One of the many ways you can describe what art does is to say that it gives us new ways of seeing or hearing something. The fauvists, for instance, gave us a new way of seeing color. Stravinsky gave us a new way of hearing rhythm. Without such a prod now and then, we can get into an artistic rut, thinking of things always the same way, through the same set of assumptions, and lose track of all the things that art can be.
One of the problems that we have with seeing film as an art form is that we usually only think of the big Hollywood releases when we think of movies: something so clearly corporate in its construction, so driven by the bottom line, so subject to the aggression of marketing that all elements of artistry are obscured in a cloud of commerce and materialism.
We can break free of this bind given the right circumstances. Last Saturday morning, I went to the Hippodrome in downtown Waco to attend a session of the inaugural Deep in the Heart Film Festival. I was given a little rating card on which to record my impressions, took my seat and then watched eight short films over the course of a couple of hours, all of which were delightfully different and thoughtfully constructed.
What they all had in common was a clear artistic vision of how to tell a story. After the last of the eight, the lights came back up and several of the filmmakers came up to the front of the stage and told the audience a little about the creative works that we’d just seen and then took questions. That didn’t happen when I saw “Rogue One.”
Such an artistic event is a big shot in the arm for the city of Waco and its cultural scene because a film festival is both an entertaining and insightful way of experiencing films as art. In this event’s first year, it screened 70 short and six feature-length independent films.
Film festivals have been around for the better part of a century . The first was in Venice, Italy, in 1932 as part of that city’s famous biennial exhibition of contemporary art that began back in 1895. It started awarding prizes in 1934 and was so popular it became an annual event the following year. (That film festivals have their roots in art festivals is a window into their artistic nature.)
The annual film festival in Cannes, France, began in 1946 and is now the most famous in the world. The Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, is probably the most famous in the United States.
Sam Wilson, the artistic director for the Into Film Festival in the English town of Bromley, explains that “visual literacy is a 21st-century aptitude, and film festivals bring together the highest-quality stories to learn from.”
Far more than when people watch movies individually, festivals can “inspire audiences and keep the excitement alive for cinematic experiences.” Most do this by the sheer variety of films they screen, a variety almost unthinkable in a typical multiplex.
Local filmmaker and Baylor University professor Chris Hansen, whose entry, “Blur Circle,” won best feature film honors at the Deep in the Heart festival, once explained to me that our difficulty in thinking of films as art comes from how we normally approach them just as entertainment. Experiencing them at a film festival is a perfect way to see them as artistic creations.
Waco is fortunate now to have a festival of its own. I’m already looking forward to next year.