Wednesday, November 16, 2011

'Like Crazy' Creative Team at Film Independent Forum

Film Independent Forum is a 3 day event in Los Angeles, filled with panels, lectures, Q & A sessions, screenings, and networking lunches, whose goal is to empower filmmakers "to take control of their projects."

"Like Crazy," (best film website I've seen) best picture pic at Sundance opened the event one week before it opened limited release. A Q & A with the creative team followed the screening.

A beautiful film about love, Film Independent introduced Like Crazy as an "artist driven" film. I had never thought of a film in those specific terms, but I see Film Independent likes to support films that are artist driven.

I loved it. It's funny because when I think about it I feel like it's not really about anything. You know how that is? It's the same with "Drive," (which I also loved). You go to say what it's about and your description falls short. "It's about a guy that drives...." Or "It's about first love..." It's the same feeling when you have a great connection with someone new. A friend asks, "What did you talk about?" And you say, "nothing really" or "everything" because you just talked a lot and it was about nothing in particular? ... Maybe that's how it is with great art and love too...indescribable in words; it's more about a feeling, fresh. Not to mention "Drive" and "Like Crazy" both have especially fantastic cinematography.

The fresh feeling "Like Crazy" brings is a result of a few nontraditional filmmaking methods, the most significant being what director Drake Doremus describes as "Hybrid/Improv." The actors came into a script and outline heavy on exposition, back-story, and subtext, but lacking in dialog compared to most films. Much of the dialog was improvised. Doremus and crew couldn't emphasize enough how extensive their outlining process is. He and co-writer Ben York Jones start with exposition
then strip it down and down, taking out as much dialog as possible. By the time the actors come in they just bring characters. With a structure and outline so heavy on detail there's room to "breathe within the structure." Many traditional filmmakers may see this approach as risky. But as was said on stage during the Q&A: "If you don't push yourself to fail, you stagnate."

The idea of creating as real of a situation as possible also went into the cinematography and camera choice. An unobtrusive, low profile 7D disappeared into the scene. "It's a process of trying to get the actors to forget about the camera and forget they're acting." DP John Gulesarian said Doremus' process means the whole thing is approached a bit like a documentary. Since the actors are imrpovising, he shoots everything, rather than sticking to a strict shot list. He doesn't know where they will go next. There were 70 hours of footage in the end, which "was a really fun process because you're constantly rewriting the film."

Doremus also employs method acting. The lovers in "Like Crazy" shared a living situation for a month. This whole filmmaking technique in my mind is brilliant. The actors are thrilled because they are empowered: they don't get this experience anywhere
else. They get to push themselves. Simple enough: great work and brilliant performances come from happy, passionate, empowered team members.

It's interesting to think that this improv approach, which if I'm not mistaken was first popularized by Mike Leigh (though Leigh uses improv even more extensively), may be gaining more and more power. Two weeks ago the first director I met at Shriekfest, Micah Levin, (same age group as Doremus, 25-30) used the same approach for his first feature "Opus." Since the internet and a digital culture means that everyone is a filmmaker, and since we watch all the content in the same place, our personal computer, the lines between what are fancy theatre films and home movies are blurred. Reality and documentary have a larger influence on "film" than right now than ever before.

"Like Crazy" is not dialog heavy, it's more emotional, and very visual (same with "Drive"...) which makes sense because when Doremus and Jones decided to write a movie together they agreed first on tone, and the kind of movie more than anything. During the film's conception they traded music, music videos, and other visuals back and forth. Okay, I'll stop comparing it to "Drive", in just a minute, but I watched an interview with Ryan Gosling about his first meeting with Director Nicolas Winding Refn: Gosling picked up Refn from the airport one night in LA and put on music in the car. As they cruised the freeways listening to music, Refn started crying because he realized the movie at that time.

At the end of the panel, the Like Crazy creative team said what theme they most take away from the film, in 140 characters or less (Oh, Twitter). "Love matters," said Doremus. "Love is important and love matters and it's worth loving all your life."

"The first love is the most real in a lot of ways," said producer Andrea Sperling.

Jones agreed with everything that was said prior, then took a different stance. "The wonder that is nostalgia- how memories are precious things..."

