Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Top 11 Festival Films 2011

The International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam marked the 11th film festival (across two continents and five countries) that I covered in 2011. Which means that not only do I probably deserve an Independent Spirit Award for journalistic insanity, but also that I’ve been under a rock when it comes to what’s been playing in actual art-houses and multiplexes for the past 12 months. So with this in mind I’ve compiled a list of my personal greatest fest hits (arranged by festival of discovery, though in no particular order, complete with quotes from previous posts) – from those that have played a theater near you, to those that will in 2012, to those that will frustratingly fall victim to the vagaries of the market only to reappear on someone else’s top DVDs list.

To read my selections visit Filmmaker magazine.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Hot off the Press: Santa Fe Independent Film Festival Names Program Director

Santa Fe Independent Film Festival Announces 2011 Award Winners and Lauren Wissot of Filmmaker Magazine Joins Santa Fe IFF as Program Director for 2012

Press Release-December 10, 2011



Santa Fe Independent Film Festival Announces 2011 Award Winners and Lauren Wissot of Filmmaker Magazine Joins Santa Fe IFF as Program Director for 2012

The 2011 Santa Fe Independent Film Festival (Santa Fe IFF) is delighted and honored to announce that Filmmaker Magazine's Lauren Wissot is coming onboard as Program Director for the 2012 Festival. The 2011 Santa Fe IFF was a resounding success, bringing independent filmmakers and film lovers from around the world together from October 19-23rd. Lauren Wissot wrote about the 2011 Santa Fe IFF, [T]hey've been able to convince an entire town to come onboard to make their dream come true. Indeed, this is the first time I've ever been to a festival with volunteers (around 75 of them) and local businesses (close to 50!) practically vying with one another to pitch in."

The Santa Fe INDEPENDENT Film Festival was founded in 2009 screening 25 films at Warehouse 21. Santa Fe IFF responded to community and filmmaker interest and programmed 80 films in 2010. The trend of expansion has continued and in 2011, Santa Fe IFF screened over 110 independent films at five Official Sponsorship venues including The Lensic Performing Arts Center, Warehouse 21, New Mexico History Museum, Center for Progress & Justice and El Museo Cultural. The festival included discussions/workshops with award-winning artists and industry professionals including filmmakers Kirby Dick and Norman Patrick Brown, Laugh-In Creator Digby Wolfe, and principle casting director/producer Sheryl Roberts. Discussion panels were led by Karen Koch and Marshall Bear. Santa Fe Independent Film Festival also hosted parties at 5 downtown venues and managed a filmmaker lounge where filmmakers relaxed and networked at the former Corazon.

The films screened at Santa Fe Independent Film Festival covered a wide variety of subjects and genres including Drama, Comedy, Musical, Green Earth, Social Justice, Health Awareness, Indigenous Peoples, Veteran Awareness, Youth, Family, Arts, Spanish, and New Mexico film. Feature films included Academy Award-nominated Kirby Dick's This Film Is Not Yet Rated, Award-winning Bombay Beach by Alma Har'el and White Knight starring Stacy Keach and Tom Sizemore. In 2011, Santa Fe IFF increased audience attendance from 1,500 in 2010 to nearly 2,500. Volunteer support grew from 25 to 85 volunteers. Santa Fe Independent Film Festival increased its local, state and international support and Community Partners rose from 22 in 2010 to 45 in 2011.

On October 22, Santa Fe IFF 2011 Awards were presented at The Lensic by Aviva Farber and Jon Hendry. Santa Fe IFF's American Filmmaker Award went to documenteur Kirby Dick, Outstanding NM Filmmaker Award to Tony Mark and Lifetime Achievement Award to Alton Walpole followed by the screening of the Award-winning Bombay Beach by Alma Har'el. Following the Lensic screening, Maura Studi presented the Santa Fe IFF Jury Awards at the San Francisco Street Bar and Grill VIP Party. Awards Winners are: 2011 Santa Fe IFF Best Production Award to Identical by Daniel Bollag, Best International Film to Niqab by Stefanos Sitaras, Best Animation to The Astronomer's Sun by Peter Kershaw, Best Documentary to Cancerpants by Nevie Owens, Best Short to Compania In-Felix by Ivana Corsale and Best Feature to The Encore of Tony Duran by Fred Sayeg. Audience Choice Award went to Surreal Estate by Lori Romero and Honorable Mentions include Mark Steffen for Lowriders and Brad Littlefield for Becoming Eduardo. Happy New Year by K. Lorrel Manning won the David Horowitz Media Literacy Award in Film and Sacred Poison by Yvonne Latty won the David Horowitz New Mexico Film Award. In absentia awards included Ed Asner for Best Actor Award and Alma Har'el for Best New Filmmaker Award.

Supporters and sponsors included The Santa Fe Arts Commission, IATSE Local 480, Philip and Barbara Gudwin, McCune Charitable Foundation, Bioneers, Livingry Foundation, The Aztec Street Café and Restaurant, The San Francisco Street Bar & Grill, Walter Burke Catering, The Bishop's Lodge, Ojo Caliente Resort and Spa, The Cowgirl Barbecue, Whole Foods, Icelandic Glacial Water, Denny's, Courtyard Marriott, KUNM, New Energy Economy, Vanessie, La Posada, Atomic Grill, Garrett's Desert Inn, Santa Fe Brewing Company, The Santa Fe Reporter, the Santa Fe New Mexican, Hutton Broadcasting, CNM (Corporation for Network Media), Santa, SourceDesign, Senor Murphy Candymaker, Primo Cigar Shop, One Mind Design, Randall D. Moore, Tony Abeyta, Adam's Automotive, Clafoutis, Core Connection, Fiasco Wine, Focus On Recovery, and Greer Enterprises, Hinkle, Hensley, Shanor & Martin, L.L.P., Image Ratio, Jambo Café, Joe's Diner, La Montanita Coop, Nambe Mills, Plaza Cafe Southside, Raaga, RDM Associates, Reel West Pictures, RITE Wellness Center, RIZE Nightclub, Sage Inn, Studio Nia Santa Fe, Talisman Tattoo, Winds of Choice Chiropractic and World Class Watches. The number of educational institutions participating in the Santa Fe IFF Internship Program tripled in 2011 with participants from 9 schools including the University of New Mexico, St. John's College, Desert Academy and Santa Fe Prep.

For Further Information Please Contact 505-470-2411 or visit:

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Toneelgroep Amsterdam: “Hedda Gabler” outshines “The Miser”

Who knew Ibsen had a canine following in Holland? I thought as I stood in line at the Stadsschouwburg Amsterdam directly behind a woman carrying a small dog in her purse. I was there to see Toneelgroep Amsterdam’s performance of “Hedda Gabler,” helmed by the company’s artistic director Ivo van Hove and starring the luminous Halina Reijn, one of seven productions being presented with English surtitles on Thursday evenings. (Nevertheless, from the sound of things it seemed the tiny pooch and I were the only ones in the Stadsschouwburg unable to speak Dutch.)

To read the rest of my review visit Global Comment.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Pairing Films at IDFA 2011

The Jack the Ripper weather that blanketed part of the 24th International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam this year seemed poetically apropos. Rushing from P&I screenings, to public showings, to private viewing booths I often felt like I was lost in a heavy fog of docs. In addition I took great advantage of the many behind-the-scenes and inside-scoop events — most free to the public — that gives this biggest doc fest in Europe its accessible community vibe. I watched a Talk Show with tabloid-deep Nick Broomfield discussing his “Sarah Palin: You Betcha!” over a live Internet feed. I attended in person a much more fascinating Meet the Makers with Steve James (ironically, the very same morning I learned that “The Interrupters” — which I’d predicted would nab this year’s Academy Award for Best Documentary — shamefully got booted from the Oscar shortlist), who was being honored with a retrospective on top of presenting his own Top 10 compilation. I caught another Talk Show at the Escape Club with Joe Berlinger — who announced that it was the first time out of the country for his accompanying invitee and longtime “Paradise Lost” series subject, the recently freed Jason Baldwin. (Berlinger and Baldwin were followed by guest Vikram Gandhi, whose “Kumaré” was my top pick at DOC NYC.)

