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.