April 2007

Last updated on April 1, 2007. Please check back later for additions.


The DC International Film Festival
The DC Film Society's 15th Annual Oscar Party
The Prisoner:: An Interview with Michael Tucker
Shooter: Audience Q&A with author Stephen Hunter
An Interview with Joachim Lafosse, Director of Private Property
Maxed Out: Audience Q&A with Director James Scurlock
The Berlin International Film Festival
We Need to Hear From You
Calendar of Events

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The 21st Washington DC International Film Festival

Filmfest DC, Washington's international film festival will kick off its 21st annual festivities this spring with a mix of films representing over 30 countries. Participating films will encompass a global range of cultures, music, and politics from a diverse collection of nations. This year's 11- day festival, running from April 19-29, will feature more than 80 films, special events, international guest directors, and panels.

For the first time, screenings will take place primarily in one venue, located at 4000 Wisconsin Avenue, NW, which will allow film enthusiasts easy access to the festival's many offerings. There will also be free programs for children and senior citizens. The Festival's "World View", the main section of new international cinema, will showcase Boss of It All, the newest work by Denmark's Lars von Trier, Hal Hartley's Fay Grim featuring Jeff Goldblum and Parker Posey, Roberto Benigni's The Tiger and the Snow and Johnnie To's Exiled. Also being presented are two films direct from The Sundance Film Festival, Rocket Science and Sending a Bullet, produced by Washington, DC's own Joey Frank.

This year's geographical focus, "Voila Cinema!" will feature new French films. Included in this collection are The Ax, the latest from acclaimed director Costa Gavras and La Vie en Rose, about the life of celebrated French enchantress Edith Piaf. Filmfest's new category, "Views from the News", will feature a series of films whose themes are "ripped from the headlines." In this collection are Sierra Leone's Refugee All Stars, about a music band formed by refugees fleeing political oppression and trapped in an immigration camp, These Girls about the life of Egypt's street children and The God of a Second Chance, the latest work by Paul Wagner, on life for a Washington community east of the Anacostia River. "Global Rhythms," the festival's popular music-on-film series will again be featured.

Advance tickets go on sale April 6. Tickets for most screenings are $9.00 each and
can be purchased in advance or by calling 800-955-5566.

Presented by DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities. Major Filmfest DC sponsors include: The Mayor's Office of Motion Picture and Television Development, The National Endowment for the Arts and Metro. Delta is the official airline, WAMU 88.5 FM is the official radio station, The Hamilton Crowne Plaza is the official hotel, and Qorvis Communications is the official public relations firm. The Filmfest DC public information line is 202-628-FILM and its Web site is www.filmfestdc.org.

The DC Film Society's 15th Annual Fun-Raiser

By Cheryl L. Dixon, DC Film Society Member

Despite wintry weather, a healthy crowd of spirited and dedicated Oscars fans made their way to the Arlington Cinema 'N' and Drafthouse on Sunday, February 25, 2007 to attend our 15th annual FUN-raiser party "And the Winner Is…" to watch the 79th Academy Awards presentation. Seats were filled and the capacity crowd once again enjoyed the pleasures of viewing the festivities on a huge, state-of-the-art, digital projection screen in the company of fellow film fans, in the casual comfort of an art deco movie theatre. Certainly there were questions posed in the minds of attendees before the broadcast began:

1) Just how well would "Little Miss Sunshine" do? Could it draw attention away from popular Best Picture contenders, "Babel" or "The Departed"?

2) Were Eddie, Helen, Jennifer, and Forest shoo-ins for Oscars in their nominated categories?

3) Would Scorsese finally land his Oscar? If not, would his film win? What about Peter O'Toole?

4) How well would Ellen do as the debuting Oscars host?

Our event hosts, the ever-popular dynamic duo, Bill Henry and Joe Barber, started off the evening with the announcement that this was a year of "good film" nominations especially in the Best Picture category. Since there was no clear winner predicted in this category, this would add to the tension and excitement of the evening. The Oscars pre-show, "Road to the Oscars," was a bit disappointing for our crowd. One viewer described Vogue Editor-at-Large Andre Leon Talley's Red Carpet fashion commentary as "underwhelming." He knows fashion and style: as he pointed out the stunning couture of the wonderfully dressed Cate Blanchett, the elegant Kate Winslet, and dramatic, ready-for-the-ballroom look of Penelope Cruz, designer Armani got a special plug and kudos from Talley as he commented on Mark Wahlberg's tux. He just needs to work on conveyance--zippiness--give us something that will make us feel what we all know already: Red Carpet Fashion Rocks! Commentator Chris Connelly was hardly more exciting, he needed a shot of enthusiasm to liven things up.

Once the Oscars broadcast actually began, the audience was delighted to see a couple of fun opening montages followed by Ellen DeGeneres's entrance, then admission that this Oscars focus was on celebration of the nominees, the most widely-viewed, internationally-distributed Oscars ever, and a dream come true for her serving as host. Business aside, Ellen then served up that wit and wisdom that her fans have long known and loved. Within the first five minutes of her discussion about how concerned she felt about the nominees and the pressures that they would face at this event, she cleverly moved the focus away from her own possible anxiety. She enthralled us, setting the tone for a terrific evening, and we relaxed, convinced that she would do a great job. She did. Our audience applauded her comments about the caliber of British nominees, and drinking from a box of Chardonnay, even her most controversial remarks were acceptably humorous.

From the sounds of the warm applause, one could guess that the audience was surprised, but not disappointed with, the Best Supporting Actor Award winner, Alan Arkin. Film Society members had voted for either Jack Nicholson or Eddie Murphy in this category in the "Best of 2006." Joe pointed out that perhaps Eddie, upon losing out as the favorite in this category, might want to reconsider some of his career choices. Blame it on Norbit. Most of the other "Best of 2006" Award categories, with the exception of Best Foreign Film, were foretold by Film Society's membership. The Oscar winner for Best Foreign-Language Film was Germany's The Lives of Others instead of the Film Society's choice of Pan's Labyrinth. Attendees marked their ballots in a "Guess-the-Winners" contest to vote on a selection of Oscar nomination categories with the attendee guessing the highest number of actual Oscar wins correctly within each category receiving a special collection of movie-related gifts.

When not enjoying the quips of Joe and Bill during the broadcast's commercial breaks, the audience answered their trivia questions for other prizes, or received prizes raffled off throughout the evening. In addition to DVDs, CDs, hats, books, and t-shirts, etc., Bill announced a new type of prize: that the first few foot-size 8/10 attendees to reach the stage could receive some brand-new Converse, movie-themed (of course!) sneakers. This prompted an orderly rush to the stage and about eight lucky winners.

For the truly grand merchandise for movie lovers, however, think of the ultra-fabulous items in our Silent Auction. Think autographed and mounted movie posters, autographed scripts, and autographed DVDs. Think movie and theatre tickets galore. Each year the Special Events Committee outdoes itself with an increasingly diverse and dazzling array of movie merchandise that collectors' adore. Over 80 items were offered this year. Count 'em … 80! Merchandise offerings, for example, featured autographs of the principals of the following Oscar-nominated movies: Babel, poster signed by Director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, The Illusionist, poster signed by Writer/Director Neil Burger, Jesus Camp, poster signed by Producer/Director Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady, Pan's Labyrinth, poster signed by Writer/Director Guillermo Del Toro, and The Lives of Others, poster signed by Writer/Director Florian Henckel Von Donnersmarck. During each commercial break, the lines at the auction table were comfortably full as the excitement of bidding in the Silent Auction has become a favorite tradition, and each year the range of item choices remains outstanding.

Back to those questions, just how well did Little Miss Sunshine do? Very well, indeed. It won two Oscars, including the surprise win for Alan Arkin, as Best Supporting Actor, and Best Original Screenplay, but not Best Picture. Helen Mirren, Jennifer Hudson, and Forest Whitaker all lived up to the expectations as the winners for the Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress, and Best Actor categories, respectively. The multi-talented Eddie Murphy will have other opportunities to claim the Oscar prize, if he follows Joe's advice. I wish that I could say the same thing for Peter O'Toole; it was not yet his time to win an Oscar when the Oscar gods smiled more favorably on Forest Whitaker as Best Actor instead. However, in a real Oscar moment, the Big Three/King of Hollywood Directors Coppolla, Spielberg, and Lucas, at long last conferred the distinguished honor of awarding the long overdue Best Director Oscar to Martin Scorsese, for The Departed. Many attendees gave him a standing ovation. I am certain that the only person who could have been more thrilled this evening was Former Vice President Al Gore, whose environmental documentary film An Inconvenient Truth won an Oscar for Best Documentary Feature. Gore never looked happier, even as a presenter. Go Green! And, finally, how well did Ellen do? It was an evening featuring charming shadow dancers/acrobats when Joe and Bill opined for the days of Debbie Allen's Oscar dance routines, witty vignettes, and all-around positive vibrations for Ellen. I think we can look for a return gig as host. Mark your calendars, please, join us next year in late February/early March 2008 for Oscars 80th annual broadcast. See you at our 16th Annual Party.

The Washington, DC Film Society would like to express special thanks to Allied Advertising, Arlington Cinema 'N' Drafthouse, Joe Barber and Bill Henry, Terry Hines & Associates, Women in Film & Video and everyone who helps spread the word about our organization!

We would also like to thank all of our Silent Auction Donors: AFI Silver Theater, Allied Advertising (on behalf of the studios), Arabian Sights Film Festival, Arlington Cinema 'N' Drafthouse, Austin Grill, Avalon Theatre, Bodies…The Exhibition, Center Stage, Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center, Corcoran Gallery, Barbara Denison (framing), Filmfest DC, Folger Theatre, Ford's Theatre, Landmark Theatres & E Street Cinema, Olsson's Books & Music, Phillips Collection, Regal Cinemas, Rorschach Theatre, Round House Theatre, Shakespeare Theatre Company, Signature Theatre, Studio Theatre, Terry Hines & Associates (on behalf of the studios), Theater J, Washington Performing Arts Society (WPAS), Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company.

Finally, we would like to thank the following Coordinating Committee members who have volunteered their time and talents to this event and to the DC Film Society all year round. THANK YOU! Director: Michael Kyrioglou, Associate Director: Jim Shippey, Coordinating Committee and volunteers: Karrye Braxton, Billy Coulter, Cheryl Dixon, Carol Eberley, Raiford Gaffney, Anita Glick, Annette Graham, Larry Hart, Bonnie Joranko, Michael Kyrioglou, Charles Kirkland, Jr., Laura Koschny, Kandace Laass, Stephen Marshall, Deborah Martin, Ky Nguyen, Jim Shippey, Adam Spector, Catherine Stanton, Linda Schwartz, Gloria White.

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 returning 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 opened on March 23 at Landmark's E Street Cinema.

Shooter: Audience Q&A with Writer Stephen Hunter

Shooter is currently playing in area theaters. This audience Q&A with Stephen Hunter, Washington Post film reviewer and the author of the novel Point of Impact on which Shooter was based, took place March 20 at Landmark's E Street Cinema. Arch Campbell moderated the discussion.

