Archive for the ‘quotables’ 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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Doing it, Digitally: A Chat with Glenn Kenny on Steven Soderbergh’s Girlfriend Experience

May 26, 2009

Steven Soderbergh has had what some would call a bipolar career, starting off with his widely acknowledged indie Sex, Lies and Videotape and ending up somewhere around Ocean’s 13 (a three-quel, not a thirteen-quel, thankfully), by way of Erin Brokovich. But even with his mainstream films, Soderbergh has burned the candle at both ends, continuing to make his farcically commercial vehicles while releasing camp, kitsch and craziness like the pastiche film The Good German or the crazy micro-budget Bubble.

The latter film is the result of his partnership with HDNet Films and producer Mark Cuban, shooting on the vaunted RED-One camera, a digital device with the quality of film, and casting mostly non-professional actors as largely versions of themselves for a heady experience that usually involves two-weeks-or-so of shooting and simultaneous video-on-demand releasing. This model, which he used previously for Bubble and his political-epic Che (a selection of the New York Film Festival 2008), is turned towards the smaller, upscale livelihood of a call girl and her personal-trainer boyfriend in his new film, The Girlfriend Experience.


I sat down with Glenn Kenny, a real-life blogger and film critic, who in the film plays a character out of a movie by Todd Solodnz or Todd Field: a smarmy “hobbyist” and rater of escort services who self-identifies as “The Erotic Connoisseur”.

Given that he himself is a blogger and that most of the people in the movie are playing themselves or something similar–Sasha Grey, the lead, is a porn star playing an escort–I asked him if he was worried about people thinking he actually was the part he played.

“Well,” he said, adopting a sardonic tone. “Let’s just say I’m lucky to be married in more ways than one.”

Kenny, a long time film critic and writer who wrote for Premiere magazine for over a decade, now blogs on the web at his site Some Came Running, a place where he talks about movies and his life, but does not in fact rate escorts.

“I was long-time friends with the screenwriters, David Levien and Bryan Koppleman and they had worked with Soderbergh just recently on Ocean’s 13,” Kenny explained. “They were holed up in a hotel room, writing another script entirely, when they saw a couple down outside the hotel which just didn’t seem right; an older man, with a much younger woman in intense clothes, hanging off him, as if for dear life.”

“One of them asked aloud, ‘What’s that?’ and another one of them replied ‘Oh, it’s the Girlfriend Experience, a service where a prostitute doesn’t just dole out sex, but simulated love as well.’ And this got them all thinking and so, David, Bryan and Soderbergh thought there was a script there and wrote it.”

However, even though Levien, Koppleman and Soderbergh collaborated on the script, the script was almost an outline and all the dialogue was improvised with the actors on set immediately, a sort of crystal-meth rush of Mike Leigh method. As a result, a script that was written in March 2007, according to Kenny, ended up heavily referencing September 2008, with the anxiety of the financial crisis and the upcoming election at the forefront.

“They would have newspapers for us on set from the week it was supposed to be and we would just sit around and talk about it,” Kenny recalled.

In the film, Chelsea/Christianne (Sasha Grey) is a practitioner of “The Girlfriend Experience”, while her boyfriend Chris (Chris Santos), a personal trainer, chases his own dreams of breaking it big in the world managing a gym or marketing a line of sportswear. Their relationship is interesting in the acknowledgment of Chelsea’s profession. “You’re the best at what you do.” Chris tells her, when she seems threatened by another escort’s popularity.

This anxiety drives Chelsea to seek “Glenn,” the character played by Glenn Kenny, who runs a website that rates escort services. One of the most sublime moments of the film occurs when Chelsea shows up at an old furniture store to be confronted with an old man who directs her to Kenny’s character, who lives in the back.

Kenny explains: “Steven really wanted to use that store. And when we got there, this old man, the store owner, was there. And Steven said let’s put him in the movie. So I was faced with this old man, who I had just met for the first time and of course it was improvised, so I thought, what could the relationship be between me and this guy and I thought–landlord–but wait, wouldn’t it just be more awful if it was my dad?”

Two more improvised riffs from Kenny also add up to some of the best moments in the film: a description of a prostitute “junket” in Dubai that “Glenn” offers as bait to Chelsea, and a stinging review of Chelsea’s services to him administered, off-screen, for free.

