Archive for Yoko Ono

Hallelujah the Hills

Posted in FILM, MUSIC, Painting with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 2, 2014 by dcairns

Arch-Shadowplayer David Ehrenstein provides our second guest post for The Late Show: The Late Movies Blogathon. Subject: Adolfas Mekas.

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Hallelujah the Hills

By David Ehrenstein

HTH

Hallelujah the Hills (1963) is most succinctly described by Ed Halter in the “Village Voice” in a column he wrote in 2003.

“A be-bopped beatnik riff on Mack Sennett madness, updated for the anything-goes youth counterculture, Adolfas Mekas’s 1963 Hallelujah the Hills provided a homegrown riposte to nouvelle vague zaniness, and became one of the more lighthearted cornerstones of the New American Cinema. Screening for its 40th birthday, a new 35mm print showcases cinematographer Ed Emshwiller‘s spot-on black-and-white lensing, which achieves a perfect balance of picturesque control and experimental fancy.

Loopy in more ways than one, Hills isn’t so much a linear narrative as an ongoing do-si-do between two madcap man-boys—bespectacled nebbish Leo (Marty Greenbaum) and studly Ivy League dipsomaniac Jack (Peter H. Beard)—in pursuit of the same girl, Vera, who’s coyly played by two actresses (Sheila Finn and Peggy Steffans) representing Leo and Jack’s different views of their shared paramour. In between wooing, the cast tool around wintery Vermont in a jeep, romp naked through icy waters, and spoof the art-film canon, from Griffith to Kurosawa. The finale brings a secret woodland cache of ga-ga-ga-goils and a film-stopping cameo from googly-eyed underground jester Taylor Mead. The result is a dizzy time capsule of proto-revolutionary anarchy, like bits of youthful, energetic innocence frozen in the snowdrifts of time.”

The premise (there’s no plot to speak of) is after being dumped by Vera for “the horrible Gideon (film scholar Gideon Bachmann) Jack and Leo take off for the territory to mourn their lost love. The morning process is delivered as a series of film homages involving not only Griffith and Kurosawa but Dreyer’s Vampyr  and W.C. Fields’ The Fatal Glass of Beer.

Unable to contain itself any longer the film comes to a halt in what would otherwise be its “Third Act<” to show the ice rescue scene from Way Down East, before resuming again.

(Ice Rescue scene from Way Down East analyzed)

Wiki sez

“Adolfas Meka 30 September 1925 – 31 May 2011) was born on a farm in Semeniskiai, Lithuania to Elzbieta and Povilas Mekas and brother to sister Elzbieta and Povilas, Petras, Kostas and Jonas. Adolfas was the youngest in the family.

At age 14, while still in Lithuania, Mekas saw his first film Captain Blood starring Errol Flynn, the cinemagic of which he would never forget.[citation needed] In July 1944, toward the end of World War II when Lithuania was occupied by both Soviet and German troops, Adolfas and his brother Jonas left Lithuania by train, fearing retaliation for their participation in the underground. Near Hamburg, they were taken from the train and put into a forced labor camp.[After World War II ended, the brothers were sent from one DP camp to another across Germany. While in the displaced persons camps in Germany, Adolfas attended classes in literature and theatre arts and philosophy at the University in Mainz, where he also wrote and published short stories, novels, and tall-tale books for children. Having been refused entry into Israel, New Zealand, and Canada, Mekas was sent as a refugee to the United States, where he landed with his brother at the end of 1949.[In the spring of 1950 he purchased a 16mm Bolex camera and began photographing life around him while he wrote more than 50 scripts and attended every film screening offered at the Museum of Modern Art, Cinema 16, Thalia, Stanley, and other venues for films of any kind, supporting himself with a variety of jobs from dishwasher to foreman in a Castro Convertible factory. He was drafted into the Army during the Korean War, assigned to the Signal Corps, and sailed for France in September 1951. On his return to the United States from Europe in 1953, he continued writing and filming and also began organizing, with his brother Jonas, the American Film House. Though the brothers approached many independent filmmakers, none were interested in collaborating on the project. Adolfas and Jonas persisted for over a year to find a location in Manhattan, but without success. In 1954 they abandoned the idea of the American Film House and with the money they had borrowed for the Film House project started a film society, which they called the Film Forum. “We showed films at public schools and at Carl Fischer Hall on 57th Street, wherever we could, until we went bankrupt in the middle of the second film series later in the year just in time to start Film Culture magazine, the first issue of which came out in December 1954.” – Adolfas Mekas

Film Culture magazine would be an outlet for anyone who had something to say about film.”

