One of the thrills of the Melbourne International Film Festival is Program Day. You wake up so early, just as the sun is starting to peek into the window. On tippy-toe you creep down the stairs, clad in your pyjamas and Wong Kar-Wai slippers, to find that special package under the Festival Tree. You undo the ribbon, gently unwrap the layers of gaily-coloured tissue paper, and finally – there it is. The Festival Program. Now the circling can begin…
Film, fringe and comedy festivals all follow much the same template when it comes to their programs. Only a single photo and a short blurb help you to decide what’s Hot, and what’s Book Of Revelation. For MIFF there’s roughly 150 words in a standard description. A generic blurb looks something like this:
“Fulsome but uselessly vague praise!’ – International Newspaper
Character X, a (vending machine repairman/factory worker/university lecturer) in (Taipei/Seattle/Bucharest) is drawn into a web of despair in this new film from Director Y. Like (an unwieldy and confusing metaphorical reference, possibly involving World War I or Iraq), FILM TITLE is a (harrowing/hauntingly beautiful) insight into (the pain of a middle-class couple in crisis/child prostitution/zombies). An exceptional work, FILM TITLE further explores the themes of Director Y‘s FILM YOU DIDN’T SEE (MIFF 2005).
D/S Director Y S Grace Park, Julianne Moore L Esperanto w/English subtitles 35m/2007/193 mins
And honestly, that’s often enough to give you an idea whether you want to see it or not. You may just need to know the director, the subject matter or the genre to make your mind up. But sometimes it’s too vague, especially if the film is extremely complex or falls between categories. Sometimes the descriptions themselves cause confusion, leading the audience to believe the film is something that it’s not (the blurb for 2006’s Flanders led many to expect a World War I drama, rather than the modern-day piece it actually was).
As with most things in life, the internet has changed things for the better. Oh internet, is there anything you can’t do?
Not sure if My Winnipeg is going to be your cup of tea? You can read reviews from overseas sites like The Onion AV Club, and arts blogs are nearly as ubiquitous as online porn. You’ll often find the trailers on youtube, and you can even read the largely incoherent ramblings on IMDB.
At the end of the day though, film is a subjective form, and one man’s meat is another man’s Book Of Revelation. So maybe you should just write all the titles onto pieces of paper, stick them in a hat, and go see the one with the most nudity.
My favourite festival blurb of all time was for Stewart Lee‘s Pea Green Boat, at the 2002 Edinburgh Fringe. His complete description:
It is accompanied by a cat, its natural predator.
There is some honey.
What chain of events led to this dangerous situation?
I never saw the show, though. I was worried it would spoil the blurb.