Emerging Pictures and Full Frame have announced the winner of the Emerging Pictures/Full Frame Audience Award. Congratulations to director Louise Hogarth and her beautiful documentary Angels in the Dust which had its world premiere at the festival last week.
The prize includes support from Emerging Pictures for the filmmaker and her distributor, Participant Productions, in getting the film out as widely as possible to suitably equipped digital cinemas across the country. This will certainly help towards qualifying the film for Academy Award-nominee status for Best Documentary.
Creative representatives have always touted themselves as part of the artist’s “team,” particularly when a film hits pay dirt with lots of critical acclaim, awards, etc. However, in the current indie world we all inhabit, this appears to be more than a sentiment—at least in the cases of some of the filmmakers to whom indie is truly DIY from soup to nuts. Over the last few months—months laden with the major international festivals and awards shows and the ubiquitous year-end “best of” lists—I spoke with a wide array of filmmakers and reps. We talked about their stories of how these films got made, the hard roads these filmmakers traveled, the insurmountable odds of not only getting projects completed, but finding the ways and means to market and distribute them. All are really quite inspiring in every case.
I asked a lot of folks about the importance of having representation for yourself and your film projects. What can an artist’s, producer’s, sales or PR rep do for you and your film that you can’t (or don’t want to) do for yourself? And how do you know if a rep really has your best interests? Responses from filmmakers who have gone the route alone all the way through self-distribution, and those who have found real champions in their representatives, weigh in, as do some of the people who have helped them in various ways.
We’ll start with filmmakers Barlow Jacobs and Zack Godshall who hit the high-stakes road to Sundance by premiering their first feature there in January of this year, as was their intention. Low and Behold is a local story writ large by the disaster that was Hurricane Katrina, a combination of an act of nature and the negligence of humankind that left huge swaths of destruction and misery in the southern part of our nation in her wake.
When Jacobs and Godshall finished their film, met the Sundance deadline and were waiting to hear, they shopped it around and got a screener into the hands of independent producer, Sarah Hendler who, in turn, got it into the hands of an agent at William Morris Independent and Ravi Anne and Jared Moshe´ of Sidetrack Films who helped lob it over the fence in Park City and repped the film there. The first narrative film to come out of post-Katrina times, the filmmakers are still looking for distribution, and, like many first-, even second-, third-, and fourth-time, etc. filmmakers, are huffing it around the globe to as many important festivals as possible to position themselves to meet and greet a distribution arm of a studio to score theatrical runs, television and/or DVD distribution deals.
But do you really need representation? As clichéd as it sounds, this is a business of relationships. Writer/director, Mia Goldman, who started as an editor (Crazy People, Flesh and Bone, Something to Talk About, My Big Fat Greek Wedding), also didn’t have representation during the filming of her first directorial effort Open Window, which debuted at Sundance last year. She says, “Get the work done. It’s not to say you shouldn’t keep trying to find representation or people to help you get your film made and shown, but don’t rely on that. Chances are they will find you. And they’ll find you because they like the script, they like you as a person and believe in your talent. But you’ve got to do the work first.”
I also had a chance to sit in a room with the seven filmmakers who were up for best feature at the Independent Spirit Awards this past February: first-time filmmaker Aric Avelino (American Gun), director/writer team Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck (Half Nelson), directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris (Little Miss Sunshine), Karen Moncrieff (The Dead Girl) and Guillermo del Toro (Pan's Labyrinth). When asked about representation from a filmmaker’s perspective, they expressed how essential it was to stay the course and stay true to the vision of your project—the way you wish it to be shot, the way you wish it to be told, the way you wish it to be represented and marketed.
I heard very similar sentiments from the reps. Maureen Toth of the Geller Agency, who represents editors, ADs, directors of photography, composers, etc., (also known as “below-the-line” talent), says, “The people who are super enthusiastic… are the ones that are going to have the most compelling careers. …enough can’t be said about how your attitude and commitment translate into future work.”
