DC Film Society's 13th Annual Party
"AND THE WINNER IS...."
Watch the Oscars Broadcast ... Live on the BIG Screen. Party with the Washington, DC Film Society on Sunday, February 27, 2005 at the Arlington Cinema 'N' Drafthouse (2903 Columbia Pike, Arlington, VA). Doors open at 7:15 p.m.; the pre-Oscar show starts at 8:00 p.m. The real excitement begins on Arlington Cinema's BIG Screen at 8:30 p.m. with the Academy Awards show. Local film critics Joe Barber and Bill Henry return as hosts of our event.
2004 was the year of film controversy and the biopic, so join us at our party to determine the best of the bunch. Watch the ceremonies with first-time host Chris Rock live on the BIG screen. Attendees also enjoy the casual comfort of an Art-Deco theatre with affordable food and drink, fun film promotional items, fabulous door prizes, a “Predict the Winners” contest, other trivia contests, and the best Silent Auction ever!
Silent Auction items (cash/check only) include dinner and hotel gift certificates, autographed movie posters (including Les Choristes, Kinsey, Maria Full of Grace, The Sea Inside, and Vera Drake) and movie and theatre tickets. Special items: a Hotel Rwanda screening invitation signed by Oscar nominees Don Cheadle and Sophie Okonedo, Les Choristes Oscar-nominated song sheet music signed by Oscar nominee Writer/Director/Composer Christophe Barratie, and a Beyond the Sea soundtrack signed by Kevin Spacey.
Tickets are $20 ($15 for Film Society members and free for Gold Card Members) and may be purchased at the door beginning at 6:30pm (cash/check only) or in advance by mailing a check to the Washington, DC Film Society, Attn: Oscar Tickets, P.O. Box 65992, Washington, DC 20035-5992. For further information and updates, check out the website or call the hotline at (202) 554-3263.
Film Society members had access to advance screenings of the following Academy Award-nominated movies during 2004: The Aviator, Before Sunset, Les Choristes with Writer/Director/Composer Christophe Barratier attending, Closer, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Finding Neverland with Director Marc Forster attending, Hotel Rwanda with Writer/Director Terry George and real life hero and Manager of the Hotel Milles Collines Paul Rusesabagina attending, House of Flying Daggers, Kinsey with Writer/Director Bill Condon attending, The Motorcycle Diaries with Actor Gael Garcia Bernal attending, The Phantom of the Opera, Ray, The Sea Inside, Sideways, with Writer/Director Alexander Payne attending, The Story of the Weeping Camel, Super Size Me with Director Morgan Spurlock attending, Vera Drake, A Very Long Engagement, Maria Full of Grace, with Writer/Director Joshua Marston and Actress Catalina Sandino Moreno attending, and Million Dollar Baby.
The Spirit and the Star: a Roundtable Interview with Ong-bak's Tony Jaa
By Jim Shippey, DC Film Society Director of Operations
On a rather sunny afternoon one Monday afternoon this winter I made a sojourn up Pennsylvania Avenue to join a motley crew of youthful fan writers talking about the Next Big Thing. In the lobby I spy a small form engaging in action poses for a photographer, changing out positions as graceful as dolphin in water. Yes, today would be a lesson in not trusting appearances. Barely standing up to my chin, the man becoming known to the world as Tony Jaa is sitting at the head of a long table, sharing a laugh with his translator. This master of Tae Kwon Do, Gymnastics, Sword fighting, and a rather unknown martial art style named Muay Thai has a rather innocent demeanor about him that belies the violence inherent in his action scenes; he is gracious as he shakes my hand, being the last man in the room.
[NOTE: Roundtable questions were not completely attributable, thus they are signified with a simple ‘Q’. Questions posed by Jim Shippey are signified ‘JJS’.]
Q: Do you think you could beat all us [the roundtable?]
Tony Jaa: (Laughs) Naw, some of you guys look too strong (Laughter).
Q: how did you get involved in martial arts?
Tony Jaa: I first started when I was 10 years old, watching films by Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, Jet Li, and, and of course, Master Panna [Rittikrai]. I took a liking to martial arts. My father was a Thai boxer. I would watch these films and I would practice these moves at home on my own. At age 15 I wanted to study with Panna, who lived in Khonget, a province in the Northeastern highlands. I traveled there and began to study with him. While there I came to work on films doing various jobs, from being a water boy, to cleaning the sets, to cooking, to holding the umbrella over the cameraman. I worked my way up to become an extra. I was able to hang around the stuntmen and was able to learn their moves. So I eventually became a stuntman myself. Doing that, you begin to learn all of the martial arts together. I was able to study martial arts more extensively at a physical education academy in the province of Maha Sarakham, where you can learn all of the martial arts.
Q: Is there a difference between martial arts on film and martial arts as sport?
