Coming Attractions: Movie Trailer Night Winter 2009
Hollywood is making its list and checking it twice. George Clooney, Jude Law, Robert Downey Jr., and Jim Carrey star in films this holiday season. You can get a preview of what’s coming your way by making your way to the Washington D.C. Film Society’s “COMING ATTRACTIONS TRAILER NIGHT” for Winter 2009.
The date is Tuesday, November 17, the time is 7:00pm and the place is again at Landmark’s E Street Cinema. Longtime hosts Joe Barber and Bill Henry will return for an entertaining give and take with the audience to analyze just how the studios market these films to get us off the couch and into a theater seat. The audience will also get their say by voting on which trailers make them the most (or least) excited about the films that are on the way.
The list of trailers to be shown will be posted on the website closer to the event date but a few of the many possible films we hope to preview include: James Cameron’s Avatar—the maestro of Titanic goes for an action/adventure and sci-fi thriller rolled into one; Sherlock Holmes for a new generation with Robert Downey Jr. as the master sleuth and Jude Law as Dr. Watson. Other previews might include: a new animated version of the Dickens classic, A Christmas Carol, where Jim Carrey (or the voice thereof) plays more than one role; New Moon, the latest in the “Twilight” series; Peter Jackson (Lord of the Rings) brings us the adaptation of the novel The Lovely Bones and the Disney entry for this season is The Princess and the Frog
Then there’s George Clooney, whose vehicles run the gamut from the “psychic spy thriller” The Men Who Stare At Goats to Up In The Air, the story of a corporate downsizer trying to fly his ten millionth mile, to the voice of a fox in Wes Anderson’s animated The Fantastic Mr. Fox. As the trade paper Variety used to say, Clooney equals “boffo box office.”
In a lower key, there is Precious, a sensation at the Cannes Film Festival, which tells the (fictional) story of a 350-pound, illiterate teenage girl who suffers from unspeakable abuse by her family, and the latest from Spain’s Pedro Almodóvar, Broken Embraces.
You get more than admission for your money: lots of movie promotional items, movie posters, DVDs and raffles for movie tickets throughout the evening. “COMING ATTRACTIONS TRAILER NIGHT” is free for Gold Members, $5 for Basic Members and $8 for the general public.
A Serious Man: Q&A with Actor Michael Stuhlbarg
By Anita Glick and Annette Graham, DC Film Society Members
A Serious Man is currently playing at several locations in DC. This Q&A with actor Michael Stuhlbarg and moderated by Dan Raviv followed a screening at the AFI Silver Theater on October 1. Michael Stuhlbarg, a native of Long Beach, California is a noted theater actor. This is his first leading role in a film. Moderator Dan Raviv is a national correspondent for CBS Radio and a former foreign correspondent for CBS News.
Dan Raviv and Michael Stuhlbarg. Photo by Jay Berg.
Dan Raviv: I'm sure you liked the picture, I know I did. I thought to myself, it really is a Jewish picture, lots of questions, not easy to figure out. Michael Stuhlbarg is better known for his stage work than movie work, though he's been in quite a few films too. He received a Tony nomination four years ago for his performance in The Pillow Man. He played the lead in Hamlet at the public theater Shakespeare in the Park series just last summer. So he's been on stage a lot. But there are other films as well. Is this right--because it's appropriate: your first on-stage performance before being a union member, a professional--was it in Bye Bye Birdie?
Michael Stuhlbarg: It was.
Dan Raviv: Where?
Michael Stuhlbarg: At the Long Beach Jewish Community Center.
Dan Raviv: So the man knows something about that whole environment. On my way over here, I spoke to my mom who's a Hebrew schoolteacher in the New York area and she said, "Don't put the star on the spot. Be like me, like I would do in class. First ask the people out there, the pupils, 'If someone thinks that they can explain the main point of the picture in one or two lines--[usually in Hollywood it's high concept]... if anyone has an idea just two or three, maybe you'll get it going and Michael would react to that'." Does anyone want to give it a shot?
Audience Member: The point is there is no point.
Dan Raviv: Straight out of the 1960s.
Audience Member: The modern story of Job.
Dan Raviv: I like that.
Audience Member: Religion, faith and tradition.
Dan Raviv: There's some ideas. Because as far as I know every time a movie is made the actors do have discussions before any film is run. Joel and Ethan Coen, fabulous filmmakers well known for 14 successful films. You signed up with them.
Michael Stuhlbarg: Yes.
Dan Raviv: When was it explained to you?
Michael Stuhlbarg: It wasn't.
Dan Raviv: Is it better that way?
Michael Stuhlbarg: Yes, absolutely.
Dan Raviv: But you do have discussions before any film rolls?
Michael Stuhlbarg: Ummm....
Dan Raviv: What about the story?
Michael Stuhlbarg: No. I feel like it's my job to ... (audience erupts in laughter)
Dan Raviv: Does that surprise you? It surprises me. Supposedly the actor turns to the directors, in this case two directors, two brothers, "Well what's my motivation in this scene?"
Michael Stuhlbarg: When I got the part, I wrote three and a half pages of questions for them. And they patiently answered as many of them as they could. And those that they couldn't answer, they just let me create my own answer, which was wonderful.
Dan Raviv: And the performance does do that. The looks on Michael's face! His take on various things... In the movies there's another take and another take and another take. The grand moment at the end when your character decides to change the student's grade from F to a C ... minus--big flourish. That's a few takes. The decision is which closeup to use.
Michael Stuhlbarg: Maybe two. Two or three at most. They're notorious for just not doing a lot of takes, because they edit their own movies. It makes their job all the more easy in the editing room. Fewer choices. Easier to pick from 5 than it is to pick from 45.
Dan Raviv: So they really want fewer takes. There's a little bit of mischief in that. There is a credit--you can see on the posters outside--a credit: "edited by" and there's a name there.
Michael Stuhlbarg: Roderick Jaynes.
Dan Raviv: He doesn't exist.
Michael Stuhlbarg: He exists.
Dan Raviv: Oh really?
Michael Stuhlbarg: He exists as Ethan and Joel.
Dan Raviv: They're so mischievous. They didn't explain it to you. So you have your take. Let's say you're on an airplane and you're talking to somebody about what you do for a living. "I just finished this picture. It's Coen Brothers." What do you say: "I can't explain it to you" or "I'll try?"
Michael Stuhlbarg: The movie?
Dan Raviv: Yes.
Michael Stuhlbarg: No. I like other people to make up their own minds about it. It's fascinating. Because everyone will bring their own experience to seeing this and everyone has their own ideas. That's as it should be, I think.
Dan Raviv: Are these all films you were in? The Gray Zone?
Michael Stuhlbarg: That was both a play and a film.
Dan Raviv: Body of Lies William Monahan wrote it; Ridley Scott made it--a CIA thriller
Michael Stuhlbarg: Right.
Dan Raviv: A Price Above Rubies
Michael Stuhlbarg: Right
Dan Raviv: Cold Souls with Paul Giamatti.
Michael Stuhlbarg: Right
Dan Raviv: And Martin Scorsese's short homage to Alfred Hitchcock The Key to Reserva.
Michael Stuhlbarg: Yes.
Dan Raviv: And you're doing something else with Mr. Scorsese.
Michael Stuhlbarg: Yes. We just finished shooting the pilot and I just heard it got picked up. It's called "Boardwalk Empire." It'll be for HBO. Mr. Scorsese executive produced and directed it; it'll be co-produced by Mark Wahlberg, Stephen Levinson, Tim Van Patten. It's written by Terence Winter who wrote for The Sopranos. It stars Steve Buscemi, Michael Shannon, Michael Pitt, Kelly Macdonald, Stephen Graham, Vincent Piazza and a whole mess of others. It's based on a book called Boardwalk Empire by Nelson Johnson which is about the birth and high times of Atlantic City. The book starts in the middle of the 1800s but we pick it up on the eve of prohibition. I'm playing Arnold Rothstein who was allegedly responsible for fixing the 1919 World Series.
Dan Raviv: There are positive and negative images of Jews, you know. I had a sense, and wonder if anyone in the audience... did anybody feel uncomfortable about how Jews were portrayed? There are some American Jews who have trouble with almost anything like this that's in a Jewish suburb or Larry David series on TV ... basically, "I don't know what the goyim will think."
