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Monday, January 18, 2010

Peter Broderick & Alt Distribution

The Future of Indie Film Distribution: Peter Broderick from Scott Kirsner on Vimeo.

Peter Broderick is considered by many to be the guru of alternative indie film distribution. In many ways, his terminology captures both the frustrations of past indie failure and hopes of future with more democratic connections between filmmakers and their audiences.

In his terminology, Broderick describes the old world hierarchical distribution system of "gatekeepers" who control access of audiences to film. Of course, given the ratio of filmmakers to timeslots in movie theaters or cinema houses, the distribution of celluloid by necessity was hierarchical. And distributors were not only self-appointed gatekeepers, they stood up with actual dollars and financial investment to shepherd a film into a marketplace of a competitive viewing public.

Yes, the digital realm offers filmmakers "more control" over the distribution of their films but at a creative and financial cost to the filmmakers. Often instead of partnering with people who have an expertise (albeit a bias as well) and sharing the financial risk with investors, independent filmmakers have to go it alone and reach through the title wave of the over-saturated information and entertainment products to reach a target or general audience. If the indie filmmaker doesn't want to (or appeal to) the "hierarchical" old world distribution system, they are left without partners and must absorb the additional work on their won.

If filmmakers find themselves complaining that they have little creative time left after trying to raise the finance to produce, they will further reduce their creative up time on distribution - an equally arduous and time consuming task.

The question becomes, seriously, do filmmakers really want "full control over their work from beginning to end."? Do they want to be their one and only sole backer? Do they want to fully invest their film themselves? Do they want to wear all the hats - writer, producer, director, editor, distributor, residual contracts holder/administrator? Typically, some of the "control" and investment is shared with trusted "experts" and partners in the various phases of the stream from beginning to end for good reason.

Friday, October 02, 2009

A Serious Man a Minnesota Story

There is no question that the Coen Brothers A SERIOUS MAN story comes out of the Book of Job and it more universally applies to any person who has "cursed God in their hearts." As much as I laughed and enjoyed the details the Coen's relate about being Jewish in Minnesota, Larry Gopnik could easily have been my Scottish (mostly) father, with a ungovernable family, a house in the suburbs in the 1960s, a teaching position on his way to tenure, and trying to be a serious man while nearingly failing even the most average expectations for success. It's a brilliant movie. A portrait of a time and funny, really funny.

The interesting thing to watch is how A SERIOUS MAN will be accepted either by a wide or narrow audience. Nobody quite predictded how FARGO would go over with a wider audience or in the world-wide market because many felt it was "too Minnesotan" but it was accepted everywhere. So, are the hilarious inside references to Minnesota culture and individuals in A SERIOUS MAN going to carry to a national or international audience? Ron Meshbesher? Will audiences in Southern California or Seattle or London recognize the subtle humor that Meshbesher, the late night TV ad, ambulance chasing, Jewish lawyer that proper staid country club gentiles liked to curse under their breath and then lose to in court.

The same holds true of TRAINSPOTTING or films by Mike Leigh, the best parts of those films are in the details and the specificity of the culture. I love the little story within the story, "Goy's Teeth" starring Michael Tezla playing dentist Dr. Sussman - it could be a hilarious film short all by itself. And Tezla's styled comic acting abilities are brilliant.

One thing that bowled me over about A SERIOUS MAN was the detail and specificity of period and place. SERIOUS MAN is a period piece but, as the Coen's would say, all their films are period pieces and they pay a lot of attention to making artistic direction right to the time of the story. It's a bit like MAD MEN, in that respect, as they carefully frame the story and each scene with elaborate details specific to the 1960s and their particular world of Minnesota at that time. More than just good writing that's great filmmaking.

Thus you see their story in the wall paper, it the countertops, on the desktop of Larry Gopniks desk, along the property line that so-call divides his property from the neighbors - nothing goes unexamined for its potential to contribute to the richness of the story and the internal world of the film.

Monday, August 17, 2009

SXSW Panel Picker

In preparation for the 2010 SXSW Film and music festival in Austin Texas the staff and board have come up with a unique online method for soliciting ideas and interest in their week long panels.

The Online Panel Picker gives the digital community the ability to browse through programming proposals and vote on which ideas they feel are most interesting for SXSWeek 2010. The voting from the panel picker will only play a percentage participation in the final decisions - 30% - while 40% of the weight of the decision remains with the advisory board and 30% with the festival staff.

I must say this is an interesting public participation experiment in arts programming. Non-profit arts organizations are always wrestling with the problem of knowing weather their programming is serving their constituency. The panel picker creates an easy to use feedback loop both for, sort of whiteboarding ideas, but also for pre-testing them before their target audience.

This is a method that could easily be used in other membership organizations like IFP, Screenwriters' Workshop, Minnesota Film Arts and the Minneapolis/St. Paul International Film Festival.

Here is the URL:


Monday, January 19, 2009


At Sundance you'll see an array of dramatic indie films, foreign and probably more than many of the premiere festivals around the world documentaries. Last year it was "Man on a Wire" which has to be the favorite for an Oscar nomination.

At the '09 Sundance festivals there are a couple of documentary standouts sure to come out of the festival with some buzz. First, there is "Tyson" that gives a fairly unvarnished portrait by James Toback of the troubled life of boxer Mike Tyson, who rose to fame as a pugilist and fell as a convicted rapists and drug addict.

Another standout is former Minnesotan Laura Gabbert's "No Impact Man" that follows a Greenwich Village, Manhattan couple Colin Beavan and Michelle Conlin and their vow to give up luxuries to lessen their carbon footprint but not without remorse and some pretty funny situations. As the Colin explains to their daughter Isabelle "Daddy does nature. Mommy does retail" we witness the travails of giving up lifestyle for ideals.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Scorcese Homage to Hitchcock

The Key to Reserva: Martin Scorcese (9 minutes, 22 seconds)

Thursday, November 27, 2008


Thanksgiving films are often a subject for indie filmmakers to explore issues of families, parent/child relationship and sibling interactions. Oh, as if we need that match thrown onto the fire during family gatherings. But, on those lazy fall evenings, it can be fun to gather with family an relatives to have assembled from near and far to pop some corn and indulge in family stories.

Woody Allen's "Hannah and Her Sisters" (1986) tags itself to a few Thanksgiving scenes and follows the general themes explored in Thanksgiving films but Turkey day is not at the center of the story.

Here are a few films that feature Thanksgiving as the central premise I would recommend for the Thanksgiving family film festival:

"The House of Yes" (1997) features Minnesota local Rachael Leigh Cook in the first movie she made after her debut in Peter Syvertsen's Minnesota local Screenlabs production of "26 Summer Street." Cook filmed the opening a closing sequences of "House of Yes" after all the other principle photography had been completed, so she knew little of Parker Posey's performance as he adult version of herself, the young Jackie Bouvier and her relationship over Thanksgiving holiday to a sibling that pushes the boundaries of rivalry.

"Pieces of April" (2003) is written and directed by Iowan Peter Hedges who also wrote "What's Eating Gilbert Grape" and it tells the story of a wayward daughter living in a lower East Side tenement who decides to reunite with family because her dying mother Patricia Clarkson who was nominated for an Oscar for this role) to have a family Thanksgiving in her run down NYC walk up.

"The Myth of Fingerprints" (1997) is another debut film on the Thansgiving list for indie director Bart Freundlich about a family reunion that uncovers lets just say family issues.

"The Ice Storm" (1997) is an James Schamus, Ang Lee classic period piece located in 1973 and centers on a families, the Hoods and the Carvers, brought together over Thanksgiving break in their Connecticut cul de sac community of upper middle clas conformity only to reveal, adultry, sexual experimentation, drug use and other petty crimes. If you've been in Hudson river valley, Westchester county communities during an infamous fall ice storm, you can appreciate the precarious situation of living the "good life" as in a John Cheever story. Ang Lee is brillant in his understated psychological insights and the performances by Kevin Kline, Sigourney Weaver, Tobey Maguire and Christina Ricci are memorable while being career defining.

Many like the crowd pleaser "Trains, Planes, and Automobiles" by Chicagoan John Hughes which as a TG classic about two guys hoping to get home for Thanksgiving has large box office appeal due to comedic Steve Martin and John Candy performances.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Mike Leigh: Secrets and Lies

In the first significant scene of SECRETS AND LIES, after he's introduced his characters in montage, Mike leigh takes us to an office and the lead character Hortense Cumberbatch is inquiring about an event in her past that Leigh takes most of the ongoing conversation to unveil. Through staggered speech, broken dialogue and interruptions we are left hanging without knowing the subject of their discussion. It is as if a secret or a lie is desperately but slowly coming out.

