Stanley Tucci’s newest film, Final Portrait, is set in Paris, France, 1964, and is based on James Lord’s biography, “A Giacometti Portrait.”
The film opens in slow motion with voice over narration provided by Armie Hammer. Hammer plays James Lord. Geoffrey Rush turns in a stellar performance as the quirky Alberto Giacometti at the height of his fame having received Grand Prize at the Venice Biennale for Sculpture in 1962. Lots of grays, whites, and a touch of navy blue dominates the film’s studio and cemetery scenes while the cafe scenes allow for color variety.
Lord has come to see Giacometti to have his portrait done and soon discovers no portrait is ever complete. In an agonizingly slow scene with non-diagetic violins and strings, Lord rigidly sits while Giacometti begins his brushwork making comments toward Lord in often side-splitting dead-pan. For example at the first sitting, Giacometti tells Lord he has the “head of a brute.” Later as Giacometi moves in close to gain a greater perspective, he declares Lord has the profile “of a degenerate’ despite Hammer brahmin-like portrayal of Lord.
Soon, Lord realizes the three days he originally scheduled won’t suffice and begins what becomes a pattern of cancelling and rescheduling flights to accommodate Giacometti’s process. And, what a process it is.
Giacometti has a passion and large appetitite for women, food and wine. His women range from a high-end prostitute, Caroline, played by the soft French actress, Clémence Poésy, to the “house maid,” Annette, played by character actress Sylvie Testud.
Finally after nearly three weeks, Lord has realized he needs to take matters into his own hands if the portrait is ever to be completed as Giacometti has a recurring tendency to paint the negative, i.e., whitewash the canvas. However, along the way, the men, including Giacometti’s brother, Diego, an artist as well, and played by Tony Shalhoub engage in some philosophical meanderings and in some male bonding. Giacometti likes control and continually keeps Lord off balance with dialogues on suicide which he thinks about daily, and meaningful death experiences like burning oneself to death or slicing oneself from ear-to-ear. Sadly, Giacometti laments he can only die but once.
Tucci has cast a fairly uninhibited look into Giacometti as an artist. Tastefully shot with most frames qualifying as portraits unto themselves. Some repetition detracts form the work as we see the mundane nature of Giacometti’s studio life one time too many. Yet, overall, Tucci tackles Giacometti in fine fashion. The film is entertaining with the strong, masculinity Hammer portrays as James Lord. Rush is very good with emoting and his physicalities are quite excellent. While the women appear as adornments both Poesy and Testud provide significant feminine wiles bringing to fruition Giacometti’s studio confession to Lord that as a young man he had difficulty sleeping until he imagined murdering two women…after raping them.
Fortunately, this episodic scenario is not carried out on screen Instead, Giacometti high-handedly pays off Caroline’s two pimps in a fashion and manner that they can’t refuse.
Final Portrait is a broad stroke for Tucci. With over 122 acting credits and only six directorial credits on imdb.com, Tucci churns out a fairly sophisticated piece of cinema reminiscent of earlier Wood Allen works including the Oscar-winning Annie Hall, as he brings Alberto Giacometti to light. WarmlyRecommended.
Felicite, a new film written and directed by Alain Gomis, set in Senegal in modern time, paints a portrait of a community through the trials and tribulations of a full-figured female singer, Felicite, played convincngly by Véro Tshanda Beya. The film received funding from the World Cinema Fund and participated in the Venice Final Cut Program.
Felicite opens with low-key lighting, handheld camera work providing a cinema verite feel characters breaking the fourth wall inviting the viewer into their world.Celine Bozon is credited as the Director of Photography. Slowly, the scene reveals a night club and a Singing begins. Drinking ensues. Mayhem rears its face as the nightclub erupts with brawling instigated by a massive male, Tabu (Papi Mpaka).
When not clubbing, Tabu is a handy man, selling and servicing Felicite’s newly purchased second-hand refrigerator in side Felicite’s sparsely furnished flat. Oumar Sall (le grand) is the film’s Production Designer.
In addition, the culture depicted has an undercurrent and Gomis stunningly reveals it in the form of religious zealousness, classically trained musicians and singers rivaling any found on the planet. Interestingly, Gomis juxtaposes diagetic and non-diagetic music in convincing fashion melding the worlds into one. The Kasaï Allstars are credited with the music. Jean-Pierre Laforce and Fred Meert are responsible for the Sound Design. And, Benoit De Clerck crafted the film’s sound.
Outside the streets are strewn with trash, scooters dominate the dirt thoroughfares as the towns inhabitants navigate the market area. Not exactly Shangri La. In many respects quite the opposite. Yet, the community has its redeeming virtues and long-standing cultural nomes often found missing in larger, modernized communities..
However, tragedy is quickly introduced as Felicite’s son has been involved in a motor scooter accident. Frantically, Felicite finds her son, discovers he needs medicine and an operation she can’t afford. The love a mother has for a child radiates as Felicite reaches out to those closest to her to generate the monies necessary for the operation. But, it’s not enough. Felicite is not a woman who takes no for an answer. She manages to get the necessary funds. Unfortunately, the hospital proceeded with an amputation drawing laughter from a patron seated directly behind me.
While, I didn’t find a mother discovering her son had an amputation humorous, I did find a warmth in Felicite’s acceptance of her evolved condition after her experience and seeing Tabu bring her son out of despair following his amputation. At her most basic essence, Felicite is a deeply committed woman in a community that values itself, its culture and one another.
Felicite is an artistic delight with surreal mise-en-scen and heartfelt emotions. While, the film delves into the religious aspect too deeply for comfort, Gomis makes his point – spirituality is the driving force behind the community. With singer/mother Felicite, Gomis embodies the community in a human form – imperfect and spirited.
And, while the film could have been made in 65 minutes, Gomez chose to expand the run time to 123 minutes. In doing so, he takes the film to a new level a higher dimension representative of the driving force behind this fictionalized Senegal community. Highly recommended!
