Archive for July, 2009

Sneak Peak at Import Export: Interview with Ulrich Seidl

July 31, 2009

This fall at Northwest Film Forum we’ll be showing Austrian auteur Ulrich Seidl’s much-heralded film, Import Export. His recent interview with Green Cine covers both the extreme conditions required for Seidl to smile and the hazards of filming in the Ukraine — “thousands of unemployed Gypsies.”

Import Export will screen November 6-12.

INTERVIEW: Ulrich Seidl

[First, a most necessary shout-out: welcome back, David Hudson! We missed you, desperately.]

Ulrich SeidlMany are quick to label Austrian auteur Ulrich Seidl (Dog Days, Animal Love) first and foremost as a provocateur, as if his unflinching, tableau-heavy films about “the poor, dispossessed and unredeemable that have come to stand in for Europe” (as Vadim Rizov astutely noted) had no further depth than their confrontational qualities. Finally getting a U.S. theatrical release since its 2007 Cannes premiere, Import/Export—easily his richest work to date—opens at Anthology Film Archives tomorrow:

Austrian filmmaker Ulrich Seidl’s latest feature film tells two stories that at first glance appear unrelated. One is an import story, beginning in the Ukraine and leading to Austria. The other is an export story, in which the trajectory is reversed. The first concerns Olga, a young nurse and mother who, determined to leave the Ukraine, decides to go to Austria, where she eventually finds work as a cleaning lady in a geriatric hospital. The other story follows Paul, a young Austrian man who finds himself unemployed and in debt, until his stepfather takes him along to a job in the Ukraine installing video gambling machines. Both of these characters are in search of work, a new beginning, an existence, life: Olga, from Eastern Europe, where unremitting poverty is the order of the day; Paul, from the West, where unemployment means not hunger, but a crisis of identity and a sense of uselessness. Both are struggling to believe in themselves, to find meaning; both travel to a new country, and thus into its depths. Import/Export is a film about sex and death, living and dying, winners and losers, power and helplessness.

By email, Seidl was gracious enough to answer some of my questions about the film…

Import ExportIn an interview on your website, you said that, for years, you’ve wanted to make a film in Eastern Europe because you feel very close to the people there. Specifically, how so?

Apart from the hospitality that characterizes all the countries of Eastern Europe, I mainly feel that I can relate to the mentality of the population. The people in the East (Ukraine) take life as it comes and have more time for each other. In contrast to our western society, where time defines and regulates people’s lives (although paradoxically, we live in a leisure society), they take their time with things in the East. There are times for celebration and mourning.

Some of the shooting locations looked extremely treacherous. While in the Ukraine, did you ever feel like you were in any physical danger?

Not really. As a rule, I have faith that, in foreign places, people react to how one approaches them. However, naturally one is scared when entering a ghetto populated by thousands of unemployed Gypsies where people have been segregated, hated and left to their fates for the first time.

You’ve long seemed to favor tableau images, with a focus on their geometry and symmetry. Do you see a specific power or purpose in this aesthetic that has made it versatile throughout your filmmaking career?

Maybe my tableaux are an attempt to describe the world in one picture. Life is frozen for a few moments; the people are often frozen but breathe the pictures. It is a type of magical moment that is transferred to the viewer. The glances meet and one looks each other in the eye.

Import ExportTo me, your films are recognizable by some of your trademark styles, even when you work with different cinematographers. What was your working relationship like with Ed Lachman, as compared to your long-time collaborator Wolfgang Thaler?

In Import/Export, I could afford the luxury to work with two as experienced as different cameramen, Ed Lachman and Wolfgang Thaler. This was not only a special experience but also a great joy for me (although the intention was never to reinvent my film language). The field of responsibility was also very varied. While Wolfgang handled the camera, Ed was responsible for the light; in my case this meant using as little lighting as possible. I believe that it was exactly this task that was the lure in our collaboration for Ed: to make big cinematic imagery with a minimum of technology.