Just within the scene Leigh masterfully writes into this dialogue all the trappings of the central conflict of his film. And method of conceal and reveal is repetitive throughout the film, allowing us to witness the masked and emotionally veiled social taboos work on our psyche and persona.

Later in the film, when Hortense meets Cynthia's family for the first time, there is a back garden BBQ scene. A set shot done all in one take, it is amazing to watch for all the intricacies and the layers of veiled storytelling and inquiry. Gradually, details like the future son-in-law having his license removed, Hortense not being a co-worker at a factory, her degree from University, all leading to an unraveling of veils of secrets and deceptions -- Leigh is masterful in his peeling away of the story as it unfolds.

Of all the Leigh films you must see, SECRETS AND LIES and VERA DRAKE should be at the top of your list. They are classics of independent filmmaking.

Chicago 10: An Homage to Abbie

Brett Morgan's CHICAGO 10 played at the Walker Art Center last night in front of an audience who chose to skip the debate between Sarah "aw-sucks" Palin and jumpin' Joe Biden.

Fact or fiction? Documentary or drama?

Morgan's hagiography to Abbie Hoffman is yet another film that attempts to canonize the colorful and exuberantly inspiring leader of the Yuppie movement founded by Anita and Abbie Hoffman as well as Paul Krassner. The first film to take on the Hoffman legend was Robert Greenwald's 2000 film STEAL THIS MOVIE.

Without question, CHICAGO 10 places a lot of the focus on Hoffman very much at the expense of the other more politically important figures: David Dillenger, Tom Hayden, Jerry Rubin, and Black Panther Bobby Seale.

While Hoffman is a colorful extrovert and easily captured for film, the extent and depth of his political philosophy was to shout "Fuck You" and "Fuck the system" as often and loudly as he could. Other participants and witnesses to the movement often found Abbie to be thwarting their gains with his yippie non-sense.

Hayden, Dillinger, and Rubin had wider reaching political philosophies with implications for transforming American government while Hoffman was primarily a proponent of an anarchist drug culture which ultimately brought Hoffman's life to an end but never held any promise for a country worth living in.

Morgan's storytelling challenge is considerable as much has been written and debated on the 60s and 1968 in particular. And before the film, Morgan tried to contextualize this fictionalized documentary by explaining CHICAGO 10 simply is a film and that we all have subjective or individual truths. Certainly, since this film was completed and premiered at Sundance in 2007, it has become under intense scrutiny from all the factions of the left who rightly feel it is thin on content, context and clarity.

If nothing else, the film does blur the distinctions between what is documentary and what is drama or fiction. And that is one of Morgan desired outcomes with viewing his films is to raise this very question.

During the evening with Morgan, he repeatedly made the point that he was merely a fetus when the Democratic National Convention of 1968 happened and thus not a direct observer of the actions. He emphatically stated that he didn't care about objectivity or truth but that he wanted to tell his story as a filmmaker in mastery of the medium.

I've always felt filmmakers who take this auteur position are selfish and often self-indulgent. They are raw and uncooked. Obviously, documentary filmmakers begin from a position of their self-indugent truth but can only be enriched by the facts, by other perspectives and the burden of reaching a higher truth than their subjective reality will allow.

Contrast Morgan's stated purpose with Errol Morris and I think, although Morris fully acknowledges his subjectivity, Morris puts himself in service of the truth and overcomes his subjective lens with meticulous emersion into the waters of the facts, of the evidence, and through a scrupulous interrogation of the witnesses. This is where Morgan's methodology falls short of Morris' exacting standards.

In the end Moragn said he didn't want to put a post-mordem on the film's end cards because he wanted this movie to mythologize the Chicago 10 and their story. I was immediately struck with the question of whether it needs "mythologizing" and instead demystifying.

Yet, I felt CHICAGO 10 was very entertaining. The drive behind the story to its dramatic conclusions was reached when Dillinger and Allen Ginsburg lead the new generation of anti-war youth in a march from the Ampitheater toward the Chicago Coliseum where the 68 Convention was being held. Knowing that they would be beat to a bloody pulp by the Chicago police and the National Guard, the marchers went anyway as a matter of principle and angry defiance.

The Chicago police had been beating the protestors for days with little more than the protestors trying to shield their heads from the bloody batons and noses from the suffocating tear gas. The correlations between the exaggerated actions and force of the Chicago police and the Saint Paul police at this years RNC convention are striking. Members of the RNC Eight were in attendance at the Walker Art Center for this screening and made appeals for funds to assist in their legal defense.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Four Sheets to the Wind

Four Sheets to the Wind (2007) stars Cody Lighting
Writer/Director Sterlin Harjo

When I spoke to Sterlin Harjo over dinner at 2021 in the Walker Art Center, I sensed a mild case of exasperation. The Seminole/Creek filmmaker has been traveling, speaking and explaining his 2007 Sundance audience award winner for almost 18 months and is looking to move on.

"Tell us about your film," pleads Catherine Whipple, Managing Editor of The Circle News.

"I don't feel like talking about the film. You'll see it tonight," Harjo replied. I find I admire his straightforward honesty in light of what any PR-minded person would consider an obligation to explain.

An occupational hazard of being a filmmaker is most of your time is spend NOT making films and instead promoting them, finding backers, meeting with distribution and marketing and it is easy to get lost in the wilderness of promotion.

"I couldn't live in Los Angeles. I go there a lot but I would get nothing done if I lived there. Everybody is trying to make a film there so what's the point?" Instead he choses to live in Tulsa, Ohlahoma, "Nobody makes films in Tulsa. I feel like I have a purpose. I'm close to my family. I'm close to my tribe," he says.

Harjo is currently editing his follow-on feature BARKING WATER with Isabel Archuleta and he seems to find sustenance in going back to Tulsa to work on his films.

Four Sheets is a coming-of-age drama set in rural Oklahoma with contrasting urban locations in Tulsa and depicts a young man in search of his identity on the reservation and beyond. Featuring a performance of quiet intensity by Cody Lightning, the film tactfully balances the pathos and humor in the parallel transitions from rural to urban and boyhood to maturity. Lighting is the son of actress/director Georgina Lighting who recently finished directing OLDER THAN AMERICA, shot in northern Minnesota with local producer Christine Walker.

Harjo's feature film restores a faith in filmmakers who chose to live outside the false pretenses of industry movie making with stories fabricated through negotiations with agents, studio development executives, and expectant producers who know little about the subject of their movies but end up dictating the terms of story or character plot to fit their investment package.

Watching Four Sheets gives the sense that you are in the Tulsa that Harjo lives in -- the coffeeshop where Miri Smallhill (played beutifully by Tamara Podemski) works, the bar where Cufe Smallhill goes with Francie, the house party where 20-somethings mix and mingle, asking odd naive questions of each other, resonates as personal detail just as the streets of Ausin, Texas did for Richard Linklater's 1991 indie film SLACKERS.

"The best thing about Sundance Institute is that you make connections with the right people for the right reasons," Harjo explained about his experience with the Labs. Actors, cinematograhers, music composers, casting directors, as he observed, come to Sundance for the love of film and not for the money.

A project of the Sundance Lab, Four Sheets to the Wind won a Special Jury Prize at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival.

On The Ice: Masterful Short Story

Sikumi (On the Ice) (excerpts)
in Iñupiaq with English subtitles, 2008, 35mm, 15 minutes

Andrew Okpeaha MacLean has made the first film in the Iñupiaq language and tells the story of an Inuit hunter who drives his dog team out onto the frozen Arctic Ocean and fortuitously witnesses a murder. The short poignant drama won a 2008 Sundance Short Filmmaking Award. Sikumi shows an artistic mastery of simplicity and elegance in capturing a thought-provoking story.

One has to admire MacLeans pitch-perfect balance between what is seen, what is said and what circumstances dictate in the stories unfolding. The director uses just one location, three actors and two dog sled teams to shoot this contemplative moment that makes a viewer prize short storytelling in the film medium.