Question from audience: The music that was chosen--how much did that inspire you? Were you aware of the music while you were doing the shooting?
Michael Stuhlbarg: When we shot it, the music wasn't playing, but at the same time it was specifically chosen and had been in the script from the first day that I read it. So they knew exactly what they wanted and they put it in the script that way. All the music you heard except for Carter Burwell's swelling dramatic accompanying music during the course of the piece which gave it a rich dramatic tone throughout the piece. Jimi Hendrix, Jefferson Airplane and Sidor Belarsky were all in there.
Question: Working with two directors, are Joel and Ethan like minded? What is it like having two masters on the set?
Michael Stuhlbarg: They really are pretty much two sides of the same head. Joel will say "action" and "cut" and Ethan will mostly put his head down and sort of pace around in the back of the room and just listen listen listen very very carefully. But as for asking them questions, you can ask either one and generally they'll give an answer and if they feel like they need to consult each other they do but mostly they've created the script together and they know what they want to do. Every day when we show up on the set they would give us something called "sides" which are a small version, photocopied, of what the scene is going to be that we are playing on that particular day. And behind the sides we'll get photocopies of the storyboards that they've created for the film. So we know on any particular day how many shots there are going to be, where the camera is going to be and as a result of that, they are so well prepared, that we ended up finishing a week ahead of schedule and under budget.
Question: Did they disagree at all?
Michael Stuhlbarg: I never saw them disagree in over two months of working on this film. They knew what they wanted to do. Roger Deakins, the director of photography is kind of a third Coen brother. He's kind of a third head on the set. He's the master behind the camera, behind the light. Nothing happens without Roger's okay. He stands there for many minutes waiting for the light to be absolutely perfect. And then we'll go when he's ready.
Dan Raviv: You can already tell that Michael Stuhlbarg is, among film actors, highly educated. Bachelor of Fine Arts from the Julliard School, also studied at UCLA and here's the real surprise: the Vilnius Conservatory in the capital of Lithuania. Was that for music or what?
Michael Stuhlbarg: It was a conservatory of the arts. It was a part of an exchange program. I went there to study Chekov and they came to the Julliard School to study American theater--Tennessee Williams and musical theater.
Dan Raviv: And Oxford University British American Drama Academy--and on a full scholarship. With Marcel Marceau himself.
Question: The Coen brothers grew up in a town near the Canadian border and their father was a teacher. Did they talk about whether this was autobiographical in any sense?
Michael Stuhlbarg: There are a few things in the film they drew from--from their childhood--their father was a professor of economics at the University of Minnesota; their mother was also a professor. All the boys who accompany Danny on the bus are named for people they grew up with. There was a Mrs. Samsky in their synagogue. Someone they knew actually wrote something called The Mentaculus and went mad. So that is the truth. As far as my character, other than him being a professor at the same university where their father was, the rest is somewhat fictional.
Question: How did you get chosen for this part? What was the process you went through?
Michael Stuhlbarg: I don't know how I got chosen for this part. I lucked out. They called me in to audition originally for the part of Velvul, the husband in the Yiddish parable in the beginning of the movie. So I had to learn the whole scene in Yiddish.
Dan Raviv: Some people think you also played Velvul. But you're not in the Yiddish part.
Michael Stuhlbarg: No.
Dan Raviv: Did anybody think that?
Michael Stuhlbarg: They brought me in to audition for that and I went to a tutor and learned it in Yiddish and he was very kind to help me and try to get me out of the Germanic/Russian head and more towards the Polish head. There's differences and different people know different kinds of Yiddish. I did it for them and they laughed a lot and that made me really happy. They weren't sure at that point whether or not they wanted to choose an actor who could do it phonetically well, or to choose people who could speak it fluently. And as you can see, they chose folks who could speak it fluently. And there was a real sort of tete-a-tete on the set when these actors arrived because Allen [Rickman] and Yelena [Shmulenson] who played Velvul and his wife Dora; they're members of the Yiddish theater company in New York City and Fyvush Finkel [the dybbuk] has done a lot of Yiddish theater as well and they both know different kinds of Yiddish. "If you say it this way then I'm going to say this...." and they went on and on and on until they got it down to what would be right, so that if anybody who speaks Yiddish would hear it they would believe it thoroughly.... Six months go by and I get another call. I had just put it out of my mind because I knew I didn't get it and that was fine. I get a call; they want me to come in and audition for Larry and for Uncle Arthur. I hadn't read the script at this point. I got the script so I knew what was going on and I got to read it and I learned three scenes for Larry and three scenes for Arthur. I came in and did it and they laughed a lot again which made me really happy again. After that I kept asking periodically, "Am I still in the running? Am I still in the running?" And I kept hearing back, "You're still in the running, still in the running." Finally I got a call saying, "You're going to get one of these parts. They just don't know which one yet." So they're going to try to juggle the different people they're considering around to see who ends up landing in it and then 6-7 weeks before shooting was to start, I got a call from Joel who was coming back from a job and he said, "I'll put you out of your misery, you're playing Larry." And that's how that happened. It was about 11 months from the first audition to getting the part.
Question: The feverish mathematic equation stuff. Did you do that?
Michael Stuhlbarg: I did. That was me doing that.
Question: Did you understand any of it?
Michael Stuhlbarg: When I got cast as Larry, one of the first things I did--my sister is a professor and her husband is a professor and I went to them and said, "Do you know a physics professor?" They sent me to their friend Dr. Jeff Williams at Bridgewater State College and Jeff took me under his wing and taught me about Schrodinger's cat and the uncertainty principle so everything that you see me putting on the board is what he taught me. That equation particularly where I'm trying to describe the uncertainty principle is the end of a seven page equation that he wrote for me to try to describe it to me. I memorized the last portion. I asked how would I convey this to a group of students if I had to speak it out loud? And he said, you'd probably say this, you'd probably say that. And I just learned it. When I got there on the day of shooting, the Coens said, "Great, now just do it as fast as you possibly can." And that's what you see up there.
Question: Who was responsible for detail, like the screen door with the G for Gopnik.
Michael Stuhlbarg: That's the fabulous Jess Gonchor, the production designer. And all the other details. There were so many amazing artists that were involved in the construction of this film. The ones I related to daily, like Frida Aradottir who helped with my hair, Jean Black who did my makeup. We made a haggard chart together. Where is Larry on his haggard chart today? And Mary Zophres, the fabulous costume designer. There so many fabulous talented people who added those nuances. They're at the top of their game. Many of them have been working for Joel and Ethan since Blood Simple ... 15 years ... They keep them close.
Question: The phrase "A Serious Man" is said a few times usually referring to Sy. Do you think your character is a serious man or aspires to be one?
Michael Stuhlbarg: I don't think the idea enters his head until he hears it at Sy's memorial service when Rabbi Nachtner said, "Sy Ableman was a serious man." I think Larry hears that and he thinks, "Well what about me? I think I've been working pretty hard. I've tried to do that." I don't know if people consider him to be, but I think he thinks of himself of at least trying to live a serious meaningful life. He's tried to.
Dan Raviv: Larry ends up saying it to Rabbi Marshak's secretary. But with great hesitation. "Do I really qualify?"
Michael Stuhlbarg: "I've tried to be."
Question: You've been in lots of very Jewish themed movies. Is that by choice or are you being typecast?
Michael Stuhlbarg: I'm being typecast. It's interesting. Cold Souls is more Russian than Jewish. The Gray Zone, absolutely. I did the play. I did a lot of theater, then people recognized I was doing that and they bring me in for a film. It just happened by circumstance.
Dan Raviv: Are you Jewish in Body of Lies?
Michael Stuhlbarg: No, I'm an attorney.
Dan Raviv: And Hamlet...
Question: Are there a lot of differences between acting for theater or for film?
Michael Stuhlbarg: I find that my job is pretty much the same. It's my job to bring the character to life. How that is conveyed is obviously different. It's my job when doing a play, if there's a second balcony, for someone in the back of the second balcony to get what I'm doing as clearly as the person in the first row. And hopefully they'll get a similar performance although the other person is closer up. But it has different technical demands in terms of filling the space with your energy and your thoughts and your clarity. Whereas with making movies, it's an audience of one in terms of trying to incorporate the camera into what would be the telling of the story. And also films are shot out of sequence. So it's a big challenge technically to try to be familiar enough with the arc of the journey of your character so that when you show up on day one and they're shooting a scene that happens in the middle of the film, that you bring with you the experiences of where you think the character is going to be that day and try to convey that as thoroughly as possible. Different challenges but still wonderful.
