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Celebrating film-making

Classics such as Rashomon and Cinema Paradiso were screened alongside newer Lars von Trier and Kiarostami films at the recent Collective Chaos festival

SCREENING The festival brought a collection of movies by legendary film-makers, highlighting the processes of film-making itself

Ten films, and their theme — on films. City-based film club Collective Chaos' recent international festival brought to members the ultimate toast to their passion; a collection of movies by legendary film-makers highlighting the processes of film-making itself. Appropriately the inaugural film was Polish director Krzysztof Kieslowski's 1971 Camera Buff. Set against the stark backdrop of Communist Poland, the film shows protagonist Filip Mosz's increasing attachment to a moving camera he saved up months' salary to buy. Initially intending to capture the birth of his daughter, he grows increasingly fascinated with it and is soon asked to document an official function at his office. When the film is made, his boss wants some bits of the film edited out. Delighted by his newfound status as a film-maker Mosz does this with little protest, and is soon invited to a film contest where his documentary wins a prize.

Viewing reality

Buoyed by the prize and exposure, Mosz becomes a serious camera buff, active member of his film club and decides his next office film will document the life of a midget working at the factory. When his boss disagrees, there's the first sign of tension since Mosz has now become a thinking film-maker, negotiating complex realities and its many representations. The underlying tension in Camera Buff is provided by the constant attempts to censor Mosz's work by his office and a growing estrangement from his wife who moves out of their home, unable to relate to his fascination with the camera. Thus the camera acts as a pivot in his life, enticing Mosz to a complex world, filled with doubt and certitude, duty towards his family and a brief courtship with a woman who understands and encourages his passion. From being a stable, happy family man to a questioning, probing film-maker fighting the censorship imposed on him, Camera Buff documents a passionate affair with film-making as Mosz's personal experiences with a dictatorial boss, perhaps reflect the larger issues of censorship in Communist Poland of the 1970s.

Next up was the Belgian film Man Bites Dog with its punchy storyline — a documentary crew sets out to film a serial killer, Benoit, and gradually lines between subject and film-maker blur as the crew becomes less objective and more involved in his exploits, helping Benoit execute his violent murders and even losing their sound recordist in one such incident. Taut yet gradual, by the film's end the crew is wrapping up bodies and disposing of them while Benoit shouts instructions from above a rock face. This black and white grainy, shaky-shot documentary, made in 1992, acts as a prescient warning, holding special significance for contemporary media and film-makers, while refraining from becoming didactic or gnomic.

Celebrating the sheer joy of mastery over the camera was Five Obstructions by Lars von Trier, showing him sparring with his mentor and close friend Jorgan Leth, challenging him to remake his masterpiece short The Perfect Body, but this time with conditions imposed.

And so von Trier specifies the number of cuts, the location and so on, and Leth rises masterfully to every challenge, tempering pace and action, location and the minimal script in accordance with the often-bizarre stipulations. For instance, one condition was that the film was to be shot at a miserable place, but without showing the residents. Leth chooses Mumbai and films with a translucent screen hiding the audience from the shot.

Through the film von Trier tries to break down Leth's composed, confident, almost sanitary style in the original shot to bring in some of himself, some imperfections, some discordant strains — and what results is both a celebration of mastery over film (as Leth gracefully overcomes each obstruction) and of their friendship.

Abbas Kiarostami's Close Up films a real trial of a simple, poor man in Iran who pretended to be film-maker Mohsen Makhmalbaf and duped a family into believing they would be in his new film. The family suspects theft as the motive for this complex charade, but through the trial, it emerges that the pretence was only protagonist Hossein Sabzian's escape into a world of art and cinema, a world he could exert control over and command respect in through invoking Makhmalbaf's name.

Camera shaping behaviour

What began as an impulsive lie gained momentum as Sabzian lived a dream — to make a film. It's unclear how much of people's behaviour is altered in lieu of the camera lens rolling all through and Close Up ends with one such uncertain moment of truth — with Sabzian meeting his hero, the real Makhmalbaf.

Makhmalbaf's Salam Cinema showed the power exerted by cinema in Iran when the popular director threw open auditions for his new film to the public. Thousands swarm to the venueandMakhmalbaf proceeds to question them in an intimidating environment, requiring them to laugh or cry on cue, probing what art means to them and examining how much they would willingly jeopardise in order to secure a role, and the implied fame, for themselves. While some films acted as the medium to convey a political message, others were purely intended to luxuriate in the wonders of technique and skill and still others examined the impact of film-making.

The festival screened some all-time legendaries such as Giuseppe Tornatore's Cinema Paradiso, Fellini's Eight and a Half and Kurosawa's Rashomon. But while many in the audience were already familiar with the older masterpieces, it was some of the relatively newer films that ran to a near-packed hall.


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