Columbia University Film Festival 2014

The Columbia University Film Festival is the annual premiere of thesis short films, feature screenplays and teleplays created by graduate MFA students from Columbia University School of the Arts Film Program. (Source: Columbia University Film Festival website)

Held May 2nd-8th at Lincoln Center (with events scheduled in Los Angeles June 17-20) and its 27th year, this festival is an opportunity for the public at large to catch a glimpse at (possibly) the next Kathryn Bigelow, James Mangold or Jennifer Lee (of the Academy Award-winning animated feature Frozen) who is also the recipient of this year’s Andrew Sarris Award.

One of the things that continues to stand out to me is the production value of the work presented. Whereas last year, I attended the closing ceremonies and saw only the closing night (awards events), this time I felt as if I was in the thick of it and could truly enjoy the festival experience.

Unfortunately due to scheduling conflicts, I was unable to attend the screenplay workshops and panel discussions.

 

Some of the highlights for me included the following (synopses and photos courtesy of The Film Society of Lincoln Center website):

Alex the Magnificent
Director: Robert Monk Davis, USA, 2014, DCP, 14m
Fed up with his life, Alex Martin gives up all his worldly possessions to hitchhike across the country.

ILC’s take: an irreverent and almost unbelievable story. So entertaining.

Smut
Director: Tom Sveen, Producers: John Wakayama Carey & Sarah Dorman, USA, 2014, DCP, 10m
On a class field trip to the landfill, two boys make a startling discovery that draws them toward adulthood.

ILC’s take: A nostalgic gem. Could easily see this as being a smaller episode of a larger narrative.

smut_web

Knives
Director: Aaron David DeFazio, Producer: Larissa Rhodes, USA, 2014, DCP, 16m
A curious shopping-cart collector investigates the suspicious owner of knife-sharpening truck after a string of brutal murders.

ILC’s take: Quirky without being irksome

The King’s Pawn
Director: Jonah Bleicher, Producer: Rob Cristiano, USA, 2014, DCP, 20m
A former chess prodigy challenges the world champion with the super computer he spent his life designing.

ILC’s take: had some really funny moments.

thekingspawn_web

 


The winners were announced in a ceremony of May 8th:

JURY SELECTS
A Mighty Nice Man
Devil’s Work
Scheherazade
Sina Forma
Subordinate
The Immaculate Reception
Tobacco Burn

JURY HONORS
Amateur Dictator
Fault Lines
Oasis
Party of Special Things To Do
Rattlefly
Roughstock
Scumbag
Smut
Solid Ground

STUDENT SELECTS
Alex The Magnificent
Amateur Dictator
American Gladiators
Body of Crime
Party of Special Things To Do
Rattlefly
Sina Forma
Smut
The Immaculate Reception
Tobacco Burn


Finally, check out the festival trailer here:

Keep On Keepin’ On (TFF 2014)

My final individual entry for my recap of this year’s Tribeca Film Festival is the documentary Keep On Keepin’ the awesome documentary about the life and times of jazz pioneer and nonogenarian, Clark Terry.

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A gifted trumpeter in his own right, he took his greatest pride in mentoring young artists in the way of jazz. His first and probably most famous protege is his first – one Quincy Jones, who actually features at moments in the documentary.

Spanning over four years, filmmaker Alan Hicks’ directorial debut takes a look back at Terry’s life and times while also paralleling his story with that of his most recent student, Justin Kauflin, a 20-something piano prodigy. On the surface, you would think these two people could probably not form a lasting bond beyond their musical tastes. However, they do in large part, as a result of enduring personal physical setbacks. In the case of Kauflin, it is a congenital eye disease that has left him completely blind by the time he reached adolescence. For Terry, his blindness was brought upon by a long battle with diabetes.

In spite of these crippling ailments, each artist, together and in their own right, finds a way to do as the title suggests – keep on keepin’ on.

This is an excellent story for anyone who loves jazz (of course), witnessing a living testimony to music and its history of over half of the twentieth century and a tale of rather unexpected friendship.

 

Photo Credit: Tribeca Film Festival

Love and Engineering (TFF 2014)

The title (Love & Engineering) and the premise (Is there an algorithm for love?) sounded so enticing, I knew this would be on my must-see list at Tribeca this year.

In brief, Bulgarian engineering student Atanas  lives in Finland and has decided that he has  found the “solution” to finding love and marriage in this crazy crazy world. He decides to share his “algorithm” with a group of test subjects – fellow male engineering students. This film is a document of that experiment.

