Read my interview with Dragonslayer director, Tristan Patterson on BOMB here.
Read my interview with Dragonslayer director, Tristan Patterson on BOMB here.
Read my latest interview with the directors of October Country here.
Upon discovering the captivating photography work of Mark Hogancamp in an issue of ESOPUS Magazine, an arts journal that is published twice a year featuring "aspects of the contemporary cultural landscape," Los Angeles based editor, Jeff Malmberg, got in touch with Hogancamp in hopes of doing a short cinematic portrait of the man and his work. Four years later, after dozens of self-funded trips from his home on the west coast to Mark's home in upstate New York, together, Malmberg and Hogancamp came out the other side of an incredibly intense and life-changing journey for both of them. (The director, pictured left, next to his subject, Mark Hogancamp.)
The result of their magnificent collaboration is a feature documentary--Malmberg's first--called Marwencol. (Be sure to check out the film's fantastic website to read about Mark's story and to see his creations). The film débuted at the South by Southwest festival in March of this past year, and walked away with the grand jury documentary prize, the first of many festival awards including the Cinematic Vision Award at Silverdocs, Der Standard Readers' Jury Award at the Vienna International Film Festival, and the Jacqueline Donnet Emerging Filmmaker Award from the International Documentary Association. An unabashed critics' darling, as well, the film received The Boston Society of Film Critics' Best Documentary award and voted Malmberg Best New Filmmmaker of 2010. Marwencol is currently rolling out what is proving to be a very successful theatrical release through New York-based distributor, The Cinema Guild in the US and KinoSmith in Canada. The film and its maker have gathered a slew of nominations, including four from the Cinema Eye Honors, and Best Documentary and Truer Than Fiction noms from the Spirit Awards.
When the film played at the 2010 Sheffield Doc / Fest in the UK in November, I moderated the Q&A for one of Marwencol's screenings with Jeff and his wife and producer, Chris Shellen. Both are engaging, open-hearted people and it was clear they were having the time of their lives (although they both had flu and Jeff had injured his arm). The audience was deeply moved by the film and obviously charmed by Malmberg and Shellen--as was I. Between theatrical engagements in San Francisco and Berkeley in Northern California, and the film's opening in Denver, Colorado, Jeff took some time to chat with me over Skype from his home in LA about the past five incredible years of his life.
Still in Motion (SIM): How’s the rock star tour going? Does it feel like a rock star tour?
Jeff Malmberg (JM): It does, except for the budget and no wild stories. But other than that, it kind of does feel like that, yeah.
SIM: And congratulations, as well, on all the nominations and critical acclaim—that must feel pretty wonderful.
JM: It does. But the audience reaction to the film is really the big thing. It’s so amazing to see how Mark’s story goes over. It’s really interesting to see.
SIM: Has he been able to accompany you to theaters some of the time?
JM: No, but occasionally we’ll call him so we can do a phone Q&A for a couple of minutes. He likes doing that and the audience really likes hearing from him. He came down to New York for the opening there [at the IFC Center].
SIM: I would think it still must be very difficult for him to be in large public spaces with lots of people around.
JM: Yeah, but I think it helps him to know that everyone's on his side. He’s not comfortable flying and not comfortable with a lot of people who don’t know him. It’s usually not really what he’s up for. He handled the New York thing really well because I think he felt like everybody there was going to protect him.
SIM: I’ve had the opportunity to see firsthand an audience react to the film and to Mark's story. Why do people love this film so much, do you think? What is it tapping into, in your opinion, in terms of the zeitgeist right now? What are people responding to?
JM: There’s something about Mark that’s really honest—a lot more honest than probably most everyone is in the course of a normal day. A lot of us convince ourselves of certain things that maybe aren’t above board and we know it. Mark is so incredibly honest. He made a promise to himself that in his "second life," as he calls it, he would never lie. In the film, for instance, when he’s explaining how Deja Thoris' time machine was built, he doesn’t necessarily want to tell you those details, but he has to, you know? [laughing]
The other thing I think the film taps into is the notion of alter egos, alternative creations, being another person or representing yourself with some kind of avatar, either online or what have you. Here’s this person that’s taken that concept to the nth degree.
SIM: My admiration for Mark is in his absolute monk-like devotion to what he’s doing, how he’s living his life, tending to his own wellbeing with everything he has. You, in turn, display that kind of attention and nurturing in the way you record him. There are lots of other—quite distracting—elements in this story. Obviously, we want to conduct this interview without divulging any spoilers since those “surprises” are such an essential part of the human being that’s being revealed to us.
JM: I agree. But what we can say is that he’s one of those really special people who is just not kidding around. Initially, it might be easy to dismiss him in one way or another. You think you understand this guy or you can see what he’s doing as just kind of sweetly “playing with dolls,” or whatever. But as I got to know him, and as audiences get to know him, you realize that he’s one of those people who is on a mission. He’s using every moment in his day to try and scale this mountain, so to speak. And it is a really beautiful thing. Frankly, it’s just downright inspirational. What he’s created is monumental, mentally and physically.
SIM: The film is remarkable, too, for the way in which you juxtapose the footage to the events in the unfolding story. It psychologically matches the relationship that developed over the course of those years you were filming, as you were growing a relationship with one another. I think the way in which you put this piece together really speaks to that, and totally justifies the liberties you decided to take with the chronology of how things were revealed to you. Your intuitive decision-making in that regard was really in high gear. To me, that is the essence of a really good documentary filmmaker. It’s so obvious to me when someone has that. The curator from ESOPUS that discovered Mark’s work and took it public has that instinct, too.
JM: You’re hitting on the most interesting part of the process for me and one I don’t really get a chance to talk about. I first encountered Mark through his photos and this backstory of his that was so fascinating. But it was one of those experiences where you really need someone who’s ready to go down that road. Many people at Q&As ask me how Mark let me in; everyone wants to know about this access I had to this person.
The short answer is that I met someone at a time when I really wanted to get down to it in a pretty serious way as a filmmaker. The smart things I did, looking back, were going to see him and film him by myself for the longest time. I never set up any lights or reflectors; most times I didn’t even take a tripod, I would just balance the camera on my knee. So all that was helpful. But more than that, I had encountered a person who was really ready to let it all go. We were two people who wanted to go down that same road, a road of discovery. We both knew certain things, but there were also other things we didn’t know, things we didn’t yet understand. He certainly didn’t understand it all when we started. Our quest was the same one and together we could figure it all out.
I had a lot of scenes, for instance, of us going to the courthouse, or to meet the woman who found him on the side of the road the night he got beat up, Nora Noonan, who is this really wonderful person. We went with her to see the spot where she found him. But somewhere along the way, I realized that these scenes weren’t necessarily really germane to the arc of the story. It was, however, important background that we had to do together.
SIM: Sounds like an archeological expedition.
JM: It was totally like that! I was filming from 2006 to 2010, six to ten years after his attack. One thing that struck me as I was getting to know Mark during that time, and that I hope is reflected in the film, is the process he goes through as a victim of an incredibly violent incident. He’s constantly chewing on these negative equations of this post-traumatic stress disorder. He’d been doing that for close to a decade. It would have been better, of course, if his therapy hadn’t been cut off like it had; maybe he wouldn’t have been in this situation of having to figure things out for himself. That being said, if you’re going to do a documentary about someone and that someone is going to open up everything to you, it’s important to make sure that he’s going to get something out of it, too.
SIM: Well, what’s a bit ironic—and I’m sure I’m not the first to point this out—is that I don’t think any expert or therapist, or what have you, could ever have accompanied him on the journey he takes, the one you took with him with your camera in tow. That is the most moving thing about this film for me, Mark’s self-salvation, with very little help from anybody. We live in a society where it’s very common to look outside ourselves for help, for aid, for support.
JM: In order for us to show up, all the other people have to show up.
SIM: There was no one there for Mark, and this was someone who really needed help! His discovery of this incredible inner reserve as a newly born person is, indeed, inspiring. There’s no other word for it.
JM: The biggest thing I learned during this whole thing was that there is no replacement for using your heart. A documentary from fifty years ago or a doc made today—if they’re well made, they have this overlap, this idea of kindness and appreciation. If you look close enough at anything, it’s possible to see beauty. I didn’t expect to find a teacher like Mark. I thought I was making a little eight-minute short of somebody who plays with dolls in his backyard, who’s created this really rich fantasy world and photographs it. I didn’t expect to go on this journey. This might serve as some sort of template for me as I continue to make more films. Go find something that fascinates in some way and jump in. And take your camera with you. I don’t expect all of these ideas to pay off in the way this one did. My wife and I joke about our “doc-of-the-week” ideas. Let’s go make that film! And next week, it’ll be something else. Sparks are easy.
SIM: Short attention span cinema.
JM: Exactly. I think it’s best to always just think of these potential projects as short films and let it be a surprise when it turns into a feature.
SIM: Not a bad strategy. Let’s circle back to the onslaught of regard for this film. As a début feature director, it’s obvious you’ve splashed big, at least in the American market which is probably the toughest market there is, particularly for documentary. And as documentary makers, it seems the world toys with us endlessly to see if we’ve really got what it takes to make nonfiction films. Most of the best makers I know just have this inexplicable devotion to the craft of making nonfiction and the rest seems like so much background noise as they go about their work, as you have done with this film.
JM: I think I’d be extraordinarily lucky to meet anyone like Mark again and I was incredibly lucky in meeting him when I did. But there’s always the next step: what do you do with this “stroke of luck,” do you know what I mean? I always want to get inside people’s heads; it’s an interesting place to be. It’s something you can do in documentary that you can’t do in narrative. It happens in novels, maybe. Mark let me inside his amazing head.
There’s really nothing to understand about the “business” end of things in making these kinds of films. It’s mind-boggling. I really appreciate the response this movie is getting right now. But you know as well as I do that on another level, this was not a “grant-able” or fundable film. All these dynamics I encountered during this project were kind of through a side door. What I can tell you is that now I do want to buy some new equipment [laughs]. I just bought some sound equipment and now I’m looking at cameras. I just want to be in a place where the next time something comes across my path that I want to do, I can just go out and shoot it.
SIM: You started out with the intention, as you said, of making a short film about Mark. When you realized you had a feature on your hands, to whom did you turn for advice besides your inner circle of producers?
