November 2006

Last updated on November 16, 2006. Please check back later for additions.


Coming Attractions: Winter 2006 Trailer Program
The Vanity of an Enigma from a Wellspring: An Interview with Director Darren Aronofsky JUST ADDED 11-4
Fur: Audience Q&A with Director Steven Shainberg just added
The 11th Annual Arabian Sights Film Festival
The 10th American Black Film Festival
Babel: Q&A With Director Alejandro González Ińárritu
The Toronto International Film Festival
Continuing Adventures in Toronto
American Hardcore: Q&A with Director Paul Rachman and Writer Steven Blush
The European Union Film Showcase
Sweet Land: Press Notes
We Need to Hear From You
Calendar of Events

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Coming Attractions: Winter 2006 Trailer Night

Come in from the cold weather and take a peek at this winter's upcoming movies by enjoying a twice annual program from the Washington, D.C. Film Society: Coming Attractions Trailer Night, Winter 2006. The program will take place on Monday, November 13, 2006 from 7:00-9:00pm at Landmark's E Street Cinema, 555 11th Street, N.W., Washington, D.C.

It's that time of the year again when Hollywood trots out its last, and perhaps, biggest, movie contenders for Oscar consideration. Never mind that last year's surprise Best Picture Winner Crash was a spring release! Long-time favorite co-hosts and local film critics Joe Barber and Bill Henry will wow you with the latest Hollywood news and buzz about what's in store and tell you who's hot and what's hot. Think you already know what sets you on fire? Think you're ready to make your top ten movie list? Think again. Attendees get to play amateur critic and be a part of a live-wire, no-holds-barred, opinion-fest as they preview the most anticipated winter season's releases.

You might see trailers for the next incarnation of James Bond (Daniel Craig) in Casino Royale, or trailers with Sylvester Stallone, still playing Rocky in Rocky Balboa, a more self-assured Leonardo DiCaprio in Blood Diamond, Denzel Washington in Déjŕ Vu, or Jude Law in The Holiday; Beyonce Knowles, Eddie Murphy, and Jamie Foxx in the Broadway musical screen adaptation of Dreamgirls; Zhang Yimou, Gong Li, and Chow Yun-Fat in a period piece, Curse of the Golden Flower; Keisha Castle-Hughes in The Nativity Story. Family fare includes Terrence Howard in Pride, Will Smith and Thandie Newton in The Pursuit of Happyness, and children's classic Charlotte's Web. Plus, there's an ensemble drama Bobby featuring Anthony Hopkins, William H. Macy, Elijah Wood, Helen Hunt, Laurence Fishburne, Heather Graham, Harry Belafonte, Freddy Rodriguez, Christian Slater, and Lindsay Lohan. Fantasy fans will enjoy Jeremy Irons in Eragon. High drama fans: Matt Damon and Angelina Jolie star in The Good Shepherd, and George Clooney and Cate Blanchett star in The Good German.

As always, there'll be lots of FREE film giveaways and movie posters PLUS chances for raffle prizes: movie and theatre tickets, and DVDs. Also, look for $5 pop and popcorn combos. This one-of-a-kind, semi-annual event is only $5.00 for members of the D.C. Film Society and is FREE to Gold members. Tickets will be available one hour beforehand at 6:00pm.

An Interview with Darren Aronofsky

The Vanity of an Enigma from a Wellspring

By Jim Shippey, DC Film Society Member

Darren Aronofsky arrives late after a Q&A session following the first day of screenings of his latest film, The Fountain. Sitting in the somewhat cacophonous environs of the lounge of Georgetown’s Four Seasons Hotel (be it one star or five, anywhere booze is served is far from being an ideal conversational place), we are offered beers and wasabi peas as introductions are made around the table. While the director is quick to address me as ‘sir’, I reminded him I only have a three year advantage on him in time on the Earth. Nonetheless, through numerous asides and interruptions, some semblance of an interview was had:

Question: What is your reaction to the audiences’ reaction to The Fountain when it was screened at Venice?

Darren Aronofsky: The Audience Screening? We had a standing ovation for ten minutes. The Press Screening is what I think you are talking about. Well, the Press Screenings are press screenings, so I wasn’t there. I don’t know what happened, but you should research what happened there. It was reported that it was booed, but I don’t think that happened. Just the other day I was in Barcelona at a press conference with the Spanish press, and a question came up about the Venice reaction. I finally thought I had the opportunity to say something, so I asked them if any of them were in the room [of the Venice Press screening] and one guy raised his hand. So I asked him, did the people in the press screening boo? He said no, they whistled [Note: in European culture, a whistling gesture is similar to a booing gesture in the US]. I asked ‘did any people applaud’ and he said ‘yes’. So I asked him what was louder, and he said ‘they were the same’. The film is divisive, and when they were clearing the theatre they had to pull these groups apart.

So then I asked if anyone was at the Cannes screening of Marie Antoinette and another guy raised his hand. I asked him if the same thing happened there, and he said ‘no, they booed the whole way through’. My point was kind of screwed, since I was trying to make the point that they were attacking filmmakers. I know that a reporter from Variety was in the room [in Venice] and wrote in her piece that the film was booed in the first sentence. She did not report anything about the applause. After that, AP picked up the piece, and now people like you are asking me the question. What I want to encourage you to do is to speak to a journalist who was actually in the Venice press screening. Now, when I am speaking like this people say I am defending the movie. I’m not: the film is divisive, like Requiem for a Dream when it first came out. It was viciously attacked. Variety, the day after Requiem premiered to a ten minute standing ovation, came out and said I should be in therapy, not making movies. The Washington Post review attacked me personally [Note: Stephen Hunter’s usual tongue in cheek review can
be found here]. He calls me out by name, saying ‘OK Darren’ and then he attacks me. I'm used to it.

Q: How do you view the role of sound in your work?
DA: I think it is such a major part that is so underused. Now with the new technology like surround sounds you can do amazing stuff, like creating movement with sound. It’s a real tool to take the audience deeper into the experience.

Q: Can you talk about the transformation of The Fountain from a graphic novel to a film?
DA: Well, the project originally fell apart in October of ’02. I was over in Australia for the past six months, and then I backpacked through China and India for a few months to clear my head. I returned home [to NYC] and started working on several projects. There was $18 million lined up for the film with a ton of obstacles. Anyway, I was having trouble sleeping, so I went to my office, and stared at the shelves of books I have read, or partly read, sitting across from me. I then realized that this story was in my blood. I started off as a no-budget filmmaker, so I was wondering what the no-budget version of The Fountain would look like. I started writing it, telling no one, and about two and a half weeks later it emerged! My producer called it a ‘love poem to death’. With that it sort of changed, and we started working on it again.

Q: Do you expect to get 47 questions about ‘what is the film about?’, that is to say, that people will draw wildly different conclusions from the film?
DA: I see The Fountain as a very much non-verbal experience, not one where you sit there and get it all explained to you. It’s meant to be like a poem for people to think about and to [take stock in how they] feel about it. It’s like a Rubik’s Cube in that there are a lot of paths to solving it, but ultimately there is only one solution at the end. We had a sense of it on the set. I feel that kids today, with DVD’s and downloading films, watch films over and over again. I am confident that The Fountain is rich with clues that all add up. So maybe the engine that drives people to watch Lost will also drive them to see The Fountain again.

Q: So there is a single solution to the film?
DA: Yes, there is a complete, concrete answer. It does make sense, but the first time you see it, there is a lot going on. There are people who get it on the first viewing, but that doesn’t make you retarded, just retarded as much as I am!

JJS: Now wait, I don’t think I buy that explanation here. You admit that there are a lot of different interpretations of the film, but yet you maintain there is only one solution?
DA: There are a lot of interpretations, and they are all wrong except for one. There are things in it that all add up to one solution. When people give me other interpretations, there is always something that contradicts those interpretations.

JJS: So everyone else’s interpretations are all at fault?
DA: No, there are some people who get the interpretation as the filmmakers intend, and they get it. Others will get some slightly off, but it still works, sort of. Again, they usually run into a contradiction, but I’m OK with that.

JJS: But isn’t that still valid? Do you as a filmmaker not accept deconstructionalism when you illuminate celluloid of your work onto a screen before independent individuals?
DA: Certainly, I think people can get a lot of their own beliefs and see their own way through the material. We have gotten that before. That’s fine. It was the same situation with Pi, when a lot of people wondered when [Maximillian Cohen, the character portrayed by Sean Gullette in the film] drills a hole in his head, whether that was a dream, or real, or another of his nightmares. As a filmmaker I had a specific intention as to what was going on, but I was comfortable with leaving it open to interpretation. For me, it all adds up to one thing, but if it adds up to something else for other, then it wins for everybody. I just can’t stand the perfect happy ending, because there is no resolution like that in reality; reality is a lot more ambiguous. Things that have an ambiguity to them have a complexity to them as well.

Q: The film is rated R for “some violence.”
DA: Yeah, I am actually fighting with the MPAA on this [Note: the MPAA has changed its rating of the film to PG-13]. A lot of kids are emailing me about the rating. Apparently, there are a lot of kids who are fans of Requiem and I don’t know how they are seeing that particular film.

Q: Are you working on anything new, and is it going to be another six years before it comes out?
DA: Well, we have written something really big and really small. I should be done in the next couple of months and then I should know what is next. As far as talking about them I don’t really like to until the project is ready to go. All of the stuff you’ve read on the Internet is just hype. It’s all nonsense, stop reading that crap! All bullshit! Except for and, they tell the truth, the rest is crap! Watchmen, I was on it two weeks. The Batman project was a writing project with Frank Miller. All the time I wanted to make The Fountain, and I figured that after doing a $4 million drug project, working on something more commercial like Batman would help give me license to make The Fountain. It was a way to work with Frank and get paid, all the while developing The Fountain. When the project fell apart the first time, I started to develop Flicker as well as Lone Wolf and Cub, but it turned out that the studio didn’t have the rights to it. You see, selling film rights to Lone Wolf and Cub to a foreign company is a lot like Disney selling rights to Cinderella to a Japanese company: it’s like a Holy Grail to the Japanese; it’s not culturally easy.

Q: So is Flicker going to be made next?
DA: Flicker is a good script, but just not good right now to do. It is similar to The Da Vinci Code, so it needs to be rethought a little bit.

Q: Thinking back to your first effort with this story in 2002, what are the biggest differences between the project then and the film now?
DA: Originally we had this huge battle scene in the beginning, which, if you read the graphic novel, it was in there. Remember that when I wrote that, Gladiator had just come out, before King Arthur, Troy, and Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy. I was interested in using new technology to show a great big battle scene, but then Jackson goes ahead and does it in Rings, and I knew my vision was going to be on a smaller scale. I realized it was more about one man overcoming obstacles. There were a few other scenes envisioned more expensively, so I honed it down. There was one scene with a spaceship battle that I was disappointed that we didn’t do, because it was going to be impressive what that ship could do! Still, that is also in the graphic novel, so you can see it there.

Q: I was wondering if there is going to be a Fountain Christmas ornament?
DA: You know what? They are being made! Snow globes, too!

Q: I got a sense of a patterning of this after 2001: A Space Odyssey and with not using CGI, was this you keeping close to your independent roots, and is this were you want to keep going?
DA: I don’t know, we’ll see. We have two ideas; one is big and commercial, but original. It does seem the stuff I work on always seem to fall outside the mainstream. We always make something different because we always try to do something new. The small film is sort of rough and tumble. So we’ll see. I want to keep challenging myself. Sure I wish I could sign up to do Rush Hour 3 and get paid and buy myself a house, but I just don’t seem to be able to do it.

Q: How did you do those on camera flower effects?
DA: There is an article on this coming up in the new issue of Cinefex. There is a weird guy who lives in Oxford who has this huge animation camera called an Oxbury. It’s basically a big grid with a camera attached, and he shoots through microscopes with big lights. He then adds chemicals and shoots. Some of the shots in the film was of yeast blooming.

Q: You say no CGI in the film, but how did you shoot the scene of the character getting all of his clothes blown off?
DA: That was a combination of destroying a model of him, painting frames, and with the tree coming to life, that was non computer aided animation. We worked hard and tried to do things a little bit differently.

Q: Given your strong visual style in your films, how do you work with your cinematographer?
DA: Well, our Production Designer also plays role there. We talk it out some eight months before we start shooting. We work it all out before we commit anything to film, the look of the shots.

JJS: This was your first film you have shot outside of New York. How was the transition for you?
DA: We shot The Fountain in Montreal. The Quebecois are great people, very artistic, and I had a very good time. Still, shooting in New York, because I am from there, is like shooting in your own back yard. It’s easier and more fun.

Q: How was working with these established actors, and what kind of director do you see yourself as?
DA: I don’t scream on my films. I screamed twice on Requiem for safety reasons. No, I didn’t have to scream on The Fountain. I got pissed off a couple of times, but I am a collaborator on my films, so we work these things out. With Hugh and Rachel, you know, actors are dying to act. So if you give them meaty roles, they love it. The most important thing between an actor and a director is trust. If you have that trust, you can tell them that they aren’t going to embarrass themselves and it works.

Q: How much did you work on the poster and other marketing materials?
DA: How did you like it? The tag line? Personally I hate tag lines; I don’t think we had one for Requiem. What could we have done, something like ‘how fucked up can you get?’ ‘Prepare to get your arm chopped off’? I worked a lot with the Internet trailer; we cut it a few times, and even though we showed a lot of beautiful shots, we didn’t give away the whole film.

Q: How was adapting a novel over writing from scratch?
DA: Adapting is a lot easier, especially if the novel is well written. I was working with Hubert Selby on Requiem who was hired originally to write the screenplay of the story. That project fell though, so he turned it into his novel. It was very easy to adapt. I did it over three or four months to adapt. I prefer this, actually.

JJS: Do you see yourself making more films with religion as a component?
DA: Do you think this is a religious film?
JJS: I think you make heavy use of religious iconography throughout, and thus, some will see religion as part of your film.
DA: Absolutely! [Laughs].