Love&Engineering(Peter_Flinckenberg)3
At times the film is whimsical and noteworthy – from some statements made about women’s mating proclivities to some of the devices or “hacks” they use when going out on dates – makes it a fun watch. In viewing, one must be willing to admit that part of the laughs come at the expense of the young men, who find themselves in some rather awkward situations and respond in very unconventional ways. I direct you to the scenes with the blind dates …

At one point, however, the film veered into some unexpected drama that finds a couple of the subjects in conflict with one another. It felt a little uncomfortable to watch at times, but that is just me.

The film wraps up in a rather philosophical spirit with the one of the engineers coming to his own conclusions about unlocking the “love code.” I will leave it to you to guess this endpoint.

Photo Credit: Tribeca Film Festival

The Battered Bastards of Baseball (TFF 2014)

The Battered Bastards of Baseball (Chapman and Maclain Way, directors) is a documentary of a time and place in baseball’s history which is long, long forgotten. It is the world of the independent farm team and focuses on the appropriately named Portland Mavericks, a team founded and run by Bing Russell (1926-2003; aka Clem Foster of Bonanza fame), character actor and father of Hollywood star Kurt Russell.

battered bastards of baseball

The brief life of the team (1973-77) is chronicled in wonderful detail. Part historical account, part biography, we see that although he had a successful career acting in a steady stream of movies and television programs, Bing Russell’s lifelong passion for the American pastime never left him. His being involved in organized baseball against many odds is a moving testament to the power never letting go of your dreams.

As for the Mavericks’ own story, in it we have a David/Goliath tale which found Russell constantly butting up against Major League Baseball, who was at this time was near completion of the systematic dismantling of the independent minor league franchises and enveloping them into the MLB farm network.

With all of this happening, the Portland Mavericks never lost their spirit or love for the game. Archived footage and a few present day interviews with players, family members and team supporters, showed a motley crew of fun and unique personalities. I liken it to a Bad News Bears: The Adult Years.

(Fun fact: the Mavericks ball boy was none other than award-winning actor/director Todd Field).

I have always felt that baseball, while being possibly not the most exciting event to watch live, makes for great storytelling and The Battered Bastards of Baseball is no exception. The story with all of its moving parts will leave you engaged and entertained until the very end and maybe even afterwards …

Photo Credit: Tribeca Film Institute

When the Garden Was Eden (TFF 2014)

Another documentary from actor and filmmaker Michael Rapaport (Beats Rhymes & Life: The Travels Of A Tribe Called Quest), Tribeca Film Festival opener When the Garden Was Eden is a must see film for any sports fan, especially the species known as the ever-suffering New York Knickerbocker Fandom. I mean it has been really, really hard for us (20 years since a NBA finals appearance, really?).

In a story that seems tailor-made for New York City (it’s also based on Harvey Araton’s best-selling book of the same name), When the Garden Was Eden blends archival footage with first-hand accounts of players and observers alike of that magical time – all set against the tumult of a city weakened and made even more cynical by the social unrest and urban blight of the time.

Growing up I was regaled (via family and the local sports networks) with stories of this team, punctuated, by the image of a broken-limbed Willis Reed hobbling onto the court of Madison Square Garden during Game 7 of the 1970 NBA Finals. Watching this film shed a whole new perspective for me and really drove home just how legendary this squad individually and collectively was and continues to be to this very day. I mean seriously. Recently as I was walking down Fifth Avenue and passed by Bill Bradley. Giddy with excitement, I immediately texted my brothers. It was that exciting …

Lastly, hindsight is always 20/20, but I really felt like this film also calls to the audience’s attention the harbinger of what would start to happen in the late 70’s and 80’s in terms of making the NBA true sports entertainment commodity.

Well, I guess it could have only have started in New York!

New York Knicks

When the Garden Was Eden will air as part of ESPN’s 30 for 30 documentary series (actual airdates TBD).

Photo Credit: Tribeca Film Festival

Art and Craft (TFF 2014)

ARTANDCRAFT_[SAM_CULLMAN]_2.jpg_cmyk

Part caper, psycho-medical study and poses some questions about what defines art, the documentary Art and Craft (which started out life as a Kickstarter project) held my attention from beginning to end. The film delivers the story by framing the it with the classic cat and mouse between forger Mark Landis and one of his victims, Matthew Leininger, who until recently was an art registrar based in Cincinnati. Leininger has made it his life’s mission to bring Landis to justice for his grand deceptions.

