March 2007


Last updated on March 21, 2007. Please check back later for additions.

Contents

The Prisoner:: An Interview with Michael Tucker JUST ADDED!
The Host:: An Interview with Bong Jong-ho
Black Snake Moan: Forty Minutes with Craig Brewer
An Unreasonable Man: A Telephone Interview with Ralph Nader
The 15th Annual Environmental Film Festival
The Rotterdam International Film Festival
Amazing Grace: Audience Q&A with Director Michael Apted
Breach: Q&A with Director Billy Ray, Actor Chris Cooper and Eric O'Neill
The Lives of Others: Q&A with Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck
We Need to Hear From You
Calendar of Events

A printer-friendly version.



The Prisoner: An Interview with Michael Tucker

By James McCaskill, DC Film Society Member

I am not terrorist or monster. I am not Dracula. I am not a monkey or cow. I am a man. (Yunis Khatayer Abbas)

The Prisoner or: How I Planned to Kill Tony Blair (Michael Tucker and Petra Epperlein, Germany, 2006) is a harrowing story that makes you think of Joseph K in Franz Kafka's The Trial. In the middle of the night of September 23, 2003, Yunis Khatayer Abbas and his brothers returned from a joyful wedding celebration only to be arrested and tossed into the labyrinth of the US Army interrogation and in time ended up in the notorious Abu Ghraib prison for eight months. There Abbas was subjected to torture and endless interrogations, "Tell us the plan." What plan? His plan to assassinate UK's Prime Minister Tony Blair. Of course, there was no such plan. Where would the US Army get such an idea? More than likely because Abbas was a cameraman and worked for the BBC. That is conjecture because our military has never been forthcoming with a reason. In the end, as he left the prison, someone did say, "Sorry."

This interview took place with co-director Michael Tucker and member of the 372nd Military Police Company Benjamin Thompson, identified as "The Good Soldier" in the film. He befriended Abbas and googled for him after returning to the states.

The first thing I wanted to know was why Tucker made this film. He said, "I covered Yunis' arrest which was in the previous film (Gunner Palace) and it left me with many questions. Someone saw the film and said he, Yunis, was out and we can get you to see him. Once we were able to see him and add his emotional perspective, I was able to see things through his eyes."

The film is a variety of media: early footage from Gunner Palace, Abbas' home movies, co-director (Tucker's wife) Petra Epperlein's cartoons. Why this mix? "It is kind of what you get when you shake the tree and see what comes out. He had some amazing footage. There was the film that I shot of the raid on his home. He had footage after his release. We've all seen stories of Abu Ghraib but nothing on what happens when they go home, when they are greeted by their mother. We did some research. Everything had to be done quietly so as not to attract attention to him. Even his interviews had to be shot with minimal intrusion. How do you bring it to life and still let him tell his story?

"All over the Middle East you see Hollywood movie posters. He speaks of Rambo. Yunis had a sense of popular culture. The media is consumed with soldiers and photographs of torture. He tells his story in a direct way. It has a dramatic feeling. He would speak of being beaten and then speak of seeing his father in his underwear. All these were very unique and his own experience. As to using mixed media--for him, you can hurt him many times but what bothered him was what they said about his mother. As for comics, people separate comic book violence from real life violence. I had been told that these brothers were making bombs to be used against Tony Blair. When, at the raid, he said he was a journalist, he was looking at my camera. My job was to be invisible and I was not invisible. I wanted him to be quiet. He had no press credentials. A press card might have ended that doubt; at least it could have been checked."

The military denies he was ever imprisoned, that Prisoner #151186 does not exist. How could that happen? "There was an enormous administration, completely mismanaged. A family could go months and not know where their loved ones were."

There seems to be elements of luck, both good and bad, throughout the film. Lucky for you that you filmed the raid, unlucky for Yunis as he was trapped at Camp Ganci (the tent city at Abu Ghraib where prisoners who were of no intelligence value were housed). Luck that you found him and Benjamin Thompson. "For Yunis, much to his disbelief, thought this was a mistake and he would be out in a day. He did not think he would be away from his family for 8 months. For the military there was a deliberate unwillingness to listen. There was always a presumption of guilt. They held tens of thousands of people in camps for months."

What should we take away from this film? There is a huge obstacle. We have all seen the photos of torture at Abu Ghraib and think that is all there is. What people know is the pictures. They don't realize that there were five or six thousand people being held in tents with basic provisions. Nor do they know that very few people had any intelligence of value. The Army said later that 80% should have been released.

I wanted to know what former Spec. Benjamin Thompson thought about his tour of duty in Iraq, guarding prisoners for a year. He said, "The conditions there violated the bare minimum that I had been trained to believe that detainees should receive. Regulations called for them to receive exactly the same as guards had. The camp was unsanitary, water was unclean. The area was under constant attack. Guards had full body armor, the prisoners did not. The food was uneatable. There were maggots in their rice. This was not by accident. It was policy. People who made a lot of money set those conditions. The kind of priority they were given was not that of a human being. Something else."

How has he been after retuning home? "War does not leave you unchanged." He is now enrolled in college and wants to go into social work after grad school, working with disabled soldiers. I asked him if he had any contact with Yunis. He had not nor was he certain that he wanted to.

The statements of Bush and Blair used in the film seem ironic when we see what went on there. "Important to replay that stuff. Blair and Bush said these things. They promised people things and then have failed to uphold their promises. Yunis liked to work with Western journalists. You can't find a family who has not had someone detained. It is internment actually. Is it irony or is it history? We did not write that stuff, some speech writer did."

Thompson spoke up. Have you heard from others stationed there? "A couple of emails. There were thousands of soldiers stationed at Abu Ghraib. Slowly they come forward. Interesting to see how things are interconnected. Some email from people looking for prisoners they knew."

Was there anything else Tucker wanted to say? "Put it in context over here with your neighbor arrested for plotting the assassination of a world leader. He is just like us."

The Prisoner opens on March 23 at Landmark's E Street Cinema.



The Host: An Interview with Korean Director Bong Jon-ho

By James McCaskill, DC Film Society Member

Jim McCaskill: I've heard that you began work on this film as a teenager. Is that true?
Bong Jon-ho: When I was younger I lived by the Han River, where the film takes place. I was inspired by that space. Like many film directors I had absurd dreams. What is something like Scotland's Nessie came out of the river. It stayed with me until we made the film. When I made the presentation to the production company it was very simple. I pasted a picture of Nessie on a photo of the Han River. And they said, "Yes."

JM: Scotland has the Loch Ness Monster. Will Seoul have your monster?
BJ: The Han River is not as famous as Loch Ness but Seoul City Council has put up some signs saying things like, "This is where the father died." I was in Edinburgh last summer for their film festival and went to Loch Ness. Beautiful place.

JM: How did you manage to get Weta Workshop to work on your film?
BJ: They are busy. But for this movie they did only the final modeling stage. Made a miniature of the monster and did digital scanning. They have had a lot of experience as they made the monsters in Lord of the Ring. They did advise on final design of the creature. All the computer graphics were done by a San Francisco company, The Orphanage. Richard Taylor, Weta boss, was enthusiastic. There is another company, John Cox's Creature Workshop in Australia which did the head of monster used in close-up scenes.

JM: Who was responsible for the monster's shape?
BJ: John Cox did the animatronics. I gave him the basic design and also those things in the story that had to be fulfilled. It had to come out of the river. The creature had mutated so it had legs and could run on land like an amphibian. A few years back a fish was found in polluted water that had a curved spine. We used that. Also there was a give and take process. I gave him points that needed to be in film. The creature had to swallow people and spit them out. It had to be acrobatic under the bridge. It had to be able to do such things.

JM: I heard that Clinton Morgan got in trouble for acting in the film.
BJ: He is the actor in climax scene with Agent Yellow. He did not have a work permit, got in trouble with Immigration and had to leave Korea.

JM: What was the budget for The Host?
BJ: Eleven Million US dollars. Small for Hollywood but big for Korea.

JM: What would you have added if you had had a larger budget?
BJ: When the monster was running around he would have damaged more things. I tried to limit the monster's time on screen to as small as possible. In the process it made me more creative. You know the creature is around even when he is not on screen.

JM: When did you realize that the film was going to be the pronominal success that it has become?
BJ: I don't think it has hit me even now. It has opened in every continent except Africa. It's opening this month in the US, Canada and Australia. It is great that a Korean film is going around the world. It has gotten great reviews and was mentioned as top ten 2006 film by several reviewers. The French film magazine Cahiers du cinema ranked the film in third place in its list of best films in 2006.

That really makes me happy.

(Note: The film has received rave reviews from Cannes, Edinburgh, Toronto and Rotterdam film festivals.)

JM: Does that little fish that appears at the end of the film mean there might be a sequel?
BJ: A detail for the future? It meant that the creature is now the host to that small fish. A lot of people do regard it as a signal.

The Host opens on March 8 at E Street Cinema.



Forty Minutes with Craig Brewer

By Adam Spector, DC Film Society Member

At last yearís Oscars the rap group "Three 6 Mafia" provided one of the highlights with their Best Original Song win for Itís Hard Out There for a Pimp. That moment wouldnít have been possible without writer/director Craig Brewer, who featured the song in his film Hustle & Flow. The Audience Award winner at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival, Hustle & Flow also garnered star Terrence Howard an Oscar nomination for Best Actor. Now Brewer is back with his next film, Black Snake Moan, which, like Hustle & Flow, is produced by John Singleton and his partner Stephanie Allain.

As immersed as Hustle & Flow was in rap, Black Snake Moan is even more so with vintage blues music. In fact, the title comes from a 1927 blues song by Blind Lemon Jefferson. Samuel L. Jackson plays Lazarus, a down on his luck former blues musician in Tennessee whose wife has just left him. Christina Ricci co-stars as Rae, a troubled young woman who has become the town tramp. After her boyfriend leaves town Rae spirals out of control into endless sex and drugs. She ends up beaten and cast off onto the side of the road. Lazarus finds her and takes her home. He quickly learns that Raeís wounds go far beyond the physical. Lazarus forgoes traditional therapy and chains Rae to his radiator while he attempts to turn her life around. Meanwhile, he rediscovers his passion for the blues and starts his own romantic relationship with Angela (S. Epatha Merkerson), the town pharmacist.

Brewer recently sat down for a roundtable discussion about his new film, his past struggles, and the music he loves:

Question: Youíre obviously not afraid of controversial imagery in your last two movies. Youíve got a pimp. Youíve got an old black guy that chains up a white girl in the South. How do you think people will react to the imagery?
Craig Brewer: I can only speak as to what audiences are doing. I think that they see the poster and think, ďMan, do I want to see this movie?Ē and they go, ďHow can we not? We gotta find out what the hell is going on here.Ē Then they get into it. I find that, especially with a big olí crowd they get to the point where sheís in that chain and itís both shocking and exhilarating. Iíve been in audiences where Iíve seen old women cheer. Itís a very interesting mix to be in an audience because I think that theyíre looking at this not so much as controversial Southern iconography and the imagery, but theyíre looking at two cultures. Not black and white necessarily, but old and young. What I wanted to do in this movie was have that aged wisdom that came from a place not of judgement or a place of righteousness but really came from a place of understanding. He (Lazarus) says, ďLook, Iíve done some crazy things.Ē Lazarusís character has done a lot of crazy things in his day and has suffered through a lot of demons. He put that junk behind him for a while and heís trying to be a little righteous with this girl, saying, ďYouíve got to stop this.Ē But the more heís with her heís almost saying, ďWait a minute, you know I donít know if I can completely run from myself. Iím a night man. My job is to maybe sing these songs where I swear and get people screaming and get Ďem dancing and maybe even get Ďem sinning.Ē But thatís who heís got to be. So I can only speak to what audiences say. You always get in trouble, I think, when you know critics have to put their name to something and they have to put their opinion on what they think of it. It getís a little shaky there. But audiences are feeling it a great deal. And I donít think Iím necessarily pandering to them. I think Iím taking them on a journey where they donít quite know whatís going to happen next.

