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Wednesday, November 22, 2006

FUR Opens Around U.S.

Nicole Kidman makes the movie FUR. Although the film carries the title an "An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus" you cannot help but feel that any fan of Arbus will be disappointed at an attempted portrayal of the paradigm breaking life in history of photography.

However, if a viewer can suspend expectations or better, pretend this story has nothing to do with the legendary photographer Diane Arbus, you might find the film satisfying. And unless you grew up in New York city just after WWII, you might not know anything factual about the history anyway.

Not to put to big a point on it, simply stated, Arbus's life and character as an artist was considerably more complex than the unassuming and demur housewife depicted in Erin Cressida Wilson's script for FUR.

But watching FUR is a very satisfying experience. At it heart the film is about the mystery and inspiration that sparks an artists imagination to delve into worlds unknown. The imaginative release is palpable and treated in this film as a mystery, almost a thriller, in its dramatic build up. The key is Kidman's performance.

At one critical moment, the film itself crosses the line into an absurd and very questionable realm and the only person who can hold it from becoming laughable is Kidman. Certainly, you cannot count on Robert Downey, Jr.

Factually, the script takes great leaps and bounds from the first scene where Arbus allegedly disrobes for her photo shoot in a nudist colony (she never did) but Kidman cares less. Kidman must craft and entirely new character whole cloth.

And so she does. Many in the audience are likely to leave the film hoping they might one day see an actual bio-pic of Arbus and maybe FUR will spark that project to happen.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

MAKE ME A CELEBRITY OR ELSE...

We are often asked by local screenwriters' if there is a way we, at the Screenwriters' Workshop can get them an agent, land a deal with a producer or studio and make them famous. Can't this be a "program" of the Workshop?

Realistically, no way. Ask anyone who is in the business of screenwriting and from their experience they will say. "You've got to be kidding"

The reason I know this is because Screenwriters' Workshop tried to develop a program some ten years ago called "Industry Connections" whose purpose was to find local Minnesota screenwriters agents and production deals. A number of writers desperately wanted this program to succeed. Desperately is the key word. I think they maybe invisioned themselves as a registry for industry development executives to tap for future projects. The Industry Connection group sat down did some research, wrote a lot of letters, sent a bunch of scripts and simply ended up with a lot more rejection letters. Industry connections failed to connect.

Let me just say, I was not invovled with theis program because my efforts went more toward producing local scripts using local talent by bring screenwriters, filmmakers, directors, producers and acting talent together. Even though the process of submission and rejection is antithetical to my philosophy of "just do it" and "empower yourself" rather than forfeit your power and creativity to the judgement of others, I did wish these people all the best and if they wanted to put the trust in a program like "Industry Connections" I hope they succeed. Truly. Why not. I love to see people, through their own effort succeed in achieving their life dream.

But the reason it didn't work is because that's not how the system works. More than almost any other professional area of endeavour, screenwriting and filmmaking are industries filled with ambition and high expecations for success. All too often, writers come to the workshop and immediately want success and they put those ambitions for achievement on the backs of the other volunteer writers who are putting together workshop programs. That is worng and unfair as well as a recipe for disaster in interpersonal relations.

Getting an agent, finding producers and executives who will believe in your work and invest not only coutless hours of personal effort but, perhaps, millions of dollars of their hard earned money is a very individual and personal enterprise and cannot be programmed. It can never be made simple. There is too much at stake.

I was reminded of all this after reading this article in the New York Times about the processes of achieving success or find a voice in film and entertainment:

http://www.nytimes.com/2006/11/12/magazine/12youtube.html?_r=1&oref=slogin

As the writer Matthew Klam points out, these avenues to gaining a voice or achieving success in the industry are radically shifting and changing in todays digital media world.

I hope my friends in the Screenwriters' Workshop take notice. Nodoby can make you a celebrity.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

BRENT BOYD KEYNOTES SCREENWRITERS' WORKSHOP ANNUAL MEET


Minnesota-born screenwriter Brent Boyd will be the featured guest of the Screenwriters' Workshop in Minneapolis on October 28th while his film AURORA BOREALIS is being rolled out, city by city, across the country during the months of October and November.

AURORA BOREALIS main character Duncan, played by TV-star and teen heart-throb Joshua Jackson (Dawson's Creek) is a Minneapolis-slacker who moves from one job to the next, not due to economic hard times but more out of disrespect for authority. Duncan job problems are because of his attitude-itch.

Gradually, we learn Duncan's history and watch his indifferent exterior melt away under sway of healthcare professional Kate, played by Juliette Lewis, but moreso due to a growing bond with his grandfather Ronald played by Donald Sutherland. Duncan is stuck in Minnesota and Kate challenges him to go somewhere else in order to appreciate why Minnesota is a nice place to live.

A romantic comedy hangs in the wings while the true center of the film is the relationship between Ronald, struggling with end-of-life dehabilitating issues and Duncan who is trying to find meaning in his emotionally desolate life.

Larger themes are the autobiographical core of AURORA BOREALIS and Boyd acknowledge everybody asks if Duncan's story is his Minnesota story. The only scene Boyd will admit to being "real-life" is the end-second act Mall of America bathroom scene between Duncan and Ronald and the one that seems to stands out with viewers and movie critics. But it isn't the emotional apex of the movie which arrives later in the third-act.

How does such a particular a Minnesota film get sold in Hollywood and how do inside Minnesota jokes play to audiences around the country? Boyd doesn't have a simple or direct answer to the first question, however, he believes the more specific and detailed you make a film about its time and place the more universal its story becomes.