Just like the photographer Diane Arbus was regularly criticized, some have questioned whether you exploit your documentary subjects by depicting them in unflattering conditions. How would you react if that was brought up in regards to the elderly patients, who arguably aren’t as self-aware as the internet porn actors?

Allegations of this kind have accompanied my entire filmmaking carrier to date. But who wants to determine what is permitted, what is not and who wants to set the limits? I know that as a director I take and accept responsibility for how I portray people. The question is whether I portray people in a way that allows them to keep their dignity. I think that I have accomplished that and have even given some of it back to them through my portrayal. Or are moribund people not worthy of portrayal? Are they too ugly and/or miserable? Those that think like this apparently have a bad conscience, are aware of the fact that they are responsible for it. What I showed in geriatrics, namely that all these people finally end up perishing alone and very lonely is a responsibility of society and therefore, the responsibility of us all. The fact that we accept this is the real scandal. Oh yes, getting the formal agreement from the geriatric patients was not a difficult but purely a bureaucratic task.

Import ExportIs there such a thing as “too provocative,” an artistic boundary that shouldn’t be crossed?

I confront the viewer with certain realities, also or exactly because they are unpleasant. The viewers are responsible and I don’t want to keep certain truths from them. I do not want to make things appear nicer than they are in order to make it easier for the viewer. Fomenting unrest is sometimes the task of an artist. But apart from this, naturally boundaries exist for me. Boundaries for what and how I want to show something (there are some things that I am unsure I want to show). However, this is based on my own convictions and feelings regarding something and not consideration towards the viewer.

In his Import/Export shooting diary, assistant director and Ukraine producer Klaus Pridnig said he only saw you smiling twice, both during extreme weather conditions. Your films are known for their despairing conditions, and any moments of comedy are usually pitch-black. What makes you smile, or even happy?

I believe that one has to be thankful for moments of happiness because happiness can’t be created; my life has moments of happiness too. I know I am seen as very serious and demanding but I always try to find humor in melancholy. If I manage to make people laugh with my films and their laughter gets stuck in their throat in the next moment, if I succeed in doing that, then that makes me happy.

Great reflection on Hitchcock’s Topaz

July 31, 2009

Over at Parallax View. Check it out!

Hitchcock’s Topaz Revisited

David Russo wins best director at Montreal Fantasia

July 30, 2009

In much more happy NWFF news, Immaculate Conception of Little Dizzle director David Russo won Best Director at the Montreal Fantasia Film Festival!

Read more about Little Dizzle at http://www.littledizzlefilm.com, more about NWFF’s Start-to-Finish program (currently in jeopardy!) here.

An Urgent Request from Northwest Film Forum

July 30, 2009

A few minutes ago I emailed this letter to 10,000 people.

I am writing to you to ask for your help. I am asking you for $10, the price of an average movie ticket. The Film Forum has had done many great things this year, but much like other organizations our income is off by 30%. And while we remain scrappy and imaginative in tough spots, this time is different.

We are looking at real changes at the Film Forum unless you say yes and support us. We need to reach a goal of $70,000 by August 15. Please walk it in, mail it in, or visit http://www.nwfilmforum.org to make a donation.

You and 10,000 others are receiving this, which means you regularly find our emails and enews in our inbox, which means that you care, too. Maybe you even love what we do and believe the city is a better place – more sophisticated, inspired, or just more fun — because of the films we show here, the summer filmmaking camps we offer to kids, the screenwriting and film editing classes we schedule, the filmmakers we bring to town (and the classes they teach), and the movies we are so instrumental in getting made.

Classes, filmmaker support, equipment rental, special screenings, and film series, many of these programs may be put on hold, shelved, or stopped altogether without your small gift. That means programs such as Soul Nite and ByDesign could go. It means fewer masterpieces such as “Silent Light” showing up on our screens. It means maybe no more camera rentals. Jobs and programs are on the line.

So, as the movie voiceover says, imagine a world: imagine a world in which people can open a door and find community. Imagine a world in which emerging filmmakers can receive the advice, equipment, collaborators and support they need to make their movies. Imagine a world in which anyone can register for classes to get the tools they need to enter the fields of screenwriting, editing, and video production. Imagine a world in which you can see movies that change the way you see the world. Imagine a world where you can find people of a like mind for inspiration and community.

