Archive for January, 2011

What a party!

January 31, 2011

Check out the Children’s Film Festival 2011 opening night pajama party with Caspar Babypants!  What a blowout.

The Mysteries Of Blu-Ray

January 30, 2011

What am I looking at?

While you might not be able to make it out from the picture above (taken on my blackberry and uploaded to a twitter account at lo-resolution), last night I was privileged to view Raoul Ruiz’ latest masterpiece Mysteries of Lisbon in its entirety, with infamous producer Paolo Bronco introducing.  The festival director introduced the screening to a sold out audience, something you’ve come to expect from Rotterdam, informing us that IFFR is the first festival to screen the film this way.

 Back up right? The inquiring reader might wonder whether this is possible pretty much anywhere, at any festival in the world, to sell out a screening by a world talent like Ruiz. That is generally true. But you see Ruiz’ film runs a whopping six hours and the theater arguable held between 250 and 300 viewers. Okay… you might say, but what the hell does this post have to do with blu-ray.

Well Msr. Bronco informed the audience that we’d be watching the film on the format once touted in Seattle by an unnamed venue to be “a superior audio-visual experience”. A statement that seems to be catching on with distributors and filmmakers alike. Blu-ray is becoming a rather ubiquitous exhibition format these days. It’s cheap to ship, and yes the quality is certainly head and shoulders above dvd. Often even better than digiBETA or BET SP. Yet my experience last night forces me to once again raise some very important questions about the format.

On with the show then. After Bronco introduced the screening, the lights dimmed and the beautifully crisp images of 19th century Lisbon began flickering across the screen. Having heard from many in the programming and critical world that this latest work was a must see, within minutes of viewing I was quickly beginning to agree. Then  something happened, that would occur over and over again throughout the evenings screening. At the twenty-five minute mark the images on the screen froze in time, for actually an extended period of time. The hems and hahs of the audience ensued as per any glitchy screening I’ve attended. The projector went dim, the lights came up, the protectionist announced that he would try again. Repeat. Lights dim, projector sparks up, images move and freeze once more.

After some serious tinkering, the protectionist discovered that if he played the blu-ray at a lower resolution somehow he’d avoid the problem. The once “superior audio-visual experience” grew less superior by the minute. Digital glitches passed in green and red streaks like comets invading the intoxicating period piece. Yet the dedicated Rotterdam audience, me included, persevered. 

Three hours in we were granted a twenty-minute intermission. At this point the screening was running at least 15-20 minutes later than expected due to the various reboots.  Did I mention that the film started at 6pm? I grabbed a sandwich and a cup of coffee to refuel for the final three hours and sat back in my seat.

Before the screening started back up, Msr. Bronco announced from the top of the stairs that he had convinced the protectionist to return the formatting back to its original quality, the image was suffering too much. He had spent the last three hours trying to track down a more professional blu-ray player or a playstation 3! He insisted this wouldn’t have happened if only they had a playstation 3!    Okay Msr. Bronco, duly noted.

We all took a deep breath, hoping that this time the images would make it through. But some 30 minutes in, picture locked again, projection degrades the image quality and we start back up. At the end of one hour, and upon the producer’s request,  the image is changed back to full quality. As if we didn’t know what was going to happen. And it did. Once again. As planned. Thirty minutes. And stop. Repeat.

The mystery of course of the screening was not found in Lisbon, but in the theater. Nearly all audience members, myself included, made it to the end of the film. We forgave the technical problems because the work was definitely strong enough to withstand their failures. But I was left wondering, wouldn’t a hard medium format like digiBETA or BETA SP, or even (gasp) VHS have suffered less, or at least caused fewer interruptions? Don’t we all know from our own home viewing experiences that no matter what player we’re using, this is just an artifact of the medium itself? I had to answer of course.

The hour plus extra time that elapsed as a result of the glitches, caused a cancellation of the q&a, but it didn’t diminish the dedication of Rotterdam audiences one bit.

Follow my European festival journeys here:!/NWFF

Uncle! Uncle!

January 29, 2011

Five reasons to come see My Uncle at the NWFF, where it’s playing daily through Thursday as part of the Children’s Film Festival:
1. Jacques Tati was the Buster Keaton of France.
2. It was very considerate of Tati to make this English language version of his masterpiece Mon Oncle (which won the 1958 Academy Award for Best Foreign Film) for those of us too short to read subtitles.
3. The mid-century modern design is to die for.
4. Mon Oncle has an 89% rating on Rotten Tomatoes (higher than Inception‘s!).
5. I need someone to tell me why I keep having dreams about that fish fountain.

You’re Lookin’ At Country 2011 poster

January 21, 2011

Featuring Johnny Cash!

Read more & get your tickets here.

Shut out of Crispin Glover or Enemies of the People? May I suggest…

January 21, 2011

It’s going to be a busy weekend here at the Film Forum. Only a few tickets remain for the four shows with Crispin Glover, and they are sure to be gone by the time you read this, and tonight and tomorrow’s 7pm Enemies of the People shows are sold out too.

So what’s a filmgoer to do? How about catching this rare and unusual treat at the Nordic Heritage Museum? Note the discount for Film Forum members, too:

Film Night at the Museum: Max Manus
Friday, January 21, 2011, 7:00 pm
Where: Nordic Heritage Museum
Address: 3014 N.W. 67th Street in Ballard. Free parking.

