MOFFOM - MUSIC ON FILM FILM ON MUSIC ENTERS ITS 2nd EDITION
Festival dates: October 20 - 24 2005.
INTERVIEW WITH KEITH JONES
MOFFOM will run for its second year this year. Can you see some changes in comparison with last year?
Keith Jones: First of all, the program is much larger, and more diverse. The number of actual films is probably one third more than last year. This was due to several factors. Most importantly, the festival is much more established, in both the local cultural scene and in terms of international awareness. This year, we had the luxury of dealing with a much higher number of submissions, coming from more parts of the world. The basic infrastructure of the festival is also more complete this year – last year the festival came togther quite quickly, and had to go from being an idea discussed at a cafe to a professional level in a few months. This was obviously much easier this year, as we started from a better postition and could grow and expand over a longer period of time. This allowed us to attract more international guests, to develop better contact with both industries, and also to be able to look for a broader variety in terms of programming. Obviously, the second year is always going to be much easier in the local festival context, where some festivals have existed for literally decades
The program sections focusing on music films, both in Karlovy Vary and the Jihlava Documentary Festival, can be relied on to fill the house, yet a festival of this kind appeared here only last year. What was the original impulse for founding MOFFOM, and are there any similar events in the European context?
KJ: The original impulse came directly from Marcel Hruby and John Caulkins, and all the others who helped to co-found the festival last year. All of them were obviously great lovers of music, but in particular Marcel and John both have very broad tastes and a strong appreciation for music of all kinds and from all nations. They both knew many musicians and had observed over a long period of time what sort of reaction could be created by introducing really interesting or high quality music, of literally any type, to a rather conservative and orthodox scene. The idea for organizing an event like MOFFOM really developed from a desire to create this kind of impact locally – to provide something that was missing in terms of the variety of information that is usually presented in Prague. Although there do exist several film festivals in Prague, most of these are smaller or more specialized, and it is obvious that there is no festival of similar quality and international regard as the two you mention, both of which are also a considerable distance away.
Obviously, One World is very successful at what they do, and we have a lot of respect for what they bring to the local scene in Prague. Our festivals definitely have a point of intersection, since we also present many films with a strong social context, and they feature many films which have music-related themes. However, our basic approaches to selecting the program complement each other rather than compete in any way.
We also successfully realized better cooperation with other insitutions and festivals this year. Not only with some of the other local festivals, such as the Bollywood Festival or Zlata Praha, but with schools such as FAMU and NYU in Prague, and also with other cultural organizations that promote cinema, such as the Institute Francais, the Goethe-Institut and the British Council.
So really, the basic impulse was essentially to build a community of like-minded people and to help raise the level of culture in Prague. Not only in terms of just adding another topical film festival, but in terms of developing understanding between culture of all kinds – film and music obviously, but also with other arts, since film is first a visual art, and should be seen in that context. We see the rapid growth of the festiavl over the last year partially due to the success of MOFFOM 2004 in attracting precisely this kind of interest.
In terms of the place of MOFFOM in the larger European context, that has also grown significantly. The festival is now the biggest of its kind in Europe, although festivals of similar definition and scope exist in England and Belgium, and a somewhat smaller festiaval in Hungary. There are bigger music and film festivals in North America, and one was recently founded in Korea. Actually, we would like to start a Prague-based network for the exchange of ideas between these festivals, similar to what One World has done in terms of human rights film festivals. I was very pleased to see recently that the new human rights film festival in Cape Town was proudly presenting their membership in the One World network as a selling point in all of their publicity materials.
Your festival is aimed at the intersection of two areas – music and film. You yourself are at the moment making a music documentary on the first South African black theatre, the Stable, and one could say that you move on the intersection of these two interests. What is the background of the other people working on the festival team? Are they oriented more on music or on film? How does the festival as a whole manage to balance between these two poles?
KJ: Yes, that connection is quite obvious for me, as anyone who knows me or my work would tell you. The others come from pretty diverse backgrounds, but they all connect just as strongly to the festival, just in different ways. Marcel, for instance, has been active in the creative side of show business since 1989, and managed several of the most interesting music venues in Prague during that time., so he comes very strongly from the music side. The festival manager, Dawna Cha, comes much from a strong background of actually running a successful festival, since she worked for several years at the Pusan IFF. The festival founder and president, John Caulkins, comes from a background in jounalism, media, and business, and was always in touch with both fields. Another one of the key collaborators, Tomas Prasek, was involved for years with Vary and works on the international festival circuit, so again, he comes from a festival background. I am the only one involved who works as a filmmaker, which is probably for the best. In our organization, everybody is bringing different elements to the whole.
A question linked with this: do you have an idea who is your average viewer?
KJ: Based on last year’s attendence, it was obvious that attracting an older audience was somehow much more complicated for us. The average age of those who attended last year was people in their 20s and 30s, slightly older than students but younger than middle aged. In comparison to Jihlava or some of the other local festivals, there were fewer students last year. We expect to have a much larger presence of students this year. On the other hand, we found that films more focused on a mature audience, for example films on classical music, or films for children, did not really work as well in the festival. This is probably at least partially due to the fixed tastes and attitudes towards televison of both age groups – obviously those types of programming are well represented on Czech TV. In the last few months, as we have started promoting the festival more directly, at parties at other festivals, at Documentary Monday events in Kino Svetozor, and also at our recent launch at Roxy, we have seen that the audience is increasingly more diverse, more students, but also a lot of local cultural figures and an increasing number of people from the film community. When we combine this with the increased international interest, we could probably say that the core audience is growing and becoming more diverse.
