Monday, September 24, 2007
Tuesday, May 08, 2007
The Film Festival as Superpower
I ran off to the Tribeca Film Festival last Thursday night. Now here I am, 23 films later, ready to report for blogging duty. Those 23 films include seven shorts, plus three feature selections I watched on my laptop on the bus, after downloading them thanks to Tribeca’s partnership with the amazing new Jaman service. I’m not sure my fellow passengers were as thrilled by the flicker effects of Ken Jacobs’ RAZZLE DAZZLE as I was. The 23 also included two remarkable films I snuck away from Tribeca to catch at the
The Tribeca festival has attracted more than its share of gripes. Since it was created after 9-11 to aid in the revitalization of lower Manhattan, the festival has managed to squander the affection of many, not unlike another superpower I could mention, with behavior that is, arguably, imperial. The festival has been accused of stomping on filmmakers and other festivals who won’t let Tribeca screen its desired films first, and being crassly profligate in its hoopla. Being the director of a regional film festival, I’m sensitive to the cries of smaller festivals; our fall event is often turned down by filmmakers afraid of blowing their chances (incredibly slim—4 out of 100) of getting into Sundance, the neighborhood bully faced by fall film festivals.
Yet I don’t think gripers are giving enough credit to the terrific programming by Peter Scarlet and his team. Peter is one of the most knowledgeable and tireless film discoverers I know, and shorts programmer Maggie Kim also has a great eye. Out of the hundreds of films on offer, I was able to carve out a program of extraordinary films on the theme of “family,” since I’m shopping for films to screen in our KIN FLICKS program in November. And much of what I saw was so extraordinary, that I can only hope that my festival in November is as good as the festival I attended this past weekend. What I admired, I will pursue for
My personal favorite of the weekend was the new documentary, AUTISM: THE MUSICAL. Less than a year ago, I sat on the balcony of the Georgian Hotel in
Thursday, March 29, 2007
A suggestion came in today that we show Su Friedrich’s film about her father, Sink or Swim and Alan Berliner’s film about his dad, Nobody’s Business. Friedrich also made a film I love about her relationship with her mother, The Ties That Bind.
Su has been to our festival several times, but, somehow, I’ve never brought Alan Berliner. Alan and I were film students together in
When Alan gets here, he’s going to find that some of the editing stations at the local Light House media access center for high school students are named after his movies. Light House founder Shannon Worrell is a big fan, and she says her students are inspired by Alan’s editing skills.
Another filmmaker who works with home movies is Peter Forgacs, whom I’d love to invite. He compiles his films from historic home movies reaching back to the Nazi era and postwar
Any other ideas for me in the home movie area? Should we have an open screening of home videos?
And do people have more filmmakers to suggest who have made films about their parents or kids?
Tuesday, March 06, 2007
Thanks for all the tips. There are more suggestions pouring in than I received last year, and I’m relieved that the theme is going over so well.
Mrs. Bates is definitely a great movie mom to feature alongside MILDRED PIERCE and MOMMIE DEAREST.
I saw the French Quebecois film C.R.A.Z.Y at a film festival and was surprised it didn’t get released here, since it was so entertaining and inventive (although it reminded me a bit of Alain Berliner’s MA VIE EN ROSE). I’ll look at it again…..
Donald Sosin sent me a lot of tantalizing choices. I got stuck at the top of his list, with Herbert Brenon’s 1924 PETER PAN. I showed that film several times at Cornell Cinema when I worked there in the 80s, and I’d love to introduce it to kids and families here. Great cinematography by James Wong Howe, and a pleasure for grownups too.
LE SOUFFLE AU COEUR is a good idea, although its treatment of incest may be too tasteful. I think I prefer Francois Ozon’s SITCOM, which has greater shock value, as John Waters would say. The DVD comes with a precociously twisted early short by Ozon called FAMILY PHOTO, in which he murders the members of his (real) family before posing them for the camera.
Keep the suggestions coming, and I'll keep adding titles to my video queue...
Sunday, February 25, 2007
Kin Flicks Kicks Off
This blog is now re-open for business, and I need suggestions, for titles, guests, and sidebar events (art exhibits, musical performances, etc.). Last year’s blog sparked a lot of great programming ideas I would not have had otherwise.
I’ll update this blog regularly with news as the program comes together, and reactions to your suggestions.
Sunday, November 05, 2006
The attendance records we broke, and the comments and emails I’ve received, are very gratifying. But, since I was running around giving introductions and doing festival business, I was only able to watch two film programs—Live…From the Hook and the Black Maria Festival program. The first one was a big gamble for me, since I had only seen a few minutes from it before promising it a slot, and I saw the completed film at the same time as the rest of the audience. It turned out to be the highlight of the weekend for me and many others. I didn’t share the deep connection with the Charlottesville live music scene that most people in the audience clearly had, and yet the sense that there is something extraordinary about this scene came through powerfully to me. The rapport between the musicians of different bands, their self-effacing humor, and their taste for musical experimentation was absolutely inspiring. And I just got a wonderful message of thanks from singer Johnny Sportcoat himself (Bob Girard) that made my week.