While the true motives of Landis, however explained in the film, remain a bit of a mystery, no one can dismiss the fact that he is very talented. As someone who herself has tried (and failed on more than one occasion) to replicate various pieces of art *, I can attest to the difficulties in accomplishing this feat. And he undoubtedly does it. But I guess that is the point – how else would he have been able to fool all of these institutes over the past 30 years? And be sure, he was conned a lot of folks, as the film so helpfully and directly illustrates for the audience.

There are a couple of interesting plot details that I do not want to give away, but let me just say that this is a story that anyone who loves art and the art of the chase (with just the right amount of humor) should seek out.

Currently the film is making the rounds at film festivals all over the country, so stay tuned to the official website for more general release information.

 

*Note: often when taking an art class, you are asked to replicate a piece of art or at least, use a piece as a source of ‘inspiration’ for an assignment.

Photo Credit: Tribeca Institute

Beneath The Harvest Sky (TFF 2014)

beneath the harvest sky

In Beneath the Harvest Sky you have a poignant and evocative coming-of-age story. Set in a small town on the Maine/Canadian border, the movie tells the tale of two friends – the rebellious Casper (Emory Cohen) and the promising Dominic (Callan McAuliffe) – who long for a life far, far away from where they are now. Their plan is simple – save enough money, head to Boston and start afresh in the big city. Adding tension and complication to this scheme is Capser’s involvement in the illegal activities of his estranged father (Aiden Gillen).

In short, I really enjoyed this film. Through the writing, direction and performances, this film offers up a genuine, raw portrayal of rural American life and the people who often feel trapped by it. This is a promising and commendable narrative directorial debut by co-directors Aron Gaudet and Gita Pullapilly.

Beneath the Harvest Sky is currently enjoying a limited, staggered release in select cities and is also available OnDemand and in other digital platforms.

Tribeca 2014: A Recap

It has been well over a week since the conclusion of the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival and there is a lot of ground to cover regarding all the wonderful films I was able to see.

However this year I am going to try a different approach to my recaps. Instead of grouping the films and giving a brief, more generic reaction piece over the next week or so, my goal is to create posts dedicated to individual films. Wish me luck!

In the meantime, check out my piece on the panel I attended on April 25th and stay tuned to twitter, tumblr and here (of course) for a deluge of posts!

Tribeca 2013 "The City During the Festival"

Photo Credit: Tribeca Film Festival

Let the Festivities Begin! (Tribeca Film Festival 2014 Preview)

Today is the start of the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival is underway! With 89 features and 58 shorts on offer, it is a veritable cinematic paradise set against the backdrop of The City That Never Sleeps. Indeed, if you want to get a maximum number of movies in, you will soon be glad that the town does not in fact sleep.

As for me, my key has always always been to play it slow and steady when it comes to festival-going. I burn out rather easily, so often my best laid plan does go awry and I end up missing one (or a few) films that I planned on seeing. This year will likely not be any different. I say this is not as a defeatist, but as a realist.

All that said, listed below are some of my picks, films of interest and other curiosities of what will be on display in Lower Manhattan.

———–

OPENING NIGHT FILM

Time is Illmatic – Musician Nas gets a moment in the spotlight.

Photos courtesy of the film.

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CLOSING NIGHT FILM

Begin Again: John Carney, director of Once, directs Keira Knightley, Mark Ruffalo, Hailee Steinfeld, and Adam Levine in this comedy.

CAN A SONG SAVE YOUR LIFE

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SPECIAL SCREENINGS AT TRIBECA

  • 6
  • A Brony Tale
  • Björk: Biophilia Live
  • Compared to What: The Impossible Journey of Barney
  • Frank
  • Food Chains
  • Iverson
  • Journey to the West
  • NOW: In The Wings On A World Stage
  • Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon
  • The Rise and Rise of Bitcoin
  • This Time Next Year
  • True Son
  • Untitled James Brown Documentary

———–

MY PICKS

  • ARTANDCRAFT_[SAM_CULLMAN]_2.jpg_cmykThe One I Love – saw this out there comedy at Sundance (and really liked it), but I think it is worth another mention for those who have not.
  • Art & Craft 
  • 1971
  • Battered Bastards of Baseball
  • Love + Engineering

———–

 

OF INTEREST (Meaning I am hoping to check them out either during the festival or further down the line)

