Photo by Ry Russo-Young
One of the most fascinating voices on the current film criticism scene has to be that of Miriam Bale. Bale has curated series all over New York, including at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, the Maysles Film Institute, and the Film Society of Lincoln Center. She’s written for Film Comment, GQ, and Filmmaker, among others. And she is the editor of the feminist journal Joan’s Digest.
And as if all that wasn’t enough, this year she decided to start a film festival.
Bale talked to us by phone from New York to explain why.
Tell us how the concept for the festival was born.
Bale: At the Maryland Film Festival, I was part of the Filmmakers Taking Charge Conference, and I met David Wilson, who does the True/False Festival, and Kentucker Audley, and some other people who needed to do screenings in New York. The Maryland Film Festival isn’t a market, and it isn’t a big press festival. It’s just more about the movies — talking about movies, hanging out. So I was inspired by this kind of regional festival, and I thought it would be a good idea to have something like that in New York.
Some would ask whether New York needs another film festival.
Bale: We have so many fabulous festivals here. But there are some of those small, hand made films that are not experimental in the traditional sense of the word, in the sense of an avant-garde film. But these films are emotional, narrative-based experimental films. And there just wasn’t a place for those films. It’s been such a great year for indie film, and I thought it would be a good idea to showcase these films in context with each other, instead of doing a lot of one-off screenings. It’s not about press; it’s not about a market. We don’t have any red carpets. We don’t have any big corporate sponsors. We really have nothing except the films and the filmmakers. And they’re supporting me and they’re supporting each other. They’re flying themselves out, they’re staying on couches. It reminds me of the DIY music scenes I grew up with. They were playing pop and rock, but in this punk rock spirit. And these filmmakers are making traditional genre films, but with a kind of punk rock spirit. And I think it makes sense to do a festival that’s in that same spirit.
This is the first year for the festival, but you’re not new to programming.
Bale: I’ve been programming in New York for a long time. My joke is that I’ve prgrammed everywhere in New York except Film Forum. But I used to do more retrospective programming; I programmed old films. But this year, these new indie films, starting with Amy Seimetz’s Sun Don’t Shine, reminded me of those classic films. So I went about selecting films with that in mind. I was looking for films that didn’t look totally contemporary, but didn’t necessarily look like the past either; films that could fit in any era. A lot of the films we found were shot on 16mm, and I think that’s part of it. So we wanted it to be a contemporary indie film festival of films that looked like classics. And I think these films are going to have a really long life.
You know that Sun Don’t Shine is one of my favorite films of the year. Tell me about what excites you about it.
Bale: I just love Sun Don’t Shine. That film, to me, is such a conglomeration of so much that I like in film. Elements I didn’t even think were possible to combine together in one film that was so crystal clear, and succinct, and elegant. There’s so much going on in that film, and yet it’s its own thing. There’s these 70s-esue explosive women’s roles, and Kentucker Audley gives this performance that just reminds me of Paul Newman or Joel McCrea. Just a classic male lead performance – so charming and subtle and manipulative. And yet it’s a traditional road movie, a familiar genre film that somehow is also something else – an experimental, meditative, internal film. I just think it’s a perfect film.
If you had to pick one other film I should especially look out for, what would it be?
Bale: Part of the great thing about having such a small number of movies in this festival is that I love every movie on the schedule. There’s no filler! Every single film is a favorite. But one of the great films we have is called Marvin, Seth and Stanley, and it’s by Stephen Gurwitz, a filmmaker from Minnesota who is hilarious. He’s like this secret comic genius. He had a small role in Bob Byington’s Somebody Up There Likes Me. He made this family reunion fishing trip comedy starring his dad, and himself, and Alex Karpovsky. And it’s so funny, and so charming. And it’s so emotional, and really moving, and has this dark humor, but it’s really tender. It’s also the closest thing to capturing that Curb Your Enthusiasm feeling than anything I’ve ever seen. A lot of people try for that and don’t get it. But I’m in love with this movie.
What do you hope comes out of this festival?
Bale: Even though a lot of the filmmakers in this festival are from New York, a lot of them don’t see each other enough, because everybody’s so busy. And of course, some of them live across the country. That’s why it’s so great to have this festival where we can just all hang out. Everyone’s so excited just to watch these movies, and see what we can learn from them, and learn form each other. And I have a feeling some plans are going to be hatched this weekend for some new movies.
For more information on the La Di Da Film Festival this weekend in New York City, go to their website here.