Film Fests Archive for April, 2010

Ebertfest 2010:Aftermath of Genocide, Aftermath of Shallow Consumerism, and the Stunning Visuals of Man with a Movie Camera

Now that I’ve got all the Apocalypse out of my system, I wanted to catch up on writing about the other films I’ve seen here at Ebertfest. Yesterday I caught the two other films screening earlier in the day. The first film, Munyurangabo, directed by Lee Isaac Chung. Munyurangabo is a journey film about N’Gabo,a Rwandan orphan traveling with his friend Sangwa on a quest for bloodletting justice. Along the way, the pair stop to visit Sagwa’s family, and then all these issues of Hutus and Tsutsis and genocide crops up and complicate matters.
Sangwa’s family is Hutu, N’gabo is Tutsi, and Sangwa’s parents don’t want their son’s friend around. N’gabo has his own issues, since he no longer has a family because they were murdered by Hutus during the genocides. All this business of warfare over seemingly inncocuous surface differences — Christian versus Muslim, Hutu versus Tutsi, capitalist versus communist, Nazi versus Jew — is something I struggle to understand, and I’m not sure films like Munyurangabo make it any easier, for me at least, to grasp the whys and wherefores over what seems to me to be meaningless, endless bloodshed. What is it about man’s nature that makes him to want to hurt and kill? I don’t know, and I don’t have any clearer understanding after seeing this film. But that’s okay, because I don’t think the filmmakers were going for anything quite so in-depth or philosophical here as much as they were telling a tale of loss, redemption and friendship.

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Ebertfest Dispatch: Apocalypse Now, Revisited in More Way Than One

I tend to hit the point at every film festival where I need some quiet time away from the theater and the chatter of people talking about movies to just decompress and process my own thoughts a bit, and today at Ebertfest I hit that wall of needing some down time. So, much as I wanted to catch Departures, instead I’m sitting in Aroma, this lovely coffee shop down the street from the Virginia Theater, by myself at a quiet table with only my laptop and some swingy old standards playing over the sound system for company, and it’s lovely to pause a moment and have some space and catch my breath.
I think I’m especially feeling the need for some downtime today because I’m still recovering from last night’s three-hour-plus screening of Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now Redux. Every film critic (well, at least those with whom I’m personally acquainted) has some gap in their personal film-watching checklist, and this was one of mine. I last saw Apocalypse Now when I was 11 years old (Yeah, I know … my dad also took me to Alien and Coma, what can I say? But it’s part of what made me love movies, being exposed to those films). Now, I lacked both the context and intellectual development at 11 to fully appreciate Coppola’s film, but for some reason my exposure to it at that age has made me reluctant in my adult life to, well, revisit it. Until now.
So when I saw that Roger had programmed Redux on the slate, I was trepidatious. In fact, I came very close to not staying for the screening at all; I got there early to snag a seat and get some work done, and as it got closer to screening time I started feeling claustrophobic, almost panic-attacky (no, that’s not a real word or medical term, but work with me here). My chest felt tight. Maybe I had another pulmonary embolism, I thought hopefully (that this thought even crossed my mind at all should tell you how emotionally reactive I was to even seeing this film at all, n’est-ce pas?).

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Ebertfest 2010: Day One Redux