JM: It always was only that inner group, the four producers on the film—my wife, Chris Shellen, and my friends Kevin Walsh, Tom Putnam and Matt Radecki. And me. That was it. We didn’t really show it to anyone at all. We didn’t know anyone to show it to! It’s only now after moving through this festival tour that I’ve met all these great people with whom I do want to consult and show cuts to the next time. It would be great to have that input. As an editor, I really thrive on that, and I need it.
SIM: All that input can be a mixed blessing sometimes, too.
JM: Yes, definitely, it’s got to be when you’re ready for that. I didn’t even show anything to those four producers for the longest time. I wanted to get lost. At least in this case, it was appropriate to get lost. Mark had created this world that was so vibrant, I wanted to get lost in it. I also knew those four people would make sure I didn’t get too lost [laughing].
Once the film was at rough-cut stage, it was really Janet Pierson [the director of the South by Southwest Film Festival] who saw through the crummy video output to the film’s real beauty. She could see what it was going to look like and was the first one to really champion it and program it. That was everything for us in terms of launching this film.
SIM: Well, considering you walked away with the documentary grand jury prize, her instincts were spot-on.
JM: It was a dream come true. I remember calling Mark from the bathroom after it happened. “Mark, Mark, we just won the grand jury award!” In his mind, grand jury means something else completely. So he goes, “Grand jury! . . . Is that good?”
SIM: That puts things in their proper perspective pretty darn quick, doesn’t it? [laughter]
Do you find the festival junket and constant Q&As a surreal experience? I’m asking this for a specific reason since I conduct a good number of Q&As with artists and filmmakers regularly. It’s such a weird experience to present the person who made the work to an audience that just experienced something pretty intense, pretty wild. This instant dialogue is meant to happen when people are still processing. But there’s the expectation that there’s this amazing opportunity to talk to the maker—ask brilliant questions--go!
JM: I know exactly what you mean. It’s a bit unfair to an audience. Everyone’s still processing what they just saw, the lights come up and I bound up there and say, “Hi, I made the movie. What do you want to know?!” You can kind of see a certain anxiety on a lot of people’s faces, especially if it’s not a festival environment. Chris and I were just in San Francisco and Berkeley this past weekend and I saw that on their faces there. This was a weeklong engagement at a Landmark theater. There’s this weird adjustment period that can be very awkward.
But I will say what we realized doing all these Q&As was that it’s really important to always make sure that you work on a subject that you don’t mind talking about for a solid year—or longer. The great thing about Mark and Marwencol is that I don’t have all the answers to that; I never will. I’m a pretty studied person on all this and, in part, can be everybody’s tour guide, but the audience actually informs me and makes me rethink things constantly. It would be really tortuous otherwise. We find that the questions people ask, for the most part, are very subjective in nature.
SIM: That’s the best litmus, I think, for the success of a film. Do people take it to heart and really resonate with it in a personal way? This guy is, or could be, any one of us. But how many of us could self-heal like Mark does, in that particular artistic way? And not to sound completely cheeseball about the whole thing, but you really feel the love you have for him—it’s there in every shot. Yikes, I sound like a Hallmark card, sorry; I can hear you laughing.
JM: I’m laughing because I’m not necessarily that person all the time. But that kind of love and devotion was required. I was talking to you about this at Sheffield when we were discussing how every movie should match its subject—the form of it--especially in documentary. You don’t really know what the form of what you’re making is ultimately going to be. You really can’t if you’re doing it with any amount of integrity. And you really need the person you’re shooting to be on the journey with you. You don’t really know the “genre” your film will fall into until you’re done shooting. As I was shooting, all I really knew was that I wanted to bring it, because I just care for that guy so much. That soaked through, I guess. And hopefully, it’s representative of how the audience feels. I just read a review that said, “Movies rarely let you inside someone’s head. But this movie pops open Mark Hogancamp’s head and lets you jump in.” That made me really happy because that’s sort of what I was going for. What is it like to be on the other side of that crime? So often we hear from the aggressor’s side, the prosecutor, perhaps, but the victim is always this kind of MacGuffin in that his or her situation gets the story going and then they sort of take a backseat to the "action." But I wanted to try and show what it’s like to really be that victim, on the other side of evil. What does it take to get the trauma ground out of you, and can you ground it out?
SIM: Or the ways in which you just can’t. You don’t supply any nice, happy ending, that’s for sure. What’s so beautiful about docs is that you show one aspect, one part of a real person’s life. The movie may end here but that life goes on. It’s one thing to admire a fictional character, but it’s quite another to know that this person you just spent an hour and a half with is still out there somewhere just living his life, still processing what happened to him in his own distinctive way, still creating all this remarkable art work because it’s the only thing that makes it possible for him to go on. The role of artists in our society right now is a really dire one, I think. It’s really rare to find someone that pure in the way they express themselves.
JM: Mark brings up a lot of questions that I’ve always been interested in, particularly this idea of “outsider art.” What exactly is that term supposed to mean? Outside of what, exactly? He’s somebody who has to do this; he has no choice. He’s not doing it to impress people. He’s doing it because he wants to express something about himself, to himself. When those people are labeled “outsider artists”—I don’t know. It’s so incredibly ridiculous to me. I’ve never understood that and I didn’t really want to make a movie about that. To me, Mark is the perfect example of why that term is owned lock, stock and barrel by the commercial art world.
SIM: It’s just one more thing to commodify. What you just expressed really nicely articulated something I’ve been thinking about lately. As someone who writes about art, I’m currently going through what I can only call a severe case of paralysis about writing something about anything anyone is making anymore. It seems so pointless, such an inane exercise in many ways. I don’t even know what I’m writing about. A movie? A social cause? Some artistic phenomenon? It’s fabulous to celebrate good work but I’m really questioning the exact value of doing that. It’s all a self-referential nightmare after a while. [Malmberg laughs] Anyway, I really like what you just said.
JM: We had some people from New York see it recently who are from the art world—you know, capital A, capital W. Their reaction to the film was really interesting. I don’t think they quite knew what to make of Mark.
SIM: What were their impressions?
JM: It was their lack of impressions. They said, “Thank you very much,” and they left.
SIM: Well, I suppose you can be flattered if you left people like that speechless. That's something, I guess.
JM: I hope it shook them a little. I don’t know. That’s why I always subscribe to ESOPUS. I think a lot of what that publication does makes you question those boundaries, those lines, those rules. Mark naturally brings up all those questions.
SIM: But he had a taste of that gallery world and we see how confusing and, ultimately, meaningless it is for him. It's like a Martian landing in the midst of that world and you see the people there trying to adjust to his frequency, some willingly, some not. But he is really not able to adjust to their frequency at all.
JM: As much as I got along with Mark from the beginning and really felt a kinship with him, it wasn’t until we got to the art show that it really sunk in for me what this movie was going to be about. Thank god for videotape or a card where you can just keep rolling. You just never know. I remember that moment very clearly when he asked me outside the gallery what in the world he was supposed to do. I could see how bewildered he was. The whole last period of time that I’d been shooting with him, which was pretty substantial, immediately ordered itself in my mind. I think the audience gets set up in this, as I was set up, in thinking that somehow the art world was going to solve all his problems, that we were going to go on that typical narrative journey where getting to the "big art show" was going to make him better. We want him to be better, right? We’re used to narrative fixing people, in books or movies, or whatever. But in real life that’s not always really the case. Your use of the word Martian made me think of that. That’s what it felt like for me.
Now that the movie’s done, I can say that I feel like the time for analysis and discussion is before or after the making of a film. But if you’re engaging in any of that during, you’re sunk. There’s a time where the work is pure muscle; you’re just showing up every day with your camera. Then there’s time to do the work with your heart and there’s a time to intellectualize with your mind. I have to be very careful in these interviews to really convey that I did not know ahead of time a lot of what I discovered. The mystery and loss of control was the wonderful thing about it, the best part, to my mind. I would hate for some wanna-be first time filmmaker to get the wrong idea. In a lot of interviews I do, it seems like the person interviewing and crafting the conversation is setting things up to make me look a lot smarter than I actually was about all of this. It’s just not true.
SIM: Were you fearful a lot of the time you were shooting with Mark?
JM: Yes! There were many periods where I had no idea what I was doing. And here I am with all these wonderful prizes and nominations for my directing and editing work. So, the next time I’m that frightened, I’ll just think, “Oh wait. I must know what I’m doing somewhere. The last time this happened, I got nominated for awards!” Maybe I don’t have to be so frightened next time [laughter].
Seriously, the real honor is that I had a subject with whom I could get that lost and get so upside-down about. But I hear from filmmakers all the time about how they set out to make a certain movie; it was going to take exactly one year from start to finish; and they made it, the end. And these are mostly movies I don’t really vibe with most of the time.
SIM: So what I hear you saying is that fear and uncertainty are good.
JM: As long as you’re willing to work through them, they are. You’ve got to keep pushing. All I can say to someone considering making documentary films is that you’ve just got to have an undying, burning desire for it. It’s really a format that can be very user-friendly if you’re willing to go for scaling the wall, for a crazy idea. Or something that really matters.
If you're wondering why I haven't blogged in over a month, it's because I've been depressed and woefully uninspired. Not that I haven't encountered inspiring things (and people) on a regular basis, but there is a logjam between my head, my heart and my brain that somehow is preventing me from writing, at least not easily or very coherently without a lot of pain and anguish involved.
And I'm a bit crabby that no one asked me for my Top 10 anything. Actually, I don't really care. Yes, I do.
I think this blog from now on, or maybe just for right now (did I mention indecision is an issue, too?) might consist of interviews (I'm still a good talker when it comes to that and the filmmakers I wrassle with are, as well); highlights of overlooked festivals that are displaying some bespoke, thoughtful and engaging programming in overlooked places; and, if you're lucky, more poetry or song lyrics or odes to my cute, but overlooked, belly button. Let's just hope I don't pull a Jack Torrance my first winter in Berlin.
To tide you over and appease my blogging network from dropping me, here's a poem I wrote that is an ode to this dreary, dark season: (ahem)
I want to slow these days--
a sun oblique, pale
brittle dawn to dusk.
I want to linger on the southern slopes
foraging like a brown bear
after roots, berries, and honey stumps
of autumn's last red camp.
Something in me slows against my will--
heart, fire, and hunger.
The past fills up and holds the
most proportion of brightness.
And there is nothing to do for it
but shuffle into my cave
worrying round and around the shadows
until I slump down in a long winter's sleep.
