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The AFI FEST Interview: THE EYES OF MY MOTHER Director Nicolas Pesce

Beautifully lensed in black and white, Nicolas Pesce’s debut feature THE EYES OF MY MOTHER immediately immerses the viewer in its Gothic atmosphere with a jarring act of violence that disrupts the seemingly bucolic life of a Midwestern Portuguese-American family. Francisca, the young daughter of a farmer and his surgeon wife, carries the effects of witnessing this terrible event into adulthood and perpetuates the cycle of violence to a chilling degree. Played with magnetic intensity by Kika Magalhães, the character of Francisca provides an uncommonly personal look at psychosis. While Pesce never pretends to understand or explain the roots of her actions, by planting the film squarely in Francisca’s point of view, he gives us an uncomfortable yet enthralling experience with this unique horror film.

AFI spoke with Pesce about the film.

Nicolas Pesce
Nicolas Pesce

AFI: This is an austere, minimalist horror movie fable told from the point of view of an increasingly extreme serial murderer. How did you make your protagonist sympathetic?

Nicolas Pesce: There was a constant balance we all had to maintain to tread this line between sympathy and disgust. For us, it was all about showing the audience every aspect of the character’s life, good and bad. You may not agree with Francisca’s actions, but a glimpse of understanding helps to make the character more sympathetic. The film is not about an evil woman. It’s about a lonely woman, and that’s how we always handled it.

AFI: Why shoot in black and white? It’s interesting that, though there are period elements in the film, the time and place are never immediately clear. 

NP: The black and white instantly tells the audience what type of horror movie is in store for them. It puts the film into a different lexicon of movies, and whether you’re familiar with American Gothic or not, the visual style creates a moody atmosphere that’s an extension of the main character’s psyche.

AFI: While THE EYES OF MY MOTHER is indeed disturbing, much of the violence takes place off-screen. Why?

NP: If I showed the violence on screen, you could look away and protect yourself from the imagery. But if I only give you a hint as to what’s happening, you’re mind fills in all the gaps, and suddenly without even trying, you’ve got this horrible image in your mind’s eye, and you can’t look away from that. It’s about making the audience scare themselves rather than me doing it for them. We’re all the best at scaring ourselves in exactly the way that scares us. I set up the scare, and you do the rest.

AFI: You wear your influences on your sleeve — David Lynch, David Cronenberg, Takashi Miike and even Michael Haneke. What attracts you to this kind of extreme filmmaking? 

NP: All those filmmakers have one very important thing in common. They have the ability to make the most banal, ordinary thing frightening. Whether it’s the actor’s performance or the music or the movement of the camera work, these filmmakers manage to unsettle in really abstract ways, manipulating the audience’s mood unknowingly and in oddly ordinary ways.

AFI: THE EYES OF MY MOTHER was the first project of Borderline Presents, the collective of established indie directors Josh Mond, Sean Durkin and Antonio Campos. How did this collaboration begin?

NP: I met Josh Mond while he was in post on his film JAMES WHITE. I helped him edit for a few weeks, but we became fast friends. I was soon welcomed into the family and they helped me put this film together. They saw a like-minded collaborator in me, but also a filmmaker who had a different voice than the three of them. They oversaw the project every step of the way from prep to production to post. Their experience, advice and opinions were invaluable. To have such brilliant filmmakers, whom I respect so much, looking out for the good of the film was more than I could ever ask for. They did everything in their power to help me make the best possible movie I could make, always trying to find the core of what I was trying to do, and getting the best version of it out of me.

THE EYES OF MY MOTHER screens at AFI FEST 2016 on Tuesday, November 15 and Wednesday, November 16 as part of the festival’s American Independents section.


How AFI Fest honors trailblazing women along with its gala premieres

Posted by Larry Gleeson

 The 30th AFI Fest hits Hollywood Boulevard Thursday with, appropriately enough, a strong emphasis on movie history.

Of course, the American Film Institute’s L.A. film festival will also bring its usual program of glitzy award season premieres, fantastic foreign and independent productions, new discoveries and live talent from all over the world to the Chinese Theatre complex and other venues along the boulevard by the time it concludes on Nov. 17.

