Archive for the ‘hidden gems’ category

This weekend, HRWIFF presents: “Youth Producing Change”

June 19, 2009

“I guess I just want people to know what it’s like.”

It’s a sentiment that I heard repeatedly from the filmmakers of the Human Rights Watch Film Festival’s Youth Producing Change.

The program is somewhat, well, as advertised: it showcase young people (around senior-age in high school) who have made projects demonstrative of human rights issues in their community, personal expressions, or experiences that for them are definitive.

“In Iran, no one blinked if I wore the hijab. It is not a restriction,” one filmmaker told me. “But here, it is not that way. People look at you differently. People assume.”

That filmmaker, Sahar Shakeri, was a recent immigrant from Iran, having accompanied her mother, a schoolteacher, on her path to get her Ph.D in Englsh Literature. Encouraged by her teachers, she turned her feelings about the contradictions inherent in wearing the Muslim veil into a short 7-minute film, “Thoughts in a Hijab.”

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Another filmmaker, Jessica Cele, already worked at an educational video center when she asked them if they would help her make her film.

“The center I worked for already released public-safety information, doing their own stuff,” she told me. “But I wanted to see, you know, how we’d do it. How youth could do it.”

Her film, “It’s Not About Sex,” explores issues of sexual violence in society, discovering that while it is tragic, an antidote is talking about it in public.

“In my eyes, it’s only when you talk about it, hard as it is that things can really start to change,” Jessica said.

Clevins Browne, the filmmaker of “In My Shoes”, was also on message when it came to dialogue.

“You know, my film’s about youth homelessness in New York City,” Mr. Browne told me. “When I tell most people about that, they act surprised as if they didn’t know it existed.”

But that’s what the Youth Producing Change showcase is all about: giving voices to those people to whom voices were once stifled before.

When I asked him why he wanted to make movies, Mr. Browne’s answer was simple, his smile broad and confident.

“Because people don’t know,” he told me. “And they should.”

-Nicholas Feitel, Contributing Editor

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Yesterday’s Loner, Today’s Honoree: Talking Steve McQueen with the Film Society’s Josh Strauss

May 18, 2009

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“That’s Ironweed,” Josh Strauss told me.

I admitted I’d never seen it.

“Meryl Streep’s best performance. Jack Nicholson at the top of his game. But impossible to find. Impossible.”

He should know. Strauss, programming associate for Film Society of Lincoln Center, had had a long history trying to find prints, trying to keep them vibrant and in tip-top shape. It’s what he did before he came here for independent distributors in New York and L.A.

“That and acting,” he said. “For about five minutes.”

Mr. Strauss had made a career of loving movies, remembering them in 35 and trying to find the best way they could be shown in a theater.

“Lincoln Center is full of intellectuals,” Mr. Strauss told me. “People doing brilliant work on the aesthetics of film, doing retrospectives on that.” He gave me at least a little bit of a smile. “I can’t offer that. What I can offer are the movies I loved to see when I was a kid.”

Those movies take the form of the series Yesterday’s Loner: Steve McQueen, a retrospective of the actor’s work on films as diverse as Enemy of the People, where he plays a small town doctor fighting to keep pollutants from a river, to The Magnificent Seven, where he embodied a sort of American samurai.

And though McQueen certain has a range, he was known best as a sort of action hero, a cowboy-badass of the type that would later make Clint Eastwood a legend.

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“I did a retrospective of Charlton Heston and, well, I’d put him in the same category,” Mr. Strauss said.

His office was lined with the posters of the retrospectives he’d done and the movies he loved, including the one I had been staring at, Ironweed.

“I’m old enough to remember seeing him, seeing Steve McQueen on film.” Strauss recalled. “He was an authority to me in Saturday Afternoon matinees; a power.”

The Steve McQueen series, screening May 20th-26th at the Walter Reade theater, is lined with guest appearances by prominent McQueen collaborators, people like Candice Bergen and Robert Vaughn. “You know, Norman Jewison said The Cincinatti Kid was the first movie that he ever felt like a filmmaker,” Strauss reported. “Now 44 years later, he’ll be back to say that again, introducing the film.”

