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About Jenna Cato Bass

I'm a director, writer, photographer, aspiring explorer and retired magician living in Cape Town, South Africa

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Posted November 29, 2010

I want to cry. Partly for myself (what else is new), but mostly for Francis Ford Coppola. I just saw Tetro. The maker of my favourite film of all time has just broken my heart. And I can't even take solace in the fact that it's in exquisite monochrome because ... well, he's done exquisite monochrome. What's more, he's done Mickey Rourke in exquisite monochrome.  I feel like I have just faced Death. And I caught him watching Christopher Nolan movies. Wow. That is so harsh. I feel worse now.

What can I say to feel better, other than, 'look to the good times.' We're now in the mercurial, end of year territory, when everything starts losing perspective in the light of another year ending and what all THAT means (if anything). I'm busy gathering the troupes (those inside my head) for another attack on the draft - we're moving into 12. It's all feeling so CLOSE... I'm wondering if it is. I cut all my hair off in the hope it would make me a better writer. But all it did was make me look in the mirror more. I think I've said it before, but the only thing worse than having someone hold up the progress of your project is when that person is you. Maybe, it is as Kisha says, I'm not Aaron Sorkin...... but as I replied at the time... BUT I WANT TO BE AARON SORKIN!!! I do. But alas. I'm also just getting to the point where I just want to direct (something other than insurance-related ads which is what I'm doing at the moment)... I must do more in my spare time... I must I must I must.....

Wow, but I saw Black Narcissus, and THAT was awesome. 'Sister Clodagh, Sister Clodagh, Sister Clodagh...' I feel better already.... 

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Winterthur Day Last...

Posted November 16, 2010

Last night in Winterthur. Walked the length and breadth of this silent city (made even more surreal by the fact there is a visiting delegation of hearing impaired soccer teams, signing there way across town. For real) This really is a place where you can hear your own thoughts, at present not such a good thing for me. I suppose I have a lot on my mind. I'm tempted to insert my credit card into the nearest autobank just to prove to myself I exist. Yes, folks, it's a meltdown, not surprisingly as a result of the schizoid experience of watching an estimated 160 films within 4-5 days - a barrage of visions, highs and downers. I purposely made the decision to completely immerse myself in films while here, ensuring I caught a screening in every possible slot (also with with alterior motive of spending more time in the cinema and less socializing... but not really). But what was I hoping to gain from this? If a good film ideally gives you something to take home with you, then an entire festival of shorts should at least provide you with a forklift to transport the swag. And it has. Now I'm looking at all these technicoloured goodies, pearly with wisdom, and thinking, now what? How do I use this? And does it go with the carpet?


I'm very grateful. Because for all the artistic and personal confusion I'm currently suffering from, there really can be no way I can return home the same filmmaker I was before. I fell like I've learnt things, been exposed to the rituals of far-flung cults, viewed up close the the mechanisms of mysterious machines. Things have changed. And that is never a bad thing.  

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Winterthur Day 3...

Posted November 16, 2010

See, the fact is I find it hard to make friends. Doing it in 'real life' is hard enough, but in the shifting, glutinous world of the film festival, the weight drags heavy. So what a pleasure it is to bump into people from festivals past - seeing Davide in his black fur jacket, waiting in a corner before the screening of his awesome film GIARDINI DI LUCE (a ghostly ode to man's celebrations and impermanence, a bird's eye view of the come-and-gone fireworks of life), I almost keel over with happiness. Also seeing Paul Wright (UNTIL THE RIVER RUNS RED, already discussed) again - wonderful. And these guys are really good at what they do. It's an honor to be known and recognized by them, let alone have a film screened alongside theirs. 

Check out Davide's site over here to see what this great Italian experi-mentalist is up to.

So, some temporary allies to ad to the mix when navigating the marshy ground of cocktail mixers and the like - 'Long live the new flesh!' as I've taken to saying when things go well. Aside from being a Videodrome quote, this is also the title of Nicolas Provost's competition short - screened here and in Berlin and no doubt elsewhere - wow, it's great. Provost digitally degrades, pixellates, warps and artefact-izes footage from horror films, from The Shining, to total schlock-fests I don't recognize, with healthy doses of irony and Cronenberg. The result is a fantasmagoria of digital decay that hints at death, our bodies, what compels and revolts us, and where we may be headed as a civilization. Absolutely Awesome. Five stars - and I gave it so.  

More Nicolas Provost over here (or at the very least this excerpt from LONG LIVE THE NEW FLESH)- share with your friends, ad to your art-cred rating, and most of all, enjoy.

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Winterthur Day 2...