But from its opening night gala premiere — Warren Beatty’s ode to Howard Hughes’ Hollywood of the 1950s Rules Don’t Apply — to the local bow of acclaimed contemporary musical La La Land and even a 75th anniversary restoration of the greatest film of all time, Citizen Kane, AFI Fest 2016 will be honoring the past while looking toward the future.

“Showing Rules Don’t Apply and La La Land together is almost like fish in a barrel,” notes the fest’s director of programming, Lane Kneedler. “They’re about our town.”

And then there’s the event’s most beloved tradition: Once again this year, AFI Fest will be free to the public.


“There’ll be a few other things that are special,” festival director Jacqueline Lyanga understates about the 30th anniversary edition. “We’re featuring three trailblazing women from cinema history; Ida Lupino, Anna May Wong and Dorothy Dandridge; we’ll be showing their films in our Cinema’s Legacy section.”

Asked if the honoring of pioneering actress-turned-director Lupino and early Asian- and African-American stars Wong (an L.A. native, by the way) and Dandridge indicated an emphasized diversity theme this year, Lyanga provided perspective.

“For us, it really represents the scope and the range that is showcased at AFI Fest,” she explains. “Across the program, we have a remarkable amount of diversity in terms of women (33 of the nearly 120 features and shorts were female-directed) and in terms of filmmakers and artists and actors of color. It’s not something that’s special, actually, for this year, it’s something that we’ve seen in the programming year after year. We just look for great work; we don’t look for specific quotas.”

Among the splashier stuff they’ve come up with, AFI Fest’s programming team has added

Natalie Portman portrays Jacqueline Kennedy in the Kennedy biopic, Jackie.

the Natalie Portman-starring Kennedy biopic Jackie, a tribute to Annette Bening with a screening of her upcoming 20th Century Women, another tribute to French national treasure Isabelle Huppert with her Paul Verhoeven-directed Elle and, for closing night, Mark Wahlberg’s Boston Marathon bombing docudrama Patriots Day to its Galas list.

The festival’s Special Screenings section offers the first local glimpses of other upcoming hot properties such as the Robert De Niro-starring The Comedian, Jessica Chastain’s showcase as a high-powered D.C. lobbyist Miss Sloane, M. Night Shyamalan’s latest creepfest Split, acclaimed German comedy and Oscar entry Toni Erdmann and the premiere of Disney’s animated Polynesian spectacular Moana.

“ Moana is going to be a fantastic evening,” Kneedler promises. “We’re going to have all of Hollywood Boulevard Moana’d-out that night.”

Anticipated international auteur films making their L.A. debuts at AFI include Cristian Mungiu’s Graduation from Romania, Brit Ken Loach’s Cannes Film Festival prize-winner I, Daniel Blake, Spanish bad boy Pedro Almodovar’s latest Julieta, Pablo Larrain’s Chilean biopic Neruda, Iranian Oscar-winner Asghar Farhadi’s The Salesman, South Koreans Kim Ki-duk’s The Net and Hong Sang-soo’s Yourself and Yours and the Philippines’ Lav Diaz’s Venice Film Fest winner The Woman Who Left.

And many, many more. Plus a lot of stuff even the most devoted followers of the international movie scene probably haven’t heard about. There are films from 46 countries at AFI this year.

“One of the goals of the festival is to contextualize the year in cinema as best we can, in a place where people who are in the industry, the filmmakers, the general public, the cinephiles, the movie fans, everyone can come together and talk about movies,” Lyanga explains. “And, also, to not only think about the films that have won awards and are known about and lauded at Sundance, Berlin, Cannes or Telluride, but to bring to light films that we think are incredible that may have been off the radar. That’s part of what you’ll see in our New Auteurs, American Independents and World Cinema sections.”

Some titles Kneedler and Lyanga advise checking out include the American indies Always Shine by Sophia Takal, Buster’s Mal Heart by Sarah Adina Smith and starring Mr. Robot’s Rami Malek, and the Kris Avedisian-directed and -starring Donald Cried. They also suggest sampling Brazil’s Kill Me Please, Kenya’s Kati Kati, the French/Qatari co-production Divines and the Austrian/Italian Mister Universo amid the bounty of imported offerings.

