Festivals in Europe are big business. Unlike conventions in the English-speaking world, European festivals are usually organised with the assistance of much in the way of subsidies, public and private funding, to the extent that the competition between cities and organisers is savage and that festivals almost take on a political nature. Versailles has an event devoted to films about aviation, Spoleto features opera, Pordenone silent films, Saint Malo has travel writing, etc… and woe is the town or city that does not feature an artistic festival of some sort on its calendar. At last count, there are almost 2000 art festivals in Europe alone every year, with subjects ranging from the popular to the most arcane. And crime fiction has its share: Gijon in Spain, Cognac, Lyon, Frontignan, and a much-lamented event in Grenoble and many others in France, Mantova, Trevi and Brescia in Italy. But one of the most important ones is Courmayeur’s Noir in Fest, which takes place every December in the trendy ski resort at the bottom of Mont Blanc on the Italian side of the tunnel under the mountains. Where all these festivals differ strongly from the Anglosaxon model is that they mostly organised by professionals rather than fans, although access is free to the general public and no costly registration is involved. Balancing the budget is not the organiser’s main aim, and as long as the event generates enough press and media, both regional and national, the funders appear to be satisfied as do the hosting cities and towns. I was invited in the early 1980s to Cattolica on the Italian Adriatic when the festival was still called Mystfest (and still continues to this day under that moniker, although with a different emphasis) when the year’s event was focused on Jim Thompson. I had earlier as a publisher revived Thompson in the UK in my short-lived Black Box Thriller imprint (alongside David Goodis, Horace McCoy, Cornell Woolrich, Anthony Boucher, Fredric Brown, W.R. Burnett, Marc Behm and others). This was a whole year before my buddy Barry Gifford also picked up on Thompson and some of my other rediscoveries with his Black Lizard list) and Stephen Frears was in the process of filming THE GRIFTERS from Don Westlake’s script, and was asked to speak about him. I wrote a piece on Thompson and his legacy for the festival’s programme book and also managed to bring along some rushes of the movie which was still being edited as a preview. The festival offered both film and literary events and allowed me to meet a number of Italian and French attending writers and critics, as well as Roger L. Simon, Stuart Kaminsky, Julian Semyonov and other mystery writers who had also been invited,. Lasting friendships were made amongst a most convivial atmosphere of sea, sun, Italian food and wine and culture.
During the course of the following year Elisa Resegotti, who then organised the festival’s literary events, and her colleague Marina Fabbri would occasionally call me back in London asking for addresses and phone numbers of US and British authors or filmmakers they wanted to contact, as well as for advice and recommendations about future guests and possible movies they could screen. A year almost went by when I had another telephone call, which ended with a friendly “See you in 2 weeks, then”. My reaction was “Are you inviting me back?” After all, the festival (and most European events likewise) was in the habit of paying for guest’s fares (and their companion), and also paid for our hotels and meals, so this was a wonderful freebie to say the least.“Of course” was the answer and I was informed that I could pick up my ticket at the Alitalia offices on Regent Street. There was no need to ask me twice! On arrival at that year’s festival, I picked up the complimentary copy of the lavish festival souvenir book cum programme in my hotel room, and lo and behold I was now listed as one of the festival’s official overseas advisers. To cut a long story short, I’ve been attending the festival every year since for the last 21 years and it is always one of the highlights of my criminal and personal year. The initial directors of the festival were two major Italian film critics, Giorgio Gosetti and Irene Bignardi. Following my second year of attendance (other guests included James Ellroy, Derek Raymond, Agatha Christie’s grandson Mathew Prichard and J.G. Ballard amongst others), the organisers had a fallout with the city and transferred the festival to the Mediterranean resort of Viareggio, with Bignardi moving on to take over the Venice film festival (and later Locarno) and Giorgio promoting Marina to co-director. The two years in Viareggio were splendid, with guests including Krizstof Kieszlowski, Nicolas Roeg, Quentin Tarantino, Frederick Forsyth, Robert Bloch and many others, and the entertainment budget on the extreme side of munificence what with all guests being given passes to the best restaurants in town and as much time spent at bars and meals as at specific film and lit events. It was therefore no surprise that after 2 years in Viareggio, we heard that a handful of town notables responible for the funding had ended up in jail for corruption and the festival no longer the recipient of such generosity had to decamp. After some nervous months, Giorgio and Marina soon informed us they had come to an agreement with the town of Courmayeur in the Valle d’Aosta to move the festival to the mountains, and from June to December. In 2010 we will be celebrating twenty years in Courmayeur and what an adventure it has been.
In my next piece, I will discuss two memorable decades of Noir in the snow and write about the 19th festival which took place in December 2009.
MAXIM JAKUBOWSKI ( his Wikipedia entry is here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maxim_Jakubowski ) is a publisher and former owner of the world-famous Murder One bookshop in London’s Charing Cross Road. As well as being a writer and editor of various cult publishing imprints, he is acknowledged as a disturbing and controversial voice in contemporary fiction. His collections have sold massively, he is a regular on TV and radio where he is an expert on crime, erotica and film, and a Guardian columnist. He is literary director of the prestigious CRIME SCENE festival held at London’s NFT.
PRAISE FOR MAXIM JAKUBOWSKI
“An unholy mixture of Jim Thompson and American Psycho” – Time Out
“It memorably evokes the ghosts of Cain and Hammett and delivers some of the scariest writing since American Psycho” – City Life (UK)
“The hard sexy edge of Henry Miller and the redeeming grief of Jack Kerouac.” – Mystery Scene
“Proudly pornographic… the most comprehensive rendering of S&M variations ever to make it in to mainstream fiction” – The Literary Review
Books by Maxim Jakubowski
Life in the World of Women (1997)
It’s You That I Want To Kiss (1998)
Because I Thought I Loved You (1999)
The State of Montana (2000)
On Tenderness Express (2001)
Kiss Me Sadly (2002)
Confessions of a Romantic Pornographer (2004)