Home from the festival, I’m watching the awards show streaming live. I am extremely excited, since my choice won, and I was lucky to have had them on my slate. (See below)
In a separate category, the award for the Best feature in the Virtual FF category (there were 8 films) went to Spork.
Junior high isn’t easy for anyone— especially if you’re a frizzy-haired, pink-cheeked hermaphrodite like Spork. But when the talent show shines a chance for Spork to show up Betsy Byotch’s mean girls gang, her recently best-friended trailer-park neighbor Tootsie Roll steps up to coach her in booty-poppin’ moves. This ’80s-inspired dance send-up is littered with colorful dialogue from a tween cast with mouths beyond their years.
Tribeca (besides films in the virtual category), also has a “New York category:
Best New York narrative feature: Monogamy
Exhibitionism, voyeurism, jealousy, lust. Brooklyn wedding photographer Theo’s (Chris Messina) side business shooting surveillance-style photos of clients on the sly takes an unexpected turn—and creates a rift with his fiancée (Rashida Jones)—when he’s hired by a provocative mystery woman (Meital Dohan). The first narrative feature from Oscar®-nominated director Dana Adam Shapiro (Murderball), Monogamy effectively fuses an absorbing mystery-thriller and a taut relationship drama.
Best New York Narrative Documentary: The Woodmans
The Woodmans are a family united in their belief that art-making is the highest form of expression and an essential way of life, but for photographer daughter Francesca, worldwide acclaim came only after a tragedy that would forever scar the family. With unrestricted access to all of Francesca’s works and diaries, The Woodmans paints an incisive portrait of a family broken and then healed by its art
Best New Documentary Filmaker: Clio Barnard for The Arbor
Brilliantly blurring the borders of narrative and documentary filmmaking, artist-cum-director Clio Barnard beautifully reconstructs the fascinating true story of troubled British playwright Andrea Dunbar and her tumultuous relationship with her daughter. Working from two years of audio interviews, Barnard uses classic documentary techniques, actors, theatrical performance, and Dunbar’s own neighborhood to generate a unique cinematic feast while unraveling the truths of a dark family past.
I’m very sorry I missed this one. I think that films that blur “the borders of narrative and documentary filmmaking” will be more and more in evidence in the future. This was entered in the Documentary category, while The White Mountain was entered in the Narrative film category. The lines are indeed blurring.
Best Documentary: Monica & David
Monica and David are in love. Truly, blissfully in love. They also happen to have Down syndrome. Alexandra Codina’s affectionate and heartwarming documentary is an intimate, year-in-the-life portrait of two child-like spirits with adult desires. Supported (and, for more than 30 years, sheltered) by endlessly devoted mothers, Monica and David prepare for their fairy tale wedding and face the realities of married life afterward
Picked up by HBO for national broadcast in October.
Best actress in a narrative feature: Sibel Kekilli for When We Leave (Die Fremde)
Sibel was hilariously excited and nonplussed. She said “fuck” several times and ended her acceptance speech with “fuck, fuck. fuck. Sorry for the bad words. Can I still keep the award?” A classic acceptance speech. But she was absolutely brilliant in this role.
Best Actor in a Narrative Feature: Eric Elmosino for Gainsbourg, Je t’Aime… Moi Non Plus
Another film I wanted to see, but couldn’t get on my schedule because of conflicts.
From a young man in Nazi-occupied Paris to the sultry crooner who bedded Brigitte Bardot and married Jane Birkin to the vulnerable poet hidden behind a shroud of provocation—Serge Gainsbourg’s is a life large enough for grand treatment on film. One of France’s greatest mavericks is brought back to life (uncannily, by Eric Elmosnino) in this imaginative and visually flamboyant film debut from one of France’s greatest cartoonists
Best Narrative Filmmaker (Director): Kim Chapiron for Dog Pound
Chapiron accepted that award via Skype, which was pretty cool.
In North America more than 100,000 children are held in detention centers. Sixty percent are destined to become repeat offenders. Director Kim Chapiron (Sheitan, TFF ’06) takes a searing look at three incarcerated teenagers fighting for their lives and for hope. An electrifying cast delivers blistering performances packed with violent intensity and emotional power in this story of unlikely friendships in the midst of a brutal and deficient correctional system
Best Narrative Feature (Best Film): When We Leave (Die Fremde)
Feo Aladag accepted the award for the film that she researched extensively, wrote, cast (Sibel Kekilli) and directed. I’ve said all this before, it’s a courageous work, a nuanced work, and a brilliant film. Let’s hope these two awards propel the film to a wider audience and the attention it deserves.
From the sublime to the ridiculous
ABSOLUTE MUST SEE
Die Fremde (When We Leave)
ART FOR ARTS SAKE – ACQUIRED TASTES ONLY
IF YOU LIKE THIS SORT OF THING
GORE FOR GORE’S SAKE
EYES WERE BIGGER THAN STOMACH
sex & drugs & rock & roll
The White Meadows
WHAT THE F WAS I THINKING?
I noticed that there were a number of films that had played at TIFF ’09 (Toronto), that were now at TFF ’10 (Tribeca). It appears that this is not at all unusual. I suppose films make the festival rounds until they get distribution. Some of course, never do. Even for very good films, it’s a struggle. One of my favorite films from last years TIFF has just opened in the Boston area at the local Landmark art house: El Secreto de sus ojos (The Secret in Their Eyes). A very worthwhile cinematic experience.
The one film that I saw at last years Toronto FF, which also played at Tribeca this year: Fatih Akin’s Soul Kitchen. Akin is one of my favorite directors.
Others that played in Toronto last September, and were screened at this years Tribeca, I still have not seen: A Brand New Life, Cairo Time, The Disappearance of Alice Creed which I actually had a ticket for, but screwed up, and purchased it with a screening conflict), Get Low, Mic-Macs (a Jean-Pierre Jeunet (Amelie, Delicatessen) film which I really wanted to see and I missed at both fests), Ondine (Neil Jordan w/Colin Farrell), and the very popular The Trotsky, which I have also missed at both fests.
Tribeca is doing some interesting things, including a “virtual pass” which selects 8 films for on-line streaming during the festival ($45). Two of these I saw at the fest (Buried Land and Possessed). Seven other films are simultaneously available via On-Demand ($7.99 on my provider). These include Road, Movie (highly recommended), and sex & drugs & rock & roll, both of which I also saw this week.
It was perfectly fitting that the last screening I attended was the US Premiere of Road, Movie – Dev Benegal’s film about hitting the road to discover one’s true identity. But it’s also a movie about the love and joy of film, which nearly rivals Cinema Paradiso.
Benegal’s film is one of several that screened at TIFF 2009, so this was a second chance to see some of the films I missed – although this is the only one I caught up with (more on this later).
About the last thing in the world young Vishnu (Abhay Deol) wants to do is follow in his father’s footsteps. His father is a hair oil salesman, and the prospect of becoming one himself fills Vishnu with such desperation that he makes other plans. He jumps at the chance to drive his uncle’s truck, which he has sold, to its new owner. The truck turns out to be an old movie truck with all the components for a traveling road show: projectors, screen, speakers, and films (not only old Bollywood films, but Chaplin and Harold Lloyd as well).
Along the way he accumulates a few passengers. A young boy is first, just looking to make some money and perhaps have an adventure. An old man (Satish Kaushik, Brick Lane) who is a jack-of-all trades. He can fix anything, including the old Chevy truck, which needs a lot of fixing. A beautiful wandering gypsy (Tannishthah Chatterjee, who was also in the adaptation of Monica Ali’s Brick Lane, playing Nazreen).
The journey opens Vishnu’s eyes to the possibilities of life. A self-centered young man becomes a man connected to people and their travails. From Benegal’s time spent traveling with a touring cinema, he developed this film. Some of the wonderful and joyous scenes are straight from this experience.
