Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Shooting Under Fire: Running and Gunning with the Renaud Brothers

From NYC drug addicts to Mexican drug cartels, from today’s soldiers to yesterday’s civil rights pioneers, from Chicago gang members to Afghan warlords, Craig and Brent Renaud have made a career of covering conflict both around the world and in their own backyard. When not trotting the globe the brothers – both are feature filmmakers and television producers whose work has aired across numerous outlets, including the Discovery Channel (Off to War, Taking the Hill), HBO (Dope Sick Love, Little Rock Central: 50 Years Later) and currently Al Jazeera America (the Fight for Chicago series) – divide their time between NYC and Little Rock, Arkansas. (The busy siblings are also the co-founders of the Arkansas Motion Picture Institute, and serve as the executive and artistic directors, respectively, of the Little Rock Film Festival.) In addition, the Emmy and DGA Award nominees have been honored by the International Documentary Association and received an Edward R. Murrow Award, won two Columbia Duponts and two Overseas Press Club Awards. But perhaps their most astonishing accomplishment is just staying alive. Soon after they returned to the States from Egypt – where Brent barely escaped a mob attack while filming a segment for Al Jazeera America – the duo spoke with Filmmaker about the strategies for their success.

To read my article visit Filmmaker magazine.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Gravity and the 21st Century Hollywood Universe

The planets have realigned and America is no longer at the center of the Hollywood universe. Imaginative outsiders are heading west to mine California gold, and in true Invasion of the Body Snatchers style, foreigners now pull the artistic strings inside the behemoth studio system. Take for example that feat of spectacular special effects and cinematography prowess known as Gravity, an Avatar-rivaling blockbuster helmed by the Mexican director Alfonso Cuarón, which draws a line in the sand, giving us a glimpse into what the future marriage of art and commerce will look like.

To read my review visit Global Comment.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Co-Directing Couple Joe Brewster and Michèle Stephenson on Race, Elite Education and their Sundance-winning “American Promise”

For co-directors Joe Brewster and Michèle Stephenson, their 13-years-in-the-making “American Promise” may have fulfilled every indie filmmaker’s American Dream. Since winning the Jury Award at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, the doc – which trails this upper-middle-class black couple’s own son Idris and his friend Seun as they learn to navigate the majority white world of NYC’s prestigious Dalton School – has nabbed prize after prize, including the top award at the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival, and most recently, at the Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival. It was there in Hot Springs that I finally got to catch the flick – and, as good luck would have it, moderate a Q&A via Skype with the Brooklyn duo. And since there’s rarely enough time post-screening to adequately address questions in depth, I asked the filmmaking couple for a repeat performance here at Global Comment. (“American Promise” will premiere on PBS in February – but if you simply can’t wait, go to to request a screening near you.)

To read my interview visit Global Comment.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Going Beyond Burlesque with Beth B’s “Exposed”

“How do you cover up cellulite? With glitter and a spotlight.” These words of wisdom from the legendary NYC, splendidly zaftig, female drag queen World Famous *BOB* pretty much sum up the ethos of legendary NYC, underground filmmaker Beth B’s latest doc-extravaganza “Exposed,” a behind-the-scenes peep at today’s proudly subversive burlesque movement. Its performers include folks like Rose Wood, a biologically male strip-teaser brought into the scene by biologically female drag queen Dirty Martini, and Mat Fraser, perhaps the sexiest Seal Boy – also the name of his critically-hailed one-man show – on the planet. (Sorry boys and girls, this disabled hottie is married to burlesque queen, and former Miss Exotic World, Julie Atlas Muz.)

And while the film itself is rather tame in format – clips from performances cut with straightforward interviews with those artists as well as with Tigger!, Bunny Love, Bambi the Mermaid and James Habacker – its presentation is not. Unsurprisingly, the punk godmother of No Wave cinema is adamant that “Exposed” not be “seen” but “experienced” – in the form of an event that includes actual live performances from one or more of the doc’s subjects. To that end, Beth B might have a thing or two to teach younger filmmakers about getting butts in seats. And, even more importantly as a result, the gender-bending, body-image-shattering pioneers she presents onscreen might just be able to school the world at large. “Filmmaker” spoke with Beth B prior to the U.S. premiere of “Exposed” on Friday, November 15th at DOC NYC.

