Pic tunes are event's calling card

Although it’s celebrating its 35th anniversary, the Ghent Intl. Film Festival wasn’t always known as a unique and exotic showcase for film composers.

Realizing it needed to establish a niche to compete with the multitude of festivals across Europe, Ghent began focusing on film music 15 years ago. It started with a smattering of orchestral concerts and the competition Impact of Music on Film. Jacques Dubrulle, fest director for nearly 30 years now, saw the enthusiasm from the beginning, especially among composers, who were delighted to have an annual meeting place and have the focus on them and film music.

The World Soundtrack Awards (WSA) followed, an idea Dubrulle admits was a little crazy considering Ghent was a virtually unknown city in a very small country. The very first winner of the WSA’s Discovery

Award was Craig Armstrong, who the year after, swept awards ceremonies for “Moulin Rouge!” A similar scenario occurred for Gustavo Santaolalla, who went on to win Oscars for “Brokeback Mountain” and “Babel” after receiving his first-ever award from the WSA.

The fest’s reputation in the film music business is now unsurpassed. “People are not only ready to come, they ask to be invited,” Dubrulle says.

Composer Gabriel Yared, a former WSA winner, returns this year to pay tribute to his friend and collaborator, writer-director Anthony Minghella, who died in March. “At many festivals, it’s now considered trendy to play film music, but Ghent can lay claim to having played a pioneering role in this field” Yared says. “When I was giving a

concert there, I was struck by the subdued concentration of the audience, and, indeed, the warm simplicity of the atmosphere surrounding the festival is well known.”

Ghent does have that effect. Behind its Gothic and Renaissance facades, the medieval Flemish city revels in its casual atmosphere and the ease with which the festival’s requisite glitz is leavened by a Bohemian sensibility.

Clint Mansell, who won last year’s Ghent award for Original Film Score (“The Fountain”) and returns to the fest with an hourlong concert, loves the bonhomie and the good feeling in Ghent.

The event has always intuitively mixed its film, music and art to create a multimedia aesthetic: in former years, it hosted a show of paintings by Peter Greenaway and the prestigious Stanley Kubrick Exhibition. This year, together with the local museum of psychiatry, it presents two exhibitions: one on the portrayal of madness in film and theater, the other on silent comic actor Harold Lloyd.

Because Ghent is home to 50,000 students, who are all invited to attend the fest for free, a youthful atmosphere permeates. (More than 100,000 patrons have attended in the past — this in a city of a quarter million.) Ghent’s internationally renowned art center, called Vooruit — a gigantic, rambling building of 300 rooms with its attic screening auditorium — plays host to the program Almost Cinema for experimental films.

When: Oct. 7-17

Where: Ghent, Belgium

Web: filmfestival.be

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