Tony Jaa: It’s different in film because of more detail, and it’s more of an art. On a stage you only want a victory; you want to hit your opponent for points, and it makes all of the beauty in the arts disappear. In film you get to see the moves in more detail, which brings out the beauty of the art.
JJS: Tony, this is the first time we have seen you as an actor as opposed to doing just stunt work. You now have to worry about lines, about appearing with other actors. Can you talk about the transition to being front and center of the camera from being in the background only fighting?
Tony Jaa: Yes, when you are a stunt man you are usually behind the scenes, because no one knows it is you doing the moves and stunts. Coming in front of the camera allows the audience to be more in touch with you and with what you are doing. It allows the viewers to be captivated and more in awe along with you, seeing that you are really doing those moves. It is definite that it is you doing those stunts. What attracted me to Ong-bak was the chance to do those stunts and show that those moves were for real [no wires]. Also, it was the first time that Muay Thai (Jaa’s martial art style) has been shown on film. It is a chance for viewers to see the beauty in the movements involved in Muay Thai in a definite manner, without the use of computer graphics or [wire] stunts of any kind.
Q: Can you talk about the preparation and choreography that went into this film?
Tony Jaa: With Ong-bak, the goal was always to show true Muay Thai, and to show it in the best way. In the film you see gymnastics combined with martial arts. It is the art of film combined with the art of martial arts. Some moves you usually see, when put in, do not look as good on film. We don’t use those. We take into consideration what the moves will look like on screen. It was important that the viewers be captivated by the action sequences. In the film you get to see the good and the bad, reflected through the characters. The sense of comedy and drama combined into one movie is what we wanted the viewers to get in touch with.
Q: Tony, in the film there is a scene in a marketplace where you jump through a barbed wire ring. Is there a point where fear comes into your head when doing these stunts?
Tony Jaa: There are a lot of preparations, safety preparations of course. The preparations and my training made me confident in the barbed wire scene. When we started we had a large ring that I would jump through. We then started to shrink the ring to see how small we could go, to develop the movements needed to make it stunning to the audience. Then I do a split under a car. We thought about how to combine things to make the scene more captivating. Again, we did this to show people that these stunts are real, that real people are actually doing these things!
Q: So, no fear?
Tony Jaa: Hmmm (he mulls that for a moment) maybe a little bit of fear, but that transforms into happiness when we do these stunts.
Q: You seem very focused on making things realistic and you seem to have bit of animosity towards wire-fu. Do you think the use of wires is cheating?
Tony Jaa: Well, using wires is an art I suppose, that some artists choose to use. Maybe some viewers watching [wire-fu] see it as an art. But if you look at it in a different sense, I know I can do these stunts without wires, so I was thinking why not present something different to viewers and do these stunts without wires.
Q: So do you think that when people watch wire-fu they have a hard time taking it seriously?
Tony Jaa: Yes, it’s challenging when people come up and ask you “how did you that”; that lack of use of wires is what my success is based upon.
Q: You mentioned earlier some martial artists you admired. Is there one who influenced you the most?
Tony Jaa: Maybe it was the movies that inspired me, because I didn’t pick them out but I did see them all. My influences come from Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, Jet Li, and my Master Panna. I regard all of them as my masters. From Bruce Lee I received his swiftness, his speed of moves; from Jackie Chan I took his ability to combine movements inspired by things around him; and from Jet Li, his beautiful movements and grace; and from Master Panna, I was able to combine all of this under Muay Thai as part of learning my skill, along with learning the teachings of the Buddha and the ways of the spirit.
Q: In American cinema Asians are usually portrayed in a couple of ways, either a warrior or a wise old man. What do think about these stereotypes? Do you see this film, or one in your future as breaking down these images of Asians and Asian-Americans?
Tony Jaa: It’s really up to the director as to how he wants to present Asian characters. In Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Yimou Zhang’s Hero you see a real sense of Chinese culture bring presented. In Ong-bak, you see the tradition and way of life of Thai culture. More importantly, you get to the ancient form of Muay Thai tradition being presented in the movie.
Q: On American television there are ads featuring The RZA singing your praises. He is obviously a fan of you, and I was wondering if you are a fan of his or the Wu-Tang Clan?
Tony Jaa: At first I didn’t know him, but when I heard of him and heard that he was a fan of my movie, and I heard that he had composed the soundtrack for Kill Bill, I really liked him and was very happy he liked the movie.
JJS: Tony, I know the film played the Toronto Film Festival back in 2003. Since then the film has been making its way all across the globe. One, are you surprised that the film appears to be having larger appeal than traditional for this genre of film? Second, the title of the film in the United States is Ong-bak: The Thai Warrior, which may be culturally confusing to us because, you are not Ong-bak, you are Ting; you are a Thai warrior, but what is missing is that you are specifically a Muay Thai warrior. How do you feel about that?
