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Music and Movies Flourish in Flanders
Although the Competition was finely tuned with new films by Atom Egoyan, from Hungary and around the globe,it is just one of several parallel programmes vieing for attention in Gent: Festival Previews (including a pre-festival curtain-raiser of Woody Allen's latest, Vicky Cristina Barcelona),culled from other festivals but with Belgian distibution imported some international glamour, such as Woody Harrelson(with Transiberia) and Walter Salles(introducing Linha de Passe);World Cinema (with selections such as Captive, from Karlovy Vary with Best Director Award);A Look Apart (more off-beat fare such as Amos Poe);Eye Tunes (the newly-titled music documentary section, with a riotous portrait of Gogol Bordello Non-Stop, introduced by its director in the suitably-stunning vast art-deco "Vooruit" venue, a century-old socialist culture club, built by the local left-wing newspaper as a People's Palace avant la lettre), as well as the concours for Flemish Student Shorts, and the PRIX UIP shorts.
Most encouraging was the inclusion of classics re-presented in the Memory of Film strand- an hommage to silent comedian Harold Lloyd, with a handful of his famous features and an accompanying exhibition opened by the Hollywood hero's grand-daughter (as a pre-student- you may not be interested to know- I once saw the veteran himself en chair et en os at a special screening with orchestra of Safety Last in Leeds, but I knew not to shake his hand)- and looking back, but also looking forward in a way, Gent programmed a symposium on digital cinema and showcased the efforts of "Europe's Finest"- with five of the classic features now made ready for Cinema on Demand. Certainly the capacity audience in Kinepolis at the Saturday matinee of La Piscine which I attended showed the potential for this initiative. The restored colours of Jacques Deray's 1969 thriller starring Alain Delon, Romy Schneider and a teenage Jane Birkin sparkled as they must have done at its premiere.
Like London, Toronto and Chicago, Gent is one of those long-running highly public festivals, well attended by its local audiences, with so many things to see that it is difficult for an out-of-towner to choose when to attend.The worthies of the European Film Academy held a Board Meeting during the first weekend; sundry masterclasses and seminars were programmed on other days during the event.
But the highlights have to include the live musical events - I missed John Williams's s concert, but arrived just in time for Gabriel Yared's crowded-and quite moving-tribute to Anthony Minghella, held in the Conservatorium in the very heart of the old city.The Beirut-born French composer had long collaborated with the British director and conducted his own themes from some of their best-known films, as well as premiering an original piece in memory of his departed friend and colleague.The chamber orchestra La Sarabande, with a soprano and an Argentinian soloist, also elegantly performed music Yared created for films by Jean-Jacques Beineix and Jean-Jacques Annaud.The sense of sadness was swiftly dispersed by the reception held afterwards in the nearby City Hall, where the Pommery flowed like water, thanks to the efforts of the Gent Festival's hard-working sponsorship team.
Another night, another reclaimed historic venue- De Bijloke, an antique infirmary in a distant suburb, now transformed into a huge concert hall, where the Flemish group Kadril lead a large ensemble of costumed performers in "That's all Folk", a lively collection of clips and airs from films such as Black Cat, White Cat and Pirates of the Caribbean. That concert was also followed by a well-catered reception in situ for several hundred lucky guests.
On the filmic front, the festival succinctly closed with The Wrestler, fresh from its triumphs in Venice, and Darren Aronofsky's regular musical collaborator Clint Mansell had led a rousing, rockier performance of his scores in the main hall of the "Vooruit" on the night before the cloture.But the official close seemed to be the 8th World Soundtrack Awards, presented in De Bijloke, with Marianne Faithfull as a special guest, and Dario Marinelli and Angelo Baddalementi among the prized composers conducting their own work, performed by a full-scale symphony orchestra from Brussels(or Brussel or Bruxelles).
Tickets for films and concerts and accommodation in Gent are readily available and reasonably priced, making this festival an ideal attraction for the public as well as the professional visitor. The Festival's official hotels are the shiny new Marriott (opened in 2007) and the adjacent Hotel de Flandres, an exquisitely-renovated town-house with a sumptuous buffet breakfast sufficient to sustain the hardiest of cinema-goers spending morning noon and night in one of the rooms in Kinepolis.
By night, the centre of Gent is itself a light spectacle, apparently rated- by those who know about dramatically illuminating public buildings-among the very best in Europe.So all the senses are catered for handsomely at the Gent International Film Festival- and that's not all,folks! The festival's main exhibition, in the Dr.Ghislain Musuem- a short tram-ride from Kinepolis- actually continues until 12th April,2009. As I had no time in my short stay to sample it yet, Gent must be the only festival that is somehow calling me back to visit it again, after it ended, and before it begins again!
36th Ghent International Film Festival 6-17 October 2009
The Bulletin Board
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