Tuesday, April 18, 2017

A Conversation with Amman Abbasi (DAYVEON)

The 19th RiverRun International Film Festival (March 30-April 9) truly stepped up to the plate this year. With over two-dozen local sponsors, and a lineup that included quite a few Cannes and Sundance-premiering flicks, the residents of Winston-Salem, NC had much more to brag about than the recent (halfhearted) repeal of the state’s embarrassing bathroom bill.

One of those Sundance darlings (which opened the NEXT sidebar) was Amman Abbasi’s striking debut Dayveon. Recently acquired by FilmRise and set for an upcoming spring release, the film is a refreshingly non-sensational portrait of life in impoverished Arkansas. Abbasi, an Arkansan who also co-wrote the script and composed the score, follows the titular teen as he struggles to find his place in the world after the recent murder of his older brother, vacillating between the lure of the local Bloods and the loving embrace of his sister and her family.


To read my interview visit Hammer to Nail.

Monday, April 3, 2017

CPH:DOX 2017: The Inaugural Spring Edition

The “something for everyone” film festival is a rarity these days. While most fests like to think they’re providing a wide array for a curious cinephile to choose from, what they usually end up showcasing is a large selection of subject matter. In other words, the films themselves often look and feel very similar in style. (Indeed, I can often spot a Sundance film ten minutes in, and from a last row seat.) That makes CPH:DOX, “the third largest documentary film festival in the world,” something truly special. This was only my second time attending Copenhagen’s premiere nonfiction fest, but the combination of sincerely welcoming vibe and cozy screenings made me feel like I was part of a global doc geek family. I mean “cozy screenings” literally: this year’s sponsor, Normann Copenhagen, created Denmark’s first “pop up designer sofa cinema” inside the new festival headquarters at the Kunsthal Charlottenborg, a year-round contemporary art gallery.


To read all about it visit Filmmaker magazine.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Propellor Film Tech Hub Brings Business Innovation to CPH:DOX

Launched at this year’s International Film Festival Rotterdam, the Propellor Film Tech Hub is an ambitious, country-spanning, joint initiative from the IFFR, the Berlinale’s European Film Market (EFM), the Copenhagen International Documentary Festival (CPH:DOX), and the "innovation studio" Cinemathon (based in Berlin). Basically, the idea behind Propellor is to transfer start-up world ideas to the film industry, upending cinema's barely functioning, stodgy old business models in the process.

To learn more, Documentary reached out to Cinemathon's Erwin Schmidt, one of the founders, who graciously demystified this newfangled tech enterprise prior to the CPH:DOX event.


To read my interview visit Documentary Magazine.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Power to the Priya: Ram Devineni on his Augmented Reality Comic Book Series

I first met Ram Devineni, creator of India’s first augmented reality comic book, Priya’s Shakti, at the FilmGate Interactive Media Festival in February, where he was presenting the graphic novel’s follow-up, Priya’s Mirror. (This work ended up taking the FilmGate Special Jury Award). With the series Devineni and his co-creators have revolutionized the comic book form, and not just technologically but also culturally. A survivor of gang rape in the first installment, Priya joins forces with acid attack survivors in the second, rendering the titular super-heroine tougher than your average Western badass chick.

Devineni is participating in the Art, Technology & Change discussion at this year’s CPH:DOX, and Filmmaker was able to catch up with the AR artist prior to the fest for a brief chat that ran the gamut from comic cons, to the Sistine Chapel, to creating sociopolitical art for a global audience.


To read my interview visit Filmmaker magazine.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Following The Money Shot: Ovidie on Her SXSW Investigative Doc Pornocracy

Originally trained in philosophy, and known as the “porn star intellectual” since the publication of her book Porno Manifesto in the early aughts, feminist pornographer Ovidie can now add hard-hitting investigative journalist to her CV. The French icon’s latest documentary Pornocracy, debuting at SXSW (and later in the month at CPH:DOX), is a stunning exploration of the dark underbelly of online porn — a shadowy world in which a single faceless multinational corporation, with numerous offshore accounts, controls what we see while exploiting the performers whose very livelihood it shamelessly steals. Filmmaker spoke with Ovidie prior to the doc’s March 12th premiere.


To read my interview visit Filmmaker magazine.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

No Way Out: Brent and Craig Renaud on Their SXSW Doc, METH STORM: Arkansas USA

World premiering March 11th at SXSW is METH STORM: Arkansas USA, the latest HBO doc from the Peabody (and Edward R. Murrow and Columbia Dupont and Overseas Press Club) award-winning Renaud brothers. Unsurprisingly, the Arkansan siblings have taken a deeply humanistic approach to the meth epidemic with this film, following a soft-spoken DEA agent struggling to stem the flow of (cheap and extremely potent) Mexican cartel “ice” into his rural community. They parallel this narrative with that of a close-knit family of impoverished addicts, led by a no-nonsense matriarch who just can’t seem to catch a break.


To read my interview visit Filmmaker magazine.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

“Porn is Everywhere, Almost Like a Collective Unconscious”: Bruce LaBruce on his XConfessions Short Refugee’s Welcome

Bruce LaBruce is one busy renaissance man. The queercore icon — director of 11 features (not to mention numerous short films and music videos, and several theater works), visual artist and author — has now teamed up with Erika Lust’s XConfessions to release Refugee’s Welcome. The story of a Syrian refugee in Berlin who both suffers a hate crime and finds a poetic (and explicitly sexual) connection with a Czech punk, the short will be available on Eroticfilms.com (NSWF link, obviously!) on March 9th. (And for free — use the code BRUCE).

Filmmaker spoke with LaBruce — who makes mainstream and hardcore versions of his films — fresh off the Berlinale premiere of his most recent feature, The Misandrists.


