JOSEPH L. MANKIEWICZ, the esteemed Hollywood director, screenwriter and producer, once said, ”I think it can be said fairly that I’ve been in on the beginning, rise, peak, collapse and end of the talking picture.”
In a career spanning more than 40 years, Mankiewicz, who died in 1993, won four Oscars (Best Direction and Screenplay for ”A Letter to Three Wives” in 1949 and ”All About Eve” in 1950).
His work encompassed musicals (”Guys and Dolls”), film noir (”No Way Out”), romances (”The Ghost and Mrs. Muir”) and historical epics ( ”Cleopatra”).
Jean-Luc Godard, the French director, called him ”one of the most brilliant of American directors, and the most intelligent man in all contemporary cinema.” Unlike most film luminaries, Mankiewicz maintained close ties to the East Coast, residing for many years in Bedford, N.Y.
How fitting it seems, then, that he should be the guardian angel of Stamford’s Director’s View Film Festival. Now in its second year, the festival, held Friday through next Monday, was originally designed not only to champion Mankiewicz’s movies, but to celebrate other influential filmmakers (past and present) who have similarly raised the artistic standards of the cinema.
”As a group, directors have not been adequately appreciated by the public,” said Robert T. Kesten, Director’s View president and founder. ”Film is a director’s medium. Someone has to tell the story. You can always edit around a bad performance or a bad script. But if you don’t have a point of view, if you don’t know where you’re going, you’re in trouble.”
On Friday, the festival’s opening night kicks off with what many consider the greatest directorial achievement of all time, ”Citizen Kane.”
Despite its Oscar-winning screenplay by Herman Mankiewicz (Joseph’s older brother), Orson Welles’s towering debut remains ”one of those cases where egomania really does work,” Mr. Kesten said. ”It seems as creative today as it did when first released. In some ways, more, because you didn’t have the technical advances that you do today, and yet Welles accomplished so many of those same effects.”
The centerpiece of the evening, indeed the entire the festival, will be the presentation of the Joseph L. Mankiewicz Excellence in Film Award, during a black-tie dinner sponsored by the Stamford Marriott. Last year’s crystal trophy, designed by Tiffany & Co., was awarded to Mankiewicz protege, Robert Benton, the Academy Award-winning director of ”Kramer vs. Kramer”). This year, the recipients are the director/producers Ismail Merchant and James Ivory, creators of the films ”Howard’s End,” ”Remains of the Day” and ”Room with a View.” These movies, and three others — ”Maurice,” ”Slaves of New York,” ”Mr. and Mrs. Bridge” — will be screened, free of charge, at Stamford’s Crown Majestic theater on Saturday, with introductions by Mr. Merchant and Mr. Ivory. (Some movies from the retrospective will also tour in Greenwich, Westport and New Rochelle, N.Y.).
The festival will close next Monday with the regional premiere of their latest film, ”The Golden Bowl.”
”Merchant and Ivory made literary period films popular again,” Mr. Kesten said. ”They took a genre that had died and just knocked everybody’s socks off.”
The duo also helped launch the screen careers of Helena Bonham Carter, Daniel Day Lewis and Hugh Grant.
Rosemary Mankiewicz, widow of Joseph and on the board of Director’s View, thinks her husband would have approved of Merchant and Ivory’s latest honor. ”They parallel his work in that they take tremendous care with the writing and presentation of material,” she said.
The festival’s Dorothy Arzner Prize, new this year, is named for the first woman member of the Director’s Guild of America. Ms. Arzner, a Hollywood outsider, ultimately became a professor of film at U.C.L.A., where she mentored star pupil Francis Ford Coppola. Mr. Coppola, in turn, has agreed to serve as the honorary chair for the prize, designated for directors who have persevered over difficult obstacles to create a feature of unquestioned artistic merit.
Alison Maclean, the winner of the prize, will preside over an award reception and screening of her 1999 Venice Film Festival Award-winner, ”Jesus’ Son.”
Another innovation this year is the incorporation of two weekend long film competitions: he Director’s View Independent Film Festival and the International Student Film Festival. The Independent Film Festival consists of roughly 40 new films, (features and shorts) that will be judged on directorial excellence by a panel of six critics. Three winners will be honored next Monday at Stamford’s Ferguson Library. Among the contenders are ”Foet,” an oblique commentary on abortion and fetal experimentation, ”The Windigo,” a suspense film reminiscent of ”The Blair Witch Project,” and ”Grandfather’s Birthday,” which stars veteran character actor Robert Prosky and is currently under consideration for an Oscar nomination as Best Short Film.
A handful of up-and-coming Connecticut directors will participate in the Independent Film Festival, including Greenwich’s Christopher Summa, whose short ”The Anchor Man” was just screened at Sundance, and Justin King of Wilton, currently developing a feature-length followup to his short entry, ”Cheap Curry and Calculus.” He calls the festival a ”good platform. There are a lot of industry people who reside in this state, but it’s currently under shot and underrepresented in terms of filmmaking. I’m hoping to meet some crew and potential backers who might become involved in my upcoming project.”
This year’s festival has an events committee that includes Tom Cruise, Paul Newman, Meryl Streep, Tim Robbins and Jack Nicholson.
”But if bringing in celebrities was all the festival was about,” said Tom Mellana, the arts editor for The Stamford Advocate. ”it wouldn’t be as important to the city; it wouldn’t have an impact beyond Stamford’s borders. This has the potential to be hugely important for the reputation the city wants to develop as a major arts center.”
Mr. Kesten is well aware of the potential of Director’s View to culturally benefit Stamford and, indeed, the entire Connecticut-Westchester region. One of the cornerstones of the festival, he said, will be an announcement concerning a long-term joint collaboration between Director’s View and Stamford Center of the Arts, to get under way during the latter months of 2001.
He is particularly committed to encouraging the growth of a local film industry and serves as chief executive of the Film Makers Educational Cooperative of Bridgeport, a not-for-profit organization devoted to training students for directorial careers. A number of films created by that cooperative will compete in the Director’s View International Student Film Festival (though Mr. Kesten had no personal involvement in the selection process), which will feature more than 20 narrative and documentary shorts by directors age 19 or younger.
”Connecticut has all the tools to make the industry happen here: a highly educated and literate population, an open waterfront, good transportation, and a perfect location between two of the most important hubs in technology, New York and Boston,” Mr. Kesten said. ”If it took hold, the state would have a clean, non-polluting industry that’s high-paying and encourages creativity, which is vital to the future of everything this country exports.”
The Director’s View Film Festival begins at 6:30 p.m. Friday with a celebrity cocktail reception and gala screening of ”Citizen Kane” at Stamford’s Rich Forum. For more event and ticket information to any event, visit www.dvff.org or call (914) 533-0270.