Friday, January 18, 2008

2008 Atlanta Jewish Film Festival - Opening Nights, the Films

The Atlanta Jewish Film Festival launched its eighth year in what was a truly impressive pair of opening weekend events, at the Regal Atlantic Station Cinemas. The screening committee also programmed a pair of suitably festive films.

The 'official' opening night feature was THEN SHE FOUND ME (dir. Helen Hunt, US, 2007, 100 mins.) Helen Hunt makes her directorial debut, in a film starring herself, as well as a screenplay which she co-adapted from Elinor Lipman's novel. Now, whether she is gifted as a director could be debatable, but her performance is extraordinary, especially considering she is in nearly every frame! There is no question that she is in full control of her performance abilities and understands a script and what she can give to it. The performances by her supporting cast, Bette Midler, Colin Firth, Matthew Broderick and Ben Shenkman are good. Midler, in particular, gives the film its jolts, when it most needs them, and Firth is, as Lipman described during a Q&A, "the thinking woman's pin-up". The film isn't necessarily frothy, but I simply can't seem to bring any real analysis to it, nor was I unusually moved by it. It is performed far and beyond what the Hallmark Hall of Fame-like plotting would necessitate. It is a nice film. There was a Q&A with Lipman on Opening Night, and a video interview with Lipman, recorded on opening night, which was screened at its encore screening on Friday afternoon, which was a really cool surprise and an idea that I hadn't seen used before.

The second event featured CHICAGO 10 (dir. Brett Morgen, US, 2008, 102 mins.), an innovatively constructed documentary about the Chicago Conspiracy Trial of the "Chicago 8", who were held responsible for the disruption and riots during the 1968 Democratic Convention. Morgen eschews talking heads and uses news reels and archival footage, whenever possible. The transcript of the trial is performed by a cast that has been animated via rotoscope, featuring the voices of Hank Azaria, Dylan Baker, Nick Nolte, Mark Ruffalo, Roy Scheider, Liev Schreiber and Jeffrey Wright. I found it outrageously effective! Not only is the animation a creative alternative to the Ken Burns school of stills-and-narration, but it adds an appropriate pop-culture and psychedelic flair to the subject matter. There might be some argument as to the characterizations at the trial, as the judge and prosecution are played as incompetent villains. However, the transcripts are assumingly intact. Since the trial was for "conspiracy to incite", Morgen is able to effectively build to a climax, as the transcript lays out a virtual flashback of the organizing and planning of the protests during the convention. The film's inclusion in a Jewish film festival was arguably due to the presence of co-defendants Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin, and courtroom players William Kunstler and Judge Julius Hoffman. During the Q&A, it was also discussed within the context of having occurred only 20 years after the holocaust. And during that Q&A, the opinion that the film was too long, was expressed. As much as I enjoyed and appreciated the film, I would have to agree that it felt longer than the 100 minutes. There could be some minor pruning, especially of some of Abbe Hoffman's nightclub material and radio interviews, but that's just quibbling.

Maxxxxx says
re THEN SHE FOUND ME: "Hello?"
re CHICAGO 10: "Such a cranky bird!"

No comments: