“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, 2010
Ebertfest 2010:Aftermath of Genocide, Aftermath of Shallow Consumerism, and the Stunning Visuals of Man with a Movie Camera
Now that I’ve got all the Apocalypse out of my system, I wanted to catch up on writing about the other films I’ve seen here at Ebertfest. Yesterday I caught the two other films screening earlier in the day. The first film, Munyurangabo, directed by Lee Isaac Chung. Munyurangabo is a journey film about N’Gabo,a Rwandan orphan traveling with his friend Sangwa on a quest for bloodletting justice. Along the way, the pair stop to visit Sagwa’s family, and then all these issues of Hutus and Tsutsis and genocide crops up and complicate matters.
Sangwa’s family is Hutu, N’gabo is Tutsi, and Sangwa’s parents don’t want their son’s friend around. N’gabo has his own issues, since he no longer has a family because they were murdered by Hutus during the genocides. All this business of warfare over seemingly inncocuous surface differences — Christian versus Muslim, Hutu versus Tutsi, capitalist versus communist, Nazi versus Jew — is something I struggle to understand, and I’m not sure films like Munyurangabo make it any easier, for me at least, to grasp the whys and wherefores over what seems to me to be meaningless, endless bloodshed. What is it about man’s nature that makes him to want to hurt and kill? I don’t know, and I don’t have any clearer understanding after seeing this film. But that’s okay, because I don’t think the filmmakers were going for anything quite so in-depth or philosophical here as much as they were telling a tale of loss, redemption and friendship.
I tend to hit the point at every film festival where I need some quiet time away from the theater and the chatter of people talking about movies to just decompress and process my own thoughts a bit, and today at Ebertfest I hit that wall of needing some down time. So, much as I wanted to catch Departures, instead I’m sitting in Aroma, this lovely coffee shop down the street from the Virginia Theater, by myself at a quiet table with only my laptop and some swingy old standards playing over the sound system for company, and it’s lovely to pause a moment and have some space and catch my breath.
I think I’m especially feeling the need for some downtime today because I’m still recovering from last night’s three-hour-plus screening of Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now Redux. Every film critic (well, at least those with whom I’m personally acquainted) has some gap in their personal film-watching checklist, and this was one of mine. I last saw Apocalypse Now when I was 11 years old (Yeah, I know … my dad also took me to Alien and Coma, what can I say? But it’s part of what made me love movies, being exposed to those films). Now, I lacked both the context and intellectual development at 11 to fully appreciate Coppola’s film, but for some reason my exposure to it at that age has made me reluctant in my adult life to, well, revisit it. Until now.
So when I saw that Roger had programmed Redux on the slate, I was trepidatious. In fact, I came very close to not staying for the screening at all; I got there early to snag a seat and get some work done, and as it got closer to screening time I started feeling claustrophobic, almost panic-attacky (no, that’s not a real word or medical term, but work with me here). My chest felt tight. Maybe I had another pulmonary embolism, I thought hopefully (that this thought even crossed my mind at all should tell you how emotionally reactive I was to even seeing this film at all, n’est-ce pas?).
Ebertfest 2010, aka The 12th Annual Roger Ebert’s Film Festvial, kicked off tonight with the Opening Night Gala at the President’s House. The gala, as per usual, featured some swank appetizers — among the offerings: mini Maryland crab cakes, pork medallions and these amazing almond macaroons. If I was a blue-haired old lady with a giant macramé handbag, running sneakers and an Ebertfest ballcap, I might have dumped a whole plateful of those macaroons in my bag for later.
New this year: Roger has invited many of his “Far Flung Correspondents” to the fest. The FFCs are a slew of film commentators from around the globe who are regularly featured on his Journal, and include voices from Canada, Egypt, India, Mexico, Pakistan, the Phillipines, South Korea, Taiwan and Uruguay, and they offer persepctives on film that Roger’s huge US reader base might otherwise never even be exposed to.
A brief aside from talking about the fest itself: I have to say that I think Roger’s idea of bringing diverse voices into the often all-too-insular world of film criticism is nothing short of brilliant, and it’s a great example of expanding the idea behind this film festival to begin with — to bring together filmmakers, critics and lovers of film into the same place at the same time, mixing them up (shaken, not stirred?) and see what happens.