*This review is also posted on my movie blog at fest21.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Shriekfest, Part 2

After the interesting conversation with Micah Levin of “Opus” Cubby and I wandered on through the party. We didn’t make it for before running into a coworker of hers on the stairway. Turns out Mr. Morgan Peter Brown also produced and acted in the closing night film. In “Absentia” a woman struggles with being haunted by the memories of her missing husband. There’s a law, “death in absentia,” that says when someone goes missing they can only be declared dead after 7 years. Absentia is a latin word for “without”; in this case it means “without a body.”

Yes, this movie is sad. “Absentia” is not gory, but rather emotionally heavy- character driven. Brown says their theory at Fallback Plan Productions is that you really have to care about the character in order to be scared for them.

Brown’s expectations for distribution have already been blown out of the water. “Absentia” has received domestic and international distribution via DVD and video on demand. They raised their first $20,000 on Kickstarter and the rest from private investment. They just found out they’ll be on Showtime next summer, as well as Netflix streaming at the same time. “Theatrical release doesn’t look like it’s going to happen,” said Brown.

An actor most of the time, Brown decided to produce after being in LA six years and having frustrations with the limitations of the city as an institution. “There are all these walls and gatekeepers, like almost the opposite of a meritocracy.” Then he began to hear stories of people who had made it happen for themselves. Having worked as a waiter, he knew plenty of people who “weren’t doing what they were most talented at,” so “As a producer I knew I could fill those roles easily,” said Brown. That’s when he decided to go for it. What he realized is that “Because of all the roadblocks, this town is a huge fan of the self starter.”

I asked Brown to comment on horror as a genre. “There are an insatiable large amount of fans and what they are fed on most of the time is almost exploitable in that way… and there’s the irony and symbolism of dealing with harder issues [via horror].” “It’s a sweeter pill to swallow by pushing it through that horror/scifi filter.” Brown talked about the racism symbolism in Dawn of the Dead, for example. “At the same time I love a good scare,” he said.

Two interesting conversations and one drink in, at this point in the night I am starting to understand this genre better. It seems people do it for two reasons: definitely do it for fun: who doesn’t love a good scare? There’s also something deeper at play.

“Horror films are definitely a great way to live through something horrible, without having to experience it,” says Tammi Sutton, who’s been working in horror for 20 years as a director/producer and writer. “Its very therapeutic for a lot of people… people are curious. Everyone has the same question on their minds: When am I going to die?” Shriekfest is the US Premiere of her film “Isle of Dogs” – what Sutton describes as a “British crime thriller.”

I wanted one more perspective on horror before the night was over. Indie filmmaker Kenneth Hall sat on a plush couch in the corner of the room, smoking a cigar, amicably socializing.

I asked Hall about the misconception that horror is all gore and camp. Hall thinks too many horror filmmakers today base their films in reality. “Unfortunately when that happens there are a ton of knockoffs,” he said. When in the 80s a lot of horror films had a sense of humor to them, now what happens is “the filmmaker is underestimating the audience.” Hall hopes we are moving away from that. The best horror films are stuff where “there’s levity and it’s more of a fun ride,” he said.

Even though horror sometimes seems like it’s dying, it only takes one indie film to re-spawn it. “Every single year I hear horror is dead. It never dies. It just needs to be re-invented every now and then,” Hall says.

“Absentia” plays Sunday at 8pm.

“Isle of Dogs” is playing tonight at 7:30.

Friday, September 30, 2011

"Opus" Opens Shriekfest

I'm unfamiliar with the genre of "horror." I loved "Scream," and "I Know what you did Last Summer," in high-school when they came out, but somewhere along the way my interest piqued and hasn't come back again. I don't know, I like happy things.

So last night I was excited to see inside an unfamiliar world at the Shriekfest opening night party. I talked to filmmakers about their work, horror as a genre, and the state of indie filmmaking. My wingman Cubby and I ordered Heinekens and eyed the busy party. "Jameson on the rocks," I heard to my right. I turned and introduced myself to mostly editor / new director Micah Levin, who's first feature "Opus" opens Shriekfest at 7pm tonight. Levin and crew have been working together since their college days at Emerson (Levin couldn't have been much older than me- 25). "We didn't have that lag of trying to figure out how to work together... It's so much more enjoyable when there's a shorthand. I never had to worry about anything besides what was going on in the frame." The friends made this film with an interesting approach -lots of improv. They worked loosely from a 3 act structure and a 25 page shooting script, and they found many of the actors via Craigslist ads that simply offered the chance to be in a horror movie.

