Movie City Indie Archive for April, 2009
The sixteenth edition of HotDocs, the terrific Toronto documentary event, opens with Jennifer Baichwal‘s Act of God. [Baichwal, after the jump.] “Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival,” to use its full name, programs over 170 films from 39 countries. Sidebars include Spotlight on the NFB at 70 and Made In South Korea programs; retrospectives of work by Torontonian filmmaker Ron Mann and 2009 Outstanding Achievement Award recipient Alanis Obomsawin. Here’s the Hot Docs Daily. For the third year, I’ll be observing and reporting from the fest, starting on Tuesday and running through the end. Monday, I’ll have a preview of some movies I’ve seen and others I’m anticipating. Expect photographs and video. [View from the Roof Lounge at the Park Hyatt, a popular sunset destination for certain repasts: gin martinis are popular.]
Todd Hill of Staten Island Advance blogs part of an interview with Steven Soderbergh, where he talks about movie reviews. “I just don’t read them. It’s just not something that helps me at that point. First of all, I’m usually already two movies away from what they’re looking at. They have a role, they just don’t really have a role for me. I’m aware of the general critical response to something as it affects the business life of the film. If you make a film that’s kind of a specialty film and you get trashed by everyone you’re going to have a tough time trying to break through. It’s like getting hit by a car and six months later somebody going, ‘You shouldn’t have stepped in front of that car.’ Yeah, okay. Wish you had been there. I have nothing to say in response. The film is what it is… I’m sure we all have complex feelings about the Internet. On the one hand, in theory, if you write about movies you can go on the Internet and write a 5,000-word piece on something if you’re so moved. The question is whether anybody will get to word 500 before they go, ‘Oh Jesus, just tell me how many stars.’ Culturally, that kind of question of whether there is a place for that kind of ruminative, complex criticism, that’s an open question, and not just for cinema, for everything.”
FACE DOWN ON THE TABLE IN THE EMERGENCY ROOM, I hold stock-still as the young doctor with the needle poised to pierce my scalp deadpans, “How are you enjoying our Greek hospitality?” Two female doctors in training, tall, longhaired brunettes, giggle at his banter between instructions in their language: he’s fascinated that I’m calm after being attacked by a mob. “So you’re a photojournalist?” “Po-po journalist, it seems,” I joke, using slang that’s an all purpose “oh-oh.” The women giggle. “I don’t get it,” he says, as he pulls thread through my lacerated skin.
It’s been a little more than a month since that Sunday night and most aches have subsided. My insurance covered the CAT scan and other tests once I was back in the States, assuring nothing might be permanently awry. Cumulatively, I’ve spent almost six months of my life in the north of Greece but this is the first time I’ve been taken for an anarchist infiltrator and roughed up by a gang of nationalists. [Machine translation]
Thessaloniki is a city of just over a million. Street protests are common, prevalent, even. One cloudy afternoon a couple of years ago, I asked a cop in knee-high black boots standing beside his motorcycle as a main artery was filled with red flags of a communist youth party and black flags of some anarchist faction, what’s this one about? “Just another regularly scheduled spontaneous demonstration,” he answered.
That Sunday was the last of ten days of the eleventh Thessaloniki International Documentary Festival. I had been watching films and talking to directors and photographers and programmers for a print piece for Filmmaker magazine. The usual suspects: homelessness, globalization, genocide. Earlier, I’d had conversations with a young Rwandan director who made one of several films about that last topic as part of a section of films made specifically by African directors. I had a drink with a few filmmakers and colleagues and chose to stop by a friends’ apartment rather than ending the event on the bloody note of his film: he is a good storyteller and I’d gotten more than the gist of the horror, physical and moral, of that tragedy.
Along the eight blocks to the apartment, a square bristles with a crowd of middle-aged men listening to an energetic older man. A rank of blinding bright white lights stands between the speaker and the Byzantine edifice behind him. This is the square of Agia Sofia, the “Church of the Holy Wisdom.” It’s a neighborhood I know well; I feel safe. The words of his urgent peroration that I understand are mostly along the lines of “homeland” and “patriotism.” Riot police stand at the perimeter of the gathering. I have my DSLR camera with me, walk past without even framing a picture. I move along. “Homeland.” “Patriotism.”