To read the rest of my coverage visit Filmmaker magazine.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011


Cyril Tuschi's “Khodorkovsky” follows the multiple trials and tribulations of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who was once Russia's richest man before he pissed off Putin by challenging him in public and, subsequently and unsurprisingly, found himself shuttled off to a prison in the middle of nowhere on trumped up charges. Tuschi casts his net wide, seguing from news footage of international leaders' reactions (including Putin's) to Khodorkovsky's arrest, to animation reenacting his being taken into custody on his private jet, to scenic footage from the filmmaker's own travels to find the story. But since none of the bigwigs involved want to talk to the German director, Tuschi ends up only interviewing the notorious oligarch's family members, Komsomol colleagues from Khodorkovsky's youth, early business partners—even his former dean! In other words, too many talking heads of little substance fill the screen, providing about as much insider information as one of Bernie Madoff's grade school chums.

To read the rest of my review visit Slant Magazine.

Monday, November 14, 2011

From Russia With Love: The 11th Annual Russian Film Week

Russian Film Week NYC, which took place from October 28th through November 4th in the (historically Ukrainian) East Village, opened, appropriately enough, with Slava Ross’s “Siberia, Monamour,” a feature of Chekhovian proportions. Ross’s bleak drama is grounded in the characters of a grandfather and his young grandson, unfortunate denizens of the Siberian village of Monamour, a no-man’s land where feral dogs run wild like a pack of Cujos, ruling the forest that surrounds and entraps the pair. As the two vainly await the return of the child’s father, other lost males – from a morally bankrupt soldier, to a cuckolded father, to a conniving thief – drift in and out of their lives, in turn finding their own subplots.

To read the rest of my coverage visit Global Comment.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Barbershop Punk

At the beginning of “Barbershop Punk,” Georgia Sugimura Archer and Kristen Armfield's impotent exploration of the fight to take the Internet out of the hands of the Man, celebrity activist Janeane Garofalo nails it when she alludes to something third-world countries figured out a long time ago: Basic human rights like freedom of thought or speech will always take a backseat to the need for food and shelter. When most folks in America are busy struggling just to survive, getting up in arms about such eye-glazing issues as the application of common carriage laws and net neutrality becomes a bourgeoisie luxury.

To read the rest of my review visit Slant Magazine.

“Convento” Director Jarred Alterman

Since I spend part of my year in Amsterdam I’m always on the lookout for interesting Dutch folks to write about. Kinetic artist Christiaan Zwanikken fit the bill and then some. Zwanikken lives most months at his family’s retreat in Portugal, which was once a monastery but now serves as the laboratory for his Frankenstein creations, robots crafted from servomotors and the remains of wildlife he finds on the ancient grounds. American filmmaker Jarred Alterman is also fascinated by Zwanikken’s work – so much so that he crafted “Convento,” an “art/doc” that follows not just the Dutch artist and his creatures but the Zwanikken clan, including mom Geraldine, a former prima ballerina. I spoke with the passionate director prior to the film’s NYC opening — appropriately enough, at the American Museum of Natural History on November 11. Zwanikken’s sculpture show at the museum opens a day earlier.

To read my interview visit Filmmaker magazine.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

An Interview with Matthijs van Heijningen, director of "The Thing"

Dutch director Matthijs van Heijningen, Jr. may not be a household name, though the shape-shifting alien of his first feature, the big-budget “The Thing,” a prequel to John Carpenter’s cult classic of the same title, is. Starring Joel Edgerton (last seen in Gavin O’Connor’s “Warrior”) the movie also marks the filmmaker’s first foray into Hollywood. Prior to the film’s release in Holland I spoke with the engaging studio newbie about everything from making art from commercials, to taking inspiration from Polanski, to why the next big thing might not be emerging from his homeland anytime soon.

To read my interview visit Global Comment.

Monday, November 7, 2011

IDFA DocLab: Digital Storytelling in the New Media Age

The terms bandied about at IDFA DocLab can make a layman’s head spin. While many of their old-school colleagues are shooting on digital video or – heaven forbid – actual film, the artists at IDFA DocLab employ everything from data visualization to maps to interactive interfaces. For example, last year’s new media showstopper was Katerina Cizek’s “Out My Window,” one of the world’s first 360-degree documentaries, which was installed at the Brakke Grond Theatre and Gallery during the festival and played for two months after.

To read my profile of IDFA DocLab's director visit page 18 of Amsterdam Magazine.

“Cellmates” Director Jesse Baget

Jesse Baget’s "Cellmates" (originally titled “White Knight”) was one of my top picks at this year’s Arizona Underground Film Festival – and the biggest surprise of the fest simply because when I read the feature’s synopsis in the program my first thought was there’s no way this film would work. When one sees the phrase “buddy comedy” the names Tom Sizemore and Stacy Keach just don’t come to mind. Add in Héctor Jiménez of “Nacho Libre” and we might be getting closer…but still. Sizemore as a former Klansman meets Keach as a potato-obsessed warden meets Jiménez as an activist immigrant laborer (set in a Texas prison) sounds like a recipe for disaster. So it’s a testament to the sharp talent of Tucson-native Jesse Baget and his co-screenwriter Stefania Moscato that “Cellmates” not only shines as a hilarious comedy, it doubles as a sweet-natured satire on racism. I chatted with Baget shortly after I covered the Santa Fe Independent Film Festival, where “Cellmates" was once again met with enthusiastic applause.

To read my interview visit Filmmaker magazine.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Previewing DOC NYC

Since I’ve never attended the Toronto International Film Festival, or the long-running doc series Stranger Than Fiction, I was shamefully late to discover the curatorial wizard behind-the-curtain by the name of Thom Powers. But ever since Powers’s programming became, for me, the highlight of this year’s Miami International Film Festival he’s been firmly on my cine-radar. So when I noticed he’d be returning as artistic director of DOC NYC I thought, “Oh, no.” I didn’t have time to cover DOC NYC right before I flew to Amsterdam to tackle the mother of all nonfiction fests IDFA! (DOC NYC’s close proximity to IDFA and also CPH:DOX is the worst thing one can say about it.) I couldn’t squeeze in its 100-plus events, panel discussions, 52 features and 40 shorts. I didn’t have the hours to spare for the opening night gala screening of “Into The Abyss” with Werner Herzog in person (nor for guests Charlotte Rampling, Jonathan Demme, Barbara Kopple, D.A. Pennebaker, etc.). I didn’t have the time, but I did have the addiction. And Thom Powers is the nonfiction world’s dealer with the best docs.

To read my coverage visit Filmmaker magazine.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Karlovy Vary International Film Festival

Read my coverage in the Fall issue!

The Santa Fe Independent Film Festival

Back when I fled Colorado for NYC it was the rebellious thing for an artist to do. Now two decades later it’s the opposite as young bohemians across the nation are radically giving the finger to both coasts, forcing the arts culture to come to them. Case in point, the Santa Fe Independent Film Festival, which was originally launched just three years ago as a Slamdance-style antidote to the more established Santa Fe Film Festival, and is made up of folks who want to play in their own backyard – and spruce it up locally. This year the two festivals’ dates unfortunately overlapped – with The (smaller) Man opening with Michel Hazanavicius’s Cannes buzz-generating “The Artist” and bringing in Emilio Estevez and his dad for a screening of Estvez’s “The Way,” while the sprawling SFIFF chose to present Billy Wilder’s Albuquerque-set classic “Ace in the Hole” at the New Mexico History Museum, and hosted Kirby Dick (along with a special screening of Dick’s bar-none best work “Sick: The Life and Death of Bob Flanagan, Supermasochist”).

To read the rest visit Filmmaker magazine.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Jeremiah Zagar on "Starved For Attention"

It’s been awhile since I sat down to chat with director Jeremiah Zagar, one half of Brooklyn-based Herzliya Films, which he runs with his producer Jeremy Yaches, so I was pretty excited to hear about their latest venture, “Starved For Attention.” A short film series created at the behest of Doctors Without Borders and VII Photo designed to highlight childhood malnutrition around the world “Starved For Attention” also seems to be the rarest of public service announcements, doubling as works of cinematic art. I spoke briefly with Zagar as he was preparing for the release of the eighth doc in the series, dealing with the food crisis in Somalia and Northern Kenya.

To read my interview visit Filmmaker magazine.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Wladimir Klitschko on "Klitschko"

Vitali and Wladimir Klitschko, the 6’6″ Heavyweight Boxing Champion of the World subjects of Sebastian Dehnhardt’s "Klitschko," are to pugilism what the Williams sisters are to tennis. But unlike Venus and Serena, these chess-playing siblings, who became the first brothers to hold world titles at the same time, also hold PhDs and are fluent in four languages. Coming of age behind the Iron Curtain, the Ukrainian brothers’ psyches were shaped both by black- market Bruce Lee movies and the Chernobyl disaster (their military dad was a first responder). So when I heard that current champ Wladimir was available for interviews – maybe running a political party in the homeland is keeping his big brother too busy? – I leapt at the chance to chat with one of (what a talking head in "Klitschko" calls) “the most intelligent heavyweights ever.”

To read my interview visit Filmmaker magazine.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Saturday, October 8, 2011

The Arizona Underground Film Festival 2011

It’s surprising that the Arizona Underground Film Festival is only in its fourth year since it’s got the vision and confidence of fests that have been around a lot longer. The brainchild of founder/director David Pike, who handles acquisitions for locally based BrinkDVD, AZUFF seems to have a strong sense of film camaraderie and community on its side. (Indeed, stepping out of the hot Tucson sun and into the downtown art-house The Screening Room – one of the venues of the Arizona International Film Festival, which I covered back in April – to pick up my press pass, I was greeted by none other than Giulio Scalinger, founder/director of the 20-year-old AIFF, who runs the cozy theater and was busy setting up the concession stand.)

To read the rest of my coverage visit Filmmaker magazine.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Everyday Sunshine: The Story of Fishbone

"I've seen them do every style—in the same song!" Mike Watt of Minutemen declares early on in “Everyday Sunshine: The Story of Fishbone,” Lev Anderson and Chris Metzler's cinematic tribute to the titular SoCal black punk rock band. Fishbone also makes other white talking heads, including Perry Farrell, Gwen Stefani, Flea, and, uh, Tim Robbins (who seems to have wandered into the wrong documentary), gush like giddy school kids. Even better regarded black musicians such as Branford Marsalis, who says about the band, "The musicians get it; the other people don't," and George Clinton, who theorizes that the members are too white for black people and too black for white people, seem in awe.

To read the rest of my review visit Slant Magazine.

Hell and Back Again

Unlike most war docs, which tend to only skim the surface of its gun-toting subjects' lives, photojournalist Danfung Dennis's “Hell and Back Again” isn't content to merely capture warriors in combat. He follows an injured Sgt. Nathan Harris all the way from Afghanistan to his home in North Carolina, where his wife and high school sweetheart Ashley is helping to reconstruct their former lives. From its high-adrenaline opening of Echo Company preparing to take a Taliban stronghold before they're ambushed and lose a man, which segues to footage of the unit's homecoming, the documentary smartly shuttles between the sergeant in the heat of battle and his tackling of daily mundane tasks. Refreshingly, Dennis is less concerned with questions of morality than he is in pondering how a person can mentally take the leap from making life and death choices for himself and the men under him to deciding where to park the car at Wal-Mart.

To read the rest of my review visit Slant Magazine.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Toasting a Theatrical Mash-Up: Sherlock Holmes and the Adventure of the Suicide Club

Sprung from the mind of Jeffrey Hatcher, the writer behind the underrated play-turned-film “Stage Beauty,” the Arizona Theatre Company's 45th-anniversary season opener “Sherlock Holmes and the Adventure of the Suicide Club” is a fun theatrical mash-up that drops the characters from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's “Sherlock Holmes” realm into an adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson's “The Suicide Club.” I caught this world premiere helmed by ATC's artistic director David Ira Goldstein at the Temple of Music and Art, the company's cozy home base and a civilized oasis in the heart of downtown Tucson. There isn't a bad seat in the roomy house, and you can peruse the upstairs art gallery or take your time enjoying gourmet food, a glass of wine, or a cup of locally roasted coffee from the adjoining Temple Lounge before the show, then grab a refill and take it into the theater with you—a far cry from the tourist cattle call-feel of leisure-lacking Broadway these days.

To read the rest of my review visit The House Next Door at Slant Magazine.

Monday, September 12, 2011

The Mill and The Cross

The word "film" seems inadequate to describe Lech Majewski's “The Mill and The Cross,” a mesmerizingly layered rendering of the creation of Pieter Bruegel's iconic “The Way to Calvary.” The painting itself is imposingly dizzying—a depiction of the crucifixion containing over 500 figures and, like the film, set during the painter's lifetime, when Spain ruled Flanders with an iron fist. From its arresting opening image of Bruegel (played by another legend, Rutger Hauer) wandering inside his masterpiece-in-progress, to Majewski's ingenious use of subtle movement in both foreground and background planes and absolute stillness in the middle one, “The Mill and The Cross” is less costume drama and more time capsule come to life. It's an art installation captured by painstaking cinematography.

To read the rest of my review visit Slant Magazine.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Sex and De Stad: A Brush with Romance

Check out my romantic Jordaan column on page 74 of Amsterdam Magazine!

Monday, September 5, 2011

Where Soldiers Come From

I recently chatted with a Canadian director of government-funded documentaries who lamented the artistic restrictions that are par for the course for every filmmaker who accepts a significant amount of cash from any nation's coffers—no matter how seemingly liberal the country. I thought of this conversation as I watched Heather Courtney's “Where Soldiers Come From,” financed in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. A four-year study of an Afghan war-bound group of friends (the mother of Cole, the goofy joker of the group, compares the boys to the characters in “The Deer Hunter”), Courtney's doc is equal parts heartfelt and public-television predictable.

To read the rest of my review visit Slant Magazine.

Monday, August 29, 2011

The 2011 Montreal World Film Festival

C’est dommage. Despite the fact that the summertime Montreal World Film Festival is 35 years old it continues to be eclipsed by its (year) older, bigger and bolder, Anglo relative’s annual gala in September. Nevertheless – and even if Catherine Deneuve hadn’t been honored with MWFF’s lifetime achievement award – the fest has much to buzz about. For one thing it’s headquartered at the Quartier des spectacles, right in the entertainment heart of a gorgeous Paris of the North (America) that made this bi-continental critic miss Europe a little bit less. Secondly, this UNESCO-appointed City of Design has a vibrant cinephile culture, evidenced by both the Cinémathèque québécoise, which maintains an international collection of 35,000 films from all eras and hosts free exhibitions, and the National Film Board’s (also free to the public) sci-fi-like CineRobotheque, which makes 10,000 movies available on its 21 touch-screen-accessed “personal viewing stations.” Thirdly, both of these institutions are located mere minutes away from the Cinéma Quartier Latin and the Cinéma ONF (also housed in the NFB building on colorful St.-Denis), two cozy venues that screened a handful of selections that, like the host city itself, transported me completely to another world.