Arch Campbell: There's an incredible amount of detail in the movie about sniper's computation figures, medical recipes, and research to dig up.
Stephen Hunter: I tried to build into my character practical and arcane skills. He knows shooting and expedient medicine--he's smart, not just a killer. Another thing I tried to build into him was a sense of grief and loss--he knows and sees things others haven't seen and known. In my book he was in Vietnam. He had been an alcoholic and recovered by moving to guns. He educated himself, read about Vietnam and at that point the adventure begins.

AC: What other changes did the scriptwriters make?
SH: The war I referred to was the one in El Salvador. There was also a wiping out of a village. The villagers were amenable to the guerillas so contractors working for CIA set an example to warn the rest of the villagers to back off. It wasn't big oil--it was big power. The director, Antoine Fuqua's issue is Africa. He is emotionally and intellectually engaged in Africa and requested that we site everything in Africa rather than El Salvador.

AC: Much of your writing isn't politically correct. Your heroes use guns on the side of good. Where are you going with this?
SH: The drama of guns is a drama of energy for me. I need this energy; guns stimulate me in deep and profound ways. This goes back to childhood. I grew up in an anti-gun household. My father didn't let me have a gun. Everything that is taboo is fascinating; it's human nature--if you are forbidden something, it becomes interesting. I was lucky to grow up in a household with books. But guns, which I had an attraction to, were forbidden, making them cool. I didn't own a gun until 1983. I even wrote anti-gun pieces in the Baltimore Sun. But later I understood who I was and then everything became okay. My life became interesting. You have to be who you are. This book began with guns. Everyone likes this novel; of my novels, it is the most beloved on Amazon.com. I decided to begin with a rifle and teach myself. I learned the rifle as I was writing the book. The joy of discovering a new universe and solving technical puzzles was stimulating to my intellect.

AC: Did you purposely put in a white vs. blue collar?
SH: Yes. One thing I noticed was that some of these gun people were really smart. Journalists like people who are glib and give us good quotes. We cut ourselves off from people whose language we don't speak and culture we don't understand. I wanted to understand these people and the dynamic and incisive ways their minds work. In the book Danny Glover was more complicated, a Jewish intellectual in a forest of alpha males. He was more benevolent and survived in the book.

AC: The movie industry is in a slump. Why was it important to have the book put on film?
SB: It was important for many reasons. I was paid off years ago. If the movie is a success there will be more movies and it will sell other books. There is a windfall for me if it works. As for the state of movies today--there are enough movies for everyone. Big studios don't dominate anymore. If you seek out independent and foreign films you can enrich your movie going experience. You will see interesting movies. The studio product is banal.

Question: Is the character based on an actual person?
SH: The inspiration for Bob Lee Swagger is based on Carlos Hathcock. He was a sniper in Vietnam. I tried to give him self education and male pathologies. He's more ironic and intellectual than the typical sniper.

Q: Writers like to sell to Hollywood but don't like the end result.
SH: It took 13 years. The book was written in 1992. It went through 2 studios, 6 or 8 producers, 10-12 divisions, 13-14 stars and numerous writers. Some of the would-be stars were Tommy Lee Jones, Robert Redford, Sylvester Stallone, and Keanu Reeves.

Q: In the 1960s you served in the army. Are you attracted to military elites?
SH: Yes, I'm very much attracted to military elites. I was a ceremonial soldier. I do have this sort of attraction to the point of the spear. I like Delta force, kamikaze, SEALS; I'm more attracted to the dynamic commando ethic. The Army is bureaucratic with cliques and betrayals, ingroups and outgroups. I was more interested in two men doing a dangerous mission out in the bush. All my books honor the warrior. We have difficulty getting them back into society.

Q: How is this process going to affect your writing as a film critic and as a novelist?
SH: I see how easy it is to be snarky in a review. But so much effort goes into a movie--$70 million, 10 careers riding on it. My retirement is riding on it. All those careers might be gone. We just don't know. Seeing it from this point of view has been a real education for me. My imagination is shaped by movies. Movies drive my books. I thought it would be easy but then I saw how carefully it was put together. Most writers are bitter about how much was taken out but I'm surprised at how much was left in.

Q: The politics seem current for something written in 1992.
SH: The politics seem to be more in the moment. In the book, the Ned Beatty character was a CIA agent who had gone out on his own. He was not senator in the book. A senator is a generic symbol of Washington power. It would make more sense if he was national security advisor. The final scene is not in the book. It was filmed just a few months ago in February. They didn't think the movie ended strongly enough. How helpful they all go to the cabin in the woods! I thought it was ridiculous. But they say it plays and kids love it.

An Interview with Joachim Lafosse, Director of Private Property

By James McCaskill, DC Film Society Member

Private Property (Nue Propriete, Joachim Lafosse, Belgian/France, 2006) will be shown in the DC Film Festival.

Wallonia is a village not far from Brussels. There a mother (Isabelle Huppert) and her twin sons (Yannick and Jeremie Renier) live in the family home. Though their lives are strongly interwoven, the mother wants to sell the house and move on with her lover (Raphaelle Labunso). Divorced for ten years, her husband (Kris Cuppens) is never out of their lives. She calls on him when in need and he has frequent contact with the twins. The thought of selling the house unleashes a power struggle. Each person seeks to dominate the others. The mother, no longer able to to take the abuse flees. That unleashes raw emotions between the sons resulting in a bitter fight. The IFF Rotterdam film catalogue says, "Despite the explosion of the nuclear family, Private Property is not only about the bankruptcy of love. The confrontation between the sons finally ensures that the family can appreciate each other again and with more freedom."

I asked director Joachim Lafosse why he made Private Property and he said, "I believe that the family is the place where politics and democracy are learned. The state is the family enlarged. And the most important thing in a democracy is the fruit of man and woman. In the film, the mother says, 'You should not be as your father. When you become like your father I will kill myself.' That is the beginning of tyranny. The father said, 'You wanted the boys. You got them, you are stuck with them.' That also is the end of democracy. The children resemble both. One twin became like the mother and the other became like the father. Today science may make it possible to get out of the male/female mix."

In the film it seems to be important to stick to the rules. "You can only play a good game of tennis if the rules are clean and understood. A ping pong game between the twins is an important plot element in the film. And perhaps they will realize that there is violence because there no limits are imposed. In the family you ask how is it possible for someone to behave in a certain way. What did I do to deserve this? It is learned behavior of sorts." As a director he is not interested in who bears the guilt but how did something happen.

For me there is something like a jazz riff on the phrase "private property" in this film, with elements of consumption, selfishness and control. "That is a good analogy. This family can be seen as composed of jazz musicians who follow their own road and express their own destiny. During an argument one twin calls the mother a whore. At least the father tells the son that the mother is not a whore. 'We did not succeed but we tried,' the father says. If you live with the idea that your parents are perfect then you will not be a parent yourself. In this family they want to be perfect. There is too much perfection."

I asked Lafosse, who with Francois Pirot wrote the screenplay, what part he wrote first. "Each time I write I begin with the ending. It is the time to ask, 'Why did we arrive at this point?' How is it possible for this to happen. It is not important to know what happens but how did it happen. If the audience leaves asking how this happened then the film is a success."

"Cinema is one means to talk about intimacy in a family. That is most difficult for humanity to express, intimacy," Lafosse continued. "We can work with invented fictional things. We can talk about private things through fiction. When I was young we did not talk about private things but my family talked about film."

The house is crucial to the film so I asked where the house actually was. "The house is near Brussels, in the French speaking part of Belgium. It took seven years to make this film. The script was almost ready six years ago. I wanted Jeremie and Yannick Renier but they were too young." Jeremie has made several films for the Dardene brothers. From the 1996 film The Promise to last year's critical success, L'Infant. His twin Yannick has made only a few films; most of his work is live theatre. This is the first time they have acted together. "They are very close to one another in reality. I tried several actresses who were not strong enough to cope with what these guys put in front of her. When Isabelle Huppert came on board funds came and she could cope with the brothers."

Because they had to wait several years Lafosse directed other films. "I did two feature films. No budget films. It was a risk for Huppert to come and work with a young director and young crew. (Lafosse is 31) She was worried in the beginning about how it would evolve. There was a no nonsense attitude in the crew so all went well." It must have been a relief to have the no nonsense approach. "There was no rehearsal. No need for it. Everything was installed. The script was very clear and the crew knew what to do. Some of the crew had worked with me before."

"It was filmed in the wintertime. We shot one scene of the boys in the pond but it was freezing. The bathtub scene was substituted. Their washing in the lake never made it into the film. There was snow everywhere. I wanted to show their almost animalistic rage, the power inside them. It would have foreshadowing their battle which was to come. When that battle was filmed we had only one glass topped table so we had to do the fight in one take. There was a risk as it was real glass, not the easily breakable glass sometimes used in films."

The ending, which was the first scene to be written, was also the first scene to be filmed. "The Symphony No 2, Resurrection is intentional. It is meant to show the possibility of a family rebuilt. The long tracking shot of them leaving the house means they have left the house behind. The father has come to put things back in place, to fix the problem that was there in the beginning."

Lafosse had this to say about his next film project: "It is about education. How to learn things, pass information on. A scholar is thrown out of school. He encounters a man who will help him through high school. The working title is Free Student.

Maxed Out: Audience Q&A with Director James Scurlock

After a short run at Landmark's E Street Cinema in March, Maxed Out is now showing at the Avalon for a limited time.

This audience Q&A took place on March 7 at Landmark's E Street Cinema. James Scurlock mentioned that the film had been shown on Capitol Hill earlier that day to a committee involved in homeland security and banking.

Question: How did you get the idea for the film?
James Scurlock: I had missed out on Supersize Me. I had originally wanted to adapt that book (Fast Food Nation) but couldn't get the rights. While standing in line to see it at Sundance, I realized it would be a big success and that I had missed the boat. So this was my consolation prize.

Q: Did you try to interview people from the industry?
JS: No one from the industry would go on record. This is the one industry that until today that didn't have to answer questions, or be accountable to anyone. The politicians are so scared of this industry, it's incredible. We tried but didn't make it, but now they are answering questions and changing their practices. Citibank announced it's cleaning up its act a little bit. Chase is making major changes to its credit card practices. So hopefully we'll see more.

Q: What sort of changes might come about?
JS: I would love to see them stop preying on senior citizens. I would love to see them write a contract that people can understand that can't be changed at their whim. I'd like to see them be honest. We need a strong financial system in this country. We need trusted institutions. No one is an expert in this field. Elizabeth Warren teaches contracts at Harvard; she can't understand their contracts. All the senators in the hearing said they couldn't understand their contract. A math professor at MIT tried to replicate this double cycle billing; he couldn't do it. No one understands it. When you get a credit card or sign a mortgage you need to feel it is fair.

