Thursday, January 29, 2009

Atlanta Jewish Film Festival 2009 - Closing Weekend and Recap

This is a temporary posting of a report submitted to Southern Screen Report, to be published later.

The Atlanta Jewish Film Festival graciously sent me a HUGE ENVELOPE of screeners of nearly the ENTIRE festival! Even with that courtesy, I was not able to keep up with the demanding screening schedule during the closing weekend. (Though I am in San Francisco, I attempted to keep within the frame of a "virtual" film festival experience by viewing screeners in the order and time frame that they were scheduled.) Of the final three days, which screened ten unique programs, I was only able to see two of those. And, ironically, or more accurately, how frustrating to find out that the two Audience Award Winners were from the eight films I did NOT see!

The Atlanta Jewish Film Festival announced the winners of the AJFF Audience Awards for Best Narrative Film and Best Documentary Film: THE LITTLE TRAITOR (dir. Lynn Roth, Israel/USA, 2007, 88 mins.) for Best Narrative Film, and BLESSED IS THE MATCH: THE LIFE AND DEATH OF HANNA SENESH (dir. Roberta Grossman, Czech Republic/Hungary/Israel, 2008, 86 mins.) for Best Documentary. Both films will be featured at a special encore screening, and the filmmakers will be presented with the AJFF Audience Award. (Details of the screenings will be announced at a future date.)

AJFF Audience Award winners are determined by popular vote by the AJFF audience, and what a large audience it is! The 2009 AJFF attracted more than 17,000 moviegoers, making it the second largest Jewish film festival in the nation - second only to the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival. The AJFF also announced it is the largest film festival in Atlanta. Executive Director Kenny Blank said, “It is gratifying to witness the huge crowds and passionate reaction to these films. Nearly half of our screenings were sellouts.” Even with my short experience in Atlanta, it is not hard to understand why. The AJFF presents one of the most polished and professional festival experiences I have ever attended. The programming is exceptional and the actual scheduling is inspired. I am not sure exactly who it is that is responsible for the calendaring of programs, however, programming the virtual sidebars to run consecutively, instead of conflicting, is a gift in of itself!

The American Jewish Committee of Atlanta appears to be made up of an exceptionally active and participatory membership. They are the volunteers that man the house management, box office and, most importantly, form the screening committee. I think the key to the AJFF's success during festival week, is involving their volunteers from the inception of the festival during the programming process. I was told that screening committee members commit to no less than fifty films during the selection process! It is no wonder then, that by the time the group is bringing the house lights down, these volunteers have vested themselves into providing the best festival experience for the patron. There is a sense of pride that this is THEIR festival they are sharing with YOU, and the AJC-ATL is thrilled that you are there to see what they have found!

For the closing night film, the AJFF presented BART GOT A ROOM (dir. Brian Hecker, USA, 2008, 80 mins.). Though the film tries a bit too hard to be quirky, it does feature an exceptional cast, staring William H. Macy and Cheryl Hines as the separated parents to Steven Kaplan, who is in desperate need of a prom date. Written and directed in the same vein as the current glut of Apatow & Rogen romantic comedies, the film is pleasant enough, though it is just a bit too nice, which is the predicament of its main character. The production design continued to throw me off, as I simply was not sure what period it was set, since the costume and character designs for Macy and Hines are so extreme, it wreaked of 1980s kitsch. The film climaxes at The Prom, which in itself is thematic enough to send an audience out to a celebration of another successful festival. The Closing Night party followed the screening.

Maxxxxx says
re AJFF: "Woooooo!"

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Wednesday, January 28, 2009


SCHOOLBOY CRUSH (fka Boys Love) (dir. Kôtarô Terauchi, Japan, 2006, 90 mins.) TLA Video has just released Kôtarô Terauchi's BOYS LOVE under the title SCHOOLBOY CRUSH. I'm not sure of the reasoning there, as BOYS LOVE seems to have quite a following and changing the title upon release seems odd. Anyway... After viewing SCHOOLBOY CRUSH, which I will admit I was skeptical about at best, if not out right reluctant as yaoi is not really my cup of tea, I was reasonably surprised by the quality of the film making, though the melodrama was typical of the genre. (Oh, I don't mean to be elitist: yaoi is gay anime, for lack of a better explanation.) The cinematography is gorgeous and dreamlike, whether it is in the showers (which there seems to be a LOT of) or out on the rugby pitch. The editing is sharp, particularly during the rugby matches. Costume and hair design are all soap opera gloss, which is really the end result: a glossy, beautiful soap opera.

The setting is a Japanese boys boarding school. In fact, there is not a single female in the production. However, there is still a lot of lovin' going on between the boys, as well as the involvement of one of the teachers. There is a surprising lack of heterosexual influence in the school, as the various triangles are generally accepted. In the center of everyone's affections is a new transfer student, who has been coiffed to nearly Michael Jackson extremes. This was a big disconnect for me, as I neither found him attractive or that appealing. So I never bought into why he should inspire such passion, lust, danger and all that resulting HIGH DRAMA. However, as a viewing exercise, the film is short enough that I could keep myself interested in the visual adaption of the yaoi aesthetic.

