Sheffield opened tonight with THRILLER IN MANILA (John Dower), which recounts the famous rematch between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier in, yes, Manila. I rarely, if ever, watch boxing, but somehow I seem to like documentaries about boxing. And there are many, every year. Along with “Thriller”, also here is James Toback’s film, TYSON. And, as I’ve mentioned earlier, this Fall I was on a jury which gave the main prize to BIG JOHN, which follows the career of a famous Norwegian boxer.
Anytime I think, “Not another film about boxing!” I find myself being pulled into it, against any resistance. In this instance, despite the plethora of Ali lore that we’ve seen over the decades, I was surprised to learn many new things, mostly just how malevolent (really, that’s the word) he was to Frazier in the lead-up to the fight. And how this malevolence loomed over Frazier the remainder of his life, and to this day. As much of the film’s pleasure comes from its revelations about the fight’s back story, I’m reluctant to go into to detail, except to say like all good films about boxing, this is a story that transcends the subject. Its somehow tragic in depicting the scope of the impact of the fight on these two men.
TRADING PREMIERE PUNCHES
Sheffield is my third film festival in as many weeks, and one consistent topic of discussion has been the “premiere’s issue.” Its a particularly heated subject in European documentary circles now, as IDFA took a strident stance on their premieres policy this year. Many producers and distributors had to make the difficult choice of IDFA over those festivals, all quite good and important in different ways, which proceed it. In some instances this meant foregoing the opportunity to present their film on home turf. And I just noticed that next week’s CPH:DOX issued a bulletin that RIP: A REMIX MANIFESTO (Brett Gaylor) has been pulled for their festival. The film will be premiering at IDFA. Of course, what is especially ironic in this instance is that scenes from RIP are available for mash-ups via Open Source Cinema. Perhaps premieres are “old media.”
My own opinion has been that premieres are irrelevant (except to Festival directors) or at least should be a low priority variable in the decision making process. Its much more of important, I believe, to present the highest quality programme possible to Hot Docs audiences and attending Industry. The fact is, on the Industry side, one is not capable of seeing every film at a festival, and we need other chances to view work that may have been missed at a previous event. That, and to cut through the clutter certain films deserve the opportunity to play in a critical mass of high profile festivals. The quest for premieres often negates these opportunities.
Yet, with four very strong documentary festivals having emerged (most in the past few years) in the weeks proceeding IDFA, I do understand the instinct to be protective of the exclusivity of the event. Its a very competitive festival landscape here, and as the largest and oldest event IDFA is asserting itself.
Anyway, Nick Fraser gets the last word on this (for now), “The whole idea of a documentary premiere is a bit silly.”