Post(s) tagged with "AFI FEST"

Awakening the Audience

11/03/12 - Egyptian, 7:00 p.m.
11/06/12 - Chinese 2, 1:30 p.m. 

By Samuel Anderson

HOLY MOTORS functions entirely according to its own logic, from its first moments sweeping us into a world unlike that of any other film. But despite the sense we may have of seeing images that spring from deep within someone’s subconscious, the film’s logic is much closer to that of insomnia than that of dreams.

Léos Carax himself rises from bed in the middle of the night, inside an anonymous hotel room overlooking an airport — a place that feels like the edge of the world. Carax credits himself as playing ‘The Sleeper,’ but he appears, before rising, to sleep uncomfortably, if at all. He gives the impression, in fact, of playing an aged version of ‘The Voyeur,’ the name under which he made a cameo in his early masterpiece MAUVAIS SANG (1986) — the nighttime wanderer, spying on the film’s proceedings. Here, discovering a passageway, which he unlocks with a finger-become-key, he finds his way to the balcony of a theater, where the audience appears to be either asleep or dead. He gazes — perhaps with indifference, perhaps with longing — at the screen, appearing to be the only one conscious of what plays there.

If this opening sequence takes its place among the most haunting in recent cinema it is in large part due to this sense of a fitful sleep turned into a harrowed wakefulness. Through it, Carax invites us to share in the peculiar clarity that emerges from a man’s restlessness.

What follows is the journey, beginning at dawn and going long into the night, of M. Oscar (Denis Lavant), an actor of sorts, shuttled from performance to performance in a limo/dressing room. Though he is hired to play various identities, it is unclear for whom he performs. In fact, these roles are initially characterized by their invisibility: a businessman who sounds like a covert arms dealer; a beggar woman, ignored by passers-by; a motion-capture performer whose body will be digitally transformed into a phallic monster. But gradually, his performances become more personal in nature; centered on a series of intimate encounters, they suggest that the performers may also be their own audience.

Long among the most remarkably physical of actors, Lavant here gives one of cinema’s defining performances. Not a gesture, it seems, is without significance; each illuminates an element of the film’s universe, guiding us further into an experience of waking to a world of which we have been unconscious.

On the level of montage and mise-en-scène, the film takes many of its cues from Lavant. The camera holds itself tight to the movement of his body, while, mirroring his taut performance, each shot and each cut — each cinematic gesture — serves the purpose of either propelling the narrative forward or making an emotion more profound. Such control is, perhaps above all else, why the film has the feel of a waking vision rather than a dream. Often obscure in its reasoning, it traces out its contours with a precision that, however wild things may be at the moment, suggests it is driven much more by conscious intent than by unhinged irrationality.

This efficiency does not, however, mean that the film is dominated by a cold rationality. As with his previous works, Carax has made a film of a deeply personal mark, not only in the myriad autobiographical references he inscribes, but even more so by the rawness that characterizes it, the impression it gives of springing directly from his experience of life. Perhaps, indeed, ‘personal’ is not even the right word to describe this dynamic, for it entails losing oneself in the film in order to give shape to a specific way of thinking in cinema that exceeds measured reflection. To return to that initial image of Carax looking over the unconscious audience, this is a kind of cinema that does not seek to weave another dream for us; rather, it seeks to awaken us to a new form of experience.

Samuel Anderson is a writer and film producer based in Brooklyn, NY. His feature film projects include MUNYURANGABO (AFI FEST 2007) and ABIGAIL HARM (2012).

Exploring a Labyrinth

ROOM 237
11/04/12 - Chinese 1, 9:00 p.m.
11/07/12 - Chinese 3, 1:15 p.m. 

By Dennis Cozzalio

When I first saw Stanley Kubrick’s film of THE SHINING back in the summer of 1980, one of the many questions swirling around in my head as I stumbled out of the theater into the midday sun was, Why would Kubrick change the number of the sinister hotel room from 217 (as it was in Stephen King’s book) to 237? It seemed like such a random choice, but it gnawed at me, right along with the many reservations I had about the movie itself. My own efforts to contemplate Kubrick’s motivation never moved beyond the rudimentarily mathematical, not to mention the absurdly inconsequential — “Is the director saying his movie is better than King’s book by, um, 20?” — before I gave up altogether.

