Archive for January, 2009

Punk Classicist

January 31, 2009


Albert Serra has been a shooting star in the international film community, roaring onto the scene with his Honor de Cavalleria, a quiet, near irreverent take on Don Quixote that finds its  characters wandering the Catalan countryside. He followed that with the beautifully photographed portrait of the Three Kings story, Bird Song. Both films screened in the Canens festival and both have been heralded as masterpieces of new Classicism.

However little is known about Serra’s first feature Crespia, The Film Not The City. Featured in Rotterdam’s First Things First program, Crespia could only be described as a rough beginnign to his career. A film that resembles th amateurness of films submitted to universities as admission projects, the vastness between this project and his subsequent films is a chasm nearly as wide as the Grand Canyon. Serra’s first effort can only be described as DIY, and not in the John Moritsugu or early Sadie Benning way, more like in the youtube I have a video camera and I’m dying to just make a film way. Featuring much of the same cast as his later efforts, this film also has major roles for all fo the crew who worked on his later films.

Serra introduced the film along with the cast of eight. The actor who played Sancho in Honor de Cavalleria was not a part of this project , although Serra informed the audience at the films introduction that Crespia was Sancho’s favorite film… ever. That he watched it several dozen times infact. He was such a huge fan, that the cast invited him to join them for later projects. Serra went onto say, well this is the type of movie the audience would give many stars and the critics none. In a way he’s right since the film is really rough, but it overflows with such joy that its hard not to love it.

Aspect Ratio

January 29, 2009

aspect ratio

This afternoon I found myself with a couple of hours between films. After a bowl of soup I headed over the the festivals Aspect Ratio exhibit at Tent. A gallery exhibit of works fro m Roman Ondak, Joachim Koester, Ken JAcobs, Morgan Fisher, Carlo Zanni, Simon Norfolk, Louis de Cordier, Persijn Broersen, Magit Lukacs, Jodi, Roy Arden, and Simon Starling, Aspect Ratio is yet another example of how Rotterdam is inovatively engaging the medium of cinema. I took some photos of the exhibit which I hope to post later tonight. Look for those and some more details about the festival so far in the next day or two.

First Things First

January 28, 2009

One of the special things about coming to Rotterdam is the care they give to screening films from the history of cinema. This year is no different with their First Things First program; a collection of first films from some of world cinema’s most heralded filmmakers. Yesterday I got to take in a gem of that program, Philippe Garrel’s Les Enfants désaccordés a 35mm film he directed at the ripe old age of 16. Shot in 1964, it’s a beautifully framed work giving more then just hints at the mastery this Frenchman would develop in cinema. A beautiful restoration of the film done by the Cinematheque Francais screened in Rotterdam sadly without subtitles. However the festival provided  handouts with the English translations. The screening room was a flood with cell phones illuminating the text. Another great example of why I love coming to this festival. For those interested in Garrel, we’ll be screening another Garrel classic in our 69 series this spring.

Children’s Film Fest 09 photos are up

January 28, 2009

Just look at all the fun you’ve been missing…

More here.

The Tigers Are Out

January 28, 2009

I hope to provide more detailed coverage of my time in Rotterdam, which has gone very well so far. The last few nights I’ve been spending time with the filmmaking team behind Albert Serra’s QUIXOTIC and BIRD SONG (serra included). There’s some good stories there but I don’t have too much time right now.

In the meantime I come to you with a little bit of gossip that’s been on the toungues of many around these parts. Yesterday Variety letgo 30 of its staff, an additional sign of the decay and decline of the newpaper industry, which seems to have also started penetrating the blogosphere. The news came in a message I received from Michale Jones who runs, or rather used to run, The Variety Circuit, a festival blog maintained by Variety. He also fell victim to these recent layoffs. Oddly enough,  in my inbox there was also a message from Josh Feit, whose RECENTLY launcehed Publicola, an online guide to everything Washington, detailed an account of The Seattle Times who is prepared for a possible Chapter 11 filings. Too much grim news… I’m headed back into the films. When I emerge, I’ll give you a more complete picture of what’s going on here.

Class and Cinema in the City

January 27, 2009

Dennis Lim reviews Medicine For Melancholy.