The DVD transfer is CRYSTAL clear! In fact, almost too much so during the rugby matches as there was some artifact and strobe present. The sound design is fine, if not fairly unremarkable. There are no significant extras beyond the trailer, a stills gallery and TLA Video trailers. It is available at TLA Video at the reasonable price of $15.99.

Maxxxxx says
re SCHOOLBOY CRUSH: "Is it time for shower?"

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Tuesday, January 27, 2009


GUTTERBALLS (dir. Ryan Nicholson, USA, 2008, 94 mins.) Ryan Nicholson has nearly brilliantly created a 1980's exploitation, rape revenge, gore fest! However, it is NOT an easy screening! He treads the line of being unwatchable, yet his pacing, editing and production design never fails to keep your attention. Those first 6 minutes (the epilogue before the main titles) tests one's adaptability to the style. It is an exceptionally awkward start, that is in the style of the mix of genres Nicholson is toying with. However, it is a bit unfortunate that the performances begin with such a stutter that it raises more red flags than it does excitement. Once the main titles roll, though, the film just LAUNCHES into an extremely explicit and nasty, twenty minute rape scene. It is the length and detail which the scene firmly sets the film in the "exploitation" genre, not unlike the classic I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE. After this initial event, Nicholson makes a slightly awkward transition to the maniac inspired gore fest. The film then begins a parade of sick humored, if not inspired series of GRUESOME murders. Even the psycho's costume rocks!

Nicholson has extensive experience in prosthetic makeup and physical effects, which he displays with unashamed abandon here! The level of professionalism in makeup effects goes a long way in bringing the production up a notch and reinforces the near-parody style that is slamming away on screen. Nicholson has pushed his cast to near amateurish extremes, however the intensity level that they maintain throughout, actually speaks to their skills. Even when they are being "bad actors", they perform with such dedication that the cast clearly fills Nicholson's creation of "an accident you can't look away from". The language is so incredibly obscene that it creates a visceral audible image. The sound design by Benjamin MacDonald, with a score by Patrick Coble and Gianni Rossi, is especially remarkable in invoking 1980's disco, yet balanced with the machinery of the bowling alley, and the accompanying screaming, that fills the set. Nicholson uses the Xcalibur Lanes in all it's neon and glo-lite glory! I was surprised by the depth of the color in the background and his humorous use of the neon colored bowling balls.

There are a number of extras that speak to Nicholson's professionalism. The Making Of Featurette, running at nearly 45 minutes, seemed daunting at first. However, it was actually pretty entertaining and contained some nice behind the scenes trivia. It also revealed the cast to be more humane than anything they portray in the film. There is also a screen specific commentary from Nicholson. However, the interesting points that he raises there are also in the featurette and the rest of it is typical "motivation exposition", which I've always felt was redundant. (I.E., "this is where Bob begins to lose it... etc...") There is the trailer as well as large group of TLA Video trailers.

The video transfer is suitably rough, which reinforces the grindhouse feel of the piece. That said, the color correction keeps the scenic design popping and there are no losses in the shadows or grays. The sound design, as stated earlier, is exceptionally balanced - no whispers and booms!

In the end, I can HEARTEDLY recommend GUTTERBALLS to gore-fest freaks! However, it is NOT for the faint of heart...! It is available at TLA

Maxxxxx says
re GUTTERBALLS: "Cranky bird!"

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Friday, January 23, 2009

Entre les murs, aka THE CLASS

THE CLASS (Entre les murs)" (dir. Laurent Cantet, France, 2008, 128 mins.) Announced as an Academy Award Nominee for Best Foreign Language Film for 2008, from France (as well as this year's winner of the Palm d'Or at Cannes), Laurent Cantet's film has received nearly as much notice for its method as its result. Cantet gathered a group of teenagers to improvise a year long cinema verite' of life in a classroom, under the tutelage of François Bégaudeau, author of the book Entre les Murs (Between the Walls), which the film is based on. It is an unusual film that lends itself to study, as it contains layers of topics. There is the multi-cutural group of kids, representing France's immigrant culture; the rapid fire discourse of French language (which is quite the topic there); the power struggle between teacher, class and administration; and all of this is presented in rapid fire dialogue! There are points that I began to tire from trying to keep up! I wished there was a silent moment or a pause, but the energy of the class is non-stop. It is a film predominantly about language and how to communicate it. In fact, the climax is set off by the use of the word "skank". The classroom itself almost becomes a pressure cooker, with only a few select moments outside of it, meaning in the principal's office or in the yard, as the film never leaves the grounds. Parents are brought in and not viewed from home.