If only it were that bear simple,
to lie down in darkness,
to wake in a new season of light,
and know exactly what is necessary.
And in more exciting news: Posted here soon will be a wonderful chat I just conducted with Los Angeles-based filmmaker, Jeff Malmberg, creator and director of Marwencol, a small documentary that is, thankfully, not being overlooked, and has taken the critics and viewing audiences by storm with its inspirational story of one man's mission to rebuild his life. This film, I would imagine, will appear on many top 10 lists this year. It certainly would have been on mine if I'd been asked to supply one. So stay tuned for the soothing sounds of Jeff Malmberg.
And to wrap up this strange post, in more great doc news, you can now own two of the most fabulous nonfiction films to come out of the US of A in a while courtesy of Carnivalesque Films: Darius Marder's grossly overlooked Loot, and Bradley Beesley's slightly less overlooked (it's all relative), Sweethearts of the Prison Rodeo. Seems like team Carnivalesque is busy building a very impressive roster of films--kudos.
Oh wait, here's another poem you might like called The Art and Science of Guilt:
Upturned faces of ponds, lakes
wear thick-skinned masks now,
and the rifle crack of splitting trees
is heard; approaching another century's
end, nearer life forms burst
in sudden monstrous spasms
of growth, and distant mountain
ridges vanish in smoke,
reappear in sulfuric haze;
it is summer's end, not
the world's. Surely as snakes shed
their skins whole, the seasons
will turn sweet or bitter,
sap and blood will sleep and rise,
and we will drift from shadow to sun
again, crying out like hawks on the hunt.
Together in tribal darkness we forgive
the actors and ourselves: nothing
except the movies works. Uncountable
layers of space flattened on a screen
deliver up inner-outer union:
exotic home, familiar dangers pure
and depraved, unjudging, unjudgeable.
From the first scene to last tracking shot,
we dream of going from movie to movie,
It turns out I'm still inspired by the movies, after all. Happy holidaze.
A quick post betwixt fests: just coming down from Sheffield Doc/Fest and a very active marketplace--wow! I just filed my report for DOX Magazine; look here for film reviews in the coming weeks. Loved, loved, loved Marwencol (and felt very honored to host the Q&A at Sheff). This was the film's UK premiere and during the Cinema Eye Roller Disco party, it was announced that the film had garnered nominations for Nonfiction Feature Filmmaking (CEH's version of "best film"), as well as nominations for outstanding achievement in direction, editing, and début feature. The film opens this Friday the 12th at the Landmark Nuart in LA, Malmberg's hometown. Don't miss it!
I also saw The Autobiography of Nicolae Ceausescu, a 187-minute tour de force from director, Andrei Ujica, and also a nominee for a Cinema Eye Spotlight award. Banksy's Exit Through the Gift Shop was another film I was lucky enought to host with its producer, Jamie D'Cruz, and editor, Chris King. Exit is nominated for six Cinema Eyes: best film, production (award goes to the producer), editing, international feature, début feature, and the audience award. Quadrangle, an outstanding piece directed by Amy Grappell, was a film I saw at the last SXSW, but I had a chance to see it again at Sheffield where it played with Catfish. (I loved Catfish so much!) Quadrangle is one of the nominees in the CEH best short film category (which is new this year), along with Andreas Koefoed's Albert's Winter, Arsy-Versy by Miro Remo, an amazing student film that has won many awards around the world, James Blagden's Dock Ellis and the LSD No-No, and Vance Malone's The Poodle Trainer. I also got a chance to see the world premiere of Jerry Rothwell's excellent Donor Unknown, a totally ready-for-primetime doc--that's a compliment. Delights out of the Scottish Documentary Institute Focus strand: Calling Home, Surpriseville and Twinset. More coherent thoughts beyond "I loved it!" on all of these outstanding films at some undefined free moment in the future. And to see the rest of the categories and nominees for the Cinema Eyes, taking place at The Museum of the Moving Image in Queens on January 18 (and broadcast on The Documentary Channel), visit the site here.
Early tomorrow morning, I fly to Copenhagen for CPH: DOX to spend a few days taking in their incredible program. I've already seen quite a few pieces out of there which has just whet my growing appetite for more visionary programming. I mentioned to a colleague recently that it's getting harder and harder for me to watch more traditional docs when I see all the innovative ways in which young filmmakers are stretching, mashing and creating new ways in which to storytell. Very exciting stuff, indeed. Look for articles on the New Vision category out of CPH in DOX and on the program that Harmony Korine curated for the fest this year on Senses of Cinema. (Pictured, still from Israeli artist Roee Rosen's staggering film, Out.)
The call for entries is open for the International Women's Film Festival Dortmund | Cologne. The theme for 2011 is NOW WHAT: Films About Getting Out of Here. They are looking for films by women directors that deal with topics on Quest for Meaning, Orientation, Confidence, Antagonism, Rebellion, Utopia. There are no restrictions on genre, running time or year of production. You can find more detailed information here. Entry deadline is 29 November.
There is also an International Fiction Feature Competition endowed with 25,000 Euro; that entry deadline is the 7th of January and the film must have been finished within two years of the festival date in April. As well, there is a National Director of Photography Award endowed with a 5,000 Euro prize for fiction, and a 2,500 Euro prize for documentary. This is an advancement award for an up-and-coming German cinematographer/DP. They also accept films by DPs who either live and work in Germany, or finished their training here. Entry deadline is 31 January. Vist the web site for updates and to download entry forms. The festival will take place in Köln, Germany 12 - 17 April 2011. (Pictured, still from Susan Muska and Greta Olafsdottir's Edie & Thea: A Very Long Engagement, 2009.)
In New York, the Margaret Mead Film & Video Festival opens once again at the Museum of Natural History, 11 - 14 November. On Saturday the 13th, the festival will present the New York premiere of Human Terrain with filmmakers David and Michael Udris and their collaborating Watson Institute Research Fellow, James Der Derian, for a post-screening discussion. In a co-presentation with the Goethe-Institut in New York, the festival's opening night will honor Veterans Day with Dustin Grella's Prayers for Peace and the New York premiere of Jens Schanze's Plug & Play, a documentary starring some of science's most famed researchers. In another strand, the fest will celebrate The World's Children with films that address the unwavering hope of children around the globe faced with difficult circumstances. Featured films will be Born Sweet, Shelter in Place, Jean-Pierre Duret and Andrea Santana's exquisite Because We Were Born, and one of the most moving shorts I've seen this year, Carol Salter's Unearthing the Pen. Visit the web site for more info and on how to purchase tickets. (Pictured, still from Unearthing the Pen, 2009.)
Lastly, but far from leastly, our second KINO SATELLITE show happens tomorrow night in Berlin with a selection of work from filmmaker, Ken Jacobs. We're pleased to present a program of recent works by the legendary filmmaker, one of the pioneers of the New York avant-garde. The program includes the German premiere of his most recent film, a loft, which just premiered at the 2010 Viennale (still from film, pictured). The show will be introduced by Ekkehard Knörrer of Die Tageszeitung, Cargo and Perlentaucher. We will show The Day Was a Scorcher (2009), 8 minutes, color, silent; an excerpt from THE SKY SOCIALIST Stratified (2009),19 minutes, color, sound, music by Olivier Messiaen and Michael Schumacher; Capitalism: Slavery (2006), 3 minutes, color, silent; Capitalism: Child Labor (2006), 14 minutes, color, sound; Ron Gonzalez, Sculptor (2009), 20 minutes, color, sound; and, a loft (2010), 16 mintues, color, silent. I will, of course, be in Copenhagen, as mentioned above, but Andrew Grant will be on hand to welcome you to Direktorenhaus--doors and bar will open at 7:30 p.m., and the screening will start at 8:00.
I don't visit too many places where I meet a third-generation carpenter carrying on the work his grandfather started refurbishing the wooden staircase that leads up to the bell tower in an Orthodox Cathedral. This particular church is in the center of the town of Prizren, Kosova and is guarded by armed policemen. It was badly damaged during the ethnic riots of March 2004 and is almost fully repaired, but is still not open to the public. However, they let me in to take a look in a casual, friendly manner.
I don't visit too many places where I, and my young, female guide, can interrupt three ancient men engrossed in conversation on a bench in the garden of a mosque (one of several in the town) to ask if they will let us inside the locked sanctuary. (Oddly, there is a modern LED display board on the side of the building like the ones you see at train stations and airports that informs passerby of daily prayer times.) With a slight downward tilt of his capped head, one of them shuffles to the front door and unlocks it, gesturing for us to slip off our shoes, but not concerned that our heads aren't covered or that our arms and legs are bare. He leaves us to take in the beautiful and peaceful interior, caustics of soft sunlight bouncing on the walls that reveal the private spaces where men meditate and pray.
I don't visit too many places where a waiter in a restaurant that I frequent becomes a friend, someone I look forward to seeing every morning. He calls me Miss Pamela and I call him Mr. Love, not because his name is Ashkan which means "my love" in Turkish, but because he just is Mr. Love. A small group of us adopts him as our Balkan mother and he feeds and fusses over us several times a day, only asking for a bit of sympathy when his hands go numb from carrying too many hot, heavy plates of food. He tells us next week is Ramadan and people in the town are celebrating in a frenzy--several wedding processions pass by every day, there is much eating and drinking, and much promenading in the streets, disco music thumping everywhere. The place pulses like Ibiza, but it is calm, calm, calm. I have never met lovelier people. (Pictured, Ashkan serving breakfast to grateful filmmaker, Rowland Jobson, director of the outstanding short fiction piece, A Girl Like Me, filmmaker, Michael Palmieri, who served on the Balkan jury, still sleeping behind his RayBans. Unbeknownst to their owner, said shades fell under the table one night, but were found and returned by--you know it--Mr. Love.)
I don't visit too many places where I stay up until 6:00 a.m. every morning, the recorded call of the muezzin at a bit before 5, when the sky's black starts to turn a deep violet, announcing that a new day has begun. We find ourselves still glued to our chairs around a table in the town square engrossed in conversation, eyes sparkling, faces smiling, nonstop laughter, the proprietor patiently bringing us glass after glass of homemade raki and, occasionally, something to eat--bread with cheese, a plate of spicy meat, pommes frites with lots of salt--nary a sign indicating that he wishes us to get the hell out of his place so he can go to bed. Instead of stumbling off to our own beds, we slide by our hotel to grab our cameras and go exploring, no one awake in the still-sleeping town except the occasional baker pounding dough to the accompaniment of Arab pop softly playing from a small radio, or the wild pack of dogs that roam the streets, occasionally stopping so that a couple of them can hump for a few seconds before the group moves on. We refrain from retiring just yet, not because we're that keen on taking pictures (although we are), but because we simply aren't ready to give up one another's company. Not just yet. It feels like the beginning of a love affair when you can't stand to be out of someone's presence for a moment.