To read my interview visit Filmmaker magazine.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

What to See at DOC NYC

Wedged between international documentary mega-fests CPH:DOX and IDFA on the festival calendar, this country’s largest documentary film fest DOC NYC might seem a humble affair. (Indeed, the four-year-old DOC NYC is downright cozy and laidback compared to Amsterdam’s industry-driven shindig where making sales often eclipses enjoying the sheer pleasure of cinema.) This year’s lineup features 131 films and events, including 11 world premieres and 9 US premieres – not to mention high-caliber attendees from Noam Chomsky to Michel Gondry, to Sarah Polley and Oliver Stone. Yet several small gems that I’ve written about at prior fests are every bit as worthy of celebration as opening night’s “The Unknown Known” (even with Errol Morris in attendance to discuss his Donald Rumsfeld doc). So with this in mind, here are five flicks from four categories I urge every doc geek in Gotham not to miss.

To find out more visit Filmmaker magazine.

Monday, November 11, 2013

A Tale of Two Cities: The 62nd International Film Festival Mannheim-Heidelberg

Situated in the southwestern part of Germany where the Rhine and the Neckar meet, Mannheim, like its sibling city Heidelberg – located upstream from Mannheim on the Neckar and a half hour away – is a university town. Only the University of Mannheim is housed in the 18th century Mannheim Palace, a massive baroque extravaganza that resembles Versailles more than any learning institution I’ve ever encountered. And even that pales in comparison to Heidelberg Castle, still partially in ruins since the Renaissance structure was demolished in the 17th and 18th centuries. This quaint city’s imposing castle emerges from the forested Königstuhl hillside like a great stone beast, overlooking Old Town, which, unlike Mannheim, was mercifully spared from Allied bombs during WWII.

To read the rest visit Filmmaker magazine.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Gangsters, Baseball, Bathhouses and Bill: The 22nd Annual Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival

Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Toronto, Sheffield – Hot Springs, Arkansas? When one thinks of big doc fests, the onetime playground of Al Capone – and Bill Clinton’s childhood home – doesn’t immediately spring to mind. Yet this historic spa town, containing 47 natural hot springs and Hot Springs National Park, the oldest federal reserve in the U.S., also hosts the country’s oldest doc fest. Now in its impressive 22nd year, the Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival exceeded my expectations and then some, its programmers bringing in high-quality nonfiction fare – not to mention topnotch filmmakers and colorful characters – that perfectly aligned with the city’s oddball Southern charm.

To read the rest visit Filmmaker magazine.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Bright Ideas

CosyMo’s Solar Cinema, a solar-powered, mobile movie theater that brings socially engaged art films to underserved communities, is the brainchild of Dutch filmmaker Maureen Prins, who, ironically, is based in Tilburg, Holland’s rainy southern city. Now in its seventh year, Prins’s sustainable cinema has traversed both Europe and Latin America, with the activist artist hoping to “conquer the world and create an international network of Ecocinemas that distribute and show films everywhere.” To that end, Prins has been screening films throughout Europe since 2010, partnering with such organizations as France’s Cine sin Fronteras, Croatia’s Pula Film Festival, Malta’s Cinemastik, Slovenia’s Marindol Children’s Holiday camp and The Netherlands’ own Latin American Film Festival. (Not to mention working with similar entities in Switzerland, Italy, Romania, Bulgaria and Belgium.) And last year saw the creation of Ecocinemas on the other side of the Atlantic in Mexico, Brazil, Uruguay and Chile, with more Latin American countries to come.

To read the rest visit the Fall 2013 issue of Filmmaker magazine.