Sunday, June 29, 2008


Tueday, July 8th @ 7:30 PM
The Ritz Theater • $10 general/$5 SWW members
13th and University Ave N.E. (345 13th Ave)
Minneapolis, Minnesota

INCARNATION Script by Bill True
Directed by Dean Lincoln Hyers
Produced by Robb Mitchell

Monday, June 23, 2008

Al Pacino Orders a Cappuccino

Getting the smallest details right makes the entire impression, a very nimble and deft acting lesson.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Herzog's Minnesota Declaration

The Minnesota Declaration was issued at the Walker Art Center in 1999 by German filmmaker Werner Herzog A statement of principles, Herzog speaks of the "lessons of darkness" including observations on then Governor Jesse Ventura and the idea "You can't legislate stupidity" regarding people riding their snowmobiles on lakes when the ice has already melted.

At the time Herzog had grown critical of Cinema Verité and was calling for new answers to the 1960s filmmaking principles used as a Bible. Herzog also sat down with Henry Rollin's Show to continue to articulate his ideas about filmmaking.

The conversation between film critic Roger Ebert and Werner Herzog took place on April 30, 1999 during the Regis Dialogue series which will be celebrating 20 years.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Tribute to Blacklisted Screenwriter Trumbo

Isn't it unusual to find such high-praise for a screenwriter in Hollywood by some of its leading dignitaries?

Screenwriter Dalton Trumbo’s notable journey from Hollywood nobility to McCarthy-ear blacklisted writer to Academy Award winner is a great story idea in itself. Focusing on Trumbo's own scripted words and attitudes, TRUMBO features performances of his letters, clips from his films and, archival and contemporary interviews with those who knew him best.

As an intellectual feisty man of the era, TRUMBO illustrates how one his steadfast belief in the First Amendment and the power of the written word - aided by a drink or two - empowered Dalton to battle back after his HUAC blacklisting that destroyed many in the film industry. If freedom means anything, it must have fighters like Dalton Trumbo on its side.

Blacklisting in America came at at time, not all the different than today, when the culture held high contempt for intellectuals and ideas. Accusations flew about and the acquisitors had little need to prove their claims to assure their motives were pure. The only shallow motive needed as proof was "patriotism." Yet, quite clearly those who bashed, battered and threw American principles of political freedom to waste bins of government ruled the day.

Forced to write underground, the exposition of his letter writing became the chief repository of Trumbo’s phenomenal reasoning talents, and serve as a exceptionally entertaining tribute to his creative intellect, acerbic humor, and authentic resilience against powerful yet brutishly dull men.

TRUMBO is slated to open in cinema's at the end of June.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Errol Morris Speaks

An interview with Errol Morris in New York with Andrew O'Hehir about making Standard Operating Procedure.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

S.O.P.: Evil is Not Banal

STANDARD OPERATING PROCEDURE, unlike recent Iraq films is about seeing, perception and the act of photographing. Errol Morris turns his camera on a very thin slice of time and space in this vast conflict but a layer with huge moral and political implications.

In typical Morris fashion, his documentary doesn't provide easy black and white answers. Factions on both the right and left want their documentary films to wrap up neatly and tight but Morris is not going to be the filmmaker who makes the viewer feel comfy by providing a quick and easy sound bite answer to the difficult questions of war. Were the kid soldiers inside Abu Ghraib who took pictures and appeared in them guilty as charged?

Ron Rosenbaum in his article for Slate online, keeps asking the question are the "bad Apple's" responsible for their actions even if we accept that higher-ups order them to carry out actions against the prisoners?

First, the "bad-Apples" Rosenbaum is referring to are Lynndie England (shown in photographs holding a "leash" around a prisoners neck), Sabrina Harmon (shown giving the thumbs-up next to corpse of a former prisoner) Javal Davis, Tony Diaz, Tim Dugan, Megan Ambuhl, Jeremy Sivitz, Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski and others. Morris gives us the first opportunity, using his non-patented tele-prompter interview camera, to hear England, Harmon, Davis, Diaz, Dugan, Karpinski and direct participants talk about what when on inside the prison and in their heads. Why would they do these horrible acts? Why take pictures?

Well, for the most part it wasn't their idea. Let's be clear, the "bad-Apples" pleaded guilty, lost their rank and status in the U.S. military, were dishonorably discharged and went to prison. Is that enough responsibility for Salon magazine? Apparently not.

Obviously, Rosenbaum wants a few bad apples to be the responsible the American people won't be held responsible for these actions torture and death inside Iraq death chambers. That's the bigger order Salon magazine and others wish the bad apples would follow. This certainly was true of the audience I saw the film with - they wanted contrition and for the "bad-Apples" to apologize to the American people. They wanted tears and remorse. America wants a neat and tidy ending. Closure perhaps? Morris is not the man who is going to give easy endings to morally uplift.

Just as back in the 1970s the American people wanted the Vietnam Vet to suffer all the guilt and remorse for the policies of that war, the people living safely in their comfy homes on American soil want the "bad-Apples" to take the rap for Iraq and Abu Ghraib. And then the bad dream can all be over with and we can go on our merry way. I have always thought England, Harmon, Davis, Diaz, and Sivitz should take responsibility for their actions and they do. BUT, they don't do it in the way everybody wants them to, in the way that exonerates American citizens and covers our horrible government actions and policies.

But let's look deeper. Truth be told, the real bad-Apple's at Abu Ghraib have never been charged. The corpse Harmon stands next to is not a prisoner she killed but the CIA or MI person who did torture and killed this prisoner has never been charged for his murder. Never. And the U.S. government has covered it up. The only thing Harmon is guilty of is thumbs-up and a smile like a cheshire cat.

Gruesome, no question, but hardly a major crime in comparison to those going on all over Iraq, in secret prisons on European soil, Bagram prison in Afghanistan, and at Guantánamo under the auspices of the U.S. government. The pictures that put Harmon and England in front of the camera, posing before prisoners in the moments of and surrounding their humiliation are only the staged face of American humiliation while the true crimes of torture and murder have been covered up.

Morris reveals in these interviews there is good reason to believe America's true reason for invading Iraq is to humiliate Arab men and use our young women soldiers to do so. The photos inside the prison bare this out. Talking with Morris after he screened the film in Minneapolis, he told me it's very difficult to wrap his head around the insanity, the lack of rational clarity on the part of our political leaders who have lead us into this senseless war. Even more so for the fact that their actions come nowhere near producing what they pretend they wish will result.

Rosenbaum likes to create an eroticized view of Morris' use of slow motion or super-slo-mo in the re-enactment scenes of STANDARD OPERATING PROCEDURE. Morris uses a camera called the Phantom v12 to capture motion at 1,000 frames per second as opposed to standard 24 movie frames or previously the standard over cranked slo-mo of 130 frames per second. If anything unintended or off-message, Morris' slo-mo makes horrific motion stunningly beautiful. We see dogs snarling and bullet casings drop and bounce on the floor set to Danny Elfman repetitive and melodic scores.

However, it is clear why Morris uses slo-motion in many of his films from THIN BLUE LINE to FOG OF WAR. Less I think for the "moral investigation" as Rosenbaum likes to imply (the use of slow motion in science fiction as in 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY or football games to show the spiraling ball in motion which does not have moral overtones) and more as a tool that focuses viewers attention more precisely on the details of the real world. In dramatic filmmaking we think about our purpose constantly: How important it is to direct the viewer to comprehend the story with purpose and focus. Great documentary filmmaking should do exactly the same thing. Comprehension is reinactment

The reason Morris footage of Abu Ghraib appears charged with moral implications is because, mostly simply stated, war has moral implications. Treatment of captive prisoners, innocent and guilty alike, is the most moral of all situations. That is why our founding fathers took a restrained view of government abuse of the people. None: This means all human beings and their rights not just American national human beings.

The truth behind the Terror memos by John Yoo and Timothy Flanigan, the White House and the Justice Department is that they have no moral compass and fail to see the horror of their actions and policies. They see exceptions abound. To circumvent the law, they seek court opinions that will rule human-beings as non-people just as the most notorious tyrants and dictators in history have done.

Morris' use of slo-mo is perhaps more pronounced in an age when information is devalued by its speed and constantly updating nature. We need slo-motion to gain focus and put the space of closely observant thought back into seeing. Slo-motion give us the time to contemplate critical details that fast and dirty media skips over.

The questions that are more important is "What was happening outside the frame?" Of course, this means what is happening in terms of these young soldiers being instructed and order to comply with their commanding officers. This also means what is going on inside the torture chambers and secret prison camps.