To read the rest of my coverage visit Filmmaker magazine.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Sex and De Stad: Gay Pride

Check out my Gay Pride column on page 79 of Amsterdam Magazine!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Foreign Correspondent: Amsterdam’s Pluk de Nacht

I first met Caspar Sonnen last November while covering the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam, where he serves as New Media Coordinator and launched IDFA DocLab three years ago. I was new in town and hadn’t heard about Pluk de Nacht, Amsterdam’s annual answer to NYC’s Rooftop Films, founded eight years ago by its current artistic directors Sonnen and Jurriaan Esmeijer, and its managing director Henne Verhoef. So when I returned to The Netherlands for the summer I decided to contact Sonnen to learn more.

To read about the Open Air Film Festival Amsterdam visit Filmmaker magazine.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Interrupters

“The Interrupters” opens with credits over black and a news anchor's voiceover from 2009 announcing that, in Chicago, "One hundred twenty-four people have been killed so far this year—one per day—about the number of Americans killed during the same period in Iraq and Afghanistan." So when the people living on these mean streets constantly refer to their neighborhood as a war zone, it's without an ounce of hyperbole. And this incredibly apt analogy also extends to the documentary's director, Steve James, who is credited alongside author Alex Kotlowitz, who penned “The New York Times Magazine” article that inspired the film. Nothing less than a patient war journalist with amazing access, James is a presence so unobtrusive that his subjects seem to forget his camera is even there.

To read the rest of my review visit Slant Magazine.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Scotland Yarn: A Chat with “Trainspotting” Tour Guide Tim Bell

A NYC schoolteacher now working in Amsterdam, an Australian-born Parisian hotel bartender residing in Edinburgh (who the schoolteacher met at her hotel the night before), and a vibrant chaplain semi-retired from conducting “Trainspotting Tours,” walk into a bar. But this isn’t a setup for a Sick Boy joke – nor is it just any bar. The three met up in a dank corner of the very same pub near Princes Street that was used in the opening scene of Boyle’s cult flick. (And the schoolteacher is my sister – who found plenty of local color off-screen while I was busy covering the Edinburgh International Film Festival for “Filmmaker” magazine.) Setting the scene in his thick Scottish brogue, guide Tim Bell pulled a worn copy of Irvine Welsh’s infamous novel from his rucksack and proceeded to take his guests on an absurd, spontaneous, and magical, Speed Levitch-worthy journey where literature, film and reality meshed and sometimes collided (as in the case of the glossary at the back of Welsh’s book – which Bell assured his listeners is pure “shite,” especially when it comes to the definition of the word “tidy”). And my sister – who afterwards pronounced herself truly “spawny” – assured me that neither Welsh nor Boyle could have scripted a better scene. Quoting E.M. Forster she was reminded that, “One person with passion is better than forty people merely interested.”

To read my interview visit Global Comment.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Foreign Correspondent: Going Dutch

Besides the Dutch no-nonsense approach to everything from healthcare to vice, what I find most impressive about this Venice of the North is that there’s an actual cinema culture here – which is not the case in my hometown NYC, where there are only a handful of repertory screening rooms to serve a forever-dwindling audience. Just flipping through the venue listings at the back of the local “Off Beat Cinema” (that there’s even a free monthly magazine called “Off Beat Cinema” is darn impressive, too) one can choose from a whopping 16 different places to see underground and indie films many with English subtitles. (This in a city half the size of Brooklyn.) For the hipster crowd there’s De Nieuwe Anita, a cozy bar that also hosts art exhibits, live music, poetry readings – yup, even a knitting night. Best to arrive as soon as the doors open, though, else you won’t be able to squeeze into one of the usually sold out screenings in the retro living room-styled basement.

To read the rest visit Filmmaker magazine.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Raising the Dead through Robotics

Documentary director and cinematographer Jarred Alterman follows the Dutch kinetic artist Christiaan Zwanikken as he uses servomotors and robotic engineering to reanimate the skeletons of deceased wildlife and bring surreal artforms to life. Read my Foreign Exchange with the director and subject of “Convento” on pages 46-47 of Amsterdam Magazine.

Sex and De Stad: Celebrity Fantasies

Check out my Celebrity Fantasies column on page 79 of Amsterdam Magazine!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The 2011 Edinburgh Film Festival

Spend even the shortest amount of time in the delightful and disturbing Scottish capital and you begin to read native Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” as a metaphor for the city itself. Edinburgh boasts a warm and welcoming population residing in an atmosphere where an ever-present hint of menace hangs palpably in the air like its famous rainy mist. (This openness is evidenced by the fact that one early afternoon my sister and I were able to pretty much wander in to a Justice Committee hearing of Parliament debating that day’s front page news – whether singing “God Save The Queen” at soccer matches should be made illegal.) Yes, this is the home of Harry Potter – and the café where J.K. Rowling birthed him proudly touts its pedigree – but it’s also a city in which for centuries public executions were pretty much a local pasttime. Not to mention, its skyline of threatening, medieval fortress architecture heavy with spires and turrets practically screams, “Don’t fuck with us.” It’s actually the opposite of Amsterdam, where I flew in from to cover this year’s Edinburgh International Film Festival. That city’s cozy atmosphere – the Dutch have a word for it, “gezellig,” which has no English equivalent – reflected in its quaint canal houses and hole-in-the-wall coffeeshops, stands in stark contrast to its conservative insular population. (Don’t get me wrong, the Dutch are very agreeable – just don’t mistake “tolerant” for “welcoming.”)

To read the rest of my coverage visit Filmmaker magazine.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Tim Hetherington Tribute at Human Rights Watch Festival

I didn’t know Tim Hetherington very well, but like everyone who had encountered the critically acclaimed photojournalist, either in person or through his incredible work, I was stunned when I heard about his death while covering the uprisings in Libya. Last summer I had the great privilege of interviewing Hetherington and his co-director Sebastian Junger for “Filmmaker” magazine prior to the release of their Academy Award-nominated “Restrepo,” and the two struck me as polar opposites. Whereas bestselling author and journalist Junger seemed cut from the same passionate, gung-ho cloth as many of the patriotic men and women who serve in our armed forces, Hetherington appeared to be equal parts empathic and cerebral, the kind who would fully analyze a situation before taking action. Since I’d tagged Junger as the impulsive, think-fast soldier type and Hetherington as the cautious and thoughtful humanitarian aid worker his death brought home another cruel truth — war is governed not by tidy Geneva Conventions but by messy Lady Luck.

To read the rest visit Filmmaker magazine.

Human Rights Watch Film Festival 2011: This Is My Land...Hebron

"We killed Jesus—we're proud of it!" a yarmulke-wearing teenager taunts a Christian peacemaker in Giulia Amati and Stephen Natanson's “This Is My Land...Hebron,” a startling glimpse into life at ground zero of the Israeli occupation. The doc begins with a pace-setting, arresting opening that swiftly crosscuts between images of daily life, from soldiers to street markets, while anonymous voiceovers stubbornly insist on the right of Jews to settle in Hebron. This contested territory is home to 160,000 resentful Palestinians, 600 hardcore Israelis who've plopped themselves down in the city center, and 2,000 Israeli soldiers, many not too keen on having to defend fellow Jews who order them around as if they were their own private security force. One “Ha'aretz” journalist says he hates going to Hebron above every other occupied city since it's the most brutal. Indeed, but even the physical violence pales in comparison to the psychological torture inflicted on the city's residents every day. The stones young Jewish kids throw at their Arab neighbors while their approving parents watch might not always make it through the wire fences the Palestinians are forced to live behind for their own safety, but the emotional blows delivered are as heavy as a boulder. Both sides live in a city in which hate is nurtured right along with the olive trees.