Friday, October 25, 2013

“Narco Cultura” Director Saul Schwarz Discusses The Glamorization of Mexico’s Drug Lords

Mere miles from El Paso, Texas, one of the safest cities in America, lies Ciudad Juárez, ground zero for the drug war – only conventional wars have rules of engagement. The battle raging within our neighbor to the south is something far more disturbing since Juárez is at heart a no man’s land, where rhyme and reason do not exist. Enter veteran photojournalist Shaul Schwarz. With honest artifice-free filmmaking and gorgeous lush cinematography – that allows us to viscerally experience the surreal nature of life on either side of the U.S.-Mexico border – the Israeli director has created a debut feature equal parts elegant and eye-opening. Shifting from the tale of a hugely popular, Los Angeles-based musician whose “narcocorridos” celebrate the drug lord lifestyle, to a Mexican crime scene investigator who puts his life on the line everyday sifting through the chaos, Schwarz gives us a glimpse through a looking glass filled with contradiction, frustration and ultimately death. After having played to great acclaim at this year’s Sundance and Berlin film festivals, “Narco Cultura” opens in NYC in November with a national rollout to follow.

To read my interview visit Global Comment.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Arthouse in the Caribbean: The Trinidad + Tobago Film Festival 2013

Now in its seventh year, the Trinidad + Tobago Film Festival is both a celebration of Caribbean cinema and of the young country itself, which only gained independence from its British rulers, after a long series of turnovers through the hands of Spain, France, The Netherlands and Courland a little over 50 years ago. (Though I’ve covered many film festivals both in the U.S. and abroad over the past few years, this was the first time I was required to stand for the singing of a national anthem on opening night.) And while many international festivals struggle for a taste of European flavor, TTFF is firmly dedicated to its own and historical past’s shores, preferring to mostly showcase the best from surrounding islands, Africa and South Asia, giving it a brand identity all its own.

To read the rest visit Filmmaker magazine.

Monday, October 7, 2013

More Than Saunas and Kaurismäkis: The Second Finnish Film Affair

“Love & Anarchy” may have been the motto of the 26th Helsinki International Film Festival, which took over the Finnish capital the last ten days of September, but hospitality and order ruled the three-day Finnish Film Affair. The industry event, which takes place during the fest and is now in its second year, was created in 2012 to highlight Finnish films and connect international professionals (mostly sales agents, distributors, and programmers) with the Nordic country’s surprisingly robust film scene. To that end, works in progress were presented alongside prestigious festival hits. And an abundance of networking opportunities at nightly parties – and even a panel on Finnish-Russian co-productions (a no-brainer given the two nations’ geographic proximity) – was on offer.

To read the rest visit Filmmaker magazine.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Leading the Way in Non-Traditional Distribution: Jonathan Goodman Levitt’s “Follow the Leader”

Jonathan Goodman Levitt’s “Follow the Leader” may have recently won the Jury Prize in the Feature Film Competition at the 2013 Northside Festival in Brooklyn, but its DIY distinction lies far beyond what’s captured in front of the lens. Over the course of three years, Levitt’s doc trails a trio of high school class presidents (and aspiring U.S. presidents) – all male and all hailing from one of the original 13 Colonies (Virginia, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania). Even more remarkable than these teenagers’ evolving attitudes, though, is the director’s distribution game plan, deployed with the targeted precision of a political campaign. “Filmmaker” spoke with Levitt about everything from his outside the box, multi-platform strategy, which includes the live event, “Follow the Leader: Reality Check Interactive,” to choosing the Democratic and Republican National Conventions to stage his world premieres.

To read my interview visit Filmmaker magazine.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Five Film Reviewers Advise Filmmakers

Check out Part Two of what me and a few other fellow film geeks have to say at Filmmaker magazine.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Summer 2013 at “Filmmaker” magazine

The latest issue includes my article “Tall Stories” on Katerina Cizek’s stunning HIGHRISE project, and her collaboration with “The New York Times.”

Five Reviewers on Screening Films

Check out what me and a few other fellow film geeks have to say at Filmmaker magazine.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Director Maxim Pozdorovkin Discusses “Pussy Riot – A Punk Prayer”

Suffice to say that by now – thanks to Amnesty International and/or Madonna – you’ve probably heard of Pussy Riot, the feminist punk rock collective that burst onto the international scene after a guerrilla performance at Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Savior led to the arrest and conviction of three of its balaclava-sporting members. Mike Lerner and Maxim Pozdorovkin’s HBO documentary “Pussy Riot – A Punk Prayer” furthers the trio’s tale, taking the viewer behind the scenes of the well publicized story and right into the Russian courtroom where Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alyokhina and Yekaterina Samutsevich made their show trial literal. I spoke with co-director Maxim Pozdorovkin prior to the film’s NYC festival premiere at the 2013 Human Rights Watch Film Festival.

