Post(s) tagged with "AFI FEST"

Waking from the Nightmare, One Frame at a Time

11/04/12 - Chinese 6, 9:30 p.m.
11/07/12 - Chinese 2, 6:45 p.m.

By Andrew Johnson

FAMILY NIGHTMARE is just that: a surreal, terrifying look at familial dysfunction. Director Dustin Guy Defa’s short film — playing at the festival as part of SHORTS PROGRAM THREE — is comprised of old VHS clips of a Christmas gathering. It’s technically a documentary in that it’s a piece of home video, but it has more in common with the found-footage horror subgenre than traditional non-fiction storytelling. The images are real, but the culminating effect of Defa’s editing and sound mix is a terrifying interpretation of history that asks if artistic manipulation can reveal a greater truth than reality itself.

The opening shot presents an innocent toddler, seated on a couch, not a care in the world. It would be a charming opening scene…if he weren’t holding a knife. It’s an image that encapsulates the themes of what will follow: what appears harmless on the surface might be masking terrifying secrets. A bottle of alcohol isn’t just a Christmas gift, it’s a sign of crippling addiction. The men watching television could either be bored by the party or degenerates in disguise. The elderly woman receiving gifts might be a valued member of the family, or maybe she’s just a forgotten shell of her former self.

Defa has dubbed over the soundtrack himself, lending a sinister quality to images that might otherwise seem perfectly normal. What begins as a few bizarre voices gradually becomes a cacophony of warped noise. Casual jabs are now scathing insults, Christmas carols are satanic chants, and the off-screen whimpers of an unseen child suggest oceans of abuse bubbling behind closed doors. These aren’t the exclamations of jubilant partiers, they’re the frustrated cries of broken souls, trapped in cycles of destruction from which there’s no escape.

And in the background of it all: the children. Will they follow in their parents’ footsteps? Are they doomed to end up like Grandma, staring blankly at the empty lives they’ll one day leave behind, wondering what it all means?

Defa is clearly a man preoccupied with the recorded image. His last film was the hauntingly melancholic feature BAD FEVER, which followed a well-meaning loner through his often painful attempts at human connection. In that movie, video recording became a tool of manipulation and deceit, as if filming fictional scenarios might suddenly render them real. FAMILY NIGHTMARE functions as the opposite, reality turned fantastic in post-production, and in straddling the line between fact and fiction Defa reveals the essence of art.

Seemingly inconsequential events take on universal importance, and what could otherwise be a random collection of clips is given a coherent, if loose, narrative structure. FAMILY NIGHTMARE reminds us in 10 minutes what longer features (CLOUD ATLAS is the most recent example) often struggle to communicate: that every day and every person is a single piece in a larger cosmic story. The idea that we’re all connected might seem a cliché, but the photographic image proves it correct, acting as a bridge across time and generations.

Sometimes the only way to escape the past is to confront it. If hindsight is 20/20, the films of the past may provide insight into our present, and by documenting our reality we can transform it into something greater. The fate of FAMILY NIGHTMARE’s narrator remains unknown, but perhaps by examining this footage and editing it into something new, Defa has managed to wake up from his nightmare.

Andrew Johnson is a freelance journalist and the founder of Film Geek Radio, a network of film-and-TV-themed podcasts.

The Rules of the Game

11/04/12 - Chinese 5, 7:30 p.m. 

By Samuel Anderson

Writer-director Hong Sang-soo gives the impression in his latest works of being capable of making films almost automatically. Such effortlessness can seem like a sign of a filmmaker going through the motions, and Hong does not exactly run from this danger, returning to similar territory with each film.

But to take this repetition as a sign of someone who has run out of ideas is to miss what makes Hong Sang-soo such a provocative, and essential, artist. It is not that he makes films simply for the sake of making films — though it seems he is never not making a film, having made five in the past four years and is apparently in post-production on another. Rather, making a film is for him an activity like eating or drinking; an activity ones takes up as a matter of living. It is not strictly an activity done for the sake of an audience, but it is a social activity, and in Hong’s films, there is an appeal to us as viewers to share in the experience in a unique way.

As his career has developed, and as he has sped up his production process by working on video, Hong has stripped his singular style down to its essential elements; to the point, precisely, where filmmaking can become something like a natural activity. This has brought out a new strand of playfulness in his work, of which IN ANOTHER COUNTRY is a prime example.

The film foregrounds its simplicity: a young woman is stuck in a small seaside town with her mother, both victims of her uncle’s unscrupulous financial dealings; she expresses her frustration by writing three short screenplays, each of which centers around a French woman visiting the town, and each of which plays out onscreen.

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AFI Fest Black & White Nights-Day 2

Mike Ott on Survival and Escape

11/04/12 - Chinese 6, 7:00 p.m.
11/07/12 - Chinese 1, 1:45 p.m.