Kaushik’s character Om, convinces Vishnu that (ala Field of Dreams), if you build it they will come. And indeed they do, as the screen is erected, the speakers are set up, and as twilight looms, travelers in the middle of the desert appear for the film – and an instant carnival, complete with a marching band, jugglers, tumblers and the like. It’s a transcendant moment, both for the movie goer (them, us, and Vishnu) that the film might have ended right there.
But life goes on, the friends go their separate ways – on to new adventures and journeys.
Filmed in the desert on the border between India and Pakistan, the conditions were harsh: up to 130 degrees in the day time, but the cast survived as they were all in attendance (except the young boy).
April 28, 2010
About five years ago news reports had the discovery of three identical pyramids in Visoko, older than those of Egypt. Some elements would seem to lend veracity to this story, although there is great skepticism in the scientific community. There is even some disagreement amongst the population of Visoko.
A whole tourism industry has been built up around the pyramids. There’s further ‘motive’ as well: Bosnia, known for ethnic strife, intolerance and genocide, would rather be known as a 14,000 year old civilization with its own pyramids. The citizens wanted a new cultural identity to replace the old one, and a civilization older than the Egyptians would certainly suffice.
The movie starts with the preparations for the documentary, but as the story of Visoko’s pyramids unfolds, we become aware that a ‘story’ is being told. Somewhere a line has been crossed from fact to fiction. And that seems to be the whole point here. The discovery of the pyramids themselves seems to stretch fact across the border into fiction. The film structure mirrors this dichotomy.
Co-Director Geoffrey Alan Rhodes plays the director in the film. His co-director, Steven Eastwood took questions from the audience after the screening. One of the interesting stories was how they spent many months building up a trust amongst the people of Visoko, all of which was lost in an instant when word spread that also participating in the project would be a fictional journalist. One news account was headlined “Borat comes to Bosnia”, or some such. They had to virtually start from scratch in order to regain the confidence of the people.
The pyramids, it should be pointed out are buried under hills, and they must be imagined, as much as seen. So an element of faith is involved. Ironically, the local Imam appears in the film, condeming those who believe that there are man-made pyramids buried beneath the hills.
April 27, 2010
Directed by Lee Isaac Chung, the World Premiere of Lucky Life hearkens back to old-style “art film”: slow paced, elegant, poetic, long silences between the thoughtful dialogue. For special audiences only, for sure.
Chung tackles the universal issue of how to die – and by extension, how to live. The movie was inspired by the poetry of Gerald Stern. In fact, the director and Stern ended up collaborating on the project. Stern’s book of poems by the same name as the movie, plays a primary role.
Filmed in both New York and the outer banks, the narrative thread is about four old friends, one of whom is dying of cancer. Much of the scenes are arranged in unique ways. There are many views through mirrors, for example. A conversation starts, the camera moves from one room, slowly, to where the conversation is taking place. Sometimes only a small portion of the people having the conversation fills the screen. Oblique framing. One of my favorites, is when one of the characters is in the kitchen, having a cup of coffee. We can only see the refrigerator from the angles of the shot, and the arm holding the coffee cup
The husband of the newly married couple (Mark and Karen) reads to his wife each evening in bed from Stern’s poetry. Much of it has a poignant resonance for them, as the memories of their friend (Jason) come flooding back.
At the Q&A afterwards, both the director and the main cast were available for questions. Kenyon Adams, who played Jason, eloquently explained the dynamic between the small ensemble cast and how the interplay regarding coming to terms with death affected their roles.
But let me include this director’s statement, which very beautifully explains the film, far better than I could.
I marvel at the absurdity of memory, the haphazard assortment of souvenirs retained as time passes mercilessly. I remember very little of my first trip to the ocean, for instance, while the ticking of a clock in my grandmother’s room remains very clear to me. Epiphany is the rare event in which even the most negligible memories combine to resonate a new meaning like the arrival of a wild guest. I created Lucky Life out of a longing for such clarity, straying from traditional narrative devices and wishing to reflect the processes of memory and lived experience.