Authoritarian Regimes Under Observation / Music Documentaries Featuring Almodóvar’s Muse and Electronic Avant-Garde
Director Monika Treut Receives Special TEDDY Award 2017
The French production Belinda by Marie Dumora is slated to open Panorama Dokumente with a contribution to the previously announced thematic focus “Europa Europa” (see post here). The Yenish people have occupied a difficult position in the national fabric of Europe since time immemorial: like the Sinti and Roma, they typically have trouble aligning themselves as they are legally and socially excluded by majority populations. The grandparents of 15-year-old sisters Belinda and Sabrina first met in a German concentration camp – the young women were placed in foster care at an early age and were lucky to land in the La Nichée children’s home. With the start of life comes the start of a long struggle with the world – a world also determined by limits and rules on this most diverse of all continents. A haunting, harrowing documentation of everyday life as it is lived on the margins of society.
Three films demand that we take a fresh historical look at European events whose echoes are still felt so many years later:
First off is No Intenso Agora (In the Intense Now) from Brazil’s João Moreira Salles, who juxtaposes a cornucopia of archive materials documenting the events which unfolded in Paris in 1968 with amateur footage showing the suppression of the Prague Spring and footage of a self -confident Chinese society under Mao, just as his mother experienced it back then – as a private political reflection.
Next up is an exciting bit of time travel in Jochen Hick’s Mein wunderbares West-Berlin (My Wonderful West Berlin), an account of queer living situations in West Berlin in an era when emancipation had yet to be invented, primarily covering the 1960s to the the 1980s but also taking time to revisit the roots of the gay rights movement in the immediate post-war period.
And finally, a long look underneath the rug of Spanish reticence in Bones of Contention by Andrea Weiss of the USA: In search of the earthly remains of iconic Spanish poet and fascist murder victim Federico García Lorca, the filmmaker stumbles upon the entirely unexamined history of the suppression of the LGBT community under Franco, while also becoming familiar with the struggles of today’s movement, whose efforts to procure some sort of long overdue justice for the hundreds of thousands who were “disappeared” during the fascist era are met with little support.
In Tahqiq fel djenna (Investigating Paradise), distinguished French director Merzak Allouache seeks answers to a question which also exerts an influence on today’s Europa. In order to try to fathom the origins of the desire for death exhibited by so many young Arab men in Algeria, one must understand that they are motivated by the florid fairy tales that their spiritual leaders have led them to believe, including above all the notion that sex and wine will finally be available in abundance after death. The young Algerian journalist Nedjma researches the paradise that Salafist preachers promise young men together with her colleague Mustapha. A dense analysis of the extreme manifestations of a destructive, conservative Islam that seeks to dominate.
The second of the two previously mentioned thematic focal points “Black Worlds” is reinforced by Yance Ford’s Strong Island. The director processes the murder of his own brother 25 years ago in a documentary film by equal turns personal and political, in a formally open examination of racist terror, grief work and smouldering anger about inequality.
Is this the heart of “America”? And does Rambo live inside it like the man in the moon lives inside his satellite? Erase and Forget by Andrea Luka Zimmerman (Great Britain) doesn’t pose the question, it answers it instead. The all American hero, the most highly decorated soldier of all time with hundreds of human lives on his conscience, roams like a benevolent patriarch through Idaho, where the people are proud of the high level of diversity in the available flavours of right-wing radicalism, just another normal part of life out here.
Two films turn their attention to Latin America and structures that still make their effects felt from left and right-wing authoritarian forms of society.
In Tania Libre, Lynn Hershman Leeson, a guest at Panorama for the third time, accompanies Cuban artist Tania Bruguera during sessions with trauma therapist Dr. Frank Ochberg. After having served a sentence for treason meted out in the wake of a performance that expressed criticism of the regime, she wants to acquire the skills necessary to process the invasive infringement wrought by the paranoid machinery of the people’s dictatorship, including the revocation of her right to practice her art. The founder of the Institute for Artivism Hannah Arendt in Havana intends to campaign in Cuba’s next presidential election in 2018.
The second film hails from Chile: El Pacto De Adriana (Adriana’s Pact) by Lissette Orozco. The director accidently comes across indications that her once favourite aunt Adriana colluded actively with the secret service back in the days of the Pinochet junta. Her research yields a picture that can be found after the fall of every dictatorship ever: those that lived well under the terror regime steadfastly deny their involvement after the winds have shifted. A macrocosm opens up within a family’s intimate history – and no one knew nothing.
The French-Swiss-Palestinian co-production Istiyad Ashbah (Ghost Hunting) by Raed Andoni on the other hand leads us back into the present. In the scope of shooting for a film, a group of ex-prisoners from Israeli detention re-enact a sort of exhaustive catalogue of their experiences, in role plays and often in what borders on trauma therapy. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians have experienced things like this in a variety of forms – what impact will these experiences have on the affected societies in the future?
Three extraordinary music documentaries make up a last thematic focus: On the one hand, we have Chavela by Catherine Gund and Daresha Kyi, an homage to the Mexican singer Chavela Vargas, whose exceptional talent carried her to the world’s most notable concert halls, and whose independence and prodigious sacrifice in her life as a lesbian testified to an admirable attitude that stayed with her to a ripe old age. The last concert of this lover of Frida Kahlo, which took place under the patronage of Pedro Almodóvar (who has featured her music consistently in his films), was an homage performed in Madrid to the great gay Spanish poet Federico García Lorca (see also the Panorama production Bones of Contention in this connection).
On the other hand, Panorama brings together two films that treat electronic music culture in Germany: An inventor, innovator, a creator of genres, that’s Edgar Froese. Revolution of Sound. Tangerine Dream by Margarete Kreuzer is devoted to the story of the band and their influential, world famous music – while director Romuald Karmakar turns his attention once again to the settings of his “Club Land Trilogy”: With Denk ich an Deutschland in der Nacht (If I Think of Germany at Night) he shows the development of the music genres in question in the here and now, by enabling us to watch and listen to notable DJs while they work, including Ricardo Villalobos, Sonja Moonear, Ata Macias, Roman Flügel and Move D/David Moufang.