Okay, raki, or "rakifuel," as Miss Sonja calls it: we're puzzled. Normally, when one stays up all night drinking alcohol, especially something as pure and strong as this anise-flavored spirit quaffed in Turkey, Bosnia and the rest of the Balkans, also known as Lion's Milk (!), one gets completely blotto, right? Barely able to speak, let alone climb a steep hill to the fortress overlooking the town. (To be honest, we were a bit wobbly when we reached the top.) But because we fortify ourselves regularly with food, a local assures us that yes, one can stay up for days drinking raki, carrying on one long, rambling conversation, a mad dialog that fuels the imagination and the soul, that makes everyone as witty as Dorothy Parker, as wise as Socrates--a regular gathering of geniuses, I tell you. At least that's how it seemed to us.
I don't visit too many film festivals, like Dokufest, which staged its ninth iteration this year, that marry both its program and its surroundings so perfectly. Executive director, Aliriza Arënliu, and artistic director, Veton Nurkollari, presented an amazing program of international feature and short documentary work, one of the best I've encountered. And Samir Karahoda's short fiction program was a revelation. Ironically, since there are no cinemas there besides the ones created specifically for the festival, you can see audiences grappling with how to watch a movie. They, literally, don't really know how. So there is usually a lot more going on than movie-watching. But, somehow, because of the open air venues--on the river, up on the fortress wall, the big outdoor amphitheatre in the middle of town--it only adds to the celebratory quality of the proceedings. The directors of Hamburg-based A Wall Is A Screen used this to glorious advantage and presented a fantastic shorts program that floated through the town one evening, projecting films on the walls of a bank, a mosque, a restaurant, a residential building, to great effect, a large crowd following along for the 90-minute program.
It was a very special week and I can only offer up these quixotic and scattered impressions to describe the spectacular experience it truly was. What I can offer up in a more concrete fashion (more or less) are future posts which talk about some of the films. In my next installment, I'll start with the stand-outs in the Balkan competition program, some selections from the international competition which I was privileged to jury along with AJ Schnack, Doug Block, Sonja Henrici and Adriatik Kelmendi, and other fare that played in the five competitions, as well as in other special strands. Stay tuned.
Carnivalesque Films has just announced their fall slate of releases, four of the strongest documentaries I've seen in the past couple of years: Donal Mosher and Michael Palmieri's October Country; Darius Marder's Loot (an extremely overlooked gem despite its top-prize win at LAFF '08; still from the film pictured); Bradley Beesley's Sweethearts of the Prison Rodeo; and Sam Wainwright Douglas' Citizen Architect: Samuel Mockbee and the Spirit of the Rural Studio. Douglas' film will be the first to market, available the 24th of August following its broadcast on PBS on the 23rd. The company and the film's director will be co-releasing the film. (Be sure to add it to your Netflix queue.) The film premiered at SXSW in March, and is currently traveling around the US on an extensive screening tour.
The kind and generous, Ben Fowlie, the founding director of the wonderful Camden International Film Festival (September 30 - October 3), writes to remind everyone who reads this blog (all five of you) that there is less than a month left to get your submissions to the programmers there for the sixth annual fest. CIFF is fast becoming a domestic nonfiction festival of note--just ask AJ Schnack. Both of us were a few of those privileged to be invited up to Maine last year, Schnack with his third feature doc, Convention, and I to jury the international competition and to help launch their new industry initiative for local filmmakers called Points North. (Pictured, me and IFP's Danielle DiGiacomo in an intense powwow before our panel discussion at last year's fest, 'scuse my back). Check the CIFF website for more details and information.
Currently, I am working from the lovely city of Berlin doing various film curations (more on this in a bit), developing some film and installation projects, and trying to learn some German. The scene here is quite vibrant and I'm looking forward to diving in. Look for more news in coming days. Then, at the end of the month, I will be making my way to Prizren, Kosova for Dokufest (July 31 - August 7) to jury the international competition there. My hope is to be able to return to Berlin after that, but like much in my life, as always, that's up in the air. Tschüss!
David Redmon and Ashley Sabin, filmmakers extraordinaire and co-directors of Carnivalesque Films, their distribution company, have added another title to their growing catalog of independent films. In October of this year (appropriately enough), they will be releasing Donal Mosher and Michael Palmieri's multiple award-winning film, October Country.
The reason I'm writing about this now is that, at this juncture, it's imperative that all you fans of the film out there add October Country to your Netflix queue to maximize overall interest for the film since they pre-order DVDs based on the amount of requests in a film's queue. You can click here to add it.
Also, the new DVD package will include some great added bonuses in the extras! And in yet another bid at shameless self-promotion (and isn't that the whole reason Facebook exists--that's enough about me, what do you think about me?), I am honored to say that one of the two critical essays included in the package for sale is written by moi, the other stellar one written by the brilliant Dodie Bellamy.
Michael Palmieri and Donal Mosher's multiple award-winning début feature begins its theatrical run in New York City this Friday, February 12, at the IFC Center. Don't miss the opportunity to go see this gorgeous piece of work. You can now buy tickets online by clicking here.
There will be six screenings a day for a week-long limited engagement. The Mosher family, the subjects of this fine film, will be in the house for a Q&A with the filmmakers at the 6:50 p.m. show on Friday, and Palmieri and Mosher will be appearing throughout opening weekend at select shows. Also, look for the beautiful DVD package coming soon from Carnivalesque Films. Read more about the film and watch the trailer here.
In preparation for talking about Judith Ehrlich and Rick Goldsmith's new film, The Most Dangerous Man in America, Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers, a film that moved me profoundly, I thought I would share an article I wrote that was published in the last issue of DOX Magazine about hybrid historical documentaries. While Ehrlich and Goldsmith's film differs a bit from the three films I talk about here, there are innate connections to how creative documentarians can create works that reference "history" in nonfiction storytelling. It's a theme I've addressed before, particularly in terms of this propensity on some critics' parts to judge a piece of cinema that mixes fiction and nonfiction to tell a true story in a very negative light. My essay on this blog, written after last year's True/False festival, about one of the films talked about here, Burma VJ, in fact was fueled by one of these reviews, a particularly boneheaded one for its intense myopia and lack of generosity in reviewing nonfiction cinema on its own terms. It made my blood boil, but it also made me think deeply about these issues. So here it is:
are several new films which use re-constructions of events of the recent past
that are standouts for their vigilant practice of every nonfiction filmmakers’
imperative: the freedom to be honest. Within that exploration, what connotes “honesty”
in documentary and how the blending of fiction (re-enactments) and reality
(archival and live interviews) enhance one another, create a singular type of
There is a new facility in doing a re-constructed historical documentary that, to my mind, is revolutionary for the form. There are still a lot of very stodgy ways of cinematically presenting "History" that essentially act to remove us even further from past events still strongly resonating in our collective consciousness. Emotionally engaging with the story, and the subjects involved, is a whole other set of issues with which a few filmmakers working in the current feature-length nonfiction genre have chosen to grapple, enticing audiences to actively participate and deeply think about the ever-changing, politically-motivated interpretations of seismic events through one individual's, or one particular group's, very personal experience. (Still from Ari Folman's multiple-award winning Waltz With Bashir.)
The Fixer: The Taking of Ajmal Naqshbandi
Ian Olds’ latest film is, in essence, a tribute to a young man (an Afghani journalist, “fixer” and interpreter for foreign journalists from the West) who lost his life by being at the wrong place at the wrong time. One could also say, he was born in, lived out his life, and worked in a country where a man of his intelligence and dedication could easily be fodder for a wide array of parties with various agendas. The Fixer, which aired on HBO late summer 2009, maintains its primary commitment throughout—to tell the truth. As Olds stated in an interview with Robyn Hillman-Harrigan on The Huffington Post site: “I felt that just to focus on loss does a profound disservice to the truth, and to Ajmal. A focus on this devastating loss is something that we as a Western audience can relate to, but to focus on this man's life in the context of what's really going on in that country, is history empowered.” [italics mine]
The viewer knows from the first few seconds of the film that the main subject has died under some pretty brutal circumstances at the hands of Taliban captors. Olds continues: “. . . he died at a very specific moment, in a specific place. The aim of the film is to invoke this web of history and power in which he was caught, while never losing sight of the man.” Olds has edited the piece anti-chronologically to great effect, in part because he distinctly did not want to use Ajmal’s death as any sort of dramatic device. After knowing the outcome of the featured subject, the rest of the film tries to answer the question “why” by spooling out the event backwards and forwards in time in a structurally complex storyline. In this way, the filmmaker provides a key, or guide, which can unlock the past, including as many subtleties and complexities as he can muster along the way. Rather than a strict linear narrative, the film flashes back and forth for the sole purpose of “unraveling meaning.”
Olds talks about Afghanistan as a “buffer state,” a land
divvied up between various power players, the British Empire, the Russian
Empire, etc. He also sees Ajmal as
a “buffer” individual, insinuating
himself between the Italians, the Taliban, the Afghan government and the U.S.,
providing a human analogy for the place within which he resides. In other words, Afghanistan is
essentially powerless on the world stage, yet provides the perfect stage to be
played upon by world powers and therein lies the human- scale tragedy of its
inhabitants. The film supplies the
emotional through line in which we can explore those themes. It allows for a human-scale
contextualization, something mass media rarely, if ever, sets out to do.
Paying attention to that context at all times, Olds began to simply “follow the trail,” swept along by the events that had already unfolded, organically searching for (and finding) ways in which to tell the story, knowing that a film “shouldn’t be just a drama unfolding or a certain circumstance or set of circumstances. It should be about an idea.” In this way, the best of nonfiction filmmaking can be engaged with the world through its own language, the one of cinema. Ideas are important, certainly, but it is the emotional movement across the surface of the tale that is the overarching resonant factor for both the director and the viewer. Speaking subjectively, Olds can say that by “bringing my own [personal] experience of discovery accompanied by the memory of moving through that space, showing what it felt and sounded like acts as the litmus in making a film that reflects that emotional spectrum. Rhythms are the key to creating a deeply resonant experience for your viewer since that rhythm reflects the pace of one human life.”