Tony Jaa: (Laughs) That has to do with promotions. Really, my success in Thailand would have been enough for me. Now to see my film become successful in places beyond, from Asia to Europe and now America is beyond my wildest dreams. Just to see a film from my country, a small country, being able to show so many people Thai culture and Thai heritage is so beautiful.
Q: In the opening of the film we see a traditional Thai village, but as the story progresses we are taken to modern Bangkok. There appears to be a conflict between the traditional and the modern, but it’s martial arts which bridge that gap. Can you talk about your character who travels between the traditional and modern?
Tony Jaa: The first scene was not actually a scene from a traditional Thai way of life but rather a variation on a traditional game played by children. What we are showing is an example of rural Thai life. With Ting, coming from that tradition, he has the determination to persevere on his mission. He struggles, but he endures. With Muay Thai, the dedication and spirituality you get from practicing it gives you strength to carry on. You also learn that when you do good, you receive good; when you do bad, you receive bad.
Q: You are being compared to Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan. Are you at all embarrassed by these comparisons? How do these comparisons make you feel?
Tony Jaa: Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan are my masters, so I would never compare myself to them personally. There is only one Bruce Lee in the world. There is only one Jackie Chan in the world. There is only one Jet Li in the world, and there is only one Tony Jaa in the world! (laughs).
Q: Has anyone from Hollywood contacted you?
Tony Jaa: (rolls his eyes) Jackie Chan wanted to meet me for dinner when we were in Hong Kong, but we failed to connect. Quentin Tarantino saw the film via The RZA and he is interested in working with me. Everything is in talks right now.
Q: What is your day like as far as physical condition is concerned?
Tony Jaa: I do things like walk on my hands when I go to the bathroom plus push ups, to warm up.
Q: More specifically, what is your training regimen?
Tony Jaa: In preparation for Ong-bak, I trained 8 hours a day, 6 days a week. I know that doing too much is bad, but so is doing too little. If I find myself feeling sore, I would go out into nature, or go sing karaoke (laughter).
Q: Do you ever go out to eat fast food?
Tony Jaa: Not as much as US kids seem to do!
Q: What makes Muay Thai different from other martial arts?
Tony Jaa: Probably the use of elbows and knees extensively. The “realness” of Muay Thai separates it.
Q: What hurts more, stunts in films or competition?
Tony Jaa: Well, there are precautions taken in film work to minimize the pain. Sometime the safety harnesses fail after several uses and then…
JJS: Tony, do you ever worry, that as your popularity increases, someone [like a producer] will ask you not to perform your own stunts?
Tony Jaa: No, I’m not worried because I know what I can do, my limits. I take part in my own choreography, and we put on film not only what looks beautiful, but also what I can physically do.
Q: In the film, how do you reconcile the two aspects of Muay Thai, one being a sport in fight clubs where people earn money from its use, and the other being a means of spirituality in the village?
Tony Jaa: We present in the film both good and bad people and that is reflected in the philosophy of the teachings of Muay Thai that we wanted to put in.
JSS: Tony, can I ask you one last thing? What do you prefer to your self as these days, Movie Star or Martial Artist?
Tony Jaa: Oh, I will always be a Martial Artist!
We've Got Movies at the Times London Film Festival
By Cheryl Dixon, DC Film Society Member
Over 280 movies were shown at The Times (British Film Institute) 48th annual London Film Festival (LFF) held this year in London from October 20-November 4, 2004. Fellow Film Society Member Claudia Lagos and I returned to see movies, and much more, including screen talks and masterclasses. As previously reported in the December 2002 edition of Storyboard, the LFF is Europe's largest non-competitive festival showcasing the works of both big-name, established filmmakers as well as the emerging talents of new filmmakers. Many of the filmmakers and actors introduced their work in person. Jim McCaskill did an earlier Storyboard report on the Festival; these are supplementary articles, including the Festival winners.
The LFF offers the chance for the first opportunity for audiences to see films before (and if) they are released in Britain. It also offers them the opportunity to interact with filmmakers, including producers and directors, and actors during both formal and informal interviews and question and answer sessions. For U.S. attendees, the LFF offers the chance see those movies on the big screen that you might have missed, or simply wanted to see again (e.g., Maria Full of Grace, Garden State, or Napoleon Dynamite), or perhaps wanted to meet the filmmakers or actors. There are also many European films that have not yet received a U.S. release. For more information and the Festivals touring program schedule, check out the website. A more specific outline of the 2004 Festival program follows:
Galas and Special Screenings (Partial Listings)
Opening Night Gala: Mike Leigh's Vera Drake (U.K. 2004), about a woman helping other women get out of trouble, who finds herself in trouble with the law. Imelda Staunton, Phil Davis, Daniel Mays, Alex Kelly,
Eddie Marsan, Ruth Sheen, Peter Wight.
Closing Night Gala: David O. Russell's existential comedy, I Heart Huckabees (U.S. 2004). Dustin Hoffman, Isabelle Huppert, Jude Law, Jason Schwartzman, Lily Tomlin, Mark Wahlberg, Naomi Watts.