To read my interview visit Global Comment.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Going Digital in the Desert: Currents 2013 New Media Festival

Perhaps the one word that best describes the Currents New Media Festival, an annual event hosting an international array of artists that steams into Santa Fe for the last half of June, is “overwhelming.” This year cutting edge-curious New Mexicans and tourists alike are being treated to futuristic video installations and interactive artwork, art-apps and animation, multimedia performances and experimental documentaries (including Denis Côté’s disturbing study in the banality of human evil towards animals, Bestiaire) – all taking place inside El Museo Cultural, a cavernous warehouse in the Railyard District.

To read the rest of my coverage visit Filmmaker magazine.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

American Doc: Five Tips for Nonfiction Filmmakers

Recently, I was on a panel at the Little Rock Film Festival titled “Cinematic Nonfiction: Not Your Parents’ Documentary Film.” As our moderator Robert Greene, the director of “Fake It So Real,” and I waxed rhapsodic over the state of nonfiction filmmaking in Denmark, I realized that my own doc philosophy has evolved over the years – as I’ve noticed more and more that Americans lag behind much of the world when it comes to quality doc-making. While a lot of nonfiction aficionados like to chalk up this disparity to generous government subsidies in Europe, the problem actually lies much deeper than we’d like to admit, in general approach rather than in funding (or lack thereof). To paraphrase something Danish documentarian Eva Mulvad (“The Good Life”) once explained to me – and that I’ve been quoting ever since – American filmmakers tend to be addicted to talking heads, and the British obsessed with social issues. Whereas the Danish don’t even separate “fact” from fiction – the film school teaching one technique that applies to both narrative and nonfiction. The result is a country that simply produces great cinematic stories rather than movies that dully lecture or gratingly preach.

So with this in mind I’ve compiled a list of top five tips I wish every doc-maker would take to heart.

To read the rest visit Filmmaker magazine.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Kicking Ass in Clintonland: The Little Rock Film Festival

“A great film is made with love and time. Then it knocks you on your ass.” Such was the guerrilla tagline for the seven-year-old Little Rock Film Festival, and the same could be said regarding fests themselves – and writing about them, for that matter. Truth be told, I was initially on the fence about heading south to cover a festival in a state I was hard-pressed to locate on a map, and knew only through its past racist history and present-day Jeff Nichols films. Fortunately, my sister pointed out why passing up the chance to visit Little Rock would have been insane: “It’s the next best thing to Graceland!” And so I was sold.

To read the rest visit Filmmaker magazine.

Monday, May 13, 2013

“Shadow Dancer”: An Interview with Director James Marsh

“Fiercely intelligent” is the phrase used by a recent acquaintance, whose husband worked on “Shadow Dancer,” to describe the film’s director James Marsh. It’s a spot-on assessment that I couldn’t agree with more. The Oscar-winning filmmaker behind “Man On Wire” – who I last interviewed for Global Comment in 2011 about his follow-up doc “Project Nim” – is an artist drawn to exploring the complexities and puzzles in life, rather than to providing grand conclusions or even any solutions. Such is the case with Marsh’s latest narrative feature, a nail-biting, Belfast-set thriller (starring the dynamite duo of Andrea Riseborough and Clive Owen) about a single mom forced to choose between going to jail for her involvement in an IRA bomb plot, or turning government informant and spying on her hardliner family. I spoke with the British-born, Denmark-based director prior to the flick’s NYC theatrical release on May 31st. (“Shadow Dancer” will also be available on iTunes and On Demand everywhere else.)

