34th FIFA – International Festival of Films on Art Montreal

The 34th FIFA just ended in Montreal.  (That’s International Art Films Festival in French–it’s just about the principal art film festival in the world).  Lots of films–170 in all, from 24 countreis–and diversity  stands out.  In 7 locations, handy to get about in this compact city centre, by foot, bus, or metro.

FIFA - Montreal

FIFA – Montreal

Such as, for instance an erratically amusing film on on the Nazi take over of the Louvre, and the removal to safe places in the country well outside Paris, of much of the prize collection, the Mona Lisa and many more–and some atypically amusing cameo appearances with actors as Napoleon and Marianne, the symbol of France, is probably worth seeing (and some of FIFA”s  selections travel, to, e.g. MOMA in New York, and elsewhere.) 

Rather more worthwhile seeing is  Cine-Kino.  Germany and France have undergone three disastrous wars in the last century and  a half, and this film shows the courageous efffort by film-makers of both countries to improve relations.  Notable film-maker from both countries talk of their experiences: for instance, Volker Schlöndorff, makes an appearance–(he made, among others,  the Tin Drum and an undeservedly neglected film, Calm at Sea,  abut the  brutality of the Nazi occupation of France (which, his ex-wife.Margaretha von Trotta, who has directed Hannah Arendt  etc told Film Festival Today at TIFF (the Toronto International Film Festival) described as “a wonderful film.”

Art is defined in the widest sense–Dance,Photography, Music Architecture, Sculpture, (Giacometti et al), Textile Arts, Street Art, and so on-. Sometimes a combination–e.g. Chagall, peintre de la musique.  And Music encompasses everything from Le Combat des Chefs: Karajan/Bernstein to a 52 minutes world premiere of Michel Viotte’s Frank Sinatra ou l’age d’or de l”Amerique

Even Semiotics–an interesting  film on Roland Barthes.   Fashion gets some coverage–Schiaparelli, Saint Laurent vs. Lagerfeld,  Givenchy, McQueen etc

And Literature too:  My Name is Fleming, Ian Fleming takes us through the life and work of the creator of James Bond.   Film buffs who are fans of art, detective novels and archaeology had plenty to see at one of the main Fifa locations, at the Old Port, the new-ish and attractive Point a Caillere Museum. Shown here was a major exhibitiion Agatha ChrstieAn ongoine exhibition, on Agatha Christie.  They covered her childhood, adolescence and adulthood. In particular they showed many things from her archeological work. Alongside it was a  one of FIFA’s many fascinating film, Agatha Christie, about this super best-selling author, as popular as she  was secretive.

BBC Scotland’s film on Charles Rennie Mackintosh (CRM) , Louise Lockwood’s Facing up to Mackintosh celebrated Glasgow School of Art, whose library burned 2 yeas ago, and rebuilt by New York architect, Steven Holl.  This played to an enthusiastic audience in one of Montreal’s quieter jewels, the Canadian Centre for Architecture (founded  by Phyllis Lambert, whose own works include the Seagram Centre, in New York–she’s of the Bronfman family. ) (Full disclosure—AC, I was at the same high school in Glasgow as CRM–Allan Glen’s–a few years apart, so I feel a teeny bit proprietorial about his work.)

Continuing on architecture, which is aways a strong suit at FIFA, there were two films on distinguished Canadian architect Frank Gehry.  La Vaiselle, a shortish one–30 minutes , and  Spain was represented by an film-maker from Mallorca, Cesc Muleet, with The Bishops, Architect and the Baldachin film on the Gaudi Cathedral, not the celebrated one in Barcelona, but this time in Palma–their film, on  their fellow Mallorcan, Joan Miro was a quiet success in at FIFA four years ago. This one’s worth seeing too.

Short films too of course. One on Pompei– Another  major ongoing exhibition in Montreal at present , at another of FIFA’s chosen locations, the ‘Museum of Fine arts at present, and FIFA’s 10 minute film Pompei, eternal emotion, –sans dialogue–made a handy introduction.  Toronto film-maker John Greyson came up with a provocative,stimulating five-minute film, Prison Arabic in Fifty Days.

Who’s the second wealthiest artist in the world, after Picasso?  That’s right–Jeff Koons– the only one of whom the Whitney has devoted a whole museum to a retrospective. In her masterful (mistressful?) film,, Jeff Koons:Diary of a Seducer  Jill Nichols looks entertainingly at the  art of the second wealthiest artist in the world (after Picasso).  And fairly –she this North American premieres looks at the other side too–for instance, leading British art critic-, William Feaver assesses very sharply Jeff Koons work and his view of what is art— “if-you-can-t-stand-the-art-get-out-of-the-kitsch”.

Canadians like nothing better than to feel morally  superior to Americans–hardly surprising when you total 33 millions-smaller than California–besides a mighty 333 million.  Such feelings were fed by the Hays Code–Hollywood must not show a  man on a bed without one foot on the floor, , married couples only to be shown in double beds,etc.  In Hollywood Censored, a very pre-Spotllight film, shows how twenty million Catholics–or at least their spokespersons such as Hays and his fellow scissors cutters couldn’t be wrong .  The

Cuperberg sisters, Clara and Julia,  do an entertaining and enlightening 82-minute film on the half-century of Hollywood Censored.  Their other one here, Los Angeles Film Noir , with saturnine dialogue by writers James Ellroy and Eddie Muller.

