From Friday to Sunday, 92YTribeca will host the first La Di Da festival, which features new and interesting independent film. There are new shorts by the Safdie Brothers and Dustin Guy Defa, plus features by Amy Seimetz, Stephen Gurewitz, and others, featuring actors (and scene regulars) like Alex Karpovsky, Kate Lyn Sheil and Eleonore Hendricks. We spoke to series programmer and sometime L contributor Miriam Bale.
What were you looking for in the films?
I guess I was looking for what I like in classic films: weird and simple, not pompous but surprisingly deep. And maybe since I was going for films that reminded me of old films, a lot of the features that we’re screening were shot of 16mm. For the shorts program, “Savage Innocents” (a Nick Ray movie I love and almost named the festival after), I was looking for a theme about childhood. I watched a lot of shorts—till I wanted to throw up. Child actors are the worst! So cloying. Then I realized the shorts I liked were kids movies without kids. They weren’t focused on the kid as protagonist but on the confusion and disillusionment of being a kid.
How does this new generation of American indies compare to the ones that have come before?
It just got really good all of the sudden. I don’t know why. It’s learned the lessons of all the other eras.
How do you feel about the term “mumblecore”? A lot of people really hate it.
This is all new to me, Henry. I never really saw a “mumblecore” movie, except for a couple of Bujalski films, until recently. I mostly watched old films or a few studio films. Then I saw Sun Don’t Shine and it seemed as good as those old films I like, but more exciting; it has an outlandish and hysterical female performance (so 70s), a charming and subtle male performance (like a Joel McCrea), but was a sensitive genre film directed by a woman. Like the past and the future.
So you could say I wasn’t really a fan of the term “mumblecore,” either. But, like many of the people who hate the term, I hadn’t really seen the films. Now that I’ve seen what they’re up to now, though, I can see that it might be the worst misnomer ever. It describes the style, when what united those films was the production method. It was mixing documentary with fiction—another form of hybrid—for a real energy and spontaneity. And those filmmakers are able to make movies so much cheaper because even in the very structured and written genre films or fantasies, they’re often shot on the fly, capturing a moment as if it were a documentary.
Where did the name of the festival come from? Annie Hall?
Yeah. Most film festivals are named after a place, but that seems kind of boring to be totally anchored by a place these days. Then again, we are very New York, inspired by a certain kind of New York independent cinema, as you can see from our trailer. But obviously New York Film Festival is taken; so is Brooklyn, and Tribeca, and Williamsburg… maybe even Park Slope? I don’t know. So naming something after a Woody Allen reference seems like the easiest way to say New York without saying it.
Also, I love that scene! Diane Keaton is the only worthy opponent/co-star Allen ever had. She’s just so irreverent and weird in the face of all his death-obsessed arrogance. And I like that as the spirit of the festival. I’d like the festival to grow, of course, but no matter how big it might get, it’s hard to take something too seriously when it’s called “La Di Da.”
This sounds like a Brooklyn-y festival—do you disagree?—but you’re holding it in Manhattan. How come?
Definitely disagree! None of the directors of our features live in New York at all, actually. And some of the New Yorkers in the festival are adamantly, almost contentiously, not Brooklyn residents. Maybe it’s an old-fashioned thing, maybe a contrarian thing, maybe even a budget thing? But the spirit is probably more old-school Manhattan than new Brooklyn. No offense to The L! I live in Brooklyn.
Also, 92YTribeca was perfect. They play great old movies on 35mm, which most of the New York filmmakers have learned a lot from. And they’ve been totally supportive of these filmmakers since that venue started playing films, which is around the same time these guys started screening their films.