A teaser for Harmony and Me, the new film from Robert Byington, who made the startling, often hilarious RSO (Registered Sex Offender), debuting at New Directors/New Films. The cast: Justin Rice, Kevin Corrigan, Pat Healy, Alex Karpovsky and Kristen Tucker.
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“I WANT THIS MOVIE TO BE LIKE A SMELL.” English video artist Steve McQueen said that about one of his early, prize-winning efforts, and he could have said it as well about his feature debut, Hunger, about life and death in Belfast, Ireland’s Maze Prison during a 66-day hunger strike in 1981.
Movies got confused in their first century. They forgot what they were (or are). Cinema started as an extension of photography, a curiosity of curiosities, of observation and witness in apparent real time. Think of the Lumière brothers’ short pieces like Train Entering a Station. (L’Arrivée d’un train en Gare de la Ciotat, 1895). In reflected light, we see what we’ve seen as seen by someone else but seen as if in a dream. Movies with a thirst for light and enlightenment and in recent decades have largely become something else, tethered to scripts and money that must be made back and plotlines with only the slimmest of variations between them. Hunger has the scent of that nearly lost curiosity, a thirst for time’s passage, for the stink of life, the punishing truth of duration. McQueen’s earlier video installations and other non-narrative forms were tender and tactile. His work functions as bodily exploration, as forensic as it is dramatic, as bacterial as it is spiritual. Consider it corporeal punishment.
Think also of Terence Davies’ stern lyricism in the transfixing movement of camera and light in Distant Voices, Still Lives (1988) and The Long Day Closes (1992). Hunger is studied, and filled with limpid, lyrical images, of feathers and snowflakes and cigarette smoke and a crying policemen, of men smoking pages of the Gospels, but also blunt depiction of what the “dirty protest” of the men actually entailed, with cell walls daubed with waste, corridors running with fluids. (Call it “Belfast CSI.) The structure of the film, written by McQueen and playwright Enda Walsh, is essentially a triptych. A nearly wordless opening passage of the quotidian of prison life is followed by a second that reduces the protagonists to a single character, Bobby Sands (Michael Fassbender), the first of the ten strikers to die. It’s an extended conversation between Sands and a priest that consists of moral and political argument. Shot on film, it’s an exceptionally long scene, thrilling in its concentration, that required special film stock to run the camera its 20-minute or so duration.
Fassbender commits himself to the body and the out-of-body, in the latter scenes starved into the figure of Sands, crumpled even more than Christian Bale was in similar sacrifice in The Machinist (2004). McQueen’s portrayal of the bruised male form brings to mind the great painter Francis Bacon’s bodies of men in extremis, bruised, torn, vividly corporeal. Sympathy? No. Pity? No. Empathy. Dignity and the human form are fragile and both necessary to sustain life. And patience: which the harrowingly beautiful, tragic, even transcendent Hunger has in abundance. In the end, Hunger makes concessions to traditional form with a lovely, if familiar image of release, of souls in flight. It is a gesture of forgiveness. To paraphrase the Sex Pistols, McQueen, he’s a human being.
LOS ANGELES (March 12, 2009) – Film Independent announced today that Rebecca Yeldham is joining the organization as the Director of the Los Angeles Film Festival, effective immediately. Rachel Rosen serves as Director of Programming for Film Independent and the Los Angeles Film Festival, and had been working with Film Independent’s Senior Director Sean McManus as interim Co-Directors during the search for a new Festival Director.
“Rebecca has a wide range of experience in the industry and she’s an inspiring leader—her many talents make her a natural fit for the Los Angeles Film Festival,” said Dawn Hudson, Executive Director of Film Independent. “She has been intimately involved in the building of this festival and the organization over the last nine years as a Film Independent Board member. Rebecca shares our vision of expanding the festival within Los Angeles and the global film community by introducing audiences to unique filmmakers and their films.” [S]aid Yeldham. “In these times, there is such a desire to come together and celebrate our unique city, community and industry, to bridge differences and champion great filmmaking and film-going experiences. I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to join this dynamic team and lead the charge in taking this Festival to the next level.” Yeldham has built a career as a producer, festival programmer, and production and acquisition executive. In addition to serving on Film Independent’s Executive Board, she has also participated in several international film festival juries and selection committees, including the Spirit Awards, the Edinburgh Film Festival, and the Buenos Aires International Film Festival. As filmmaker Walter Salles’ producing partner, Yeldham is currently developing On the Road, based on the seminal novel by Jack Kerouac, and in post-production on the documentary Searching for the Road. Her producing credits include Marc Forster’s The Kite Runner, Walter Salles’ Linha de Passe and The Motorcycle Diaries, and Sacha Gervasi’s i>Anvil! The Story of Anvil.