In the last years of his life, consummate diplomat Sergio Vieira de Mello was reluctantly persuaded by Kofi Anaan, then Secretary General of the UN, Condoleezza Rice, then US Secretary of State under George W. Bush, and Tony Blair, then British Prime Minister, to take up the post as United Nations ambassador to a freshly invaded Iraq, a war to which de Mello was vehemently opposed. He would die in the midst of that invasion, despite his personal point of view. On August 19, 2003, a deadly bomb struck the UN headquarters in Baghdad where de Mello was working, marking a watershed moment: for the first time in history, the United Nations had become a target of terrorism. Filmmaker Greg Barker recreates the events of that day in a very forceful and visceral way by expertly melding harrowing, and extremely emotional, testimony from Sergio’s fiancée, Carolina Larriera, and the military paramedics who risked their own lives to try and save de Mello.
Sergio is based on historian and activist Samantha Power’s biography, Chasing the Flame: One Man’s Fight to Save the World. The film interlaces the haunting archival footage shot on the day of the bombing in Baghdad, and the dramatic reenactments of the rescue attempt by two US Army reservists, Bill von Zehle and Andre Valentine, to save de Mello and Gil Loescher, a civilian expert on refugees, both trapped underneath the rubble from the explosion. They would successfully rescue Loescher; they were not, however, able to save de Mello. The two men, in operatic and devastating re-enactments, re-live that day again in the film, generously sharing that pain and fear with the rest of us. The emotional impact of watching this cannot be overstated for it resides in the marrow of a collective traumatic memory.
With a background in international relations and economics, Barker has filmed and worked in more than 50 countries on six continents, always drawn to “character-driven stories that also illuminate how global politics really work—who wins, who loses, what the real priorities are behind politicians’ lofty rhetoric,” finding the truth out of a very complex reality. Sergio de Mello also immersed himself in the world’s complexities, inhabiting the shades of gray between “right” and “wrong.” This is the same gray area where Barker finds he can tell complex stories, the place where real progress in our understanding of the world around us is made, enabling him to make a film through the retrospective lens of history by using one man’s experience and commitment to making peace between warring nations.
In the tradition of Herzog’s Little Dieter Needs to Fly, we watch as the subjects who were there that day relive the event on the screen. Barker directed the two men in long takes to let the re-enactment of their partially successful rescue mission play out completely, all in one go. So, as highly directed and expertly created as these segments were, there is also a strong nod to the vérité tradition, capturing something as it’s happening in the moment, and the emotions, of course, are very, very real. Sergio will broadcast on HBO this spring, with special screenings planned at the UN and other overseas festivals throughout the year.
With Joshua, the Burmese VJ (video journalist) of the title as our conduit, the radical condition of the “hidden” country of Burma is brought to lush life, creating a deeply resonant experience of the human fight against oppression. Burma VJ displays visceral insight into civilian journalism and dissidence in a police state while providing thorough, painstaking, and outright thrilling, documentation of the dramatic days of September 2007, when Buddhist monks led a citizen march for peace and freedom against a repressive régime.
Danish filmmaker Anders Østergaard has been making nonfiction cinema for years and is well schooled in the organic process of crafting a story, patient enough to let it reveal to its maker how it should be told. This feature-length tour-de-force was originally meant to be a 30-minute film on Joshua and his experiences working as a clandestine operative in Thailand, orchestrating both professional and amateur video journalists in capturing the uprising in the capital city of Burma when it was closed to outside journalists so that footage could be smuggled out and disseminated throughout the world.
Østergaard explained to me in a phone conversation that this documentary short would, out of necessity, have had to have been made using mostly recreation, a much higher percentage than was used in the final film. Yet when it became possible to use the authentic footage, it enabled the director to create a timeline with immediacy, a story played out moment by moment. Directly because of this, the fictional elements or re-creations, take on an even more powerful role in knitting together the whole story.
Østergaard’s overriding desire when making nonfiction films is to “go inside space and time, to fight the ‘provincialism’ of time.” He also explains that there is a whole way of working with archival footage as a graphical element, an element that enhances the creation for context, emotion, mood, tension, and a deep connection with the material when positioned within that specific context. The desire to “really go to places in time and space” is essential for a full experience, but Østergaard is careful to note, it still qualifies unequivocally as documentary since its main interest is in what actually happened; there is no indication that what is being presented is supposition or conjecture. “The truth is an inspiration and the details [of that truth] give one the texture of the story.”
The political energy of the footage speaks for itself, framed for the biggest emotional impact possible. Yet as Østergaard points out, “The filmmaker is a chronicler, certainly, but we can never be a slave to the footage. It is not the quality of that footage so much as its political relevance that is utmost in importance. You lose clarity otherwise, and the focus of the main event; the ‘History’ gets submerged in irrelevant footage and other elements that only help to cloud the story, not reveal it and set it forth.”
It is the revelation of these little-known heroes’ stories
in the shadow of history’s big events that will, hopefully, continue to push
the way historical documentaries are crafted. We need more stories that feature different racial, ethnic
and gender perspectives on history; we need to continue to re-create those
intimate moments of a life hidden from history for this tells us everything
about what it means to be human and creates a revolutionary dialectic in form
and content, proposing no final answers except the unending struggle of human
beings making something out of what history has made of them. The hard and fast
categories of fiction and documentary melt away; there is an insistence that
both forms are equally mediated by the intention of the filmmaker, and that
that hybrid thus requires a fresh critical stance and a more precise notion of
this dialectical imperative on the part of a thinking audience. It can help redefine some of the more
cherished assumptions of a documentary film experience. These filmmakers have beautifully shown
us that the drama of one human life deserves as much.
The 9th DocPoint fest starts the day after tomorrow, so I thought I'd share my picks of top films to see (in my humble opinion) for Helsinki-ans. Definitely try and catch the Finnish film student program right before the opening night film at the BioRex on Tuesday. Four selections will be screening at the Ateneum from 5:00 - 6:00 p.m. (There's another student program screening at the Maxim 2 at 2:00 p.m. on Thursday the 28th.)
At 6:30 p.m., the opening night film, Miesten Vuoro (Steam of Life) will screen after what I'm sure will prove to be a fresh (and weird) opening night ceremony, if it's anything like last year's--and I hope it is. Also this same evening, Robert Flaherty's Man of Aran will play at the Orion, the first of a week-long program of his films, Erik Gandini's Videocracy plays at the BioRex, and Topaz Adizes' Americana, one of the selections in the US program, will screen at the Maxim 1.
On Wednesday, don't miss Aho & Soldan Life Achievement Award recipient, Kiti Luostarinen's Sanokaa Mitä Näitte and Marcel Lozinski's How to Live (directors will be present). Simultaneously at the Maxim 2, Aron Gaudet and Gita Pullapilly's The Way We Get By will exhibit for the first time in Finland. Unfortunately, Gaudet and Pullapilly were one of the few American feature film directors not able to come to Helsinki, but their film is not to be missed--it's gorgeous. Join me and filmmakers, Michael Palmieri and Donal Mosher, for a discussion and program of American short films at the Kiasma at 7:00, or attend the 8:00 p.m. silent film concert at the BioRex with the Five Corners Quintet. (When we're done at 8:30 at Kiasma, I'm going to zip over there to catch the last part!) At 9:00, definitely go see Judith Ehrlich and Rick Goldsmith's superb The Most Dangerous Man in America, one of the strongest and most deeply moving documentaries on America I've seen in a while. Look for a review of this film soon on this blog (and in the pages of the next issue of DOX Magazine coming out in March). For New Yorkers, this will open at the Cinema Village on Friday. Don't miss it. (But also go see, and don't miss, Nicole Opper's Off and Running at the IFC Center that weekend, too!) Roberto Hernandez and Geoffrey Smith's pulse-pounding and artfully-told real-life thriller Presumed Guilty plays at the Maxim 1 this evening, as well. A plethora of cinematic riches.
Later this week, I will post my don't-miss list for the rest of the fest, a very packed remaining four days, including more from Flaherty and the Lozinskis, and masterclass guest, Nicolas Philibert (still from his Etre et Avoir (To Be and To Have), pictured above). I'm also hoping to make it to Tallinn, Estonia on Saturday for Kim Reed's screening there of Prodigal Sons (playing in Helsinki on Thursday at the Bristol at 9:15 p.m.)
On Thursday morning, I will be participating in the inaugural DocPoint Encounters that takes place at the Ateneum Hall the 28th and 29th. This is the launch of this festival's foray into a distribution, funding and networking project for Finnish nonfiction filmmakers. They're starting small with five Finnish projects, a unique opportunity for these filmmakers to present their works-in-progress to some of the top professionals in international documentary. (I did a whole lecture series on this stuff at the TaiK this past week and hope my students will come and see things in action. I urge all of you to introduce yourselves to these very important commissioning editors. Bring samples of your work. You can do it!) The aim, of course, is to increase knowledge and visibility of Finnish documentary films abroad (and they should have that exposure; superior work is made here). The five projects are From Next Door by Tuija Halttunen, Elokas Cooperative, Love is Enough by Mia Halme, Avanton Productions, Once I Dreamt of Life by Jukka Kärkkäinen of Mouka Filmi Oy, Reindeer Spotting by Joonas Neuvonen, Bronson Club, and Red Forest Hotel by Mika Koskinen. Special industry guests will include Claire Aguilar from ITVS, Peter Jäger from Autlook Filmsales (also here representing the excellent Enjoy Poverty: Episode 3 by Renzo Martens playing in the festival), Esther van Messel from First Hand Films, Greg Sanderson from BBC, and Anne-Laure Negrin from ARTE. Click here for more info and to see the rest of the Encounters program.
Tomorrow, my review of the Ellsberg film and more, stay tuned.
Long radio silence since I haven't posted anything since mid-December!, so apologies for being out of touch. It happens from time to time. That is not to say that there hasn't been a hell of a lot happening, with much more in store on another continent starting, gulp, in less than a week. Sometimes, just trying to keep up with your own life is a full-time endeavor.