Q: How did you get information from a company (Fair Isaac) so tight-lipped?
JS: The reason we got that information about the credit bureaus is that David Szwak sues the credit bureaus all the time and is accruing a lot of information from depositions. FICO (Fair Isaac Corp., a Minneapolis company) which determines your credit score and sells it to the banks and credit card companies, is a black box--no one knows exactly what's in it. Suze Orman had a deal with them, supposedly an inside track. People can have high FICO scores but be broke. One of Suze's pearls of wisdom is never lower your credit card limit because it hurts your FICO score. FICO wants to see the most available credit possible which is so wrong. It's like telling an overweight person to get the biggest popcorn because it's the best value but then don't eat it. It's crazy manipulation. Suze's favorite listener is a person who spent $30,000 and maxed out her credit cards. Suze is a real human interest story--she came out the other day. But she's giving out a lot of weird advice; I don't get it.

Q: How did you get the debt collectors to talk?
JS: The debt collectors came to me. The debt collection business is huge. There are lots of websites and blogs. I went on the blogs and said I was making a film to be called "Maxed Out." I got a really sweet letter from Bob and Chris saying we'd love to, it would be great for our business, we're a new company. When we started the film Chris and Bob had five employees; a year later they had 45. Debt collection is a huge business that's growing very quickly. They make money two ways. Citigroup or someone hires them to collect debt that is already written off and they get a percentage, usually 15-20 percent. But they can also buy debt on the open market. There are some big websites that sell a lot of debt online. You don't need any qualifications, just a computer terminal and a phone. You can buy debt for pennies on the dollar, call people and threaten them. And your FICO score is a reflection of this. You can threaten proplr that they will never be able to get an apartment or utilities or credit. You bought this for pennies on the dollar so if you just get a fraction of what you paid for this debt you make money. But Chris and Bob are now losing clients because of the film.

Q: How can credit card companies collect debt that is written off?
JS: By law you have to write off debt after 180 days. It's an issue of solvency, it's supposed to make their balance sheet accurate. If bad debt is written off it's no longer on their balance sheet. But they can keep trying to collect forever. We have this debt buying system where debt is an asset and a product that is packaged and resold forever. After seven years you can't show it on your credit report. But if you can get someone in the 6th year and 364th day to pay a dollar on that debt, you've reset the clock for another 7 years; you've made that debt more valuable and can sell it to someone else.

Q: Why do the credit bureaus not want to fix their mistakes?
JS: There are theories as to why there are so many inaccuracies on credit reports. These companies get reports showing how much of their information has been removed. So if negative items are removed they can't charge as much interest. It's truly skewed. We're really not customers of credit bureaus. They sell information to debt collectors, debt buyers and financial institutions and now to the government. Government is a huge market now. So when one of us challenges them and says your information is not correct that threatens the system. They're gathering and selling as much product as possible. So when someone says hey this is erroneous, it's in their interest to bully them and go after them and keep them from getting anything taken off. In the case of Doris [the woman who the credit bureau said was deceased], she eventually hired a lawyer which was very un-Doris like. She's a sweet farm wife from Minnesota who probably never argued with anyone in her life and she just couldn't bring herself to believe the credit bureaus were bad guys. It's amazing how people want to trust so much.

Q: What about the new bankruptcy reform?
JS: Bankruptcy reform had bipartisan support. Bankruptcy reform passed with huge majorities. Ted Kennedy and some Democrats were most vocal. I think Congress in a way was a victim of bait and switch. They were told that if you just blame it on the people that are going broke, if you pass this law we'll pass on the savings to our customers. Everyone will get a huge interest rate break. But last quarter all the credit companies announced huge increases. I never heard one congressman say where's our dividend.

A lot of people won't talk about bankruptcy. It's such a sign of failure in this country to be broke. Elizabeth Warren did the definitive study on this and talked to hundreds of people. People wait until the bitter end. They wait until the lights are out. "My house is going to be foreclosed on tomorrow. What can you do for me?" Why didn't you come weeks ago? People just don't want to talk about it or deal with it. I'm grateful that the debt collectors were so candid. Hopefully we've started a dialogue. The film was finished before bankruptcy reform went into effect. It went into effect about a year and three months ago. We were pretty much done editing then. The national guardsman in the film declared bankruptcy before the reform was announced. In October 2005, bankruptcies dropped off a cliff. People were told you can't file anymore, it's illegal. That's not true, it's just more expensive and difficult. We ran into people who were saving money to declare bankruptcy.

Q: Why did it take more than a year for the film to arrive in theaters?
JS: Distribution is the bottleneck. There are so many films looking for distribution. I really didn't want a LA or NY opening. I didn't want it shown for two weeks in a four walls deal and then disappear. I held out for a 12 city opening. The timing is bizarre because people are focused on subprime mortgages and now the senate hearings, so there's media attention on the film. I'm glad we waited but distribution is just really tough.

Q: Where can we find ethical companies?
JS: Credit unions tend to be more ethical. Some smaller institutions tend to be more honest. The pawnshop owner is the hero of the film; here's a guy like the classic banker of the old days, tending to his shop and listening to his customers and asking them what's wrong and giving them 20 bucks sometimes if they're desperate. These are the people who are really involved in their communities. It would be nice if the banks were like that, rather than the pawnshops.

The credit card business is a very competitive business. They all have to compete for college students, illegal immigrants, people who declare bankruptcy. All these big banks have bought finance companies, subprime mortgage companies. But the line has been blurred between what was Bank of America and the corner finance place.

Q: How did you finance the film?
JS: It's the worst investment ever made!

The 2007 Berlin Film Festival

By Leslie Weisman, DC Film Society Member

The 57th Berlin International Film Festival, or
Berlinale ran from February 8 – 18, screening close to 400 films for some 430,000 moviegoers. While a journalist always tries to make the best choices based on buzz, knowledge, experience, and personal preference, inevitably, there will be the one — OK, OK, the two, three, or ten! — that got away, aside from the hundreds that time constraints simply put out of reach. That said, there was an extraordinary richness, excitement, and variety in the screenings and events I attended, which I hope I’ve been able to capture here.

The first film I saw, Substitute (Fred Poulet, France 2006), is a deceptively simple “day in the life of” a soccer player, the director’s friend Vikash Dhorasoo, in the hours leading up to what will be his few minutes on the field during the 2006 World Cup. Shot on Super 8 in all its unapologetically raw and grainy glory by the player himself and the director — we watch as Poulet explains to him how to hold the camera, and respond with amusement and sympathy to the novice’s first canted attempts at shooting — it’s surprisingly effective at drawing us into Dhorasoo’s emotional landscape. Played out against the almost prison-like parameters of his small hotel room and narrow corridors, we witness, with the discomfiting self-consciousness of voyeurs, Dhorasoo’s painfully private, yet perversely public moments of self-doubt and introspection. The existentialism that subtly pervades the film is prefigured by an inspired cinematic trope: we watch Poulet filming Dhorasoo, as Dhorasoo films himself.

Whether by accident or by design, the search for meaning and identity likewise informed many of the other films at this year’s Berlinale. In Pas douce (Parting Shot; Jeanne Waltz, France/Switzerland 2007), a young night nurse at a Swiss mountain-village hospital whose life seems to be proceeding on a steady downward path (dumped by her boyfriend, fights with her unfeeling father, has mechanical sex with two strangers at a bar, and spends her work nights caring for the dying) decides to take matters — and a rifle — into her own hands. In what appears to be nothing so much as a cosmic sadistic joke, the rifle misfires, and she winds up wounding two teenage boys, one of them seriously. Her hospital being the only one in the village, the boys are taken there.

Tripped out by guilt, and driven by a sense of responsibility and obligation, she returns to it, and — in yet another twist of the irony screw — is assigned to the boys’ care. The final nail in her mental and emotional coffin is driven by her boss, who refuses to allow her to switch shifts with another nurse, despite the fact that she’s worked three consecutive New Year’s Eves and the other nurse is willing to make the trade. Seeing no way out, and realizing that she will have to seek a means other than firearms, she hops on her bike and rides it into the lake — which, it turns out, is about two feet deep. At this point, you don’t know whether to laugh or cry, and may perhaps be forgiven for thinking briefly of Steve Martin, or Henny “I don’t get no respect” Youngman. But as the performances are fully realized, the direction leaves not a wasted minute, and the lensing is Nouvelle Vague evocative... your second inclination is to nod knowingly, and follow through to the surprising conclusion.

The Year My Parents Went on Vacation (O ano em que meus pais saram de férias; Cao Hamburger, Brazil 2006), like Substitute, also plays out against the background of the World Cup, this one a quarter-century and a continent away — and with a more serious and significant back story. It is 1970, just a year into Brazil’s Médici military dictatorship which, like its predecessors, imposed authoritarian measures to keep the people under control, and spirited away those who continued to resist to imprisonment, and often torture and execution. On a bright summer’s day, twelve-year-old Mauro is dropped off by his parents to stay with his grandfather, whom he barely knows, in the Bom Retiro district of São Paulo while they ostensibly go on “vacation.” Why they are not taking him — and even where they are going — they do not tell him. And indeed, they dare not.

So pressed are they, his parents do not even stay long enough to make sure Grandpa is there. As it turns out, he’s not, and won’t be returning: Grandpa has just died, and Mauro is left more or less on his own, but nominally under the reluctant eye of Grandpa’s friend and neighbor, Shlomo, and the close-knit Jewish community in which he now finds himself. All the while, he’s counting the days till the World Cup, which his father has promised, perhaps as a way of keeping Mauro’s spirits (and his own) up, to be back in time for. Soccer is a passion in Brazil, running through the film as a thread connecting the different characters, regardless of age, race, sex, religion, or national origin. It is this passion that sustains young Mauro as he comes to terms with his temporary home, and the people who become his surrogate family.

Thus begins another coming-of-age story, but one told with enormous charm and honesty, bolstered by the strength of the director’s own personal testimony. Thanks to the skill and naturalness of the cast, and the director’s ability to transform the nucleus of his own experiences, and those of the community and the country that informed them, into a fictional film that avoids direct discussion or portrayal of the horrors that were playing out just around the corner, we feel their impact as tellingly as had they been shown on screen.

In a press conference after the screening, director Cao Hamburger explained that the film gave him, the son of a German-Jewish father and a Catholic mother, a chance to explore his father’s culture, to which he had had limited exposure as a child; having the film’s international debut in Berlin, where his family once lived, was particularly meaningful. Similarly, Germano Haiut, who plays the elderly Shlomo, told us that although he is Jewish, and had heard Yiddish spoken as a child, he was “illiterate” in the language. Learning it to do the role, much of which is scripted in that language, helped him to “get in touch with his roots” decades later.

The larger purpose of the film, for Hamburger, is to show that despite people’s differences, if we can find a common interest or goal, “we can all live together.” Seeing soccer, a game that “links people,” as a having the potential to bring disparate, and even inimical people together based on a mutual love for the game, Hamburger posited soccer’s potential as a vehicle for resolving conflicts stemming from ethnic or national ill-feelings or misunderstanding.