Journalists watch, movie reviewers watch, photographers watch, used to seeing. Seeing without being seen, as well. I was about to get a simple lesson in observation. The speaker’s voice resounds through the shutters of the flat several blocks away. “Homeland. “Patriotism.” I take the same route half-an-hour later, 9:15, after dark. Observing, I reach toward my unzipped camera bag, more to protect its contents than to take out any equipment. Three, then four middle-aged men are abruptly in my face shouting in Greek, “Who are you?” “Who sent you?” “What are you doing?” I’m surrounded. I move to protect my bag as punches fly and fall.
Sloppy punches and kicks from a dozen men in a mob scrum are always to be preferred over two guys in an alley. If you get dragged free soon enough, it’s more roughing up than being beaten stupid. Still, there’s blood. The velocity of the event? Under two minutes, I would guess.
I was told later the men who kicked, swung, slapped, as I crouched on the ground to protect my face, might have taken me for “an anarchist infiltrator.” Fast, furious. Less than two minutes and about a pint of blood later, soaking my hair and cascading down the back of my jacket, police pull me away, to insure “bodily integrity,” as the term of art of Greek law has it. Adrenaline brings clarity. My upturned palms are covered with blood from the gash on the back of my head. I hold them up. “American… Journalist… NOT political. What do you need?” My fingerprints blood my press pass as I hand it across.
A rare incident, I’m assured later by Greek friends, the police, the U. S. Consulate. And a modest one compared to the blood that had run through the aisles during so many of the thirty or so documentaries I’d seen in the ten days prior. Greek friends expressed concern about the temperature in their streets: these were the middle-aged fed up with riots in the streets of cities since the December shooting of a 15-year-old boy in the Exarchia district of Athens. What had I done? What a reviewer, a journalist, a photographer does. Just looking. My “crime.” Just being seen looking. And remembering the image of my two bloody hands, red, La chinoise-red, which I could not take a picture of.
CODA: Last week I saw Z for the first time in memory. Costa-Gavras’ restored thriller is the most authentic representation of getting your head lacerated in Greek street violence that I know. My injuries were in almost the same place on the back of the skull as those that kill Yves Montand’s political figure. I sat stock-still, rapt with fascination.
Sometimes Mr. Herzog rephrases a thought and it comes out all the better in front of an inventive writer like Will Self: “With his astonishing work rate, I asked him how he felt about the films he had completed. ‘They are like burglars in the night who all of a sudden raid your home—you’ve got to get them out! Or rather, you open the door to let one guest in, and suddenly 85 people are swarming all over you.’ When the unwanted guests burst in, I asked him, did he know if they were feature films or documentaries or, indeed, operas—which he has been known to direct—or books—which he has been known to write (he has a new one out, about Fitzcarraldo, this summer)? ‘Only when I wrestle with them, and I feel their skin and sniff their scent, do I make a distinction.'”
Not exactly how Wong Kar-Wai might use it, but….
“I could say I’m sorry, but… [ffff] … what would that do?”
From The Plaza to the Tokyo Hyatt to Sunset Boulevard: “OSCAR-WINNING WRITER/DIRECTOR SOFIA COPPOLA TO MAKE SOMEWHERE WITH FOCUS FEATURES; STEPHEN DORFF TO STAR: Reuniting with the film company with which she made the Academy Award-winning hit Lost in Translation, writer-director Sofia Coppola will make her next movie, Somewhere, with Focus Features. Somewhere will star Stephen Dorff (soon to be seen in Public Enemies) and Elle Fanning (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button). Focus CEO James Schamus made the announcement today.
Ms. Coppola is also reteamed with Pathé, which will have rights to the film in France, Benelux, and Switzerland; and Tohokushinsa, which will hold rights to the film in Japan and select Asian territories. Medusa Film will have rights to Somewhere in Italy, where a portion of the filming will be done, and is lending production assistance. Focus will hold rights to the film in all other territories.
In addition to directing Somewhere from her original screenplay, Ms. Coppola will produce the feature with Roman Coppola (The Darjeeling Limited) and G. Mac Brown (Australia) through American Zoetrope. Harris Savides (cinematographer on Focus’ Academy Award-winning Milk) will be director of photography on the movie. Lost in Translation executive producers Francis Ford Coppola and Fred Roos and Marie Antoinette executive producer Paul Rassam will encore in the same capacities on Somewhere, which will be overseen for Focus by president of production John Lyons.
Somewhere will begin production on location in Los Angeles this summer. Somewhere is the story of Johnny Marco (to be played by Mr. Dorff), a bad-boy actor stumbling through a life of excess at the Chateau Marmont Hotel in Hollywood. With an unexpected visit from his 11-year-old daughter (Ms. Fanning), Johnny is forced to look at the questions we all must confront.