Sunday, October 23, 2016

Dubiously niche

In a couple days the British Film Festival begins at the Palace theater chain here in Australia. It'll play in six cities with a very small staggering of start dates, running for about three weeks. In fact, the only reason for staggering the dates at all seems possibly so that the same person can speak on opening night in each city. Who that is, I don't know.

It's just the latest in a bewildering succession of regionally specific film festivals hosted at Palace cinemas, which have included a Spanish Film Festival and an Italian Film Festival, among probably fewer others than would justify the word "bewildering."

It also feels a bit superfluous.

Not quite to the same extent, of course, but isn't having a British Film Festival kind of akin to having an American Film Festival? Instead of giving it its own name, you could just call it "going to the movies."

I suppose the real answer is "No, it's not the same, because the British film industry is not what it once was, and perhaps never was what it once was." It's not the equivalent of rock n' roll, where most of the best stuff came from England. Big breakout British directors are comparatively few, perhaps because they get so quickly subsumed into Hollywood that their status as coming from elsewhere is quickly forgotten or rendered unimportant. An actual "British film" is pretty different from a film directed by a British director, of which there are many -- but they are often just known as "Hollywood films."

Still, especially in a country like Australia, with its excessive amount of anglophilia, it hardly seems like we need to cast a special spotlight on the films of England. People will probably be seeking them out anyway, and they don't need their own showcase. Rightly or wrongly, because they are filmed in the English language, they assume a privileged or mainstream status with English-speaking viewers.

The argument for it, though, can be found in the details. While the festival does feature new British films like The Light Between Oceans, A United Kingdom, A Monster Calls and Palme d'Or winner I, Daniel Blake (though only two of those four directors are actually British), it also includes a smattering of classics, such as A Room With a View, Goldfinger, Sid and Nancy and The French Lieutenant's Woman. Although I have yet to expend any of my precious allotment of viewing slots on a classic film at any festival I've attended, I came close at this year's MIFF, and I've come to think of classics as a vital component of any festival.

In fact, as much as I'm slagging off the idea behind this festival (to borrow a British term), now that I'm looking at the schedule I may try to attend some of these myself. A Monster Calls, for one, does not even have an Australian release date yet, and its US release is smack dab in the middle of the holiday season, suggesting its high quality, or at least its perceived candidacy for awards. (And here I always figured it was destined for an October release in order to capitalize on a tie-in with Halloween, though I suppose neither of the other movies I once compared it to in my mind -- The BFG and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them -- had Halloween releases).

So in the course of writing this post I've gone from mocking the festival to thinking I might be an attendee.

And they say blogging serves no purpose.

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