Calling all film buffs! The Nordic Heritage Museum is delighted to bring you the rare opportunity to view Max Manus, the 2008 Norwegian biographic film based on the real events of the life of resistance fighter Max Manus (1914 – 96). The story follows Manus—played by Aksel Hennie—from the Winter War against the Soviet Union, through the outbreak of World War II and the German occupation of Norway until peacetime in 1945. Its budget was estimated to be the most expensive of all purely Norwegian film productions before 2009, with around 1800 extras and 2,000 workers behind the cameras. The film is based on Max Manus’ own books, as well as other accounts and historical documentation.

The evening will begin with dessert, coffee & a no-host bar at 7:00 pm and the film at approximately 7:30 pm. For more information, visit
$10 for museum members and NWFF members, $15 general

Now Hear This: A Review of ‘Sunrise’

January 20, 2011

Last night I attended the Northwest Film Forum’s screening of Sunrise, a 1927 silent feature directed by F.W. Murnau. Rather than listening to a generic score typically tacked onto these movies from the pre-sound era, the audience enjoyed live accompaniment from two gifted musicians: Lori Goldston played cello, while Greg Campbell handled percussion. Over somber strings and ghostlike cymbals appeared the opening title cards, which reveal the filmmakers’ truly universal aspirations. First, Murnau endowed Sunrise with the subtitle A Song of Two Humans which, though aptly identifying sound as a key element in this tale (more on that later), has a somewhat poetically grandiose ring to it. The film’s bid for universality clarifies with a look at the cast list; no proper names exist for any of the characters, just general labels like “The Man” or “The Wife.” Finally Sunrise’s preamble rolls onscreen, a statement of egalitarianism which includes, “…in the city’s turmoil or under the open sky on the farm, life is much the same; sometimes bitter, sometimes sweet.” Somehow to me this claim doesn’t resonate with the story of a violent philanderer who plots to drown his innocent wife for his lover.

Just another day on the farm I suppose, in the life of one ordinary American marriage. I don’t have a wife as of yet, so maybe I judge too quickly. Maybe daydreams about disposing your better half in the nearest river once marital passions fade are more common than I imagine. Right?

Needless to say (so I’ll say it anyway) watching this 84-year-old relic of a film unfold before my eyes had many surreal, starkly emotional moments. The cinematography by Karl Struss and Charles Rosher, groundbreaking at the time, photographs not only the physical action taking place, but peers deeper than that, casts light on the hidden desires of this struggling couple. In one early scene, The Man (an uncanny Jon Hamm lookalike) battles himself over leaving home for a late-night rendezvous. He looks offscreen, then we see what he sees: a simple meal resting on the dinner table, prepared by his faithful spouse. Dialogue couldn’t capture the reservoirs of agony in this simple series of shots. Words monopolize, espousing a single interpretation as sole truth. With Sunrise, Murnau displays a mastery of the silent form by letting his viewers fill in the gaps left open by unspoken (and due to technological limits, unrecorded) human speech.

Though we cannot hear the sounds bombarding this silent world, we can imagine. We can imagine the seductive lilt in a vamp’s whistle, the stern timbre of a minister’s words that leads to The Man’s redemption, and his own voice, warbling with franticness over the night waters as he searches for his missing love. Our imaginations ran further with help from Goldston and Campbell, who did wonders with the few instruments in their arsenal. How the former morphed her cello time and again into the perfect backdrop for every sequence I couldn’t tell you. But the haunting soundtrack made for an experience as strange, as scarily wonderful as a rowboat tossed across a stormy sea.

Sunrise is available on DVD and Blu-Ray.

Critic’s consensus on HIROSHIMA: It’s weird, but it’s good

January 14, 2011

“Cinematically ambitious yet divertingly entertaining…an illuminating experiment in straining the very logic of films. The result is a wacky version of a certain kind of hybrid movie from cinema’s transition era from silence to sound, films in which sound was used expressively (even perversely) by the likes of Rene Clair and Alfred Hitchcock. “Hiroshima” is nothing less than trippy classicism.” —Seattle Times

Pure joy…the anticipation of each new image engages us more completely than any hackneyed storyline. Visually addictive” —Seattle PostGlobe

“A long and delightful music video that has successfully risen to the condition of cinema. Pablo Stoll’s movie has a lot in common with Kanye West’s Runaway.” —The Stranger

Make a plan to see it!

Holiday party photos !

January 10, 2011

Starring Dennis West as Santa.  More here.

Two new sound clips available for the Sound First Film Challenge

January 5, 2011

One of the key elements of any good movie is its sound design and mix. It is an element that often if not always comes as a response to images that the filmmaker shot and audio they recorded on location. This quarter for our film challenge we provide filmmakers with some pre-recorded and mixed sound asking them to create images to accompany. Are you up for the challenge?

Films must  be submitted on 35mm, 16mm, BETA SP, DVCAM, or DVD. All submitted works   will be screened.

Submissions are due February 17; screenings take place  on February 24.

Sound Clip #1

Sound Clip #2

Sound Clip #3

Sound Clip #4

Children’s Film Festival Seattle trailer

January 5, 2011

Our team of interns, including the talented Dave Herberg, have been hard at work helping us prepare for the upcoming festival, happening this year January 28-February 6.  Take a look at this lovely new trailer they’ve put together!