To read my interview visit Global Comment.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Talking with Michael Di Jiacomo and John Turturro about “1-900-Tonight”

One of the most frustrating things about covering film festivals is making discoveries that few movie lovers will ever see. Filmmaking is an industry after all, and as such, artistry will always play second fiddle to marketability. Even so, I was quite surprised to learn that one of my favorite films from the 2011 edition of the prestigious Karlovy Vary International Film Festival never found U.S. theatrical distribution. Surely someone could have figured a way to sell a John Turturro-starring, NYC-set story about two lost souls on opposite ends of an adult chat line? (Especially considering Turturro last year appeared at the Toronto International Film Festival to pitch what sounded like another brilliantly offbeat, sex-themed project, “Fading Gigolo,” in which he’d play a hooker to Woody Allen’s pimp.)

Fortunately, one of the most exciting things about covering film festivals is that nagging questions like these can be taken straight to the creators themselves. “Filmmaker” spoke with both the writer/director and lead actor of “1-900-Tonight” (formerly “Somewhere Tonight”), Michael Di Jiacomo and John Turturro, respectively, about the indie film life, the death of Theo Van Gogh, and ending up where they least expected – on demand on Starz.

To read my interview visit Filmmaker magazine.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Phie Ambo on “Free the Mind”

Phie Ambo’s “Free the Mind” was one of my favorite flicks at this past International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam, so I was thrilled to learn it would finally reach these American shores via a premiere at the Rubin Museum of Art in NYC on May 3rd. (And hopefully roll out nationwide if the filmmakers’ Indiegogo financing effort – which includes a photo op with the Dalai Lama as a reward – goes according to plan.) And I was even more excited to have the chance to speak with the Danish documentarian herself, whose film about University of Wisconsin professor Richard Davidson (named to “Time” magazine’s 2006 list of the 100 most influential people in the world), and his use of meditation and other mindfulness techniques to treat everyone from PTSD suffering soldiers to an ADHD affected preschooler, yields astonishing on-camera, real-world results.

To read my interview visit Filmmaker magazine.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

All in the Family: Shawney Cohen on Hot Docs Opener “The Manor”

The titular subject referred to in Shawney Cohen’s debut feature has nothing to do with ladies and lords, but with the Cohen family business – a combo strip club/motel in a small Canadian town. And “The Manor” has nothing to do with in the ins and outs of the sex industry, so to speak, but with the inner workings of the Cohen family, which includes Shawney’s 400-pound father (who bought the place when the director was only six) and 85-pound anorexic mother. Ultimately, the doc’s not so much north-of-the-border, reality TV than a nuanced portrait of a loving yet dysfunctional family, more in the vein of “Capturing the Friedmans” and “Crazy Love.”

“Filmmaker” spoke with the director/son/strip club manager prior to the film’s world premiere today as the opening night feature of this year’s Hot Docs.

To read my interview visit Filmmaker magazine.

The Art of War: An interview with writer-director Kim Nguyen of the Academy Award-nominated drama “War Witch”

Writer-director Kim Nguyen’s deeply affecting drama “War Witch” spent most of last year on the film fest circuit, soaking up awards like Best Narrative Feature and Best Actress at New York’s Tribeca Film Festival and Best Actress at the Berlin Film Festival. After being nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at this year’s Oscars, it was little surprise to see the fast-rising underdog sweep 10 out of the 12 categories at last month’s Canadian Screen Awards. Boasting beautiful cinematography and patient artistry—and, most importantly, just the right texture—Nguyen’s flick doesn’t merely tell the tale of 12-year-old Komona, an African girl forced into becoming a child soldier. It envelops the audience in an entire world, playing out like a horror film set in paradise. “Alibi” was lucky enough to speak with the French-Canadian filmmaker prior to the film’s New Mexico premiere.

To read my interview visit the Alibi.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The Bermuda International Film Festival Celebrates Sweet Sixteen

Sweet 16 was the theme of this year’s Bermuda International Film Festival, though the vibe seemed more smooth continuation than a coming of age. Like its March 2012 edition, this April BIFF screened an international selection of prestige flicks (that those of us who don’t live on an enchanted island in the middle of the Atlantic had mostly seen by Oscar time).