Dan Raviv: What scene was the first to be shot?
Michael Stuhlbarg: The first scene that I shot was the scene in the Embers Restaurant with Sy and Judith, when they tell me to move out of the house.
Question: Do you think your character brought bad things on himself?
Michael Stuhlbarg: I don't know if I blame him so much for the things that happened to him during the course of the movie. As the audience we are privy to just select scenes on his journey. And it was my job to create for myself how to get from one scene to the next scene and what happened before that. But I'd like to believe that he was not necessarily a passive person but a very moral person and adult in terms of trying to deal with what's presented to him. If your wife falls out of love with you and you've had many conversations about why, what can you do? I think he tried to approach the situation as an adult and tried to make the best of things. That's the way I tend to think about him. And I think he continues to live a serious life. But in terms of being considered a big macher in the community, I don't think that was ever necessarily an intention of him. Whereas perhaps Sy wanted that or wanted people to know he was a serious man... I think Larry just worked really hard and was content in his job and I think on a certain level, many people would consider him a serious man.
The Cinema Lounge
The next meeting of the Cinema Lounge will be on Monday, November 16 at 7:00pm. Our topic is "Are animated films for children or adults?"
The Cinema Lounge, a film discussion group, meets the third Monday of every month at 7:00pm at Barnes and Noble, 555 12th St., NW in Washington, DC (near the Metro Center Metro stop). You do not need to be a member of the Washington DC Film Society to attend. Cinema Lounge is moderated by Daniel R. Vovak, ghostwriter with Greenwich Creations.
Last month at Cinema Lounge
On October 12, 2009, we discussed "Cult films: Will you join us?" The discussion began with talk about Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975) and how people used to throw rice at the screen because of the rice scene in the movie. It seemed like everyone in the discussion group had a fond (though peculiar) memory of that flick. One person even commented that the craziness among those in the audience even extended to people in Israel. At that time, many cultures were still repressed, so the transgender main character certainly transcended cultures. "It defined the cult film. It had a small devoted following. It is like being in a secret club. We get it, but you don't get it ... yet."
Another film quickly mentioned was Office Space (1999) and its TPS reports, in addition to much more of its film lingo that is known. Star Wars (1979) is a cult movie that went mainstream, though it can also be argued that it is not a cult movie at all. In England, "Jedi" is a recognized religion by some people. It seems Star Wars has overtaken Star Trek (1979) as a cult favorite with road shows. Showgirls (1995) is definitely a cult movie. (Originally considered a bomb, now parties are based on Showgirls.) Wayne's World (1992) was a cult movie, too. Fargo (1996), The Big Lebowski (1998) was a let-down to many people though later it led to parties with the "dude" character becoming a fun anti-hero. (The IMDb discussion board, by the way, is quite defensive of The Big Lebowski.) Night of the Living Dead (1968) and Fight Club (1999) are other cult films. Weekend at Bernie's (1989) was somewhat of a cult movie. The Exorcist (1973) is a cult movie for cults. Snakes on a Plane (2006) was a cult film even before it was released. It was the only film that tried to pass itself off as a cult film even before it was released.
What defines a cult movie is difficult to define, though it is usually not a box office hit when it starts. A cult films can be a good film that is loved, or a film with hard core fans. In general, cult movies are popular at midnight. So far, sequels are really not possible for cult films. One person said, "If you were on drugs when you wrote the movie, chances are it's a cult film." Sometimes music makes a film cultish. Lastly, there is a statute of limitations for a cult film, which is probably a generation.
Directors can also have cult followings, including: David Lynch, John Waters, Terry Gilliam, The Coen Brothers, Larry Clark, and the early films of Peter Jackson. Plus, Gus Van Sant with My Own Private Idaho (1991) and Drugstore Cowboy (1989), established him as a cult director. The Coen Brothers go back and forth on their movie cult-like films. Other cultish directors include: Richard Linklater with Slacker (1991) and Dazed and Confused (1993), Federico Fellini, Joe Dante, Tim Burton, John Carpenter, and George Lucas' first film: THX 1138 (1971), Others are Alejandro Jodorowsky (with El Topo in 1970), and some of Roger Corman's films, too. Sometimes actors can be cultish: Vincent Price, Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Bruce Campbell, and Peter Sellers are examples.
The 34th Toronto International Film Festival
By Ron Gordner & James McCaskill, DC Film Society Members Ajami (Israel/Germany, 2009). This is Israel’s nominee for best foreign language picture and won the Camera d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival this year. Four stories overlap in this Middle Eastern story directed by a Palestinian and an Israeli, which takes place in Jaffa’s Ajami neighborhood. Illegally employed workers, an Israeli policeman and his family, a missing brother, protection money, and mistaken identity are only part of the many layered plots that all converge.
The Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) remains North America's most important film festival. Although a number of critics complained that the 2009 TIFF did not have some of the most anticipated Hollywood films like The Lovely Bones, Invictus, Nine (the musical), and Avatar, this has been the case for several years. Major studios do not see the need to spend advertising at festivals and this has allowed small and independent films in the past like Slumdog Millionaire, Whale Rider, The Wrestler and American Beauty to gain critical and audience recognition and some buzz for the Oscar races. Sometimes highly regarded films like Kathryn Bigelow's The Hurt Locker, Me and Orson Welles, Lorna’s Secret, 35 Shots of Rum, Still Walking, A Woman in Berlin, Patrick 1.5, and some other films viewed at TIFF 2008 take almost a year or more to have theatrical release in the U.S. A few good ones from last year such as A Film With Me In It, Blind Loves, Lovely Still, and Pandora’s Box are still looking for U.S. distribution. Major stars, major directors and major films all come to Toronto. As part of TIFF09, 335 films from 64 countries were screened, including 271 feature-length films, 72 per cent of which were world, international or North American premieres, and 71 of which were feature directorial debuts.
We got more films that were scheduled than any other year, but found the pick up site at Nathan Square to be a real quagmire in trying to pick up or exchange tickets. The festival also did not partner with Roots for promotional clothing this year, and poorly marketed what items they did have. Films did run pretty much on time, except late night ones at Isabel Bader theater and some at the Elgin Theater, but this gave us time to make the screenings and no one seemed to want the front row seats at the small Bader theater which we enjoy. The Elgin Theater was open for pass holders this year which was a welcome surprise also. The Scotia multiplex theaters seemed to have had cutbacks in their small operating food stalls and restaurants, since many did not take advantage of the captive hungry festival goers, and did not open until noon or sometimes late in the afternoon. The volunteers are extremely friendly but had little training at the main box offices about standard procedures. We think the rising costs this year and the economy was reflected in some screenings that were only half full and much shorter rush lines.
Some free movies and concerts were shown to the public this year also at Yonge-Dundas Square. The winning audience award winner Precious was also given a free screening at the Elgin Visa Screening room the last night of the festival. People had to queue up a few hours early and the tickets were distributed a few hours before the screening.
This year at TIFF 2009 a number of anticipated and little known films got buzz for their writing, director, actors, art, and cinematography. These included Sundance winner Precious: Based on the Novel Push, by Sapphire, Michael Moore’s Capitalism: A Love Story, New Zealand documentary The Topp Twins, Jason Reitman’s Up in the Air with George Clooney, Italian films: Baaria, I am Love, and Vincere; Israeli films: Lebanon (2009 Venice Golden Lion winner) and their foreign language nominee Ajami; Danish director Lone Scherfig’s (Italian for Beginners) British film An Education; Aaron Schneider’s Get Low starring Robert Duvall, Sissy Spacek, Bill Murray, and Lucas Black; and South Korea’s Bong Joon-ho’s (Memories of Murder) new film Mother.
Concern was expressed that not as many U.S. foreign and independent film buyers are buying films these days. Economic concerns have caused a number to go out of business and there is an unwillingness to tie up millions with no box office guarantees. However, Cameron Bailey, Co-Director of the Toronto International Film Festival announced an impressive list of film sales resulting from participation at the 34th Toronto International Film Festival. As the festival ended this year, U.S. sales were confirmed for: Accident, Air Doll, Art of the Steal, Bunny & the Bull, Chloe, Creation, Defendor, Dogtooth, Get Low, Hadewijch, I Am Love, Lebanon, Lourdes, Micmacs, My Toxic Baby, A Single Man and Valhalla Rising. Canadian director Ruba Nadda’s film Cairo Time starring Patricia Clarkson and Alexander Siddig also has opened in Canadian theaters and was expected to obtain U.S. distribution soon. There is concern that the writer’s strike from last year and budgetary constraints may start to be reflected in fewer films showing up in the theatrical release pipeline and perhaps at future film festivals.
