Posted by Pablo Kjolseth on June 5, 2011
I’m in the process of assembling a spreadsheet of films that I’d like to bring to my fall calendar program. As an exhibitor, I wish I could give all (or, at least, most or many) of these films a home. But as the market place keeps shrinking the theatrical windows, and as V.O.D. becomes more rampant, the harsh reality is that a balance has to be struck between viable money-makers and smaller niche titles that are very interesting and compelling but lack high-profile visibility, this despite being top-shelf items. In the former category are titles such as The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. In the latter category are movies like Marwencol or Bill Cunningham New York. I never need to see advance screeners for films in the former category as, for the most part, it’s pretty obvious what the big hitters are. In the latter category, however, it’s essential to watch the preview screeners sent to me by distributors because I really need to know if the material stands a chance of connecting with the audience in our area despite a low profile. Or, at very least, whether it resonates so strongly with me that I’m willing to champion it personally in the hopes that I might, despite long odds, find it an audience. Here’s what I’ve got queued up for the coming week.
Aurora (Romania, 2010, in Romanian, color, 181 mins., DP, unrated)
Cristi Puiu (the director of the much-acclaimed The Death of Mr. Lazarescu) here casts himself as a gun-toting loser who spends three hours meandering the streets of Bucharest in a story that, according to one miffed Oakland writer, “eschews plot development in favor of plod development.” That swipe may have been unfair and not having heard “plod development” being used before it did make me kinda laugh. However, as a big fan of other “plod development” directors, like Tarkovsky and Tarr, I won’t be too quick to dismiss it. No, instead, I think I’ll take my time. After all, the pull quote from Manohla Dargis of The New York Times used on the promo flier describes it as “A slow-burning tour de force,” so… who knows? (Fest Cred: Cannes, NY Film Fest, +6 more. Distributor: Cinema Guild)
Beautiful Darling (U.S., 2010, color, 85 mins., DP, unrated)
Candy Darling, the Andy Warhol superstar that was immortalized by The Velvet Underground in their song “Candy Says,” was born James Slattery. As a child he idolized Kim Novak and John Waters (one of many insiders to be interviewed) notes that Candy was a genuinely beautiful transvestite, and aside for being in Warhol movies Candy also starred in a Tennessee Williams play before dying of lymphoma at the age of 29. This doc by James Rasin is both informative and touching and sure to be of interest to anyone fascinated by the sixties art world as well as the larger question of how our obsessions with celebrities can change us in unexpected ways. (Fest Cred: Berlin, Seattle, + 4 more. Distributor: Corinth Films.)
Happy (U.S., 2011, color, 75 mins., DP, unrated)
Oscar-nominated director Roko Belic made a big splash with his musical doc Genghis Blues. In this film he traipses around the world to look at which countries have the happiest denizens. Money falls low on the scale, while many impoverished countries that promote community, strong family bonds, and good neighbors fare much better. Not surprisingly, this film was produced by Tom Shadyac, whose latest documentary, I Am, has really resonated within progressive communities that are very receptive to cooperative paradigms of existence that eschew the materialistic plane. (Fest Cred: Telluride Mountain Film + 2 more. Distributor: Cinemad Presents.)
Heavy Metal Picnic (U.S., 2010, color, 65 mins., DP, unrated)
Fans of Heavy Metal Parking Lot might be interested to know that filmmakers Jeff Krulik and John Heyn would like to invite them to revisit the scene of one of the most raucous farm parties ever to piss off neighboring McMansions back in 1985. The event was called Full Moon Jamboree, it took place over a weekend, and musicians included the doom metal band Asylum. It all took place in Bethel, New York, and much of the footage was captured by Rudy Childs on a (then) new Panasonic video camera. (Distributor: Cinemad Presents.)
Hermano (Venezuela, 2010, in Spanish, color, 97 mins., 35mm, 2.35:1, unrated)
This film was a huge hit in Cuba, and has also won many other admirers (including Luc Besson, who tried to pick it up after seeing it at the Moscow International Film Festival, where it won the Critics Award). It’s about two brothers who share a love for soccer and was inspired by the director’s experience at a huge rally in Venezuela where two rival crowds were about to engage in a violent confrontation, but with the introduction of a football they turned it into a friendly match instead. Sports enthusiasts in England should take note. (Fest Cred: Moscow, Shanghai, + 4 more. Distributor: Music Box Films.)
If A Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front (U.S., 2011, color, 85 mins., DP, unrated)
Director Marshall Curry and co-director Sam Cullman chronicle the rise and fall of ELF, “using never-before-seen archival footage and intimate interviews – with cell members and with the prosecutor and detective who were chasing them – If a Tree Falls asks hard questions about environmentalism, activism, and the way we define terrorism.” (Fest Cred: Sundance & Thessaloniki Documentary Film Festival. Distributor: Oscilloscope Laboratories.)