“Finding prints for movies,” Josh told me, “you just try to show things while they’re there, while they’re good. These prints of Steve McQueen’s films are still good. And people haven’t forgotten him, they just haven’t seen the movies.”

And talking, looking at the man, his posters, his enthusiasm: I felt excited for the chance now.

-Nicholas Feitel

Yesterday’s Loner: Steve McQueen runs from May 20-26 at the Walter Reade Theater. Tickets are on sale now online.

Catch the last of Jancso’s Classics tonight and tomorrow

May 8, 2009

Red Psalm

If you caught Red Psalm, part of the Jancsó Classics at the Walter Reade on Wednesday, then you may still be reeling from the sweeping and, at times, dizzying camerawork.  If you missed it, you can still catch two of his other classics, The Round Up, and Silence and Cry, tomorrow night at the Walter Reade.

Red Psalm is considered to be the most successful of the canon of Communist musicals owing to Jancsó’s proclivity for directing films: there is no other artistic medium sufficient to convey his particular vision.  Despite the fact that are fewer than 30 cuts in the whole of Red Psalm, the film reads like a feature-length montage, melding music and dance, whips cracking artfully, horses running in formation, red ribbons waving, women disrobing at will, and sparse dialogue rife with allegorical density.  The film has no main characters, only resurfacing faces and a company of extras totaling 1500 who move as one in front of an ever-moving camera, capturing Jancsó’s exhaustive choreography.  The players speak cryptically and often break the fourth wall, directly addressing the audience with recitations of socialist psalms or deep soul-searching stares.  Like any Socialist commentary, the story cannot end happily, but any cinephile can enjoy watching this ballet unfold over the fields of Hungary, even if they have to fight off a little motion sickness.

Red Psalm flaunts a diverse set of influences, from the most avant-garde early experimental films to the most garish high-budget Hollywood spectaculars, and echoes of Jancsó’s own style still resurface in cinema today.  Gyula Gazdag, a Hungarian filmmaker whose works were banned by the Hungarian government, produced Singing on the Treadmill in 1984, a satirical Communist musical that directly emulates and subverts the messages of Red Psalm, (Gazdag left Hungary to become the artistic director of the Sundance Institute Director’s Labs), and even Lars von Trier’s Dancer in the Dark (2000) pays homage to this Communist musical.  Jancsó’s restless camerawork may have even been the inspiration for Russian Ark (2002), the expansive historical feature shot in a single take.

Be sure to catch the last of Jancsó’s Classics tomorrow, May 9th at the Walter Reade Theater.

-Christianne Hedtke

Christianne Hedtke also writes for BananaWho.

Neo-Neo Realism: Here at a Discount

March 23, 2009
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Photo from the New York Times

A.O. Scott has a great piece here on Neo-Neo Realism (or as I call it, American Neo-Realism).

In the article, he discusses how filmmakers have gathered around the nexus of our hard times, channeling the bleakness of the Italian neo-realists in Rosselini’s Rome: Open City or De Sica’s Bicycle Thieves. He cites such filmmakers as Kelly Reichardt with Wendy and Lucy and Old Joy, Lance Hammer with Ballast, Ramin Bahrani with Man Push Cart and So Yong Kim’s Treeless Mountain. Those films, he argues, show the struggle of underpowered individuals in a world they can never succeed in (thus: realism). By contrast, take the Oscar’s Slumdog Millionaire a movie with underpowered indivudals triumphing despite (and to spite) all odds, which Scott points out aptly is “the magical power of popular culture to conquer misery, to make dreams come true. And the major function of Oscar night is to affirm that gauzy, enchanting notion.”

Scott also makes some good analogies about borrowing, looking at how a film like Wendy and Lucy can take a lost dog from De Sica’s Umberto D and teach it a new trick. And indeed, these filmmakers are building on each other.

