image: Mifune Prodocutions Co. Ltd.
Faythe Levine and Sam Macon’s documentary about sign painting may sound a little dull, but it is a testament to both their skill as documentary-makers and the craft of their subjects that the film is such enjoyable viewing. This is a film about craft, about artisans practising a well-honed skill in a market that they find themselves slowly pushed out of. Technology is threatening to render the art of hand-painting signs obsolete and this film shows us what a tragedy that would be. We are introduced to a cast of both old and new craftsmen (and a few women) who work with endless passion and dedication.
Their finished products which are more beautiful than any graphically designed sign could be. The personal involvement each has with their signs from beginning to end, lend them a quality that no computer could ever generate. Therein lies the hope for the industry: people are starting to long for the quality of craftsmanship that only something handmade can promise. Vinyl appliques and printed tarpaulins age and cheapen almost instantly; a sign fades with some amount of beauty and can be retouched into an almostendless lifespan. Full of warmth of character seen through a loving lens, this documentary is both a visual and an emotional treat.
This year it’s actually an easy choice for me. The festival’s Kobayashi retrospective was an incredible and unique tour de force. I’ve been a lover of 20th century Japanese cinema for some time but have never had the chance to see a Kobayashi film before. Four rare prints arrived from Japan especially for the festival, including Harakiri (1962) and his 579 minute extravaganza The Human Condition (1959–1961). Kobayayshi’s style is quite slow and gets a bit of getting used to but believe me when I say that every scene counts. I loved Samurai Rebellion (1967) in particular, which was presented on a brand spanking new 35mm print. It’s a haunting family drama that bubbles until it spills over. As with all Kobayashi’s films it’s immaculately shot and sounds fantastic.
Although film festivals remain the ideal platform to showcase new and emerging talents, the opportunity to watch bygone films in a completely new light remains, for me, my favourite aspect. And what retrospective film could be better than The Third Man? Preempting the neo-expressionist movement long before it became a concept, Graham Greene’s screenplay is pitch perfect, with literary figures such as Evelyn Waugh praising the affinity of his prose to ‘the camera’s eye’. If Robert Kraska’s aesthetic brilliance won’t captivate you – a noir rendition of post-war Vienna permeated by omniscient shadows arching across cobbled ruins of a crumpled society – then its screen personas will. In spite of his deceptively short screen time, Orson Welles’ cameo whisks away the rhythm of the entire film, his unforgettable screen revelation inscribing a chiaroscuro smirk only he could give into cinematic history.