"Opus" is filmed from a killer's perspective, and is more of an art film-- emphasis on style-- than anything: texture, visual motifs, HOW it was filmed as opposed to being character or plot driven. The idea is that the audience experiences the film visually. Some entire scenes were filmed in one shot. Levin was inspired by shows like "Dexter" that "play with the aesthetic beauty of death." Levin directed and edited it. "I wanted the editing itself to be a character," said Levin. His approach was to get extra footage and then go into the editing room with too much to work with (I know from my own experience that's the best scenario an editor can be in).

An improv approach creates a space for the film to feel closer to reality. Since the actors from Craigslist had little if any rehearsal and preparation time, things on set were unpredictable (and more realistic ie. actually being scared rather than figuring out how to act the perfect fear). Levin says that was his biggest concern with production: that the improv would make it tricky to achieve the high cinematic look they wanted. But he knew he trusted his Director of Photography, Elie Smolkin. Smolkin said the improv approach meant the "lighting of a space rather than a person...then letting them walk through the light." And overall it was a lesson in letting go of control.

Improv meant letting go for "Opus" actor Brian Norris too. "It's fun not knowing. You don't get the opportunity to think about what you want to do. Sometimes that's more pressure, sometimes it's less...All I could do is prepare myself by watching 100 horror movies."

As far as I'm concerned, preparedness + an easy going attitude (letting go, rolling with it) can be the the key to success. Maybe that's why "Opus" has already won awards. Now Levin is hoping now for some sort of theatrical distribution. But "the reality is that we'll probably make most of our money on Video on Demand," he said. Beyond that? As a director Levin's goals from this are to get more work, and to be taken seriously as a director. And "ultimately just getting it out there, having people see it."

Levin says what they were able to do with the amount of money they had was great. "Opus" was made on "lots of favors" but the crew was all paid. I asked him how he felt about the recent lawsuit filed by unpaid interns on Black Swan who feel they were taken advantage of by not being given enough learning opportunities on set. Levin has interned a lot, some of which have been more fruitful than others, but thinks overall they are what you make of them, and it's largely about your attitude. "I think it [the lawsuit] is just gonna take away opportunities from people. Because studios will say OK, we can't do unpaid interns anymore."

Opus opens Shriekfest tonight at 7pm.

Check out the trailer.

OPUS TRAILER from MMM on Vimeo.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Happy Mother's Day

This morning I woke up with this song in my head.

Quite the drama to wake up in, I know. Maybe it went along with my dreams...but all I remember from those is chugging a carton of fat-free milk then realizing it was 10 days old, and someone typing loudly in the room next to me whom I needed to tell to stop...hmm maybe that was a woodpecker.

Sometimes life feels more meaningful than others, and right now is one of those times for me. Maybe because of Mercury in retrograde, or the fact that I'm 25 now which feels significant, or the fact that I'm getting ready to leave my hometown again for new places... often it feels all very dramatic. And this song - most definitely one of the greatest songs ever written - equals pure, sweet drama more than any other. As you listen you cannot resist being overtaken by the love, despair, tragedy, romance!!

Growing up my mom drove a white Previa. You know those minivans that look like eggs? They don't make them anymore, but occasionally I still see one around. I grew up with two older brothers, and my mom drove this for most of our childhood. With all the hubbub plethora of activities that equates to having three kids + my mom being a busy working woman, we spent a lot of time in that car while hauled around to various places.

Being the youngest meant there were a lot of times after dropping off my brothers or on the way to a meeting, which I often accompanied my mom to, that it was just my mom and I in the car. Since when you have siblings time alone with either parent is precious, those times in the Previa just her and I were special. A stash of tapes always sat between the front two seats, including musical soundtracks: Evita, Cats, Phantom of the Opera. Guess what our favorite was? Neither of us had excellent singing voices, but we would put in the tape, fast forward to the right part, turn it up, wait for the chorus and finally sing out, "DON'T CRY FOR ME ARGENTINA!!!!!!" It was so dramatic.

Last night I went to bed overwhelmed and when I woke up with it in my head this morning my only option was to sing it out. After singing it and feeing it a few more times I felt better.