“MEDICINE FOR MELANCHOLY,” an independent feature by the first-time writer-director Barry Jenkins, opens the morning after a one-night stand. Micah and Jo, who don’t yet know each other’s names, are young and black, and for want of a more descriptive term you might call them hipsters. In San Francisco, where the African-American population is less than 7 percent and where “black indie kids” (to use Mr. Jenkins’s term) are scarce, that gives their hookup added significance — at least for Micah. As he puts it to Jo, “You ever realize just how few of us there really are?”

For Mr. Jenkins, who is African-American, the question resounds within the context not just of Bay Area indie culture but also of American indie filmmaking, which is not exactly a bastion of diversity.

Like so many movies about 20-something urbanites, “Medicine for Melancholy,” which had its premiere at South by Southwest last year and opens in New York on Friday, concerns the search for self-definition. But it stands apart for its forthright attention to the push-pull of inclusion and exclusion that comes with being a minority member of a subculture.

Mr. Jenkins, 29, drew on his own experience as a recent transplant to San Francisco. Born and raised in Miami, he studied filmmaking at Florida State University, then worked at Oprah Winfrey’s Harpo Productions in Los Angeles. But he grew disillusioned with the industry, and he quit his job to travel the country. He met a woman from San Francisco and moved there to be with her. The end of that relationship, and the period of introspection that followed, led him to make “Medicine for Melancholy” (which is up for three Spirit Awards this year, including best first feature).

“As a person of color from the South, San Francisco was the first city that really made me feel like an other,” Mr. Jenkins said over breakfast in Brooklyn recently. Because he was in an interracial romance when he got there, he added, “I was almost buffered.”

“When that relationship was off,” he said, “it was like I was seeing the city for the first time.”

“Medicine for Melancholy” follows Micah (Wyatt Cenac) and Jo (Tracey Heggins) for a 24-hour period as they feel out each other’s quirks and hang-ups. Mr. Jenkins credits “Friday Night,” the 2002 French film about a brief encounter by one of his favorite directors, Claire Denis, as an inspiration. As a literal date movie, trained on an attractive couple playing out a talky mating ritual as they wander a photogenic city, “Medicine” also recalls Richard Linklater’s “Before Sunrise” and “Before Sunset.”

The characters keep circling back to questions of race and assimilation, but the film is less an identity-politics polemic than a credible portrait of a young man wrestling with those issues — a situation Mr. Jenkins found himself in not long ago.

He acknowledged that it was odd to experience a racial epiphany in, of all places, liberal San Francisco. But this is also a city where the African-American population is proportionally less than half of what it was in 1970 (the most visible emblem of the black exodus being the razing and redevelopment of the Fillmore district).

Mr. Jenkins’s ambivalence about San Francisco comes across in his film’s visual pallet . The digital-video images, so desaturated they border on monochromatic, have a romantic softness, and San Francisco looks even lovelier than it tends to in more expensive movies. But Mr. Jenkins also liked the idea of “reflecting the theme of a city with the color taken out.”

In making a film so attuned to its physical and psychic environment, Mr. Jenkins joins the ranks of regionalist indie directors whose movies are anchored in a powerful sense of place. “Medicine for Melancholy” does for San Francisco what Kelly Reichardt has done for the rural Pacific Northwest (in “Old Joy”), Lance Hammer for the Mississippi Delta (“Ballast”), Robinson Devor for the Seattle area (“Police Beat”) and Ramin Bahrani for the unseen pockets of New York City (“Chop Shop”).

“It’s absolutely rooted in its milieu, but it’s by no means a parochial film,” said Graham Leggat, the executive director of the San Francisco Film Society. Referring to Mr. Jenkins’s somewhat critical portrait of the city, he said: “It’s not a problematic film for San Francisco. It’s a film made in the spirit of how the city would like to think of itself, as a progressive place where people are fairly oppositional.”

Mr. Leggat noted that while the Bay Area has long been home to a robust enclave of documentary and experimental filmmakers, “there’s not really a vigorous narrative-filmmaking middle class.” The film society has expanded its activities to include production assistance and is committing funds to spur the growth of local filmmaking. But for now, Mr. Leggat said, “there’s not a critical mass of folks who can make a livelihood just working in the business.”

