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.