By David Berry
December 12, 2012
The Seventh Art takes its name from a film critic’s conception of cinema’s place among Hegel’s six art forms, but that is likely the headiest thing about this video magazine. Founded and run by a trio of Toronto film buffs — host and writer Christopher Heron, and co-directors Pavan Moondi and Brian Robertson — The Seventh Art is somewhere between Cahiers du cinéma for the multimedia age and freelance DVD extras. Founded earlier this year, the site mixes refreshingly deep and candid interviews with film professionals — from the likes of Canadian auteur extraordinaire Guy Maddin to Queen of Versailles director Lauren Greenfield — with smart, subtle visual essays on everything from the motifs of Tree of Life to The Girl With a Dragon Tattoo as a commentary on Hollywood remakes. Both considered and casual, it’s something like sharing a drink with an insanely cinema-versed friend, a strategy they frequently employ in their interviews.
The group behind Seventh Art recently decided to step out of cyberspace to launch the Live Directors series, featuring Whit Stillman as its debut guest. We took the chance to talk with them about the inspirations behind the site, the state of talking about films today and why the world is ready for long-form video. A condensed and edited version of the discussion appears below.
Q The site has been running for just about a year now; was incorporating a public talk always something you wanted to do?
Not necessarily at first. Part of it was that we wanted to become more integrated into the city. We noticed that a lot of the attention we were getting on the video magazine was more international, and not that much in Toronto. We kind of had the idea about a month ago, and it all just kind of worked out from there. It’s the best of both worlds, because the day after the screenings, we’re taking Whit to the Temperance Society and making a video, so we’re not abandoning that one-on-one aspect.
Q: You’ve had a mixture of Canadian and international filmmakers on. How do you usually go about tracking people down?
A lot of it is just who happens to be in town, whether they live here or they’re coming in to town. We’ve actually had a bit of an issue the past couple months, just because of the time allotment we’re looking for. If someone’s at the Light Box, they might only be around for 24 hours, and they can give us an hour and a half or give eight other outlets 15 minutes each. That was also part of the motivation for the live director experience, so we’re bringing people in on our own and not relying on other outlets.
Q: Just to back up a bit: what was your original vision for the sight? It’s obviously a bit deeper than a going-to-the-Saturday-matinee kind of take on movies, but it’s not exactly the university film studies approach either…
I think the goal is always to mix the two, because I think it’s the middle where people are underserved: it’s kind of either academia or blogs about going to movies … There are a lot of good reviews out there, but if you want to get into talking about film, unless you go to academia, you can only become a reviewer, there’s no other system in place. I hope that it’s kind of just a way of letting people know that there are other avenues for looking at and thinking about movies.
Maybe you should also talk about the incident that started it. Without naming names or anything.
Yes, well, I had a job where I was transferring a lot of junket tapes by a local interviewer, and you could just see how … they were so bad. It’s not that they needed to be smarter, but they needed to be a little more, I don’t know, personally interested in the actual material.
I did the same job, and we were watching videos for hours. And I don’t think it was that they were bad so much as the time constraints. You’d be sitting down with Woody Allen for three minutes, so the questions would be just awful. In three minutes, there’s just no depth to the questions.
And even if they were good questions, the talent is in such a poor state of mind, having been asked literally the same three questions over and over again, so no matter how well-intentioned it is, you’re going to get a kind of short, grumpy response. It just seemed like no one should have to go through that. That’s kind of where we thought, maybe idealistically, we could fit in.
And part of that job was also having to cut them down … taking three minute videos and cutting them down to 45 seconds, on the belief that people on the internet want their content as short as possible. But we think that has more to do with technical limitations of video from 10 years ago, when loading a video would take a long time. So we decided to go in the completely opposite direction: our first video was 85 minutes long.
We wanted it to be what we think the internet has become to people, where they can choose to interact with it how they want to interact with. Like a magazine, you can put it down and pick it up later.
Q: Besides the length — I think the shortest interview you’ve done is about a half-hour — one of the things that sticks out is the format, which is very simple. You’re generally meeting in a bar, often someone has a drink, and it’s fairly conversational, for an interview. Why do you like that format?
That conversational aspect is important. Chris’s interview style isn’t the typical interview, it’s very much a back-and-forth, where he puts his opinion in as well. It’s presented to the viewer like they’re sitting down in a bar talking to that filmmaker, as opposed to watching an interview.
One of the great things we’ve noticed about the length is that, usually about 10 or 15 minutes in, every interviewee starts opening up and getting a bit more casual. Sometimes they’ll have a drink, or two; you get the feeling that they’re being honest, which is what we want. And … I’m always surprised when someone says that they’re so thankful that we’ve actually seen the films. That seems like the minimum effort you would put into it. But even that puts them in kind of a little more open state.
Q: That kind of speaks to that junket culture again, so maybe it’s a good time to ask: Why do you think this kind of junket culture persists? Speaking as someone who’s been in on a little of that, it doesn’t really seem like it serves anyone: the artists are answering all the same questions; if you have a question that take more than 15 seconds to ask, it’s not getting in; the audience all gets the same story, or lack thereof…
We were at a party at TIFF, and I was talking to a head of publicity for one of the studios. And I asked him basically that same question; I asked him if he’d rather have a tiny blurb in The New York Times where only people who already know who, I don’t know, the Wakowskis are are going to read, and it’s not going to convince anyone to see the film, or would you rather have a real, in-depth, long-form piece of content that might convince people who maybe aren’t sold on the Wakowskis to go see this film. A longer piece of content is going to have more power than a soundbite. He got really defensive, and didn’t respond well to it, but I pressed him on it, and he basically admitted that there was more prestige to the New York Times sound bite than three guys with a camera. That prestige was the biggest factor above all else.
I think the PR people are also trying to limit any potential damage, and that’s kind of the attraction of a junket: it’s almost a system that oversees itself, where no one is going to say anything untoward, they’re only going to get their small thing in, and because interviewers need to get a certain amount of information in, they’re not going to waste their time on some kind of gotcha journalism. What we’re trying to do is something a bit more honest, where by giving more time, we’re going to get something more interesting out of it.
Source: National Post