Mr. Jenkins can attest to that. He saves on rent by living with the parents of his cinematographer, James Laxton, an old friend. Through the production of the film he worked as a shipment supervisor at Banana Republic. He made “Medicine” with a bare-bones crew, on a budget that is, even by D.I.Y. standards, small change. (His official answer when people press him for numbers: “Probably less than the cost of your car.”)

Mr. Jenkins wrote the film nearly two years ago — “before Obamania took off,” he said — and race has since moved to the forefront of the national conversation. But instead of toying with vague notions of a “postracial” America, “Medicine” wonders what it would mean to look beyond race, when race still looms large in matters of cultural identity and social justice.

“Micah comes across as pro-black, and Jo’s is more of a post-race point of view,” Mr. Jenkins said. “When I started the film I was teetering between these two viewpoints. It’s like I was splitting my personality in two.”

Making the movie has helped clarify his thinking. “For me the film ended up being even more about class than race,” he said. “Micah talks about the city pushing black people out, but it’s really about pushing poor people out.” With a wry smile, he added: “I used to be obsessed with race. I’m more obsessed with class now.”

The film plays NWFF February 20-26.

A.O. Scott rediscovers Midnight Cowboy

January 27, 2009

Midnight Cowboy “offers a time capsule view of Manhattan in a very different era. It also is a showcase of some of the filmmaking styles of the late 1960s…[Director Schlesinger] was able to show just how swinging, how cool, how now a movie can be.

Midnight Cowboy plays in NWFF’s 69 series February 27-March 5.

Watch the whole review here.

More about the Sundance Three in Seattle Times

January 25, 2009

From today’s (January 25) paper:

Sunday, January 25, 2009

“The Immaculate Conception of Little Dizzle,” a film by Seattle’s David Russo, earned a loud ovation at its premiere in the festival’s Library Theater.

By Christy Karras

Special to The Seattle Times

This year’s Sundance Film Festival marked a watershed for Seattle’s film industry, with three movies made in the city premiering at the nation’s largest venue for independent film.

The festival ends today in Park City, Utah, prompting the question: What happens next?

For Seattle filmmaker Lynn Shelton, it’s basking in the warmth of a festival success beyond her wildest imagination. The movie she wrote and directed, “Humpday,” premiered in the U.S. Dramatic Competition and became one of the most talked-about movies at the festival.

The “bromantic comedy” about two heterosexual male friends who decide to make a porn film starring themselves was also one of the first to attract buyers’ attention. It quickly became the subject of an intense multiday bidding war, an atypical event in a year of tightened distribution budgets.

Magnolia Pictures emerged victorious and will release the movie first via video-on-demand and then in August in theaters in at least 15 cities.

“They won us over immediately. They seemed passionate about the film and thought with the right marketing, it could get to a wider audience than you would normally get for a small film like this,” said Shelton on Tuesday, exhausted after five days of celebration and negotiation.

At least 60 percent of sale proceeds will go to the film’s largely Seattle-based cast and crew, many of whom worked for no pay in exchange for a cut of the back-end profits.

“I’m looking forward to feeling like Santa Claus,” Shelton said. “These are the most deserving people in the world, as far as I’m concerned.”

Shelton won over audiences and critics with the way she handled the movie’s premise, as the men’s plan ultimately forces them to explore deeper issues about their identities and relationships.

Judging by audience reaction, “I think we really get away with it,” Shelton said. “They’re fully fleshed out and they’re believable. You really think these guys might go through with this.”

The film gave Alycia Delmore, a lifelong Seattle resident and stage actor, her first starring movie role as the wife of one of the men. Like the rest of the cast, Delmore was paid in shares of the movie, which means she wasn’t sure of getting a paycheck until the movie found a distributor.

Though the arc of the plot was carefully planned, there was no written script, which allowed the actors to largely play themselves on screen.

“People come up to me and say, ‘That’s exactly what I would have done!’ ” said Delmore, who describes her role as “the one character on the screen watching it through the same lens as the audience.”

A big “Little Dizzle”

On Monday, David Russo’s “The Immaculate Conception of Little Dizzle” got a boisterous ovation at its premiere in the Library Theater, the exact place Russo always dreamed his movie would play. “I was very excited to find that the movie functioned very much the way I’d envisioned,” Russo said.

