Coming of Age, with Monkeys and Bud Cort
Another morning at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival means another fascinating conversation at the Cinema Cafe in the Filmmakers Lodge. This time it was a meeting of the minds between two writer/directors, Athina Rachel Tsangari (Attenberg) and Richard Ayoade (Submarine). Both films deal with young people finding their way into the adult world, but the other similarities between these two filmmakers are less obvious. Tsangari, who actually got her start with an appearance in Richard Linklater's Slacker (playing at this year's fest), is well-known for her close, personal relationship with surrealism. Her film features impromptu dance numbers, Monty Python reenactments, and actors transforming into wild beasts. Speaking about her refusal to construct her films in standard, three-act style, Tsangari professed her preference for “struggling blindly” through a story. Meanwhile, Ayoade has had a successful career as a comedic actor and writer, with a resume that includes Garth Marenghi's Darkplace, The Mighty Boosh, and his unforgettable turn as Moss, patron saint of nerds, on The IT Crowd. His film hews closer to tradition in terms of construction, but offers a thrilling first look at what is undoubtedly an important emerging young talent. Moderator, Sundance Film Festival Senior Programmer (and my boss) John Nein introduced Ayoade with a recitation of the many times the filmmaker has refused to take a compliment, including his reaction to being called a genius by one of his actor's: “He's lying.”
Photo by Brandon Joseph Baker.
But one of the best things about the Festival is the connection that all attendees share as film lovers and soon Tsangari and Ayoade were finding common ground in their love for the work of the French New Wave and 1970s American studios. Both also are shameless in the numerous references to other films they pepper throughout their own movies. Tsangari even explained how Attenberg is “a series of showdowns, like a Western. But instead of guns they use tongues and words." Ayoade noted the “similarity” between his main character's coiffure and that of Bud Cort, before explaining how much of his film came from his influences. Finding this common ground, Tsangari confided in Ayoade that's she's always been jealous of English actors' restraint. "In Greece everything is huge,” she said, “We say 'Hi, I love you’ to each other in the street and people think we want to kill each other.” And Ayoade finally dropped his modesty act, deadpanning, “I actually gave my actors line readings for everything. And then I said, ‘Now try and get 10% of this burning charisma.’” The event, which was being live streamed (watch the stream archive here), ended with questions coming from both those in attendance and those watching online. And Tsangari offered some great advice for all of us, in response to one aspiring filmmaker, saying “I advocate working with things that are your personal obsession.”
Photo by Brandon Joseph Baker.