I also loved the experimental films that John Columbus brought for his Black Maria program, especially the flowing video abstractions of Leighton Pierce’s Viscera. The spectacular beauty that emerged from the artificial, chemically induced decay of Phil Solomon’s Clepsydra and the natural nitrate decay of Bill Morrison’s How to Pray were pure examples of cinematic transcendence.
I was glad to have the opportunity to screen, at the end of that program, my most exciting film discovery of the year, DeeDee Halleck’s documentary Bronx Baptism, which DeeDee filmed with Richard Serra and Babette Mangolte in 1980. It portrays a reconstituted movie theater in the South Bronx, with a glass window where the screen used to be. Behind the window/screen, the Puerto Rican congregation could view a live parade of baptismal bathers. The three artists who made the film stumbled into this phenomenal space of sacred, community performance art, and they recorded it with a sense of awe and wonder that came through strongly even in the much-faded print. DeeDee Halleck was present, and she indicated that my enthusiasm is inspiring her to search for the negative and strike a new print, which I hope others will screen and rediscover.
Robert Duvall seemed to have a great time, and his rapport with David Edelstein on stage was something to behold. Duvall, Liev Schreiber, and Morgan Freeman all really enjoyed their forum with Drama students, and everyone seemed charged by the incredible gathering of talent in the room.
I am always eager to hear reports from others about what they experienced, both good and bad, at the festival, and so I encourage people to send comments to this blog about their experiences.
Also, over the next few weeks, I am preparing theme proposals for the Festival’s Advisory Board, and so now is your chance to influence the theme selection for our 20th anniversary event. Somehow, we’ve got to top this last one, and given the amazing turnout and critical response, it ain’t gonna be easy.
Thursday, October 05, 2006
God...and Other Stars
We had some pretty interesting guests lined up by late August: writer Michael Tolkin, punk preacher Jay Bakker, video game artist Eddo Stern, and the rising young actors William Moseley and January Jones. The line-up of films, particularly the new documentaries like Jesus Camp and Iraq in Fragments, and the silent and Scandinavian classics, looked pretty good to me.
But the audience here demands very celebrated actors, and has come to expect them from the beginning, when Jimmy Stewart and Gregory Peck showed up for the first Virginia Film Festival. In recent years, we’ve brought Anthony Hopkins, Nicolas Cage, Sandra Bullock, Vanessa Redgrave, and the list goes on. Regional festivals do not usually attract stars of this caliber. Regional festivals are harder to get to then big city events. But the actors have loved the experience here, particularly the encounters with students and our highly intelligent audiences. We also have a very active and committed Board of Advisors, most of whom are based in LA and well-connected in the film industry.
The first featured guest to confirm was Robert Duvall….on September 8, a year to the day after Vanessa Redgrave confirmed her participation. And once again, the Preview Guide was on its way to the printer when we yanked it back and added in the exciting confirmation. Many of my advisors on this program, especially the knowledgeable religion and film authority Drew Trotter, asked repeatedly for Duvall and The Apostle as a centerpiece event. But we had not had luck with our invitations to him in recent years. In early September, one of the supporters on our new Council of Festival Friends, actress Betsy Brantley, helped us reach Duvall, and we got our most wanted guest. Now, it looks like a second Robert Duvall masterpiece will be added to the program….so keep checking our website.
Then came Liev Schreiber, a week later, through a wonderful, fortuitous encounter I had with a close relative of his. The first time he made an impression on me was in 1996, when we showed The Daytrippers, and that was the same year he scared the hell out of everyone in the first Scream, as Cotton Weary. I’ve been an admiring fan of his acting ever since, but the invitation we extended was for him to show the film adaptation of Everything is Illuminated, which he wrote and directed. It was only a few days between the conveying of the invitation and its confirmation. What a nice experience.
Finally, Morgan Freeman’s film is the one I described in an earlier blog entry. I was handed an invitation to a test screening while I was in Santa Monica last spring. I sat in the theater a few seats away from Brad Silberling, the director. 10 Items or Less felt like a Dogme production….a low-budget, minimally scripted, improvisatory shedding of Hollywood excess, a therapeutic cleansing from the big budget behemoths Silberling and Freeman knew too well. And Morgan Freeman is liberated in 10 Items or Less. It’s the loosest, funniest, most charismatic performance I’ve ever seen him give. The test screening audience cheered, and the audience at the Paramount is likely to do the same.
Julie Lynn, a member of the Film Festival board who had brought us Nine Lives last year, is co-producer of 10 Items or Less. We have been working on arranging this visit for the past six months, and nearly gave up a few weeks ago. The schedule was tight; Freeman will be starting his next film two days after our screening. Transportation was a problem. But, about two weeks ago, Charlottesville was squeezed into an itinerary that includes a visit the day before in Mississippi. And so we had our last answered prayer for Revelations.
Now that the program is out, what do you think? Write me your comments, ask me questions about the selections, and I’ll try to respond here on the blog.