(Meaning ME!)

“In 1961 brother Jonas began shooting “Guns of the Trees.” Adolfas assisted him in all stages of production, writing and editing, and played one of the leads in the film. Other players were Ben Carruthers, Frances Stillman and Argus Speare Juilliard. The controversial film was considered to be a “poetic-political manifesto.”

In 1963 Adolfas’ film Hallelujah The Hills was the surprise smash hit of the Cannes Festival. Subsequently it was invited to 27 film festivals, including the First New York Film Festival, London Festival, Montreal Film Festival, Mannheim Film Festival and the Bombay Film Festival; it won the Silver Sail at the Locarno Festival, was invited to a Command Screening for the Royal Family at Buckingham Palace and had a 15-week run at the Fifth Avenue cinema in New York. Time magazine called it “… the weirdest, wooziest, wackiest screen comedy of 1963.” Jean-Luc Godard wrote in Cahiers du Cinema, “Hallelujah proved clearly that Adolfas is someone to be reckoned with. He is a master in the field of pure invention, that is to say, in working dangerously – ‘without a net.’ His film, made according to the good old principle – one idea for each shot – has the lovely scent of fresh ingenuity and crafty sweetness.”

In March 1964 he met his wife to be, Pola Chapelle. They were separated before their marriage by the production of his second feature film, The Double Barreled Detective Story, but never again during their long lifetime together. A rough and tumble nineteenth century town was built just outside Johnstown, Pennsylvania, for the location of the filming of The Double Barreled Detective Story. The screenplay was based on a Mark Twain short story and the film starred Hurd Hatfield and Greta Thyssen. In spite of the extraordinary performance of Hurd Hatfield, who played two parts in the movie, there were problems with the production from the start, and Adolfas never got to do a final cut. The producers took the film out of his hands and refused to release it. Nonetheless, with a little help from his friends, he was able to whisk a print to the Venice Film Festival of 1965. Gene Moskowitz in Variety wrote of the film – “The Double Barreled Detective Story is authentic Mark Twain-esque with all the rustic humor of the 1880s….Mekas shows he has a way with parody and he gets disarmingly innocent performances from his cast.”

In the same year Adolfas directed Pola Chapelle in a short parody of Italian art films of the time, written by Peter Stone for the Broadway show Skyscraper which starred Julie Harris and Charles Nelson Reilly. Paul Sorvino played opposite Pola in the three-minute film clip which won kudos from the critics. “…. a priceless film sequence satirizing Italian movies, for some of the heartiest laughs of the evening.” Nadel, NY World Telegram. “….there is a film sequence made by Adolfas Mekas: a very funny parody of an Italian movie, in Italian, complete with English subtitles and a projector that goes ‘zzzzzzz.” Julius Novick, Village Voice.

After his marriage in 1965 and for the rest of the 60s, Adolfas wrote and hustled his scripts to agents and producers while working as an editor and/or post production coordinator on various independent films, including the soft-core flics of Joe Sarno, ABC-TV’s Wild World of Sports, and a few TV musical extravaganzas. He was encouraged by Howard Hausman of the William Morris Agency, who had seen the future of cinema in Adolfas’ first film Hallelujah The Hills and made more than a few attempts at getting Adolfas’ scripts into the hands of independent producers who would understand their uniquely different style. Although three of his screenplays remained at Warner Brothers for a few years, under consideration, none were ever produced.

In 1967, with a very tight budget, Adolfas made a 16mm b&w film from his own script – “Windflowers, Elegy for a Draft Dodger.” “….No frills, no Gipsy violin effects, no second movement of Aranjuez’s concerto – and it is thereby, poignant. It is the other side of Vietnam. The stubbornness of a silent young man who is running away….who simply wanted to live.” Cahiers du Cinema, Dominique Noguez.

Shortly after the completion of Windflowers, Adolfas was contacted by Governor Harold E. Hughes of Iowa and his staff. After an interview with the Governor, he was given the job of creating promotional commercials for Hughes’ campaign for the United States Senate. He had no experience in the genre, but the challenge was enticing and he spent the summer of 1967 filming Harold Hughes as he stumped the Iowa cornfields. He produced 35 TV commercials for Hughes election to the Senate. Harold Hughes won.