This Thursday, the 8th, in conjunction with my outreach and social engagement work for filmmakers David Heilbroner, Kate Davis and Franco Sacchi for their film Waiting for Armageddon (opening at the Cinema Village this Friday), there will be an interfaith roundtable at the Puck Building's Rudin Auditorium at 295 Lafayette Street that is free and open to the public starting at 6:30 p.m. The filmmakers will be joined by panelists, Richard Cizik, an influential, left-leaning Evangelical leader; Professor David Elcott, Taub Professor of Practice and Public Service and Leadership, Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service at NYU; Rabbi Justus Baird of the Auburn Theological Seminary; Minister Galen Guengerich of the All Souls Unitarian Church, NYC; and Sabeeha Rehman, director of Interfaith Programs at the American Society for Muslim Advancement. The panel will be moderated by journalist Michelle Goldberg, author of Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism. Should be a fascinating talk with select clips from the film being shown to galvanize discussion. A small reception will follow in the Rudin hosted by our partners, The Fledgling Fund and The Foundation for Jewish Culture. (Pictured, filmmakers Kate Davis, David Heilbroner and Franco Sacchi at the film's premiere this past fall at the New York Film Festival.)
In other news you might find interesting / pertinent: the Full Frame Garrett Scott Documentary Grant applications are now being accepted. This grant funds first time doc makers for travel to and from, as well as accommodations at, The Full Frame Documentary Film Festival, April 8 - 11, 2010. For four days, grant recipients will be given access to the full film program, participate in master classes and be mentored by experienced filmmakers. Two filmmakers will be chosen for the grant which is now in its third year. It was started by filmmaker, Ian Olds (Fixer: The Taking of Ajmal Naqshbandi) and Garrett Scott's family in memory of Scott who passed away suddenly in 2006 at the age of 37. Previous grant recipients include Elinyisia Mosha and Cameron Yates (2009), Rebecca Richman Cohen, Nathan Fisher and Mai Iskander (2008), and Robin Hessman and Lee Lynch (2007). Click here for more info. The deadline is the 5th of February.
Also: the 2010 Flaherty Seminar is now open for registration. They are now accepting applications for the 56th seminar taking place June 19 - 25 at Colgate University in Hamilton, New York. You can find all the details about the upcoming seminar and info about registering here. Media makers should take advantage of attending this; it's really an essential event to experience at least once. And, Dennis Lim is on board as the curator this year which is another strong reason for considering going. Space, however, is very limited, so making your decision early is wise.
I'll be slipping out of New York in just a few days to spend the next month in Helsinki, Finland to teach some film seminars in the documentary program at the TaiK, the national art and design school, and will also take a trip out to Lahti, one hour outside of Helsinki, to teach at the Folk High School there. Amongst other activities, I will be attending the DocPoint Film Festival representing all the wonderful American short and feature-length films that will be playing at the fest in a special strand of this year's program (the "Family Chronicles") and welcoming American filmmakers to Helsinki, including Michael Palmieri and Donal Mosher, makers of October Country; Kim Reed, director of Prodigal Sons; Aron Gaudet and Gita Pullapilly, makers of The Way We Get By; and Darius Marder, director of Loot, among others. Visit the site to find out about more info on this year's program. Also look for more information coming soon for special events in New York in support of DocPoint's 10th anniversary next year.
I will also be attending the DocPoint festivities in Estonia where the festival will be held for the first time in Tallinn. Estonia hasn't ever had a festival that focused only on documentary film and since the Estonian and Finnish cultures are so similar, Erkko Lyytinen, the artistic director of DocPoint, felt like it was a natural collaboration when approached by the folks in Tallinn. I will be attending with filmmaker, Kimberly Reed, whose film will play in both Finland and Estonia. Much, much more to come on the Prodigal Sons front very soon. The film will open at the Cinema Village here in New York on February 26th, and then open widely at Landmark Theatres across the country through March and April. Visit the First Run Features site for more info and play dates.
I will then be headed to Sweden to attend my very first Göteberg International Film Festival, its 33rd iteration, January 29 - February 8. I will be representing Nicole Opper's début feature doc, Off and Running. One of their programmers saw it at its festival premiere at Tribeca last year and snagged it right away. It will be the film's international premiere. And why will I be there and not the filmmaker? Well, I'll be next door in Finland (and I've been collaborating on outreach and social engagement for the film) and the director will be busy with the New York theatrical run at the IFC Center which starts the 29th of January. Keep checking the site and here and here for updated info on special events happening this month leading up to the run, as well as news on special co-hosted evenings at the IFC that week. Also, look for my interview with Nicole soon on the Hammer to Nail site as part of our "In Conversation With" series. Good stuff.
Let's see, what else? Oh yes, after Sweden, the plan will be to attend my first Berlinale (their 60th), as a journalist and critic for Hammer to Nail (thanks, Ted). Look for daily postings from Berlin on HTN and SIM in mid-February.
Okay, that's the latest and greatest. I have duly blogged and promise to be a bit more vigilant. Back to work.
Hello from Sheffield, where I'm knee-deep in the hoopla of a very bustling festival and market. Last night at the big party at the local roller skating rink (fast becoming a Sheffield tradition), the 2010 Cinema Eye Honors announced their nominees for the ceremony that will take place at the Times Center in NYC in January. Visit the site to read about all the nominees, and the latest and greatest on the best of nonfiction.
Umbilically connected to New York wherever I happen to go, I wanted to say "hey," and mention a few things coming up:
I've been part of the "getting butts in seats" brigade, aka Outreach Producer, for Four Seasons Lodge, a beautiful documentary film opening at the IFC Center this coming Wednesday, November 11. The director, New York Times' journalist, Andrew Jacobs, some of the subjects of the film, and other crew and special guests, will be there for Q&As throughout the week, and some of our best indie film orgs will be on hand to co-host and join in the festivities for after-screening drinks shindigs. Shooting People will host Friday night, Arts Engine / DocuClub will be with us on Sunday night, and UnionDocs will host on Monday evening. Visit the website to get all the info you need, watch the trailer, and meet the extraordinary subjects, the last living generation of Holocaust survivors (two of them, pictured above). Don't let the "H" word keep you away--it's an exceedingly heart-warming, uplifting and life-affirming film. You can also visit the First Run Features site to keep abreast of where else the film will be opening across the nation. Next up on December 11, Four Seasons Lodge will run in Los Angeles and Boston. If you live in those cities, contact me to learn how you can help us get the word out and plan some special events around the screenings there. The IFC Center puts up showtimes very close to the opening, so keep checking there and buy your tickets in advance. There are discounts for groups of 10 or more.
Also on the 11th, which is Veteran's Day, The Way We Get By will have its national broadcast début on P.O.V. The film is now also available for purchase on DVD--probably will become one of the top 10 stocking stuffers of all time, I would wager.
Rooftop Films sends news that their 2010 submissions have opened and they are welcoming entries for their summer series next year. You can find downloadable information here or submit through Without A Box. The superb series runs from May to September and will feature more than 200 films in various outdoor screenings throughout New York City. All genres, formats and lengths are welcome.
On Monday, November 9, The Flaherty has a hot animation program on tap at Anthology Film Archives in the East Village. "Experiments With Animation" will feature short works by such talents as Phil Solomon, Martha Colburn, Signe Baumane and Jeff Scher. Go here for more info.
Okay, gotta pull myself back into the fray here. I will be having lunch shortly with filmmaker Geoffrey Smith, director of the glorious The English Surgeon and co-director of Presumed Guilty which débuted at Toronto in September and is playing the fest here before moving on to CPH:DOX in Copenhagen next week. It's a tremendous film and it will be fascinating to see the furor it will cause in Mexico where the story is told. I'll have a full review soon, but watch for this one. It will be one of the most important films of 2010.
I will have much more from Sheffield in the next couple of weeks, but back to just taking it all in--seeing great nonfiction films and getting to visit and converse with new filmmakers bringing groundbreaking talent and expertise to the field. It's so awesome to be in the company of thousands of others who are as equally rabid about nonfiction cinema as I am. Right now, off to Digital Bootcamp with Ingrid Kopp--woo hoo!
Sheffield Doc/Fest Marketplace Producer, Charlie Phillips, writes to say that submissions for this year's main market event, The Meet Market, have gone "haywire," with loads of projects coming in. There are, however, five other pitch forums that take place during the festival.
Canada's National Film Board (NFB) will have the Crossmedia Pitch. They're looking for innovative, interactive, socially engaging projects with applications for mobile and broadband. The theme is "Migrations," and the prize for the best pitch will be C$5,000. The deadline for submissions is the 9th of October.
The Wellcome Trust Pitch, with a very generous prize of £10,000, is looking for documentary films, games and other online ideas around health, biology or medical themes, also with a deadline of October 9.
The Channel 4 pitch prize comes with a 10 - 12 week commitment to direct a 30-minute film with a £50,000-budget for the channel's critically-acclaimed doc strand, "First Cut." The deadline for applications is September 25.
The Mini MeetMarket is for emerging filmmakers looking for advice on their projects-in-development and executive producers. That deadline is October 14.
Lastly, Current TV will host a pitch forum with a prize of £5,000 for the best ideas on UK-based, investigative current affairs pieces. The deadline is October 16.
So start shuttling all those brilliant ideas over there. Information and other details for all pitches, plus details on the main market, are on the Sheffield site. Click on "Marketplace." Good luck!
The full film program for the 2009 Sheffield Doc/Fest won't post until early October, but the press office has released a teaser roster of films that will be showing there this year. Added to this year's showcases will be a whole category devoted to Comedy docs and one on Cross-platform docs, in addition to the existing Music, Green, Arts and "Bent" doc strands. There will also be a special focus on Russian nonfiction cinema.
Sheffield is fast-becoming one of the top-tier places to go for an authentic market atmosphere, one in which filmmakers, producers, funders, programmers, sales agents and commissioning editors have highly structured time together. The Meet Market component has been lauded by the likes of executive producer, Julie Goldman of Cactus Three, writer and Austin Film Society communications manager, Agnes Varnum and SXSW head of programming, Janet Pierson, for its organization and proficiency in making productive meetings happen between all interested parties. And speaking of parties, they're apparently legendary there and that has a lot to do with its feisty director, Heather Croall, a party girl supreme with good strong brain matter between her ears. The documentary world is lucky to have her. And Marketplace Producer, Charlie Phillips, keeps everyone up-to-date on the latest and greatest by hosting Sheffield's informative blog site.