The festival also will host a technology showcase, panels with the year’s outstanding indie and documentary talents, family- and student-oriented programs and, in case you need more classic movie connections, documentaries on film’s ultimate samurai Toshiro Mifune and mother/daughter icons Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher.

For the full schedule, to reserve tickets and all other stuff, go to afifest.afi.com.



(Source: http://www.presstelegram.com)

The AFI FEST Interview: DIVINES Director Houda Benyamina

Disenchanted and unimpressed by the parameters of life in the slums of Paris, a fearless and ferocious teenager named Dounia unabashedly dreams of prosperity, not only for herself but also for her charismatic best friend and alcoholic mother. In her audacious pursuit of money, power and respect, she aligns herself with a ruthless gangster who uses her as a pawn to exact revenge on a rival drug lord. When their plan goes off the rails and escalates into violent territory, Dounia is forced to reconcile the allure of quietly escaping to the life of her dreams with the reality of the ramifications of her actions. Shot in a style that is at once melodic and discordant, DIVINES is a cinematic haiku of empowerment, youthful angst, racial inequality and the consequences of poverty.

Winner of the Camera d’Or prize at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival, DIVINES is the feature film debut of director Houda Benyamina.

AFI: Oulaya Amamra gives an intense performance as the raw and uninhibited protagonist Dounia.  How did you develop that character?

Houda Benyamina: One year of physical training was necessary. Dounia is a fighter whoscreen-shot-2016-11-06-at-10-20-16-am develops an incredible lust for life and you had to feel it through Oulaya’s body. Her body had to embody this strength and this lust for surpassing herself; that is why Oulaya took boxing and parkour lessons. Apart from that, the character had to be in peak physical condition to keep up with the pace of the rehearsals and of the shooting. This was long and intense, and needed stamina.

Dounia has a cat-like side, she slides in and out of underpasses, passageways; she is at the same time deep down and high up. So Oulaya’s task was to watch documentaries on felines to grasp their way of being and moving. She also viewed a lot of gangster films and films in which the hero is transforming. We were looking for an organic transformation and this required an important identifying process. Oulaya suggested lots of ideas of clothing. During a whole year she wore Dounia’s clothes, she ate, slept and lived like Dounia. She even went sleeping in a gypsy camp because she had to understand her character’s rage due to a feeling of injustice, and to be able to find in herself Dounia’s anger for being ostracized.

AFI: What was your rehearsal process?

HB: During the shooting I developed a sort of safety line around the actors to protect them from any lapse in concentration. The camera, for instance, was on all the time so that the crew did not have to care about it and could keep focused on the actors. To me the film set is like a sanctuary, a holy place. I ask everybody to be extremely concentrated, full of solemnity toward the actors acting. And it is very important to me.

AFI: Questions of race and class inequality come up in the script. How did those themes shape the characters and plot?

HB: DIVINES is a film on spirituality and holiness. What was important to me was the apocalyptic ending. How does one rise from the ashes? How does one learn [that] there are so many things which shape us: family, social class, education, politics — but through these primary determinisms, I wanted to raise the question of free will and how it appeared in these characters looking for appreciation and dignity. Injustice is my driving force to creation. I feel close to my characters, who oscillate between darkness and light; I like exploring the two sides of human beings. Social inequality and the hunger to overcome are present for sure, but they are elements of the characters and not their essence. The essence centers on them and their inner lives.

Most important was to arouse emotion, because it makes us think and allows us to understand and question society. I intended to make a universal film with universal issues of love, friendship, the quest for recognition and dignity, and ambition.

AFI: You’re a celebrated short filmmaker. What made you want to make the transition to feature film?

HB: It was important to find someone who understands me and has the same artistic and human values, and I found him: my producer, Marc-Benoît Créancier. Once we had made my medium-length film SUR LA ROUTE DU PARADIS together, it was obvious to me to make a feature film. As a film director and a great believer I have lots of doubts and I ask myself lots of questions. My producer helps me overcome them; he encourages and guides me and he trusts me so much that making a feature film with him was a foregone conclusion.