In 1968 Adolfas wrote, directed, and starred in a 3-minute short entitled “Interview with the Ambassador from Lapland.” It was photographed by brother Jonas, with assistance from Shirley Clarke on sound. Pola Chapelle produced. “In these 3 minutes Mekas is Swift, the horrible and admirable Swift of the ‘Modest Proposal.’ One really must admit that Mekas has made the USA a bit less loathsome.” Cahiers du Cinema, DN. (Nota Bene: Jonas sometimes claims authorship of this short film, calling it the Time Life Vietnam Newsreel.)

In 1969 Adolfas photographed and edited “Fishes in Screaming Water” a catfilm produced by Pola Chapelle for the First International CatFilm Festival – INTERCAT ’69 – which she founded. For the 2nd International Catfilm Festival in 1973, he made the award winning “How to Draw A Cat.”

He edited and subtitled “Companeras and Companeros” in 1970 – A feature documentary, shot in Cuba by David and Barbara Stone. He edited three versions: for United States release, for European release, for Cuban release. That same year he cut and edited a film by Yoko Ono, 360 legs, in “Up Your Leg.”

In 1972, assisted by Pola Chapelle, Adolfas completed a film which documented the autobiographical journey of his return to Lithuania after a 27-year absence. “Going Home” was invited to the New York Film Festival and many other festivals that year. It was part of the Conference on Visual Anthropology at Temple University in 1974 and chosen by the Museum of Modern Art to be screened in its Anthropological Cinema exhibit, which toured internationally from 1975 to 1977.

On 3 July 1971 Adolfas received a teaching contract from Bard College. Soon after, he began organizing the young Film Department. At first denied tenure, he began a campaign in pursuit of it, believing that if he were given tenure, the Film Department would be tenured. Armed with letters from colleagues in the film world and ex-students, he was successful, and in 1979, tenure was granted him. He and Pola, young son Sean and Mamacat moved to the Hudson Valley, where he would dedicate himself to sharing his passion for the magic of film with the eager and talented young people of the then pastoral Bard College. Down The Road, a nearby pub became their after hours seminar room.

Only a very small budget was available to the Bard Film Department, and the department continued as the “orphan in the storm” for many years. Not deterred, never frustrated, once a year Adolfas rented a truck, and together with Pola, he scoured the labs of his film friends in New York City whose donations of reels, split reels, cores, viewers, projectors and occasionally a moviola, were carried back to Bard’s Carriage House – the Bard Film Center of the early years. The lack of proper funding of the department worked to energize Adolfas and his students in innovative ways, e.g., to raise funds for senior projects in film, he held lunchtime auctions outside the dining commons on campus. The film department was small – more than three graduates was rare in the early years; but unceasingly active and always visible, the dynamic center of the Bard campus. During his years as Chairman, Adolfas brought to the Bard Film Department some of the most noted independent and experimental filmmakers, including, Bruce Baillie, Ernie Gehr, Andrew Noren, Barry Gerson, Peter Hutton and Peggy Ahwesh and film historians and theorists Paul Arthur, P. Adams Sitney. John Pruitt, and guest faculty – friends including Ken Jacobs, Sidney Peterson, Shirley Clarke and George Kuchar. The Bard Film Department grew in stature to become one of the most respected film departments in the nation.

  1. Adams Sitney writes, “what came to be known as the People’s Film Department was his (Adolfas’) theater of hijinks; he surprised even himself with his enormous didactic gifts, his startling administrative skill and his unceasing fount of comic invention. His own fractured education and his nearly total disregard for academic decorum made him the ideal professor. Nowhere in the archive of film is there an invented character who could come near the brilliant, lovable, outrageous mischief that consistently turned his classrooms into arenas of magic. He taught generations how to see and act.”

And now the stars

Peter Beard first and foremost.

Here’s a fairly recent photo.

Here he is as I will always see him in my mind’s eye

 Wiki sez:

“Peter Beard’s photographs of Africa, African animals, and the journals that often integrate his photographs have been widely shown and published since the 1970s. His grandmother, Ruth (Hill) Beard, married, as her second husband, Pierre Lorillard IV, who was a tobacco magnate and is credited with helping to popularize the tuxedo. A great-grandfather, James Jerome Hill, was founder of the Great Northern Railway in the late nineteenth/early twentieth centuries. Railroads, in part, provided the infrastructure for colonization both in the United States and Africa, promoting expansion into undeveloped frontiers. James Jerome Hill made his fortune in the railroad business, leaving as legacy both money, colonialism and art to his great-grandson Peter. While not rejecting money from this trust, Beard laments the expansion of Western capitalism into Africa. James Jerome Hill was a great patron of the arts and all of his heirs were exposed to and owned great collections, thus having a great impact on Peter’s interest in the arts and beauty. Beard is famous not only for his photographs of endangered African elephants but also of supermodels and rock stars like Mick Jagger, David Bowie, Iman, Veruschka.