Samuel Anderson and I wrote and prepared the film during a time in which we each experienced personal tragedies. I found some shelter in reading poetry, the most important being Gerald Stern’s 1977 collection, Lucky Life, for which this film is named. Stern himself is the collector of epiphanies, a scavenger of memories and everyday occurrences that others would abandon-he redeems what is lost to forgetting and leads us to the hallowed words, “O lucky, lucky life.” Should redemption for the world come, poets of memory will ring its church bells.
Open House (World Premiere) is slick and well made, but it’s rather standard fare, with themes we’ve seen before. In this one a couple has broken up and the house is up for sale. Enter David and Lila. Why not just call them David and Lisa, I say? After all, Brian Geraghty (The Hurt Locker) does his best Keir Dullea imitation. Mayhem ensues. Most of the scenes are spent with David mopping up blood.
We guess immediately, the real relationship between David and Lila. The “surprise” ending is heard whistle-blowing and smoke-billowing comin’ round the corner from miles away.
The Director of White Meadows was arrested in early March, along with several other Iranian filmmakers. Although he is “out on bail”, Mohammad Rasoulof is not allowed to leave the country. Others of his comrades remain jailed, awaiting “trial”. One of his collaborators on the film was in attendance however, and read an eloquent statement in Farsi from the detained director. A plea for people to people connection, rather than government to government.
Such is the life of an artist in the repressive society of Iran. If you are making art that is at all controversial, then expect to be harassed. Rasoulof’s film cannot be viewed with this knowledge, without reading the political subtext.
The North American Premiere of Rasoulof’s film is mesmerizing – both for it’s stunningly bleak landscape and for the mix of metaphor and mythology. It’s a powerful film if seen in the light of recent history.
Rahmat sails in his rowboat around Lake Urmia, a lake dotted with salt islands, where people live in enclaves. He collects tears from those grieving for their dead. He collects confessions in glass jars from those who have spoken ill of the dead. The tears and confessions are meant to atone for their sins. When the jar of tears is full, Rahmat uses them to wash the feet of the local Imam, then refills the jar with the ‘used’ tears and spills them into the sea.
There are several standout metaphors, but two stay with me. The one with the more overt political overtones (what got him in trouble?) is about an artist who paints what he sees – even though it may not reflect the conventional view of things. After he has painted the sea red, his village attempts to force him to conform. First by having him climb a ladder toward the sky and stare into the sun. When he still refuses, monkey urine is poured into his eyes.
In another story, a local maiden resists an arranged marriage, and so is forced out to sea to become the bride of the depths. Quite different, but this recalled to mind the great film, When We Leave. The Imam, by the way, not only had the maiden wheeling him around in his wheelchair (now his concubine?) but we see a picture on his wall of a red sea.
A fine example of art driven by self-expression.
This is the directors response to this dilemma. Cheng Lai-sheung (played nicely byJosie Ho) has an obsession with a particular building complex on the Hong Kong harbour – her dream home. She grew up in the building as a child (her grandfather was a seaman and loved the water) , but they were forced to leave because of speculation and urban renewal. She has made it her life-long mission to return to the refurbished and expensive building.
