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!