François Bégaudeau gives a performance reflecting the frustration he must have faced (or faces now?) as a teacher. And the students are all frightening convincing in their roles, however much Cantet has interviewed that these were true performances of their alter-egos. Particular stand-outs are Esmeralda Ouertani and Franck Keita (Sandra and Souleymane, respectively). They are both fiercely protrayed: she obnoxiously so, he in quiet anger. The rest of the huge cst fill thier roles as participants and spectators to the central conflicts between teacher and Sandra and Souleymane. And most interestingly, the teacher is NOT the savior of these young minds, but an ambiguous, if nearly trivial part of their education. I would dare to say that some educators may come away angered or depressed by the final moment as the year comes to an end. However, that intentional divergence from classroom heroics is what lends THE CLASS its power.

Maxxxxx says
re THE CLASS: unintelligible, but excited chatter!

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Sounds like FUN to me in a almost-near-Bollywood in SF way, mebbe?

January 22, 2009
Please forward, repost, distribute

Rostam fo Bibi|SF

LGBTQ Middle-Eastern, North Africans Celebrate the Month of Love!
Proceeds Benefitting Middle-Eastern Children's Alliance and Palestine!

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - San Francisco's Premiere Queer South West Asian (aka Middle-Eastern), North African Charitable Party celebrates its seventh mega event on Saturday, February 7th at Club 6ix!

Bibi is a local, community initiated, grassroots, club event that brings together and celebrates queer South West Asian, North African (S.W.A.N.A.) people and friends while contributing proceeds to charitable causes that positively impact our community. This is Bibi's seventh quarterly event since our June 2007 inception.

Resident DJs Emancipacion & Cheon will be joined by guest DJ Masood! Partygoears can expect to hear current and classic hip shaking Middle-Eastern, North African, and international tracks.

Bibi is excited to feature the one of a kind queer hip hop emcee duo "NaR!" NaR, which means "fire" in Arabic, is a bay area hip hop crew hailing from the mountains of Lebanon. Bennu and Tru Bloo are committed to spreading truth through the spoken word, and rap about many issues that are relevant to our time, including racism, homophobia, sexism, imperialism, and the global Diaspora. They have rocked stages from Vancouver to Brooklyn and recently toured with Mangos with Chili 2008.

What: Bibi
From Middle-East n' North Africa with Love

Where: Club 6ix, 60 Sixth Street @ Market, San Francisco

When: Saturday, February 7. Doors open at 9 pm, 21 and up

Who: Featured performance by the Queer Arab Hip Hop Duo "NaR"
Featured classy sexy Go Go Dancing by Caroline Lund,
Ms. Cherry Galette, Dirty Phoenix Kid Persia & Aymoon
Featured mixmasters DJ Emancipacion, DJ Masood & DJ Cheon

Cost: $15
Proceeds donated to Middle-Eastern Children's Alliance

Proceeds from this event will be donated to the Middle-Eastern Children's Alliance (MECA) based in Berkeley, CA. "the Middle East Children's Alliance is a registered nonprofit organization working for the rights and the well being of children in the Middle East. MECA sends shipments of aid to Palestine, Iraq and Lebanon, and supports projects that make life better for the children."

"We are very excited about returning to Club 6ix and coming together to celebrate and share our queer and middle-eastern heritage! We are proud to be donating proceeds to MECA in hopes of alleviating the recent devastation experienced in Palestine. Bibi promises to be another all out hip shakin' party until the last record stops!" exclaimed Rostam, co-executive producer of Bibi.

Bibi is fiscally sponsored by the San Francisco LGBT Pride Celebration Committee and was recognized as a San Francisco Pride Official Event in 2007 & 2008.
# # #

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Thursday, January 22, 2009

Atlanta Jewish Film Festival 2009 - Day 7

The Atlanta Jewish Film Festival graciously sent me a HUGE ENVELOPE of screeners of nearly the ENTIRE festival! (One must be careful for what one asks for!) The festival continues at the LaFont Sandy Springs, until Sunday, January 25, 2009.

HOLY LAND HARDBALL (dirs. Erik Kesten and Brett Rapkin, USA, 2008, 84 mins.) This is a documentary, in what I found to be near intricate detail, of the formation of the Israel Baseball League. It is a sport that the natives do not seem to have even heard of, much less how to play, so the influx of participants, from owners to players, are immigrants. There is a lot of material to be covered here, and the film does attempt that. If you are into the minutia that seems to be the heart of baseball. (OK, you can tell, I am not really a fan beyond "sunning in the decks with a beer".) It's a perfectly fine structure for a documentary, but really aimed at the deep seated fan.