A few good socks with a soccer ball may be the only thing that could have resolved the conflicts in Julie Delpy’s bilingual, bicultural romantic comedy Deux Jours à Paris (2 Days in Paris, France/Germany 2007). The film stars Delpy, who also wrote the script and the score (and for good measure, produced it), and Adam Goldberg as a French-American couple who visit Delpy’s parents in Paris on their way back home to the States from the “holiday of their dreams” — which turned out to be more of a wake-up call — in Venice. Playing off cultural cliches on both sides of the divide, the film sends them up with equal elan, evoking Hawks, Capra, and Lubitsch with a 21st-century twist.

Delpy told the press after the screening that she likes the way the French can be “rustic, rude, tough,” and thought it would be funny for a “neurotic American” to be dropped in among them. Wanting to do something that was both like and unlike Before Sunset (“my romantic side”), she soon found that the “unlike” predominated, making 2 Days more of an anti-Before Sunset (2004). The production money came quickly; a lot of it was spent on extras. “In Paris, you can walk around [with a camera] and no one cares,” said Delpy (although experience has no doubt taught them there may be a few euros in it). As for the relentless arguing between Delpy and Goldberg that drives the play, arguing is good, “as long as it ends by finding a common ground” or “as long as it ends in sex.” (We won’t ask how this worked out in real life: Delpy said Goldberg — for whom she expressed appreciation and affection — seemed to hate playing the role of a jealous, fragile guy, and resented being directed by a woman.)

Daniel Brühl, a friend of Delpy’s who has become known to U.S. audiences through his work in such films as Good Bye Lenin! (2003), Ladies in Lavender (2004) and Joyeux Noël (2005), said he was happy to take the small role of the “fairy terrorist,” an animal rights activist who targets fast-food restaurants, although having to ad lib his lines (English is his third language) as the cameras rolled was a bit of a challenge. Asked whether the two actors who play her parents in the film are really her parents, Delpy said they are, adding that she wrote the screenplay with them in mind, and that all her life, she’s “dreamed of shooting them”. Although both are professional actors, who brought her into the biz from early childhood — “my father wanted to direct; he kept jumping around, trying to tell me how to do it” — unlike Brühl, they insisted on having every line fully scripted.

The indefatigable Delpy has a few irons in the fire. Her next project, Countess, a “dark, twisted” drama set in the 16th century, her “most ambitious” film to date, radically different from her others, is in pre-production. It will star Delpy, Ethan Hawke, and Radha Mitchell.

The opening-night film was intensely French in subject, spirit, and language: La Môme, also known as La Vie en Rose (Olivier Dahan; France, UK, Czech Republic 2006), the story of iconic French chanteuse Edith Piaf, a woman driven both by her need to sing, for personal as well as financial reasons, and by the self-interest of those who use her, exploiting her gifts and her needs to their own advantage. Neglected by her street-singer mother, little Edith is dropped off by her alcoholic, busker father at his mother’s brothel, whose residents complete her “education,” as it were. With a passion for singing and a singular, captivating voice, the teenaged Edith Giovanna Gassion takes to the streets to earn enough sous to survive, where she is heard and taken in hand by sugar-daddy nightclub owner Louis Leplée (played by the always enjoyable Gérard Depardieu), who gives her the stage name Piaf, or “sparrow.”

While affecting and only occasionally de trop (it’s unlikely that at her first performance on Leplée’s stage, where she sings a simple tune of, and with, little distinction, she’d earn a standing ovation from the sophisticated crowd), the film has one major drawback: it shifts seemingly haphazardly back and forth in time, making it difficult to know at what point in La Môme’s (“The Brat”) life we are, at any given moment. This may be intentional, reflecting Piaf’s own life experience, which was darkened by drug and alcohol abuse and tragic loss.

There is a striking resemblance, at least in the film, both physically and emotionally, and to an extent vocally and biographically, between Piaf, as played by Marion Cotillard — who may be best remembered by American audiences as Tina Lombardi in Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s A Very Long Engagement (2004) — and the similarly iconic and ill-starred Judy Garland. Piaf, too, attracted a sizable contingent of loyal, even obsessive fans, and her songs, from the early one of the title, to her last, defiant testament of hard-earned wisdom,“Non, je ne regrette rien,” continue, more than four decades after her death, to grab audiences by the throat.

The character of Edith Piaf seems to have done the same to her portrayer. At the press conference, Cotillard confessed that she knew little about Piaf before beginning her research into the role. Once she began working on it, though, she soon found herself so caught up in Piaf’s life, the biggest problem was getting back into character after breaks in filming; after the shoot, it took a few weeks to “become myself again.” Responding to a question about “missing pieces” in the film, director Olivier Dahan told us that the film was not meant to be an exact biography, but rather an “intimate portrait,” which had received the wholehearted approval of Piaf’s close friend, confidante and biographer Ginou Richer (see, for example, L’Express).

The French film contingent at this year’s fest was also graced by the latest oeuvres of two titans, one once assistant to the other, a giant of the Nouvelle Vague: André Téchiné’s Les Témoins (The Witnesses, 2007) and old master Jacques Rivette’s Ne touchez pas la hache (Don’t Touch the Axe, 2007). As the two cineastes are separated by eras and experience, so the two films, both dealing with ill-advised, ill-fated love, are separated by centuries and sensibilities: The Witnesses explores relationships in the early days of the AIDS crisis, while Don’t Touch the Axe, based on a novella from Balzac’s “ La Comédie humaine,” sets a proud French general against the wiles of a beautiful, wealthy woman in restoration Paris in a game of emotional chess whose eventual, inevitable “check mate” is a bitter ending (and in one case, end) for both players.

At the press conference for Les Témoins, no doubt reflecting the urgency and sensitivity of the theme, there were as many questions about the lives it portrays as there were about the way it portrays them. Asked to comment on the situation in France for people of Arabic descent (as is his character, Mehdi, a policeman), actor Sami Bouajila replied that it more or less came down to individuals: while many experienced difficulties in assimilating, others were more successful. “We still have a long way to go,” he concluded. To the director: Why did you make the mother (played by Emmanuelle Béart) such a problematic character? Téchiné responded that the character herself was disturbed by her discomfort in being a mother, and that rather than idealizing motherhood, as is often done, he wanted to show it in another, equally true way. Béart added that the key scene for her character, Sarah, was the one in which she goes to her mother to find out if the mother had similar feelings towards her as a baby, and learns things that help her understand and deal with her own.

Asked why the film had such a rapid pace, Téchiné replied with a smile that it probably reflected his own internal tempo: he has a rapid heart rate, and likes to do things quickly. Perhaps more important, he added, is that the story is complicated, and it was critical to keep it moving. Challenged to provide examples of quiet moments, or moments of contemplation in the film, Téchiné came up with several, immediately evoking their grace and beauty. Was it easy for Johan Libereau, who plays the handsome young hedonist Manu, to do the death scenes, and Béart, the nude scenes? Both offered surprising, if telling answers: Libereau replied that the death scenes were actually easier to do than the joyful ones, where he had to act happy — keeping a smile plastered on your face is harder than it looks — while Béart responded that the nude scenes were far easier for her than the dramatic ones, where she felt exposed emotionally.

A question from the moderator to Lorenzo Balducci as to whether his own multinational background was good preparation for playing the character, Steve, elicited the confession that it was somewhat (and understandably!) intimidating to be an Italian actor, playing an American... in a French movie. But for a young actor from Italy to be able to work with such a distinguished group of people, cast and crew, who really care what they do, was a great honor.

At the press conference for Don’t Touch the Axe, most of the questions posed by both audience and moderator were directed to the legendary Jacques Rivette. The moderator recalled Rivette’s earlier films based on Balzacian stories and, calling Axe “the end of a cycle,” asked Rivette to comment on his approach to each of these films and his passion for Balzac. In this one, Rivette responded, he paid perhaps greater attention to the words than in previous films, taking them directly from the book to the extent possible (in fact, the intertitles bridging the scenes are direct quotations).

Picking up on this thought, a reporter asked how Rivette managed to remain true to the book while still creating what is so clearly a “Rivette film.” Smiling, Rivette said that “things just happen”; a film is “alive.” Asked to explain his methodology, the director gave a Gallic shrug and said that this, too, was difficult to articulate: “I enjoy working with these people. You just start working, and the ideas come.” A similar philosophy underlies his casting choices: “You have a good remembrance of working with someone, and of course you want to use them again,” the memory serving as a connecting thread in the next film that facilitates direction; the actors know what you want, and it comes easily.

At one point, a reporter made the mistake of asking Guillaume Depardieu, who plays the lead role of the French general Armand de Montriveau, how his famous father had helped him in his career. Before Depardieu could answer, Rivette leaped to his defense, perhaps taking the question as an insinuation that the young Depardieu had been engaged for the role on the basis of nepotism (which, were it in anyone’s mind, the sustained applause and cheers accompanying his entrance would have immediately dispelled). The role was in fact developed with Guillaume in mind, said Rivette, after an earlier project with both him and Jeanne Balibar (the duchess in Axe) failed to obtain funding. Rivette reiterated several times in the course of the conference, in response to different questions, that for this film, the actors were primary — “I wanted to work with Jeanne and Guillaume, that’s it” — the subject matter, essentially secondary. We’ll take him at his word. Nonetheless, it is a masterful, if unusual and unexpected, conclusion to the Balzac cycle begun by the master filmmaker thirty-six years ago.

An irresistible verbal, if not veritable, segue from Don’t Touch the Axe leads to When a Man Falls in the Forest (Ryan Eslinger, U.S. 2007), “an existentialist drama written by a 23-year-old man” — so producer Mary Aloe’s words on Ryan Eslinger’s script, at the press conference. The film, featuring Sharon Stone and Timothy Hutton, is a bleak meditation on identity, personal responsibility, and the unexpected, unlikely connections that turn accidental encounters into life-defining moments. While the film has not done well in early reviews (“Few will notice ‘When a Man Falls in the Forest,’ so derivative and flaccid are its art-film tropes about loneliness and ennui,” scoffed one critic), the production team, headed by Stone as exec producer, was so passionate in its commitment, it would be ill-advised to ignore the small, $2 million indie film, especially given the open approbation of fest director Dieter Kosslick, who, in the words of indieWIRE, “hailed Eslinger as the discovery of the festival.”

At the press conference, the first question, directed to Stone, may have been somewhat expected, but that didn’t make it any easier to respond to. However, Stone handled it with grace and humor. Do you find it difficult, she was asked, that after all the films you’ve made, people still remember you for Basic Instinct? (Stone’s unfortunate foray into sequel-land with the subsequently Razzied Basic Instinct 2 was happily not on the agenda.) Recalling an earlier screen goddess’s lament that men were disappointed “to go to bed with Gilda and wake up with Rita Hayworth,” Stone observed that “I don’t think waking up with Rita Hayworth would be all that bad a thing” for a man to do.

Asked whether he was personally affected by having to work for long periods in such a sad film, Hutton compared it to a wash cycle: “You don’t let the emotions follow you from scene to scene.” Stone added that doing the film had helped her understand emotions she had not previously understood in herself; instead of depressing, she found the experience “freeing. We live in a sort of Prozac society. To allow these feelings and not feel bad about it was cathartic — feeling bad felt kind of delicious.” Eslinger added that he didn’t see it as a depressing film: “I feel hopeful at the end.” Stone had nothing but praise for Eslinger, comparing him to Martin Scorsese, with whom she loves working: “Ryan has the same kind of grace,” she said, allowing her “to find a space that’s both protected and creative.” Acknowledging the difficulty the film might find in the U.S. (perhaps having read the reviews), Aloe expressed hope that its “existentialist, German sensibility” would help it find success in Germany.

