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.

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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

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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

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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!

 

Sundance ’14 Dramatic Spotlight: Dear White People

In my final cinematic recap for Sundance 2014, I would like to take a look at the film Dear White People.

Dear White People, Sundance Film Festival 2014

Dear White People is the directorial debut for Justin Simien, uses the setting of a fictional elite university to examine issues of racial identity and conflict in a ‘post-racial’ America.

The film looks at the dynamics of various subgroups on the campus by focusing the dorm life of the predominantly African American Armstrong/Parker house and contrasting it with the “establishment’s” university humor magazine The Pastiche. The interaction within and between these two organizations sets the stage for increasing tension and conflict that culminates into a major incident that touches all of the main characters.

Speaking of characters, instead of looking through the lens of one principal character, Simien wants to challenge our perceptions by creating a multi-protagonist story, meaning that at any given time, the narrative is being controlled by a different character or set of characters. Projecting the narrative from these various points of view is a clever device that takes the edges off of a sensitive topic, allowing the film to accessible to a diverse audience.

For the most part, this tactic works. While I obviously am not able to relate to every single perspective, based on the strength and ability of the performance, I was more or less convinced of where the various characters were coming from. Although the depth of character development for some characters slips at times, I do think there is enough there ‘there’ to show their motivations and actions are not just coming out of thin air but rather are affected by circumstance and experience.

Overall, I liked the film for what it was aiming to do. In many ways, it brought me back to my own college days (way back when) and my observations of the racial politics and how they operated (or not) on a major campus. In relating to the subject matter, I dare hope I was able to find deeper levels to the humor presented in the film.

Clearly the subject matter and content was something that folks at Sundance were clamoring for, as the buzz generated from the film meant I was seated in a packed house for the screening I attended. At the conclusion of the film, we were treated to a few words from the director and members of the cast during a post-screening Q&A.

Kudos to filmmaker Justin Simien for charging out of the gate with a film that tackles a provocative and timely topic while still managing to inform us AND make us laugh.

 

Image courtesy of the Sundance Institute

Sundance ’14: The Trip to Italy

The Trip to Italy, Sundance Film Festival 2014

Two men, six meals in six different places on a road trip around Italy. Liguria, Tuscany, Rome, Amalfi and ending in Capri.

With The Trip to Italy, director Michael Winterbottom brings us back on the road with comedians Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan in his follow up to 2010′s The Trip, which saw Coogan and Brydon go on a similar tour of the tastes and sights of northern England.

Without question, this is simply a film you just sit back and go with. I mean it is set in Italy for goodness sake! I really do not think that there is a way to shoot the splendor and beauty of Italy in a bad way. And when you add what can only be described as food porn to the mix, you have my interest AND my attention.

Aesthetics and culinary convention aside, the banter between stars Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan seems almost effortless and will leave you in stitches. In fact during the Q&A that followed the screening I attended, Coogan and Brydon said a lot of what we see on screen was the result of taking the moment and seeing where it led, all while the camera was rolling.

But it is not all laughs and giggles as some of their life’s complications enter the mix. But they are handled quite well and offer a nice balance that contrasts all the laughs that are to be in the movie.

Although this narrative of The Trip to Italy involves a fictionalized version of the actors’ real lives, this parallel live portrayal of theme as public is always something fascinating to watch. I feel that it must be quite fun for a performer to play because it allows you to exaggerate or dampen those parts of yourself that you might want to suppress or express in your actual life.

As a member of the audience The Trip to Italy sure is a fun ride that is guaranteed to entertain, leave you hungry and make you want to go out and purchase Alanis Morisette’s Jagged Little Pill.

 

Photo Courtesy of The Sundance Institute

Film Synopsis Courtesy of IFC Films

Sundance ’14 Doc Spotlight: FED UP

It may not be apparent here on my blog, but I am deeply fascinated by the role that food plays in the American life. I have read several books on food origins and what some think constitutes the best way to approach shopping for groceries as well as consuming said food for you and your family. Previously I touched upon this in my review of the documentary Forks Over Knives.