MPR calls AURORA BOREALIS Boyd's love letter to Minnesota. Star Tribune chief film critic Jeff Strickler [as I also speculated in this blog before Strictler wrote his review] says the real attention for Boyd's film will come when Sutherland is nominated for an Oscar for his performance as Ronald Shorter. Still, I believe Regent Releasing is way out of its league in the Oscar race and I doubt they can draw enough attention to this film.

Boyd described how when the film screened in festivals, the teenage girls would swarm and scream around Josh Jackson while elderly women swarmed around him. At the same time, he claims, the Minnesota insider jokes play to all audiences in North Carolina and New York.

...............................
WHAT: Screenwriters' Workshop Annual Meeting
WHO: Featured Guest BRENT BOYD screenwriter of "Aurora Borealis"
WHEN: October 28th, 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. (with Break for Lunch)
WHERE: Minneapolis Community and Technical College (MCTC)
1500 Hennepin Avenue South, 3rd Floor, Whitney Library, Minneapolis
...............................

Links: http://minnesota.publicradio.org/display/web/2006/09/29/brentboyd/
http://www.startribune.com/1553/story/707853.html
http://ae.mercurynews.com/entertainment/ui/mercurynews/movie.html?id=499882&reviewId=null

Photos courtsey of Regent Releasing 2006

Monday, October 09, 2006

WINNING A SPECIAL JURY PRIZE


WE WON!

The IFP Cinema Lounge Bill Keyes MC announced, "And the jury awarded special recognition to I WILL COME BACK..." and a big image of Amahl Grant popped onto the screen and the clip, "My grandfather wore a suit everyday of his life. Cold, Heat... it didn't matter, it wasn't a matter of showing out for other people. It was a matter of dignity and Italy had a lot to do with that..."

That was pretty cool to see and hear Amahl talking on that big screen and the crowd applauding our bio-doc film about Buffalo Soldier Samuel H. Grant for the Minnesota Historical Societies' Greatest Generation Film Festival.

Special Jury Prize. I am always curious about why people are awarded Special Jury Prizes, for instance, at Cannes or Sundance. Of course, for us it means we didn't get a share of the big pot of money being put out for prizes. But we did get parting gifts!

Even better, I think, was our reception in the screening rooms. I ran between the two theaters and listened to audience reactions. The audiences cheered at the end of the film and not just in the screening room loaded with Grant family. In fact, the Grant family theater was more subdued than the larger main screening area at the Minnesota History Center. Many from the audience gave us and the Grants warm and appreciative feedback and said they were moved by the story and Samuel Grants courage. not only at war but on the homefront in starting the civil rights movement.

And then the post-mortem sets in, why a "Special Jury Prize" and not the big tamale? Withstanding I had no opportunity for a speech, probably the real reason we didn't get a main category prize. Let me first just express my gratitude for not winning a cash prize. Cash prizes always produce nothing but problems with vendors, with participants, with lawyers who prey upon filmmakers and with outsiders critical of the project who feel the filmmaker just "did it all for the cash." Everybody wants a piece of prize money. It's like winning the lottery and discovering instantly you have hundreds of long lost relatives. There is never enough prize money to recoup expenses.

Let's be honest, screenwriters and filmmakers are two classes of sufferers who will never be made whole by any amount of cash. We don't make films for cash reward. You'd be crazy to think that was our motivation. We do nothing but lose money on films because we believe in them. Besides, jury awards are like homecoming queen contests and cash prizes should never be counted upon.

One thing about the contest this year was how the winning films reflect upon our image of ourselves as Minnesotans. We have myths that must be upheld and this set of films fully embraced the Midwest Minnesotan image of subdued optimism and joy in the face of unbridled hardship.

Our special jury prize film, I WILL COME BACK has the same theme, an honest man who fought for his country even though it never wanted to give him full rights as a citizen and even tried to burn him at the stake but, other-than-than, there is very little variation from the sentimental ghee-whiz sympathy profiles and heroic virtues the Minnesota Historical Society sought to promote.

The suffering Scandinavian is an archetype juries pick because they feel public pressure to uphold Minnesota myths. Or maybe that's the only subject filmmakers felt they should pursue because the MNHS wanted them in the collection.

Over the years you will find an ongoing thread of story that continually gets retold about Minnesota people, that we cannot stop working as our Protestant work ethic will not allow it; we will suffer even Gods and natures vengeance valiantly and without too much complaint; and we never take ourselves too seriously even when we sometimes should. We love this story about ourselves. We want to hear it over and over, whether it be from Garrison Keillor or the Coen Brothers -- it is the archetypal Minnesotan story.

The great thing, I've discovered, is the suffering Scandinavian archetype is not the only story in Minnesota. And hopefully, with future Minnesota Historical Society projects we can get beyond simple stereotypes and explore the rich heritage of Minnesota from the Eastern European immigrants on the Iron Range to the German's of New Ulm, from the farmer to the shopkeeper to the Jewish deli owner to the Italians who lived on the flats along St. Paul's riverfront.

Our states culture is made of different perspectives and prisms through which it can be viewed and should be seen. There are stories of medical discovers, engineering marvels, heroic deeds and achievements, cartoonists, innovators, politicians, artistic achievements and hardworking migrant field workers. And, you'd probably find just as many stories about flappers, strippers and showgirls, nightclub entertainers, snake oil salesmen and gangsters, Holy rollers, boxers and poolsharks than in Brooklyn, New Orleans or Chicago.

This isn't to take any credit away from the winners. I loved Maxine Davis' THE GOOD DOCTOR that won for "best intergenerational film" and "56" by Deacon Warner about a Gopher football hero (also a Special Jury Prize winner) and THE SATISFIED LIFE and unflinching monologue by Ted Wryk by Freya Schirmacher took the top prize for "best film." MY GRANDMA LUCY was a heartfelt film narrated by Ali Drube about her grandmother who suffered from tuberculosis produced with her father Tom that won for "best collaboration" (between father and daughter).

