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Remake Film Festival

Friday 11 September 2015, by Judy Harris

As Hollywood’s fiscal calculations ensure it pumps out sequels, prequels and trilogies (some disguised as ‘new content’), the Remake Film Festival tried out a different relationship between old box office hits and current day moviemaking. Filmmakers across the globe were invited to reimagine, reinterpret or remake scenes from classical Hollywood movies – specifically Psycho, Casablanca and Singing in the Rain. The premise immediately brings to mind the fantastic and fantastical films in Michel Gondry’s underrated Be Kind, Rewind where a community on the brink of demolition come together to remake movies including Ghostbusters and The Lion King by using beach towels, coat hangers, tinsel and all manner of junk. Unfortunately the frivolity, originality and playful daring of Gondry’s film was mostly absent from the ten finalists in the Remake Festival. A couple of entries such as The Good Egg (a single frame Casablanca remake occurring within the confines of an egg box) and The No Names (another Casablanca homage, this one silent, jolting and war torn) had a distinctive tone and a degree of ingenuity, but most of the films screened were pleasant but lackluster parodies or homages.

It’s telling that only one of the ten finalists was inspired by Singing in the Rain, evidencing an inability by the judges and/or filmmakers to embrace the potential chaotic reverie of lay people trying to splash about like Gene Kelly. In contrast, Psycho remakes abounded since, unlike joyful abandon, stabbing scenes come easily. While low budget short films are hampered by a range of constraints (hammy actors not being the least of them), the Remake festival highlighted our limited conception of what filmmaking involves and what a film should look like. In fringe theatre (comedy especially) a DIY/punk aesthetic is readily embraced by performers and writers who are able to create characters, props and sets using everyday objects (kitchen utensils, wrapping paper and the like) to an effect that is more than just whimsical. Yet in filmmaking such imaginative re-appropriation is considered uncinematic, even in the act of remaking.

Moviegoers love to laugh at Tommy Wiseau’s unintentional cult film The Room because they know what a proper film looks like - and he keeps getting it so wrong! How hilarious that he can’t follow the recipe. This deference to formulaic habits, the conventions of genre and a resistance to a playful and imaginative engagement with our material environment can create an over reliance on story, script and editing techniques. The Remake Film Festival provided filmmakers with a structure within which to let loose in the manner of Gene Kelly’s Don Lockwood as he dances wildly (and somewhat transgressively) down the street. Don’s effervescence is brought to a halt by a cop patrolling the neighbourhood; unfortunately ours never got started.

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