Ebertfest 2010, aka The 12th Annual Roger Ebert’s Film Festvial, kicked off tonight with the Opening Night Gala at the President’s House. The gala, as per usual, featured some swank appetizers — among the offerings: mini Maryland crab cakes, pork medallions and these amazing almond macaroons. If I was a blue-haired old lady with a giant macramé handbag, running sneakers and an Ebertfest ballcap, I might have dumped a whole plateful of those macaroons in my bag for later.
New this year: Roger has invited many of his “Far Flung Correspondents” to the fest. The FFCs are a slew of film commentators from around the globe who are regularly featured on his Journal, and include voices from Canada, Egypt, India, Mexico, Pakistan, the Phillipines, South Korea, Taiwan and Uruguay, and they offer persepctives on film that Roger’s huge US reader base might otherwise never even be exposed to.
A brief aside from talking about the fest itself: I have to say that I think Roger’s idea of bringing diverse voices into the often all-too-insular world of film criticism is nothing short of brilliant, and it’s a great example of expanding the idea behind this film festival to begin with — to bring together filmmakers, critics and lovers of film into the same place at the same time, mixing them up (shaken, not stirred?) and see what happens.
It’s such a simple, yet smart idea, to allow these critics from far-flung places both a place to share their points of view and engage in the discussion of film. Beyond that, it shows how much Roger has grown to understand and use the power of the internet as a virtual tool, something he started doing a couple years ago when he started his online journal as a way to expand his website beyond mere reviews and into conversation. He’s adopted and adapted to the use of Twitter as a way of further engaging with his readers, both fans and detractors. Anyone who thinks Roger Ebert is an old fart who doesn’t “get it” isn’t paying attention; he is constantly seeking new ways to generate discussion about film and experimenting with ways to bring people together to do so.
Now, back to the fest itself. The opening night films were Pink Floyd The Wall (which, as David Poland mentioned in his post, was unfortunately not screened in 70mm as it was supposed to be). Much as I wanted to catch The Wall, I took the redeye flight from Seattle at 1AM this morning, finally got checked into my hotel room around 3PM, and hadn’t had anything all day other than coffee. I desperately needed more food than the yummy gala appetizers, so Elvis Mitchell and I headed over with his host, Wendy, and her husband to Steak ‘n’ Shake, a midwest staple, for burgers. The burgers were just so-so, but the company was great. Then it was off to the Virginia Theater for the screening of Swedish director Roy Andersson’s You, The Living, which I’d never seen.
Wow. This film is brilliant, and I’m grateful to have been able to see it on a big screen in a theater. A series of vignettes in the entertwined lives of people living in the same town, the film is on the one hand an exercise in minimalism, exquistely framed and shot in muted pastel tones that reflect the bleakness of the lives on which Andersson focuses his lens, and on the other an exercise in patience and exacting perfectionism, in that it took (according to the post-film panel discussion) some three years to shoot, include two months just to build one particularly challenging set piece. Talk about dedication to wanting a film made just the way a director wants it.
You, the Living is a study of the human condition through the lives of these tragically flawed and sad people who are stuck in the endless rut of their mundane lives like hamsters endlessly and pointlessly treading a wheel in a cage. They are so stuck, each of them, in their own heads and their own dreams that they can’t make real connections with each other because they are each seeing and hearing only what they want to see and hear. Characters talk without being heard, act without being responded to, exist in individual vaccuums orbiting around each other, occasionally bumping into each other but never connecting on deeper levels.
It’s a very dark and tragical take on human nature, and yet, like many brilliant writers, Andersson finds the humor inherent even in the sorrow, the bleakness, the aching lonelines of his characters’ lives, and it’s a very funny film. These are people that, by all rights, we ought not to care about after meeting them only through one or two short vignettes with no overarching clever plot to tie all the pieces together; yet we do care about them, which is why the film’s closing scene (which reminded me, in a certain way, of Dr. Strangelove) is so devastating.
It’s one of the great things about this festival that you get to see films like this that you otherwise might ever even think of seeing, much less get to see on a big screen in a theater like the Virginia. Brilliant.
Tomorrow’s agenda: Up early (well, we’ll see about that) for an early morning meet-and-greet breakfast and hopefully catching all three films: Munyurangabo, The New Age and Apocalypse Now Redux, punctuated by coffee and chats with friends old and new and the always fun green room dinner, where you never know what fascinating people you’ll find yourself getting to know over a good meal — which is as much the point of being at Ebertfest as the films themselves.

Dallas International Film Festival 2010

I had a whirlwind couple days at the Dallas International Film Festival; I arrived in Dallas Wednesday afternoon, did a somewhat ironic panel on the relevance of film criticism at film festivals on Thursday, and then headed back to the airport just after noon on Friday. The briefness of the trip, unfortunately, limited my ability to see and write about a lot of films from the fest as I would have liked to, but I did manage to squeeze a couple in: Kick in Iran (a Sundance pickup for the fest) and the closing night film, A Solitary Man.
The former is a documentary that follows Sarah Khoshjamal, the first female athlete from Iran to ever qualify for the Olympic Games. Khoshjamal is charismatic, tough and imminently likable, but her story begs to be better dramatized, perhaps as a narrative feature. As a film, Fatima Abdollahyan‘s doc tends to slip into that realm of documentary films with fascinating subjects that don’t play quite as well theatrically as they might on a smaller screen, but Khoshjamal’s story is so interesting that it almost doesn’t matter.

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Quote Unquotesee all »

It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon