Last November, I attended the Cucalorus Film Festival in Wilmington, NC. The festival is now 20 years old and is famous for its love of the quirky. The festival has grown to five separate venues, each screening films in parallel for four days. It's a lot of films!
In 2013 I decided that I needed to get out of town and attend a major festival at least once a year; kind of a business vacation. So I attended the DC Shorts Festival in Washington. At Cucalorus, I tried to see every shorts program I could, since making shorts is my primary focus.
This year, at Cucalorus, I discovered something about how to learn from a festival. This will sound obvious and basic and it is fundamental, but it changed my whole view of attending festivals.
Essentially what happened, when I reviewed all the shorts I had seen and reflected on my reactions to them, was that my own awareness of my own aesthetic came into clear relief. There were good films that did not click with me and good films that did. The differences between these films highlighted my own predilections in filmmaking.
Greatly simplified, it amounts to this. Films that feel like real life, films whose moments seem like moments experienced by a living, breathing person, films that are comfortable telling a universal story with very specific elements - these are the films that were alive for me. Films that treated their material like a fable, with 'symbolic' but caricatured moments, people and actions, did not engage me the same way. Films that are content to portray only the obvious tropes did not engage me.
I think all filmmakers yearn for some kind of transcendance. It's tempting to try to make things universal or symbolic in various ways. But my personal path lies along the line of using the most specific, most true scenes and people to aspire to that goal. I may do it badly, of course, which is probably the subject of a couple future blog posts.