To read the rest of my review visit The House Next Door at Slant Magazine.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Human Rights Watch Film Festival 2011: Familia

Like Lixin Fan's “Last Train Home,” Mikael Wiström and Alberto Herskovits's “Familia” manages to make a universal issue—the plight of the many immigrants who leave behind their loved ones to make a living far from home—personal by focusing on one family in particular: an older Peruvian couple, their grown son and daughter, and young school-age son. The filmmakers follow both the matriarch, Nati, as she begins her new life as a maid in Spain, and those forced to fill her void back in Lima. What's most remarkable, however, is the intimate access the Swedish co-directors get, a result of their having known Nati and her kin for over 35 years. This allows not only for the family to be completely open and at ease in front of the lens, but also for black-and-white flashbacks that aren't recreations but real-life footage, giving us a contextual glimpse into the couple's hardscrabble past as pickers at a massive landfill.

To read the rest of my review visit The House Next Door at Slant Magazine.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front

While it may not pack the rollicking drama of his first feature, “Street Fight,” Marshall Curry's timely “If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front” likewise chronicles the personal tale behind political headlines—in this case that of Daniel McGowan, an unassuming coworker of Curry's wife who, one seemingly Kafkaesque day, was arrested as part of a roundup of ELF members. Opening with news clips of the damage wrought by this shadowy organization, which to the mainstream environmental movement is sort of like what PETA is to the animal-rights lobby, Curry's film quickly turns to candid interviews with McGowan—a happy-go-lucky sort who seems about as threatening as the Pillsbury doughboy—while he's under house arrest.

To read the rest of my review visit Slant Magazine.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Human Rights Watch Film Festival 2011: The Green Wave

Ali Samadi Ahadi's “The Green Wave” was one of the more buzzed-about films I regretted not having seen at last year's International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam, so I made sure to catch it at this year's Human Rights Watch Film Festival. Now I'm just wondering what all the fuss was about. Partially similar in style to Ari Folman's “Waltz with Bashir,” the doc combines animation based on blog posts, video footage of street protests and rallies in Tehran, and talking-head interviews with the usual suspects (Iranian journalists, lawyers, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, a former UN prosecutor, a cleric, and so on) to create a less than satisfying picture of the recent pro-democracy uprising in Iran.

To read the rest of my review visit The House Next Door at Slant Magazine.

Monday, June 13, 2011

A Summertime Preview of Rooftop Films

Summer has long been my favorite time of the year in NYC. When the temperature skyrockets the crowds head for the shore, leaving only us sweaty diehards to sip iced coffee in sidewalk cafes in the afternoon, and attend al fresco screenings in the heat of the night. This year, though, I’ll be getting my caffeine fix alongside De Herengracht rather than anywhere near the Hudson, and seeing outdoor cinema courtesy of Pluk de Nacht rather than Rooftop Films. But if you happen to be lucky enough to be reading this from any of the five boroughs, I suggest marking your calendar for the following Rooftop events.

To find out the highlights visit Filmmaker magazine.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

DocPoint NYC 2011

Though I've spent the past year raving about the art-doc tsunami currently sweeping Denmark, I confess I've seen little of the nonfiction cinema coming out of nearby Finland. Enter DocPoint NYC to remedy the situation. The Helsinki-based festival has chosen to celebrate its 10th anniversary by partnering with MoMA, Scandinavia House, UnionDocs, Tribeca Film Institute, and the 92YTribeca to present close to 50 films from the Nordic land. While I was only able to catch a handful of the docs on the slate, two in particular (both screening at MoMA) made me wonder if there's filmmaking fairy dust being sprinkled on the Arctic ice these days.

To read my coverage visit The House Next Door at Slant Magazine.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Sex and De Stad: Open-Air Sex!

Check out my No Sex On The Beach, Please column on page 77 of Amsterdam Magazine!

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

!Women Art Revolution

"The women of the '70s had been earnest and breast-beating—and it just didn't work," announces the lady in the gorilla mask, one of the few self-aware voices featured in Lynn Hershman Leeson's over-40-years-in-the-making “!Women Art Revolution,” its sprawlingly clunky title a portent of things to come. "The bra-burning didn't actually effect social change," this member of the Guerrilla Girls—the feminist art movement's answer to the Yes Men—goes on to explain toward the end of Hershman Leeson's doc. And with those two sentences, the anonymous radical activist exposes the clueless arrogance that emanates from much of the doc's footage—archival as well as the director's own personal collection of interviews with her fellow feminist artists, curators, and historians of the '60s generation.

To read the rest of my review visit Slant Magazine.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Jay Duplass Talks Kevin Gant

While I usually avoid Q&As (due to my impatience with too many audience members making statements rather than asking actual questions) I’m glad I stuck around after the screening of Jay Duplass’s short biopic “Kevin,” if only to meet the doc’s admirable director and arrange for an interview later. Unlike other filmmakers attending this year’s Arizona Int’l Film Festival Duplass wasn’t in Tucson to publicize his film, per se, so much as to promote its subject Kevin Gant (who also showed up to treat us to a post-screening acoustic set), the Duplass brothers’ musical hero in the early 90s who seemingly vanished from the Austin scene and into obscurity way back in 1995. Due to an insurmountable time difference – Duplass is based in L.A. while I’m reporting from Amsterdam – we spoke briefly via email about several issues both onscreen and off that "Kevin" the doc and the artist himself bring up.

To read my interview visit Filmmaker magazine.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Interview with “Vacation!” Director Zach Clark

I first met Zach Clark last October when his excitingly subversive, sex-scene-less SXSW hit "Modern Love Is Automatic" opened Pornfilmfestival Berlin (where my own short "The Story of Ramb O" had its premiere). Since we barely had the chance to chat in the buzzing, jam-packed Moviemento hub, I was thrilled when I heard recently that Clark’s follow-up "Vacation!" was already on the festival circuit and would be playing theatrically at Brooklyn’s own reRun Gastropub Theater in May. Finally I had an excuse to find out what makes this offbeat yet seemingly well-adjusted director of a feature about a nurse who moonlights as a dominatrix, and now a flick about four chicks whose weekend getaway goes bizarrely awry, tick.

To read my interview visit Filmmaker magazine.

Faking Arizona at Old Tucson Studios

It was good to get out of my element and visit a world I never even knew existed. And actually, it no longer exists and never did except in magical frames that flash across a big screen. Old Tucson Studios is to the American western what Cinecittà is to Italian cinema. Built in 1939 for the William Holden and Jean Arthur vehicle “Arizona,” the studio is now more a tourist attraction than a buzzing hive of filmmaking (though it still hosts productions, mainly for TV and cable). But in its heyday, under the guidance of the still energetic octogenarian Bob Shelton, who married into the business via his wife Jane Lowe (of the theater chain), Old Tucson Studios was home to around 400 productions, setting the stage for every last giant of the boots-and-saddle genre.

To read the rest visit The House Next Door at Slant Magazine.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

“The Good Life”: An Interview with Eva Mulvad

“The newly rich are doing well but we old rich are the new poor.” So sayeth the fifty-something Anne Mette, in just one of her many Oscar Wilde-like bon mots. The younger half of the female Danish duo at the center of Eva Mulvad’s “The Good Life,” Anne Mette and her elderly mum have downsized from their vast villa and now reside in a tiny apartment in Portugal on income from a single pension. And while the parallels of Mulvad’s film to the Maysles’ classic “Grey Gardens” are obvious in its portrait of a somewhat dysfunctional mother-daughter relationship and the fact that these once wealthy women are now living in poverty (if not exactly squalor), what struck me most was the biggest difference between the two docs. Unlike with Little Edie and Big Edie, no one can accuse either the unabashedly eccentric Anne Mette or her stoic mother of one ounce of insanity. Which is what makes “The Good Life” all the more heartbreaking. These strong-willed dames whose banter plays like a vaudeville act not only aren’t in denial, they are painfully aware of all that they’ve lost.

Fortunately, Lady Luck shined on me when I got to chat with the driven and down-to-earth Eva Mulvad – who I’ve been wanting to interview ever since her intoxicating doc caught me by surprise at last November’s International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam – at the decidedly chichi Trump Soho Hotel when she was in NYC for the flick’s North American premiere at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival.