After her success at Panorama with Anderson, Annekatrin Hendel is back with an extremely intimate story of friendship that has larger societal implications. In Fünf Sterne (Five Stars) she spends four existential weeks in a seaside hotel with a close female friend. The two women’s conversations revolve around the often glamorous past in East Berlin, the current struggle with a diagnosis – and how our life plans relate to our actual lives.
Speaking of life plans: they can be found in abundance in Tristan Milewski’s Dream Boat – even if they seem to resemble one another, here under the premise of a temporary manipulation of society on a cruise exclusively for gay men. A society completely devoid of heteros, who normally rule the world, and completely devoid of women too: by purging the majority the minority becomes one. Many of the guests come from countries where simply being the way they are exposes them to serious danger: a concentrated form of existence is the result here, which represents a challenge beyond the purely physical for the participants.
Special TEDDY for Monika Treut
The Special TEDDY Award is presented by the friends’ association TEDDY e.V. to a filmmaker whose accomplishments have made an especially significant contribution to the characterisation of queer filmmaking over the years.
As a director, producer and author, Monika Treut has not only left her mark on feminist and lesbian cinema since the 1980s – she has also had a great impact on the German-speaking independent film scene and inspired practitioners and audiences alike all the way into world of US American indie cinema as a trailblazer for the New Queer Cinema. The boldness of and iconoclastic approach to her subjects and aesthetics are closely linked with the liberating energy of the Spontex movement of the 1970s. Her documentary Gendernauts won the TEDDY Award for Best Documentary Film in 1999 as well as audience prizes the world over. Since the presentation of her feature film debut with Elfi Mikesch Seduction: The Cruel Woman in 1985, the Berlinale has shown more than twelve of her films. On the occasion of the presentation of the award in the scope of the 31st TEDDY Awards on Friday, February 17th, Panorama will be showing her second feature film, the 1989 classic Die Jungfrauenmaschine (Virgin Machine).
Belinda – France
By Marie Dumora
Bones of Contention – USA
By Andrea Weiss
Chavela – USA
By Catherine Gund, Daresha Kyi
With Chavela Vargas, Pedro Almodóvar
Denk ich an Deutschland in der Nacht (If I Think of Germany at Night) – Germany
By Romuald Karmakar
With Ricardo Villalobos, Sonja Moonear, Ata, Roman Flügel, Move D/David Moufang
Dream Boat – Germany
By Tristan Ferland Milewski
Erase and Forget – United Kingdom
By Andrea Luka Zimmerman
Fünf Sterne (Five Stars) – Germany
By Annekatrin Hendel
Istiyad Ashbah (Ghost Hunting) – France / Palestinian Territories / Switzerland / Quatar
By Raed Andoni
Mein wunderbares West-Berlin (My Wonderful West Berlin) – Germany
By Jochen Hick
No Intenso Agora (In the Intense Now) – Brazil
By João Moreira Salles
El Pacto de Adriana (Adriana’s Pact) – Chile
By Lissette Orozco
Revolution of Sound. Tangerine Dream – Germany
By Margarete Kreuzer
With Edgar Froese, Peter Baumann, Christoph Franke, Johannes Schmoelling
Strong Island – USA / Denmark
By Yance Ford
Tahqiq fel djenna (Investigating Paradise) – France / Algeria
By Merzak Allouache
Tania Libre – USA
By Lynn Hershman Leeson
With Tania Bruguera, Frank Ochberg
Spoken by Tilda Swinton
Already announced for Panorama Dokumente:
Casting JonBenet – USA / Australia, by Kitty Green Combat au bout de la nuit (Fighting Through the Night) – Canada by Sylvain L’Espérance I Am Not Your Negro – France / USA / Belgium / Switzerland, by Raoul Peck Política, manual de instrucciones (Politics, instructions manual) – Spain, by Fernando León de Aranoa Ri Chang Dui Hua (Small Talk) – Taiwan, by Hui-chen Huang Untitled – Austria / Germany, by Michael Glawogger, Monika Willi
On Monday, January 9 students from around the Coachella Valley gathered at Palm Springs High School for Student Screening Day. First they saw the film THE EAGLE HUNTRESS with a special taped introduction by the film’s Director, Otto Bell. Following the screening there was a taped Q&A session with Mr. Bell.
After a lunch break the students got to see A MAN CALLED OVE, introduced by Director, Hannes Holm who answered the student’s questions about the film following the screening.
MORE FINE FILMS ON THURSDAY, JANUARY 12
Israel – 2016 – 103 minutes
Director: Avi Nesher
In 1977 Jerusalem, two sisters, the daughters of Holocaust survivors, investigate a taboo topic: the mystery of their difficult father’s experiences in Poland during World War II. This profoundly moving drama confronts a burden of history that is still very much part of the Israeli present.
An exuberant follow-up to last year’s scrumptious, globe-trotting documentary Cooking Up a Tribute, this is a delicious travelogue following the acclaimed Roca brothers (from El Celler de Can Roca) as they dive into the rich and diverse food cultures of Turkey.
From Gus van Sant and Dustin Lance Black (Milk), the first episode of their stirring seven-part docudrama that charts the progress of Gay Liberation from its early days in San Francisco in the 1960s to its 21st century triumphs.
Thu, Jan 12 – 6:45 PM – PSHS
Director, Gus Van Sant; Writer, Dustin Lance Black and Actors, Guy Pearce,
Rachel Griffiths and Ivory Aquino to attend.
A stand-alone Film Festival Store for the Palm Springs International Film Festival is featuring a complete collection of Film Festival Merchandise at Destination PSP. The Festival Store is now open and will be open every day through January 16.
The Festival Store is located in the Regal Cinema Courtyard Plaza, unit 16,
just down from the Regal Cinemas and across the courtyard from the
Festival Ticket and Information Center.
You can also shop online at Destination PSP by clicking HERE.
UNDER THE SHADOW
UK/Jordan/Qatar – 2016 – 84 minutes
Director: Babak Anvari
AWARDS BUZZ-BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM
A tense, firmly feminist horror movie with echoes of The Babadook, Poltergeist and Repulsion, Babak Anvari’s Farsi-language frightener (Britain’s Foreign-Language Oscar® nominee) pits an Iranian ghost story against the backdrop of the Iran-Iraq war. An unnerving, audacious debut that stands as one of the best of 2016-if you can handle it.
