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Friday, October 14, 2005

JOBS' CHANGE OF HEART

I don't want to give myself all the credit but...

The Seattle-Post Intelligencer last week wrote about Jobs change of heart in announcing Video iPods:

"Before this week's unveiling of the new video-enabled iPod, Apple Computer's Steve Jobs was renowned in technology circles for his skepticism about video on portable devices.

Just how ridiculous did he consider the concept? Jobs joked in a conference call with reporters last year that if Apple were to add video to the iPod, it might as well turn the device into a toaster, too.

"I want it to brown my bagels when I'm listening to my music," he said at the time. "And we're toying with refrigeration, too."

His change of heart could have big implications for the media and entertainment world. In addition to announcing its new, video-enabled iPod this week, Apple introduced a departure from the TV industry's traditional business model -- generating revenue not by embedding advertising in the shows but by charging a small amount to download them."

We know the real reason Steve Jobs changed his mind was because of my angry email last fall at his mocking attitudes. I exculpated Steve, in that email, explaining that many professional filmmakers already carry their past movies around on their iPods from one machine to the next with their current edit to show producers or investors.

I told Steve, in my angry email, that the "cool" actors and directors keep an MPEG copy of their reel on the iPod, pull it out of their pockets, and connected it by firewire to a computer where they could show their abilities.

I told Steve, in my email blast, that the rock-video market has no resale but sits on the shelf wating for anxious teen-agers wanting their latest Coldplay or Bon-Jovi vids to add to their collections of all that fan stuff. And I told Steve in my email about the potential of PBS and the History Channel and cooking shows to repurpose their content for the pocket TiVo iPod.

I told Steve, completely aside from niche professional uses, all the home video makers using iMovie for their "Katie's Graduation," "Sophie's Birthday" or "My Vacation to San Juan Islands" movies need a device to take these movies to grandma's house and play it on the TV on Thanksgiving.

And Steve listened. So I'll take the credit. Thank you very much.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

AUGUST WILSON, 1945 - 2005



I am saddened and mourning the loss of one of America's greatest dramatists and writers: August Wilson.

Wilson heard voices. In his plays, we witnessed magnificent ensembles of characters who ennobled common men and the struggles of the soul to reconcile truth, history, politics, and individual conscience. Wilson voices lived best on the stage. Few have been translated to another medium because in their physical form, in the theatrical space, with the incredible crescendo of the speech, you had to be in the room. With Wilson's plays, you had to be there.

"I have to confess that I'm not a big movie person," Wilson said, "I don't go to a lot of films. And I don't know very much about the history of stage-to-film adaptations." It was widely known for many years that Eddie Murphy held the movie rights for Wilson's Pulitizer Prize winning FENCES. A great quote by Wilson about his dealings on FENCES when he described, you drive to the California, throw your script across the border and they throw the money back.

While Wilson's plays have not been adapted for film, his influence is huge. I attended the Eugene O'Neill National Playwright Conference the years August Wilson was there and his work thundered in our imaginations and touched many participants. In those years, the talk around O'Neil was that a Minnesota mafia had arrived. We adopted August Wilson as one of our own. Hearing his plays read, I was both awestruck and inspired. Wilson always made you feel that surge that filled the veins when history and passion came together.

When, as a fellow writer, August said, "Style ain't nothing but keeping the same idea from beginning to end. Everybody got it." he put us back on track.

Although nine of Wilson's plays were set in Pittsburgh and he lived out his final years in Seattle, he will always be important to our community after coming to St. Paul in 1978 and wrote his first play Jitney. Wilson's artistic voice and vision matured here in Minnesota, where he lived until the early 1990s. His impact on Penumbra Theater and Lou Bellamy keep his presence here resonating in our community life. Brother, you will always be a part of us.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

NORTH COUNTRY REKINDLES HARASSMENT DEBATE

While most of the chit-chat on the IMDB boards for Niki Caro's NORTH COUNTRY, shot on Minnesota's Iron Range and scheduled to be released nation-wide on October 21st, center on whether or not the Ranger accents are going to be "like Fargo" or worse DROP DEAD GORGEOUS, Warner Bros, Participant Productions and Oprah foresee a bigger debate.

As billing leading up to the show promises, tomorrow Charlize Theron will appear on Oprah's show to talk about the film and sexual harassment, With an obvious reference to her facial modifications her Oscar-winning MONSTER role, "Charlize Theron is putting on a brave face, for her new movie, North Country. Then, a story that will leave you stunned. What made these women targets of sexual harassment?"

Many are expecting that NORTH COUNTRY will revive a debate about sexual harassment in the workplace that hasn't been heard since Anita Hill appeared before the Senate Judiciary committee in the hearings of Clarence Thomas for Supreme Court Justice.

In Caro's film, based on the true life story of Eveleth miner Lois Jenson, Theron's character Josie sees Anita Hill giving testimony before the committee on television and is moved to actions she feels in response to her treatment. While Hill was successfully rebuffed by Senate Republicans and her witness diminished, Hill propelled women nation-wide and the class action suit in northern Minnesota that changed history to move forward.

In an attempt to counter the obvious hard hitting emotional edge the sexual harassment story presents, Oprah also interviews Theron about her new boyfriend, leading the star-hearthrob to comment on how much they enjoy "making out." Oprah then provides a graphic illustration via rear-view projection.

Caro's company Participate has set up a web site as a part of a campaign to stop sexual harassment and domestic violence:

http://www.participate.net/standup/

Saturday, September 03, 2005

AN APPEAL FOR NOLA ARTISTS

There are a lot of appeals being made for relief for the NOLA victims of Hurricane Katrina but I would like to suggest one that might touch us in a way that we've been touched by New Orleans. It is called the Tipitina Foundation:

http://www.tipitinasfoundation.org

Tipitina's is a club, performing arts organization, recording studio and landing spot for jazz, blues, cajun and zydeco musicians in New Orleans inspired by the legendary Professor Longhair. The last visit I made to their site, they had not changed a word or their schedule of fall classes and performances. You can see a frozen moment in time for yourself, however, I suspect the pages might change very soon:

http://www.tipitinas.com/default.asp

Tipitina's was as a neighborhood juke joint in the mid 1970s run by a group of young music fans (The Fabulous Fo'teen) to provide a place for Professor Longhair to perform in his final years after he was discovered working as a janitor in the deep south. The venue, named for one of Longhair's most enigmatic recordings "Tipitina," has survived in an ever-changing and ups-and-downs of the musical climate to become adept at weathering cultural storms. Professor Longhair wrote the song "Mardi Gras in New Orleans" that has become the anthem to the great music based fest that attracts millions from around the world each year.

In the past 25 years, Tipitina's has grown from a small, neighborhood bar into an international music icon. Since 1984, the venue expanded into a two-story, 1,000 capacity music center located at the famed corner of Napoleon and Tchoupitoulas. Tipitina's now has resources such as a web site, recording studio, record label, and a dynamic special events department. More than a venue, Tipintas reaches deep into the New Orleans community providing support for msucians, classes to students and events.

I think it is telling that Tipitinas was raising money to put instruments in New Orlean's schools prior to last Sunday when Katrina ascended. The last I heard, the club survived the ravaging onslaught of Katrina. A tree fell on their buidling but did minor damage. They are located higher up on the levee so flooding didn't reach them. The manager Bill Taylor fled to Florida and some of the staff and musicians holed up in the club to weather the storm. The story of their survival during Katrina is amazing, including the water rescue of a some 30+ elderly people at the nearby Fountaine Blu apartments and the birth of a baby on Tipitina's Walk of Fame (the sidewalk outside Tipitinas honoring Nola's Jazz Greats) by a woman who could not get to a hospital during the hurricane and flood ravaged week.

Now, Tipitina's Foundation has launched a relief drive to support Nola's great aging Jazz, Blues, Cajun and Zydeco artists by getting them life essentials, replacing lost instruments, putting them back on tour and keeping New Orleans music alive. I'm sure many of you sat, as I did, on the edge of your chair when you heard that Fats Domino was missing and then rescued in his home in New Orleans. Well, there were many more artists with as powerful an influence as Fats who suffered and lost everything. Tipitinas is making an effort, in the tradition they began with support Professor Longhair back in the 1970s to support New Orleans Jazz artists. One goal of Tipitinas drive is to provide foster homes to musicians and has been met with success but the effort needs to be sustained.

If you can support Tipitina's Foundations relief drive with a few dollars or many go to:

http://www.theleaf.com/hurricanesupport

The Leaf, a performing arts center in Black Mountain, North Carolina has offered logistical and web site support for Tipitinas after their staff was forced to flee New Orleans. This is a good fit since Tipitina's and The Leaf work together on jazz and blues festivals throughout the year. A musical performance concernt and benefit is being organized at Black Mountain in October.

If you are able to provide other material support for NOLA musicians such as housing, instruments, and life essentials, you may write to:

tipitinashelp@theleaf.com

These musicians have enriched our past lives and culture and will continue to do so in the future but they need our help now to keep going. Thanks for your consideration.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

BRAZILIAN DIRECTOR MEIRELLES TURNS TOWARD KENYA

THE CONSTANT GARDENER Brazilian director Fernando Meirelles opens this weekend in Minneapolis. Meirelles was the director of the astonishing CITY OF GODS and I was able to attend an advanced screening with the director in attendance to take questions from the audience.

