Wednesday, April 26---Acknowledging the "poetic delirium" of the films of Canadian filmmaker Guy Maddin, the San Francisco International Film Festival last evening presented a wonderfully strange and oddly rewarding evening tribute to the director at the Kabuki Theater. Maddin, who was in rare comedic form, was present for the honors, which included a rare screening of the director's wildly expressive short films.
The evening began with an address by San Francisco Film Society Executive Director Graham Leggat, who gleefully thanked the overflow crowd for filling the huge theater on a Tuesday evening. Leggat praised Guy Maddin as being more than worthy of the Festival's Persistence of Vision Award, because of his visionary approach to the art of filmmaking and his persistent dedication to working in a form that is far from the commercial zeitgeist of modern film styles.
Leggat introduced Film Festival Chief Programmer Linda Blackaby, who shared with the audience that her google search for "Guy Maddin, genius, innovation" came up with over 600 references. Blackaby recounted Maddin's career, which auspiciously began with his neo-horror film TALES FROM THE GIMLI HOSPITAL in 1988. "Maddin is a singular artist who has a unique voice in contemporary cinema", Blackaby continued. "In fact, he is the youngest recipient of a Career Achievement Award at the Telluride Film Festival, simply because there is no one else who is doing his kind of work anywhere in the world."
Maddin, who has completed 12 feature films and numerous short films in his nearly 20 year career, can be described as a post-modern appropriation artist, who draws on stylistic devices from film's silent era to communicate a haunting, poetic meditation on human interaction and the human spirit. Mixing expressionistic camerawork, stylized editing, larger-than-life acting styles and visual vocabulary from such film innovators as DW Griffith, Sergei Eisenstein and Abel Gance, Maddin has repurposed an expressionistic style of filmmaking that all but died when sound films were born in the late 1920s.
Upon accepting the Persistence of Vision Award, Maddin, who hails from the prairie city of Winnepeg, Canada (not exactly known as a hotbed of cinematic invention), thanked the audience in his deadpan style, saying that he could now put aside his self-loathing for a few moments to savor the experience. He shared with the audience that the first international film festival he attended in the late 1980s was in San Francisco, and while he hardly recalls the details of his visit due to his sampling of Festival sponsor Stolichnya Vodka's free drinks, he looks fondly upon that visit as "the ultimate Festival experience."
Maddin then moved to center stage where he was joined by Pacific Film Archives chief programmer Steve Seid. During their dialogue, Maddin hilariously referred to his dysfunctional family upbringing as a "loner and loser" in the dusty Winnipeg of his youth, a city that was frozen in time and had seen better days. Maddin described his entry into films as a way of exorcising his demons and of putting up on the screen "the recurring nightmares of my youth, which mainly had to do with the death of my father."
Asked about his use of silent film technique, Maddin said that he felt that "the visual vocabulary of the film's early years has not been used up, even though technology made it obsolete too soon." Maddin shared his obsession with recreating "lost films", overlooked masterpieces from the silent era that had been discarded once sound dominated the world stage. "I'm not so much obsessed with the past as I am with the stylization of the past", Maddin offered. "Besides, for a not-so-brilliant screenwriter, these films offered a kind of expressive visual language that no one else seems interested in, so the field is left wide open for me."
The discussion was interspersed with a program of rarely seen short films, which Maddin has produced since the start of his career, and which crystallize his immersion in expressionistic film technique. "I find primitive filmmaking to be more poetic", Maddin said. "Modern style can often be so cold and distancing, but the early style of filmmaking, lots of closeups, soaring camera angles, accentuated acting styles, seems so much more dramatic and real to me."
The highlight of the short film program was the premiere of MY DAD IS 100 YEARS OLD, Maddin's newest film, which he created in collaboration with actress Isabella Rossellini (star of his feature film THE SADDEST MUSIC IN THE WORLD), as a valentine to the centeniary of her father, seminal Italian director Roberto Rossellini.
In this stylized tribute, Isabella Rossellinni played all the parts, including herself, her father, directors Alfred Hitchcock, Charlie Chaplin and Federico Fellini, producer David O. Selznick and even her mother, the legendary Ingrid Bergman. In the film, Rossellini lovingly declares "Was my father a genius? I'm not sure, but I certainly loved him."
The screening brought to an end a highly enjoyable evening that accentuated the singular talent of Guy Maddin and reinforced the San Francisco International Film Festival's commitment to honoring visual artists outside the mainstream.