Against the backdrop of an impending environmental crisis, two troubled adolescents strive to find their place in the world in this stirring debut film from Chile, which weaves together political themes both social and personal. Winner: Best First Feature, Valdiva.
BE PART OF THE FESTIVAL READ THE PSIFF PROGRAM BOOK ONLINE!
Built around a recently recovered interview with Helen More, widow of jazz legend Lee Morgan (The Sidewinder), this is not just an evocative music film but a sucker punch of a crime story, related with palpable love and respect.
If you’re going to one of the great Festival films at the Mary Pickford (or even if you’re not) our friend Chef Hector Salvatierra at Bonta Restaurant & Bar, is offering a special discount to those attending the Palm Springs International Film Festival.
10% off entire check includes all bar items and dinner menu!
Bonta is located at 68510 E Palm Canyon Drive, Suite 140, Cathedral City, CA 92234 (across the street from the Mary Pickford Theatres in the Desert Cinema building). Telephone: 760-832-6100.
Ticket and Pass holders need to show their pass or ticket they have purchased at any time during the Festival. Tickets will be honored throughout the festival dates, they expire at end of festival.
They will be serving lunch from 11:00 am until 2:00 pm, Happy hour from 2:00 pm until 7:00 pm, dinner from 4:00 pm. Cocktails $4.50, Wine $5.00. Martinis $5.50.
They will also have take-out lunch boxes:
Soup and Salad or soup and Sandwich combos
Our Famous Homemade Chips and Chef Hectors Famous Chili and Split Pea soup
Women, female relationships and political intrigue were the hallmarks of Korean cinema this year.
A number of films that delved into the world of the occult, driven by unfathomable forces of evil, also stood out in a year that saw the return of some of Korea’s most renowned directors, including Park Chan-wook and Na Hong-jin, who each added significant pieces to their idiosyncratic oeuvre.
Spotlight on women
Arguably the most globally lauded Korean film of the year, Park Chan-wook’s “The Handmaiden” took on the subject of a lesbian thriller romance, featuring two female lovers against a world of demented male figures. Provocative scenes were portrayed against a fairy tale-like backdrop.
“Handmaiden” has nabbed various international accolades since its screening at the Cannes International Film Festival in May. Vogue.com named it among the “10 Most Fashionable Movies of 2016” for its lavish mise-en-scene, while the Los Angeles Film Critics Awards gave it a best production design award.
The New York Times listed Kim Tae-ri, who stars as Japanese lady Hideko’s earthy, unabashed handmaiden Sook-hee, in a September article titled “Four Actresses Everyone will be Talking About this Fall.”
Female romance also featured in Lee Hyun-ju’s indie film “Our Love Story,” a subtle, realistic tale of an encounter between an art student and a stranger.
Antagonistic relationships between women were explored in films like Kim Tae-yong’s “Misbehavior,” which draws on the jealousy and pride between two female teachers fighting for the affections of a male student. Both Kim Ha-neul and Yoo In-young are excellently cast in their roles: One is reticent and downtrodden, while the other is vivacious, young and self-absorbed.
Director Lee Eon-hee’s “Missing,” meanwhile, saw the unlikely reconciliation between two women — a mother and the nanny who kidnapped her daughter, played by Uhm Ji-won and Gong Hyo-jin.
In a mature tale of womanhood, “Bacchus Lady” explored the world of Korea’s elderly prostitutes and the universal solitude of growing old.
Veteran actress Youn Yuh-jung portrayed the feisty protagonist, who, at 65, turns tricks for a living. Directed by E J-yong, the film offers an emotional reflection on life and death as Korea advances into an aging society. It was screened at the 66th Berlin International Film Festival.
This year also saw a number of films portraying disasters and authorities’ damnable responses.
Director Park Jung-woo’s “Pandora,” set to be streamed globally on Netflix, depicted a nuclear power plant meltdown and the lack of an emergency response system, resulting in the preventable deaths of nuclear power plant workers and residents of surrounding areas.
Kim Seong-hun’s “Tunnel” saw actor Ha Jung-woo trapped inside a collapsed tunnel for weeks on end, with members of the rescue squad wringing their hands at the ineffectual orders from those higher-up in the government.
Kim Sung-su’s “Asura: The City of Madness” depicted a bloodstained web of criminals and politicians.
The latest political thriller “Master,” helmed by Jo Eui-seok, stars actor Lee Byung-hun as a con artist who amasses astronomical wealth and bribes government officials to exert power in state affairs. The flick which opened last week, rang an eerily familiar bell in Korea, which is currently embroiled in an influence-peddling political scandal surrounding President Park Geun-hye.
Ride into the occult
Two of this year’s most striking films were in the horror genre, ruminating on morality and human nature.
Yeon Sang-ho’s apocalyptic zombie thriller “Train to Busan” showed everyday characters — from students to office workers — fighting for their lives while trapped on a torpedoing train swarming with flesh-hungry zombies. It premiered at the Cannes International Film Festival’s Midnight Screenings section and has been picked up for a US remake by Gaumont, a French film studio.
Na Hong-jin’s occult thriller “The Wailing (Goksung),” which also screened at Cannes’ Out of Competition section, took viewers on a terrifying journey toward unreasoning evil. Fourteen-year-old actress Kim Hwan-hee delivered a chilling performance as a possessed child.
A period in time
A number of period pieces also sought to reinterpret historical events from the Japanese occupation era.
Kim Jee-woon’s “The Age of Shadows” transformed the story of Korean independence fighters smuggling in bombs from Shanghai to Korea into a stylish noir.
In “The Last Princess,” director Hur Jin-ho focused on the early stages of the Japanese occupation of Korea through the eyes of Joseon princess Deok-hye, weaving the historical into a personal tale.
“The Portrait of a Poet” by Lee Joon-ik offered a moving portrait of poet Yun Dong-ju, in colonial Korea where the Korean language was banned.
