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Tuesday, April 11, 2006


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


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


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