Beard’s milieu consisted of Andy Warhol, Jackie Onassis, Lee Radziwill, Truman Capote, and Bianca Jagger who all lived and rented houses in Montauk and Manhattan in the 1970s and 1980s. Beard also had a close relationship with the late painter, Francis Bacon (painter). He photographed Bacon and was also the model for several of Bacon’s paintings. Beard was traveling with and photographing the Rolling Stones on the infamous Rolling Stones 1972 tour of America.”

Thus the “Vera’s” of Hallelujah the Hills are models very much to Peter Beard’s exquisite taste.

Marty Greenbaum is quite different story. Here he is in a recent photo:

Here’s some of his art

MartyGreenbaum_1400x630_1

Here’s his resume .

Here’s artist and filmmaker Ed Emshwiller, who was the film’s DP.

Hallelujah the Hills is one of the most gorgerous black and white films ever made – easily the equal of Fellini’s 8 ½ shot by Gianni DiVenanzo that same year.

Here’s Meyer Kupferman who composed the superb musical score.

And here’s his Symphony Number 4 (1955)

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The Edinburgh Dialogues #3: Jim Hickey

Posted in FILM, Interactive, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 20, 2011 by dcairns

Jim Hickey (left) entertains a tee-total guest (note the cans of 7-Up) at Filmhouse in the ’80s.

Jim Hickey is a hero to me. As director of both Edinburgh Filmhouse and Edinburgh International Film Festival, he presided over both institutions at the time I was discovering world cinema. Apart from BBC2 and then Channel 4, there was really no other way for me to see films from outside of the US and UK mainstream.

As you’ll read below, the EIFF took pride in mixing up all kinds of movies, almost as if it were unnecessary to make distinctions between lowbrow and highbrow, narrative and experimental, documentary and fiction. As if in some way it was all cinema. I think that had a deep effect on me, and I sometimes wish it had eradicated my tendency to put things in boxes altogether. But it certainly helped.

Jim was also very kind to me when I worked in the Cinema Shop in Filmhouse, and on one memorable occasion ushered me and my friend Robert into the presence of Martin Scorsese, who was visiting with THE COLOR OF MONEY (as I recall, Robbie Coltraine was also in the room, somehow). This tongue-tied teen couldn’t manage any coherent response at the time, but — THANKS, JIM!

Since stepping down from his positions at Filmhouse and the Fest, Jim has thrown himself into filmmaking, producing acclaimed short THE HUNGER ARTIST and co-producing FROZEN with Shirley Henderson and Roshan Seth.

I spoke to Jim Hickey over coffee and tea at Café Truva, to get his thoughts on the strengths and weaknesses of the Festival, past, present and (with a little reluctance on Jim’s part) future. But even if you have no particular interest in the event, I suspect you may find the conversation of interest as a window into the film culture generally…

Previous installments can be found here and here.

The souvenir booklet from the Fest’s screening of Gance’s restored NAPOLEON.

DC: The first one, that I’m asking everybody, because even though it’s a banal question it will yield nice results, is: Your fondest memories of running the EIFF?

JH: The happiest moments are often to do with films that have gone on from Edinburgh to do really well later, or films that are now looked at as classic films of that period, or great films. And sometimes they’re just buried in the programme, they’re not huge films that are trumpeted like gala films.

I suppose I ought to go back to when I came in, it was a kind of austerity year as well: it was cut back to about nine days, nine or ten. And people were a bit shocked, “Oh, it’s got to be a two-week festival!” It used to be a three week festival. When I started in the box office in ’69 it was three weeks. And the final week was often a whole lot of films from somewhere like The Other Cinema, or Andi Engel’s Polit Kino, a lot of interesting political or third world films that weren’t in the main programme but were showcasing what we had. And then gradually the three weeks stretched and included everything, and those films weren’t in a single package.

So, when I came in it was almost the worst time to be doing a film festival. Cinema attendances in the late seventies were at their lowest. And so no one was going to cinema much, and video was coming in, and so in ’81 when I started it was a job of trying to get people into cinemas. You decide that “We want you to come here and see films in the best way possible, and with as big an audience as possible, rather than sit at home renting them on video or whatever.” And so the idea of big films – or big screenings – is one of the things I wanted to do. As you mentioned before, the NAPOLEON thing was one of those, to actually do something that caught a lot of attention, and also make people amazed with what kind of experience they could have, not with a brand new film, but with something they’d perhaps never heard of, or never heard of a film in that form.