In its 16th year, Sheffield will screen more than 100 films from November 4 - 8, including 16 world, and 10 EU premieres. Film programmer, Hussain Currimbhoy, acknowledges that, "The appetite for documentary is still voracious and changing viewing habits are proof of this with new online platforms for watching docs. Financial crises or not, it seems like documentary is the one genre in film that is constantly evolving and responding to changes in its environment and adapting to its audience."
The Music doc strand will feature Barbara Kopple's Woodstock: Now and Then (Kopple, pictured), its EU premiere and Gabriel Noble's P-Star Rising, its UK premiere. The Green doc strand will feature Robert Stone's Earth Days, its UK premiere, and Louis Psihoyos' The Cove. And the inaugural Comedy strand will feature Ben Steinbauer's heart-warming Winnebago Man, its EU premiere, and Jenna Rosher's delightful and powerful, Junior, its international premiere after débuting domestically at SILVERDOCS this past June. Some of the slated world premieres are Jawed Taiman and Sharon Ward's Addicted in Afghanistan, Michel Negroponte's I'm Dangerous With Love and Erasing David by David Bond.
Tickets for the public go on sale Monday, October 5. Click here for more info and to keep updated on the fest's offerings. Let's see if Cinderella can pack up her slippers and ballgown and jettison herself over the Atlantic in November. Stay tuned for more news from Sheffield in the coming weeks.
If you read this blog regularly (and if you don't, why not?), you'll know that I've written about this gorgeous film many times before and love, love, love it. The film's main subject, Dr. Henry Marsh (pictured) will be in New York for opening weekend, as will its director, Geoffrey Smith. You can read my original review after seeing it at Hot Docs in Toronto last year here.
At the Cinema Village on East 12th Street, The English Surgeon will make its US theatrical début with Marsh and Smith in attendance at the 6:30 p.m. show this Friday the 24th; the 7:10 p.m. show this Saturday the 25th; and at the 3:00 p.m. show this Sunday the 27th.
There will also be an opening night wine and cheese reception Friday night from 8:30 to 10:30 at the Ukrainian Institute of America (the film takes place mostly in Ukraine) at 2 East 79th Street hosted by the Institute and the Ukrainian Medical Association of North America NY Metro Branch to honor both men. The film will have its Los Angeles opening next Friday the 31st at the Laemmle's Music Hall in Beverly Hills.
It's also possible to host your own screening of the film as an individual or as part of a larger organization. Contact Outreach Coordinator, Krystal Lord, at firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss how she can help tailor a plan for your organization or community and to also arrange for a personal appearance by Dr. Marsh and/or Geoffrey Smith.
A little bit of this, a little bit of that whilst I'm in the midst of Hot Docs in Toronto, fast becoming my favorite nonfiction film fest (although T/F has a special place in my heart):
Last week, I experienced my first Tribeca Film Fest since moving to New York a bit less than two years ago (missed it last year since HotDocs overlapped) and I think it'll probably be my last unless I have a film exhibiting there or go as a spectator to catch a flick or two. The filmmakers were, of course, thrilled to screen in New York and vie for the big cash prizes, but the whole thing left me rather cold as a journalist (the press office really needs a lot of work, folks) and rather ambivalent, truth be told, as an industry guest looking for great fare to program elsewhere. But I gave it a fair shake in my wrap-up on IDA's e-zine which will be posted soon. I also have a couple of reviews posted on Hammer to Nail if you care to take a gander--both films, Defamation (which opens DocAviv this week) and Antoine--are also playing up here in Toronto. Also, look for my interview soon on Shooting People with Beadie Finzi, director of Only When I Dance, a Top-10 audience fave at its Tribeca premiere.
I'm currently working on the transcription of my wonderful interview with Alanis Obomsawin; my first stop yesterday morning was to meet with her at the National Film Board of Canada's (NFB) offices. The 77-year-old Obomsawin is receiving Hot Docs' Outstanding Achievement Award this year for her decades-long career working in conjunction with the NFB to shine a spotlight on the stories of her people, the Abenaki Nation. For over forty years, she has directed documentaries that chronicle the lives of the First Nations people. There will be a retrospective of her films shown here this week, as well. Thank you to the NFB's Melissa Than for facilitating this meeting.
Filmmaker and producer, Ron Mann, is also having a retrospective here, curated by New York-based filmmaker and writer, Astra Taylor. Last year, Mann produced her fantastic Examined Life. As usual, most of my festival coverage, interviews and film reviews will happen post-fest since I will be running from screening to screening every day this week (and some parties, too) to gorge on the best of international nonfiction--there is a wealth of riches here for the documentary film lover and this town is also full of people who adore going to the movies, with the long lines and packed cinemas any time of day or night to prove it.
In other news: congratulations to AJ Schnack. indieWIRE reports today that his new film Convention will world-premiere at this year's SILVERDOCS as its Centerpiece screening (June 15 - 22 in Silver Spring, MD). Schnack led a superstar team of filmmakers as they captured last year's Democratic National Convention in Denver, Colorado. Schnack was joined by Laura Poitras, Paul Taylor (pictured with Schnack), Julia Reichert, Steven Bognar, Daniel Junge, Nathan Truesdell and David Wilson to capture the experience in grand vérité style through the eyes of the convention's organizers, reporters, police force and other denizens of the city. I was privileged to see a bit of this at True/False a couple of months ago and I'm very excited to see the finished film and listen to the accompanying talk with all the filmmakers in attendance at the fest in June.
I'd also like to mention one more item before I go submerge myself in films again: Greenhouse has just opened their submissions with a deadline of June 1. Now in its fourth year, the Tel Aviv-based Greenhouse is a program for the development of documentary films crafted by Mediterranean filmmakers from Jordan, Algeria, the Palestinian Authority, Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia, Israel, Syria, Lebanon and Turkey. The program hosts between ten and twelve projects a year and the selected filmmakers are invited to participate in a year-long program, which meets three times annually, to develop an international production file and project trailer which, in turn, are presented at a pitching forum for international commissioning editors, funders, producers and distributors. Greenhouse founders, Sigal Yehuda, Yair Lev and Sarah Assouline have shown really stellar results in a very short amount of time and have gathered together some pretty high-profile partners. To learn more about entry requirements and submission information, click here.
More coming soon from HotDocs. And, James McNally, we will hook up one of these days!
This is what Thom Powers always says when he's ready to open up a filmmaker Q&A session to the audience. And now he's taken this concept to the Web where everyone can join in, via the D-Word.
D-Word co-hosts, Doug Block, Ben Kempas, John Burgan and Marj Safinia send word that there is a new public forum on the site devoted to Powers' nonfiction cinema series Stranger Than Fiction hosted at New York's IFC Center by Powers and Raphaela Neihausen. The series is in the midst of its 10th year and will host such directors as Doug Pray, Jonathan Demme and Peter Davis this spring season.
The online conversation will reflect the criticism, insider sharing and professional networking (but, alas, not the drinking) that happens every week at STF. Now you can join in from anywhere to learn how you can start your own local film clubs and screening series and chat about a wide array of topics about the current state of making (and viewing) nonfiction cinema.
The proceedings start right before STF screens Doug Pray's Sundance premiere, Art & Copy this Tuesday. D-Worders will discuss the intersection between documentary and advertising. The dedicated Stranger Than Fiction strand on the D-Word site lives here. (You might want to bookmark.) Pour yourself a glass of wine and join the conversation.
Last night at Thom Powers' Stranger Than Fiction spring season opener, director Geoffrey Smith (pictured) and his subject, Dr. Henry Marsh, were there to talk about their superb collaboration in making one of the top nonfiction films of '08, The English Surgeon. Smith reported that the evening was "brilliant, just brilliant. Packed house and the most amount of love and awe you can imagine. We will definitely be having a week in NYC at some point. John Vanco [GM of the IFC Center] wants it, he just has to find a slot, so I will keep you posted."
Smith and Marsh were also fêted at Sunday night's Cinema Eye Honors with two nominations for the film, Outstanding Achievement in Music Composition by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis, and Outstanding International Feature. (Cave and Ellis will be releasing a two-CD compilation of their soundtrack music for The English Surgeon, The Proposition and The Assassination of Jesse James this summer.)
I was lucky enough to see the film at last year's Hot Docs in Toronto where it took the top international prize for Best Feature. Here's what I wrote after seeing it there:
The first thing I viewed was Geoffrey Smith's The English Surgeon (the subject of this beautiful piece, the brave Dr. Henry Marsh, pictured, and one of his patients, Marian Dolishny, pictured with his beloved cat). Winner of the Best International Feature Documentary at Hot Docs, this film's assured storytelling craft serves its magnificent subjects well. Emotionally and visually rich, the film tells the story of Dr. Marsh, an esteemed neurosurgeon based in London, his dark humor tinged with an unrelenting sense of mission and the lusty joy of, as he describes it, "the bloodsport of brain surgery." There is obviously a profound and deep respect between director Smith and his subjects and they offer up their humanity in all its raw and glorious aspects.
Henry Marsh has been going to Kiev for over 15 years to offer what assistance he can to doctors working within an antiquated, crumbling medical establishment, one that ends up killing more people than it aids or saves, particularly when it comes to brain surgery. We learn that due to negligence, by the time most people come for evaluation, there is absolutely nothing that Marsh and his Russian colleague, the beleaguered Dr. Igor Kurilets, for whom Marsh is both a mentor and benefactor, can do, the scans portending the inevitable news that these people are, indeed, living on borrowed time. The scenes where the doctors have to sit and tell the person sitting across from them that they only have a little while to live are devastating--quiet, intense, hopeless. Refusing to give false hope, the doctors must deliver the worst news possible to a long line of people that wait outside their offices to hear their fate.
The scene where we get to witness, from start to finish, the brain surgery on the young and devout Marian is beautiful. Described as "horrible" and "gruesome" by some, I watched this scene with awe. It reminded me of the ear reconstruction scene in Manda Bala and the open heart surgery scene in All That Jazz--certainly not as stylized and operatic as those, but fascinating in its portrayal of a collaboration between doctor and patient. As Marsh says, his patients help make him "brave." Marsh feels it's essential for the success of the operation that Marian stay awake throughout the entire process (including the first drill into the skull), so Marian can communicate with his surgeons as they work to remove the massive tumor in his brain. We are privileged to sit and watch a small miracle happen before our eyes. And, odd to say, there are many laughs in this scene, as well.