The place where many of these filmmakers meet, where the “American neo-realists” got their break, is at the New Directors/New Films Festival. Because from Kelly Reichardt (Class of ’05) to Ramin Bahrani (Class of ’06) to Lance Hammer (Class of ’07), all of these filmmakers had their breakthrough “neo-realist” films here at ND/NF. And as if to put the icing on the cake, A.O. Scott even included a film that’s playing this year at the festival: So Yong Kim’s beautiful, difficult and diffident Treeless Mountain.

So check it out. After all, in these “hard-scrabble times”, tickets are only 10 bucks for students, saving you a bit (plus a nice Q+A with those cool director-types).

After all, if this writer may opine: “Ticket to ND/NF Film: 10 dollars. Chance to one-up A.O. Scott by knowing about a good movie before he does: Priceless.”

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-Nicholas Feitel, ND/NF New Voice

ND/NF: Paul Giamatti in Vanya on 42nd Street…and also in Russia for some reason

March 19, 2009

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You know a film is tackling the existential ennui of creative-types when the first moment of excitement comes from an issue of The New Yorker.

But that’s what Cold Souls, Sophie Barthes’s feature debut, looks at, and it’s blessed to have such a good subject.

Paul Giamatti plays, well, a slightly exaggerated version of Paul Giamatti–I’m pretty sure he was never as suave as in an imaginary clip of his work within the film where he says “Let’s go make love”–who is trying to find his character in a performance of Uncle Vanya. This is of course, brilliant, since anyone knowing the Chekov play and the actor would know he’s perfect for the part. Yet the dilemma is that in the film Giamatti is unwilling to suffer to find his character: the superfluous man.

Thus, we are taken on an absurdist journey of soul-swapping, Russian “mules”, chickpeas and an impeccably coiffed David Strathairn. It’s a journey that seems to echo Dante or Sartre with a pinch of the internationalist films of Olivier Assayas; the search for one’s own soul, a commodity on the market between countries. And while this sounds interesting, one can’t help but wonder at the number of allusions we’re supposed to take and accept; the film sometimes seems like a class in contemporary western philosophy.

Yet what anchors Cold Souls to a reachable humanist point is Giamatti himself, a wonderful and underused actor. He is so much a schlub, a wonk, a beardo, a sufferer that it is endlessly fascinating just to get caught up looking in his face, as the film does in many expressive shots, as we search his eyes for the remnant of a soul.

In the end, Cold Souls is a smart, slight film. That it demands a high degree of literacy from its audience is refreshing after the wave of mall-cop/Tyler Perry movies offered to us as insults to our intelligence otherwise.

-Nicholas Feitel, ND/NF New Voice

Buy tickets to Cold Souls: Fri Mar 27: 9 (MoMA) and Sun Mar 29: 5 (FSLC)

Hidden Gems: Diary of a Shinjuku Thief

September 26, 2008

Don’t forget as you sip your cocktails following tonight’s Opening Night screening of “The Class” that the Film Society’s comprehensive tribute to Japanese trailblazer Nagisa Oshima kicks off Saturday morning. First day titles include the legendary “Cruel Story of Youth,” Oshima’s next-to-impossible to see first feature “A Town of Love and Hope,” “Night and Fog in Japan,” and a midnight screening of “In the Realm of the Senses.”

A highlight among these impressive titles is this audacious romp through the Tokyo night, an explosive conversion of crime, sex and revolutionary politics within the heart of Japanese youth culture that — with its indiscriminate timing, shifting settings, documentary inclinations and historical intelligence — is among Oshima’s most directly theatrical works. Continuing the dialogue he began in “Pleasures of the Flesh” and “Violence at Noon” on sexual frustration as “just one of the many sorts of frustration that go with the various forms of rebellion,” as Oshima said in a 1969 interview, “Diary of a Shinjuku Thief” is an advanced treatise on the revolutionary power and complex, multifaceted results of a single, simple, imaginative act.

New 35mm print!

Tickets still available:
Sat Sep 7: 7:00pm
Wed Oct 8: 7:00pm