Day 6 of the SCAD Savannah Film Festival saw two major festival premieres and a presentation of the Vanguard Award to Detroit’s John Boyega.
Updated with pix below.
The biggest issue about film festivals that I’m quickly learning is fighting the urge to do everything. As with most major film festivals, the SCAD Savannah Film Festival jam packs its schedule with dozens of fascinating opportunities to revel in the art and craft of filmmaking. Not only are there gala premieres such as The Shape of Water and Downsizing, but there are several fascinating panels and Q&As and special screenings and student films and short films and animated shorts and documentaries. It’s completely overwhelming, particularly to a festival virgin as myself.
On top of that, balancing my “real world” responsibilities feels nearly impossible. #FirstWorldProblems, am I right?
Some of the excellent panels offered Thursday included “Women of Sci-Fi and Horror,” “Foley: Live!,” and a production design panel that featured Paul D. Austerberry, a near-certain Oscar nominee for his astounding work on The Shape of Water. On top of that, audiences packed the Lucas Theater for a screening of Kathryn Bigelow’s Detroit, attended by festival honoree John Boyega. Shortly before the screening of The Shape of Water, Boyega received his Vanguard Award with incredible joy and enthusiasm.
“You are all an inspiration to me,” Boyega told the packed screening. “Never stop what you’re doing!”
The Shape of Water
For its SCAD Savannah Film Festival premiere, The Shape of Water sold out the Trustees Theater. As I settled into a seat in the balcony, the hyper-active SCAD student next to me started spinning tales of the film and of Guillermo Del Toro to the Genteel Southern Lady on the other side of him. That’s one of the beauties of the SCAD Savannah Film Festival. It brings film geek students and film-savvy adults together in an unavoidably awkward and wonderful way. She knew little of Del Toro. He was convinced this film would mark Del Toro’s return to horror.
I hated to tell him he would be wrong.
Anyway, The Shape of Water, according to my new best friend who would not sit still, was the first film to sell out in the SCAD Savannah Film Festival lineup. After buzzy births at earlier film festivals, that’s hardly surprising. This film seemed poised to take the awards circuit by complete surprise, and local audiences were hungry to take it in.
But all that water…
One of the really bad things about attending a film festival solo is that you have no one there to hold your seat when nature calls. You’re simply stuck with relying on the kindness of strangers. In my case, I asked the Ritalin King if he wouldn’t mind watching my seat but also cast an eye toward the Genteel Southern Lady as if to say, “He can’t focus on anything longer than a flea’s fart. Would you help me out here?” All obliged, and I was saved. Much longer, and the shape of my water would have flowed all over the upper balcony at the Trustees Theater.
The Shape of Water is an incredible technical achievement. The production design, the cinematography, and Alexandre Desplat’s exquisite, 50s-inspired score are all fantastic and Oscar-worthy. The audience mostly seemed to lap it up too, particularly the younger SCAD students who laughed, gasped, ooh’d and ahh’d their way through its 2-hour running time. There were holdouts, though, amongst the older crowd. Many seemed, in my opinion, appalled by the more gothic elements of the story. Halfway through the film, there’s a moment at which the film either completely works for you or you’re completely taken out of it. The festival attendees aren’t Oscar voters, of course, but I couldn’t help but wonder if older Academy voters would respond. It’s a number one vote getter, for sure, but can it win?
Afterward, co-star Richard Jenkins, co-producer J. Mills Dale and production designer Paul D. Austerberry led a well attended Q&A session. I would love to see Jenkins nominated for his quiet turn in the film over Michael Shannon’s scenery-chewing evil role.
The other thing I had to get used to with film festivals was running from event to event without looking like a terrorist. I’m not sure I accomplished that. Immediately following The Shape of Water, the Lucas Theater held a special screening of Alexander Payne’s Downsizing with co-producer and co-screenwriter Jim Taylor in attendance. Taylor held a Q&A after the film.
Downsizing works in spite of itself. People have reacted negatively to many of the trailers and ad campaigns, and that’s not surprising. It’s a difficult film to describe beyond the initial setup. The audience was really into it with the first 30 minutes and the transformation sequence. Then, it settles into a true Alexander Payne rhythm and seemed to quiet their reaction. It’s not really until Hong Chau appears in the third act that the audience seemed to re-engage. And what a performance she gives. She gives a completely honest, heartfelt performance without showing the fussiness of a staid actorly performance. No wonder people have buzzed her since early screenings of the film. This Savannah audience ate her up.
In his Q&A, Jim Taylor talked about the inspiration for the film. Apparently, his brother nurtured the idea as a stand-alone concept, not intending for it to be a film. He worked through all of the machinations and essentially build the world for Taylor and Payne to develop as a screenplay over 12 years. Taylor praised stars Matt Damon and Kirsten Wiig, who came on as a replacement for Reese Witherspoon after she was unable to commit. Taylor expressed his admiration for Damon’s ability to embody the everyone while living in a “big star universe.”
Taylor also shared some hilarious stories about co-star Christoph Waltz who sat with Payne and helped shape the character beyond the script.
“He said, ‘Anyone can be anything!’ which of course we don’t believe,” Taylor said. “But then he told us he’d just watched Zootopia, so I guess that shaped his worldview slightly.”
The SCAD Savannah Film Festival wraps Saturday night.