Tuesday, April 28, 2009


Everything appears copacetic. And in Jim Jarmusch's new film THE LIMITS OF CONTROL, he applies Rule #5 of the Jim Jarmusch's Golden Rules in filmmaking where he steals from anywhere that resonates with inspiration and fuels his imagination and then breaks the rules creating a film experience with deliberate contemplative shifting through elements of visual space, tactile senses, perception and above all, music integration. 

The music score is the driving force, propelling the film from the start opening with BAD RABBIT and continues to the end with Boris, SUNN O))) and Earth, Schubert's beautiful Adagio from his String quintet and a different form of flamenco, peteneras, a version of the blues. Longtime collaborator Jay Rabinowitz edits the music and film, fitting it along Jarmusch's eclectic tastes, turning the score into an essential and vital element. Hearing about the release of the Soundtrack compilation (I am such a Soundtrack junkie) before the film release, I forego my personal expectations of what this film could possibly be about and unleash my repressed cinematic senses for what is clearly an integrating dimensional experience without the glasses.

The plot is simple. A mysterious loner notices all the everyday details surrounding him while staying focused on an undisclosed mission, maintaining his control over the discipline holding him to complete the job he is hired for. The journey could have become an incongruous, twisting trail of deceit and deception ala Hitchcock and Welles, complete with train rides through terrain changes and expansive landscapes into tight, urban corners, exotic and mysterious women, shadowy characters weathered in life, speaking philosophically in terms not readily interpreted or meant to be. Instead, Jarmusch drops enough breadcrumbs for the average viewer to follow along without noticing how the music - traditionally used for emphasizing turning points in plot and action - overtakes dialogue, replaces exposition, personal reflection, determination, completion and denouement.

Joining Isaach De Bankoie are Hiam Abbass (MUNICH, PARADISE NOW, THE VISITOR); Gael Garcia Bernal (THE MOTORCYCLE DIARIES); Paz De La Huerta (THE GUITAR): Alex Descas (of the "No Problem" segment of COFFEE AND CIGARETTES): John Hurt; Youki Kudoh (MYSTERY TRAIN); Bill Murray; Jean-Francoise Stevenin (BROTHERHOOD OF THE WOLF and THE MAN ON THE TRAIN); Tilda Swinton; and Luis Tosar (MIAMI VICE). Award winning cinematographer Christopher Doyle (IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE) is the Director of Photography creating a visual smorgasboard integrating light, colors, textures, time and space. I was feeling and tasting every scene, waiting with anticipation for the next course of sumptuously designed scenes underscored by production designer, Eugenio Caballero (PAN'S LABYRINTH).

This marks the fourth film collaboration between Jarmusch and De Bankoie. The theme runs along a similar style in his previous films of American culture seen through the eyes of a foreigner or from a different cultural heritage like in STRANGER THAN PARADISE (still one of my favorites). Jarmusch has always included music from a different palate. Artists from Screamin' Jay Hawkins, Neil Young, Iggy Pop, Tom Waits, GZA, the WU-TANG Clan's RZA among others have been fused throughout as Jarmusch advances towards bridging the artist gap within pigeon-holed genre categories. THE LIMITS OF CONTROL is a gratifying eclectic mix of indie sounds within a visually stunning film. I look forward to coming back for seconds.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Tribeca's New Image

As Festival Director with Sundance for two decades, Geoffrey Gilmore witnessed the metamorphosis of independent film's low budget image to studio feature film-level production value. More product not under studio control infiltrated the film markets vying for the same theatrical exhibition regions and ancillary routes. The dam burst and in the past year we witnessed several distribution arms closings, reorganizations, financial difficulties turning it's vise grip several notches tighter, wringing out little of what's left of a fairly good financial and highly visible run for indie films and film festivals. Perhaps this is what Gilmore means when he said film festivals must change or become dinosaurs. Maybe bringing Gilmore to New York is thought to be a way for Tribeca to change its image. 

Former festival and creative director, Peter Scarlet now heads the Middle East Film Festival coming up in October. This was recently announced since his late February resignation. That makes it just six weeks for Gilmore to take over the reins (reign?) and just a week away before the festival insanity starts. Can he do in seven weeks what Scarlet did for seven years? I found Peter Scarlet to be very accessible, meeting him at several pre festival screenings at the original Tribeca Film Festival theater, Tribeca Cinemas. He introduced the films with exceptional cinema knowledge and wit, engaging an intimate media audience staying afterwards in the lobby catching up with the local media writers and bloggers during a time when you normally can't reach or talk to someone in his position. It's a tough act to follow. Just how accessible can Gilmore be? During the past several years at Sundance, I'd see him at Festival headquarters, but he never had a moment for me or anyone during the ten days of Film Festival mayhem outside of the Sundance sanctioned media. 

Although I've been an accredited press person for Tribeca Film Festival these past three years with my Film Festival reViews podcasts, I found it increasingly media unfriendly. Decisions were made to create a Hollywood East image complete with red carpet celebrity intros, ET media and paparazzi mentality handled by an elite security force of hulking, black-suited figures equipped with ear pieces staunchly turning away anyone not on "the list" or past security checkpoints. It became almost impossible to meet filmmakers or to see their films as the sprawl mentality broke away from the original Tribeca neighborhood and spread into Midtown and Uptown locations not easily found. Combined with high ticket prices, it has become difficult - especially for students and independent filmmakers whose films were not accepted - to access the film festival. While the Tribeca Film Festival took on a life of its own creating platforms for celebrities and famous directors, the New York independent filmmaking community, along with the local contributing writers, podcasters and bloggers were left out in the cold. I did not get accreditation this year, but I'm still on their Email list. According to a Tribeca press release, American Express, a founding partner, along with new sponsor relationships promise to enhance the "Filmgoer's" (their word, not mine) experience, providing Cardmembers access to private screenings, filmmaker interviews, red carpet premieres and panels. Maybe that's the new way to go.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Getting the Most Out of Film Festivals

On Thursday, April 2, the New York Women in Film & Television (NYWiFT) panel Getting the Most Out of a Film Festival - A Guide for Filmmakers started promptly at 6:30 p.m. and I was still on the NJ Transit bus dragging its way up the snaking , snorting conga line into Port Authority. It was a learning experience, as I was one of the panelists, cursing under my breath about the Thursday night rush hour into the City, running down the street against the flow of pedestrian traffic towards One Penn Plaza. Fortunately, the evening was just kicking off with introductions as I joined my esteemed fellow panelists. 

Ted Hope, producer of nearly sixty notable films including three Sundance Grand Prize winners and the recently released ADVENTURELAND was the modertor. He took my entrance in stride allowing me to momentarily catch my breath before including me in the discussion of how to festival your film at film festivals. The discussion began with what festivals are the best to get into and should the filmmaker expend time, energy and funds to get into the Top Five (Cannes, Berlin, Sundance, Toronto, Venice) Ryan Werner, IFC Films and Winnie Lau, Fortissimo Films, coming from the film acquisition end, responded with their experiences for finding and distributing films within the circle of the top five where some include an international film market.

How to approach producers, filmmaker etiquette was a discussion thread that cautioned excessively assertive behavior having a negative backlash especially when interrupting a business conversation. On the other hand, that same persistence could gain attention for the film if memorable loglines eventually make an impression on the intended person. The junior executives may be a better way to approach rather than going after the top executive whose time is usually scheduled-to-the-max for their entire film festival stay. Finding a champion for the film among the assistants is one of the most effective ways of getting the film watched by high level executive decision-makers.

Anne Chaisson, producer and co-chair of the Advisory Board at the Hamptons International Film Festival, helped the audience understand the difference between the Publicist and Producer's Rep, two positions that assist filmmakers promote their films. A publicist has media contacts and finds people like me to watch the films and write about them. A Producer's Rep arranges meetings with buyers, distributors, other film festival representatives and, as Lau cautioned, should never take a fee upfront. Their fee is based on the agreed amount after a sale is made and not before. She also explained a Sales Agent's role which as I would expect it to be, a person who actually makes the sales agreement with the "brass ring" - the distribution deal.

The discussion then veered from feature films to documentaries. Hope turned to me and asked my opinion on the best way to submit a film and what are the top documentary film festivals. Withour a doubt, Without-A-Box offers filmmakers a way to submit their film to hundreds of film festivals for one flat fee. Established in 2002, WAB is a highly-regarded company for indie film submissions with an astronomical number of filmmaker and film festival membership. Last year, IMDb (Internet Movie Database), the biggest online film information site acquired WAB, so filmmakers can now get their filmmaker information and credits on the IMDb. This, in turn, is under the huge Amazon umbrells, a place where the public can then buy independent film DVDs.

As for the documentary film festivals, I still see the Top Five as being Cannes, Sundance, Berlin, Toronto, Rotterdam. SxSW is increasingly stronger with its docs followed by music week. Hot Docs (Toronto) and SILVERDOCS (Silver Spring, MD the DC metro area) have solid programming, great audiences, surrounded by international communities, offering conferences and pitch sessions. Slamdance coincides with Sundance and its laid back, yet indie supporting focus, finds and shows the gems worth discovering. Other good festivals include Full Frame (Durham, NC); True/False, (Columbia, MO); Edinburgh International Film Festival, Sheffield Doc Fest have solid reputations and loyal programmer followers from other film festivals. One festival I suggest and will keep my eye on is Big Sky Documentary Film festival in Missoula, Montana. Sandwiched between Sundance and Berlin festival schedules, I took the trip out west two years ago and found it to be a great place for filmmakers. The community is film savvy - one local told me he sees films at the renovated Wilma Theatre (a magnificent former vaudeville theater) and rents documentary films as soon as the video rental store gets them in. I met Les Blank and in our podcast conversation, he discussed ways to position yourself and had strong opinions on a film's premiere and how and when it should be given up. 

Film festivals are my passion as are independent features and other non fiction films I discover during my travels whether its across the country or across the ocean (or the pond), While festivals are a platform for film and filmmakers to spingboard off of, they are a business, a complex forum of film programming, world premieres, celebrity highlights, cinematic retrospectives, themes and sidebars and the economic balance of tourism, partnerships and sponsorships. Supporting the films and cinematic media provides independent film lovers an alternative to the mainstream studio fare. Keep making those films. Keep the faith.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

film review: SHALL WE KISS?

From a woman's point of view, it can happen. It starts out innocently enough - a chance meeting in Nantes, where Emilie (Julie Gayet) and Gabriel (Michael Cohen) are strangers who connect and become deeply, mutually attracted. They go to dinner, he drives her back to her hotel and forwardly asks for a good night kiss as a memento. They come close to kissing and then who knows what would have happened next before Emilie sounds the alarm demurely excusing her hesitance proceeding into a story that flashbacks for most of the movie. It turns out to be a bittersweet story of a married women, Judith (Virginie Ledoyen) and her best friend Nicolas (Emmanuel Mouret, who also wrote and directed), both acquaintances of Emilie, and the kiss between them that turns out to be more than a kiss. While most critics (mostly male) relegated this to a pile that ends up tossed in a corner, I found it romantic and elegant, attributes lacking in American films churned out using flashy fashion to entice women (considered a special interest group by Hollywood studios) to go see unintelligent mainstream films. Julie Gayet is seductive as Emilie, a character she perfected as the sophisticated friend to Daniel Auteuil in Patrice Leconte's MY BEST FRIEND, a satirical account of friendship that includes a Who Wants to be a Millionaire scenario that solidifies a friend's relationship. Just as with the podcast conversation I had with Patrice Leconte, there's a curiosity in and about relationships between best friends of the opposite sex and the extent of their friendship in hypothetical settings. I personally know several situations between opposite sex friends and one in particular, was a situation I found myself in, but that's another story. It's different in American society where evidently the boundaries between relationships are intentionally vague and nondelineated as portrayed in the weak, spineless made for television mainstream film MADE OF HONOR. In any case, SHALL WE KISS keeps the friendship intact despite awkward moments as the romantic situation heats up turning into something neither one expected yet could not escape. The interesting twists continued to mount into an uncomfortable situation as they try to manage the outcome without hurting feelings of the unaware parties. Of course, there's always a hurting party and that becomes the moral of the story. Despite the warning, however, Emilie succumbs to desire after coming up with absolute rules that Gabriel heartily agrees to and the final kiss did not disappoint. On my way home I thought about a couple of friends from a long time ago that perhaps I could look up and connect with. 

film review: An Indomitable English Surgeon & Those Bloody Kozaks

On Sunday, March 29, I had the good fortune to be at the Second Annual Cinema Eye Honors for Non Fiction Films in New York City. It seemed that just about everyone whose films were shown around in the documentary and major film festivals were here tonight and it really did feel like one big party celebrating the filmmaker's achievements. I saw many nominated films at Sundance ORDER OF MYTHS, THE BETRAYAL, MAN ON WIRE including a Sundance Midnight Screening of ANVIL: THE STORY OF ANVIL. I also saw PRAY THE DEVIL BACK TO HELL (Tribeca) WALTZ WITH BASHIR (Festival de Cannes), IN A DREAM (Woodstock Film Festival). And while I didn't see THE ENGLISH SURGEON at Hot Docs (Toronto), I heard a lot about the film after it won Best International Feature. I was able to arrange a special screening for the KINO-Q Ukrainian Film Festival in upstate New York before the film was shown at SILVERDOCS, another win with the World Feature Award in Silver Spring, Maryland.

At the Cinema Eye Honors cocktail hour, I met both Geoffrey Smith (director and producer) and Henry Marsh (brain surgeon) and we chatted about THE ENGLISH SURGEON being nominated for Outstanding Achievement in International Feature and in Music Composition having an beautifully sensual, original soundtrack by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis. And while they didn't win one of those interesting-looking awards (very spiky and could have been used in place of a surgical instrument) there was all the more interest for seeing the film as it was scheduled to open the spring season of Stranger than Fiction film series at the IFC Center, Tuesday, March 31.

From THE ENGLISH SURGEON website www.theenglishsurgeon.com questions become rhetorical with statement like " What is it like to have God-like surgical powers, yet struggle against your own humanity? What is it like to try and save a life and yet to fail?" The trailer starts off with a Once Upon A Time musical rendition as Henry Marsh reflects on these questions and answers with deliberation and the same steadfast determination as his Ukrainian surgeon counterpart and friend, Dr. Ihor Kurilets. Henry has been going out to Kyiv for 15 years with suitcases full of slightly-used equipment that normally would be thrown out after one use. He passes his knowledge of surgical procedures and performs dangerous operations in a Ukrainian hospital full of desperate patients and makeshift equipment. Dr Kurilets, considered a maverick and troublesome by the State system notes that Henry worries too much and as a pioneer focused on creating Ukraine's first neurosurgical clinic in Ukraine, he refers to a painting of Kozaks celebrating after a battle and remarks, " Kozaks are the heroes of Ukraine... and a brain surgeon is just like a Kozak." In the film Henry anxiously scrubs in on another dangerous procedure, and just before entering the operation room mutters, "bloody kozaks, off to battle".

This amazing film has been an Official Selection in over 60 film festivals and is the winner of numerous awards. Geoffrey Smith and Henry Marsh continue making personal appearances to promote THE ENGLISH SURGEON as a way of raising financial support for the neurosurgical clinic. As Henry puts it - "We have to try to make things better."

Check the website www.theenglishsurgeon.com for dates on its limited theatrical run.