And we weren’t the first to do that, and we were lucky it had already been done, it had started off in London, and Edinburgh was lucky to be able to do it. It took up a lot of time and effort, and we lost a couple of thousand pounds on it, I think. It cost about £28,000 to do that with a full orchestra. But that was an example of it, and we followed that up a few years later with GREED, done similarly.

I thought that those Playhouse screenings – again, we were lucky to have the Playhouse, which had the equipment and was able to show films, still, although it was moving away from it completely – and so all the big films we did, like ET, BLADE RUNNER, BACK TO THE FUTURE, PARSIFAL, ANGEL HEART, all of those were to grab as many people’s attention as possible. But also to try and be a bit courageous, and put on something that most people thought might not reach a big audience. Like MERRY CHRISTMAS, MR LAWRENCE or BETTY BLUE: starting the festival with a foreign language film was really weird in those days.

There are lots of other things I’m really proud to have shown. Things like WITHNAIL AND I. At the time I saw it in London, the distributors didn’t know quite what to do with it. And I thought, “Well it’s kind of quirky and it would suit Edinburgh. Maybe it would go down well there. Let’s see what happens.” And it was an absolutely fantastic response in Edinburgh.

DC: I saw it there and then waited, waited for it to actually come out, and it barely did, but it took over a year before they let it sneak out. But yeah, that was amazing.

JH: I think the things I’m most proud of doing, or have the best memories of — don’t use the word “proud” [laughs] — are things like the retrospectives which were incredibly hard work, even then, because a lot of the time it was a case of chasing prints down. Because people forget, that’s all we had then, was prints. And the reason we couldn’t do some directors was it was really hard to get prints. So it was great that we had people like David Meeker at the BFI, in the archive, who was this amazing fount of knowledge about where everything is and where the rights holders were, and places like the Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley, the Cinematheque Francais in Paris, the Japan Foundation, Mrs Kawakita in Japan… you would go to them and be able to get things that completed a retrospective, or at least made it viable. And that was really tough to do, in Lynda’s day it was a big problem, and still a big problem in my day.

But Lynda, and Murray also, because Sam Fuller Year was Murray’s, they did fantastic work then, getting all those Raoul Walsh films, it was just incredible seeing that could be done. So nowadays, look at today’s festival directors, their job is so much easier. With digital projection you can get anything you want virtually, within reason. And we’re lucky with people like Park Circus who do all that good work putting stuff back into distribution again. So that job has become a lot easier. Then, it was tough to do retrospectives. I suppose the shift away from auteur cinema, which in the 60s and 70s was the big thing for retrospectives, to trying to do cinemas from different territories… so my Japanese event, which I did in… 86, was it? You’ll have to check. The Oshima retrospective was probably the last big retrospective I attempted. And we would do mini-retrospectives, things like Charles Crichton or Bernard Vorhaus, things we would do in collaboration with the BFI, of films that had rarely been seen or had just disappeared.

DC: I didn’t actually know you did Vorhaus… I’ve only recently discovered him.

JH: It was in ’86.

DC: I missed so many of the retrospectives because I was not mature enough to be seeking that stuff out.

JH: Of course, well, you were young! What age were you in 86?

DC: Uh, well, uh, 19. No excuse.

JH: Well… Vorhaus was an example, at the National Film Archive, we were interested in one of his films they’d found. The story was nobody knew much about him, or if he was still alive, and one of their people, they just looked in the phone book and there was a Mr Vorhaus, and yes, it was him.

DC: Fantastic. So, did he come?

JH: He came, yeah!

DC: Wow.

JH: Yeah, it was amazing. So I’m really pleased about doing those sort of things, even if there was a select number of people who wanted to see them. But I’m sure other festivals taking up those retrospectives would do them elsewhere was great as well. Suzuki, we did in my final year, and Suzuki films you can get on DVD now, and nobody had seen anything of them, really, before we did stuff at Edinburgh. Well, you may have got the odd one at the NFT, you know, but eventually it all changed.

I was looking at a couple or programmes over the weekend, and I was astounded at some of the titles we had. I couldn’t believe some of the films we had, or the number of really good directors’ films we had. Gus Van Sant’s MALA NOCHE, for example, was at Edinburgh. That was one I saw in Berlin, it was in the Forum at Berlin, and it went down really great at a late night screening. I was with Tony Rayns at the time. Tony was someone else who was great for Edinburgh, and did a lot of the work on the Japanese thing we did – he had so many more contacts than I could ever have got. And Tony was really enthusiastic about MALA NOCHE, he said “We’ve got to have this.” I said, “Yeah, it’s great for Edinburgh: a perfect Edinburgh film.” People like Gregg Araki, who now gets films out there – there’s a quarter page ad in The Guardian for his recent film – and you think, “Wow, that’s Wee Gregg who used to come over in those days.”

For me, it’s hard to pick because I was working there all through Lynda’s years, not doing all the work that she did, but supporting her, and we had viewings of films at night, because that’s what you had to do to select them. And the films that she had, I remember big screenings like ALIEN – screened at The Odeon at midnight, at Ridley Scott’s request, and he was there. And I have never seen an audience as scared as the one we had at that. And a lot of smaller films, like NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, which people forget was at Edinburgh… it may have been at Cannes before that… and obviously Lynda would find stuff at Cannes in her days, but Edinburgh was one of the first stopping places after Cannes in that summer.

I suppose we had a rock and roll mentality as well, we filled the Festival as much as possible with music films, THE LAST WALTZ, KEEP ON ROCKIN’, THE STONES IN HYDE PARK, the Charlie Watts film CHARLIE IS MY DARLING. Some disappeared but have come back eventually, twenty, thirty years later. I really enjoyed those. All the Andy Warhol films we showed. John Lennon/Yoko Ono shorts, we showed. We opened the Festival one year – we had two, one was called ERECTION and was mostly about a building going up, and the other was… well, essentially the film was a balloon going up into the sky, and it took off, and you saw this landscape, and then it went into white, and for two or three minutes the film was completely white, until it burst out of the clouds into the sunlight, and that was the end of the film. And that was our opening film! It was the support on with the opening film, which was pretty courageous, I suppose.

But you know, Edinburgh ought to do things like that, because we always were a sort of maverick event – that was the term Murray [Grigor] used to use. From those late ‘sixties we decided it would be a maverick festival that didn’t do what the big ones do – simply because it can’t, it doesn’t have the money, it’s not a market because we can’t attract people in that way, and Edinburgh has to find its own level, and so that’s what it did.

DC: What I realised looking back is that my own sensibility – to the extent that my blog has any guiding philosophy it’s to jumble together arthouse and exploitation and whatever I happen to watch, and regard it as all essentially the same.

JH: We came to believe that if we put it in the programme, people would come. Because they trusted us as curators or whatever you like to call it, or presenters, of those films, and for the opportunity to see the filmmakers, because we always believed right from the start that the filmmakers should be at Edinburgh if we could afford it. We very rarely refused anybody if we could get the money together.

But there were some: we wanted to do Budd Boetticher, because we were showing his bullfight film [either ARRUZA or MY KINGDOM FOR…] and I think we were talking about a retrospective maybe, but he wanted to come from Mexico, and we would have to pay his whole flight, first class, and we ended up saying “No” eventually because we couldn’t do it. There was just so little money. You’ll see in some of the older programmes you may have, the grant from the City Council used to be £1.50 or something. And it was listed at the beginning of the programme, if you look at them from the ‘60s, you’ll see those amounts we used to get, and it was just silly. But we were grateful for it! That may have been big money in those days.

So that’s memories…

DC: And personalities?

JH:  Tremendously, the Germans, Wenders and Herzog coming, obviously Scorsese and DePalma, they were here the same year, and that was amazing. Jean-Jacques Beineix, I enjoyed his visit…

DC: I saw the guest book once, which he had signed “the frog”.

JH: [Laughter] Yes. They were all in that guest book. The problem is, quite often they were just here for two or three days, we didn’t have a lot of time with them because Edinburgh couldn’t pay for a lot of accommodation. So quite often you’d get to see them at dinner, then have to rush away to introduce a film before the dinner ended… To me it was fantastic when all these people came, I just enjoyed filmmakers coming. Jim Jarmusch was always a big hit, because he came a few times. People like Amos Poe, the New York filmmakers.

DC: What was the worst aspect of the job?

JH: I think in my time, not having enough money to do more publicity… when I look at what the festival can do in that last decade or so, the amount of posters they get up, banners and advertisements, you just feel they’re able to put the word out much better than we ever could. And that’s without even thinking about the internet and what you can do there. We were lucky to get a fax machine round about 1986! Everything was done in letters. We would write to directors, “Dear Mr Walsh, we are doing a retrospective of all your films and would be delighted if you were able to come.” And he would send a nice letter back saying he was unable to come. But nowadays that would be so much easier.

