Moments: Film Talks at SFIFF 59

Journalist and New York Times Critic at Large Wesley Morris before delivering the 59th San Francisco International Film Festival State of Cinema address, April 30, 2016.

Journalist and New York Times Critic at Large Wesley Morris before delivering the 59th San Francisco International Film Festival State of Cinema address, April 30, 2016.

Critical film moments and moments in film history were the subjects du jour in this year’s cinema talks at the San Francisco International Film Festival. In his State of the Cinema address, New York Times’ Wesley Morris cites the precise moment which radicalized the actor Sidney Poitier: the “slap back” moment in 1967’s In the Heat of the Night. From thence, Mr. Morris argues, Poitier turned his attention toward working more with black artists, rather than being the positive face of integration he represented in mostly-white films. The slap-back moment is, indeed, an incredibly sharp, vital, and surprising moment in the film, which up to that point proceeds at a fairly leisurely pace. But this is also a moment when American audiences could start to move away from Poitier as a representation of an ideal and move toward his skills as an actor. In receiving the Mel Novikoff Award, Peter Becker of The Criterion Collection and Jonathan Turrell of Janus Films cited that moment when they decided to join forces and increase the vitality of independent and art-house films, both at home and in theaters. There was a moment when the companies’ mission aligned, to the delight and service of those of us who nerd out on restored versions of French New Wave films or packaging of Wes Anderson box sets. I myself don’t remember that precise moment when I started noticing both company logos in title credits, but it is worthwhile and poignant to think that such a moment did in fact happen. This is now an extended moment when films which could have languished in obscurity now have a sustained life and new audiences its original creators could not have anticipated. Our collective film patrimony, I would argue, has an influence that reaches beyond cinephiles, critics, and entrepreneurial YouTube montage compilers. David Thomson’s moments were about beginnings and endings, here, in the classic films Citizen Kane and Psycho. For Thomson, beginnings and endings of films, despite their relative positions, are just as critical as those middle moments when things are happening. Beginnings are those moments when the audience works very hard to get into the intent and rhythm of the story. Endings are those moments when the directors have the opportunity to keep us in the loop, satisfyingly, as in the ending of Citizen Kane; or else, throw us for a loop, unsatisfied, as Hitchcock preferred. All these moments, within films and in film history, are indeed too precious to be wasted.

The 59th San Francisco International Film Festival runs from 21 April to 5 May 2016.

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