Financier and producer, Jared Moshe of Sidetrack Films, whose company provides financing and finishing funds for nonfiction and narrative projects (Kurt Cobain About a Son and Low and Behold, among them) and brokers deals for domestic and international distribution, says, “I have to understand why the filmmaker wants to make their movie. The process is a long and hard one, and if a filmmaker doesn’t have the passion when they are starting the film, they probably won’t have the drive to see it through. Also, films are made for audiences, and the competition for audience attention is fierce. If a filmmaker can’t explain why he/she is making a movie, there is no way the audience will, and you’ve lost them before you’ve begun.”
Cassian Elwes, who is an agent at The William Morris Agency, represents independent films and independent film producers. He is widely regarded as one of the most influential people in the U.S. independent film industry because of his ability to package and market small “art house” films and cross them over into the mainstream. Yet, on a recent panel held last November at the AFM, Elwes emphatically expressed that, unless a writer/director/filmmaker doesn’t come to the table with a clear, pure passionate vision of his/her project, as much of a “miracle worker” as he’s touted to be, nothing much can be done to move things along if the filmmaker wavers in their conviction of how and why the film needs to be made in a very particular, focused way.
Do we sense a theme here?
Particularly in the independent world, everyone from Bob and Harvey Weinstein to entertainment lawyer, John Sloss, to producer, Christine Vachon of Killer Films, champion and support the outside filmmaker—visionary artists whose projects refuse to slip comfortably into a typical Hollywood genre. The best thing a new filmmaker can do is familiarize him/herself with those of which are looking for projects to get behind.
On the subject of representation, there was universal agreement, that no matter what kind of support a filmmaker has from an agent, a manager, a sales agent, a distribution company—any kind of “indie angel”—the responsibility ultimately lies with the filmmaker, the auteur of the piece. To a person, the same thing was said repeatedly. Go out and make your film. It’s possible, it’s do-able, you are the only person who can make your vision live and breathe—no one else can or will do that for you.
As sunny and springtime-y as yesterday was, today brought vicious downpours and people scrambling to re-arrange their travel plans due to canceled flights. Some people opted to escape as early as 6:00 a.m. to make their get-away and miss the last day in the interests of getting home.
I caught another Sneak Peek today--this time Alex Gibney's new film Taxi to the Dark Side which will have its premiere at this year's Tribeca Film Festival. You can watch the trailer here. A devastating portrait of an innocent young man caught in the cross hairs of the US government and the US military, it's an in-depth look at the torture practices of our country in Afghanistan, Iraq and Guantanamo Bay in Cuba that focuses on a young taxi driver in Afghanistan who was tortured and killed by his American prison guards in 2002. Filled with riveting interviews and a flawless structure, Gibney delivers another powerful film for us to try and absorb. Even faced with incontrovertible proof of what went on, our political leaders' dance of denial and subterfuge continue to astound and devastate even the most cynical among us.
The middle of the day brought a bit of sunshine for the BBQ feast inside The Armory and the Awards Ceremony that officially closes the festival, even though films play and panels still meet throughout the afternoon and early evening and there are re-screenings of award winners following the luncheon.
The tenth anniversary of the festival's final ticket sales for 2007 was over 25,000 with an estimated 1,400 additional viewers coming for films showing post-BBQ. Twenty of the films that were shown were sold-out screenings.
The Grand Jury Award presented by Alpha Cine Labs in Seattle went to Pernille Rose Gronkjaer for The Monastery. The prize is $20,000 in lab services for a tape to film transfer or lab services to be used in a two-year period.
Best Short with a $10,000 film stock prize provided by Kodak went to Ben Wu's Cross Your Eyes Keep Them Wide with honorable mention going to Elizabeth Salgado's Zo is dat (The Way It Is).
The Seeds of War prize of $5,000, sponsored by Walter Mosley, went to Uganda Rising by Jesse James Miller and Pete McCormack and The Devil Came on Horseback by Annie Sundberg and Ricki Stern. Each pair will receive $2,500.