Via Facebook’s “Save New Yorker Film” group: “On March 12, 2009, Technicolor, Inc. and certain of its affiliates will be conducting a secured party auction sale of certain of the assets of New Yorker Films. The winning bidder(s) at the auction will purchase some or all of the available assets but not assume any of New Yorker Films’ liabilities. If you are interested in participating in the auction as a potential purchaser, please contact Mark Doyle of Technicolor New York at 110 Leroy Street, 3rd Floor, New York, NY 10014, (212) 886-5250; email: email@example.com. It is New Yorker Films’ sincere hope that the purchaser of our assets will be a well-qualified distributor with the intention and ability to manage and distribute the fine films we have had the privilege of distributing in a manner consistent with New Yorker Film’s 43-year history in the independent film world.”
Los Angeles, CA—March 11, 2009—Sundance Institute today announced the appointment of John Cooper as Director of the Sundance Film Festival. Effective immediately, Mr. Cooper will serve as the Festival’s artistic director leading the Festival’s programming and strategic growth, also overseeing activities such as content production, online initiatives and key national and international partnerships. Mr. Cooper previously served as Director, Creative Development for the Sundance Institute and Director of Programming, Sundance Film Festival. Highly respected by the film community and known for his innovative style, Mr. Cooper joined Sundance Institute in 1989 and has played a pivotal role in both the evolution of Sundance Film Festival and the development of the Sundance Institute’s new initiatives. Long committed to diversity and building audiences for independent film, he has pioneered the Institute’s expansion of cinematic storytelling by fostering the development of New Frontier on Main, the intersection of contemporary artists with technology and the moving image; boosted the Festival’s now content-rich website, enabling a virtual Festival experience for film lovers all over the world; and led the distribution of short films through strategic relationships with iTunes, Netflix and Xbox 360 platforms. Last year Mr. Cooper was instrumental in engaging Blue State Digital, architects of President Obama’s groundbreaking online campaign, to connect with the Institute’s film and theater alumni, enhancing donor communication, and the recruitment of new Institute and Festival supporters. In addition to programming the popular Sundance Institute at BAM series, since 2005 Mr. Cooper has spearheaded The Sundance Institute Art House Project, a national initiative of 18 art houses from across the country designed to connect regional audiences to the Sundance’s films and filmmakers.
Robert Redford, Sundance Institute President and Founder said, “When we established the Festival, it was always with two goals in mind: supporting new artists and inspiring new audiences. Cooper has never lost sight of these goals. He brings to the position an infectious enthusiasm as well as a deep understanding of the Sundance brand and culture. Forward thinking, he is a natural choice of succession to lead the Festival into the 21st century.”
Added Ken Brecher, Executive Director of the Sundance Institute, “The Trustees and I are very pleased that Cooper has agreed to serve as the Festival’s new director. To have such an innovative leader who is very much in tune with the needs and interests of today’s filmmakers is invaluable.”
“This is a tremendous opportunity not just for me but for the entire programming team,” Mr. Cooper said. “Our industry is at a crossroads: innovative technology and global accessibility are making filmmaking wildly creative while, at the same time, traditional funding and distribution models are being challenged. Never has our Festival been more relevant. I am honored to accept this position and ready to get to work on shaping the Festival of the future.”
[New York/London – March 11, 2009] – US-based distributor Benten Films, the first label run by film critics, and UK-based Watchmaker Films have entered into a strategic and financial partnership. Effective immediately, Benten President and CEO Andrew Grant will head up Production and Acquisitions for Watchmaker. Benten VP and Art Director Aaron Hillis will assume a greater role in the day-to-day operations of Benten while simultaneously looking to expand the organization.