At left: Festival Director Piers Handling
Controversy surrounded the festival this year also when they chose a new programming for City to City with Tel Aviv in Israel as their first choice. This angered a number of film makers and celebrities who sent a letter of dismay to the manager Piers Handling. A few film makers like Canadian Guy Maddin, pulled their short films. Two Egyptian films were pulled late in the festival and so had no showings: Helipolis and The Traveller (starring Omar Sharif). Since the controversy over some Israeli film has been all year on the festival circuit, it seemed odd that they did not begin this program with Toronto or another Canadian city and films about that city. Palestinian director Elia Suleiman did not pull his film from the festival.
TIFF does seem to be trying to muster all the funds it can to finish building its Bell Lightbox building complex which will include at least 3 theatres, a film reference library, and administrative offices. We only viewed 2-3 films that we could describe as poor or very mediocre out of a combined 53 films we saw this year and considered 2009 TIFF as possibly the best group of films we have viewed since attending the festival over the last 15 years. Like many festival goers, we like to find the small independent U.S. and foreign films that are real discovered gems. We hope that these films at least make major festivals as we saw more outstanding films this year than any other year. Each of these films deserves an audience. Next year some of the Bell Lightbox is supposed to be finished and open.
MUST SEE FILMS:
Baaria (Giuseppe Tornatore, Italy, 2009). Filmed in Sicily, like the director’s earlier masterpiece, Cinema Paradiso, it is Italy’s 2009 nominee for best foreign language film. At least three generations of Peppino’s family are followed in 20th century Sicily with all its political and social changes including Nazis, Socialists, Communists, and current regimes.
Chloe (Atom Egoyan, France/Canada, 2009). Based on the original Anne Fontaine film Nathalie, Julianne Moore suspects that her husband Liam Neeson is having an affair with a young woman. An excellent psychological study about desire, trust, and deception in relationships and was filmed in downtown Toronto.
City of Life and Death (Nanjing Nanjing, Lu Chuan, China, 2009). A docudrama of the Rape of Nanking over several weeks after the Japanese captured Nanking in December 1937. The black and white cinematography feels like a real time documentary but focuses on several main Chinese and Japanese characters. This was surprisingly not chosen as the Chinese entry for best foreign film.
An Education (Lone Scherfig, UK, 2009). A pretty sixteen year old girl meets an older man who can show her Paris, culture, and excitement, versus hard study and the possibility of finding a good marriage in 1961 London. Lead Carey Mulligan has been touted as the new Audrey Hepburn and is getting lots of buzz for a best actress nomination, as are Alfred Molina, who plays her father. Other wonderful cast members included Peter Sarsgaard as the charming older man, Dominic Cooper and Rosamund Pike, as his compatriots, Emma Thompson as the head mistress of her school and Olivia Williams as her supportive teacher. Since there will be 10 nominees for best film this year, An Education may have a good shot for a slot. This opened in late October in DC and is still playing in theaters.
Eyes Wide Open (Haim Tabakman, Israel, 2009). A kosher butcher, and happily married father of four young sons, living in a ultra-Orthodox Jewish neighborhood in Jerusalem, takes on a new young apprentice and discovers he can have passion for a man also. A story rife with religious, moral, and family consequences.
I Am Love (Luca Guadagnino, Italy, 2009). Tilda Swinton stars and coproduces this film she has worked on with the director for several years. She speaks Italian, English and Russian in her role as a wife of a wealthy industrialist and mother of a young son and two older children, who finds herself drawn somehow to her adult son’s new friend. A gorgeous film showing Italian food, culture, city and country vistas, and reminiscent of such richly lush and passionate Visconti films as The Leopard.
I, Don Giovanni (Carlos Saura, Austria/Italy/Spain, 2009). The director of films like Flamenco, Tango, and Fados this time creates a beautiful costume drama about the life of Lorenzo da Ponte, a composer and lyricist, who is forced to renounce his Jewish faith and is later banished from Venice. In Vienna he works with Mozart and court composer Salieri, and invents the new opera Don Giovanni. Like Saura’s other films, he captures the music and art of the creative spirit.
Lebanon (Samuel Moaz, Israel, 2009). The Golden Lion winner at the 2009 Venice Film festival lost out to Ajami as Israel’s nominee for best foreign film. Like the German film Das Boot that was filmed primarily inside a submarine, Lebanon is seen primarily from the view of the soldiers inside a tank. The cinematography is stunning. I thought the acting was uneven and that Ajami was overall a better film, but this is a sobering look at wartime like last year’s Waltz with Bashir.
London River (Rachid Bouchareb, UK/France/Algeria, 2009). French-Algerian director Bouchareb (Indigenes) presents the global tale of two people from different countries, who meet in London trying to determine where their adult children are after a terrororist bombing of a London bus has left many unanswered questions. Brenda Blethyn and Sotigui Kouyate are the stars. Kouyate garnered the best actor prize at the 2009 Berlin Film Festival for his role. This film also had a recent showing at Arabian Sights in October.
Mao’s Last Dancer (Bruce Beresford, Australia, 2009). Bereford (Breaker Morant, Driving Miss Daisy, and Tender Mercies) presents a docudrama about a young Chinese ballet dancer who studies in Houston and must decide whether to defect or return to China. Based on a real story, the real dancer and most of the cast were in attendance at our screening and received a standing ovation. The film came in second as the Audience Award this year. The dance sequences are very well done. My only problem was that so many Texans had Australian accents.
Micmacs (Jean-Pierre Jeunet, France, 2009). Jeunet (Delicatessan and Amelie) always has charming and visually magic films and this is no exception. Dany Boon stars as an adult orphan who has been wounded in a drive by shooting, befriends a strange group of characters and misfits who live among the discarded junk that they reconstruct into art and useful tools and gadgets. They collectively take on the arms and munitions manufacturers and dealers in a wonderfully entertaining film with a moralistic message about warfare. Jeunet was greeted with a standing ovation after the screening. This film opens in France in October so it could be their foreign language nominee next year. One of the rare feel-good films or comedies we saw this year.
Mother (Bong Joon-ho, South Korea, 2009). From the director of Memories of Murder and The Host, veteran actress Kim Hye-ja fearlessly plays the mother of an adult grown son with mental deficiencies who is suspected of killing a young girl. How far would you go to protect and defend your child from many threats? This is South Korea’s choice for best foreign film nominee. We expect this to be in the final 5 nominees along with The Prophet and White Ribbons.
Precious: Based on the novel Push by Sapphire (Lee Daniels, US, 2009). Audience Award winner. This Sundance Audience winner coproduced by Oprah Winfrey, Tyler Perry and others, is a very powerful film about a teenage girl, pregnant with her second child, and mistreated by her mother and society until she meets a teacher who sees her potential. Expect this film to one of the 10 best picture nominees and possible nominations for stars Gabourey Sidibe as Precious and Mo’Nique as her abusive mother. It opens in November in DC.
The Prophet (Jacques Audiard, France, 2009). Grand Prix winner at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival and winner at the London Film Festival, and France’s foreign language nominee. A nineteen year old Muslim, Malik, is sent to prison and very quickly learns what he must do to survive. Actor Tahar Rahim is a revelation in the role of the prisoner who must make daily decisions and use animal instinct and intellect to educate himself about his new world inside and outside the prison.
A Serious Man (Joel and Ethan Coen, US, 2009) Michael Stuhlbarg plays Larry Gopnik, a professor in the Minnesota Jewish suburbs who faces many trials and tribulations from his family and work. He seeks out guidance from various rabbis with comic and serious results. This has been playing in the DC area for several weeks.
A Single Man (Tom Ford, US, 2009). Based on the book by Christopher Isherwood, Colin Firth plays a gay college professor in early 1960s Southern California who must deal with the recent death of his lover. Julianne Moore plays his former girlfriend and best friend. Firth was named best actor at the Venice Film Festival and may also get an Oscar nomination if the film is seen by a wide audience. Fashion icon Ford’s first stint as a director is amazingly very good and the details that recreate that period in time with furnishings, clothing, and colors are remarkable. The director and cast received a standing ovation at the Bader screening in Toronto.