And your network of contacts – that thing we used to believe, that there was a film community. People you met at festivals who would advise you about films, you’d go to screenings together, talk about them afterwards, that was one of the real pleasures of the job. I don’t think there were really that many things that weren’t pleasant about it. It was hard work but it was doing the thing you loved doing.

DC: Mark [Cousins] said that it was the way the whole year was structured for him was his least favourite thing.

JH: But with Mark, that’s because he’s doing so many other things, I think. He’s making films, he’s writing, he’s got all these deadlines. And he’s young enough to be able to do that. I suppose I was young enough to be able to do Filmhouse and the Festival at the same time. I couldn’t do it now, it’d just be impossible.

Apart from just that lack of funds… more funds would have brought over more filmmakers as well. We always regretted, “Well, we can’t even ask that guy ‘cause he’s from South America and it would just be ridiculous,” and so in the end they couldn’t come. Had we had more money that would have been my ambition: have all the filmmakers, give them three days accommodation, that’s common these days, it’s what they get pretty much.

DC: So, moving forward to the future… what do you think about the change of date?

JH: From talking to lots of people during the Festival, and of course reading everything online, I would say the move to August is becoming inevitable. I can’t see the industry… I mean, I read Hannah’s comments about the reasons for the move, and I was behind the move too, I was always behind going to June. I thought, with that kind of money they’d been given to re-establish it in a different way, that was the best time there would ever be. It’s like saying, at least have a go, for the three years. I thought they could win over the city, and become the only show in town: that’s what we had to be. If you could do that, then it would really work.

And whatever point in the year Edinburgh is, of the few that are available to it, the June month or the August/September months, you’re going to hit these big things like Venice, and Toronto, the Documentary Festival in Sheffield now hits you in June, that’s another problem… I just think if they stay in June it’ll seem as if they’re not listening. Almost a universal cry seems to be “Get it back to August. Give us the Festival we like, the way it has been, successfully.” Because now, in a way, June has been tainted with lack of success.

DC: Is that rational? The first year they moved to June was apparently very successful.

JH: And I thought it worked. I was pleased because I thought “They can now build on this.”

There were certain people I’m friends with in the festival world and they said “Oh no, it’s a bad idea and I’d never countenance a move to June,” but usually they were people from down south, because they love coming up here at that time of year. Now, I know all the disadvantages, travel, and hotels and everything are more expensive, if you can get them at all…

DC: Venues…

JH: Venues could be tough. But, you know, they had an open goal this year to put it in any venue they wanted, really, and look what happened. So this year they have to decide on the venues right up front, let people know which cinemas they’re using – and that may involve going back to Cineworld, I don’t know. It depends on the emphasis the director wants to give it, in terms of how much he or she is going to try to appeal to the public.

A lot of people still think it’s in August. A taxi driver I had a week ago said, “Oh, has the Festival been on yet?” And another one, when it had started, said “Oh, I thought it was in August, did it just move.” So the message didn’t permeate through, that it was in June. So with all the difficulties of going back to August, it makes it a lot more easy for people to understand, and it shows they’ve been listening to what people have said this year.

DC: And it gives an extra couple of months…

JH: It gives whoever gets the job two more months to get it on the road. And I think they need to give a very clear signal as to what Edinburgh’s about. Because that’s got lost, in the mud of misinformation and bad reports and gossip and all the rest.  They need to be able to say next year, “This is Edinburgh, and if you don’t know about Edinburgh, this is what it is, what it’s always stood for, but it’s moving on and it’s doing all sorts of other things that it never used to do in the good or the bad old days…” 

And if that involves a retrospective, which I personally think it should do – and I don’t mean necessarily an auteur retrospective – but a packaging-together of an event around something that the director believes people would really enjoy. …In Shane’s days, Shane [Danielsen] told you, “These films are going to be really enjoyable.” He loved them, that communicated itself, and we need a bit more of that now. The guy knows his films, he can tell you that ten minutes in, this actress is wearing a certain frock, and that’s worth looking out for. It gets people interested and it’s funny and it’s the way people talk about films.

DC: I like auteur retrospectives because there’s no question about why this group of films are together. 

JH: It turns out they’re the things people can latch onto as well, if it’s an individual, people get a grasp of what you’re trying to do more easily. So yes, I would definitely favour a retrospective.

I’d be interested in seeing a retrospective of some cinematographers, because that’s something where it’s evident – what you’re looking at is what they’ve done. Having those people talking… some of the best things I’ve seen in recent years have been the talks with Roger Deakins talking to Seamus McGarvey, Chris Doyle… Those events are fantastic, to listen to experts, people who are pre-eminent, talking about what they do.

