Monday, June 09, 2008

More Shameless Self Promotion

This Friday and Saturday, I am speaking at the Trinity Arts Conference, a conference about Christianity and the Arts.

I am the conference's go-to guy as far as film is concerned. What I am doing this year, and what I have done in the past, is give a five-to-ten minute speech about a film, show the film, and moderate a brief discussion afterwards. I'm only allowed two hours and most of the films I want to show fill up all that time and more.

This year's films are Paris, Je T'Aime (which will screen on Friday at 3pm) and Sullivan's Travels (which will screen on Saturday at 3pm - that speech will be in the next blog post).

And this is a portion of the speech I will give before screening Paris, Je T'Aime.


Creativity is about limitations. It sounds counter-intuitive, but it is true. This is why painters have a canvas – anything can happen on the canvas, but the canvas itself acts as a restrictive space. When looking at paintings, it is always breathtaking to see how much power is concentrated in such a small space. By limiting art, we give it potency.

We have reached a point where anything can and does appear in motion pictures. Special effects and computers have made it so practically anything that can be imagined can be made into an image. Super heroes can swing from skyscraper to skyscraper. The armies of Middle Earth can slam into each other with a tangible impact. And teenage wizards can do anything within the bounds of imagination, except maybe act.

The myth of technology is that it is automatically better than what has gone on before. All one has to do is compare the films of the past decade to the ones in the 1940s and early 50s to know this is not true. Despite our technological advancements, we have not achieved something as visually stunning as The Red Shoes, as sharp and witty as All About Eve or something as timeless as Vertigo.

We have an unlimited canvas. We can do whatever we want. But without limiting our canvas, without making choices, we are merely stuck with… whatever.

Artists make choices. The sculptor chooses the type of stone. The potter chooses the type of clay. The singer chooses the vocal inflection. Each choice moves the work of art from the abstract nothingness that accompanies a blank unlimited canvas to the specifics of the piece work.

The movie Paris, je t'aime is an example of such a movement from the abstract to the particular. The title, translated as Paris, I Love You tells you on a high-level what the filmmaking project is – all of the filmmakers were asked to make a film about both Paris and Love.

There were other limitations. The film could be no longer than five minutes. The filming time should not take more than two days. Each director and film crew would be assigned to a specific arrondissements, or municipal region, of Paris. The 20 arrondissements of Paris eventually yielded 18 short films, all weaved together into a feature length collage that acts both as map and a love letter to the city.

Because it is a collection of short films, one of the great aspects of the film is the way it constantly changes. If you are bored or uninterested in the movie, just wait five minutes. The film moves to a new arrondissement and a new story begins.

The idea of a five-minute film about one specific region is a simple enough creative challenge – but like the simplest of ideas it opens up a world of possibility. The ‘Making of’ features that accompany the DVD of the film are more often than not a series of montages of various people describing what an exciting creative challenge their particular short film is.

The Coen Brothers talk about how they’ve never made a short film and wanted to challenge themselves .Natalie Portman talks about how she has always wanted an opportunity to work with Tom Tykwer. Elijah Wood talks about how he’s always wanted to be in a silent film.

This passion for art and experimentation shines through the entire project. The passion for the creative challenge and the joy of filmmaking saturate this film.

Two things stand out when watching a film like this. One is how established directors with distinctive artistic voices quickly and firmly let themselves be known within such a short time. Anyone familiar with Tom Tykwer’s Run Lola Run will recognize his contribution to this film. Just like anyone who has seen an Alexander Payne film will recognize his style immediately. Within such confined artistic restrictions, their artistic voices shine through brighter than ever.

The other thing that stands out in this film is the exposure to new talent. Personally speaking, I have not paid any attention to the work of Isabel Coixet or Oliver Schmitz, but after spending five minutes with each of them, I felt compelled to seek out the rest of their work. That is what I hope you get out of the film today. Five minutes of pure joy that will cause you to seek out more.


Tera said...

See...I read this post only beacuse you didn't think I would :) And I've got a question...isn't the making of a "short film" really the same as using a canvas of sorts?

M. Robert Turnage said...

Yes. Totally.

Even though the arts conference has writers, musicians, and some filmmakers in attendance, the majority of audience members seems to be painters. So I try to relate film making to painting in as many ways as possible.