  • Keep on K12562Keepin’ On
  • X/Y
  • Beneath the Harvest Sky
  • Alice of Venice
  • When the Garden Was Eden

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DON’T FORGET ABOUT THE PANELS

The industry talks are just as insightful and interesting as many a film you will see projected. In some cases a discussion will follow a film, while in others the hour (or so) is spent listening to entertainment luminaries talk about the industry. This year, I will be attending Shooting and Scoring, a one-on-one conversation about the art in creating authentic sports stories, featuring director Peter Berg (Friday Night Lights) and moderated by Connor Schell, Vice President and Executive Producer, ESPN Films and Original Content.

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AND LASTLY, IF YOU LOVE DANCING

Check out Ballet 422.

ballet

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This post is just the tip of the iceberg. As time permits, I will be tweeting and posting some of the sights and sounds from all the action taking place. At the conclusion of the festival, I will give more in-depth analysis of all that I have seen.

For more information on the festival I defer you to the following resources:

See you at the movies!

 

 

 

My Sundance Experience (& Some Lessons Learned)

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It has taken me  a minute but I have recapped all that was seen during my first ever trip out to Sundance last month. Every experience is an opportunity to learn and this experience was no different. So permit me to indulge you with my overall impressions during m four day stay in Park City and a couple of things that I will be sure bear in mind for my next trip, for rest assured, with any luck I will be reporting from the ski resort in 2015!

ICE ICE BABY I used this trip to take advantage of the ‘walkability’ in getting from some of the more popular venues to Sundance Festival HQ. That said, it should be noted that there is a preponderance of ice. Granted, I did not see any slips and spills, but personally I have busted my bum enough times to be OVERLY cautious when traversing by foot. Luckily I had my North Face boots (other brands are available) on to keep me warm and safe.  My Advice: Wear proper footwear and watch your step. Hand Warmers (sure other brands are available) can also be your friend when standing outdoors waiting to gain entry to a midnight screening at the Egyptian Theatre.

BABY IT’S COLD OUTSIDE Maybe it is the Northeaster in me or the fact that in going to Park City I was actually escaping the menacing “polar vortex” back home, but the cold really did not bother me too much. At times, all the walking I was doing meant that I shed some of my outer layers due to overheating. My Advice: If you are not used to it, still prepare to button yourself up. Remember, it is a ski resort, so dress accordingly.

DRINK WATER Nothing more need be said about that. Hydration (at all altitudes) is necessary of course, but especially in the mountains when you are thousands of feet above sea level, you really feel the effects. And have no fear, there are hydration stations at nearly all of the Sundance venues for you to (re)fill your water containers.

A ‘GET’ LOST DAY When I first arrived on Monday I took a couple of hours to hop on and off of many of the FREE shuttles that are available in Park City as well as walk around the center of all the action, Main Street. And yes I did manage to get disoriented at times that first day. But rest assured, it helped me navigate the remainder of my time at the festival as if I was a townie. My Advice: sure plan ahead and map out the area but allow yourself some time to really familiarize yourself with your surroundings.

TAKE YOUR VITAMIN C In any form possible. I had oranges, powdered supplements and drinks that I imbibed with aplomb during my stay for as warm as you make yourself, your exposure to the elements and incessant running around all day make you vulnerable to catch SOMETHING. I am proud to report that because of the precautions I took, I came home with the same vigor and energy as when I touched down. My Advice: just laid it out.

MEET & GREET There are a lot really cool people that attend this and many festivals. And I am not just talking about industry folks. Just the people from all walks of life that have a curiosity, passion and enthusiasm for film in general and the Sundance experience in particular. Repeat customers also tell you some of the insider’s tips about where to stay, eat and the like. Because I went alone I think this increased my willingness and desire to just step to people and chat.

That said, since I arrived in the middle of the festival (did not stay either weekend), I did end up missing a lot of the formal meet and greet networking events. Will make sure to work my calendar of Arrival/Departure better next year. My Advice: Go out and press the flesh!

ALWAYS BE OPEN AND SUBJECT TO CHANGE Prior to my journey out west, I dutifully plotted and planned screenings, meals and other events. A game plan is always good. But as a first timer you soon realize you cannot exactly be everywhere you want to be in the time necessary to guarantee a seat. Being flexible and constantly checking the schedule allows you to make on the fly decisions that may allow you to catch that one amazing film that everyone is talking about!