It’s been 32 years since the movie came out, and over the course of subsequent summers the movie — which got very mixed reactions from critics and audiences at the time — has been embraced by many as yet another Kubrick masterpiece. But it turns out some people never gave up wondering about that room number, and scores of other mysteries apparently buried within the text of the movie’s visual and aural design.

Rodney Ascher’s delightful, nimbly directed, perplexing but never condescending ROOM 237 allows that freeform wonderment a postmodern sort of forum, charting the conspiratorial theories of five people who have poked at the carcass of THE SHINING for decades, each unearthing wildly divergent, improbable, thought-provoking and, of course, conflicting conclusions.

The movie, blessedly talking heads-free, uses plenty of fair-use justified clips from Kubrick’s movie as a sort of an illustrative guide, functioning as an exhibit of evidence to support the various claims made by its multiple narrators, alongside scores of found footage and clips from other films, some directed by Kubrick, some not.

If ROOM 237 never allows the viewer the luxury of “getting to know” the folks who have submersed themselves so profoundly into Kubrick’s methods, then the very nature of their obsessions provides clues for further psychological archaeology. One man claims the movie as a treatise on the genocide of the American Indian, another on the Holocaust. There’s a woman who tracks with three-dimensional precision the lay of the Overlook Hotel (Ascher cleverly places us inside her maps) and the meaning taken on as the various characters move through it. And two different observers focus on how Kubrick apparently used the nascent trend of technological manipulation of imagery (originated in the groundbreaking effects of 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY) to his own end — one weaving an elaborate theory involving that changed room number and Kubrick’s involvement in the faking of the Apollo 11 moon landing, the other postulating that the simplest answer to why the movie is so packed with seemingly random information might be the most reliable — Kubrick was bored.

ROOM 237 has been criticized for elevating the nitpicking mania of marginalized viewers to the level of film criticism, and it is true that there’s a certain similarity between what goes on here and the sort of geeky-smart exegesis found in modern video essays, ones produced by reliably intelligent writers as well as the kookier fringes of the fanboy brigade. But what Ascher does here hardly negates 32 years of serious consideration of a movie that by no means holds a consensus of quality either among critics or the public.

Some of the defensive railings against the film from reputable critics imply a presumption that Ascher lends credulity to either the notion that the theories in his film belong on the same platform as traditional film criticism, or to the veracity of the ideas themselves. But what makes Ascher’s approach admirable is his refusal to editorialize about his subjects, to use his movie to demonstrate a hipster’s directorial aloofness, a constant invitation to chortle at the plausibility of what’s being offered. The invitation is not to award these theorists the credibility of seasoned film critics but instead to allow the audience the luxury of deciding for themselves how to process the wildly conflicting information, a method strangely similar, if the interviewees are to be believed, to the one which Kubrick employs in his own film.

Ascher’s clever and illuminating movie ends up offering a road map into the consciousness of obsession not only of those who have plumbed THE SHINING for its secrets, but also into that of any cinephile who has ever found a measure of passionate derangement in whatever their cinematic obsession might be, film critics included. To a certain degree it is to Kubrick’s THE SHINING what Les Blank’s BURDEN OF DREAMS is to Werner Herzog’s FITZCARRALDO, a demented wrinkle on the traditional “making of” promotional documentary, with a particularly obsessed and gesticulating portion of the audience taking up the mantle of a notoriously reclusive director who is in death only marginally more reluctant to pontificate on his motivations than he would be if he were alive to see ROOM 237 for himself.

Dennis Cozzalio writes for his Los Angeles blog Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule.

The Best of the International Film Festival Circuit at AFI FEST 2012


In our continuing efforts to present the best films and filmmakers of the year, AFI FEST is proud to include a vast number of international film festival award winners. This year, our program includes the Cannes Film Festival’s Palme d’Or Winner, the Berlin Film Festival’s Golden Bear Winner and the Venice Film Festival’s Golden Lion Winner, among many others. Taking the top prizes and honors of independent cinema, these films highlight incredible feats in acting, directing, writing and overall cinematic artistry. Check out the list of winners below:

A ROYAL AFFAIR – Silver Bear for Best Actor, Berlin Film Festival;
Silver Bear for Best Screenplay, Berlin Film Festival
– Prize of Un Certain Regard, Cannes Film Festival
AMOUR – Palme d’Or, Cannes Film Festival
THE ANGELS’ SHARE – Prix du Jury, Cannes Film Festival
ANTIVIRAL – Best Canadian First Feature Film, Toronto Film Festival
APE – Special Jury Mention For First Feature, Locarno Film Festival
BARBARA – Silver Bear for Director, Berlin Film Festival
BEYOND THE HILLS – Best Screenplay, Cannes Film Festival; Best
Actress, Cannes Film Festival
CAESAR MUST DIE – Golden Bear for Best Film, Berlin Film Festival
CLIP – Grand Jury Prize, Rotterdam Film Festival
EAT SLEEP DIE – Audience Award, Venice Film Festival
EVERYBODY IN OUR FAMILY - Best Narrative Feature, Philadelphia Film Festival
HERE AND THERE – Grand Prize for Critics Week, Cannes Film Festival
HERE COMES THE DEVIL – Best Horror Feature, Fantastic Fest
THE HUNT - Best Actor, Cannes Film Festival
LAURENCE ANYWAYS – Un Certain Regard Award for Best Actress, Cannes
Film Festival; Best Canadian Feature Film, Toronto Film Festival
NOT IN TEL AVIV – Special Jury Prize, Locarno Film Festival
ONLY THE YOUNG - Best U.S. Feature, AFI Silverdocs
OUR CHILDREN – Un Certain Regard Award for Best Actress, Cannes Film Festival
PARADISE: FAITH – Special Jury Prize, Venice Film Festival
PIETA – Golden Lion for Best Film, Venice Film Festival
POST TENEBRAS LUX – Best Director, Cannes Film Festival
REALITY – Grand Prix, Cannes Film Festival
SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK  - BlackBerry People’s Choice Award, Toronto
Film Festival
SOMEBODY UP THERE LIKES ME – Special Jury Prize, Locarno Film Festival
SOMETHING IN THE AIR – Best Screenplay, Venice Film Festival
TABU – Alfred Bauer Price Honoring Innovation, Berlin Film Festival
WAR WITCH – Silver Bear for Best Actress, Berlin Film Festival

Meet the AFI FEST Staff: Lane Kneedler, Associate Director of Programming

Lane Kneedler

How long have you worked for AFI FEST?  I came here in 2005, so this is my seventh Festival.

What do you do?  Well, my title here is Associate Director of Programming for AFI FEST, which means I’m in charge of the department of the Festival that selects the films from among the 3,000 or so that are submitted to us.  Festival Director Jacqueline Lyanga and I travel to a lot of festivals and we choose the films that we loved the most and we want to bring back and show to Los Angeles.  So that’s what I spend most of the year doing – watching films.  Watching films is a pretty fun job.  It’s crazy long hours, but it’s pretty hard to complain about.

What’s your favorite movie (of all time)?  I used to say my favorite film was NETWORK because I think that’s probably my favorite script and Paddy Chayevsky’s such an amazing writer.  For my favorite performance, I would have to go back to THE PASSION OF JOAN OF ARC.  To think that in 1928 we had maybe the best performance we’re ever going to capture on screen already is incredible to me.  And that’s a film that, if anyone hasn’t seen, I recommend that they go back and watch.  But thinking about AFI, my favorite AFI graduate is probably David Lynch and MULHOLLAND DRIVE is probably my favorite film of his.

What’s your most memorable AFI FEST moment?   Last year I got to share the stage with Tilda Swinton and John C. Reilly.  We were doing a Q&A for their film, WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN, and Tilda Swinton is just such an incredible, powerful presence.  Just to stand next to her is a thrill, but to be there asking her about this film that I have so admired and so loved was really a tremendous evening for me.

Catching Up With AFI FEST Alumni: Julia Loktev, Director of THE LONELIEST PLANET

Julia Loktev

Julia Loktev’s film THE LONELIEST PLANET won the grand jury prize from the New Auteurs Critics at AFI FEST 2011. We grabbed a couple minutes of her time on the eve of the film’s Los Angeles and New York theatrical premiere.

What is your favorite AFI FEST memory?

