August 2007

Last updated on August 14, 2007. Please check back later for additions.


The Cinema Lounge
Rescue Dawn: A Telephone Interview with Director Werner Herzog
We'll Always Have Paris: An Interview with Julie Delpy, Director and Actress, Two Days in Paris JUST ADDED! (8-14)
Arctic Tale: Q&A with Director Sarah Robertson
New Adams Rib Column: Sports Films That Should Be Made
Q&A with Jay Jonroy, Director of David and Layla
The 25th Annual Munich International Film Festival
We Need to Hear From You
Calendar of Events

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The Cinema Lounge

The next meeting of the Cinema Lounge will be on Monday, August 13 at 7:00pm. The topic is "How is the internet impacting movies?"

At the Cinema Lounge discussion in July, we chatted about the topic "What makes a good character in a movie?" The discussion began with a review about the standard challenges of (a) man versus man; (b) man versus nature; and (c) man versus himself. The views expressed represent the group in general.

Someone mentioned that an excellent character was Michael Corleone in The Godfather I (1972). Another offered that villains are better characters than heroes. That statement was challenged with The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (1966), where there are shades of gray. John Wayne's character in The Searchers (1956) was good. He goes from the hero to almost killing someone. Similarly, Paul Newman in the 1960s played some parts as an anti-hero. In The Wild Bunch (1969), the audience roots for the bad characters. Under Siege (1992) had a clear-cut good guy and bad guy. Shortly into the movie, some people root for the bad Tommy Lee Jones character. In Star Wars (1977), Darth Vader was an excellent character, especially when his mask was removed. Another character of great notoriety was Marlon Brandon in On the Waterfront (1954), particularly his "I coulda been a contenda" speech with his brother in the car. Another participant noted that in The Passion of the Christ (2004), the Jesus character lacked proper development, especially in the extreme torture given. "It's as if Passion is the third movie of a trilogy, without ever watching the first two." By contrast, the Jesus character in The Last Temptation of Christ (1988) was a better character. We agreed that the true life character of Roger Smith in Roger and Me (1989) was good and that Sasha Cohen in Borat (2006) as Ali G was also good.

Often the actor determines how the character is viewed. For instance, was John Wayne his characters, or merely John Wayne, the actor? The same can be asked of Humphrey Bogart, Jimmy Stewart, and Cary Grant. Character development was a problem driven by the character of James Bond, one begun by Sean Connery. Other Bonds added depth to the character that Connery never did. In Bobby (2006),about Robert Kennedy, there were some fundamental problems with the character: (a) It wasn't a good movie; (b) The movie did not focus enough on the main character; and (c) The screenwriter did not delve enough into Bobby's character. It became almost like a Robert Altman film. By contrast, the character of Howard Hughes in The Aviator (2004) was excellent. It opened more of Hughes' character. The difference was created largely from a strong, famous character test-running new airplane models, a daring feat. Then the same heroic character was portrayed as being afraid of opening a simple ("dirty") restroom doorknob with his bare hands. The Mohammed Ali character is not a good example because there is so much footage about him, usually not in movie roles. Thus, Ali (2001) was a difficult character to play, though Will Smith tried. Frida Kahlo, in Frida (2002) was a character not liked by people. Fred Thompson (now a likely Republican presidential candidate) plays good roles. Regardless, the presidential character by Martin Sheehan could have beaten either Bush or Gore in 2000. The powerful character of Robert Hansen in Breach (2007) is good as is Harry Potter and Lord Voldemort, though better in the books. Christopher Reeve in Superman (1978) plays the character well, especially when his hand falls into the fire.

Join us at our next meeting of the Cinema Lounge on Monday, August 13 at 7:00 p.m. when we will tackle the topic "How is the internet impacting movies?"

The Cinema Lounge, a film discussion group, meets the second Monday of every month at 7:00pm at
Barnes and Noble, 555 12th St., NW in Washington, DC (near the Metro Center Metro stop).

With Delpy, We'll Always Have 'Paris' — and a Fun Time

By Ronn Levine, DC Film Society Member

In person, Julie Delpy has a great laugh—big, frequent, contagious and even sinister at times. Most of all, it humanizes the pretty, blonde actress who has worked with an amazing array of directors for someone of just 37 years—Krzystzof Kieslowski (White), Agnieszka Holland (Europa Europa), Jean Luc Godard (Detective), Lasse Hallstrom (The Hoax), Jim Jarmusch (Broken Flowers) and Richard Linklater (Before Sunrise and Before Sunset), to name a few.

It’s those last two films that endeared her to the indie-rati set. In Before Sunrise, Delpy and Ethan Hawke meet on a train in Europe and spend a night traipsing around Vienna enjoying thought-provoking banter and sexual tension. Eight years later, in a film that gave Delpy, Linklater and Hawke an Academy Award nomination for adapted screenplay, the two characters meet again in Paris—he’s now a famous author—and resume the chemistry, this time by day (hence Before Sunset).

A quick look at Delpy’s new movie, 2 Days in Paris—in which she stars, wrote, directed, edited, wrote music and cast her father, mother, friends and cat—and one would expect more of the same educated, respectful banter. One would expect wrong.

“You don’t want to make the same movie,” she says. “2 Days in Paris is edgier, crazier. We would do a scene and then I’d tell the actors, ‘Let’s do something crazy.’ That’s when my Dad would yell [the name of a sexual act]. And I would be like, ‘I’ll keep it.’ ” Delpy laughs. 2 Days in Paris focuses on the relationship of a French woman and American man who live together in New York and have come to Europe for a vacation and specifically to Paris to meet the parents, played by Delpy’s parents, the veteran actors Albert Delpy and Marie Pillin. But where Delpy and Hawke waxed poetic for two movies, Delpy and Adam Golberg wax neurotic. He sends Bush-Cheney, tee-shirted tourists in wrong directions and is paranoid about terrorists and hygiene; she flirts and shouts with numerous ex-boyfriends, and fights vehemently with a racist cab driver. Each gets off good lines at the other’s expense. Fortunately, they also show enough likeability to keep us interested.

“When I prepared the film, I didn’t watch one Woody Allen movie,” Delpy says, responding to an assumption many have made. “I was actually watching a lot of older films like [Ernst] Lubitsch or films where people talk really fast from the ’30s.”

So your movie is similar to those?

“In subject matter perhaps, but mine is more dirty, and people talk about sex and say dirty words and nasty things to one another,” Delpy says.

She adds that she watched Katharine Hepburn comedies, and some films from the ’70s, especially comedies directed by Martin Scorsese. Then she pauses. “…And Jaws,” she says before unleashing that sinister laugh. “My film has a lot of similarities with Jaws.”

Two reporters stare at her, trying to figure this one out. One asks if perhaps the lunch scene with the rabbit head came from Jaws. She laughs again “It’s very secret, you can’t really tell. It kind of came to me afterward. Every time there’s a French man approaching [my character], there’s this music coming in. But it’s not really a reference to Jaws; it’s more like my crazy idea.”

Delpy’s character has a thing about keeping up with the exes—sort of like John Cusack’s character in High Fidelity, but she doesn’t have to go hunting for them. They just appear. So a lot of the fun comes from watching Golberg, who speaks no French, react to these French-spoken reunions, good and bad.

“To me, the language [barrier] was important, the moments of miscommunication, the times he doesn’t understand but we do because of the subtitles,” Delpy says. “When I wrote the screenplay, I wrote the dialogue that was in French so fast that I didn’t always have time to write the translation. We would be ready to shoot a scene and Adam was like, ‘You have to translate that scene to me,’ and I was like, ‘Why? You’re not supposed to understand it.’ ”

“One time, I translated one of those lines, I think from my mother who said, ‘With such a face he better be smart,’ and he was really upset. I couldn’t really help it though. Adam has this really sad quality, the more upset he is and the more he’s suffering, the more funny he looks. That’s really essential for that part. And he has a great sense of timing.”

There have been recent quotes from Linklater and Hawke saying that writing and directing were the next natural extensions for Delpy. Indeed, she had this in mind for years, especially since attending film school in the ’90s at NYU.

“NYU was a great experience. We were filming right away, which is just what I wanted,” Delpy says. “It made me feel that I can direct movies. It’s funny, at the start [of school] everyone wants to direct, and at the end like three people do. They’ve realized what it is to be a director and most of them don’t want to be one. Students also hated me because I knew everything. I had worked with a lot of filmmakers [by that point].”

“I’ve been trying for many years to direct a film, having many scripts that I’ve written, and finally people gave me money. I guess it’s because it’s kind of a comedy, romantic, but not really; but it seems that a ‘romantic comedy’ reassured people into giving me money,” Delpy says. “It’s easier to get money when you’re a woman and it’s about a relationship. It reassures people that we know what we’re talking about—like we really do. [Yes, another big laugh.] It makes people feel confident.”

Delpy, who is single, says that she remains friends with some exes but, unlike her character, “I would say it’s not my thing. Women love to know about [their boyfriend’s] ex-girlfriends, what they were doing in bed with them. It’s weird—women like to know about other women. But men really don’t want to know, to visualize their girlfriends with anyone else. Doesn’t do anything for them. Especially when they ask, then they get angry and they’re like, ‘Why did you tell me that?’ Men are funny.”

Delpy says that she does not yet have a directing style. She likes a certain realism, like the two movies with Hawke where you almost forget that these are two actors.

“The goal to reach for me is that everyone has improvised every word,” she says. “Turn on the camera and just film it. [I want] people to be natural – don’t like to see the acting. Even with good actors sometimes, Oscar winners, I see that they’re acting. I can’t get into those films because I see acting—they have their shtick and their tricks – it takes me away from the film.”

Delpy often reflects on her time with all those great directors, especially Kieslowski, who died in 1996 at the age of 55. “He was a wonderful director, a wonderful guy,” she says “I had such a fun time working with him. And he was very supportive. Right after White, I decided to go to film school and he was very supportive. We spent a lot of time talking about screenwriting, directing—he wanted to help me and then he died.”

“Not all directors are like that, some are the opposite. Some get worried like if you’re the competitor. Sometimes you have talented people who just want to keep it for themselves—he was very giving. I once asked him who his inspiration was, what directors. ‘None of them,’ he said. ‘Just observe the people around you. I take everything from what I see around me.’ He finally said that he was more influenced from documentaries.”

“That was interesting, to be influenced by what’s around you.” Delpy pauses, you can almost sense the laugh coming again. “Like casting your parents, your friends, your cat. I followed his advice literally.”

“Actually,” she says, “I’m hoping to get a Cat Fancy [magazine] cover for him. I’m not that excited about the film, just the cat.”

She quickly says she is joking. One can sense an excitement about this new stage in an already-proud career. “The humor in the film is very close to my sense of humor in every day life,” she says. “It’s a film I’m very proud of.”

Rescue Dawn: A Telephone Interview with Director Werner Herzog

By Lee Lederer, DC Film Society Member

Director Werner Herzog's new film is Rescue Dawn, based on the true story of Dieter Dengler, a German-born American who was shot down over Laos around the time of the Vietnam war. He was captured and imprisoned but managed to escape and survived a harrowing experience in the jungle before he was rescued. Herzog, who has resided in Los Angeles for many years, talked about his film by telephone on July 7.