Soul Kitchen (Fatih Akin, Germany, 2009). A change from Akin’s usual excellent dramas (Head On, The Edge of Heaven) this film is another great food film but also a wonderful ensemble of actors in a feel good comedy accompanied by a great soul music soundtrack. Warehouse diner owner Zinos must sort out saving his diner from tax collectors, supposed friends trying to buy him out, a girlfriend leaving for China, and the arrival of his brother fresh from prison.
Vision (Margarethe von Trotta, Germany, 2009). A study of Hildegard von Bingen, Medieval nun, composer, healer, scientist, author, visionary and Renaissance woman before the Renaissance. Actress Barbara Sukowa wonderfully captures her strength against many odds at the time including recurring ill health. Only two of her musical pieces are included but the director and actress discussed how they did vast research before filming.
White Ribbons (Michael Haneke, Germany/Austria/France/Italy, 2009). Palm D’Or winner at 2009 Cannes Film Festival and Germany’s nominee for best foreign language film. Haneke (Funny Games, Cache) layers the lives of many townsfolk in a small Northern German farming community just before the First World War. Stunning black and white cinematography highlight an unsolved murder and the mysterious actions of the strict Protestant parents and morals. Like other Haneke films, you need to watch every detail and action on the screen, like trying to find the missing piece of a jigsaw puzzle.
Additional Must See Films we didn’t see but recommended by others at TIFF: Up In the Air (US), I Killed My Mother (Canada), Get Low (US), The Art of the Steal (US) and The Topp Twins (New Zealand.
VERY GOOD FILMS:
Angel (Margreth Olin, Norway/Sweden/Finland, 2009). Olin, a documentarian, makes her feature film debut with the harrowing story of how a family with addicted members is splintered, told from the teenager Lea’s view point at the beginning and at various stages of her life. Based on a real family, Lea must become the parent at times for her mother, and later, question her own abilities to mother her child properly. There are no stereotypes here of alcoholic or heroin users, and even the most dangerous wife abusers are portrayed as needy human beings. Three different actresses portray Lea at different stages in life, with Maria Bonnevie as Lea the adult.
A Brand New Life (Ounie Lecomte, South Korea/France, 2009). Inspired by the director’s experiences in a Seoul Catholic orphanage as a child before being adopted and moving to France. A father buys his 9 year old daughter Jinhee new shoes and they go on a trip with her shiny brand new shoes until he leaves her at an orphanage. She waits daily for him to come back and must adjust to her new stark surroundings. Child actress Kim Sae-ron is remarkable as the abandoned child and imbues all the range of emotions from defiance, depression, and hope in a film most viewers will not soon forget.
Bright Star (Jane Campion, UK/Australia, 2009). Campion’s (The Piano, An Angel at My Table) captures the love story of Fanny Brawne and poet John Keats. Abbie Cornish portrays Fanny as a very modern woman who must risk societal scandal for her declared love for the penniless poet. The cinematography is outstanding. This film is still playing in DC.
Capitalism: A Love Story (Michael Moore, US, 2009). Moore’s latest documentary skewers Wall Street, Madoff, the banks, and bailouts, Republican and Democratic administrations and tries to empower the poor on how to fight against foreclosures and what is left of the classic American dream for many Americans. This film is still playing in DC.
Coco Chanel and Igor Stravinsky (Jan Kounen, France, 2009). Another film about Coco, but a more mature Coco than the Audrey Tatou film. Anna Mouglalis portrays her as a very strong individualist, beginning in 1913 with her meeting Stravinsky after seeing his unpopular Rites of Spring production. She even houses him, his wife and four children as she carries on an affair with Stravinsky (accomplished Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen), but at no point wants to ruin his marriage or become a subservient wife herself. We thought this a good movie to see after Coco Before Chanel to see the evolution of the fashion icon and here a much stronger woman. This is slated for a December release in the U.S.
Dorian Gray (Oliver Parker, UK, 2009). When we arrived in Toronto this film had been panned by many local critics, but rather than stand in long lines to exchange the ticket we decided to give it a chance. We found this Dorian Gray version to be very well acted and added a gothic horror flair to the well known Oscar Wilde tale. Ben Barnes is very good as the young, innocent Dorian corrupted first by the influences of the charismatic Lord Henry Wotton (Colin Firth). The costumes and make-up aging many of the characters are first rate. Parker’s film St. Trinian’s will also open in the U.S. this fall. Parker has made a specialty of doing works of Wilde; he also directed An Ideal Husband and a version of The Importance of Being Ernest.
The Father of My Children (Mia Hansen-Love). A busy film producer must try to fit in time with his wife and two daughters and deal with his overextended funding for new film projects. An excellent portrait of a family in despair, and based on a true story, this is a film that resonates with you long after the screening. IFC Films will distribute the film in the U.S.
The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus (Canada, UK, 2009). A very hot ticket in Toronto, Terry Gilliam’s (Brazil, Twelve Monkeys, The Brothers Grimm) new film is another visually magic film and the last onscreen performance by Heath Ledger. Gilliam has miraculously cast Johnny Depp, Jude Law, and Colin Farrell to fill in the rest of Ledger’s scenes and in a way that enriches the fantastical film. Christopher Plummer portrays Dr. Parnassus, who travels with his sideshow and daughter. Tom Waits is Mr. Nick, a devilish character, who hounds Parnassus about a dark pledge made years ago. Ledger as Tony joins the fantastical show in London. The film will have a showing at this year’s EU Festival at AFI and a holiday release.
The Informant! (Stephen Soderberg, US, 2009). This film has already played DC. Matt Damon plays Mark Whitacre, whistle blower about agricultural giant Archer Daniels Midland's global price fixing, and his self-delusional role with FBI agents.
Perrier’s Bounty (Ian Fitzgibbon, Ireland/UK, 2009). Michael McCrea (Cillian Murphy) owes loan sharks money including Perrier (Brendan Gleason) and also tries to deal with his estranged father (Jim Broadbent) and the love problems of his upstairs neighbor and friend Brenda. Two madcap nights of mayhem evolve across the streets of Dublin in an enjoyable thrill ride.
Police Adjective (Corneliu Porumboiu, Romania, 2009). The director of 12:08 East of Bucharest this time makes a simple story of a young, undercover policeman in a small town who is conducting surveillance on a teen who may be selling joints to kids before school. The dilemma is whether to report the kid and ruin his life or not. Not only a matter of conscience but applying the letter of the law are addressed in a very thought provoking film. Romania’s entry for best foreign language film. This film will also have screenings at AFI’s EU Festival.
The Secret in Their Eyes (Juan Jose Campanella, Argentina/Spain, 2009). Director of the popular film Son of the Bride, this film shows newly retired law clerk Benjamin Esposito (Ricardo Darin) still haunted by a cold case where a young wife was raped and killed. It also addresses the possible love interest he has with his ex-boss played by Soledad Villamil and deeply questions the meaning of justice and the pain of enduring love. Argentina’s nominee for best foreign film.
Triage (Danis Tanovic). Like his award winning film No Man’s Land, this film deals with the lingering consequences of war for 1980’s war photographer Mark Walsh (Colin Farrell) who returns from Kurdistan physically and mentally wounded and without his best friend. Farrell is excellent and so is veteran actor Christopher Lee as a therapist.
The Young Victoria (Jean-Marc Vallee, UK, 2009). French Canadian director Vallee (C.R.A.Z.Y.) traces Victoria as a young girl through her coronation and early years as Queen Victoria. Emily Blunt is excellent as Victoria, slowly asserting herself with and against counselors, and choosing her husband Prince Albert (Rupert Friend) who must also find a useful role in the monarchy. This film will also have a screening at AFI’s EU Festival in November and later be released in the U.S.
The Boys Are Back (Scott Hicks, Australia/UK, 2009). This film has already played in DC and concerns Clive Owen as a widowed sports writer dealing with his wife’s death and how to raise his young son and how to connect with his teenage son from a previous marriage living in England.
Broken Embraces (Pedro Almodovar, Spain, 2009). Not Almodovar’s best work, but still an engaging film about a blind screenwriter who has no problem with the ladies and his past with beautiful actress Lena, played by Penelope Cruz, who also had an affair with a film producer. The usual script twists and layers will keep you wondering.