Adam Spector: Do you think audiences will be at all uncomfortable?
CB: I wanted to take the audience on a ride where they would be culpable. I wanted them to lust after Christina. I wanted them to feel uncomfortable about this white girl being in this black manís house. On a number of levels I wanted them to be uncomfortable. I wanted them to be uncomfortable for Samís safety, Samís characterís safety. I wanted them to be uncomfortable, because, man, sheís kind of coming on to him and thatís inappropriate. Not from a race standpoint even, but from an age standpoint. I mean, heís so old. Heís so big. Sheís so teeny, and so young, and so taboo. Weíre talking about taboo, weíre talking about the blues. You know, weíre talking about the South and weíre talking about those collisions that have brought about some of the worst elements in humans. But also itís brought about our best stuff, itís brought about our best music.

Q: Your films have got a very multi-ethnic cast. Youíve got DJ Qualls in Hustle & Flow and Christina Ricci in Black Snake, but for the most part your main characters are African-American. Thereís some people that would ask...
CB: Why am I telling these stories?

Q: Yeah. As a white boy from Tennessee, do you think you can tell stories about the African-American experience?
CB: Weíre living in very cautious times right now, where people look to movies as having to adhere to some sort of moral standard to some extent. I donít necessarily live in that world. I wasnít ignoring race but I didnít think it was something that I should have stayed away because it was there, because I have such a love for the music. Do you wait to tell the story thatís in your heart, that you desperately want to tell the world, for an African-American to tell that story? Or do you make sure you go into it knowing that thereís going to be that kind of scrutiny? You better nail it. You better be respectful to a culture. I have African-Americans as leads in two movies that Iíve made about rap and blues. You know what I mean? I donít know how I could have done it any other way but with African-Americans. But at the same time Iím not trying to put a patent on anybody. Iím not saying all black men are pimps no more than Iím saying that all white girls are nymphomaniacs...

I understand that I am in a little bit of a sticky place. I think the thing that I just want to tell people is, ďGive me the benefit of the doubt. Iím coming with true love and true understanding.Ē I know blues, and Iíll be even more honest. I wish more African-Americans would embrace blues. It has been, to some extent, abandoned by African-Americans. Thereís not many young blacks who know much about the blues. These were true pioneers, these were Delta bluesmen in Mississippi, in segregated Mississippi, in a place where there was a true, palpable threat of death, both from levees breaking and flooding homes. Iím not talking Katrina. Iím talking about old songs. To the fires of hell, to a womanís lust, to being lynched. They (the bluesmen) chose, in a time where people had to be very, very quiet, to sing and shout out these things in their head, these fears. I think that the music, in its repetition, in its beat, in its fierceness at times, is the thing that made those bluesmen take control over that fear instead of having that fear control them. I think thatís the lesson that Lazarus is trying to convey to this girl. I do not go into these things flippantly. I really am careful, even when Iím being reckless.

AS: Give the subject matter, when you were making the film and working with the actors, how did you keep it from being an exploitative film? How did you try to inject reality into an outrageous situation?
CB: Well, I think that, like with all melodrama, what you do is you have an outrageous situation. You get people to try to play it somewhat straight. But the great thing about having Sam Jackson and Christina Ricci is that they have their own personas. They really are movie stars. What I mean by movie stars is that I put them in that Jack Nicholson department. I put them in the Bette Davis, the Katherine Hepburn department. They are presences unto themselves. Sam Jackson has a theatricality to himself. Christina has that too, and to see two people who have that, thatís already part of their essence. Itís their truth, theyíre not putting on a show. Thatís really how they are, how they react. But theyíre still playing it straight. Both Sam and Christina really cared about these characters. Christina had a connection with this girl. She desperately wanted to play her. Sam wouldnít leave us alone. He had to play this guy. Heís a Tennessee boy. He knew this character. I found it rather refreshing to see Sam in a role like this. He could be a little bit of his badassness, but heís much more subtle in this movie, I think, than people are used to. And also, I canít remember any time where Iíve seen Sam romantic. And to see him with S. Epatha Merkerson... So you get the right people with you and you put a lot of trust in them and God and hope that itís all in focus.

AS: In both Hustle & Flow and Black Snake Moan music is featured as not only essential to the story but as a vehicle for redemption and fulfillment. Does that reflect the way you feel about music?
CB: Thatís definitely the way I feel about rap and blues. For me at least, the creative spark really starts with the music first. The music is not the frosting. The music is the cake. Thatís why Black Snake Moan is in this Southern fable type of way. Blues is filled with mythology. Itís filled with parable, and so it informed the way I wanted to do this movie. I knew that I was going through a lot of pain in my life. I was trying to get Hustle & Flow made for three years, and I was just going to do it on video, just like I did my first movie. Just do it at home. Itís so funny. I was going to make the movie with Three 6 Mafia.

AS: They would have acted in it?
CB: Yeah, Al Capone, who did two of the songs, was going to play DJ (the protagonist). We would just do it on video. And then Stephanie Allain got involved and John Singleton got involved, and then with all these studios, it was just like, ďHey, we could do a movie like that, but we probably donít want to do it with you. This is going to be a directorís story and we canít have a white guy doing the black experience, so to speak.Ē I wasnít trying to do the black experience. I was trying to do this guyís experience. They also didnít want to do it with Terrence Howard. They also didnít want to do it with Three 6 Mafia. So I started having these wild anxiety attacks. Iíd never had anything like that in my life, and my dad died of a heart attack at 49. I think that was on my mind a lot. Actually, that plot point is in Hustle & Flow. Thatís what Hustle & Flow is about. I felt like this movie (Black Snake Moan), even though I wanted to do these music genre movies, had to be a movie that was living in this almost outrageous scenario. It had to be something of a world that I wanted people to experience, to have a great time with, to be afraid and aroused and offended and the same time they canít really completely take it seriously. Let me assure you, as someone who lives in the south, we do not have white women chained up and chained to radiators. Itís not happening, and I donít think anybody whoís going to come see the movie (will believe) that this is what happens every day. Just like I donít think any 13 year old who saw Hustle & Flow said, ďI gotta be a pimp.Ē

AS: From what youíve said it almost sounds like Black Snake Moan was therapeutic for you.
CB: Absolutely, I needed it. Iím not Sam Jackson in this movie. Iím that hot girl on the end of the chain. Hollywood and entertainment can make it real easy for you to get lost. Because itís the art of the hypothetical. Your movie may work if Brad Pitt is in it. Iíll tell you one thing. I remember people saying to me, ďWeíll make Hustle & Flow, but you gotta make it funnier, because we canít like this guy. We canít make him human. If we make him funny, we can laugh at him, then we can handle it better.Ē And Iíve had studios tell me that. So you tend to get lost a little bit because you so desperately want to make movies, you want to be working. Listen, itís not like, ďOh, I need to make a movie for my career,Ē I need to make a movie so I can eat. You know, I had a baby. I didnít have health insurance. I mean I had to go down to Jackson Avenue with everybody else and apply for state health insurance so I could have my kid. So I was ready to sell my soul numerous times with it. But, for whatever reason, you know, I didnít. But it took a toll on me. I started getting wild ... just losing myself a little bit. And when youíre that untethered, you know, you tend to get a little reckless with yourself. Then you reach that point, you know, kind of like where Christina is in that garden and sheís lost. Sheís screaming and crying. She doesnít even know where she is anymore. I just wanted, like, a dad, you know, my granddad to say, ďSon, weíve been here. You need to just do some yard work. You need to maybe eat some good food or make some food. Youíve got to remember that life continues on and that you are entitled to happiness and that you are entitled to love.Ē I know a lot of people who did not have unconditional love in their life and itís a true crime. I really believe in the healing power of people. I really do believe you can make a choice to love someone and to ignore the bad parts of them, you know, and not focus on that. You do more good to them and to yourself by concentrating on the good.

Q: So your mindset when Allain and Singleton came along was, ďOK, I might actually get this project (Hustle & Flow) off the ground. So during that time you started thinking about this film?
CB: Yeah, because it just wasnít getting off the ground. And whatís even worse, man, is that everybody in Memphis knew that John Singleton was doing business with me. And everyone was like: ďMan, Craig, youíre paid. Youíre going up the ladder,Ē and we couldnít pay our rent. Weíre selling furniture. I sold all my videos that I had collected since I was 14 years old. Citizen Kane, that my dad bought when it first came out on video, he got it for me. And I had this big yard sale, 400 videos. I go over to my friendís house and I see my movies. It was an exhilarating time but it was a real terrible time. So I wrote this movie right after I wrote Hustle & Flow but it was before I shot Hustle & Flow. So, when Hustle & Flow came out and they said, ďWhat do you want to do next?Ē I said, ďWell, all of you people who passed on Hustle & Flow, boy, have I got a movie for you!Ē

Q: Thatís the one you wanted to do.
CB: It really was because I want people to know, and they may not feel it, I donít know, that Iím really trying to do something. Iím really trying to tell this set of movies. And then, after that I think I may do something different, go back to theater. I might take Hustle & Flow to Broadway and make a musical or something. But, until then, Iíve got this idea, this country movie that I want to do in Tennessee, this next one Iím doing, Maggie Lynn. The scriptís all ready. Weíre gonna be casting soon. And then I want to do my soul movie because I really love Stacks. I love the story of Stacks. But I love the story of the sanitation workers in Memphis, and the moment between Otis Redding dying in December of Ď67 and Dr. King being assassinated in April of Ď68. It was a very interesting time in Memphis, Tennessee. Itís called 4/4, which is four beats to a measure, which is also April 4 (the date of the Dr. Kingís assassination). Itís also called the ďcommon time,Ē which I always liked, 4/4, The Common Time. So thatís the soul one.

Q: What for you, if any, has been the price of success? You have mentioned hustling to get Hustle & Flow made. So now that youíve achieved that level of success, it would be nice to get those Hollywood projects. Are you looking at making those compromises?
CB: No. Iíd really like to try not to. The thing is I know itís really the thing to do, to be the rebel and say, ďMan, Iím not going to sell out,Ē but Iím already kind of a bat, you know. Neither a bird nor a beast. Because in Hollywood Iím that crazy Southern guy who makes movies like this. But back home Iím the Hollywood sellout. (Laughs) So I canít win for losing. And also I didnít begin my career with absolutely everybody applauding. Hustle & Flow was panned by critics and praised by critics. Itís hard to know what success is anymore. I made that movie for $2.5 million. It grossed a total of $23.5 million and people weíre like, ďYou know, thatís not like My Big Fat Greek Wedding and itís definitely not even Napoleon Dynamite.Ē What is success? Is it critical reviews? I donít know. Crash, everybody hated that movie. Critics hated that movie. Audiences seemed to like it. The Academy seemed to like it. Who are we supposed to believe on this? The true price, I guess, of success is ... I mean I donít think thereís any downside to success. You know, Iíve worked with my name on my shirt. Iím happy, I really am. The problem is: Can you move on to your next movie? Can you go from being a person who is like, ďIíve gotta make a movie or Iíll die,Ē or, ďIf I could just make one movie, then Iím good.Ē But then you have the option suddenly, you can make more. Then youíre left with: What kind of filmmaker do I want to be?