AFI: In one sentence, what statement or question would like to linger with the audience following the screening?

HB: What do I really need to succeed?

DIVINES screens at AFI FEST 2016 on Saturday, November 12, and Monday, November 14, as part of the New Auteurs section of the festival.


(Source: afi.blog.com)

FILM REVIEW: The Wind Rises (Miyazaki, 2013): Japan

Reviewed by Larry Gleeson. Viewed during AFI Filmfest 2013.

The Wind Rises, is a new animated, full-length, feature film from legendary Japanese animation director, Hayao Miyazaki. Miyazaki announced at this year’s Venice Film Festival this will be his last film. In 1997 his Princess Mononoke, was the highest revenue grossing film in the history of Japan at the time of its release and it also received the Japanese equivalent of an Academy Award for Best Film. Miyazaki is also well known for the films Spirited Away, (2001) and Howl’s Moving Castle, (2004) In 2003 Miyazaki received an Oscar for Best Animated Feature for the film Spirited Away.

His films have garnered international acclaim from critics and have provided Miyazaki public recognition within Japan. His films are known for compelling characters, engaging plots and eye-catching animation. Remarkable by today’s standards his films allow no more than 10% of the footage to come from computer animation.

In The Wind Rises, Miyazaki tells the story of Jiro Horikoshi, a real-life aeronautical engineer who designed fighter aircraft in Japan during WWII. The film opens with the young Jiro fantasizing of his plane flying above his hometown. As I watched the scene unfold, a rather powerful ominous feeling surfaced as I was reminded of Leni Riefenstahl’s opening scene from the Nazi propaganda documentary, Triumph of the Will. Nevertheless the early moments of the film are very heartwarming as Miyazaki chooses to highlight Jiro’s youth as an older brother to a delightfully spirited younger sister in a single parented household run by their kind and caring mother.


Jiro’s passion throughout the film is making good airplanes. Jiro’s daydreaming, which he does a few times during the story’s arc. Admittedly, several of my favorite moments are Jiro’s imaginings with Count Caproni, a larger-than-life mustachioed Italian airplane designer who mentors Jiro with playful and good-natured ribbing, that provide insight into  Jiro’s creative passion. Jiro finds his inspiration through such moments and Miyazaki makes space for them throughout the film.

The story is partially based on Tatsuo Hori’s 1938 novelette, “The Wind Has Risen.” Miyazaki’s animation provides beautiful plush scenery with Monet-like backdrops and landscapes providing striking visuals while creating a powerful nostalgia for a simpler time lightly brushing over the complications of war and economic depression. With such a breathtaking mise-en-scene it’s no wonder a young Jiro falls in love with the  young woman he saved during a traumatic, historic earthquake a few years before (the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake).

In direct juxtaposition to this frantic and rather manic scenario in the aftermath of the earthquake, young Jiro finds himself vacationing in a rural setting enjoying the greenery and the soft “rising” winds complete with majestic and billowing, flowery clouds when he coincidentally crosses paths with the beautiful girl he saved from the earthquake as she paints poetically on a hillside overlooking the spectacular countryside.

The Wind Rises, is a very light-hearted, entertaining film. The film focuses pretty much exclusively on the protagonist, Jiro, as an idealistic engineer whose primary purpose in life is to make planes. Granted, he falls in love and rubs elbows with German plane builders during WWII. Yet, WWII and the social unrest after the  Great Kanto Earthquake are left virtually untouched. Tellingly, Jiro’s concern at the end of the war was over the planes that didn’t come back. Nevertheless, I wholeheartedly recommend the film for children and for adults with a penchant for Monet-esque visuals.


La La Land ‘Dreamers’ trailer released

If there’s only one movie you can see this year make it La La Land. With an early limited release scheduled for December 9th in Los Angeles and New York followed up by a nation-wide roll-out, put on your seat belts for this emotional roller-coaster.

Brilliantly conceptualized from the Damien Chazelle team, La La Land tells the story of two young Los Angeleans, Mia and Sebastian seeking fulfillment through the entertainment industry. Mia is an aspiring actress and Sebastian is a classical jazz pianist who doesn’t believe in compromising his convictions for anyone or anything. Mia, on the other hand, can’t seem to finish an audition without being interrupted. It’s only when their paths cross and the stars align do these two traverse the path of fulfillment.