Certainly, as Rosenbaum wishes, the bad apples could have violated their orders and faced immediate and severe discipline in a war zone. Not a happy course for a soldier in a hostile war zone but, yes a possibility. Would the shameful actions of torture and murder end there? No. Would American's moral authority have been retained? You've got to be kidding.

Morris has called this film a "non-fiction horror movie" and it truly is - Evil is not banal it is horror.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008


A year ago at this time Screenlabs Challenge participants were hard and fast at work molding scripts into shape and bring their crews together. One of those projects, FORGOTTEN written by Julie Kane Meyer, produced and directed by Chris Gegax will be screening in the Minneapolis/St. Paul International Film Festival on Tuesday, April 29th at 7:00PM

Meyer had read her script in the Sunday night Screenwriters' Workshop Script Group and was able to create a tight character study matching two women during a chance encounter that melds their lives in ways they previously would not have wanted or imagined.

In her script group was Chris Gegax, a film director with a few shorts under his belt and a eager interest in looking for new material. Chris and Julie became partners in response to the Screenlabs Challenge.

As those who followed this web site last summer know, Gegax and Meyer's FORGOTTEN was awarded the Jury Awarded Best Film Prize and Meyer also given Best Screenplay for the short dramatic film.

Gegax took risks with casting the film by pairing experienced stage actress Marilyn Murray with Katie Rhoades, a counselor who works with victims of prostitution but no acting in her background. Drawing upon personal experience, Rhoades brought a cool confidence matched with determined street smarts to her role.

If you are interested in making your own Screenlabs Challenge dramatic short for the 2008 challenge, like Chris and Julie, you can attend a free workshop this Thursday, April 24th from 7:00pm to 9:30pm at IFP Minnesota Film Center.

The FORGOTTEN screening takes place at St. Anthony Main Cinemas on Tuesday April 29th at 7:00 PM, 115 Main Street NE, Minneapolis  (50-cent parking all-day at St. Anthony Falls Ramp). This program is likely to sell-out. Arrive early to guarantee a seat, or purchase tickets online.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Planet B-Boy and the Dance

When I was living in New York in the mid-1980s I would take my lunch during the summers and eat it in Washington Square Park. The park was a nexus of activity both legal and illegal from chess playing, comedy acts, feats of daring-do, escape artists, student filmmakers shooting films to crack dealers right next to NYPD's finest sitting in their Ford cruisers.

And then there were the dancers. The break dancers.

One weekday afternoon, my co-office worker at New York University, Sheri Bishop and I went over to the park and on that day her son Bobo had come down from the Bronx on the subway to share lunch with his mother. We went to the park where a bunch of kids with boom-box and cardboard sheets set up for break dancing.

After a few minutes of Sheri watching in consternation, her brow deeply boroughed with confusion she said "Bobo, you show these boys how to break dance!"

"Ma, no, don't start" he said. We were close enough to this group of East Village kids to hear Sheri's comments who often came over from Alphabet City to do their dancing in the park and hoping for a few dimes and quarters to be thrown their way.

"No Bobo, that ain't break dancing. These boys don't know how to break dance."

"Ma, shut up" he said embarrassed and trying not to be heard by the downtown crowd, "I don't come downtown to show anyone how to break dance."

"Bobo! Show these boys how to break dance! This ain't dancing they are just pulling tricks."

"This isn't my turf ma, don't make me..."

Truth was that the Alphabet city boys, some crush and some stravin; marvin, weren't break dancing -- all they were doing were tricks. Amazing as tricks can be, the ten, twenty or thirty second routine was nothing more than gymnastic flips, freezes, twists and spins. Astonishing and cool enough for any guy eating his Gyro and grape Fanta at lunch, but, Sheri was right: it is not break dancing.

A few minutes later one of kids came over and invited Bobo to join them and he did. The kid from the Bronx showed these downtown guys how check-in, take out, cut it and the challenge was on. This kind of community dancing in the streets, the give-and-take, and the exchange of moves both athletic and artistic is amazing.

When you watch PLANET B-BOY by filmmaker Benson Lee you feel at bit of the same way. You're not seeing the whole dance but the tricks are so amazing and death defying you won't be disappointed.

Friday, April 04, 2008

MUTUM: Story of Brazil's Recent Past

Patricia and I went to the Walker Art Center to see MUTUM during the Women's in the Directors Chair series. This Brazilian film by Sandra Kogut is about a family on an isolated subsistence farm in the arid backlands of Minas Gerais, Brazil. Our central character is Thiago, a ten year old boy who knows little about the outside world except for a few horseback trips into a nearby village.

Thiago's father is distressed by a passing way of life and trying to provide for his family. His mother bares the burden of her husbands anger and frustrations and Thiago throws himself between them as his mother protector.

The feature film is an adaption of Jose Guimaraes Rosa's novel and while it is fiction, it strikes at the heart of Brazil true agrarian migration and the poverty that devastated rural Brazilian states like Minas Gerais and Bahia.

Religion plays a significant role in MUTUM, as the mystery of how nature delivers its fate evades common experience or a social consciousness thus becoming an acceptance of an authority beyond that which you can see or touch. But there is no preaching and deifying of faith.

In many ways, MUTUM reminds me of the brilliant German documentary film THE STORY OF THE WEEPING CAMEL for the intensity and detail of how they story is told. Not much dialog and visual detail aplenty, it keeps your head in the world in which Thiago lives. We feel the full power of a thunderstorm as dramatic as it can be in a place where a person is not constantly barraged with manufactured drama.

MUTUM is a mood-piece, a film that is evocative and deeply detailed in creating the sense of a simple life where children spend the day playing with insects, teaching the papagaio to talk, and chasing chickens. The pacing and lack of dialog set the viewer in a different spatial and temporal frame -- a pace of life that is nearly incomprehensible to modern western over-stimulated audiences. But MUTUM's unhurried observations are well worth the effort to persist in watching.

The young actor whose name is also Thiago is astonishing and the film, with all its subtlety and nuance pays off hugely at the end -- even with its small and unsensational emotion. The emotional impact is deep but not blunt. You may never get the chance to see this film but if you do, let it transport you into a different world than the one your are accustomed to living.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Thinking Short and Efficient

In preparation for the upcoming Screenlabs Challenge, here is a short digital film shot for SNL with Ellen Page as the guest host. Simple. Easy. And filled with comic twist -- this short proves you don't need much time, money or extravagant locations to make a funny short film.

Monday, February 25, 2008

How Will the Coen's Handle Mainstream Success?

Just months before Joel and Ethan Coen released BLOOD SIMPLE in January of 1985 I attended a indie film conference in Los Angeles in conjunction with AFI/Filmex Festival. On the panel was Steven Spielberg who made the comment "I would love to make a low budget indie film but for me that is impossible."

The Coen's first film caused the TIME magazine critic Richard Corliss to rave BLOOD SIMPLE was the greatest directorial debut since Orson Wells. A comparison drawn to the fiercely independent Wells was not only for Joel and Ethan's original vision but also the outsider status the Coen's would come to represent in the film world. As time passed the Coen's remained isolated from the comings and goings of Hollywood studio bosses both with their productions as well with the releases of their films. Much of their recognition and film awards came from France.

Spielberg's envy of indie film and desire to make one was brought on by the ability to make decisions outside the controlling mechanisms of Hollywood studios. Despite the success and million upon millions Spielberg had earned by then on films like CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND, E.T. and JAWS it hadn't given the Hollywood autuer the freedom or independence, instead only a bigger burden to make the type of movie on a scale that arrested control away from him. Or so the father of mega-mulitplex blockbuster movies claimed.

Now, after last night's Oscars and 3 more statues, Hollywood insiders embraced the two decade long outsiders -- the storied indie rebel Coen Brothers. The question now becomes, how will success effect the Coen Brothers and their future filmmaking?

Many like to point to Martin Scorsese as a former New York outsider who in his later years sought to be accepted and embraced by inside Hollywood. Before the former film teacher at NYU where Joel and Ethan went to school, hovered closer to the L.A. orbit, Scorsese made hard edged films like TAXI DRIVER, MEAN STREETS, KING OF COMEDY, THE LAST WALTZ, RAGING BULL, and GOODFELLAS. In these early focused New York films Scorsese bent, stretched and often redefined the rules of intelligent filmmaking. RAGING BULL came to be considered one of the greatest films of all times.

Then, fever struck Scorsese and he started making mainstream movies and epic multi-million dollar projects like GANGS OF NEW YORK and THE AVIATOR that many criticized as compromised, inferior, and that pandered to the Hollywood insider aesthetic.