The Spectrum Award prize of $10,000 sponsored by The Fledgling Fund went to director Marco Williams for his film Banished with honorable mention going to director Lina Makboul for her film Leila Khaled, Hijacker.
The $5,000 Inspiration Award went to filmmaker Heddy Honigmann for Forever with honorable mention going to Tony Kaye's abortion film Lake of Fire.
The President's Award for $5,000 sponsored by Duke University went to Lumo directors Bent-Jorgen Perlmutt and Nelson Walker III.
The $5,000 Women in Leadership Award went to Shame directed by Mohammed Naqvi.
The Kathleen Bryan Edwards Award for Human Rights was received by Daniel Karslake for his film For the Bible Tells Me So.
The Full Frame/Working Films Award for $5,000 went to Annie Sundberg and Ricki Stern's The Devil Came on Horseback.
Finally, there is the Full Frame/Emerging Pictures Audience Award which will be determined and presented to the filmmaker whose work is selected by audience members of the digital extension of the Full Frame Festival being set up by Emerging Pictures and Full Frame in various locations around the country. This award will be announced this week. The films vying for the prize in this category are: Angels in the Dust, Hands of Che Guevara, Knee Deep, Nobody, Seeing Sally A Psychic's Tale, Welcome to Nollywood, Forgotten, A Journey of Dmitry Shostakovich, Meeting Resistance, Revolution '67 and Uganda Rising. I'll share that news when it's released by the folks at Full Frame.
Record numbers of documentary addicts came out to the fest this year. The third day of the four-day festival brought sunshine and beautiful spring weather. The plaza of the Carolina Theatre was packed with lunching locals intermingled with visitors, filmmakers and press to attend more screenings, panels and special appearances by the superstars of the nonfiction world. Full Frame is becoming more international in scope, as well, which is important since the world seems to be getting smaller and smaller.
This year Full Frame has a lot of special programming and films coming out of and about the African continent--from Uganda to Swaziland, from Nigeria to South Africa, incredible stories--some utterly devastating, some joyful and uplifting--filmed there by Americans, Europeans and Africans. The panel today Africa Stories centered on the issue of inside voices versus outside voices documenting what's happening politically, socially, and economically there. There are very quiet, personal stories of individuals who are doing groundbreaking things in the arts and other arenas to wide-swath portraits of countries in constant transition.
Panelists included filmmaker Mira Nair who has created Maisha, a collaboration between her Maisha Film Lab and the Full Frame Institute that will bring ten-day documentary workshops to four countries in Eastern Africa: Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania and Kenya, beginning in the fall of 2007. To learn more about this non-profit that was created so that African filmmakers can learn to tell their own stories on film and video, go here.
Other panelists were filmmakers who had Africa films in the fest: Louise Hogarth, Haile Gerima (whose film Harvest 3,000 Years was curated by Martin Scorsese for the Power of Ten strand), Annie Sundberg, Bent-Jorgen Perlmutt, Sean Fine, Jamie Meltzer and Michael Skolnik. It was interesting to hear about each filmmaker's journey in how they came to find these stories (or sometimes how those stories found them) and what it took to tell them.
Another well-attended panel today was the above-mentioned Power of Ten: A Conversation where artists, writers and filmmakers of note like Michael Moore, St. Claire Bourne, Charles Burnett, Cara Mertes, Walter Mosley, Mira Nair, DA Pennebaker and Julia Reichert talked about the last decade of documentary and the films that played a seminal role in their artistic and personal development and the impact they felt these films had made on the world at large.
This day also brought a work-in-progress screening of Alex Gibney's Gonzo: The Life and Death of Hunter S. Thompson followed by a Q&A with this maverick filmmaker, a vlogging workshop, the Center Frame screening for In the Shadow of the Moon with a presentation by Morehead Planetarium and Ross McElwee's Career Award.