To read my interview visit Global Comment.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Sex and De Stad: How It All Started

Check out my welcome to Holland column on page 72 of Amsterdam Magazine!

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Suspended Cirque's “Subterranea: An Urban Fairytale” at the Connelly Theater

Developed from their earlier “Urbanopolis,” which ran at Galapagos Art Space in DUMBO, “Subterranea: An Urban Fairytale” is the latest production from underappreciated aerial troupe extraordinaire Suspended Cirque. Opening with Joshua Dean's futuristic hobo Pan making small, uh, "talk" (Pan uses nonsense-speak) with the incoming audience, “Subterranea” can best be described as Dr. Seuss gone cyber. As a synthesized voice welcomes us to our visit to this strange land, Pan helpfully pantomimes the consequences of cell phone use and photography during the performance before the curtains part to reveal three amorphous bundles dangling in midair. Bathed in red lighting against the blackness of the stage, chandeliers crafted from empty, upside-down water bottles hanging from hoops come into focus. As the purple fabric begins to writhe, the cocoons conjure up an “Alien” creepiness. After slowly unfolding from their aerial wombs, which morph into sturdy strips, a trio of gothic female extraterrestrials (the troupe's tall blonds Angela Jones and Kristin Olness as Prima and Hecate, and its petite brunette Michelle Dortignac as Echo) perform an alluring modern dance in midair. They're trying to entice our protagonist, The Man, played by Suspended Cirque's lanky vaudevillian straight man Ben Franklin, who has just descended—via a white fabric strip—into their dark underworld.

To read the rest of my review visit The House Next Door at Slant Magazine.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Surfing Through Cinema: The 20th Annual Arizona Int’l Film Festival

As someone who is couch surfing with family and non-blood relatives throughout Europe and the States since I can no longer afford to pay rent, staying in high-end digs on a beautiful beach and lounging around in 80-plus weather during the day while covering the Miami International Film Festival recently was equal parts ironic and surreal. So it was something of a happy accident that while visiting my Tucson-residing best friend from high school I stumbled upon a poster advertising the Arizona International Film Festival. Since I was in town anyhow I figured I might as well check out a portion of the 100 some odd films from 25 countries screening over 20 days (to celebrate AIFF’s 20th anniversary). Certainly I wasn’t expecting the western gem that I found — a filmmakers’ oasis in the desert indifferent to the latest buzz flicks from either coast that sucked me in for its entire lengthy run. Kudos to festival head Giulio Scalinger — after two decades with little administrative turnover (most of the volunteers I talked to were either energetic young guns or had been onboard an average of ten years or more) AIFF is a well-run, highly organized, cinematic machine with a firm identity that’s local, grassroots and community-inclusive. Shrink SXSW.

To read the rest of my coverage visit Filmmaker magazine.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

“The Little Chaos” Is a Charming Brechtian Mashup

Though “The Little Chaos” takes its title from Rainer Werner Fassbinder's 1966 short, it's primarily a deconstruction of the director's first feature, the deconstructionist “Love Is Colder Than Death.” Using text not only from Fassbinder's films, but also from Jim Jarmusch's “Stranger Than Paradise,” even a postmodernist novel called “The Dead Father” by Donald Barthelme, the play is a heady Brechtian mashup that surprisingly charms rather than ironically alienates.

To read the rest of my review visit The House Next Door at Slant Magazine.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Tribeca Film Festival 2011: Klitschko

"The most intelligent heavyweights ever," theorizes one talking head in Sebastian Dehnhardt's “Klitschko,” the title an infamous surname in the world of boxing that conjures up a double threat. Dehnhardt's doc is an up-close-and-personal study of the Ukrainian brothers Vitali and Wladimir Klitschko via an abundance of archival footage melded with candid interviews with their mother and father, their trainers, and the recognizable fighters they faced, and the six-foot-six heavyweight boxing champions of the world themselves.

To read the rest of my review visit Slant Magazine.

Tim Hetherington, R.I.P.

The world just lost photojournalist Tim Hetherington, who impressed me as a human being and not just as a filmmaker.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Tribeca Film Festival 2011: The Good Life

“The Good Life” is a perfect wedding of dynamic characters and subject. Though Eva Mulvad's delightful study of the Beckmanns—a once-wealthy Danish mother and her middle-aged daughter, Anne Mette, now living together in a small apartment in Portugal with only the elderly woman's pension as income—is being touted as a modern-day Grey Gardens, that comparison is misleading. Whereas the Maysles were accused of exploitation for training their lens on a squalor-dwelling, mother-daughter duo whose sanity could be called into question, these snappy dames, whose back-and-forth banter has the comedic timing of a vaudeville act, are undeniably of sound minds—which makes their fall into hard times all the more poignant.

To read the rest of my review visit Slant Magazine.

Tribeca Film Festival 2011: Cinema Komunisto

Mila Turajlic's “Cinema Komunisto” is a Serbian documentary that explores a fascinating piece of history little known outside Eastern Europe. Through the eyes of actors and directors, set designers, and studio bosses glimpsed both in archival footage and in present-day interviews, we're treated to the inside scoop on the golden age of the Yugoslavian film industry, one that not coincidentally coincided with President Josip Broz Tito's ironhanded reign. Filmmaking it turns out wasn't just an interest, but a top priority for this communist dictator, a cinephile who loved westerns, Kirk Douglas, and John Wayne. From the start of Turajlic's rigorously researched doc, which incorporates catchy upbeat music from the era, adding spice to the often-surprising images, we're told that “Cinema Komunisto” is about a country that doesn't exist—except in its movies. That politics and film are both delicate realms of illusion is something Tito intuitively seemed to grasp all too well.

To read the rest of my review visit Slant Magazine.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Monkey Talk: An Interview with “Project Nim” Director James Marsh

James Marsh is a humble low-key guy who often explores over-the-top boisterous characters. He’s also equal parts affable and driven, and a filmmaker whose work I’ve been raving about ever since “Man On Wire” rocked my world at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2008. Since then I’ve chatted with James about that documentary – that would go on to take the Oscar in 2009 – and more recently about his last foray into fiction filmmaking “Red Riding: 1980,” the second in a stellar three-part trilogy based on David Peace’s novels set during Britain’s seedy “Yorkshire Ripper” days.

So when I saw that the director would be at this year’s Miami International Film Festival to support his Sundance award-winning doc “Project Nim,” which delves into the infamous experiment in the 70s that set out to teach a human-raised chimpanzee to communicate using sign language, I decided to pick his quick-witted brain once again. Sitting in the glorious sunshine outside the fest’s headquarters at the Royal Palm Hotel in South Beach we chatted about everything from “Big Brother” to Bresson to Herzog to uncovering Original Sin.

To read my interview visit Global Comment.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Sex On Film: Stephan Brenninkmeijer and Jennifer Lyon Bell

Check out the interview between Stephan Brenninkmeijer and Jennifer Lyon Bell in my “Sex On Film” piece on pages 60-61 of Amsterdam Magazine!

Sex and De Stad: Queen’s Day

Check out my Queen’s Day column on page 75 of Amsterdam Magazine!

Saturday, April 2, 2011

The Miami International Film Festival 2011

I guess it should come as no surprise that my preference for film festivals tends to follow my sensibility when it comes to films themselves. If everyone in the blogosphere and beyond is talking about the upcoming Hollywood blockbuster or even the latest offering from the mumblecore crowd, I’ll want to review what’s coming out of Kazakhstan (“The Gift to Stalin” — three stars!) or rave about an undistributed doc that takes a refreshing look at a trio of grandma-age sex workers in Berlin (Saara Aila Waasner’s uplifting “Frauenzimmer”). I often feel like I’m out of the loop as the Zeitgeist passes me by. But to be honest, I’ll happily take the sun, sand and beach perks of the Miami International Film Festival while those in the know head to SXSW any day.