Thanks Mom, for introducing me to the idea of the power of art. Chances are what you are feeling has been translated by a work of art somewhere, made by someone who is feeling something close to what you are. Find comfort and sing out.

Happy Mother's Day.

PS. Madonna's version seriously compares, and our favorite Glee did it last year very well, but of course I first recommend the classic.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Wisdom = Combination of Opposites

Recently I had the chance to interview an art director about his craft. I asked him to describe how he thought all the effort that he put into the sets will translate to the audience when it's all said and done. "You hope it's just a feeling... you know?" I realized then that's the most any artist hopes for, to display or transfer a feeling, indescribable by logic. That's why Black Swan was enchanting, why Cave of Forgotten Dreams was so moving, and it's why I couldn't separate my eyes from the screen while watching She Monkeys, the first narrative of Sweden's Lisa Aschan.

The subject matter is a little jarring, maybe that's how this film is so good: while it's entrancing it's also slightly uneasy to digest. A pre-sexualized 8 year-old who is in love with her cousin; and the competition between two teenage girls, one manipulative, both strong-willed. It's possible Aschan creates the feeling of unease by how bluntly she illustrates characteristics of good and bad, as journalist Ilya Tovbis pointed out to me in the festival press lounge when I asked him why he liked it. As opposed to black or white, as good and bad are often portrayed by amateur works of art (or Disney), she portrays them in a way so real that we the audience can't hide.

The visuals, stark and perfectly set with meticulous attention to detail while often bright and fun suggest youthful sexuality, tension, and perfection. By the time it ended suddenly, my feelings ranged from being slightly disturbed, a lighter feeling of damn, girls are mean, and like what I just watched was well-told.

She Monkeys is the first narrative of Sweden's Lisa Aschan, it won the Dragon Award for Best Nordic Film at the Goteberg International Film Festival, and is up for the New Directors Film Prize Competition at SFIFF. Winners will be announced May 4th.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Werner Herzog in 3D: Cave of Forgotten Dreams

I have been delaying it long enough, it's time to write about experiencing Werner Herzog's Cave of Forgotten Dreams Monday night. Not that I have much to say besides SEE IT AS SOON AS POSSIBLE. Let the film envelop you and enjoy the ride.

I won't be a fool and spoil for you or try describe the near out of body experience in too many words. Here are just a few thoughts:

As she introduced the film festival programmer Rachel Rosen said, "This film reminds us how extraordinarily wonderful and mysterious of a world it is." The crowd clapped when "Werner Herzog" came up on the screen. These viewers, who got their tickets far in advance and waited in a long line are no strangers to the wonder of Herzog.

A note on 3D: I realized after watching and being so moved by the sensual nature of the 3D camera that I have never seen a 3D live action film before. I don't consider Avatar live action because it is told through so many special effects, same with Tron, and besides that all I have seen in 3D is Alice in Wonderland (underwhelming, not filmed in 3D but rather a 2D-3D conversion), Toy Story 3 (Yay of course), and Coraline (Yay of course) but Herzog's was the first live action without major special effects. Also it is the very first documentary filmed in 3D, and Herzog [who I consider of the next level of human development] must be the first to have used the 3D camera as such a natural part of his filmmaking. The well written SFIFF54 program comments on the subject best. "Who better to adopt the form than Werner Herzog, our veteran guide to landscapes and mindscapes dislocative yet immersive? Eternally attracted to the spectacular, mystic and strange, he’s forever plunging head-first into exotica his bemused point-of-view renders gently inviting. There’s scarcely a Herzog feature...whose outré content, personalities and imagery wouldn’t make perfect sense in the stereoscopic form."

Since the caves that Werner and the 3D camera show us in this story were discovered in 1994 after being covered by limestone in a massive landslide, we witness the 32,000 year-old paintings inside as "a frozen flesh of a moment in time...they created the perfect time capsule." Adding to the mystery, the Chauvet-Pont-d'Arc caverns are now locked by a steel door. No visitors allowed besides the occasional researcher granted access by the French Ministry of Culture.

A whole supporting cast and crew of interesting academics and scientists play supporting roles here, including a "Master Perfumer" and an "Experimental Archeologist." Many of them best explain the experience of being in the caves on more spiritual/emotional terms than logical, and that's really what this film is about. One man speaks to the experience of being in the caves as emotional shock. After coming out he needed days and weeks to relax and absorb the experience. "I am a scientist but I am human too," he says when describing coming out with a "powerful feeling of understanding things." Another expert ties the experience of the cave paintings to his opinion that human described as homosapien is wrong and that the descriptive word should be homospiritual instead.