Julie Dash’s DAUGHTERS OF THE DUST is one of the most important indie films. It was the first film directed by an African American woman to receive a wide release 25 years ago. The film is beautiful, haunting and a true work of art. Beyonce’s groundbreaking feature length music film “Lemonade” pays homage to “Daughters of the Dust”.
Below is an article about the film from the Los Angeles Times. Come check out the 25th Restoration of this masterpiece tonight (Thursday) at 7:30pm at the Riviera Theatre.
See you at the movies!
‘Daughters of the Dust,’ Julie Dash’s 1991 triumph, makes a welcome return
By Justin Chang
“Daughters of the Dust,” Julie Dash’s magical 1991 debut feature, captures a sad, thrilling moment of transformation for a community of Gullahs, who are the descendants of African slaves who lived on the Sea Islands off the coast of South Carolina and Georgia. On an August day in 1902, several generations of the Peazant family are preparing to move to the U.S. mainland, bidding farewell to their island home and the vibrant, uniquely African-influenced culture they’ve succeeded in keeping alive.
All good period pieces achieve and sustain a sense of immersion in a different time and place. “Daughters of the Dust,” which Dash spent many years researching, producing, writing and directing, goes further than most. Its examination of a bygone way of life is so patient and evocative, so beholden to its own storytelling conventions and rhythms, that watching it is a bit like submitting to a form of time travel. You emerge from the experience feeling slightly dazed and disoriented, but also deeply and thoroughly ravished.
This is partly due to the hypnotic pull of Arthur Jafa’s cinematography (which won a prize at the Sundance Film Festival) and the atmospheric drumbeats of John Barnes’ score, which conspire to establish an enveloping, dreamlike mood at the outset. But it is also because of the strong, vividly detailed personalities of the women at the film’s center, each one representing a different voice in a timeless tug of war between tradition and modernity, assimilation and isolation.
There is the family’s octogenarian matriarch, Nana Peazant (Cora Lee Day), who is determined to remain on the island with her rituals and herbal potions to the chagrin of her embittered granddaughter-in-law, Haagar (Kaycee Moore), who looks forward to the prosperity that she hopes awaits them on the mainland.
Two other women have returned for the Peazants’ final island gathering after leaving home years ago, though their experiences could scarcely have been more different. Viola (Cheryl Lynn Bruce) has become an outspokenly devout Baptist while Yellow Mary (Barbara O.), who returns with her girlfriend (Trula Hoosier) in tow, is ostracized by her family members for being a prostitute.
One of the few who openly embraces Yellow Mary is the spirited Eula (Alva Rogers), who was raped by a white man on the mainland and may be carrying his child, to the horror of her husband, Eli (Adisa Anderson). It is Eula who becomes the film’s wrenching voice of conscience and sanity when she cries, “Let’s live our lives without living in the fold of old wounds!” — a plea that, even for ears unaccustomed to the thick, West African-inflected creole of the region, cuts to the bone.
Viola has brought a photographer (Tommy Redmond Hicks) to the island to document the occasion. He’s something of a stand-in for Dash, whose father was a Gullah, and whose film becomes its own striking act of witness. The manner of that witness — including the use of voice-over narration from the perspective of Eula’s unborn child — shows a remarkable integrity.
Rather than telling her story via clean, linear strokes and manufactured crises, Dash lingers on the sights and sounds of Sea Island life, from the unforgettable images of women on the beach in floor-length white dresses to the close-ups of fresh-cooked prawns, hard-boiled eggs and other dishes served at the Peazants’ feast. These moments are not incidental to the narrative; they are essential to it, as Dash seeks to convey the very look, feel and texture of something that is about to be lost forever.
When “Daughters of the Dust” premiered in the dramatic competition at Sundance in 1991, the field included two other major indie breakthroughs: Todd Haynes’ “Poison” (which won the grand jury prize) and Richard Linklater’s “Slacker.” That their directors have gone on to become prominent auteurs on the independent scene is an undeniable testament to their genius.
But it also speaks to the cultural and gender-based norms that kept a singular talent like Dash from the filmmaking career she deserved — in part because “Daughters of the Dust,” one of the most striking American independent movies ever made, didn’t conform to any studio executive’s ideal of what a “black” movie should look and sound like. (The year 1991 saw a mini-renaissance for African American commercial cinema, including “Boyz n the Hood,” “New Jack City,” “Jungle Fever” and “A Rage in Harlem.”)
Even still, “Daughters of the Dust” hasn’t exactly languished in obscurity. Although it struggled to find a distributor post-Sundance, it did become the first film directed by an African American woman to receive a wide theatrical release (courtesy of Kino International). Its reemergence in theaters is timely for any number of reasons, a widely spotted shout-out in Beyoncé’s “Lemonade” not least among them.
The present-day resonance of a movie about an immigrant community caught between a traumatic past and an uncertain future can largely speak for itself. But it’s especially meaningful in a year marked by a remarkable range of serious new works from black filmmakers, from Barry Jenkins’ “Moonlight” and Nate Parker’s “The Birth of a Nation” to Denzel Washington’s forthcoming “Fences” — each one offering a different vision of African American families trying to rise above a deeply entrenched legacy of oppression.
As an example of how to realize that vision without compromise, “Daughters of the Dust” remains a pioneering work of art — a vibrant dispatch from our historical and cinematic past that continues to look ahead to a more hopeful future.
One of the major Achilles’ heels for film producers and directors is the distribution game. Once you’ve made your movie, what do you do? How do you play the game? What strategies do you employ? Is there even a strategy?
Well, there’s good news and bad news. The good news is there are indeed strategies to use and employ. The bad news is that most filmmakers don’t know what they are, and flounder around trying to figure them out. What’s even worse is too many filmmakers throwing in the towel and just dumping their film online, hoping it “hits” somehow.
Myth #1: I’m a director, a filmmaker, a creative person. Telling stories is my thing and if I make a good movie, I don’t have to worry about the business stuff or the marketing because someone else will do that.
Truth #1: There are of course some people who get lucky and either have a producing partner who does all the business & marketing (and is good at it), or they have the money to hire the right people to do everything.