To read my coverage visit Filmmaker magazine.

Monday, March 21, 2011

The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975

In an intriguing concept, “The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975” views the American Black Power movement through the lenses of Swedish (16mm) filmmakers during its heyday while recent commentary from those who were there (including Angela Davis and Harry Belafonte) or wish they could have been (?uestlove and Erykah Badu) is heard in voiceover. The documentary actually opens with archival scenes from Miami Beach, where a white restaurant owner touts the freedom and equality in America, followed by clips from poor black Hallandale a half-hour's drive north. The film was introduced at the Miami International Film Festival, where I saw it, by the head of a Florida-based nonprofit dedicated to empowering black filmmakers who bitched about the whiteout at this year's Oscars and the lack of recognition awarded to African-American directors. Göran Hugo Olsson, the doc's white Swedish director, only spoke afterward at the Q&A.

To read the rest of my review visit Slant Magazine.

Monday, March 14, 2011

The Gift to Stalin

Rustem Abdrashev's “The Gift to Stalin” feels like a throwback to another era — and that's got nothing to do with the film being set during the lead-up to the USSR's celebration of Stalin's birthday in 1949, when ethnic and political undesirables were shipped off to remote regions like that of Kazakhstan. Surprisingly, this historical epic contains a very-'70s, spare-no-expense-for-art studio aesthetic (its Kazakh producer is an oil and gas man with a private film company) and an engagingly slow-moving, highly detailed narrative that isn't very much in vogue these days. It's a movie a guy like Terence Malick would appreciate — one that lulls rather than forces us into another time, a different world.

To read the rest of my review visit Slant Magazine.

Monday, March 7, 2011

CineKink 2011: Notes on Kink

“We love the filmmakers because without them we’d all just be here drinking.” So noted CineKink Film Festival founder Lisa Vandever after calling for a round of applause at this year’s midtown kickoff at the Taj Lounge, which saw burlesque performances — by Leta Le Noir, Sweet Lorraine and “N — “The ONLY Letter in Burlesque” followed by a small shorts program. With films containing a slick music video/Calvin Klein commercial aesthetic (Roy Raz’s “The Lady Is Dead” from Israel), to scenes of anatomical pottery (Debi Oulu’s “My Erotic Video Art,” another flick from Israel — what’s up with the Israelis?) to visuals as predictable as its title (“Love Hotel” from its better-named, Spanish director Erika Lust) the diversity on display served as a teaser, naturally, to the eclectic main event. And then there was my evening favorite from the good ole U.S.A. Toby Fell-Holden’s sweetly hilarious “Shake It” takes masks and half-naked men to Muppet silliness proportions. All this and a fundraising raffle with prizes including stainless steel toys — who could ask for anything more?

To read the rest of my rundown visit Filmmaker magazine.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Iranian Theater Festival: “Something Something Über Alles”

Though Iranian cinema has been all the rage among cinephiles for as long as the Khomeini regime has been cracking down on its filmmakers, the country's vibrant ex-pat theater practitioners across the U.S. have gone virtually unnoticed. Enter the Brick Theater in Williamsburg to remedy the discrepancy. From now until March 26th you can catch a vast array of productions that reflect the diversity of Persian culture itself: political protests and surreal comedies, live actors and shadow puppets, dance and video (and yes, even a couple of films) are all represented at this year's Iranian Theater Festival.

To read my review visit The House Next Door at Slant Magazine.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

“When Harry Met Chesty” Premieres at CineKink Film Festival

Join me at Anthology Film Archives at 1PM on Saturday, March 5th for the world premiere of my short film “When Harry Met Chesty” (preceding the doc “Run, Run, It’s Him”) at CineKink NYC 2011.

Where else ya gonna see Doris Wishman's "Deadly Weapons" colliding with Clint Eastwood's "Dirty Harry" in a tit-filled tale of bittersweet romance?

Cinekink Film Festival 2011: Kink Crusaders

"I am a role model simply because I'm here," Mr. Leather Ottawa announces from his wheelchair in Michael Skiff's “Kink Crusaders,” a documentary shot during the 2008 edition of the International Mr. Leather contest, held annually in Chicago for the past 30 years. Moving back and forth from archival footage and talking-head interviews with IML founder Chuck Renslow, past winners, and current hopefuls, to the contest itself, Skiff's rote filmmaking is fortunately topped by his eye-opening subject matter. Within the LGBT community, leather men (and women) have always been marginalized—which, ironically, has allowed IML to slowly expand even as the gay community itself has narrowed its focus to chasing once exclusively hetero dreams. "We are inclusive. That's one of the things that made us grow," Renslow emphasizes, recalling the first black man to be named International Mr. Leather. Indeed, the latest incarnation of IML is a microcosm of true diversity, with a skinny WWII vet (returning soldiers were the fathers of the leather scene), a pierced German with a voice like Werner Herzog, an Asian top skilled in the rope bondage used on prisoners brought before Japanese emperors, and even guys from unlikely locales such as Iowa and Oklahoma, all duking it out with the cosmopolitan, gay white male base. When you've got straight guys proudly competing in a contest that started in the back of a frequently raided bar (Renslow reminisces about the early days of paying off local policemen during the earliest days of Mayor Richard M. Daley's reign), this is progress.

To read the rest of my review visit: The House Next Door at Slant Magazine.

Meet The Dutch: WCBO founder Iepe Rubingh

Check out my “Meet The Dutch” profile of World Chess Boxing Organization founder Iepe Rubingh on pages 22-23 of Amsterdam Magazine!

Sex and De Stad: Food Fetish

Check out my food fetish column on page 51 of Amsterdam Magazine!

Fracking Hell: A Conversation with Oscar-nominated “Gasland” Director Josh Fox

I tend to prefer reviewing documentary features to fiction, not because of any affinity for reality over fantasy, but because a bad doc just tends to be less painful to sit through than a mediocre fiction film. But when it comes to the nonfiction genre itself I have one very big pet peeve – activist docs done by lazy directors, who forget to explain why we should even care in the first place, thinking that simply putting forth rational arguments negates the need for pulling emotional heartstrings. After all, Al Gore’s stale lecturing in “An Inconvenient Truth” didn’t move moviegoers to take action. For those that did, it’s the polar bears, stupid.

The Oscar-nominated “Gasland” could serve as a crash course in rallying the troops. Not only has director Josh Fox put a face to his film by touring the country with “Gasland” – a road trip exposé itself sparked when Fox and his neighbors were offered $100,000 each from a natural gas mining company to drill on their Pennsylvania properties – but he’s crafted a doc bursting with sweet goofiness and serene cinematography that counterbalances all the scientific mumbo jumbo required to get this serious story told about the dangerous environmental effects of the natural-gas production process “fracking.” In other words, he’s winning crucial hearts even if he loses a few minds. Unlike his archenemy Dick Cheney (himself living proof of the powerlessness of rational argument) Fox has made debating dirty procedures like fracking fun. I spoke with the director by phone before the Academy Awards were handed out.

To read my interview visit Global Comment.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Public Speaking

"Sitting in bars and smoking cigarettes—that's the history of art." So sayeth Fran Lebowitz. If you're a longtime fan of the truly iconoclastic essayist (responding to one lecture attendee's inquiry as to how she feels about being called the modern-day Dorothy Parker, Lebowitz snaps that's she's "not big on emulating"), expecting to learn what makes her tick then “Public Speaking,” Martin Scorsese's loving profile of the early bloomer who subsequently spent a decade with "writer's blockade," is certain to disappoint. How exactly this high school dropout (well, she was kicked out) who fell in with Warhol and his crowd after fleeing Jersey for the Big Apple developed into a NYC legend in her own right is never addressed. Instead, we catch only glimpses below the surface of this whirlwind of wit as Scorsese steps out of the way and lets Lebowitz herself run the show. Which ultimately proves to be the smartest move. When a language locomotive as entertaining as Lebowitz barrels your way, it's best just to jump on then hang on for dear life.

