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Epilogue '08: Andrew Grant, R1

Greetings Harry, Kevin, Nitesh, Edwin and Alexis. A belated happy new year to you all.

Back in 2005 (how time flies!) I was a co-creator of The Conversation, a week-long discussion between film bloggers that was a response to the Slate Movie Club. This was at a time when film bloggers were viewed as little more than pariahs, hipsters, losers, snake-hipped word slingers, or all of the above. Things have clearly changed since then, but I think I'm getting ahead of myself -- that's a topic for later in the week. Since that time, Harry and I have discussed the possibility of forming another club, and I just want to say I'm thrilled that it's finally happened, and with such an estimable international crowd.

Ah...2008. Not a great year for cinema, particularly in America. While last year at this time debates were still being passionately argued about There Will be Blood and No Country For Old Men, there were hardly any fourth quarter gems worth discussing, let alone arguing about. (Well, save for Synecdoche, New York.) That the two most contentious films of 2008 were a multi-million dollar superhero film and a quasi-indie about a Connecticut wedding really says something, don't you think?

But there were indeed some wonderful films this year that flew under the radar -- in some cases even where there was a strong critical response. (Distribution woes, the rising costs of P&A, and a general media oversaturation -- topics I imagine we'll be tapping into this week.) I was thrilled the Japanese surrealist masterpiece Funky Forest: The First Contact, a film I've been championing for several years, finally landed a proper theatrical run. However, I must admit that even I was unaware of its release. That it received little fanfare or attention is hardly surprising. The same can be said for Jiri Menzel's wonderful I Served the King of England. When I first saw it at the 2007 Berlinale I was convinced it would be a hit, and get people talking about the Czech New Wave again. Didn't happen. Hong Sang-soo's Woman on the Beach opened to outstanding reviews (including a NY Times rave), yet it didn't even make $25,000.

2008 was a stronger year for undistributed films. As of this writing, I don't believe any of the following have been picked up in the US: Tony Manero (Pablo Larrain), You, The Living (Roy Andersson), Sparrow (Johnnie To), United Red Army (Koji Wakamatsu), I'm Gonna Explode (Gerardo Naranjo), or Night and Day (Hong Sang-soo). I should add that Benten Films would be more than happy to acquire any of these -- that we can't....well, I'll again save that for the distribution discussion.

Harry, in looking at your list, I believe only two (Woman on the Beach, Mukhsin) were released over here, which then raises an interesting question as to what sort of international titles (relative of course) find distribution in our respective countries. I spent some time this summer in Brittany, and was amazed to see both Night and Day and Waltz With Bashir playing in theaters in small cities, side by side with Hollywood blockbusters no less. That's something you'll rarely find over here.

I'm looking forward to hearing from the rest of you and the cinephilic pleasures that landed in the UK, India and the Philippines.
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Mukhsin wasn’t even released in France. I saw it at the Paris festival, where they did a full retrospective of this “unknown” female director from Malaysia. Yasmin Ahmad was there to introduce her films too. I saw two of her films, she has a really good talent for comedy and subtle screenwriting. And last month, another young self-taught filmmaker from Malyasia, Liew Seng Tat, participated in a roundtable of the major event Où va le cinéma?. Usually where there is only few prints, artfilms make a tour in smaller cities after their first run in Paris, when there are active exhibitors who defend diversity.

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