However for most this isn’t the case, especially if one’s film career is in the early stages. You need to become a businessperson once your movie or documentary is done. At least until it’s sold (or until you’re done selling if you’re DIY’ing it).
Because distribution is business, and distributors don’t care if you’ve made the greatest indie film/art film/documentary of the past 20 years. What they care about is if it will make them money. (And your audience, if you’re DIY’ing your film, needs to believe they’ll be sufficiently entertained and/or enlightened before they’ll buy a DVD or pay to watch it online.) The more you can become a “salesperson” and marketing maven, the more success you will have on your quest for distribution or sales.
Yes, I know this part isn’t nearly as sexy and fun as making movies and can be downright boring at times. But what Orson Welles famously said about the film business is still true today: “It’s about 2% moviemaking and 98% hustling.”
Myth #2: Distributors are calling me and they’re excited to see my movie! I’ll send it to them and if they like it, they’ll acquire it!
Truth #2: All major distributors track the movies that have been listed in the trades under their production columns. If you were in those columns, you’re going to be phoned. Do not send them a rough cut. Do not send them a final cut. Do not send them the movie. If you do, you will not get a theatrical distribution deal, if this is what you are aiming for.
You must “unveil” your movie in the right place at the right time, such as a top film festival, to get the theatrical buyers to really want your feature. Movies do not get picked up for theatrical releases that have been sent on a DVD to a distributor. So when they call asking to see a screener, you’ll say “It’s not ready, but I appreciate your call. Check back with me in a month or two.” (And you’ll do this every time they call, until you’re ready for the grand unveiling.)
Myth #3: My movie was selected for the Sundance Film Festival! Woohooo! All I have to do is show up and I will get a deal!
Truth #3: Okay, you won the lottery and got a slot at one of the top three film festivals (Sundance, Toronto, Cannes) for your movie premiere. Guess what? Your work hasn’t even begun yet. You now must assemble a team of people: a PR firm, an agent from one of the top agencies in Los Angeles, an attorney, and possibly a producer’s rep. (But beware…most producer’s reps are useless.)
You will have to work, strategize and position your movie, before it premieres, as a very desirable movie that distributors must have. You have one shot at the top festivals for a theatrical deal, so don’t piss it away. Unfortunately, most filmmakers don’t know or understand this. They get a slot at Sundance or Toronto, don’t assemble a team or promote their film properly, and then come away without a deal and are entirely lost as to their next step.
Myth #4: I was rejected by the top festivals, so now I’m submitting and getting accepted by the next tier of festivals. This is cool. All I have to do is show up to my screenings and I’m treated like a rock star. Distribution, here I come!
Truth #4: Yeah, okay, if this is you, at least you’re having fun. But you’re not going to get distribution this way. There is a real purpose to the festival circuit beyond the top festivals that most people, even Hollywood veterans, simply do not understand. The obvious purpose is, of course, exposure. But there is actually a MORE important purpose: Building a Pedigree.
What is a Pedigree?
It is an accumulation of press coverage, interviews, quotes from critics, and awards if you can get them, which says you have a winning movie on your hands. Once you methodically build this pedigree, which takes some work on the festival circuit, you are then ready to parlay this into a distribution deal (or healthy sales). It’s a simple concept that most do not grasp; yet it is extremely powerful and effective for independent films that don’t get into the top festivals. There is real psychology involved in the “art” of selling a movie or documentary. Ignore at your own risk. However, if you learn this “art,” you will have success.
Myth #5: I’ve submitted my movie to the 15 home video companies out there. I’ve even talked to producer friends and looked at industry reference books for whom to submit to. If these 15 companies say ‘No,’ I’m out of luck for a home video deal.
Truth #5: This truth right here may be worth serious dollars to you. There are literally over 100 home video companies in the marketplace, all operating under their own labels. On top of that are additional companies that pick up movies and programming that have output deals with these distributors. So if you think you’ve exhausted your search for a home video deal and have only contacted a handful of companies, you’ve simply just begun.
And don’t buy the occasional diatribe out there that DVD is dead. It’s not. It is still the largest revenue generating segment of the entire film industry. Last year alone, it generated $16-17 billion in revenues. That’s billion with a ‘B.’
Myth #6: I’m going to bypass traditional distribution altogether, sell my movie on the internet myself and make a ton of money from DVD sales and digital streaming (VOD).
Truth #6: Not likely. For every 5000 movies being made every year, there are less than 20 who make serious money this way. WHY? It’s hard work. It takes time (a lot of it), it takes specific strategies, and you become the de facto distributor for a good year, if not longer. Which isn’t an exciting proposition for most filmmakers, who’ve already been on a lengthy and arduous journey of making their film.
However, some who go this route do it very successfully. They’re either great at marketing already, or great learners. And they’re very committed to achieving success, so they really do what it takes to win. Also, the budget of your movie can dictate if this route is viable for you. If you’ve made a $10,000 movie, it’s not that difficult to recoup this amount, with some decent work. But if your budget was $1 million, good luck making your money back using only the internet. You’ll either need traditional distribution, or a hybrid approach of both traditional and non-traditional.
So these are a few of the popular and misleading myths out there, and the truth about them. With 5000 (or more) movies being made every single year, that’s a lot of producers and directors working with often erroneous information. Not to mention an overwhelming number of movies vying for a limited number of distribution slots. These two factors combined can make for a daunting journey filled with frustration and failure.
The silver lining however, is that with the right knowledge, coupled with dedicated and diligent work, anyone with a decent film can achieve success. Anyone. But it does take the right knowledge. You do not have to have star names in your movie to get a deal or have success, and your movie does not have to be phenomenal. If it’s at least decent, you do have a real shot.
Posted by Larry GleesonSix documentary projects that screened at AFI DOCS 2016 in Washington, DC, have been selected to receive funding from the AFI DOCS/NBCUniversal Impact Grants.Now in their second year, the grants will support the outreach and social action campaigns for these six documentary projects that participated in the AFI DOCS 2016 Impact Lab, a two-day filmmaker workshop sponsored by NBCUniversal and presented in partnership with Picture Motion.