THE AVIATOR was called vast but ultimately emotionally empty by critics. Film enthusiasts took it as a direct attempt to win an Oscar either for directing and/or best picture and GANGS OF NEW YORK also received a lurk-warm welcome only to be hyped by the Weinstein Brothers who staked their reputation as Oscar forgers on the film release. Although GANGS was nominated for 10 Oscars in 2002 it was shut out and this seemed only to intensify Scorsese's desire to fit in to the Hollywood mainstream.

Others have sited another outer borough born New Yorker, Woody Allen's career and his temperament to avoid disapproving critics and adulating awards equally. When Hollywood tried to pull Allen into its orbit after ANNIE HALL, the Manhattanite pulled away and avoided the trappings big finance can bring. Allen remained steadfastly in New York, continued to work with his regular crew, wrote scripts for specific actors and actresses, and refused to accept the high flung acclaim of Hollywood as reality. Allen kept making small films aimed at an art house audience.

How will the Coen's be affected by becoming Hollywood's most celebrated directors and producers? Time will tell.

Coen Brothers Photo by Sam Javanrouh at the Toronto International Film Festival used under Creative Commons limited license

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Doing Workshop

A great advantage to doing workshop production in the Twin Cities is the opportunity to see the wealth of acting talent we have "north of ordinary."

A lot of people I speak with like to say, "Diablo Cody wasn't born here or go to one of our renown colleges and universities." Brooke Busey went to college at the University of Iowa, "the writers' University" that has produced a number of great writers from Bi Feiyu to Robert Penn Warren and Ann Patchett among many others. But Cody did come to Minnesota to reach her artistic maturity as she pointed out at her Walker Art Center debut screening of JUNO.

Talent comes to the Twin Cities from all over the region and it is important that as an artistic community there are mechanisms for those talented and coming-of-age have the places to develop their craft and skills whether they be writers, producers and directors, actors working in collaboration.

The clear fact is if you wish to be a filmmaker or writer you just have to do it and see your scripts thru to completion. You have to keep working with others to make it happen.

And by that I do not mean, writing proposals, promoting your image, networking with the bigwig suits, writing ad copy or playing the ego-centric celebrity chasing game -- I mean working on and developing your vision, skills, and talent. I find it often shocking in many art schools today, that more emphasis is place on honing the "professional skills" and grooming their students for the world of foundation funding and grants writing and less specific classes in artistic development.

Over the last decades there have been those places where talent gathers like the Playwright's Horizons in New York, the Lighthouse Writers Workshop in the rockies, even those incubators of talent and ideas like Second City first in Chicago and then later in Toronto that have become a focal point for the emergence of new talent.

The best place to synthesis those skills is in a space where other artists of equal talent come together to share. Its called workshop. Workshop, for lack of better analogy, is the place after college and during everyday life to further incubate talent. It is a place where creative artists and performers possessing all different types of skills, varying aesthetic perspectives and high levels of passion come together to lend their skills and share a vision.

More important to the process of workshop collaboration is the experience of having to work with other talents and at reconciling differences in points of view. All too often, creative people get bound in and ego driven tunnel of self-obsession and stop listening, stop being open to new ideas and this leads to stagnation. It is not hard to see this even in some of our most talented filmmakers and they need to change gears and innovate.

We need to do our work here but also bring the highest level talent and new faces of cinema to Minnesota to work with us on our scripts, ideas, and vision. Next week, at the Guthrie Theater you will have an opportunity to see great local actors, new fresh faces in the national cinema and Minnesota producers, directors and script read in the Dowling Studio. If you are serious about film and storytelling in this medium you will participate.

"Discussing the script" above photo by Jon Wiley

Monday, February 11, 2008

4 months, 3 weeks and 2 days

4 luni, 3 saptamani si 2 zile by Cristian Mungiu

When Walker Art Center film curator Sheryl Mousley talks about Cristian Mungiu's astonishing film, she describes a generation of Romanian filmmakers, born in the late 60s and early 70s who had a very particular experience growing up under Romania's dictator Nicolae Ceausescu. To a first generation to come-of-age at the time of the dictators demise and have began to embrace new freedoms while still cautiously aware of the tenuous nature of being a filmmaker in a country devastated by brutal dictatorship.

Another brilliant Romanian director from this new generation of filmmakers was Cristian Nemescu who made the 2007 Cannes Un Certain Regard award winning California Dreamin' (Endless). Nemescu died tragically when his car was struck by a speeding Landrover in Bucharest that had run a red light, cutting short a career that would certainly have made a huge contribution to cinema.

While there is something truly refreshing in seeing this new generation of Romanian filmmakers, there is also a retro quality to their films. Mungiu said it himself that because he was limited in the kinds of films he could see, his influences in cinema came from a period before our present day movies, pre-millennium cinematic languages and tradition of cinema verite as well as the French New Wave.

4 months, 3 weeks and 2 days all takes place inside one 24 hour period and the camera follows closely our lead character Otilia played pitch perfect by an incredible Romanian actress Anamaria Marinca who now lives in London. Mungiu's choice to follow Otilia, as opposed to the more obvious, Gabriela whose plight has dramatic arc of the story is brilliant.

Otilia sets off out in the morning on the clandestine mission to help her student roomate Gabita as she is affectionately called, obtain an illegal abortion. There are many scenes in this film where the camera literally follows, almost in real time, Otilia's march through the minefield she is trying to navigate. The filmmakers are careful not to take sides, instead to tell the story without moral or political proselytizing.

Probably the most upsetting but rich aspect of the story is that Otilia puts it all on the line for Gabita. She holds back absolutely nothing in her aid to her friend. There is something deeply abiding in Otilia's commitment to Gabita and yet this duty and protection is not reciprocated and, in fact, abrogated in return.

I have named this film one of the best films of 2007 and far and away better than JUNO or most the the heralded award winning films of the year. As we left the cinema, however, as brilliant as this film is, it cannot and will not fair well with the Academy Awards, Golden Globes or even BAFTA awards. 4 / 3 / 2 is far too stark, too real, too intelligent, and too bracing to ever fall into the commercial morass these awards bring out.

But that's okay, we can live with the knowledge that the Oscar and Globes and all the rest are not the judges of the realm or the indicator of greatness.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Diablo Redux on Letterman

Diablo Cody returns to Late Night to talk with Dave Letterman about being an Oscar nominee, what success has done to her, and the Starbucks at Target in Robbinsdale as inspiration for writing her screenplay JUNO.

The now famous, Diablo Cody developed many of her professional skills and interpersonal negotiations from being a stripper. I can say, even before she wrote JUNO she was plying her ability to manipulate people attentions for her to the maximum effect. She will admit to this fully.

At the magazine I work for we had an incident where we sent a photographer out to shoot a photo of her during the time of her “Candy Girl” book release. She was working at City Pages and had a desk there, so she wore fishnets and stripper lingerie and stuck a provocative pose – camera down low, one leg up, bottie hitched high. A lot to see...

Before our photographer left, she begged, pleaded and promised, in order to get him to give her copies of the photos “just for her personal use.” Within hours those digital photos were up on her blog site and she was spreading vicious gossip about our magazines art director -- most of it invented with a National Inquirer like tone.

The hot pose story spread like wildfire with both the StarTribune (gossip clumnist CJ) and The Rake magazine doing stories about the story. That’s one of Diablo’s biggest talents – she’s a self-marketing team onto herself and could teach a few of the handlers in LA some tricks. At that time, I wrote an quick message to Diablo telling her the trouble she caused the photographer because it violated our contract with him when he gave her a copy and then that she used it was yet another instance. She immediately removed the photos from her web site and apologized for her indiscretion in the matter, insisting, “I am a professional.”

By this time, however, Cody’s purpose had been achieved to double and triple her exposure and get everybody talking even if it involved some double-crossing to get there. I think she is very smart.

There is bound to be a lot of resentment and envy from fellow scribes for Cody’s actions and her stellar rise. Screenwriters’ never get the attention she has been able to garner and, likewise, screenwriters are not the most generous of folks when it comes to ego. Mind you, we do often get shafted and treated poorly by directors, producers and the industry in general. I am in sympathy. Especially in these times of the strike, when a great big shaft is being perpetuated against us.