Watchmaker, the brainchild of Mark Rance, shares Benten’s commitment to curation and quality, and extends it beyond distribution into restoration, preservation and remastering services. Watchmaker’s in-house capabilities include HD-4K and higher scans, full picture and audio restoration, color timing, audio/video remastering, DVD and Blu-ray authoring, and the ability to encode for digital cinema and online delivery systems. As a result, both companies can now seek out older titles that previously didn’t have satisfactory digital elements, bringing them to viewers via the many consumer-ready digital formats.
Rance, who has 20 years of industry-related experience as a filmmaker, DVD producer, and director of Los Angeles Filmforum, recently issued Watchmaker’s first DVD release in the U.S.—a critically acclaimed restoration of Eagle Pennell’s lost independent classic, The Whole Shootin’ Match. “We’re excited about partnering with Mark, who has worked for Criterion and every major studio, and has produced such stellar DVDs as the special editions of Boogie Nights, Magnolia, and Se7en,” said Grant.
Both companies will continue to support new and underrepresented filmmakers from around the world. Benten is currently working on their first 2009 release, Azazel Jacobs’ The GoodTimesKid, which will be fully remastered from a 2K scan of the original negative, and preserved in an archival 4K scan. “It’s important to expand on the standard canon of great films and support up-and-coming filmmakers with state-of-the-art presentations in every format, from cinemas to DVD and beyond,” says Rance.
The Watchmaker/Benten alliance seeks to advance the role of distributors in today’s rapidly evolving industry. “The distribution world is in the midst of a crisis, both financial and technological,” said Grant. “Sales are down across the board for smaller companies, long-established distributors are closing up shop, and everybody is waiting to see which of the next-gen distribution mechanisms will dominate. Producers and sales agents haven’t understood how the landscape has changed, and they’re still looking for advances that made sense five years ago, but are unreasonable today.”
Rance adds: “Together, we will work directly with filmmakers, archivists and rights holders to help bring their films into the digital era. If we can distribute those films, that’s great. But we can also simply offer our services, even to other distributors. It’s time that film preservation and digital remastering became the responsibility of distributors and every company that loves film.”
On the distribution side, Watchmaker and Benten plan to expand their distribution network into the European and Asian markets. The two companies have been busy acquiring titles, and are currently planning releases by such noted filmmakers as Tobe Hooper, John Gianvito, Danny Lyon, Fred Kelemen, and Peter Wollen/Laura Mulvey.
In Friday’s New York Times, Manohla Dargis limns a lovely 800-word rhapsody to Phillipe Garrel’s love tragedy Frontier of Dawn, a film that knocked me out. I always admire how Dargis writes when she’s swept away: a precise swoon, a cadence of admiration, a flick of the wrist. “Love is a universe of two in Philippe Garrel’s fatalistic romance Frontier of Dawn… Serious movies that insist on their own seriousness almost always face a difficult reception, whether they are intellectual puzzles or, like Frontier of Dawn, romantic cries from the heart…. The nakedness of this melancholy, its unvarnished, unapologetic blatancy, partly explains, I think, the difficulty some viewers have had with the film. That, and love. It seems strange to say, but even as cinemas of all national origins continue to find new and expressive ways to convey violence on screen, many now seem at a loss when it comes to love. Certainly that’s the case in America, where passion is often tempered with laughs (as in innumerable buddy romances) or becomes an excuse for sublimation (as in those orgies of consumption known as chick flicks). But love is the drug in Frontier of Dawn, the thing that pulls people together, tears them apart and defines their relationship with other people and the world… Time and again, he inserts two lovers inside his meticulous compositions, where they reveal passions that by virtue of their excesses remind us of how drained of life the modern world truly is. He transforms a private reverie into a public sacrament, invokes the eternal, risks absurdity, invites derision, seduces, shocks, transcends.” Oui, oui.
You can neither make beautiful, great movies without risk as you can make babies without sex. Risk is part of the artistic process. That’s why I like performance, because performance is walking a high wire.
~ Francis Coppola
“Probably the most heralded movie I’ve ever been in was Forrest Gump. While I was sitting on the park bench, I asked Bob, ‘Is anyone going to care about this guy?’ He said, ‘I don’t know Tom. It’s a mine field. It’s a fucking mine field.’ So when it works, you just say, ‘We dodged all the mines.'”
~ Tom Hanks