Post(s) tagged with "Film Festivals"

Hurry - the submission deadline for AFI FEST 2014 is tomorrow! 

Hurry - the submission deadline for 2014 is tomorrow!

Day 4, Fall Back … and Spring Forward!

We hope you all set your clocks back last night, got an extra hour of sleep, and are ready for a full day of AFI FEST screenings!

Our Gala tonight is RISE OF THE GUARDIANS in 3D, an epic adventure that spins the tale of a group of heroes, each with extraordinary abilities.

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

Media check-in: 2:00 p.m.
Red carpet arrivals: 3:00 p.m.
Program begins: 4:00 p.m.

Our Special Screenings for today:

THE IMPOSSIBLE is a powerful story based on one family’s survival of Thailand’s 2004 tsunami.

Media check-in: 7:15 p.m.
Red carpet arrivals: 8:00 p.m.
Program begins: 8:30 p.m.

QUARTET is an ambitious debut drama from Dustin Hoffman about a birthday concert for Verdi at a home for retired opera singers.

Media check-in: 7:45 p.m.
Red carpet arrivals: 8:30 p.m.
Program begins: 9:00 p.m. (at the Egyptian Theatre)

ROOM 237 delves into the symbols and motifs in Stanley Kubrick’s THE SHINING.

Media check-in: 7:15 p.m.
Red carpet arrivals: 8:30 p.m.
Program begins: 9:00 p.m.

Expected appearances: RISE OF THE GUARDIANS in 3D (Alec Baldwin, Peter Ramsey, Christina Steinberg, Nancy Bernstein, William Joyce, Jackson Brundage, Max Charles, Carlos Knight and Ryan Potter); THE IMPOSSIBLE (Ewan McGregor, J.A. Bayona, Sergio G. Sánchez and Belén Atienza); QUARTET (Dustin Hoffman); ROOM 237 (John Fell Ryan, Rodney Ascher and producer Tim Kirk).

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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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.


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).

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.


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