Cooking with Stella (Dilip Mehta, Canada, 2009). Another interesting food movie, this time Don McKeller is the house or consulate husband in New Delhi who learns a great deal about cooking, servants, and Indian culture from their housekeeper Stella. But does domestic bliss and subservient staff really exist? Recipes were handed out at the Q&A.
The Damned United (Tom Hooper, UK, 2009). Currently playing in DC theaters, this feature is built on the real lives of Brian Clough (Michael Sheen) and his assistant coach played by Timothy Spall, who raise the Derby football club to be winners and into the first division to face Leeds United. When Clough accepts the head coach position at Leeds and wants changes made, he may find all is not rosy in Leeds. Excellent character development from the actors all around.
Gigante (Adrien Biniez, Uruguay/Argentina/Germany/Spain, 2009). This film won an award at the Berlin Film Festival and played at the recent AFI Latin American Film Festival. Jara, a large security guard watches for store theft and also notices Julia, a cleaning lady at the supermarket. Will he remain a spectator or speak to Julia?
The House of Branching Love (Mika Kaurismaki, Finland, 2009). Aki’s brother directs this madcap charmer about a couple who decide it is time to divorce but can’t afford to live separately. Think a light War of the Roses with lots of quirky characters and the husband and wife trying to impress each other with their new conquests. This is scheduled to play at the AFI EU Film Festival in November.
Huacho (Alejandro Fernandez Almendras, Chile/France/Germany, 2009). This cinema verite feature captures the daily routine of a rural family in Chile told through each family member. Huacho means bastard, abandoned or having no father. Young Manuel indeed has no father present, but the name really refers to how the whole peasant family survives and has been abandoned by the modern conveniences and ways of life. The important role of each family member to the success of the family is portrayed.
The Last Days of Emma Blank (Alex van Warmerdam, Netherlands, 2009). A wild dark comedy that will keep you guessing what’s going on and who is related to who. The director also acts and takes on the role of the family dog. Matriarch Emma Blank says she is dying, so all the relatives and/or staff are on their best obliging behavior to be included in the will.
Life During Wartime (Todd Solondz, US, 2009). Another love it or hate it film, Solondz (Welcome to the Dollhouse, Palindromes) builds on his earlier film Happiness with some of the same characters (but none of the same actors) including a hilarious Alison Janney as the wife Trish, separated from the incarcerated child abusing husband Bill (Ciaran Hinds) who has just gotten out of prison. Trish plans to remarry. There are some brilliant comic pieces, but the pieces don’t always seem to build on each other or create a uniform whole.
Ondine (Neil Jordan, Ireland, 2009). Master director Neil Jordan (Michael Collins, Breakfast on Pluto, Interview with the Vampire) has a stange fish tale of a fisherman, Syracuse (Colin Farrell) who supposedly catches a mermaid in his nets. Christopher Doyle is the cinematographer and Syracuse’s young wheelchair bound daughter Annie tries to find the answer to Ondine’s appearance.
Partir (Leaving, Catherine Corsini, France, 2009). Suzanne, (Kristin Scott-Thomas) a successful physiotherapist and wife to a doctor (Yvan Attel) finds love with Spanish carpenter Sergio Lopez but her obsessions may ruin her family’s and everyone’s lives. Excellent acting but the extreme measures Suzanne takes may seem illogical or extreme to many viewers.
The Time That Remains (Elia Suleiman, UK/Italy/Belgium/France). The Palestinian director (Divine Intervention) provides a comedy based on his family’s diaries and experiences since 1948 being branded “Israeli Arabs.”
White Material (Claire Denis, France, 2009). Isabelle Huppert stars as a French coffee plantation owner in Africa who tries to save her family and land during a Civil War uprising. The French nationals have been labeled “white material” by the native peoples and the film addresses the emotional unrest of post Colonial Africa.
FILMS YOU CAN SKIP
Adift (Bui Thac Chuyen). A young couple marry in modern Hanoi, but it appears the marriage may never be consummated. Languid shots of Hanoi are fine, but the developing soap opera was too leaden for our tastes.
The Warrior and the Wolf (Tian Zhuang Zhuang, China, 2009). A disappointing film from the gifted Zhuang (Blue Kite, Springtime in a Small Town) that dramatizes a Japanese short story about a soldier in the Era of the Warring States, before unified China, fighting nomadic tribes and with a pet wolf cub. Very little dialog and a strange script may have made this an effective short, but not 100 minutes of investigating where man may have been wolves.
An indieWire poll of film critics and bloggers selected their favorite films and actors at TIFF2009 as: (1) A Serious Man; (2) A Single Man for best actor Colin Firth (3) Precious for acting by Mo’Nique and also Up in the Air’s Anna Kendricks’ supporting role; and the best documentary was Videocrac a Swedish film about Italy in the age of video and Silvio Berlusconi.
SPLIT DECISIONS (films that we disagreed on):
Dogtooth (Yorgos Lanthimos, Greece, 2009). This filmed garnered attention this year at the Cannes Film Festival. A strange film about an industrial director who keeps his wife and three teenage children locked in their rural house/compound. The children have little knowledge of the outside world and of normal and sexual morals. This may require an R rating at the least. At one point the family members are required to act as dogs by the father, which is only one of the strange twists of the story. It can be seen as a political film dealing with middle class values and ethics. For those who like a challenging film.
Like You Know It All (Hong Sang-soo, South Korea, 2009). Director of films such as Woman on the Beach and Woman is the Future of Man, Hong has become an art house auteur for those who like tongue in cheek humor and sometimes cruelty via similar works by Woody Allen, Alan Renais, or Eric Rohmer. The lead is a film director who is not a commercial success but has a following with arthouse critics and superficial fans. The film closely mirrors a film director’s self awareness of his art as he encounters friends and acquaintances from his past and new fans at a small film festival.
La Pivellina (Tiza Covi and Rainer Frimmel, Austria, 2009). A small film that feels like a documentary about a middle aged circus performer. Patty finds an abandoned infant girl In the park with a note from the mother who says she will return. Do you trust the unknown mother and care for the child or turn her over to the authorities. The child who plays two year old Asia has amazing screen presence and almost seems to be acting. The actress who plays Patty with shocking red hair has a strange resemblance and characterizations to that of Italian actress Anna Magnani. The viewer gets sucked into this small drama and really is concerned about Patty and her German husband Walter and the outcome of little Asia.
Samson and Delilah (Warwick Thornton, Australia, 2009). The sobering tale of fifteen year old Aborigine Samson and his neighbor Delilah who are marginalized in their own community because of his addiction and her care of her nana. Going into the outside world means even more mistreatment. A very powerful, disturbing feature film that addresses many of the still existing problems for Aboriginal peoples in Australia today. Australia’s foreign language nominee.
Vincere (Marco Bellocchio, Italy, 2009). This is a film you definitely lover or hate. Fascinating cinematography and perhaps overproduced opera music carry the movie and its emotions. Based on the story of Ida Dalser, a beautiful woman Mussolini met in 1907, and who claims he married and fathered her son, also named Benito. The film concerns her claims and mental state and how she is treated by Il Duce and the state. One problem we noticed was that the actors were not aged to effectively show the nearly 30 years that have passed. The same actor plays Il Duce and his alleged son also. Highly regarded at some festivals.
THE OFFICIAL AWARDS
The 34th Toronto International Film Festival announced its awards: (from TIFF website)
Award for Best Canadian Short Film
The award for Best Canadian Short Film goes to Pedro Pires for Danse Macabre. Based on a concept by Robert Lepage, director Pires's exquisitely photographed morbid ballet pushes the traditional dance film to new cinematic heights. The jury remarked: "There was one film that had such devastating beauty, that watching it was having fireworks shattering your heart. A prayer for the dying, a love song to the living, everyone must see this beautiful work." The jury would like to recognize and support Jamie Travis for The Armoire with an honourable mention, an exciting filmmaker with an original voice and an exquisite vision. The award offers a $10,000 cash prize and is supported by the National Film Board of Canada.