As the session was coming to an end, Stone responded to a final question with words that remained with many, and were quoted in a newpaper article the following day. How do you deal with a role in a film that’s so much about a man’s world, a reporter asked. Perhaps sensing something in the question that was not articulated, Stone responded that there were always going to be such times. “It’s not how you fall, or how hard you fall, or who pushed you down, but how you get up.” Inspiring words that Stone — whose film career is only part of her life, and who is known and respected worldwide for her humanitarian efforts — may have recalled, as she returned to the unkindest, but in the larger picture, inconsequential cuts of some of the critics back home...

Acclaimed by critics and audiences alike, I Served the King of England (Obsluhoval jsem anglického krále; Jirí Menzel, Czech Republic-Slovakia 2007), a glorious, quintessentially Czech film that seamlessly melds history (both actual and filmic), irony, slapstick comedy, Playboy-like sexcapades, Broadway choreography, and, yes, dramatic intensity, can be called existential only if the searched-for self is a chameleon. Based on the book by internationally renowned author Bohumil Hrabal, whose “Closely Watched Trains” was the source of director Jirí Menzel’s Oscar-winning film (1966), the story line follows the young Jan Dite, a Czech Candide, on his serendipitous path from deprived wartime childhood, to prison, to millionaire and back again while commenting, sometimes humorously and sometimes acerbically, on the equally inexplicable world (i.e., ours) that frames his adventures.

At the polyglot press conference, introduced in German and translated into English, Czech, Bulgarian, and French, the director and members of the cast and production team fielded a potpourri of questions and challenges, some almost rhetorical, others seemingly out of left field, which in retrospect may have been true to the anarchic spirit of the film. While at times equably responsive, Menzel was just as likely to be exquisitely obscure. Pressed by a pressie to answer a question he “didn’t really answer” the first time around, about why he chose to make a film about this book — what’s so special about it? — Menzel allowed as to how he liked the book, later calling it his favorite of all Hrabal’s books. (The first time, with a straight face, he had said that the fee was good. Menzel has a wonderful, Buster Keaton-like face with subtleties of expression that flit like shadows across it; coincidentally, Menzel confirmed that he was very influenced by Keaton, and called Chaplin and Keaton his “first teachers.”) Asked how he so successfully combined so many filmic styles and genres in a single film, Menzel said that he had specialists and teams whose responsibility it was to see to each of these aspects of the production. Next question?

Menzel was full of praise for his cast, who returned it with obvious affection. The two “Jan”s confessed to experiencing confusion as they sorted out their roles, using an amusing pas de deux to respond to the question of which one, if either, modeled his character on the other. (I think it was a draw.) Menzel said he knew from the first that no one but Julia Jentsch, winner of the festival’s Silver Bear in 2005 for her memorable Sophie Scholl in Marc Rothemund’s film of the same name, would do for the role of Lise. An unregenerate Nazi — the obverse, in effect, of the Scholl role — the otherwise stiff Lise falls passionately in love with the young Jan, but can only achieve orgasm by gazing, enraptured, at a portrait of the Führer strategically placed on the wall directly across from the bed.

In the end, what is central for Menzel is “to bring audiences to Hrabal’s work.” If the DC area gets a gander at this film, which our own Eddie Cockrell says “will be received like royalty by fests, art-house distribs, tube buyers and shiny discmakers the world over,” it just may happen here...

And then there were the films that have already happened here — and by now are old news. Still, there’s something about being ten feet away from their directors and stars, and being able to ask them questions, that makes the films less old news than old friends.

Among the U.S. films screened were two at least nominally “good” ones: The Good German (Steven Soderbergh, 2006) and The Good Shepherd (Robert De Niro, 2006), which came, perhaps inevitably, to be known in festival shorthand as The Good German Shepherd. While full houses (or nearly) were the norm for the Competition films, for these — perhaps not surprisingly for the first, given its stars and subject matter — the line for the press screening of The Good German snaked down and around the long corridor and out the door, a full half-hour before start time. Watching the film, the audience got a good-natured kick out of George Clooney’s mangled German in the scene where he questions the boy by the lake, and got into the spirit of the film’s tribute to, cum sendup of, those classic forties flicks.

Director Steven Soderbergh joined actors Christian Oliver and Cate Blanchett in the press conference, which was similarly SRO, with some who arrived after the initial crush reduced to kneeling in the aisles between the seats. (The session began some 40 minutes late, increasing the anticipation.) Soderbergh expressed admiration for George Clooney, saying he couldn’t imagine what would have happened if the two of them hadn’t met on Out of Sight (1998), the first of their six films together.

Asked how she prepares for Oscar night, Cate Blanchett averred straight-up, to appreciative chuckles, that she has a vodka tonic. Echoing Soderbergh’s admiration for her co-star (who had another commitment and sent his regrets), Blanchett called him astonishing — easy to work with, humorous and dedicated, he knows what Soderbergh is going for, and has “harnessed his star power” to make it work to his, the company’s, and the film’s best advantage.

How do you read those lines from the ‘40s, someone asked. With irony...? Quite the opposite, Soderbergh responded; there was, in fact, a “manifesto” given to the cast reminding them that they were trying to be true to a different way of making films: no irony, no subliminal winking. “If it felt strange, they were doing it right.” Blanchett observed that the references were both modern and historic, reaching a sort of “midway point”; to prepare for her role, she watched Mildred Pierce and Hildegard Neff films.

We had to cheat the way they did in the old days, added Soderbergh, making simple cosmetic changes to turn one street into another one. Broken windows? “We taped black felt over the part you wanted to look broken” to save money, and also to remain true on the set, as well as on the screen, to the wartime and early postwar ethos of making films. Admitting that the film had received a pretty bad reception back home, Soderbergh laughed that instead of “I haven’t seen anything like this, I’m so glad I did,” the reaction was “I haven’t seen anything like this, and I’m glad I haven’t.” In contrast, he said, the “story of the year” is the three great Mexican directors, Guillermo del Toro, Alejandro González Iñarritú, and Alfonso Cuarón, whose work he praised.

Asked why he thought The Good German had gotten such a disappointing reception in the U.S. and what he was going to do about it, Soderbergh said that while the film’s narrative approach is American, its morality is European, making it a tough sell in the U.S. When it got bad reviews in New York and L.A., that pretty much killed its chances for distribution. He added that he hopes to find more receptive audiences in Europe.

The bilingual requirements were a challenge that Blanchett and Oliver met together. Blanchett speaks barely a word of German, but has an entire scene in which she converses with her husband in it, while Oliver is a native German speaker whom Soderbergh, thinking he was American or Canadian, selected simply on the basis of his previous work. As professionals, Soderbergh was sure the two of them could manage it with coaching, as indeed they (or more to the point, Blanchett, with Oliver’s supportive assistance) did. Oliver expressed amazement at Blanchett’s quick ear and astonishing ability to learn not only the words, but the inflections of her lines, and commented wryly that his joy at being cast in his first American movie, which he took as confirmation of his mastery of the language, was tempered somewhat by the realization that he was being cast not only as a German, but in a German-speaking role!

Soderbergh was particularly pleased with the score, which at first was electronic, something that he, and a friend for whom he played it, immediately recognized would be out of sync with the time period. “The film already had so many obstacles”; this would be yet another. “I’m so glad that Thomas [Newman] got [an Oscar] nomination this year,” Soderbergh added. “He really delivered.”

In an interview with Gala magazine, Cate Blanchett spoke with engaging candor about her life and career and the films in which she would appear during the festival. The article’s title? “Everybody Loves Cate.” True enough: At the press conference for Notes on a Scandal, the cameras went gaga, trying to get the best shots, while the assembled press, which filled the room almost to capacity a half-hour before the session was to begin, gave Blanchett and her co-star, the great Judi Dench, everything but a standing ovation.

For the first question, recalling the old showbiz good-luck wish, “break a leg,” Dench was asked whether she had any charm or totem or habit for the Oscars. “It’s funny you should ask that,” Dench replied, because she was about to have a knee operation — i.e., her leg literally broken — and thus would have to miss the Oscars. She does have a routine that she “sticks to rigorously,” though she didn’t say what it was.

Questioned about her character, Blanchett replied that while Sheba seems to have everything, “in this day and age, to be a mother and a wife is not considered enough by the world, and so I think she’s always felt ‘less than’... While she’s not immediately as isolated as Barbara Covett [Blanchett's character], I think the film reveals that at last, she is. Part of that loneliness is what brings the women together.”

Is there a moral, or a message, to the film? Dench was asked. She contemplated that for a moment, then offered: “Don’t look out for people who are particularly lonely. Don’t ask them out to tea, I suppose,” which broke up the room. As to her Oscar-nominated performance, Dench opined that the bad thing about seeing yourself on film is that “you say: why did I push that button? Why did I do it that way? My bathroom,” she continued, to appreciative chuckles, “has seen some of the best performances I’ve ever given.” Asked what challenges the role of Barbara Covett presented her, Dench said that “every single thing I’ve ever done presented a challenge. It’s never easy.”

The script, said author Patrick Marber, was written expressly with Dench and Blanchett in mind, and “it all organically fell into place,” said Blanchett, after she saw the script on his table during a visit to his home. The novel is all told from Barbara’s point of view, but Marber wanted to explore the character of Sheba in more depth, so he shifted perspectives to accomplish this. Asked whether “all ways of getting love are OK,” Blanchett was clearly not of that mind, saying that “if Sheba hadn’t decided to embark on a relationship with a student, which was disastrous and diabolical, she would have found some other way to self-destruct.” For his part, Marber sees both characters as “innocent in some way,” facilitating their downfall, while Blanchett suggested that both characters are “adolescent, still in the dorm at boarding school.”

Asked about the Oscars, Blanchett thought Dench might be the better one to make a prediction: “You’re the one with the gambling problem, Judy, you answer,” she teased. Will Dame Judy be looking for more of these “darker roles”? Dench would say only that she likes to alternate: “What I look for is that the next thing I do is absolutely different from the last thing I do... something that is a challenge each time,” although “everything I’ve ever done is a challenge; it’s never easy.”

Also on the podium was the young Andrew Simpson (Steven) who, he told us, had just turned 18. What do your parents think of the role you played? he was asked. “My dad was probably happier than my mom,” he confessed (“your mom doesn’t like to think of you like that”), but they were both thankful for the opportunity he had to work with people “at the top of their craft” like Blanchett and Dench. The two were people he lionized, but by the end of the shoot, he continued with gratitude and amazement as they regarded him fondly, “were just Cate and Judy.”

In the closing minutes, Marber was asked why he had changed the ending of the book on which the film was based (written by Zoë Heller) for the film. The film felt rather inconclusive, he said, adding that he changed the beginning and the middle as well. He and the writer have become good friends, and she agreed that this was the right ending for the film.

