Movie City Indie Archive for January, 2013

Sundance Review: The World According To Dick Cheney, After Tiller

The first film I saw at Sundance 2013 was a bitter note, a reckless, infuriating piece of work for Showtime, The World According to Dick Cheney, a credulous, shallow, near-hagiography of the former vice president’s decades-long political scheming and proud lying. Built around four days of interviews, Cheney, in this incarnation—the filmmakers say they have the DVD extras to enhance the historical record where the film does not—is told from his perspective. The first hour, narrated by Dennis Haysbert (“24″) with all the gravitas of a quick day session, suggests that Cheney’s entire life was willed, as if a fated life narrative were unfolding before us. Cheney is decisive. Cheney rises above being thrown out of Yale and multiple drunk-driving arrests to become Cheney. Cheney was fated to be Cheney. That’s the level of background provided.

The film is fixed on the force of his crude personality and drive to power. The cut-rate melodramatic score is most pronounced during Cheney’s braggadocio about 9/11, and accompanied by a grab bag of archival footage, endorses his perspective, whether intentionally or not. The very fabric of the filmmaking seems to underline and endorse his every pronunciamento. Turning to wars, the film quickly becomes “Zero Dick Thirty.” Decisiveness! Forget the law! Forget treaties! Cheney is also reprehensible in its innocuousness: reverence toward an elected official turns into something beneath the sorry level of contemporary network news-gathering. While there are terse sound bites from journalists (all of whom are lit to look as geeky as possible), the key interview, done by the filmmakers, is on the level of David Gregory or Oprah, with as many follow-up questions as on a Sunday morning conventional wisdom show. (One? Two? I don’t think it goes higher than that.) It’s even weaker tea than when network interlocutors steep in the proximity of power or vast wealth. (Coincidentally, the film premiered at the same time Oprah’s suddenly visible cable channel offered Lance Armstrong and Oprah a chance to cry a river over the phony athlete’s lost endorsement tens of millions.) No mention of Cheney’s military record, no mention of the Halliburton financial deal that enriched him even into the vice-presidential mansion. All you’re left with is unique access. Four hours of my time to broker platitudes about a lifetime of being closed-off and controlling: what will you do for me, Showtime? We see the answer Cheney got to that question. His bright-eyed grimace when he offers smug, superior, dismissive, clunkily-formed, unfunny one-liners, is the failed film’s high point. Or, perhaps, its only point. Did I mention that Dick Cheney single-handedly saved America and we ought to be grateful for all his fateful acts? History awaits a skeptical portrait.

The next film, a documentary, made for a schizophrenic double feature: the tender, melancholy yet emphatic observational doc, Martha Shane and Lana Wilson’s After Tiller, which follows the work done by the last four doctors who perform third-trimester abortions in this country, all who knew or worked with murdered doctor George Tiller, who was gunned down in a Kansas church in 2009. In its quiet way, it’s an advocacy doc to uphold the law of the land: despite a crazy quilt of state regulations, what they do is legal under federal law. The providers discuss the implications of the acts they perform and the reasons several have continued far past retirement age in their calling. (It’s bracing to hear the word “terrorist” correctly applied to acts of intimidation that include murder and firebombing.)  The position of the filmmakers is never in doubt, but in detailing the daily choices, acts, and emotions, Shane and Wilson have made an assured, incisive humanistic nonfiction film to admire.

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James Franco on his interests as an artist (2’01”)

INT. LEATHER BAR: Post-screening Q+A, Prospector Theater, Sundance Film Festival 2013. (Left to right, David Courier, programmer; Franco; co-director Travis Mathews.)

Jams Franco, Travis Crawford

The reframing mid-take in the shot below will likely annoy anyone not using an iPad; oops.

Trailering SPRING BREAKERS (2’13”)

Survey The MOONRISE KINGDOM Illustrated Script

[49.5mb PDF download. UPDATE: Apparently now only readable as opposed to downloadable. General website here.]