THE CONSTANT GARDNER is based on John le Carrés novel is set in Kenya and follows Justin Quayle (Ralph Fienes) as a British diplomat and his bold wife Tessie (Rachel Weisz) as they venture into Africa to expose a story of international political intrigue. Meirelles opens the film with its ending, so if you are a fan of the genre of pizzling thrillers with plot twists and turns you might find the revelation in the first few minutes that our romantic lead gets quelled a bit disappointing. This isn't to say there are not twists and turns, changes of fate and subplots yet to be unturned in the course of THE CONSTANT GARDNER.

My romantic sympathies went toward Rachel Weisz's portrayal of Tessie since I have known many courageous women who staked their lives for their belief in justice.

In the course, there was a few short moments when the film seem to steer close to being a contemporary study in perception as Justin attempts to unravel Tessie's voyage into the dark underside of medical experimentation in Kenya. Was she disorganized, reckless and flirtatious or was she brilliantly coy and covert in her attempts to expose an horrific cruelty toward humanity? And then, after death, do we romanticize and mourn disproportionally to satisfy our dream of a past that never was? Ultimately, Meirelles decides not to take this story there and sticks with the thriller for its moral impact.

What surprised me the most was finally meeting Meirelles as I expected the director of CITY OF GODS to be dark, brooding and deeply contemplative and instead found him to be almost pixie like in his expression and temperament. Meirelles spent many years in the commercial advertising world and then personally invested his own time and money making CITY OF GODS which became an international sensation and earned him an Oscar nomination.

Meirelles perspective being from Brazil gives THE CONSTANT GARDNER an added perpective and edge on the western influence in third world countries and economy.

Monday, August 01, 2005

DIABLO DOES WB

Yo, who's harshing Diablo's buzz?

A number of people responded snidely or with contempt to the previous blog I wrote about Diablo Cody getting a deal with WB and her film JUNO that is scheduled to begin production this fall. They felt it was contemptible that a stripper recently emerged from the sex industry would be given a two or three picture deal for scripts written or yet to be written. I even received anonymous comment she wasn't getting paid to be vague, as she suggested in her City Pages interview, she was being paid to be a whore or get laid.

Hey, hey we're talking about a married woman here! Show some respect...

One thing I think Diablo Cody does have is a sense of the power of her allure. That's pretty valuable in the entertainment industry and, bluntly speaking, almost any industry. Do you think Steve Jobs is unaware of the powers of his persuasion? Diablo also has a sense that creating intrigue, even controversy, around her work or herself is valuable in selling said script or manuscript.

In many ways, people observing the Diablo Cody / WB deal have the most problem with this aspect of the rise she gives producers, agents, and production companies. Diablo understands a hook and how to mine it. But she's also, obviously, a writer who took an untraditional route to researching and writing a book "Candy Land" and screenplays inlcuding JUNO. The cynics see men experiencing sexual arousal rather than a well written script worthy of being put to screen.

But where people are wrong is to presume Diablo Cody is dumb, manipulative and has no ability to write a screenplay. I would suggest she has enough ability and probably sparkles with certain aspects of the magic of storytelling. And given that the master filmmaker Akira Kurosawa said that he still had much to learn at the age 68, I suspect Diablo in her twenties has much to learn about screenwriting and filmmaking also. But DON'T hold it against her! And JUNO could be a great script for all we know about it.

All those hardened screenwriters out there who I have known for the past 20 years have much to learn from this young brash pony of a chick. And I hope they learn it because they deserve a little spotlight and time to strut their stuff as Diablo learned from the skin trade.

The lesson: there is so much more to a picture deal than ARCO fasteners and MGM-style formatted pages.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

DIABLO CODY SELLS SCRIPT, MAKES WB DEAL FOR TWO MORE

Diablo Cody has got the big mo going. Mandate Pictures will finance, develop and handle worldwide distribution rights for JUNO, the screenwriting debut of Minneapolis-based writer. JUNO is the story of a unique teenage girl forced to make difficult, bizarre and sometimes humorous decisions regarding an unplanned pregnancy by promising the unborn child to a troubled couple.

Creative executive Jim Miller brought the dark comedy JUNO into Mandate and will oversee its development. Mandate is currently in production on Mark Forster's STRANGER THAN FICTION staring Will Ferrell and Maggie Gyllenhaal and Wes Craven's RED EYE. Mason Novick, producer of RED EYE is credited with discovering Cody after reading her internet blog. Novick will produce JUNO while Mandate's Joe Drake and Nathan Kahane will executive produce.

Cody is a blogger who maintained a frank and open running journal titled Pussy Ranch while working as a stripper in Minneapolis clubs and phone sex operator. She has written a manuscript called "Candy Girl" that will be published next year by Gotham. In the past year, Cody was hired to write for City Pages where she assumed the title of TV critic. Her blog Pussy Ranch has become part of the City Pages blogshere.

In a recent post on Cody's blog, she characterized her blog jottings in these words, "I know you visit the Pussy Ranch because you've come to rely on me for sick, offensive content, gratuitious use of the word 'cunt'..." and vamp Iowan succeeds in turn to wily entertain her audience with bawdiness and shock. Yet, Cody also exudes a quick and caustic wit and a keen eye for unusual repartee that makes her self-revealing blog nakedly stand out from the millions like her on the internet.

A two picture deal with Warner Bros. Pictures (WB) followed, the first 'Untitled Cody Drama" carries the log line "...centers on a group of twentysomethings at the crossroads of their lives." Does that tag sound vaguely familiar and bromidic? The two script WB deal includes a second blind script.

In an July 8th interview with City Pages writer Dylan Hicks, Cody stated, "The best part about Hollywood is that they pay you to be vague."

Well, let's just say they pay Diablo... kick it girl!

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

MOVIE-MAN THOMSON ON SEA-CHANGE

City Pages critic Rob Nelson has long heralded the Movie-Man David Thomson as foreseeing a sea-change in film culture with the advent of the box-office blockbuster.

In his overview of the year in films to date, Thomson suggests the decline in business might be larger than a cyclical dip. Thomson looks forward to the release this weekend of Spielbergs WAR OF THE WORLDS (as do I, see previous post) because of the resonance the film has in movie and cultural history. Yet, Thomson claims film audiences have declined and so has the meaning of films to their makers.

The decline of Hollywood domination may produce, however, a few desirable results for film enthusiasts: the rise of independent small capitalized films in niche markets and potential growth of foreign language films in U.S. markets.

Do films like BATMAN have to be dark and filled with ominous consequence to be redeeming? Pick up and read Rob Nelson's interview with Thomson on the web as a part of City Pages Special Summer Film issue:

http://www.citypages.com/databank/26/1282/article13454.asp or go to: www.citypages.com

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

CITIZEN TRUMP ON KANE

Can you imagine an bizarro world with Donald Trump starring as the lead in CITIZEN KANE? If that came to pass, perhaps, Trump would get a decent hair prosthetic and a stylist instead of that poorly died and flipped soufflé sitting on top of his head. Does it come as any surprise that the adventures of Charles Foster Kane make the 1941 classic Donald Trump's favorite movie?

Documentary filmmaker who won an Oscar for FOG OF WAR last year and director of TV commercials like the famed PHOTOBOOTH promotional spot for PBS and the anti-Bush ads for Moveon.org, Errol Morris also turns out to be a fairly prodigious master of his own web domain.

http://www.errolmorris.com/content/aborted/projects_donald.html

On this site you can follow the links to Aborted Projects where in MOVIE MOVIE Morris asks world renown figures to provide first-person critiques of their favorite films. Trump gives a bit of personal advice for Kane. Coming soon to the web screen of one of our most accomplished media techno-geeks, Mikhail Gorbachev discusses Tarkovsky's THE MIRROR and Kubrick's DR. STRANGELOVE.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

WORLDS AT WAR

I was not impulsively compelled to the STAR WARS hype like many perhaps slightly younger movie enthusiasts of my generation and friends who secretly dress up as Darth Vader awaited the first midnight viewing. Many of those friends attributed my lack of excitement to my teetering toward the edge of the viagra generation -- I just cannot pull one anymore for fantastic special effects extravaganzas like warring over the universe and noble gothic virtues. 

In reality, it has more to do with grandiose medieval preoccupations of world order by George Lucas than youthful enthusiasm. Lucas may be a foe of George Bush but they share the same epic vision of the world at war as long as neither man is required to personally take up arms and can send other peoples children or hire actors to fight and die. Okay, I'll grant the apologists that Lucas uses light sabers and celluloid effects rather than laser guided bombs and innocent lives and there is a difference.

Honesty, I am more prone to get excited about the upcoming release of Spielberg's WAR OF THE WORLDS with Tom Cruise at the end of June. Yes, Cruise has been acting a bit strange lately. Dreamworks is freaking out about his behavior of Oprah's show. But, while many kids were growing up thinking about the Luke Skywalker, Obi Wan Kenobi, and the fate of the Galactic Empire I was a bit more grounded with drama here on earth. 