Q: Who are your influences? Clearly your parents...
CB: Yeah, my dad was a big influence on me because, he had a lot of big influences too. I guess if I were to have a couple of heroes, itíd be Sam Phillips. He made a label called Sun Records in Memphis, Tennessee and he was the one who recorded B.B. King, Howliní Wolf, and Rufus Thomas. He also recorded Elvis Presley. I always liked what he said and that was that really youíve just got to get passionate people in the room and make sure they get there on time and make sure you get the microphone placed right and then wait for that magical moment and hit record. Iím trying to do that with actors. Iím trying to get the right kind of actors together where I can just get this thing going and hopefully I can record it correctly. But when weíre talking about influences, Iím one of those guys that grew up on Spielberg movies, like everybody else. I was inspired by Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark. I didnít go to college or anything like that. I didnít go to film school. I got really into theater. I really got into Tennessee Williams, and Beth Henley and William Inge, David Mamet, Lanford Wilson, August Wilson. They were the greatest playwrights ever. August Wilson, you know I look at a play like ďThe Piano LessonĒ and what that piano meant. The piano itself was a metaphor as well ... the position that it put that family in. Man, they can sell it, they can so easily sell that piano.

Q: The soul of your whole family.
CB: Yeah. I wish people could look at the radiator and the chain in the same way. To me itís about faith. To me that radiator is faith, and it keeps you warm, it cools your fevers. You put your head to it. I think I was inspired through those playwrights, through Tennessee Williams knowing that a glass unicorn represented Laura Wingfield (in ďThe Glass MenagerieĒ) and her club foot because none of the other horses looked like this unicorn. Then she finally gets kissed by the gentleman caller and he breaks the glass unicorn and the horn falls off. I had a playwriting teacher who told me that youíve got to put the skull in Hamletís hands. What that means is that if you had to burn your play or your book or your movie, what is that one image, if you were just left with that, that could hopefully describe the struggle of the movie or of the piece? To me, yanking on that radiator and her just screaming to get free of that. As much as some people would say, ďThis poor girl is being held against her will.Ē Iíve seen something else. Iíve seen someone that is so angry at the world and so out of control that suddenly something goes, ďCome here. Sit down. Iím not going to let you go.Ē and doesnít let go. And from that comes tears and ultimately rest and perhaps peace just to even listen a little bit.

AS: You bookend Black Snake Moan with film of Son House, the 1930s blues legend. Where did you find those clips?
CB: Thereís a bunch of clips like that, that you can find online. But really, where my passion comes from, is that thereís all these guys in Memphis, white and black, young guys, college guys and older. And we love those blues artists, those soul artists. And we collect video. We find everything. Iíve got Ike and Tina (Turner) doing this washing machine commercial. It was live, I think, in Germany. Theyíre selling washing machines, but their singing is awesome. And then Howliní Wolf, Sonny Boy Williamson. Thereís some incredible old black-and-white footage of them thatís out there and we know itís almost like looking for the Ark of the Covenant. Weíre looking for the tablets of Moses because we feel like this is it. You canít do another interview with these guys. You canít call up Charlie Patton. Heís gone. Like Robert Johnson only left us two pictures of him. I mean, two pictures in this day and age? You think about ďGod, if you can get some footage of these people.Ē I was delighted to put that footage in the movie in two places. One: I think it kind of saved my ass, because I was thinking that Iíve got a lot of people who saw Hustle & Flow. Theyíre coming to see my movie. I wanted an old man to go, ďHey people, this isnít a hip-hop movie. This is a blues movie. This consists of that which is between a male and female when they are in love, and when one or the other deceives the other one.Ē And I needed someone to get us started and to think right like ďHey, this is not what youíre expecting. Itís going to be a tale and itís going to take us into some dark places. Here we go. Are we ready?Ē Then, even at the end of it, he comes back and says, ďMan, sometimes that kind of blues can even make you wanna kill somebody.Ē And youíre just like, ďOh no, whatís going to happen next from that?Ē So thereís that part where it helped me...

I remember watching Risky Business and when you see Tom Cruise put on those black Ray-Bans and that gray blazer and heís walking through his suburb and heís rounding guys to come over to his house to... Heís being a pimp, and this music starts up. I remember saying, ďDad, whatís that song?Ē and him saying, ďThatís a famous song called ĎMannish Boyí by Muddy Waters.Ē So I had to buy that song ... and then it just became addictive. I would collect this music and I would love it and I felt that I was special because I knew that this was special, that this was something that was recorded once and these people arenít around anymore. They made this contribution ... itís incredible music and I just wish people knew how special these artists were. They were important.

Black Snake Moan opens in area theaters March 2.



An Unreasonable Man: A Telephone Chat with Ralph Nader

By Lee Lederer, DC Film Society Member

Ralph Nader, who describes himself as "a full time citizen", is the subject of a new documentary called An Unreasonable Man and the author of a book The Seventeen Traditions in which he reminisces about his childhood in Winsted, Connecticut. The documentary concerns Nader's achievements in consumer protection but also treats the pro and con viewpoints of his highly controversial Presidential campaigns in 2000 and 2004.

In a telephone conversation on February 5, 2007, Nader talked about the film and the book.

Q: In the documentary An Unreasonable Man, you provide an explanation for why you felt compelled to run for the Presidency in 2000 and again in 2004, including your view that there were no significant differences between the two parties. Looking towards the 2008 Presidential election, have your views about the two parties changed at all, are you more optimistic this time around?
A: I am more optimistic because in the House of Representatives, some of the old Democrats are back in as the Chairmen for the Committees, such as Henry Waxman and George Miller. So that's an advantage. But when the Democrats were in the minority, they went along and didn't stop the Executive. They didn't stop the tax cuts or the Iraq War. The Executive ran amok.

Nader went on to say he still saw many similarities between the two parties.

Q: Given that point, do you think you will run again in 2008?
A: It's too early to say. I wish others would do it. I've been trying to get Bill Moyers to run in the Democratic primaries. He would be terrific.

Q: What was your personal reaction to An Unreasonable Man? Do you think it presents an accurate portrayal of Ralph Nader and what he has done and what he believes?
A: Yes, as much as a film of two hours and five minutes can. The drama the film depicts is that when the doors close, you can't plead your case. Not like in the past when we could get in the door. Now the doors are shut, not just for us but for other non-profit organizations. This is the result of corporate governance (over the past 25 years).

Q: In your new book The Seventeen Traditions about your growing up, you mention that there was one movie theater in your home town of Winsted, Connecticut, but that you were only likely to go there about two times a year. Did you look forward to going to the movies on those occasions, was it a big deal?
A: Oh yes, it was a big deal. Do your remember National Velvet?

Q: I was just going to ask, did any of the films have an impact on you?
A: National Velvet. Tarzan. Some of the Arabian Nights films. And they were in color (laughs).

Q: In your book, you mention that your mother did not want you or your siblings to see Hollywood films which featured sex and violence because she thought they were "demeaning and wasteful." What is your view of the film industry and the kind of movies that Americans are watching? A: There is a zero sum relationship between excessive sexuality and well plotted, intricate, nuanced movies. Most movies just take cheap shots. With a lot of noise. There's noise and sex. Sort of MTV with porn. It's a cheap way out. It's not like the old movies which had more suspense that kept your interest, kept you wondering what would happen. Now there's something every 28 seconds.

Q: Have you ever seen Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and, if so, do you see any parallels with your early career encounter with General Motors?
A: (laughs) Yes, but I had to stay (in Washington). He didn't . He didn't have to sweat for 40 years.

Q: An Unreasonable Man indicates that you have very little free time for a private life. Your life revolves around your work. Do you ever have time to go to the movies or watch a film on TV or on DVD?
A: I see about four movies a year. But there are not that many good movies. The ads in the paper show only a small number of the same movies showing.

Q: Q: Do you think films can play a useful and valuable role in terms of the kind of issues of concern to you and your associates?
A: That's a challenging question. And I have no definite answer. I like to believe they can. The China Syndrome helped on the nuclear power issue. I hope that An Unreasonable Man will inspire people to want to be leaders (on key issues). If that happens, even if it is only a dozen people, that's a dozen lives.

Q: Regarding documentaries, Michael Moore was one of your ardent supporters in the 2000 election, although not in 2004. Did you see Farenheit 9/11 and, if so, what did you think about it?
A: That was a good movie, which used clips very well. That's an example. But I don't know that it affected the vote for Bush. There are powerful documentaries but they don't necessarily move people to action. Iraq for Sale was a very good film but did it have an impact on anyone to take action? And not that many people saw it.

Q: What about Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth?
A: That is a good example of a film which is working to change the political environment in its direction. They had a huge promotion budget of, I am told, about $25 million. I bought tickets for people in my home town (Winsted, Connecticut) to see it. After the film, they went home and talked about it. It had an impact.

Q: The final sentences of a New York Times review of An Unreasonable Man comments that the Gore film, and I'm quoting here, is almost entirely about the challenges of the future, while An Unreasonable Man, for all its invocations of the progressive spirit, concerns itself mainly with the battles of the past." What is your reaction to that reviewer's assessment?
A: The critic missed the point. The problems discussed in the film are still with us.

Q: The documentary about you opens with the quotation from George Bernard Shaw that "the reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man." Do you feel that quotation does indeed apply to you?
A: Shaw was using the word in a different sense from its use today. Now it means irrational. I prefer the word impatient.

An Unreasonable Man opened at the E Street Cinema on February 23rd.



Oil, Mongolia, Katrina and George Butler:
The Environmental Film Festival Celebrates 15 Years in DC

The 15th annual Environmental Film Festival in the Nationís Capital, March 15 through 25, will present 115 feature, documentary, animated, archival and childrenís films selected to provide fresh perspectives on environmental issues across the globe. The 2007 Festival features cinematic work from 27 countries and 50 Washington, D.C., United States and World premieres. Nearly 100 filmmakers, scientists and special guests will discuss their work at the Festival.

Festival premieres include the IMAX film, Hurricane on the Bayou, capturing the unprecedented devastation of Hurricane Katrina; Manufactured Landscapes exploring the aesthetic, social and spiritual dimensions of industrialization and globalization; Ten Canoes, an ethnographic feature film focusing on the Ramingining Aboriginal community in Australia; Sharkwater exposing the global threats to sharks and their importance in the food chain; The Last Winter, a supernatural horror film with nature in a leading role; Khadak, set in the bleak beauty of the Mongolian steppes; Into Great Silence, which seeks to embody rather than depict a Carthusian monastery; John James Audubon: Drawn from Nature, a portrait of the life and work of the famous scientist, woodsman, hunter and artist; and The Return of the American Elm about meeting the challenge of Dutch elm disease.

Two 2007 Oscar-winning films will be screened in the Festival: An Inconvenient Truth, winner of Best Documentary Feature and Blood of the Yingzhou District, winner for Best Documentary Short Subject.

The eminent naturalist Dr. E.O. Wilson will share his innovative perspectives on biodiversity and sociobiology and show clips from The Secret Life of a Naturalist about his life and work. Director George Butler will present his latest film, The Lord God Bird, a work in progress on the elusive Ivory-billed Woodpecker as part of a Butler mini-retrospective at the AFI Silver Theatre that will include In the Blood and The Endurance: Shackletonís Legendary Antarctic Expedition. Genome pioneer Dr. Craig Venter will show and discuss his film, Cracking the Ocean Code, about the search for the genetic secrets of our worldís oceans. New York Times columnist and author Thomas L. Friedman will present Addicted to Oil: Thomas L. Friedman Reporting about the relationship between Americaís energy consumption, oil prices and geopolitical power. Dr. David Suzuki will reflect on his life as a scientist, environmentalist, broadcaster and author.

Nationally renowned animator, cartoonist and illustrator Bill Plympton will present eight of his shorts and discuss his oblique, off-beat style. The classic Japanese animation, Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind will be shown as well as a selection of nature animations for families and children.

Winners from MOUNTAINFILM in Telluride and the Wildscreen Festival in Bristol, England are among the highlights of the 2007 Festival. Films will address the global oil crisis, climate change, the threat of global dimming, the 2004 Asian tsunami, the environmental rebirth of Chicago, the Dutch genius for cultivating tulips, Rachel Carsonís legacy and the shifting sands of North Carolinaís Outer Banks.

The Environmental Film Festival has become the leading showcase for environmental films in the United States. Presented in collaboration with over 65 local, national and international organizations, the Festival is one of the largest cooperative cultural events in the nationís capital. Films are screened at over 40 venues throughout the city, including museums, embassies, libraries, universities and local theaters. Most screenings are free to the public and include discussion with filmmakers or scientists. For a complete film schedule, visit the
Festival Web site or call 202-342-2564 for a film brochure.



The Rotterdam International Film Festival

By James McCaskill, DC Film Society Member

The International Film Festival Rotterdam presented a program that focused on independent and innovative film-making by up and coming directors from all corners of the world. The selections include 44 world, 23 international, and 30 European feature premieres. This is always the festival to see new directors from Africa and Asia as well as established European cinema centers.

A few of those new works are: Ragnar Bragason presented the world premiere of Parents, the second part of twin features started with Children as well as his two must-see Icelandic tales of family life. In world premieres from the United Kingdom, the festival presents talent such as Laurin Federleinís Build a Ship, Sail to Sadness, and Marc Mundenís The Mark of Cain, an impressive film about British soldiers in Iraq. From the USA came Nina Davenportís documentary Operation Filmmaker, an engaging parable about the U.S. invasion of Iraq and Stephane Gaugerís The Owl and the Sparrow, a warm-hearted story set in modern-day Saigon.

From Asia, The Rotterdam Film Festival presented the first films to be completed after support from the new digital production funding category of the Hubert Bals Fund: Weed by Chinaís Wang Liren and The Elephant and the Sea by Malaysian filmmaker Woo Ming Jin. South Korea continues to be a source of very diverse films, including Park Chul-Heeís exciting No Mercy for the Rude and Kim Kyung-Mook's controversial Faceless Things.

From Japan, the selection included new features by festival regulars such as Kumakiri Kazuyoshi, Yamashita Nobuhiro, Yazaki Hitoshi and Hiroki Ryuichi.

Very few of these films will have a US screenings outside of a handful of film festivals. When the outstanding and highly acclaimed Romanian film The Death of Mr. Lazarescu makes only $65,000 at US box offices you can hardly blame distributors for not bringing in more superb international films.

This is a film festival for those truly interested in film. You will not find the glitter and star power of Berlin or Cannes. No topless starlets dashing into the sea as at Cannes. The North Sea is bit brisk in January. You will find producers and directors and a very knowledgeable audience.The only star I interviewed was the drop dead gorgeous star of Between Heaven and Hell. And she did not speak English. The two directors did.

While waiting for an interview with Blue Kraning (and yes, his first name is Blue) I happen to meet Nina Davenport, an American documentarian who brought her well received film Operation Filmmaker to Rotterdam. The film had not had its final edit but was screened here. The documentary tells the story of Muthana Mohmed, an aspiring young filmmaker from Baghdad who appeared briefly on MTV's True Live: I'm Living in Iraq where he explained how first Saddam Hussein then the US Army ruined his dreams. The actor/director Liev Schreiber offered this unknown young man the chance to work as an intern on his film Everything is Illuminated. That set in motion a chain of misunderstandings that reveal the complexities of current US-Iraqi relations.

AND THE WINNERS ARE
The Audience Award went to The Lives of Others (Florian Henekel van Dommersmarck, Germany, 2006), the 2007 Academy Award winner for Foreign Language film.

VPRO Tiger Awards, given to first or second films, were given to Love Conquers All (Tan Chui Mui, Malaysia, 2007), The Unpolished (Pia Marais, Germany, 2007) and to Bog of Beasts (Claudio Assis, Brazil, 2007).

The Movie Squad Award, the Dutch young people's jury award (jury consisted of three 17 year olds and two 18 year olds) went to Joachim Trier's Reprise (Norway, 2006). In making the award the jury said, "This Norwegian film about friendship and creativity successfully balances between comedy and drama. The apparently easygoing lives of the main characters are interrupted by the mental illness of one of them. In the film the jury was surprised by the many original moments creating their own specific atmosphere and by its interesting look at the process of artistic creativity. There is constant tension between the two main characters who are friends, but also rivals. The fast-paced, sparkling editing and characters you relate to draw you into the story."

Movies That Matter Award was given to Marc Munden's The Mark of Cain (UK, 2007) which had its World Premiere at Rotterdam. Out of ten films on human rights within this competition the jury choose this film "for its raw realism. The Mark of Cain shows us that occupation forces, the soldiers we like to call 'our boys', also commit war crimes." The jury gave an Honorable Mention to the documentary Bil'in My Love (Shai Carmeli Poliak, Israel, 2006).

In The Mark of Cain Shane Gulliver and Mark 'Treacle' Tate are two 18-year-old friends serving in the British Army in Basra, Iraq in 2003. The troops were struggling to maintain the fragile peace. When their popular Captain Godber is killed by a bomb while on patrol, morale takes a nosedive. Suspects are sought and arrested and in a night of heated emotions, prisoners mistreated.

Bil'in My Love is a documentary about the peaceful demonstrations by villagers, Israelis and foreigners against the construction of the wall that runs through the middle of this old Palestinian village. Pollak came to Bil'in to protest the land theft caused by the separation barrier. For a year and a half, he used his camera to document the moments of despair and hope, danger and courage and the birth of true partnership between Palestinians and Israelis.

The Arte France Cinema Awards of 10,000 Euros went to A Rational Solution by Jorgen Bergmark (Sweden) and Les pieds nus sur les limaces by Fabienne Berthaud (France). This award is given to the producers towards financing the development of the film.

The Prince Claus Fund Film Grant of 15,000 Euros was awarded to Independencia by Raya Martin (Philippines). This grant supports the first creative phase of the film's development. This film is set against the backdrop of the American occupation of the Philippines in the early 20th century. The project focuses on a small family that has taken refuge in the woods in search of a quiet life. Martin said, "The film hopefully portrays an alternative resistance of the times, one that moves away from a history of armed struggle and delves deeper into the opposition of forces: a survival of human existence."

AUDIENCE FAVORITES
The Dutch audiences are among the most savvy in Europe as they see more films than any other European country and are comfortable with all the features of the Rotterdam International Film Festival.

The top 10 Rotterdam audience favorites are:

  • Lives of Others (Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, Germany, 2006)
  • The Cats of Mirikitani (Linda Hattendorf, USA, 2006)
  • Dixie Chicks: Shut Up and Sing (Barbara Kippkle and Cecilia Peck, USA, 2006)
  • Sounds of Silence (Marion Hansel, France, 2006)
  • Immer nie Meer (Forever Never Anywhere), (Antonia Svoboda, Austria, 2007 World Premiere)
  • Made in Korea: A One-Way Ticket Seoul-Amsterdam, (In-Soo Radstake, Netherlands, 2006)
  • Reprise (Joachim Trier, Norway, 2006)
  • A Hebrew Lesson (David Ofek and Ron Roten, Israel, 2006)
  • Along the Ridge (Kim Roggie Stuart, Italy, 2006
  • The Mark of Cain (Marc Munden, UK, 2007 World Premiere)

    FILMS OF NOTE
  • Blasted!!! The Gonzo Patriots of Hunter S. Thompson (Blue Kraning,USA,2008)
  • Hamlet (Aleksandar Rajkovic, Serbia, 2007)
  • My Mother is a Belly Dancer (Lee Kung Lok, Hong Kong, 2006)
  • Private Property (Joachim Lafosse, Belgium-France, 2006
  • Ten Canoes (Rolf de Heer, Australia, 20060 Ten Canoes has a screening at the Embassy of Australia on March 19, 6:30pm, part of The Environmental Film Festival.

    SYNOPSIS OF AUDIENCE TOP FILMS
    The Lives of Others, Oscar-winner for Best Foreign Film, played at the AFI last Fall in the European Union Film Festival and is in theaters now. When asked why he choose this topic, director von Donnersmarck said, "For a long time there was a tendency to portray the GDR (East Germany) as a state where no one really suffered and the Stasi was regarded as something of a joke. The Lives of Others is a serious attempt at showing how the Stasi terrorized millions of GDR citizens. The Stasi debate is necessary for Germany, but also something sad. I can imagine that the success of, shall we say, Run Lola Run was a reason for pure celebration for Tom Tykwer. For me, there is also a sense despair over The Lives of Others and its victory march. Daily, I receive letters from people who tell me how they were mistreated and how they recognize themselves in the film. And the poet Gunter Ullmann sent me one of his volumes of poetry, with a grateful dedication. He was the one who--after endless brutal Stasi interrogations--had all his teeth pulled, because he was convinced something had been implanted in them."

    The Rotterdam Festival's catalogue had this to say: "In his feature debut, Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck tackles a theme that has been so far primarily the field of literature. Several comedies about the former GDR have appeared, but the black past of the East German intelligence service, the Stasi, was never filmed so seriously before. The Stasi had a staff of no less than 90,000 and about 200,000 informers. Ulrich MŁhe very convincingly plays the Stasi officer, Gerd Wiesler, who eavesdrops on the famous playwright Georg Dreyman day and night. The wife of the playwright, a famous actress, can count on the personal attention of the Minister of Culture, who keeps an eye on her career in exchange for her favours. The wife is under increasing pressure when her husband is suspected of passing on sensitive information to the West German magazine Der Spiegel. Wiesler's firm faith in his party slowly starts to show some cracks when he wants to protect the actress he so admires. In the end his helpfulness leads to a tragic end for the actress and himself. After the fall of the Wall, Dreyman gains access to his Stasi files. When he finds out who actually saved him, he makes a gesture of recognition while writing his latest novel. The film has sparked a debate in Germany about how much former Stasi operatives have a right to rehabilitation."

    The Cats of Mirikitani "Make art, not war" is Jimmy Mirikitani's motto. This 85-year-old Japanese-American artist was born in Sacramento and raised in Hiroshima, but by 2001 he was living on the streets of New York with the twin towers of the World Trade Center still ominously anchoring the horizon behind him. What begins as a simple verite portrait of one homeless man will become a rare document of daily life in New York in the months leading up to 9/11. How deeply these two stories will be intertwined cannot yet be imagined. This is the story of losing "home" on many levels.

    How did Mirikitani end up on the streets? The answer is his art. As tourists and shoppers hurry past, he sits alone on a windy corner in Soho drawing whimsical cats, bleak internment camps, and the angry red flames of the atomic bomb. When a neighboring filmmaker stops to ask about Mirikitani's art, a friendship begins that will change both their lives. In sunshine, rain, and snow, she returns again and again to document his drawings, trying to decipher the stories behind them. The tales spill out in a jumble--childhood picnics in Hiroshima, ancient samurai ancestors, lost citizenship, Jackson Pollock, Pearl Harbor, thousands of Americans imprisoned in WWII desert camps, a boy who loved cats... As winter warms to spring and summer, she begins to piece together the puzzle of Mirikitani's past. One thing is clear from his prolific sidewalk displays: he has survived terrible traumas and is determined to make his history visible through his art.

    September 11 thrusts Mirikitani once again into a world at war and challenges the filmmaker to move from witness to advocate. In the chaos following the collapse of the World Trade Center, she finds herself unable to passively photograph this elderly man coughing in the toxic smoke, and invites him into her small apartment. In this unchartered landscape, the two navigate the maze of social welfare, seek out family and friends, and research Jimmy's painful past, finding eerie parallels to events unfolding around them in the present.

