The Story of Film: An Odyssey (Director: Mark Cousins): Near the end of Mark Cousins’ monumental 15-hour history of cinematic innovation, there is a clip from Alexander Sokurov’s 2002 film Russian Ark. This remarkable film was filmed in one continuous take, and the director rehearsed his cast for six months before the shoot. Then Cousins shows us some footage from a documentary about the making of the film, scenes of the cast and crew just after Sokurov yells “Cut!” cheering, clapping, embracing, crying. It was not unlike the scene in Jackman Hall at the Art Gallery of Ontario at 1:00pm today. An enthusiastic audience had gathered each day this week and watched the history of cinema unfold hour after hour, decade after decade.
Six years in the making, The Story of Film: An Odyssey is a remarkable achievement. With financing in place for the equivalent of a one-hour documentary, Cousins traveled the globe, interviewing key figures and assembling clips from almost a thousand films, covering more than a century of film history. But this is no standard talking head documentary series. Most distinctive is Cousins’ soothing narration, delivered in his gentle Belfast accent. Choosing to focus on the history of cinematic innovation rather than on the standard Hollywood narrative, the series ties together advances in technique, technology and influence from places as far-flung as India, Mexico, Iran, China and several African countries.
In addition to his desire to “de-centre” the Hollywood paradigm of film history, he was also careful to make the series approachable. If you’ll pardon the pun, Cousins studiously avoids using academic-sounding jargon like “mise-en-scène” or “auteur” and so this will make a wonderful introduction to cinema for just about anybody.
It’s definitely a personal approach, and we were fortunate to have the director in attendance each day. While meditative and soothing on the soundtrack, Cousins is impish and lively in person, and he answered questions animatedly after each three-hour segment. By the end of the week, we’d come to feel like friends. Not surprising, for Cousins and his friend Tilda Swinton are known for curating film events that feel like communities. In 2009, for instance, they organized A Pilgrimage, a traveling film festival that journeyed through Scotland by bus, setting up a portable screen in several villages to show films.
After today’s final screening, he gathered us together on stage to take a photograph together. Our odyssey through film history might be finished as far as this enchanting series goes, but I suspect it’s really just getting started.
Here are the Q&A sessions for each day with director Mark Cousins.
Monday September 12, 2011
Tuesday September 13, 2011
Wednesday September 14, 2011
Thursday September 15, 2011
Friday September 16, 2011