Question: How did you first learn about Dieter Dengler's experience as a captive?
Werner Herzog: I read about Dieter in a series of magazine articles in the late 1960s. The project lay dormant until much later, the end of the 1990s. It came up again when I had the chance to do some programs for a network television series called something like "The Voyages of Hell". I was interested in the story about Dengler and another story about a German woman who survived a plane crash in Peru. But the network didn't want that. They wanted me to do something about myself, but I didn't want to circle around my own navel. I did eventually end up making films about those two stories: Little Dieter Needs to Fly and Wings of Hope.

Q: Why did you do both a documentary about Dengler (Little Dieter Needs to Fly) and now a feature film?
WH: The idea of a feature film was always first. The documentary was to be a follow-up piece. The money became available for the documentary. But the feature film was always meant to be first.

Q: Did you give any thought to putting a German actor in the lead role instead of Christian Bale?
WH: No.
Q: Any reason for that?
WH: No. It never occurred to me.

Q: Watching the film, I had the impression that during the making of the film, the actors, particularly Christian Bale, had to undergo some of the same traumas as did Dengler himself. Did Bale do a lot of the stunt work himself?
WH: I wouldn't use the word traumas.
Q: Difficulties?
WH: Yes. He did basically all of his own stunts with two exceptions. When his plane hits the rice paddy and explodes, and the pilot is ejected, that was done by a stunt man. I don't recall the other instance.

Q: Towards the end of the film, Bale looks extremely gaunt. Did he lose weight to achieve that effect during the filming?
WH: He lost weight before the filming and we shot the story backwards. So as we went along, he started to eat and gained back his weight in three weeks. As a gesture of solidarity, I also lost half the amount of weight that the actors did.

Q: That brings to mind, of course, some of the tensions which apparently took place in the making of your classic films with Klaus Kinski: Aguirre, Wrath of God and Fitzcarraldo. I take it Rescue Dawn provided an easier task for you in terms of the relationship with the lead actor?
WH: It's never a matter of the relationship with an actor. Rather it is only a question of whether or not the actor is good on screen. That is the only thing.

Q: How long was the shoot in Thailand?
WH: Forty-four days. I stayed under schedule. On all my films, I am always under budget or on budget.

Q: As a number of the reviewers have mentioned, you seem drawn to films with a jungle setting, such as Aguirre and Fitzcarraldo. What is it about a jungle setting that so fascinates you?
WH: I have made some 60 films and only four or five take place in a jungle. Ultimately a jungle is just a forest. There's nothing so special about it.

Q: I wasn't clear watching the film whether the guards of the prison camp in the film were supposed to be Laotian or North Vietnamese or Viet Cong. What were they?
WH: We don't know. Some (of those who guarded Dengler) we think were Viet Cong, and some Laotian. And some were Hill tribe people. Some of the extras I used in the film were Hill tribe people.

Q: The dialogue of the guards in the film is not sub-titled. What was your reason for that? Was it so that we would experience the same frustration as did Dengler and the other prisoners--not knowing what was being said to them or asked of them?
WH: No. There was no need for sub-titles. I think the audience knows and understands what they are saying.

Q: Your film is a story about a war many Americans would like to forget and comes out at a time when another war Americans are disturbed about is taking place. Who do you think will be the audience for this film?
WH: It's a mainstream film and should attract all sorts of audiences.

Q: As one of your admirers, I have to say I do not think of Werner Herzog as making mainstream movies. Because your films have a different take on the world and take a different approach. But you see your films as mainstream?
WH: Yes, all my films are mainstream, but sometimes it takes long long years before they become mainstream. They are sort of secret mainstream films.

Q: Some critics and audience members felt the ending--where Dengler arrives back on his ship and receives a hero's welcome--is a bit too Hollywood. But that really happened didn't it?
WH: Yes, it actually happened. And I wanted to give that experience back to Dengler. He died some five years ago. And the film does not display a primitive patriotism, it downplays the patriotism. It was about how he survived. And you will recall that when they try to get Dengler to make some comment on what enabled him to make it through his experience, Dengler jokes that he believes he needs a steak.

Q: Some reviewers, although they liked the film, argue that it was not a "Werner Herzog film". Is there such a thing in your own mind as a Werner Herzog film, something about your films that are different than other films?
WH: No. And I really don't care. I remember about 35 years ago when Aguirre, Wrath of God came out, some critics said "Now there are no more Werner Herzog films, he has become too commercial". The consensus was that it was not a Herzog film. So we'll see what they say 30 years from now.

Rescue Dawn opened in the DC area on July 13.

Arctic Tale: Audience Q&A with Director Sarah Robertson

By Ron Gordner, DC Film Society Member

On July 10 after a screening of Arctic Tale at the National Geographic's Grosvenor Auditorium, director Sarah Robertson answered questions from the audience members, many of which were children.

Question: How did you make this film?
Sarah Robertson: I have worked for over 15 years in the Arctic and have over 800 hours of film.

Q: How did you follow the animals over so much time and in different situations?
SR: They are composite characters, not the same individual animals, which would be too hard. We use Inuit guides in the North and travel over the ice with dog teams, or in the summer on boats and camp out in tents and igloos for weeks at a time.

Q: Are there dangers when filming?
SR: There is always some risk of danger when working with large predatory animals. The scariest times are night in your tent hearing the noises; but nothing bad ever happened.

Q: Did your presence have any effect on the animals?
SR: Yes, there is really no where to hide in the Arctic, so Adam and I really had to become part of the landscape and keep to our own territory while the animals continue to eat and do their own thing.

Q: How did you get the polar bears and newborn cub photos?
SR: Inuit guides and people helped us and they tell stories on how they sent the children in to the bear dens to go and pull out the sleeping bears.

Q: How do you get the bears to wake up?
SR: It took three weeks of shooting of Nanoo and her brother, including the scenes with the cubs clinging to their mother. It took weeks to find them. The cubs got tangled in our wires and tent once, and the mother growled and soon got them away. We were afraid at times, but nothing happened.

Q: What measures were taken not to change or invade their environment?
SR: We used only 2, 3, or 4 crew members, used the Inuit guides and we learned to live off the land also for our food, so our footprint on the land was minimal.

Q: Why did you focus on polar bears and walruses among all the other Arctic animals?
SR: We thought about the walrus, but the Inuit said if we swim with the walruses, they will squeeze us and suck out our brains. This did not happen. But in cages in the water we witnessed the care of the aunties and mother for the young, and this was new to scientific research. Also we were told that polar bears don’t really eat walruses; but we found that was a contradiction and wanted to tell that story of nature too.

Q: Without giving away trade secrets, did you used caged animals?
SR: No we filmed over 800 hours of real animals in their habitats.

Q: Was the global warming issue first known about before filming or later on?
SR: No, some of the filming is from 15 years ago. Probably the first knowledge of global warming for us was about 5 years ago, when we realized the changes in the habitats. The polar bear were very solitary and territorial before. Now they are more social since there is less ice.

Q: Where were most of the animals photographed geographically?
SR: 75% from the Canadian Arctic, the rest from other international Arctic regions.

Q: Thank you for this amazing film. Are there more to come?
SR: Yes, we want to continue to see how the animals will adapt and survive global warming.

Q: Since both lead animal characters were composite characters, how many real animals were photographed?
SR: There were about seven pairs of different animals used.

Q: Why did you choose Queen Latifah as the storyteller?
SR: We wanted a female narrator to tell the story of the two lead female animals and the maternal stories. We also wanted some comedy and drama and we thought Queen Latifah had the right mix of gravitas and authority to pull it off.

Q: What have been the critiques from audiences who have seen the film? Have you screened the film for Congressional staff, and if so, how was it received?
SR: We hope to show it eventually to Congress and environmentalist groups. Animals have a tremendous capacity to adapt and change and we want to show this. So why can’t we be inspired by the animals and change also?

Q: If the bears can swim up to 200 miles out to sea to other islands, why can’t they fish?
SR: Polar bears are great swimmers. We saw one of the males way out at sea, but it is different when there are no great ice flows all around. How do they find these far out islands or ice flows? Polar bears have a great sense of smell, but are at great risk going out too far. They can only dive about 15-20 feet in the water, so it may be difficult to capture fish; they need other new food sources also. Yes, it is easier for them to get fish like salmon in shallower waters and rivers.

Arctic Tale opens in the DC area this month.

Adam's Rib Explores Sports Movies That Should Be Made

By Adam Spector, DC Film Society Member

Ever wonder why there’s been no recent film about Jackie Robinson? Me too. That’s one of several sports movies begging to be made. I discuss Robinson and offer other suggestions in my
new Adam’s Rib column.

David and Layla: Q&A with Director/Producer/Writer Jay Jonroy and Actress Shiva Rose

By Ron Gordner, DC Film Society Member

DC Film Society members took part in an audience Q&A on June 27 at the Avalon Theater with director Jay Jonroy and actress Shiva Rose. The film is about David Fine (played by David Moscow) who produces a local New York man-on-the-streets TV show and is engaged to his Jewish girlfriend Abby (Callie Thorne). Then he is attracted to the mysterious and beautiful Layla (Shiva Rose) who is an Iraqi Kurdish refugee. How will their families react?

Jay Jonroy: This is an independent film that is an immigrant’s story. This is the first time it has been shown in its completed, re-edited form. It will open in three theaters in D.C. on August 3, 2007. The music is a combination of Klezmer and Kurdish music.

Question: What was the impetus for the film?
JJ: I was working in Paris and met the real David and Layla. They were very brave and bold taking this step getting married and showing their love to the world. I went to New York and wrote the basic script in 2000. We needed a comic relief; this is one small story out of thousands of other immigrant stories.

Q: I thought the film was funny and well done. You had so many themes of race, politics, immigration, culture and sex; was it difficult to portray all these themes. The immigration theme is very topical now, but why try to cover all these themes rather than just one or two issues? I found it difficult to see what the overall message was of the film when you have the intercultural relationship and then all these other issues.
JJ: I wanted to take on all the political issues affecting families’ lives but enough also to tease, provoke, and make a statement about other issues.

Q: I want to compliment you on the directing of the film, but also have some observations. Why make the Jewish girlfriend so repulsive and why make the husband possibly cheat on his wife? Also why did David keep saying he was an agnostic?
JJ: The film has shown in over 21 Film Festivals to Jewish and Arab audiences. At one festival, Syrians walked out because they thought the Muslims were being stereotyped, and that Uncle Ali was too goofy. It’s based on a real story, but it is just one story. Also Abby is provided as a real contrast with Layla. When the real David and Layla saw the film they commented that it was good you provided some of the real boxing story. The father is an Archie Bunker type and doesn’t really succeed in cheating on his wife. On the agnostic issue, I wanted to have complexities. David says he is agnostic, but he respects the seder, and reads the passage about Human Rights, parts of the seder are universal. Layla is also complex. She dances, drinks wine, and is not the average Muslim woman. In the end David keeps the Star of David, so we should respect his choices.

