Gilbert: Film Fest Season

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(HOST) Commentator Peter Gilbert is executive director of the Vermont Humanities Council. With the annual Green Mountain Film Festival coming to Montpelier at the end of this week, he’s been thinking about movies, books, and ideas.

(GILBERT) I was just looking at the schedule for the upcoming Green Mountain Film Festival, and I feel like a kid in a candy store – better, a reader in a good bookstore.  As the tee shirts that promote reading say, "So many books, so little time."  The same is true for films!

I’m still talking about some of the films I saw at last year’s Green Mountain Film Festival, and still recommending them to others – especially a  lovely and deeply moving Japanese movie called Departures. That’s a good measure of a film or a book: whether you continue to think about it long afterwards, and whether you recommend it to others.

What last year’s films and this year’s have in common is that they are uncommonly interesting.  Some are new, some older; but they say that any book you haven’t read is a new book, and the same is true for films.   The exotic and the familiar both – that’s the fascination.  An eclectic variety of quirky, personal films selected with great care from a huge number of choices.  In fact, Vermont is fortunate to have many annual film festivals, some with a specific focus – international, indie, and women’s films, for example.  They offer lots to enjoy and lots to think and talk about.  And to see them as part of an audience – and part of a festival – well, it’s a lot better than watching them at home alone.

I’m a book guy, and I remember clearly when I came to understand more deeply the power and potential of movies and film studies.  Nearly thirty years ago, a friend and I were watching the 1964 movie Tom Jones, starring young Albert Finney and featuring the so-called Rated X dinner scene.  It’s the film version of one of the earliest English novels.  When Henry Fielding’s novel was first published in 1749, realistic prose fiction was, well, a novel literary form.

Toward the beginning of the movie, the film cuts to a section that’s done as a silent film – black and white melodrama – complete with printed cards of dialogue.   The shift in film styles is startling.  But my friend, who was a film buff, explained to me that Fielding intentionally incorporated into his novel the language and style of previous literary forms – the epic poem, like Homer’s Odyssey, for example; picaresque tales, which are episodic and loosely structured stories of roguish heroes – like the young Tom Jones; and the epistolary style – that is, stories written in the form of letters.  Fielding’s novel Tom Jones incorporates and honors all those earlier styles of storytelling; the shift in the movie to silent film and melodrama was the filmmaker’s way of doing something equivalent in his art form.  I loved it – and thus began my real interest in the craft and complexity of film.

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