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.