"The Film Prize Nobody Wants for a Subject Nobody Will Talk About" read the ad that Terra Nova Films placed in this year's Chicago International Film Festival program book. Terra Nova is a 26-year-old Chicago-based distributor and producer of film and video that deals with the subject of aging. Development director Ed Menaker says the ad for its annual Silver Images Generations Award was "supposed to be a joke," a wink at cultural denial of aging. But when the festival came and went (it ended October 17) and the $2,500 award—the only cash prize on the roster—was never conferred, the ad took on an extra layer of irony. It looked like Silver Images had become the award CIFF didn't want to give.
CIFF has its own version of what happened. According to managing director Ryan Jewell, Terra Nova wanted to give its prize to the festival's closing film, The Savages, even though no one at Terra Nova had yet seen it. The movie, directed by Tamara Jenkins, stars Philip Seymour Hoffman and Laura Linney as two siblings dealing with their father's dementia; it sounded like a great fit with Terra Nova, Jewell says. But CIFF was never able to get studio approval for the award (and the studios control every aspect of their films' public image). By the time Terra Nova requested a screening for half a dozen other candidates, he says, it was "a week before the festival started and we were in full swing. We couldn't drop everything to arrange it." Jewell says CIFF suggested "several other options" besides The Savages early on, including a chance to honor Malcolm McDowell, but Terra Nova turned them all down. "They wanted the big, glamorous closing night, and that's something we couldn't give them," says Jewell.
But Menaker and Terra Nova executive director Jim Vanden Bosch insist they never said it was The Savages or nothing. This would have been the fourth year for the Silver Images award, and in the two years previous CIFF had arranged a private screening of all the Silver Images award candidates for Terra Nova's jury the Saturday before the awards were given. This year Terra Nova waited in vain to be told when that would happen. "We always wanted to screen the other videos," Vanden Bosch says. According to Menaker, CIFF "gave us the list of films three or four weeks before the festival started, and we asked for screeners then." They say CIFF strung them along on the question of whether they'd be able to consider The Savages, never provided the other screeners, and ignored progressively more anxious calls and inquiries about what was happening. For example, Menaker says, when no mention was made of Terra Nova's award during a press event shortly before the festival opened, he asked a CIFF staffer what was going on but never got a clear answer.
Menaker says this couldn't have been mere "confusion and miscommunication," the explanation from CIFF reported by Ruth L. Ratny on reelchicago.com. But he says staff turnover at CIFF might have had something to do with it. Among the losses last year: longtime feature programmer Helen Gramates and general manager Sophia Wong Boccio. Jewell came on board in April. Unfortunately, Menaker says, this was a key year at CIFF for Terra Nova, which is looking for a national sponsor and considering taking its award to other festivals around the country. He fears that ditching Silver Images after it had been announced reflected badly on both CIFF and his group. He says they might have been able to present the award even after the festival was over if CIFF had issued some kind of public explanation. Instead the omission "was just ignored," Menaker says. "We weren't even invited to the closing event."
Molly Klapp of Allied Advertising, which is handling local publicity for The Savages (opening in theaters later this month), says she asked the studio, Fox Searchlight, if it wanted the award on September 30, and the studio gave its final answer in the week before the festival's close. The studio declined the award, she says, because Terra Nova had never seen the film. But the organization wasn't notified of the two press screenings of The Savages held by Allied, the last on October 11. "At this point," Klapp wrote in an e-mail to me, "we had not heard back from Terra Nova on if they had seen the film yet, and did not have a direct contact with them as we were going through the festival."
Menaker says CIFF owes an apology to filmmakers who submitted their work thinking it would be considered for the Silver Images prize. That's reasonable enough, but if, as CIFF claims, Terra Nova was ready to give the award to The Savages without seeing any of those other films, it might owe some apologies too. On the other hand, if Menaker and Vanden Bosch were only asking to "consider" The Savages along with the others, a mere apology from CIFF to Terra Nova would be pretty lame.
The Drexel Home for the Aged was looking to make a PR vehicle when it hired Gerald Temaner to film its facility in 1966; what it got was cinema verite and a role in the launch of Kartemquin Films. With the help of Gordon Quinn, a buddy from the University of Chicago, Temaner directed and produced a groundbreaking 90-minute documentary, Home for Life, about two people making their final move before the grave. The master has been lost, but a new print, made with a grant from the National Film Preservation Foundation, will be shown at the Gene Siskel Film Center November 10. You wouldn't know it from the center's publicity, but Temaner, who left Kartemquin years ago to teach and produce film at UIC, is still around and will be there, along with former partners Quinn and Jerry Blumenthal.
Back then, Temaner says, many documentaries were scripted. But he and his colleagues let the subjects' action dictate what would be filmed, all but eliminated the narrator, and edited to show what he calls the "subjects' intention, not ours." New technology had just made it possible to do the sound on the portable Nagra tape recorder; Quinn says they had a budget of $15,000 and paid themselves about $1 an hour. They faced something of a freak-out when Drexel's board of directors saw the film. But the home's staff—the people closest to the story—defended the documentary, and some of them will be present too. A DVD with additional material, also funded by the Film Preservation Foundation, is in the works, likely to be released by the end of the year.v
The Tem in Kartemquin