To read the rest of my review visit Slant Magazine.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Happy Valentine’s Day to the Haggards

I confess. Ted Haggard is my hero. Ever since the once-fallen preacher became the victim of both the religious right that kicked him out of the New Life mega church that he built—and in an ironic Biblical twist, even his homeland of Colorado Springs—and the equally narrow-minded, left-wing "journalists" that tried to make a name for themselves by smearing the loving family man as a homo hypocrite. (I guess it takes one to know one. That ironic twist came courtesy of the same folks that otherwise insist, "It's who you love not who you screw" that makes one gay.) So I was quite pleased to read The Last Temptation of Ted in the February issue of “GQ,” in which reporter Kevin Roose probes Pastor Ted with an open and questioning mind—and has his own preconceptions about not just sexuality but life itself wonderfully upturned in the process.

An excerpt:
"Here's where I really am on this issue," he half whispers. "I think that probably, if I were 21 in this society, I would identify myself as a bisexual."

After a weekend of Ted trying to convince me of his unambiguous devotion to his wife and kids, I'm at first too surprised to say anything.

"So why not now?" I ask finally.

"Because, Kevin, I'm 54, with children, with a belief system, and I can have enforced boundaries in my life. Just like you're a heterosexual but you don't have sex with every woman that you're attracted to, so I can be who I am and exclusively have sex with my wife and be perfectly satisfied."

"But what does it have to do with being 54?"

"Life!" he says. "We live an ordinary life.”

Roose then goes on to allow: "In a way, hearing Ted talk about his self-imposed boundaries makes it easier to understand how he can seem so fulfilled with his new, cleaned-up life. These days what Ted craves is not total sexual satisfaction but exactly the things he used to have—a church, a loving wife, camping trips with his boys—and getting those things back will require amputating a part of who he is and what he might, at some point, have wanted."

In other words, Roose has made the startling discovery that Ted Haggard is…a grown up! Like every other mature adult regardless of sexual orientation, Pastor Ted has decided to "amputate"—though the more appropriate term would be "sacrifice"—some superficial youthful desires for the sake of deeper ones. Why? Because at the age of 54 screwing is just not high on his priority list any longer—a concept that both the sex-obsessed religious zealots and young and horny queer bloggers couldn't possibly fathom in their immaturity. The middle-aged preacher isn't in denial, forcing down a teenager's raging hormones, but has simply found peace and fulfillment in spending time with his kids and growing old with the woman he loves. (Yes, as hard as it may be for some to believe, snorting meth with a male escort pales in comparison.) So I salute you, Gayle and Ted! If happiness is the best revenge, then this resurrected pastor and his wife of 32 years have had the last laugh.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

“Into Eternity”: An Interview with Michael Madsen

I first encountered Michael Madsen’s “Into Eternity” at the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam this past November. What struck me most about the film – a visually and sonically stunning, existential leap into the very future of civilization via Finland’s nuclear waste storage facility Onkalo – was how little it resembled a documentary at all. Images from “Lord of the Rings” and “2001: A Space Odyssey” danced in my head as I tried to wrap my brain around the overwhelming concept of this enormous underground burial chamber that will continue to be under construction until the 22nd century, that is to be built to last for 100,000 years. Fortunately, I was able to sit down with the Danish director in the lobby of the infamous Hotel Chelsea before the flick opened at NYC’s Film Forum to discuss documentary versus fiction genres, the current cinematic climate in Denmark, and the necessity of myth in our modern-day rationalist society.

To read the interview visit Global Comment.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Sex and De Stad: True Love

Check out my Valentine's Day column on page 57 of Amsterdam Magazine!

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Into Eternity

“Into Eternity,” Danish director Michael Madsen's peek inside Onkalo, a nuclear waste storage facility currently under construction in Finland, was one of the most radical and stunning docs to screen at this past November's IDFA because it doesn't play like a documentary at all. Watching the film is akin to having a totally immersive, video game-like experience, a journey best described as “Lord of the Rings” meets “2001: A Space Odyssey.” Time seems to stand still. That “Into Eternity” is indeed nonfiction—and would make for a great midnight scare flick—renders it all the more startling and disturbing.

To read the rest of my review visit Slant Magazine.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Imitation of Life: The Interminable Suicide of Gregory Church

"What are you writing there? Are you reviewing? You're a bit late!" Daniel Kitson teased a young man seated in the audience scribbling away at the January 16th matinee of “The Interminable Suicide of Gregory Church,” Kitson's one-man show that opened at St. Ann's Warehouse in DUMBO 10 days earlier as part of the Public Theater's Under the Radar Festival. (For the record, this mile-a-minute monologue that made audiences swoon at the 2009 Edinburgh Fringe Festival plays through the end of the month, having outrun the UTR festival. And also for the record, this critic has a good excuse for tardiness, having just arrived back in NYC from Europe.) "You review away," the bearded and bubbly, disarmingly charming standup comedian and actor continued. "But the critics have spoken. And it's a hit!"

To read my own review visit Slant Magazine.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Interview with “Your brother. Remember?” Director Zachary Oberzan

One of the great joys of being a critic is the childlike sense of wonder that comes with being the first to discover something new (that, and as the esteemed music critic Lester Bangs once put it, getting free shit). I first met Zachary Oberzan after seeing his one-man show “Rambo Solo,” developed with Nature Theater of Oklahoma, in early 2009. (Yes, for the record the tickets were comp since I was reviewing for Theater Online.) At the time I wrote, “I have seen the theater future and its name is Rambo – or more accurately, one fearless thespian named Zachary Oberzan who’s got the right combination of mesmerizing lunacy and sheer cojones to guide an audience through the entire plot of “First Blood” in his Manhattan studio apartment then transport the journey to the live stage of Soho Rep.”

As it turns out, my “big discovery” was already an accomplished, Obie award-winning actor who’d been developing his artistry for a decade. Nevertheless, it was exciting to watch as Oberzan subsequently transitioned from theater to a feature film. His “Flooding With Love For The Kid” – “First Blood” adapted and shot by Oberzan in that studio apartment by himself playing all the characters for 96 bucks, started as a DVD sold after “Rambo Solo” shows, had its theatrical premiere run at Anthology Film Archives last year, and is currently knocking about the festival circuit. Now the tireless Oberzan has created yet another film/theater hybrid, which is running January 5th through 16th at Dixon Place as part of The Public Theater’s Under The Radar Festival. “Your brother. Remember?” incorporates scenes from Jean-Claude Van Damme’s “Kickboxer,” the cult flick “Faces of Death,” footage of he and his brother Gator acting out those films twenty years ago, and he and Gator remaking those home movies today. So when the opportunity arose to chat with Oberzan about this latest tour de force, I certainly couldn’t let the chance to discover something new pass me by. With any luck maybe I’d even get a free DVD.

To read the interview visit Filmmaker magazine.

Sex and De Stad: Easy Money

Check out my latest column on page 57 of Amsterdam Magazine!

Monday, January 3, 2011

Abel Ferrara's “Napoli Napoli Napoli”

Abel Ferrara's “Napoli Napoli Napoli” is as rambling and all over the place as his previous foray into documentary filmmaking, “Chelsea on the Rocks.” This time his approach is the same: talking-head interviews haphazardly mixed with staged reenactments, with some archival images thrown in at random. But compared to a rebel director like Werner Herzog, who weds his similar restlessness to an amazingly diverse appetite, Ferrara seems just an addict-jumpy auteur with a frustratingly immature and narrow vision; sex and violence, drugs, and the arts are pretty much all he's interested in. Which is why after about 15 minutes into “Napoli Napoli Napoli,” you find yourself wondering why he doesn't just stick to fiction instead.

To read the rest of my review visit The House Next Door at Slant Magazine.