And if we are just speaking logically, what is it about being in the caves, among the paintings? Well, has anything so old, in such fine, fresh form has ever been experienced. No. Part of the powerful feeling must also come from the fact that very few people have witnessed them. And the drawings represent the "invention of the figuration of things," from a previously oral culture.

Alas I fear I've said too much.
Heavier applause this time at the end: "Written, narrated, and directed by Werner Herzog." Im not sure I have ever felt such depth of feeling at the sight of a byline before.

Children of the Princess of Cleves at SFIFF54

Monday at the San Francisco International I saw the North American premiere of documentary Children of the Princess of Cleves, by French neuroscientist turned filmmaker Regis Sauder.

Cleves portrays students of a high school literature class in Marseilles who are reading and studying the 17th century French novel La Princesse de Cleves. The first thing I like about this documentary is how relatable it is: most of us can remember back to highschool required reading. We follow along as the students read and study the book while dually we are woven into their personal lives: they experience large and meaningful feelings of love and heartache, angst, and excitment that reflect the themes they are reading in the book. And Sauder does an excellent job weaving, I found it a very powerful documentary in large part because of the filmmaking. The high school characters in the documentary sometimes act out scenes from the book, sometimes voice the scenes to the camera, then dialog of them talking about their own lives and feelings is voiced-over footage of them in their daily lives, that is often very close up shots on their young acne-d faces (which I especially noticed since I got there late and had to sit in the 3rd row...) The tight, personal shots, and the drama of the fiction they're reading make for a nuanced and interesting twist on documentary.

*This is also posted over at my fest21 film blog

The State of Cinema is...Not Necessarily Taking Place in a Cinema

Sunday night, closing out day 4 of the San Francisco International Film Festival, Christine Vachon of Killer Films delivered the State of Cinema Address. Christine has personally produced over 60 films, including I'm Not There, Boys Don't Cry, One Hour Photo, and the 2010 HBO mini series Mildred Pierce. The annual Address is billed as assessment of cinema + culture + society. Here's a little summary.

The style of the talk was the type where Vachon would ask a question, sort of state that she didn't know the answer, and then go on to offer lots of personal insight into the current state of things that suggested certain answers. I'll admit that as I sat in the audience I felt like I wanted her to tell us things with more certainty. "I came here for answers!" I couldn't help but feeling. ...But silly me, of course the smartest way of all is to be sure of the uncertainties.

- Vachon has produced over 60 films. Which, as she said, means "I have seen independent cinema die and be reborn at least 3 times." Over those years she has witnessed "How terrified the film industry is of change." She remembered back to hearing film editors say they would never work digitally. When she first started in the industry there were two types of film: very experimental cinema and Hollywood films, but not a lot in between. "Then I realized that there was this whole other kind of cinema... people were starting to make movies and not asking permission to make them. They were saying 'I don't see my life reflected, I don't see my world up there so I am going to take matters into my own hands.'" Vachon says this is happening again. And with the availability of cheap equipment that creates a professional look + more and more online distribution portals, this will only increase. But "they're doing it and it's not necessarily happening in a theatre near you," she said. "In some ways the name of this address should be, 'The State of Cinema is not necessarily taking place in a cinema,'" she said.

*photo credit- Pamela Gentile, courtesy of San Francisco Film Society

-As we spend more and more time in front of our computers, the way we consume media is changing dramatically. For the first time Vachon just signed a contract that included a certain number of tweets and facebook updates per day. Does the way we consume media affect the stories we tell? Though she never answered just how it does, she brought up this point at least 3 times during her talk so I'd say yes it definitely does.

-Now we have multiple pathways of distribution, multiple mediums for reaching audiences, and things are changing for the better. "What's happening now is we have to be: budget agnostic, format agnostic, content agnostic, and platform agnostic ...and that's exciting," said Vachon.