    Discovering that Jimmy is related to Janice Mirikitani, Poet Laureate of San Francisco, is the first in a series of small miracles along the road to recovery. Jimmy's story comes full circle when he travels back to the West Coast to reconnect with a community of former internees at a healing pilgrimage to the site of his internment camp, Trule Lake, and to see the sister he was separated from half a century ago.

    Blending beauty and humor with tragedy and loss, The Cats of Mirikitani is an intimate exploration of the lingering wounds of war and the healing power of art. A heart-warming affirmation of humanity that will appeal to all lovers of peace, art and cats.

    Dixie Chicks: Shut Up and Sing has played in the Washington area.

    Sounds of Silence On the one hand, there's the desert eating away at the land. The endless dry season, the lack of water. On the other there's the threat of war. This is the setting for Marion Hansel's Must See film, Sounds of Silence.

    The village well had run dry. The livestock are dying. Trusting their instinct, most of the villagers leave and head south. Rahne, the only literate one, decides to head east with his three children (one of them his son Rahne) and Mouna, his wife. A few sheep, some goats and Chemelle, a dromedary are all they take with them. This is a tale of exodus, quest, hope and death.

    This is not only a film that is being acted out in many parts of Africa but also a parable about determination and eternity.

    Hansel, in talking about making this film, said: "Sometimes a novel through its writing and its subject transforms itself into an idea for a film. Chamelle by Marc Durin-Valois was one of those "love at first sight" books. I immediately "saw" the film that could transpose this tragic story of Rahne and his family, who like millions of human beings have little or no access to water and are dying. They must leave their village searching for a place where the drought does not rage. The wander across hundreds of kilometers, crossing territories devastated by war and rebellion. For the first time I was confronted with a story that could be a documentary. I wanted to bear witness to the suffering of these lives, sufferings which we only see in short television news items."

    Forever Never Anywhere. Three men trapped in a car on a dark stretch of road does not sound like the making of a comedy but in the hands of director Antonin Svoboda it becomes a modern light heated farce. The festival catalogue says: The men veer between mutual irritation, comradeship and dependence. Unwelcome intimacies are exchanged, secrets given away. Comic dialogues follow each other around in a indefinable periods of time in which they are manipulated in an incomprensible way by someone unknown. Their vicissitudes are not wholly dependent on fate: a little boy orchestrates the steps in their story through a game on his computer." Another film that plays with reality. This one does it in top notch fashion.

    Reprise is a playful film about friendship, madness and creativity, about love and sorrow, great ambitions and the often unpleasant clash between youthful presumptions and reality. With its somewhat un-Norwegian structure (playfulness and dashing about between reality and fantasy is not a Norwegian trait), Reprise has a distinct style and narrative technique what moves the story forward in a rich and enthusiastic manner. Joachim Trier, the director, said this about making Reprise, "What I wanted to do was depict a very specific cultural environment, with characters that I know intimately. I wanted to make a film about friendships and aspirations that fail. I wanted to make a film that was as full of contrasts in its form as the lives of the characters in it. I wanted to use a filmatic language that reflected the narrative culture typical of a gang of twenty-three year old boys, full of anecdotes and digressions, searching and open, but with pain and disappointments lying just below the surface.

    "I wanted to show a group of boys, naked, with all their dreams, their doubts and illusions, world champions and children at one and the same time. Without smoothing any of the rough edges I wanted to show their complex and often fearful relationships with the opposite sex. I wanted to 'shoot inwards' and examine that particular type of contempt (often self-contempt which is--paradoxically enough--part of the glue that holds a gang of friends together. Reprise is intended to be both light hearted and sad, amusing and melancholic. That's why is frame of reference extends from Punk rock to French poetry."

    Hamlet. For four centuries Hamlet's father's ghost has wondered over just about every stage on the planet looking for revenge. This is the first time he has wondered over a Belgrade garbage dump. In this engrossing film Shakespeare's kingdom and castles are Romany--a more acceptable word than Gypsy--colonies in the suburbs of Belgrade. Huts are made of everything that a long time ago lost a sense of value for others. On that "wealth," characters of this drama live their lives with the authenticity that only spontaneous amateur actors could bring. Two opposite Romany gangs, Orthodox and Muslims, fight to control the distribution of garbage. Only two actors, Petar Bkozovic who plays Claudius and Igor Dordevic playing Hamlet are professional actors. The other actually live around the garbage dumps where this is filmed.

    This is the first full length feature film made entirely within the Romany community and in their language. The film's producer, Dragan Asanin, said, "This is the first time that an independent production has tried to do something for Romany culture.Previously filmmakers have used them as decor but not worked inside the community." Their culture exists not just in Serbia but anywhere the fifteen million Romany live worldwide. The producer concluded, "It's very authentic. And we believe we have created something really new."

    A Hebrew Lesson. "Learning Hebrew has been central to establishing one's personal identity and sense of collective belonging. Language transcends political, religious and ideological divisions; it is what unites and coalesces the different parts of society." (The Jewish Agency pamphlet for Hebrew Ulpan teachers). What began as a five part TV mini-series has been turned into a feature length film on a group of Ascenders (what new arrivals are called in Israel) learning not only the language but a new way of life. Chin, one of the students, left her daughter in China and came to Israel to make a living. She cleaned Ehud's house, and then fell in love. Her story and Sasha's journey from Russia to a new life in Israel along with Marisol, a Jewish Princess from Lima, Peru and others meet in this Hebrew language Ulpan where their stories join in the complexities of Israeli reality.

    I asked the directors, David Ofek and Ron Rotem, how they came up with the story. David said, "About seven years ago I moved from Israel to Denmark, as a love immigrant. I went to Danish class to learn the language of the place. I was pleased to see people from different countries, hopes and dreams. " He confided that in that school he sat next to a Palestinian from Gaza who never spoke to him. "I went to Danish TV with the story pitch but they felt the anticipated five year project was too long," David continued, "so I returned to Israel to make the film. We selected the students and the teacher and got under way."

    Israeli society is revealed through the foreigner's eyes. This film, at times funny, at times sad, paints our daily reality with irony. But beyond the obvious differences, the human common denominator of longing and love, triumphs time and again.

    My Mother Is a Belly Dancer. "See Lai"g is Cantonese slang for the sorts of sloppily dressed and no longer youthful housewives we see in supermarkets and beauty salon everyday in Hong Kong. These newly middle-aged "aunties" whose husbands barely notice them, whose kids treat them merely as nannies and housemaids, and who seem to suffer from a loss of youth, beauty and passion with every passing day. When did these typical Hong Kong housewives stop feeling beautiful? When did they start specializing only in shopping for groceries every afternoon, hustling bustling at the vegetable market just to get their eggs and apples a little cheaper? Can the ancient and exotic art of belly dancing reinvigorate their humdrum lives? Husbands and the community think they are embarking on a dance fit only for fallen women. My Mother is as Belly Dancer is director Lee Kung Kok's funny and occasionally heartbreaking film. The director said, "At the preliminary stage of the film we set "housewives" as our main topic, we then decided to bring in some sort of dance elements. But what kind of dance should we use? The original script writer had provided a great idea--belly dance. She claimed that the spirit of belly dance is 'passion, explosion from the bottom of the heart.' I thought it could bring a strong impact with the topic of housewives.

    Blasted!!! The Gonzo Patriots of Hunter S. Thompson. It was a sad day for political journalism when in 2005 Hunter S. Thompson took his own life. Gonzo, as he was affectionately called by his legion of fans, wrote numerous books and New York Times articles in his gutsy style. Writer/director Blue Kraning has memorialized the final tribute to Gonzo in Blasted!!! His distinctive first name was given by, he says, his art-crazed beatnik parents. Blue's first home, in Fountain City Wisconsin, was in an old brewery with a 12-foot-high electric ice cream cones on it that guided riverboats down the Mississippi. He survived, he says, by eating nuts and berries in the wilderness and hunting and fishing for his supper. Then abruptly he was moved form the woods of Wisconsin to violent and drug fueled schools of New York City. It was there that his discovered filmmaking.

    In keeping with Gonzo's wishes his widow, Anita Thompson, placed an ad in the Aspen, Colorado, paper inviting Gonzo Patriots to bring their black powder cannons and blast his ashes over Owl Farm. Over 50 accepted the challenge to haul their personal artillery and wrote an essay as to why they should be chosen. Kraning follows five of these as they made their way across America to Aspen.

    Why would so many want to do this (and who knew 50 people had cannons tucked away in their garages)? Kraning told me that people said things like "I was such a fan, he changed my life. I am willing to drive across the country at my own expense." I asked him for more details on this cannoneers. "They ranged from Ken Kesey's son (author of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest) to a group of transgender Civil War reinactors. They, by the way, had the largest cannon. They actually drove to Los Vegas reading Fear and Loathing in Los Vegas." His documentary follows five of these Gonzo Patriots.

    The Blasted!!! tribute to Thompson took place as part of a birthday celebration described by Anita Thompson as "a success. I had 35 or 40 local friends and beautiful women over for a celebration with a ton of food and even more liquor and wine. Neighbor Jimmy Ibbotson from the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band played... Blue Kraning showed us his independent documentary that he had just finished about a select group of Hunter's fans who were preparing their canons with the hopes that theirs would be chosen to fire Hunter's ashes over Owl Farm. These are the readers who are Hunter's People in the purest sense, an army of thoughtful citizens who are inspired by his work and who do the real job of carrying on Hunter's legacy."

    In the end none were chosen. Johnny Depp, who stared in Fear and Loathing in Los Vegas, spent two million dollars for a professional fireworks company to blast Thompson's ashes from a 200 foot tall gonzo fist.

    Ten Canoes. Director Rolf was born in Holland; at 18 his family migrated to Australia where he lives today. When asked about this film's origins, he said, "The story was an evolution that began, really, with David Gulpilil saying, 'Look at this photograph.' It was a photograph of 10 canoeists on the swamp, which was a profoundly cinematic image. Then, the exploration of the Thompson photographs... Thompson was an anthropologists who spent time up there in the 1930s and photographed the traditional lifestyle. From that photograph that David had, that is really almost currency in the community up there, I mean everybody is related to one of those people in the photograph and so on. That's where the film began to take shape. I came up with the structure in order to fulfill what the community were after. I mean, the goose-egg hunting was something that they very much wanted in, but it's basically not dramatic. It's based on the Thompson photographs, which are in black and white and which are their recorded history. It seemed wrong to diverge from that, but I was contractually obligated to deliver a color film. So I had this idea to have a story being told during a goose-egg hunt, and that story is set in the mythical past. There were restrictions on who could be cast because the casting had to reflect the kinship system that exists. So unless you were the right moiety and the right subsection of that moiety, you couldn't portray the wife of that man who was, in real life, of this moiety and of this subsection. So sometimes there was only one person who was actually able, in their terms, to play that rule."



    Amazing Grace: Q&A with Director Michael Apted


    This Q&A with Director Michael Apted took place on February 7 at Landmark's E Street Cinema. DC Film Society's Michael Kyrioglou moderated.

    Q: How did you get the idea for the film?
    A: It started out as a biopic. I did a few drafts but couldn't get anyone interested. If you're dealing with [William Wilberforce's] life then you are forced into dealing with evangelical Christianity. And I was looking to do a political film, a film about the process of politics but couldn't find one in contemporary life. I was saddened by the lack of real political discussion in my country and here--people turn their backs on politics, disillusioned. I was looking for a heroic story about political action and this came to me but in the form of a biopic. And I said I don't want to do that but would be interested in making the slave trade business the center of the film and also cherry picking the rest of his life to fill in the gaps. It would also allow me to have a love story going through the film because if you did it in a linear way, Barbara would come in during the third act. Whereas this would allow me to have her there all the way through so that was the genesis--I wanted a political film and they wanted a film about Wilberforce that would hit the 200th anniversary of the passing of the anti-slave trade act.