DEATH IN LOVE (dir. Boaz Yakin, USA, 2008, 100 mins.) Well, this certainly is a bit of a shocker, considering the cast: Jacqueline Bisset, Josh Lucas and Lukas Haas plays the mother and her sons in a truly disfunctional family. The abuse that Bisset's character received by her neglectful parents, as well as the extreme abuse in a WWII prison (which is so GRAPHICALLY presented to the point it made ME flinch!), has been passed down to her sons. Josh Lucas is a sadomasochist whose proclivities are surprisingly explicitly portrayed. Lukas Haas is the younger son who is neurotically attached to his mother and a piano. In the midst of all of this, there is a little bit of comic relief from Adam Brody, a co-worker in Josh Lucas' model agency scam. Even though it is not a pleasant experience, and there is a lot of unhappy sex and unhappy relationships, the earnest attempts at Oscar-worthy moments of tantrums and self-directed angst keeps it from ever being DULL!

On the other handGRUBER'S JOURNEY (dir. Radu Gabrea, Hungary/Romania, 2008, 100 mins.), is so civilized for the most of its story, that the slow and exceptionally conversation journey into the pogrom of Romania actually makes the final shot and epilogue even more effective. Based on the true life story of Curzio Malaparte (played by Florin Piersic Jr.), an Italian journalist who is suffering from a debilitating allergy, searches for his Jewish specialist that will lead him into the heart of the Romanian departation to the holocaust and inspire him to author Kaputt, considered "perhaps the first important literary treatment of the Holocaust." However, it is a long and static road to that moment. Malaparte must work his way through a labyrinth of records and bureaucracy in trying to find the missing doctor and these scenes are almost all shot in one for the length of the exchange. It feels very "stagebound"; It is stylishly designed and elegantly performed. . However, the are a few cinematic touches that are so sparsingly applied, I think that director Radu Gabrea was only trying to express the internal shock Malaparte was feeling upon discovering the truth behind the exportation of Jews.

Maxxxxx says
re HOLY LAND HARDBALL: "Is it naptime?"
re DEATH IN LOVE: "Such a mean bird!"
RE GRUBER'S JOURNEY: [silently clicking beak]

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Berlin and Beyond 2009 - Closing Night

The Goethe-Institut San Francisco's annual festival of films from Germany, Austria and Switzerland, affectionately titled Berlin and Beyond came to a close tonight at the Castro Theatre with a lighthearted little film and reception afterward.

Executive director, Rudolf de Baey gave another of what could become his typically trademark, quirky introductions. I am not clear as to what his opening anecdote about how warm it was on Saturday in San Francisco and the 300 (I could have sworn he said they were nude) people in Dolores Park was about. Then he led the audience into opening their cell phones and programing a calendar reminder for next year's Berlin and Beyond on January 14, 2010. I think this quirkiness would bug me more, if not for his unbridled enthusiasm! He then introduced the ever soberly delightful Artistic Director, Ingrid Eggers. She proceeded into the traditional list of acknowledgments and thank yous before announcing the Audience Award Winner: EVET (JUST SAY YES), which I did not see. argh. The runners ups were, #2 THE WAVE (its Student Screening obviously pushed the film, which is its intended audience, I guess..) and #3 LA PALOMA (another I missed!) Personally, of what I saw, CLOUD 9, was my favorite! Eggers then introduced tonight's film and the guest, actor Jan Henrik Stahlberg, who was exceptionally brief and invited us to stay for the Q&A afterward.

MELODIES OF SPRING (MÄRZMELODIE) (dir. Martin Walz, Germany, 2008, 89 mins.) Well, Rudolf de Baey's quirky little introduction of the night was surprisingly appropriate for this quirkly little film. It is a musical (something that Ingrid Eggers joked that Germany really doesn't produce), but not really in that MAMA MIA sense, but more appropriately for the culture, in the style of Dennis Potter (THE SINGING DETECTIVE). Snippets of pop music are abruptly cut into the dialogue as the ensemble of characters struggle their way through their relationships and work. The cast is almost universally appealing, which may be its best and worst aspect. There are no real villains in the piece. Though that keeps it from falling into melodrama, it also makes the relatively short 89 minutes seem longer, as the lack of over whelming conflict lends the piece a very episodic structure. I would hesitate on editing out a subplot, though, as it is the encompassing whole of the ensemble's work which is engaging and sort of enchanting. Also, of the various plots and characters, it would be difficult to decide which of their stories to expand. There is a fragility in the characters that complements the short stories they are a part of, and it is a credit to writer and director Martin Walz that he has been able to weave them together. Now, as I am thinking about it, the film does compare to LOVE, ACTUALLY in dramatic structure. (It would be a lengthy, and perhaps inappropriate, analysis here to detail why LOVE, ACTUALLY was able to support its 140 minute length and MELODIES OF SPRING does not support nearly half that.) However, I don't want to sound too dismissive! MELODIES OF SPRING is an enjoyable movie and a nice, light way to end a festival that included some heavy subject matter.

I did not stay for the Q&A after the film (I have no questions!), but scampered upstairs for the reception, which was so much more navigational than opening night and featured a fabulous German potato salad that I must learn to replicate, and a tray of chocolates from at least four different companies, that sent me out into the rain on a high!

Maxxxxx says
re MELODIES OF SPRING: "Dooby doobye dooo-ooo!"

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Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Berlin and Beyond 2009 - Day 6

The Goethe-Institut San Francisco's annual festival of films from Germany, Austria and Switzerland, affectionately titled Berlin and Beyond continues its week long stay at the Castro Theatre until Wednesday, January 21, 2009.

First, in the spirit of full disclosure, I saw PALMERO SHOOTING at the press conference announcing Berlin and Beyond and I was not at this evening's screening (I took the "day off" for Obama Day!), which honored director Wim Wenders with the Award for Lifetime Achievement in Directing. Also, I must confess that I am not a Wim Wenders "fan" either. However, I do have a report (anonymous and unedited until I receive permission) from an attendee:

"this guy is a nut job and a half. plus he mumbles into the mike. sorry if that's un-pc. the usual groupies who worship at his feeet filled the castro saturday night -- they were trolling for seats -- balcony was loaded!

he said it made up for his first showing at the pfa 30 years ago (tom luddy invited him) ..t hey showed his first three films (in reverse order) and my the last one .. there was no one in the audience AND the projectionist had left (he couldnt even turn the damn film off!).

i am sooooooooooooooooooooo glad I saw Kings of the Road .. .it was suuper, but after seeing the doc on him (just before palermo shooting) boy did i (and others) get an earful of insight on him! in kings of road he was obviously (even without seeing doc) working out his angst with his father. hoo boy! couldnt he at least have seen a jungian instead of spending eight years in freudian analysis? yes yes I know filmmakers do work out much of their angst int heir filmmaking ... buuuuuuuuuuuuuuut palermo shooting was beautiful and the lead actor (big rock star in germany) was a hottie and then some ... and it had some good stuff, but waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay too much existentialism for me (I hate hate sartre ((and de beauvoir)) ....and had some really embarrassing scenes (ghost speaking) and dennis hopper is getting too iconic for his own good. sigh."

My view of PALERMO SHOOTING (dir. Wim Wenders, Germany, 2008, 108 mins.) As I said, I am not a Wenders fan. I find him a bit pretentious or precious, depending on how you might regard his pre-occupation of anthropomorphizing death. That said, he does have an eye for casting. Campino (apparently a German rock star that I am unfamiliar with) is unusually attractive, in sort of a post punk way. The production design and settings in Düsseldorf and Palermo are also gorgeous! My qualm with the film is the inclusion of Death as played by Dennis Hopper, which feels almost cliche', if not forced. It is not all that different in theme from Bergman's SEVENTH SEAL, really, though Bergman's ability to mythologize is so complete, that the game against Death doesn't seem as contrived. As much as it is out of my character, I think I would have preferred a standard romance between Campino and the object of his affection, Giovanna Mezzogiorno.

Maxxxxx says

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Atlanta Jewish Film Festival 2009 - Day 6

The Atlanta Jewish Film Festival graciously sent me a HUGE ENVELOPE of screeners of nearly the ENTIRE festival! (One must be careful for what one asks for!) The festival continues at the LaFont Sandy Springs, until Sunday, January 25, 2009.

DIAMOND ROAD (dirs. Nisha Pahuja and Manfred Becker, Canada, 2007, 99 mins.) Though the subject matter of tracing the path of the diamond industry sounded a bit dry, it was instead totally engrossing! This documentary tosses in the added counterpoint of the attempts at a "fair trade" diamond trade to address the incredible inequity of the wages earned at the diamond digs compared to the multi-million dollar product they are "farming". The film is a world wide travelogue and fascinating economic expose of each step of the product: from the poverty stricken mines in Sierra Leone, to the middle class rough cutters in India, to the finishers and traders in Antwerp and their final destinations at the millionaire phoned-in auctions and the MULTI-million dollar fashion runways of New York. The directors have done an excellent job of putting human faces on what is a particularly object oriented industry. One of the central characters of the film is Martin Rapaport, an Orthodox Jew who witnessed the tragedies of Sierra Leone and feels compelled to try to empower its poverty stricken populace with fair trade diamond mining, even in the face of the government's reluctance. The film also profiles one of the rough cutters in India, a 10-year old boy whose family pride towards his apprenticeship is palpable. There is also some extended footage of the high-end traders in Antwerp and New York as they play with the numbers for their anonymous buyers. in fact, for such a high profile product, it is ironic that the end-users are what is anonymous and conspicuously missing. If anything that takes this excellent documentary into the area of opinion/editorial, it is the absence of the wealthiest link in this chain and what is their purpose in spending the millions of dollars they do for these tiny little polished rocks.

