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A Cut Above: Critic's Choice
by Karen Pecota

I was reflecting on the festival films that have my personal “cut above” rating and decided to document my guidelines. Stated below are my criteria and a few recent examples for illustration. However, to begin, here are a few words about festival films. In general, the festival films are a privilege to view because the small selection is chosen from a wide number of applicants: For example: The Sundance Film Festival shows 70 out of 4,000 entries in their competition feature-film category. Each festival has five to eight categories which make for a large number to view. According to the programmers, even though the percentage is comparatively small, it is their crème de la crème for the year. Unfortunately, 85% of the festival films will never have a world-wide viewing audience outside the festival, because they are not picked up by the big studios. Therefore, film festivals are special events, opportunities to view a variety of talent and a means to communicate a message which opens my world view.

My “cut above” or ‘WOW’ films must carry a certain element of “surprise discovery.” It must combine all aspects of my check list (see below) to produce an exceptional visual aid or unforgettable emotional attachment to the narrative.

Karen’s “cut above” check list with recent examples:
Music: must fit the filmed piece and its narrataive. For example: 2006 Berlinale, Italian Feature film Romanzo Criminale. The era music was used to make clear and deliberate transitions of the narrative from scene to scene. It was perfectly chosen and orchestrated!

Narrative: intriguing storyline which draws me within 12 minutes. It must have a clear message. For example: 2007 Berlinale, USA feature, Man in the Chair. It effectively uses cross generational elements which are the makings of a classic.

Script: intelligent use of language to make the point. For example: 2007 Sundance/Berlinale, Canadian feature, Away from Her. It eloquently uses the English language to express the word memory.

Acting: casting is vital to find the right person to nail the role, must not be a well-known actor. For example: 2007 Sundance, United Kingdom feature, Longford. All of the actors take the script, nail their character and is amazingly believable.

Cinematography/Filming: scenery tells the narrative without dialogue; not just landscape; usage of quality film footage is a must For example: 2007 Sundance, USA feature, The Year of the Fish. This uses human animation to tell a Chinese Cinderella story. Absolutely creative! 2007 Berlinale, Chinese Feature Tuya’s Marriage captures Mongolian life for its history archives. This life will soon be extinct in our fast and changing world. This is a reality bite!

Editing: precision, timing, and clean (i.e. no jumps in the film). For example: 2005 Hamburg Film Festival, Danish Feature, Adam’s Apple. This creatively orchestrates the film’s humor and an unforgettable visual.

Discussion Points: ability to dissect the film without destroying it and enjoy fun group discussions (All of the films mentioned above are noteworthy of this point)