    Q: Is his story widely known in England?
    A: Not really, except that it's a big event in England now and the government is putting many millions of pounds into it to try to restore some of their credibility and get the reflected glory of Wilberforce (laughter). But it's quite a big event and we're piggybacking on that in a sense. So it's laying the groundwork here. But no one's heard of him, so it will be difficult to market the film but we've got a terrific campaign going--inspirational, educational, about the solution to slavery, although there's more slavery in the world now than in 1807 when the bill was passed.

    Q: How did (Ioan) Gruffudd come to do the film?
    A: We cast him as a challenge. I wanted it to be a British cast. It's a British film shot in Great Britain with a British crew and I wanted British actors. I also wanted to preserve the generational gap. I thought one of the more intriguing parts of the story was this Kennedy-esque camelot. These two young guys [Wilberforce and William Pitt] taking on the establishment. So I really fought with the producers to cast someone young. But who's anybody heard of? So I did a deal with them: I would find someone with at least a little credibility and surround them by famous English actors. And Gruffudd had muscle because he had done The Fantastic Four which had made a lot of money so he had some exposure. And I managed to get a distinguished cast around him. So they agreed on that basis. It didn't cost a huge amount, about $28 million. That's still a lot of money for material this difficult so they needed to protect themselves. But I did manage to preserve the youthfulness of the three main characters. It works in the film because they're young actors no one has heard of with all these great actors you have heard of, same as the politics of the period, the three young rascals taking on the political establishment.

    Q: How did you work with the actors?
    A: I made a decision early on that I didn't have enough money and I also really wanted to make the film about the way it was in Great Britain which was a colonial power. But it was a different battle in England than in America. There was a certain amount of slavery in Great Britain but it was white slavery (indentured servants); there were some black slaves but it was more of a political issue, so the battle was fought and won in the corridors of power rather than on the battlefield. I felt that there were already many terrific films about the plantations and slave ships and I didn't want to do that. What was difficult for me was to cast the one black character in it, Equiano. He's not in it very much but his presence has to cast a great shadow in the film because he represents the issue, the truth of the matter. Wilberforce didn't embrace anti-slavery, he was cajoled into it. I couldn't find anybody who had that charisma. You can't act charisma. I couldn't find it but it was very important to me because he was a very memorable character in the film even though he doesn't have much time in the film. The company's music division said, "Have you thought of Youssou N'Dour?" I asked if he had ever acted before. No, but he might be interested. He came to London from Senegal to see me and as soon as he walked into the room you knew he had charisma. He is not only a great musician but an important man in his country, and a role model. His English wasn't bad but he worked very hard and I thought it paid off. I'm sure I'll get a lot of heat for not showing more slavery, but that's what I wanted to do. That's not what the movie is about. It's about the corridors of power, not going on the high seas. It was the beginning of a huge social revolution. the beginning of political action. The petition [that Wilberforce presents] was the first time that was ever done. It started period of great social reform, voting rights, education.

    Q: How are you marketing the film? Are you working with churches?
    A: It's a difficult film. It's being screened in the faith communities. But I don't want it to be seen just as a faith film; that diminishes what Wilberforce was. Although he was a deeply religious man, he was also a great politician, and I don't want the film to be marginalized into a faith film. So it's important to me that the film is marketed both to a general audience as well as to a faith audience, marketed on social issues, social justice, not not religious issues. I want to get some sense of balance. That's why I'm here. That's why I'm going on the road for the next few weeks talking to people.

    Q: Did you want to deal with the degrading effects of colonialism?
    A: My country has a hideous history of colonialism. The British Empire is a shocking institution. You have to make a film about something specific. I wanted to make a film of detail not one which takes a swinging attack on offenses against society. If the film is going to work, it will because it is focused in on something that is clear and doesn't take on too many targets. Otherwise, it might miss all the targets and be about nothing, just a load of anger.

    Q: I thought it was successful as a political film and how it sends a message that things don't happen in a year. It demonstrates that if you are involved in politics you have to stay there and it demonstrates the price a dedicated person in politics pays.
    A: Wilberforce is a man who is deeply religious but used his religiousness to give him inner strength to fight that long battle. He never used his religion to give a him superior position and lecture everyone else on how poorly behaved they were. Religion is important but you can't just take a position based on your religion and expect to get political things done through consensus, negotiation, diplomacy, etc. What's interesting to me is how Wilberforce managed to do that. He did a huge amount of political work, a lot after the film was over. He never lost his faith, never compromised his faith, he never grandstanded his faith. I don't care if he is Muslim, Christian, Jew, etc. Religion is religion and politics is politics. There is a way of interlocking them which he did very successfully which we aren't very good at in this day and age.

    Q: How did you create the period effects, especially the docks?
    A: We spent most of the money on that. It's all CGI. All the money we had for visual effects was spent on those scenes. And it cost a lot. One of the jobs of the director is to decide where to spend the money. I chose not to deal with slavery and the British Empire. I knew that the docks were an important location to give a sense of British naval power. Rather than use money on things that have been better done than I can do it, I wanted to spend the money on what mattered in my film. You have to know what you can do and what your resources are to do it.

    Q: How accurate is the film parliamentarily?
    A: Very accurate. We did a lot of research on the way people conducted themselves in parliament. It's all true although there are some compressions and characters are cut out. There are more characters in the story than in the film. If you were the heir (first son) you are in the House of Lords; other sons are in the House of Commons. Wilberforce was 21 years old. He bought his seat for $100; Pitt also. The landed class could be in both houses.

    Q: Do you ever find a scene so emotionally moving that you have trouble getting through it?
    A: Love scenes are very unsexy; romantic scenes are mechanical--move the camera close, do it again. You have to minimize your feelings; it's a grinding process, there are long hours, day after day; it's not romantic, but cynical, very matter of fact--how do I get the most out of this emotional scene? Do I want the audience to cry? Do I need a lot of shots? It doesn't minimize or diminish what you are doing; it's more of a job, even if you are committed and passionate about it.

    Amazing Grace opened in Washington, DC on February 23.



    Breach: Q&A with Director Billy Ray, Actor Chris Cooper and Former FBI Agent Eric O'Neill


    This Q&A took place at the Mazza Gallerie on February 13.

    Question: How accurate is the film?
    Eric O'Neill: It's a movie. Some things are dramatized; others are compressed. Billy can do in a day what took me weeks. Some scenes heighten tension, but the core of the story and some of the things that happened in my life are accurate. Yes, it's very close.

    Q: Your decision to leave the bureau and practice law is mentioned at the end. Could you comment on that?
    EO: I went through one of those twenty-something moments. I'm 33 now, so I'm not too far away from where I was then. But I had worked this job for five years and it was overwhelming my life. I was also in law school at the time which isn't portrayed in the film. I was going to night school every night after work. Kate would pick me up and drive me to law school. This seemed like a good time to move on to something else. I also wanted to focus on my marriage; many factors went into that decision.

    Q: Is the timing of the decision accurate, or was it compressed? EO: I was in the FBI for a little while afterwards. But it was pretty soon after I broke the case.

    Q: Billy, how did you come to direct this film?
    Billy Ray: A script existed and I was brought in to rewrite it and direct.

    Q: Were you attracted to it?
    BR: This movie explored the process like no other--a true life story--you have to meet people and do research and make a commitment to it. What ultimately swayed me was the idea of the "patriotic" guy violating patriotism and the other guy who never says anything about patriotism and yet embodies it. I liked the irony of that.

    Q: Chris, how do you approach playing a guy like Hanssen? Chris Cooper: There's a lot of material written about him. From the five or six books written about him there is some repetition in the story, but there are always different insights from each author.
    Q: Did you understand him?
    CC: No.

    Q: Did you talk to Eric about him?
    CC: Yes, he was made available to me and Ryan Phillippe for five days. We had a lot of questions and went over the script asking how Hanssen might have behaved--what sort of head games he played, etc. We didn't have any audio but had 15 seconds of footage of his actual capture. I asked Eric to do his best impersonation of Hanssen.
    EO: In the scene where Ryan and Chris are walking down the hallway and Ryan keeps getting slammed into the wall and the water cooler--that's something Hanssen did.

    Q: Billy, how did you go about casting for the role of Hanssen; and what made you pick Chris Cooper?
    BR: If you can get Chris Cooper you can stop looking. For me, Chris is the best actor and I don't have enough confidence to shoot a movie like this with a lesser actor. I would say to the studio, "I'm not a good enough director to help that person play that part." Once Chris was interested, we stopped looking. The first time Chris and Eric saw the film together, Chris said, "I had no idea he was such a dark character." Chris never said, "How can I make this guy scarier? How can I made him more villainous?" He didn't think of him as a villain. He just behaved. That's why he's so compelling to the very end.

    Q: Chris, did you talk to Bonnie Hanssen or any family members while making the film?
    CC: No. Hanssen's not available and I think the family has been through enough and they will be reminded soon enough.

    Q: Have you hard from Hanssen in connection with the movie?
    BR: No. But I had access to everyone else. The FBI let me talk to anyone that I asked to speak with. But I couldn't talk to Hanssen. I asked if I could submit written questions and the FBI said that was okay. I wrote out a list of 15 questions and sent them to the FBI. The FBI passed 14 of them along to Hanssen but he declined to answer any of them.

    Q: Which question did they not pass along?
    BR: The question the FBI would not put through was, "If you ran the Bureau, how would it operate differently?"

    Q: Eric, is the FBI telling us the truth in the Hanssen case? Do you think there are parts of the Hanssen story that are not known?
    EO: There are aspects of the case that are classified. The movie paints the best picture of how we caught him. If you want to read the best record of the Hanssen case, download the affidavit that was filed to arrest him. It's brilliant and everything in there has been declassified. In any espionage case there are going to be things we can't say, simply because you need to protect secrets. This is the first case where so much was declassified; we didn't want any back doors for him to sneak through.

    Q: Billy, did you use any of the actual locals in Vienna, Virginia for the movie?
    BR: As my location manager can tell you, we shot the Hanssen arrest at the exact corner where Hanssen was arrested. We shot his last drop on the exact footbridge where he made that last drop. That walk he takes was the last walk he took as a free man. We even happened to shoot it almost at the exact time of year as his arrest. He was arrested on February 18 and we were shooting on February 12; we also shot it at the same time of day. These are things that were essential for me. In making any movie there are tradeoffs. You have a set amount of money to spend. The priority for me was that we shoot the arrest on that corner. I didn't care what I would have to give up to do it; but it turned out I didn't have to give up anything I couldn't live without.

    Q: Did you use any locals in the movie?
    BR: No, except that when we shot the arrest, two of the six guys who were in on the arrest were standing behind me as we were shooting, so that they could teach my actors how to cuff him, how to move him from one vehicle to another, how to check him for weapons. And they gave us the last line he said, "So, this is how it goes."

    Q: Chris, I've read that when you read the script you immediately knew you wanted to play that role. Why? What drew you to it?
    CC: Any film that I commit to, I like to spend a lot of time with the script before committing. I'll read it four or five times before I'm ready to make a decision. If I'm going to spend energy and time in a film, I want to make sure I want to do it. But this took only two read throughs. So I put my name in to be considered. News of the script got around and some big names wanted the role. But Billy stuck with me and Universal supported me.

    Q: Eric, Hanssen was just a few months from retirement. If he hadn't been caught, what would have happened?
    EO: I think he would be working in the private industry, making a lot more money, maybe selling corporate secrets. When I went in I thought it would take a few years, but two months was all it took.