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Trailering Shane Carruth’s UPSTREAM COLOR (2’10”)

Plus, details of Carruth’s post-Sundance self-distribution plan. “As a filmmaker you try to make a compelling case for an audience to stick around minute by minute with what is on the screen,” said Carruth. “By also crafting the marketing we’re still doing that, still storytelling, but we’re trying to make a case for an audience to show up. Hopefully for viewers, framing the film this way and staying true to the film’s intent makes it a bit more of an intimate relationship.”

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“Rugged Terrain”: Foundas Masterclasses Kasdan (1’44″13′)

“That Vision Thing”: Aaron Swartz, 1986-2013

Who knew who knew Aaron Swartz? Less than 24 hours after his suicide at the age of 26, in the face of a federal prosecutor determined to send him to jail for life, or the very least, on the street as a penniless felon, tributes fill the air. [A NYTimes article on the charges is here; a just-launched memorial Tumblr here.] Today marks two years to the date he was indicted, in 2011. As activist David Seaman put it, “The guy who invented RSS at 14, which allows podcasts like yours and mine to syndicate out to people, hung himself yesterday.” [Swartz’s personal site and bio is here; AP dispatch here; Official statement from his family and from EFF, the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Plus: Dan Gillmor: save some energy for activism. Doc Searls is staying on top of links to further tributes.]

“Starting at age 14, Swartz had won a large number of friends, admirers, followers, and mentors, plus a small but important number of enemies, through his combination of tech-world virtuosity and expansive civic and social imagination,” writes James Fallows. “Swartz was a strong and effective advocate of the untrammeled flow of information and knowledge in all directions, and vigilance against control or de-facto censorship efforts by corporate or governmental interests.” Lawrence Lessig writes, “He was brilliant, and funny. A kid genius. A soul, a conscience, the source of a question I have asked myself a million times: What would Aaron think? That person is gone today, driven to the edge by what a decent society would only call bullying. I get wrong. But I also get proportionality. And if you don’t get both, you don’t deserve to have the power of the United States government behind you.” [JSTOR makes a statement.] Tim Lee in the Washington Post: “I worry that Swartz’s prosecution is a sign that America is gradually losing the sense of humor that has made it the home of the world’s innovators and misfits. A generation ago, we hailed Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg as a hero. Today, our government throws the book at whistleblowers for leaking much less consequential information. Our nation’s growing humorlessness won’t just mean that insubordinate idealists like Swartz lose their freedom or their lives. As our culture becomes steadily less accepting of people with Swartz’s irreverent attitude toward authority, we’ll all be poorer as a result. Revolutionary new technologies and ideas come from iconoclasts like Jobs, Wozniak and Swartz. It’s a bad idea to lock them up and throw away the key.


Rick Perlstein: “I remember him contacting me out of the blue—was it in 2005?—and telling me I needed a website, and did I want him to build one for me? I smelled a hustle, asking him how much it would cost, and he said, no, he wanted to do it for free. I thought, What a loser this guy must be. Someone with nothing better to do. How long was it before I learned instead that he actually was a ball of pure corruscation, the guy who had just about invented something called an “RSS feed” and a moral philosopher and public-intellectual-without-portfolio and tireless activist and makeshift Internet-era self-help guru and self-employed archivist and what his deeply inadequate New York Times obituary called “an unwavering crusader to make that information free of charge”—and, oh yes, how long was it after I heard from him that I learned that he was, what, 20 years old? … Read the full article »

Laura Poitras’ “Death of a Prisoner: The Tragic Return Home of a Guantánamo Bay Detainee” (9’11”)


From the New York Times’ Op-Doc series on the eleventh anniversary of the U.S opening of Guantánamo as a detainee facility. (In another op-ed at the Times, an argument to keep Guantánamo Bay as an American asset.) Poitras: “When President Obama pledged to close the Guantánamo Bay prison on his first day in office as president in 2009, I believed the country had shifted direction. I was wrong. Four years later, President Obama has not only institutionalized Guantánamo and all the horrors it symbolizes, but he has initiated new extrajudicial programs, like the president’s secret kill list.