Fifteen years ago we did that, all of it. To summarize what the Film Forum provides the city would take a much longer letter, but if you are a member or regular patron you have a pretty good idea already. You already believe in what we do.

You can keep all this, now, for the price of a ticket at your average movie theater. It’s tough out there, we know that; we have tried our best to keep moving ahead in spite of the current economy. But now we know that some of what we do and provide will go dark without your support.

I am asking you urgently. If you have benefited from our equipment, from the images on our screens, from our classes, from our network of people, from our famously great parties, we are asking you to say yes, you believe, yes you can give $10. Yes.

An urgent request from Northwest Film Forum

July 30, 2009

I am writing to you to ask for your help. I am asking you for $10, the price of an average movie ticket. The Film Forum has had done many great things this year, but much like other organizations our income is off by 30%. And while we remain scrappy and imaginative in tough spots, this time is different.

We are looking at real changes at the Film Forum unless you say yes and support us. We need to reach a goal of $70,000 by August 15. Please walk it in, mail it in, or click here to make your donation.

You and 10,000 others are receiving this, which means you regularly find our emails and enews in our inbox, which means that you care, too. Maybe you even love what we do and believe the city is a better place – more sophisticated, inspired, or just more fun — because of the films we show here, the summer filmmaking camps we offer to kids, the screenwriting and film editing classes we schedule, the filmmakers we bring to town (and the classes they teach), and the movies we are so instrumental in getting made.

Classes, filmmaker support, equipment rental, special screenings, and film series, many of these programs may be put on hold, shelved, or stopped altogether without your small gift. That means programs such as Soul Nite and ByDesign could go. It means fewer masterpieces such as “Silent Light” showing up on our screens. It means maybe no more camera rentals. Jobs and programs are on the line.

So, as the movie voiceover says, imagine a world: imagine a world in which people can open a door and find community. Imagine a world in which emerging filmmakers can receive the advice, equipment, collaborators and support they need to make their movies. Imagine a world in which anyone can register for classes to get the tools they need to enter the fields of screenwriting, editing, and video production. Imagine a world in which you can see movies that change the way you see the world. Imagine a world where you can find people of a like mind for inspiration and community.

Fifteen years ago we did that, all of it. To summarize what the Film Forum provides the city would take a much longer letter, but if you are a member or regular patron you have a pretty good idea already. You already believe in what we do.

You can keep all this, now, for the price of a ticket at your average movie theater. It’s tough out there, we know that; we have tried our best to keep moving ahead in spite of the current economy. But now we know that some of what we do and provide will go dark without your support.

I am asking you urgently. If you have benefited from our equipment, from the images on our screens, from our classes, from our network of people, from our famously great parties, we are asking you to say yes, you believe, yes you can give $10. Yes.

Lyall Bush
Executive Director

Iran ‘arrests prominent film director’ at cemetery

July 30, 2009

TEHRAN — Prominent Iranian film director Jafar Panahi was arrested at a cemetery where mourners gathered on Thursday to commemorate slain election protesters, a source close to the family said.

“Panahi, his wife Tahereh Saeedi and daughter Solmaz were arrested today at Behesht-e Zahra,” the source who declined to be named told AFP.

The award-winning director of “Offside” and “The Circle”, Panahi is a vocal critic of Iran hardliners and his movies have been banned for a decade from domestic cinemas despite their international success.

Several other mourners were also arrested by Iranian riot police who beat the crowds gathered to commemorate protesters killed in post-election violence last month, witnesses said.

Mourners were marking the 40th day since the death of Neda Agha-Soltan, a young woman who came to symbolise the protest movement against the re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Original 1969 review for “Topaz” and “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service”

July 30, 2009

Warning! This New York Times review does reveal the dramatic ending of Majesty’s in the final paragraph, though I think the film will still be thoroughly entertaining despite the admission.