Posted November 14, 2010

Great things were expected from David O Reilly's THE EXTERNAL WORLD (from me, and so it seems, er, the rest of the external world). His previous short, "Please Say Something" was nothing short (ah! enough of these unintentional puns!) of genius and TEW follows up in spectacular fashion, delivering more of O Reilly's tar-black zeitgeist, spewed out to splatter satisfyingly on the face of normality. And oh, how we deserve it. Instead of an existential romance between a highly neurotic cat and mouse (as in PSS), in TEW, O Reilly has assembled a whole ensemble of twisted-nerve characters to populate this multi-plot on amphetamines (from pregnant turds to rape-victim frogs) - or is it perhaps that O Reilly is under the influence of only the madness that comes with a blinding clarity, the gift of sight bestowed on but a few, enabling the chosen to see us as we really are. Stay tuned - I sense our generation's Robert Crumb. Catch more of his work (and you should, yes you should) at and related blogs/vimeo/etc. 

I'm also aware I've used the term 'genius' in two consecutive blog posts. Well, what of it - such was the nature of Winterthur, and good short festivals in general... but more on that later. 

OK, and look, if you really aren't going to take my advice and make your way over to David O Reilly's site (like, right now, screw this blog post) and browse for hours and hours and hours, then at least, check out PLEASE SAY SOMETHING over HERE. Really, it'll save you loads of money on therapy, drugs and whatever your poison may be these days. 

THE DARKNESS OF THE DAY: over 26 minutes, Jay Rosenblatt takes us on a guided tour through the history of suicide, and beyond - from our traveling window of the screen, he points out vistas of despair, plateaus of hopelessness, and the chasm of the human condition. As was always inevitable, but also what gives it its poignancy, DOTD is more than a document of death and suffering, but a chronicle of what it means to live as a human amongst humans on this planet of hours and days. 

Other notable viewings include:

FOR YOU I FIGHT: impressive graduation film by Rachel Lang (Locarno agreed) - its subject matter of female French army reservists is just screaming to be taken further - which apparently it is. 

THE SNOW COVERS THE SHADE OF FIG TREES: or THE DAY SASHA FOLLOWED US ON HORSEBACK - aside from having the best title ever, this is an eliptical, but profoundly poetic watercolour sketch of illegal immigrant life in the chill of the north. 

PLAYGROUND: by Susana Helke - getting under the skin of a group of immigrant boys in Finland, with affection and sincere humor. Nice.  

And seriously, I promise I am not being paid to do this, but really, go watch PLEASE SAY SOMETHING. Here's the link again if you don't feel like scrolling up again. 

For the first time in fact, I'm seriously hoping people read this blog - if only to get some word out about the amazing filmmakers operating in the short form... go seeeeeeee.

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Winterthur Day 1 and a Half

Posted November 13, 2010

Switzerland, or at least the part I`m in, has an almost fantastical quietness. Boots tap the street in discreet concorse,all sound is muted, buses pass without a sound.

That said, last night I was almost arrested. And I don`t mean "arrested" as in "Ohmigosh, last night, my friends and I were like totally almost arrested". I mean ARRESTED. As in, there were police dogs. Now, before those who don`t know me jump to any conclusions, no there were no drugs involved. In fact, I believe the crime was breaking and entering. And maybe trespassing. But moving along... You may think you live in a quiet part of Europe, devoid of all crime and related excitement. But just wait till the South Africans arrive. We bring the party. And, so it seems, the police dogs.

Either way, this town seems like the perfect place for a short film festival - a country of people who indulge in small fancies and bite-sized pleasures. Thus, in between the excitement, I have managed to see some very good shorts. Herewith, a chronicle:

One of the things I was most excited about seeing here was Paul Wright`s "Until the River Runs Red". I`d seen his previous short "Photos of God" in Berlin and was anxious to see how the, and I quote, "future of British cinema" would follow up. And boy, was I not disappointed. To it's credit, UTRRR is the kind of film about which it's best nt to say too much beforehand, thus I'll dispense with any description. Suffice it to say, ith UTRRR, Wright once again delves into the aftermath and often bizarre consequences of family tragedy, going far deeper than most others are brave enough, or have the imagination to explore. I would call this courageous and I would call this daring. And that's without even starting on the visual aesthetic. Though he has yet to completely win me over as a writer, Wright seems to get something which few, other than Tarkovsky, seem to grasp - the overwhelming, immersive, mesmerizing power of the single cinema image. I'm not talking here about photography, but something intrinsically bound up with the context, rhythm and movement of cinema. I'll speak no more on this (a group of people dressed in miscellaneous furs and covered in bells just walked past), other than to say Paul Wright is definitely one to watch. His storytelling is incredibly exciting, a commodity in short supply. I'll be paying good money to watch his feature, which I believe is currently in development. Thank god. 

What a pleasure it was to catch another screening of Liza Johnson's "In the Air" - also something I saw in Berlin and loved very much, covering in docu-fiction the trials, frustrations and triumphs of the teenagers in a small town circus class. Johnson does something similar, at least apparently, to Gus Van Sant in "Paranoid Park", getting her young, non-actors to act, but playing themselves. It succeeds and fails in the same way as PP, but ultimately I champion the method. As in PP, ITA as a result of this process has many moments when the acting is strained or unbelievable. However, these same flaws highten the realism and provide a hitherto unseen and unusual level of insight into the characters and personalities that would never be possible with traditional acting. The film itself is brilliant, and I wish it's speedy transition to feature, not because I believe the short format is irrelevent, but only to ensure a wider distribution, allowing more people to view "In the Air"s sincerity and genius. 