“In September 2012 I read the news that another prisoner at Guantánamo had died, and I knew I had probably met his family. I traveled to Yemen in 2007 with the idea of making a film about a Guantánamo prisoner. I went there with the Guantánamo lawyer David Remes. He met with families and delivered the news of their sons, brothers, fathers and husbands. I had hoped to film the journey of someone being released from Guantánamo and returning home. Five years later, I find myself making that film, but under tragic circumstances.” [Continued.]

“THE SOCIAL NETWORK: Marketing Indie Films Online” TIFF12 Panel (1’04″12′)

From Toronto Int’l 2012, Moderated by Ira Deutchman, with Killer Films’ Christine Vachon, Cinedigm’s Jeff Reichert and BOND Strategy and Influence’s Marc Schiller. [Bios at this link.]

Ingmar Bergman Writes To The Academy

[Via Gunnel Thulin.]

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Safeway Shopping Values: LOOPER Edition

Gaspar Noé Directs Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds (4’06”)

Trailering Sally Potter’s GINGER & ROSA (2’11”)

Built from short scenes sculpted like memories and lit with the depth of several eras of fine art painting, Ginger & Rosa is a miniaturist gem. But its beating heart is a startling, thoroughly great performance by Elle Fanning, in a role older than her years. Her astonishing ability to be present in each moment shines through even in this trailer. Opens March 15 from A24. A24’s synopsis: “London,1962. Two teenage girls – GINGER & ROSA – are inseparable. They skip school together, talk about love, religion and politics and dream of lives bigger than their mothers’ domesticity. But the growing threat of nuclear war casts a shadow over their lives. Ginger (Elle Fanning) is drawn to poetry and protest, while Rosa (Alice Englert) shows Ginger how to smoke cigarettes, kiss boys and pray. Both rebel against their mothers: Rosa’s single mum, Anoushka (Jodhi May), and Ginger’s frustrated painter mother, Natalie (Christina Hendricks). Meanwhile, Ginger’s pacifist father, Roland (Alessandro Nivola) seems a romantic, bohemian figure to the girls. He encourages Ginger’s ‘Ban-the-Bomb’ activism, while Rosa starts to take a very different interest in him. As Ginger’s parents fight and fall apart, Ginger finds emotional sanctuary with a gay couple, both named Mark (Timothy Spall and Oliver Platt), and their American friend, the poet Bella (Annette Bening). Finally, as the Cuban Missile Crisis escalates – and it seems the world itself may come to an end – the lifelong friendship of the two girls is shattered. Ginger clutches at one hope; if she can help save the world from extinction, perhaps she too will survive this moment of personal devastation.”

Michel Gondry’s BIRTHDAY MOUSE (3’24”) 2013 Happy New Year

Haircut Mouse from Michel Gondry on Vimeo.
[Via Adrian Martin.]

Movie City Indie

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“Would I like to see Wormwood in a theater on a big screen? You betcha. I’d be disingenuous to argue otherwise. But we’re all part of, like it or not, an industry, and what Netflix offers is an opportunity to do different kinds of films in different ways. Maybe part of what is being sacrificed is that they no longer go into theaters. If the choice is between not doing it at all and having it not go to theaters, it’s an easy choice to make.”
~ Errol Morris

“As these stories continue to break, in the weeks since women have said they were harassed and abused by Harvey Weinstein, which was not the birth of a movement but an easy and highly visible shorthand for decades of organizing against sexual harassment that preceded this moment, I hope to gain back my time, my work. Lately, though, I have noticed a drift in the discourse from violated rights to violated feelings: the swelled number of reporters on the beat, the burden on each woman’s story to concern a man “important” enough to report on, the detailed accounting of hotel robes and incriminating texts along with a careful description of what was grabbed, who exposed what, and how many times. What I remember most, from “my story” is how small the sex talk felt, almost dull. I did not feel hurt. I had no pain to confess in public. As more stories come out, I like to think that we would also believe a woman who said, for example, that the sight of the penis of the man who promised her work did not wound her, and that the loss she felt was not some loss of herself but of her time, energy, power.”
~ “The Unsexy Truth About Harassment,” by Melissa Gira Grant