Editor | Peter Bowen
Christopher Hampton in the Soup
Posted January 29, 2008
Oscar-nominated screenwriter Christopher Hampton will be at Los Angeles' Book Soup on Monday February 4 to tell you everything you wanted to know about adapting Ian McEwan's prize-winning novel Atonement to the screen. And for the lucky few who buy a copy of Atonement: The Shooting Script, Mr. Hampton will sign their book.
Atonement is up for 7 Academy Award® nominations, including Best Picture and (most importantly) Best Adapted Screenplay, and 14 British Academy Award nominations. The film has already won two Golden Globe awards: Best Film/Drama, and Best Score. So come meet the writer and congratulate him in person. 7 PM at Book Soup, 8818 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood, CA 90069
Heath Ledger, 1979 - 2008
Posted January 23, 2008
The world of entertainment and the world at large have been devasted by Heath Ledger's sudden death. The New York Times' A. O. Scott has noted his passing in "An Actor Whose Work Will Outlast the Frenzy." Indiewire posted a remembrance from the Sundance Film Festival. Nick Tanner at The Guardian reports on the touching tributes coming in from around the world. The Australian reports from his home country of a nation's tragedy.
Hamlet 2 2 B
Posted January 23, 2008
After a weekend of documentaries taking center stage, at least in terms of Sundance acquisitions, distributors stepped up to acquire narrative features. The newly formed Overture Films picked up Mark Pellington's comedy Henry Poole Is Here, about a dying man who regains his love for life, and Fox Searchlight acquired Choke, actor Clark Gregg's directorial debut adapted from Chuck Palahniuk's novel about a man who fakes choking in restaurants to pay for his mother's elderly care. But the big news was Focus Features purchase of Andrew Fleming's Hamlet 2. Starring Steve Coogan, the film recounts the hilarious attempts by a drama teacher to pull his department together by staging a rather unorthodox sequel to Hamlet.
Drink Too Much, No Gifts, Kill Yourself
Posted January 23, 2008
Each year, the film world looks to the Sundance Film festival selection to reveal the tone of American film for the next year. Why were there so many dark comedies this year? And why so many films with the word American in it? But it is not only the films that are scrutinized – so are the filmgoers. Two reports look to the behaviors of the Sundance film viewer. The local paper Park Record recently measured the drinking habits of Sundance festival goers in This crowd drinks – a lot. A local store owner remarks, "It's that big of a bump-up for Sundance," he says, calling Sundance the biggest beer-selling week of the year. "There's a lot of parties, a lot of drinking." And along with that a rise in alcohol-related arrests. Park Record reports, "A Justice Court clerk says the court usually sees an increase in most alcohol-related offenses during Sundance, including intoxication charges and counts against people accused of refusing to leave a bar when asked."
But while Sundance visitors are staggering through the streets in an alcoholic daze, they are not wandering into any of the swag boutiques on Main Street. Variety's Sundance Swag Gets Cold Shoulder reports on the low star wattage in the various gifting outlets that take over during the festival. Variety suggests, "The long writers strike, with many thousands unemployed and suffering back home in Hollywood, may have a lot to do with why celebrities don't want to be seen partaking in an orgy of luxury freebies this year."
So what is the result of all this drinking and no free goodies? According to The Hollywod Reporter, Park City has suicidal tendencies. Gregg Goldstein reports that "More than 15 entries at this year's festival have characters contemplating, attempting or actually killing themselves." Indeed the trend is even more specific. "Comedies with suicide are just a phenomenon this year," director of programming John Cooper said. One is left wondering what a drunken, gift-less, suicidal festival says about the times we live in?
People Who Need People: Bio Docs at Sundance
Posted January 23, 2008
"I guess, I'm a people person," jokes Marina Zenovitch trying to explain why she makes films that focus on complex, fascinating individuals. Her documentary ROMAN POLANSKI: WANTED AND DESIRED is not exactly a bio-doc, but rather an attempt to understand a particular historical moment, in this case, the 1977 arrest of Polanski for sexual assault, and his subsequent flight from the United States. "I saw an article in the LA Times five years ago which talked about whether Polanski could come back to America if he was to be nominated for The Pianist. I had been looking for something after Tapie (Zenovich's earlier documentary WHO IS BERNARD TAPIE?) to do and I had remembered that case, but the story never seemed to add up." As Zenovich started to put all the pieces together, she realized that she would have to add more and more of Polanski's history — his life in Poland, his swinging London days, the horror of his wife Sharon Tate's murder — to frame the story.