To read the rest visit Filmmaker magazine.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

MIT Open Doc Lab Showcases its Storytelling Prowess at the FilmGate Interactive Media Festival

One of the highlights of this year's FilmGate Interactive Media Festival (February 3-5 at the University of Miami School of Communication) was a panel titled "MIT Open Doc Lab Presents: Interactive and Non Linear Storytelling." It featured Beyza Boyacioglu, project manager at MIT Open Doc Lab (whose latest project, Zeki Müren Hotline, a "participatory telephone hotline and interactive web experience," premiered at IDFA DocLab and was nominated for a Digital Storytelling Award), and Doc Lab fellow Jeff Soyk (who was the UI/UX designer and architect on Elaine Sheldon's 2013 Peabody-winning Hollow, as well as the creative director and UI/UX designer on PBS Frontline's 2016 Emmy-winning Inheritance). Though the two work together at MIT — and collaborated on Boyacioglu's Zeki Müren Hotline — their backgrounds couldn't have been more different.


To read the rest visit Documentary Magazine.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Tech Talks: The FilmGate Interactive Media Festival

The 2017 FilmGate Interactive Media Festival, which took place February 3-5, was a bit different from prior editions I’ve attended. For one thing, the fest was now headquartered in the heart of Hurricanes-land — over Super Bowl weekend no less — at the University of Miami School of Communication (rather than in trendy South Beach). For another, accommodations this time included a lovely historic house rented in Coconut Grove, where I found myself one of four born-and-bred Americans, along with three other artists originally hailing from India, Serbia and Turkey. Very Real World meets virtual reality.


To read the rest visit Filmmaker magazine.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Movies About Museums

“A process in which no one wants to take a risk is too Dutch for me,” laments one of the embattled Spanish co-architects in Oeke Hoogendijk’s The New Rijksmuseum, a 2013 doc I caught up with over the holidays. The film follows the epic bureaucratic struggles inherent in reimagining one of Amsterdam’s most beloved buildings, home to works by every master Dutchie from Rembrandt to Vermeer.


And to see which other films I visited head over to Hammer to Nail.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Five Things to Catch at the FilmGate Interactive Media Festival

This year’s FilmGate Interactive Media Festival – “solely dedicated to new technology-driven production companies, actors, filmmakers, journalists, advertising and marketing agencies, gaming companies, and curious audiences interested in interactive media, virtual reality, and mixed reality projects from around the world,” as its ambitious mission states – will be held February 3-5 at the University of Miami School of Communication. Among the wide-ranging selection of interactive screenings, specialty workshops, parties and panels to choose from, several stand out as not-to-be-missed experiences.

Glancing through the program, the following are just five – the first three art installations (two with a local flavor), the last two panels – that have made my must-catch list.


To read my sneak peek visit Filmmaker magazine.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Doc Star of the Month: Michelle Smith, 'Best and Most Beautiful Things'

Editor's Note: Some of the greatest documentaries of all time would be inconceivable without their protagonists to drive the stories and keep us viewers enthralled. From the Beales to the Friedmans, from Bob Dylan to Bob Flanagan, these real-life people were transformed, through the dynamic collaborative processes with their respective filmmakers, into indelible and engaging characters of cinema. And it's thanks to the access and intimacy that these protagonists granted to the filmmakers that these films were made in the first place.

So when writer Lauren Wissot proposed a column in which she would interview a documentary subject every other month, we welcomed the idea. So, here is the inaugural Doc Star of the Month (even though it's every other month): Michelle Smith of
Best and Most Beautiful Things.


To read my interview with one of the brightest stars of 2016 visit Documentary Magazine.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Casey Affleck’s Bad Behavior Be Damned (or Why You Should Not Boycott “Manchester by the Sea”)

To call Manchester by the Sea writer/director Kenneth Lonergan’s masterpiece is not an exaggeration. This is a near-flawless film. (And further proof that HBO needs to give Lonergan his own limited series a la Lisa Cholodenko’s Olive Kitteridge or Todd Haynes’s Mildred Pierce.) It features a no-weak-link ensemble cast headed by controversial actor Casey Affleck – who, after being accused of sexual misconduct and harassment by I’m Still Here producer Amanda White and the film’s cinematographer Magdalena Gorka, settled out of court back in 2010. It also stars the luminous Michelle Williams, Kyle Chandler (Friday Night Lights, Bloodline) and Lucas Hedges (best known to Wes Anderson fans from his turns in Moonrise Kingdom and The Grand Budapest Hotel), who together bring to vivid life Lonergan’s tale of an uncle (Affleck) haunted by his own demons suddenly forced to look after his fatherless nephew.



To read the rest of my op-ed visit Hammer to Nail.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Do You Need to Premiere at a Major Festival to Qualify your Doc for an Oscar? Roger Ross Williams on the Shortlist Process

One of the most intriguing aspects of this year’s Savannah Film Festival’s Docs to Watch Roundtable, which I wrote about a couple months back, was the lively back-and-forth that occurred when the subject of the Oscar shortlist came up. From all appearances it seems that a documentarian’s chances of making that Holy Grail cut are “predetermined” — i.e., if your film didn’t debut at one of a narrow number of A-list fests, well, forget about it.

However, Roger Ross Williams, a member of the Documentary Branch of the AMPAS board of governors, took vigorous issue with that assessment. Which intrigued me even more. So Filmmaker decided to follow up with the multitasking, Academy Award-winner a few weeks after the fest, as he was preparing for the UK release of his latest nonfiction artwork Life, Animated. (Which, yes, subsequently made the Oscar shortlist.)













To read my interview visit Filmmaker magazine.