Interesting that the Bond franchise was still cleanly seen as a “spoof” spy series at this point, despite the serious ending to this one. I wonder what A.H. Weiler would have thought of Austin Powers, or the original Casino Royale.

And I can’t resist posting a portion of this delightfully snooty piece by Vincent Canby on how to sound like a full-time cinephile among your friends, when you are in truth only a weekend-warrior cinephile.

Note that Canby found Topaz to cryptically be “one of those rare movies existing beyond criticism that would label a movie good or bad.” (And that he found it to be “fascinating, perverse, funny”)


Dispatches from Honduras

July 28, 2009

NWFF instructor and volunteer Craig Downing has been traveling in Honduras. He sends this message:

“just a quick heads up that after watching a speeding convoy of red cross ambulances pass us followed by a pick up truck with a newly ordered coffin in the truck bed….we decided to try a different border out of honduras…. we are currently in Leon, Nicaragua…”

Pictures (including the one above of Craig and other US tourists) from Hondurans lined up at the miliary border are online here.

You can also watch a few short videos from Craig’s travels:

honduras protest from craig downing on Vimeo.

honduras protest from craig downing on Vimeo.

The Dance of Chance

July 27, 2009

We’re not all film over here at Northwest Film Forum. Often we’re found working with artists from other mediums. Most often with dancers. As you can imagine, we were quite saddened today when we learned that one of dance’s greatest artists, Merce Cunningham, passed away. To our friends in the dance community, we mourn with you today.

Ocean Commercial from Justin Heideman on Vimeo.

Melbourne Film Fest site hacked!

July 27, 2009

Bad news for exhibitors everywhere.

Hackers hit Melbourne fest site
Festival information with the Sino flag
By MICHAELA BOLAND

The website of the Melbourne Intl. Film Festival was hacked Friday as a Chinese campaign builds against a doc about an ethnic minority leader. The fest has lost the sponsorship of Hong Kong’s Trade and Economic Office.

Hackers with a Chinese ISP replaced festival information with the Sino flag, and slogans against the doc continued to spam the site for at least 24 hours. The fest has hired extra security to protect attendees and organizers. The Melbourne Age newspaper reported seeing a message that called for an apology to China and read: “We like film, but we hate Rebiya Kadeer,” referring to the Uighur leader at the center of the docu.

“The language has been vile,” fest director Richard Moore told the Age. “It is obviously a concerted campaign to get us because we’ve refused to comply with the Chinese Government’s demands.”Controversy erupted two weeks ago when Moore refused a request from Chinese officials in Melbourne to withdraw a screening of Oz-made doc “The 10 Conditions of Love” about the U.S.-based Kadeer’s campaign for rights for China’s 10 million Uighurs. Three films from China and Hong Kong were pulled from the fest last week in retaliation.

In a letter to the festival, Jia Zhangke, producer of “Perfect Life” and whose company also produced “Cry Me a River,” said he withdrew both movies to protest Kadeer’s attendance at the event.

“Petition,” a doc directed by Zhao Liang examining injustices in China’s court system, was the third entry pulled.

Moore told the Age that he had tried to replace “Life” in order to fulfill conditions for the Hong Kong’s Trade and Economic Office’s sponsorship, but to no avail.

“We paid the screening fee and the new film, ‘Claustrophobia,’ was en route to Melbourne, then I got an email saying they’ve withdrawn it, no explanation,” Moore told the Age.

State and federal police are working on security strategies for screenings of “10 Conditions” due to preem Aug. 8, with Kadeer attending.

Australia’s largest fest is in unfamiliar territory as a protest target.

Opening night world premiere of “Balibo” was attended by peaceful campaigners against Israel’s treatment of the Palestinian Territories on account of the fest’s screening of “$9.99” and an appearance by its director, Tatia Rosenthal. Brit helmer Ken Loach pulled his Cannes player “Looking for Eric,” saying he could not support an event that had accepted funding from the state of Israel — the embassy is supporting the Israeli-born filmmaker, who will answer questions about “$9.99,” an Australian-Israeli production.