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The advantage of a small concentrated film festival like Inverness is that you can get a lot seen in the course of four really intense days. The disadvantage is that if you happen to be away for the weekend of the week that it’s on you’ll miss a sizeable percentage of the films. Which is to say that I missed several really interesting looking documentaries due to being in Aberdeen, though my bank balance probably appreciates it. (Hence my lack of nablopomo posting over the weekend, as I was away without the laptop. I did, however, manage to knock out a draft of a short story for a competition I want to enter, which I feel should count for something. The friend I was staying with was fair taken with me actually writing in a paper notebook.) I did manage to see some things, so really there’s no reason to sulk about the things I didn’t see.

Very Semi-Serious

After my earlier fretting about the unlikeness of my chances of getting to my target of 25 feature documentaries this year, I came across my list of new years resolutions and lo and behold my actual target is the much more achievable 15 documentaries. As this film is number 11 for this year, I actually feel hopeful rather than daunted by the task ahead.

Very Semi Serious is a film about the Cartoon department of the New Yorker. It’s a charming little film about the serious business of being funny. More an insight into how being a cartoonist in the 21st century works, and how the publishing industry has changed since the ‘golden era’, than an actual history of the New Yorker. It’s the kind of film I feel ought to make the rounds of art schools for budding cartoonists to watch and get a realistic idea of how hard they’ll have to work to get on in the industry. Interesting and charming and amusing, even if in my case it was more of a wry smile than a guffaw, but then that tends to be my reaction to the cartoons themselves so it seems entirely fitting.

One of the most interesting aspects of the film was that it tackled head on the issue of diversity amongst the cartoonists. It looks at the activities of the current Cartoon Editor to shake submissions up, to find and nurture new talent because in his words

“Unless we interceded this may be the last generation of cartoonists to do this.”

That utterly pragmatic statement as a reason for opening up the submissions process, seems to fit perfectly with what they say they want from their cartoonists. Which is essentially to find cartoonist with distinctive styles and voices. It’s interesting to watch the archive footage of a gathering of the cartoonists in the 70s – essentially a gathering of late middle-aged white guys, with one solitary woman slipping awkwardly through the crowd – and compare it to the current crop with its considerably more diverse mix.

We do get the usual suspects interviews – the legends of the job if you will – but instead of just getting our one trailblazing female cartoonist – Roz Chast – talking about how it used to be and one of the current ones talking about how it is now, several female cartoonists, at different stages in their career with the magazine are interviewed about different things. In fact the interviews with the current batch of cartoonists are pretty much gender balanced. I feel odd bringing it up, but it says something about the documentaries that I’ve watched recently that I felt that there were a lot of women in this documentary when really it was just a proportional number in terms of how many were part of the story. (According to the Variety review there were 45 named contributors of those 15 are women. I’m remembering that Geena Davis article from years back about the 3:1 ratio of men to women in family films and how that affects the point at which we ‘see’ the balance tip on representation by gender and laughing at myself for proving her point.)

It’s a film largely dominated by the presence of Bob Mankoff – rightly so, he’s an interesting guy with lots of intelligent and interesting things to say about the serious art of being funny – about a very white, male middle class institution, I would not have been surprised, and probably wouldn’t have noticed if Chast had been our only female contributor. It was nice to have variety – a range of cartoonists, a production staffer, Mankoff’s wife and daughter – but kind of sad that it’s unusual enough to be noticeable.

Carnival of Souls

This was a really unusual film event to attend, as there wasn’t actually a film being projected.

It’s a binaural sound experience! Basically they took the script of a 1962 horror movie of the same name and adapted it as an audio drama. Binaural audio, for the uninitiated is essentially where sound is recorded using a set up where the microphones are positioned like your ears (usually using an adapted mannequin head, but you can do it yourself with microphones that sit in your ears like headphones) while the drama unfolds around them. Done well it produces a really immersive experience. In the cinema we wore wireless headphones and blindfolds and dived in. The blurb made a great deal about having tested the drama out on blind film fans to let them tweak it to be more effective. And the soundscape is really effective. Creepy and strange and really evocative. Technically its brilliant, I’m in awe. It’s a shame therefore that the plot of the film itself – especially the ending – makes no sense. Early on it works wonderfully but towards the end of the film it just, doesn’t make sense. Presumably something on screen in the film itself would have made a big reveal but perhaps not. It was really clever and really well done, but I do wish they’d chosen better source material.

As an aside, I think the technique has potential as an interesting way to re-score silent movies. I think it could be really fun to take the script of a silent movie – just because we can’t hear the dialogue, doesn’t mean it wasn’t written – and do the same thing with that and screen the two in sync. Now that would be a 3D cinema experience I could get behind.