MAKING THE BEST OF HARD TIMES by Roger Bindl won the prize for "best film about children growing up in the depression" who never "felt poor because nobody told them" and that intercut oral history interviews at a cafe in St. Paul. And A SACRED HEART by Norah Shapiro about the poetry of Phebe Hanson that arrived in her journals out of death and loss during an era with plenty of it. All were great stories and deserving winners. And we got to ride up to the premiere in a Rolls Royce limo and walk down the red carpet. It is so much better than cash, really!

Congratulations. Hopefully these film will inspire much more citizen scholarship and documentary making in years to come.

For a list of all 32 films go to:

http://www.mnhs.org

On the way home Patricia asked me why we didn't win the top film prize and money. I told her juries all have their dynamic and perhaps they couldn't fit us neatly into one of the categories. And her response was, "Well, I guess we can take confort that we are true artists, since we won a prize but still remain poor and misunderstood."

We both laughed outloud at her comment.

Friday, October 06, 2006

STRIPPER TO SCREENWRITER...

...or how to get the recognition you want in Hollywood.

Our ever so charming yet naughty Minnesota girl Brook Busey-Hunt, aka Diablo Cody, cred has been lingering in a Hollywood purgatory since her lusty splash to fame on David Letterman this spring. By her own admit, Diablo's instant fame turned quickly into fledgling career and this is the stuff on which Hollywood is made.

Originally, Cody's red-hot script JUNO was shopped around by Mason Novick of the firm Benderspink, who has gained the reputation as the "horny manager" seeking sexy-girl blogger for career in pictures, who discovered Diablo in the Pussy Ranch, took his cut and signed her book "Candy Girl" to a six-figure publishing contract. As if there are not enough horny boys in LA LA land and lusty girls down in the valley! Novick was exposed to Diablo's writing while reading her raunchy blog on the internet. With profits, Brook bought a house in Minneapolis with hubby Jonny as apparently a book deal and a few thousand for a WB "three-picture deal" can no longer finance a house in LA.

According to columnist Jay Fernandez who writes Scriptland for the LA Times Diablo Cody is the kind of success story Hollywood loves. And he continues, "Novick has proven, is that surfing porn at work can no longer unilaterally be written off as unproductive."

LEMONY-SNICKET'S director Brad Silberling was originally slated to direct JUNO but has since been replaced by soup du jour THANK YOU FOR NOT SMOKING writer-director Jason Reitman and GHOST WORLD'S Russ Smith and Lianne Halfon producing for Mandate Pictures. JUNO has long been referred to as the female version of NAPOLEON DYNAMITE, not a flattering comparison in my book, however Reitman is reportedly working with Cody to "flesh-out" the adult characters. [Exactly what ND never got IMHO]

In order to fulfilled her promise to WB, Cody has written the feature script TIME AND A HALF, a dark comedy about a recent college grad swimming into a "mid-20s life crisis" and is finishing scripts for TV pilots she owes Sony and Dreamworks. As Fernandez describes her ascending career, Diablo's "work meetings no longer require a sheet of protective glass." Cody wants to write a horror movie and is tagged as a big fan of THE DESCENT.

Just this week, the Hollywood Reporter announced casting decisions have been made for JUNO. Cody reacted on her blog, "Ellen Page and Michael Cera are both so good. They're gooder than good. They're goodical. They're a Mark Goodson production. I could not be happier."

So the word on the street is that with an entirely new team for JUNO it could begin shooting in January 2007. Will they consider coming to shoot in Hopkins Minnesota again?

ON LOCATION WITH CHASING WINDMILLS


Chasing Windmills is one of the most exciting adventures in dramatic filmmaking to come out of the Twin Cities. Whether you are drawn to the genre of urbane Quixotic drama with a Latin flare or not, you have to admire the shear tenacity of storytelling and the bravado of posting a dramatic story everyday to the internet.

In the couple's first season, during the fall of 2005, Juan Antonio del Rosario and Cristina Cordova centered the short episodic stories primary around themselves and a fictious floundering relationship between a Minneapolis couple with family ties to Puetro Rico. Almost all their scenes were shot in their downtown Minneapolis apartment or nearby skyways and coffeeshops. Dunn Bros. at the Freighthouse is featured prominently in a couple of episodes as well as Runyons Bar. At season end, the couple take a trip to Puetro Rico to visit family and announce their expectations for family expansion.

Then, how quickly the story turns...

In the second season that began appearing on September 25th, the couple have expanded their pallet of locations, story options and characters. They have drawn their characters out of their fan base and through their web presence called together unusual, almost comic book, personae from the world of the web. You don't see these characters on TV because they are post-television digital age citizens. The second season episodes take us in many different directions, following the new characters and into new prominent Minnesota locales.

While the style of their productions appears, at times, to be hap-hazard and loose - a part of its charm - the stories are actually highly crafted and storyboarded. Juan and Cristina take turns handling the camera while the other performs in the scene.