Marsh is haunted by one failed case, in particular, and in the climax of the film, accompanied by Kurilets, pays a visit to the mother of a young girl he tried to save several years ago. She greets the two doctors with a houseful of relatives gathered around her for emotional support, and a table laden with food. As they share a meal (no one can really eat anything), the doctor lets her know how devastated he still is that his efforts to save her daughter, Tanya, caused more damage to the already sick little girl, violating, in his mind, medicine's most precious oath--to do no harm. I can't even think about that quietly powerful scene without welling up.
Incredibly, Smith shot this over just two weeks in the winter of '07 and manages to tell a deeply moving story of pathos and redemption, every shot illustrating with delicacy and grace (and loads of humor), a portrait of a true humanitarian. Nick Fraser, the editor of BBC Storyville and with Greg Sanderson, the executive producer of the film, says, "There are very, very few films I love quite as much as this one." I loved it, too.
For those in DC, you're in luck this week: there will be a special screening of The English Surgeon presented by SILVERDOCS this Thursday, April 2 at 7:00 p.m. with Geoffrey Smith in person at the AFI Silver Theatre. Click here for more info and to buy tickets.
Jeremiah Zagar's first feature film is a beauty. It's fresh off the festival circuit (it world-premiered at SXSW last year) where it has garnered numerous awards. I saw it at Woodstock in October where it won for Best Documentary and Best Editing; you can read my impressions here.
The film releases theatrically in the next few weeks starting with a four-city run, and will then expand to other cities in April and May.
Zagar's In a Dream was one of fifteen films shortlisted for the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature and is nominated for two Cinema Eye Honors this Sunday night for Best Achievement in Music Composition (a new category) and Outstanding Achievement for a Debut Feature (which Jennifer Venditti won last year for her film, Billy the Kid).
International Film Circuit will exhibit the film in New York at The Cinema Village, starting Friday April 10; in Philadelphia (where the Zagar family resides and where the film takes place) at the Landmark Ritz at the Bourse and in San Francisco at The Roxie, starting Friday April 17; and in Los Angeles at the Laemmle Music Hall, starting Friday April 24. Spring is in the air and the docs are at the neighborhood cinemas--yes!
Academy Award and Cinema Eye Honor recipient Alex Gibney's searing and important film airs on HBO on Monday.
In the year following 9/11, the Bush Administration's promise to root out terrorists abroad took a perverse, unsettling turn, with the U.S. military embarking on a policy of humiliation and deprivation designed to get political prisoners to talk. The appallingly inhumane tactics used by military prison guards in Abu Ghraib, Bagram and Guantanamo Bay flaunted the Geneva Conventions, while killing untold numbers of prisoners, including innocent people like Dilawar, a young Afghan taxi driver whose only "crime" was being in the wrong place at the wrong time. This film portrays America's loss of dignity in its zeal to win the "War on Terrorism." Taxi to the Dark Side premieres Monday, September 29 at 9:00 pm EST. Don't miss it.
The IFP's Independent Film Week wrapped up its 30th iteration last Friday with a flourish of quite positive reviews and feedback from many of the attendees. I'm about to chat with IFP's executive director, Michelle Byrd, to get her thoughts for the event's wrap-up piece in the next issue of FILMMAKER Magazine on this ever-changing and fluid event that attempts, better than most organizations of its kind, to keep up with the ever-changing and fluid business of making independent film projects. You can go to the magazine's blog to read more about last week's event. (Pictured: Michelle Byrd, Christian Gaines and Geoff Gilmore at the "State of Film Festivals" panel.)
One of last week's dozens of after-school social events included the launch party for the Woodstock Film Festival's ninth year. Founded by filmmakers Meira Blaustein and Laurent Rejto, the festival takes place in the lovely artistic colony of Woodstock, a couple of hours north of the city. I'm planning on attending again this year, concentrating, natch, on the nonfiction fare on offer. If you're a local, you should attend this wonderful event--intimate setting, top-notch programming and friendly, friendly, friendly. It's the perfect place to be at the beginning of the fall season.
Some highlights of this year's film program include the world premiere of Giancarlo Esposito's Gospel Hill, the US premiere of Gavin Oconnor's Pride and Glory, a centerpiece screening of Abdellatif Kechiche's La Graine et le Mulet, the US premiere of Dan Stone's At the Edge of the World (a still from the film pictured below), world premieres of Morgan Neville and Robert Gordon's Johnny Cash's America, Wendy Key's Milton Glaser: To Inform and Delight and Hannes Rossacher's Sunshine Superman: The Journey of Donovan, and several strong programs of fiction and nonfiction shorts.
Panels include "Music in Film" moderated by Doreen Ringer-Ross; "Show Me the Money" moderated by Tribeca Film Institute's Brian Newman; "Amazing Women in Film" with Maggie Renzi, Rita Taggart and Barbara Kopple; "Contemporary Trends in Indie Film" and "The Documentary Story Today" with Heidi Ewing, Kief Davidson, Ellen Kuras, Ron Mann, Brett Morgen, Morgan Spurlock and Michael Tucker. Among many other special events, screenings and musical performances, there will be a conversation with the brilliant James Schamus, this year's Honorary Trailblazer recipient.
This week in the city: tomorrow Thom Powers launches the Fall '09 session of Stranger Than Fiction (there's a great interview with him with Arts Engine recorded during this year's Toronto fest that you can read here). First up will be the above-mentioned At the Edge of the World, fresh from its world premiere in Toronto. On Wednesday, join moderator Ingrid Kopp at this month's DocuClub where Jon Cofinas will show his first feature-length documentary, Committed (watch the trailer here). On Thursday, treat of all treats, the new Maysles Cinema in Harlem will be showing Salesman (1968), and yes, Al will be there for a discussion and Q&A after the film. Click here for this month's program information.
Jennifer Venditti's stunning debut feature is now available to order through Amazon, and the disc has lots of very, very cool extras. You can pre-order your copy of this multiple award-winner by clicking here, or on the Amazon box to the right. (Venditti, pictured left, in March, holding her Cinema Eye Honor for Best Debut Feature.)
Special goodies include a new anamorphic master created from hi-def elements and enhanced for wide-screen TVs; audio commentary by Venditti and actor Ryan Gosling; a new short by Venditti entitled Pieces That Don't Fit; a director interview (if you want to read mine from last year with this talented woman, click on the link to the right under Filmmaker Interviews); music selections from the film's excellent soundtrack, plus bonus tracks; the US theatrical trailer; a new essay by Miranda July (love that woman!); and snazzy packaging. Definitely one for the library.
One week from this Wednesday, the annual festival called Britdoc, fast becoming one of the premiere documentary festivals on the international scene, will welcome filmmakers, producers, commissioning editors, and other industry folk to Keble College at Oxford for its third iteration. The themes this year are Comedy and Music, and they've announced their competition lineup, special guest appearances, and other programs. I will be covering the festival this year and am very excited to attend. (The fest's programmer, Maxyne Franklin, is also a member of the esteemed nominating committee for the Cinema Eye Honors.) An initiative of the Channel 4 British Documentary Film Foundation, the Britdoc festival brings together filmmakers and funders in an intimate setting and, currently, stages the only international pitching forum in the UK.
In honor of the comedy theme, The Yes Men (one of the funniest and most brilliant duos to appear in film, fiction or non- I've seen) will be showing a work-in-progress. And as part of the special music program, the fest will be presenting Robert Flaherty's seminal Nanook of the North (this man has been a big part of my life this year!) with a live soundtrack from the Shine Synchro System. This sounds just as cool as the screening I saw in L.A. a couple of years ago of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, accompanied by a score from Sparklehorse.
The ten British documentaries in the feature competition this year are: Blood Trail by Richard Parry; Chosen by Brian Woods; Day After Peace by Jeremy Gilley; Heavy Load by Jerry Rothwell (we played this at the Brooklyn Fest, but no one came, alas; his Britdoc pitch from '06 where he found his American funding for this feature is actually in the film); Life After the Fall by Kasim Abid; Man On Wire by James Marsh (already a multiple-prize winner); Starstruck aka Son of Eurovision by Jamie J. Johnson; The End by Nicola Collins; Thriller in Manilla by John Dower (as a rabid boxing fan, I will not miss this); and the well-loved Young@Heart by Stephen Walker, which has already had a very successful theatrical run in the States.
There will also be a Best of Fests strand where programmers from the major international fests bring a prize-winner, i.e., Trouble the Water from Sundance; Up the Yangtze from the IDFA; Heavy Metal in Baghdad from Berlin; Obscene from Toronto; and At the Death House Door from SXSW. Lastly, there's the Fourdocs British Short Doc Competition featuring five stellar short-form nonfiction pieces: The Solitary Life of Cranes by Eva Weber; My Name is Karl by Moritz Siebert; Made in Queens by Nicolas Randall; Valley of the Goats by Leon Dean; and Sanctuary by Lovejit K. Dhaliwal.
And, an exciting side note for moi: This week, I will have an opportunity to interview one of the most prolific and intelligent documentary filmmakers around, the UK's own Kim Longinotto. Her voice is an important one to add to my growing canon of female doc voices, and I'm thrilled that I'll be able to speak to her in person while here in London. Thank you to my lovely friend, Sandra W., from More4!
More about Britdoc in the coming days. . .
Flying: Confessions of a Free Woman is airing on the Sundance Channel starting next Monday, May 5. The 6-hour film is also available for purchase now on DVD. The Los Angeles Times says, "Fox travels the globe to talk sex, marriage, babies, divorce, work, identity, oppression, socialization and abuse with her fascinating far-flung friends. And their combined stories add up to something remarkable: a kaleidoscopic meditation on gender-as-destiny."
I love this film very much and, like a lot of women who have seen it, feel it speaks directly to me and my life. I also got to sit and talk with Jen last summer right before her NYC theatrical run; you can read our wonderful conversation here.
The film has been screening all over the world, and next week the Sundance Channel will start airing it episodically (you will be hooked, no question). Click here for the schedule.
Flying is also now available on DVD and it would make for an outstanding Mother's Day gift. You can pre-order from Alive Mind today and receive a special 15% discount. The coupon code is AFLYNPO15.
Part of the coda to this wonderful story is that Jennifer did, indeed, end up with the man of her dreams, even though, like a lot of us, she fought it every step of the way! I saw them walking together hand-in-hand in Tribeca just the other day on their way to see a movie at the fest.