Fur: Audience Q&A with Director Steven Shainberg

By Annette Graham, DC Film Society Member

Fur opens in the DC area November 10. At a preview screening on November 2 in Georgetown, director Steven Shainberg answered audience questions. DC Film Society Director Michael Kyrioglou moderated.

Question: What was your inspiration for the film?
Steven Shainberg: My uncle [Lawrence Shainberg] was a close friend of Diane Arbus and no one was interested in her work at the time. But he bought prints to help her out and they ended up on walls in my bedroom. They became my personal Dr. Seuss and I would wonder about them. And this was the beginning of my interest in photography. I read Patricia Bosworth's biography Diane Arbus: A Biography published in 1984. Diane was like a mythical person who was part of my life, but someone who was always more invisible. I could never get the rights--the rights had various owners until Bonnie Timmerman and Edward Pressman acquired them in 1997. But I thought about it. After Secretary they called me and asked out of blue, "Do you know who Diane Arbus is?" I had waited to do it for a long time and it just dropped into my lap. A fantastic happenstance. She is a daunting photographer and her photos are scary for some people. Her daughters are very protective of their mother. Some people Bosworth talked to are now dead. There is a lot of information in Bosworth's book.

Q: How was the script written?
SS: We made it up. It is an invention. It comes from her life, responding to pictures, imagining her experiences when she went out to find people. The movie is a response to her inner life.

Q: Where did Lionel come from?
SS: The essential idea was that it would be related to a single person and a single picture. I talked to [photographer] Lisette Model and Marvin Israel, her lover and svengali--and I talked to my uncle. I thought Lisette and Marvin would be part of the Arbus film--those two people plus a "freak" got rolled into character of Lionel. He's a freak. It's inappropriate that she is said to be a photographer of freaks. She photographed all kinds of people. Marvin, Lisette and the freak were part of it. She made the transformation at age 35. As a girl she must have wondered what happened when her furrier father killed animals. She slept with fur blanket, furs were all over house. Somehow that fur world she grew up in became Lionel.

Q: Can you comment on the scene where she leaves her daughters?
SS: I shot it both ways, saying goodbye to the daughters and without saying goodbye. She struggled with how to work and take care of the kids. "I'll see you soon." I took out that line and put it back. She didn't walk out on them. She did go through tremendous difficulties raising the children. I was aware of conversations in my kitchen. My uncle and family helped. The movie almost didn't get made because of that scene where she leaves her children. The story has always been compared to Sylvia Plath, as Susan Sontag emphasized in her writing. But it's also a story of adventure and compassion with people who were ignored. A reason why her life is inspiring.

Q: Why did you have to option the Bosworth biography if your film is not really related to the book?
SS: Ed and Bonnie owned the rights to the biography. Sometimes I tried to work things from the book into the movie to some extent. Other films would have been based on the book.

Q: What about Diane's suicide?
SS: Patti Smith saw it, called me up said, "You even got her suicide in the movie." Lionel teaches her lots of things, developing her methodology. She will have to know who she photographs and put herself at full risk. He shows her a suicide and 13 years later she did commit suicide. He takes her out and shows her death.

Q: How easy is it to take a character you knew and then create a fictional character?
SS: It's a dangerous approach to a person's life. I'm not able to make a straight bio-pic which shows you what you already know. I'm interested in exploring her meaning for me. I made it with conviction, with my heart and mind. That's my task. The literal truth of a person's life doesn't give you a better sense of that person's life. So that was off the table. To answer your question: People have to come to the film and open themselves to a different kind of film.

Q: It's theatrical. No one would comment if it was on stage. You wouldn't think twice about it being theatrical.
SS: Film is the most literal medium imaginable. It's exciting to make a film treating something as a metaphor.

Q: What inspired the beach scene where she comes back?
SS: It was written that she swam out with Lionel and then he went off. But I needed a huge barge to block the waves and I couldn't get the money. I fought for it but also drew alternatives to keep her on the beach. But I could give in on the barge and instead didn't have her go underwater. It was freezing cold, the water was 50 degrees, the waves would make Nicole's wig fall off, and the light was bad. The conditions were too difficult so I put the swimming pool outside a stage in Brooklyn and filled it with water and seaweed.

Q: There seems to be something of James Spader in Robert Downey's part. Was Downey your first choice for the part?
SS: Downey was my first choice for Secretary but he was in jail then. For this part, where the character is covered with hair, the most important thing is his eyes--so much sensitivity, beauty and also he moves like a dancer. I needed someone elegant and graceful; I couldn't use someone lumbering and beefy. You let it come through his eyes. His life is in his eyes. You feel it and understand who the character is. I try to create the most interesting and moving thing. I go to the movies to be moved, to see things that matter, not to see explosions or to be entertained. Diane was an important image in my life.

Q: What is your next project?
SS: I watched it [Fur] recently. It's poetic but it feels demure, kind and quiet. Now I want to make a film much rougher and more aggressive.

Contemporary Arab Cinema -- Continues in November

The 11th Annual Arabian Sights Film Festival

The finest in Contemporary Arab Cinema will once again captivate District audiences as part of the Arabian Sights Film Festival to take place Friday, October 27-Sunday, November 5, 2006.

Presented by the Washington, DC International Film Festival, Arabian Sights will offer film enthusiasts a rare opportunity to see twelve new thought-provoking features and documentaries from throughout the Arab world, including Egypt, Lebanon, Palestine, Tunisia as well as the first feature film to come out of Yemen. An Audience Award for most popular film will be presented.

The films will reflect the innovative perspectives of the Arab, Arab-American, and international film directors in the sometimes-controversial issues facing women, religion and politics.

Several directors will be in attendance to answer questions and offer further insight into their films. Arabian Sights is pleased to welcome Salma Baccar, director of Khochkhach, Mohamed Al-Daradji, director of Ahlaam and Bassam Haddad, director of Arabs and Terrorism.

“In an effort to heighten added interest and awareness of Arab film, Arabian Sights was arranged to showcase and emphasize the diversity, creativity and artistic expression which is evident in all these exceptional films,” explained Shirin Ghareeb, festival director.

Major sponsors for the Arabian Sights Film Festival include The DC Commission on the Arts & Humanities; Center for the Global South, American University; The Mosaic Foundation; Center for Contemporary Arab Studies, Georgetown University; The Jerusalem Fund; American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee; The Georgetown Design Group, Inc.

Tickets for each screening are $9 and a Festival Pass of 12 tickets is available for $99. DC Film Society members will receive a discount; watch your e-mail for details. All screenings will take place at the AMC Loews Wisconsin Avenue, located at 4000 Wisconsin Ave, NW. For more information and a schedule of films
visit the website or call 202-724-5613.

The American Black Film Festival:
Ten Years Later, In the Groove and on the Move

By Cheryl L. Dixon, DC Film Society Member

The American Black Film Festival’s (ABFF’s) mission is: “to create the most prestigious platform for Pan-African films from around the world. To nurture a physical environment where the Black film community annually gathers to form working relationships that will lead to: resource sharing, project collaboration, artistic guidance and development, and the growth of global distribution of quality Black films that transcend minority margins.”

ABFF is succeeding in its mission.

On its 10th anniversary, ABFF, has clearly evolved from its founders’ discussions about film industry-related topics, important film-related issues, and the development of ways to celebrate the achievements of established filmmakers and film stars of African descent, as well as acknowledge rising stars, and encourage, teach, and inspire, a whole new generation of aspiring filmmakers and film stars.

The past, present, and future, all covered.

In a conversation with one founder, Robert Townsend, two years ago, we discussed his role at ABFF as nurturing and encouraging new talent, or as “planting seeds.” He observed that ABFF provides a fertile ground upon which the emerging filmmaker or star and the seasoned one alike can meet and greet, one group teaching and inspiring the next, and each other, all the while reaching out to a new generation of talent. As examples, he pointed out: veteran actor and director Bill Duke’s commitment to teaching the Actor’s Boot Camp program for all the years of the Festival’s existence. (A special shout out to Mr. Duke, for his now 10th year of teaching the acting workshops.) He also noted that at ABFF’s then annual Gala Film Awards, both established and upcoming filmmakers are acknowledged and applauded on the same stage. (Today TNT broadcasts the Black Movie Awards, a celebration of Black Cinema, past, present, and future, in October. This Awards show brings what was essentially the Gala Film Awards to a much larger audience. The show is executive-produced by ABFF’s Jeff Friday and de Passe Entertainment’s Suzanne de Passe.)

While the challenges of film distribution, in general, remain an area for much-needed improvement, there is progress, and it will continue. In the meantime, on its 10th anniversary Festival Co-Creator and Director Jeff Friday and Festival Producer Reggie Scott can rightfully take pride in the Festival's accomplishments to date.

At today’s ABFF, there’s a lot of moving and shaking going on, and the networking and mentoring are on solid ground. For more detailed information about the Festival’s programs, events, history, and structure, please refer to
the ABFF website.

ABFF asserts, “Ten years deep, 400 films later, ABFF is the place where careers grow, where we leverage ourselves and our voices to ultimately empower our community... so film fans and filmmakers can live happily ever after.” ABFF with its own world-class style is in the groove and on the move!

What’s New, Exciting, and Different? Selected Highlights:
Over 2,500 attendees gathered at ABFF in South Beach, Florida again this year between July 19 and July 23rd to hear and discuss the latest issues in Hollywood and Black cinema. The 10th anniversary lineup included over 40 films, American Features, International Features, Short Films, Documentaries, and Special Screenings. There were also film and technology panels, symposia (Nickelodeon Writers Symposium, What’s New in 16mm Filmmaking?, The Business of Hollywood and the Power of Ratings, and “The Third Screen”--Emerging Opportunities in Digital Filmmaking and Distribution), and workshops (Filmmaker Workshop 101, Actors Boot Camp, and HBO Writers Lab) all featuring industry executives. The 2006 Jury members included CEO Magic Johnson, actresses S. Epatha Merkerson, and Elise Neal, and actor Anthony Mackie. Plus, if there weren’t enough film and technology panels, symposia, or workshops, in your spare time you could network at events like the ABFF Soapbox, the Filmmaker Resources Center, or the Industry and Consumer Expo, or at the daily celebrity-filled, extra-fabulous parties in the luxurious hotels and nightclubs South Beach is famous for. The rainy weather didn’t permit much sunbathing, but everyone got to enjoy the programs.

AXE Bodyspray and Automaker Lincoln inaugurated a screenplay and digital commercial contest. AXE Black Filmmaker series solicited original screenplays focusing on the experiences of young African-American males while Lincoln hosted a “Define Lincoln Luxury” contest for the best 30-60 second digital commercial.

HBO’s Tribute to Russell Simmons’ “Def Comedy Jam.” A special panel recognizing the 15th anniversary, and the creators (the most enterprising and innovative Russell Simmons and Stan Lathan) and participants of “Def Comedy Jam,” a launching pad for comedy stars including Chris Tucker, Jamie Foxx, Dave Chappelle, and Cedric the Entertainer.

The line was wrapped around the lobby for entrance into the panel discussion on “Empowering Black Women to Succeed in Hollywood.” Men, as well, as women, gathered in droves to hear the pearls of wisdom from entertainment pioneers such as phenomenal Oscar nominees, actress Cicely Tyson and writer/producer Suzanne de Passe. They were joined by other stellar panelists, including actress Loretta Devine, and actress Kimberly Elise, and writer/producer Mara Brock Akil (creator of “Girlfriends”) who spanned the younger generation set. Access Hollywood’s Shaun Robinson served as moderator.

Comments Summary: Make a good film and make sure that you have the resources to get it out to an audience. In Hollywood, no women are in charge of big things. You have to speak up to be heard and brace yourself if you are interested in filmmaking, the entertainment industry is difficult and you need something more than a desire for fame and fortune to drive you. You need perseverance as you will be told “no” many times, but you must stay positive: “Limited thinking limits you”. But the work is very rewarding and can resemble a “lifelong love affair” with the creative process. There are role models and active mentors. Akil credited Ms. Tyson and Ms. De Passe for paving the way. Ms DePasse observed that labels belong on clothes and not on people, if you turn something green enough, no one cares if you are excellent, the work and ideas become the focus. There are great ideas and bad scripts. Must have courage and convictions. Believe in yourself, harness your resources to develop confidence, be dedicated, work on yourself everyday. If you aspire to be an actor, learn the techniques of the profession. Give them no reason to say “no.” “Don’t believe it, know it.”

A Conversation with... Cuba Gooding, Jr. Entertainment Weekly’s Neil Drummond interviewed Cuba Gooding, Jr. mostly focusing on his life since “Boyz ‘n the Hood” (1991) and his Best Supporting Actor Oscar-winning performance in “Jerry Maguire” (1996). Gooding confessed to a very dynamic ride of ups and downs and continuous learning since his Oscar win. He also mentioned parts of his early life growing up with a father in show business (his father was the lead singer in the group, “The Main Ingredient” and had also produced acts involving the Jackson Five and Al Jarreau) and his 80s stint as a breakdancer. He says that he wants do important roles that make statements and he likes roles that are “race neutral.”

And the Winner is... 2006 Awards
Grand Jury Prize for Best Picture: Director Anthony Lover, My Brother.
Audience Award for Best U.S. Feature: Writer/Director Maurice Jamal, Dirty Laundry.
Audience Award for Best Performance by an Actor: Loretta Devine, in Dirty Laundry.
Best Documentary Award: If I Die Tonight, Director Seyi.
HBO Short Film Award: Pop Foul, Writer/Director/Executive Producer Moon Molson.
Founder’s Award for Outstanding Achievement in Independent Cinema, Christopher Scott, My Brother.
Winner of the “Define Lincoln Luxury” Commercial Contest: Writer/Director Javier Prato.
Winner of the AXE Black Filmmaker Series: Three Finalists, with winner to be announced on November 18 in L.A. Stephanie Louis, Holy Fit; Richard Montgmery, Only in Your Dreams; Selton Shaw, The Let Out Guys.