Popular Gala Screenings: Francois Ozon's 5X2, Brad Bird's The Incredibles, Zhang Yimou's House of Flying Daggers, Wong Kar-Wai's 2046, Mira Nair's Vanity Fair, John Curran's We Don't Live Here Anymore and Peter Mullan's The Magdalene Sisters.
Sky Movies Film on the Square: Previews and premieres of acclaimed commercial films, award-winning directors and stars. Includes Nicole Kassell's The Woodsman, Darrell James Roodt's Yesterday, Zach Braff's Garden State, Todd Solondz's Palindromes, Joshua Marston's Maria Full of Grace, Tod Williams' Door in the Floor, Jared Hess' Napoleon Dynamite, Hou Hsiao-Hsien's Cafe Lumiere and Jonathan Demme's The Manchurian Candidate. Surprise Film: Sideways..
New British Cinema: Includes Kenny Glenaan's Yasmin, Saul Dibbs' Bullet Boy.
French Revolutions: Includes Christophe Honore's Ma Mere.
Cinema Europa: Includes Gianni Amelio's The House Keys.
World Cinema Experimental: Innovative, cutting-edge filmmaking.
Treasures from the Archives
Classic films sponsored by Turner Classic Movies
Short Cuts and Animation
The Times Interviews, Masterclasses, and Special Events
The Sutherland Trophy, for the most original and imaginative first feature film screening in the LFF: Jonathan Caouette Tarnation
7th FIPRESCI International Critics Award: Gustave Kervern and Benoit Delepine Aaltra. U.K. Film Talent Award: Amma Asante A Way of Life.
The 9th Annual Satyajit Ray Award, for capturing "the compassion and humanism of Ray's vision": Nicole Kassell The Woodsman.
Classic Shorts Turner Classic Movies (TCM) Short Film Prize Award: Harry Wootliff Nits. TCM Classic Shorts rewards and recognizes the excellence of emerging talent and is considered one of the most prestigious short film prizes in Europe. Audiences could view the top six short films of the year that are selected by a judging panel, including Lord David Putnam (Producer, The Killing Fields, Chariots of Fire, and Midnight Express, Sir Alan Parker, Director, Angela's Ashes, Evita, and Mississippi Burning, Richard Jobson, and Jonny Lee Miller, Actor, Hackers, Mansfield Park, and Trainspotting..
LFF Closing Night Gala Red Carpet Action: I Heart Huckabees
By Cheryl Dixon, DC Film Society Member
London is swingin'! The Odeon Theatre, Leicester Square was the setting for the 48th Times London Film Festival Closing Night Gala Film, I Heart Huckabees and reception on November 4, 2004. Leicester Square, like Times Square, is the film/theatre district. It's filled with lights, cameras, and action. It's hip, movin' and shakin'. The Closing Night Gala featured celebrity guests including I Heart Huckabees Writer/Director David O. Russell, and Actress Isabelle Huppert. Academy-Award winning Writer/Director/Producer Anthony Minghella was present.
Claudia and I came to see and be seen, like everyone else, and I was absolutely positive that I would finally catch a glimpse of (well, hopefully much more than that) my beloved Jude Law. Instead, we had a good time mingling behind the scenes with an Australian journalist from Empire magazine, a French camerawoman from the BBC, various British and international journalists, and the adoring crowd of fans.
So what's the red carpet action like? How does it compare/contrast to that in the U.S.? The stanchions, partitions, and barricades alongside the red carpet outside of the theatre are similarly constructed to allow ticketless adoring fans to view the red carpet stroll, to catch a glimpse of their favorite actors, and perhaps get a photo or an autograph. However, at this event, everyone with a ticket gets the pleasure of walking on the red carpet! It was huge, the biggest red carpet I've ever seen. I, too, got to walk down the red carpet on my exit from the theatre lobby.
Outside about 30 press photographers were poised to take photographs and inside the lobby, red velvet media ropes neatly herded in the 20 print journalists. Celebrities walked along the ropes and could be interviewed by the accredited inside photographers and print journalists one by one or together, as they desired. Very organized, and so very British. No pushing or shoving to get the picture, except, of course, if Jude Law had been there, there would have been pandemonium, I'm sure.