I recall in the late sixties being profoundly effected when, as a child, my family popped corn in a covered soup pan on the stove and gathered around the black and white 20-inch TV forged from non-organic orange plastic. To watch H.G. Wells chilling depiction, in the 1953 Bryon Haskin movie, of an invasion from outer space, the chill in my spine may have been seeded by the constant hysteria of the cold war fear in America -- none-the-less it was based more in reality than the fantasy universe of pure invention.

Also, as a kid I remembered how there were really two different polar approaches to science-fiction and at the time we viewed them as either fantasy sci-fi where everything was located in a space and time of pure invention and than there was the sci-fi of the internal world that we lived and touched everyday. THE TWILIGHT ZONE series on TV or classic old films such as DONOVAN'S BRAIN best exemplified the science fiction of the mind that made us examine our own predicament on earth. WAR OF THE WORLDS was another great classic that caused us all to react and then reflect.

Maybe greater reflection what is missing for me with STAR WARS. And we'll have to wait to see if Spieberg can reach that wonderful mix of suprise, invention, speculation of an unimagined future and the consequences of life on earth that makes for a great science fiction movie.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

CANNES AMERICAN WINNERS JARMUSCH, JONES AND JULY

American filmmaker Jim Jarmusch and actor turn director Tommy Lee Jones walked down the carpet with top awards at the 2005 Cannes Festival du Cinema. Jarmusch won the festivals Grand Prix for BROKEN FLOWERS while Jones' film collected two awards: the Prix du Scenario (Best Screenplay) and Prix d'interpretation masculine (Best Actor) for THE THREE BURIALS OF MELQUIADES ESTRADA. First-time filmmaker Miranda July won the Camera d'Or award.

The Grand Prix award is generally considered to be runner-up to the festivals coveted top honor Palme d'Or that was won this year by the Belgium brother filmmaking team of Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne for their film L'ENFANT. A Prix du Jury (Jury Prize) went to Wang Xiaoshuai for SHANGHAI DREAMS and the directors top prize Prix de la Mise en Scene went to German born director Michael Haneke for French production of CACHE that uses the English title HIDDEN.

Jone's THREE BURIALS resides in a West Texas border town and centers on Pete Perkins (played by Jones) whose best friend Melquiades, a "wet-back" is discovered dead in the desert. The body is quickly buried and the local police have no intention of investigating the death. Perkins decides to investigate the murder himself and provide his friend with a proper burial. A classic lesson in film westerns, primative authority assigned the task of investiagting its own crimes has contemporary poignancy not lost Cannes patrons and jury. Scripted by Guillermo Arriaga, who also wrote the screenplay 21 GRAMS in 2003, the writer explained about West Texas, "I wanted to understand how things are the same, and how they're different, how they're in and out of human control, what ironies might exist there, what injustices, what glory, beauty and redemption you can find in this area that has its own character..."

The much acclaimed Camera d'Or, that launched Jarmusch's career at Cannes in 1984, was shared by first-time feature filmmaker Sri Lankan Vimukthi Jayasundara for SULANGA ENU PINISA (THE FORSAKEN LAND) and American Miranda July for ME AND YOU AND EVERYONE WE KNOW.

The Portland, Oregon filmmaker and performance artist, July was picked as a top young filmmaker to watch in 2004 by FILMMAKER magazine. Before ME AND YOU won top awards at Sundance, July could be seen in the galleries of MoMA, Walker Art Center and the Whitney Biennial for her performance art. Miranda July also lead the cast of ME AND YOU as Christine Jesperson and is featured on the cover of that magazine's Spring 2005 issue.

In a statement issued by Festival de Cannes, July commented after receiving Camera d'Or, "Getting an award like this for your first film is like having someone tell you, "You're doing fine, you can keep it up."

CANNES 2005 PRIZE WINNERS

:: Palme d'Or ::

L'ENFANT (Child) directed by Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne

:: Grand Prix ::

BROKEN FLOWERS directed by Jim Jarmusch

:: Prix de la Mise en Scene (Best Director) ::

Michael Haneke for CACHE (Hidden)

:: Prix du Scenario (Best Screenplay Award) ::

Guillermo Arriaga for THE THREE BURIALS OF MELQUIADES ESTRADA

:: Camera d'Or (Best First Feature) ::

Vimukthi Jayasundara for SULANGA ENU PINISA (The Forsaken Land) shared with:

Miranda July for ME AND YOU AND EVERYONE WE KNOW

:: Prix du Jury (Jury Prize) ::

SHANGHAI DREAMS directed by Wang Xiaoshuai

:: Prix d'interpretation feminine (Best Actress) ::

Hanna Laslo for FREE ZONE

:: Prix d'interpretation masculine (Best Actor) ::

Tommy Lee Jones for THE THREE BURIALS OF MELQUIADES ESTRADA

:: Court-Metrage Palme d'Or (Short Film) ::

PODOROZHINI (Wayfarers) directed by Igor Strembitskyy

:: Prix Du Jury ::

CLARA directed by Van Sowerwine

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

WAGES OF LIVING THE HARD LIFE

As NY Times critic A.O. Scott points out in his dispatches from Cannes, the French have a pedigree for a certain type of American filmmaker. Gus Van Sant, Woody Allen, the Coen Brothers, Michael Moore and Jim Jarmusch. In reality, these auteur filmmakers don't have the following anywhere in America that Cannes has created for them -- none of our American festivals have given them as much prominence or honors. But Cannes has elevated them to a position of international influence for their uniqueness and personal vision.

France was the foremost nation that fought for a cherished position for the author and authorship as a concept. Through the centuries, the French insisted that authorship is a transcendental right and cannot be negotiated either in contract or transferred in payment -- a radical concept. Hence it should not be surprising that the Americans filmmakers Jim Jarmusch, Joel and Ethan Coen, Woody Allen, and Gus Van Sant are honored in France more than in their home country.

Appearing at Cannes for the eight time, Jarmsuch screened his film BROKEN FLOWERS which stars Bill Murray and a cast of top liners Sharon Stone, Jessica Lange, Julie Delpy and Chloe Sevigny along with Jeffrey Wright. Only writer/director Jarmusch can comically elongate a story to avoid the obvious emotional sentimentality one-two-three that American films demand regardless of whether they are Hollywood or indie films. The New York 80s gen filmmaker is astude in avoiding heavy-handed metaphors and allows the viewer space to contemplate what his characters are thinking. Too many movies want to beat you over the head telling what their characters are thinking. It is nice to get the breathing space.

A film directed by another great icon of 80s independent filmmaking Wim Wenders unreels at Cannes. DON'T COME KNOCKING written by Sam Shepard offers a similar story of a hard living soul vacant playboy in search of unknown offspring. Jarmusch and Wenders careers have interesting intersections that come together again with story theme but also in the form of Minnesota actress Jessica Lang who plays almost identical roles. BROKEN FLOWERS and DON'T COME KNOCKING provides an interesting contrast between the two writer/directors working with similar material.

Gus Vant Sant's LAST DAYS is said to be loosely based on the final days in the life of hard living of Seattle grung rocker Kurt Cobain along the theme of the price of fame and raw genius. Although, Van Sant's central character Blake is fictional, we know he is Cobain because of the famous hat with ear flaps that Cobain always wore in the last year of his life. The problem Van Sant is sure to encounter, especially with the Cobain faithful, is the comparisons that are sure to be drawn between the soundtrack's uneasy renditions of Nirvana's originals.

Bent Hamer's FACTOTUM features what many are saying a personal best performance by Matt Dillion in another story about a hard lviing, woman abusing middle aged male. Lacking a unknown offspring waiting Burkowski's alter-ego, FACTOTUM could easily be seen as another variation of this years Cannes theme of middle-aged men paying repentance for living the hard life.

Cannes awards will be announced in ceremonies on Saturday evening May 21st.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

CHRISTINE WALKER TO CANNES FOR WORLD PREMIERE OF FACTOTUM

Minneapolis Producer Christine Walker is headed to Cannes film festival in May with Jim Stark, Bent Hamer, Matt Dillion and Lily Taylor for the world premiere of FACTOTUM. The Norwegian film will compete in the Director's Fortnight, Hamer's second appeareance in the highly sought after section of the festival.

FACTOTUM is based on the novel by Charles Burkowski and was shot eniterly on location in Minneapolis and St. Paul in June and July of 2004. Walker produced the film for Jim Stark and using Minnesota crews and extras cast in addition to the A-list actors brought from New York and LA. Dillion stars as a downcast character based on Burkowski's life as a writer and alcoholic.

Monday, May 02, 2005

MY FAMILY, MY MOVIE, AND OUR CULTURE

When I read the reports about the Family Movie Act this week in Congress, I was enraged by the film industries acceptance and support. Basically, the industry demonstrated they could care less about the intregity and rights of authorship and even infringement. The Family Movie Act is a glaring example of how the film and music industry cannot claim they have one ounce of concern for the artists, their work, or the culture of creative entertianment.

