Monday, August 30, 2010

This is a cut/paste from The Daily Rumpus's Stephen Elliot's daily email--which is often good and always worth at least a quick read. Today, however, if you subsitute "film" for "book" and "filmmaker" for "writer", he could have just as easily been talking about the new film world for independent filmmakers. Take a read:

"...I didn't read too far into The Four Fingers of Death on my phone. I could imagine when I would, during a long train ride, for example, if I didn't have anything printed on paper. But then I don't finish the vast majority of books I start. When people offer me their books I usually turn them down, or encourage them to contact our books editor. I need a recommendation from someone other than the author. Sometimes they're offended. One of my favorite cartoons was in the New Yorker years ago. A woman had an unwrapped present containing a book. She says, "Oh, homework." If I could find that comic I'd frame it.

When you'll really want a book on your phone is when it contains essential knowledge, things you need to know for your work or your home or your child. It's hard to imagine reading on the phone being relaxing, which is what I feel when I'm in love with a book. I relax into it.

But people are reading books this way, and you have to meet your audience. You can't change the book, the text remains the text, but you can change the readers experience. Whenever I publish a book I bring the publishers a cover before they bring me one. Then, if they don't like it, they're challenged to do something better. Why would that be any different if your book was an app? Why would you want your publisher to design the experience of reading your book on a phone? Apple, in this equation, is just a printer. You bring the printer your book, your cover, the specifications, and they print the book and send it to you in boxes on a truck. But that doesn't even explain it. Eli Horowitz designed a book that opened in four places and had a comb inside. Books have sizes and textures and kerning and fonts, all of which matter.

You can sell a book through kindle and the ibookstore, but why would you stop there when there's so much more you can do. Think of it like this, if the screen is the environment of the book then the app allows you to design the chair your reader sits in, and how much light comes through the window, and the vista.

I was talking with Nato Green about the rise of the community, web 2.0's response to web 1.0. He said it wasn't necessarily a good thing, that it could play to extremes. That I should look at how it was empowering the right. But to me that wasn't the point. You can't protest air..."

Stephen Elliot/The Daily Rumpus/August 30, 2010

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

I recently came across this review I wrote for MovieMaker Magazine back in 1999 and was reminded how great I think this film is. Find it at your video store, demand it from Netflix, do what you must, but see SANTITOS!

Santitos (reviewed 1999)

This may be Director Alejandro Springall's feature film debut, but his wealth of experience, both as a docu­mentary filmmaker and a producer (most recently of Cronos) from Mexico has primed him well for this wildly humorous and beautifully executed story. Moving effortlessly from saints who appear in oven doors to a rapturous collision of the mysti­cal and mundane, Santitos is the story of a young widow who has recently suffered the loss of her only child-a daughter who never woke up from a tonsil operation. Haunted by not being allowed to see her daughter's dead body, Esperanza is convinced by a vision of St. Jude that the child hasn't really died after all. Her journey of discovery (and also, ultimately, of sexuality) provides a litany of experiences at once defining, precarious and bizarre. Springall has fashioned a rare, whimsical tone in this story that promises redemption in return for faith, and in this milieu-home to melodra­ma and fervent religion-we find the perfect pitch for a gentle parody of naive superstition. Festival audiences have roared with delight at this boldly sexual story , and a recent re-editing after its Sundance premiere has left the film a lustrous pearl amid a sea of indie entries.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Cannes dessert

Days 6 & 7 Tuesday/Wednesday, May 18 & 19, 2010

The sugary fluff of Stephen Frear’s “Tamara Drewe” unhinged my teeth like marshmallow crème. I wasn’t surprised to see the love for Mr. Frear on the red carpet: who doesn’t love the filmmaker who brought us “The Queen”, “High Fidelity”, “Sammy and Rosie Get Laid”, “My Beautiful Launderette”, “Prick up Your Ears” and more? This was the only film I would go to the red carpet for, the only film I was sure was a slam dunk.


