Sunday, November 16

RIFF: Rather Intolerable Films Festival

I went to the Reel Island Film Festival's presentation of RIFF Shorts 3 (this year's third screening of shorts). I went because 'Florid', a movie I co-wrote and acted in, was being presented.

Let me tell you about 'Florid'. It's a 22 minute black comedy about 4 street bums who, deep in the middle of an Island winter, try to raise enough money to go and bum in the warm sun of Florida. It's got a lot of genuinely funny laughs, some enjoyable performances, some pretty funny lines, and some really bizarre, ugly (intentional), and embarrassing (less so intentional) moments too. It's a film many people seem to enjoy. But it's not the best movie, story-wise. There are wide gaping holes, scenes missing, and the ending probably needs an interpreter. Yet, it is funny. However, because of its shortcomings, I believe 'Florid' would have trouble getting into most 'Real' film festivals.

Let me tell you about the RIFF Shorts 3. I would suggest that 'Florid' (yes, even after discounting any bias I have), and perhaps one or two others, were the creme of the crop. Most of the rest were pure claptrap. (Note to editor: remove 'most of'). Probably an hour and a half, out of the two hours, was intolerable at worst, bland at best. From what I heard, the other screenings were comprised of just as many awful films too, with only a few worthwhile entries.

So, I once again ask: Why must PEI continue to celebrate mediocrity? Especially where artistic endeavour is concerned, Islanders sure seem content to support, and create, blandness. And with the unwritten "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" method of criticism in full effect and force on PEI, it's sure to stay that way for some time. The worst offense someone could perpetrate on an Island theatrical production, for instance, would be to say something negative about it in public. The underlying reason for the fear of public criticism, I believe, is "We're only a small island, and we're not that good, so we don't deserve to be held up to the standards of the rest of the world." This, of course, is bullshit.

Another question: Why in the hell is this festival 5 days long? Where in the hell were they going to get enough content to warrant 5 days of screenings? (Tuns out they didn't) I suppose someone was told Real festivals are 5 days long, so RIFF had to do the same to give the appearance of a Real film festival. Quality of content, be damned! If RIFF looks like a real film festival; if RIFF sounds like a real festival; if RIFF smells like real festival, then that's the goal. That makes it easier to get funding for next year. Trouble is, the sound this year was terrible and the smell this year was shit.

Here's what I'd do with next year's RIFF: make it a weekend long, only. Get someone in who doesn't have trouble saying "I'm sorry, your film isn't good enough."


Nils Ling said...

Good on ya for having the cojones to say this stuff, Rob (and good on Cyn for saying it, too - although she doesn't have cojones) (she does, however, have balls).
I didn't go to the RIFF because I've seen more than my share of self-indulgent, half-assed, Mom-will-sew-the-costumes-we'll-use-Uncle-Roy's-garage, pretentious pieces of crap by spoiled brats who grew up believing everything they did was art because Mommy and Daddy were terrified of bruising their oh-so-precious self esteem. "Art" is in the eye of the beholder - but then again, so is "shit".
There are Islanders out there who deserve encouragement in developing their passion and talent for film. There are also those who need to have the camera gently prised from their grasp while hearing the words, "You're not good enough."
Now ... finding someone to bell that cat ... there's the challenge.

Rob MacD said...

I would suggest, Nils, that there is a difference between 'Your film isn't good enough' and 'You're not good enough', and the difference is worth noting.

Ken said...

Pretentious crap vs. your homey wisdom, there's room on this island for both.

Nils Ling said...

Quite right, Rob ... "Your film isn't good enough" would do admirably. And Ken .. I don't know that there's ever enough room for pretentious crap ...

Ken said...

Presumptuous aren't you not having seen any of these films?

Nils Ling said...

Absolutely. Based on past experience, I presumed - and Rob's comments confirmed to my satisfaction - that there would be far more chaff than wheat at the festival. I'll do what I can to see the films that word of mouth from trusted sources convinces me are worth seeing. As for the rest? I presume they'll find the audience they were meant to please.

Cyn said...

Assuming you saw a few films during the festival, Ken, which ones did you like and which ones didn't you like?...and why??

robert paterson said...

Touche Cyn

dave m said...

congratulations are in order rob. turns out your film Florid won the "Viewer's Choice" last night. Congrats to you and Dave Stewart!

Derek Martin said...