I also caught a screening of The Devil Came on Horseback, Annie Sundberg and Ricki Stern's story of former Marine captain Brian Steidle who brings the filmmakers and the audience face to face with the genocide in Darfur, Sudan. The film presents the historical and economic basis for the Sudanese government's support and encouragement of the Janjaweed militia's atrocities alongside UN and US debates on the definition of genocide. Steidle's photos and a lot of the footage deliver constant punches to the gut--graphic, undeniable, horrific. And yes, really happening before the world's eyes. Powerful stuff, followed by a very emotional Q&A with the filmmakers.
The Sneak Peek tonight was a double dose of whimsical, brilliant storytelling by two new filmmakers to watch. First up was Jesse Epstein's 11-minute The Guarantee. Hand drawn images by Robert Castillo breathe life into a dancer's hilarious story about his prominent nose and the effect it has on his career as a professional ballet dancer. Innovative, beautifully paced and edited with wonderful voice-over narration by its subject Charles Farruggio, this is a treat from start to finish. Then came Jennifer Venditti's Billy the Kid a South-by-Southwest Film Festival fave and award-winner. This is the kind of verite work where filmmaker and subject collide to create a unique journey, one that is in this case, so memorable and moving due to its subject Billy, who introduces us to his personal world by saying, "I'm not black, I'm not white, not foreign, just different in the mind--different brains, that's all." A different brain, yes. One filled with love, pathos, wackiness and an old and profound soul. The best fun I've had watching a movie in a quite a while.
The day ended with another great party at local restaurant Parizade--delicious food, flowing beer and wine and the beginnings of the power storm of spring '07. Hope you like it here in Raleigh-Durham, you might be staying a while.
Friday presented a bounty of great documentaries to see, panels to attend and special programs and lectures throughout the day. Here's a sampling of what I caught after an early-morning press/filmmaker breakfast at a local coffee house:
Nomadak Tx was a real audience-pleaser. Director, Raul de la Fuente, creates an amazing journey as he follows two Basque traveling musicians, Harkaitz Mtnez. de San Vicente and Igor Otxoa, as they convoy to some of the most desolate parts of the world with their txalaparta, a unique musical instrument (sort of like a gigantic wooden xylophone), that is played by two people. They journey to India, Lapland, the Sahara and Mongolia to fuse their music with that of the nomadic peoples that inhabit those places. They cross frozen wastelands and deserts, on horseback in the mountains of the Siberian border and by train in the west of India in search of sounds. Like some crazy road movie fueled by musical passion and a desire for connection, Nomadak Tx is a visually stunning melange of motion, music and human connection. It's a fantastic journey. After the screening, the Full Frame audience was treated to a live performance by Harkaitz and Igor.
Filmmaker, Jessica Yu, had the east coast premiere of her film Protagonist at Full Frame following its debut at Sundance. Through four male characters--a reformed gay Christian, a violent criminal, a left-wing German terrorist and a bullied child who becomes a kung fu disciple--she weaves a cross-cut of some very emotional puppeteering, playing out scenes from Greek tragedian, Euripides, with riveting interviews and personal footage and stills from her four characters, to illustrate and reflect on the relationship of an individual's life to the archetypal human experience. Commissioned to do the project three years ago at this festival, Yu has created a unique and stunning piece of work. Go back and check out her film Realms of the Unreal. Definitely a filmmaker to watch.
Angels in the Dust is Louise Hogarth's second feature doc as a director. There was literally not a dry eye in the house by the time the film ended. On a trip to South Africa several years ago, Hogarth met Con and Marion Cloete, a couple who gave up a very comfortable upper-middle class life in Johannesburg, and with their twin daughters, built and operate a sanctuary for hundreds of South African orphans. Bothshabelo is a special place that offers a village and school for the surrounding rural areas providing shelter, care, food, guidance and love to children and teenagers whose lives have been ravaged by HIV/AIDS sickness and death, rape, abuse and poverty. Participant Productions is distributing the film and there is a whole social action campaign for which the film will serve as an outreach tool, encouraging viewers to get integrally involved in helping to make a difference for the overwhelming task of making sure this generation does not grow up trapped by the same ignorance and desperation that has been perpetuated generation after generation in these villages. The number of orphans from HIV/AIDS is in the hundreds of millions on the continent of Africa and will continue to grow unabated to staggering proportions. This is an important film and one done with heart, beauty and grace for its subjects and a palpable respect for the place in which they live. You are not likely to meet too many characters like Marion Cloete, a force of nature clothed in the guise of an earth mother to beat all earth mothers. No one will stand in the way of this woman's mission to save the children of South Africa.