My wife Patricia and I went on location after Juan and Cristina asked Patricia via email if she'd appear in this seasons episodes. The first episode Patricia appears in is titled LURKING. The main character Q and his new roomate Sam Carr enter a Lake street video store, cruising for single women to pick up. Once inside Sam gives his psycho-sexual analysis of women's film taste based on their availability status and suitability for mating. Sam finally concludes the foreign film section presents the best opportunities for a healthy coupling with a partner. And, as is often the case, that's where Q and Sam find Patricia browsing the shelves.

http://www.chasingmills.com

You can view individual episodes of Chasing Windmills on their main page but also see back episodes and read viewer comments on each on their videoblog:

http://chasingmills.blogspot.com

You can also subscribe to Chasing Windmills in iTunes and set them up to be loaded onto your Video iPod. These new distribution mechanisms and the world-wide audience Chasing Windmills has attracted put Juan Antonio and Cristina on the cutting edge of dramatic storeytelling for a new medium. Television had its golden era with the serialized sitcom; printing mastered its storytelling format with the novel; radio found its perfect form with the radio hour variety show; and now the internet with its fast, immediate and very portable content will find its idiom and golden mean.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

INTO THE WILD WITH BILL POHLAD

I ran into Producer Bill Pohlad and his wife at SW Minneapolis' YUM! restaurant on Saturday evening, where he was taking a break from his hectic travel schedule to grab dinner at this homey bistro owned by brother Bob and sister-in-law Michelle. Bill ate fruit salad and lemon chicken as their infant son slept in the stroller between them. We had a few moments to chat about his film productions.

FUR is going to open at the Rome Film Festival, Bill said, in a couple of weeks, however, he will not be in Rome for the festival due to the production schedule for INTO THE WILD, taking him to Portland while the Shawn Penn film shoots on location in Beaverton, Oregon in October.

FUR stars Nicole Kidman as Diane Arbus and has evolved into "an imaginary portrait" of Arbus under Steven Shainberg's direction and script by Erin Cressida Wilson, the writing team who brought the adaption SECRETARY to the screen. A wind of controversy swirls around FUR as the writer and director focused this portrait somewhat narrowly on an Arbus' obsession with forbidden sexual behavior, also a central theme in SECRETARY, as opposed to Arbus' complex career as a New York artist and photographic genius.

Pohlad's current production, INTO THE WILD is an adventure drama based on the bestselling story by Jon Krakauer about a top student and athlete from Emory University, Christopher McCandless (being played by Emile Hirsch) who abandons conventional life for the Alaskan wilderness. The script adaptation was written by Sean Penn who is also directing the film with Pohlad as Producer. The cast includes William Hurt as McCandless' demanding aerospace engineering father and Catherine Keener as well as Vince Vaughn as Wayne Westerberg.

In the non-fiction book by Krakauer, McCandless in a Tolstoyan fit renounced all his possessions, hitch-hikes to Alaska to live in the wilderness and return to nature. Keener plays Jan Burns who picked up McCandless and treated him as a surrogate son while Vaughn plays a tow-truck driver he meets while on the road. Shockingly, McCandless died of starvation four months later in a remote campsite inside an abandoned bus.

While Penn has been director of other special projects and several music documentaries, his last film for Warner Bros was THE PLEDGE (2001) that carried an estimated budget of $45M and ended grossing $20 in U.S. box office receipts. Penn's effort on THE PLEDGE was noticed with nominations for Cannes' Golden Palm and Berlin's Golden Bear but failed to achieve significant notoriety upon release.

Penn has recently been in the news for his interest expressed making the politically hot-button film adaptation of Richard Clark's Washington insiders memoir AGAINST ALL ENEMIES also with Vince Vaughn.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

BRENT BOYD'S AURORA BOREALIS


In the first date scene between Duncan (Joshua Jackson) and Kate (Juliette Lewis), meant to resemble Matt's Bar in South Minneapolis, Kate exclaims that Minneapolis is a great city to live in. Duncan asks if she means his neighborhood and she answers, "Well, this isn't as nice as St. Paul" to which Duncan answers, "St. What?" and she resserts "St. Paul!" Duncan, whose lived in Minneapolis all his life says, "Never heard of it."

At the Lagoon Theater preview screening in Minneapolis, this line gets a big laugh but one has to wonder if it plays in New York or North Carloina and if people in those cities even know that the boundry between the two cities is blurred, perhaps even, indisquishable except for the winding Mississippi. I asked Brent Boyd this question. He says, yes, the insider lines and distinctive Minnesota humor plays all over the country. In fact, Boyd claims the more particular and specific you get writing your screenplay and defining characters, the more unviersal the story becomes.

AURORA BOREALIS opens nationwide this week with Donald Sutherland, Lewis, Jackson, and Louise Fletcher (you might remember Fletcher as nurse Ratchett in ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST) and a distinctively regional Minnesota accent. While the film was shot in Toronto, the exteriors are dresssed up to look like Minneapolis with a few b-roll juxtapostions to fool you. But make no mistake, the film is pure Minnesota in character and perspective from the opening song Bob Dylan's "Everything is Broken" to the oft referenced Replacements with a cameo appearance from Paul Westerberg.

Sutherland's character Ronald Shorter emerges directly out of the Minnesota's Northwoods. Almost lumberjackian in displeasure and Finish in temperment, the former hardware store owner suffers from Parkinson's and the "A-bomb." Through the trials of losing control over his body and environment becomes uneasily settled in South Minneapolis under the caring eye of his wife (played by Fletcher) and his unemployed and unambitious grandson Duncan as well as a health care assistant played by Lewis.

Sutherland grabs onto the old feisty Scandinavian rugged-individualism attitude with success. During the filming of AURORA BOREALIS, Boyd was kept on the set for rewrites and often Sutherland badgered and podded the young writer as a way of reaching a better understanding of Ronald Shorter. Depending on the field of possible supporting actor roles this year, Sutherland might grab a nomination for best supporting actor in this film, however, the film's release has no backing from a studio and is struggling under the inexperience of its specialized distributor Regent who might not be up for the challenge of handling the larger audience potential of a Sutherland film. And certainly, in the horse-race for Oscar nominations an experienced distribution company makes an enormous difference in placing their horse in the gates.

