Matt’s Art Journal – January 5, 2021

The International Film Festival Rotterdam is one of the first major film events of the year and one that I normally cover in person. As a matter of fact, it’s also one of the film festivals that I feel closest to. I have been covering it since 2014 and that particular edition was a landmark one in my life because it made me realize the potential for travel that this job has. I had never been to Rotterdam and at the time, I was also suffering incredible heartbreak after a brutal break-up. My way of getting over it wasn’t too different from those men who, traditionally, have set out to sea for the very same reason in those old novels.

That particular year, I almost shocked the press desk with the number of interview requests I put in. I would turn in about five interviews a day for FRED Film Radio and watch just about as many movies. I did that because I was a cinephile but also because I wanted to keep my mind occupied in any way I could, to stop myself from checking my phone every minute, or send another awful, demeaning and embarrassing text to my now ex-girlfriend.

Quite frankly, I have often stated that my interest in art coincides with my curiosity and eagerness to learn things about myself and the world at large. But there’s another dimension to it, of course. It can also have an escapist aspect, which helps me forget the troubles of my own life. But when you’ve watched as many films as I have, that really rarely is the case.

The International Film Festival Rotterdam is also a film festival with attitude. It kind of prides itself on showcasing movies with an experimental edge and that aim to expand on the conventional filmmaking language. In reality, this choice may be a little strategic, giving it its own identity without necessarily having to compete with other huge festivals, like those of Berlin, Cannes and Venice.

Yet, from past experiences at several film festivals for the past years, I can testify that the most interesting movies I’ve encountered weren’t necessarily presented at the biggest and most glamorous festivals. The promise of those film festivals that are maybe one or two steps below Cannes et al. is that you really can make surprising or downright unexpected discoveries. This promise was part of the reason why I became convinced that I should dedicate my life to traveling to several film festivals in different parts of the world all year round.

So far, it has been quite an intense journey with its fair share of ups and downs. The pandemic has changed all that and, to some extent, has forced me to confront many of the frustrations that have mounted all these years. It has also led all the work and festival coverage to be remote, including that of the upcoming International Film Festival Rotterdam. Screeners have started coming in for films that I will be recording interviews about in the next few weeks.

The first of these I watched today is a Turkish flick called The Cemil Show, directed by Barış Sarhan. It’s about an actor wannabe whose hero is the lead in old B-movies. It’s also one of those films that slowly but surely descends into pure madness, in a way evoking the style of David Lynch’s works but without that same sense of inventiveness or psychological purpose.

So, I didn’t necessarily enjoy it but it was nice to find out more about the Yeşilçam era, which the film refers to. Basically, this was an era during which many Turkish film producers focused on making cheapo versions of Hollywood mainstream narrative tropes. For a long time, these films were seen as laughable at best. However, in recent years, like most things, they have been re-evaluated by some.

I came across Freedom Exercise, the 2020 debut album by Josh Johnson, who is a multi-instrumentalist, though his primary instrument appears to be the saxophone. The album is full of varied textures and melodies. It’s imperfect but interesting enough to be one of my picks for this week’s Crate Digging feature on JAZZIZ.

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