Chris Doyle, Seamus McGarvey, Rain Li & Roger Deakins in Edinburgh.

DC: I think the first year I saw a lot of that was possibly during Penny Thompson’s tenure, and it was continued by Mark Cousins. [Penny called them Masterclasses, Mark called them Scene by Scenes, a title and format he later used for his TV interview show.] 

JH: That’s right. Edinburgh would do those as much as possible, and now it should do it, because it can do it. Put money into that. And I know it’s hard to get people because they’re always committed, they’re doing festivals or they’re in the middle of shooting, but you’ve really got to push to get those.

DC: An advantage is that so many British cinematographers have amazing longevity…  Douglas Slocombe’s still alive! I don’t know if he’s fit to travel…

JH: Again, some of those things could be done via video link-up. They stay at home and we do it from there.

DC: The Mark Cousins David Lynch interview was great. And hilarious.

JH: We want more of that!

There’s no point in saying “Documentary’s important,” that’s kind of self-evident these days. Documentary’s a huge part of world cinema now. It depends on how you’re going to serve it up. What context you put it in and which group of films you pursue. And you have to look at what other people are doing and see how you could be different. Look at what Sheffield’s doing, and there’s no point in taking them on. You have to try and do something that is Edinburgh’s way of looking at it. And that’s going to be quite hard: finding documentaries where people aren’t thinking “Oh, they’ll be on TV,” or “That was at Sheffield, I read the reviews so I’m not going to see it.” You know, that’s pretty tough, because it’s another British festival who’s doing it alongside you.

And also I think your web presence… you’ve got to decide what’s important for you to get up there, and find ways so people who aren’t at Edinburgh can enjoy it. Do more live things. I mean they obviously did their Kings of Leon event, which went to lots of cinemas simultaneously, didn’t it? But that kind of thing. Have somebody on stage that everybody sees is happening at Edinburgh. And that, again, is easier to do now. If they could sort that out, they’d feel they were reaching an audience they’d missed, because they think it’s elitist, or inertia, or whatever it is.

And make it more accessible in terms of the pricing. There was a lot of criticism of the pricing this year.

DC: There was an announcement, I think, that the prices would be lower, and the prices were higher.

JH: Yes. Nine quid was outrageous.

DC: And discount deals make money, they don’t cost money. People buy more tickets than they would otherwise, and spend their day at the Festival buying food and drink in the venues…

JH: Discount deals are essential, you have to do that. That’s what people expect. I talked to several friends who come regularly and who I know spend over a hundred pounds on tickets, and they said “This year, I’m not doing it. That gets me into ten.” And so you think, well, they’ve lost those people. They probably won’t even come to ten now, because they’re disgusted at having to do this. So it’s bad PR. For people who are experts in marketing, they made some pretty bad errors this year, and that can’t happen again, they’ve really got to sort that out. Because people have to feel it’s for them, the minute they feel they’ve been priced out, your festival just becomes something for the arty crowd.

DC: And the people who get in free.

JH: Yeah, that’s right, the delegates and… freeloaders, as they used to be called in my day. [laughter] Who get into everything. But it’s sometimes better to have those people in the cinema than none at all. The answer is easy, to that one, isn’t it?

What we want is a Festival that does something that isn’t what Filmhouse does year-round. Because Filmhouse now does an amazing amount of mini-festivals, throughout the year: the African Festival, the Middle East Festival, French, Italian, all of those, fantastic! I’m amazed how many films they have in those slots. Obviously digital makes it easier to do that now. So Edinburgh can’t, at festival time, do that, but it has to do something that’s somehow beyond the reach of Filmhouse, either financially or in terms of the people it could bring. Because it would really wreck the Filmhouse budget to bring several filmmakers from long distances for a particular event. So they could really build on that sense of a Festival you wouldn’t see during the year, something different.

DC: It has to be. There was the man on the bus who said he struggled to see what would be different about seeing a film at the Film Festival as opposed to seeing one normally. Well, we have to answer that question. They talk about the “Edinburgh brand”, but it has to include the answer to that. Why come to a festival?

JH: Uh huh. And I think it’s events, as well. Events are necessary, and we should put a ban on the words “red carpet”. We should just not talk about it. We should talk about great films, great events, that are memorable for people. And a programme that has real nuggets in it that people will always look back on. Looking back through some of Edinburgh’s programmes, I’m just stunned, looking at the quality of some of the films we had. 

And it’s about memories too.