American Dream / American Nightmare

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News 27 May 2024
The 51st edition (9 - 20 Oct) of Film Fest Gent has its first titles. The Classics programme American Dream / American Nightmare, curated by Patrick Duynslaegher, dives deep into the American political bubble with fifteen films questioning the fragile democracy of the US.

On 5 November 2024, American voters face an electoral dilemma. Who is granted the opportunity to start a second term as president of the United States: Joe Biden or Donald Trump? On the eve of arguably the most important and polarising US elections in living memory, Film Fest Gent's classics programme American Dream / American Nightmare descends into the Hollywood cinema that has predicted, depicted and imagined the current political crisis and malaise.

Patrick Duynslaegher
"History repeats itself without fail. Doomsday scenarios are back in full force. Trump seems to follow in the questionable footsteps of Richard Nixon. Pro-Palestinian students occupying university campuses evoke memories of students protesting the Vietnam War in the 1960s and early 70s. Even the fear of another nuclear war lurks in the back of our minds. The echoes of the past in the present are omnipresent."
Patrick Duynslaegher curator Classics

American film history is paved with conspiracy thrillers, presidential portraits, Deep State intrigues, Armageddon scenarios and totalitarian dystopias. It’s a fascinating obsession of Hollywood that many a director has indulged in. With respectively Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964) and Fail Safe (1964), directors Stanley Kubrick and Sidney Lumet even staged the pitch-black consequences of the nuclear arms race in the same year, albeit in completely different registers. Cinephiles will get to experience both films on the big screen at FFG2024.

In 1962, John Frankenheimer made the mother of all conspiracy thrillers. The Manchurian Candidate proved to be a brainwashing classic and an indictment of political folly. More than forty years later, Jonathan Demme’s remake managed to give it a contemporary twist, without losing any of its original power. In the seventies, Alan J. Pakula rightfully earned his title of cinematic master of conspiracies. His brilliant paranoia trilogy - including the popular and influential All the President’s Men (1976) - is a landmark of politically charged Hollywood cinema. Sometimes directors went for the men in power behind the men in power or organisations operating independently of state leadership. In Three Days of the Condor (1975), for instance, Sydney Pollack orchestrated a suspense plot about illegal practices within the CIA and proved the American citizen’s distrust of such organisations.

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The Manchurian Candidate (1962, John Frankenheimer)

The programme also offers the unique opportunity to see William Richert’s Winter Kills (1979), which never won a Belgian theatrical release. As ingenious as it is utterly absurd, this labyrinthine and ambitious genre mix gathers a bizarre star-studded cast including Jeff Bridges, John Huston, Anthony Perkins, Toshiro Mifune, Ralph Meeker, Sterling Hayden, Eli Wallach, and even Elizabeth Taylor. Legendary DoP Vilmos Zsigmond (Close Encounters of the Third Kind, The Deer Hunter, Blow Out) was responsible for the colour photography. With its obvious nods to John F. Kennedy and his family, the troubled production history, and its disorienting balance between black humour and political critique, Winter Kills has become a cult classic that has been shelved for too long in film archives.

In an American film historiography, Oliver Stone will always have his place. Of his presidential portraits, Nixon (1995), starring Anthony Hopkins in the titular role, is the most complex. In this more than three-hour dramatised interpretation of renegade US president Richard Nixon, Stone overwhelms the viewer with a fragmented narrative overflowing with Shakespearean tragedy.

So much for the past. What does the future hold? Will the US face a militarised dystopian future as in Paul Verhoeven’s satire Starship Troopers (1997), a sci-fi war film that mocks American ideals and still holds up a painful mirror to us in 2024. Only time will tell.

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Blow Out (1981, Brian De Palma)

Full Classics programme

  • On the Beach (1959, Stanley Kramer)

  • The Manchurian Candidate (1962, John Frankenheimer)

  • Fail Safe (1964, Sidney Lumet)

  • Seven Days in May (1964, John Frankenheimer)

  • The Best Man (1964, Franklin J. Schaffner)

  • Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964, Stanley Kubrick)

  • The Parallax View (1974, Alan J. Pakula)

  • Three Days of the Condor (1975, Sydney Pollack)

  • Winter Kills (1979, William Richert)

  • Blow Out (1981, Brian De Palma)

  • Reds (1981, Warren Beatty)

  • Nixon (1995, Oliver Stone)

  • Starship Troopers (1997, Paul Verhoeven)

  • Thirteen Days (2000, Roger Donaldson)

  • The Manchurian Candidate (2004, Jonathan Demme)

Tickets and info on screenings available from 19 September 2024.

Cover Classics brochure 2024

Publication

For film fans who want to dive even deeper into the films in the Classics programma, there is the FFG publication American Dream / American Nightmare (in Dutch), in which curator Patrick Duynslaegher writes about his selection, the political load of the films and their timeless power.

Watch and read more

There are tons of American films about political conspiracies, presidents, warmongeling, and cover-ups. The fifteen films in the programme are just a sample of a much bigger picture. On filmfestgent.be (available in June), Duynslaegher recommends and discusses additional titles that perfectly fit the subject and offer an even more varied perspective on American political and military history.