And a perfect ending for the press conference. But now, let’s circle around and get back to the Goods. When The Good Shepherd was screened for the press, members made a beeline for the Hyatt before the credits rolled and soon packed the press room to capacity. Robert De Niro, Matt Damon and Martina Gedeck took the platform and responded to sometimes pointed questions, while making it a point to warmly praise each other’s work. Damon said having “an actor’s actor as a director” was “a great backstop, a great safety net,” and that he knew from the start that it was going to be a good experience when he heard Gedeck’s voice. For her part, Gedeck called it one of her most joyful acting experiences, and expressed particular appreciation for being “allowed to act” by De Niro, who clearly respected their abilities, while being a “micro-manager” with superb attention to detail.

De Niro, in turn, praised Berlin as a city with “lots of energy” and the Berlinale as “the best of all festivals,” adding: “I’m just trying to butter you guys up.” He later elaborated on his feelings about the city, saying he had visited Berlin as a boy and was fascinated with the Cold War, and wanted the film’s portrayal of that world to be “as real as I could make it.” Asked whether the film was a direct criticism of the CIA, De Niro denied it. “I just filmed the script,” which was written 12 years ago by Eric Roth. “Maybe I should do a sequel,” he added, noting that after the Wall’s fall, he had always asked himself “when the other shoe was going to drop.” And he has concluded that it has, with nuclear proliferation, Al Qaeda, and other threats to stability.

De Niro did get considerable input from “people who know this world,” although not to a point of obsession: “I have a life,” he said wryly. Asked whether there might be a similarity between the CIA and the Mafia, De Niro said there was, in that both are “secret societies.” As to why he had played the role of the general himself, De Niro responded that he hadn’t planned on it, but a friend suggested that he do it.

As the conference came to a close, a questioner asked Gedeck to compare filming in Germany with filming in the U.S. One very fundamental difference came to mind: Filming in the U.S. is “more relaxed.” And with no sacrifice to quality, with a director like De Niro!

And speaking of directors, quality, and packed press rooms... the screening of Clint Eastwood’s Letters from Iwo Jima, and his appearance on the podium afterwards, met every qualification.

The questions came rapidly; the first went to Eastwood, who was quiet, unassuming, and earnest. How could you shoot this film, he was asked, without letting your own values and beliefs interfere? His answer was instructive: As an actor, you’re used to putting yourself in other people’s shoes. He read Kuribayashi’s memoirs, and his experience became very real. “You keep your perspective by putting yourself in the place of other people,” and imagine how they would react. And what experience did he personally have with Japanese films? As a boy growing up in LA, he would go to a cinema that screened only Japanese films, and became a huge fan of Akira Kurosawa. Later, he had the opportunity to spend time with Kurosawa when they were both being honored at Cannes.

How did he come to cast the actors? Saw them on tape, thanks to his casting people in Japan. Why did he decide to do two films based on the second world war? Eastwood replied that he had read both books (the other being James Bradley’s “Flags of our Fathers”); the Bradley seemed like a detective story, and the story of the Bond Drive reminded him of his own experiences when he was growing up during those years. “Like Sir Edmund Hilary, you just climb the mountain because it’s there. It was a challenge to do a film in another language and another culture, and I learned a lot from it. I always like challenges to learn something.” How do you decide what’s interesting enough to make a film? “Simple human emotion: you do it based on whether you like it or not.” The same principle applied, he added, when he was an actor.

The next question went to Ken Watanabe. “We understand that the story is not taught in Japanese schools. Do you think this will change that?” Noncommittal, Watanabe agreed that this was very true, “but it was a great opportunity to learn something.”

Back to Eastwood: Do you think it’s a good idea to run the two films back-to-back? A friend actually recommended that he combine the two stories into one movie, Eastwood replied, shifting from one storyline to the other, but the imposing length put an end to that idea. Why so little color, not only in Letters, but in Flags? It’s just a choice, he said, noting that in both Million Dollar Baby and Mystic River, he had also used the E&R process, which desaturates the colors and brings out depth, while giving the illusion of early film. And it seems harder to do a war in color, he said, adding that he grew up with black and white movies, and likes them.

Enough softballs. Now, a challenge: Some critics say you’ve done the worst war propaganda since Tokyo Rose. What would you say to that? “I’d say they’re idiots. Most of the Americans I’ve talked to who’ve been back to Iwo Jima have been supportive. When vets told me they enjoyed the picture, that was enough for me.” And the war in Iraq: did U.S. involvement there over the last four years have an impact? Not at all; he would have done the films regardless. While there are certainly contemporary references, stories about the futility of war are always current.

How did he manage to direct the actors in a language he didn’t speak or understand? “You learn something from every film. When the time comes that you think you know it all, that’s the time to quit,” he began. “You can tell when an actor’s emotionally on key. We had interpreters to help, and the Japanese culture has always been fascinating to me. This was a story of boys at war — people being sent off to war, the emotions of mothers who lose their sons, wives who lose their husbands. The emotions are the same, no matter who’s involved.”

How do you feel about the word “heroism”? Heroism is “something that just happens to them.” Some never go to war; they’re “just petrified.” Part of the project was to show that people didn’t feel that they were heroes; “they just did what was expected of them.” Eastwood recalled growing up in the 1940s, where wartime propaganda cast Americans as the good guys, and “everyone else” as the bad guys. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose...

As we could say about the Berlinale itself, but in the most positive sense; especially when it comes to the Talent Campus, which this year changed its locale but remained true to its role as vibrant, vital Berlinale adjunct, which in the words of Berlinale director Dieter Kosslick, “stands at the very heart of the festival’s spirit.”

Before we come to that, though, another film dealing with war and the “enemy,” this one even more controversial, warrants special mention: Crossing the Line (Daniel Gordon, Nick Bennett; Great Britain 2007). The film explores the lives of four U.S. soldiers who in 1961-62, while serving as border guards at the demilitarized zone in South Korea, deserted their posts and defected to the North. The focus is on one, James Joseph Dresnok, who agreed to be interviewed on film.

The audience was brought up short before the movie even began, as writer Daniel Gordon and cameraman Nick Bennett were introduced and came onstage to the usual applause. “It’s just like North Korea here,” said Gordon, half-joking. “They tell you to applaud, and you applaud.”

We learn from the film that the aforementioned Dresnok is, to put it bluntly, as happy as a clam in Pyongyang and “wouldn’t trade it for nothin’,” noting that President Clinton once called Panmunjom, the site of his service and hence, of his desertion, “the scariest place on Earth.” Dresnok’s early life held little promise — abandoned by his neglectful, alcoholic mother and disinterested father, who dropped him off at an orphanage which he describes as “a living hell,” he felt the Army held out hope for a better life: three squares, a warm bed, and a chance to make something out of himself. He enlisted on his 17th birthday.

The first soldier to see him when he crossed the line, interviewed for the film, says he wanted to bayonet “the American bastard... the Americans killed my parents.” At first he was barely tolerated, but within a few years, as three more American deserters joined him, Pyongyang realized their propaganda potential, and was soon using them in films and other media. By 1974, they had been transformed from hated aggressors to national heroes, and were featured in a film directed by dictator Kim Il-sung’s son, Kim Jong-il (who succeeded him as president). The four defectors eventually fell out, with one of them, Charles Jenkins, becoming a particular pariah even with his Korean hosts after publishing his autobiography in Japanese (Dresnok calls him a lying SOB).

No matter what one may think of Dresnok, by virtue of his unique position he offers what may be valuable insights into a country that for most is seen as a terrifying no-man’s land — as hated, perhaps, as we Americans are to many North Koreans, who nonetheless make use of things they find useful or beneficial, and consider English essential for scientific and economic growth. In an irony that will resound with immigrant parents and first-generation children everywhere, the defectors’ children have Korean papers, but consider themselves American. For his part, Dresnok, the high-school dropout, tells his children that “knowledge is power... [don’t] be an illiterate old man like me.”

This is the third film on North Korea by Bonner and Gordon (after The Game of Your Lives, 2002 and A State of Mind, 2004) who came onstage to take questions. Whom did you believe? they were asked. They declined to answer, saying instead that each viewer has to make up his or her own mind: “Audiences walk out with so many questions and not so many answers.” How free were you? There were always two guides/guards, although “it’s astonishing the level of trust we’re given.” The two guides in fact became their advocates; the fact that their films don’t deal with “political issues” enables them to have “remarkable access”; in fact, we were told, they’ve never been refused it. In a tale that sounds more like an object lesson than an actual occurrence, they once asked to go out for a drink unchaperoned, were told “sure, go ahead, no problem,” and promptly got lost, in the dark and bitter cold night. “We decided to go with the guides after that.”

Which turned out to be excellent advice for those of us visiting the Berlinale Talent Campus, which in its fifth year was bigger and better than ever, with skilled and celebrated guides from every corner of the world. Be you cinephile, or incipient (or even current) cineaste, the Campus’s charms were, as always, so seductive that a once-in-a-lifetime session could trump a one-time-only screening — and in the informal, collegiate atmosphere, you never knew when you might bump into one of your mentors at the restaurant across the street. Among the guides were Walter Salles (Foreign Land, Central Station, The Motorcycle Diaries, etc.), Gael García Bernal (Babel, The Science of Sleep, The Motorcycle Diaries, Y Tu Mamá También, etc.), Wim Wenders (Don’t Come Knocking, Buena Vista Social Club, Faraway So Close, Wings of Desire, etc.) and others. Even Baltimore’s own John Waters, famous (or notorious; take your pick) for such erudite fare as Pink Flamingos, Polyester, Hairspray, and his latest, screened at the fest, This Filthy World, was there. Four full days offering the chance to learn about, and from, the masters in a relaxed environment. Who could resist?

In the opening discussion with distinguished film historian Peter Cowie, Brazilian filmmaker Walter Salles, entering the stage with a black backpack slung across a black-and-white checked shirt (“the colors of my football team”), took on the central issues of this year’s Talent Campus: privacy, films, and politics. A political film, proposed Salles, is one about character, that is changed by the social and political events surrounding it. Hollywood rarely does political films; it focuses more often on class. Politics, he continued, has to do with “the need to show what hasn’t been seen before and say what hasn’t been said before.” Salles then showed clips from several films that helped form his own film aesthetic. First was Sergei Eisenstein’s The General Line (1929), which moved him deeply when he saw it as a boy, by its striking use of montage to depict “the people’s susceptibility to the false promises of rain delivered by religious leaders.” Next was a scene from Gillo Pontecorvo’s The Battle of Algiers (1966) in which mangled bodies, many those of small children, are extracted from the rubble of bombed-out buildings. “It could have been taken today,” he said. “Iraq.”