So you can imagine my excitement at the prospect of catching the premiere of Laurie David/Katie Couric collaboration Fed Up, which aims to identify and cast a light on the real cause of the expanding waistlines of American youth.

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It’s what’s for lunch (at our nation’s schools)

Fed Up is an entertaining and informative documentary that follows the stories of “average” American adolescents and their struggle with food, while also examining the responsibility of food companies in perpetuating the problem.

Director Stephanie Soechtig follows the young people from their homes to school. It is evident that the parents, while having the best interests of their children at heart, are through no fault of their own as naive and ill-informed concerning the consequences of some of the food choices they have made as their children who are fighting (and seemingly losing) the battle of the bulge.

In interviews, leading health and medical experts as well as food advocates also offer well-informed insight on this topic that not only has grave consequences for the weight of the nation but also the wealth of the nation.

Loaded with wonderfully interactive infographics and animations, Fed Up deftly explains complex medical and physiological topics into ‘digestible’ pieces that the target audience can easily understand.

Most shocking learning moment? The very depressing statistic that in 30 years, the US has gone from 0 diagnosed cases of adult-onset (Type II) diabetes in adolescents to over 60,000. What astounds me about this fact is that is not taking into account all the many young people out there who are not charting their health with doctors. And this is clearly the case when you factor in the socio-economics of this crisis.

This actually leads me to one quibble I have with the film. While it did a good job of identifying and discussing the problem and possible solutions, the one area that I felt the film was deficient was in the exposition of the aforementioned social and economic issues surrounding this health emergency. The concept of “food deserts” was only briefly touched upon; however I felt there was a little more there that could have been discussed, since on its on first sight, the people most directly affected by this crisis tend to be classed as economically disadvantaged. But I guess at the end of the day, as the film explains, this problem spans all strata of society, with much of the confusion having to do a lot with us relying on the food industry to honestly inform us about leading healthy lifestyles.

And let’s remember, this is not a problem just reserved for good ole USA. As we as a nation continue to export foodstuffs around the globe, the phenomenon we are grappling with here is creeping its way onto the plates of the world.

As the film draws to a conclusion, there is a call to action on the part of the filmmakers for all of us to take on the challenges together.

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Images provided by the Sundance Institute.

Sundance ’14: Documentary Rundown

The following are a collection of some of the documentaries I saw during my stay at the Sundance Film Festival and my ‘take’ on them …

Freedom Summer

Freedom Summer will premiere on PBS’ The American Experience later this year, but I was fortunate to catch a glimpse of the finished doc at Sundance.

In the hot and deadly summer of 1964, the nation could not turn away from Mississippi. Over ten memorable weeks known as Freedom Summer, more than 700 student volunteers joined with organizers and local African Americans in an historic effort to shatter the foundations of white supremacy in one of the nation’s most segregated states. The summer was marked by sustained and deadly violence, including the notorious murders of three civil rights workers, countless beatings, the burning of thirty-five churches, and the bombing of seventy homes and community centers.

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Freedom Summer highlights an overlooked but essential element of the Civil Rights Movement: the patient and long-term efforts by both outside activists and local citizens in Mississippi to organize communities and register black voters — even in the face of intimidation, physical violence and death. The Freedom Summer story reminds us that the movement that ended segregation was far more complex than most of us know.

ILC’s take:  as a child of the post-Civil Rights era, I was fully aware of the Freedom Summer, I was not aware of the level organization and pre-thought that went into busing and embedding of the resources throughout Mississippi. While the first three-quarters dealt specifically with the social movement aspects of the summer, towards the end, Freedom Summer took a decidedly political tone, focusing on the efforts to democratize the state of Mississippi’s Democratic party to be more inclusive. In doing so, their efforts garnered national attention and became a bit of a thorn in the side of then-President Lyndon B. Johnson, who many may be surprised by his actions and reactions to what was going around him.

Private Violence

One in four American women experience domestic violence in their homes. Have you ever asked, “Why doesn’t she just leave?” Private Violence challenges the stigma surrounding this presumptive notion as it intimately follows the stories of two women: Deanna Walters, who transforms from victim to survivor, and Kit Gruelle, also a survivor, who advocates for justice on behalf of Deanna and others.