By Katie Datko

On a map, the real Pearblossom Highway looks kind of like a scar bisecting northern LA County, a jagged stretch of mostly two-lane highway heading from the suburbs just north of LA east to the high desert. It’s probably no coincidence, then, that PEARBLOSSOM HWY, Mike Ott’s follow-up feature to his multiple award-winning indie film festival sensation LiTTLEROCK (which played at AFI FEST 2010 and won the Audience Award) is about wounds — specifically, the need to heal the fractures caused by denial or neglect and the longing for belonging and acceptance.

Partly based on the real lives of the main characters, Cory (Cory Zacharia) and Atsuko (Atsuko Okatsuka), PEARBLOSSOM HWY is a humanistic yet barbed tale, darker and in many ways more poignant than its predecessor. The characters may be familiar to Ott fans, but both Cory and Atsuko have been given new back-stories. Cory is an unemployed whippet-huffing, orphaned rockstar-wannabe who longs to make it on reality TV. Atskuo, Cory’s friend and videographer who’s also an urchin of sorts, has been sent by her Japanese grandmother to live in Antelope Valley with her uncle’s family while trying to pass the U.S. citizenship test.

In PEARBLOSSOM HWY, Ott pushes the envelope on all levels. The intertwining narrative threads of the two main characters’ rites of passage mirror each other: Cory makes tapes for his TV show audition and manages to reconnect with his older brother, Jeff (John Brotherton); Atsuko raises money to go back to Japan to visit her ailing grandmother the only way she knows how — by selling herself — becoming increasingly more detached as the film progresses.

It might seem as though Cory’s story is front and center, but it’s really Atsuko’s journey that commands the viewer’s attention. Even though it’s unnerving on many levels, we get a clear sense of her slow unraveling — framed through mirrors, windows and montages of highways and truck stops. Atsuko’s first scene with a Japanese client shows her standing against a curtained window, her client’s voice off-screen. While she may seem childlike and innocent, she nevertheless stands her ground, asserts herself and, interestingly, speaks back to him not as a coy, deferential call girl, but using an informal, familiar tone. Even though Atsuko’s image becomes increasingly refracted, it is through her language that she seems to hold onto her sense of ‘self.’

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A Meditative and Engrossing Vision

11/04/12 - Chinese 2, 7:15 p.m.

By Brad Franklin 

LEVIATHAN is a film that is both unique and indefinable. It is easier to say what it isn’t than what it is. It is not a typical documentary. Its subject is commercial fishing off the New Bedford Coast of Massachusetts, but it does not treat its subject as a documentary would. There is no narration. There is no (discernible) dialogue. The only non-visual communication between the filmmakers and the viewer is a biblical quote from Job (made ominous with a scary font) that elucidates the film’s title and an endnote honoring the countless vessels and crew lost in the very waters where they filmed. These are not negatives. These stylistic choices are what make the film a truly immersive experience in a way that no IMAX documentary could.

In essence, it’s a visual diary portrayed in hyper-realistic terms. The directors employ an essentially raw form of filmmaking by simply shooting the environment of a fishing vessel with cameras placed at impossible-seeming angles from improbable perspectives, leaving their intent equivocal. Sharp cuts interrupt uncommonly long scenes that encourage the viewer to absorb the full spectrum of emotion and information that the camera captures, which involve all facets of life and death on the boat. The camera is not passive; it is always interfacing with what it’s shooting. A single scene can illuminate the brutal and transient nature of life, and evoke awe and wonder at the glory of creation.

Despite its raw, HD video aesthetic, directors Lucien Castaing-Taylor (SWEETGRASS, AFI FEST 2009) and Véréna Paravel (FOREIGN PARTS) have crafted a beautiful and arresting record of modern life at sea. LEVIATHAN presents a common-seeming vocation as an encounter with the sublime. This is complemented with an artful eye toward edits. It is not always clear if an edit has been made, if the camera jumped or if something in the environment changed. When a clear cut does come along, you are usually transported to a completely different sphere of life on the boat, which is always jarring yet is part of the mechanism that keeps the film truly engaging throughout.

Most shots are extremely intimate, as the camera has no regard for personal space. It pushes in uncomfortably close to the fishermen’s faces and stays there, watching. It is literally left to languish on the deck with the dead or dying fish and is lowered down into the sea as it is passed between ships. Often, shots are upside down or so dark they are indecipherable, but this does not detract from the potency of the atmosphere; it creates it. Certain shots transcend their initial surface quality and take on a foreboding, almost frightening tension, partly due to the lack of a guiding voice, but also because of their length. In this way, LEVIATHAN stands with the QATSI trilogy in its meditative and engrossing stream-of-consciousness staring, albeit limited to the realm of commercial fishing.

If LEVIATHAN does have a thesis, it’s that documentary filmmaking needs neither narrative, identifiable characters or a clear message to engage an audience, as these things are discoverable without guidance.  

Brad Franklin is a writer based in Los Angeles.

A Drama of Restraint

11/04/12 - Egyptian, 6:15 p.m.
11/07/12 - Egyptian, 4:00 p.m.  

By Brad Franklin

Set in the German Democratic Republic in the ’80s, BARBARA begins with the struggle of the titular character’s (Nina Hoss) attempt to exit the misery of provincial life-in-exile. Shipped off to a small country hospital for applying for a visa to move west, Barbara maintains a formal manner and keeps to herself as she bides her time, waiting to escape. However, the kindness of her colleague, Andre (Ronald Zehrfeld), begins to warm her, creating a conflict between her present and future lives. As the film develops, it becomes less and less likely that Barbara will find the escape she seeks.

Though not a thriller in the traditional sense, BARBARA delivers a sustained tension as the plot unfurls. The narrative is not heavy-handed; instead, it builds the story around the action. Back-story and character motivation fall into place quietly without distracting from the thrust of the narrative. Who she is, how she came to be desperate to escape and who the strange men are that come to her apartment to abuse her all become clear without direct explanations.

Hoss delivers a great performance that is remarkably restrained. You can feel the conflict in Barbara and the anxiety behind her stiff facade (particularly in regards to those who can hurt her) but with her patients, she shows a remarkable, almost uncharacteristic depth of compassion.

Zehrfeld’s Andre draws out this side of her further through his own empathy and shy, yet open, longing for her. His performance brings vibrancy to an otherwise tedious world — by design, as many of the characters have little to be chipper about. Mirroring Barbara’s character, the film itself never becomes too sincere or sentimental. When any scene might become trite or romantic, it retreats and reverts to its previous dispassionate alignment or “apologizes” for its indulgence, generating tension and creating an atmosphere of dulled, remorseful pleasure.

The story serves to paint a fairly accurate picture of life in the GDR. The director/screenwriter (Christian Petzold) has a personal connection to the period and locale, and he made sure to maintain strict attention to detail, going so far as to ensure that the clothing was factually from the period. Everything is vintage; no reproductions were used. He wanted to be sure everything looked, worked (or didn’t work) and moved as it would have during that time. 

BARBARA won the Best Director Silver Bear at this year’s Berlin International Film Festival and will be Germany’s entry for Foreign Language Film at next year’s Oscars®.

Brad Franklin is a writer based in Los Angeles.


After Max discovers his ex-wife in bed with another man, he capriciously marries again, the disastrous cycle repeating itself perfectly. As he traipses through life trying to navigate love, friendship with his co-worker and business partner and the turbulent business world, Max clings to the suitcase, which might just possibly contain his personal fountain of youth.

Director Bob Byington is at the top of his comedic game in his latest film SOMEBODY UP THERE LIKES ME, crafting memorable characters with a first-rate acting ensemble, including Megan Mullally, Nick Offerman, Keith Poulson and Jess Weixler.

Bob Byington and actor Nick Offerman will be at the Saturday screening for a Q & A. Screening on Saturday 11/3 at 7:15 pm and Monday 11/5 at 1:45 pm.

Watch the trailer:

Get free tickets:


AFI FEST kicked off to a roaring start last night, and today we begin our first full day of screenings.

Tonight’s Gala is director Ang Lee’s THE LIFE OF PI in 3D, a groundbreaking movie event about a young man who survives a disaster at sea and is hurled into an epic journey of adventure and discovery.

Grauman’s Chinese Theatre
6925 Hollywood Blvd.
Hollywood, CA 90028

Media check-in: 5:00 p.m.
Red carpet arrivals: 6:30 p.m.
Program begins: 7:30 p.m.

Our Special Screening for the evening is SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK, a funny and moving examination of one man’s recovery from a personal and professional meltdown.

Egyptian Theatre
6712 Hollywood Blvd.
Hollywood, CA 90028 

Media check-in: 6:45 p.m.
Red carpet arrivals: 7:30 p.m.
Program begins: 8:00 p.m.

Expected to appear: Mychael Danna, Claudio Miranda, Jim Gianopulos, Elizabeth Gabler (LIFE OF PI in 3D); Bradley Cooper, David O. Russell (SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK); Michel Franco, Tessa Ia (AFTER LUCIA); Raul Fuentes (EVERYBODY’S GOT SOMEBODY…BUT ME); Antonio Mendez Esparza (HERE AND THERE); Umat Dag (KUMA); Drew Denny (THE MOST FUN I’VE EVER HAD WITH MY PANTS ON); Kim Ki-Duk (PIETA); Adolfo Jimenez Castro (POST TENEBRAS LUX); Olivier Assayas (SOMETHING IN THE AIR).

Ticket Giveaway for SUNSET BOULEVARD

Enter our giveaway by noon today — we are giving away 5 pairs of tickets, and each of the 10 winners gets a gift bag with the new SUNSET BOULEVARD Blu-ray from our friends at Paramount Pictures.

Enter on Facebook now:

AFI Fest Black & White Nights-Opening Night


AFI is America’s promise to preserve the history of the motion picture, to honor the artists and their work and to educate the next generation of storytellers. AFI provides leadership in film, television and digital media and is dedicated to initiatives that engage the past, the present and the future of the moving image arts.

As a non-profit educational and cultural organization open to the public, AFI relies on the generous financial support from moving arts enthusiasts like you to provide funding for its programs and initiatives. Become a member today and support your American Film Institute!


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