“We actually shot the sex scene, I had to ask my wife about that, but it was cut from the film,” Kenny told me. “And when I wrote my on-set diaries for GQ, they ended up dropping them and I can’t help but think it was because they didn’t see me naked next to Sasha Gray.”

“As for the ‘junket’, well I’m a film critic and I thought that would be funny. I actually heard some sailors I met overseas talk to me about their experience in Dubai and how the most beautiful women they’d ever seen were the Russian hookers they saw in Dubai. So I thought, wouldn’t it be funny if my character brought a bunch of high-class prostitutes to them to try to convince them to ‘buy American.'”

Those diaries, which ended up here on Martin Scorsese’s Auteur Project, are very humorous and provide more insight into the casting process as well as the improvisation on set.

Overall, I thought the film fairly successful, a Steven Soderbergh take on Two or Three Things I Know About Her, with Sasha Grey standing in for Mariana Vlady and an interesting time-capsule of an anxiety not-too-far-gone.

“I like Soderbergh even when he is working on Ocean’s 13, though like all directors he’s made up-and-down films. He just keeps throwing things at you until he gets what he wants; he’s really hands on,” Kenny said. “You know, when they called me up for the part, they told me they needed someone who could talk, who could go-on, who could expound…”

“Who could bloviate?” I offered, giving the root of the term “blog.”

“Yeah,” Glenn Kenny said with a smile. “That too.”

-Nicholas Feitel

Nicholas Feitel also writes for his own blog, Feitelogram

The Film Talk podcast chats about Satyajit Ray

April 28, 2009

Coming to you from Belfast and Nashville via the Internet, the opinionated gents of The Film Talk (Gareth Higgins and Jett Loe) dissect our Satyajit Ray series. You can listen to them talking about achieving effortless naturalism in cinema, the proper pronunciation of Satyajit Ray’s name, and the meaning of a Ray retrospective in the midst of a world of multiplexes. It’s a great contextualization of our Ray series, which is closing tomorrow (Wednesday).

New podcasts from The Film Talk come out frequently, and cover notable movies both high and low. You can subscribe to them on iTunes, or visit their official site.

[Open the Film Talk podcast here]

On the Edge: New Chinese independent cinema in context

April 22, 2009

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Under the control of the state, Chinese filmmakers are often deprived the freedoms that artists in other countries take for granted. “The act of making a film has to be approved at each step,” documentary filmmaker Jian Yi told NPR in an interview last year. “If it’s a sensitive film, it’s difficult to get that approval.”

But with the widespread adoption of digital video technology and DIY editing software, independent filmmaking flourishes in China. This weekend, get a rare glimpse of some of the most exciting young contemporary filmmaking talent as the Film Society invites a select group of Chinese independent filmmakers to appear and show their work during On the Edge: New Independent Cinema from China 2009 April 24-26. Though little viewed in China, these films have made an impressive mark on the international stage: several have received major festival awards, and filmmakers Zhang Lü and Ying Liang are hailed as two of the most promising talents working anywhere today.

To get you primed for the series, we’re thrilled to be able to offer this podcast Kevin Lee created for the dGenerate Films blog. In the podcast, Kevin speaks with the Film Society’s Richard Peña about specific titles in the series and the overall state of independent filmmaking in China.

[Click here to open the podcast]

And be sure to join us at the Film Society to meet these talented filmmakers this weekend!

On the Edge: New Independent Cinema from China 2009 April 24-26

On hipster-nihilsm, mumblecore and the proper way to drink sake: a conversation with Armond White

March 27, 2009

Recently, I had the pleasure of sitting down with Armond White, lead film critic for the New York Press, head of the New York Film Critics’ Circle and presenter of the Whit Stillman’s Metropolitan at the Critic’s Choice screening at ND/NF.

Mr. White is the sort of film critic both popular and occasionally reviled in circles of filmgoers and enthusiasts. Where all film critics might zig right, he zags left. He is as well known for his passionate defense of the art of film criticism as he is for his bombastic reviews of crowd favorites (recently Coraline, Hunger, Duplicity) often declaring “shit” where others might say masterpiece. And vice-versa. Films that he has championed included Meet Dave, Little Man, and most recently, The Transporter 2.

