Film Fests Archive for October, 2010

How Do You Fix What’s Broken with Film Fests

Is the film festival model as it stands now broken, from the standpoint of filmmakers? And is there a way to fix that such that filmmakers can use fests to their advantage while still ensuring that fests also serve the needs of their audience?

I was reading this piece over on indieWIRE today about the distribution model of indie film October Country (good film), which reminded me that the other day I was pondering film festivals (yes, again).

Film Threat ran a piece on Monday about the New Mexico International Film Festival, which filmmaker Justin Eugene Evans is attempting to build as a way of breaking the film fest mold — or at least, challenging certain assumptions of the film fest model — by experimenting with ways to create a business model that monetizes fests for the filmmakers.

Which isn’t to say anyone’s ever going to get rich off their film showing in a festival, even with the things the fledgling New Mexico fest is proposing, like reimbursing travel expenses for certain filmmakers, providing free hotel rooms, letting filmmakers set up and sell merchandise (an idea the Oxford Film Fest tried out last year), even sharing the box office gross with “selected filmmakers.”

But as of right now, with 13 days left to go on the fest’s Kickstarter page, the fest has only received pledges of just over $1200 toward an $8000 goal. Which, frankly, doesn’t really surprise me … I know all kinds of indie filmmakers, and for the most part they are not independently wealthy people and what money they do have goes to pay the rent and fund their next film.

And while they might be glad to submit their film to a fest that actually offers them the opportunity to make money back on their film rather than costing them just to have the film in the fest at all, they are unlikely to support the kickoff of any fest by funding it to begin with. If you build it, they will come … but they aren’t going to pay to build it.

Now, a couple things came to mind as I was reading both these pieces today. One is that one of the challenges for any fest is to build credibility — if you are a new fest, how do you interest filmmakers in showing their film at your fest when you don’t have any sort of “prestige” factor around your fest’s name yet? And how do you build a reputation for showing quality films, thereby encouraging audiences to turn out for your fest, when you’re still building just having some name recognition for your fest at all?

The folks at smaller fests like Oxford and DeadCenter (in my hometown of OKC) and countless other smaller regional fests can tell you what a challenge that can be, even if you have good fundraisers and solid local support for the arts. And without money, how do you afford to do things like give filmmakers back their submission fees, and give them half the box office take, and pay for travel? And etc … fests are not cheap.

And while on the one hand Evans has a kind of cool idea about having the New Mexico fest “travel” around the state and be in a different location each year, on the other hand … WOW. Logistically, and from a fund-raising standpoint, that seems to me to just be making it exponentially harder to get the idea off the ground. Wouldn’t you lose a lot of what could be ongoing momentum gained by having your fest in one city where you can get embedded with the arts community, build awareness in one town with cinema fans, and generate fund-raising to support your fest?

By moving around every year, it seems like you’d be starting over every year, and from a branding standpoint, it might be harder to build an identity for the fest by not being associated with one location. But then again, I don’t know that another fest has ever tried to do it this way, so maybe Evans will surprise the hell out of everyone.

I do agree that the fest model as it stands is largely broken, and that the veritable explosion of smaller fests makes it harder and more expensive for filmmakers to promote their films that way, even if it’s also a Good Thing in that more fests = more people exposed to indie film. And I applaud Evans for being bold in not just bitching about what’s broken, but leading the way by trying to fix it.

I’m going to get in touch with Evans to chat him up a bit about his ideas and his fest; in the meantime, though, I would love to hear from some indie filmmakers about your thoughts on the value of film festivals generally, how much it costs you to attend fests with your film, whether what the New Mexico fest is attempting interests you, and what kinds of things you want and need in a festival to best promote your film and make it worth your while.


TIFF Review: Hereafter

After a pretty spectacular opening scene, I was hopeful that Clint Eastwood‘s highly anticipated film, Hereafter, with a script by Peter Morgan, was going to be something special. Then it became evident that the setup is a triptych, which is really hard to weave together into a coherant story without it feeling enormously contrived.

Unfortunately, the conceit of the film just never pays off in a satisfying way.

Our trio of tales kicks off with Marie (Cécile De France), a French television personality on vacation with her boyfriend when she’s caught in a devastating tsunami, nearly dies, and is brought back to life. Marie’s near-death experience has a profound effect on her, and when she returns home she finds she can’t focus on anything but researching and writing about her experience; her obsession with death and the afterlife quickly isolates her from her friends and colleagues and threatens her career.

The second parallel tale concerns George (Matt Damon), a blue-collar warehouse worker who’s hiding out from a gift — an ability to touch a person and connect with their dead family members. After previously making money off his talent at the encouragement of his brother, who seeks to profit from his talent, George has retreated from the world, a lonely, isolated man whose gift has become a curse that keeps him from having relationships with others.

He signs up for a cooking class, desperate for companionship, and there meets a charming woman (Bryce Dallas Howard) with whom he feels he might be able to connect for the first time in his adult life. But when she learns of his gift, it threatens the tentative connection they’re building.

The third of our three stories concerns Marcus (Frankie McLaren) and Jason (George McLaren), twin brothers in England whose mum is addicted to heroin. When tragedy strikes, Jason seeks desperately to find answers about what happens after death, a path that ultimately leads him to George’s old website, which was never taken down.