Of course, certain politicians in Washington turned the Family Movie Act into a right-wing ideological diabtribe and a partisan rant that defies reason. The act turns authorship and the authenticity of original works into a joke. Presumably the Act allows software filters to edit films to suit the tastes of, well, basically a programmer with an attitude or bias what ever it may be. The filter can act to edit out offensive words referring to parts of the human anatomy but likewise, it can just as easily apply a filter edit to include only profanity, sex and violence. The only perversion being demonstrated is the destruction of the original work by the artist or filmmaker. The violation comes through the act of editing, not what it is chosing to censor. While the filters exploit and use original intellectual property, they show nothing by contempt for its original creator.

In exchange for their support of the Family Movie Act, the film and music industry were given greater legal mechanisms and tools to pursue and prosecute consumers. And these consumers are commiting crimes no more grave than music and movie fans who collected films by recording them off TV with their VCR or recorded albums off their favorite long-play FM radio station 20 years ago. By some perversion of intelligence, the film and music industry must think two horrendous wrongs (censroship and abusing their customers) must make one right.

The reason the film and music industry have resorted to abusive actions against consumers is that for the past 5 years years or more, the companies failed to embrace the changing demands of the consumer and seek ways to better provide products and services to people who want them. The irony is while there is a boom in the demand for entertainment and new delivery systems, the industry is bashing and persecuting its most avid fans and first adopters.

In the long run the punitive actions of the industry will hurt everybody including themselves. Greed and the need to control with an iron fist will destroy the marketplace. Ulitmately, while the film and music industry also strongly opposed the advent of VCRs and cassette tapes whose technology was open enough to allow users to collect favorite tracks, albums and shift viewing or listen times, but Congress and the Courts protected consumers from their abuse. In the end, with the previous generations of technology, it became very profitable for the entertainment industry to allow cultural appreciation to grow, freedom for content creators, and innovation among culture enthusiasts.

It is time for industry associations and lobbyists to step back and take a longer view of our cultural heritage and avoid the narrow blinders of greed and political horse trading with those who wish to restrict artistic freedom.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

THE THIN LINE BETWEEN FACT AND FICTION

With documentary films from ENRON: THE SMARTEST GUYS IN THE ROOM to AFTER INNOCENCE and MURDERBALL, increasingly filmmakers are working in the documentary form, expanding the vocabulary of documentary with weighter dramatic storytelling for theatrical, broadcast, and cable release. These films employ dramatic structured storytelling, occassional reinactment, and character development normally reserved for dramatic films shot for big screen cinema.

One of the best examples of the blurring of lines between drama and documentary was the 1988 Cannes Camera d'Or winning SALAAM BOMBAY! by Mira Nair. Released in cinemas as a drama, Nair's truth-seeking story depicted life on the streets of Bombay; the casting of real street children as actors for Krishna, Manju, Chillum, and Baba; as well as the faithfulness and honesty of the her storytelling could easily place this powerful film in the category of documentary.

In a stunning and poignant contrast two films from the 80s, Martin Bell's 1984 documentary STREETWISE crafts a realistic yet compelling dramatic fly-on-the-wall story of kids on the streets of Seattle and the Hector Barbenco's drama PIXOTE: A LEI DO MAIS FRACO (1981) about street kids in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Both are films barely distinguish themselves as to which is documentary and which is drama.

In the Oscar nominated documentary LALEE'S KIN (2001), Susan Froemke and Deborah Dickson cast a powerful matriarch figure who cries, prey's and sings her way through the bluesy real life of poverty and illiteracy in the third world conditions of the Mississippi Detla. LaLee's young boy wards of four and six learn to pronounce the word penitentiary before they can begin to comprehend the words chemistry, agriculture, and algebra. Each frame of this incredibly moving documentary carries the weight and visual insight of a carefully crafted and elaborately storyboarded fictional recreation of naturalist narrative or social realism.

Likewise, Siddiq Barmak's OSAMA (2003) cast an amateur 12-year-old Afghan girl Marina Golbahari who has been working as a begger on the Taliban transformed streets of Kabul as the films lead. Golbahari's performance is riveting, especially if you know she isn't acting, she had only seen one film (a pirated back street copy of TITANIC) before starring in the drama and that she earned $14 for her work in OSAMA. In her own words, Golbahari said, after shooting an impactful scene where she is lowered into a well, went home and cried in fear wondering what she had done choosing to be in the film. Where does character acting end and documentary begin?

Jean Luc Godard said, when you start out making dramatic fiction you move toward documentary and when you begin with documentary you move toward fiction. In the faithfulness to any story, a writer, researcher, filmmaker, and documentarian must put themselves in service of a truth to the world the film inhabits and in where it exists to keep the viewer ingrossed in the story.

Yet, with all the emergence of new documentary vocabulary, filmmakers carry an added responsibility and burden in walking the line between fiction and documentary. This is most evident in Jack Cahill and David Eberhardt's LONG GONE. The film is a poetic and romantic depiction of life on the rails but riddled with the pitfalls of honest and dishonest storytelling.

The tramps who ride the rails are notorious for their storytelling and the life has a fanciful romance that is itself fiction. In reality, life riding boxcars is brutal, ugly and wrought with deceptions. One of the character cast in LONG GONE is New York Slim, a man who tells us he went to Vietnam, fought heroic battles, was captured and taken as a prisoner of war and allegedly returned to Seattle in a war prisoner release negotiated by the Nixon administration. Your heart sinks for a war-hero reduced to living his tormented-hell to the constant beat of the steel-wheel screeching against its track. New York Slim rides the rails wearing a POW t-shirt and talks about supporting his men in his a company. In the end, Slim's story is all a huge deception and a metaphor depleted by lies.

Cahill and Eberhardt engage in a documentary deception by refusing to reveal aspects of the story critical to understanding the plain truth. After establishing the illusion throughout the film the filmmakers chose to reveal the fact that New York Slim never went to Vietnam on a card at the end. A dubious revelation and thus it set us up to reflect poorly on Slim rather that try to understand his self-delusions and deliberate fabrications of fact.

But New York Slims facade is only the beginning of the flaws with the story they are trying to tell. The extent of drug use and transport on the rails by the subjects is glossed over in the attempts by the filmmakers to "protect" their subjects. Characters cast in LONG GONE, such as the two upper middle class girls who ride the rails as a form of fanciful escape from the hum-drum lives are not fully realized or explained either dramatically, with insight or unvarnished truth. At one point we see Stonie insert a needle into the arm of Jessie to shoot her up with dope and then just as quickly turns around and acts chivalrous by saying while he is becoming strung out, he would never want to see her using dope. These make up the layers and layers of contradiction and evasiveness at the films core.

Dogman Tony and New York Slim, are depicted as a brotherhood of men on the rails who stand up for each-other but it turns out the filmmakers facade is a romantic myth. In turn, the tramps beat eachother down, are codependent enablers (sorry to use such 12-step loaded language but its true) and the illusions the film struggle to uphold fail to capture the truth of the world in inhabits.

While it is truthful for Cahill and Eberhardt to reveal in LONG GONE the blatant hype and superficial sensationalist storytelling of the 20/20 TV news crew that tries to do a segment on Dogman Tony, they resort to the same filmic deceptions in faithfulness to their poetic romantic preconceptions and conceal as much truth as they chose to reveal.

----
AFTER INNOCENCE and MURDERBALL were shown at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival and were picked up for distribution. THE SMARTEST GUYS IN THE ROOM opened on April 22 in cinemas. LONG GONE was shown at Minneapolis/St. Paul International Film Festival in 2003 and won Best Documentary at River Run International Film Festival in Winston-Salem, North Carolina and at the 2003 Slamdance in Park City, Utah.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

JAMIE HOOK: THE RIGHT PERSON TO HEAD MFA

Between a late night screening and the closing night party of the Minneapolis/St. Paul International Film Festival I ran into Minnesota Film Arts Executive Director Jamie Hook. After asking him if he was about to embark on a much earned vacation after the festival end, he responded, "Watch the news, I may resign on Monday morning."

And he didn't say it with the same tone he announced on Opening Night at the Historic State Theater that Al Milgrom had announced his retirement only to reveal it was an April Fools gag.

Without much illumination, and sensing a hint of immediate frustration, Hook explained that he'd spent the last hour on the sidewalk in front of the Uptown Theater arguing with members of the Board of Directors of Minnesota Film Arts about its future.

Needless to say, M-SPIFF is at a cross-roads and the situation is probably loaded with emotion for a number of the past players and newly arrived employees. Bob Cowgill and Al Milgrom are a couple of passionate misfits and miscreants who boldly forged two film entities that, looking back, would be impossible to start during up or down times in the arts economy. Both men deserve high praise, yet, would genuinely bedevil anyone who step into fill their roles in the Minnesota film community.

I endorse Jamie Hook. He is an outsider who comes to Minnesota and can make a difference. Cowgil and Milgrom are starters, they have an eccentric, bold, and outrageous sense of egoism that is needed to strike out and found organizations like U Film Society and Oak Street Cinema. We love them for what they've done and for the unique personalities they bring as entrepreneurial founders. At times, the proprietary sense of founding an institution and the resentment toward new blood can cripple its future.