- Vachon spoke to early in her career making films oriented and marketed towards gay and lesbian audiences. Now because there is such a massive amount of content for consumers to choose from, marketing towards niche audiences is more necessary than ever. "More than ever indie film is about a direct relationship with the audience... filmmakers can understand exactly WHO they are making films for...but how do you find them?" Filmmaking now is about 1: finding a way to get to your audience (Twitter, Facebook?) 2: Making sure the audience knows where / how to find you (Twitter, Facebook?) and 3: Giving the audience a sense of participation in what you're creating (because the past 100 years of films are now available for consumption consumers need to feel invested to choose yours). Crowdsourcing...

- What is the definition of an independent film? Is it a dollar number? Is it considered independent if Miramax funds it? People ask Vachon this a lot, and she says it's not about the way it was financed but about the vision involved. It's about a true singular vision. An independent film is a movie that couldn't have been made by anyone else, a film that when shown on any platform the singular vision is preserved.

- These days younger filmmakers don't have the same boundaries about what is or isn't acceptable on their career path (ie. made for TV or HBO or online) and that's refreshing.

- As we spend more and more time in front of the computer our appetite for how long we will watch something is changing. Nobody wants movie theatres to die, and Vachon doesn't think the theatrical experience will anytime soon, but currently "We are at a real crossroads," Vachon says. There's so much out there. "If you want to live in 1974 you have more access to 1974 content now than you did in 1974."

- Portals. Vachon spoke a lot about "portals" which I will loosely define as venues for filmmakers to get their content out. Vachon thinks the future will be more and more filmmakers realizing they don't have to go through traditional portals, new portals will become available, filmmakers will be able to own more and more of our own rights, taking portals into our own hands. Because in this age we can DO IT OURSELVES. How refreshing and exciting.

- During Q&A someone asked Vachon what she's like to work with, how she spreads her vision. "The great thing about film production is it's like giving birth...You just have to forget about it or the species would never get propogated." Vachon spoke of getting to set the first day of a new production and remembering "Oh yeah, I HATE this." Haha! She told a story of seeing a psychic once who wondered if she was a general in battle. "Film is tough... Every film is a war story epic. A battle in its own way." Vachon said.

- I found it refreshing how Vachon spoke to corporate sponsorship. Is it about selling out? No, cynical hipsters, it's not. Of Killer Films Vachon said, Though we are never pandering, "Totally we are trying to take advantage of any corporate sponsorship we can."

- It continues to be an interesting time. We are consuming media in so many different ways. "Be open-minded and open-hearted," pleaded Vachon to the movie-goers in the audience.

- She spoke to how making female-driven films is tough, especially films about women in their 30s and 40s. "I have a hard time as a producer figuring out how those films fit theatrically." Later someone in the audience (who I later found out via twitter live feed was filmmaker Miranda July) challenged Vachon to speak to the tragedy of this, but Vachon wouldn't agree that it was even a tragedy at all. Instead Vachon looks at the positive, the opportunity. For example TV right now is practically ALL women-driven stories (Vachon speaks from experience having just produced HBO mini series Mildred Pierce). "That's amazing. Why not focus on what IS possible?" Hear, hear! "I think nostalgia is the most dangerous emotion in the world," said Vachon. Live in the moment! Focus on the opportunity!

- Are film festivals still a great goal for filmmakers? Yes. "Same as it ever was" as far as festivals. "This year Sundance was incredible. More movies sold than ever," she said.

- How will the future work so that filmmakers can make a living? "Ultimately I feel like if people want content, and people want filmmakers to produce content, there's going to have to be a meeting where content gets produced in a way that filmmakers can earn a living." What kind of a way? Vachon spoke again to how we are going to take portals more and more into our own hands. Filmmakers will be able to break off rights more specifically..."Figuring out portals that not only can give a good sense of independent film that people will go to, but also will really compensate filmmakers for putting their work up on them."

"I did hear an agent say that film is the new theatre. You do it for the love," Vachon said with a chuckle, before getting serious. "We're gonna crack it. We haven't cracked it yet but we're gonna crack it soon...We've stayed in business this long because we ONLY make the movies we really care about. We stick around because we only do what matters to us."

- On remaining true to her vision and whether she has been forced to comprimise on anything Vachon said, "All I do is comprimise...But ultimately if you're really focused on the vision the comprimise doesn't matter that much because you have a clear sense of what your 'wall of No' is. At what point is it not your movie anymore?"