I’d say there is a dimension to “Diablo Cody phenomena” that transcends her as an individual. Cody’s is the American rags-to-riches story so many in Hollywood like to glorify. Sure, here in Minnesota we have fairytale fantasies but perhaps it is the weather that prevents us for going about thinking we can act them out and live them. LA and California has no such pragmatic restraint.

More than anything else, the Diablo Cody fee-nom is related to the place Hollywood is in today. There is a perception that due to the internet, the business of entertainment and making movies is slipping away form the studio execs and their old-world models of filmmaking. They are grasping at straws, trying to find the next great, best thing that will walk in their doors. And Diablo being an irreverent, mouthy, self-promoting, PC generation standout is, for the moment, a dream come true.

But, no question, Cody did jump the stack. A lot of writers have been humping the LA treatmill for years and none have come near the stardom, celebracy, and attraction that Diablo has suddenly found herself inside. JUNO, her first screenplay has won her an Oscar nomination and she seems to be leading the polls. Not too many people are going to like she moved to the front of the line. The popularity polls don't vote for Oscars, the screenwriters' and members of the academy do. Her bubble will burst. As much as America likes to create sensational stories of the rise to fame, it just as quickly likes to expose and undermine them.

I don't use any of it against her. Diablo Cody is an entertainer. And so is everybody else working in the industry in Hollywood and New York. I think she has fun with the game and more of us should also. Compared to the droll hatred and self-righteousness of Robert Towne (even if he is a better screenwriter) I'd take Diablo any day over Towne. Cody's rise does not have much to do with great screenwriting but even she cannot live on her personality and instinct for the jugular alone.

Diablo Cody still has to sit down and write an interesting story and good dialogue and she does better at that than most first-timers. She's not a genius but this is not an industry for them. Afterall, look at all the brilliant writers in the 30s and 40s who went to Hollywood and got nowhere. It wasn't that they weren't great, it was just that they were in the wrong town.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Minnesotan Sarah Pillsbury's Film Plays Sundance

Minnesota producer Sarah Pillsbury's newest film QUID PRO QUO opened at the Sundance Film Festival this week. Based on writer/director Carlos Brooks take on the scarier side of weird, able bodied people with paralysis envy, the film played on Sunday (1/20) in the Library Center Theater.

QUID PRO QUO is produced by Pillsbury and her long-time producing partner Midge Sanford whom together go back to the 1985 Madonna vehicle, Susan Seidelman's DESPERATELY SEEKING SUSAN, Tim Hunter's RIVER'S EDGE the next year and John Sayles' EIGHT MEN OUT in 1988.

After attending Yale University, Pillsbury went to Los Angeles and continued her studies at UCLA. The first film she worked on was David Lynch's EASERHEAD in 1977. Pillsbury then co-produced BOARD AND CARE for which she won an Oscar for Best Live Action Short Film. Since her first award Pillsbury has gone onto to win a Independent Spirt Award and Emmy.

Carlos Brooks grew up in Bellevue, Washington and studied film at USC and credits his admiration for music and particularly for singer/songwriters for his decision to become a film writer/director. In an interview with Indiewire, Brooks explained, "If you are constrained by any kind of budget (even if it's only the 20 minutes before the security guard arrives), directing a film is like writing while running for your life from a bear. Even the low points have a certain urgency. After doing it once, I knew I never wanted to be anything but a director. So I spent a lot of time studying and practicing how to write a good screenplay."

Billed as dramatic thriller, QUID PRO QUO is about a semi-paralyzed NPR-styled radio reporter (Nick Stahl) who, while investigating a story on paralysis discovers the strange subculture of paralysis inducing denizens. In the process of uncovering the story meets Fiona (Vera Famiga) who may have a connection to the accident that caused his injury and killed his parents. Stahl will also be seen on screen this week in Park City in Zac Standford's scripted film SLEEPWALKING that also stars Charlize Theron, Dennis Hopper, and Woody Harrelson.

In an interview with The Reeler, Brooks said about his script, "I've always wanted to write a detective story, and what this really is is a detective story in disguise. It's an investigative journalistic piece, and the best detective stories are the ones where the detective ultimately realizes he's been investigating himself."

QUID PRO QUO will be released by Magnolia Films Releasing.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Oscar Noms This Morning

Best Motion Picture
“Atonement” (Focus Features)
A Working Title Production
Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner and Paul Webster, Producers
“Juno” (Fox Searchlight)
A Dancing Elk Pictures, LLC Production
Lianne Halfon, Mason Novick and Russell Smith, Producers
“Michael Clayton” (Warner Bros.)
A Clayton Productions, LLC Production
Sydney Pollack, Jennifer Fox and Kerry Orent, Producers
“No Country for Old Men” (Miramax and Paramount Vantage)
A Scott Rudin/Mike Zoss Production
Scott Rudin, Ethan Coen and Joel Coen, Producers
“There Will Be Blood” (Paramount Vantage and Miramax)
A JoAnne Sellar/Ghoulardi Film Company Production
JoAnne Sellar, Paul Thomas Anderson and Daniel Lupi, Producers

Achievement in Directing
“The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” (Miramax/Pathé Renn) Julian Schnabel
“Juno” (Fox Searchlight) Jason Reitman
“Michael Clayton” (Warner Bros.) Tony Gilroy
“No Country for Old Men” (Miramax and Paramount Vantage) Joel Coen and Ethan Coen
“There Will Be Blood” (Paramount Vantage and Miramax) Paul Thomas Anderson

Adapted Screenplay
“Atonement” (Focus Features)
Screenplay by Christopher Hampton
“Away from Her” (Lionsgate)
Written by Sarah Polley
“The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” (Miramax/Pathé Renn)
Screenplay by Ronald Harwood
“No Country for Old Men” (Miramax and Paramount Vantage)
Written for the screen by Joel Coen & Ethan Coen
“There Will Be Blood” (Paramount Vantage and Miramax)
Written for the screen by Paul Thomas Anderson

Original Screenplay
“Juno” (Fox Searchlight)
Written by Diablo Cody
“Lars and the Real Girl” (MGM)
Written by Nancy Oliver
“Michael Clayton” (Warner Bros.)
Written by Tony Gilroy
“Ratatouille” (Walt Disney)
Screenplay by Brad Bird
Story by Jan Pinkava, Jim Capobianco, Brad Bird
“The Savages” (Fox Searchlight)
Written by Tamara Jenkins

Best Documentary Feature
“No End in Sight” (Magnolia Pictures)
A Representational Pictures Production
Charles Ferguson and Audrey Marrs
“Operation Homecoming: Writing the Wartime Experience” (The Documentary Group)
A Documentary Group Production
Richard E. Robbins
“Sicko” (Lionsgate and The Weinstein Company)
A Dog Eat Dog Films Production
Michael Moore and Meghan O’Hara
“Taxi to the Dark Side” (THINKFilm)
An X-Ray Production
Alex Gibney and Eva Orner
“War/Dance” (THINKFilm)
A Shine Global and Fine Films Production
Andrea Nix Fine and Sean Fine

Best Foreign Language Film
“Beaufort” A Metro Communications, Movie Plus Production
“The Counterfeiters” An Aichholzer Filmproduktion, Magnolia Filmproduktion Production
“Katyń” An Akson Studio Production
“Mongol” A Eurasia Film Production
“12” A Three T Production

Achievement in Cinematography
“The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford” (Warner Bros.) Roger Deakins
“Atonement” (Focus Features) Seamus McGarvey
“The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” (Miramax/Pathé Renn) Janusz Kaminski
“No Country for Old Men” (Miramax and Paramount Vantage) Roger Deakins
“There Will Be Blood” (Paramount Vantage and Miramax) Robert Elswit

Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role
George Clooney in “Michael Clayton” (Warner Bros.)
Daniel Day-Lewis in “There Will Be Blood” (Paramount Vantage and Miramax)
Johnny Depp in “Sweeney Todd The Demon Barber of Fleet Street”
(DreamWorks and Warner Bros., Distributed by DreamWorks/Paramount)
Tommy Lee Jones in “In the Valley of Elah” (Warner Independent)
Viggo Mortensen in “Eastern Promises” (Focus Features)

Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role
Casey Affleck in “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford” (Warner Bros.)
Javier Bardem in “No Country for Old Men” (Miramax and Paramount Vantage)
Philip Seymour Hoffman in “Charlie Wilson’s War” (Universal)
Hal Holbrook in “Into the Wild” (Paramount Vantage and River Road Entertainment)
Tom Wilkinson in “Michael Clayton” (Warner Bros.)

Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role
Cate Blanchett in “Elizabeth: The Golden Age” (Universal)
Julie Christie in “Away from Her” (Lionsgate)
Marion Cotillard in “La Vie en Rose” (Picturehouse)
Laura Linney in “The Savages” (Fox Searchlight)
Ellen Page in “Juno” (Fox Searchlight)

Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role
Cate Blanchett in “I’m Not There” (The Weinstein Company)
Ruby Dee in “American Gangster” (Universal)
Saoirse Ronan in “Atonement” (Focus Features)
Amy Ryan in “Gone Baby Gone” (Miramax)
Tilda Swinton in “Michael Clayton” (Warner Bros.)

Best Animated Feature Film
“Persepolis” (Sony Pictures Classics) Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud
“Ratatouille” (Walt Disney) Brad Bird
“Surf's Up” (Sony Pictures Releasing) Ash Brannon and Chris Buck

Achievement in Art Direction
“American Gangster” (Universal)
Art Direction: Arthur Max
Set Decoration: Beth A. Rubino
“Atonement” (Focus Features)
Art Direction: Sarah Greenwood
Set Decoration: Katie Spencer
“The Golden Compass” (New Line in association with Ingenious Film Partners)
Art Direction: Dennis Gassner
Set Decoration: Anna Pinnock
“Sweeney Todd The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” (DreamWorks and Warner Bros., Distributed by DreamWorks/Paramount)
Art Direction: Dante Ferretti
Set Decoration: Francesca Lo Schiavo
“There Will Be Blood” (Paramount Vantage and Miramax)
Art Direction: Jack Fisk
Set Decoration: Jim Erickson

Achievement in Costume Design
“Across the Universe” (Sony Pictures Releasing) Albert Wolsky
“Atonement” (Focus Features) Jacqueline Durran
“Elizabeth: The Golden Age” (Universal) Alexandra Byrne
“La Vie en Rose” (Picturehouse) Marit Allen
“Sweeney Todd The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” (DreamWorks and Warner Bros.,
Distributed by DreamWorks/Paramount) Colleen Atwood

Best Documentary Short Subject
A Lieutenant Films Production
Cynthia Wade and Vanessa Roth
“La Corona (The Crown)”
A Runaway Films and Vega Films Production
Amanda Micheli and Isabel Vega
“Salim Baba”
A Ropa Vieja Films and Paradox Smoke Production
Tim Sternberg and Francisco Bello
“Sari’s Mother” (Cinema Guild)
A Daylight Factory Production
James Longley

Achievement in Film Editing
“The Bourne Ultimatum” (Universal) Christopher Rouse
“The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” (Miramax/Pathé Renn) Juliette Welfling
“Into the Wild” (Paramount Vantage and River Road Entertainment) Jay Cassidy
“No Country for Old Men” (Miramax and Paramount Vantage) Roderick Jaynes
“There Will Be Blood” (Paramount Vantage and Miramax) Dylan Tichenor

Achievement in Makeup
“La Vie en Rose” (Picturehouse) Didier Lavergne and Jan Archibald
“Norbit” (DreamWorks, Distributed by Paramount) Rick Baker and Kazuhiro Tsuji
“Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End” (Walt Disney) Ve Neill and Martin Samuel

Best Original Score
“Atonement” (Focus Features) Dario Marianelli
“The Kite Runner” (DreamWorks, Sidney Kimmel Entertainment and Participant Productions,
Distributed by Paramount Classics) Alberto Iglesias
“Michael Clayton” (Warner Bros.) James Newton Howard
“Ratatouille” (Walt Disney) Michael Giacchino
“3:10 to Yuma” (Lionsgate) Marco Beltrami

Best Original Song
“Falling Slowly” from “Once”
(Fox Searchlight)
Music and Lyric by Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova
“Happy Working Song” from “Enchanted”
(Walt Disney)
Music by Alan Menken
Lyric by Stephen Schwartz
“Raise It Up” from “August Rush”
(Warner Bros.)
Nominees to be determined
“So Close” from “Enchanted”
(Walt Disney)
Music by Alan Menken
Lyric by Stephen Schwartz
“That’s How You Know” from “Enchanted”
(Walt Disney)
Music by Alan Menken
Lyric by Stephen Schwartz

Best Animated Short Film
“I Met the Walrus”
A Kids & Explosions Production
Josh Raskin
“Madame Tutli-Putli” (National Film Board of Canada)
A National Film Board of Canada Production
Chris Lavis and Maciek Szczerbowski
“Même Les Pigeons Vont au Paradis (Even Pigeons Go to Heaven)” (Premium Films)
A BUF Compagnie Production
Samuel Tourneux and Simon Vanesse
“My Love (Moya Lyubov)” (Channel One Russia)
A Dago-Film Studio, Channel One Russia and Dentsu Tec Production
Alexander Petrov
“Peter & the Wolf” (BreakThru Films)
A BreakThru Films/Se-ma-for Studios Production
Suzie Templeton and Hugh Welchman

Best Live Action Short Film
“At Night”
A Zentropa Entertainments 10 Production
Christian E. Christiansen and Louise Vesth
“Il Supplente (The Substitute)” (Sky Cinema Italia)
A Frame by Frame Italia Production
Andrea Jublin
“Le Mozart des Pickpockets (The Mozart of Pickpockets)” (Premium Films)
A Karé Production
Philippe Pollet-Villard
“Tanghi Argentini” (Premium Films)
An Another Dimension of an Idea Production
Guido Thys and Anja Daelemans
“The Tonto Woman”
A Knucklehead, Little Mo and Rose Hackney Barber Production
Daniel Barber and Matthew Brown

Achievement in Sound Editing
“The Bourne Ultimatum” (Universal)
Karen Baker Landers and Per Hallberg
“No Country for Old Men” (Miramax and Paramount Vantage)
Skip Lievsay
“Ratatouille” (Walt Disney)
Randy Thom and Michael Silvers
“There Will Be Blood” (Paramount Vantage and Miramax)
Matthew Wood
“Transformers” (DreamWorks and Paramount in association with Hasbro)
Ethan Van der Ryn and Mike Hopkins

Achievement in Sound Mixing
“The Bourne Ultimatum” (Universal)
Scott Millan, David Parker and Kirk Francis
“No Country for Old Men” (Miramax and Paramount Vantage)
Skip Lievsay, Craig Berkey, Greg Orloff and Peter Kurland
“Ratatouille” (Walt Disney)
Randy Thom, Michael Semanick and Doc Kane
“3:10 to Yuma” (Lionsgate)
Paul Massey, David Giammarco and Jim Stuebe
“Transformers” (DreamWorks and Paramount in association with Hasbro)
Kevin O’Connell, Greg P. Russell and Peter J. Devlin

Achievement in Visual Effects
“The Golden Compass” (New Line in association with Ingenious Film Partners)
Michael Fink, Bill Westenhofer, Ben Morris and Trevor Wood
“Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End” (Walt Disney)
John Knoll, Hal Hickel, Charles Gibson and John Frazier
“Transformers” (DreamWorks and Paramount in association with Hasbro)
Scott Farrar, Scott Benza, Russell Earl and John Frazier

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Has Sundance Lost It Soul?

This is a question that is annually asked and only answered in service to the interests of the current wave of festival participants.

I must say, this year when I received my Sundance gift catalogue, nearly a hundred pages of clothing, jewlery and gift items you can purchase with a "branded" Sundance identity I though to myself, "Okay, this is the end. I give Sundance three years"

The thing about the Sundance catelogue is that it very accurately reflects the "old soul" of Sundance. The products, especailly the clothing and jewelry, are classic vintage Sundance cowboy western hippie wear.

In the last few years it has become fashionable to wax nostalgic for the old Sundance, "When John Sayles and John Cassavetes films were shown there." In truth there is no idyllic past for Sundance. Even in the early days when Redford tried to impose a somber, politically correct and boorish aesthetic it failed miserably. There were all kinds of factions trying to define "what type of film" should be shown in Park City. This lead to stratification, infighting, and charges of control by a tight knit group of insiders operating in their narrow self-interests.

There was a saying that in order to get into the labs or have an indie film considered for the festival, the characters had to be wearing bib-overalls, chew straw out of the side of their mouth, be downtrodden and oppressed by the man and more simply reflect Redford's passion for the western rural vision he looked at through rose colored glasses.