“Tamara Drewe” (based on a graphic novel) is indeed like a romance-novel version of “Cold Comfort Farm” with piss poor performances, an illogical plot line, truncated scenes and slap-shot editing. But believe me, I’m the only one who feels this way. The Cannes crowd loved the film; the standing ovation they gave Mr. Frear’s genuine. Even my own filmmakers loved the film, pointing to all the things that made my teeth stand on edge as the very things they loved.

For a split second, I thought about firing my filmmakers. Instead, I had another glass of rosé.

The next morning came what I had been longing for without realizing it. “Of Gods and Men” at first looked unpromising. Monks in a monastery: not usually the stuff of movie magic. But Director Xavier Beauvois (who had played the father in a favorite film of mine, “Ponette”) cast the story of seven monks at a crossroads of faith with pitch-perfect precision. Lambert Wilson, who also shines in the Cannes film “The Princess of Montpensier” and is known to US audiences from “The Matrix” series, is brilliant as Christian, the monk who leads the monastery. But equally stellar are the other actors: Michael Lonsdale as Luc, Olivier Rabourdin as Christopher, Philippe Laudenbach as Celéstin…on and on, not a false note from any of them. I was riveted, immersed and enmeshed, in their story. What a way to end my Cannes, with a film so honest and so unlikely to find an easy theatrical home in the States.

(Sony Classics picked up the film on Friday, so it will make it to theaters back home.)

My moveable Cannes feast had been a success. I was satiated, my thirst slacked. I had seen and been seen, caught a whiff of the current market wave, dined with friends old and new, reminded the film world I was indeed still alive…and lost myself to a handful of films as challenging as any passion could be.

When I first started the festival circuit nearly twenty years ago, I was one of those who saw 8 films a day, existing on cinematic love alone (and sometimes a little popcorn). In twenty years, the festival world has changed, the players have changed, even the films have changed (a little). But, Cinema? Cinema remains.

Á bientôt—until we Cannes again.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Cannes--the salad days

Day 5 Monday, May 17, 2010

Cannes: Market.

With forty or fifty big white tents lining the beach and another 100 or so mega-yachts flagging in the old harbor, plus another few hundred shingles hanging from nearly every window facing (or even not facing) the Croisette, one is easily reminded that Cannes is as much business as much as it is art.

Today was the day my two French filmmakers (Jesse and Louie Salto, “Finding” PSSF 2008) pounded the pavement, going door-to-door as it were, from one pavilion to the next. Each country, and in some cases a collection of countries film commissions, have a pavilion tent marked by their flag where they hand out location and tax incentive information to those interested.

The really good pavilions have something extra as well. The Irish, as noted before, have free coffee and Jameson whiskey (after noon). Abu Dhabi has the most tantalizingly tasty dates along with their Arabic coffee and chocolate. Turkey gave out lucky glass ‘evil eyes’ which were very welcome. Jordan was my favorite, with their version of Arabic coffee and a pistachio baklava that defies description.

The American Pavilion is the only one which charges an entrance fee—which they will tell you is because we have no national cinema to foot the bill and because they have such high overhead, but in reality it’s an obnoxious blight on the profile of American filmmaking. And they give out nothing, not even a warm welcome or “how-do-you-do”. Instead, you just hear overworked students screaming at market attendees who don’t speak English well—as if volume overcomes ignorance—“NO, YOU HAVE TO HAVE A PASS AND IT COSTS $100. THAT’S THE ONLY WAY WE’LL LET YOU IN”.

We don’t exactly compete on an equal level with those countries for which hospitality is a national trait. I can only imagine what the Republic of Georgia must think of us.

The Salto Bro’s are developing the script for their feature film debut—a character driven espionage thriller that races across Europe and the Middle East. All countries want filmmakers, and nearly all countries (outside of the USA) have tax incentives or co-production treaties to make filming there easier. Not one of the pavilions we visited today cared that the film was low(er) budget, or that the script was still being developed, or that the Salto Bro’s are just beginning their feature film career. It was a welcome reminder that not everyone in the world believes that “valuable” film comes only from the privileged few found in Hollywood or Sundance.

It’s nice to get a world view on occasion.