However, we are entering a new era and need new leaders. Minnesota can be very hard on outsiders. Everybody imagined that the job of Executive Director of Minnesota Film Arts could be the worse job anyone could possibly face, But Hook is the right man for the job. Hook needs the support of the Board of Directors and from the community. Jamie Hook uprooted his family to join our community.

I say, GIVE THE MAN A BREAK!

Thursday, March 31, 2005

CHILDSTAR: OPENING NIGHT AT M-SPIFF



Directed by: Don McKellar
Starring: Don McKellar, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Mark Rendall, Dave Foley

M-SPIFF got yet another make-over. This time not quite as considerable as changing its name from Rivertown International Film Festival to Minneapolis/St. Paul International Film Festival. Instead of Ms. PIFF, it will now be referred to as M-SPIFF on Em Spiff.

We are often considered to be, almost-Canadian since crossing the border into Canada used to practically go unnoticed, at least into Manitoba. Hence it is always inspiring to see a great line-up of film from Canada in the Minneapolis/ St. Paul International Film Festival. Opening the festival tomorrow night will be Don McKeller's comic commentary CHILDSTAR at the Historical State Theater in downtown Minneapolis.

McKeller who will be on stage to introduce his film in which he also stars as a struggling Canadian independent filmmaker hired to drive the limo for a spoiled American child actor, played by Mark Rendall, brought to Toronto to shoot a cheesy Hollywood movie. The cross-references between Hollywood and the Canadian Hollywood North provide perfect satire for Minnesotan's living in the fly-over zone.

CHILDSTAR is funny and at moments the satire biting and should please the opening night consort at the State Theater.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

DEAR JOSH HARNETT...

In the February 22 edition of the weekly City Pages, screenwriter and retiree Paul Martin Hennessey made a desperate plea to Josh Hartnett -- Read My Script!

Behind Hennessey's Oscar week plea lurks the populist assumption that anyone can write a movie script -- anyone. And that anyone can become famous in Hollywood and win an Oscar. Hennessey puts his desire to be read up in public almost as an entitlement.

In his open letter to the Minnesota-raised actor, Hennessey states he pays $8 a ticket to see Hartnett's movies, therefore, Hartnett should read his script and he'll both win SAG and Academy Awards. Hennessey states it as the promise of an American dream come true but also an obligation, at least, on the part of Hartnett to make the project go forward.

Where do the self-promotional ideas of writers like Hennessey come from? No doubt, from countless seminars offered on marketing, packaging projects, and selling your script devoid of content, skill, ability, technique and education. Here you see the Dale Carnegie and the Harvey McKay approach on how to market yourself unfiltered, without qualification or pre-requisites.

However, Hennessey's ideas also stem from the perception that movies are the popular form of cultural expression and they belong to everybody. When you walk into the movie theater and the lights go down, the story becomes your story and you live in the world of the story. Moviegoers put themselves in the movies and, consequently, easily see stories in their life as potential for the screen. How many times have you been at a house party or a gathering of relatives and after someone has told a story, hear the expression, "Oh, that would make a great movie!"

Average citizens will do a lot of crazy things in pursuit of fame and fortune. Acts of daring-do and puffery occur in New York and L.A. all the time. Stories appear frequently in the New York Post or Daily News describing crazy acts and bazaar behavior by artists, actors, standup comedians, writers or musicians to try and get themselves recognized and bring them fame. Desperate fame seekers can also be scary aggressive in stalking people they perceive have the ability to make them famous and won't aid their cause. They jump off the Brooklyn Bridge or tether themselves to the ledge of Rockfeller Center!

The greatness of the story is not in it subject or the actors who play it, ultimately, it is in the art and craft of its telling. Often, the appreciation for the art of writing or storytelling is lost in the thrill of seeking fame or fortune. Some might see Hennessey as a crackpot and others simply think he had nothing to loose and what harm is there in trying?

What does Hennessey have to loose? Self-respect, humility, a proper appreciation for the art and craft of writing perhaps? The price of a half page ad in City Pages? Do hawker tactics to get your script read speak more about the professions surrounding Hollywood movie making or just a ploy by a desparate man?

You decide...

Saturday, February 26, 2005

SIDEWAYS SWEEP UP LA SPIRIT AWARDS

Producer Michael London, Director Alexander Payne, and writers Payne and Jim Taylor walked away with something of a sweep in the dramatic film categories at the Independent Spirit Awards on Saturday afternoon in Santa Monica for their film SIDEWAYS. Grabbing the acting kudos Paul Giamatti, Thomas Haden Church, and Virginia Madsen, all from the cast of the darkly romantic wine country comedy. Catalina Sandino Moreno, lead in MARIA FULL OF GRACE being the lone exception, took the award for best female lead.

The documentary award went to METALLICA: SOME KIND OF MONSTER, directors Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky and the feature BORN INTO BROTHELS won the DirecTV/IFC Truer than Fiction award for Zana Briski and Ross Kauffman with a cash prize of $20,000. Zach Braff, director of GARDEN STATE won the Spirit Award for best first feature.

Films overlooked at the Spirit Awards were Jonathan Caouette's groundbreaking documentary essay film TARNATION and Kevin Beacon's bracing performance in THE WOODSMEN. Critics often accuse the Spirit Awards of trying to out Oscar the Oscars by awarding big name Indiewood films and passing over the stronger but smaller independent titles.

COMPLETE LIST OF WINNERS:

BEST FEATURE
"Sideways," Producer: Michael London

BEST DIRECTOR
Alexander Payne, "Sideways"

BEST SCREENPLAY
"Sideways," Writers: Alexander Payne & Jim Taylor

BEST FIRST FEATURE
"Garden State," Director: Zach Braff

BEST FIRST SCREENPLAY
"Maria Full of Grace," Writer: Joshua Marston

JOHN CASSAVETES AWARD (Best Feature made for under $500,000)
"Mean Creek," Writer/Director: Jacob Aaron Estes

BEST DEBUT PERFORMANCE (Actors in first major role in a feature film)
Rodrigo de la Serna, "The Motorcycle Diaries"

BEST SUPPORTING FEMALE
Virginia Madsen, "Sideways"

BEST SUPPORTING MALE
Thomas Haden Church, "Sideways"

BEST FEMALE LEAD
Catalina Sandino Moreno, "Maria Full of Grace"

BEST MALE LEAD
Paul Giamatti, "Sideways"

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY
"The Motorcycle Diaries," Eric Gautier

BEST FOREIGN FILM (Award given to the Director)
"The Sea Inside" (Spain) Director: Alejandro Amenábar

BEST DOCUMENTARY (Award given to the Director)
"Metallica: Some Kind of Monster," Directors: Joe Berlinger & Bruce Sinofsky

SPECIAL DISTINCTION
Ensemble Cast: "Mean Creek"
Rory Culkin, Ryan Kelley, Scott Mechlowicz, Trevor Morgan, Josh Peck, Carly Schroeder

Turning Leaf Someone to Watch Award
Jem Cohen, director of "Chain"

DIRECTV/IFC Truer Than Fiction Award
Zana Briski and Ross Kauffman for "Born Into Brothels"

Bravo/American Express Producers Award
Gina Kwon, producer of "The Good Girl" and "Me and You and Everyone We Know"

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

HONEST ASSESSMENTS ON TALENT

This month marks the 25th anniversary of the U.S. Olympic Hockey team win over the Soviet's in what has become known as the "miracle on ice" and it causes one to reflect, particularly on assumptions underlying that 1980 Cinderella-story.

Minnesota hockey legend Herb Brooks is often quoted as telling his team, "Gentlemen, you don't have enough talent to win on talent alone." You might call this a Minnesota mantra on life. If you've ever taught a class or seminar on film or screenwriting, when standing in front of a class of fresh young aspiring filmmakers, Herbie Brooks words easily come to mind.

What is talent? And where does it exist?

Coach Brooks' statement could easily be applied to many aspects of human endeavor and especially in film, writing and other aesthetic pursuits. In reality, nobody has enough talent to win on talent alone. And frankly, no "filmmaker" has enough reserve of talent, imagination, vision, skill or ability to make an exceptional film.

One of the significant qualities you see emerge with filmmakers trying to find their voice and a consistent vision is their inabilities to assess their weakness and address them. It is sad to see writers and filmmakers consistently make the same mistakes over and over again, call it a style, and not be able to learn from making them. Boiling it down, it is simply an ability to make honest assessments.

Brooks wanted his players to look honestly at themselves and what they couldn't achieve with natural talent, how they could improve by playing to their strengths and use team members to make up for with synergy and team play.

I could name specific filmmakers in this region and outside this region who suffer from these errors but I won't. I'm not out to embarrass anyone. As professionals we need to find a context to close the doors, put away the pitches, stop enhancing the resume with hyped credits, and talk honestly about our strengths and weaknesses. We need to be able to tallk tough and with honesty and still build on each others skills and talent.

