Saturday, September 15, 2012

Embracing the Awkward

One of the unique pleasures of coming to a film festival like this is getting to experience the Q&As that follow almost every public screening here. Johannes gave a peek into this in his earlier blog post about Hannah Arendt in his mention of the wonderfully phrased question posed during that film’s Q&A, “Why so many cigarettes and so little Heidegger?” Perhaps the more interesting moment for me though came earlier in that Q&A when a woman gave a strange and rambling response to the film which seemingly did not contain a question at all. From our seats near the back of the beautiful Elgin Theater (side note: what a gorgeous venue! And what a tragedy that TIFF labels it the “Visa Screening Room”), I was unable to hear what the woman was actually saying, though Johannes thought she was restating and elaborating on the “Hannah Arendt betrayed the Jews” idea that is elaborated in the film. The mood in the auditorium was quite uncomfortable as the woman droned on, with the moderator of the Q&A repeatedly trying to get back control of the whole affair by stating, “I’m sorry, but if you don’t have a question we’ll need to move on…” Finally the moderator just called on someone else even as the woman continued to talk.

It might seem an odd moment to highlight, but for me it is a perfect encapsulation of the odd and uncomfortable pleasures the Q&A can provide. Call it perversity, but for me there is something utterly delightful in seeing the air of sanctimony that permeates most screenings here pierced by these moments of awkward spontaneity. In that sense, at least for me, Q&As tend to be more interesting for the bad questions than the good ones. Occasionally a filmmaker says something illuminating about their own film (see Johannes’ post for an example), but more often than not I find I would rather think about a film on my own immediately after seeing it rather than hear a filmmaker talk about what they think their film was about. Instead, give me the awkward moments that result when just any person is given a chance to talk. After the first screening I attended hereBarry Levinson’s delightfully exploitative found-footage horror film The Baythe questions ran the gamut from decent to outright terrible. Perhaps my favorite question came from one audience member who wanted to hear about what happens after the film concludes. It would be hard to explain exactly why this question was so silly without describing the entire plot of the film, but needless to say this question is particularly ridiculous for this film given its structure and ending, and even more so given that Barry Levinson did not even write the film, meaning that asking him that question is like asking Martin Scorsese to explain what happens after the credits roll in The Departed. To his credit, Levinson deflected the question with aplomb, as he also did when another audience member asked him, “Most found footage horror movies suck, but yours doesn’t. Why is that?” Meanwhile, during the Q&A after the film Leviathan (which, to repeat Katy's remark, was amazing, though I'm unable to really discuss it yet), one audience member asked about the filmmakers' response to the vitriol expressed in one blogger's criticism of the film. Luckily, the filmmakers responded with a nice mix of bemusement and sarcasm, saying they wished to put a particularly critical quote from the blog on the poster for the film. Still, the unscripted nature of the moment meant there was an excitement in the room, a feeling that if the same question had been asked to a different filmmaker, fireworks might have ensued. For me then, in a place where cinema is taken quite seriously as art, where thousands of festivals employees and volunteers are constantly making sure that everything is going smoothly, and where a “master control room” watches all (see my last post), there is a pure beauty in the uncomfortable spontaneity of the Q&A.

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