To read the rest visit Filmmaker magazine.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Director Marten Persiel Discusses "This Ain’t California"

Awhile back I wrote about Marten Persiel’s “This Ain’t California,” the Berlinale-winning “punk fairytale” about skateboarding in East Germany that caused a bit of a stir overseas for its liberal use of staged reenactments. Regardless of the controversy, Persiel’s film is like nothing I’ve seen in recent years, the closest comparison probably being Grant Gee’s 2007 Joy Division (written by Jon Savage), which employs a collage of images to conjure up the Manchester atmosphere during that music scene’s heyday. In fact, Manchester and East Berlin shared a similar aesthetic in the ’70s and ’80s, composed of drab grey buildings and cold concrete, out of which an artistic community counter-intuitively blossomed like flowers springing from pavement cracks. Communism might not have ruled Thatcher’s England, but the sense of hopelessness that originally birthed the Sex Pistols’ “No Future” is the same that propelled the GDR’s skater culture. And as someone who grew up punk in small town Colorado during the Reagan days, “This Ain’t California” is my story as well. Ich bin ein Californian.

I spoke with the German director prior to the film’s U.S. theatrical premiere at the Maysles Cinema on April 12th. To read my interview visit Filmmaker magazine.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

“Herman’s House” Director Angad Singh Bhalla Discusses Solitary Confinement and the Angola 3

When one thinks of American torture tactics, images of men subjected to waterboarding in some faraway Middle Eastern country are more likely to spring to mind than that of an inmate quietly biding time in a prison down south. But the plight of Herman Wallace, Albert Woodfox and Robert King has been on Amnesty International’s radar for decades. Ever since a prison guard was murdered in 1972, three Black Panthers who’d been vocal about conditions at a Louisiana penitentiary were blamed, and the “Angola 3” were placed in solitary confinement – where Wallace and Woodfox remain to this day, 40 years on.

Enter Jackie Sumell, a white New York artist whose correspondence with Wallace led to an installation entitled “The House That Herman Built,” which toured galleries internationally, and in turn led to the newfound friends’ decision to make the inmate’s dream house a reality. Which is where Canadian filmmaker Angad Singh Bhalla comes in. As he trails Jackie on her quest for land on which to build what will serve as a youth community center – Herman’s omniscient voice heard only in phone calls from beyond prison walls, directing the mission like an unseen ghost – a tale emerges of a quest to create a lasting legacy freer than a cell and sturdier than a house.

I spoke with the film’s director, whose resume includes producing work for Human Rights Watch and The Center for Constitutional Rights as well as for labor unions, about his most unusual, multi-layered debut.

To read the rest visit Global Comment.

Friday, April 5, 2013

In Gratitude

It’s quite fitting that legendary film critic Roger Ebert died only days after Easter. For those of us who found religion at the movies Roger was our Jesus figure – spreading the gospel of Cinema, a man both generous and accessible, populist where Kael and her cinephilic kin were lofty and unreachable. I know I’m not alone in his having touched my world in a real personal way. How many Pulitzer Prize-winning writers would pause to truly engage with their acolytes as Roger did time and time again? Here’s just one of thousands of examples of email correspondence he had with those of us who hope to carry on his tradition, to radiate the "incredible delight" of life through the metaphor of the moving image.

On Dec 8, 2007 10:29 AM, Lauren Wissot> wrote:

Mr. Ebert,
I so adore your writing so I was a bit disappointed you didn't see what I saw (at The House Next Door):

Always looking forward to your next piece of wisdom.


--- Roger Ebert <> wrote:

He is a good critic but wants a diferent movie. I admire this one for being what it is. If everyone else was more dialed down than Juno, she wouldn't work.


On Dec 10, 2007 4:10 PM, Lauren Wissot wrote:
Thank you for reading (and I'm a "she" - that was my review, not Matt's). I'll watch it again, try to view it through your eyes.

--- Roger Ebert <> wrote:

My sincere apologies!

The House is a superb site, often visited by moi.

Movies often reflect the notes of their leads. If the lead is doleful, so are the supporting characters :). I think my review was still echoing the incredible delight of the audiences I've seen the movie with.


Sunday, March 17, 2013

Five Reasons Why James Franco Must Be Stopped

One Degree of James Franco isn't as fun as Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon.

The Village just ain't big enough for both NYU and James Franco.

Porn already has James Deen.