But more than anything, Zenovich traces out the image of the man through the many, often conflicting stories that others tell about him. As Zenovich readily admits there is a difference between the Polanski one pastes together from newspaper accounts and the flesh-and-blood one that she met in Paris late in the making of her film. Her Polanski "is a media figure," the man produced by the news accounts and television interviews. And as she pulled the news stories from around the world, she noticed a glaring difference between the American Polanski and the European one. Stateside journalists cast him as a sinister, decadent, short foreigner (the character noted in the title's "wanted"), while the European press (represented by the title's "desired") painted him as a maligned, misunderstood artist caught in a web of injustice who needed to be saved for his cinematic contributions.
Bio docs, unlike their fictional counterparts, need their subjects to be media figures. Indeed one often makes a biopic to recreate a life for which there is no footage. But it is nearly impossible to create a documentary with no visual record of your subject. At Sundance this year there are a number of bio-docs, all representing the lives of celebrated, controversial figures. Alex Gibney's GONZO: THE LIFE AND WORK OF DR. HUNTER S. THOMPSON uses footage, re-enactments and interviews of friends and enemies to map out the life of the erratic, reckless writer of the American Dream. Steven Sebring's PATTI SMITH: DREAM OF LIFE is the product of an 11-year friendship and collaboration with the rock poet. And Isaac Julien's DEREK, a touching tribute by one filmmaker to another, weaves together letters, super-8 films, and personal interviews to commemorate the great British filmmaker Derek Jarman.
For each director, the project of recreating a person's life took them in very different directions. Alex Gibney was approached to direct the film GONZO: THE LIFE AND WORK OF DR. HUNTER S. THOMPSON by a group of interested producers, including Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter. For Gibney, making the film was also getting to know the man. Alex Gibney only partially jokes, "I can't say what was that I directed in this film. It feels like I was the one who was directed – in five directions at once – by the spirit of the hydra-headed Hunter." For Gibney, getting a sense of the man meant retracing his steps, both as a writer, an activist, and American icon. In the process, he talked to such disparate voices as Jimmy Carter, Pat Buchanan, Jimmy Buffett, Tom Wolfe, and his wives and children. He read – and reread – all his work. He revisited Thompson's many haunts, searching for the ghosts of the man and writer Gibney wanted to channel.
Steve Sebring's approached his documentary PATTI SMITH: DREAM OF LIFE, not as a filmmaker, but as a friend. Sebring explains, "It all happened so organically. I was just interested in her and in getting to know her as a person. As our friendship blossomed over a decade, and as I got to know her, my lens was getting to know her as well." Ask to shoot Smith in 1995 for Spin magazine, Sebring struck up a friendship with her. Later when he saw her perform at Irving Plaza in New York City, he wondered if any one had ever caught her on film. A fashion photographer by trade, Sebring started filming her, and, in the process, getting to know her. As Sebring reminds audiences, "No person is just one thing. I know I am not just a fashion photographer. And Patti Smith is certainly not just a rock icon. She is much more. For me, this movie is about discovering who Patti Smith is. This process of discovery has been over the course of eleven incredible years of filming."
Posted January 23, 2008
On Thursday, as people listened in the dim light of the Microcinema theater at New Frontier on Main to a panel entitled "Social Cyborg: How Technology is Changing Us," across town at the Racket Club ticket holders were lining up to see Alex Rivera's SLEEP DEALER . At one place people were discussing the future of technology in extending bodies, identities, and communities; at the other, Rivera unfurled his dsytopic image of a cyborg future in which labor crosses over from Mexico via fiber cables rather than through border check points.
Rivera started creating film and digital art pieces while in college, primarily as a way to discuss immigration and labor issues. In 2000, he brought his script for SLEEP DEALER to the Sundance Writer's lab, and then the Director's Lab the next year, where he met his future producer Anthony Bregman. But while politics were foremost in his mind, as a filmmaker his first goal was to create a believable future. "I'd always loved science fiction, loved the fact that the characters were real outsiders," a condition that as a child of Peruvian father he implicitly understood. To bring his vision to film, Rivera (with his producer Bregman) did the near impossible - create a effects-laden low-budget sci-fi epic. Of the 1,300 shots in the film, Rivera rightly brags "at least 400 were effect shots." Festival head Geoffrey Gilmore describes the end product as "a combination of The Matrix, Blade Runner, and The Border. And interest in the film connects activist immigration groups and web-based fan boy groups.