That is why I strongly believe in the workshop process. It is vital for the growth of individuals, our community and the industry.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

BERLIN AWARDS U-CARMEN AND KONG QUE TOP AWARDS


Julie Jentsch in Sophie Scholl
Originally uploaded by Screenlabs.
Berlin International film Festival announced top prizes for the South African "U-Carmen" Marc Dornford-May's remake of the classic Carmen opera set to South Africa and the Silver Bear went to Gu Changwei's "Kong Que" (Peacock) Chinese film about an ordinary small town working class family, the sibling brother and sister trials in love and marriage.

European films stood out at this years Berlin, most notably the German film "Sophie Scholl--The Final Days" about the heroic battle of a Munich students arrest, show trial and conviction on the heals of Nazi power winning prizes for Best director to Marc Rothemund and best actress to Julia Jentsch; and Henry Abu-Assads "Paradise Now" the story of two long-time friends who become Palestinian suicide bombers winning the Blue Angel for best European film and the Morgenpost Reader's Prize.

Taiwanese filmmaker Tsai Ming Liang gained special attention for his script "Tian Bian Yi Duo Yun" (The Wayward Cloud) in a story about a young woman who returns to Taipei hoping to resume her romance with a watch-salesman only to find he changed careers. After their tender romance and daily trysts resume, we discover the watch salesman has become an actor in porno movies being made in an neighboring apartement in the building where she lives. The film is interlaced with imaginative music sequences and mysterious characters that occupy the apartment.

BERLIN AWARDS AND HONORS:

GOLDEN BEAR FOR BEAST FILM
"U-Carmen eKhayelitsha" (South Africa) by Marc Dornford-May

SILVER BEAR JURY GRAND PRIZE
"Kong Que" (Peacock) (China) by Gu Changwei

SILVER BEAR FOR BEST DIRECTOR
Marc Rothemund for "Sophie Scholl - Die Letzen Tage" (Sophie Scholl - The Final Days) (Germany)

SILVER BEAR FOR BEST ACTOR
Lou Taylor Pucci "Thumbsucker" (US)

SILVER BEAR FOR BEST ACTRESS
Julia Jentsch for "Sophie Scholl -- Die Letzen Tage"

SILVER BEAR FOR OUTSTANDING ARTISTIC CONTRIBUTION
Tsai Ming Liang for his script "Tian Bian Yi Duo Yun" (The Wayward Cloud)

SILVER BEAR FOR BEST FILM MUSIC
Alexandre Desplat for "De Battre Mon Coeur S'Est Arrete" (The Beat That My Heart Skipped)

BLUE ANGEL AWARD FOR BEST EUROPEAN FILM
Hany Abu-Assad's "Paradise Now"

CRYSTAL BEAR FOR BEST CHILDRENS FEATURE FILM
"Bluebird", directed by Mijke de Jong

CRYSTAL BEAR FOR BEST CHILDREN FEATURE FILM (14 Plus)
"Voces Inocentes" (Innocent Voices) directed by Luis Mandoki

FIPRESCI PRIZE (Competition)
"Tian Bian Yi Duo Yun" (The Wayward Cloud), directed by Tsai Ming Liang

FIPRESCI PRIZE (Panorama)
"Massker" (Massacre), directed by Monika Borgmann, Lokman Slim, Hermann Theissen

FIPRESCI PRIZE (Forum)
"Niu Pi" (Oxhide), directed by Liu Jiayin

BERLINER MORGANPOST READER'S PRIZE
"Paradise Now", directed by Hany Abu-Assad

ALFRED BAUER PRIZE (for taking the art of film in a new direction)
"Tian Bian Yi Duo Yun" (The Wayward Cloud) by Tsai Ming Liang

Members of the International Jury:
Roland Emmerich (Jury President, Germany)
Ingeborga Dapkunaite (Lithuania)
Bai Ling (China)
Franka Potente (Germany)
Wouter Barendrecht (Netherlands)
Nino Cerruti (Italy)
Andrei Kurkov (Ukraine)

SILVER BEAR JURY PRIZE FOR SHORT FILM
"The Intervention" by Jay Duplass

SILVER BEAR JURY PRIZE FOR SHORT FILM
"Jam Session" by Izabela Plucinska

SPECIAL MENTION
DON KHISHOT BE'YERUSHALAIM | Don Quixote in Jerusalem by Dani Rosenberg

Members of the International Shorts Jury:
Gabriela Tagliavini (Argentina)
Marten Rabarts (New Zealand)
Susan Korda (USA)

PANORAMA SHORT FILM JURY AWARD
"Green Bush" by Warwick Thornton

PANORAMA SPECIAL JURY PRIZE
"Tama Tu" by Taika Waititi

PANORAMA AUDIENCE AWARD
"Va, Vis Et Deviens" (Live and Become), directed by Radu Mihaieanu

PANORAMA AUDIENCE SHORT FILM AWARD
"Hoi Maya" (Hi Maya), directed by Claudia Lorenz

PANORAMA JURY SPECIAL MENTION
Rhee Young-ran for her role in the film SARA JEANNE by Kim Seong-Sooks

PANORAMA JURY SPECIAL MENTION
"Bikini" by Lasse Persson

WILL THEATRICAL AUDIENCES CONTINUE TO BUY DOCUMENTARY FILMS?


Born Into Brothels
Originally uploaded by Screenlabs.
Just look around and you might be surprised, documentaries continue to arrive at movie theaters with a line-up of new titles from GUNNER PALACE to BORN INTO BROTHELS to INSIDE DEEP THROAT. Was the 2004 documentary surge just a blip or has a shift really occurred in indie filmmaking?

Coming out of Berlin this week, a couple of riveting and unforgettable war documentaries COCA - THE DOVE FROM CHECHNYA: EUROPE IN DENIAL OF A WAR by French-born Eric Bergkraut and WHITE RAVENS -- NIGHTMARE IN CHECHNYA by Tamara Trampe and Johann Feindt bring to film audiences the unspeakable and brutal acts that have come to mark the early years of this millennium. Will these documentaries serve as a reminder of the harsh realities of war that the politicized mainstream media ignores or taints for favorable gains and, more importantly, will audiences buy tickets to sit in dark theaters with popcorn and candy, at the ready, to have brutal acts unreel before them?

After a year of art house theater owners living dangerously and running films like Michael Moore's FAHRENHEIT 911 on two and three screens simultaneously (like multiplexes run blockbusters) and the unlikely successes of films SUPERSIZE ME, THE CORPORATION, FOG OF WAR, and CONTROL ROOM a new documentary film market has emerged. Suddenly, non-profit venues like U Film Society's Bell auditorium dedicating itself to an "all-documentary all-the-time" schedule, cable channels like HBO, Learning and History Channels and DVD releases have invigorated revenue streams.

The challenge ahead for documentaries will be for this penetration of films to sustain itself with return of box office. The Oscars have long ignored the highest profile documentary films and audience favorites like A THIN BLUE LINE, ROGER AND ME, and HOOP DREAMS by refusing them nominations and awards. This year is no diffrerent with the people's choice films failing to appear on Oscar nomination lists.

The bigger question is whether the Oscar can bring audiences into see films like BORN INTO BROTHELS or the sublime STORY OF THE WEEPING CAMEL in theaters or on DVD?

Sunday, February 13, 2005

MIAMI FEST AWARDS BRITISH DRAMA AND LATIN AMERCIAN DOCUMENTARY FILMS

The Miami International Film Festival (MIFF) wrapped up on Saturday nite with the dramatic award going to British filmmaker Amma Asante's A WAY OF LIFE taking the top jury prize and Scott Dalton and Margarita Martinez's Columbian LA SIERRA taking home the top documentary film prize. The festival opened on February 4th and followed on with a tribune and lifetime achievement award for Norwegian actress Liv Ullman.

Documentary winner LA SIERRA goes behind the scenes in an ongoing Columbian civil war between right-wing paramilitary groups and left-wing guerillas, where children are used for nihilistic combat in yet another turn of violent despair in increasing world conflict.

MIFF opened with Mick Davis' MODIGLIANI a film portrait of 20th century painter Amedeo Modigliani played by Andy Garcia and closed with Spanish filmmaker Joaquin Oristrell's INCONSCIENTES. Oristrell is seen as a protege of Spain's gasconade and unique auteur Pedro Almodóvar.

Spike Lee's SUCKER FREE CITY also made an premiere appearance and is described as a "riveting look at the seductive, dangerous world of San Francisco's street gang culture, where young kids from all backgrounds engage in daily clashes." The highly touted documentary film sure to gain wider release, GUNNER PALACE by Michael Tucker and Petra Epperlein takes a personal look at human survival by Ameircan soldiers occupying Iraq through individual stories also unreeled.

Special jury prizes were award to Brazilian filmmaker Marcos Prado for cinematography in the film ESTAMIRA and to Keith A. Beauchamp for THE UNTOLD STORY OF EMMETT LOUIS TILL for film effecting social change. Beauchamp's film help cause the unsolved famed civil rights murder case of Emmett Till to be reopened in Mississippi.