The Monastery by first-time feature director Pernille Rose Gronkjaer is one of the best films, let alone documentaries, I've seen this year. Her main character, Mr. Vig gives his Danish castle to the Russian Orthodox Church for a monastery. When the church accepts and sends a head-strong nun to come check out the place, Mr. Vig finds a kindred spirit to tussle with. Alternately funny and moving and beautifully photographed, what makes this film extra special is the relationship that grows between this young filmmaker and her subject. They spend five years together and come to understand and respect one another. It's a gorgeous film. The judging panel of the twelve films considered for the big Grand Jury Prize saw fit to deem this piece the winner--in fact, jury members Ric Burns, Kirby Dick, Laura Poitras and John Sinno told the audience at the awards ceremony that it was pretty unanimous between them that this contained all the ingredients of, not only a great documentary, but a great work of cinema.
First-time director, Peter De Kock, comes from the world of high-fashion photography and advertising. A strange conversation in a bar about thirteen years ago started him on a journey of discovery to find out what happened to The Hands of Che Guevara. At just under an hour, this film plays like a murder mystery full of creepy intrigue and riveting interviews as we follow the severed hands of Guevara from the discovery of his remains buried underneath an airstrip in Bolivia to a still-unknown hiding place in Havana, Cuba. The film befits the intrigue and absurdity of Che's legacy--an icon that appears on hats, T-shirts and other consumer paraphernalia representing freedom through revolt and ultimate martyrdom. The courage and commitment of the men who risked their lives to preserve his remains is the backbone of this wonderfully shot, moody piece by this Dutch cinematographer. It is one of the films being considered for the Full Frame/Emerging Pictures Audience Award.
Another astounding accomplishment from a first-timer, Manda Bala (Send a Bullet), a top prize-winner at Sundance this past year, is director Jason Kohn's crazy ode to modern-day Brazil. It played to a packed audience for its east coast premiere at Full Frame. The film explores the country's systemic corruption in, what at first, seems like bi-polar storytelling. But the story of politician-thug Jader Barbalho, a frog farm that acts as pointed metaphor for Brazilian society and interviews with a kidnapper/terrorist who's just trying to feed and take care of his wife and ten kids, Rambo-like cops that consider themselves warriors and the brilliant surgeon who restores cut-off ears of kidnapping victims, all blend into a melange of a vivid portrait of a country run amok. With a thrilling soundtrack of gorgeous Brazilian music and some of the most artful editing out there, Manda Bala is an E-ticket of a film.
In a special screening Friday night, video artist Jem Cohen presented three new works. Two short films, the 10-minute Blessed are the Dreams of Men and the 7-minute NYC Weights and Measures opened the program. The first captures a group of anonymous travelers as they sleep and dream in a train car drifting through an unidentified landscape. It's ethereal feel and haunting music make this a beautiful visual and aural meditation. The other short is Cohen's elegiac comment on street photography post-9/11 in the city of New York where he makes his home. Shot in 16mm, Cohen says that "sometimes I just wander around with my camera--I like to see whatever comes around the corner, and sometimes I just like the corner itself." Even though plagued by severe jet lag, Cohen gave the audience a lively and humorous Q&A session following his longer piece, a concert film that captures one performance at The Knitting Factory of the Dutch band The Ex, 25-year veterans of the underground avant rock scene. With fierce, driving music and a portrayal of these band mates communicating in ways only people who have been playing music together as long as they have can do, it's a "you are there but super close up" version of attending a hot, sweaty space where the musicians and the audience lose themselves in waves of sound.
