INNOVATION AND CLASSICS

AN INTERVIEW WITH DAVID SIN PROGRAMMER FOR THE ICA

Jaap Mees


 
Talking Pictures alias talkingpix.co.uk

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The main reason for this interview is the fact that I think the film programming of the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA), London, has improved enormously, in the past the films shown here were sometimes too obscure and inaccessible for itís own good. The successful  programming of an Edward Yang season is a good example of the recent changes. This improvement has a lot to do with the arrival of David Sin.  He spoke to me about his role as the ICAís film programmer:

After I left college I worked for one of the BFIís regional film theatres as a programmer in Derby in the Midlands (126 seats). Then I was a programmer at the Birmingham Film Festival and I have been a development worker for some other cultural cinemas. They programme  a more conventional art house programme, everything from letís say A One and A Two by Edward Yang to Chocolate by Lasse Hallstrom.

I studied film at University in the early eighties, at that time there were not so many film-courses like now. I was then very interested by American Independent cinema, people like Roger Corman, Dennis Hopper, Bob Rafelson, Bud Schneider. Now I am mostly interested in Asian and Middle-Eastern film making. This is quite useful for my job here as programmer of the Institute of Contemporary Arts. Filmmakers like Edward Yang, Abbas Kiarostami, Takeshi Kitano, Wong Kar Wai to name a few.

I did recently several seasons of film-directors like Ingmar Bergman, Andrei Tarkovsky, Edward Yang and Abbas  Kiaorostami. When I started three years ago here I noticed it was quite difficult to see a repertory of classic films. Ten years ago it was much easier to see those influential films, now itís getting more and more difficult, especially when rep cinemas such as the Everyman, the Scala and the Electric were closing down. (At least the Everyman and the Electric are now open again). Even the National Film Theatre is not doing as much as it used to do. There is still an audience for these films. The Cinemateque, with 45 seats, is also used for retrospectives sometimes next to our regular other  larger cinema.

Itís not so difficult to exhibit people like Yang and Tarkovsky. Tarkovsky has a loyal following, after his death he joined the pantheon of very important filmmakers. Even documentaries on Tarkovsky do well, even more when they are made by the likes of Chris Marker, another ICA favourite with a strong following. We recently started organising seasons of classical Ďauteursí like Bergman  and Fellini, I think itís important to put contemporary cinema in some sort of context.

How do I select the films?

The ICA as an institution has an artistic policy which broadly presents the innovative, the experimental in contemporary art and puts them in some sort of historical context.

Innovation is the most important, for instance the adaptation of  digital technology by film makers, artists who make things that donít fit in orthodox categories. It blurs the border lines. 

Another thing we do is introducing models of film-making here, which are new to the UK audience. This is a real ICA tradition. Kitano is a good example. In the UK there has always been a big resistance to foreign language films. Basically everything with subtitles is considered an art-house film, even if itís a very commercial movie. 

We go to the key festivals, Berlin, Cannes, Edinburgh, Rotterdam. We rack up 30 to 40 films at each festival. We also have a lot of films submitted to us both for exhibition and our distribution company ICA Projects. Hundreds of  Independent films from all over the world. I do the acquisition of new films. Mainly drama but sometimes a documentary like, Lucky People, a Swedish  global culture film. And documentaries about other  filmmakers like Lars Von Trier, Tarkovsky, Wong Kar Wai, who we are interested in.

The ICA has brought out about 20 films in the last three years, usually films we have heard about at festivals. We collaborate with broadcasters, when you buy all the rights of the film, that includes the TV rights.

Our future plans? Early September 2001 we have a retrospective of the Israeli filmmaker Amos Gitai who made Kadosh. He makes art based films, documentaries and features. Another plan is Fukasaku Kinji,  whose film is called Battle Royale. He is a genre filmmaker who made his name with gangster films. Then there is a Thai comedy The Iron Ladies, the very first film from Thailand ever distributed in the UK.

Films I personally liked very much from last year are A One and a Two, Julio Medemís Lovers of the Artic Circle, The Wind Will Carry Us, Audition, Lies, LíHumanite by Bruno Dumont, who has an enormously refined visual style and a great awareness of sound, like his debut film The Life of Jesus, which is a film released by the ICA. I think Dumont is a totally original filmmaker.

I think the reason that I lost interest in American Independent cinema is that when you go to the Sundance Film Festival for instance, itís now inundated with young American filmmakers who make calling card films to get the film studios interested. I think it lost its edge, it became part of the main stream machinery. Thatís where I lost interest.

There are some exceptions, when you include Canada with North-America, like Atom Egoyan and James Marsh who made Wisconsin Death Trip, a very idiosyncratic filmmaker.

I have good contacts with other art house programmers like Geoff Andrew and Hilary Smith from the NFT, Ian White from the Lux Centre, the Riverside people and some others. It would be crazy when the few cinemas who show the same sort of films are going to compete with each other, so itís absolutely necessary to stay in touch.

We are a calendar cinema, we book films in advance for periods like three weeks or in the case of A One and A Two even seven weeks. We canít prolong a film if itís very successful, because the next one is already scheduled. What I can do is get it back later on, in a special season or so, but often the momentum is gone. So it acquires some professional judgement as to whether a film will be successful or not. Imagine if the opening week of  A One and A Two would have been disastrous, I would have been stuck with that film, but fortunately this film is doing very well .Ē
 
 

A One and A Two, all rights reserved.

For details about the ICA and its film screenings go to: www.ica.org.uk
 
 
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