The Skyy Vodka Award for Bests Canadian First Feature Film
The SKYY Vodka Award for Best Canadian First Feature Film goes to Alexandre Franchi for The Wild Hunt for its assured, inventive and bold command of film form traversing contemporary and mythic landscapes marking the launch of an audacious new talent. Set in the fantasy-reality of a large role-playing game, this film captures the culture of costume play and the potentially dangerous intersection of the real and made-up worlds. The award carries a cash prize of $15,000.
The City of Toronto and Astral Media's The Movie Network Award for Best Canadian Feature Film
The City of Toronto and Astral Media's The Movie Network Award for Best Canadian Feature Film goes to Ruba Nadda for Cairo Time. Described by the jury as a superbly directed lyrical waltz of longing and desire across disparate worlds, with exquisite performances by Patricia Clarkson, Tom McCamus and Alexander Siddig. The film evocatively serves as an analogy for the intricacies of passionate romance that, for practical reasons, can never be realized. The jury is also honoured to recognize with a Special Jury Citation, the work of a master, Bernard Émond's La Donation (The Legacy). Generously co-sponsored by the City of Toronto and Astral Media's The Movie Network, the award carries a cash prize of $30,000.
Canadian Feature Film Awards Jury
All three awards are selected by a jury of film professionals. The feature films jury consists of filmmaker Jerry Ciccoritti (Blood, Trudeau, Chasing Cain, The Life Before This), Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival Director of Programming Sean Farnel, Canadian novelist Kerri Sakamoto (One Hundred Million Hearts, The Electrical Field), and filmmaker Peter Lynch (Project Grizzly, Cyberman). The short film jury members are Executive Producer of in-flight entertainment at Spafax and a Sundance programmer, Shane Smith, filmmakers Ingrid Veninger and Shane Belcourt.
Prize of the International Federation of Film Critics (FIPRESCI Prize)
The Festival welcomed an international FIPRESCI jury for the 18th consecutive year. The jury members consist of jury president Diego Lerer (Argentina), Jan Schulz-Ojala (Germany), Hynek Pallas (Sweden), Kirill Razlogov (Russia), Denis Seguin (Canada) and Jorge Gutman (Canada).
The Prize of the International Federation of Film Critics (FIPRESCI Prize) for Discovery is awarded to Laxmikant Shetgaonkar for The Man Beyond the Bridge (India). Far from the sensory overload of India's big cities, this film explores smaller but enduring dilemmas, drawing together keen environmental sensitivity with a nuanced view of village dynamics. A widowed forest ranger Vinayak develops an intimate relationship with a mentally ill woman, risking becoming an outcast. Director Shetgaonkar, immersed in the culture of the region, tells his tale with grace and attentiveness, taking the villages traditions and beliefs seriously, while casting a jaundiced eye on those who exploit them.
The Prize of the International Federation of Film Critics (FIPRESCI Prize) for Special Presentations is awarded to Bruno Dumont for Hadewijch (France). This film is a hypnotic study of the possibilities and consequences that arise from an absolute belief in God, and the fascinating dynamic that emerges. Hadewijch is beautifully conceived and rigorously developed and speaks to the present with care and insight. Dumont has previously played at the Festival with La Vie de Jésus (1999), Twentynine Palms (2003) and Flandres (2006). L'humanité and Flandres were both awarded the Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival.
Cadillac People's Choice Award
The Cadillac People's Choice Award is voted on by Festival audiences. This year's award goes to Lee Daniels's Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire. From director Lee Daniels comes a vibrant, honest and resoundingly hopeful film about the human capacity to grow and overcome. Set in 1987 Harlem, it is the story of Claireece "Precious" Jones, an illiterate African-American teenager who is pregnant for the second time by her absent father and abused by a poisonously angry mother. Despite her experiences, Precious has a dream that other possibilities exist for her and jumps at the chance to enroll in an alternative school. There she encounters Ms. Rain, a teacher who will start her on a journey from pain and powerlessness to self-respect and determination. The film stars Mo'Nique, Paula Patton, Mariah Carey, Sherri Shepherd, Lenny Kravitz and introduces Gabourey Sidibe. The award offers a $15,000 cash prize and custom award, sponsored by Cadillac.
First runner-up is Bruce Beresford Mao's Last Dancer and the second runner-up is Jean-Pierre Jeunet's Micmacs (Micmacs à tirelarigot).
New this year is a Cadillac People's Choice Award for Documentary and Midnight Madness. The Cadillac People's Choice Award - Documentary goes to Leanne Pooley's The Topp Twins. Fun, disarming and musically provocative, the Topp Twins are New Zealand's finest lesbian country-and-western singers and the country's greatest export since rack of lamb and the Lord of the Rings movie trilogy. Runner-up is Michael Moore's Capitalism: A Love Story.
The Cadillac People's Choice Award - Midnight Madness goes to Sean Byrne's The Loved Ones. A troubled teen's prom dreams are shattered by a series of painful events that take place under the mirrored disco ball, involving syringes, nails, power drills and a secret admirer in this wild mash-up of Pretty in Pink and Misery. Runner-up is Michael Spierig and Peter Spierig's Daybreakers.
Visit the website for more information about the Toronto International Film Festival.
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, Austin Film Festival, Edinburgh Film Festival, the Berlin Film Festival, the Palm Springs Film Festival, the Reykjavik 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 22nd Annual AFI European Union Film Showcase takes place November 5-24. Thirty-nine films, both feature films and documentaries, will be screened from countries of the European Union. The Opening Night film is Mammoth from Sweden's Lukas Moodysson. See the schedule for a complete list of films.
The second "Noir City DC", devoted to film noir, which began in October continues through November 4. You can still see Shakedown, Beyond a Reasonable Doubt, Hollow Triumph, Out of the Past, The Killers, Night Editor, and Slightly Scarlet.
The latest film by noted documenarian Frederick Wiseman, La Danse: The Paris Opera Ballet (2009) will be shown November 27-30. Other special shows in November include Some Like it Hot (Billy Wilder, 1959) and The Shining (Stanley Kubrick, 1980), both in brand-new 35mm prints.
Freer Gallery of Art
"Bringing the World Home: The Global Film Initiative" continues in November with Border Cafe (Kambozia Partovi, 2009) from Iran on November 1 at 2:00pm; Dam Street (Li Yun, 2005) from China on November 6 at 7:00pm and Buffalo Boy (Nguyen-Vo Ngheim-Minh, 2004) from Vietnam on November 8 at 2:00pm.
"Osamu Tezuka: God of Manga, Father of Anime" is a retrospective of the work of Osamu Tezuka (1928-1989), creator of hundreds of manga comic books and dozens of animated films. On November 13 at 7:00pm is "Introducing Astro Boy," with Frederik Schodt, author of The Astro Boy Essays in person to discuss and present a program of Astro Boy episodes. On November 14 at 2:00pm is a documentary film and panel discussion with authors Frederik Schodt, Helen McCarthy and Natsu Onoda Power; the documentary features live footage of Tezuka and an introduction to his work. On November 15 at 2:00pm is Marine Express (Tetsu Dezaki, 1979) with authors Frederik Schodt and Helen McCarthy and on November 20 at 7:00pm is Prime Rose (Tetsu Dezaki, 1983). The series ends November 22 at 2:00pm with a program of Tezuka's short films made between 1962 and 1987. For another Tezuka film, see the Japan Information and Culture Center.
National Gallery of Art
"Brit Noir" is a series of films from the 1930s through the 1950s. On November 6 at 3:00pm is Night and the City (Jules Dassin, 1950); on November 7 at 2:00pm is The Criminal (Joseph Losey, 1960); on November 13 at 3:00pm is Seven Days to Noon (John and Ray Boulting, 1950); on November 14 at 12:30pm is I Met a Murderer (Roy Kellino, 1939) shown with The Upturned Glass (Lawrence Huntington, 1947); on November 15 at 4:30pm is Brighton Rock (John and Roy Boulting, 1947) and on November 29 at 4:00pm is Hell Drivers (Cy Enfield, 1957).
"Joseph Losey: American Abroad" is a series of films by American-born Joseph Losey, whose centennial we celebrate this year. On November 1 at 4:30pm is The Accident (1967) preceded by a short film First on the Road (1959). On November 7 at 4:00pm is The Servant (1963); on November 8 at 4:30pm is The Go-Beetween (1970); on November 14 at 4:00pm is The Boy with Green Hair (1948); on November 22 at 4:30pm is M (1951); on November 27 at 2:30pm is The Lawless (1949); on November 27 at 4:15pm is The Sleeping Tiger (1954); and on November 28 at 3:30pm is King and Country (1964). Two more in December.