FOUL GESTURE (dir. Tzahi Grad, Israel, 2006, 98 mins.) Sometimes, when you see that it has taken more than a couple of years for a film to travel from its homeland to the foreign fests, this can raise a red flag. FOUL GESTURE has taken three years to make it over here, not so mention to a lack of quality in production and performances, but because it is not really overly remarkable for the foreign markets. It could be regarded as another "milquetoast goes vindictive" melodrama. In fact, the character arc is portrayed with some extremity that I found a bit annoying. His passivity during the early scenes is almost annoyed me as much as it does his wife. She is a bit too acerbic to take so early in the film, but it is sort of understandable considering how inept the husband is. His passage into vengeance reaches melodrama since the target for his anger is a mobster, a situation that I found stretched credibility, particularly in its selection in a such a fine film festival setting.

Maxxxxx says
re DIAMOND ROAD: "Such a pretty bird!"
re FOUL GESTURE: "Is it bedtime?"

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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Atlanta Jewish Film Festival 2009 - Day 5

The Atlanta Jewish Film Festival graciously sent me a HUGE ENVELOPE of screeners of nearly the ENTIRE festival! (One must be careful for what one asks for!) The festival continues at the LaFont Sandy Springs, until Sunday, January 25, 2009.

FOUR SEASONS LODGE (dir. Andrew Jacobs, USA, 2008, 101 mins.)From the festival catalogue: "...captures the final season of a community of Holocaust survivors who summer together at one of the few remaining Catskills bungalow colonies. For decades, these families have returned to the lush New York mountains to share stories of survival, cheerful meals and late evenings filled with music, dance and comedy. There are friendships, rivalries, love affairs, and even lawsuits. Far from the darkness of Europe's death camps, this uplifting portrait presents a cast of characters who embrace their sorrowful past with surprising candor and humor. Directed by New York Times reporter Andrew Jacobs and handsomely photographed by Albert Maysles (Grey Gardens), FOUR SEASONS LODGE is a last chance to visit a dwindling world of exceptional men and women who triumphed over Hitler's Final Solution." And frankly, I can't say it better myself!

ONE DAY YOU'LL UNDERSTAND (dir. Amos Gitaï,France/Germany/Israel, 2008, 90 mins.) This is a very difficult film to access, particularly in the context of a festival. At least for me, it was. I would love to take some time, alone with it. There is so much going on in Amos Gitai's layered and dense character study of a man and his mother, reflecting on the Nazi occupation of France, as Klaus Barbie is brought to trial in Paris. Gitai's structure is particularly dense, as the trial is always on in the background, via radio and tv, as it spurs Hippolyte Girardot to explore his grandparents' lives during the occupation. Jeanne Moreau is her typically, incredible self as his grandmother. It is a deliberately paced and intricately woven story as the two characters slowly come to grips with a past that occurred forty years earlier. I plan on giving it another screening, as I don't think I fully appreciated it the first time.

SONS OF SAKHNIN UNITED (dirs. Alexander H. Browne and Christopher Browne, USA, 2007, 84 mins.) The topic of this documentary is the struggle of an Arab majority soccer team in the Israel Soccer League, and its struggle to represent its mixed populace at the national finals. It's pretty basic and was never really dull, but you do need to be a soccer fan to appreciate the nuances of the players positions on the team and the details of how team places work, I think. I was not necessarily left with the feeling of "national unity that goes beyond ideology" that would be the film's thesis. However, it kept my attention...

Maxxxxx says
re FOUR SEASONS LODGE: "Dooby dooby doo-ooo"
re ONE DAY YOU'LL UNDERSTAND: "I love you too"
re SONS of SAKHNIN UNITED: "Woooooo!"

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Monday, January 19, 2009

Berlin and Beyond 2009 - Day 5

The Goethe-Institut San Francisco's annual festival of films from Germany, Austria and Switzerland, affectionately titled Berlin and Beyond continues its week long stay at the Castro Theatre until Wednesday, January 21, 2009.

COME IN AND BURN OUT (SELBSTGESPRÄCHE) (dir. André Erkau, Germany, 2008, 96 mins.) This is an enjoyable little comedy, that actually feels like a sit-com. In fact, even at the relatively short running time of an hour and a half, it still felt a bit long. The situation is set in a telecommunications sales call center (think, "Hello, this is Comcast calling!") and goes outside of the cubicle farm with the employees. The plot structure really lends itself to exploring each situation in a 60 minute block to be more effective and not as trivialized as the whole felt here. The performances are all well defined, though in that near stereotypical manner that the format requires. The script does not rely on gags or punchlines, but on the relationships between the co-workers and to some degree, their significant others outside of their jobs. I think that had it not felt like a television series pilot, I would have been able to enjoy it more on its own merits. But as it is, I did feel like I was being sold something, not unlike one of the unseen customers on the other end of the call center's lines.