So, Who Was There?
Mara Brock Akil, Thomas Carter, Debra Martin Chase, Lee Daniels, Suzanne de Passe, Loretta Devine, Bill Duke, Kimberly Elise, Vivica A. Fox, Nelson George, Cuba Gooding, Jr., Magic Johnson, Eriq LaSalle, Amel Larrieux, Stan Lathan, Anthony Mackie, S. Epatha Merkerson, Elise Neal, Shaun Robinson, Russell Simmons, John Singleton, Chris Spencer, Guy Torry, Robert Townsend, Tamara Tunie, and Cicely Tyson, to name a few.

ABFF Favorites:
Short and Long: A Selection of Favorites

By Cheryl L. Dixon, DC Film Society Member

The Short...
TV and screen actress Tamara Tunie (Law and Order: SVU and As the World Turns) again hosted the 2006 HBO Short Film Award program. This is one of my favorite events as it often showcases the first works of outstanding, emerging filmmakers. Frank E. Flowers, for example, winner of the 2003 Short Film competition for “Swallow,” has recently written and directed a featuring film, Haven, starring Orlando Bloom, Bill Paxton, Zoe Saldana, and Bobby Cannavale.

Five filmmakers’ works, chosen by a panel of industry experts, compete for a $20,000 grand prize. Runner-ups each receive $5,000. This competition recognizes and rewards filmmakers of African descent who have either written or directed and produced a short fictional film (30 minutes duration or less).

The following were the five competition finalists:

Pop Foul. (Written, directed and produced by Moon Molson). A young boy witnesses an incident involving his father and cannot quite see his parents in the same way again.

Mandingo in a Box. (Written and directed by Daheli Hall). Comedy and satire mark this entry about the Black woman’s search for a Black man as a partner.

Sin Salida. (Written, directed, and produced by A. Sayeeda Clarke). An old woman looks back on early choices made with regret.

Trespass. (Written and executive produced by Nelsen Narie Ellis and Directed by Xandy Smith). A young man comes to terms with his disturbed brother and the truth about his father.

Winnie and the Duppy Bat. (Written and directed by Annetta Laufer). A young girl braves cultural superstitions while attempting to save her dying mother.

And the winner is...
Pop Foul. Writer/Director/Executive Producer Moon Molson has worked in film production, post production, and set building. A writer of spec sitcom pilots and a theater director, he attended the Cinematography Program at the Los Angeles Film School. He also served as a Screenwriting and Digital Editing Instructor at the School of Cinema and Performing Arts in L.A. and the Berkshires.

... and The Long
I had the unique pleasure of seeing ABFF’s Opening Night Film, Shadowboxer, at the Festival on the same day and at approximately the same time as the DC Film Society’s screening. The plus? I had the opportunity to congratulate Oscar-winner Cuba Gooding, Jr. in person for his outstanding performance in Shadowboxer where he plays “Mikey,” a hit man working alongside fellow assassin and much older lover, “Rose,” portrayed by the magnificent British actress Helen Mirren.

In his interview with Entertainment Weekly’s Neil Drummond, Gooding said that he enjoyed the stretch in playing a hit man in this movie. It pushes the bounds with its elements of interracial romance with an age disparity and suggestions of incest. It also includes hints of homosexuality and transvestitism. He considers the family scenes with an interracial group bonding as a “family” in Shadowboxer, a reflection of the changing face of the American family. He chooses roles that offer him artistic growth and stories that move him. Some role choices he made were made for specific audiences. He doesn’t, for example, expect kids to see Shadowboxer. He found the story particularly powerful as he considered them Director Lee Daniels’ life experiences. He sees a future in doing independent movies, which will offer the character development he craves. “It’s never just about the money,” he asserts. He also sees himself producing films and otherwise working with his brother, actor Omar Gooding.

But I digress. It’s a real pleasure seeing Gooding tackling more serious fare. And the performances in Shadowboxer by Cuba Gooding, Jr., Helen Mirren, Vanessa Ferlito, and Macy Gray are all terrific. There’s violence, but it’s not gratuitous, and sexuality, and nudity. The movie is very fascinating to watch and involves nothing that a mature audience couldn’t handle.

The American Black Film Festival

Conversations with Thomas Carter and Chris Spencer

By Cheryl L. Dixon, DC Film Society Member

The ABFF presents multiple opportunities, both formal and informal, to get up close and personal with many of the participating stars of stage and screen as well as other behind-the-scenes film principals and film executives. I had the opportunity to interview director/actor/producer/writer Thomas Carter and actor/writer/producer Chris Spencer. Here are excerpts of those conversations, in which personal stories, background, and insights are shared, and knowledge about the challenges and the opportunities both on the road to, and in, Hollywood gained.

One of the truest delights about interviewing is that you never really know which direction you’ll veer towards. Some interviews are straight forward Q&A, cut and dried affairs and others are real adventures taking you down unexpected paths, discovering treasures at different turns. Conversations with Mr. Carter and Mr. Spencer could not have been more different, in tone, in style, but not less in substance and content. I came away with more knowledge and much deeper appreciation of these great talents.

Thomas Carter: Channeling Coach Carter
Thomas Carter, well-known director of the popular movies, Coach Carter, Save the Last Dance and and Swing Kids, also has a long and distinguished career directing TV shows: 80s hits like The White Shadow, Fame, Remington Steele, St. Elsewhere, Hill Street Blues, and Amazing Stories, were just a few of his projects. I was delighted to discover that he also directed the original pilot of the pioneering and influential “Miami Vice” TV show. I got to tell him that the upcoming movie based on the show was less Versace, and more Hugo Boss and that it would be premiering the following week in Miami. He had not kept up with hoopla over the re-envisioned version.

I found Mr. Carter immensely thoughtful about his TV and film career, both of which, as previously mentioned, have given him the opportunity to explore different roles as director/actor/producer/writer. He shared lots of insights about his career. From his comments about “Miami Vice” and working on the original pilot, I got the sense that he somewhat predicted that the show would be as popular as it was. He described Miami of that time as an interactive city that reinvents itself and that the series was set in a particular time so it would be hard to duplicate that particular magic, that “alchemy” amongst the various levels of fashion, music, and cinema. He further described the advent of MTV and that “Miami Vice” was the first TV show to incorporate the heavy use of music as an integral part of the show.

Who are his influences? He cited Sidney Poitier as a big influence as an actor, also director Steven Spielberg, and Japanese director Kurosawa in his use of images to tell a story. Film Society fans who have seen the Kurosawa classic, Rashomon, stand up and cheer! Movies that influenced him include cinematographer Gordon Willis’ work on The Godfather, Annie Hall, Manhattan, and All the President’s Men.

When asking him what specific aspect of filmmaking or role in the film industry he preferred, he mentioned that the producing role was one “induced by necessity.” As for directing, he cited the need to maintain a “clear vision” of how he wants a film to look and the need for a partner in creating that particular vision. He eloquently described shooting things in tableaux, in a frame beautiful as a still-life picture, but life-like, the form fleshed out in light and shadow like an artist who does contour drawing.

He also then described the influence of British directors and their art school commercial style to filmmaking--long shots, smoke in the room, a very stylistic approach.

What’s next? I inquired. describes projects in the works like Freedom House, describing the emergency medical system and the paramedics’ world where unemployed African-American men in Pittsburgh, including ex-vets, are trained to become paramedics. He described his most challenging projects as simply “the next one.” Clearly he is excited about a future project on Jackie Robinson, in which Robert Redford will star as Branch Rickey. Currently working on the script, Mr. Carter asserts that this will be a great piece of history and an important part of history. Those of us who have seen the 1950s autobiographical movie on Jackie Robinson in which Robinson portrayed himself, he says, are aware that Robinson excelled as both a baseball player and as a man. Too often, however, we don’t know much about such stories of personal greatness that are compelling, entertaining, and shed light on that history.

Evidently, Carter likes movies that touch the heart. Other favorites? The Godfather, Lawrence of Arabia, Schindler’s List, Out of Africa, Boyz ‘n the Hood, and Tsotsi. He likes the way these movies are made and the talent featured.

He’s open to talking with young filmmakers and recommends McKee’s “Story,” for aspiring writers. Carter is definitely one to watch. Like “Coach Carter” I can see him as a mentor. If he doesn’t already teach somewhere, he should! As he spoke about visuals while directing, I could actually “see” them in my mind’s eye. The eloquent and fluid way that he conveys artistic vision through his speech was truly inspiring.

Chris Spencer: Will He Ever Get Serious?
I moved from the more serious Thomas Carter to the quite “unserious,” though seriously funny, Chris Spencer, who played the character Curtis on “The Jamie Foxx Show.” I had been forewarned that it would be hard for me to keep a straight face during this interview. Believe me, Mr. Spencer did not disappoint. In fact, he exceeded my expectations. Spencer has definitely earned a niche in the L.A. sitcom world.

While Spencer has extensive comedic acting experience, he also writes and produces. Along with “The Jamie Foxx Show,” TV acting credits include Charmed, ER, The District, and Soul Food. Feature film roles are found in Low Down Dirty Shame (1994), and Don’t Be a Menace to South Central (1996). He was a producer for “Get Up Stand Up Comedy” (2001). I asked him about his family life, probing to determine what prompted him to become a comedic actor. He assured me that he had had a perfectly normal upbringing. He didn’t have an unhappy childhood. No traumas that influenced his life direction. He grew up in L.A. to two well-adjusted parents who wanted him to attend college and do something respectable with his life, i.e. “get a job.” He joked that with a college education and a “regular job” he probably would be making a lot less money than he is now. He’s married and he has an infant son. Perfectly normal, except he’s got jokes, exceptionally good ones ... so much for playing amateur Freud.

More importantly, Spencer conveyed the sense that he’s happy and satisfied with the work that he’s doing and the options that his talents present. Like Carter, he has expanded his skills to include writing and producing in addition to acting where he started. He told me he had written the script for the Black Movie Awards and he has written for TV as well. At ABFF this year, he was serving as host of the ABFF Independent Film Awards ceremony.

Why show business? Well, he’s an L.A. native and a “natural” when it comes to comedic writing and acting. In fact, during the interview he didn’t hesitate to try to take control of the interview by asking me questions instead! I weakly protested that it was my job to put him on the hot seat, but I was too busy containing my laughter. I couldn’t help but be impressed by his demonstrated talent, timing, delivery, and witty repartee.

What’s next? Watch for him in Redrum, (echoes of Stephen King’s The Shining) a comedy set for a 2007 release. I am looking forward to seeing him do some future writing projects, maybe scripting some feature-length comedies, or surprising us with a sampling of his more serious acting or writing ability. He deserves a bigger showcase for his talents. Definitely impressive.

Babel: Q&A with Director Alejandro González Ińárritu

By Annette Graham, DC Film Society Member

This Q&A took place October 5 at Landmark's E Street Theater. Director Alejandro González Ińárritu answered audience members' questions; DC Film Society's director Michael Kyrioglou moderated.

Michael Kyrioglou: Is there a story that inspired this movie?
Alejandro González Ińárritu: I came to the US in 2001, four days before 9/11. It was a difficult time to come. My first concept was to create five stories on five continents; the idea was that we are all connected while we are separated.

MK: Border control issues between Mexico and the U.S. have been in the news lately.
AGI: There is a moral need to talk about this issue which every day is growing in a bad direction with no one able to make a rational solution. I wanted to express that Amelia's story, about how the Mexican woman has to take care of the kids. She is like an invisible person for both sides. Every day people die crossing the border including kids, so I wanted to put the American kids in that position.

Q: Can you make a film targeted to Hispanics in the U.S. Do you think about that when you are making a film?
AGI: For me a film is an extension of myself. Film should not be used for political propaganda. I'm bored with politics but I like the politics of human relations. For me it is about parents and children--family stories, how the father and children express themselves. I dedicated the film to my kids. It's a risky film--in four languages, only a few stars. I'm not criticizing any country; I tried to make it with compassion. I don't have anything against entertainment and hope everyone was entertained tonight. I like characters, action, things moving. But at the same time it should reveal something about the human condition. People can survive together, not either/or. I don't want Mexicans to see it just because I'm Mexican.

Q: Did the movie end up as you envisioned it?
AGI: It took me one year to shoot but the conception took 3 years. A film has a life of its own. You can make the blueprint but then you have to be flexible and willing to rewrite. There are limitations, weather problems, and you yourself change in the process. In the editing room you sculpt your stone and discover what is inside. It was different from when I started to when I finished. We all change.

Q: What is the story of the rifle in the film?
AGI: When you have a gun it creates tension. A bullet can have an echo; the sounds hits the U.S., Mexico and Japan as the small and innocent act of two kids impacts all around world.

Q: What is your reason for exploiting the genre of non-linear scenes and stories, of intercutting the stories?
AGI: Amores Perros was three stories intertwined; 21 Grams was one story from three different positions. Babel is different--it is chronologically linear. It's four stories and easy to understand. The characters are not connected physically. My story benefitted by this structure.

Q: The stories were a Moroccan family, U.S., Japan and back again. Why?
AGI: It was already a mess. We needed some symmetry. 21 Grams was an intellectual exercise and I demanded a lot from audience. Here, every scene doesn't have to do anything with the next; it's a fragmented experience through the magic of editing. The connnections are brain games. I already had divided it among four countries and didn't want to make it more complicated.

MK: Could you talk about the casting? You used a lot of non-professional actors. Was that your original intention?
AGI: This was an independent project financed by me so I didn't have to compromise, nor can I blame anyone. The casting of nonprofessionals was an accident. When I got to Morocco all the actors were too beautiful--they were from the cities and worked in TV. I was really desperate and close to cancelling the film. I went to a humble village in south Morocco and a man made an announcement from the mosque. People came and I chose them by their faces. It was a new experience for me. I found the two kids in a plaza playing football; the man who played their father is a carpenter. The guy who stitched up Cate was a real veterinarian. So then I did same thing in Mexico--I found people from little ranches in the south. Same in Japan--the people were real deaf people [although not Rinko Kikuchi]. I will do this again. It's a challenge to direct non-actors in a language you don't understand.

Q: How did you overcome cultural barriers such as the scene with the boy masturbating?
AGI: I gave his father a few Playboys!--Kidding!! That was not a problem; the boy knew what he was doing. More difficult was having the girl show her naked back. That was a big issue.