Indeed Sleep DealerSLEEP DEALER might have been what moderator Katie Hafner (technology reporter for the New York Times) had in mind in prepping for her panel "Social Cyborg." After issuing an essay by Sherry Turkle , the Director of the MIT Initiative on Technology and Self Program in Science, Technology, and Society on the nature of machines and identities to the panelists, Hafner asked them then to ponder how Turkle's work impacted their fields.
As with the best panels, the resulting discussion offered few clear answers, but lots of probing questions. What is an authentic identity? What is community? How do new technologies effect cultural conceptions of race, gender and nationality? Who do we become online? Each panel member brought their own particular backgrounds and concerns to the panel. Writer/activist Ken Jordan of Reality Sandwich picked up on the concept of authenticity -- be in a relationship with another human being or a machine -- from Turkle's article. For him, "Authenticity is a very big part of what we are doing at Reality Sandwich. People are seeing a need for change. They are stepping away from corporate media and looking for a new way to connect." For him there is a sort of cyborg community built as disparate communities with little physical interface find connections with groups who have "similar cultural aspirations."
Andrew Parry, who works with Microsoft's xbox, commented, "in the gaming world, we constantly struggle with this element of identity -- what is the identity of the gamer, how do we get them to interact with each other, how do we allow people to create that identity in which they can feel safe." On the other hand, Anthony Marshall, who works with Current TV , talked learning to be transparent on line. Rather than hide behind a created identity, he allowed himself to be exactly who he is - that is an African-American who grew up in a Afro-Caribbean family with mother who, as Marshall explained, "sold ganja, the healing herb, not the drug." Such transparency allows him to life his life on Myspace or facebook without any duplicity. "I am not afraid to say who I am," asserted Marshall,"this is who I am. I am a very real person, and it is hard to be in technology and be so real." A fact confirmed by the others on the panel: Jason Calacanis (CEO of Mahalo.com), Daniel Pinchbeck (consciousness author, Reality Sandwich), and Sameer Padania (The Hub).
Posted January 22, 2008
Park City, UT -- A stark black-and-white photograph from 1992 shows a group of young filmmakers and critics (among them Tom Kalin, Isaac Julien, Todd Haynes, Sadie Benning, RubyRich and Derek Jarman) after a panel at the Sundance Film Festival entitled "Barbed Wire Kisses." The photo marks not just a moment in history, but a moment when a history would begin. Later that year B. Ruby Rich would call this gathering the "New Queer Cinema" in an article for the British film magazine Sight and Sound, a term that would simultaneously serve as nostalgia for an artistic movement that never arrived and a promise of what independent cinema could become.
At Sundance this year many from that year are back. Tom Kalin, who'd originally brought Swoon, his luminous black-and-white recreation of the Loeb and Leopold murder case, to Sundance in 1992, is back with another true crime exploration of sex and murder, Savage Grace. Ruby Rich is back as a critic. And Isaac Julien returns with Derek, a glowing tribute to the artist, filmmaker, and activist Derek Jarman. And even though Jarman died in 1994 from an AIDS-related illness, he has in some ways also returned this year. The Sundance Collection, which is an archival project with UCLA, shows two films each year. This year, the Sundance Collection brings back Gregg Araki's in-your-face gay romance The Living End and Derek Jarman's Edward II, a calculated adaptation of Christopher Marlowe's homoerotic history play.
Tilda Swinton, who starred in Edward II and was in many ways discovered by Jarman, collaborated with Isaac Julien in making Derek. Both Julien and Swinton felt this was a deeply moving and personal project, one that went beyond simply resurrecting his films for a new generation. For Swinton, it is the man himself she most misses: "Beyond the scope of his various legacies, his films, his writings, his paintings and his garden, his actual self was the magical motor that spun it all into something else." Her 2002 "Letter to an Angel," written 8 years after Jarman's death, becomes the introductory text for Derek.. That same year, producer and writer Colin McCabe brought to Julien a day-long video interview he'd shot with the director. At the time, Julien looked with horror at having to wade through 14 hours of unlogged video. But quickly an idea started to coalesce. As the filmmaking scene in Britain (and elsewhere) grew less and less adventuresome, it seemed important to remember a man who defined art cinema at its best. "He worked outside the industrial model of filmmaking," explains Julien. "I felt that this was a call to arms to how film culture is being pushed out, how the industry is trying to marginalize art cinema. The current amount of attention and funding is so minute that it is disrespectful to figures like Sally Potter, Terence Davies and especially Derek." Julien, who in recent years has moved from directing film to producing fine art, remembers how Jarman was always first and foremost an artist. Indeed the film will show as a part of larger exhibition curated by Julien at London's Serpentine Gallery from 23 February to 12 April.