HOLLYWOOD SPEAKS GERMAN (a special presentation by Stefan Droessler, Director of Film Museum Munich) Stefan Droessler, Director of the Film Museum Munich, gave a presentation about the awkward period for early sound film, 1929 - 1933, in which studios were so excited to capitalize on "the talkies" that they struggled with the technology to sell product in foreign languages. Since sound recording was done on Vitaphone during that period, the soundtrack had to be laid while filming. There were very unsuccessful attempts at intertitles and early dubbing (this was before magnetic tape was available), so the alternative quickly became apparent: reshoot the film in the other language. This sometimes called for complete cast changes (the photo shows the five principal actors used in a John Wayne film - Wayne being center),or using bilingual stars, or at its most awkward, having the star deliver the lines in phonetics. Droessler came to the festival with a selection of samples of each of those scenarios, which were sort of fascinating. The topic is sort of fascinating, though it was covered in greater detail than what may have been necessary. (During the Q&A, it was obvious that some of the major points got lost on the audience.) However, though it was a bit overlong, it was a cool way to precede the next program.

THE BLUE ANGEL (DER BLAUE ENGEL) (dir. Josef von Sternberg, Germany, 1930, 101 mins.) This was a RARE print of the English language shooting of Josef von Sternberg's classic, mostly notable for introducing Marlene Dietrich to the world. Quite fortunately for her, she spoke English too, so the casting of her and Emil Jannings remained intact for the English production. Actually, Sternberg took unusual advantage of the plot of the film (Jannings is an English Language teacher and Dietrich an emigre performer) in which Jannings and Dietrich were nearly the only actors speaking English (as they carry nearly the entire film!), while surrounded by German speakers and mute performers, whose roles are so obvious that they do not need translation. And it really isn't about anyone else, but the relationship between Jannings and Dietrich, anyway! This print of the film was PRISTINE! It looked incredible! It was nearly a revelation to see how and why Dietrich made such a huge debut! (Apparently, Paramount in Hollywood, signed her to a contract based on the dailies alone.) I'm thinking that if this version were available on disc, it would be a keeper!

Maxxxxx says
re COME IN AND BURN OUT: "Hello? Hello!"
re BLUE ANGEL: "Dooby dooby doo-ooo"

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Berlin and Beyond 2009 - Day 4

The Goethe-Institut San Francisco's annual festival of films from Germany, Austria and Switzerland, affectionately titled Berlin and Beyond continues its week long stay at the Castro Theatre until Wednesday, January 21, 2009.

I was a bit of a slacker today as I only attended a single program: the program of short subjects, and even at that, I dozed off a bit... This year, the program features ten short films, two of which were animated. It was introduced by "Tim, the intern", who exhibited as perfected a dry humor as his boss, Ingrid Eggers: "I am an intern, which means I have spent four months in a room watching short subjects," and these are the best of the lot.

BENDE SIRA – ICH BIN DRAN (dir. Ismet Ergün, Germany, 2007, 11 mins.) There couldn't be a better way to start the program than this charming story of a group of boys who "compete" to see who gets to see a movie, as the boys can only afford to have one go. It is set in Istanbul, and is in Turkish, but without subtitles, as the story is so universal in action and emotion, it does not need translation. It was affectionate without crossing that horrid line into "cute"!

Due to reasons apparently beyond my control, and with no fault of the work themselves, I actually dozed off during the next two pieces: THE GIRL WITH THE YELLOW STOCKINGS (dir. Grzegorz Muskala, Germany, 2008, 6 mins.) and DIE BEGEGNUNG (dir. Susan Schimk, Germany, 2008, 7 mins.). I hate it when that happens!

BIG PLANS (GROSSE PLÄNE)(dir. Irmgard Walthert, Switzerland, 2008, 4 mins.) This was the first of the two animated pieces. Though it has an appealing visual style, I have to admit I sort of miss the joke. It is available via quicktime player at the link above, so you can see for yourself and perhaps fill me in...

FELIX (dir. Andreas Utta, Germany, 2008, 20 mins.) Internet dating for the pre-teen crowd? Apparently, and it appears that "dating games" start early! The two young performers, Max Wrobel and Jella Alpert are pretty extraordinary given that they have such a short time to convey their characters surprising depth. She is deaf and he is hearing, and they meet via a chat room where he pretends to be deaf as well, even when they meet. Conflict ensues, of course, but the two actors handle it with such maturity that I was completely absorbed!

SOMMERSONNTAG (dir. Sigi Kamml, Austria, 2008, 10 mins.) An almost cruel and unbearable drama in which a "guard at a huge lift bridge has to make a wrenching decision between sacrifcing his deaf son or a train filled with hundreds of passengers." However, it is extremely effective! The editing is nearly ruthless and in its brief 10 minutes, does more than some full length features aspire to.

DOG FOOD (HUNDEFUTTER (dir. Till Kleinert, Germany, 2007, 15 mins.) This is an exceptionally quirky little film in which a pair of decidedly dislikable characters are introduced, yet director Till Kleinert still manages to provide a punchline. On a dare, a young man breaks into an elderly woman's house and must retrieve a "souvenir", as it were. I can't say that hilarity ensues, as it does get very dark before it bursts open with a good chuckle.