If those waxing nostalgic for that time and want that aesthetic, it is a good thing the festival spun out of control.

What we've seen evolve since the early days of 1978 happily widely diverge from these narrow restrictions and show more different types of films than Sayles and Cassavetes. What Sundance has showcased in those years is hugely desperate movements from gay militant cinema by Todd Haynes, Tom Kalin, and Gregg Araki to pulp film movement of Quentin Tarantino to "Half Nelson", and Craig Brewers' "Hustle & Flow." Despite the stereotype by some who've never been to Sundance that it is made up of only "coming-of-age" movies, its dramatic features and documentaries each year are widely diverse even if the buyers don't want to buy them.

What is probably more disappointing than the few than a dozen films that get theatrical distribution with major releasing companies is that out of Sundance and all the other film festivals showing new indie films, a distribution channel hasn't opened up for the 250+ films at Sundance that could be marketed in a variety of fashions to niche audiences. People like to herald Slamdance for being alternative when there are more alternative films inside Sundance than Slamdance could ever hope to unreel.

Let's hope Sundance has lost the soul of the late 1970s when the narrow, boring and misguided mission was still in its infancy. The best thing Sundance can hope for is to be a reflection of the unproven talent of new and emerging filmmakers around the country and the world. Each year Sundance should begin with a open slate and try to capture the mood of the indie filmmakers in the time. Frankly, that's the only choice it has because seeking a nostalgic past can never inspire a film about filmmaking today.

Redford's hippie cowboy western aesthetic is dead. RIP!

Tuesday, January 01, 2008


One cannot help but note how quickly people have backed away from Minnesota connected films simply because of their wide-spread success. An age-old inferiority complex here in the midwest causes us to winch when any Minnesotan achieves a level of success. The locals want to accuse them of "selling out," "being aesthetically compromised" or the makers "forgetting where they came from" or worse accusations -- all based on envy and petty jealousy.

Yet the success of these films: NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, JUNO and INTO THE WILD can have a huge impact on Minnesota filmmaking for years to come. As a result two follow-on films by the Coens and Cody are already slated to be filmed in Minnesota in 2008 with another by Garrison Keillor that should reach wider theatrical audiences - the state is experiencing a new level of national productions. Unlike the past with GRUMPY OLD MEN or MIGHTY DUCKS, new productions coming here have Minnesota talent, stories, and creators connected to them. And, let the bashful be damned, we should not be ashamed if these films can make money at the box office. Worshipping failure is no virtue.

After reading the City Pages critics choices of best films in 2007, I almost decided not to make a list because of their pretentious posturing and overt attempt to appear B-list smart when they are just acting morons. Their top films list makes one wonder why they write lists at all. CP film writing has dropped to the depths of bad this year and along with massively decreased coverage in the daily rags this signals a very bad note for the future of Minnesota film writing and criticism.

The top films in all the award races and international film festivals this year have the mark of Minnesota on them and we ought to celebrate even if it is in our character as Minnesotans to stare down at our shoes, not think very highly of ourselves and critique our films by mumbling, "It could be worse."

NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, Coen Brothers just get better and better at mastering the filmmaking form while retaining their distinctive humor, perspective and glibness of vision and they keep coming back to what is true to them as evidence the film they will be shooting in Minnesota next year based on their father;

INTO THE WILD, Sean Penn and Minnesota producer Bill Pohlad hit the mark with this adaptation of the best selling book by the same name. Although people wanted the film to vilify the parents in backstory and make grand statements about the past, Penn resists and let the story remained particular to playing out the drama;

JUNO all the critics want to resist the appeal of her film because of the hype surrounding first-time screenwriter Diablo Cody but put it all aside and your posturing too, this is a really decent film in a year when a fresh new look for indie drama is needed -- a hundred times better than previously hyped small indies Little Miss Sunshine, Sideways and Napoleon Dynamite all vastly inferior films

LAKE OF FIRE, a must see documentary on the culture war surrounding the abortion rage that has devolved into senseless irrational infidel accusations and bloody murder all around - the actions of religious extremist sounds like terrorism and it is;

DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY, 80s abstract artist and New York East Village inhabitant Julian Schnabel began his filmmaking career auspiciously with a bio-pic based on the life and death of graffiti artist Jean-Michel Basquiat has hit his stride with this brilliant adaptation;

12:08 EAST OF BUCHAREST, a hilarious satire from Romanian helmer Corneliu Perumboiu; who thought two Romanian films would be up the same year on a "best of" list;

AWAY FROM HER, in which Julie Christie breaks hearts as a woman afflicted with Alzheimer's. An auspicious feature-directing debut by sweet and talented Canadian actress Sarah Polley.

SIMPLE THINGS, a Russian film by first time director Alexei Popogrebsky about a aging doctor and a former Soviet-era film star who are struggling to survive in Putin-era Russia, filmed in a Mike Leigh-style realism;

4 MONTHS, 3 WEEKS AND 2 DAYS, Cristian Mungiu's girtty story set in the time of Ceausescu's dictatorship marks an exciting new beginning for Romanian cinema and tells the story of a young couple who set out to obtain an illegal abortion in the dreary and uptight 80s;

THIS IS ENGLAND, a British film by Shane Meadows depicts the coming of age of a Bit skinhead with only a slight resemblance to American History X, it was hailed in England as best indie in 2006 but did not reach the U.S. until 2007;

ACROSS THE UNIVERSE, Julie Taymors treatment is how musicals should be made and although I'M NOT THERE Todd Hayne's homage to the multi-personalities of Bob Dylan is worthy of note for reinventing the bio-pic form, the flawed guey Americana segments with Richard Gere position at the dramatic apex of the film blew it out of contention.

My 2007 list should be qualified with the proviso that I focus primary in up and coming indie filmmakers who are making dramas that tell stories and while I enjoy abstract, avant-garde, shorts and animation, they are not on this list saved for another category of filmmaking.

Reading New Years resolutions, one I appreciated a lot was Ty Burr writing in The Boston Globe, "Look for interesting filmmaking in places it's not supposed to be. On the Internet, handhelds, cellphones, the sides of buildings. Maybe even in movie theaters."

ALSO WORTHY OF MENTION: Send a Bullet, Persepolis, No End in Sight, Casa do Alice, The Kite Runner, Once, Black Book, There Will Be Blood, Atonement, My Kid Could Paint That, and Zodiac.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Tribute to Women in Film

Back at the beginning of October Warner Bros. head of production, Jeff Robinov, publicly spued “We are no longer going to make films with women in the lead.” Robinov’s words follow two WB female-led movies under performing at the box office, The Brave One with Jodie Foster and The Invasion with Nicole Kidman.

To make up for this one of year 2007 most idiot statement by a studio executive I post this tribute to women leads in film by Phillip Scott Johnson and the women:

Mary Pickford, Lillian Gish, Gloria Swanson, Marlene Dietrich, Norma Shearer, Ruth Chatterton, Jean Harlow, Katharine Hepburn, Carole Lombard, Bette Davis, Greta Garbo, Barbara Stanwyck, Vivien Leigh, Greer Garson, Hedy Lamarr, Rita Hayworth, Gene Tierney, Olivia de Havilland, Ingrid Bergman, Joan Crawford, Ginger Rogers, Loretta Young, Deborah Kerr, Judy Garland, Anne Baxter, Lauren Bacall, Susan Hayward, Ava Gardner, Marilyn Monroe, Grace Kelly, Lana Turner, Elizabeth Taylor, Kim Novak, Audrey Hepburn, Dorothy Dandridge, Shirley MacLaine, Natalie Wood, Rita Moreno, Janet Leigh, Brigitte Bardot, Sophia Loren, Ann Margret, Julie Andrews, Raquel Welch, Tuesday Weld, Jane Fonda, Julie Christie, Faye Dunaway, Catherine Deneuve, Jacqueline Bisset, Candice Bergen, Isabella Rossellini, Diane Keaton, Goldie Hawn, Meryl Streep, Susan Sarandon, Jessica Lange, Michelle Pfeiffer, Sigourney Weaver, Kathleen Turner, Holly Hunter, Jodie Foster, Angela Bassett, Demi Moore, Sharon Stone, Meg Ryan, Julia Roberts, Salma Hayek, Sandra Bullock, Julianne Moore, Diane Lane, Nicole Kidman, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Angelina Jolie, Charlize Theron, Reese Witherspoon, Halle Berry

Music: Bach's Prelude from Suite for Solo Cello No. 1 in G