Q: What does the title convey?
AGI: I found this title close to shooting. My other ones were too long and/or too corny. One day while walking I thought about the Tower of Babel and the metaphor of towers falling down (World Trade Center). Babel is a name everyone understands--Jews, Catholics, Muslims. It means collapse and miscommuncation. It's easy, simple and universal and a good synthesis of what I wanted to say.

Q: Could you talk about the music?
AGI: I love music and believe it to be the most sublime art of all. I consider my films to be mostly music. I researched it with Gustavo Santaolalla, a musician from Argentina who was close to the project. It was difficult to choose the music; it can be a disaster. I didn't want "National Geographic"-type music--drums from Morocco, guitar from Mexico. The oud is a very old instrument. It's the mother of the Mexican guitar and flamenco and has the sound of the koto in Japan. It fit perfectly for the Japanese, Moroccan, and Mexican music without distracting and blends all from one scene to another--one connecting to another.

Q: Did you screen the movie for the non-actors in Mexico and Morocco?
AGI: The town in Morocco didn't have electricity but we helped them get it. I promised them and will return.

Babel opens in the DC area on November 3.

The 31st Annual Toronto International Film Festival

By Ron Gordner and James McCaskill, DC Film Society Members

The 31st Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) was held September 7-16, 2006. This year 353 films were shown (about 91% were North American, international, or World premieres) from 61 countries. The program was divided into sections such as Gala Presentations, Masters, Visions, Special Presentations, Vanguard, Canada First, Short Cuts Canada, Contemporary World Cinema, Discovery (first time directors' films), Mavericks, Real to Reel (documentaries), Wavelengths (new section devoted to experimental and avant-garde films), Dialogues: Talking with Pictures (current directors present their favorite retrospective films), and Midnight Madness (usually fringe, outrageous or horror films). A special presentation this year included 6 films funded to celebrate the 250th anniversary of Mozart’s birth called Mozart’s Visionary Cinema: New Crowned Hope which included these films: Paz Encina’s Paraguan Hammock (Paraguay/Argentina/Netherlands/France/Austria/ Germany); Bahman Ghobadi’s Half Moon (Iran/Iraq/Austria/ France); Garin Nugroho’s Opera Jawa (Indonesia/Austria); Tsai Min-liang’s I Don’t Want to Sleep Alone (Taiwan/France/Austria); Mahamat-Saleh Haroun’s Daratt (France/Belgium/Chad/Austria); and Sang Sattawat’s Syndromes and a Century (Thailand/France/Austria). Another film with a Mozart theme but not part of this series, was Kenneth Branagh’s The Magic Flute (United Kingdom/France) which received mixed reviews. There was also a Canadian retrospective of Peter Mettler’s films. Another new section was the Sprocket’s Family Zone of family friendly films.

TIFF is generally considered to be the second most important film festival after Cannes. Unlike Cannes however, the public screenings are a large part of the festival. Being held in September is also an excellent time for the major Hollywood studios to strut out their fall films, and for some independent film and foreign films to still capture distribution, and for any film to capture a buzz for Oscar time. According to trade papers, just before, during, or after TIFF this year approximately 40 films were picked up for U.S. distribution.

Local coverage during the festival this year included Sean Penn’s smoking and a murder-suicide in a hotel where many TIFF guests stayed. The Sutton Place Hotel was fined $600 by the Ontario Health Promotion Minister due to Sean Penn’s smoking at a press conference in the swanky hotel’s ballroom. Ongoing controversy in the papers questioned the ethics and legality of the hotel stopping Penn from smoking and whether Penn should pay the fine himself. A murder-suicide involving three Swiss guests at the Delta Chelsea Hotel was another shocker that had some festival goers anxious and puzzled.

Although we usually only see a few American films at TIFF, this year we saw quite a few as you can see from our recommendations. It was a very strong year for U.S. films from Hollywood and independent markets. The United Kingdom and Ireland also had strong showings with films like Venus, The Wind that Shakes the Barley (Cannes Gold winner), Amazing Grace, Catch a Fire, The Last King of Scotland, and Red Road. There seemed to be fewer films shown this year from Latin America, Scandinavia (except Denmark), former Soviet Republics like Kazakhstan, and from Northern African countries.

We found that a number of very strong films came from Germany, Australia, and Spain this year. We saw Four Minutes, Requiem, Summer ’04, Strike, and were told that The Lives of Others was also excellent from Germany. Volver, Pan’s Labyrinth, and DarkBlueAlmostBlack were highly regarded films from Spain. Australian films highly touted by us and others were: Jindabyne, Suburban Mayhem, The Silence, and Ten Canoes.

Except for Shortbus, the usual button pushing films on sexuality were not evident this year, nor many comedies. Borat I think will split its audience who will either find it to be very funny as a kind of SNL skit too far, or in the camp that find it eventually just to gross or offensive to watch. We thought the best comedy was Mon Meilleur Ami (My Best Friend) where a group of dinner guests questions the host if he really has a best friend and challenges him to find one. Christopher Guest’s For Your Consideration was a mild comedy/satire of the film industry.

The usual themes of romance, suburban malaise, and coming of age were there, but there were more documentaries, biopics, or docudramas this year. The other theme was science-fiction or fantasy films like Pan’s Labyrinth, Fido, and The Host.

Waiting in a long queue for a film at the Varsity 8, we also had a long chat with Rex Reed, film critic and columnist for the New York Observer. He has so far named Babel his favorite film of 2006, but told us how much he also liked The Lives of Others and Little Children.

Although it is not really a contested festival, TIFF does announce a few awards:

  • AGF People's Choice Award for the most popularly voted film of the festival by the audience was a small U.S. film Bella directed by Alejandro Monteverde about a former soccer player, now chef in a New York Mexican restaurant and his relationship with a troubled waitress. A very close second place went to Patrice Leconte’s Mon Meilleur Ami (My Best Friend), which was a wonderful human comedy starring Daniel Auteuil and Dany Boon. Third place for the audience vote went to the U.S. documentary film The Dixie Chicks: Shut Up and Sing directed by Barbara Kopple and Cecilia Peck.

  • The Diesel Discovery Award voted by festival journalists went to Joachim Trier’s film Reprise, a Norwegian tale of two men struggling to be writers.

  • The Toronto City Award for Best Canadian Feature Film went to Jennifer Baichwal’s compelling documentary Manufactured Landscapes, a portrait of Canadian photographer Edward Burtynsky. The other Canadian film award, the City TV Award went to Noël Mitrani for Sur La Trace d’Igor Rizzi, about the downward spiral of a former French soccer star who moves to Montreal. The Best Canadian Short Film was awarded Maxime Giroux for his short film Les Jours.

  • The Fipresci Award from the International Film Critics' Association went to Death of a President by U.K. director Gabriel Range, a mockumentary about the possible shooting of President Bush. This was one of the hardest tickets at the festival to obtain. Mixed reactions from many critics had some express that they felt they wasted time standing in line for it, and therefore missed out on other films. It is currently at the E St. Landmark Theater.

    Oscar Buzz
    Although a few high profile films like Flags of Our Fathers, The Queen, and The History Boys were not at TIFF this year, a number of films and performances were being given the Oscar push. For best film: Babel, Catch a Fire, and Little Children were getting some press. Some of the other best films like Amazing Grace, The Lives of Others, and The Wind that Shakes the Barley will not see American screens until Spring 2007. Outstanding performances seen or talked about were: Toby Jones in Infamous, Ed Harris in Copying Beethoven, Sean Penn in All the King’s Men, Peter O’Toole in Venus, Tim Robbins in Catch a Fire, Christian Bale in Rescue Dawn, and Brad Pitt in Babel; Julie Christie as a woman with dementia in Away from Her, Sigourney Weaver as an adult autistic in Snow Cake, Cate Blanchett and Rinko Kikuchi in Babel, Bonnie Henna in Catch a Fire, Emily Barclay in Suburban Mayhem, and Sandra Hü ller in Requiem.

    In our opinion, this was a good year for films at TIFF. The following are recommendations from films we saw this year, unless otherwise noted from other reliable sources. A few are marked with (EU) to denote that they will be at the EU Festival at AFI in November 2006.

    Must See: Susanne Bier’s After the Wedding (Denmark) (EU); Michael Apted’s Amazing Grace (United Kingdom), Alejandro Gonzalez Ińárritu’s Babel (U.S.A.), Emilio Estevez’s Bobby (U.S.A.), Rachid Bouchareb’s Days of Glory (France), Doug McGrath’s Infamous (U.S.A), Chris Klaus’ Four Minutes (Germany), Todd Field’s Little Children (U.S.A.), Florian Henkel von Donnersmarck’s The Lives of Others (Germany) (EU), Patrice Leconte’s My Best Friend (France), Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth (Spain), Andrea Arnold’s Red Road (United Kingdom/Denmark), Roger Michell’s Venus (United Kingdom), and Ken Loach’s The Wind that Shakes the Barley (U.K./Ireland/Italy/Spain/Germany).

    Very Good: Robert Guediguian’s Armenia: Le Voyage en Armenie (France), Peter Schenau Fog’s The Art of Crying (Denmark), Feng Xiaogang’s The Banquet (China), Barbara Kopple and Cecilia Peck’s documentary The Dixie Chicks: Shut Up and Sing (U.S.A), Bong Joon-ho’s The Host (South Korea), Margarethe von Trotta’s I am the Other Woman (Germany), Ray Lawrence’s Jindabyne (Australia), Jafar Panahi’s Offside (Iran), Garin Nugroho’s Opera Jawa (Indonesia/Austria), Joachim Lafosse’s Private Property (Belgium/France), Hans Christian Schmid’s Requiem (Germany) (EU), Marc Evans’ Snow Cake (Canada/U.K.), Volker Schlodorff’s Strike (Germany/Poland), and Pedro Almodovar’s Volver (Spain).

    Good: Jan Hrebejk’s Beauty in Trouble (Czech Republic), Anthony Minghella’s Breaking and Entering (United Kingdom), Eytan Fox’s The Bubble (Israel), Agnieska Holland’s Copying Beethoven (United Kingdom/Hungary), Julia Loktev’s Day Night Day Night (U.S.A), Jasmila Zbanic’s Grbavica (Bosnia and Herzegovina/Austria), Aki Kaurismäki’s Lights in the Dusk (Finland/Germany/France), Werner Herzog’s Rescue Dawn (U.S.A.), Cate Shortland’s The Silence (Australia), Jia Zhang-ke’s Still Life (China) and Golden Lion Winner from Venice Film Festival which was an added screening, Paul Goldman’s Suburban Mayhem (Australia), Stefan Krohmer’s Summer ‘04 (Germany), Lou Ye’s Summer Palace (China), Catalin Mitulescu’s The Way I Spent the End of the World (Romania/France), and Hong Sang-soo’s The Woman on the Beach (South Korea).

    Very Bad (Avoid These): Paz Encina’s Paraguan Hammock (Paraguay/Argentina/Netherlands/France/Austria/Germany), which is a true study in minimalism, if you like hearing a older couple sitting on a hammock in the distance being dubbed and their chief discussion throughout the whole film is about whether the son may come home and concern for a dog’s barking or then, not barking. Also bad was Jesper Ganslandt’s Falkenberg Farewell (Sweden) (EU) which looks like an amateur student’s first film, but remarkably is Sweden’s choice for best foreign language film this year.

    Since some of the recommended films have already opened in DC, we will discuss some that will open soon or hopefully will make it to our city.

    One of the best films viewed was Babel directed by Mexican director Alejandro Ińárritu making another U.S. film with an international cast. The ensemble acting of Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, Gael Garcia Bernal, Koji Yakusho, Rinko Kickuchi, and Adriana Barraza, along with non actors in many of the other roles is outstanding. He again interweaves three stories in the U.S/Mexico, Morocco, and Japan that show us current global concerns in politics and culture and how to we similarly cope on a small scale ourselves or in our family or relationships when our normal lives are crumbling away. The Tower of Babel analogy is to illustrate how our inability to listen and communicate effectively leads to many misconceptions. Stunning cinematography from Rodrigo Prieto and gripping musical scores from Gustavo Santaolalla make this an emotional rollercoaster ride.

    Susanne Bier’s Danish film After the Wedding deals with the situational ethics of keeping orphanages running in India with acceptance of big business contributions to help more orphans. You can catch it at the AFI European Union Festival in November. Another Danish film we liked was The Art of Crying which recounts the struggles of 11 year old Allan to keep together his very dysfunctional family headed by his austere, but shy milkman father. This is director Fog’s first feature film but is extremely mature and complex in showing sibling and parent-child relationships.

    British director Roger Michell has a new film Venus which gives veteran actor Peter O’Toole another shot for an Oscar nomination an as a semi-retired actor of some fame who interacts with his friend’s niece who has all the youth and energy he now lacks, but he still needs to flirt with young beauty. Some may find this Miramax released film to be pushing the moral envelope at times, but in the acting hands of O’Toole becomes more a bittersweet April-October tale. Amazing Grace is a riveting historical drama retelling how William Wilberforce (Ioan Gruffudd) of the British Parliament worked for years to get England out of the slave trade and to emancipate slaves. Albert Finney provides an Oscar supporting performance as a former slave trader trying to reform the system. The film will not be released until February 23, 2007 on the 200th anniversary of the British Parliament abolishing slavery in the British Empire. So Oscar noms will have to wait until next year. Agnieska Holland’s Copying Beethoven, a British/Hungarian co-production opens soon with Ed Harris playing the composer in a fictionalized tale with Diane Kruger as an apprentice composer/copyist. This may be coming out now to try to get Harris an Oscar nomination. The acting and cinematography is excellent, but some of the dialog and script seemed too modern for the time.

    The most beautiful looking film we saw was The Banquet which is a sort of Hamlet set in the tenth century of China starring Ziyi Zhang as Empress Wan dealing with her once lover, now stepson. Opulent court sets and choreographed sword and martial arts battles help to illustrate this tale of corrupting power and love. Also from China we saw Summer Palace from Lou Ye covering the loves and political problems of several students since the 1989 Cultural Revolution. We found the lead actress scripted as a very emotional, difficult character, but the epic struggle of the students quite involving. The film has been banned in China for its depiction of Tiananmen Square as counter-revolutionary. A surprise showing of the Venice Film Festival Gold Lion winner Still Life from Jia Zhang-ke was a modern tale of people returning to their flooded town to retrieve what they can before the town on the Yangsi River is totally flooded by a new dam. The cinematography is breathtaking and provides a haunting portrait or snapshot of the old and new rural China.

