By Janine Gericke.
Nestled in the heart of Silicon Valley, Palo Alto is home to entrepreneurs and companies at the forefront of technology. The city delights in bringing new and exciting things to the public, so why not celebrate innovations in film as well? The first annual Palo Alto International Film Festival, September 29-October 2, showcased narrative feature films, documentaries, live action and animated short films, and workshops and panels with some of the industry’s leading contributors, as well as professionals in the science and technology world. The festival offered something for everyone, including the Digital Native Youth Program, for children and teens. This program included live-action and animated short films, as well as feature films for every age group. Student films from local high schools were also chosen to play before some of the festival’s features.
Here are some of the highlights from the 2011 Palo Alto International Film Festival.
Cameraman: The Life and Work of Jack Cardiff (2010)
This engaging documentary by Craig McCall, celebrates the life and work of the Academy Award winning cinematographer Jack Cardiff. He is known for his exquisite camera work on such films as Black Narcissus (1947), The Red Shoes (1948), Under Capricorn (1949), African Queen (1951), The Prince and the Showgirl (1957), and even Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985), just to name a few. Cardiff began his astonishing career as a child actor in 1918, before moving on to camera work on various films like William Cameron Menzies’ Things to Come (1936) and Jacques Feyder’s Knight Without Armor (1937). While working with Marlene Dietrich on Knight Without Armor, Cardiff was convinced that Dietrich would have made a terrific cameraman, because she knew so much about lighting. Cardiff was highly influenced by impressionist painters. He took his knowledge of art and used that in his cinematography. He understood light and shadows, and color and movement, and most importantly, appreciated the beauty of film.
Cardiff had an amazing career that began in the silent period and was transformed in Technicolor, even including a venture in creating travel films. Michael Powell’s A Matter of Life and Death, released in the states as Stairway to Heaven (1946), was Cardiff’s first job as director of photography. His work on this film won him his first Academy Award for cinematography. He was a curious man who always challenged himself in his work. On The Red Shoes he played with camera speed, color, and perspective, which helped the audience enter the mind of the ballerina. His work on Alfred Hitchcock’s Under Capricorn was one of the first films to tackle the long take, which he had already done on Rope.
Hearing Cardiff talk about his career, it is obvious that he loved his work, how proud he was of his accomplishments, and how much fun he had. In one scene, he shows off some of his celebrity portraits, describing how each one came about. There are famous portraits of Audrey Hepburn, Sophia Loren, Janet Leigh, Anita Ekberg, and Marilyn Monroe. He would take these portraits during lunch breaks on the set. He claimed that he would take their photos so that he could learn their faces.
Cardiff later went on to directing, with Sons and Lovers (1960) and Girl on a Motorcycle (1968), starring Marianne Faithful. I will admit that I have not seen quite a few of Cardiff’s films, his cinematography and directorial work, but after this documentary I can’t wait to watch them. Cardiff’s films have heavily influenced many modern filmmakers. Sadly, Cardiff passed away in 2009. I have no doubt that his work will continue to influence future filmmakers.
Resurrect Dead: the Mystery of the Toynbee Tiles (2011)
In the 1980s, mysterious tiles began popping up on the streets of eastern U.S. cities like New York, DC, Philadelphia, Boston, and even in some South American cities like Buenos Aires, Santiago, and Sao Paolo. Although there is some variation to their content, almost all of the tiles read: ‘Toynbee Idea In Movie 2001 Resurrect Dead On Planet Jupiter.’ What does this mean? Who created them? How did they place these tiles on such busy streets without anyone noticing? These are the exact questions that Justin Duerr had before he decided to begin his investigation.
The film, directed by Jon Foy, follows Duerr and colleagues Steve Weinik and Colin Smith. It seems that Justin and his friends are always one step behind the creator of these tiles. One night, as Justin leaves a convenience store, he notices that a fresh tile has been placed in the street, one that was not there before he went inside. Each clue is laid out for the audience, so that we can follow each step that Duerr, Weinik and Smith make. The suspense begins to mount as they uncover more and more clues.