He is also famous for his coining of the term “hipster-nihilist,” a group he faults for many of the ills of American cinema, not-withstanding 2008’s The Dark Knight, a film he panned as “sentinel of our cultural abyss.” As a long-haired, relatively-bearded young-man with no particular religious tendencies, I had more than a thought for my safety as I sat down to speak with Mr. White.

I started off asking him why he chose Metropolitan.

“The same reason I write the way I write,” he told me. “I like individual voices, voices that haven’t been heard and that are authentic. You don’t see a lot of films from the perspective of privileged-WASP-20s debutantes and Whit portrays them sympathetically. It’s interesting to hear a different voice and I think that’s what I provide too.”

I asked him then about the New Directors/New Films festival (“Well, I’m presenting in it,” he told me.) and then is there were any New Directors he admired.

“I don’t know about ‘new directors.’ I like Jared Hess of Napoleon Dynamite better than Neil LaBute. Jared obviously speaks more from a moralistic Mormon experience, which is interesting and new, than LaBute,who presents himself as a Mormon, but who just likes to see people being awful to each other. I also like Charles Stone III of Drumline and Mr. 3000, some of the best American films in years.”

I told him that I too was a Neil LaBute hater, but that I hadn’t seen Drumline. But when I asked him about Kelly Reichardt or Lance Hammer or Ryan Fleck, he shut them down one by one, as “fakery”, admitting only of Ms. Reichardt that “at least she’s trying to have an aesthetic and hone it.”

Finally, I decided to ask him about a subject which I thought might get a kick out of him: the hipster-nihilist 20 and 30-somethings of the “mumblecore” movement.

“Those guys need to go watch some movies and grow up. There are only so many ideas for a movie. Instead of watching Eric Rohmer and finding some sort of aesthetic, they decide to make movies that are aesthetically vacant and boring. If they were at Columbia, where I teach, they might have learned something.”

“Am I a hipster-nihilist?” I asked him.

“I don’t know. Are you?” he replied.

I admitted I was at NYU Film School and that I also wrote criticism (in fact, that I had met him a couple times before). I asked him is he had any advice to young filmmakers or young critics like myself.

“Don’t make a movie until you’re 40,” he said.  “Then, you’ll have something to make a movie about. Of course, rules are meant to be broken. Also, no offense, but blogs aren’t film criticism. They’re a bunch of young people going on about things they’re not ready to talk about. I’ve been writing about movies since junior high. Did that make me a film critic then? No. You can’t put these kids on blogs in the same category as Pauline Kael or Andrew Sarris. You have to train at it, work at it. Till then, nope.”

And while a part of me felt a little downtrodden, being called “not a film critic”, another part of me saw the value in what he was saying. Because really, that’s what’s so fascinating about Armond White, what keeps my film-school-friends and I coming back week-after-week: even when you don’t like what he’s saying or disagree, well, he’s always got a point.

Our bottle of sake was almost out as I saw Mr. White with a full glass.

“Drink up,” I told him.

“You have to sip sake,” he told me, right after I’d downed a shot.

“Ah, man. Sorry,” I replied, embarrassed.

He shook his head, laughed and raised his glass. “Actually, forget that. Drink sake how you enjoy it,” he said and took his shot.

Cheers.

-Nicholas Feitel, ND/NF New Voice

The Ram’s gearing up for his biggest match yet…the Oscars

January 20, 2009

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Allow us a blast from the past for a moment: The Wrestler closed the 46th annual New York Film Festival last October, but it’s generating a lot of Oscar buzz. And if you’re checking it out in theaters now, you may enjoy some of our past coverage:

Read NYFF festival correspondent Tom Treanor’s review.

Watch one of FilmCatcher’s excellent video interviews, this one with Darren Arronofsky.

Heck, checkout New York Mag’s hilarious “Ten Things You Need to Know About The Wrestler”

See all of our Wrestler coverage

More from the Eastwood Roundatable: Visualizing the “Eastwood Look”

January 8, 2009

A great series of videos from Kevin Lee that help further put the career of Clint Eastwood in perspective. Above, the roundtable begins with a comparison of Gran Torino and Million Dollar Baby, and then branches out into a full discussion of what is inimitably the Eastwood aesthetic, with plenty of illuminating video examples.

Check out Kevin Lee’s other videos from the critical roundtable:

Roundtable on Changeling

Roundtable on Gran Torino

Are you feeling lucky, punks? See the orginal post and download the full podcast