The feeling I most took away from her talk ties back to the moment she took the mic at the beginning of the hour with a totally unassuming nature, as my friend and I noted. "The State of Cinema Address," she whispered dramatically, sarcastically. As if she has all the answers. No one does. No one can say exactly what is happening or what will: there is no one answer. But, an aspiring filmmaker myself, I left Vachon's talk feeling excited, invigorated, and not too concerned about the state of cinema. Like she says, "We're gonna crack it.

This is also posted over at my fest 21 film blog.

Friday, April 22, 2011

SFIFF 54: What I'm Looking Forward to

It's springtime and the San Francisco International Film Festival is here again to enlighten us with the latest best film and commentary. May I say YAY?

There is tons of good stuff in the program, so here's just a bit of what I'm looking forward to:

1st: As usual, The State of the Cinema Address. The seductive combination of academia + film and you have the best event of the year for film nerds. Every time I've been my hand is sore after from excitedly taking so many notes. Hmmm, maybe I'll bring my recorder this year... Check out my coverage of the 2008 State of the Cinema Address with Wired Magazine's Kevin Kelly. This year's address is by independent cinema forerunner and risk taker Christine Vachon, cofounder of Killer Films, who as the SFFS says, "has been at the forefront of the independent film movement, championing risky, emotionally demanding work from unknown filmmakers and never shying away from edgy material." She's behind Boys Don't Cry, and a bunch of other cool stuff including that she produced the TV version of This American Life (personal journalism film nerd win).

2nd: Since such a big part of animation is "you never know what the F you are in for" film festivals are the best place to catch the latest. I've had more than a few experiences where I have seen some awesome animation then it disappears into the abyss of it's not on netflix or youtube how do I watch it world. Needless to say I plan on catching at least one or two animations and some of the childrens' categories. A cat in Paris looks interesting - Paris, french language, "watercolor" style. drool.

3rd: There are some seriously excellent looking documentaries in this year's program. Years past at the SFIFF I have seen great documentaries such as Age of Stupid, Crude, and A Journey with Peter Sellars... This year there are 30 documentaries in the program. American Teacher looks like a must-see: we need passionate teachers yet we underpay them. What to do? An inside look into the strife of the modern American teacher through 4 different perspectives. Education is such an important issue right now that every American should feel passionate about embracing, the more we all can learn the better. Cave of Forgetten Dreams- Herzog's latest, filmed in 3D, a look at cave paintings from 30,000 years ago. I heard him discuss it on npr yesterday, and he said once he went into the caves he decided not to go back in for 5 days because "he needed to absorb it." There's also an Yves Saint Laurent doc I'd love to see, Women Art Revolution about women artists in the 60s and 70s, Page One: Inside the New York Times (journalism nerd super win!). Let the Wind Carry Me, an inside look into a cinematographer's world that "details the itinerant lifestyle of a deeply observant and philosophical artist and the tolls that his profession takes on his family life." Enough said.

4th: New Skin for the Old Ceremony: 11 short films set to each track in this 1974 album by Leonard Cohen. "The films will be projected uninterrupted with the album as a soundtrack." HELL YES. I experienced this sort of thing at last year's SF animation fest with the Decemberists' Hazards of Love Visualized and it was awesome. A 21st century cinematic experience. Plus it includes the screening of a 1967 documentary of the young Cohen: Ladies and Gentlemen . . . Mr. Leonard Cohen.

5th: An Evening with Oliver Stone: Oliver Stone will be on stage for a Q&A. As I mentioned above, I love hearing interesting people speak their minds, and I worked at for a year so by now I know enough about lectures to know when it's going to be GOOD. Oliver Stone? Enough said.

6th: Any of the unexpected awesome films I run into and am transfixed by. Stay tuned...

Hopefully I can make it to all of this. Being currently based out of Reno makes things a bit tricky but yes I will drive hundreds of miles for this stuff.

This is also posted on my film blog over at Fest21.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Claymation Side Project

After the success of last year's Mall Santa claymation some friends and I wanted to do another. Katie Long, Ann Malloy and I made this. This year we had a smaller team and we are all working more and were busier so it was hard to make time for a CLAYMATION "side project." You see, claymation takes forever so the term "claymation side project" is kind of an oxymoron.