Asante's winning dramatic film set in South Wales won the British BAFTA (UK Oscar) the same night in London for best first feature.

Saturday, February 12, 2005

BRITISH AWARDS BEST AVIATOR AND MIKE LEIGH

British top awards went out this evening in London to a full deck of American and Brit films with no single film sweeping up the categories. Martin Scorsese's bio pic on the life of Howard Hughs took four awards and was pegged best picture, while Brit favorite Mike Leigh picked up three including best director for Leigh and Imelda Staunton for best actress.

In the acting categories Jamie Foxx, front-runner for an Oscar, won for his depiction of the late Ray Charles with Kate Blanchette ("Aviator") and Clive Owen ("Closer") taking supporting acting awards. Screenwriting awards went to Charlie Kaufman's original screenplay for "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" and best adapted screenplay going to Alexnader Payne and Jim Taylor for "Sideways."

Amma Asante, as writer/director, took home the Carl Foreman Award for the best first feature "A Way of Life" a category long overlooked in annual American awards ceremonies. Set in South Wales, Asante's passionate film about racism in a multi-ethic community stars Academy Award nominee Brenda Blethyn ("Secret's & Lies" and "A River Runs Through It") but otherwise features a number of non-professional ordinary Welsh teenagers who had never acted before performing the supporting roles.

Brit filmmaker Paul Pavlikovsky ("Last Resort") took the prize for best British film for his romantic drama and coming of age story "My Summer of Love" starring Nathalie Press and Emily Blunt set in the Yorkshire countryside.

BEST FILM
"The Aviator," Michael Mann, Sandy Climan, Graham King, Charles Evans Jr

BEST BRITISH FILM (ALEXANDER KORDA AWARD)
"My Summer of Love," Tanya Seghatchian, Christopher Collins, Pawel Pawlikowski

CARL FOREMAN AWARD FOR BRITISH FIRST FEATURE FILM
Amma Asante, director/writer for A Way of Life"

BEST DIRECTOR (DAVID LEAN AWARD)
Mike Leigh "Vera Drake"

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Charlie Kaufman "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind"

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
Alexander Payne, Jim Taylor "Sideways"

BEST FILM NOT IN THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE
"The Motorcycle Diaries" Michael Nozik, Edgard Tenembaum, Karen Tenkhoff, Walter Salles

BEST ACTOR
Jamie Foxx, "Ray"

BEST ACTRESS
Imelda Staunton, "Vera Drake"

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Clive Owen, "Closer"

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Cate Blanchett, "The Aviator"

BEST FILM MUSIC (ANTHONY ASQUITH AWARD)
"The Motorcycle Diaries," Gustavo Santaolalla

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY
"Collateral," Dion Beebe, Paul Cameron

BEST EDITING
"Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind," Valdís Óskarsdóttir

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN
"The Aviator," Dante Ferretti

BEST COSTUME DESIGN
"Vera Drake," Jacqueline Durran

BEST SOUND
"Ray" Steve Cantamessa, Scott Millan, Greg Orloff, Bob Beemer

BEST SPECIAL VISUAL EFFECTS
"The Day After Tomorrow," Karen E Goulekas, Neil Corbould, Greg Strause, Remo Balcells

BEST MAKE UP & HAIR
"The Aviator," Morag Ross, Kathryn Blondell, Siân Grigg

BEST SHORT ANIMATION FILM
"Birthday Boy," Andrew Gregory, Sejong Park

BEST SHORT FILM
"The Banker," Kelly Broad, Hattie Dalton

ORANGE FILM OF THE YEAR (voted for by members of the general public)
"Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban"

ACADEMY FELLOWSHIP
John Barry

MICHAEL BALCON AWARD FOR OUTSTANDING BRITISH CONTRIBUTION TO CINEMA
Angela Allen

Thursday, February 10, 2005

DREAM ON SILLY DREAMER: ROY DISNEY

When Roy Disney and his daughter Abigail walked into the room minutes before auditorium lights dimmed, an audible cheer went up from the section that saw his entry. Giving respite to the warnings on his web site RE: Minnesota COLD!, dressed in a red crew neck sweater and casual summer weight slacks Disney looked like he just walked off the golf course in Le Merigot and not off Hennepin Avenue in February.

As a kid, remember Uncle Walt coming on the tube at the beginning of the World of Disney, sitting on his stool, his hand waives over the drawing table, inked lines with splashes of color leap from the paper with flying Princesses and fairy jumping into the air?

Screening Dan Lund and Tony West's DREAM ON SILLY DREAMER, after all that presentation, it is hard to imagine the studio that Walt built would outsource the animation department. Without the animation department, what is Disney, a bank, a loan department, a financial holding company?

The 40 minute DREAM ON describes a guilty pleasure, an animation studio where the employees labored long hard hours and believed what they were doing was play. And they got paid for it. At one point, with the success of ALLADIN and THE LION KING animators got bonus checks resembling an executive weekly salary -- as one animator put it, you could buy a Mercedes or BMW with a bonus check.

For Walt Disney, it all began with the artist and colored pencils. The studio Walt built was at the core a passionately friendly work environment for animators. Disney had an utopian vision of life, vocation and work. Work was play. Afterall, the original dreamer at 'Disneys' was the man who imagined EPCOT (Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow) an utopian live/work community inside a theme park. The magic of such wild visions (or delusions) is implicit in the understanding that fantasy can emerge so fully from paper and pen. Ink, line and brush. Work. Magic. Not for Michael Eisner.

If you read "Walt Disney and the Quest for Community" author and urban planner Steve Mannheim or Harrison Price's "Walt's Revolution" you can understand why the suits in the accounting department were distressed and needed to vacate Walt's dream at Disney. Suits are suits afterall! Their dreams aren't candy colored rainbows set to music with fairies dancing on the ceiling. The suits were embarrassed no doubt with Uncle Walt's brood.

In response to Dan Lund and Tony West's film Roy Disney said, "I have to say how very human a face [the documentary] puts on an institutional tragedy ... the slow, cruel and insidious death of Disney animation over the past several years."

Outside the Crown theater Disney told the filmmakers "There are many people in that room tomorrow who love Disney and appreciate what Walt Disney built." The shareholders for Disney will be meeting at the Minneapolis Convention Center to hear about the transformation from Mickey and Mini to "Desperate Housewives."

Monday, February 07, 2005

MELODY GILBERT WILL PREMIERE PAIN AT SXSW


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Originally uploaded by Screenlabs.
The 2005 line-up for South by Southwest (SXSW), a top venue for emerging filmmakers and new films, will premiere Minnesota documentary filmmaker Melody Gilbert's LIFE WITHOUT PAIN on March 12th. Gilbert's film is one of eight in competition for recognition in the feature documentary category with the annual Austin film festival.

A LIFE WITHOUT PAIN provides a portrait of three families from Minnesota, Norway and Germany with children suffering from a genetic affliction causing the inability to feel pain. In a society preoccupied with masking, hiding, covering and alleviating pain, Gilbert's exploration raises uncanny insights into pain as a prerequisite to human survival. The Minnesota family depicted in the film will also be in Austin for the world premiere.

Gilbert's previous documentary films have brought significant national attention and, at times consternation, most recently her 2003 film WHOLE that aired on the Sundance Channel caused shock and dismay from smashmouth radio jocks Rush Limbaugh and KQRS Tom Bernard. WHOLE examined perspectives of people who seek to amputate healthy portions of their bodies as they become psychologically disassociated with their appendages.

Gilbert also produced the 2002 documentary MARRIED AT THE MALL and has written, directed, produced and shot her own films. SXSW Film & Music Festival runs from March 11th thru the 20th in Austin, Texas.

A LIFE WITHOUT PAIN will also be screened in April at the Minneapolis/St. Paul International Film Festival, the largest annual film event in the upper midwest. SXSW is quickly emerging as one of the leading film festivals for the discovery of new American filmmakers and films with a distinctive independent edge.

http://2005.sxsw.com/

Sunday, January 30, 2005

SUNDANCE PRICE TAGS

The myth goes that if your film is accepted at Sundance than you've arrived. In one sense, nothing could be further from the truth. Yet, Sundance could be a vehicle, one of many, a filmmaker can ride to get their film seen, meet potential future creative partners, and if you are part of a tiny percentage of filmmakers, make a sale for distribution. The oft cited bid wars, reported at Sundance only occur for a small number of films in and out of the competition.

On average the sale of films going into and during Sundance are from a completely different list than those that win the jury and audience awards. Many of the most outstanding films at Sundance never go into distribution. Dramatic films with a commercial genre appeal or using A-list actors compete in a realm of their own in the minds of distributors. Documentaries with special intrigue, either because of sensational or tantilizing subject matter or whose personalities transcend content (pop celebrities or music personalities), raise to a different standard than those used for awards of artistic merit.

Also, it is important to note, many films arrange for sale heading into their January premiere at Sundance and are all but announced prior to those legend sessions at the River Horse Cafe or the famed appearances in the lobby of the Eccles Theater in Park City.

Here is a list (partial to date) of films that made sales at 2005 Sundance Film Festival.