The 2016 Impact Lab took place in Washington, DC, from June 21–22, 2016, during AFI DOCS, the American Film Institute’s international documentary film festival held annually in the nation’s capital — with the goal to inspire change by bringing together the nation’s leaders and leading artists. Led by Heidi Nel (formerly with Picture Motion in Washington, DC), the Lab introduced participants to policymakers addressing a range of issues from the moral injury of American military veterans to caregivers, LGBT youth, gun violence, education and juvenile incarceration, and imparted filmmakers with the skills to engage with those policymakers at a grassroots level to catalyze lasting social change.
Spanning some of the most critical and urgent problems facing the world today, the projects supported by these grants demonstrated their ability to leverage distribution in 2016. The documentary projects receiving a total of $75,000 in support from the 2016 AFI DOCS/NBCUniversal Impact Grants are:
ALMOST SUNRISE Michael Collins, Director
Two young Iraq War veterans hike a 2,700-mile course from the Midwest to the California Coast to raise awareness for those like themselves who struggle with memories of combat. Along the way, they meet other vets and supporters and talk through their traumas in this inspiring journey toward healing.
CARE Deirdre Fishel, Director
Millions of elderly Americans depend on compassionate caregivers to provide the support they need to age in place. These health care workers offer love and kindness to the elderly, but often don’t earn enough to keep a roof over their heads. With compelling stories of caregivers and those in need, CARE opens our eyes to the fragile human infrastructure that supports an aging America.
CHECK IT Toby Oppenheimer, Director Dana Flor, Director
In the heart of the nation’s capital, the Check It is a street gang comprised of gay and transgender teens who support each other in the face of outside bullying, attacks and discrimination. The group struggles with an existence underscored by violence, poverty and prostitution, but when a young mentor comes into their lives, he endeavors to help them find a more productive outlet: through the creative world of fashion. Finally faced with a better option, the Check It members must now attempt to beat the odds by getting off the street and working toward lives of purpose and accomplishment.
NEWTOWN Kim A. Snyder, Director
On December 14, 2012, a 20-year-old gunman forced his way into Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, and murdered 20 schoolchildren and six educators. In the aftermath of the killings, filmmaker Kim Snyder traveled to Newtown and trained her lens on a grieving community, following several families who came face to face with tragedy. NEWTOWN reveals both the indelible scars gun violence leaves behind and the resilience of people who come together to heal.
RAISING BERTIE Margaret Byrne, Director
Filmed over the course of seven years, RAISING BERTIE is a sensitively made portrait of three African American teen boys living in the rural community of Bertie County, North Carolina. When the supportive community school they attend is forced to close, the boys must navigate a path of their own, which they hope will lead them away from the cycles of racism and poverty that threaten to engulf their lives.
THEY CALL US MONSTERS Ben Lear, Director
This fresh look at juvenile justice follows three Latino teens awaiting sentencing for violent crimes as a legal debate rages on imposing life sentences for minors. The young men find their voice thanks to a teacher who helps them write, cast and produce a film based on their life experiences. The boys are complex, surprisingly lovable characters whose paths diverge as they enter a capricious court system, making a strong case for juvenile justice reform.
I didn’t do film school. I was a dancer and started making raw stop-motion shorts when touring with David Byrne. After 150 shows, I came to realize that dance enabled people to understand the music. Unsure what the “strange moves” meant, dance gave them permission to feel something they couldn’t necessarily fit into words. Then is when I first felt the compulsion to turn the electricity of a live performance into an object that could transcend borders, language, and endure time. I turned my hard knock dancer-work-ethic into teaching myself how to edit with stills I’d shot (after a year I realized using a mouse made all the difference). ’Twas pure play – I wasn’t even sure what the “it” of it was supposed to be.
I’ve built this manifesto of sorts that guides my work: Everyone speaks body, it’s a universal alphabet. I define this “visceral cinema” with articulate bodies in space in relationship to a lens. Dance isn’t always a virtuosic “pow”; it’s about bodies that are aware of their edges and use their range. Bodies can’t lie. They are the subtext of us – it’s a subterranean language usually too shy to come out. Bodies speak nuance and contradiction that get lost when spoken. The clincher is fitting a body inside a lens – a practice that is significantly more crafted than grabbing footage of a crazy-cool body. I think it’s a balance of these: Proximity to lens, distinct performance focus, a breathing handheld camera, knowing when/not to crop a body and lock frame, editing as a rhythm tool (cutting on action, thank you Maya Deren), and sound/music as sub-protagonist and dialogue. The final convergence shouldn’t be possible in real life. “Gesamtkunstwerk,“ meaning “total work of art,“ is my favorite word, and a wink to The Ballet Russe.
Co-Directing: Where Differences Unite
A couple years ago my friend Saschka Unseld (Oculus Story Studio) asked me to make something with dance. I was trying to turn the “flattie” into a kinetic playground, so the prospect of having 360 degrees to mess around with was enticing. I could use my years of performing in unconventional spaces and get rid of the proscenium box that now seemed stuck on a wall. We’ve both always edited our own work and agree that nothing is ever completed. He’s a renowned director, cinematographer, and tech maven (the latter not being my forte). We embraced our differences, jumped off our respective cliffs, and trusted that our mutual rigor would spit us out somewhere. We applied and were accepted into the Sundance Institute Jaunt VR Residency.
Lily directing Joanna Kotze and Amari Cheatom with Saschka and DP Dagmar Weaver-Madsen. Photo by Cameron Berton.
This collaboration has been striking. It has enabled me to indulge in imagination without needing to know how to practically realize the fantasy. I play with the parameters of performance and narrative expectation. Saschka is a poet with technology and uses it to capture a distinct human tenderness. He moves like a dancer, engaging his tools like I’ve trained my skeleton. We began collaborating by dancing together – him, as his camera, with me. It’s a unique banter, our unique perfectionisms moving through space. We cantilever off our perspectives, pick up where the other drops off, and take different paths to arrive at the same place. It’s an intuitive collision.