The thing is, each of these stories on their own — or even George’s story in sync with just one of the others, would probably have made for a much tighter story. Individually as meditations on both the affect on the living when they lose someone they love, and the questions raised when a person is technically dead (or at least, very near death), and then brought back to life, are certainly something many of us ponder when we’re not too busy running around in our lives to pause and consider that every day we run full speed ahead is just bringing us another day closer to the end.

George’s part of the story, in particular, is quite well-written and Damon, as a man gifted with a rare talent that nonetheless serves to isolate him from the world around him, turns in a strong performance. Howard, in the brief time she’s a part of his story, is a powerful and emotional force. De France is also very good, and her journey fairly engaging.

The trouble is that after being fairly interesting for its first 2/3 or so as we catch up with the individual tales, the necessity to bring everything together causes a serious nosedive into the realm of unwieldy contrivance that forces the characters to converge for the inevitable sappy ending. I stayed with it for quite a while … until a moment that smacks you upside the head with exactly where the film is going. Then I hoped against hope that Eastwood and Morgan really weren’t going to be as obvious as all that – surely they weren’t! But they were.

The thing is, I don’t have an issue with Eastwood exploring ideas of what happens after death; as a spiritual person I find those kinds of meditations interesting, and after all, most religion is built around the need for humans to derive some sense of comfort in thinking we have an answer to what happens to us once we depart this life. The need to believe we don’t just cease to exist, like the flame of a candle blown out, is very strong, and with a bit less contrivance this could have been a better meditation on the subject.

Unfortunately, while there are interesting ideas here, and some solid performances in the film, the sum of the parts just never adds up to a deeply satisfying whole. Bummer.

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TIFF Review: It’s Kind of a Funny Story

I had mixed feelings about It’s Kind of a Funny Story, directed by Half Nelson and Sugar directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck. They were so mixed, in fact, that I ended up doing something I’ve never done at a fest before — I saw the film twice, once at a P&I screening and once at its public premiere.
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TIFF Review: Let Me In

Here’s the thing with American remakes of foreign films: while I get that studios have a vested interest in making a lot of money off of taking a well-received foreign film and purging it of its, well, foreign-ness, to make it more appealing to the subtitle-averse mainstream American filmgoer, I’m also a pretty firm believer in the philosophy that if you’re going to do a remake, you should add some value to the effort beyond just redoing it with actors recognizable to the American public and making it in English.

The question is, does Let Me In, the much-anticipated remake of critically lauded Swedish vampire flick Let the Right One In, accomplish more than just the mundane scene-by-scene, shot-by-shot remake of the original? And the answer is both no … and yes.

In 2009 when Roger Ebert programmed Let the Right One In at Ebertfest, the film’s producers discussed the remake, and assured the audience — many of whom were hardcore fans of their film — that the remake would be a completely fresh take on the film. They said they would be going back to the source material and writing a new adaptation that would include, in part, material left out of the Swedish version.

For the better part of a year-and-a-half, I’ve been anticipating this remake based on the belief that this would be the case … so you’ll have to forgive me if my initial reaction to the end result was to feel a bit disappointed. Because what I wanted was something creatively new, a different perspective on the source material; and what I got was almost exactly the same movie, just in English, with some different actors.

That said, Let Me In is not, in and of itself, at all a bad film, in large part because it so closely follows the original that it almost can’t help but be good. It kicks off with a flashback that, I suspect, was added largely in part for the short attention span of the American target audience. The Swedish version took its time setting things up with deliberate, arthouse pacing; it was grim and frightening at times, but also subtle in the way in which the violence was conveyed.

This remake is both less subtle and less deliberate; there’s a greater emphasis on the idea of evil interwoven with Christian (it felt, actually, Catholic) iconography and ideas, and it’s less morally ambiguous, I think, than the original was.

Kodi Smit-McPhee (The Road) plays the bullied, sensitive boy (renamed from “Oskar” to the more appropriately American “Owen” here) and Chloe Moretz (Kick-Ass) is Abby (Eli in the original), the barefoot-in-the-snow new neighbor and potential playmate who moves into the friendless Owen’s building. Richard Jenkins (woefully underused here, but excellent when he is on) plays Abby’s adult protector/father figure.

Other than the fact that we have different actors playing the parts and the change in language, the film is pretty much exactly what it was the first time around. The intensity is more or less the same throughout.

There were a couple of things I didn’t like here. I felt that the relationship between Abby and The Father was more deliberately ambiguous in the Swedish version, whereas here there is a giveaway later in the film that assumes you haven’t already deduced what’s revealed. Also, the scene later in the film where Owen refuses to directly invite Abby into his house was better, more tensely drawn the first time around.

Both of the kids are really good; Smit-Mcphee makes for a believable target for school bullies, while Moretz’s performance is strong enough to keep her from getting typecast, and the two of them together have a great, palpable chemistry.

All in all, those who’ve never seen Let the Right One In will, no doubt, find Let Me In to be an enjoyable experience, but I have to wonder if other folks who love the original will find this remake to be an adequate substitute.


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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