It’s kind of a funny, silly moment.  There was a dinner for all the IFC films.  And someone took a picture of me and my lead actress Hani Furstenberg with the Dardennes brothers, Bela Tarr, Wim Wenders and Jacqueline Lyanga.  I was very pleased and honored to be in such illustrious company.  Then Indiewire ran the photo—with all of our names, including mine—but cropped me out of the pic. You can just see some hair and a little bit of my cheek and a bit of my dress, like an ex-wife that’s been cut out of the picture.  So that was quite funny.  At the same dinner, the Dardennes told me they loved my film DAY NIGHT DAY NIGHT, which made my night.  Okay, my month!

What are you working on now?

I always have a hard time talking about things before they are done (unless I’m asking someone for money of course), so perhaps I should stay quiet for now.

Do You Hear What I Hear?

11/03/2012 - Chinese 2, 1:00 p.m.
11/05/2012 - Chinese 2, 9:45 p.m.

By Dennis Cozzalio

“I just need to scream, that’s all.” So says a beleaguered actress looping her lines in a low-rent Italian studio where the soundtrack of a sexually violent giallo film, IL VORTICE EQUESTRE (THE EQUESTRIAN VORTEX), is being finalized under the guidance of the film’s abrasive producer and its pretentious, deceptively avuncular director. Also working behind the soundproof glass is Gilderoy (the marvelous Toby Jones), a sound engineer imported from Britain whose resume is more closely associated with inoffensive nature documentaries than with the sort of ghoulish undertaking on which he now finds himself at work.

Gilderoy, a naturally recessive man ideally fitted to the anonymity of post-production, is at first perplexed at having even been chosen to work on a film bearing a title he soon discovers has nothing to do with horses gamboling in pastoral settings. But that puzzlement soon gives way to an escalating tension between Gilderoy’s passionless, professional, purely mechanical need to just get on with the job and his increasingly apparent psychological defenselessness against the exploitative evidence of the horrors depicted in the film.

In its surface form, the strange, hypnotizing BERBERIAN SOUND STUDIO has a hushed formality that insinuates itself underneath your skin in search of a frisson of psychological fear, a method far removed from the violent visual cacophony of the typical giallo. Yet it is absolutely suffused with fetishistic close-ups — of 1976-vintage sound and film equipment — and hallucinatory aural landscapes, innocent sounds created from mundane Foley sessions which cannot be separated from associations with the grisly imagery they are meant to enhance, that are the hallmark of vintage Italian horror.

Writer-director Peter Strickland seals Gilderoy (and us) inside the studio, surrounded by sounds we cannot reconcile with sights that are denied us — the clever faux opening title sequence for IL VORTICE EQUESTRE is the only footage we ever actually see — and the free-floating dread and disorientation Gilderoy begins to experience eventually becomes our own. Even the letters Gilderoy receives from his mother back in England, filled with benign accounts of bird-watching and the unmistakable longing for her son — Gilderoy’s only lifeline to a world he recognizes — begin to take on awful shadings as the engineer’s grasp on reality becomes ever more tenuous.

Viewers will be reminded of Dario Argento, certainly (those close-ups of tape machines scream DEEP RED), but through the constant layering of ghastly shrieks and perverse sound effects the spirit of Brian De Palma’s BLOW OUT and the search for the perfect scream are imaginatively invoked here as well. Strickland constructs a convincing case for sound as a dominant, almost subliminal force in our experience of the movies, all while entertainingly deconstructing the very process by which that sound is assembled, dissolving the audience’s complicity into magnetic particles of horror which begin tightening around and threatening to absorb Gilderoy. But unlike in BLOW OUT, that perfect scream which somehow synthesizes frivolous art with inescapable humanity proves elusive. Within the walls of the Berberian Sound Studio there are only fading echoes, the blinding light of the projector bulb washing out everything in its throw, reels of tape spinning out of focus, and the final click of a switch signaling escape into the dark.

Dennis Cozzalio writes for the Los Angeles blog Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule.

Attending AFI FEST

By Lane Kneedler

AFI FEST is organized into different official sections to help you pick the films you most want to see.  Here’s how we’re organized.

The sections are like concentric circles, focusing on specific interests as they become more and more specialized.

• The most popular section is the Galas, a big red carpet event every night of the Festival.

• Next come the Special Screenings, often with notable talent in attendance; these are films that we designate as deserving extra attention.