Never-the-less, the appreciation of the films humor and specificity comes from the contrast a Minnesota character offers to the outside viewer. For viewers like my wife (a Brazilian) and her friends from outside the country, they immediately recongize the "Minnesota-guy" syndrome that Duncan suffers under. And perhaps also the release an outsider like Kate presents to their focused world under his fur lined parka hood.

Definitely a film for the autumn holiday season.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

GUILTY SELF-INDULGENCES ON 4/11


Being today is my birthday today, April 11th, I thought I might go to the subject of self-indulgent cinema tastes -- my secret uncensored interests and joys.

On the political front, I my curiosity sways toward films from countries that give me a chance to probe and investigate political cultures other than my own. With the Italian election just completed and Silvio Berlusconi refusing to concede power, I am reminded of the first political films that appealed to me in cinema were by the great Italian auteurs: Federico Fellini, Roberto Rossellini, Michelangelo Antonioni, Pier Paulo Passolini and Bernardo Bertolucci.

OEDIPUS REX, 8 1/2, THE CONFORMIST, BLOWUP, VIVA L'ITALIA! were Italian realist and political films, I used to program in the cinema club lounge during my university days. While college students today prefer ANIMAL HOUSE and such frat-boy humor as ANCHORMAN, radicalized students in my day flocked in numbers to Eastern European, Russian, and Italian movies condemning fascism and unfettered abuse of government power.

More recently, however, I have been enjoying political film from Brazil. And, while you may have recently seen THE CONSTANT GARDENER, a film enjoyed because my fondness for political firebrands like Tessa (played by Rachel Weisz) I go back to Fernando Meirelles' first film (who directed CONSTANT GARDENER). CITY OF GOD is absolutely amazing and probably the best film of 2002. 

I also enjoyed Seigio Bianchi's CRONICAMENTE INVIAVEL (2002) or the English translation would be CHRONICALLY INFEASIBLE which is both satirically biting and funny. Not since Luis Bunuel's DISCRETE CHARM OF THE BOURGEOISIE (which this film resembles) has a film been more incisive and powerful. 

Another interesting Brazilian political film would be ONIBUS 174 (Bus 174) a gripping documentary by Jose Padilha also from 2002. Padilha chronicals the actual events in 2000 when a street bandit took control of a bus after armed robbery gone bad turns a hostage situation and unfolds into a surreal drama involving the media, police incompetence and desparate victims in a face-to-face conundrum. 

Now, away from the Brazilian front, I also very much enjoyed a Norwegian film called UTOPIA, which I probably shouldn't even mention since it has never been distributed in the U.S. and if difficult to obtain. I had to write to the Producer Ørjan Karlsen and request it under its native language title "Folk flest bor i Kina" or translated MOST PEOPLE LIVE IN CHINA Ørjan didn't at first understand when I asked him for UTOPIA which film I was talking about but then explained the title was changed provisionally to UTOPIA for a potential American distributor who never contracted the movie.

Anyway, UTOPIA or MOST PEOPLE LIVE IN CHINA is a very funny and inventive film constructed in 9 parts (one parable for each political party in Norway), each part describing with humor and self-humility (Norwegians are great at self-humor) the aspirations and lifestyles of its people. The films sections were each written by a different screenwriter within a collective called Oslo Screenwriters Workshop and directed by different directors. Each political allegory was edited and shopped to festivals as film shorts. A few won international prizes. Writer/Director Thomas Robsahm than wrote an interstitial movie to tie all the short films together. And its brilliant.

I am a big champion of UTOPIA or FOLK FLEST BOR I KINA and am sorely disappointed that this inventive drama never received American distribution. I found the film listed on the Norwegian Film Insitute web site (http://www.nfi.no/english) and then contacted Motly's, its distributor. You also have to obtain or own a multi-region capable DVD player because the DVD is not encoded for the U.S. but let's hope the future will break down all these arbitrary and artificial barriers to stories and cultural understanding. Technology and copy protection schemes, at the moment, only seem to throw more barriers and fences up.

Monday, April 03, 2006

MSPIFF: AL FRANKEN'S GOD SPOKE


AL FRANKEN: GOD SPOKE will open the Minneapolis/St. Paul International Film festival on April 20. The normally intensive international festival will take on a decidedly local flavor this year due to radical cutbacks in administration and lack of scheduling from international festivals.

Chris Hegedus and D. A. Pennebaker, the makers of THE WAR ROOM and START-UP.COM turn their cinema verite cameras on the burgeoning political career of Minnesota's own comedian turned bull-dog Al Franken. Shot over the course of two years, the film follows the former SNL writer/producer turned hard-hitting commentarist from his highly publicized (and well-timed) feud with Bill O’Reilly over Franken’s best selling book, “Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them” to his tireless campaign against George Bush in the 2004 Presidential election.

“I take what they say and use it against them. What I do is jujitsu.” Al Franken describes his style of counter-punch politics.

From Franken's USO tour in Iraq, to the studios of liberal radio network Air America and on the campaign trail, filmmakers Nick Doob and Chris Hegedus were granted entre to one of the most effective political satirists of our time. Minnesotan's will recognize documentary footage shot in Minnesota, and Franken will make an appearance on the opening night of the MSPIFF.

Franken fearlessly confronts pundits and politicians, blurring boundaries between political satire and impassioned citizenry. Featuring a host of beltway big mouths including Ann Coulter, Michael Moore, Al Gore, John Kerry, Robert Kennedy Jr., Sean Hannity, William Safire, Karen Hughes and Henry Kissinger, the film is an hilarious look behind the front lines of the media wars during the most contentious election in recent history.

But ultimately, the film is a personal drama of transformation, as Al Franken leaves comedy behind and moves from his seat in the sidelines to become a contender inside the political ring. And it maybe a inside look at Franken's future aspirations that may include a run at one of his most sought after foes -- Senator Norm Coleman -- who first slighted Franken's friend Paul Wellstone and then went onto replace the Senator after the tragic air crash that killed him, Sheila Wellstone and their daughter Marsha.

