“Let me try and be as direct as I possibly can with you on this. There was no relationship to repair. I didn’t intend for Harvey to buy and release The Immigrant – I thought it was a terrible idea. And I didn’t think he would want the film, and I didn’t think he would like the film. He bought the film without me knowing! He bought it from the equity people who raised the money for me in the States. And I told them it was a terrible idea, but I had no say over the matter. So they sold it to him without my say-so, and with me thinking it was a terrible idea. I was completely correct, but I couldn’t do anything about it. It was not my preference, it was not my choice, I did not want that to happen, I have no relationship with Harvey. So, it’s not like I repaired some relationship, then he screwed me again, and I’m an idiot for trusting him twice! Like I say, you try to distance yourself as much as possible from the immediate response to a movie. With The Immigrant I had final cut. So he knew he couldn’t make me change it. But he applied all the pressure he could, including shelving the film.”
~ James Gray
Film Fests Archive for April, 2009
When I was a little girl growing up in Oklahoma City, I was a little geek who read books voraciously and wrote incessantly. I told stories to myself while walking to school to pass the time. I scribbled stories during class, hiding a notebook inside my textbook so my teachers wouldn’t know what I was doing. And I also, thanks in large part to my grandmother and Roger Ebert, came to love the storytelling of movies.
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The last full day of Ebertfest started off early with an 11AM screening of The Fall, directed by Tarsem. Tarsem also directed The Cell, which played here at last year’s fest. I’d never seen The Fall, and I’m glad that I caught it here on the huge screen at the Virginia Theater, because this is a film that begs to be seen in a theater.
The Fall tells a story of a friendship of sorts between an injured stuntman and a young girl who are in the same hospital together in the 1920s. The stuntman, Roy (Lee Pace) passes time by telling an epic fairy tale of sorts to the girl, Alexandria (young Romanian actress Catinca Untaru, who was just seven when the film was made); Roy provides the story, while Alexandria imagines the visuals in her vivid imagination, creating the characters from the people she knows at the hospital. The rub is that the crippled Roy is telling Alexandria the story as a means to persuade her to steal morphine pills from the dispensary for him so he can commit suicide.
I kicked off a busy second day here at Ebertfest with the panel I was on here, “Film Criticism and the Internet,” moderated by film historian David Bordwell and packed with panelists, including Michael Phillips (Chicago Tribune), Peter Sobczynski (efilmcritic.com), Richard Roeper (Chicago Sun-Times), Lisa Rosman (US Weekly/Flavorpill), Hank Sartin (Time Out Chicago), Erik Childress (efilmcritic.com), Steve Prokopy (AICN), Dean Richards (WGN) and Nell Minnow (The Movie Mom). Considering the scope of opinions and strong personalities on board, things went pretty smoothly, aside from a near-throwdown between Richards and Childress over whether there are, in fact, junket and quote “whores,” which Childress writes about on efilmcritic in a feature called “Critic Watch.”
The mood is upbeat here at Ebertfest this year; everyone is delighted to have Roger Ebert back after last year’s fest, when he was forced to miss the event due to health problems. This year, Roger’s back in full force, smiling and cheerful, introducing films using his computer to talk for him in its soothing Sir Laurence Olivier voice, and smilingly scolding it with a shaking finger when it mispronounces any words.
I love the atmosphere of Ebertfest. It’s all about the love of movies here — the films are in one theater, so there are no scheduling conflicts that force you to miss one film to see another. There’s no market, no rush to break stories; there are few publicists (not that I have anything against publicists or anything) and therefore no pressure to work interviews into an already packed schedule. At Ebertfest, the conversations with filmmakers are casual, sitting in the Virginia Theater, at a party, or over a relaxing dinner.
If I had the ability to travel back and forth in time, one place I’d for sure go would be Woodstock. Blame it on growing up with hippie parents, but I’ve always wished that my folks had made the trek to Yasgur’s farm just so I could say I was one of those nekkid little hippie babies running around there. Tonight I had the almost-to-next-best-thing: the opening night film at this year’s Ebertfest was Woodstock, the Director’s Cut. Four hours of hippie rock ‘n roll bliss, and even if I wasn’t interested in the rest of it, I’d have sat through the entire thing just to see Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix on that big screen at the lovely Virgina Theater.
How do you keep a film festival the size of AFI Dallas running during tough economic times? I caught up with AFI’s Director of Press and Publicity John Wildman and Artistic Director Michael Cain at the fest’s closing night party to chat about running the fest on a tight budget, the challenges faced by the programming team (and who wins the fights over what gets in and what doesn’t) and why the fest chose this year to close the fest with two films — Tyson and The Cove.
Note: Some people seem to be having trouble getting the embedded video to play, not sure if it’s a YouTube issue or what. It’s working for me, but I found the direct URL link to play it a little faster, so you including that for you as well. Please let me know in comments whether you’re able to view it … may have to look at using something besides YouTube in the future.
Have you ever gone to Sea World, or any aquarium or zoo that has a dolphin exhibit? Or, perhaps, been on vacation and thought it would be cool to do a “swim with the dolphins” as a part of your vacation fun? The Cove, one of two closing night films at the AFI Dallas 2009 Film Festival (the other being James Toback’s Tyson), will make you think twice about just what we’re doing when we support the capture of dolphins for our own entertainment.
The Cove is a searing thriller of a documentary about a team of activists who put themselves on the line to expose the slaughter of 23,000 dolphins a year in Taiji, Japan, which also supplies most of the dolphins that get shipped around the world to be used for entertainment of humans at places like Sea World, aquariums, and “swim with the dolphins” programs — a highly profitable, billion-dollar industry. At the heart of the story is Ric O’Barry, the man who holds himself personally responsible for the plight of dolphins in this business, and had dedicated his life to atoning for what his work on Flipper has wrought.
Catching up on my AFI Dallas dispatching …
Tuesday I caught David Poland’s panel on “Should Real Life be Protected from Filmmakers?” David moderated, and the other panelists were Children of Invention director Tze Chun (and dammit, I still need to catch that film — missed it again here), journalist Eric Kohn and Art & Copy director Doug Pray (who also made the somewhat controversial film Surfwise).
This panel raised some interesting issues that I’d like to see delved further into. For instance, in the case of the two filmmakers on the panel, we have one director who made a narrative film (Children of Invention) that is heavily autobiographical but somewhat fictionalized, and a documentary film (Art & Copy) in which the director said during the panel that he was unable to get his subjects to say anything negative about advertising in general or specific ads, or he wouldn’t have had subjects to interview at all. Narrative films are, of course, very often based on semi-autobiographical material, but I’d love to hear more about the decisions directors of those types of films make with regard to what to include or not, where to fictionalize versus pulling directly for life.
But for me, Pray raised some compelling issues around documentary filmmaking that speak to the issue of whether a documentary can ever capture objective “truth” (or for that matter, whether there even is such a thing) and where the lines are for a documentary filmmaker between telling a story — or conveying a particular message the filmmaker wants to get across — versus documenting a subject or an event. Of course, every director brings his or her own bias to a film, whether documentary or narrative, but when you’re saying, as Pray did, that he was unable to get anything that told the other, potentially negative side of the story in making his film, for me that raises a question of whether as a filmmaker he was actually making a “documentary” versus making a promotional film that paints an industry in exactly the way in which the subject wants it painted. I’m not sure I even know where I’d draw those lines myself, but it’s certainly a topic that I think merits discussion, both by the critics who evaluate such films and the documentary filmmakers who make them.