Q: I enjoyed the Kurdish customs and learning about both groups and their traditions.
JJ: Thank you. It was difficult to get permission for filming from mosques and temples. It took three months to get permission and we had to stop filming if praying began. We had to return to the one mosque to film the bathroom scene. It was difficult filming in the fall of 2001.

Q: You had a section talking about the Palestinians, but didn’t delve any further into this issue. How did the Kurds feel about the Palestinians in the film?
JJ: Some friends in Kurdistan felt the film should not have mentioned the Palestinians, since they did not help the Kurds in Iran, Iraq, or Turkey with problems or refugees. I added the Palestinian issue, because it is there in the background and needs to be discussed. Some of the discussion was edited out of the original 178 minutes to the final 108 minute length film you saw tonight.

Q: What is the message you hope people will get from the film?
JJ: In the end, the film is about Layla and how women suffer the most--and about love. Recent Middle Eastern films deal with kids and men more than women. I want women to be able to express themselves.

Q: I loved all the mixture of music and the dancing by the actress. How authentic are these? I have attended Kurdish cultural events in D.C. and am not sure this was true to the culture.
JJ: Yes, I was invited to the International Jewish Film Festival in the Hamptons and I expected more comments of the cultures presented. The film was made for an English speaking European and American audience.

Q: On the boat why did David take ecstasy with the wine?
JJ: In love, people do crazy things. The French friend and the gay brother both experiment, so it was a plot device. Romantic comedies are very hard to make compared to dramas.

Q: I found it noteworthy that the Jewish family seemed to accept the gay son, yet had a problem with the other son wanting to marry a Muslim.
JJ: Maybe in another family this would be a problem, but this is an extraordinary story. This is just one story and film.

Q: Shiva is part Iranian. How did her experience and her generation in Iran help her and what brought her to the part?
Shiva Rose: When I was ten years old we had to escape Iran. My father was a well known comic and his name was on the blacklist to be executed. My mother took photos only and the family had a traumatic journey. I was politically active as an adult and supported women in Bosnia later. So it is a missed generation of Iran for me and my parents.
JJ: Shiva came on a Sunday night and auditioned and by Monday we said she was the one. This is a small independent film--she even paid for her own flight to get to the audition.

Q: When was the principal filming done, and how long did it take to shoot the film?
JJ: We shot the film in 2004 and 2005. It took 19 days, 3 nights, and 1 additional pickup day three months later for the Kiss of Life scene so we could match the grass and scenery.

David and Layla opens in D.C. on August 3.

The 2007 Munich Film Festival

By Leslie Weisman, DC Film Society Member

This year’s Munich Film Festival pulled out all the stops in celebration of its silver anniversary, welcoming a record 65,000 moviegoers to what would prove to be one of the most successful in the festival’s 25-year history. With tributes to charter members of the U.S. film pantheon William Friedkin and Richard Linklater, including screenings of the former’s latest foray and the latter’s entire oeuvre, and film star Kevin Kline, who received double honors for his latest film Trade; and to German directorial icons Werner Herzog and Volker Schlöndorff, whose latest films proved worthy successors to their acknowledged masterworks, Filmfest München 2007 demonstrated anew its ability to be at once “everybody’s film festival” and a haven for the most serious of cinephiles.

“Richard Linklater: Serious slacker” cracks the droll headline in the festival catalog. Not a bad way to describe the man who has made 17 films in as many years as director, writer, producer, actor, and cinematographer, among them such classics as Bad News Bears (2005), Before Sunrise (1995) and Before Sunset (2004), Fast Food Nation and A Scanner Darkly (2006), Suburbia (1996), Tape (2001), and the one that started it all, the eponymous and now legendary Slacker (1991), which had its international premiere 16 years ago at Filmfest München. Also, come to think of it, not a mean accomplishment for a Gen-X filmmaker: Linklater was saluted here with a retrospective, something more commonly associated with filmmakers with a few more years under their belt.

Not to worry; Linklater lived up to his advance billing. At a packed late-night “cinetalk,” those podium discussions with directors and actors that are one of Filmfest’s hallmarks, Linklater recalled the making of A Scanner Darkly and its groundbreaking use of live-action photography overlaid with an advanced animation process known as “interpolated rotoscoping.” Despite its innovation and sophistication, Scanner was “very low-budget relative to, say, Toy Story,” he told the attentive crowd. Linklater enthused about the work of Philip K. Dick, whose book was the basis for the film. “I’m not a huge science fiction fan, but I make an exception for him, because the sciences are not what he’s writing about. He’s writing about people. He writes really strong characters; he has a love for people, and a real personal touch. He saw the future very darkly, and accurately.”

Did Robert Downey Jr. express or evince any discomfort in voicing his character, who is a drug addict? Not at all: “Downey is a brutally honest guy, a great guy. I think he’s enough of an artist to see the possibilities... what he could bring to the character. And he did. He’s a wonderful actor. We rewrote his part, he helped write some of his part,” said Linklater. As for Downey’s drug problem: “He makes jokes about it: ‘Yeah, I researched this part 20 years,’ he’ll say, ‘very detailed research.’”

Moving from Scanner to Slacker, Linklater called it a film “about people pursuing their passions and not being a wage slave, and I think that’s what most people want: that what you spend your time doing is what you’re most passionate about.” Speaking of his own background, Linklater said that his family was disappointed that he didn’t graduate from college; so determined was he to be a filmmaker, he educated himself while “pursuing my own passion. My whole life was cinema,” working from a very early age and forming a film club. “We just worked, lived, ate, breathed cinema... I look back on those years very fondly. It wasn’t about being paid, it was about making film. That’s really what it takes; you have to have to have a commitment... You have to be possessed.”

Linklater still encourages up-and-coming filmmakers; his film club in Texas is “a very vibrant organization” that will give out $150,000 this year to promising cineastes, he told us. “That’s the one thing all [up-and-coming] filmmakers have in common: they’re really broke,” he said, recalling the early financial assistance he received as being very helpful to him. Currently, he is working on a feature-length documentary: “It’s really a lot of work, a lot of time; it takes forever” he said, and although he enjoys it, “I enjoy fiction more, so I don’t know if I’m a natural documentarian.” The subject? “It’s about a Zen master of baseball, the most successful baseball coach in the U.S.” said Linklater, adding that he was “pretty obsessed with baseball as a youngster; I was pretty good in college— I got a scholarship... When I quit playing baseball, I put all that energy into films.” Comparing the situation in the sixties with the options available to young people today, Linklater said that when he was growing up, “being a filmmaker wasn’t something [the average kid] even thought about... it just wasn’t an option, so I always felt a little behind. I was 20 before I even knew what a director did.”

What films inspired him as a kid? “When I was seven years old, I saw 2001: A Space Odyssey... it was just amazing to me. When I was in high school, I saw Eraserhead, a David Lynch film. There were four of us — a double date kind of thing? Those three, they left,” he said, to much laughter. “If you can’t leave your date behind, you’re not a filmmaker,” he added, as the laughter grew. “That’s the test, right there.”

Do actors tend to choose roles that will enable them to play characters very unlike themselves? Linklater was skeptical, saying he is more inclined to believe that actors choose characters that allow them to express a hidden part of themselves, allowing them to do and say things they might like to do in real life, but will not or cannot. In contrast to directors such as James Cameron, Linklater said, he is interested in “really minimal, simple ideas” about things that happen to people, and that in some cases happened to him. One of these experiences became Before Sunrise: “Even while this experience was happening, I was already a filmmaker, so I was thinking: ‘I want to make a film about this.’ I mean, you do the best you can with the experience in front of you...” [laughter] “but you still see the possibilities” of how it could play out in a film. “In France, they told me my films are like Eric Rohmer films, but I think he’s more a logician/mathematician. His films are a lot more complex, a lot more intricate. But I like that simplicity.”

Simplicity is the watchword in Tape, at least when it comes to mise-en-scène. Originally a stage play by Stephen Beiber, the entire film, shot in digital video and looking like it was recorded by one of the characters’ kid brothers hiding in a closet, is a conversation in a motel room. But what a masterful use of video — and what a conversation! Was the dialogue in Tape largely improvised? Not at all. “People are always asking me that, but it was quite structured. We rehearsed a lot, everything was written down. I mean, maybe a word or two was ad libbed, but... we do it in rehearsal. I can’t afford to just turn on a camera and see what happens. Of course, the actors bring a lot to it, but they do it off camera.” While Linklater is not fond of digital, he felt that Tape lent itself to the medium because of the simple setting: “It wouldn’t be a digital film trying to be a regular movie.”

Conspiracies are conspicuous presences in some of his films, came a question from the audience. Do they hold a certain fascination for him? Linklater allowed as to how this might be true. “Even in Slacker there was mention of global warming, and we shot that in 1989. So that’s the conspiracy. Conspiracy plus a generation equals the world we’re living in. Conspiracy is for people who are tuning out the official information and looking for the unaccredited information, which is often the truth. I mean, not always, but it’s often closer to what’s really going on. Isn’t that the William Burroughs quote: ‘How do you define a schizophrenic? Someone who’s just discovered what’s really going on.’ I’m obsessed with people who are obsessed. I really enjoy people who are single-minded, driven by something that’s not officially sanctioned — people who are really existing on their own terms.”

Linklater could have been describing himself, of course, and by definition, the independent filmmakers who for two decades have been embraced by Filmfest München, which proudly calls Munich “a Mecca for the ‘Indies.’” His description could also be applied, if not in terms of aegis, then certainly that of attitude, to one of this year’s lifetime achievement, or CineMerit Awards, William Friedkin, six of whose films, including The French Connection (1971) and The Exorcist (1973/2000) and his latest, Bug (2006) were screened for Filmfest audiences.

William Friedkin (“Call me Bill!”) is a raconteur par excellence, whose hour-long discussion in the Black Box theater was so packed with pithy observations and entertaining reminiscences, it was a devil of a job (sorry, couldn’t resist) editing it down. How did it all begin for him? Friedkin said he’d done about 2,000 live TV shows in Chicago before attempting a film, the first of several award-winning documentaries. In 1966 or ‘67, the producer of the Alfred Hitchcock Hour asked him to direct the final episode. Like Linklater, he was quite young at the time and had barely graduated high school, much less attend college, but was a voracious reader. From there it was a steady progression through good times and bad (Good Times [1967] being one of the bad, but only critically; Friedkin developed a friendship with Sonny Bono), and his storied interview with Fritz Lang [1974] — which had an inauspicious prelude.

Obtaining Lang’s phone number from the Directors Guild, Friedkin called the great man, explained that he wanted to interview him, and was told in no uncertain terms, “Don’t bother me, leave me alone, my films are all worthless” — slam. Some times later, Friedkin met Lang, who agreed to an interview, “which I did with two really great cameramen: Bill Butler, who photographed Jaws and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and Bill Fraker, who did Bullitt and many great American films.” (The interview, which was uncut and lasted several hours, lay in storage until the Torino film festival asked Friedkin a couple of years ago if they could include it in their hommage to his work. He cut it down to about 50 minutes; it premiered at the festival, and has been released commercially on the Criterion DVD of M, as well as shown on and distributed by the BBC.)