In years past MSFIPP has had a strong relationship with the Norwegian consulate and northern European countries and audiences can expect to continue to see international films with a Scandinavian flavor. The festival is scheduled to close with the Minnesota-made Ali Selim's SWEET LAND based on Will Weaver's novel about a Norwegian mail order bride who took root in Minnesota's northwestern wheat fields.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

WALKER AND VIERTEL LEAD PRODUCERS CONFERENCE

Minnesota's most active producer Christine Kunewa Walker and wirter/producer Joel Viertel headline the day-long annual IFP Producers Conference constructed around the theme of shooting locations. Location manager Clint Allen for SWEET LAND, Ali Selim's Minnesota indie feature scheduled to close the Minneapolis/St. Paul International Film Festival on April 30th will also lead the conference.

The 2006 IFP Independent Producers Conference will focus on the many elements of shooting on location, whether your script is set in the Little Belt Mountains of Montana or Little Italy. Via discussions and case studies of the guest producers' films, you'll learn everything from scouting, legal fees, permits and insurance to prepping a production for a location and much more.

CONVENTIONEERS, co-penned by Viertel and director Mora Stephens, tells of a young Republican man comes to New York for the first time to be a delegate in the Republican National Convention and falls into an unlikely affair with a girl he knew in college - a Democrat who returns to the city to protest the convention. Conventioneers is an ironic Romeo & Juliet story set against the real 2004 RNC that explores the consequences of the divide in American politics. CONVENTIONEERS was the winner of the 2006 Independent Spirit's John Cassavetes Award for Best Feature Made for Under $500K.

Ali Selim’s dramatic feature SWEET LAND based on Will Weavers novel tells the story of Inge as she buries her husband Olaf on their Minnesota farm in 1968, we relive her life story as she tells her grown grandson about how she arrived from Norway in 1920 as Olaf's postal bride and of the epic obstacles they overcame in order to marry. Selim shot the majestic looking landscapes in Central Minnesota with considerable location support from Montevideo town and citizen stand-ins and extras.

Also on hand will be conference panelists James Bigham (SWEET LAND), Mike S. Ryan (JUNEBUG) Lucinda Winter, Executive Director of the Minnesota Film & TV Board, and SWEET LAND Production Manager Clint Allen. Location shooting for locally produced shorts will be discussed by local filmmakers William Kruse and Kris Barberg.

CONVENTIONEERS will be screened at the Minneapolis/St. Paul International Film Festival (producer present) on Friday evening, April 21 (time/location TBA) and will be a featured case study at the conference. Watch for updates on confirmed guests and other details!

IFP Minnesota's 7th Annual Independent Producers Conference
THEME: Location is Everything!
DATE: Saturday, April 22, 2006
TIME: 9:00 am - 4:45 pm
GUESTS: Joel Viertel (Writer/Producer of drama CONVENTIONEERS)
Christine Walker (Producer AMERICAN SPLENDOR, FACTOTUM)
Clint Allen (Production Manager SWEETLAND)
PRICE: $50 IFP Members; $40 Students & Seniors; $75 General Public
LUNCH: $10 (optional - Middle Eastern buffet provided by Holy Land)
PLACE: Minneapolis Community & Technical College, Wheelock Whitney Hall, Rm. L3000
REGISTER: Call 651.644.1912

Monday, March 20, 2006

DIABLO CODY GOES MONDAY

A revision to David Letterman's CBS Late Night schedule puts Minnesotan Diablo Cody on Monday night March 20th after Denzel Washington.

http://www.cbs.com/latenight/lateshow/show_info/

Originally, Cody was to tape on Monday and air as the third guest on Wednesday. Cody will be plugging for her book "Candy Girl," an autobiographical account of the life of a stripper in Minneapolis adult soda pop clubs and will not speak about her script JUNO. In the interview with Letterman, Cody (her real name is Brook Busey-Hunt) reportedly tells Dave "if this writing thing doesn't pan out, I'll go back to the pole." Much to Letterman's delight, Cody describes the work of being a stripper and even "bed dances" an act that simulates sex on a bed according to viewers of the taping session.

Denzel Washington will promote Spike Lee's newest crime mystery thriller INSIDE MAN also starring Clive Owen and Jody Foster. The two-time Oscar winner also currently has a son who is being actively sought in the NFL and a daughter entering Ivy League schools. Washington plays a down-and-out cop who steps into the role of negotiating the release of hostages in a bank robbery gone wrong.

Friday, March 17, 2006

CODE BITCH, CODE BITCH

The ever sensational and outrageous Diablo Cody is going to be making an appearance in the David Letterman Show. Imagine, the guy from Richfield Minnesota with the hummingbird feeders dangling from his cap outside Woodlake Preserve....our former Minnesota on Letterman claim to fame... but with Diablo, you never know where she's gonna hang her feeders out. Letterman might think he has his hands full with Madonna but he has yet to meet Diablo...

Maybe, just maybe, our code-named devil will behave herself. NOT!

Diablo will appear as the third-guest as an "author." I didn't recall Letterman had a three guest line-up, but perhaps I am sawing logs in those desolate hours. Does Dr. James Dobson of the quickly enraged Focus on Family Counsel stay up late enough to have the hair on his back rise up and in order to scream of them damned nations?

Or maybe Diablo will hire a stand-in to play her in the guest chair on Letterman just as she did with the City Pages cover story [CP: August 17, 2005] detailing her account of meeting and not meeting with nameless WB executives to ink the 3-picture deal for her script JUNO scheduled to be directed by Brad Silberling (LEMONY SNICKET, MOONLIGHT MILE) this spring.

