example, although not for the worse, was the anecdote told after the screening of amateur films made by New York teenagers in the Film Club movements of the late sixties and early seventies: one of them was allegedly offered – by a certain Stanley Kubrick – studio facilities for sound improvement, for free. He turned down the offer, preferring his own sounds. For real! There’s keeping it real and there’s keeping it real.
«Too readily defined by inverse obedience of the mainstream regime to which they’re opposed»
It’s of course a matter of taste and inclination, but I had my fill with the grim realities of Clio Barnard’s The Arbor (UK, 2010) and Brent Green’s Gravity was Everywhere Back Then (USA, 2010).
Departing from the plays and life of Andrea Dunbar, The Arbor is a welcome highlighting of the casualties of troubled artists, alternating the biographical with performances of Dunbar’s plays using living-room furniture placed Flying Circus-like outdoors, and additional verfremdung provided by comments from “actual members of her family”. These “factional” interrelations work quite well before culminating in catalogues of abuse and suffering. Speaking of pain, there’s no escaping it in Gravity was Everywhere Back Then (USA, 2010) by Brent Green. With stop-motion, quirky dialogue, voice-over on the verge of breakdown, deliberately childish drawings, there were just too many trademarks of arty cinema for my taste, including the mandatory sound of a violin file-raped somewhere off-camera. This trash faux naïvete has earned Green a few prizes and exhibitions. In all fairness, he has to be acknowledged for stylistic integrity, but five minutes of this, and the mind seems hijacked by those anally blonde teenage-girls in high-school movies, perpetually going “that’s disgusting!” All the more pleasant to enjoy the visionary playfulness of Heterodocsias X films, a presentation of short works-in-progress; the audience votes to decide which of these is to receive funding for its completion. Amid many a promising genius in spe, the visual pranks of Daniel Cuberta mark him as a possible name of the future. His vigorous montages and audience appeal may turn into something. Even his daftest jokes landed a few laughs. His pièce de résistance is arguably a copious over-overdose of ham; yes, even overdoses can be neatly overdone, and Cuberta is the man to prove it in what could be seen as a cheeky “asesinato del padre”, i.e. the new breed having a go at the establishment.
Besides the special screenings with directors present, there were plenum lunches and dinners for all participants, directors, press and producers. Add to that the aforementioned funding of projects, and Punta de Vista looks like a greenhouse for future cinema, be it documentary, fiction or the essayistic endeavours in between.