SAMSA – HOMMAGE AN KAFKA (dir. Rene Lange, Germany, 2008, 4 mins.) Quoted from the program: "A nightmarish sequence depicting a cockroach at a type writer." It's an amazing looking animated short, which gave me the creeps!

ILLUSION (dir. Burhan Qurbani, Germany, 2007, 9 mins.) This was a surprisingly engaging drama about a woman who is unable to let go off her job as a "conductor" on Berlin's subway system. Or at least that is how I would describe it. Though none of the characters are that necessarily appealing, the twists and turns of the script kept me quite involved.

ON THE LINE (AUF DER STRECKE) (dir. Reto Caffi, Switzerland, 2007, 30 mins.) This short crosses that quirky little time standard I have, that as you approach thirty minutes, then are you really aiming at something that should be expanded to feature length, or do you edit down to a reasonable short length? In this case, I think Reto Caffi could have ended the film around 10 minutes earlier with a near shocking O'Henry twist. However, he continues on to achieve a more complete resolution, which actually ends with a very ambiguous final shot. I do believe he has a reasonable feature length film here, as the relationship between the store security guard and one of the cashiers could have been further explored, especially considering the "error in judgment" that the guard makes. The editing of the "crisis moment" is exceptionally well done. The performers are unusually appealing, in that they break the mold as far as the American physical aesthetic is concerned. I think that Caffi just needs to make a decision as to the future of his screenplay here, which seems to be pretty bright, as he won a special Oscar from the Student Academy Awards for Foreign Language Film.

Maxxxxx says
re SAMSA – HOMMAGE AN KAFKA: Freaked him out!

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Atlanta Jewish Film Festival 2009 - Day 4

The Atlanta Jewish Film Festival graciously sent me a HUGE ENVELOPE of screeners of nearly the ENTIRE festival! (One must be careful for what one asks for!) The festival continues at the LaFont Sandy Springs, until Sunday, January 25, 2009.

WE WERE EXODUS (dir. Jean-Michel Vecchiet, France, 2007, 80 mins.) is a collection of interviews of passengers, crewmen and other witnesses to the voyage of Exodus, which attempted to transport 4,500 "illegal" emigrants to Palestine, in July 1947. The story itself is dramatic enough that the reliance on "talking heads" is not as ineffective as it might have been. I think that there could have been some structural shaping of the interviews that would make the story clearer, though. At one point, I became a bit confused with the roles of the interviewees. The testimony of witnesses and participants gets a bit muddled together. I think there might be a stronger impact if the interviews were edited a bit tighter within the timeline of events. In otherwords, if the narrative were more directly delivered by participants without stepping out of the first person narrative for commentary from the witnesses at the ports. However, I do understand the structure as-is as it applies to the finale that Vecchiet conceives. I just think that it would be as effective if not more so, to bring those parties together only at the end, as opposed to the intercutting throughout the documentary.

WILL EISNER: PORTRAIT OF A SEQUENTIAL ARTIST (dir. Andrew D. Cooke, USA, 2007, 98 mins.) Will Eisner is one of the groundbreaking, if not the grandfather of the "graphic novel", aka comic books, his masterpiece being "The Spirit". The film is a bit busy with narration and graphics, as nearly everybody who is anybody in the comics world are interviewed about Eisner's contribution to the art and the industry. To avoid the "talking head syndrome", director Cooke has illustrated the interviews with examples of Eisner's art. (This would be the best opportunity for a DVD that should have a "photo gallery" in its extra features!) Being something of a "graphic novel neophyte", I did find it fascinating to see the faces behind the art, too. I also think that the piece has a broader interest for artists and those in the "business" of the creative arts, in the exploration of how Eisner handled the business aspect of his work, particularly in the maintaining ownership and licensing of his work. Also, there is some coverage of the discrimination that Jewish graphic artists faced in the 1930's and '40's, which is what forced a number of artists, including Eisner, into the area of self distributing their work to the daily papers, where they found their audience.

SKIN (dir. Hanro Smitsman, Netherlands, 2008, 85 mins.) Robert de Hoog gives a powerful performance as a troubled teenager who falls into a group of Neo-Nazis. However, as exceptional as de Hoog's performance is, the script is not. Playing out as a flashback during his arrest and interrogation is almost too much of a spoiler to the tragedy that will enfold. In essence, it shortcuts the character's evolution. Though dramatically it plays the role of the "ticking bomb", as we wait to see when he will finally explode, I think it would have been more effective to observe the transformation without spoiling the element of surprise of where he will eventually end. The structure is not unlike the safety net that made-for-tv provides its audiences by letting them know where this is headed and making it an easier journey. By undercutting the audience's journey with the character's passage, it seems to trivialize the events leading up to "the moment".

Maxxxxx says
re WE WERE EXODUS: "I'll be back."
re WILL EISNER: "Woooooo...!"
re SKIN: "Such a mean bird!"

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