As of a few weeks ago, Minnesota had lost out (according to the Pioneer Press) to Illinois in the bonus bucks bidding wars as prime location for JUNO, a film styled to be Hollywood's answer to NAPOLEON DYNAMITE, even though Silberling approved of Hopkins to shoot most of the Cody scripted pix.

If Diablo's instincts are in true form, you can bet she'll be naughty but nice to fair haired midwestern Letterman from Indiana. The show is scheduled to be taped on Monday and aired Wednesday, March 22nd, if you can stay awake...

http://blogs.citypages.com/dcody/2006/03/a_minor_engagem.asp

MSPIFF: SIGNS OF LIFE

Despite being hobbled by few film selections from the big international film festivals this winter due to staff shakedowns and Al Milgroms health condition (we wish him the best), email sent from Rick Hansen calling for local submissions suggests the Minneapolis international festival might still be coming to a theater near us.

Minneapolis-St. Paul Int'l Film Festival Seeks Local Work

We're looking for Minnesota-made shorts and medium-length films of any genre (narrative, docs, experimental). Maximum length 40 minutes. Films that have screened in the M-SPIFF in the past are ineligible. Send a DVD or a VHS:

Minnesota Film Arts
Attn: MN Shorts
309 Oak Street SE
Minneapolis, MN 55414
Joe@mnfilmarts.org

DEADLINE: Must arrive in office by March 25

We're also looking for your video-blogs and streaming shorts. Send a DVD or VHS to the above address, or send a URL to info@minnesotamovie.com

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

CHASING THE VIDEOMILLS

Last Friday as I prepared to leave work for the weekend, I got my line-up of films, docs, funny shorts and even goofy TV commercials ready for my wife and our weekend viewing.

Yes, I said my wife. The big EP found his one true love in life Patricia and tied the knot. I am happy as a jaybird.

As I drive home along LaSalle Ave south I lamented the death of Oak Street Cinema revival house and now, it seems, the Minneapolis/St. Paul International Film Festival is going down with MFA. But, I guess, I am not too pained by the loss other than for nostalgic reasons. Frankly, there in my pocket on my iPod video I had four months of programming that I would never have gotten to see at Oak Street and Bell combined even if I'd gone every night and offered my $5 and suffered parking.

When I got home Patricia was excited with the prospect of viewing the newest episodes from the locally written, shot and produced CHASING WINDMILLS drama.

I had old and never before seen films. Old newsreel material from the National Archive in Washington D.C. as well as a 30 minute video from NASA on the Apollo 11 mission. I had a series of old funny off-beat TV commercials shot by our friends at Fallon. A mini-series sponsored by Doc Marten's about working people in London. And a series by a local couple Juan Antonio del Rosario and Cristina Cordova called CHASING WINDMILLS. I had movie trailers and all the short dramatic films nominated for the Academy Awards. Local, regional, national, and international films and video. Shorts, long form, documentary, animation and even archival history. I had a pilot for a new television show along with "behind-the scenes" materials for another.

The exciting development with internet delivered drama and documentary is that the bitstream levels the playing field, making it much easier and less expensive for local filmmakers to deliver their work to thousands, if not millions of eyeballs. And CHASING WINDMILLS is one of the most cutting edge productions in indie media making today.

What was impossible 10 and 20 years ago to view on any given weekend, is now not only possible but really easy. Alternative distribution has changed gears significantly and still the smoke has yet to clear on the directions we are heading. Going back five, ten and fifteen years in this community, we desperately hungered for alternatives to the mainstream distribution channels that delivered cheez-wiz rather than Taleggio or Parmigiano Reggiano.

Alternative content is now plentiful and in the period of a few short years our choices have changed radically. In 2004 and 05, the entire music industry was completely transformed by Napster, Garage Band, and the iPod and, despite the harsh and brutal threats by lawyers in Hollywood, the film industry walls of monopolistic control will fall and distribution will change also.

Digital distribution is a welcome development and a new age for independent filmmakers. Friends, get on board!

Friday, March 03, 2006

SHIFTING SOIL UNDER THE OAK

At the staff organized community meeting between Casablanca and Citizen Kane, when the topic of the future of MFA was raised, Board member Tim Grady stated that the Minneapolis/St. Paul International Film Festival (MSPIFF ) was fully funded and would go forward, following on a twenty plus year tradition in April. This assurance seemed to place a China Wall between the crisis of operating the slumping box office at Oak Street for revival films and our world-class film festival.

Now, the international film festival seems to be in doubt.

First, Al Milgrom founder and driving force behind MSPIFF went in for heart surgery during the Berlin International Film Festival (traditional a well-spring of film bookings for MSPIFF) and other Minnesotans hoped to see into Tim Grady in Berlin acting on Milgroms behalf. But nobody saw Grady there.

Second, placing a phone call to the offices of MFA will reveal and entirely new and inexperienced, if not, enthusiastic staff. Adam Sekuler has left for Seattle to began working at the Northwest Film Center. Al Milgrom is still recuperating at home, albeit it reluctantly. Gretchen Williams was picked as one of the hip and cool in Mpls/St. Paul magazine but not an employee of MFA. Emily Condon is gone and needless to say (despite that fact I had coffee with him in the skyway this week) Jamie Hook is happily engaged at a new cinema/live theater organization in Williamsburg Brooklyn. A week ago the MFA staff and board had not booked any films for the April schedule. If the problem at MFA was the staff, as Grady contented and not the board, now that the staff has been wiped out, where is the healing?

Third, according to a source close to the situation, the festival will not be held in April breaking with a decades long tradition and in its place a scaled down film schedule in unreel. The talk around the community is the next main festival will be moved to the fall of 2006.