Special events at the Gallery include Herb and Dorothy (Megumi Sasaki, 2008) on November 27 at 12:30pm with more screenings in December. A "cine-concert" The Crowd (King Vidor, 1928) with Dennis James on organ is on November 28 at 1:00pm.
National Museum of the American Indian
On November 11 at 11:30am and 3:30pm is a program of short documentaries about Native veterans from the "Answering the Call: Veterans Day Short Film Contest."
On November 21 at 2:00pm is Handmade Nation (Faythe Levine, 2009), a documentary about artists, crafter and designers.
National Museum of African American History and Culture
On November 10 at 6:30pm is Choc'late Soldiers from the USA: Sex, Race and Religion, a documenary about African American soldiers and British civilians during WWII. Filmmakers Sonny Izon and Gregory Cooke will appear at this premiere screening along with veterans who are in the film to take questions. Location: the Hirshhorn Museum.
National Portrait Gallery
As part of the "Reel Portraits" series is a program of films by John Ford. On November 20 at 7:00pm is Fort Apache (1948) the first in the "cavalry trilogy." On November 21 at 2:00pm is She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949) and at 5:00pm is The Searchers. Portraits of George Armstrong Custer, Frederic Remington and Quanah Parker are related to the films. Discussions will follow all three films.
Smithsonian American Art Museum
On November 12 at 6:30pm is a program of two short films about William T. Wiley's sculpture Tower: Wiley's Tower (1991) and Tower for the No Bull Salvage (2005).
Washington Jewish Community Center
On November 5 at 7:30pm is Dubak-The Palestinian Jew (Ella Alterman, 2008), a documentary about a Bedouin who rescues missing people in the desert. Special guest Ella Alterman will discuss the film. On November 16 at 7:30pm is Voices from El-Sayed (Oded Adomi Leshem, 2009), a documentary about a Bedouin villae with the world's largest percentage of deaf people; director Oded Adomi Leshem will discuss the film after the screening. On November 12 at 7:00pm is Dirty Dancing, a film and dance party to remember Patrick Swayze. On November 15 at 3:00pm is Between the Folds (Vanessa Gould, 2008), an award-winning documentary about paper folders.
"Wende Flicks: Last Films from East Germany" concludes in November and includes feature films and documentaries about the Wende, the peacful revolution in Germany 20 years ago. On November 2 at 6:30pm is whisper & SHOUT (Dieter Schumann, 1988) a documentary about the subculture music scene in East Germany in the late 1980s. On November 9 at 6:30pm is Jan and Jana (Helmut Dziebu, 1992); on November 16 at 6:30pm is Burning Life (Peter Welz, 1994); on November 23 at 6:30pm is Heart Leap (Helke Misselwitz, 1992); and on November 30 at 6:30pm is Leipzig in the Fall (Gerd Kroske and Andreas Veigt, 1989), a documentary about the demonstrations in Leipzig in 1989.
National Geographic Society
On November 4 at 7:00pm is Unconquered: Allan Houser and the Legacy of One Apache Family (Bryan Beasley, 2009), a short film about how Allan Houser's art was influenced by stories of his Apache ancestors. The director and producer will be prsent for discussion. On November 6 at 7:00pm is The Music Lesson (Virginia Galloway) an award-winning documentary about classically-trained student musicians who travel to Kenya in a cultural exchange. A Q&A with the filmmaker will follow the screening. On November 14 at 7:00pm is "The Best of Mountainfilm" a program of short films from the Mountainfilm in Telluride Festival.
On November 8 at 7:00pm is OSS 117, Lost in Rio (Michel Hazanavicius, 2009), another in the popular series of films featuring secret agent OSS 117.
The Japan Information and Culture Center
On November 13 at 6:30pm is Metropolis (Rintaro, 2001), based on characters created by Osamu Tezuka. For more Tezuka films, see the Freer above. Reservations are required.
On November 12 at noon is "From the Vaults: War and Conflict," a selection of short films including Our America at War (1941), The Battle of San Pietro (John Ford, 1944), UN Offensive (1950) and more. On November 5 at noon is a preview screening and discussion of Moon Beat (Kevin Stirling), an award-winning documentary about media coverage of the 1969 flight of Apollo 11. Filmmaker Kevin Stirling will discuss the film after the screening. On November 14 at noon is The Wizard of Oz (1939), part of the Archive's "Big" series.
As part of the "Czech Lions" series is Plastic People of the Universe on November 11 at 8:00pm, a documentary about a band that became a symbol of resistance against the communist state power in Czechoslovakia.
This month's French Cinematheque film, on November 18 at 8:00pm, is Disengagement (Amos Gitai, 2008) starring Juliette Binoche and Jeanne Moreau.
Anacostia Community Museum
On November 10 at 7:00pm is Midnight Ramble (Pearl Bowser and Bestor Cram, 1994), a documentary on pioneering filmmaker Oscar Micheaux.
South Asian Literary and Theater Arts Festival
On November 7 two films will be screened as part of the South Asian Literary and Theater Arts Festival. At 10:25am is The Forgotten Woman, an award-winning documentary about some of the 20 million Indian widows who are abandoned by their families after losing their husbands. Director Dilip Mehta will take questions after the screening. At 3:10pm is the DC premiere of Harishchandra's Factory, India's official entry for the Foreign Language Film Oscars. It tells the story of the making of India's first full-length feature film; director Paresh Mokashi and producer Ranga Godbole will participate in a Q&A after the film.
On November 23 at 7:00pm is the Irish film The Boy from Mercury (Martin Duffy, 1996), shown at Flashpoint.
The 2009 European Union Film Showcase
The AFI European Union Film Showcase, now in its 22nd year, runs from November 5-24. The 2009 EU Film Showcase features a slate of 39 films representing 25 countries, including official foreign language Oscar® selections, festival headliners and U.S. and Washington, DC premieres of major first-run releases. European countries represented in the 2009 Showcase include Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom.
The opening night film Mammoth (Lukas Moodysson) starring Michelle Williams and Gael Garcia Bernal and the closing night film is Young Victoria starring Emily Blunt and Rupert Friend. Other special presentations include three Centerpiece Screenings: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo from Sweden, Henri-Georges Clouzot's Inferno from France and The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnussus from the United Kingdom.
“This year’s lineup, our largest ever, is a testament to the overall quality and amazing diversity of filmmaking in Europe right now,” said Todd Hitchcock, AFI's film programmer. “We are particularly proud of the strong slate of films from Sweden, the current holder of the EU Presidency, beginning with Lukas Moodysson’s Mammoth on Opening Night and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo on our first weekend. Audiences will also discover terrific new films from major filmmakers like Andrzej Wajda, Peter Greenaway, and Terry Gilliam, plus newer talents whose work has been acclaimed at film festivals this year, like Germany’s Maren Ade (Everyone Else) and Romania’s Corneliu Porumbulai (Police, Adjective).”
DC Latin American Film Showcase
This festival of Latin American film concludes in November. Titles remaining include In the City of Sylvia (Spain), Murmurin Coast (Portugal), The Desert Within (Mexico), The Andes Don't Believe in God (Bolivia), Meet the Head of Juan Perez (Mexico), The Artist (Argentina), Words of Truth (Uruguay), Proyect Grey (El Salvador), The Maid (Chile), The Honor of the Wronger (Spain), Looking for Miguel (Colombia), and Bombom, the Dog (Argentina). Check the website for times and locations.
On November 21-22 is a mini-film festival of Indian films, to be shown at the Goethe Institute. Titles are Firaaq (Nandita Das, 2008); The Window (Buddhadeb Dasgupta, 2009); The Damned Rain (Satish Manwar, 2008); and Mukhaputa (Roopa Iyer, 2009). Languages include Hindi, Bengali, Marathi, and Kannada. Times to be announced.
The Virginia Film Festival
From November 5-8 the Virginia Film Festival takes place in Charlottesville. The festival picks a new theme each year; it designs its program to resemble a huge comprehensive course on a cultural theme, which illuminates the social and artistic impact of moviemaking. This year's is "Funny Business." More than 60 films will be shown in four days with nearly 100 speakers--directors, actors, scholars and writers. Film selections range from Hollywood premiers to classic, documentary, and experimental films and videos.
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