Lang would respond to questions in between bites of bratwurst, “so I had to do a lot of editing, otherwise I could’ve sold it to a bratwurst company,” he observed dryly, to laughter. Did Lang still insist his films were worthless? “Well, I understand it,” said Friedkin. “I’ll probably give the same interview if I ever make it to 88 years old.” It was his early films in Germany that Lang had been referring to, he added. Why had he felt so strongly? It wasn’t that he thought the films were inherently bad; it was that they had been re-edited by others against his wishes: “They weren’t his versions.” Then, too, there is the tendency of people to look back on their lives and early works, and re-evaluate them with the perspective of maturity, “which is another word for old age — which I’m just beginning to learn. I frankly don’t have a very high opinion of the first films I made. If I’d made them in Romania under Ceausescu, I’d’ve been executed!”

French Connection was really your breakthrough film, the one that made you an international name, and the casting is flawless, said the interviewer. Did you have Gene Hackman and Fernando Rey in mind from the start? Friedkin responded with a raft of anecdotes about making and casting the film. “We made The French Connection for what was a very low budget at the time, a million and a half dollars, so we couldn’t have a star in the film. So Richard Zanuck told me to just get a good actor” for the role of “Popeye” Doyle. Friedkin suggested Paul Newman, “but he would have asked for $500,000" which they couldn’t afford. A subsequent suggestion, Jackie Gleason, “who would’ve been perfect,” was turned down because he had just made what Zanuck considered “the greatest disaster in the history of 20th Century Fox”: Gigot, a silent film in which Gleason played a clown. “Maybe one person saw that film. Did anyone here see that film?” Your faithful (and somewhat embarrassed) correspondent, having seen the maligned movie sometime in her clearly misspent youth, slowly raised her hand. “YOU’RE the one!” Friedkin cried, pointing an accusatory finger, to laughter and applause.

They next offered the role to Peter Boyle, who had just finished playing a gangster in Crazy Joe and who declined, on the grounds that he wanted to change gears for a while and play more sympathetic characters. “So the next film he makes is Young Frankenstein!” Boyle, who passed away last year, had a huge success with “Everybody Loves Raymond,” and “every single day on the set, he would tell someone how much he regretted not having done French Connection.” Then Gene Hackman’s agent called, and “the producer and I had lunch with him, and I’ll tell you — the producer and I fell asleep at the lunch,” said Friedkin, seeming to enjoy, in a good-humored way, ribbing Hackman. “This man was the most boring guy... at one point he told us of a job he had being a doorman at the Essex Hotel in New York, after completing his Marine Corps service. And his commanding officer emerged with a beautiful woman on his arm.” Hackman tried to avert his eyes, whereupon his c.o. colorfully excoriated him for being an asshole. “And I couldn’t disagree. But he was OUR asshole!” Friedkin said triumphantly.

The first day of shooting, Hackman did 37 takes of a single shot. It was an utter disaster. “But we couldn’t get rid if him, and he couldn’t quit.” Despite this unpromising beginning, Hackman “wound up doing a great job in the film” — for which he won the Academy Award for Best Actor — “and he became a really a great actor.” So, too, was the actor mistakenly hired to play the French drug lord: Friedkin had requested “that French guy from Buñuel’s Belle de Jour,” whose name he didn’t know, so they sent him Fernando Rey — a Buñuel actor, to be sure, but an elegant, sophisticated Spaniard, not the rough-hewn Corsican Friedkin was seeking. He later learned that the actor he wanted, Francisco Rabal, wasn’t available anyway, and Rey was great in the role: “Sometimes you can succeed in spite of yourself. You have to have a great amount of ambition, a great degree of luck, and the grace of God to succeed.”

Asked about his role as one of the founding members of “the New Hollywood,” Friedkin demurred, saying that he and Francis Ford Coppola “never got together and said, ‘Let’s call a meeting of the New Hollywood.’ The name came much later,” as it did with the French New Wave, observed his host, adding, “Still, you must have been aware of a greater freedom, moving away from studio bays, interior settings, much as the New Wave directors experienced.” Friedkin agreed. “We shot in the street with no sets, no lights, for budget reasons – which is how the French New Wave began. We also used the ‘short ends’ of a roll of film,” leftover pieces that were discarded after most of the roll was used.

“So yes, we were very influenced by the French New Wave. But the idea that we had all this artistic freedom is a complete myth. The studios were on us all the time: ‘Finish it! Finish it!’ Because all the great Hollywood films of the ‘30s and ‘40s were done in 20 days, 30 days.” Coppola was fired 20 times from The Godfather, Friedkin told us. “The myth of artistic freedom is just that.” But what about the freedom that the new film stock and smaller cameras gave you to shoot without studio sets? Friedkin reminded us of King Vidor’s Burlesque, made in the early 1930s and shot on the streets of New York, but agreed that smaller cameras like the Arriflex were invented around the time he and his cohort came into film and did help facilitate filmmaking. “With new tools, there is the start of a new era,” said the host, with Friedkin’s prompt assent. “Computer-generated imagery has changed everything. Everybody uses it. It’s even changed people’s physiques,” he said, to knowing laughter.

As to The Exorcist, Friedkin said the version screened at Filmfest was a “brand new digital print with 5.1 sound,” noting that the censors had forced him to cut about 40 minutes out of it. “What I shot in those subterranean leather bars or clubs — those were not extras. Except for Al Pacino, those were members of those clubs, doing what they did... And I ran that for the head of the motion picture code. At one point he took his coat off. And then he started rubbing his neck. And then: ‘No. Oh, no!’ And then the lights went on. And he was beet red. And he was sweating. His name was Hefner, Richard Hefner. Not Hugh Hefner — he was the opposite of Hugh Hefner. And Jerry Weintraub, the producer — it was at his house — said, ‘How’d ya like it, Dick?’ He said, ‘How did I LIKE it?! Jerry, this is the worst film I’ve ever seen! You can’t release this!’ And Jerry Weintraub — he’s a great showman, he did Ocean’s 11, 12, 13, 19, 47" [laughter] — “he said, ‘You can’t do this to me! What’s the rating going to be?’ And Hefner said: ‘There’s not enough Xs in the alphabet! Every X that can be found will be put on this.’

“Then began a painstaking process that took about 50 days, to make the film that you will see tonight. It’s going to be re-released by Warner Brothers in September in the U.S.,” he added, and the DVD about three months later. Some of the deleted material will be in it, but not much: “If I’d put it back in, it would’ve been re-rated X, and unable to be shown.” One thing that’s noticeably different, he said, is that the “fog” he had been forced to place over the club scene has been lifted, making some — but not all — of the sexual acts clearly visible. (There were several additional points made about The Exorcist in response to questions from the audience at the end of the session, which in the interest of space, are not included here.)

Briefly returning to an early Friedkin film, Sorcerer (1977), the host mentioned having run into Quentin Tarantino at Cannes, who said that he placed it on his top 10 list of favorite films, and that many people thought it was a great film. “But they’re all in mental institutions,” deadpanned Friedkin.

Music is very important to you, noted the host, citing Friedkin’s success as an internationally acclaimed opera director in such productions as Wozzeck and Salome, and asked how he found the music for his film scores. “The music usually finds me,” Friedkin said, adding that both the Exorcist and Sorcerer scores were done by Tangerine Dream, a group he first heard playing in a sepulchral setting: a dark, ancient church in Germany.

Was the chase scene in The French Connection planned? Surprisingly, it was completely improvised. “The producer and I took a long walk from my apartment down to the lower tip of Manhattan, known as the Battery, and plotted it out as we walked, throwing out ‘spitball ideas’ as we went: What would happen if...? How about...? And out of that came the chase. Nothing was ever written down. We only had permission to use the train; we never had permission to drive the car down the street at 90 miles an hour. People asked Stravinsky how he came to write The Rite of Spring, one of the greatest and most misunderstood pieces of music of the 20th century. And he said: “I am the vessel through which the Rite of Spring passed.’ And that’s how it was with the chase scene for The French Connection.”

The DVD will contain a great documentary, he told us, plus himself on the commentary track and numerous extras. “DVD is a great medium. This is the real cinémathèque. This medium is what has preserved film. Without it, these great old films would have been lost. The studios don’t care. They would’ve thrown it out... You can’t find a good print of The Shining. I tried to show it a couple of years ago and had to shut it off, the quality of the print was so bad.”

What’s up next? “I’ve been asked to direct an episode of CSI: Miami, which I’ve never seen.” Which filmmakers does he like? Among European filmmakers, Tom Tykwer and his Lola Rennt and Perfume, and Michael Haneke; his favorite film of all time is Citizen Kane. “I want to challenge the audience,” he said. “Most audiences want to sit back, be entertained for two hours, and then go out and have a hot dog or something. I want to offer them more than that.” Which no one would argue, he has certainly done. Unlike much of the current crop of cineastes: “There’s better work being done on American television than in American cinema.”

Sometimes, of course, he has had to offer them less. Asked about Good Times, Friedkin confessed “it was a piece of shit, total dreck. But Sonny wanted a young director, and we got along very well. It was all improvised.”

Any big plans for the future? “I don’t really have any big plans. I don’t have to prove anything anymore. If they have something, they’ll find me. And I’m not interested in blockbusters. I’m not interested in what the Hollywood studios are doing.” What he’s very interested in, he said, is subjects with weight, such as personal responsibility in wartime. “That’s why I did Rules of Engagement. I’m very interested in these young guys who are sent over there by their governments to kill, and then when they do kill, they’re brought up on charges.” He was full of praise for Tommy Lee Jones, who played Col. Hodges in Rules. “Most actors want a backstory, they want motivation: ‘Why does my character do this?’ How the hell do I know? So I make something up, and they’re very happy, they go off thinking they now ‘understand’ the character. But not Tommy. He just wants to know where the marks are. And he hits them every time. And that’s how films should be made!”

Friedkin’s passion and outspokenness extend beyond his profession. “We never should have gone into Iraq. I lived in Iraq for three months, I know the Iraqi people. I filmed the opening sequence of The Exorcist there. I met women there who were doctors, lawyers, filmmakers, journalists — free in society. And people would take their children to have picnics where the Tigris and Euphrates meet. We have ruined this country! Actually gone out and ruined a country. And I don’t know why people aren’t out in the streets. I speak out about it whenever I can. We never should have been there. We can’t solve the problems of the world! But there are people we elect who think they can. Like a messiah, they think they can come and correct all of the injustices of the world. But there are many back home.

“I am an American. I love my country. But this leadership is the worst in our history. People look at me and think, ‘He’s an American. They’re butchers.’ And there’s no way to apologize for it. It’s like — a mass demonic possession. And there’s no exorcism for it.”

