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Ray Pride

By Ray Pride

One Month, Two Juries

BACK IN EARLY SUMMER, I committed to two time-intensive film juries that I didn’t expect to overlap, all the while keeping on top of daily and weekly assignments. For the Gotham Awards’ “Best Film Not Playing at a Theater Near You,” seven of us had 25-to-30 movies each to preview over the course of a couple of months, with a final conference call across a couple of time zones. As a contributing editor to Filmmaker magazine, I’ve participated for five years, watching movies that had play at festivals but still haven’t secured distribution. (The five finalists will screen at MOMA November 18-22.).

The date and time for the BPNP conference call, after inevitable give-and-take, wound up overlapping with the other commitment, the New Directors Competition for first- and second-time directors at the Chicago International Film Festival. Four film critics, Paris-based Lisa Nesselson, Berliner Reiner Veit and Chicagoan Zbigniew Banas and I, had fourteen films to see in the first week of CIFF. I watched most with other jury members, but one entry could be seen only at a specific screening, with no other opportunities, the German Shahada, a multi-strand narrative about borders, literal and figurative, by 29-year-old director Burhan Burqani. It had debuted at Berlin 2010, a rare feat for a student production, but it was a fresh quantity to me. And when was this screening set? Precisely at the same 90-minute slot as the BPNP conference call. I sent notes for that, went to the screening of Shahada, which, as it turns out, was my favorite of our possible choices, assured, memorable and quietly ambitious. And the final five chosen during the parallel BPNP deliberations make an impressive list, close enough to my own choices. And the deliberations were likely much more efficient with one less voice leaping out of the speakerphone.

Over lunch the next day, deliberations were not as brisk, but we quickly enough concurred on Shahada, with a second notice going to Jonathan Segal’s Norman. For Saturday night’s award ceremony, a few lines to explain our reasons were composed with an ear more to be spoken aloud than read.

It was startling Monday morning to find a 1,200-word article about Burqani on page A6 of the New York and national editions of the New York Times. The film opened in Germany last week, just as Chancellor Merkel had, as the Times’ reporter put it, “added an official imprimatur to the anti-immigrant sentiment that had been the providence of marginal political figures and right-wing ideologues.” The Times quoted two of the three sentences we agreed upon: “In a world packed with narratives that overlap, Shahada pinpoints in precise moments the forces in its characters’ complicated lives—work and love, immigration and Islam. The story is specific to Germany and Europe today, but universal in its implications.” I had no excuse. I confess. I wanted to intone the words “In a world…,” just like in movie trailers, while giving an award a serious drama. But on Saturday, Burqani, fresh off a plane from Berlin, readily topped that. Stepping to the dais, the very young-looking director’s first words were “What. The Fuck. What! The. FUCK!” Seeing the citation quoted in the Times was a smaller kick. But still? Definitely WTF. [Post-CIFF award photo of Burqani: Ray Pride. Trailer here.]

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“Roger Ebert claimed that the re-editing of The Brown Bunny after Cannes allowed him a difference of opinion so vast that he first called it the worst film in history and eventually gave it a thumbs up. This is both far fetched and an outright lie. The truth is, unlike the many claims that the unfinished film that showed at Cannes was 24 minutes shorter than the finished film, it was only 8 minutes shorter. The running time I filled out on the Cannes submission form was arbitrary. The running time I chose was just a number I liked. I had no idea where in the process I would actually be when I needed to stop cutting to meet the screening deadline. So whatever running time was printed in the program, I promise you, was not the actual running time. And the cuts I made to finish the film after Cannes were not many. I shortened the opening race scene once I was able to do so digitally. After rewatching the last 4 minutes of the film over and over again, somewhere within those 4 minutes, I froze the picture and just ended the film there, cutting out everything after that point, which was about 3 minutes. Originally in the salt flats scene, the motorcycle returned from the white. I removed the return portion of that shot, which seemed too literal. And I cut a scene of me putting on a sweater. That’s pretty much it. Plus the usual frame here, frame there, final tweaks. If you didn’t like the unfinished film at Cannes, you didn’t like the finished film, and vice versa. Roger Ebert made up his story and his premise because after calling my film literally the worst film ever made, he eventually realized it was not in his best interest to be stuck with that mantra. Stuck with a brutal, dismissive review of a film that other, more serious critics eventually felt differently about. He also took attention away from what he actually did at the press screening. It is outrageous that a single critic disrupted a press screening for a film chosen in main competition at such a high profile festival and even more outrageous that Ebert was ever allowed into another screening at Cannes. His ranting, moaning and eventual loud singing happened within the first 20 minutes, completely disrupting and manipulating the press screening of my film. Afterwards, at the first public screening, booing, laughing and hissing started during the open credits, even before the first scene of the film. The public, who had heard and read rumors about the Ebert incident and about me personally, heckled from frame one and never stopped. To make things weirder, I got a record-setting standing ovation from the supporters of the film who were trying to show up the distractors who had been disrupting the film. It was not the cut nor the film itself that drew blood. It was something suspicious about me. Something offensive to certain ideologues.”
~ Vincent Gallo

“I think [technology has[ its made my life faster, it’s made the ability to succeed easier. But has that made my life better? Is it better now than it was in the eighties or seventies? I don’t think we are happier. Maybe because I’m 55, I really am asking these questions… I really want to do meaningful things! This is also the time that I really want to focus on directing. I think that I will act less and less. I’ve been doing it for 52 years. It’s a long time to do one thing and I feel like there are a lot of stories that I got out of my system that I don’t need to tell anymore. I don’t need to ever do The Accused again! That is never going to happen again! You hit these milestones as an actor, and then you say, ‘Now what? Now what do I have to say?'”
~ Jodie Foster