Carob is Not Chocolate and VR is Not Film
What’s disarming (and therefore exciting) about VR, is that we’re asking the viewer to silently enter and intimately witness a world they don’t have much control over (yet). This medium’s power is not about titillating the viewer with a rush of endorphins — we all know adapting film to VR is a mistake. The potency of VR is combining the intensity of immersion with all the tech limitations, and then using these as tools to articulate something that couldn’t exist in any other medium — and should absolutely not be possible in real life.
What is Story in VR?
We both wrestle with linearity. Real life happens in simultaneous layers, which is how we experience time and therefore story. Creating in 360 degrees space was a relief, and has left us thinking of story in terms of “slices of life”. Saschka strongly felt we should remove all filmmaking protocol from our process. He slowed down our script into a series of “peak moments of being” that were strung in a bold tableau. I think of it as walking through a museum and stepping inside a series of paintings (each one a complete world) on the wall. VR demands that users feel culpable, feel responsible, feel powerful, feel alone, and feel close. What is a story that uses this alphabet? These tenets dictate our story experience. Time plays differently because there’s so much to see! Because you’re intimate with the environment, little things become epic. Directing in VR is its own muscle, one we’re exploring and training.
Limitations Are Portals For Discovery
My uncle is hard of hearing and he has the most amazing sense of smell. There’s something about having less of one thing, that mandates solving in unexpected ways. I’m a sucker for detail and frustrated by the “fuzzy” picture in VR. After a test shoot, we decided we couldn’t lose the subtle intimacy of our breathing dancers, Joanna Kotze, Amari Cheatom, and Marni Wood, as they moved from the ‘70s through 2046. So we decided dance had to express emotion graphically. Specified fingers in space made all the difference. Colored light would imbue the emotional details lost in their faces. Inside the crafted costume and production design, reflective fabrics with bold patterns would define the character of a body, bold architectural shapes in the room and strong color shifts would best show time passing.
Amari Cheatom and Marni Wood in Through You. Photo by Cameron Berton.
Rigorous Mistakes Are Innovations
Authentic creativity and innovation come from not having rules and not knowing what things are called. Too much identification keeps us confined to knowing what things should be. When I fall onstage and fuck up, it presents a new choice. (First thing is to keep a straight face and never look like you didn’t mean it.) This impromptu problem-solving and rigorous commitment to follow-through is my background, and we’re finding it’s perfect for VR. On set my freshness to the space had me proposing wild “What if?” and “Can we…?!” questions. Saschka adamantly protected our creative discovery saying that anything that “wasn’t supposed to work,” we’d ignore. “There are no rules, anyone who says differently is jumping the gun,” he said. As our previous experiments had proved, we could move the camera and not make the viewer nauseous. It was more complex than tracking a “fixed focal point” — we found the key is creating a physical connection between the camera/viewer and the subject. I danced with Saschka, and there happened to be a camera between us. Fast cuts? Jump cuts? Frantic changes in pace? It’s all possible, it’s just a force that needs to be properly wielded. The conversation is too often between technology and art. We’re talking about technology and body. We want to use technology to move into uncharted areas that make us reckon with our mortality. Our motto: If we fail, if this ends up a disaster, let’s at least fail upwards.
We’ve thrown caution to the wind, and there’s nothing shy about Through You. We dive head on into a never-ending love story that will play cyclically, hitting the peak moments of intimacy, betrayal, loss, aging, the passing of time — only to be engulfed in flames and then reborn again under water. It’s a racy, bold, and undeniably human experience that pushes the power of immersion and dares us to have a body that loves, feels pleasure, and feels loss. We worked intensely with our DP and longtime collaborator Dagmar Weaver-Madsen – a fierce maker in her own right – and she held us to task, grounded our ideas in practicality, and proposed bold DIY ideas to solve curveballs. She pushed us hard and kept the production glued together with the expertise of Brooke Chapman, our camera supervisor who wielded Jaunt’s incredible camera. It was a dream team. None of Through You would exist without our team’s incredibly hard work.
It’s a hot moment, this VR thing. As a dancer first, it’s a space where I thrive and where I don’t have to be an expert – I just get to be rigorously curious. I feel like I’m a detective and we’re all on a wicked-good scavenger hunt.
With such polarizing fear shaping our climate, we’ve called our choices into question. It’s a privilege to do what we do. (“Artist” makes us cringe – we think of ourselves as “lookers,” “finders” and “makers.”) What can we do about what’s happening in our world now? We’ve landed here – how can 360 immersive degrees wake up a body? When we literally feel ourselves and all that VR can do (way more than we think), we remember our impact: we are responsible, we make a difference.
ON THE MAP tells the against-all- odds story of Maccabi Tel Aviv’s 1977 European Championship, which took place at a time when the Middle East was still reeling from the 1973 Yom Kippur War, the 1972 Olympic massacre at Munich, and the 1976 hijacking of an Air France flight from Tel Aviv. Through the of lens of sports, ON THE MAP presents a much broader story of how one team captured the heart of a nation amidst domestic turmoil and the global machinations of the Cold War.
ON THE MAP
Written and Directed by Dani Menkin
Starring Tal Brody, David Stern, Bill Walton
Country of Origin: USA
Running Time: 85 min
Screening: Sunday, December 11 @ 2:00pm Monday, December 12 @ 7:30pm Tuesday, December 13 @ 5:00pm Wednesday, December 14 @ 7:30pm
at the Riviera Theatre – 2044 Alameda Padre Serra
“There’s no surer ingredient for a feel-good documentary than an inspirational sports story, and filmmaker Dani Menkin delivers one in spades with his recounting of the 1979 European Cup victory by the national Israeli basketball team.”
Frank Scheck – Hollywood Reporter
“On the Map, a documentary about Maccabi Tel Aviv’s improbable success in the 1977 edition of the tourney, is a feel-good Cinderella story, the real-life details are at least apropo of this kind of athletic fairy tale.”
Michael Nordine – Village Voice/L.A.Weekly
“Menkin has been especially thorough in telling
this classic against-all-odds sports story.”
Kenneth Turan – LA Times