Politics and the Bush administration took center stage in two films — one a documentary, the other what can only be called, and in no sense disparagingly, a fake documentary — that both pose disturbing questions about two powerful forces: the current administration, and the media that report on it. Death of a President (Gabriel Range, Great Britain 2006), which posits the October 2007 assassination of President George W. Bush in a Chicago hotel lobby, is not what its premise might seem to suggest: that is, an anti-Bush polemic. Rather, this extraordinarily well-researched production, conceived as a fictional, after-the-fact TV documentary, seamlessly blends historical footage, television news feeds, insider knowledge of investigative procedures and techniques, and actors who clearly have absorbed the rhetorical patter and speech patterns of government officials playing presidential advisers and federal employees, with disquieting verisimilitude. The viewer, regardless of his politics, finds himself drawn in with admiration for the film’s technical mastery, and a sort of morbid curiosity.

That’s not to say that politics, or implicit criticism of Administration policies, are absent from the film: in the urgency to find the assassin, states an agent, they have been told — shades of WMD? — to disregard evidence that doesn’t fit preconceived notions of who is (and by implication, has to be) behind the assassination, the most likely suspects being, of course, Al Qaeda and Syria. An immigrant is arrested, charged and convicted, and the Patriot Act is again amended to “broaden the definition of terrorism.” By the time this propulsive rush to judgment is spent, and the assassin and his heartbreaking motives are at last uncovered, lives have been ruined, and the country is on a path toward a more repressive society that, it is implied, will not leave us any safer, and will make the lives of millions more miserable and hopeless.

Screenwriter Simon Finch was a guest at Filmfest München, and offered candid commentary on his and Range’s singular achievement. The first thing many of us wanted to know: How in the world did he get past security to shoot Bush (in the cinematic sense) at this speech, which in fact was given in
January 2003? No subterfuge at all: “We applied for press accreditation.” And how did you gain access to such people, places, and above all, information, much of which — Presidential itineraries, DOJ investigative means and methods, all presented in meticulous detail — must certainly be classified? It turns out that much of it is not; or at least, is available... from the National Archives. “We were economical with what we did say” to Archives officials, Finch told us, adding that “we did not want to put them in a bad position.”

Asked whether he feared legal consequences, Finch said the only one may be if Vice President Cheney (who appears in the film several times) asks to be paid: “We’d certainly look kindly at that.” (To be on the safe side, they hired “a couple of Beverly Hills attorneys” — previously hired by the producers of Borat. “So we figured we were in good company.” As to the methodology for preparing the actors, Finch said they’d first read the script, then develop their own lines. The variable success of this approach led the filmmakers to provide more structure, giving the actors parameters within which they could improvise. Individuals who formerly held the government positions the actors were playing were brought in as advisors to pick up on any false notes and offer suggestions.

What inspired them to create such a film? “Both of us are journalists by training,” said Finch, who was intrigued by a friend’s article about his (the friend’s) increasing discouragement and disillusionment as the initial unity and purposefulness of the country after 9/11 deteriorated into divisiveness. It got him to thinking about how that day had changed the country in a way that was wholly unforeseen, and deeply disturbing — almost counterintuitive. True to the film, Finch did not pull any punches in person. Asked whether he had considered the possibility that it might encourage people to attempt to shoot the President, Finch responded that if someone did, the film could hardly be held to blame: “Sadly, assassinations are an American tradition.”

(Your reporter confessed to Mr. Finch her discomfort at having the film set in the future, and on a specific date, thus making it almost tempting for a lunatic to attempt to fulfill its prophecy. Finch replied that had it been set in the past, it would have seemed more real, like a documentary. “But you even give the date,” I pursued. “So you mean George Bush will have to be careful on October 19?” — “Exactly.” — “Well...” a shrug and a mysterious smile. I suspect he enjoyed my shocked glance. These simple-minded Americans!) The film has been “banned” by the large U.S. cinema chains, we were told, so it’s not likely it will soon be seen in a cinema near you — especially, one might add, in Washington, DC.

At a cinetalk that night, Finch joined fellow directors Jérome Bonnell (J’attends quelqu’un/Waiting for Someone, France 2007), Goran Paskaljevic (Optimisti/The Optimists, Serbia/Spain/Monaco/Switzerland 2006) and Urophong Raksosad (Stories from the North, Thailand 2006) in an animated discussion about political films in general, their own films in particular, whether their films were feature films or documentaries, and whether that was even a useful distinction — a subject that would find voice several times throughout the festival.

Finch characterized DOAP (as it was listed in the program for the Toronto Film Festival, where it premiered last year, to prevent potential upset based on its somewhat inflammatory title) as a hybrid, asserting with unassailable logic that it cannot be seen as a straight documentary because it’s set in the future. Paskaljevic observed that if one were to make a film about the assassination of Slobodan Milosevic, “nobody would come.” Asked whether a political cinema is even viable today, Paskaljevic, who as a Serbian filmmaker feels it is “my duty as an intellectual to criticize what’s wrong in my society,” said that at screenings of his films there, people yell “traitor!” and threaten his life: “There were even newspaper articles that said I should either be killed or, if I was an honest man, I should kill myself. So I went to France, then Ireland, where I made How Harry Became a Tree [2001] that was really about Milosevic, but the Irish said it was very Irish.” Indeed the internecine warfare in that land is very like that in Serbia, said Paskaljevic, whose next film is expected to explore the similarities.

As for DOAP, Finch insisted that it is not an anti-Bush film, and for that matter, not even a political film: “Any film that has something significant to say about humanity is by its nature political,” he said, and gave as an example “a great film” he had seen that day, Falafel, by Lebanese filmmaker Michel Kammoun (about which more below). “It is a very political film [because it is] about people’s lives.”

For real Bush-bashing, if anyone was looking for it, there was the documentary by Academy Award-winning filmmaker Barbara Kopple and Cecilia Peck, The Dixie Chicks: Shut Up and Sing (USA 2006), which takes us on the road with the gutsy trio in the wake of sister Natalie’s ill-considered remark at a London concert in March 2003, as the U.S. invasion of Iraq is imminent, that she is “ashamed the President of the United States is from Texas.” Their speedy downward spiral from being the best-selling female group in history, revered by rednecks and liberals alike for their smooth, spirited, soulful country-rock — they’d sung the National Anthem at the Super Bowl just three months before — to becoming patriots’ Public Enemy No. 1 and the target of conservative commentators, their songs pulled from stations across the country, their concerts cancelled, falling in succession like dominos — is a staggering commentary on the power of the mouth: both Natalie Maines’ and those of her detractors.

As always, Kopple cops the shots; her instinct is infallible: whether it be to show us, in low-angle or close-up (and sometimes both), the passion and thrill that music and music-making hold for these women, or to take us deep into their troubled minds as the pain of one misbegotten remark plays through their professional lives and into their personal ones. What is eminently clear and ultimately inspiring, regardless of one’s own views of either their music or their politics, is their abiding love and loyalty, so strong it becomes almost palpable in the film: despite the frankness of one that so dearly cost all three, they are the woman’s version of the Three Musketeers — one for all and all for one; together, for better or for worse, forever.

Togetherness is a far more delicate and problematic concept for the protagonists of Volker Schlöndorff’s Ulzhan (France/Germany/Kazakhstan 2007), in the director’s words “a very lyrical film, a love story almost without words... a hymn to life.” Those may not be the first thoughts that come to a viewer of this film, which takes us on an arduous trek to the massive Khan Tengri mountain at the Kyrgyzstan-Kazakhstan border with a distraught and lonely young Frenchman who seeks to follow the ancient shamans’ route to death. Accompanying him on his trek, not knowing its purpose, are three unlikely companions: a young woman schoolteacher and her horse, and a “word merchant,” who, as his father before him, sells rare words (to what we can only assume is the even rarer traveler).

The film is superbly shot, its breathtaking mountain vistas in sharp contrast to the serene spareness of deserted footpaths and the occasional skeletal remains of ancient fauna. The tale is very simply told, and at times does not seem to move at all. “A love story... a hymn to life” will surely not be the first words that come to the viewer’s mind. But they will certainly be the last — and indeed, those that will last — as memories of this film continue to haunt those who allow themselves to take the trip with its protagonist, and its director. “Ulzhan is perhaps the film that is closest to me,” says Schlöndorff, who may be best known to U.S. audiences for The Tin Drum (1979), in which, interestingly, the actor who plays the lead character in this film played the eternal infant Oskar. “I’m not afraid of revealing my feelings anymore.”

Maybe not; but they certainly are not worn on his sleeve — at least not in his films. Nor are those of his equally iconoclast, and for international audiences perhaps iconic countryman Werner Herzog, “whose voice, along with Alexander Kluge’s [see below], is immediately emblematic of German film,” observed the host as the lights came up, following a screening of clips from Herzog’s documentary-in-progress, Encounters at the End of the World, which he also narrates. “It’s as if it is carved in stone.”

A situationally, as well as geographically apt simile: the film is Herzog’s look at Antarctica, and the people who inhabit what those of us in warmer climes may reflexively write off as a frozen, largely uninhabited, and for all intents and purposes uninhabitable wasteland. Herzog’s desire to film this place and its people, he told a packed auditorium, was “based on odd questions about man and nature” that came up as he was watching underwater footage from Grizzly Man (2005) during the scoring of that film. This led him to contemplate “the whys of the scientific and creative mind that haven’t been asked yet, or have been asked by few. Who are these people who drive this heavy machinery across the frozen landscape, and what drives them to do it?”

Herzog’s odyssey leads him to a man who was himself inspired by Homer’s “Odyssey,” and his youthful yearning to replicate the classic journey. He calls his colleagues “professional dreamers” who advance the world, and Herzog takes us into theirs, and the one upon which they have intruded: One is amused, and a bit amazed, by the sea animals the man hears, telling the filmmaker they “sound like Pink Floyd”; Herzog sweeps us into the cavernous, richly hued depths so that we can both see and hear them.

Some of the film was staged for very practical reasons: Herzog found it necessary, he said, to recreate some scenes to make clear the fragility of our world, the way we continue to waste precious resources and ignore global warming. But that inevitably raises the question: How do you make sure the viewer doesn’t see the magician behind the curtain; that he doesn’t say: Here reality ends, and staging begins? A documentary is not an accounting book, said Herzog: “The bookkeeper’s truth is not the filmmaker’s.”

Herzog likes to begin his films with quotations, ostensibly from great philosophers (Pilgrimage, Thomas a Kempis; Lessons of Darkness, Blaise Pascal; Encounters at the End of the World, again Pascal) but in fact, Herzogian inventions. At Filmfest München, asked to identify the source of the opening citation, he again confessed to this little deception, adding with a smile, “but Pascal couldn’t have said it any better.”

Asked whether Encounters was meant to have political implications as a commentary on global warming, Herzog firmly denied any such subtext or allusions. “I have no goals; I’m like a storyteller.” It took nine days to cut the film; the narration was recorded simultaneously with the filming. And how does he find the inspiration for making such extreme films? “I don’t think I make extreme films,” Herzog answered, then added, to much laughter, “Films with Paris Hilton in them are extreme films.” What he is seeking, Herzog said, is the “ekstatische Wahrheit,” or ecstatic truth: “If you read [19th-century German lyric poet Friedrich] Hölderlin’s poems, you know what I’m talking about,” he added. While the interview was conducted in English, this was Munich, and heads could be seen nodding knowingly. Encounters at the End of the World is slated for showing this fall on the Discovery Channel; Herzog’s Rescue Dawn opened in DC theaters July 13.