Even more than “Humpday,” his offbeat story about men who unwittingly find themselves in a state of quasi-pregnancy requires the audience to go along with a quirky premise. He was gratified to hear the audience laugh, then get caught up in the emotional climax.

“It was fun to watch all that take hold, because the audience seemed to be really with it. You can laugh with and at the film at the same time, and that’s quite a feat,” he said.

He credited his Seattle producer, Peggy Case, with making the six-year project a reality.

“She doesn’t have a Rolodex of millionaires. She just has willpower,” Russo said.

Although he managed to sell the Australian rights to the movie shortly after the premiere, he anticipates it will be difficult to get wide distribution in the U.S.

“The industry is feeling really timid right now, and this veers away from a lot of genres they love to gobble.”

Seattle appeal

Comedian Bobcat Goldthwait shot his latest film, “World’s Greatest Dad,” in Seattle.

“I prefer to make movies so they don’t look like they’re from Los Angeles,” Goldthwait said after the Tuesday premiere, adding that he liked the idea of shooting the dark comedy under overcast skies but was thwarted by unusually sunny June weather.

A good proportion of the cast was from Seattle, including many who played students at the high school where the action takes place. Locals will recognize it as the former F.A. McDonald School in Wallingford.

Goldthwait chose Seattle partly because he and the movie’s star, Robin Williams, remembered it fondly from their days as stand-up comedians. (Goldthwait occasionally opened for Nirvana, and the movie features a cameo by Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic.)

At the premiere, Williams made an unprompted pitch for the city. “It’s a great place to shoot a movie,” he said, “especially when you have little or no money.”

That sentiment pleased Amy Lillard Dee, director of the statewide nonprofit WashingtonFilmWorks office that helped lure the production with incentives and production help.

“What we’re hoping to do is corner the independent film market,” she said.

People involved in Seattle film see this as a sign of progress, even as it’s hard to say whether the momentum will continue.

Both “Humpday” and “Little Dizzle” relied on creative financing, including grants from foundations.

“I think there’s something to be said for creating really excellent stuff with that sort of DIY sensibility that Seattle has had for the past 20 years,” said Lyall Bush, director of the Northwest Film Forum, which helped fund “Little Dizzle” through its Start-to-Finish grant.

These films’ successes “ought to say that this is the beginning of something big, and I hope that’s the case,” Bush said.

He believes Seattle already has two of the three legs it needs for a thriving movie industry: education and a permanent pool of talented crew. The third is the framework for raising money.

Bush hopes filmmakers can capture some of the venture capital Seattle puts into startup technology companies.

“The line between the storytelling in film and the storytelling that goes on online and in gaming is growing fainter and fainter,” he said.

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

Little Dizzle Australian and New Zealand rights sold

January 25, 2009


Beyond has taken all Australian and New Zealand rights from Visit Films to David Russo’s The Immaculate Conception Of Little Dizzle following its world premiere in Spectrum [Competition at Sundance] on Monday (January 19).

Ryan Kampe of New York-based Visit Films brokered the deal with Beyond’s Simone Ubaldi.

The Immaculate Conception Of Little Dizzle focuses on a computer programmer who loses his job and finds work as a janitor, where he and his co-workers become unwitting guinea pigs in a bizarre corporate experiment.

Peggy Case produced the film, which stars Marshall Allman, Natasha Lyonne, Tania Raymonde, Tygh Runyan, Matt Smith and Vince Vieluf.

Visit Films represents international rights to Sundance titles The Missing Person, Kimjongilia and You Wont Miss Me.

Mr. McFeely in person today at 1pm

January 25, 2009

What are you doing today at 1pm? Allow me to suggest you make you way over to NWFF to catch Mr. McFeely’s second appearance at our Children’s Film Festival Seattle.

I enjoy Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood, but to be honest, it was never my favorite show (I was always a Square One gal). But listening to David Newell talk about Fred Roger’s and the importance of children’s programming is truly an inspiration! He has all sorts of stories to tell, and just meeting the man you know you are in the presence of the real thing.

Come by to get your very own Mr. McFeely autograph, and to hear what David Newell has to say.

Speedy Delivery plays at 1pm and Mr. McFeely stays until he has met the last guest that wants to talk with him.