As performances go, Emma Stone as Mia delivers an all-encompassing performance delicately balancing the drama of her personal life with an expressiveness she’s honed over the last twelve years as an actress in Hollywood.  Ryan Gosling as Sebastian delivers an understated performance that matches his character. Together, the two have made cinematic magic in the spirit and image of Ginger Rogers and Fred Astair, Gene Kelly and Debbie Reynolds.

La La Land is a film for the ages. Exceptional camera work, ardent choreography, exquisite production design, catchy, melodic musical score, strong direction and over-the-top performances catapult La La Land to the top of the year’s best films. La La Land is the stuff dreams are made of.


FILM CAPSULE: 42nd Street (Bacon, 1933): USA

By Larry Gleeson.

Viewed at the AFI Fest 21012 the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood, Calif.

42nd Street, a Vitaphone and Warner Bros. picture, directed by Lloyd Bacon, has stood the test of time as the epitome film about those who dream of becoming a star on Broadway. Long-time and highly successful director Julian Marsh, played by Warner Baxter, returns to produce a final Broadway show despite his poor health. The show’s financing comes from a wealthy older man, Abner Dillon, played by Guy Kibbee, who is in love with the leading lady and star of the show, Dorothy Brock, played by Bebe Daniels. But Dorothy’s not interested in his love, because she’s still in love with her previous partner. On the night before the show’s premiere, Dorothy breaks her ankle, and Peggy Sawyer, a novice chorus girl played by Ruby Keeler, tries to fill the role of the fallen star. Several subplots add an extra dimension giving a deeper emotional attachment to the main characters and a breath of originality to the old Cinderella story line.

As a viewer, look forward to lots of singing and dancing, especially toe-tapping, some excellent use of comedic timing and some highly imaginative mise-en-scene. Yet, also be prepared for a taste of the old backstage Broadway magic and excitement that seems to go hand-in-hand with Broadway shows not to mention, the debut of legendary and ground-breaking choreographer Busby Berkeley, and some rather catchy musical numbers like “Shuffle Off To Buffalo”, “You’re Getting To Be A Habit With Me”, and “42nd Street.” One of the beauties of the film is each musical coincides with an important story event.  “Shuffle Off To Buffalo” coincides with honeymooning in nearby Niagara Falls,  “You’re Getting To Be A Habit With Me” expresses Dorothy’s feelings for her new lover and the show-stopper “42nd Street,” gives the distinct melding of the elite to the underworld.

Technically, the film is in black and white print and cinematographer Sal Polito provides a very efficient, hard, unglamorous look to the film utilizing for extended dialog a two-person medium full shot extensively, makes good use of tracking shots to guide the viewer’s eyes and uses high overhead shots to showcase the intricacies of choreographer Busby Berkeley introductory work.

I’ve seen the musical “42nd Street” on stage several times and chose to see it on film at the Hollywood Egyptian as I’ve seen Rear Window (Hitchcock, 1954); USA and Lolita (Kubrick, 1962): USA on the big Egyptian screen during previous AFI Fests. All I can say is it’s a real treat and if anyone has the opportunity to see any of  the classics at the Egyptian I fully encourage it. Take a minute and check out the trailer. You’ll be happy you did!



Coming this Fall, the 41st Banff Mountain Film and Book Festival from October 29 through November 6 – nine days bursting with stories of profound journeys, unexpected adventures and ground breaking expeditions told by renowned authors, photographers, adventurers and filmmakers from around the globe. The schedule will be announced and tickets on sale Wed, August 3 at 12 p.m.



 2016 Film Competition is now open! Enter your film into the Banff Mountain Film Competition and bring the magic of mountain places and cultures, and the adrenaline of exploration and adventure to an appreciative, international audience.

The Banff Mountain Film and Book Festival features a number of different competitions which garner hundreds of entries from around the world, each and every year. Genres include filmmaking, writing, photography, and others.


For more information CLICK HERE