The Interrupters (U.S., 2011, color, 146 mins., DP, unrated)
Steve James feature debut came as the director, writer, producer, and editor of the 1994 Sundance Audience Award winner – and 1995 Oscar nominated – Hoop Dreams. He’s since followed that with seven films and this, his latest, has also garnered kudos as providing a powerful and intimate look at problems in the inner-city. Instead of sports, here the focus is on the Chicago-based organization Ceasefire, a group of individuals all too familiar with the problems of gang warfare who place themselves directly on the front lines in an effort to mediate gang disputes. This isn’t just a “day-in-the-life” or even “a-month-in-the life” affair, the landscape spans a year with James filming 300 hours of it – so even though the final cut runs at about two-and-a-half-hours one does sense this finished product cut it to the bone. (Fest Cred: Sundance, SXSW, + 3 more. Distributor: Cinema Guild)
Journey from Zanskar (U.S., 2010, color, 90 mins., DP, unrated)
Speaking of Hoop Dreams, the producer, editor, and writer of that sport doc, Frederick Mars, has also been busy. But instead of going to the inner cities of Chicago, he travels half-way around the world to look at the challenges facing kids in a very different climate. While we bemoan the state of public education here in the U.S., it might help to put things in perspective to consider what the Tibetan families in the Zanskar district of Kashmir have to sacrifice to give their children decent schooling. Their children, some as young as four-years-old, are separated from their families for as long as a decade and must hike across the mountains on a 180 mile journey in a courageous effort at getting a good educations. (Fest Cred: Mill Valley, Boulder, + 2 more. Distributor: Warrior Films.)
Octubre (Peru, 2010, in Spanish, color, 83 mins., 35mm, 2.35:1, unrated)
This first feature from brothers Daniel and Diego Vega is one heck of a calling-card. Freely citing the influences of Bresson, Kaurismaki, and Jarmush the two Vega’s have clearly managed to absorb those aesthetics and mix them with their own unique world-view to give birth to carefully composed and static shots that alternate between muted and vibrant colors. Octubre fully transports viewers into a different culture where the importance of daily transactions have huge repercussions. (Fest Cred: Cannes + 14 more. Distributor: New Yorker Films.)
The Pruitt-Igoe Myth (U.S., 2011, color/B&W, 83 mins., DP – 16:9 HD – unrated)
Director Chad Freidrichs’ debut Jandek on Cornwood looked into the life of an incredibly reclusive indie-rock cult figure. In this doc he covers an entirely different topic: urban housing projects and social engineering. “The Pruitt-Igoe Myth explores the social, economic and legislative issues that led to the decline of conventional public housing in America, and the city centers in which they resided, while tracing the personal and poignant narratives of several of the project’s residents.” (Fest Cred: L.A. Film Fest, Silverdocs, True/False Film Festival, + 2 more. Distributor: Brian Woodman/producer.)
Rebirth (U.S., 2011, color, 104 mins., DP, unrated)
Director Jim Whitaker follows five people whose lives were transformed on 9/11 and, using various techniques (multiple cameras, time-lapse photography, etc.) chronicles a 10-year period that interweaves the evolution of the space where the Twin Towers once stood with the lives of those selected who were deeply affected by the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center. The program notes try to rise to the occasion by saying: “Both a singular cinematic landmark and a human experience, Rebirth is at once emotionally intimate and spiritually uplifting – providing a direct portrait of how trauma and grief metamorphose into hope and rebuilding as the human spirit transcends the unthinkable.” (Fest Cred: Sundance. Distributor: Oscilloscope Laboratories.)
The Tree (France, 2010, in English, color, 100 mins., 35mm, 2.35:1, unrated)
Promoted as the latest film from the director of Since Otar Left (Julie Bertucelli) working alongside the lead female star of Antichrist (Charlotee Gainsbourg) is this family drama “shot entirely on location in Queensland Australia.” It’s based on the book Our Father Who art in the Tree (by Judy Pascoe), and pivots around the belief by 7-year old Simone (Morgana Davies) that her father’s spirit resides in a huge fig tree of the family’s yard. (Fest Cred: Cannes, Sydney, + 13 more. Distributor: Zeitgeist.)
Undercover Kitty (aka: Die Gegeimnisvolle Minusch, Miss Minoes / Netherlands, 92 mins., 2001, in English, color, 35mm, 1.85:1, rated PG).
A dutch children’s film based on the book Minoes (1970) by the famous Dutch writer, Annie MG Schmidt. A cat turns into a young lady and helps a reporter by getting news from other cats, which ultimately leads to finding out about a larger and more evil plan involving two of the town’s more prominent citizens. No, this is not animated and, yes, it’s dubbed. But, still, it has many fans who are quick to come to its defense as a charming, heart-warming, and – bonus – even weird glimpse into the Dutch psyche. I was a bit surprised to see this amidst the screeners from Music Box Films, as this film was released in the Netherlands 10 years ago. Maybe it wouldn’t have taken so long to release in the U.S. had they simply gone the better route of giving the film subtitles instead of a dub job? Still, as a cat lover, I won’t complain, and it’s always nice to have family-friendly fare on the calendar. (Fest cred: winner of 3 awards at the Nederlands Film Festival, + 5 more. Distributor: Music Box Films).
The Woman with the Five Elephants (Switzerland/Germany, in German & Russian, color, 93 mins, 2009, 35mm, unrated)
A leading translator of Russian literature, Svetlana Geier, survived Stalin’s purges and Nazi occupation – but in the process made life altering changes. The five elephants refer to Dostoevsky’s five great novels which Geier recently translated into German, and this documentary provides a nerve-rattling look into her craft. Is that the right adjective to describe the act of translating literature? According to distributor Ryan Krivoshey “Watching Svetlana Geier translate a phrase from Crime and Punishment is filled with as much suspense and tension as any scene from Wages of Fear.” If transporting sensitive explosives across rickety old bridges and cliffside roads in complete disrepair isn’t nerve-rattling, I don’t know what is, and as a bookworm I’m already intrigued. (Fest Cred: Locarno, Vienna, + 5 more. Distributor: Cinema Guild).
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