The notion of music film is hard to define in concrete terms, as it goes across genres and formal approaches as well as themes. What are the criteria for selecting the films? How would you define the dramaturgy of MOFFOM?
KJ: We adopt the broadest possible definition of what constitutes a music film – so we include not only documentaries but also any kind of experimental films, feature films, animation, video clips, or shorts, as long as the central theme is directly connected with the topic of music. In terms of selecting the films for the program, we basically worked this out through a collective decision-making process. We looked at submissions and chose the ones we felt best represented what we were trying to achieve, based on our experience with last year and all sorts of other factors – we did informal test screenings, talked to organizers of other festivals, musicians, DJs, promoters, filmmakers, journalists, and so on, trying to be as well informed as possible. We also sought advice and took inspiration from all sorts of other festivals, and were constantly in touch with international media figures, several of whom will visit the festival as guests.
We also strove to include a very broad diversity in terms of the styles of music and also the countries represented. To this end, we have included even those films which we expect to be somewhat unsuccessful in terms of attracting a lareg audience, but which we feel are important in some other way. Bascially, as Marcel says, the dramturgy of the festival is based on listening to the pulse of the city and determining what we think is lacking.. The dramaturgy is based on our collective understanding of the all factors surrounding the public awareness of both film and music culture in Prague. We are very much based in the local situation, but remain open to what’s happening all over the world. Obviously in my case this inspiration comes mostly from Africa, but all of us are constantly travelling and meeting with people connected with music and film all over the world, and this informs the direction of the festival as well.
What ration of the films are documentaries, and could you define those in terms of their place in the context of documentary film?
About two-thirds of the films in the program this year are documentaries, and they will always dominate the program. This is not only because of my professional and personal bias, because that opinion is shared by the rest of the festival team. This is also pragmatic in some sense, as we have found that the documentaries that we present are every bit as successful as the feature films, probably even more so. In fact, feature films make up the smallest part of the festival – we have more experimental shorts than conventional film musicals. I would attribute part of this to the increasing audience reception, at least locally, to the documentary generally. In terms of how these fit into the broader context of the documentary, I would stress that even the documentaries we are showing are extremely diverse. A large number could be described as authorial or creative documentaries, in a number of genres. Many border directly on the feature film, and incorporate all sorts of narrative devices. Some are classical verite portraits, some are quite situational and interventionist. We have fewer of straightforward television style films, generally including only those of very high quality or exceptional subject matter.
I have also noticed that many of the films were made partially in combination with the music industry, or in forms of co-production that were obviously influenced by the commercial potential of the soundtrack. This is especially true of many films that are made in developing countries, where a connection to the “world music“ cottage industry can be crucial in raising funds. We had this experience with the Stable film as well. We actually hope to explore this further by organizing a panel discussion betwen filmmakers, musicians and television and print media on precisely this sort of “Buena Vista“ effect at the festival. This will be held in Lucerna on the afternoon of 22.10 as part of our focus that day on Brazilian films.
What would you like to recommend from this years´ program?
KJ: I would recommend first of all those films which have great interest outside of their subject matter. The film Channels of Rage, for example, which deals with the deteriorating relationship between Israeli and Palestinian hip-hop artists as a way of presenting a new look on the treatment of the whole society. Also interesting in terms of their cinematic and social content are all of the Brazil Day films, including the latest films from Mika Kaurismaki and Fernando Trueba, and also Favela Rising, which emerged out of the Tribeca Film Festival and which has been winning prizes everywhere. I think the combination of Breaking the Silence and The Rock Star and the Mullahs, which are being shown together, is outstanding in terms of providing deeper insight into the cultural debates going on within Islam at the moment.
And of course, the films by our main festival guests. Don Letts will present the international festival premiere of his new film on the jazz musician Sun Ra, anything from Albert Maysles is obviously worth seeing, and the documentaries of Larry Weinstein are all extremely interesting, since they balance fictional elements with historical authenticity quite well. There will be a nice program of experimental films connected with the New York music scene at Ponrepo, and the filmmakers Henry Hills and Cassis Birgit Staudt will both be present. The presentation by Link TV of outstanding music videos from around the world has proved enormosuly popular everywhere we have shown it. Fatih Akin’s new film Crossing the Bridge was very well received at Cannes and should also prove very successful with the Prague audience.
I am particularly happy that we were able to follow on from the great success of last year’s screening of Nosferatu with DG 307, and are able to present several silent films with original live music accompaniment. The Romanian DJs DuBase and Leizaboy have prepared new music for Dreyer’s Vampyr, and we will also showcase the Scratch Film Junkies from San Francisco in connection with Rene Clair’s L’Entracte. There is also a really interesting new project from Ireland, a contemporary silent film that includes Lumiere footage of Dublin shot in 1897. I really hope to develop this line of silent film related programming even further next year.
Of course, I would also recommend all the African programming, not only the South African films, but also the films from Morocco, Mali and Zimbabwe. All of these are of interest that far exceeds merely being exotic travelogues. And lastly, the Open Screen Free Showcase, which is a chance for anybody to bring their films on any sort of music themes for public screening, and which I hope will provide some surprises. Having watched music films of every description over the last few months in addition to making one myself, I would really like to see something that will be completely different and unexpected.