Cocottes et courtisanes dans l'œil des peintres

Cocottes et courtisanes dans l’œil des peintres

At the other end of the spectrum, if you don’t mind a film which is essentially wall-to-wall bare breasts: Cocottes et courtisanes dans l’œil des peintres highlights the high spots of the folie bergeres, the can-can, and so on., catch Cocottes et courtisanes dans l’œil des peintres. This amusing, sensuous film looks at the can-can ladies of the second half of last century Paris had with their customers, and the countless celebrated painters,–e.g. Toulouse Lautrec, Manet to Degas, Van Gogh, Toulouse-Lautrec and Picasso, the painters who immortalized them. This jolly film won the best film for television award-though whether Presidents-to-be Cruz or Trump would approve it is another matter

Slipping into the next century, the first decade or two, is brought to life by Viva Dada, a first-rate survey of Dadaism, in this its centenary  year.  In 1916 artists from across Europe came together around a pacifist ideal, calling themselves the Dadaists. This international, controversial artistic and literary movement would revolutionize art in the twentieth century. One hundred years later, this film allows the voices of the Dadaists – Tristan Tzara, Marcel Duchamp, Francis Picabia, Jean Arp and Man Ray – to be heard again, as subversive as ever.

In conclusion, this year’s  FIFA offered a mere 170 films, down from 2015’s banner year.   However, the quality and variety remain high, making the visitor’s choice just a little easier.  We’ll end with one or two two sligthly fuller assessments.

More modern art was again displayed in LES MARCHANDS D’HITLER.   Readers may remember the discovery in 2012 of over 1000 paintings in the apartment of Cornelius Gurlitt in Munich.   This film begins with his funeral but then looks back at how his father, Dr Hildebrand Gurlitt, acquired the works.   Art collector and curator, he became one of Hitler’s dealers, who ‘acquired’ the property of Jewish families and galleries and museums  in countries overrun by Germany.   Many works were intended for the museum Hitler planned for Linz, others were retained by Nazi leaders like Goering, and still others were sold to finance Nazi activities and the war.

Dr Gurlitt valued the ‘degenerate art’ despised by Hitler and was able to obtain many examples as well as works by Matisse and Chagall.   When questioned by US forces in 1945 Dr Gurlitt claimed that he was a victim of the Nazis and that most of his paintings and his records had been destroyed in the bombing of Dresden.   This was a lie.

After his death in 1956 the works were inherited by his son Cornelius.   Legal battles continue, to verify ownership of the paintings and for the return of confiscated works to surviving families.   It should be noted that Germany still does not have a ‘right of return’ and that there is a 30-year statute of limitations.   At the end of the film the suggestion is made that Dr Gurlitt’s collection is only a small proportion of the plundered art still held in secret. (It’s worth noting that according to the Guardiann of Winner of the FIFA Award for Best Portrait, HOCKNEY provides a vivid, joyful look at David Hockney’s life and art.   From his childhood in Bradford, Yorkshire, to Art School in London, to New York and California, we follow Hockney’s “ways of learning”.  

The film uses interviews with the artist himself and friends from different periods of his life, aided by material from his personal archives, a rich source of photographs and home movies, and shows many examples of the works of this prolific artist, A Bigger Splash, Mr and Mrs Clark and Percy, and The Blue Guitar series being some of the most easily recognizable.

The Villa Flora in Winterthur, Switzerland (VILLA FLORA, ITS COLLECTORS, ITS ARTISTS) displays more modern art.   This was the home of eye surgeon Arthur Hahnloser and his wife Hedy, supporters and collectors of contemporary artists, including Vuillard, Bonnard, Redon and Valleton.   A legacy in 1910 enabled them to add works by Renoir, Matisse, Cezanne, Monet and Van Gogh.   As so many of the public wished to view their collection a Foundation was created and from 1995 to 2013 visitors could appreciate the Hahnloser collection in the Villa Flora.   Sadly, public funding was withdrawn in 2013 and the future of the Museum is uncertain.   However, this film allows us still to see the works together on the walls of the Villa Flora.

or the first time, David Hockney (b.1937) has given unprecedented access to his personal archive of photographs and films, resulting in a frank and unparalleled visual diary of one of the most important artists of his generation. From the “swinging London” of the 1960s to the thriving New York scene of today, from his years in Los Angeles to his painful memories of the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s and ’90s, the film traces the artistic path of this charismatic rebel. Always searching for new ways of seeing, Hockney, at age 77, is still working with the same passion in the studio, seven days a week.

VILLA MEDICI – THE ARK OF BEAUTY presents a beautiful haven in the heart of Rome.   The Villa’s 2000 year history ranges from the imperial family through the Medici family to Napoleon Bonaparte who transferred the property to the French State and the French Academy in Rome, still in residence today.   The Renaissance structure contains beautiful frescoes, statuary and furnishings.   Roman artifacts are embedded in the walls of the Villa and the 18 acres of gardens are filled with fountains and classical statuary.

Further enchantment  awaits in Rome’s Galleria Borghese (MUSEO ITALIA – GALLERIA BORGHESE).   Our guide, the charismatic, erudite Antonio Paolucci, Director of the Vatican Museum, shows us frescoes, paintings by Caravaggio, Titian and Raphael, and statues by Bernini and shares his enthusiasm for these magnificent works.

This year FIFA offered only 170 films, down from 2015’s banner year.   However, the quality and variety remain high, making the visitor’s choice just a little easier.

Fifa has its financial problems (who doesn’t? present company included)–but no reason to believe it won’t survive another 34 years.

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