    Q: Eric, your role wasn't known for some time when the Hanssen case broke. And you're not mentioned in some of the books.
    EO: When the case broke, I was still an undercover operative, so I was highly classified. I was also going to be a material witness, so they didn't want to publicize that. The books were rushed and missed that fact. When he pled guilty, I asked the FBI for permission, because I wanted to write my own book in the beginning. Because he pled guilty I would not have to take the witness stand and the FBI gave me permission and declassified my role in the case. I felt confident that I was protecting myself from divulging classified information but I drove the two original writers crazy saying, "I can't talk about that." I would suggest that we just create a scene. But then Billy started talking to the FBI and they were telling him everything. Everything they told him is public so now I can speak about it. So that's how we dealt with that.

    Q: If they were trying to hang the death penalty on Hanssen, why is he still alive?
    EO: The less important thing was catching him. The more important thing was finding out what he had done so we could fix it. To get him to talk we took away the death penalty and allowed his family to keep his pension. We said that in return, you just spill and if we find out you've lied to us or are withholding things, then the death penalty is back. He caused so much damage to our government and to the way the FBI conducts counter intelligence operations. We had to find out how to protect those people in the field and how to rework our counterintelligence arm of the FBI. It was critical to know what he did, more than why he did it, or to really punish him.

    Q: Eric, Ryan Phillippe seemed very cool in the movie. Were there times you feared for your life? And did Hanssen become suspicious of your relationship with Kate?
    EO: Yes to the first question, especially in the palm pilot scene when I got the wrong pocket. I had to make a decision--get up and run or sit and take it. It was a novice mistake. No to the second. I would leave headquarters and walk a few blocks, then the car would come to pick me up.

    Q: The "five facts about your life, one of which is not true." Did that happen and was he really that good?
    EO: That was a brilliant invention by Billy Ray. I tried to explain to Billy how he would mess with my head. But Hanssen was certainly good at detecting lies. And he could stare right through you and it made you feel creeped out but you couldn't let fear break your confidence.

    Q: What decisions did you find yourself making when doing a film about real people?
    BR: One of the things you try to do as a screenwriter is create dilemma for your characters. When writing a movie like this you put dilemmas in front of Eric and in front of Hanssen, to see who they are when they're under pressure. The same thing happens as a screenwriter and director. You find out what you can live with and without. You make those calls. It's a tough system out there, fueled by terror. You are very vulnerable but there are certain things you won't give up.

    Q: At the end of the film in the elevator scene, you seemed to sympathize with Hanssen. Was that intentional?
    BR: That's my favorite scene in the movie. We did 16 takes of Chris's closeup, an outrageous number for that movie, but I wanted 16 different options. And Chris is the kind of actor where you can give him 16 different choices and he'll play all those colors. The movie is really about Eric--being stuck in a room with Robert Hanssen forces Eric to reevaluate how he feels about his career, his marriage and his religion. Those are tough questions to ask yourself when you are in your 20s, but he is forced to ask them. The elevator scene was the punchline--Hanson says, "pray for me," and in the end, Eric will.
    CC: Billy made many suggestions about that scene, how to deliver that line. The suggestion we used was to think that you'll never see your wife and children again.

    Q: Many movies are shot in DC with DC in the background. But in this movie it seemed like the city was one of the characters. Was that intentional?
    BR: We shot 40 days in Toronto and had 10 days scheduled in DC and ended up using 9 of them. We had a phenomenal location team that ended up putting us in the right places. That scene on the Potomac Parkway where Ryan tries to talk Chris back into the car was scripted for a street in Georgetown. My production designer didn't think it was dramatic enough, so we drove out to the Potomac Parkway. We had the Potomac over one shoulder and the Lincoln Memorial over the other. We shot it over a Saturday and Sunday and had this slate gray sky; that just made the city a character in the scene.
    EO: Billy asked me what I wanted out of the movie when he started writing and one of the things I said was that I'd really love to get the feel of the city, especially the Metro. That's one of the best parts of the movie for me, truly getting to the heart of our city.
    BR: The scene in the Ariel Rios Building, where Eric finds out that the case is about spying, not sex--I initially wanted to shot it at the Navy memorial, across the street from the Archives. But like all memorials in DC, there are endless rules about equipment you can bring there--we weren't allowed any sound equipment. So we decided to take the Wilson Plaza at the Ariel Rios Building and dress it as the Navy Memorial. It worked out great.

    Q: Towards the end of the film you get the sense that Hanssen wants to get caught--he knows the GPS is in his car but he still does the drop. Eric, do you think he wanted to be caught or is this Chris's interpretation? Was it arrogance that he thought he still wouldn't be caught, or was it that faced with retirement he wanted to go out in a blaze of glory?
    CC: I would assume that since he was close to retirement he didn't want to get caught. And there was a scene where he suggested that the Soviets had bugged his car.
    EO: I never felt that he wanted to get caught. I don't think he wanted to abandon his family and spend the rest of his life in prison. I think he made that drop expecting to get away with it. What I see in Chris's performance is a man who is going to turn his back on 22 years of his career; he's going to leave the FBI and everything that mattered to him and work for the private sector. And make his last drop for the Russians.

    Q: The scene where Kate reveals that Hanssen is a spy in a really public place (coming out of the Metro) doesn't seem logical.
    EO: In real life, Kate revealed things to me driving in a car, parked in front of GW law school, in a restaurant, and in a coffee shop. So it's not contrived. You need to find your office wherever you can, especially when you're on the street a lot.

    Q: Eric, do you have any regrets?
    EO: I certainly regret leaving the FBI. I loved the family, the community, the culture. It was fun and exciting. Sometimes I feel I'm still there because we've been working on this movie for so long. But to stay in the FBI in the high level cases and stay undercover means doing dangerous things. And I wanted to spend time with my friends and family and not always be undercover. But I do regret leaving.

    Q: Eric, in the beginning did you feel any affection for Hanssen? Or did you find yourself respecting him in the very beginning before you found out what he was actually doing?
    EO: I respected his intellect and the love that he portrayed for his family. He could spend an entire shift talking about one grandchild. You can't make that up. But on the other hand, I reminded myself that this guy was betraying that grandchild, his country, his religion and his wife and everything else he possibly could. He'd betray me if he got a chance. So while I did respect him, I cannot say I liked him.

    Breach is currently playing in area theaters.



    The Lives of Others: Q&A with Director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck

    From the Press Notes

    Q: What was the genesis of the project and is it based on personal experiences?
    A: Over the years, there were two things that led me to make the film. First were many childhood memories of my visits to East Berlin and the GDR. As a boy of eight, nine, or ten, I found it interesting and exciting to feel the fear of the adults. My parents were afraid when they crossed the border: they were both born in the East and thus were more closely controlled by the police. And our friends from East Germany were afraid when other people saw that they were speaking with us, Germans from the West. Without these early experiences I would have had trouble finding the right approach.

    There was an image I saw in film school that I was never able to forget: the close-medium shot of a man sitting in a bleak room, wearing headphones and listening to beautiful music even though he did not want to hear it. This man pursued me in my dreams and evolved over the years into Captain Gerd Wiesler.

    Q: You conducted intensive research for this film--how and where?
    A: My research took four years. I went to many places where you can still feel the spirit of the past. A key location is the Hohenschonhausen Memorial or the former Ministry for State Security in Normannenstrasse. That's where the former Stasi headquarters are located. Today it is called the Research Agency and Memorial as well as the Birthler Bureau and its archives. Places can store emotions and these visits often gave me more than the many books that I read, and the documentaries that I watched. What was decisive however, were the conversations with eyewitnesses, from Stasi Lieutenant Colonel Wolfgang Schmidt, the head of the Evaluation and Control Group of the "HA XX" (code names for the Stasi spies) to Stasi prostitutes and people who spent up to two years in Stasi detention centers.

    I was advised on historical matters by a number of experts, including Prof. Manfred Wilke, head of the Research Committee on the SED (Sozialistische Einheitspartei Deutschlands: Socialist Unity Party of Germany) Regime; Jorg Drieselmann, head of the Research Agency and Memorial in Normannenstrasse, and Stasi colonel Wolfgang Schmidt.

    I tried to get as many perspectives as possible and heard many contradictory stories--but in the end, I felt I had obtained a very definite feel for the era and its problems. The last and most important element was provided by my work with the actors and crewmembers. Most of them came from the East and brought with them many personal experiences and viewpoints.

    For instance, Ulrich Muhe who plays Captain Gerd Wiesler found out after the Wall came down that he had been a Stasi victim, spied on in the 1980s by his then wife. She had met regularly with the Stasi and spied on Muhe, one of Germany's best-known actors, in addition to other actors. She has denied the claims and said the Stasi invented the file on her. She has also won an injunction to halt publication of the book detailing the claims. The power of denial is amazing. There's a 254 pages file detailing her involvement with the Stasi for which she was an informer for 10 years!

    Thomas Thieme, who plays the minister, left East Germany in the 1980s, but his life was made hell once he applied to leave the country. Volkmar Kleinert who plays director Albert Jerska was asked by the Stasi to become an informer. He told me that the Stasi really made it sound as if he did not cooperate, he would have no career. When they called him on the appointed hour to find out his decision, Kleinert shouted "No!" into the phone and hung up. They never bothered him again and he ended up becoming a very prominent actor.

    Another actor, Charly Hubner, invited his father to the premiere of the film. He was photographed with him and that photo appeared in the press. Because of that, many people identified the father as a Stasi officer. His father felt almost liberated by it after 20 years of keeping it secret. Now he is going from door to door apologizing to people he damaged through his activities.

    And for others, my research and the shooting were the occasion to speak about these things for the very first time, fourteen years after reunification. Some wounds truly take a very long time to heal.

    Q: Were there specific models for characters or events?
    A: The characters were compiled from many different real-life figures, and many people will certainly be able to identify with one or the other character. But the film is not a "roman a clef" or a "film a clef." Certain details about characters and events were deliberately left out. For example, Hempf is a minister without a portfolio. To me, what was important was not to lose myself in historical deails but to tell a story about real people with an emotional viewpoint.

    Q: Can you talk about shooting in original former GDR locations?
    A: Part of the quest for authenticity went into shooting in as many original locations as possible. Among the venues we chose were the former Stasi headquarters in Normanenstrasse--a feared address during the years of the SED regime. The scenes with Tulrich Tukur (as Lieutenant Colonel Anton Grubitz) were shot there. His office was directly next to that of Stasi boss Mielke. The finish of the GDR furniture in these offices had even been preserved. With their typical wood paneling, these offices have a unique look, which can be clearly assigned to a particular time and style--a situation that is both exciting and oppressive.

    The production was also the first and is, to this day, the only feature film allowed to shoot in the original file-card archives of the former Stasi headquarters with the special authorization of Marianne Birthler (the Head of the Federal Authority for Documents of the State Security Service of the Former GDR). The archive was a gigantic mechanical filing system, which has been restructured and digitalized since the shooting was completed. The data are preserved, but the location of the files and documents no longer exists in the form shown in the film. Although the film relates to events that took place only fifteen years ago, much as changed since then. One of the challenges was the painting over of graffiti, which is nowadays found everywhere. No sooner had the graffiti been painted over than they reappeared the following morning.