Getting there is half the fun. This is essentially a slasher-flick with delusions of grandeur: a pseudo commentary on the global economy and bankers and inflated property values. Our anti-heroine decides that the only way to afford her dream home is to decrease the property’s value. Her solution? A murderous reign of terror on the current occupants in order to drive down the values to affordability. The irony is that, when she gets what she wants, the global economy goes south…
Pang Ho-Cheung does have a sense of (bloody) humor, but still, there is a gratuitousness about it that takes it over the line. Or maybe not. So gruesome and horrid are some of the ways of death, that I found myself laughing, instead of turning my head away. But you may not get to that place, and if so this movie will turn your stomach. The director seems to delight in unheard of ways to kill people, while still paying homage to some of the slasher traditions (he mentioned Freddy in his Q&A). These people just do not die, for instance. At least not at first. The all seem to have one kick left in ‘em. There’s a particularly comic-graphic scene where one of the victims (thought long dead) – after all he’s leaned against a wall with literally all of his guts in his lap and on the floor – attempts to take one last toke. “Shit,” he says, “it’s gone out”
At the Q&A, he said he selected the implements of murder on purpose from everyday household necessities. A vacuum cleaner for instance, plastic garbage bags…
Now I’ve seen two films at the extremes of horror: this, the ultimate slasher film, and Possession, a psychological thriller, at the other end of the horror spectrum. For me, the earlier film served its purpose better.
Ahhh. This is why I go to film festivals. Without them, I could go for a year without seeing something this special. One of the first things I do when checking a festival line-up, is to make sure I know what German/Turkish films are slated. The cultural nexus of Islamic values and Germanic social mores is always rife with drama. I’ve seen many good films drawn from this particular sandbox, and this is one of the best.
First, the movie stars Sibel Kekilli, a gloriously beautiful and talented actress with the facial bone structure any director would die for. A close up of Ms. Kekilli cannot last long enough. And there are plenty in the film because it’s so emotionally gut wrenching and you can see every moment of pain and anger and frustration reflected in her face. Except for her character’s (Umay) mother and father, most of the actors in the film are first timers. They are all uniformly good.
I first saw Sibel Kekilli in Fatih Akin’s Head-On and I’ve been a great fan of Akin’s from that moment on. I may just become a fan of Director Feo Aladag because this is a nearly perfect work and a brave and courageous one as well, Aladag is a german actress and this is her directorial debut. A stunning start.
The movie itself concerns the issues of honor killings, the shunning of Turkish women who stand up for their basic human rights, women as property, and parental rights. Umay whose husband constantly yells at her and who beats her at will, finally has had enough. She flees Istanbul with her five year old son, Cem, to her parents home in Berlin. There is immediate tension , as they all wonder why she has come (without warning) and without her husband. When they find out that she has left her husband they are furious and put intense pressure on her to return – or at the very least to return Cem to the father. In their patriarchal culture, the son belongs to the father. They accuse her of kidnapping. The consequences of Umay’s actions accumulate, affecting her, her sons and her families future in the rigid, close knit Islamic sub-culture.
Director Aladag pursues all the issues with sensitivity and even-handedness, while never wavering from the right of self-determination. She does not gloss over the repercussions, and difficulties. Never presented in a black and white manner, we know where Aladag’s sensitivities lay, but she presents all sides of the story in a heartbreaking manner.
At the Q&A after the movie, both Director Feo Aladag and Sibel Kekilli were on stage. Aladag announced that Ms. Kekilli had just won the Best Actress at the German Film awards (Berlinale). This prompted a huge ovation. The director took some time to explain the difficulties in shooting such a project in the multi-cultural state of Germany today. Threats of violence were not unknown. She also talked about her use of non-professional actors for most of the cast (from the Turkish-German community),
This movie was crafted with such a careful sensibility, with passion and with a desire to really explore the cultural issues, that it is really deserving of a wider audience. It rare to have a film grapple with difficult issues without finally descending into reductive exposition. This is a great, great film and not to be missed should you be lucky enough to have it made available to you.
That’s all my body needs. Hmmm?
Mat Whitecross directed this ‘Encounters’ entry from the UK. An ambitious rock bio-pic , this is a North American premiere film that fails to live up to the promise of its rock icon subject.
Dury had a rough life, and its portrayed here in a manic style that loses the thread repeatedly. This may have something to do with the Juno-esque graphic style that the director seems obsessed with. Too much style and not enough attention to detail and storyline. Dury starts out as a jerk and ends up as a sweetheart. And we’re just not sure how that happened. Life did deal Dury some bad cards. Polio contracted at a young age, an absent father, a boy’s home upbringing. The polio scare was well done with the use of period newsreels and the like.