    Spain had several strong films also including Almodovar’s new film Volver which stars Penelope Cruz and a female ensemble that tackles a families hidden secrets in the funny and touching drama. Very little magic realism in this one. We thought the movie was very good, but we missed the old Almodovar touches and fantasies. Mexican director Guillermo del Toro’s new film from Spain, Pan’s Labyrinth however made up for those missing Almodovar magic realities to create a wonderful world mixing Alice in Wonderland, The Secret Garden, and similar tales with some horrow elements to create a mesmerizing tale of a little girl trying to survive her new stepfather (Sergio Lopez) and the Spanish Civil War through her creative outlets. This is a spectacular film that can take its place next to his earlier orphaned boy in the Spanish Civil War masterpiece, The Devil’s Backbone.

    From Israel was Etan Fox’s new film The Bubble, one of the few gay themed films other than Shortbus and a few other films at TIFF this year. Another well made film about the struggle of an Israeli man and a Palestian man trying to have a relationship against a terrorist backdrop. This is a film that is very balanced showing both sides struggles. Because of recent Israeli bombing in Lebanon, the director said most Israeli films are not getting distribution in Europe or being invited to a number of film festivals.

    Australia had a few outstanding films with Suburban Mayhem with a stellar performance from Emily Barclay as a rebelliously wild teen-age mother in the burbs, Jindabyne which recounts the murder of an aboriginal woman with strong acting from Laura Linney and Gabriel Byrne as a couple, and although not seen Ten Canoes directed by Rolf de Heer was lauded by many as a masterpiece dealing with Northern Territory aborigines and a thousand year old story within the modern one.

    Every film was saw from Germany was riveting or psychologically interesting. Heavily praised by everyone, The Lives of Others (which won most of Germany’s Oscar equivalent awards this year) an epic family drama of a writer and his family in Eastern Germany and with the fear of the Stasi secret police in 1984. Requiem had the German winning performance of Sandra Hüller (primarily a stage actress) as a young college student in a very religious family who must question if she is being demonized or has a psychiatric illness. This story is the basis of the American film The Exorcism of Emily Rose from last year. Both of these films will be at the AFI EU Festival in November 2006. We also liked the powerful Four Minutes starring veteran actress Monica Bleibtrau as a Prussian piano teacher trying to continue coaching her young female prodigy in who is in a prison charged with murder. The young actress Hannah Herzprung learned to play the piano for the film very convincingly. Summer ’04 was a psychological family drama at the beach when a handsome stranger enters the picture in the family with an unhappy housewife and her attractive teen age daughter.

    The other beach film Woman on the Beach from South Korea was an interesting Rohmeresque tale of singles at a beach resort and the lead male protagonist’s theory about finding women who look alike. If it wasn’t in Korean, you would think you were watching a typical French talky relationship film.

    Also who knew that Werner Herzog could make a linear story film like Rescue Dawn starring Christian Bale (in another weight loss role) and Steve Zahn as American Vietnam prisoners of war with beautiful cinematography and a script that will keep you on the edge of your seat.

    Also check our other column below Heard in Toronto for additional information on other films we saw at TIFF this year that included question and answer sessions with the film’s director, producer, cinematographer, or actors.

    A few of these films have opened commercially already. Others will be opening soon or within the next few months at your theatres, or come to the next DC Film Fest, be seen in DC museums, or sadly some may never be screened in DC.

    For more description of this year's Toronto International Film Festival and the films screened visit their
    wonderful interactive website.

    Heard in Toronto

    By James McCaskill and Ron Gordner, DC Film Society members

    Many directors hold Q&A sessions after screenings of their films at the Toronto International Film Festival. The following are comments from directors of The Host, Offside, Hana, Novella Chance, Le Voyage en Armenie, Suburban Mayhem, and Half Moon.

    The Host
    A Midnight Madness presentation of The Host was attended by the South Korean director Bong Joon-ho (Memories of Murder). U.S. military dumping of formaldehyde into the Han River ecosystems creates a fish-like monster that periodically comes on land and preys on the inhabitants and may be carrying a deadly infectious virus also. This is the premise of the wonderful sci-fi box-office breaking hit from South Korea.

    Bong Joon-ho said that about half his budget was spent on special effects coordinated and created by three famous special effects companies: Weta Workshop from New Zealand (the Lord of the Rings series), Australian John Cox’s Creature Workshop (Babe), the Orphanage from the U.S. which made Hellboy. Joon-ho said, “As a boy, I lived near the Han River and fantasized often about a monster living there like Nessie, the Loch Ness Monster.”

    When questioned about if the monster represented the United States, he said that some reporters and critics in Cannes had asked the same question. “I can not deny what some have implied, but do not oversimplify my film. It combines many subtexts and concepts about the everyday absurdities experienced by this marginalized, poor family. The U.S. lab manager ordering the vast amount of formaldehyde to be poured down the sink part of the film is based on a real incident that happened in Korea.”

    When asked if a sequel was planned because of how the film ended, Joon-ho said: “the ending shown was planned but not with any sequel I had in mind. Of course, I have a hidden desire that another director may want to make a sequel.”

    Iranian director Jafar Panahi attended a screening of his new film Offside, a story of a number of young girls who dress as boys to attend football (soccer) matches in Tehran and the consequences of their actions.

    Panahi said, “Some time ago my daughter asked to go along with me to a football match in Tehran. She said, please take me Daddy and I will find a way to get in. We got to the stadium and I told her I would try to get her in. She said, no, I will do what I have to, to get in. Ten minutes later she joined me. So this film is basically about how girls do get in.”

    When asked about what happens when they are caught dressing as boys by the vice squad, he said, “They are kept a few days and the family has to help them promise not to do it again before they are released. If they are caught a second time there are graver consequences.”

    When asked about how the match between Iran and Bahrain in the film ended, he said that he “prayed that the outcome would happen as depicted. The seven sparklers used in the film stood for the seven spectators who died when they were trampled during the Iran/Japan soccer match. None of the boys or girls in the film were professional actors. My film did play the Fajr Film Festival in Iran for the first time, so I hoped it would be allowed to have more viewings in Iran, but this has not happened."

    The director, Hirokazu Kore-edu, said before the screening, "This is a period film. The protagonist is a Samurai, but it is very different from other Samurai films. Like you and me, he has a weakness. Everything changes every few minutes." After the film was a brief Q&A. When asked why the film was set in the 18th century he said, "Initially I came up with the idea after 9/11. I wanted to do a serious film but added comedic touches. There is a Samurai resurgence in Japan right now. To teenagers being a Samurai is cool. I wanted to do something about that but also show them the reality." What was the significance of the title? "The Japanese title is more complex: Even More Than a Flower. It is a line in a poem about flowers, I wanted that motif." When asked about the music, he said, "I wanted to use music that no one would expect. The group uses antique European instruments of that time period, 18th century." Were the houses true to the times? "Many people lived in abject poverty. In Samurai films houses are too sturdy so I told my people to make them shabby."

    Nouvella Chance
    Director Anne Fontaine said, "This is my third film with the same characters." When asked about those three films, she said, "I did three film with Augustine. He is my brother. This guy is a little strange, I thought he was a burlesque actor. He inspires me. By choosing him it allows me to deal with actors in a different way. I listen very close to his relationship with success. He gets others to go along with his crazy schemes." Did she write the screenplay for her brother? "I made the story and then my brother comes into the story. My original intention was to make the play that you see within the film. I imagined those elements to be more whimsical." Why choose that sexy blonde? "She is strange, you know. She worked a long time ago. She is a singer in France, always had a strange career and would be touched by Augustine. I usually write the script and see which actor can play that part. The politician you see in the film is our Cultural Minister, he could be the next president of France."

    Le Voyage en Armenie
    Director Robert Guédiguian said, "I made this film for two reasons: The first reason is that in 2000 a retrospective of my films was shown in Armenia and was well received, which surprised me very much as I had never set foot there. I was a spokesman for an entire people; it was very moving. I was told repeatedly that I had to make a film there to highlight the Armenian people. The second reason is that a question today is one of identity. I do not believe in wars between cultures. Nationality should not be left to fascism. It is essential that people of good will embrace their nationality and not give it up to the forces of dark in the world."

    When asked about the music, he said, "The musical is by Arto Tuncboyacyyan. We worked on my last film. He was born in Turkey where he could not speak Armenian except in secret at night. Now lives in New Jersey. He writes World Music, works from the specific to the universal so it was inevitable that we work together." Does he understand his [Armenian] identity better after the film? "Your identify is behind you but it is also ahead of you. You make choices. There was the Diaspora, you are forever linked to the country where your soul is from. I believe in dual citizenship." If we went to Armenia would we see the same scenes as in the film? "We shot the film last summer. In the city some buildings have been torn down. The corruption has not changed a lot. But it will change. It is hard to tell if I will go back to Armenia to shoot another film. The films choose us."

    Suburban Mayhem
    Director Paul Goldman introduced the film: "Hold on to your seats and look forward to a breathtaking performance from Emily (Barclay)." At the Q&A he was asked to comment on the casting. "It took a long time. I saw Emily a long time ago but was not certain Emily was the right person. Everyone else was. We brought her in and did the last supper scene with her father. Emily left the room and the person reading with her said, 'You are an idiot, cast her.'" What was the basis of the original material? "Lilia read an article and asked the writer to do a screenplay. After a few months he realized he could not do it. Alice's assistant brought in 30 excellent pages. She is in the film as the aunt." Can you talk about the music? "I have a past in music video. I knew the band members, they are an Australian Indy band in Sydney."

    Half Moon
    Before the screening the director, Bahman Ghobadi, said, "I was asked to make the film for the Mozart anniversary. I was one of seven directors New Crown Hope asked to make films celebrating the 250th anniversary of Mozart's birth. The film is about music, Kurdish music and the difficulties involved. This film was banned in Iran two days ago for supporting separatism. He was asked what the charge of "separatism" meant. "I don't know. I censored myself because I was aware of the situation. This film is a normal film. There is a lot of music to begin with so it should not offend anyone. There is an institution in Iran called the Film House. I tried for a long time to have this shown there. They said it is the spirit of the film that is the problem. If you want to know more about the situation there is another film, Made in Iran, that might help. The story is a true one, about musicians trying to go from Iran to Iraq and it does take seven months to permission. It took a year for Turtles Can Fly. As a Kurdish person I will fight the way I will. As a Kurdish director, I will have to enter this fight."

    Continuing Adventures in Toronto

    By Adam Spector, DC Film Society Member

    OK, “adventure” might be stretching things. I did not exactly go rock climbing or water skiing in Toronto. But I had about as much of an adventure as I could, given that I spent most of my time watching movies. This year I went to the 31st Toronto International Film Festival with my friend, film critic and cinema connoisseur Bill Henry. We stayed at a dive that reminded me of the Happiness Hotel in The Great Muppet Caper. For the first time since 2001 I did not get several of the films I selected. This meant going to the box office early in the morning to see if any last-minute tickets became available. Finally, this year I went back to basics. While last year I caught a few Hollywood films, this year I generally stuck with foreign and smaller offerings, films less likely to open in the U.S. So while I did want to see For Your Consideration, The Fountain, and Stranger Than Fiction, I resisted, knowing that I could catch them all back home. So please indulge me as I revisit my ten days in Toronto:

    Day 1
    Bill and I opened with The Wind that Shakes the Barley from acclaimed British director Ken Loach. It had garnered much attention since winning the Palme D'Or at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. While the film, depicting the early days of the Irish Republican Army, did not disappoint, it was not the most notable of the day. That would be The Bothersome Man, an absurd Norwegian offering from director Jens Lien. The title character is Andreas who, having already tried to commit suicide, finds himself in a seemingly happy, but strangely Kafkaesque world. The food is bland, everyone seems strangely content, and his girlfriend constantly redecorates their apartment. The oppression comes not through a totalitarian government but through emotional shallowness and mindless consumerism, as if everyone OD’d on anti-depressants. The minimalist acting blends together perfectly with the austere production design and muted colors to create a seemingly benign, but increasingly hellish surreal world. It’s a perfect example of the type of film that most people could only see at a film festival.

    Also surreal, but in a very different way, was the midnight screening of Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan. Bill and I could barely get in, as a crowd gathered to watch star Sacha Baron Cohen arrive in character in a cart carried by several Eastern European looking women. When we finally arrived, we were forced to sit in the very last row of the balcony. Cohen appeared before the raucous crowd, again as Borat. Everyone had a great time until the film broke 15 minutes into the screening. Michael Moore, sitting in the audience, went into the projection booth to offer his help, but to no avail. He then appeared on stage with Borat director Larry Charles to answer questions and try to calm an increasingly restless crowd. Someone asked Moore if he was afraid for his life. Not missing a beat, Moore replied “Should I be?” Finally, an hour after the breakdown, the screening was cancelled. In my six trips to Toronto this was the first time I saw a screening shut down due to technical issues. As I left, I hoped the night’s malfunction was not an omen.

    Day 2
    My fears proved unfounded as the second day proceeded smoothly. Well, almost smoothly. The Borat make-up screening was delayed more than 30 minutes as I stood outside in the rain wondering whether I was ever meant to see this film. Eventually I got in, and it was well worth it. Borat is scathingly hilarious satire. The film works largely due to Cohen’s commitment to his character and his ability to play off any situation. Since the festival, Cohen and the film have gained notoriety thanks to the Kazakhstan government’s complaints about the way that nation is depicted. Yes, Cohen slams that nation, but it’s his version of Kazakhstan, not the real thing. Most of the film takes place in the U.S., as Borat makes his way coast-to-coast in search of Pamela Anderson. Borat, the misogynist, racist, Anti-Semitic Kazakh reporter, interacts with Americans from many different walks of life. The people he meets are not in on the joke and their reactions provide many of the laughs. As you would expect, Borat elicits shock and outrage. What’s just as funny, and also scary, are the people who agree with or go along with Borat’s bigoted and ignorant statements. Borat pulls no punches, and is not for the easily offended. But right now I’d say it’s the best comedy of the year.

