Recommendations by the Artistic Director of American Film Festival, Urszula Śniegowska
Following the press conference for this year’s New Horizons, I can say with full confidence that this is going to be an amazing festival edition, filled with whimsical and subversive films, as well as exciting related events (or the other way around). As Roman Gutek put it, it’s going to be a festival for genuine cinephiles who are open to the sort of unusual visual experiences that New Horizons aims to provide.
First of all, I’m looking forward to encountering the scandalous Shūji Terayama—watching recordings of his performances certainly won’t be the same experience as taking part in them (especially in the 1970s, when he visited Wrocław and, in one famous performance, his actors tore the clothes off spectators who were just sitting their passively, completely unaware of what was about to happen), but it can make us realize again that today’s world is conservative, if not reactionary.
Among the other retrospectives, Olivier Assayas’s earlier films seem certainly worth seeing. I recommend two that can be described as the auteur versions of genre films: the vampiric Irma Vep, starring Maggie Cheung, and a ghost story, Personal Shopper, starring Kristen Stewart.
I am very happy to see that the New Horizons program includes two American films that were completed at Polish post-production studios as a result of their participation in the US in Progress program, which takes place within the framework of the American Film Festival. They are also both examples of films that combine features of genre and auteur cinema: Jennifer Reeder’s Knives and Skin, shown in the Third Eye section (its world premiere took place at the Berlinale) is a coming-of-age film with elements of a thriller. Its subtle special effects were executed perfectly at Studio Orka, one of the sponsors of US in Progress post-in-kind grant.
On the other hand, the music for Initials SG, directed by Rania Attieh and Daniel Garcia (known for the film H., which was presented at New Horizons in 2016), was co-created by the outstanding Polish composer Maciek Zieliński, also thanks to his participation in US in Progress. The film premiered at the Tribeca Festival in New York. In Wroclaw it is being presented in the New Argentinian Cinema section at New Horizons (the action in this subversive crime comedy takes place in Buenos Aires, the hometown of the film’s producer, Ivan Eibuszyc).
The Beach Bum is also close to my heart, but for other reasons. I’m very curious to see how New Horizons audiences, which went crazy over Trash Humpers, react to the new Harmony Korine film. I’m afraid it may go down in history in a different category than the filmmakers intended.
I can, however, wholeheartedly recommend P.T. Anderson’s Magnolia from 1999, one of the best multiple-storyline films ever made (surpassed perhaps only by Altman’s Short Cuts). For me, this is one of the most important American films of all time. The troupe from the Wroclaw Contemporary Theater will be performing a play based on the script; it will be interesting to see how their adaptation works out.
Another important theme for me at this year’s New Horizons are films featuring Willem Dafoe. This is again a theater-related topic, since this one of the best living American actors was the founder of the avant-garde theater The Wooster Group, which was inspired by the work of Jerzy Grotowski. Abel Ferrara’s Tommaso and Julian Schnabel’s At Eternity’s Gate tell, in completely different styles (in both films, the visual layer remains at the forefront), the stories of artists struggling with the banality of everyday life, which clips their wings of fantasy.
I recommend two more titles from the program of the Toronto Festival: Jonah Hill’s directorial debut, Mid90s (there hasn’t been, in a long time, such a masterfully made film about growing up, with perfectly matched acting, editing and music, including the Beastie Boys), and Neil Jordan’s thriller Greta, starring Chloë Grace Moretz and the always-wonderful Isabelle Huppert in the role of a deadly eccentric.
Well, I couldn’t complete this list without mentioning the wonderful (alas anti-American and anti-civilization) films from this year’s Cannes Festival: the Brazilian Bacurau, by Kleber Mendonça Filho and Juliano Dornelles, and The Dead Don't Die. The latter will be released in Poland shortly, but New Horizons wouldn’t be complete without the latest work by Jim Jarmusch, a film for cinephiles through and through.