Art, Music, Books & Film

Taken by the Hand into the Dark

Brilliant, beautiful Tilda Swinton is President of the Jury of this year’s Berlin International Film Festival. She comes to the Presidency not only as one of the most gifted and intelligent of actresses today but also as the founder and guiding spirit of another festival: the Cinema of Dreams, which she launched last year on the occasion of the Edinburgh Film Festival in her hometown of Nairn in the Scottish Highlands.

She rented a place called the Ballerina Ballroom, a Victorian building which in recent incarnations functioned as a social club and bingo hall, and for 8 ½ days treated the public to a quirky selection of marvelous films: The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (the 1939 film of course, with Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce), Fassbinder and Fellini, David Lynch’s The Alphabet and Makiewicz’s All About Eve, a film adaptation of Boswell and Johnson’s Tour of the Western Isles, just to name a few. She charged a nominal entrance fee and asked the public to bring home-baked cakes and, on one evening when musicals were to be screened, jam jars ¼ filled with dried peas, which were to be rattled as a substitute for applause when the movie ended.

In an interview just published in Die Zeit, Swinton talked about her Cinema of Dreams. She called it a “state of mind”, first realized in Nairn and soon to take form again in Beijing as a festival of exclusively Scottish films. A festival, she says, should “broaden the horizon of our expectations”.  Of her own, she notes, “There were no premieres, no red carpet… [Cinema of Dreams] is more a space to which one invites a public that is ready to let itself be taken to places that lie beyond the predictable and quantifiable… the atmosphere is one of trust, the trust one felt as a child being taken by the hand into the dark to a seat in which one experiences something.”

I can see how trust is important. The success of a festival completely comprised of the organizer’s favorite films depends much on how adventurous, catholic, and intelligent said organizer’s cinematic wanderings are. I would trust Swinton, blindly. I don’t know if I’d trust myself; the last time I invited Georgia over for dinner and DVD, she fell asleep a quarter-way through They Drive by Night, but that might have had something to do with the Merlot.

Nonetheless, it’s an intriguing exercise, designing the film program of your own festival. Reading the interview—there are some wonderful parts in it, including her recollection of dancing in Berlin with Derek Jarman between the seats of a cinema after a test screening of his Caravaggio (her first film)—my mind wandered to what my own festival might show. Double Indemnity, of course. Tokyo Story, Nashville and Blade Runner. Ivan the Terrible and Z and Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Oh, and Tilda Swinton  in Jarman’s Edward II.

Asked if in an age of video-on-demand and wall-sized plasma screens cinemas will disappear. “Never,” she replied.  “So why do we need cinemas?” “To sit together in the dark,” she said.


Image: Tilda Swinton as Queen Isabella in Edward II


One response to “Taken by the Hand into the Dark

  1. t.s. is an amazing being indeed. i will never forget my emotion last year watching her at the oscars: her dress, her hair, her interview after the event. and i’ll bet she knows she’s probably dead wrong about cinemas never disappearing – but how she brings it off…


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