Monday, June 18, 2018

“The Film Became About What Growing Up in the Midst of a War Does to a Child… ”: Simon Lereng Wilmont on The Distant Barking of Dogs

I discovered Simon Lereng Wilmont’s The Distant Barking of Dogs, a poetic look at everyday life on the frontline of the War in Donbass — as seen through the eyes of a 10-year-old Ukrainian boy who lives with his grandmother in the warzone — at IDFA last November. After nabbing the First Appearance Award at that prestigious festival, it went on to win the Student Jury Award (from an all-kids jury) at the Docudays UA fest, where I watched as the Danish director appeared onstage only to quickly step aside so that the young protagonist and his entire family, having traveled all the way from Donetsk to Kiev, could accept the award instead.

Serendipitously, I ended up meeting and chatting with the humble inquisitive filmmaker between post-fest flights back to Schengen territory. And now thanks to the Human Rights Watch Film Festival, where the doc will be having its NYC premiere today, I’ve found the perfect excuse to continue that intriguing conversation.

Filmmaker spoke with Lereng Wilmont prior to the June 18th (Film Society of Lincoln Center) and June 19th (IFC Center) screenings.

To read my interview visit Filmmaker magazine.

Friday, June 15, 2018

“Making a Good Movie Has to Come from the Heart, Not from a Mental Understanding of an Issue”: Matthieu Rytz on Anote’s Ark

Premiering at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, Matthieu Rytz’s Anote’s Ark follows the international, one-man crusade of Anote Tong, president of Kiribati. That island republic is situated smack in the middle of the Pacific with an indigenous population — exemplified here by Sermary, a young mother of six forced to choose between family and a future in New Zealand — poised to lose their 4,000 year-old way of life as climate change will soon cause the entire country to disappear into the ocean. As the title implies, Tong is less concerned with saving Kiribati itself — he’s painfully aware it’s too late for such fanciful idealism — than in a mass relocation of its citizens to a new shared homeland. That, and in sounding the alarm that Kiribati is merely the canary in a global coalmine.

Filmmaker spoke with the Swiss director, who trained as a visual anthropologist before turning to photography and documentary work, prior to the doc’s NYC premiere at the Human Rights Watch Film Festival (June 15th at the IFC Center, June 18th at the Film Society of Lincoln Center).

To read my interview visit Filmmaker magazine.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Friday, May 11, 2018

“It’s Kind of Heartbreaking Sometimes to See Actors Try So Hard”: Leon Vitali on the Acting Profession and His Stanley Kubrick Doc, Filmworker

Filmworker, the title of Tony Zierra’s Cannes 2017-premiering portrait of Leon Vitali, is a term coined by the subject himself, probably still best known for his portrayal of Lord Bullingdon in Barry Lyndon. But the former British TV star, who set aside his rising career to spend three decades as Stanley Kubrick’s behind the scenes right-hand man (and more), seems to have never fallen out of love with the acting craft.

Indeed, chatting with Kubrick’s actors’ coach/location scout/sound engineer/marketer — and current film restorer — one gets the sense that every role Kubrick tasked Vitali with was just that, a new “role.” Filmmaker spoke by phone with Vitali about his life as an actor outside the spotlight a week before Filmworker’s US premiere (at Metrograph in NYC on May 11th and Nuart in LA on May 18th, with a national rollout to follow).

To read the rest of my long and winding interview visit Filmmaker magazine.

Doc Star of the Month: Leon Vitali, Tony Zierra's ‘Filmworker'

Leon Vitali has spent his entire working life devoted to a single cause: the cinematic vision of Stanley Kubrick. After landing the role of Lord Bullingdon in Barry Lyndon, the well-known British TV star stepped out of the spotlight to become what he terms a "filmworker," doing whatever was necessary to ensure Kubrick’s next masterwork would come to fruition. From casting (he found Danny Lloyd for The Shining), coaching actors and scouting locations in pre-production, to color-correcting and sound-engineering in post, to marketing and promotion, and now restoration, there was no job too big or too small for Vitali to tackle. (Once, he even set up surveillance cameras to keep an eye on Kubrick's beloved dying cat.)

And now, through a combination of unvarnished interviews and archival footage, documentarian Tony Zierra has created a thorough portrait of this beyond-the-call-of-duty man, while also exposing the blood, sweat, tears and creative exhilaration that make up a life behind the scenes.

Documentary had the honor of speaking with the unconventional Vitali a week prior to the US release of Zierra's Filmworker (May 11 at NYC’s Metrograph, May 18 at LA's Nuart, and with a national rollout to follow, through Kino Lorber).

To read my interview visit Documentary magazine.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Hot Docs 2018: The Silver Anniversary Edition

The 25th anniversary edition of the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival (April 26-May 6) marked my very first visit to North America’s largest nonfiction fest (and also to its host city of Toronto, for that matter). Since I’ve covered IDFA, the world’s largest doc fest, numerous times, I just assumed Hot Docs would be similar in setup and vibe. On the contrary, I was pleasantly surprised to find there are several key elements that make this Toronto mainstay its own exciting, one-of-a-kind event.

To read all about it visit Filmmaker magazine.

Saturday, May 5, 2018

“It’s about the Barriers to Justice that Exist when you are Poor and Up Against a Foreign Superpower”: PJ Raval on Call Her Ganda

Fresh off its Tribeca world premiere, and currently wrapping up at Hot Docs (till Sunday, May 6th), Call Her Ganda, an alumnus of Spotlight on Documentaries at IFP Week, is the latest feature from 25 New Faces of Independent Film alum PJ Raval. The thought-provoking doc follows the heartbreaking and utterly thorny story of Jennifer Laude, much beloved by a doting mother (who called her by her nickname “Ganda,” which means “Beauty”), sisters, and her German fiancĂ©. After a night out with girlfriends back in 2014, the 26-year-old ended up being murdered by US marine Scott Pemberton, who left her naked body in a hotel room bathroom, her head in the toilet. That Jennifer had the bad luck of being a member of an oft-ostracized community — in this case trans sex workers — in a country (the Philippines) that allows for the US military to be exempt from its local laws, is what makes her tragic death also so very complicated.

What makes Call Her Ganda so powerful is that Raval smartly widens the lens to tell Jennifer’s tale through the afterlife of her death, an event that brought together three real-life wonder women — a grieving mother who refuses to let her daughter be shamed, a tenacious, trans American journalist with roots in the Philippines, and a cisgender female lawyer determined to put a check on US imperialism.

Filmmaker caught up with Raval during Hot Docs to discuss what happens when human rights activism collides with American impunity in a country now run by a brutal, anti-Western, strongman.

To read my interview visit Filmmaker magazine.