The week has begun with a flurry of announcements from festivals in New York, Europe, and Asia, and the one with the most potential to bring about serious, long-term reform comes from the Berlinale. Starting next year, the festival’s two acting awards will be presented to the best and best supporting performances rather than to the best actor and actress. In a joint statement, festival directors Mariette Rissenbeek and Carlo Chatrian explained that “not separating the awards in the acting field according to gender comprises a signal for a more gender-sensitive awareness in the film industry.”
The change seems inevitable, and yet, as Cara Buckley reported in the New York Times last fall, the road to across-the-board gender neutrality will be a long, uphill climb. The Grammys “did away with separate male and female awards in 2012,” and MTV followed in 2017. The Obies and other local theater organizations have gone gender neutral, and of course, “important prizes like the Nobel, Pulitzer, and Man Booker are not allocated separately by sex at all.” But Buckley contacted spokespeople for the Oscars, Baftas, Tonys, and Emmys, and found that none of these organizations are yet willing to budge, though the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences did tell her that it will “continue to be sensitive to the evolving conversation.”
While many would welcome overdue recognition for artists who identify as nonbinary, others worry that gender-neutral awards could exacerbate the industry’s deeply embedded sexism. “It’s placing this huge bet that sexism is so solved that it doesn’t need to be paid attention to anymore,” Mark Harris, who covers awards season for Vanity Fair, told Buckley. Another problem arises when male-dominated juries hand out most of their awards to male filmmakers and stars in male-centric productions. “The hope is that by spotlighting the imbalance and pushing to diversify judges, the awards will balance out,” wrote Buckley. At Little White Lies,Charles Bramesco suggests that when it comes to recognizing outstanding performances in the future, it “may not be many generations until our descendants find it weird and patronizing that we used to give out one award to a man and one to a woman.”
When Rissenbeek and Chatrian oversaw their first Berlinale in February, they introduced a new competitive program, Encounters, “a counterpoint and a complement to” its main competition. The aim is “to foster aesthetically and structurally daring works from independent, innovative filmmakers,” and the winner of the first Encounters award was The Works and Days (of Tayoko Shiojiri in the Shiotani Basin), an eight-hour study of fourteen months in the life of a vegetable farmer and her community in a small village north of Kyoto.
The Works and Days now heads to the New York Film Festival’s inaugural edition of Currents, a program with an agenda similar to that of Encounters. With its selection of fourteen features and forty-six short works, Currents, the latest incarnation of what was once Views from the Avant-Garde, and then, Projections, reflects a tendency—seen recently in Toronto’s Wavelengths program as well—toward spotlighting feature- and mid-length work that may be formally challenging yet nevertheless narrativeish.
Currents will open with Ephraim Asili’s first feature, The Inheritance, a blend of documentary and dramatization exploring the history and current state of Black activism in Philadelphia. The program will also introduce new work from Heinz Emigholz, Jafar Panahi, Sofia Bohdanowicz, Sergei Loznitsa, Ana Vaz, John Gianvito, Kevin Jerome Everson, Ben Rivers, Ricky D’Ambrose, and dozens more.
The BFI has announced that this year’s London Film Festival will open on October 7 with Mangrove, one of the five features in Steve McQueen’s Small Axe anthology series for the BBC. Mangrove is based on the real-life trial of nine Black activists charged with inciting a riot in London in 1970. As the BFI notes, this trial became “the first judicial acknowledgment of behavior motivated by racial hatred within the Metropolitan Police.”
San Sebastián has been putting the final touches on the lineup for its sixty-eighth edition running from September 18 through 26. The festival will host the world premiere of Luca Guadagnino’s eight-episode series We Are Who We Are, which focuses on a group of teenage friends growing up on an American military base in Italy. The festival has also added Ziyang Zhou’s second feature, Wuhai, the story of a happily married couple in a financial squeeze, to its main competition.
Juries and Honors
Il Cinema Ritrovato, opening in Bologna today, is hosting the Venice Classics program this year. Venice itself, in the meantime, has opened the virtual doors to its Web Theatre and announced a minor shakeup of its international jury. Matt Dillon has been invited to replace Cristi Puiu, who vacates his spot after, as the festival puts it, “unexpected difficulties arose.”
Variety’s Nick Vivarelli suggests that these difficulties may have something to do with the anti-mask rant Puiu delivered when presenting his new film, Malmkrog, at the festival in Transylvania a few weeks ago. When Venice opens on September 2, masks will be required in theaters throughout every screening. We should also add that Romanian film critic Flavia Dima has pointed out that Puiu has recently been making some extraordinarily derogatory remarks regarding women filmmakers.
In happier news from Venice, the festival will present its Passion for Film award to composer and musician Terence Blanchard, best known to cinephiles for his work with Spike Lee. Blanchard has also written the score for Regina King’s first feature, One Night in Miami, which is slated to premiere out of competition during this year’s edition before rolling on to Toronto—where Blanchard will receive TIFF’s Artisan award.
In November, Hou Hsiao-hsien will receive a lifetime achievement award during the presentation of the Golden Horse Awards in Taipei. When he heard the news, Hou was characteristically modest and curt: “I love cinema, and therefore I make movies. This is what I have faith in.”
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