1. More than a year after the beginning of the pandemic, film festivals still do not know what to do with these new times. The online editions were the first attempts to, at least, keep the fire alive, but little else. Hybrid editions (that buzzword) only revealed that in excising the international aspect (press, guests, etc.), festivals had too quickly become local events that aroused little enthusiasm. In the midst of all this, it was the smaller festivals that knew best how to deal with the new challenges. Perhaps they were used to dispensing with red carpets, famous people and opulence, they just had to adapt their few resources to the new times. By contrast, the biggest and most powerful festivals kept looking for alternatives to show that they are still that: big and powerful.
In summary, the solutions so far proposed to move forward only make it clear that no one knows quite what to do with a world that has changed considerably since the start of the pandemic. The solutions so far proposed appear to be merely a way of waiting for everything to go back to the old normality. The question is: how long will all this continue? And also: will the normality to which we will return, will it remain the same as before? At the end of the Mar del Plata International Film Festival (a festival in which I work and whose 2020 edition was 100% online), I spoke by phone with a former director of a film festival who asked me if we are already preparing the online edition for next year. A few months later, the joke ceases to be a joke when I read that a festival in Brazil announces that its next event, to be held in October 2021, will be a hybrid edition. Ultimately, festivals, large, small and medium, have become screens in our homes. I attend the Berlin festival without leaving my home, but can I say that I participated in the Berlin festival? Or did I just watch on my computer some movies that were part of the Berlin festival?
2. While describing this image of all of us watching movies locked up in our homes, I can’t help but think of a friend who obsessively collect movies (of any genre and quality) on hard drives with the argument that someday something really bad will happen to the world and we will no longer have access to everything that circulates freely on the internet. Finally, the apocalypse my friend imagined, or something like it, seems to have arrived. But what happened with movies (not so with movie theatres, closed or with minimal capacities in most parts of the world) was the opposite: the possibility of consuming movies multiplied through streaming channels. The end of the world did not come with an explosion or a groan, as the poet wrote, but with a confinement whose soundtrack is percussive music accompanying a red N. Badmouthing Netflix is almost like badmouthing the weather. So I’m not going to do it. In a world where everything related to the film industry is in crisis, Netflix prospered to unthinkable levels, offering us movies and series, but also something that seems more important than the quality of its products: a topic of conversation. We all see and talk about the same thing. Netflix is only responsible for offering it on a tray and in the comfort of our homes. Like any other delivery service. Faced with Netflix’s offer, always dominated by novelty and algorithms, I return to my the harddrive collection of my friend, who not only collects movies, but is also creates neat excels to keep a database of the movies that he accumulates. Faced with one of those lists, a title catches my attention: Le Départ, a film by Polish director Jerzy Skolimoski made in 1967.
3. Jerzy Skolimowski is a director with a strange filmography, at times brilliant. He started out as part of the Polish New Wave and, as an actor, he become a villain who we can see fighting with Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) at the beginning of The Avengers (2012). Le Départ was shot in Belgium and is in French. It is not a masterpiece, but it is a very particular film, influenced by the Nouvelle Vague, but which at the same time seems to have served as an inspiration to Two-Lane Black Top (1971), the masterpiece by Monte Hellman, who ends his film in a similar way. When I see Skolimowski’s film, I wonder who will save or keep the memory of these types of films alive if festivals disappear or, in the not too distant future, the streaming channels only deal with novelty. I repeat, it is not a masterpiece, nor one of those canonical titles that appear ad nauseam in film books or best-of lists, but it is a very particular film that maintains its vitality despite the years. And it stars Jean-Pierre Léaud, who that same year acted in La Chinoise, one year earlier was in Made in USA (1966) and one after, Baisers volés (1968). Seeing him here running, driving and screaming, in love, young and elegant, faced with a world in which he does not feel comfortable, is one of the greatest joys that the history of cinema has given us. A history that today seems to be sleeping, waiting for us, in millions of hard drives.
4. I realise that in the text I have just written I hardly mention cinemas. Places that even before the pandemic seemed to have had their days numbered. However, cinemas continue to resist, although who knows how long they will continue to do so and under what conditions. For now, what will happen with them is a mystery, as the days go on their destiny seems increasingly dark and inevitable. In my distant years of youth, in my city there were many small cinema-clubs, some of them organised by only one person, sometimes in their own homes, where 16mm projectors were installed in precarious ways and films were shown, not always in the best conditions. In those places, a handful of moviegoers would gather to watch and talk about films that were impossible to find in commercial theatres. Perhaps our future as spectators will bring a return to this type of meeting and no longer to massive festivals. Or perhaps what we are experiencing is simply a bad dream and that when it ends, as in a horror movie with a happy ending, we will find ourselves at the moment that we were at the beginning of all this, that is: in a cinema.
5. Bob Dylan says that the future is a thing of the past. Between that past that in recent months seems to be even further away and a future that suddenly came upon us, we find ourselves in this strange present in which it seems that we can only wait. Hopefully we can meet again soon. In person, as it has to be.