Many of the scenes are performed in a vaudevillian style that reminded me very much of Nicolas Winding Refn’s Bronson. Dury was certainly ahead of his time, with his stage presence and proto-punk new-wave style. He was one of a kind , and Whitecross attempts to show why, not very successfully.
But you’ll want to give a listen to the music if you’ve never heard of him. Simply some classic rock riffs.
Andy Serkis is just superb as Dury (the elder) and the acting is generally good overall. Olivia Williams is straight from The Dollhouse as Dury’s wife and the mother of his two kids. The always superior Ray Winstone does a cameo as Dury’s father.
This is not your run of the mill rock bio-pic, and for that it gets extra credit. The follow through is lacking though (to my regret).
I did have the pleasure of attending with Lisa Peet and her partner, Jeff. A few drinks after and a meeting of the minds on the film. Great fun.
April 25, 2010
No film festival would be complete without a horror entry from South Korea. If that is true, then the North American premiere (entered in the Cinemania section), of Director Lee Yong-ju’s film completes the Tribeca Film Festival. Although not a huge fan of the genre, they do have their…charms, but that’s maybe the wrong word. Possessed cannot be said to have charm, but it does have several jolting moments. Prepare to be scared, or at least to virtually jump out of your seats.
For me, the ‘scariest’ movies are the psychological ones anyway. Monsters and zombies? Nah. Rosemary’s Baby (Polanski) happens to be one of the scariest movies I’ve ever seen. The possibility of Satan and God make me uncomfortable. Well, Satan anyway. I suppose the most famous possession movie would be The Exorcist. In some ways, this film is the Korean Exorcist.
College student Hee-jin comes home when her younger sister is involved in a car accident, only to find out that her mother has gone whacked out religious. And the whole apartment complex seems to be under an aura of madness. And her younger sister seems…not herself.
Hee-jin brings in the police and a Detective by the name of Tae-hwan takes over the case, reluctantly. The blending of horror and police investigative does two things. It slows down the pace of the horror progression, but as a result, the jolts are genuinely surprising. And that’s the main point of movies like this, to scare the crap out of the viewer. In fact, that’s why we go to movies like this. The question as to why this is, is for another time.
If you live to be creeped out and scared, this is a must see film.
April 24, 2010
Sternfeld’s entry is a police thriller that mixes in class and the recession, and sometimes this muddies up a perfectly fine police investigative storyline. But I can hardly fault the director for ambition.
An unknown cast (to me) features Nick Stahl as Noah Cordin, the detective assigned to lead the investigation of a robbery gone bad. The murder takes place in the small , but upscale fictional town of Hilliard where Detective Cordin works and lives. But soon the investigation turns him to the place where he grew up, Caswell, a small but in this case poverty stricken town on the other side of the county, Meskada. What emerges is a modernized version of cowboy days range wars.
Cordin is assigned a sidekick (something he seems to resent slightly). Nothing is made of this thread however, as Cordin and his assigned partner Leslie Spencer (played by Rachel Nichols) seem to work well together.
When the investigation runs into a roadblock due to stonewalling by the residents of Caswell, a bitter economic war of attrition is instigated by the well connected mother of the murdered boy. Cordin is torn between the two forces.
Sternfeld has written an uncompromising script, that has a rather unusual ending – but it feels right. The acting is just ok. No one stood out. The grieving mother went over the top at one point, but Rachel Nichols was good as Nick Stahl’s partner until a rather improbable climactic scene. To be fair though, that was a function of the screenwriting and not the acting.
Director Sternfeld was in attendance and available for a Q&A after the screening. He was asked about some of his influences (Mailer’s The Executioner’s Song, Capote’s In Cold Blood and the movie Serpico). Meskada is an entertaining film, that could have used just a little tighter delivery of the ‘message’.