Would say he jumped the shark but that might lead to a Damien Hirst collaboration.

Marina Abramovic Franco.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Five Questions with “Remedy” Writer/Director Cheyenne Picardo

Opening the 10th anniversary edition of CineKink NYC tonight is writer/director (and “habitual submissive”) Cheyenne Picardo’s “Remedy,” a look at the business side of BDSM through the eyes of a character crafted from Picardo’s personal experience. “Filmmaker” spoke with the accidental director – who originally set out to be a critic – about converting a barn into a NYC dungeon, casting non-kinksters, and why Steve Martin’s “The Jerk” is more influential than Godard.

To read my interview visit Filmmaker magazine.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Christine Turner on “Homegoings”

Just in the nick of time for Black History Month, and debuting at the 2013 Documentary Fortnight: MoMA’s International Festival of Nonfiction Film, is Christine Turner’s “Homegoings,” a poetically crafted exploration of the history of African-American funeral traditions. Told via the Harlem neighborhood’s legendary funeral director Isaiah Owens – who found his calling as a small child, burying all deceased animals he stumbled across in his South Carolina surroundings – the doc manages to be poignant, inspirational, and unexpectedly uplifting. In other words, as one subject says about black burials themselves, a “sad good time.” “Filmmaker” spoke with the doc’s director prior to the film’s premiere as part of MoMA Selects: POV. POV will broadcast “Homegoings” later this year.

To read my interview visit Filmmaker magazine.

Monday, February 25, 2013

The 6th Annual Thin Line Film Fest

First things first – Texas’s Thin Line Film Fest does not take place in Austin, nor in March, nor does it accept indie narratives, nor any fiction films at all. In fact, this six-year-old event, which plays a month prior to SXSW, smartly doesn’t define itself in relation to that cinematic elephant in the Lone Star State. Which is its strength. Texas’s only fest devoted strictly to docs – from local to international – Thin Line (the name inspired by its founders’ desire to explore that space between fact and fiction) does take over Denton, Texas, for 10 days in February. It screens nonfiction flicks mostly in two quaint yet roomy, appropriately named venues, the Campus Theatre and the Fine Arts Theater, conveniently located around a central square.

To read the rest visit Filmmaker magazine.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Lincoln Unchained

Ah, Oscar time. While pop culture’s controversy spotlight once again shines on one of its favorite subjects, film geek provocateur Quentin Tarantino, Hollywood’s untouchable golden boy and go-to moral compass Steven Spielberg gets a pass. While “Django Unchained” renewed my faith in Tarantino as crucial head barbarian at Tinseltown’s fortified gates, Spielberg’s latest historical moneymaker “Lincoln” dubiously did more than merely exceed my tolerance threshold for feel-good cheesiness. (Playwright Tony Kushner's theatrical flourishes only work onscreen if they're tempered by the subtle direction of a nuanced dude like Mike Nichols – whereas Spielberg’s over-the-top style is like turning up the volume on Al Pacino.) Indeed, Spielberg’s latest left me feeling more offended than any extended use of the n-word ever could.

For the undeniably brilliant ensemble cast – which includes not just genius Day-Lewis, but the underappreciated Joseph Gordon-Levitt (who can hold his own head-to-head with the aforementioned heavyweight, much like Paul Dano did in "There Will Be Blood") and a hilarious (and nearly unrecognizably plump) James Spader – and the praise it’s deservedly garnered, is only serving to mask the flick’s truly disturbing revisionist thinking. Two righteous abolitionist characters – Tommy Lee Jones’s hobbled Thaddeus Stevens and Stephen Spinella’s effeminate Asa Vintner Litton – in particular deserve the same level of scrutiny as a Spike Lee tweet. Spielberg’s following the studio rule that all good guys must have a personal connection to whatever cause they’re pursuing – be it revenge for the death of a loved one, or in Stevens’s case, falling in love with his black housekeeper – has the troubling effect of also making it seem that Civil War-era white guys (other than St. Lincoln) never did the right thing because it was morally correct, but only when they were serving their own self-interests.