    Day 3
    Many scholars have commented on the link between film and psychology, but perhaps none so compellingly as Slavoj Žižek in The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema. Žižek, a philosopher and psychoanalyst, discusses the works of Alfred Hitchcock, David Lynch, Charlie Chaplin, and many more. He also comments on science fiction films such as Alien and The Matrix. One of Žižek’s many theories (and I don’t claim to understand them all) is that films not only reflect our desires but that they also influence what we desire and how we desire. Director Sophie Fiennes (sister of Ralph and Joseph) weaves in clips from these films with Žižek, whom she places in similar backgrounds. For example, she will show a clip from Hitchcock’s The Birds, and then cut to Žižek in a motorboat on what looks like Bodega Bay with birds flying around him. Žižek’s charisma and passion for his subject and Fiennes’s skill make what could seem dry into something thrilling and fun.

    Day 4
    By far the best day of the festival, with three terrific films:

    Chronicle of an Escape works as both a political polemic and a thriller. Rodrigo de la Serna (The Motorcycle Diaries) stars as Claudio Tamburrini, a soccer player in late 1970s Argentina. Agents from the country’s brutal dictatorship kidnap Tamburrini and falsely claim he is an anti-government terrorist. Without any trial or due process Tamburrini and his fellow inmates are tortured and degraded over several months. Finally, out of sheer desperation, they plan their escape. Director and co-screenwriter Israel Adrián Cateano vividly recreates the horrors the captives faced, placing the viewer front and center. He then gradually builds the suspense as the prisoners realize they have to escape to survive. Cateano’s cast give some brave performances in what had to be grueling roles.

    Just as powerful and gripping was The Killer Within, a documentary from Macky Alston. Bob Bechtel is a mild-mannered psychology professor in Colorado. Now in his seventies, Bechtel has a loving wife, daughter and stepdaughter. He has the respect and admiration of his friends and colleagues. One day Bob announces to everyone that he killed his college roommate fifty years ago. He went on a shooting rampage in his dormitory. Bob was found not guilty by reason of insanity, in no small part thanks to the victim’s parents, who pleaded for leniency. He spent a few years in an asylum, was released and gradually rebuilt his life. The Killer Within presents both sides of the story. Bob claims that he had been bullied and finally just snapped. The victim’s brother claims that Bob was never bullied and that his brother had never done anything to him. Bob’s daughter and stepdaughter try to revisit what happened, balancing their love for Bob with the growing realization that there might be more to the story. The Killer Within asks tough questions, but does not give easy answers because there aren’t any. Alston explores the killing but is more interested in its effects today, particularly on Bob’s daughter and stepdaughter. Nothing is clear-cut in The Killer Within, making for an unsettling but completely engrossing film.

    Beauty in Trouble is the latest from Czech director Jan Hrebejk, an Oscar nominee for his brilliant Divided We Fall. In a Czech town still reeling from the effects of a flood, Marcela, a young woman, grows frustrated as her husband Jarda strips stolen cars to make a living. Finally growing fed up she takes her two young kids to live with her mother and creepy stepfather. Meanwhile, police arrest Jarda for stealing a car from Evzen, a wealthy older emigre returning to handle financial matters. Evzen and Marcela meet at the police station and develop their own relationship. Many complications ensue from this May-December romance. Hrebejk has a gentle touch. He keeps the focus on his characters, letting both the comedy and the drama flow through them. Hrebejk deftly balances the main storyline with several smaller ones, and gives all of his actors a chance to shine. Beauty in Trouble is both exquisitely cast and finely crafted.

    Day 5
    Some of you may recall that my favorite from the 2003 festival was the Bosnian entry Fuse. Pjer Žalica’s first feature displayed an acerbic wit as it depicted a community coming to grips with the aftermath of the Bosnian-Serb conflict. This year I found a similar blend of caustic humor and heartbreaking tragedy from the other side of the divide in the Serbian film The Optimists. Veteran Serbian director Goran Paskaljevic tells five short stories about a war and flood ravaged Serbian community. While these tales vary in subject matter and tone, they all question what optimism really is. They also examine the disconnect between faith and the real world. Paskaljevic uses the same actor, Lazar Ristovski, in all five stories playing different roles. Ristovski’s charisma, voice, and sheer dramatic presence provide a steady anchor that helps sustain the film. The Optimists takes a very cynical view of humanity, but one that is not entirely devoid of hope. It blends intelligence with raw emotions, and while very dark, is entirely worthwhile.

    Day 6
    It’s rare to get the opportunity to see the same film in a different form. Earlier this year I saw an 18 minute short called Cashback, which received an Oscar nomination for Live Action Short Film. Today I caught the feature full-length version. British writer-director Sean Ellis expanded his earlier effort, while keeping all of the original’s wit and charm. Both versions tell of a young art student who develops severe insomnia. To pass the time he works the night shift at a local supermarket. He and his coworkers develop their own ways to ward off boredom. His is to imagine that he can stop time and move around while everything else stays in place. Ellis develops the supporting characters well, drawing much of the humor from them. His film has a certain Nick Hornby sensibility, and it would appeal to anyone who liked films such as High Fidelity and About a Boy (both based on Hornby’s novels). Like Hornby, Ellis establishes the characters and the humor early and then slowly brings out the romance towards the end. The supermarket scenes are clever and hilarious, as they are in the short film. And the time-stopping sequences, which could have been a tacky gimmick, blend right into the story and its themes. If Cashback ever gets a U.S. distribution, look for it to become a sleeper hit.

    It’s also rare to see two famed cult film directors at once. This year’s festival paired maverick film legend John Waters with John Cameron Mitchell (Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Shortbus) for a lively discussion I wanted desperately to get into the program, and made it a couple of minutes before start time. It was everything I hoped it would be, with Waters in top form. He joked that his films were accused of being obscene, but then admitted that they were. Waters recalled some of his obscenity trials, saying that 10am in a courtroom was not exactly the prime viewing environment for his films. He claimed that he had “anti-product placement” that companies would pay him not to use their products in his films. Mitchell was not nearly as brash as Waters (as if anyone could be) and his humor was more dry and understated, but he held his own. Both of them discussed not showing their films to their parents. Beyond the laughs, the talk was an also an interesting illustration of how filmmakers operate outside the mainstream and deal with provocative subjects.

    Day 7
    Bill insisted we see Patrice Laconte’s Mon meilleur ami (My Best Friend) and I’m glad he did. While Laconte is an acclaimed French director, with films such as Monsieur Hire, The Widow of Saint Pierre, and Girl on a Bridge, I had never seen any of his work. But I will now. Daniel Auteil stars as François, a successful but lonely art dealer. His colleagues coldly confront François with the fact that he has no friends. François denies this and frantically rushes to make a friend, any friend. He enlists the aid of Bruno (Dany Boon) a gregarious cab driver. Laconte finds the humor in the characters and in the simple need for friendship - to connect with another human being. Boon and Auteil have wonderful chemistry and are buoyed by a strong supporting cast. Laconte deftly sets up each situation so the scenes never feel forced. He builds to a perfect, hilarious climax. Mon meilleur ami is a beautiful, elegant film that, while funny, is also very human and insightful.

    Day 8
    For years I’ve wanted to see The Harder They Come, the 1972 Jamaican cult hit from writer-director Perry Henzell, and now I finally got the chance. The festival brought it back as part of its “Dialogues” series, which features older films with a special guest discussing that film’s impact. In this case the special guest was Henzell himself, who appeared with Carl Bradshaw, one of the film’s stars. The film itself was fun, if somewhat disjointed. The story didn’t always hold together, but the vibrant scenery, terrific music, and an engaging star turn by Jimmy Cliff made up for any other shortcomings. The story behind the film was more interesting than the film’s plot. No one from Jamaica had ever made a feature before Henzell. Unable to find a distributor, Henzell distributed The Harder They Come himself, taking it from country to country. He also promoted it himself. Sometimes it’s easy to forget the struggles filmmakers often endure to get their films made and then to get them seen. Today’s discussion was a vivid reminder.

    Imagine a film combining a romantic comedy, a showbiz satire, and a political polemic. Sounds nearly impossible but Italian director Nanni Moretti (The Son’s Room) pulls it off with The Caiman. The title refers to Silvio Berlusconi, a media magnate who used his power to get elected as Italy’s Prime Minister. His administration was rife with scandal and deeply divided Italy. But Berlusconi is merely the film-within-the-film. The film’s main storyline focuses on Bruno (Silvio Orlando), an aging B-movie producer who is desperately trying to save both his career and his marriage. Bruno hooks up with Teresa, a young director who is shopping her script about Berlusconi. The satire comes from clips of Bruno’s earlier movies, such as Mocassin Assassins and Lady Cop in Stilettos. The other comedy stems largely from a stellar performance by Orlando who makes you believe Bruno’s passion and desperation. At the same time, The Caiman pulls no punches with its political statements. Moretti somehow balances all of his film’s disparate elements without letting any one overwhelm the others. His skills help make The Caiman a pointed film that’s also funny and touching.

    Day 9
    Australian director Ray Lawrence’s film Lantana was a compelling examination of guilt and distrust. His latest effort, Jindabyne, also explores these themes, but it also adds new elements. Lawrence takes a short story by Raymond Carver (one that was also used for Robert Altman’s Short Cuts) and transposes it into rural Australia. A group of white friends on a fishing trip discover the dead body of a young Aboriginal woman. Instead of reporting the body right away, the buddies finish their fishing trip and call the police days later. Their delay causes an uproar, particularly in the Aboriginal community. The ramifications take an enormous toll on the friends and their wives, especially Claire (Laura Linney) and her husband Stewart (Gabriel Byrne). As he did with Lantana, Lawrence slowly shows the anger and pain eating away at relationships. This time he blends in racial elements. Would Stewart and his friends have acted differently if they had found a white woman? Linney, one of the finest actresses working today, shines as someone so obsessed with her perceived responsibility that it overwhelms her. She is riveting every moment she’s on the screen. Lawrence also uses the beautiful but sparse Australian landscape as the perfect backdrop for the simmering anger. He respects the audience’s intelligence. He doesn’t cheat and doesn’t make it easy. This makes for a dark, nuanced, complex and believable film.

    Day 10
    Tonight my festival experience concluded with Sheitan, a French horror film with a fun scenery-chewing turn by Vincent Cassel. Sheitan was the last in the “Midnight Madness” series, which, as always, featured a strange mix of mostly sci-fi and horror films. Included this year was S&M Man, a chilling examination of exactly how violent and how real we want horror films to be. Another highlight was Severance, which was accurately described as “Deliverance meets ‘The Office.’” My favorite was the New Zealand comedy-horror offering Black Sheep, about genetically engineered sheep which, no surprise, become bloodthirsty killers. Hey, for sheer entertainment value you just can’t beat killer sheep.

    The frustrating part of the festival experience was that, even though I saw 46 films, this total was only a fraction of the hundreds that were offered. Some of the best from this year’s festival I didn’t see and probably never will. In a way, it’s microcosm of film in general; the more you experience, the more you realize is still out there.

    The more I think about it, though, the more I realize that the Toronto International Film Festival has been an important part of my life the past several years. Yes, it’s been a fun vacation. Yes, it’s been an enjoyable diversion from everyday life. But much more importantly, as a film lover it has provided me with a glimpse into a much larger world. For that I will always be grateful.

    Festival Favorites
    Below is a list of my top ten films from the 31st Toronto International Film Festival. Most of these I described earlier.

    1. The Killer Within (2006), U.S.A. - dir. Macky Alston

    2. Mon meilleur ami (My Best Friend: 2006), France - dir. Patrice Laconte

    3. The Optimists (2006), Serbia - dir. Goran Paskaljevic

    4. The Caiman (2006), Italy - dir. Nanni Moretti

    5. Cashback (2006), U.K. - dir. Sean Ellis

    6. Jindabyne (2006), Australia - dir. Ray Lawrence

    7. The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema (2006), U.K./Austria/Netherlands - dir. Sophie Fiennes

    8. Chronicle of an Escape (2006), Argentina - dir. Israel Adrián Cateano. Note: Chronicle of an Escape played at the AFI’s Latin American Film Festival under the title Breakout.

    9. Beauty in Trouble (2006), Czech Republic - dir. Jan Hrebejk

    10. Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (2006), U.S.A. - dir. Larry Charles

    Special Commendation:
    The Harder They Come (1972), Jamaica - dir. Perry Henzell

    Other recommendations:
    The Art of Crying (2006), Denmark - dir. Peter Schřnau Fog
    Black Sheep (2006), New Zealand - dir. Jonathan King
    The Bothersome Man (2006), Norway - dir. Jens Lien
    Bunny Chow (2006), South Africa - dir. John Barker
    Cages (2006), Belgium - dir. Olivier Masset-Depasse
    Confetti (2006), U.K. - dir. Debbie Isitt
    I Am the Other Woman (2006), Germany - dir. Margarethe von Trotta
    No Place Like Home (2006*), Jamaica/U.S.A. - dir. Perry Henzell
    Outsourced (2006), U.S.A. - dir. John Jeffcoat
    Severance (2006), U.K. - dir. Christopher Smith
    The Wind That Shakes the Barley (2006), U.K./Ireland - dir. Ken Loach

    *Even though No Place Like Home was completed this year, much of the film was shot during the 1970s.

    American Hardcore: Director Paul Rachman and Writer Steve Blush talk about their film

    American Hardcore is a history of American punk rock from its beginning in 1980 to its extinction in 1986. But it was more than music--it was a social movement created by Reagan-era misfit kids. The film is based on the book by Steven Blush, American Hardcore: A Tribal History. The Q&A that follows was taken from the press notes.