John Nein who programs two films each festival from the Sundance Collection at UCLA, took the occasion of DEREK to also curate Derek Jarman. "Each year I look though the films that have been accepted to look for connections," explains Nein. "In 2004, when we showed Baadasssss, it seemed obvious to play his father Melvin Van Peebles' Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song." So it seemed obvious to Nein that Sundance should screen Jarman's 1972 Sundance film Edward II - a task that was more easily acknowledged than accomplished. "It was a long process," remembers Nein, "we had to find out who had the print, then what kind of state it was in, and then we had to strike a new print." In the end, the hard work was worth it. "I can say anecdotally," says Nein, "There is a huge admiration for him and his accomplishments - both for what he did for independent film and for the lesbian and gay film."
A Good Day to Be Black?
Posted January 22, 2008
Park City, UT -- On Tuesday, January 22, former New York Times critic and co-creator of the film The Black List introduced a panel of filmmakers, activists, and policy makers to a more than overflowing crowd at the Film Lodge. The topic for the day was "Black in America," a subject which seemed perhaps a little large to cover in an hour and half. In addition to Mitchell, the panel consisted of Melody Barnes, the Executive Vice President of the progressive think tank Center for American Progress, Katrina Browne, the director of the documentary Traces of the Trade, documentary filmmaker Orlando Bagwell, actor Nick Cannon American Son, and the actor/producer Danny Glover Trouble the Water.
Mitchell started off joking that he had wanted to call the panel A Good Day To Be Black And Sexy - the name of a feature this year by African American filmmaker Dennis Dortch - but the name was already taken. "Well, I'm still sexy," he quipped. Indeed while all the panelists were sexy in their own way, but whether they thought it was a good day to be a black filmmaker was the question. Were conditions better for African-American filmmakers now than they were in 1991 when Daughters Of The Dust, Hangin With The Homeboys, and Straight Out Of Brooklyn were at the festival? Was there still a need to control the representation of race? Were filmmakers any more in the control of means of production than they were before? All good questions and all with no easy answers. Perhaps the most difficult question of all came from Mitchell on the role of the Festival, when he asked: "A lot of black filmmakers don't think of coming because they don't believe they have a shot. Does Sundance have a responsibility to reach out to them?"
While all agreed that there was no single black experience that could represent the culture as a whole, several panelists believed that the struggle of black filmmakers was in itself an instructive lesson on overall state of race in America. As Danny Glover eloquently put it, "How do we use the stories we tell to represent the diversity of thought. We represent the moral playing ground of this particular experience."
While most of the panelists used their own experience to gauge the effects of contemporary African-American representation, one panelist was left out in the dark. Katrina Browne is a white woman whose distinction is that she grew unaware that her ancestors were the largest slave traders in Rhode Island. When she found out, she took nine family members on a trip that retraced the sea routes of the 19th century slave trade. For Browne, this was not just a physical trip, but a philosophical one, an exploration of the responsibility "of regular folks, good folks, who participate (wittingly? unwittingly?) in systems that do immense harm."
Elsewhere in Park City, some people are taking responsibility to do immense good. While Main Street is chock-a-block full of branded houses touting their corporate goods, BlackHouse is a very different experience. Created in 2007 to "to provide a platform for African American filmmakers to use their voice to tell stories by and about African Americans in the world of independent and feature films," BlackHouse curates film programs, panel discussions and an open-door policy.
Filmmaker and BlackHouse board member Maurice Jamal (Dirty Laundry) remembers their beginning: "Threes years ago a bunch of us were sitting around and thought it would be great to have a place where people involved with African American and urban filmmaking could have a place to hang out. I'd been on a panel for the Queer Lounge, and thought, "why couldn't we do something like that"." The next year, they did. And this year the house is even more robust. Filmmaker Cheryl Dunye, who has had her own films at Sundance, returns to help out around the house. She embraces the space's open door policy in programming short films there: "I tell people come by with film and we'll throw it on the DVD player." If African-American filmmakers have felt wary about the inclusiveness of the Sundance community, BlackHouse provides a sheltered meeting place. "What I love," continues Dunye, "is seeing executives from BET and people from HBO sitting on the sofa and talking with some kids from Oklahoma who are interesting in maybe making a film."
