You know you're disoriented (and too drunk) when some man sitting next to you at a party holds out a small tin, extends it in your direction, nods his head, and says, "Want to try it?" And, somehow, despite your decent upbringing and a parent who drilled the maxim / warning, "Don't ever take candy from strangers" into your little head, you take what he's offering and follow his instructions to put the little pouch between your lip and your gum. As it sits there and a sharp burning sensation starts to radiate onto your tongue and into your throat and sinuses, he tells you that this substance is illegal everywhere in the EU but Sweden, and that it is said to contain a concentrated dose of tobacco (I feel like puking every time I take a drag of a proffered cigarette), and traces of ground glass and pesticides. And still, you sit there with the thing chilling in your mouth and take in the intensifying burning sensation with aplomb--like someone put a big spoonful of pepper in your yogurt and you've just taken a huge bite on a dare. He's making a documentary film on snus, so it's like, Snus, the Movie, I guess. (Super dumb moment #843 and it's only mid-February. I'm apparently going for a record this quarter.)
For the uninitiated, here's what the ever-reliable Wikipedia site says, "Confusingly, the English word snuff means snus in Swedish and the word snuff
is, often incorrectly and outside Sweden, used to refer to both the
inhaled form and the placed-under-the-lip form of snus/snuff.
However the snuff intended for inhaling through the nose may be called torr snus, or more correctly as lukt snus, in Swedish. While the moist form of snuff placed under the upper lip is just called snus in Swedish, and the correct word for referring to this form would be snus in English as well.
Moreover, what may add to the confusion is that the word snuff may also refer to dipping tobacco (also known as moist snuff
which may confuse even more), which is applied to the lower lip and the
gums rather than inhaled or placed under the upper lip. Thus all three
forms are different products." Got that?
It wasn't long before I was up out of my chair, like the first kid in grammar school that comes to class with a joint in her sock, and tried to foist one on an unsuspecting American festival programmer, who just kept shaking his head no until I went away. And he's a smoker. That should have been my first clue. But I had to wait until I started feeling nauseous and queasy before I realized that I should remove it from my person immediately. And then I had to go to my hotel and lie down. I've kept the soggy specimen as a souvenir among my kronor. I hope I remember to remove it before flying back home.
The other personal highlight of the Göteburg festival was sitting and listening to the master class with Sally Potter hosted by festival director, Marit Kapla--really great conversation. Potter made a snuff film called Rage that festival débuted at the Berlinale last year and was the first feature film to début on mobile phones. Because of various and sundry personal issues, it felt like one of those experiences where someone may seem to be addressing a large roomful of people, but she's really talking directly to you. And she said a lot of things I needed to hear at the moment about fear and mistakes and self-forgiveness. But what she also said that struck a resonant chord was about whining and complaining about being an artist and how that needed to stop. (For the record, she's lost money on this film despite the heady and smart business plan, ultra-low budget and ground-breaking release and distribution strategy.)
Like most of Potter's singular work, Rage (her sixth feature) was developed in a specific and deliberate way, this time for the Internet generation, the director's doppelgänger an overweight, 10-year-old black boy (as she envisioned him) filming intimate confessions of people with his cell phone in the midst of a big fashion show. He then posts these unfiltered, raw, incriminating conversations on his web site like so much episodic fodder. These adults he records (and one young model named Lettuce Leaf, a riveting performance by Lily Cole) are so indulgent with him, thinking him nothing but a harmless and sweet child with his small, unobtrusive lens. They don't realize the powerful tool he holds in his hands. This is the fashion industry we never see--literally. We are told the story solely through off-camera sounds and exposition from a group of less-than-reliable narrators, a crew of fashionistas, workers and hangers-on who school the boy in the ways of the world. The minimal aesthetic was cheap, simple, "barefoot." Each actor worked for two days performing their monologues in front of Potter's small camera, all making the same pay, the only crew, Potter herself who plays the young Michelangelo. The viewer's imagination has to do the rest and the actors become our whole world--our eyes, our ears, a wider global perspective used as metaphor, inviting us to "see" the action in as subjective a way as can possibly be realized. We have to use our imagination to see the story.
What this phenomenon also points to, and what Potter reiterated in her talk, was that older generations are at the mercy of young people who understand the implications of how our media is made, distributed and absorbed, how this has changed the landscape irrevocably. The multiplicity of information, the fast absorption of inter-connected things, is a new way of parsing the world at large. "Embracing the new is the survivor's position."
The theme of this year's festival was "sharing," and Potter's film emphasizes our more conscious role these days of give and take--how we make media and how we consume it. A lot of the time we are doing these things simultaneously. Taking things to a bit more of a higher philosophical realm, she explained it this way: "It's a rare moment when someone 'outside' of your experience allows you to glimpse a dormant part of you that, when awakened, might inform a key way of opening up a new way of seeing things, a new point-of-view. It is a revelation that has lain dormant for a long time, and when it is awakened through someone else's mitigating lens, it's a rare and wonderful privilege." This child that is Michelangelo (Michael the Angel), both her protagonist and the author of this story, bestows a quality of attention on his subjects and they open up like flowers before his innocent, inquisitive gaze, a nerve-wracking and exhilarating experience, indeed.
Here are the winners of the various competitions that were announced at the gala tonight. A special shout-out to my new Finnish friend, Dani Strömbäck, winner of the first Nordic Film Music Prize for his score in Letters to Father Jacob. The Finns love me and I love them. The Swedes and I need a bit more time, but we'll get there. The festival people, of course, were stellar in every way. We'll always have snus.
Headed to Stockholm tomorrow for some R&R before returning to Helsinki for a bit. Then, Berlinale coverage for Hammer to Nail! Look for Tully's coverage soon from Rotterdam. Northern Europe is fab, but I really miss New Yorkers.