Next came Roberto Rossellini’s Roma, città aperta (Rome, Open City; 1945), where Anna Magnani runs to the train bearing her lover to what she knows will be his doom, and she is shot in the back while her little boy, calling “Mama!” runs after her. The next was a clip from a Cuban film that hovers between fiction and documentary, showing an older woman watching TV and learning, to her great distress, that the government has frozen all personal accounts, meaning that she will not be able to visit her desperately ill daughter. Following that was a clip from a Brazilian Cinema Novo film, which Salles told us was about “the loss of identity in capitalist society.” Last came the great scene from Chaplin’s The Great Dictator (1940), in which Adenoid Hynkel takes the globe from the stand and alternately bounces and balances it on various body parts before it bursts in his face. Salles called Chaplin “the only true genius in cinema: he wrote it, acted in it, edited it, and even did the music!” (With a little help from Wagner, I was tempted to add. But the basic point was well made.)

The Cinema Novo period, said Salles, wanted not only to show society, but to change it, and was inspired in part by Eisenstein and Rossellini. These influences also combined to inspire Salles, whose father was a diplomat who took his family from country to country and city to city, as his diplomatic postings demanded. Perhaps as a result of these wanderings, Salles said, he always wondered who he was. His passion, perhaps stemming from these experiences, was for documentary filmmaking; “I never thought I could be a fiction filmmaker.”

Some 800,000 Brazilians left their homeland in the late 1980s and early 1990s, so Salles decided to make a film about the phenomenon: Foreign Land (Terra Estrangeira, 1996), which is about “where we’re from, and the father who abandoned us.” Using the tropes of cinema, he made it in black and white, signifying hope and despair. The film also portrays tensions between blacks and whites in Brazil, taking the color question to a more literal level. Going deeper into issues of homeland and identity, the second part of the trilogy, Central Station (1998), said Salles, shows that “No matter how much you travel, you have to come back to your roots.”

Being conscious of his roots is also fundamental for 27-year-old Mexican phenom Gael García Bernal, whose subject was “On Border Crossing.” In an introductory conversation with Peter Cowie, Bernal ran through his bio: Beginning as a child actor with his thespian parents, Bernal went to London to study in 1999 after a student strike at his school in Mexico that “lasted almost two years. I’d saved enough money for a plane ticket, so I went to London.” There he got jobs in bars and restaurants, “got bored, “ and, knowing London’s “great reputation” for drama schools, thought he’d apply to one. He did — and was immediately accepted into the prestigious Central School of Speech and Drama (Wikipedia calls it “the largest specialist centre for training and study in drama, theatre and the performance arts in Europe”), where he soon “realized it was serious,” and, for perhaps the first time, really buckled down to study. He graduated just six years ago. (You could hear a chorus of groans in the audience, as we enviously/admiringly contemplated his curriculum vitae since his graduation.)

Asked about The Motorcycle Diaries (Diarios de motocicleta, Walter Salles 2004), which Cowie called “a great odyssey, a real road movie,” Bernal said it should be seen as three levels of a journey: visual, seen through our eyes; spiritual, and anthropological. Much of it was unscripted; a strong base of context promoted a sense of security among the non-professional cast, and they were able to improvise. “We told people to imagine the region in the 1950s, and it became their own personal architecture.”

A clip from Amores perros (Alejandro González Iñarritú, 2000) was screened, showing a dogfighting scene, which reminded Bernal that the actors were bitten by the dogs during the shoot. “They [the dogs] were way better treated than the humans,” he declared. “Better paid, too!” Recalling the financial constraints that limited the number of takes they could do of each scene to two, Bernal ironically compared it to Babel (Alejandro González Iñarritú, 2006), where he “remembered doing 46 takes of a door opening!” Bernal said he enjoys doing many takes, because it only starts to work with the sixth or seventh take.

Moving on to a clip from Y tu mamá también (Alfonso Cuarón, 2001: “We were all very young in that one”), Bernal called Cuarón “an incredible director,” who with Guillermo del Toro served as mentors to Bernal, who called them the “half man, half god” of Mexican directors. Noting that this year’s Oscars included 12 nominations of Mexican films, actors, or filmmakers — “which has to be a record” — Cowie asked whether this level of recognition might “help lessen the racism” against Mexicans in the U.S. “The Oscars are like the DEA — they certify,” responded Bernal, adding wryly, as a caveat, that “Alfonso’s film [Children of Men] is more English than The Queen.”

If he were to be asked why film is important, said Bernal, he would tell the story of the girl in City of God (Fernando Meirelles 2002) who, when asked if she wanted to dedicate herself to cinema, said she didn’t know, but that watching films enabled her to “understand other people’s reality. They’re not much different from me.” Without cinema, Bernal added, it would be difficult to understand other people’s reality. Securing borders isn’t the answer: “The 9/11 terrorists came over the Canadian border.” You can see the U.S. from the Mexican border, he observed, but “you can’t see Mexico from the U.S. border. So Mexicans are on the outside looking in.”

Do you feel more a citizen of Mexico, a member of the audience asked, or a citizen of the world? “I feel responsible to be critical of Mexico,” Bernal responded, always questioning what goes on there, “and I will always live there.” Does politics drive you to make a film? “Politics are very important, but the story always comes first.” And it must not only deal with a character, but must also be “a spiritual journey that will transcend the film,” and help people on their own spiritual journeys. Asked where he feels “most at home,” Bernal smiled and blushed: “It’s not in the shape of a place, it’s in the shape of a human being.”

To which character are you closest? “I have the most shared history with Julio” [Y tu mamá también], but “I always wanted to do that journey” in Motorcycle Diaries, and “resonate against the character of Ernesto” in the film. “Is it possible?” he asked rhetorically. “Six years ago, I was finishing university, and I’m still on the journey of discovery. Keep on doing it,” he told the assembled talents. “It will happen.”

It certainly has happened for the Talent Campus’s resident éminence grise Wim Wenders, who sat down with fellow directors Tata Amaral (Brazil) and Ning Ying (China) and British urbanist/architecture critic Deyan Sudjic to discuss “Metrobranding: The Creation and Production of City Images.” To get the ball rolling, the moderator noted that the value of real estate in the Notting Hill area of London increased by 1000 percent after the popular film (Notting Hill, Roger Michell 1999) took off. Going back to film classics, one of the panelists observed that the entire On the Waterfront (Elia Kazan, 1954) district has been completely urbanized, with no more docks, much less dockworkers.

Wenders commented that when he made Paris, Texas (1984), he bet author Sam Shepard that the town would soon have an Eiffel Tower (“I lost”). Ten years later, they built one — “and put a Texas hat on it.” (“If I’d put my money on the Moulin Rouge, I’d have won,” he later commented ruefully.) Comparing Berlin before and after the fall of the Wall, as seen from two of his films, Wenders screened clips from Wings of Desire (1987) and Faraway, So Close! (1993). In 1994, he was asked to do a promotional documentary on the city of Lisbon, Portugal for a European event (Lisbon Story, 1994) and did a fiction film about a foreigner coming to the city, played by his sound engineer. Another of his films “put Cuba on the map for the U.S.”

Wenders related two “failed efforts” at city branding. One was shot in 1990, predicting the way the world would look in 2000 (Until the End of the World, 1991) that was “really off the mark. Never make a film,” he told the talents, “that takes place in the near future. Reality will overtake you, and everyone will laugh at you.” The second was a film on the city of Peking (Beijing) shot in 1990 Berlin, allegedly showing Peking in the future and featuring folks holding cell phones the size of salad plates and a monument and statue to the “Unknown Hero of Tiananmen Square.” From these, he’s learned a valuable lesson: “Don’t brand it! Don’t show it until you’ve been there.” He’s been invited to shoot in Peking, he told us later, and hopes “they haven’t seen my film of 1990.” Responded Nina Ying: “I’m sure they haven’t. You wouldn’t have been invited if they had.”

Ning Ying has certainly been there, and told us how very much aware of change in her country she has become. It happens so fast that in 10 years, an entire neighborhood can change; places you know are quickly demolished, places you knew so well are gone. In making her Beijing Trilogy (For Fun, 1992; On the Beat, 1995; I Love Beijing, 2000), she said, she worked for a long time on location, using cab drivers to “embrace the city.” She then screened a clip showing a traffic jam that probably will never be replicated in DC (although, as Wenders taught us, it’s probably never wise to predict), with a bus bisecting lines of traffic going in several directions, resulting in a massive blockage with absolutely no way out for anyone. Wenders commented that he likes to watch ants “negotiating space,” and that this clip reminded him of ant hills.

Deyan Sudjic agreed with an earlier observation Wenders had made about the “loss of innocence,” at the same time noting that Metrobranding is not new; Hollywood has been doing it for decades, with Hollywood itself a prime example. Wenders cautioned that “I don’t think any of us are trying to strengthen the corporate image of the city; we’re filmmakers, not sponsors.”

The conversation turned to the city in which it was taking place. “My favorite film on Berlin is Rossellini’s Germany Year Zero (1948),” said Wenders. “No German could have shot that movie; he saw things no German could have seen.” Wenders mourned the loss of individuality of contemporary cities: “The holes are getting filled up”; now that they’re gone, you realize they were part of the city’s character. “Pushkin Square looks like Las Vegas,” he lamented, adding that when he sees a movie that could have taken place anywhere, “I get very bored. I want to see a film that shows the people of the city, the accents, not feel that it could have been shot anywhere.”

There’d be no danger of that with the films of John Waters, whose hometown of Baltimore is almost a constant character (which he affectionately calls “Trashtown, USA, the Sleaziest City on Earth, the Hairdo Capital of the World”), and who came to the Campus to give us the lowdown (pun very much intended) on “The Radical Way to Success.” In a nonstop, rollicking, yet invariably instructive monologue, Waters advised the audience of aspiring filmmakers to always have a backup source of income — he wrote books — because “what if they say no to your film? Almost nobody ever says, ‘Here!’”, with hand outstretched in illustration. “If you have rich relatives, be nice to them. Who’s ever going to give you money? Poor people?”

And another thing: “Always use sex and violence. My father paid for Pink Flamingos [1972]. He never saw it. We used to rent out churches” to shoot films “because the police would never raid a church. [In other places] sometimes they’d take away the whole audience.” He counseled the rapt crowd to “be careful about getting music rights”; without them, you can have a rude awakening when your carefully chosen score is yanked out from under you.

Waters expressed great regret that the famous Senator Theatre in Baltimore, where he’s done a lot of his previews, may be going out of business, and happily recalled giving out coupons for dinners-for-two to the Little Tavern — “the worst restaurant in Baltimore.” Surprisingly — or perhaps, not so surprisingly — his films do the best business in rich neighborhoods. “If you’re poor, irony is meaningless. They think you’re making fun of the genre, which you are, basically.”

No matter how outré and over-the-top his films are, to the point where one might think he never met a line he wouldn’t cross, Waters cautioned the audience of aspiring cineastes to make sure their flicks don’t get an NC-17 rating. “An NC-17 film will never be a hit because you can’t sell it anywhere. The MPAA will never release an NC-17 film.” Waters noted that he never won a court case over Pink Flamingos, “because it IS obscene. I mean, show that in court at 10 AM...?”

Waters regaled the audience with anecdotes of freaked-out families whose initial pleasure at having him film in their communities soon turned sour after they realized what he was doing. His next TV role will be as the “Groom Reaper” in “Till Death Do Us Part,” his next film project, which has been green-lit, a children’s movie that already has stars attached. (That’s all he’ll say, citing “bad luck” that will ensue if he talks about it prematurely.)