    Question: How did you decide to approach the film as a historical document?
    Paul Rachman: The book was published five years ago, and after I read it, I ran into Steven and that was the crystallizing moment. My idea was to take Steven's material from the book and broaden it to a social history, something a little broader than a rock movie. We knew going into it that we would be able to talk to the actual participants about the scene, and we believed that we could weave the story out of what the subjects were saying. We wanted to take those stories and apply that context to the political aspects of the era, the moment in history that where that specific youth subculture came into its own.
    Steven Blush: One way that the film is very different from the book is that there is no single narrator, it is told by the pioneers of the hardcore movement.
    PR: It's the people who wrote the music, the fans who traveled, the people who put out the records. We tried to put them in the context of the politics and the economy and the social structure of the era, so that there was a very clear picture of what it was like to be that kind of person back then.

    Q: How much did you appreciate the social context of the music and the scene at the time?
    SB: We were all kids who were fans of punk rock; we loved the Sex Pistols and Clash, but we weren't in fucking London. When this new version of punk came out, what is now known as hardcore, that come out of the suburbs of Los Angeles. That music arises from the darkest suburbia that was ever invented, in that hyper-Conformist Reagan era. And as far as politics goes, I don't think resistance to that conformity was articulated in a political movement. It was articulated in the D.I.Y. ethos that emerged out of that scene. In the book, I compare it to the novel Lord of the Flies, a world where we defined our own culture. Something snapped in all of us, and this scene was an avenue for us to express that. We were very young, just teenagers; we knew something was wrong in the world, but we couldn't grasp much beyond that.
    PR: At the time, 1980-81, you didn't really think about it in terms of a movement, it was so small. Steve was in DC and I was in Boston, but these were shows that were done in tiny rooms on the side street near the train station. Every single kid there was 17 and under, and they were from the suburbs. Early on it was really a product of boredom of the suburbs and finding something that you could call your own that you could be a part of. It was a social structure based on a certain D.I.Y., watch-out-for-each-other ethic. Today, with the re-packaging of punk rock by the commercial music industry, it's very hard to convey what this scene actually was like because the idea of "punk" has become very diluted and re-written by commerce; what lends the film this authenticity, I hope, is the first person account of what was.

    Q: Where did you get the home video footage and visual material for the film, and how did you approach selecting, editing and arranging that footage?
    PR: The footage in the film is stuff we found in people's shoe boxes, on big VHS tapes on 6 hour, super-slow speed. There's also a bunch of stuff that I shot on Super 8 at the time. We got the footage from a variety of sources. We knew it was out there but we weren't exactly sure of what we might find.
    SB: Ever since I started on the book, I felt it was like an archaeology project; these fliers and photos were unearthed by these explorations. We found someone, Karen O'Sullivan, who had a bunch of undeveloped photos that were great. Through the course of our interviews, we'd talk to a band, and they'd have some 2nd generation VHS copy of a show from some other band, and at the end of the tape there was an episode of "Star Trek."
    PR: In much of the film, the sound that we use is the sound from the videos. We also don't cut the videos very much--the idea behind the presentation of that footage is really "don't fuck with me." It's exactly how it was, how it was recorded, so if there is sound on them, it's the sound from the cameras. That's really how the show sounded, too--they weren't in concert halls or anyplace designed for that kind of noise, so that was part of the experience. We tried to preserve that aesthetic, make the footage very immediate, very strong, decisive, moment by moment, no hesitation in the cuts, just kind of get through it, because that's the way it was.
    SB: The interviews in the film were very much conversations; we didn't have prepared questions, it was just two guys with a camera, and come in and let's talk. Talking about the historical context was very important to us. This is something that happened at a moment in time 25 years ago: the context of Carter is out, Reagan is in, the hardships, the oil crisis, the fiscal crisis, these elements form this bigger frame. That's a context that I think is not included in a lot of rock films, and certainly this scene, hardcore, has never quite been framed that way. For example, Black Flag is featured in the film "The Decline of Western Civilization," but that film was made at the dawn of that era. There was no context, there was no perspective on what it means. American Hardcore is about making that story more complete, where the perspective can be a little broader.

    Q: One of the surprises in the film, for those unfamiliar with the scene, is that perhaps the most influential groups was entirely African-American--Bad Brains. As fans who saw them play, can you describe what they represented to the young, white men in the audience who became their proteges and biggest fans?
    PR: The best thing to describe your introduction to Bad Brains back in the day was going to the first show. You've kind of heard of this band, and you've heard these great things and you don't know what to expect. And they would come on, and within six seconds you were so drawn in and pounded on, you felt it in your guts and your heart, this intensity that was so right on. They had you. And you felt, "This was what I wanted to be a part of."
    SB: They were overwhelming, and everyone we interviewed had these stories about the group, about the first time they saw them, about their influence. We could have made a movie just talking about them because they were so different and revolutionary and thought-provoking and pushing every boundary that could be imagined. After Bad Brains, challenging the punk rock formula became the prototype. After them, you see Henry Rollins emerging as the prototype of the front man, that intense but thoughtful singer who would also kick your ass. It was very hard for people to wrap their head around that too, and that became of the enduring symbols of hardcore. That was what was so threatening to the outside world, they saw someone with a shaved head, but it was someone developed into someone so far beyond that, so intelligent, and someone that really challenges you with force.

    Q: What do you think is the legacy of hardcore punk, especially considering today's alternative and "punk" music scenes?
    SR: I think hardcore helped redefine rock and roll. That broodish tough-guy skinhead, the idea of music as an assault, started with hardcore. Anything you see today that has stage diving and a mosh pit, the kind of things you see on the independent tours, Warped Tour, Action Sports Rock, I think you can narrowly trace it back to hardcore.
    PR: Still, that music has remained mostly underground. When we started the film project, I had my contacts in the industry that I thought might support the film. And when we did the pitch, you could feel that to a certain point these people realized that these bands sold only 20,000 records about 25 years ago, and it just didn't register as totally viable from a commercial standpoint, because hardcore was still the subculture and it still hasn't reached that point of social acceptability.
    SB: Greg Ginn from Black Flag always talked about success in non-economic terms. That's what these bands achieved, that's not something you are rewarded for economically in this culture. This is what stands as real in our culture--does the music make a difference.

    American Hardcore is currently playing at Landmark's E Street Cinema.

    The European Union Film Festival:
    Comments on Soap, Tuning, Falkenberg Farewell, Requiem

    By James McCaskill, DC Film Society member

    This is Denmark's entry in the European Film Festival and also its nominee for the Foreign Language Academy Award.

    Pernille Fischer Christensen's Soap is Denmark's first film focusing on a transsexual. Charlotte (Trine Dyrholm) seems to have it all, but she does not want any of it. When she moves away from her boyfriend, she happens to become the upstairs neighbor of a transsexual, Veronica (David Dencik). Veronica prefers to keep to herself with her little dog and a romantic soap opera show on TV, while Charlotte get through the nights with a series of one night stands. When their lives collide they end up as the main characters of their own turbulent love story.

    I interviewed the director at one of the London Film Festival's Director's Breakfasts. How did she come up with the film's concept? Christensen said, "It was when we, me and my scriptwriter (Kim Fupz Aakeson) started to brainstorm. We knew we had to come up with a film that had a budget of one-half million dollars. How much could we get away with? Doing a love story with one person is no good. Two characters is as bit like a soap opera and sitcoms.

    "I came out of the Danish Film School," Christensen continued, "I worked with Anders Refn, he was the editor of Lars Von Trier's films so I was very influenced by them. I was 19 or 20 and I liked the way they worked very much... When I was a teenager I watched Dynasty and Dallas and such shows. I loved those melodramas with strong female characters longing for love and looked at the way melodramas told their story and clashed with reality--romantic and real life love. I tried to make such a clash like John Cassavetes."

    This film depends on two strong actors holding their own. How did she cast this film? "With Trine Dyrholm, I worked with her in my graduate film and knew what she could do. I wanted to work with her again. David Dencik had just graduated, had a freshness that no one had seen before. I wanted people to say, 'Who is that?'... I did a treatment then worked with the two actors. We improved the script in workshops and then began the film. I like to use bits, I stole them really, from other films."

    I could not help but wonder how she told David that he would be playing a transsexual. "I spotted David as brave," she said. "He likes things that are not very easy. He was in two or three casting calls and I said I really wanted him. I told him he was going to be a transsexual. Ok. A prostitute. Ok. A drug addict. Ok." Dencik is in no danger of being typecast as he has three films in post production, including one on Nietzsche that's due out next year.

    How has Christensen coped with the media attention? "I was with the film at the Berlin Film Festival. I could have traveled a year with it but this is my second public appearance. I am busy with my next film and just completed a workshop with the actors."

    Igor Sterk's thrid film, Tuning, represents Slovenia in the European Union Film Festival.

    Peter (Peter Musevski) and Katerina (Natasa Burger) are trapped in a loveless marriage, held together only by their daughters. Peter visits a prostitute while on business in Brussels and on his return, tries to strike up a relationship with an old girl friend. Katerina is being pursued by a poet whose book she has been designing. When she asks Peter for a divorce there seems to be no possibility of a reconciliation. The title, Tuning, is well chosen. One can tune a violin, tune in a radio or tune up an instrument to a correct pitch. How do you tune a family?

    When I asked director Igor Sterk about the source of this film he said, "It is hard to explain what is "the origin of the film"--it is many different things coming together at one point. Among them, I was very touched by Eyes Wide Shut by Stanley Kubrick, which also deals with a relationship between husband and wife, some critics also find a relation to Bergman's Scenes from a Marriage. From the other point of view, the subject of Tuning is something I found relevant to explore in the society where I am living. I believe it is something, everyone can find some co-relation to his own life, his intimate problems--it is not some fantasy topic, you can relate your life to it.

    Both Musevski and Burger give outstanding performances in portraying a couple locked in a loveless marriage. They are staying together only for the sake of their daughters. It is Sterk's skill as a director that creates the emotional impact of the film. Peter cheats on his wife with a prostitute then returns to what looks like the ideal marriage carry that guilt. Katarina has her own extra-marital affair. The two drift apart, living in secret. A family portrait in a constant state of calm before the inevitable storm of unhappiness and discovered lies.

    Tuning has been circling around the festivals for more than a year--it premiered last year in competition at Karlovy Vary film festival, then it was shown in many other festivals (Montréal, Chicago, Ghent, Montpellier). It received Grand-prix for best feature film in Mannheim Film Festival last November. This was one of my top films at the Edinburgh Film Festival.

    Falkenberg Farewell
    This film is Sweden's official Oscar selection for Best Foreign Film, a coming of age story about a group of aimless young men in the sleepy town of Falkenberg on Sweden's west coast. When one of them considers moving to a larger town, it causes ripples in the group, especially for one of the characters, a sensitive diary writer.

    Director Jasper Ganslandt and Cinematographer Fredrik Wenzel answered questions about their film at the Toronto International Film Festival:

    Question: How much was scripted before you started shooting?
    Jasper Ganslandt: We started writing about eight months before we started shooting. About 60% of the script was finished. We wrote a lot of prose text that we worked around.

    Q: Was the keeping of the journal always part of the script?
    JG: Yes it was. The journal and sending it was an early idea.

    Q: It almost seemed to be a love story, almost homoerotic. Was that your intention?
    JG: No, I hope it was erotic. I had a clear vision of the really close friendship of the young males, like when you were seven and spent a lot of time with your friends.

    Q: The family footage--was it film of the actors?
    Fredrik Wenzel: Yes, it was. That came in later. John's dad shot it. When he was shooting it his son fell off his bike and was crying.

    Q: Did you have a friend who committed suicide?
    JG: Yes, we did.

    Q: The older brother was playing with a gun. Was it a risk?
    JG: Yes, it was. He expresses a lot of pain later. It was an air gun that he fired out of the window. It was a risk because he was really depressed. In an early script we see the older brother leaving but we pulled it out.

    Q: Did you ever consider having a girl in the picture?
    JG: No. In the original text version there were three girls but we edited them out.

    Q: Could you comment on being a self taught filmmaker?
    JG: I never thought about film school for me. When we went to Falkenberg there were no other filmmakers to talk to and that was really nice.

    Q: Were the actors all from Falkenberg?
    JG: Yes.

    Q: The film's theme seems to be about leaving vs. staying. Am I correct?
    JG: From my experience in a small town that is a very central question. This film was about staying. We were both fascinated by staying.

    Q: Did you consider what these people would be up to five years later?
    JG: Yes. In the film the future of these persons was in the script. We knew some would not stay and would move to Gothenburg. I told Steve he got me into trouble by writing about dying in a small town. Recently there was a headline in the local paper: "Dying Falkenberg Goes To Toronto."

    This is a story of a young woman torn between family faith and illness. The film is inspired by true events; The Exorcism of Emily Rose (Scott Derrickson, 2005) is also based on the same events.

    It is the 1970s and Michaela, 21 has spent all her life in a small town in Southern Germany where she has grown up in a deeply religious family with a weak father and a cold hearted, distant mother. Despite her years-long battle with epilepsy, Michaela years to leave home and study at university. At first, everything seems to be going well--her first taste of freedom brings a romantic involvement with Stefan and a rekindling of a friendship with Hanna, who is from the same home town. But soon, the shell of family and faith within which she as felt so protected starts to crack. The result is a breakdown.

    Not a normal epileptic attack, but a frightening onrush of grotesque faces and voices. Afraid of being sent back home to her family, Michaela seeks help from a priest who reinforces her conviction that she is possessed. Though Stefan and Hanna entreat her to seek psychiatric help, they are unable to break through he dense religious and moral ties binding Michaela to her family, and leave her to her fate.

    Question to Sandra Huller: How did you prepare for the role?
    SH: You must know that in Germany you don't have much time to prepare. I read about the real case. Sometimes it was difficult to feel what she was going through. You think she is doing it to get attention. You realize that she believes the devil is in her.

    Question to Hans-Christian Schmid: Has there been more research?
    HCS: She has epilepsy and suffers from a special kind of psychosis. It seems that possessed people only appear in very Christian families.

    Q: Was it a difficult role to play?
    SH: Yes. I was a high energy level part.

    Q: Were you raised Catholic?
    SH: No, my parents were not religious.

    Q: What is the purpose of the film.
    SH: First they want you to think about it. Some people are thinking the mother is a terrible person. I think it is a film about a person trying to be free.