This is bad news for Minnesota film lovers and could mark the end of our international film festival forever. A fall international film festival is a completely different species than one held in the spring from a programming standpoint. Moving a film festival six months downline is not as simple a task as it might seem -- its not like extending the deadline.

Probably the most disturbing aspect of the situation at MFA as it has unfolded is the lack of communication from the board with the community. Mostly, this is marked by two completely polar assessments of the condition of the organization. Other revival houses like the Oak Street around the country, more specifically the Bratttle Theater in Boston, experienced similiar downturns in box office revenues and declining membership.

Faced with the impending emergency, the Board of the Brattle jumped into action, came up with a comprehensive plan to rescue and revitalize the organization and set a deadline for the community to raise a targeted $400,000 otherwise the Brattle Foundation would close the doors. This clarity of purpose and resolve to go forward with community support is the leadership we need from MFA. Unfortunately, issues and analysis of the problem seem to have polarized the core of the non-profit board and membership.

One pole in the argument says revival cinema and Oak Street are completely healthy and artistically necessary while the Bell Museum and U Film is a drag on the organization. The other side says Oak looses money and has high overhead in keeping the doors open while the Bell with its documentary focus has been programmatically stable. Both positions now have begun to cannibalize the entire organization. And what's missing is responsible leadership and effective fiscal management.

Probbaly the most encouraging sign was a roundtable discussion hosted by Rob Nelson in the City Pages with leading curators and media arts administrators as well as Adam, Emily and Tim Grady from MFA. This community dialogue needs to continue.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

PRAIRIE HOME COMPANION AT BERLIN

At the Berlin International Film Festival during the world premiere screening of PRAIRIE HOME COMPANION, Robert Altman was treated to a thunderous standing ovation. Expect more kudos for the 80-year-old American master this year.

PHC embodies many of the trademark Altman storytelling devices -- great ensemble acting; layers masking reality and facade; soft political satire; and parodies of social convention. Like Altman's classic microcosm films that get inside the skin from M*A*S*H* (military field hospital) , NETWORK (television news), THE PLAYER (Hollywood), KANSAS CITY (Jazz music), to MCCABE AND MRS MILLER (cowboy western), with PHC (the world of live radio) he has put together an astonishing cast, under-stated performances with an unassuming almost dispassionate central character.

With PHC Altman centers this milieu on the slow-talking Jimmy Stewart-like persona of Garrison Keillor. Altman began his career in Kansas as a writer for radio and the world of Keillor and PHC is a fitting turn of circle for the America auteur become legend.

Teaming with GK seems to suit Altman well. Both men come out of the midwestern soil of determined iconoclastic Protestants who share suspicion for the hierarchy dominates entertainment and cultural commerce. As such, both men forged their careers and industry by laboring outside the pale and taking stands against powerful Hollywood and New York industry interests with a stubbornness born or landlocked midwestern values.

While Altman and Keillor share critical distan for the hyprocracies of modern Christian life and stingy illiberal politicians, they also maintain a sunny optimism that even if life is unfair "it could be worse." Just so, the show must go on. GK's character in PHC is confronted with the possibility of the last radio show, to which he responds, he treats every show as if it were his last.

For many years, in Minnesota we have talked about a local or midwestern regional aesthetic, even a Minnesota representation in culture. With GK and Altman, this hard boned and bull-headed sensibility has become fully realized. PHC can easily be compared with LAST PICTURE SHOW, FRIED GREEN TOMATOES or MIDNIGHT IN THE GARDEN OF GOOD AND EVIL for its regional attitudes.

Sure to get a lot of play, partly due to Altman's career arch, unfortunately due to Lindsay Lohan's place in the cast beside a cast of acting legends, and in some part due to the Prairie Home Companion brand, expect a lot of buzz come around the June 9th theatrical release.

If timing is right and planets align, the Minneapolis/St. Paul International Film Festival should open with this film.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

FACTOTUM: A CHANGE OF HOSTS

Bent Hamer's FACTOTUM, shot in Minnesota by Producer Christine Walker during the summer of 2004 with indie stalwarts Matt Dillon and Lilli Taylor, has been lingering in pre-release. After its mild debut at Cannes in the spring of 2005, Picturehouse acquired FACTOTUM on May 25th and it looked to be slated for a February 2005 release. Picturehouse is a off-shoot of HBO and New Line Cinema and the deal was brokered by Sara Rose. Then came Sundance line up in December.

FACTOTUM has been called "pitiful, sad and vicious" by some who have seen it, yet a comedy filled with brilliant pickled performances by Dillon and Taylor as chaotic alcoholics. If ever there was a genre called "alcoholic literature", Charles Bukowski embodied it fully.

Dillon's performance as Hank, another autobiographical hard boiled sketch of human flesh marinated in booze and cigarettes perhaps surpasses Mickey Rourke's equally biographical Henry Chinaski in BARFLY form 1987 by French director Barbet Schroeder. Hank or Henry is yet another manifestation of Bukowski's alter-ego.

Not a fun night out at the movies, FACTOTUM running time was cut considerably after its Cannes unreeling and its distributor Picturehouse began to act nervously. As they approached the roll-out Picturehouse began asking for a "clean and sober" version of the film that downplayed the alcohol abuse and sex. What? A Bukowski film without drink and womanizing?

At Sundance, the producers announced, "...the deal [with Picturehouse] fell apart due to an unresolved legal matter...", shortly after the announcement of this year’s Sundance Film Festival lineup. FACTOTUM was then picked up at Sundance by IFC Films and is now planning an August 18th release.

Picturehouse is also slated to release another Minnesota producer-connected picture FUR directed by Steven Shainberg and produced by Bill Pohlad.