The owner of that other “voice... immediately emblematic of German film” was honored by a sold-out tribute: “Laudatio [Encomium to] Alexander Kluge” welcomed one of Germany’s most prolific, controversial, and influential book authors and film auteurs to his native Munich, in celebration of his 75th birthday.

The event opened with a mind-blowing montage of images, from film to video, photo to portrait, Vertov to Bernstein to Mozart. The Munich Film Museum and the Goethe-Institut, the museum’s director told us, recently combined forces to produce a 15-double-DVD set of Kluge’s cinema and TV films, released during the Berlinale (and still on sale right outside!), each of which begins with one of these mini-films. Munich Mayor Christian Ude, with a strong Bavarian accent that immediately endeared him to many of us, set the stage with a confession that was greeted by appreciative chuckles: When it came to the honoree, whose bona fides include a law degree, and who is renowned for the complexity of his oeuvre, “many of his books I haven’t read, and many of his films I haven’t understood.”

Kluge takes on historical subjects so that you see them in a surprising new light, continued the mayor, combining documentary and fiction in a way that yields what could be called, take your pick, either documentary fiction, or fictional documentary. (This last point recalled, for those of us attending both events, a rather intense if collegial debate among the panelists at the previous night’s podium discussion on what distinguishes a feature film from a documentary, and whether such categorical distinctions can even be said to exist. The general conclusion was that the lines are becoming finer, the differences increasingly less distinct, so that we may be nearing a point where attempting to label a film with either term may be an exercise in futility, if not ultimately, irrelevance. This issue was to be an apparently unplanned, but nonetheless continuing topic of interest throughout this year’s Filmfest.)

A “cultural politician,” the mayor continued, Kluge has promoted film development in alignment with film technical research while remaining politically committed and outspoken. His frequent collaboration with other cineastes over the years demonstrates his respect for his fellow filmmakers, and as signatory to the Oberhausen Manifesto, he is one of the key progenitors of the “New German Film.” Indeed, his contribution to the collaborative effort “Germany in Autumn” (1977) has as much to say to us now, as it did then. And perhaps not entirely by chance; for Kluge, memory — and responsibility for what we do because of, and with, that memory — is critical. A filmmaker who respects his audiences, Ude noted, Kluge doesn’t spoon-feed them with suspense stories or simple, formulaic Hollywood-style dramas.

True to form, Kluge didn’t spoon-feed his Filmfest audience either, seizing the stage with the declaration that jurisprudence is the newest form of weaponry. He spoke passionately of the need for film to speak not only to the intellect, but to the heart, mind, and spirit, reminding his listeners that film is not a static object, but a living entity; it is “a movie, it moves” (said in English). And books: “I write books because there are some things that film cannot adequately express; when you have a Justice Department official who denies what happened at Guantanamo,” you need to take recourse to the written word.

But here at Filmfest München, film was the order of the day, and we next saw a series of early shorts, mostly black and white, by the young Kluge, followed by his comment that he loves that they can be seen one after the other — they can be “read vertically.” (When asked which he prefers: black and white or color, he said, “I always say both. It is like asking which one you love more: your mother or your father.”) He is intrigued and at the same time, mildly alarmed by YouTube: “We are more and more pulled in to it as it reaches out to us.” Yet here, “between the huge and the tiny, lives the future of film.”

By the time this extraordinary session was over, we knew that not only had we been granted a glimpse into the future of film; we had also been witnesses to some of its most vivid, honest, inventive, enduring, uncompromising representations at the hands of, and in the presence of, their august — but in energy and virtuosity, barely aged — creator.

Age of a significantly more advanced kind is not at all kind to the some of the characters in Import Export (Ulrich Seidl, Austria 2007). Yet another work that straddles the line between documentary and feature film, it also manages to cross a few other lines, making it one of the most challenging and remarkable films screened this year.

Import Export follows (to add another “line” to the mix) two seemingly unrelated story lines — linked only, perhaps, by the poverty of the protagonists, and their need for a job — that will converge geographically: each will end where the other begins. One involves an Austrian teenager whose life is made miserable by regular run-ins with the thugs to whom he owes money, compounded by an uneasy relationship with his stepfather and further exacerbated by the boy’s inability to get and hold a job. The second takes us with a young Ukrainian mother, a trained nurse who, desperate to support her baby, will take any and every job offered to her, from Webcam porn model and telephonic heavy breather to underpaid and overworked au pair. At last, the pickings growing desperately slimmer, she is hired to work in a geriatric hospital — as a cleaning woman.

The rawness and hopelessness in this film are almost tangible, leavened by the occasional humor and sweetness. At times this is both a balm and a victory for the characters and with them, the audience; at others, it is painfully off-key and for that, all the more searing. The scenes with the elderly patients, filmed in a geriatric hospital, are alternately perplexing and chilling, humorous and heartbreaking; we don’t know whether to laugh or cry. “I think it’s important to have a sense of humor in life, so that you can stand the things that happen to you,” Seidl told the press at Cannes, where it was presented in Competition. “In my film, if it’s possible to laugh, that’s what I want. And I always try to find a compromise between comedy and tragedy.”

A difficult, and even dicey path to tread, one that many filmmakers attempt to negotiate, but few successfully. The French are often among them, and this year’s “Nouveau Cinéma Français” again found them true to form. The French film series is a favorite with Munich audiences, and this was an especially excellent year, as the catalog labeled it, featuring not just the usual complement of new faces and old masters — both onscreen and off — but one of France’s most celebrated character actors, who appeared in three of the series’ ten films, one of which also marked his directorial debut.

Premonition (Le Pressentiment, Jean-Pierre Darroussin, France 2006), based on the book of the same name by French novelist Emmanuel Bove, is the tale of Charles Benestau, an upper-crust lawyer who disavows his inherited wealth to live on what his appalled relatives see (with some justification) as the seedy side, in an effort to more or less “find himself.” Put more elegantly by Darroussin: “Premonition is a film about trying to escape alienation, a search for liberation from everything that keeps you locked inside of images, either consciously or unconsciously... The hero of Premonition knows perfectly well what he is abandoning when he heads towards a poorer social class... (he) is a true adventurer.” (From the other side of the philosophical fence, Benestau’s brother, mocking him for his ostensible “nobility,” acerbically observes that if he were really so noble, he would simply give all his money to charity. Benestau has no response to this.)

But the adventurer, played by Darroussin as a very likable protagonist, gets more than he bargained for — as does, in a way, the viewer — when he takes on the case of an alcoholic immigrant who beats his wife almost to death shortly after engaging the lawyer for advice when he suspects the wife of infidelity. The film shifts into a sort of quirky, offbeat mode, as Benestau takes in the couple’s pubescent daughter and hires a buxom blonde nanny to care for her, then suddenly, and intriguingly, spins off into what appear to be alternate and equally viable story lines.

At the Q&A following one of the screenings, Darroussin lived up to the promise of the film, addressing the audience with both humor and complexity. When asked what attracted him to the book — “Why did you want to make a film of it?” — he deadpanned without hesitation: “Because it’s very short.” More seriously, he explained that having made a similar journey in his own life, from the lower classes to celebrity, he wanted to explore the differences between the two worlds in a film, adding that he has always been intrigued by the outsider. Another questioner, curious about the frequent “foot shots,” received a somewhat curious reply. “For me,” Darroussin said, “the bare feet of a person lying down symbolize death. I always give dead people bare feet [in my plays],” he added; Darroussin is also a noted stage director.

He was equally direct about the difficulties that inhere in being an actor. “It’s not easy to be someone else,” be declared. “Being someone else is its own sort of hell.” As for taking on the dual jobs of acting and directing, “I had a friend who was my double — a ‘shadow actor’ who played my role till the last minute. Then I jumped in when it was shot. As a theater actor,” he observed, “you play as if shooting a film live every night.”

At the podium discussion later that night, Darroussin explained that he had updated the story from its original 1930s setting to help the audience identify with the characters. A side benefit is that it costs less: you need fewer sets, and can use wide shots that show the Paris of today. As the novel is no longer widely read, he added, he felt more free to update it. In response to the observation of one of the moderators that the film had evoked Truffaut for him, Darroussin said he had grown up with his cinema and that of Renoir, its strong humanity, both cruel and gentle at the same time, like Truffaut’s. And as both they and Chekhov, he too likes to pay tribute to “the man in the street.”

The man in the street received more than his share of tribute at this year’s Filmfest. In Falafel (Michel Kammoun, Lebanon/France 2006), we find ourselves tagging along on what starts out as an ordinary night with Toufic, “a young man on the edge of manhood” plagued by the anomie of his age and circumstances, who starts out to buy falafel at the local shop. He soon finds himself swept up in a series of misadventures that could happen to anyone anywhere... but with a special slant unique to Beirut, “this city where anything, absolutely anything, could happen,” according to the director, who in his published précis, probably says it best.

Falafel is “a concentrate of life, a nocturnal trip in the twisted world of the city. It’s a story about friendships, treasons, passions, hatred, vengeance, absurd encounters and extravagant situations... It’s also the story of a single step that takes a man to cross the boundary, this invisible line that separates good from evil, love from hatred, tragic from hilarious.” The hapless Toufic is an Everyman who inspires both compassion and exasperation, but is never less than one of us.

In a post-screening discussion, Kammoun related that as a “no-budget film,” he had expected to have to shoot it on digital video, but was pleased to be able to shoot it on film (no doubt benefiting from being able to use the neighborhood streets, shops, and homes as sets), although it took almost three years from shoot to print. Kammoun explained that he wanted to “x-ray [Beirut] through my point of view,” that he “really wanted this film to exist” to show the between-wars Beirut he knows. A city where “it looks like peace, but it’s not a real one,” and where the younger generation wants to live a normal life but is weighed down by a “heavy heritage and unsolved problems... it’s like you’re living on a volcano that could explode any time.

“The film is sweet and sour — like our everyday life there,” he continued. “So there’s always this tension... which is very difficult [to show] in cinema. So I tried to do it in different ways,” in a progression of scenes where the character first is faced with a one-way street, then witnesses a kidnaping, and “then... it’s his turn.” Asked why he decided to make the story take place over the period of a single night, Kammoun explained that “Beirut is a city that lives at night.. The city invites you to go out at night. And the masks fall away at night. I wanted to see behind people’s masks, and the night was very helpful in allowing me to strip away the masks.”

At a podium discussion the following night, Kammoun noted that Falafel has been popular with audiences and critics at festivals worldwide, and played for four months in Lebanon. Thinking back on his childhood, when films were for him an escape from the daily diet of violence and war, Kammoun observed that “laughter is a survival mechanism” — one no less needed now, than then. Kammoun recalled making his first film in the mid-nineties, and hoping the city’s problems were on the way toward being resolved. More than a decade later, he said, they are not. We were left with the small hope that, while the cinema cannot fix them, perhaps by portraying them with strength, honesty, conviction, and compassion — and the indispensable elements all too often discarded in the heat of battle: objectivity, and composure — it can help those who live with them every day of their lives look “behind the masks” of their neighbors, and see that, at bottom, they are not all that different from themselves...