The day ended with a convivial party at a local Durham Italian bar and restaurant where filmmakers, press and film lovers gathered to talk well into the night about the exciting, ground-breaking work being done in nonfiction cinema.
Today was opening day at Full Frame. In the morning, in the 1,000-seat Fletcher Hall, I watched War/Dance, a film directed by Sean Fine and Andrea Nix Fine. THINKFilm will be releasing this extraordinary doc this fall. Beautifully photographed and artfully told, the film tells the story of some of the children in the Patongo refugee camp in the most dangerous region of Northern Uganda.
A lot of films in this year's fest focus on Africa, and while all deal with the atrocities and casualties of years of war and its accompanying horrors, they are also uplifting and joyful and show that the younger generations of refugees and orphans are being instilled with a sense of peace and hope for their future and the future of their homelands. During a 12-week shoot on location in Uganda, using a hi-def Panasonic Varicam, the Fines capture the sorrow and devastation of the children's stories, as well as the exuberance and joy that their native music and dance convey. Full Frame brought in many local high school kids for this special screening. Executive produced by shineglobal.org, the film, like most documentaries, is also a call to action and imparts information and guidance on how spectators can become active participants in helping to change the dire landscape and circumstances in which these children live.
At a press conference that same afternoon, the festival and Duke University Libraries announced the launch of a major archiving project for the festival's award-winning films. CEO and Artistic Director of Full Frame, Nancy Buirski presented this news with filmmaker, Ken Burns. She explains that "for the first time, these works of art which chronicle the world in such unique ways will be protected for generations to come."
Welcome to Nollywood is Jamie Meltzer's second film. Another story from Africa, his film explores the exploding film industry coming out of Nigeria. This country is the third-largest producer of feature films, after the U.S. and India (aka Bollywood) where movies are made on the cheap--first quickly shot on tape, these Afro-centric stories go straight to video, where they are sold in the open markets in Lagos to enthusiastic audiences, hungry to see their own lives and daily concerns reflected in love stories, action flicks, crime capers and comedies. Wonderfully edited, filled with humor and wit and set to a dance-in-your-seat soundtrack, this film highlights what's possible when ingenuity and imagination and perseverance collide.
DA Pennebaker brought some edited footage together from his vast archive of all things Bob Dylan, a young Dylan at the beginning of his career. In Bob Dylan: 65 Revisited, Pennebaker and crew have cobbled together outtakes from his seminal film Don't Look Back and show extended versions of concert footage shot in London--Dylan alone, on stage in the dark with guitar and harmonica and his nasally, passionate voice singing out to a young audience hungry for solace and understanding in a world gone crazy. Apparently from the responses of the young college students in the audience, who applauded and cheered after each song, his songs still resonate and make our hearts quicken with angry intelligence and humor at the mess our leaders are making in the name of the country we inhabit. "The times they are a-changin'" has the bite of bitter irony to it now, just as it did then.
Celebrating its 10-year anniversary, Full Frame Documentary Festival brings a lot of the superstars of the nonfiction world to Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina this spring. The festival is very intimate and relaxed and the program this year is filled to the brim with awards ceremonies, panels, workshops and, of course, an international slate of documentaries, 83 in this year's competition.
The festival organizers also asked 10 artists, all Full Frame alumni, to "curate" a signature film series called The Power of Ten. Each one was asked to choose a film that brought personal understanding and insight into the nonfiction storytelling form and how its shaped our notions of the surrounding world over the last decade. St. Clair Bourne is presenting Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing, Chilean-American writer Ariel Dorfman brings Abbas Kiarostami's ABC Africa, writer Walter Mosley brings Lian Lunson's Leonard Cohen: I'm Your Man.
Over the course of the next few days, I'll be highlighting some of the films I see at the fest. In the next month, I will also be posting more in-depth interviews and profiles of some of these groundbreaking filmmakers.