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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.