Calgary Film got off to a most uneven liftoff for its 2018 edition. Having not been present for many years, it became more of a challenge than it ought to have been to find the front door of the opening night venue (staff agreed that there was a signage issue with Arts Common—hopefully that can be fixed in the just-announced $400 million upgrade. Once inside the Jack Springer Concert Hall, it was immediately apparent that arrangements for a pre-film “drink-with-your-ticket” had nowhere near the required staff to keep the suds flowing easily. But, as it turned out, no one was in danger of missing any part of The Sisters Brothers, due to the incessantly long parade of thank yous, personal pitches and video-recorded greetings from sponsors and politicos alike. Sure, the bills have to be paid, but other festivals have far less time-consuming acknowledgment strategies keeping the public more in tune with what they are there for.
Once the film did begin, it was soon apparent that the acoustics of the hall (reinforced or not) were far more appropriate for live music than cinematic art. Maddeningly—so many lines of dialogues being indecipherable—it would not be fair to offer a rating for this production. Worse, the wonderfully natural acoustics shared with everyone present: some unexpected flatulence, beer cups being inadvertently stepped upon and a covey of laughter that clearly demonstrated many of our number were enjoying the party and the film, were clear as a bell.
And it has been a long, long time that I have seen so many patrons leave the theatre never to return.
At first blush, director Jacques Audiard’s 1850s tale of the American West Coast gold rush (Oregon, California), seemed an ideal choice for liquid gold Calgary. Sadly—incomplete dialogue or not—the succession of brutal gun violence, corporate/personal greed and abject bullying came across as “unwanted on the voyage”, given 2018’s real-time examples of all of the above.
Insult to injury was my seatmate who was happily checking her Facebook and messages even as the body count rose. Little wonder those of us who enjoy films away from the madding crowd more often choose to see them at home instead of sitting amongst our perpetually distracted fellows.
With the newly created post of artistic director just announced (Brian Owens) being on hand for this gala-in-name-only, let’s hope that he learned as much as many of the rest of us and begins making plans to put film back into the festival. JWR