I was extremely humbled to receive the Audience Award last night at the closing event of Leiden International Short Film Experience (LISFE) for my documentary “The Father’s Love Begotten”「父なる愛生せば」. Awards bestowed by juries are an absolute honour, but an award by the viewing public left me nearly speechless and bumbling.
“In this session, we seek to lay bare the influence of images on our construction of self and reality. By heightening the ambivalences between the visible and invisible, these four films hope to direct attention to what we cannot see; that which is hidden from view and that which is simply unfathomable. When neither imagination nor representation can be trusted in the digital age, where does that position us as spectators? If a picture is worth a thousand words, what is the price of darkness?”
Director of The Father’s Love Begotten present + Q&A by Erik Daams, savvy projectionist, film programmer and lecturer for film history based in The Hague.
I have only ever seen “The Father’s Love Begotten” 「父なる愛生せば」in a proper theatre with an audience twice (during two test audience screenings held last year) so I must admit that I was concerned about how a festival audience would react. My concern was not only because of the subject matter of Chris’s story, but also because of how the film is constructed. It is difficult to explain in more detail without “giving it away”, but watching the film in a cinema with an audience that has no idea what is about to happen was absolutely nerve-wracking.
The two Q&A’s (which I recorded and hope to share parts of soon) were amazing, and I was grateful to the festival for scheduling an extra amount of time for them so that a deep and thoughtful discussion could take place with the audience. That, paired with the programmers’ decision to screen the film last in the block and to ask film expert Eric Daams to lead the discussion which would be solely about “The Father’s Love Begotten”「父なる愛生せば」, meant there was the opportunity for an extended and focused time to spend on the story documented in the film and the way in which it was told.
Following every screening block during the festival, audience members exiting the cinemas were presented with iPads on which they could vote for their favorite film in the session. Unbeknownst to me, the four films that had received the highest numbers of votes during the festival would be screened again at the closing night Audience Award session after which the viewers would vote again- ultimately deciding the audience favourite for the 2019 edition of the festival.
When I showed up at the cinema, I learned how the Audience Award would be decided and was told that “The Father’s Love Begotten”「父なる愛生せば」was in the top four.
While I was extremely honoured by this recognition, I also became immediately concerned: this time, the audience would have no idea what films were going to be screened or what they were about. There would be no introduction of my film by a festival programmer, no Q&A to help viewers process what they had seen. With no tools to help guide them, my film (as every film must do) had to stand on its own or stumble and fall.
The first film screened in the Audience Award block was an uproariously dark black comedy which had the audience in stitches, the second was a fascinating look at hip hop culture in China by a Dutch director, and the third was a beautiful and abstract look at a cruise ship.
As The Father’s Love Begotten”「父なる愛生せば」began, I held my breath...
At first you could hear a pin drop. And then, about a minute in, you could hear some people shifting in their seats, unsure of what was happening. But soon, any restlessness had settled down as the audience was drawn into Chris’s story. What happened next in the theatre may not happen every time the film screens or with every audience, but it was absolutely electric... and it solidified my understanding of the power of cinema, of a coming together to collectively experience film. And it was in that moment that I truly understood the name of the festival: Leiden International Short Film Experience. It was indeed an experience, and one that can not happen in isolation while watching on a computer at home.
I am extremely grateful to the programmers of LISFE for believing in “The Father’s Love Begotten”「父なる愛生せば」and for selecting it, to the members of the viewing public for voting for it from among the nearly 130 amazing films screened at the festival, and to Chris for his courageousness in sharing his story.
I am also humbled to be reminded of an extremely important lesson when filmmaking: trust your audience.