Indie Inspiration

Indie Inspiration: Anthony Dod Mantle and The Celebration

While watching “Side By Side“, the fascinating documentary about the history of film and video, I was reminded of the terrific Danish film “Festen” (or “The Celebration” in English). This movie made a huge impression on me at the time and has continued to inspire my own efforts at filmmaking for a few basic reasons.

“Festen” is a film of primal emotions and it’s visual style supports this. The story of a Danish family coming apart at the seams over the course of a party celebrating the family patriarch’s 60th birthday, it was shot with a Sony DCR-PC7E Handycam on standard Mini-DV cassettes and then transferred to film. Your cell phone can record much better looking video than this tourist camera could at the time. The camera was however operated by the great Anthony Dod Mantle who won the cinematography Oscar for “Slumdog Millionaire”, and the camerawork in “Festen” is more energetic and heedless of formal composition and movement than in any other movie I can think of.

The film is beautifully written, directed and acted. It was budgeted to be shot on 35mm, but Mantle at the last minute decided that this little handheld camcorder was the way to go, and he made full use of the freedom it afforded him. The camera roves around restlessly, whipping about, peering at the action from bizarre low and high angles, the picture degrading as the evening wears on and the sources of light dwindle. Lots of people dismissed the film because of the resulting rough look, and that’s their prerogative, but I feel they are missing the point.

It’s a charcoal sketch, not an oil painting. It’s a punk band, not an orchestra…

An artist shot this movie, and that camera was his chosen tool. It’s meant to be rough. It’s a charcoal sketch, not a large scale oil painting; it’s a punk rock group, not a symphony orchestra. It has it’s own value. What I love about the movie is the raw urgency of it, and it’s complete lack of apology for not looking better. These were conscious aesthetic choices, and it wound up winning the Special Jury Prize at Cannes.

It must have been strange for all those experienced Danish stage and screen actors back in 1998, at the very dawn of the digital filmmaking revolution, to walk onto the set and see this madman buzzing around them wielding a tiny camera the size of his hand, instead of the usual army of camera, grip, and lighting technicians and their truckloads of gear. Me, I’d like to shoot a feature on my phone. Hell, as soon as they come out with a decent pair of video glasses there won’t be a location on Earth I won’t steal.

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