But let’s not get maudlin. There are, indeed, those who are very different from ourselves — although even here, we find that sometimes the differences are only skin — or maybe gland — deep. XXY (Lucia Puenzo, Argentina/Spain 2006), which won the Critics’ Week Grand Prize at Cannes, sensitively depicts the emotional trauma of a hermaphrodite 15-year-old girl (the film title is shorthand for the medical name of her condition) who has more reason than most teens to have an identity crisis. Her troubled existence isn’t made any easier when her parents invite a surgeon friend, from whom they seek advice and counsel, to their beach house, and his teenage son finds the girl attractive. The two, each in his own way a loner, almost inevitably become companions; but when their mutual attraction finds its natural outlet, the boy finds that... to put it delicately, there are too many plugs for that outlet. The film handles with perceptivity and intelligence a difficult subject that could easily have been exploited.

In a late-night cinetalk, director Lucia Puenzo, a novelist who published three books before turning to screenwriting, then directing, described herself as a voracious reader of Argentinian literature and a serious devotee of Gabriel Garcia-Marquez as a child. (She has not at all abandoned her first love, and is currently working on novel number four.) Asked to comment on the difference between writing a novel and writing a screenplay, Puenzo observed that with a novel, one sentence can take hours to write. In contrast, screenplays go much more quickly, because “you’re working with the whole structure,” seeing it more as a unit and not focusing on the perfection of each sentence. “I was writing my third novel while I was writing this script,” she added. The actors who play the teenage boy and girl were in reality 21 and 23 years old, she told us. While she would have liked to have cast teenagers in the roles, Puenzo decided against it, out of concern that the psychological impact of enacting hermaphroditic sex would have been too strong for them.

Of course, the consequences of the more common form of teenage sex can also be stressful for young people, especially girls, and especially when it culminates in unwanted pregnancy. And the exploitation referenced above can take a far more malignant form, involving not our perception of the film, but the characters in it. 4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days (Cristian Mungiu, Romania 2007), winner of this year’s Palme d’Or in Cannes, is set in the last years of the Ceausescu dictatorship. Part of a larger project called Tales from the Golden Age, a “subjective history of communism in Romania told through its urban legends,” it is portrayed with uncompromising, almost brutal honesty, augured by the starkness of its title.

After abortion was outlawed in Romania in 1966, pregnant young women who wanted or needed one could find themselves at the mercy of the local back-alley quack, whose morals tended to be about as reliable as his medical certificate. Enter Otilia, a small-town university student who enlists the support of her friend and roommate Gabita as she begins her descent into the frigid inferno of illegal abortion. While Otilia is the ostensible subject of the story, it is Gabita who seizes it, as the intensity of wanting to help her friend and her indefatigability in achieving it come up against the ugly reality of what it ultimately will demand of them both.

At one point the camera captures the agony of her internal struggle during a make-or-break dinner at the home of her boyfriend’s family, as she gamely attempts to fake bonhomie while her friend is holed up in a cheap hotel room, bleeding, awaiting the emergence of the fetus — a process, the repugnant butcher has told them after taking every last cent and more, that could take several hours. The superb performances, gritty and naturalistic, are complemented by the grayness of the grading and the sobriety of the camera’s shooting style — one shot per scene, the director tells us in his press notes; no pans or tilts, no cranes or dollies, no tripod or steady-cam. Mungiu even abandoned what was to have been the final image, a beautiful scene of snow falling, because he wanted “to focus on capturing emotion and truth.” He succeeded, simply and shatteringly.

One film that may capture “emotion and truth” a little too well, at least for those with a low tolerance for what IFC blogger Scott Macaulay in a quote-worthy phrase calls its “sludgy miserabilism,” is Ronald Bronstein’s Frownland (USA 2006). The film is, Bronstein tells us, the result of “seven years [spent] three floors below street level in the dingy projection booth of MoMA... deprived of both sunlight and fresh circulating oxygen [and watching] an average of 600 movies a year.” Frownland, which won a narrative Special Jury Award at the SXSW Film Festival, is, in its writer/director’s words, an attempt to “squeegee laughs out of moments of supreme discomfort and abject despair”; in the words of an imdb-er: “Deeply distinctive, memorable, peculiar, but also repulsive.” Offered another: “If someone sets you on fire, you typically want to put it out: Stop! Drop! And Roll! But with this film, you want to watch the flame slowly engulf your entire body.”

Your correspondent had the opportunity to interview the creator of this singular film during her Munich visit. It will appear in a future Storyboard.

For a much more agreeable experience, in fact overwhelmingly so, there was no better place to go than the fest’s first film, which at the end was voted audience favorite.

At first glance The Band’s Visit (Bikur Hatizmoret, Eran Kolirin, Israel/USA/France 2007) seemed a somewhat surprising choice for opening-night film, which in the festival world tends to be big-name and high-profile. But the choice, as it turned out, could not have been better, as Filmfest audiences confirmed. A sweet, gentle, observant tale, it focuses on foibles, but without judgment; rather, with grace, humor, and unpretentious wisdom, and an unspoken wish for brotherhood and peace in a region that has not often been blessed with them.

The Band’s Visit follows the accidental adventures of the Alexandria [Egypt] Ceremonial Police Band, whose members get lost in the Israeli desert on their way to a celebratory event to which they have been invited. Their troubles begin when, seeking a bus to the small town that houses the Arab Cultural Center, whose opening they are to help celebrate, they instead find that the town’s name, Beit Hatikvah, is so like that of countless other towns, even airport officials are at a loss.

From this unauspicious beginning, the film follows the band’s hapless, but eternally hopeful procession behind its dour, disciplined, basset-eyed leader in the search for the elusive town. Unable to find it, the men are unwilling to go any farther without rest, food, and a plan of action. They stop at the first establishment they see: a small café run by an attractive, sharp-tongued, worldly-wise woman with a wicked sense of humor and undisguised eyes for the chief. She and her partner offer the weary travelers food, and a place to stay — whereupon a series of seemingly simple, everyday experiences unfolds that neither they nor the town’s residents (nor the film’s audiences) will soon forget.

The cinetalk for the film was so packed, not only were all the seats filled, standees were jumping up to see over each other’s heads. Director/screenwriter Eran Kolirin confessed that there is really no such town as Beit Hatikvah in Israel. [Interestingly — this was not mentioned at the cinetalk, but a Web search revealed it — there is a refugee assistance organization by that name, which, fittingly, translates as “House of Hope”.] An audience member complimented Kolirin on the score, calling it “poetic” and noting how well it evoked the characters, and spoke to their respective lands. The director was pleased, telling the audience that as backstory, each character “had a feeling that there was another life promised to him or her, and I needed the music to reflect this.”

Kolirin hopes for the film to be released in Egypt; perhaps The Band’s Visit could help do for the Egyptian and Israeli people what the band’s visit did for the strangers who found welcome in a supposedly unfriendly land: cultural relations between the two nations do not exist. Is there a message to the film? “The message is that we don’t ‘have to be connected,’” said Kolirin. “We ARE connected. This film has no higher purpose.”

How did he come upon the idea for it? Despite the rocky relationship between the two countries, Israeli children of his generation grew up with Egyptian and Indian films, he told us. “One day I had a dream, a vision, of a man opening his mouth and singing an Egyptian song,” said Kolirin softly. “I knew I had to make a film.”

Conflict and connection, and their roles as concomitants to, or victims of war, were undercurrents and often themes of many of the festival’s most compelling films, as evidenced by several of the preceding reviews. Another was Antonin’s Stories (Les Fragments d’Antonin, Gabriel Le Bomin, France 2006), a deeply moving, harrowing tale of a young man emerging from the slaughterhouse of World War I with what we, in more clinical times, call post-traumatic stress disorder, but was then known simply as shell-shock. Unable to speak, yet with voice box intact; unable to control his manic movements, yet structurally sound, he is the subject of study and speculation by physicians and psychiatrists at the hospital to which he has been taken.

Locked in his own personal hell, obsessively reliving moments of sheer terror — of impossible decisions made in split seconds at agonizing cost; of innocents sacrificed, and innocence lost — Antonin responds to no one. It his diaries, unknown to the hospital, that lead us in voice-over through his “stories,” making us slowly aware of what happened to this non-combatant trainer of carrier pigeons, to cause such trauma. Meanwhile, the pioneering psychiatrist Dr. Labrousse (a historical figure) sees in Antonin a demonstration of his theory that an individual who has suffered horrific experiences will sublimate all conscious recollection of the events, emerging instead in the form of nervous tics and other physical manifestations of his emotional distress.

First-time feature film director Gabriel Le Bomin’s experience as a documentarian serves him well; the filmic records of Antonin made by the hospital for study purposes, shot by Le Bomin in 16mm, are effectively intercut with archival footage of traumatized World War I veterans which he retrieved from a war museum, no less disturbing almost a century later. Antonin’s Stories is not based on one soldier’s story, Le Bomin told us after the screening, but rather, is a composite of several he came across in the course of his research. The subject itself, he added, is timeless, and has contemporary resonance, particularly for countries such as France, Germany, and the United States, whose servicemen and women return each day with PTSD.

If further filmic proof of this were needed, The Cats of Mirikitani (Linda Hattendorf, USA 2006), takes us to the streets of lower Manhattan, home of 85-year-old artist Jimmy Mirikitani. Interned during World War II in Tule Lake, California, under the infamous evacuation order that placed Americans of Japanese ancestry in “relocation centers,” often separated by hundreds of miles from family and loved ones, Jimmy now creates vibrant images of a daily present that make it uniquely memorable to those who admire and buy his artwork... and of a painful past he cannot forget.

The film is a labor of love by New York documentary filmmaker Linda Hattendorf, who came upon Mirikitani in her daily rounds. Intrigued by his art, and distressed by his lifestyle (even in the depths of winter he remained outside, dressed in rags and barely shielded by a makeshift shelter), she becomes curious about his backstory and determined to help him after the horrors of 9/11 destroy even the semblance of civilization he has managed to erect for himself. Living on the streets both out of necessity and as a form of protest — his passport was taken during his internment in California, when pride led him to refuse to take a “loyalty test” and then, to renounce his U.S. citizenship, as did 7 out of 10 similarly situated U.S.-born Japanese Americans, according to the film — he is unable to apply for Social Security benefits. Despite his insistence that he doesn’t want them, having lost all respect for the United States, and wants to die in Japan, Hattendorf persuades him to stay with her.

With unflagging persistence she pursues two strategies, chasing down every lead to help him resolve the issues of his past and introducing him to the local center, where they are thrilled to have an artist of his capacity — even as a young man in the relocation camps, he had received offers of employment as an art teacher — to bring art to the residents. As his depression slowly lifts, so, subtly, does his palette expand: While not completely abandoning the haunted scenes of the camps and war, it now includes more colorful ones of landscapes and animals that bring — and one suspects, reflect — if not joy, then at least a measure of contentment. And as Hattendorf’s indefatigable efforts at last bear fruit, he can now let his troubling ghosts rest. “I am now at peace,” Jimmy tells her. “Ghost people don’t sleep in Tule Lake desert... Sleep forever.”