PrivateViolence_still5_fff_tiff

ILC’s take: the screening was proceeded by a short, One Billion Rising, which captured moments from around the world in celebration of V-Day, the annual event that raises awareness to the global scourge of violence against women and girls. I like to think of it as more of a call to action that anything else. But onto Private Violence. This is a very intimate look at the world of women living in a very private hell made all the more impactful for that reason. The film does an effective job of going broad where it needs it but then pulling you immediately back in the here and now of Deanna’s ordeal. Inevitably a lot of issues surrounding how we, as a society, react and respond to cases of domestic violence. And while there are no easy solutions, this film (to air on HBO) gets the message out there and will hopefully be a clarion call to action.

No No: A Dockumentary

On June 12, 1970, Dock Ellis threw a no-hitter for the Pittsburgh Pirates. In 136 years of baseball history, only 276 no-hitters have been recorded. Dock is the only pitcher to ever claim he accomplished his while high on LSD.

Dock was often at the forefront of controversy and has been called the “Muhammad Ali of Baseball.” He was an outspoken leader of a new wave of civil rights in sports, when black athletes were no longer content to accept second-class treatment or keep their mouths shut about indignities. The press labeled him a militant.After Dock retired from baseball, he was as outspoken about his addictions to alcohol and amphetamines (aka “greenies”) as he had been about racial prejudice during his career.

No No A Dockumentary, Sundance Film Festival 2014

ILC’s take: Baseball stories always seem to work well on film, at least for me. The Dock Ellis story is a welcome addition to this subgenre. No No is a cautionary tale about the pitfalls that can overtake an otherwise promising professional career. But it is also a story of redemption and second chances that shows its audience that no matter the circumstances, one can take their experiences and have the lessons learned from said experience benefit others. Blended with a mix of humor and social commentary, I think No No will appeal to sports fans and those who appreciate documentary films alike.

Images and synopses provided by the Sundance Institute.

Sundance ’14: Life Itself (2014)

Life Itself is a documentary based on the late writer and film critic Roger Ebert’s 2011 memoir of the same name. This Sundance Documentary Premier was directed by Steve James (Hoop Dreams) and executive produced by Ebert friend Martin Scorsese.

The film takes passages from Ebert’s memoirs and weaves them with interviews and footage from Ebert’s battle with the cancer that would ultimately claim his life. In a way, Life Itself is part biography/ part tribute, examining a man who lived life to its fullest and left an indelible mark on the cultural landscape by making the art of film criticism available and palatable to the masses.

Roger Ebert & Gene Siskel

To distill the documentary to its most resonant moments, presents quite a challenge for me. I never claimed or even thought I knew much about the man, beyond what I saw on TV or read on his website, but the level of depth and insight I gained, from his early rearing to his professional and personal triumphs and setbacks was very engrossing and well executed.

And as we the audience move through these various stages of his life, we get to a point where we see how he ultimately impacted and influenced others. An especially poignant moment that speaks directly to this is the story shared by filmmaker Ava DuVernay, who recounts in the film her first meeting Ebert as a girl outside the Academy Awards and her remembrance of the kindness bestowed upon her then and years later as she emerged as an up and coming filmmaker.

Another part of the film that I liked was how to delved into the impact of Ebert’s popularization (commercialization) of film reviews and presented the critique many of his contemporaries had with how his success (re)defined the trade, which up until then, enjoyed a solidly didactic and academic reputation.

Particularly in the latter stages of his life, Ebert really embraced the populism that the ‘interwebs’ and social media provided in terms of everyone getting their message and opinions out there. I can only speak for myself when I say if not for this, I am sure I would not have 1) the agency or 2) the desire to express myself on this or any platform.

At the time of this writing, Life Itself does not have a theatrical distributor but the cable network CNN has television distribution rights and will air on their network following its theatrical release.

Check out the film’s official website for special screening events.

Sundance 2014 Report (1): Women Talk Docs

Forgive me in advance. Over the next few days, I hope to churn out a whole bunch of wonderful detail from my Sundance 2014 excursion. This collection of recaps will include reviews, photos and a summary personal narrative of my experiences over my 4 days in Park City, Utah.

