February 2016 (Sundance) Recap

Hi there!

After some technical difficulties (computer death/replacement) and just the overall craziness of the ole 9-5, I am back from my unplanned blogging hiatus to catch you up with my month in the movies.

For the past couple of years, my blog posts have usually been a series of recaps and reactions to my time out in lovely Park City, Utah. However, due to scheduling issues I was unable to attend the 2016 Sundance Film Festival. I could kick myself for missing out on seeing Nate Parker’s The Birth of a Nation (peep the release date). But alas, what is done is done and I hope to view and review that film later on this year.

In the meantime, have no fear – I was able to catch a couple of films pre-festival; some quick thoughts are below.

——–

The Fits – (Directed by Anna Rose Holmer. Written by Anna Rose Holmer, Saela Davis and Lisa Kjerulff. Running Time: 72 minutes).

Set in Cincinnati’s West End, this is a coming of age tale (of sorts), centered around 11-year-old Toni (newcomer Royalty Hightower) —a tomboy fascinated by the young women on a dance team that meet at the local recreation center where she and her brother practice boxing. Toni joins the squad in an attempt to gain acceptance with the seemingly confident and determined girls. As she jumps into this new adventure, a mysterious outbreak of fainting spells plagues the team and Toni’s desire for acceptance is tested and pushed to the limit. I will not reveal the source of what ails, but rest assured it is unironically something that we have seen in the news as of late.

ILC’s Quick Take: At points fully grounded in reality and at other times somewhat surreal, The Fits one stayed with me for a while after watching.

Note: The Fits has been picked up by Oscilloscope for distribution.

static1.squarespace.com

 

 

How to Tell You’re a Douchebag – (Written/Directed by Tahir Jetter. Running Time: 80 minutes)

Ray Livingston (Charles Brice) is a Brooklyn-based blogger who has been having a tough time of it lately in the relationship department. A chance encounter with up and coming author Rochelle Marseille (DeWanda Wise), begins a process by which Ray finds himself confronted with wondering if he is indeed a douchebag.

ILC’s Quick Take: It is not without its flaws and in fact is a bit tropish, but I have to say I found it refreshing to be able to check out an alternative, “diverse” voice, especially in the romcom genre. And I would be lying if I said I didn’t chuckle a few times. So there is that.

16701-2-1100

 

 

I have been away a while but I am curious – what have you been watching this past month? Let me know in the Comments section below.

 

 

Watch the 2016 Sundance Film Festival Presser Live Now! (Live Stream)

The Sundance Baker’s Dozen

Here, in no particular order, are the films I will be discussing over the next couple of weeks in my recap of the 2015 edition of the Sundance Film Festival:

  1. Sleeping With Other People
  2. Fresh Dressed
  3. What Happened, Miss Simone?
  4. Brooklyn
  5. Z for Zachariah *
  6. Slow West *
  7. Listen to Me Marlon
  8. The Diary of a Teenage Girl
  9. Mistress America
  10. Aloft
  11. Eden
  12. Homesick
  13. I Am Michael

The titles marked with an asterisk (*) will be guest posts. Information to follow.

Red Hook Summer Q&A at The Eccles Theatre

 

Image Courtesy of the Sundance Institute

Meta ….

I mean there is a LOT of movie related news that has come across in the past couple of weeks. I mean LOADS. So instead of creating separate posts for each, I decided to aggregate those that piqued my interest the most. So here they go – in no particular order. Enjoy!

 

Sony Pictures Hacking Scandal

Many suspect that this is a cyber attack courtesy of North Korea, in ‘retaliation’ for the The result has been the trickling release of some very interesting emails that are equal parts, embarrassing, illuminating and hilarious. I suspect the overall impact will be minimal, save leaving a few tactless executives a little red-faced. Pro-tip: if you are using company email, it is not private. Save potentially incendiary commentary for the face-to-face meeting.

 

TCM Remembers …

The folks over at Turner Classic Movies get me every time. Their touching tribute is a wonderful homage to those in the world of cinema that have passed. Very classy as always TCM, very classy.

 

NYC Classic Film Retrospectives

  1. Starring Joan Bennett @ MoMA. Started earlier this month and running through the end of January, the films featured will cover Bennett’s transition from ingenue to smoldering femme fatale.
  2. Orson Welles at Film Forum. Ring in the new year with a five week retrospective on the filmmaker. Films in the series include Citizen Kane (of course), The Magnificent AmbersonsTouch of Evil (release and restored version) and many many other over the auteur’s decades-long career.

 

13288_Joan_Bennett_American_Stage_Actress

Sundance 2015

This past Monday, the films selected for narrative and documentary premieres (out of competition) were announced. Just looking through the list, ones to look out for include:

  • Brooklyn
  • I Am Michael
  • The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution

As it is still early days, stay tuned to this space for more updates.