For Filmfest fans, the byword was more like “sleep never.” From the films that began at 9:00 a.m. to the podium discussions that ended past midnight, Filmfest München’s 25th anniversary was a blowout celebration that kept filmgoers watching and listening, talking (and walking!), chatting up and chowing down almost round the clock. One of the loveliest moments came when Munich warmly welcomed an American star to its own firmament, almost as one of its own.

“I am overwhelmed! This is too much, really too much for me.” So spoke a visibly moved Kevin Kline as he accepted the Bernhard Wicki Peace Prize “The Bridge,” named for Wicki’s masterful 1959 film, to honor films and filmmakers that build bridges of understanding, for his film Trade (Marco Kreuzpaintner, USA/Germany 2007), which had its U.S. premiere at Sundance in January, and is expected to hit the East Coast (New York) in September. Kline also received the festival’s esteemed CineMerit Award for lifetime achievement. “My father once told me that I have a great-grandfather from Bavaria,” he continued. “Somewhere deep in my DNA, it feels as if I’ve come home.”

Hope to see you in Munich next year!

We Need to Hear From YOU

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

Calendar of Events


American Film Institute Silver Theater
The series "Films of the 1980s" continues in August with Purple Rain, This is Spinal Tap, Repo Man, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, The Terminator, Pretty in Pink, Brazil, Big Trouble in Little China, Coming to America, Stranger than Paradise, Blue Velvet, and Porky's. "Science in the Cinema" has three films remaining for August: Mozart and the Whale, The Sea Inside, and On the Edge. "A Tribute to Al Pacino" includes the Godfather films, Part I and II, as well as The Insider, Donnie Brasco, and Heat. You can see of of John Huston's films The Misfits, The Night of the Iguana, Reflections in a Golden Eye, Fat City, The Man Who Would Be King, and The Dead in the series "John Huston: American Maverick". A series of great international classics in "50 Years of Janus Films, Part II" will show Viridiana, Fires on the Plain, Ballad of a Soldier, The Cranes Are Flying, Kwaidan, Cleo From 5 to 7 and more during August.

Freer Gallery of Art
The Freer's Twelfth Annual "Made in Hong Kong" film festival concludes in August with Crazy n' the City (James Yuen and Lambo Cheuk, 2005) on August 3 at 7:00pm and August 5 at 2:00pm; Election (Johnny To, 2005) on August 10 at 7:00pm and August 12 at 2:00pm; Isabella (Pang Ho-cheung, 2006) on August 17 at 7:00pm and August 19 at 2:00pm and 2 Become 1 (Law Wing-cheong, 2006) on August 24 at 7:00pm and August 26 at 2:00pm. A film, Journey to Beijing (1998) and lecture by film scholar David Bordwell and filmmaker Evans Chan on changes in Hong Kong cinema over the past 10 years takes place on August 25 at 1:00pm. "Hop-Fu: Hip Hop Meets Kung Fu" is a concert with film as the Kolabz Crew creates a live score of beats and scratches to accompany Sammo Hung's 1982 The Prodigal Son, on August 9 at 7:00pm.

National Gallery of Art
Films by Polish artist, poet and filmmaker Lech Majewski to be featured in August include The Knight (1980) shown with The Roe's Room (1997) on August 11 at 2:30pm; The Garden of Earthly Delights (2004) on August 12 at 4:30pm with the filmmaker in person; and Angelus (2000) on August 19 at 4:30pm.

A series of "city films" both classic and modern will be shown August 4 and 5. On August 4 at 1:00pm is Part I--Prague at Night (1928), Aimless Walk (1930), and Living in Prague (1934). On August 4 at 2:30pm is Part II--Berlin: Symphony of a Great City (1927), In UrbanGypsies (1932), Budapest, City of Baths (1935) and Jewish Life in Krakow, Lwow, and Warsaw (1938-39). On August 5 at 4:00pm is a series of newer city films: Square Times (1967), Sway (2006), Pushcarts of Eternity Street (2006) and others.

Concluding the series "Modernity and Tradition: Film in Interwar Central Europe" is The Last Laugh (F.W. Murnau, 1924) on August 18 at 1:00pm, Address Unknown (Bela Gaal, 1935) on August 18 at 3:00pm, Masquerade in Vienna (Willi Forst, 1934), Heave Ho! (Martin Fric, 1934), and The Blue Angel (Josef von Sternberg, 1930) on September 2 at 2:00pm.

Other special events are Ringl and Pit (Juan Mandelbaum, 1996) about photographers Ellen Auerbach and Grete Stern on August 23 and 24 at 12:30pm and Miss Universe of 1929 (Peter Forgacs, 2006) on August 25 at 3:00pm.

National Museum of African Art
On August 18 at 2:00pm is Africa, I Will Fleece You (Jean-Marie Teno, 1992), a documentary about the effects of colonial rule in Cameroon.

National Museum of the American Indian
Documentary films are shown daily August 13-31. At 12:30pm is Home (Dustinn Craig); at 1:30pm is Weaving Words (Bennie Klain, 2007); and at 3:30pm is The Snowball Effect (Klee Benally, 2005).

Smithsonian American Art Museum
A series of four westerns begins on August 7 at 5:00pm with the John Ford classic The Searchers (1956); followed by High Noon (Fred Zinnemann, 1952) on August 14 at 5:00pm, Rio Bravo (Howard Hawks, 1959) on August 21 at 5:00pm and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) on August 28 at 5:00pm.

National Museum of Women in the Arts
On August 1 at 7:00pm is Falling for Grace (Fay Ann Lee, 2006) about an Ivy League educated investment banker from Chinatown and co-presented by the DC Asian Pacific American Film Festival. On August 29 is Sisters in Law (Florence Ayisi and Kim Longinotto, 2004), a documentary about women lawyers fighting cases of spousal abuse in Cameroon. To accompany the exhibit of Frida Kahlo's art is a biography The Life and Times of Frida Kahlo (Amy Stechler, 2005) on August 2, 16, 23, and 30 at noon.

Films on the Hill
Westerns is an August tradition at Films on the Hill. On August 8 at 7:00pm is a double feature The Man Trailer (Lambert Hillyer, 1934) starring Buck Jones at the height of his popularity and shown with Code of the Cactus (Sam Newfield, 1939) starring Tim McCoy. On August 15 at 7:00pm is The Younger Brothers (Edwin L. Marin, 1949) in Technicolor with Bruce Bennett who died earlier this year at the age of 101. On August 17 at 7:00pm is Copper Canyon (John Farrow, 1950) in Technicolor starring Ray Milland and Hedy Lamarr.

Washington Jewish Community Center
One of the most popular Israeli television dramas will be shown in two parts: on August 11 at 8:00pm is Part I of In Treatment (Hagai Levy, 2005) and on August 18 at 8:00pm is Part II. This critically acclaimed TV drama, about a psychologist and his patients, is currently being remade by HBO.

Pickford Theater
"Screening Shakespeare" concludes this month at the Pickford Theater. On August 2 at 7:00pm is Henry V (Kenneth Branagh, 1989); on August 3 at 7:00pm is Prospero's Books (Peter Greenaway, 1991); on August 7 at 7:00pm is Othello (Oliver Parker, 1995); on August 9 at 7:00pm is Twelfth Night (Trevor Nunn, 1996); see the website for more.

Goethe Institute
"Summer Dreams," a series of films about summer holidays concludes in August with Mr. Hulot's Holiday (France, Jacques Tati, 1953) on August 13 at 6:30pm; Cote d'Azur (France, Olivier Ducastel, 2005) on August 20 at 6:30pm; and Holiday Maker (Czech Republic, Jiri Vejdelek, 2006) on August 27 at 6:30pm.

The National Theatre
A series celebrating Katharine Hepburn's centennial concludes in August with Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (Stanley Kramer, 1967) on August 6 and On Golden Pond (Mark Rydell, 1981) on August 13. All begin at 6:40pm and are held at the Ronald Reagan Building, 1300 Pennsylvania Avenue.

National Institutes of Health
"Science in the Cinema" is a film and discussion series on topics of science and medicine in film. This year's topics include drug addiction, asperger's syndrome, death with dignity and suicide patient treatment. Held at the AFI Silver Theater, a guest expert will comment on the science depicted in the film and take questions from the audience. See above for August titles.

Outdoor Film Festival Benefiting NIH Children's Charities
A different film will be shown August 10-19 on the grounds of the Strathmore to benefit NIH children's charities. The films are: August 10 Night at the Museum; August 11 Casino Royal; August 12 Over the Hedge; August 13 Wizard of Oz; August 14 North by Northwest; August 15 The Devil Wears Prada; August 16 an advance screening of Resurrecting the Champ; August 17 Dream Girls; August 18 The Da Vinci Code; and August 19 Happy Feet. See the website for directions and other information; movies begin at 8:30pm.

Screen on the Green
Classic films on the mall take place between 4th and 7th Streets at dusk. Two films remain in August: All the King's Men on August 6 and Casablanca on August 13.

National Archives
"Presidential Film Favorites" is a program featuring the favorite films of presidents. High Noon (Fred Zinnemann, 1952), a favorite of Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton, will be shown on August 17 at 11:00am and August 18 at noon.

The Avalon
On August 1 at 8:00pm is Bluegrass Journey (Ruth Oxenberg and Rob Schumer, 2003), a documentary about bluegrass music with live performances by local DC musicians. On August 8 at 8:00pm is Autumn Spring (Vladimír Michálek, 2001) as part of the "Czech Lions" series. On August 15 at 8:00pm is Regular Lovers (Philippe Garrel, 2005) as this month's French Cinémathèque offering.

The Jerusalem Fund
Belonging (Tariq Nasir, 2006), a story told by two generations of director Tariq Nasir's family members, will be shown on August 1 at 6:30pm.

Transafrica Forum
On August 9, 10 and 11 is a series of African Diaspora films from Africa, the Caribbean, Europe and the U.S. On August 9 at 6:30pm is Homecoming (Norman Maake, 2005) from South Africa shown with a short film Aces also from South Africa and followed by a panel discussion "Black Theme Films Today." On August 10 at 6:00pm is Sons of Benkos (Lucas Silva, 2003), a documentary from Colombia about Afro-Colombian music, shown with Hands of God (Delia Ackerman, 2004), a documentary from Peru about Afro-Peruvian percussionist Julio Algendones. On August 11 at 2:00pm is Masai: The Rain Warriors (Pascal Plisson, 2005), a fictional film about Masai in Kenya; on August 11 at 4:00pm is Dry Season (Mahamat-Saleh Haroun, 2006) from Chad; and on August 11 at 6:00pm is The Cathedral (Harrikrisna Anenden, 2006) from Mauritius.

Starlight Cinema
Relive your youth at the drive-in! Fairfax County presents a series of movies in Centerville. On August 4 is Superman Returns; on August 11 is Happy Feet; on August 18 is Night at the Museum; and on August 25 is Over the Hedge All start at 7:30pm. Refer to the web site for directions.

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