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Drop the 'the'...

Posted November 08, 2010

So if I have learnt anything in the past few weeks, it is this: WRITING IS NOT FOR SLACKERS. Don't start, Kevin Smith, Richard Linklater, those guys may make films about slackers (or used to), but there's no way they didn't work damn hard. Unless I'm missing something here.
It's a cold spell for what is supposed to be summer and I probably make a comical sight - Sitting in the middle of the room on the beach chair I have taken to writing in, covered in an eiderdown smelling overwhelmingly of mothballs. On my right hand side - notebook (all pages now used up, slightly deflated, as all notebooks that come to an end seem to look), The Ghost that Closed Down the Town: The Story of the Haunting of South Africa by Arthur Goldstuck, On Dreams and Death by Marie-Louise von Franz (if this script ever ends up being good, it will be in part thanks to the Jung library) and Save the Cat by Blake Snyder (because it either makes me feel safe, or allows me to snigger and feel superior). To catch up, feedback from Minky (script editor) was manna from the gods, but also alarm bells/cookoo clocks/atomic rocket fuel blast off that there is so much work to do. Such that, when Richard gives me some script notes and remarks at my acceptance of criticism, I say that after what I've been through with script coverage in the preceding weeks, unless he was telling me to throw the script out the window, nothing would really surprise me. He says I shouldn't throw the script out the window. So that's good. 



So. The Social Network came out here on Friday. Since then I have seen it three times in three days. I would have gone a fourth time tomorrow, except I will be on a plane. The Short Film Festival Winterthur has very kindly invited me to Switzerland for their screening of The Tunnel. Now come decisions like - 'is it pretentious to wear my Sundance jacket to the festival... even though it's the warmest thing I have...?' High-class problems - phrase learnt from Kisha. Realise that before The Tunnel I didn't know the meaning of High Class Problems (capiTals). But really looking forward to Winterthur - the program indicates they'll be screening shorts by some of the best short filmmakers I've seen around - David O Reilly (who at Sundance I told was a genius while he was in the middle of an arcade game and probably freaked him out), Liza Johnson, Paul Wright, and of course, Guy Maddin. 

But um, ja. The Social Network. I can imagine that elsewhere, and particularly in the US, this film has been discussed to death. But wow. A thousand times, wow. What was especially great was that it helped solidify a thematic link I've been trying to make for the last two or three years (though probably I'm really slow on the uptake, because now it all seems so OBVIOUS), defining a trend, or a series of concerns, or a rise, within American cinema... A return to certain classical, most often tragic emotional themes, sweeping epics of the heart that play out in places great and small, from oil fields to a fox's den. They focus on the great personalities, man at the height of his abilities, such as they are, and how they consume, defeat him, how despite his greatest efforts, he is consigned to the earth of his own making, or one that has grown beyond his control. VERY relevant. And that's why it all makes sense. I actually harbor not-so-secret pretentious desires of writing an essay on this. It will be no doubt pompously titled 'Mighty Giants in the Desert'. Yes. Now I'd just need to find someone to read it. 
So. Trying to use my time constructively by thinking about my script (i.e. instead of building, say, a shrine to Aaron Sorkin. Or writing blog posts about The Social Network), I wonder how far away I am. I was in a position yesterday when I had to pitch the film, and for the first time I was more able to do that... one of the things that Blake Snyder does get right (yes yes, with exceptions), that if you can't pitch your screenplay, it's not nearly in the region of 'final draft'. So that's good. And what did Nikhil say, 'wow, Jenna. It's like Athol Fugard. On smack.' Or did he say crack... these things matter. But what I feel the script doesn't have, is moments of open space. Something very important, which The Social Network thankfully reminded me of. Not just for rhythm, and tone and to give the audience time to sit back and go 'OK, now what? What's next' (Important things), but also for you, as the director, to take the film where it's meant to go. I think it's in these moments that the story really transcends the page. Just look at that boat scene in....
The Social Network. Thank you, David Fincher. Your film has officially obsessed me for three days, and will continue to for a while after, if I'm not mistaken. Why is this? Perhaps because if everyone had a film made about them the world would be a better place. Perhaps because of.... that boat scene....
I'm off to go relive this all in my dreams. 

And finally. A postscript to this rather single-minded post. Got me thinking, which director would you choose to shoot the biography of your life... I wonder if Mark Zuckerberg ever asked himself that... most likely not. But it is an interesting question. My dad, as the guinea pig for this slightly pointless thought experiment chose Paul Greengrass. And unless I'm mistaken, he means 'Bloody Sunday'-Greengrass, not 'Bourne-Ultimatum'-Greengrass. Unless my dad has a secret life he's not telling us about. You never know.  


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