This was only Riff's 2nd year, and the first it was open to off-Island films. I do think they need to get more agressive in their film recruitment and selection, and develop their identity. I believe they will. I also think they've created an event that has already had a positive impact on a lot of people (filmmakers and audiences), and that has a great deal of potential. Part of every festival is seeing some bad films. If you're too scared of that, then, like Nils, don't go. And miss great stuff like Florid, which, yes, doesn't 'fit' in many of the venues we're accustomed to seeing our movies in, but was more fun than my last trip to Empire. (That's not damning with faint praise btw). There were a number of real gems scattered throughout the festival, other films that were at least worth a look for one reason or another, and some painful experiences too. Attending a festival in its early years is an act of faith, and an investment in the future of the festival. The more attendence they get, the better leverage to get better films down the road. I admire the people who took the trouble to turn out and get into the spirit of things. I also agree that we can benefit from more open criticism and dialogue. And I'm glad Rob cares enough to get mad. From my conversations, I think the Riff folks are very open to constructive criticism, and realize that they are a work in progress. At least they got off their asses and did something, along with all the filmmakers, good, bad, and indifferent.

Alan said...

Isn't there a difference between weeding out works before they are shown and saying negative things about poor art. I would be more comfortable with showing it all and then determining what was not good art. I like this point of Rob's very much:
"The worst offense someone could perpetrate on an Island theatrical production, for instance, would be to say something negative about it in public. The underlying reason for the fear of public criticism, I believe, is 'We're only a small island, and we're not that good, so we don't deserve to be held up to the standards of the rest of the world.' This, of course, is bullshit."
This is not in any way limited to PEI, however. The drive to create serious analytical art requires both objectivity and thick skin. It is not only in PEI I see these lacking [unending works about about the hokey old red road never addressing the poverty and nastiness of life] but wherever they are lacking art wallows. I saw the worst play at Blythe a few years ago about rumrunning in NS. It was an embarassment. When I worked at Neptune Theater I saw many plays that really ached. But the critics had no problem in saying the obvious - that they sucked. Until that issue of criticism is overcome in PEI, there will not be the writer who, like Leo MacKay Jr in Truro, can speak to harsh Maritime realities with elegance.

Roberta MacDonald said...

Congrats an Florid. It was my favourite.

Cyn said...

Florid lives on! Congrats to Dave and Rob.

Nils Ling said...

Kudos to Rob and Dave on their award - two talented guys creating work that has found an enthusiastic and appreciative audience.

Rob MacD said...

Derek, you make some very good points. I guess my complaint towards the RIFF is that it seems it's grown too big too soon. But perhaps that's the way to go. Make it big and let it grow into itself.

Laura O'Brien said...

Hi everyone!
As assistant coordinator of Riff.2 I want to say that Riff.2 needs your feedback. EPECIALLY the ugly kind. We WANT to hear it.
If you think the movies sucked say so. The more letters the better. Our email address is
Jump on board! Speaking for myself I would love to get people with EXPERIENCE involved in the festival to shape it into what I know it could be in the future.
I value and am open to other people's opinions and I would do flips and twists to have some people jump on board who have more experience to help out next year.
Those that offer constructive criticism are the types of people Riff.2 wants involved-as filmmakers, volunteers, etc. Tell us what kind of workshops you want to take and next year Riff.3 will try to accomodate.
This festival should be shaped by filmmakers and the movie loving audience so that next year will be even better.
Thanks to all you guys for your support and your opinions. Keep 'em coming.
Laura O'Brien

Jason Alward said...

I heard of some comments being made online about RIFF.2, so I thought I'd see what all the talk was about.
Interesting comments but a lot of them have flaws.... not because they are ideas, but because the idea is where it stops. If there's one thing I've learned about living in Charlottetown over the past 9 years is that we love to "bitch", and I'm am not an exception. If it wasn't for griping, ideas wouldn't be formed, and progress wouldn't be made. Well, I'm here to say that the RIFF team beat you to what you might have been griping about for sometime. They got off their butts and put together a festival with whatever limited resources they had, and I say congratulations to them.
Granted there were flaws as there are with most things starting out. If we could throw a film festival on par with Toronto, we wouldn't be here. If you have problems with the movies being shown, what workshops are going on, the length of the festival...whatever it is, don't just say it in a blog, write the people responsible for this.
As Laura mentioned she is very much looking for ideas and suggestions. I myself have gone past the griping and am voicing my opinions for RIFF.3....I suggest you all do the same, lest we gripe again in 2004.
For those that are interested, I'm providing the following mailing address:
The Island Media Arts Co-Op
P.O. Box 2726,
Charlottetown, PE
C1A 8C3
ph: 892-3131
fax: 892-3131