Even more problematic, though, is Spinella’s impassioned abolitionist, which registers as, well, complete bullshit. Using Spinella, a talented theater vet who took the Tony for his portrayal of Prior Walter in Kushner’s “Angels in America,” as a vehicle to link today’s legal struggles in the gay rights arena with the past’s battle for emancipation is both clunky and hollow. The whole concept of gay/straight didn't even exist in Lincoln's time - so Spinella's (white, male – i.e., enfranchised!) character would never have felt "oppressed" (thus empathetic to the slaves, we assume) in the first place. Not only is this “I feel your pain” show of solidarity an insult to an entire African-American population that truly were victimized, but it’s yet another example of privileged white men laying claim to something they should never have tried to own in the first place.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Academy Award Nominee “Kon-Tiki”: An Interview with Co-Directors Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg

Academy Award Best Foreign Language Film nominee “Kon-Tiki” is a fictionalized account of the Norwegian experimental ethnographer (and subsequent Oscar Award winner) Thor Heyerdahl’s trans-Pacific journey in a balsa raft over 65 years ago. It’s also a Scandinavian box office sensation and the first Norwegian film to nab nominations from both Oscar and the Golden Globes. I spoke with the film’s co-directors, slated to helm a major Hollywood movie next, about their own trip from Norway to L.A.’s wild west.

To read my interview visit Global Comment.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Talking Legends with Terence Stamp

The 2013 edition of the Palm Springs International Film Festival was filled with glitzy events and screenings, including a Talking Pictures sidebar featuring movies followed by conversations with noteworthy actors like Alan Cumming (discussing “Any Day Now”) and Naomi Watts (for “The Impossible”). But it was the closing night gala for Paul Andrew Williams’ “Unfinished Song,” starring Vanessa Redgrave as a cancer-stricken septuagenarian in an old folks choir, that really grabbed my attention. Actually, it wasn’t the film (which I haven’t seen) so much as the possibility of interviewing the actor playing Redgrave’s character’s devoted husband that made me stand up and take notice.

O.K., I’ll be honest, journalistic integrity be damned. I’ve been head over heels for Terence Stamp...

To read my interview visit Filmmaker magazine.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

"Free the Mind" Launches Distro Campaign via Indiegogo

Wanna give the finger to Big Pharma and maybe meet the Dalai Lama?

Danish director Phie Ambo’s “Free the Mind” was one of my big discoveries at IDFA 2012. The film’s a truly revelatory exploration of the mindfulness movement, led here in the States by the University of Wisconsin’s Richard Davidson (who made “Time” magazine’s list of the 100 most influential people in the world back in 2006), an expert in “contemplative neuroscience” who moved into the field after being asked by none other than the Dalai Lama why modern neuroscience didn’t study kindness and compassion. Ambo’s doc is a must-see not just for those who can empathize with the struggles of the film’s subjects, PTSD affected soldiers and an ADHD addled preschooler, but for everyone wary of our pill-popping society that prefers to mask psychological problems rather than to actually heal the source.

To find out more visit Filmmaker magazine.

Friday, January 18, 2013

The 24th Annual Palm Springs International Film Festival: 4 Days, 3 Greats, 2 Duds

Palm Springs, California blossomed in the 1930s when Hollywood royalty started calling this Coachella Valley city, a couple hours drive from L.A., (second) home. It still has a sort of old-timey vibe, evidenced by the hundreds of names engraved in its downtown Walk of Stars, the majority of which faded from the collective celebrity conscious decades ago. And though the Palm Springs International Film Festival has only been around for 24 years – actually a ripe old age for an American film fest – it too feels like a throwback to another era, one in which the term “kick starter” had nothing to do with making movies.

To read the rest visit Filmmaker magazine.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Five Tips for Approaching Festival Press

For much longer than I care to think about I’ve been hitting the road and traveling the friendly skies far and wide, covering film festivals both nationally and internationally. And yet it never ceases to amaze me how often paid publicists and filmmaker-publicists shoot themselves in the proverbial foot when it comes to obtaining coverage for their indie endeavors. So with Sundance nearly upon us, I thought it might be helpful (and in my case, cathartic) to go over a few dos – and two definite don’ts – when it comes to working the PR machine.

To read the rest visit Filmmaker magazine.