The journalists were not long disappointed, however, as the celebrity arrivals, and interviews, began. Since Film Society members had already had the privilege of both seeing an early preview screening of I Heart Huckabees and meeting David O. Russell and actor Jason Schwartzman, I was one of the few in the crowd, who was in the know and was able to point out Mr. Russell to the journalists in the media pit. In typical fashion, Mr. Russell waved and blew me a kiss and I returned the favor! In the now very crowded theatre lobby, I greeted top French actress Isabelle Huppert and told her that her love scene with Jason Schwartzman might have been difficult to do, but was certainly memorable and I thought that she had done a magnificent job. I think that she liked what I had to say because she clasped her hands together. She's very beautiful and very petite as well as talented, intelligent, and commanding. It was an honor to meet her. I had already had a nice chat with Mr. Russell both in Washington, DC and in London on the previous evening, so we just exchanged pleasantries here and I wished him well and promised to send him our Film Society review on his D.C. screening and interview (conducted by our fearless director Michael). I must confess, however, that I did not know quite what to say to Mr. Minghella. I did not know what he looked like, and by the time someone pointed him out to me, he had disappeared into the theatre! I had to swallow my comments about The English Patient, The Talented Mr. Ripley, and Cold Mountain, all terrific films, all featuring British actors I really admire, including, you know who!
I mingled a bit in the theatre lobby where I saw the London Film Festival staff dressed in tuxedoes and gowns. Meanwhile, Claudia, who was stationed outside the theatre, had managed to photograph Anthony Minghella. We had decided to see a different movie, Ma mere (2004), featuring Isabelle Huppert, and so I walked down the red carpet to join her at an adjoining theatre. We compared notes about what we had just seen on the red carpet. We agreed that this Festival's fans were a lot calmer than the hordes we see at the film festivals in Venice or in Cannes, but, again, I'm sure that the presence of a certain someone would have changed all of that. I wished that we had stayed for the Gala reception after the movie screening. It turned out that Ma mere had a very late screening and we went to see a very disappointing Japanese movie, Cafe Lumiere, one of those what-is-the-plot, what-is-the-point? movies. And we thought that we would see charming and romantic, if not sizzling French scenes! We should have read the catalog description!
See you on the red carpet next year!
Panel Discussions, Master Classes, and Interviews at the LFF
By Cheryl Dixon, DC Film Society Member
I have already extolled the virtues of The Times London Film Festival. Now I want to briefly pay particular attention to its educational component: the panel discussions, masterclasses, and in-depth interviews that are an integral part. These are either free or ticketed events available on a first-come, first-served basis.
Here's a brief description of some of these educational forums designed to indicate the range on offer:
The Skillset Director's Masterclass: Jonathan Demme, U.S. Director. Jonathan Demme was joined by his Director of Photography Tak Fujimoto on 10/23/04 to discuss his career to date. The Manchurian Candidate remake, The Agronomist documentary on Haitian national hero Jean Dominique, Academy-Award, history-making Silence of the Lambs, Melvin and Howard, and his debut film, Caged Heat were some of the films featured in the program.
Times Screen Talk: David O. Russell, U.S. Writer and Director. David O. Russell discussed his body of work, past, present, and future, including the Festival's Closing Night Gala existential comedy, I Heart Huckabees with Festival Artistic Director Sandra Hebron on 11/3/04. Topics included the anti-war film, Three Kings, Flirting with Disaster, and Spanking the Monkey. Russell, a former union organizer and literacy teacher, also treated Festival attendees to a free, special screening of Soldier's Pay, a short film featuring clips of veterans returning from the war in Iraq and Iraqis participating in Three Kings.
The Hollywood Reporter Presents: Europe Dealing in Dollars Panel Discussion. An examination of the U.K. and European Film Industries relationship with the U.S. counterpart and attempt to answer to what extent does the U.S. film industry shape European cinema (and vice versa). Panelists on 10/22/04 included Alexandra Rossi (Fine Line Features, European Co-production), Andy Paterson (Producer, Girl with a Pearl Earring), Stuart Kemp (U.K. Bureau Chief, The Hollywood Reporter), Teresa Moneo (20th Centrury Fox, European Co-production).
History Replayed: The Found Footage Film Panel Discussion. Discussion on the implications for narrative film when a feature is made from someone else's material (archive documentaries, home movies, Hollywood films, and commercials, for example). Panelists on 10/29/04 included Eugeni Bovet (Director, Throw Your Watch to the Water), Thom Anderson (Director, Los Angeles Plays Itself).
Platform: Documentary Movies: A Golden Age? Panel Discussion. The U.K. Time Out magazine presented a panel discussion on 11/1/04 regarding the production increase in documentary films, particularly politically-oriented films in the U.S. Filip Remunda, Co-director, Czech Dream, and Hubert Sauper, Darwin's Nightmare, were featured panelists.
Times Interview: Kevin Bacon. The Times interviewed one of Hollywood's most diverse actors, Kevin Bacon, in London with his most recent film, The Woodsman, in which he both acted and executive produced. This 10/31/04 interview also covered his career performances in Mystic River, Murder in the First, The River Wild, JFK, Footloose, Diner, and his screen debut in the 1979 comedy hit, Animal House.
So, if you can possibly pull yourself away from the vast film selection, there are plenty of educational opportunities to enhance your film knowledge through participation in these types of events. As previously mentioned, there's something for everyone here at this Festival. Expect to be entertained as well as enlightened. Consider attending next year's Festival. It's definitely worth a trip to London. Airfares are low-season and affordable. London itself is expensive. Theatre ticket prices are in the $10-$14 range. However, you will certainly get opportunities as an attendee to ask questions and sometimes to personally meet the filmmakers and actors.