SUNDANCE PRICE TAGS

"Hustle & Flow" [Comedy] $16 million -- Paramount Pictures
"The Matador" [Crime Thriller] $7.5 million -- Miramax
"Wolf Creek" [Horror] $3 million -- Miramax**
"Hard Candy" [Psycho-Thriller] $2 million -- Lions Gate **
"Brick" [Dark-Drama] $2 million -- Focus Features
"On a Clear Day" [Drama] $1.5 million -- Focus Features (Universal)
"Rize" [Documentary] $500 thousand -- Lions Gate **
"The Emperor's Journey" [Documentary] $1 million -- Warner Independent Pictures
"Strangers With Candy" [Comedy] Unknown -- Warner Independent Pictures
"The Aristocrats" [Comedy Documentary] Unknown -- ThinkFilm
"Ring of Fire" [Drama] Unknown -- USA Networks
"Pretty Persuasion" [Drama] Unknown -- Samuel Goldwyn Films

"The Squid and the Whale" [Drama] still up for sale 1/29/05 but attracting a lot of interest

** Numbers reported in print have varied depending on source for these films.

SUNDANCE FILMS PICKED UP BEFORE FEST

"Tony Takitani" [World Drama] Strand Releasing (North American Rights)
"Murderball" [Documentary] Unknown -- ThinkFilm

Slamdance, an alternative film festival that attached itself to the host Sundance, has become almost more exclusive and selective than the mothership, albeit, more quirky in its roaster.

SLAMDANCE BARGINS

"Mad Hot Ballroom" [Documentary] 2.7 million -- Paramount Classics -- bought from Slamdance not Sundance
"Ill Fated" [Tragic-Comic adventure] ThinkFilm (note: this film did not debut at Slamdance and had been seen at Toronto and Whistler)

Saturday, January 29, 2005

SLAMDANCE 2005 AWARD WINNERS

On Saturday, January 29th in Park City, Slamdance presented their 11th annual prizes. The winners:

:: Grand Jury Sparky Award for Best Narrative Feature ::

Winner: "On the Outs" by Lori Silverbush and Michael Skolink
Honorable Mention for Best Performance: Chip Goodwin, "The Dry Spell"
Honorable Mention: "Phil the Alien" by Rob Stefaniuk

:: Grand Jury Sparky Award for Best Documentary Feature ::

Winner: "Abel Raises Cain" by Jenny Abel and Jeff Hockett
Honorable Mention: "La Sierra" by Scott dalton and Margarita Martinez

:: Grand Jury Sparky Award for Best Animation Short ::

Winner: "Egg" by Benh Zietlin
Honorable Mention: "Shoel" by Ruben Moller

:: Grand Jury Sparky Award for Best Narrative Short ::

Winner: "Splintered" by Peter Templeman
Honorable Mention: "Twitch" by Leah Meyerhoff

:: Grand Jury Sparky Award for Best Documentary Short ::

Winner: "Run to Jay’s" by Brett Spackman
Honorable Mention: "Birdlings Two" by Davina Pardo

:: Audience Sparky Award for Best Narrative Feature ::

Winner: "On the Outs" by Lori Silverbush and Michael Skolink
Runner Up: "Frozen" by Juliet McKoen

:: Audience Sparky Award for Best Documentary Feature ::

Winner: "The Real Dirt on Farmer John" by Taggart Siegel and Teri Lang
Runner Up: "Ringers: Lord of the Fans" by Carlene Cordova and Cliff Broadway

:: Spirit of Slamdance Award for Best Gallery Short ::

Winner: "Letters of Service" by Duncan Wellaway

:: Global Anarchy Award for Best Anarchy Short ::

Winner: "Milton is a ShitBag" by Courtney Davis

:: Kodak Vision Award for Best Cinematography ::

Winner: "Frozen" Phil Robertson, DP

:: Sparky Award for Best Teleplay ::

Winner: "The Cousin’s Club" by Ken Pisani
2nd Runner Up: "Foggy Bottom" by Hoyt Hilsman
1st Runner Up: "Amnesty" by Nikelei

:: Sparky Award for Best Screenplay ::

Winner: "The Apology" by Amir Ohebsion, David Diaan and Babak Shokrian

:: Bawls Big C Best Game Audience Award ::

Winner: "Scavenger Hunt" by Jackson Dunstan, Jonathan Bryant, Kevin Neece, Doug DaSilva,
Eric Smith, Jemal Armstrong, Lolin Turner, Shane McIntire, Ryan Hammond

:: Bawls Big C Best Game Jury Award ::

Winner: "Revolved" by Alter Ego Games

SUNDANCE 2005 WINNERS

The winners of the 2005 Sundance Film Festival Awards were announced on Saturday January 29th in Park City

:: GRAND JURY PRIZES ::

Feature Drama: FORTY SHADES OF BLUE by Ira Sachs and Michael Rohatyn

U.S Feature Documentary: WHY WE FIGHT by Eugene Jarecki

World Feature Documentary: SHAPE OF THE MOON by Leonard Retel Helmrick

Word Feature Drama: THE HERO by Zeze Gamboa

:: AUDIENCE AWARDS ::

US Documentary: MURDERBALL by Henry-Alex Rubin

US Drama: HUSTLE & FLOW by Craig Brewer

World Drama: BROTHERS (Denmark) by Susanne Bier

World Documentary: SHAKE HANDS WITH THE DEVIL: THE JOURNEY OF ROMEO DALLAIRE (Canada) by Peter Raymont

:: SPECIAL JURY PRIZE ::

World Documentary: THE LIBERACE OF BAGHDAD by Sean McAllister and WALL by Simone Bitton

World Drama: [Split] LIVE-IN MAID by Jorge Gaggero and THE FOREST FOR THE TREES by Director/Screenwriter Maren Ade

US Documentary: AFTER INNOCENCE by Jessica Sanders

Special Jury Prize Original for Vision: [Split] BRICK by Rain Johnson and ME AND YOU AND EVERYONE WE KNOW by Miranda July

Special Grand Prize for Editing: MURDERBALL by Henry-Alex Rubin and Dana Adam Shapiro

:: WALDO SALT AWARD FOR SCREENWRITING ::

Noah Baumbach for THE SQUID AND THE WHALE

:: DIRECTING AWARDS ::

Dramatic: Noah Baumback for THE SQUID AND THE WHALE

Documentary: Jeff Feurzeig for THE DEVIL AND DANIEL JOHNSTON

:: SPECIAL JURY PRIZE - ACTING ::

Amy Adams for the film JUNEBUG

Lou Pucci for the film THUMBSUCKER

:: SHORT FILM AWARDS ::

US Short Film: FAMILY PORTRAIT by Partricia Riggen

International Short Film: WASP by Andrea Arnold

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Elise Picks Hamri to Helm Snow in April

After a busy summer following the release of THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE, in which Kimberly Elise plays opposite Denzel Washington, and lensing DIARY OF A MAD BLACK WOMAN, the 34 year old actress has been working with Producers Paul Aaron and Craig Rice to put the finishing touches on the financing package for SNOW IN APRIL. Elise and Aaron have asked rock-video director Sanaa Hamri to debut her first feature film directing role.

SNOW IN APRIL has been on the table before potential funders since it received a Minnesota Independent Film Fund (MIFF) grant in 2000. Originally, Elise worked with filmmaker Nick Cassevette's on revising the script with the hope he might sign onto the project to direct. According to Producer Rice, the film is in better hands with Hamri directing. Hamri's previously worked with musicians Sing, Mariah Carey, Destiny's Child, Thicke, and most recently Prince on his Musicology vid.

Hamri has been asked about the control over content in her as a prelude to directing for film, "If all the songs are about going to the club, drinking and girls shaking their asses, that's what the videos are going to be about. When the content of songs changes to subjects like poverty and politics, the videos will have more depth. The music industry is suffering and so is the video industry."

After attending Sarah Lawrence College, the Moroccan native made her start in video as an editor. Music video for Hamri is only a stepping stone to the big screen. "Directing videos is not what I'm going to do for the rest of my life," she says. "Once I find the right film project, I'll make my move." Apparently, Elise's SNOW IN APRIL appeals to Hamri enough to pull her into feature film directing.

Minnesota is not a new location for Producer Paul Aaron. In recent years he has produced for television but ten years ago he was in Minnesota to produce LAUREL AVENUE (1993) with Carl Franklin at the helm centering on a African-American extended family and featuring many local actors. Aaron teamed with Michael Henry Brown to write the St. Paul based serial set of events that existed somewhere between a TV series and an feature film that ran 155 minutes in it American cut and 180 minutes in a two-part German release. Aaron went onto make GRAND AVENUE (1996) on a similar episodic structure around events effecting an extended Native American family.

Aaron's most recent credits have him teamed with with Brown again as a writer for the dramatic thriller IN TOO DEEP (1999) with Omar Epps, LL Cool J, Nia Long and Stanley Tucci with Epps staring as a Cincinnati cop who goes deep into the drug culture to take on a drug lord played by LL Cool J.

Shooting, according to Elise, who will play the lead in SNOW IN APRIL will take place just after winter in Minnesota.