 

Its Awards Nomination Season (Again)

It is now at the point where there are too many awards out there to count, so I will keep my general observations based on the SAGs and GGs. My reaction? Pretty meh for the moment, because I look at the list I see a few notables that I did have the pleasure of catching but then also a couple of films that regardless of the praise heaped upon them, I will very likely be a “miss” for me, film snobbery be damned. I am personally at the point where it is becoming fairly predictable which films/performances will be highlighted at year’s end and subsequently rewarded with awards recognition.

 

Speaking of Which …

Going to see Selma this Monday; look out this upcoming week for my thoughts.

 

Thoughts on any of the topics covered in this post? Hit the Comments section.

 

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 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.

——–

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

 

Sundance First Look Screening Series: How to Survive a Plague (2012)

Last week I was invited to and attended a Sundance/Ford Foundation First Look at one of the documentaries in competition at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival – How to Survive a Plague directed by David French. The film was a project of the Sundance Institute’s Documentary Film Program (DFP).

This ‘first look’ was an opportunity to watch a work in progress, a wonderful behind-the-scenes insight into the film making process.

We were treated to a two series of clips from the film; at the end of the sequence, Mr. France was accompanied on stage for a panel discussion by:

  • Dr. Ellen Cooper (President, ClinReg Solutions LLC and formerly of the N.I.H.);
  • Rolake Odetoyinbo (Positive Action for Treatment Activists, Nigeria);
  • Sara Rafsky, the daughter of ACT UP activist Bob Rafsky;
  • Peter Staley, founder of AIDSmeds.com;
  • Phill Wilson of the Black AIDS Institute.

Terry McGovern, senior program officer at the Ford Foundation, moderated the panel discussions. The discussions provided some perspective and context to what we had seen in the preceding clips.

There are a multitude of things to be said about this film. For one, I was amazed about just how ignorant I was about what was going on essentially on my doorstep during this critical time. Granted I was very young, but in hindsight I feel like I should have been slightly more informed. The film has a very profound statement to make about the history of “treatment activism” and its relevance in the world today.

Secondly, as was indicated in the second panel discussion (which lead into the open mic question and answer session), there is so much more of the story to be told. While the ‘plague’ is pretty much under control in many segments of the Western World, there are still pockets in the West and even greater parts of the developing world that are suffering through the AIDS crisis and for whom AIDS is the dominant global health concern.

One final thing I observed as a result of watching the various film clips is that the film is the perfect way to memorialize the trove of recorded material (primarily amateur) the filmmaker had. This became a talking point during the course of the Q&A session – David French mentioned that this is the first time much of the video footage has been seen by the public. In fact, a lot of the footage was originally recorded on VHS tape; How to Survive a Plague saved a lot of this material from being lost forever.

The pieces of the documentary that we saw were equally informative, sometimes humorous and overall very touching; so touching, that many of the members of the audience were moved to tears at a couple of moments.

At the conclusion of the evening, it seemed that the hope of Mr. French and all those involved in the film project is that in revisiting this recent chapter of healthcare and social history, the documentary will reignite the discussion and lead the next generation of those directly impacted by AIDS crisis voices to be heard.

Once finished, I am sure the will be a great visual history lesson exploring how the rage of a group of individuals was corralled and eventually channeled into effective activism.

ABOUT THE FILM

Faced with their own mortality, an improbable group of mostly HIV-positive young men and women broke the mold as radical warriors taking on Washington and the medical establishment. How to Survive a Plague is the story of two coalitions—ACT UP and TAG (Treatment Action Group)—whose activism and innovation turned AIDS from a death sentence into a manageable condition. Despite having no scientific training, these self-made activists infiltrated the pharmaceutical industry and helped identify promising new drugs, moving them from experimental trials to patients in record time. With unfettered access to a treasure trove of never-before-seen archival footage from the 1980s and ’90s, filmmaker David France puts the viewer smack in the middle of the controversial actions, the heated meetings, the heartbreaking failures, and the exultant breakthroughs of heroes in the making.

 

ABOUT THE FILMMAKER

David France, a New York magazine contributing editor, was the longtime national affairs editor at Glamour and senior investigative editor at Newsweek until 2003. His work has been published in nearly every major magazine in the country, including The New York Times Magazine, GQ, The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, and Rolling Stone. France has received the National Headliner Award, the GLAAD Media Award, and top honors from the New York Press Club and Amnesty International. How to Survive a Plague marks his documentary film debut.

To find out more about this film, go to the Official Facebook Page.

Class of 2012: Sundance Edition

No sooner does one festival season end that another one begins. Yesterday the films “In Competition” for the 2012 Sundance Film Festival were announced. Before I get into specifics, let’s take a look at – Sundance By the Numbers:

110 feature-length films were selected representing 31 countries and 44 first-time filmmakers (26 that are in competition). These films were selected from 4,042 feature- length film submissions composed of 2,059 U.S. and 1,983 international feature-length films. 88 films at the Festival will be world premieres.

These are impressive figures, indeed.


[Read more…]