    Q: What was your approach with respect to sound, set design and color schemes?
    A: To capture the atmosphere of East Berlin, we did not record in digital but in analog in order to convey a sense of "reduced calm." Set designer Silke Buhr and I had a very definite idea about the color scheme. The GDR had its own world of colors and forms. The cars and fabrics were pale and desaturated. We proceeded through reduction. Since there was more green than blue in the GDR, we completely omitted blue. There was also more orange than red, so we eliminated red. We consistently used certain shades of brown, beige, orange, green and gray to try and be as authentic as possible to what life under the GDR looked like. Emptiness is an aesthetically neutral condition. The streets of East Berlin are filmed almost empty, exactly as they were during those years. The local Kneipe, or pub, is almost empty, the canteen for the Stasi employees is Spartan. Weisler's apartment, a "plattenbau" (or high-rise apartment the Communists built during the 1970s) is devoid of any sense of being a home. Wiesler's world actually starts to open when he begins spying on the actors who live in a charming Altbau, a typical old Berlin apartment with big rooms, high ceilings and creaky wooden floors. When he is perched above their apartment, using the attic as his listening post, I wanted to convey that his worldview was challenged. We did not want an overload of "GDR props." For me, the set design has to deliver the perfect background for the emotions of the actors--no more, but also no less. I don't want the viewer to start thinking about individual props instead of emotionally connecting with the characters.

    Q: How did you manage to recruit Oscar winner Gabriel Yared to write the film score?
    A: It took quite a bit of time, but I don't take no for an answer! I had written my final film school project on "The Talented Mr. Ripley" (with a score written by Yared) and always had the feeling that I had only come to understand the film through the music. I kept writing to Gabriel until I was finally able to meet him. He is a native French speaker and we gave him a translation of the script at an early phase. We had several conversations in Paris and London and he got really interested. Yared's work method involves writing music for a film during the script phase. We got together three times in London in order to work on this together. For instance, he composed the "Sonata for a Good Man," that Dreyman plays, before we started to shoot. Interestingly, Sebastian Koch said that he only truly understood how to play Dreyman after playing this piece, which shows that Gabriel's method makes sense! The music was recorded in Prague with the Prague Symphony Orchestra, which is considered one of the best in the world.



    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

    FILMS

    American Film Institute Silver Theater
    A retrospective of Fred Zinneman's films begins on March 23; starting March 16 is "Kenji Mizoguchi Masterworks," with Sisters of the Gion, Utamaro and His Five Women, The Life of Oharu, Sansho the Bailiff and more. On March 10 is the latest entries in "Cinema Tropical" The Magic Gloves and on March 3 is Young Rebels. Starting March 16 is "The Cool World of Shirley Clarke," with The Connection, The Cool World and others. A new 35mm print of Aguirre, The Wrath of God will have a one-week run on its 35th anniversary from March 2-8. The AFI also takes part in the Environmental Film Festival with The Lord God Bird, The Endurance, The Last Winter and more. Jacques Tati gets a small retrospective beginning March 24 with Playtime, Jour de Fete, Les Vacances and others. See the AFI's website for exact times, titles and films.

    Freer Gallery of Art
    A series of films from the Indian state of Kerala begins March 2 at 7:00pm with a documentary (Kathakali: Kalamandalam Ramankutty Nair on Kerala's most decorated dancer. On March 4 at 2:00pm is Manasarovar (2004) with director Anup Kurian attending. On March 9 at 7:00pm is The Dispossessed (Govindan Arivindan, 1990). On March 11 at 2:00pm is Ponthan Mada (T.V. Chandran, 1993). On March 16 at 7:00pm is Waves and Shore (P.N. Menon, 1990). On March 18 at 2:00pm is The Blessed Offering (M.T. Vasudavan Nair, 1973). The Freer contributes two films to the Environmental Film Festival: Cave of the Yellow Dog on March 23 at 7:00pm and The Story of the Weeping Camel on March 25 at 2:00pm, both from Mongolia.

    National Gallery of Art
    "Cinedance in America" is the subject of a short series of films representing dance on film. On March 11 at 4:30pm is "Reaching Beyond the Stage," with film historian Bruce Posner discussing the history of American cinedance with a series of short films. On March 17 at 12:30pm is "1894-1938: First Steps and New Directions," another program of short dance films. On March 31 at 1:00pm is "1939-1962: Classic Works of Avant-Garde Cinedance," and on March 31 at 2:30pm is "1965-2002: The Postmodernist Explosion," more recent dance on film.

    A two part series of films by Hungarian director Bela Tarr begins on March 18 at 4:00pm with Damnation (1988); on March 25 at 4:00pm is Werckmeister Harmonies (2000).

    "Music and Film: John Cage and Elliott Carter" is a double feature of two documentaries by Dutch documentary director Frank Sheffer. On March 24 at 1:00pm is From Zero: John Cage (1995), shown with A Labyrinth of Time (2004).

    Other film events at the Gallery are "Women and Film--A Legacy in Print," a three-part series of films on women's writings is on March 3 at 2:30pm, along with a lecture. On March 4 is The Rape of Europa (2005) introduced by Lynn Nicholas, author of the book on the theft of art works during WWII. In conjunction with the exhibition on Jasper Johns is a program of short films "Jasper Johns: A Compilation" on March 10 at 2:00pm.

    As part of the Environmental Film Festival are two films: Manufactured Landscapes (Jennifer Baichwal, 2006) shown with The Spirit of Places (Catherine Martin, 2006). On March 24 at 4:30pm is Khadak (2006) about nomads in Mongolia forced to relocate.

    Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden
    The Hirshhorn's entry in the Environmental Film Festival is Hamaca Paraguaya (2006).

    National Museum of African Art
    On March 16 at 6:45pm is Hotel Rwanda with Paul Rusesabagina attending to discuss his book An Ordinary man.

    National Museum of the American Indian
    On March 19 at 1:30pm and March 20 at 7:00pm is Waterbuster (2006) about the impact of the Garrison Dam project which destroyed a self-sufficient American Indian community. Filmmaker J. Carlos Peinado will be present for the screenings.

    Smithsonian American Art Museum
    As part of "reel portraits" and the Environmental Film Festival, is John James Audubon: Drawn from Nature on March 25 at 1:30pm.

    National Museum of Women in the Arts
    On March 13 at 7:00pm is "An Evening with Emily Vey Duke and Cooper Battersby," Canadian video artists. For the Environmental Film Festival on March 21 at 7:00pm is Rain in a Dry Land (Anne Makepeace), about two war-torn Somali Bantu families.

    Films on the Hill
    As part of the Environmental Film Festival, Films on the Hill offers two films dealing with exploration. On March 18 at 7:00pm is Stanley and Livingstone (Henry King, 1939) with Spencer Tracy as the reporter/explorer Henry Stanley; on March 25 at 7:00pm is The Big Sky (Howard Hawks, 1952), the uncut version with Kirk Douglas. Not part of the festival, but also dealing with environmental issues is Wasser fur Canitoga (Herbert Selpin, 1939) on March 28 at 7:00pm, a Nazi-era film with Germany's most popular actor Hans Albers as an engineer in Canada; with English subtitles.

    Washington Jewish Community Center
    On March 12 at 7:30pm is "Slow Food on Film with Joan Nathan and the Best of Jewish Cooking in America," a program of short films from various countries. On March 19 at 7:30pm is Nina's Home (2005), from France and the winner of the Audience Award at the 17th Washington Jewish Film Festival. On March 27 at 7:30pm is Three Mothers (2006) a film from Israel directed by Dina Zvi-Riklis.

    Goethe Institute
    Taking part in the Environmental Film Festival, the Goethe Institute shows Into Great Silence (Philip Groening, 2005), about monastic life with no music except the chants in the monastery, no interviews, and no commentary.

    National Geographic Society
    On March 19 at 7:30pm is "An Animated Evening with Bill Plympton" as part of the Environmental Film Festival. Also on March 23 at 7:30pm is The Secret Life of a Naturalist.

    French Embassy
    On March 14 at 7:00pm is Viva Laldjerie (Viva Algeria, Nader Mokneche, 2005).

    National Archives
    On March 14 at 6:30pm is the world premiere of a new documentary film Muse of Fire (Larry Bridges), followed by a panel discussion with Andrew Carroll, editor of the book Operation Homecoming which inspired the film. On March 16 at 11:00am and March 17 at noon is The Boyhood of John Muir (Lawrence Holt), exploring the youth of Scottish engineer John Muir, founder of Yosemite National Park and America's first environmentalist. On March 22 at 7:00pm is The Silent Spring of Rachel Carson commemorating the 100th birthday of environmentalist Rachel Carson; the film is introduced by Roger Christie, Carson's adopted son.

    National Museum of Natural History
    Taking part in the Environmental Film Festival, on March 16 at noon is Save Rainforests, Save Lives (2007) and Protecting Life in the Rainforest (2007) two short films about indigenous people and the rainforests' amazing medicinal bounty. On March 17 at 1:00pm is Cracking the Ocean Code (2005) about mapping the DNA of organisms in the ocean. On March 18 from noon to 5:00pm is a selection of films from the 2006 Mountainfilm in Telluride festival. On March 23 at noon is Ribbon of Sand (2007) shown with Wellspring. On March 24 from 11:00-5:30pm and March 25 from noon to 5:00pm are two programs of short films from the 2006 Wildscreen Festival.

    The Avalon
    Serbian contemporary short and documentary film can be seen on March 7 at 9:00pm and March 11 at 6:00pm. Films include Vanishing by Vladimir Perovic, Looking Away by Filip Colovic, The Angel by Darko Sokovic, Pretty Dyana by Boris Mitic, The Day of Youth by Jelena Jovcic, The Cuban by Rastko Petrovic, East of Eden by Rajko Petrovic, and Lana, Natasha, and Xenia by Ivan Pesukic.

    This month's "Lions of Czech Film" entry is Year of the Devil (Petr Zelenka, 2002), a music mockumentary, on March 14 at 8:00pm.

    As part of the Environmental Film Festival, on March 24 at 10:00am is Viva Cuba (2005), a children's film from Cuba. on March 24 at 1:00pm is King Corn (Aaron Woolf, 2006), about America's most productive grain. On March 25 at 4:30pm is Islander (Ian McCrudden, 2005), set in a small fishing village off the coast of Maine.

    Smithsonian Associates
    On March 6 at 7:00pm is Holiday Makers (Jiri Vejdelek, 2006), a Czech comedy about Czech vacationers. On March 13 at 7:00pm is Delwende (S. Pierre Yameogo, 2005), a film from Burkina Faso based on the true story of a woman accused of witchcraft. On March 20 at 7:00pm is a selection of television ads from French speaking countries. On March 27 at 7:00pm is Away From Her (Sarah Polley, 2006), an adaptation of The Bear Came Over the Mountain.



    FILM FESTIVALS

    The Environmental Film Festival
    See the story above.

    The DC Independent Film Festival
    This annual festival takes place from March 1-11 at the University of the District of Columbia. Check out the website for a list of films and information on passes.


    FILM LECTURES

    2007 Reel Journalism: Screenings and Symposia
    A weekend of films depicting the world of journalism and featuring special panel discussions by leading journalists, activists, and distinguished alumni takes place March 22-24 at the Greenberg Theater at 4200 Wisconsin Avenue and American University's Wechsler Theater. On March 22 at 7:00pm is The Journalist and the Jihadi: The Murder of Daniel Pearl. On March 23 at 7:00pm is Our Choice, Too: On the Edge in Darfur shown with God Grew Tired of Us. On March 24 at 3:30pm is Invisible Children and on March 24 at 7:00pm is Blood Diamond. Films are followed by discussion with directors, journalists and others related to the films.



    Previous Storyboards

    February, 2007
    January, 2007
    December, 2006
    November, 2006
    October, 2006
    September, 2006
    August, 2006
    July, 2006
    June, 2006
    May, 2006
    April, 2006
    March, 2006
    February, 2006


    Contact us: Membership
    For members only: E-Mailing List Ushers Website Storyboard All Else