“You have to come up with something new they haven’t seen before,” he counseled, “make people leave the house,” because “there’s so much they can get at home for free.” Above all, “Learn the business. Read the trade papers. Send your stuff! A ‘no’ is free.”

I’d wager the talents said “yes” to this session — as did I, and to Berlinale 2007. Auf Wiedersehen, till next year!

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

Calendar of Events


American Film Institute Silver Theater
The AFI continues its Fred Zinnemann series until April 24 with High Noon (1952), Act of Violence (1948), From Here to Eternity (1953), Oklahoma! (1955), The Sundowners (1960), A Man for All Seasons (1966), and The Day of the Jackal (1973). The Kenji Mizoguchi series which began last month also concludes in April with Utamaro and His Five Women (1946), Ugetsu (1953), The Life of Oharu (1952), Sansho the Bailiff (1954), and Stret of Shame (1956). "Sundays at the Silver with Arch Campbell" will look at some of Arch Campbell's favorite films with discussion afterward. In April are Broadcast News, The Silence of the Lambs, American Beauty and The Devil Wears Prada. "The Films of Jacques Tati" concludes in April with Holiday, Mr. Hulot's Holiday, My Uncle and Traffic. "Shakespeare in the Cinema" offers Throne of Blood and Ran, both directed by Akira Kurosawa.

Freer Gallery of Art
"The Fifth Annual Cherry Blossom Festival Anime Marathon" is an all-day series of Japanese anime films. On April 14 at 11:00am is a video Yu-Gi-Oh!: The Movie (Hatsuki Tsuji, 2004), at 1:30pm is Amazing Lives of the Fast Food Grifters (Mamoru Oshii, 2006), at 4:00pm is Tokyo Godfathers (Satoshi Kon, 2003), and at 7:00pm is Paprika (Satoshi Kon, 2006). Satoshi Kon, director of the last two films, will be present to discuss his films.

Two films by Japanese director Hiroshi Teshigahara are presented in memory of John Suozzu, a DC Film Society member who died late in 2005. On April 20 at 7:00pm is The Woman in the Dunes (1964) and on April 29 at 2:00pm is The Face of Another (1966).

National Gallery of Art
"In Praise of Independents: The Flaherty" is a series taken from the annual independent seminar "The Flaherty" which examines experimental and documentary films. On April 1 at 4:30pm is Czech Dream (Vit Klusak and Filip Remunda, 2005) shown with The Angelmakers (Astrid Bussink, 2005). On April 7 at 2:00pm is The Gaze Back (Fridolin Schonweise, 2005) shown with It Works (Fridolin Schonwiese, 1998) and "Patty Chang Videoworks" (1996-2006). On April 8 at 4:30pm is The Sky Turns (Mercedes Alvarez, 2005) about the 14 remaining inhabitants of Aldealsenor, Spain.

Parisian Panorama (1920-1930) is a cinematic homage to Paris in the 1920s. On April 14 at 12:30pm is Etudes sur Paris (Andre Sauvage, 1928) shown with Paris Cinema (Pierre Chenal, 1929). On April 15 at 4:30pm is The Tower (Rene Clair, 1927) shown with Paris qui dort (Rene Clair, 1923) and Under the Roofs of Paris (Rene Clair, 1930). On April 21 at 1:00pm is Paris Express (Pierre and Jacques Prevert, 1928 shown with Paris la nuit (Henri Diamant-Berger, 1930).

"Alain Resnais and Fanny Ardant" looks at two collaborations between the director and actress: On April 21 at 3:00pm is Melo (Alain Resnais, 1986) and on April 29 at 4:30pm is Life Is a Bed of Roses (Alain Resnais, 1983).

Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden
On April 19 at 8:00pm is Zidane (Douglas Gordon and Philipe Parreno, 2006), a part documentary (about a soccer match) and party conceptual art portrait of the now notorious Zinedine Zidane. On April 26 and 27 at 7:00pm is The Pervert's Guide to Cinema (Sophie Fiennes, 2006) with psychoanalytic philospher and film scholar Slavoj Zizek put into mocked-up scenes from cinema classics.

National Museum of Women in the Arts
A series "Like Father, Like Daughter" starts on April 3 at 7:00pm with The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things (Asia Argento, 2004) shown with a short film Lick the Star (Sofia Coppola, 1998). On April 11 at 7:00pm is Scarlet Diva (Asia Argento, 2000) shown with Isabella Rossellini's short film My Dad Is 100 Years Old (2005). On April 16 at 7:00pm is Artemisia (Agnes Merlet, 1998) about the talented artist Artemisia Gentileschi who learned painting from her father Orazio.

A program of Korean Women's Shorts is on April 23 at 7:00pm, all by Korean American women filmmakers including Erica Cho, Cheryl Park, Rosylyn Rhee, Kimberly Sa Ree Tomes, and Helen Lee.

On April 25 at 7:00pm the "Sisters in Cinema" series continues with a program of short biographies. Titles include Motherless Child (Rachel Robinson, 2006), I Always Loved the Smell of Leather (Betty Jackson, 2006) and AKA Mrs. George Gilbert (Coco Fusco, 2005).

Films on the Hill
On April 4 at 7:00pm is Lon Chaney in Mockery (Benjamin Christensen, 1927) with "The Man of 1,000 Faces" as a dim-witted Siberian peasant during the Russian Revolution. On April 11 at 7:00pm is Charlie Chan at the Racetrack (Bruce Humberstone, 1936) with our favorite sleuth solving a murder and untangling a racetrack mystery. On April 13 at 7:00pm is Annie Oakley (George Stevens, 1935) with Barbara Stanwyck in the title role.

Washington Jewish Community Center
On April 16 at 7:30pm is Belzec (Guillaume Moscovitz, 2005) a documentary about the forgotten death camp of Belzec in Eastern Poland. On April 23 at 7:30pm is King of Beggars (Uri Paster, 2006), an Israeli take on an Old World folk tale. On April 30 at 7:30pm is Hyam Plutzik: American Poet (Christine Choy and Ku-Ling Siegel, 2006), a documentary about the 20th century poet.

Pickford Theater
A series of Shakespeare films begins on April 20 at 7:00pm with "Silent Shakespeare Part I," a program of nine short silent films including Macbeth, Othello, The Winter's Tale, As You Like It, and Twelfth Night. On April 24 at 7:00pm is "Silent Shakespeare Part II," an Italian version of Antony and Cleopatra preceded by a French version of The Merchant of Venice. On April 27 is The Taming of the Shrew (Sam Taylor, 1929). The series continues through August.

Goethe Institute
"Constantly in Motion--Crossover in Experimental Film and Video Art" is a program of 33 experimental short films, shown on four separate days. On April 2 at 6:30pm is "World Views--Imagery," on April 16 at 6:30pm is "Positioning" on April 23 at 6:30pm is "Mixed Emotions" and on April 30 at 6:30pm is "Structure and Symbols."

French Embassy
On April 11 at 7:00pm is Don't Worry I'm Fine (Philippe Lioret, 2006) part of the French Cinémathèque series held at the French Embassy and the Avalon.

National Archives
"A Salute to Documentary Filmmakers Robert and Anne Drew" is a tribute to the founder of American cinema verité. On April 27 at 6:30pm is Crisis: Behind a Presidential Commitment (1963) a chronicle of the confrontation between the Kennedy administration and Governor George Wallace over the integration of the University of Alabama. On April 28 at 3:00pm is On the Road with Duke Ellington (1967) with rare documentary footage of Ellington at home, on the road, rehearsing and playing at performances, shown with Kathy's Dance (1977), a look at modern dancer Kathy Posin. On April 28 at 6:30pm is The Chair (1963), documenting the fight by ab attorney to save someone from the electric chair.

The Avalon
On April 11 at 8:00pm is Brats (Zdenek Tyc, 2002) part of the "Lions of Czech Film" series and winner of many awards. On April 12 at 8:00pm is an evening with Academy Award winning filmmaker Barbara Kopple with a screening and discussion of Shut Up and Sing (2006). On April 18 at 8:00pm is Ma Vie en L'air (Love is in the Air, Remi Bezancon, 2005) part of the French Cinémathèque series.


The 21st Annual Washington DC International Film Festival
This year's festival starts April 19 and ends April 29. See the story above.

The 15th Annual VCU French Film Festival
Twelve new French films and 12 short films will be shown at the historic Byrd Theater in Richmond, Virginia from March 30-April 1.

The 7th Annual International Jewish Film Festival
This festival, held at four locations in Northern Virginia runs from April 18-May 3. Films include You're So Pretty, Go For Zucker, Out of Sight, Keeping Up with the Steins, The Aryan Couple, Gloomy Sunday, The First Time I Was Twenty, The Hungarian Servant, For Your Consideration, Various Positions, Paper Dolls, Out of Faith, Darian Dilemma and Toots. The locations are Cinema Arts Theater in Fair City Mall, Fairfax; the Jewish Community Center of Northern Virginia; Reston Town Center Multiplex; and AMC Loews Fairfax Square.


Smithsonian Resident Associates
Manga to Anime: From Astro Boy to Spirited Away
An all-day seminar beginning at 10:00am on April 21 will spend the morning session on manga (comics and print cartoons) and its history, place in modern culture, and its impact on publishing, animation, and live-action cinema. The afternoon session will illuminate the world of anime, its stories, characters, and symbolism.

Smithsonian Resident Associates
Broadway to Hollywood II: The Comedies
On April 15 from 2:00pm-5:00pm is a half-day seminar on the relationship between Broadway and Hollywood comedies. Murray Horowitz, executive director of the American Film Institute and Leslie Jacobson, chair of the department of theater and dance at George Washington University are the lecturers.

The Phillips Collection
To accompany its exhibit "Moving Pictures: American Art and Early Film," the Phillips Collection will offer a series of lectures and film screenings.

On April 12 at 6:00pm and 7:00pm is a film screening "Inventing French Cinema from Lumiere to Melies," a selection of the Lumiere brothers' "actualities" and a number of Georges Melies' fantasy films.

On April 5 at 6:00pm and 7:00pm is "From the Raceway to the Matinee--Picturing the Horse in Motion," a gallery talk investigating how Eadweard Muybridge's sequential images of the horse in motion revolutionized the way painters depicted movement.

On April 12 at 6:00pm and 7:00pm is "Teaching the Light to Dance--Loie Fuller and the Serpentine Dance," a gallery talk with a selection of popular films of Fuller's performances.

On April 19 at 6:00pm and 7:00pm is a gallery talk "Picture Show--Animating Portraits From Impressionism to the Ashcan," early film experiments examining the subtle movements of the human face through expression and speech.

On April 19 at 6:30pm is "Edison and Lumiere--Early Cinema, Fine Art and the Clash of Cultures," a lecture by Charles Musser, professor of film studies at Yale University, pinpointing ideological and cultural differences between American and French cinema that still exist today.

Previous Storyboards

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

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