But! We are very pleased with the results. And we rallied a bunch of our friends including Ed Adkins, Scott Reickens, David Calvert, and Rachel Baez to do animal voices. Check it out and get some dance on.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Neil deGrasse Tyson at UNR

"We're just going to sort of have fun with the universe for an hour," said science God Neil deGrasse Tyson as he strolled onstage to eager awaiting fans. The title projection behind him read, "The World as Seen Through the Lenses of Scientists." The crowd could not be more delighted, and chuckled with glee in response to the confident, easy-going speaker. There must have been 2,000 people at UNR last night to see Tyson. The auditorium was filled to the brim (including the "broken" seat I snagged last minute) along with three rooms of overflow who had to see Neil live-stream.

Before moving on he pointed to the little blue birdie icon at the bottom of the introduction slide. "Oh and that, to those of you who don't know, that's the Twitterverse," he whispered dramatically. Tyson walked to the computer and logged into his Twitter account. He spoke each word aloud as he typed. "Rabbits eat their own poop to regain essential nutrition they would otherwise lose....A product of stupid design."

"Let's tweet that." He clicked send and the crowd cheered. "I like to send a tweet at the start of talks so by the end we can see what we get." By the time he clicked back to the homepage 4 or 5 people had already re-tweeted it.

Tyson's look is straight out of the 90s. Light denim jeans, light brown blazer, black dress shirt and tie dotted with planets.

If there's one thing Tyson wants us to take away from the presentation, it's this: "Powerful countries invest in science. Countries that invest in science are the most powerful." Tyson had no problem hinting toward the fact that the U.S. needs to step up our scientific support. And rightfully so. The most profound part of his talk showed world 3 world maps: The first- a normal world map; The second- the countries of the world inflated or shrunk based on the number of peer-reviewed scientific papers published; and the third - The "trendline" of peer-reviewed scientific papers between the years 2000-2010. Between the second two maps, the U.S. shrinks dramatically. What's happening here?

On with the presentation -- the theme of which is the perspectives of different types of scientists-- "Scientists do see the world differently because there's so much information," said Tyson. Over the hour and a half he presented us with: the chemist's lens, planetary scientists' lens, biologist's lens', mathematician's lens, physicist's lens, science educator's lens, engineer's lens, and the astrophysicist's lens.

Here are some quotes and highlights I pulled from it:
*Disclaimer - my nerdiness is not for science. These highlights must differ greatly from those who are more scientifically impassioned.

- Scientists' faces are on money in Europe (countries that invest in science are powerful).

- When Ben Franklin invented the lightning rod in the U.S., he was accused of "thwarting the will of God."

- "That's what a cosmic perspective does. It simultaneously depresses you and uplifts you at the same time."

- After 9/11, Bush gave a speech in which he said, "Our God is the God that named the stars," which was meant to distinguish "us from them." He was wrong. In fact, 2/3 of the stars in the sky are named by Arabic cultures.

- There's all sorts of evidence of water on Mars. That's why we spend so much talking about Mars.

- It's ridiculous that "In 21st century America we have people who are afraid of the number 13!!" Example: Hotel floors.

- The gulf coast oil spill, trains collide in Los Angeles, levees break in New Orleans, bridge breaks in Minnesota, steam pipes collapse in NYC... are all examples of scientific fails, if you will, that make Neil think, "What country is this??" (U.S. needs to get its act together theme)

- Mark your calendars. You will experience your billionth second during the year you are 31 years of age. 31 years + 259 days + 1 hour + 46 minutes + 40 seconds, to be exact.

- The number one hundred billion represents: the approximate number of humans ever born; the number of stars in the milky way galaxy.

- Quintillion is the number of grains of sand on an average beach.

- Sextillion (10^21) is the number of stars in the observable universe.

-The cosmic abundances of elements in life on earth and in the universe are 1 for 1 in the following order: hydrogen, helium, oxygen, carbon, nitrogen, and "other."

- Tyson: "I've been looking up since age 9. When I walk out of a building the first thing I do is look up."

- Us and the Universe are made of the same stuff. That's why "I feel large when I walk out of a planetarium. Not only are you in the Universe, the Universe is in you," said Tyson.
*Side note: funny funny Tyson in Symphony of Science's video "We are all Connected"

- Tyson is very witty. When he finally finished his talk he said, "Sorry that went a little long...It's the Universe."

This flickr set has great photos from Tyson's visit, but it's not creative commons licensed so I couldn't download any of them.