Remember, London is swingin'! On this trip, we mostly kept to the venues in Leicester Square, in the West End with its Piccadilly Circus bright lights-big city excitement. Think Times Square. Bring your umbrella as it does rain often, but the showers come and go quickly and you can keep going in stride. As previously mentioned, Jim McCaskill gave an early, enthusiastic report of the Festival, so these articles were meant to both supplement and expand upon that article. LFF is well-organized. Festival staff are well informed and ready to assist. This is the place to be in November! You won't be able to see all of the films, filmmakers, events, and stars, but you'll see a lot more than you expect. You'll leave London wanting to revisit. For further, complete details about the Festivals history, structure, film selections, and winners check out the website.
Les Choristes: Q&A with Director Christophe Barratier
By John Suozzo, DC Film Society Member
The following Q&A with Christophe Barratier, director of Les Choristes took place at Landmark's E Street Theater on January 6. Michael Kyrioglou, DCFS Director, was moderator. The film opened in theaters January 29.
Michael Kyrioglou: Tell us a little bit about how you came to make this movie. Is it your life story?
Christophe Barratier: Yes, it is semi-autobiographical. Unfortunately, I was sent to a boarding school in the early 1970’s. I waited every Saturday for my father to visit, but he never picked me up. So that was a very unhappy period in my life. Just two weeks ago my father phoned me and was very angry because I told his story. But I told him not to be sorry--if he had picked me up, I wouldn’t have had a story for the movie (laughs). But on the other hand, I met a wonderful music teacher who discovered I was a soprano. I had a difficult relationship with my mother because I thought she was wrong to have left me alone. Pierre Morhange’s story is my story. But the script has some fictional elements because when you are a scriptwriter you need a little bit of imagination. Two years ago, when I was writing the script, it was hard to get people to believe in this story. The story of a bald supervisor--it didn’t sound very sexy. People didn’t think there would be an audience for a story about a boy’s choir. They said “Teenagers don’t listen to boy’s choirs. It will be old-fashioned. It wouldn’t be a blockbuster.” But today the movie is a huge international success.
Michael Kyrioglou: This is now the highest grossing film in France.
Christophe Barratier: And in Europe, too. The Chorus is #1 and Harry Potter is #2! Just two boarding-school movies!
Question: This seems to be a lot like some American feel-good movies about music. I’m thinking of Meryl Streep’s Music of the Heart and Richard Dreyfus’ Mr. Holland’s Opus.
Christophe Barratier: I’m not too influenced by those because this is very close to my own personal story. This movie does not say that music by itself makes you a better person. But special gifts--whether it is dance, sport or music--can change your life if developed properly.
Question: Was there a special teacher in your life?
Christophe Barratier: Yes, but he wasn’t as bald as the teacher in the movie. The actor who played the role, Gérard Jugnot, is a popular actor in France. I talked to him on the phone today and told him there was interest in re-making the movie here in America--but with Danny DaVito playing his role (laughter). There was total silence on the other end of the line. I was thinking of Charlie Chaplin when I wrote the part of Clément Mathieu--someone not very well dressed or brilliant but who step-by-step discovers what’s inside of him.
Question: It’s cool that Morhange’s mother seems oblivious to the affections of Mathieu. Did you pattern this movie after Zero de Conduite or O Lucky Man?
Christophe Barratier: I am familiar with those films and am a big fan of Jean Vigo’s Zero de Conduite, but really the only common point is that both take place in a boarding school. I think it is closer to Dead Poets’ Society because in that movie Robin Williams tried to influence his students’ lives with poetry and philosophy. I think Zero de Conduite was much more surrealistic.
Question: You grew up in the ‘70s. Why did you set the film in 1949?
Christophe Barratier: To distance it a little bit from my own story. It helps keep the story focused on the kids without the need to tie the story to current events. Also by putting the story in the past, the action could be taking place in any country, even the US. I didn’t want to make a social story--I wanted to write a story about childhood and childhood troubles. I wanted it to have universal appeal.
Michael Kyrioglou: Do you want to talk about your involvement with the music? Didn’t you write some of the music yourself?
Christophe Barratier: For a long time I have written music for movies and I always dreamed my first film would incorporate music into cinema. Everyone in my family was in the film industry but I started out as a musician. I love musicals, especially American musicals. I used the help of a composer because it was a huge undertaking and I wasn’t comfortable writing the entire score. We worked very well together, though mostly by email. I wrote the lyrics because hiring a professional lyricist was very expensive. I wrote "Little Kite" for the paper plane scene in the movie and also [the Oscar-nominated] "Look to Your Path."
Question: How did you audition the boys for the movie?
