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Shane Danielsen on a Giant Retrospective

They Might Be Giants is a retrospective like no other, celebrating the 'other voices' of New American Cinema and helping to revise one of the most influential periods in cinema history. The idea for ...

They Might Be Giants is a retrospective like no other, celebrating the 'other voices' of New American Cinema and helping to revise one of the most influential periods in cinema history.

The idea for the retrospective sprang from a conversation Artistic Director Shane Danielsen had with renowned Variety critic Eddie Cockrell, concerning the forgotten directors and films of 1970’s American cinema. “We talked about the directors who only made one or two films and those who were working in commercial cinema and felt emboldened to make more personal films,” he recounts.

The retrospective will be a journey of discovery for audiences, uncovering rarely seen works which have slipped out of public view, like Monte Hellman’s Cockfighter. “It’s an incredible, quasi-documentary film that was shot in secret using actual cock-fighters and locations,” Danielsen tells me. “It’s stylistically groundbreaking, audacious and one of the great works of New American Cinema.”

Cinema history has precluded some of these directors because their output was so limited. In the case of James William Guercio, his only directorial effort to date is the hugely influential Electra Glide In Blue. Danielsen describes it simply; “As close to pure cinema as you can get.” Equally, director Ivan Dixon had a directorial career spanning only three years and two movies. One half of his diminutive back catalogue is the thrilling and provocative The Spook Who Sat by the Door, which inspired a future generation of African-American filmmakers.

The Hollywood notion of a director’s importance is often governed by their entire body of work, as opposed to a single film, no matter how groundbreaking. “Hollywood loves the idea of an auteur if it makes for an easy sell,” Danielsen points out. It’s a valid point. Regardless of his other (largely forgettable) work, Jerry Schatzberg helmed the phenomenal Scarecrow, the only on-screen pairing of Hackman and Pacino, and a Palme d’Or winner to boot.

This group has its share of oddities also, atypical films in the canon of directors who went on to more commercial work. Michael Ritchie's Smile is a cutting observation of small-town America that is on a par with Altman’s Nashville, yet his later career is populated by studio movies such as Eddie Murphy vehicle The Golden Child.

Danielsen views this retrospective as an opportunity to re-assess the directors and the movement that shaped the cinematic landscape. “It’s easy to say that New American Cinema was a revolution of the few when it was actually a growing sense of entitlement among the many."

Come back on Monday when Shane Danielsen discusses some of the great acting performances of EIFF's They Might Be Giants retrospective.

Sign up to receive the EIFF e-mail bulletin by midday on Sunday 3rd August for a chance to win a subscription to Sight & Sound, sponsors of They Might Be Giants. The competition will run in Monday 7th August’s bulletin.
 

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