In Bruges In Sundance
Posted January 19, 2008
Park City, UT -- In Bruges, the opening night film for this year's Sundance Film Festival, played to two packed houses at the Eccles Theater last night. In some ways, a film made by the Irish playwright Martin McDonagh about hit men in an old Belgium town might seem to set an incongruous note for America's premier independent film festival. But the rough and tumble play of blazing guns, high-swearing dialogue and squirting blood pays a worthy tribute to how Sundance and its filmmakers —: such as indie action directors like Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino —: have influenced global cultural. (In fact, Focus Features which handed out ballots for their on-line poll of the best cinematic cussing, that includes at least one line from Tarantino.) Directors McDonagh and stars Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson were in tow for the red carpet and opening night comments, and then were very much in force at the Focus Features party at The Lift. If not later.
13 Ways of Looking at Sundance
Posted January 19, 2008
While everyone talks about the Sundance Film Festival, anyone who has been here quickly realizes that there are many festivals, or, at least, many ways of looking at it. There are the caffeinated digital artists hanging out at the New Frontiers on Main, the black-suited executives dining at Chimayo, the star-struck locals waiting in the cold to score tickets by the Eccles theater, the documentary filmmakers filling up a rustic lodge hall for a panel on public funding. There is the Queer Lounge, the BlackHouse, the Native Forum, and the Film Church.
Likewise there are a variety of ways to see the festival. Just as Wallace Stevens found " Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird," here are 13 perspectives on the festival.
1. THE OFFICIAL: The Sundance Institute of which the festival is only one side of its rubric's cube, provides year-round support to independent filmmakers and artists.
2. THE BUSINESS: Variety and the Hollywood Reporter offer ongoing coverage of who's paying what to who (and whether it was worth it). Screen International is another great business source, but it's not free for us poor folk.
3. THE INSIDER: Indiewire remains the most consistent presence covering the festival. In fact, Indiewire's editor Eugene Hernandez is seen at so many places all the tim that authorities are looking into whether the web-zine is not dabbling in cloning. Filmmaker Magazine -- in full disclosure I am the Senior Editor -- provides seasoned, in-depth coverage of the films and filmmakers.
4. THE PERSONAL: There are many blogs and articles that recount what the festival means to people personally, whether they are a filmmaker, audience member or waiter in a local café. Read, for example, Aly Adair's account "My Perspective as a Volunteer and Non-Filmmaker" on she comes each to serve as a festival volunteer.
5. THE HIP: MTV, which has actually bought several films from the festival, is covering the 10 days in Utah with its usual high-energy groove with articles like "Sundance '08: Kirsten Dunst, Ellen Page, Mischa Barton Flicks Have Us Amped".
6. THE LOCALS: Yes, that's right, Sundance isn't just for folks from NYC or LA. There is also the SLC contingent. The Salt Lake City Tribune and Park Record have extensive, local coverage of what happens when the circus comes to town.
8. THE DARK ONES: Horror fan boys will not be left out in the cold at the festival. Sites, like The Horror Section and Bloody-Disgusting's special Sundance section, keep an eye on what's bloody, gnarly, maimed or just plain disgusting this year.
9. THE GOSSIPS: Industry dishers, like Defamer and like e-online's Planet Gossip, keep tabs on celebrities, movie stars, models and most importantly, Paris Hilton at Park City. Defamer also provides their own cinematic prognostication with Your 2008 Sundance Festival Buzz-Movie Cheat Sheet.
10. THE MUSICIANS: More and more, the festival is about music as much as movies, although this year quite a few films are about music. Some bands are playing private parties, some are on the street and some are part of the ASCAP Music Café. Keeping tabs on all of this are ASCAP and BMI , with a special Sundance Diary .
11. THE HOMOSEXUALS: Since launching what B. Ruby Rich called the "the New Queer Cinema" in the early 90s, Sundance has been an oasis for the G,L,B,T,Q community. Queer Lounge has been a meeting space - both on line and on the street - for the last few years. And Planet Out provides a rooster of films of queer interest.
12. THE BLOGGERS: By now the cinematic blogosphere is a universe unto itself, with internal squabbles, affiliations, gossip and news. The best of all blogs remains David Hudson's GreenCineDaily. Others good, sometimes wildly opinionated blogs to follow are Cinematical, Jeffrey Wells' Hollywood Elsewhere, The Reeler, and Matt Dentler's Blog.