Each clue uncovered makes the mystery even more puzzling. For instance, in 1983, playwright and filmmaker David Mamet wrote a play called 4 a.m., which deals with a man who calls into a public radio station and talks about how Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey is based on the writings of historian Arnold Toynbee, and says that the film goes over plans to resurrect life on the planet Jupiter, or the Jupiter Project. Mamet claimed to not knowing the story or legend of the tiles. With clues like this, Foy creates a rich story by introducing interesting people throughout the film and using animation to portray what could have happened in the past.
I found myself completely enthralled by this film. As Duerr, Weinik and Smith met with and interviewed more people, I kept waiting to see if any of the interviewees could be the culprit. Many people have tried to solve this mystery before, with no success. There were even two other groups of documentarians that wanted to make a film, but never did. For the most part, the Toynbee tile mystery remains unsolved. If you enjoy a good mystery, Resurrect Dead: the Mystery of the Toynbee Tiles has all of the elements that you are looking for.
Le Voyage dans la Lune (A Trip to the Moon, 1902)
For me, the biggest highlight of the festival was the screening of the recent restoration of a hand-colored version of George Meiles’ Le Voyage dans la Lune (A Trip to the Moon) from 1902. This astonishing restoration, with new music by French pop duo Air, is not to be missed. I have always been amazed by Melies and his work and he remains to be one my favorite filmmakers. He was a magician with a curiosity for what film could do. He was ahead of his time, creating the first special effects, by crafting optical illusions. So I was over the moon when I had the opportunity to see the film in all of its glory.
This labor of love began in 1993, when the Filmoteca de Catalunya discovered the film, which was in a horrible state and described as being similar to a hockey puck, in Barcelona. In 1999, work began to separate and digitize the film. This meant that the film had to undergo a very long chemical process of being broken apart, in order to see what was there. The process left the film in literally a million pieces, waiting to be put back together again. As Tom Burton, head of the Technicolor team explained before the screening of the film, some 13,000 fragments of film were slowly pieced together, beginning in 2010. Missing fragments were replaced with black and white footage, which was later colored to match the rest of the film. I cannot even imagine the time and meticulous detail that was needed to complete this arduous task. As someone who hopes to one-day work in finding and restoring footage, this was a great lesson in what is possible.
For those of you who are not familiar with, or have never seen A Trip to the Moon, the film is about a group of astronomers who decide to take a voyage to the moon, only to be confronted by moon men. They manage to escape and make their way back home, where they are welcomed with a celebratory parade. Meiles’ splendid imagination is only heightened with the use of color. It is amazing to think that the entire film was hand-colored frame by frame. Melies worked with Elizabeth Thuillier of Paris, who was known to be the best in her field. The use of color was made to appease audiences at the time.
Air’s soundtrack fits the film like a glove—it’s modern and yet still supports the surreal atmosphere of the film. This is not their first foray in creating a film’s soundtrack. If you have never heard their music for Sofia Coppola’s The Virgin Suicides, download it right away. They create dreamlike music that is as whimsical and magical as the images in A Trip to the Moon.
It is difficult for me to explain what it felt like to watch this film, restored, in color and on a big screen. I have seen A Trip to the Moon many times, but never like this. It gave me chills. Melies means so much to so many people. I just wish that he knew the impact that his work has on people.
Many, many thanks go to Serge Bromberg and Eric Lange of Lobster Films, Severine Wemaere with the Technicolor Foundation for Cinema Heritage, Gilles Duval with the Groupama Gan Foundation for Cinema, the entire Technicolor team, Beatrice de Pastre with CNC-AFF and Air. Thank you so much for this amazing accomplishment.
Overall, it was a wonderful first year for the Palo Alto International Film Festival. Thank you to all of the festival’s organizers and venues. I can’t wait to see what they come up with next year.
Janine Gericke is a Film International ‘In the Field’ writer.