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Friday, October 02, 2009

A Serious Man a Minnesota Story

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, August 17, 2009

SXSW Panel Picker

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

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

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

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

Here is the URL:


Monday, January 19, 2009


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

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

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