The 45th New York Film Festival wrapped up last week, and its month-long marathon of press conferences and screenings was memorialized in a series of short, experimental web videos, created by Jamie Stuart in partnership with FILMMAKER Magazine. This is the third NYFF that Stuart has documented via video; you can watch his previous work at his web site, MutinyCompany.com, and this year’s batch at FILMMAKER’s video page.
Stuart’s highly impressionistic NYFF videos are rarely about the festival itself, or even the films and filmmakers on display (although his one-sentence review of Marie Antoinette in one of last year’s clips is as insightful an analysis of that film as I’ve seen anywhere). Rather, they’re about Stuart’s experience — of traveling to the festival’s headquarters in Lincoln Center; of sitting in the front row of the press conferences, necessarily looking up at the filmmakers, barely six feet away from them but kept separate as if by an invisible forcefield; and of his process of going back to his apartment and putting the final video together.
This year, Stuart seems less interested than ever in the actual films, but the NYFF45 batch of clips are somehow simultaneously more conventionally *about* the festival, and more impressionistic and lyric in terms of visual language.
In past years, Stuart’s actual interaction with the NYFF’s visiting celebrities has been minimal. He’s tended to present excerpts from press conferences as a mere jumping-off point for his own visual and literal comment; see last year’s final clip, in which Stuart imagines Sofia Coppola transforming an oppressive press crush into a nostalgic dance party by virtue of sheer “coolness.” This year, he’s obtained access to one-on-one interviews with the likes of Wes Anderson and Todd Haynes.
Although Stuart’s attitude on camera and in voice-over is still detached, and the primary text of the clips is still about Stuart’s process of making the videos, by entering into semi-intimate spaces with the festival’s marqee names, he’s chipping away at the idea that these are dispatches from an outsider. The videos have become more of a hybrid between video blog (ie: private expression) and journalism (ie: public service).
Episode two literally plays with the nature of a press conference as a public/private hybrid. Ostensibly, it’s an apparatus through which filmmakers and stars can get the official word on their work out to the public. But in practice, it’s an environment relatively few people have access to, and occasionally a bold-faced name will take advantage of that illusory intimacy to tell tales out of school, with the knowledge that the statement will be disseminated as a “surprise” reveal. And so Sydney Lumet’s broad proclamation on the death of celluloid blares out from the advertising space above a subway station; Abel Ferrara’s gossipy blurb about how Leonardo DiCaprio’s strip club antics inspired his Go Go Tales plays literally into Stuart’s hands, on the screen of his cell phone.
As Stuart cedes a greater portion of his running time to semi-filtered commentary of filmmakers, he finds new ways to make his own voice apparent via imagery. In episode three, Todd Haynes talks about rejecting assembly line-style filmmaking methods; Stuart, in turn, shows us a long montage of nuts, bolts and gears. Some of the higher points of the series are those that don’t require any commentary. Certainly, the pure visual evidence in episode two of the feeding frenzy surrounding Nicole Kidman’s brief appearance at the festival speaks for itself.