    Q: Is the film anti-religion?
    SH: We know the sister and she still isn't sure what happened. We have shown the film to priests. We are not saying anything about them. I believe that she was sick.

    Q: What did you use to connect to the role?
    SH: I come from a small town like she did. Much later. My family life was more loving that hers was. I know what a struggle she went through.

    Q: Is there still a stigma about seeking psychiatric help?
    HCS: This happened in the 1970s. I don't think there is as much today.

    Sweet Land: Press Notes

    Sweet Land is currently playing at the Avalon. This conversation between director Ali Selim and Minnesota Public Radio's Heather McElhatton was provided in the press notes.

    Q: Your film is based on a short story Will Weaver titled, A Gravestone made of Wheat. What about it caught your attention?
    A: I have always been drawn to stories of generations, of origins and stewardship of those origins. When I was 18, just out of high school and visiting Egypt with some friends, one of my Egyptian uncles said to me, “If you don’t know where you come from, you can’t possibly know where you’re going.” I think he was a little bored with me sowing my oats (is that how you say it?) and, unannounced, took me on a three-day road trip through the neighborhoods and towns of my dad’s childhood and their dad’s childhood. That trip, more than any singular event, defined the way I try to live and understand my life. There is also an element in the story of language, lack of verbal language, and I thought that would be an interesting challenge in a film, most of which are driven by dialogue.

    Q: Why did you want to turn this particular story into a film?
    A: I thought the story was really special in a very simple, human, resonant way. Will Weaver told me that when he finished writing it he knew he had something special because he cried. And yet, honestly, when I read the story in 1989 in the StarTribune Picture Magazine, after having just started directing commercials, my first reaction was, “Hey, this would be easy to turn into a feature film. Couple of old people. Couple of young people. Some sunlight and we’re in business.” Fifteen years later...

    Q: How do you feel about the casting choices that were made? What was the cast like to work with?
    A: Well, I love the casting choices mostly because I was in a position to make every one of them. When a film is financed privately with investors saying, “we trust you” you get to make all the decisions or, in the words of Producer Jim Bigham, “never again will we make a film without any adult supervision.” Casting was an interesting process.

    Alan Cumming has been my friend for a decade and he committed (schedule permitting) a long time ago, but other than having friends like him, you need a budget and a schedule before you can make offers and get commitments. We had our budget solidified sometime in late-July and our schedule took shape in early August. That’s when we could start making offers. Nail-biting time at best--some of the key roles weren’t filled until after we had begun production. There are some great stories but I could never tell them. Elizabeth Reaser is a great story that I can tell. Fearing the German accent and her lack of celebrity, she tried to get her agent to cancel. Gratefully, her agent would not. She came in to an open casting and stumbled through the Norwegian with the German accent and I was charmed and committed. I usually make a strong effort to say to actors in an audition “thanks for coming in” rather than “nice to meet you” and definitely not “see you soon,” the ultimate sign of hope. To Elizabeth I foolishly, winsomely said, “you’re beautiful” having believed that, after all these long years of writing her, I had just met Inge.

    Having a cast that came to the project for the script (as opposed to a big paycheck) was really great. They knew why they came to Montevideo, MN and trusted me because I had written it. Even if the set was chaotic at times or the lack of dialogue was confusing they were always engaged and contributive.

    Q: Which character speaks to you the most and why?
    A: Inge, mostly, because I love her strength, the fact that she is a courageous woman, the fact that she has influence and wields power but not force. Secondarily, I like Minister Sorrensen. He seems to confuse some audiences, but I like his unclear roller-coaster ride through life. He seems real to me for that reason rather than a neatly defined dramatic character who is there for a structural reasons. I think John Heard brought a lot to the success of that character. Maybe I am a bit like that--you know what you believe, mostly, but you are constantly being handed circumstances to question and examine and rethink.

    Q: What was it like, being a man, writing for the perspective of a woman?
    A: I don’t know that I did, actually. Or if I did, I don’t know how successful I was at it. In many ways, though not consciously, I think maybe I made Inge a man--because I know that perspective better--and then cast a beautiful, powerful woman to play the role which made her feel unique. I am inspired by the writing of Jim Harrison, who I think is one of the great tragic poets of our time and even though he is a “guy” who hunts and drinks and womanizes, he does that female perspective very well--as in “Woman Lit By Fireflies.” I think it may have been while reading Harrison’s story that I changed the protagonist from Olaf--as it was in Will’s story--to Inge.

    Q: What about silence. There is a lot of silence and space in the movie--why?
    A: People who read the script always said it was about what happened between the dialogue. Elizabeth said it was about listening. All of the actors were able to make this a reality. At that point, you have to honor the work they have done and give them the space. Prior to that, however, I think silence is a big part of the Scandinavian culture--at least as it resides in Minnesota. They don’t want to bother others with their ideas, problems, words. Silence is true to the heritage. It has a certain power. I think every Minnesotan recognizes that and the actors effectively communicated it.

    Q: What does this film say about true love?
    A: I hope, because this is what I believe, that true love is more about work and focus and investment rather than some poetic notion outside of our control. For that reason I deliberately sought a device that would keep anyone from saying “love at first sight” about Olaf and Inge’s life together.

    Q: What do you want people to walk away with after they see your work?
    A: You mean my work like those beer or steak sauce commercials? I like seeing films that change my view of the universe by a degree or two. The kind of films that remind me who I love, how and why I love them. The kinds of films that show you another part of the world in the hope that you feel empathy with humanity as a whole. Films that present emotions and ideas. I hope this is one of those.

    We Need to Hear From YOU

    We are always looking for film-related material for the Storyboard. Our enthusiastic and well-traveled members have written about their trips to the Cannes Film Festival, London Film Festival, Venice Film Festival, Telluride Film Festival, Toronto Film Festival, Edinburgh Film Festival, the Berlin Film Festival, the Munich Film Festival, and the Locarno Film Festival. We also heard about what it's like being an extra in the movies. Have you gone to an interesting film festival? Have a favorite place to see movies that we aren't covering in the Calendar of Events? Seen a movie that blew you away? Read a film-related book? Gone to a film seminar? Interviewed a director? Taken notes at a Q&A? Read an article about something that didn't make our local news media? Send your contributions to Storyboard and share your stories with the membership. And we sincerely thank all our contributors for this issue of Storyboard.

    Calendar of Events


    American Film Institute Silver Theater
    The 2006 European Union Film Showcase starts November 2 and runs through November 19. The films include US premieres, film festival award winners and box office hits from almost all of the countries in the European Union. See above for further comments on several of the films.

    "Rebels with a Cause: The Cinema of East Germany" is a comprehensive retrospective of East German films in three locations including the AFI, the National Gallery of Art and the Goethe Institute. The AFI shows Her Third (Egon Gunther, 1971), The Legend of Paul and Paula (Heiner Carow, 1972), Mother (Manfred Wekwerth and Harry Bremer, 1958) and The Second Track (Joachim Kunert, 1962) in November; more in December.

    A Carol Reed Centennial of films starts November 23 with The Third Man (1949); seven other films are shown in December. "July Garland Sings!" is a series of six of Judy's best musicals starting with The Harvey Girls on November 24 and running through December and January.

    Freer Gallery of Art
    On November 3 at 7:00pm is a special show of the Indian film Umrao Jaan (Muzzafar Ali, 1981) with the director present to discuss the film. On November 4 at 3:00pm is a lecture/film travelogue on how westerners viewed the East at the turn of the century; Ray Brubacher will provide music accompaniment to the rare archival films. On November 12 at 2:00pm is The World (Jia Zhanke, 2004) which had its Washington premiere at Filmfest DC two years ago. On November 19 at 2:00pm is the latest film from Hou Hsiao-hsien Three Times (2005), also premiered by Filmfest DC earlier this year.

    National Gallery of Art
    Along with the AFI and the Goethe Institute, the National Gallery takes part in "Rebels with a Cause: The Cinema of East Germany," with Berlin Schonhauser Corner (1967), The Gleisitz Case (1961), Born in '45 (1966-90), Carbide and Sorrel (1953) and Naked Among Wolves (1963).

    Special events include Home from the Hill (Vicente Minnelli, 1960) on November 5 at 4:30pm and the International Festival of Films on Art on November 18 at 2:30pm, November 19 at 4:30pm, November 24 at 2:00pm and November 25 at 12:00pm.

    Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden
    On November 2 at 8:00pm is a documentary John and Jane Toll-free (Ashim Ahluwalia, 2005) which had its premiere at Filmfest DC last April, about the teleservices industry in India. On November 8 at 7:00pm is a series of short films by Danish artist Jesper Just who will be present to discuss his work. On November 9 at 8:00pm is Ski Jumping Pairs: Road to Torino (Mashima Riichiro and Kobayashi Masaki, 2006), a feature-length mockumentary about young athletes and their parents.

    National Museum of African Art
    On November 18 at 2:00pm is Shake Hands with the Devil: The Journey of Romeo Dallaire (2004) about the memories of General Romeo Dallaire, commander of the UN peacekeeping force in Rwanda in 1994.

    National Museum of the American Indian
    On November 24 at 7:00pm and November 25 at 1:30pm is a feature length documentary Stolen Spirits of Haida Gwaii, about the people of Haida Gwaii on Canada's Pacific coast, followed by a discussion with John Beaver.

    National Museum of Women in the Arts
    On November 8 at 7:00pm is No! a documentary by Aishah Shahidah Simmons about sexual violence in African American communities with the filmmaker present to discuss the documentary. On November 29 at 7:00pm is Trumpetistically, Clora Bryant (Zeinabu irene Davis, 2006), a documentary about the legendary female trumpet player Clora Bryant.

    Films on the Hill
    Talented and versatile writer Jules Furthman had a hand in all of November's films. On November 8 at 7:00pm is Hotel Imperial (1927), one of Mauritz Stiller's few surviving American films, starring Pola Negri in a story set in WWI in a small border town that is taken over in turn by first the Russians and then the Austrians. On November 15 at 7:00pm is Thunderbolt (1929), Josef von Sternberg's first sound film, starring Fay Wray, and George Bancroft, who was Oscar-nominated in this prototype gangster film. On November 29 at 7:00pm is Over the Hill (Henry King, 1931) stars Mae Marsh in a pre-Code melodrama about a self-sacrificing parent, adapted by Furthman from the poem by Will Carlton.

    Washington Jewish Community Center
    On November 6 at 7:30pm is Nowhere in Africa (Caroline Link, 2002) based on Stefanie Zweig's best-selling autobiography and set mostly in Kenya. On November 13 at 7:30pm is Lost Embrace (Daniel Burman, 2004) from Argentina and a Silver Bear winner at the 2004 Berlin International Film Festival.

    Pickford Theater
    A series of "jaz and rock" films include American Hot Wax (Floyd Mutrux, 1978) on November 6 at 7:00pm, A Hard Day's Night (Richard Lester, 1964) on November 13 at 7:00pm, The T.A.M.I. Show (Steve Binder, 1964) on November 20 at 7:00pm and Monterey Pop (D.A. Pennebaker, 1968) on November 27 at 7:00pm.

    Goethe Institute
    The Goethe Institute takes part in "Rebels with a Cause: The Cinema of East Germany" along with the AFI and the National Gallery of Art. Titles include The Architects (1990) on November 6 at 6:30pm, Your Unknown Brother (1981) on November 13 at 6:30pm, and The Bicycle (1981) on November 20 at 6:30pm

    National Geographic Society
    The US ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) Film and Photography Festival takes place November 2-5. Films include The High Cost of Living (2006) from Singapore on November 2 at 7:00pm; Janji Joni (2005) from Indonesia on November 3 at 7:00pm; Singapore Gaga (2005) from Singapore on November 4 at 12:30pm shown with Malice (2004) also from Singapore; The Tin Mine (2005) from Thailand on November 4 at 3:00pm; Midnight My Love (2005) from Thailand on November 4 at 5:30pm; A collection of Vietnamese Diaspora films on November 5 at 1:00pm; We, Our Jogja (2006) from Indonesia on November 5 at 3:45pm; and Sepet (2004) from Malaysia on November 5 at 7:00pm.

    French Embassy
    On November 9 at 7:00pm is A Real Man (Jean-Marie Larrieu, 2003).

    National Archives
    On November 8 at 7:00pm is D-Day Remembered (1994), an Oscar-nominated documentary about the invasion of Normandy and the battle that followed. On November 9 at noon is The Fighting Lady (1944) winner of the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature, created from footage shot on the aircraft carrier USS Yorktown in the Pacific.

    National Museum of Natural History
    On November 4 at 10:30am is DOR (2006) with director Nagesh Kukunor answering questions after the screening.

    The Avalon
    This month's Asian Cinevisions film is the Korean A Good Lawyer's Wife (Im Sang-soo, 2003) on November 8 at 8:00pm. The "French Cinémathčque" offering for November is A Little Bird Told Me (Pascal Thomas, 2005), an adaptation of a crime story by Agatha Christie, on November 15 at 8:00pm.

    Smithsonian Associates
    As part of the "Sunday Cinema Film Series" is Be With Me (Eric Khoo, 2005), a film from Singapore and a Cannes Film Festival Official Selection, on November 19 at 1:00pm.


    Arabian Sights
    Twelve films from the Arab world will be shown October 27-November 5, some with their directors present. Titles include I Saw Ben Barka Get Killed; Waiting; The Prince That Contemplated His Soul; Beur, Blanc, Rouge; Ahlaam, Khochkhach; Bosta; The Betrayal; A New Day in Old Sana'a; A Perfect Day; Arabs and Terrorism; The Night Baghdad Fell. See story above.

    The 2006 European Union Film Showcase
    The 19th Annual European Union Film Showcase (November 2-19) is a selection of 27 films from countries belonging to the European Union. See the latest award-winners and box-office hits from Greece, Finland, Austria, Czech Republic, Hungary, Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, and lots more. Many directors are scheduled to present and discuss their films.

    Previous Storyboards

    October, 2006
    September, 2006
    August, 2006
    July, 2006
    June, 2006
    May, 2006
    April, 2006
    March, 2006
    February, 2006
    January, 2006
    December, 2005
    November, 2005
    October, 2005
    September, 2005

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