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Monday, January 20. Touchdown, Salt Lake City, 10:30AM. I have finally arrived! A dream of mine has come true. Almost as soon as I touched the ground, I dropped my bags off at the hotel and headed straight for downtown/Main Street.

I usually use my first day in any new city, big or small, as my “Get Lost” day. This included working my way through the FREE public transportation system to find the best (and worst) ways to get around in timely and efficient manner. I did all of this to end up at the Sundance Channel HQ just in time to be in the audience of SundanceNOW Doc Club’s “Spotlight on Women Directors” Panel featuring filmmakers Rory Kennedy, Lucy Walker, Shola Lynch and Judith Helfand. Although the discussion was focused on documentary films, the panel did start the dialogue by discussing the current status of women filmmakers overall in the industry (documentary, narrative, short and feature-length). After running off of the frankly abysmal stats, the topics in the packed house shifted to:

  • overcoming misconceptions about one’s ability as a filmmaker,
  • navigating the waters of Hollywood politics,
  • inserting and asserting yourself in a culture of confidence,
  • building a network of allies,
  • finding your own unique voice in telling story,
  • using social media to get your “brand” out there, and
  • using obstacles to your advantage and turning them into assets.

As someone who is on the verge of creating material for mass consumption, I left this event inspired to forge ahead in spite of what can be best described as my own ‘self-imposed’ reservations.

But don’t my word for it; see (and hear) for yourself ….

Tune in tomorrow to this space for my thoughts about the Roger Ebert documentary Life Itself.

iluvcinema in Park City, UT!

Hey Guys,

The past couple of weeks have been rather busy. In addition to coming up with interesting content for you all to read, I have been trying to make plans for my forthcoming trip to the 2014 Sundance Film Festival!

In the lead up to my arrival in Park City, I hope to write a couple of posts regarding some of what I am looking most forward to seeing in the days I will be there (a previous family engagement means I will not get there until the fest is in full swing).

While I am there, I hope to post a few photos, tweet a little and keep you all updated as to all of my activity!

Be sure to stay tuned to this space.

sundance egyptian

 

Q&A with the New York City International Film Festival (NYCIFF)

Last month, I had the privilege of attending a couple of events in conjunction with the New York City International Film Festival. As the event drew to a close, I was able to carve out some time to shoot off a series of rapid-fire questions with Loyi Mamabolo, the festival’s Press & Media Director.

nyciff on water

How long has the festival been around?
The festival was founded in the summer of 2010, this upcoming year (2014) will be our 5 year anniversary.
nyciff logoWhat is your organization’s mission?
The mission of the NEW YORK CITY INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL (NYCIFF) is to help up and coming talent in film to reach the best possible audience for their work.
In a city littered with festivals year round how do you carve out a unique position?
We are a very unique film festival in that we are absolutely drenched in international culture and art. Every year, filmmakers from all around the world come to celebrate their films. It has been incredible throughout the years to watch extreme opposite cultures collide during our events and create great relationships and even friendships. We are concentrated in bringing the world together through the art of filmmaking and exposing the message these artist reveal through their films.
It may be too early for 2014 discussion but do you have preliminary plans in the works?
- Yes! The most exciting thing about the festival is every year being able to start the plans again and correct any mistakes we have made in the past. Afterall, we wish to grow into a bigger and better opportunity for filmmakers. There are many new things in the works and we are very enthusiastic about next years events. What I look forward to the most is getting to watch this year’s submissions, see how previous filmmakers have grown and meet new filmmakers.
How would you sum up this years experience?
This year was incredible. The enthusiasm of people was astounding, I believe the moment where you could sense it the most was during awards night. It was truly a moving moment when each winner came up to the podium to accept their awards. Their words of struggling for years and to finally feel appreciated for this art that they .spend every living moment on. These actors and filmmakers went back to their native countries being received with honor and pride as their country watched them carrying their award. That is what we’re here for, to show the word these hidden talents that deserve to be seen!
Photo Source: NYCIFF