• The largest section of the festival is the World Cinema section, which encompasses master filmmakers and some of the most highly anticipated titles of the year.

• Next is our competition section, known as New Auteurs; these films are competing for our Grand Jury Award and are comprised solely of first and second time filmmakers.

• The Young Americans section highlight the best in American independent cinema across the year.

• Our Guest Artistic Director section is where we hand the reins to a distinguished filmmaker to select classic and personally influential films to show at the Festival.

• Unlike the other more curated sections of the festival, the Breakthrough section contains films that we found solely through the submission process.

• ‘Tis the season of Halloween, so we have a selection of Midnight movies designed to thrill and chill you.

• And last but certainly not least is the Shorts competition; small in size but large in talent, this section contains some of the most imaginative filmmakers at the Festival.

Festival Introduction

It takes artists with a vision and a voice to bring our hopes, desires, dreams and nightmares to life in ways that challenge us to see more. Such an artist is Bernardo Bertolucci and we are extremely honored to have this august and uncompromising filmmaker as the festival’s Guest Artistic Director in 2012.

Several themes resonate throughout this year’s program. One is the intersection of reality and fiction — explored in both narrative and documentary form in films including LIKE SOMEONE IN LOVE, ONLY THE YOUNG, PEARBLOSSOM HWY, REALITY and TCHOUPITOULAS. Other filmmakers delve even more deeply into subjects they have tackled before, with Cristian Mungiu revisiting the issue of women’s rights and Thomas Vinterberg providing an even more intimate insight into Danish society with his social drama THE HUNT. The tragic ramifications of religious extremism are rendered in BEYOND THE HILLS and Ulrich Seidl’s PARADISE: FAITH.

A number of foreign filmmakers are working in black and white, telling stories that exude the energy and spirit of American independents and the inspiration of the French New Wave and 1960s Italian cinema — EVERYBODY’S GOT SOMEBODY…NOT ME, NOT IN TEL AVIV and OH BOY. And there are exciting films from established artists revisiting the moment of their intellectual and artistic self-discovery — Sally Potter with GINGER & ROSA and Olivier Assayas with SOMETHING IN THE AIR.

We’re rewarded with epic spectacle in 42ND STREET, FINAL CUT — LADIES & GENTLEMEN, THE IMPOSSIBLE, KON-TIKI and LIFE OF PI, films meant to be experienced on the big screen, as is the experimental LEVIATHAN, the fresh NAIROBI HALF LIFE, TABU and Alain Gomis’ TEY.

Our 2012 program offers an essential view of the themes, stories and experiences of contemporary and artistic life around the world. Many of the filmmakers will present their films to you in person and we invite you to join us to celebrate their work.


Meet the AFI FEST Staff: Programmers Dilcia Barrera and Jenn Murphy

Dilcia Barrera

(Pictured left to right: Actress Hani Furstenberg and Julia Loktev, Director of Loneliest Planet (AFI FEST 2012 Grand Jury Prize Winner) with Dilcia Barrera)

Dilcia Barrera

How long have you worked for AFI FEST?  This is my 3rd festival working with AFI FEST.

What do you do?  I am one of the festival programmers.  A programmer’s job is really year-round.  We are constantly researching the latest filmmaking trends, following filmmaker’s projects and progress and searching for the new emerging talent.  We also travel around the world to various film festivals in search of the best films of the year.  More importantly, I watch a high percentage of films that arrive in our office through our submissions process.  Once we make the decisions, I assist in writing the copy for our beautiful film guide.  And lastly, we are host to the many filmmakers that arrive from around the world to present their films at AFI FEST.  There are, of course, many little details in between, but that’s the gist for the most part.

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AFI Alumni and Staff Films Screening at AFI FEST 2012

AFI is so very proud of our talented alumni and staff with films selected to screen at AFI FEST 2012!

Harris Charalambous (AFI Class of 2003), Cinematographer

P. David Ebersole (AFI Class of 1991), Executive Producer
Shaz Bennett (AFI Directing Workshop for Women, Class of 2012), Director/Screenwriter
Tobias Datum (AFI Class of 2002), Cinematographer
Shorts Programs

Dylan Kohler (AFI Class of 2005), Producer/Director/Screenwriter/Editor
Armando Koghan (AFI Class of 2005), Cinematographer
Shorts Programs

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