Christophe Barratier: I searched the Auvergne region of France, which is where we did the filming. I avoided auditioning in the expensive schools because I was looking for a different type of child. This was an area with coal mines and nearly 30% unemployment. We used the faces of the kids in the movie but not their voices. I didn’t choose an entire choir or Glee Club, but rather chose each actor individually so that each one had a unique look. Of course, casting the Pierre Morhange character was difficult. We needed to find a boy who could do 3 things: he needed a wonderful voice, he had to be handsome and he had to act. We searched all over France and we couldn’t find him for the longest time. Towards the end of the rehearsal process I found him. He had short blond hair and was wearing a yellow baseball shirt. Now, he’s like a rock star in France. The other night he gave a concert at which 4000 people attended. After the concert, about 1000 young girls stayed after and tried to meet him.
Michael Kyrioglou: Has this movie caused an increase of interest in choral groups in France?
Christophe Barratier: Two years ago it was considered old-fashioned to sing in a choir. Now, it is totally the “in” thing to do in France. Hundreds of choirs have sprung up all over France and Europe.
Question: What do you think about the status of American cinema today?
Christophe Barratier: I admire the creativity of American cinema today and I must say is more powerful than the cinema in France. I recently wrote an article for a French magazine describing my Top 100 films and noticed that all the films on the list from the last 20 years were made in America. They are also doing good work today in Spain and Japan.
Question: Was Mondain [the bully] based on a real person?
Christophe Barratier: Yes, a kid like him terrified me. He was the “Godfather of the Schoolyard”. In the beginning, he was very bad with me, but step-by-step he became a friend. In the end he protected me and we developed sort of a love-hate relationship. His character was unique in the film--he was the only person who was not saved by Mathieu. He is proof that if you tell a kid he’s bad long enough and often enough, they begin to believe they really are bad. The actor we found to play him was 15-year-old and was in a school for tough juvenile delinquents. The director [of the school] said we were crazy to use him and we were wasting our time, but he did really well. He was very good and very touched by making the movie. After the shooting was over, he told us he really liked the experience of making the film.
Question: Could you tell us 5 of the movies that made your Top 100?
Christophe Barratier: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Dead Poets’ Society, Magnolia, The Grand Illusion, and Children of Paradise.
Michael Kyrioglou: I’m sure most of us don’t know what a typical boarding school of that time period was like. I read that the chateau that was used in the film was chosen to represent both the nightmare and fairy-tale aspects of a real boarding school. Tell us about the castle you used?
Christophe Barratier: I chose this particular castle, the Chateau de Ravel, because it looked like a fortress. Since the movie has been released there are many visitors to it every day. The choir, the Little Singers of Saint Mark, performs every Sunday at Mass in Lyon and attendance has increased 300% since the film has been released.
Note: Les Choristes has been nominated for Best Original Song and Best Foreign Language Film at this year's Academy Awards.
Calendar of Events
American Film Institute Silver Theater
During February the AFI concludes its series of films by Pedro Almodovar, begins a series of films from Nigeria and continues "For Your Consideration," a series of Oscar-contender films. A two-week run of The Leopard (Luchino Visconti, 1963) begins on February 11. Check out the website for others.
American Film Institute at the Kennedy Center
The Kennedy Center continues its series of "The Arts and the 1940s" with films from the 1940s. On February 6 at 1:00pm is The Maltese Falcon, on February 6 at 3:30pm is The Philadelphia Story and on February 6 at 7:30pm and Citizen Kane.
Freer Gallery of Art
The Freer concludes its series of films from Iran with The Unfinished Story (Hassan Yektapanah, 2004) on February 4 at 7:00pm and February 6 at 2:00pm. A three-part series of films by Sam Fuller set in Asia are The Crimson Kimono (1959) on February 18 at 7:00pm, The Steel Helmet (1951) on February 25 at 7:00pm and Fixed Bayonets (1951) on February 27 at 2:00pm. A special preview of Born Into Brothels (Zana Briski and Ross Kauffman, 2004) is on February 16 at 7:00pm with invited guests Ross Kauffman, the film's co-director and Lina Srivastava present to discuss this award-winning documentary.
National Gallery of Art
Four films restored by the Comune di Bologna, an archive and preservation center are Fraulein Else (Paul Czinner, 1928) on February 6 at 4:00pm; Kif Tebbi (Mario Camerini, 1928) on February 12 at 2:30pm; Vulcano (William Dieterle, 1950) on February 13 at 4:00pm and Come Back Africa (Lionel Rogosin, 1959) on February 20 at 4:00pm.
On February 26 at 2:00pm and February 27 at 4:00pm, Peter Kubelka will appear in person to discuss and show his films. The Washington premiere of Henri Langlois: Phantom of the Cinematheque (Jacques Richard, 2004), a documentary about the founder of La Cinematheque Francaise will be shown on February 19 at 1:00pm.
Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden
On February 24 at 8:00pm is Henny Honigmann's latest documentary Dame la Mano (2003), about a community of Afro-Cubans in suburban New Jersey.
National Museum of African Art
On February 5 at 2:00pm is The Language You Cry In (1998), a documentary tracing the history of an ancient West African song preserved by Gullah people of Georgia and South Carolina. On February 15 at 7:00pm is Bab el-Oued City (Merzak Allouache, 1994), an award-winning film from Algeria.
National Museum of the American Indian
On February 6 at noon and February 10 at noon is Qayaqs and Canoes: Native Ways of Knowing (Bob Jenkins and Jerry Lavine, 2001), a documentary demonstrating the making of eight traditional watercraft by Alaskan craftsmen. On February 8 at noon and February 12 at noon is Eyes of the Spirit (Alexie Isaac, 1984), another documentary from Alaska about the art of making dance masks.
National Museum of Women in the Arts
The Agnes Varda series of films continues in February with Sans toit ni loi (Vagabond, 1985) on February 10 at 7:00pm starring Sandrine Bonnaire wandering in the south of France and Jacquot de Nantes (1991) on February 18 at 7:00pm, Varda's tribute to her husband Jacques Démy, as she recreates his childhood in WWII Nantes.
Films on the Hill
Cary Grant is the star for the month with three films. On February 25 is The Pride and the Passion (Stanley Kramer, 1957) based on the novel by C.S. Forester and co-starring Frank Sinatra and Sophia Loren. On February 26 at 6:00pm is a double feature of little-known 1930s films: The Last Outpost (1935) finds Cary Grant in exotic locations with Claude Rains as a secret service agent and When You're In Love (Robert Riskin, 1937) co-stars opera singer Grace Moore in one of her few film performances, a romantic comedy written and directed by Frank Capra's screenwriter. Lon Chaney, the Man of a Thousand Faces, uses his own face in Tell It To the Marines (1927) on February 23 at 7:00pm, a silent film with Chaney in a "tough marine sergeant" role imitated later by dozens of others actors.
Washington Jewish Community Center
On February 15 at 7:30pm is Suzie Gold (Ric Cantor, 2002) is a British film starring Summer Phoenix in this romantic Jewish comedy.
A series of 1970s Blaxploitation films include Black Caesar (Larry Cohen, 1973) on February 1 at 7:00pm; Cool Breeze (Barry Pollack, 1972) on February 18 at 7:00pm and Trouble Man (Ivan Dixon, 1972) on February 24 at 7:00pm.
The Goethe Institute concludes its "Deeper Look" series with Now or Never (Lars Buchel, 2000) on February 7 at 6:30pm and East Side Story (Dana Ranga, 1996) on February 14 at 6:30pm. Beginning February 28 is a new series of films from Okomedia, Germany's Environmental Film Festival. The series begins February 28 at 6:30pm with a program of 3 short DVDs, The Tatra Mountains: A Mystery (Pavol Barabos, 2003), The Black Spawn (Edmunds Jansons, 2003), and Plitvice: Land of the Falling Lakes (Michael Schlamberger). More in March.
International Monetary Fund
On February 25 at 6:30pm is Kamchatka (Marcelo Piñeyro, 2003), seen in last year's FilmFest DC and set in 1970s Argentina. The filmmaker will be present to discuss the film after the screening.
The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
A series "Deadly Medicine" begins in February with Selling Murder: The Killing Films of the Third Reich (Joanna Mack, 1991) is a documentary about Nazi propaganda films on February 20 at 2:00pm; Liebe Perla (Shahar Rozen, 1999) a subject of Josef Mengele, is on February 27 at 2:00pm. The series continues in March.
The National Building Museum
On February 6 at 1:00pm is Antonio Gaudi (Hiroshi Teshigahara, 1984), a documentary about the Catalan architect. Guido Francescato, professor of architecture at the University of Maryland will introduce the film. On February 20 at 1:00pm is Millau Viaduct, a documentary about the design and construction of the Millau Viaduct in southern France, the highest bridge in the world.
On February 4 at noon and 7:00pm is The Fight a documentary about the match between Joe Louis and Max Schmeling. A series of films nominated for Academy Awards for Documentary Feature, Documentary Short Subject, Live Action Short Film and Animated Short Film will run from February 23-27. Films include The Story of the Weeping Camel on February 23 at 7:00pm; Twist of Faith on February 24 at 7:00pm; Tupac: Resurrection on February 25 at 7:00pm; Live action short nominees on February 26 at 3:30pm; Animated short film nominees on February 26 at noon; Super Size Me on February 26 at 7:00pm; Documentary short subjects on February 27 at noon; and Born Into Brothels on February 27 at 4:00pm. Reservations are required.
National Museum of Natural History
On February 25 at noon and February 26 at 2:00pm is Bury the Spear (2004), an anthropological examination of peace-making efforts to end the ethnic war in southern Ethiopia.