It’s such a simple, yet smart idea, to allow these critics from far-flung places both a place to share their points of view and engage in the discussion of film. Beyond that, it shows how much Roger has grown to understand and use the power of the internet as a virtual tool, something he started doing a couple years ago when he started his online journal as a way to expand his website beyond mere reviews and into conversation. He’s adopted and adapted to the use of Twitter as a way of further engaging with his readers, both fans and detractors. Anyone who thinks Roger Ebert is an old fart who doesn’t “get it” isn’t paying attention; he is constantly seeking new ways to generate discussion about film and experimenting with ways to bring people together to do so.
Now, back to the fest itself. The opening night films were Pink Floyd The Wall (which, as David Poland mentioned in his post, was unfortunately not screened in 70mm as it was supposed to be). Much as I wanted to catch The Wall, I took the redeye flight from Seattle at 1AM this morning, finally got checked into my hotel room around 3PM, and hadn’t had anything all day other than coffee. I desperately needed more food than the yummy gala appetizers, so Elvis Mitchell and I headed over with his host, Wendy, and her husband to Steak ‘n’ Shake, a midwest staple, for burgers. The burgers were just so-so, but the company was great. Then it was off to the Virginia Theater for the screening of Swedish director Roy Andersson’s You, The Living, which I’d never seen.
Wow. This film is brilliant, and I’m grateful to have been able to see it on a big screen in a theater. A series of vignettes in the entertwined lives of people living in the same town, the film is on the one hand an exercise in minimalism, exquistely framed and shot in muted pastel tones that reflect the bleakness of the lives on which Andersson focuses his lens, and on the other an exercise in patience and exacting perfectionism, in that it took (according to the post-film panel discussion) some three years to shoot, include two months just to build one particularly challenging set piece. Talk about dedication to wanting a film made just the way a director wants it.
You, the Living is a study of the human condition through the lives of these tragically flawed and sad people who are stuck in the endless rut of their mundane lives like hamsters endlessly and pointlessly treading a wheel in a cage. They are so stuck, each of them, in their own heads and their own dreams that they can’t make real connections with each other because they are each seeing and hearing only what they want to see and hear. Characters talk without being heard, act without being responded to, exist in individual vaccuums orbiting around each other, occasionally bumping into each other but never connecting on deeper levels.
It’s a very dark and tragical take on human nature, and yet, like many brilliant writers, Andersson finds the humor inherent even in the sorrow, the bleakness, the aching lonelines of his characters’ lives, and it’s a very funny film. These are people that, by all rights, we ought not to care about after meeting them only through one or two short vignettes with no overarching clever plot to tie all the pieces together; yet we do care about them, which is why the film’s closing scene (which reminded me, in a certain way, of Dr. Strangelove) is so devastating.
It’s one of the great things about this festival that you get to see films like this that you otherwise might ever even think of seeing, much less get to see on a big screen in a theater like the Virginia. Brilliant.
Tomorrow’s agenda: Up early (well, we’ll see about that) for an early morning meet-and-greet breakfast and hopefully catching all three films: Munyurangabo, The New Age and Apocalypse Now Redux, punctuated by coffee and chats with friends old and new and the always fun green room dinner, where you never know what fascinating people you’ll find yourself getting to know over a good meal — which is as much the point of being at Ebertfest as the films themselves.
I had a whirlwind couple days at the Dallas International Film Festival; I arrived in Dallas Wednesday afternoon, did a somewhat ironic panel on the relevance of film criticism at film festivals on Thursday, and then headed back to the airport just after noon on Friday. The briefness of the trip, unfortunately, limited my ability to see and write about a lot of films from the fest as I would have liked to, but I did manage to squeeze a couple in: Kick in Iran (a Sundance pickup for the fest) and the closing night film, A Solitary Man.
The former is a documentary that follows Sarah Khoshjamal, the first female athlete from Iran to ever qualify for the Olympic Games. Khoshjamal is charismatic, tough and imminently likable, but her story begs to be better dramatized, perhaps as a narrative feature. As a film, Fatima Abdollahyan‘s doc tends to slip into that realm of documentary films with fascinating subjects that don’t play quite as well theatrically as they might on a smaller screen, but Khoshjamal’s story is so interesting that it almost doesn’t matter.