If the salad is meant to clear the palette before dessert, then today was a success. While my colleagues hold their collective heads over the British Airlines strike and looming ash cloud, I look forward to something sugary tomorrow and perhaps a little after-dinner espresso to wash it all down on Wednesday.

There’s nothing I can do to change the ash clouds’ trajectory on Thursday morning, so the band might as well play on….
Day 4, Sunday, May 16, 2010 Cannes

The late Jack Valenti (MPAA) once said “Cannes is like an oasis where all the caravans come across the desert and spend several days trading information, stories, and getting up-to-date intelligence on how the industry is going and where it its going.”

Besides the fact this is the only thing Jack ever said that I will agree with, I know Jack said it because I’m quoting straight off my flat-mate’s book, Hollywood on the Rivera by Cari Beauchamp and Henri Béhar. My flat-mate being Cari Beauchamp, here writing for Vanity Fair. And oddly enough, our weekend flat-guest is Paris-based producer Vivian Norris who is here writing for Huffington Post. I say oddly enough, because Jack Valenti was godfather to Vivian’s sister.

This is what Cannes is. We discover in the morning over our showers and coffee that we’ve all spent the same amount time trying to avoid the crazy lunatic woman who will hijack you into conversations with other people (mostly famous) who also haven’t a clue who she is—Viv (with me) at the Abu Dhabi party, Cari at the Eden Roc (at the Hotel du Cap). We share stories about Benicio Del Toro (I’m not proud— that man has a gorgeous ass), who is here on the jury. Cari has deliciously found a way to circumnavigate the Cannes queue absurdity in a way that reeks of mythic proportions…although I will keep her secret safe here. I’ve had my moment of walking the Crosisette with Screen Daily’s US Editor Jeremy Kay, stopping every “thirty seconds” as he put it, to say hello and introduce someone to him.

In the world of movie magic, Cannes is “the big trampolino” (so says Sophie Loren, with whom I will never, ever disagree).

It makes sense, then, that the Cannes main course is made up of the movies…and to embrace Cannes is, quite simply, to see the movies. Thankfully, it’s what I’ve finally been able to do.

Mike Leigh’s “Another Year” is stunning, brilliantly depressing cinema at top form. I immediately felt the urge to call a few friends to make sure they knew I loved them as I walked out into the bright Cannes sunshine at the end of the film. Four simple seasons, with nothing but ordinary life to examine, felt as honest and beautiful to me as anything I’ve seen. The performances are more than extraordinary. The reality here of a life less lived is almost too much to bear (hence my flurry of phone calls), but the emotional enormity of the everyday reaches the audience like an unfettered tidal wave. For me, this cinches it. Mike Leigh is genius: What started with “Naked” has now traversed into a decades-long crash course in what a brilliant director can do with brilliant actors.

“Inside Job” is as fascinating a watch, but for far different reasons. Director Charles Ferguson manipulates his audience with a tale of greed, avarice and power when he really doesn’t have to: the players in the 2008 global economic implosion are hubristic enough to simply hang themselves. Ferguson also seems to have a pre-disposition to making sure everyone REALLY, TRULY understands just how stupid the Americans are because nearly all of his European and Asian talking heads play the roles of the “knowing-yet-excluded” with pitch perfectness. Which we know can’t really be the case, since Greece has collapsed and Portugal, Ireland and Spain aren’t far behind. Nonetheless, for a comprehensible birds-eye view of a multi-headed beast, “Inside Job” satisfies and delivers.

Tomorrow—A salad before desert…

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Cannes continued...

Friday, Day 2 and Saturday, Day 3 Somebody put the air in the balloon. Friday afternoon Cannes lifted itself from dreary and weary to snap, crackle and pop. There still aren’t as many people here (be it less filmmakers, less industry, less tourists, less students or less drag queens…I can’t quite tell), but there must be something to that old adage “if you say it’s so enough times, it becomes so”. The trade dailies are quoting buyers and sellers talking optimistically about product and value and excitement (although I still haven’t felt the buzz tidal wave for any one film yet) and it seems to have rubbed off onto the general populace.

The Abu Dhabi party on Friday night was a hit for me, but a miss for others. I got there early, worked the room, saw dozens of the people I wanted to see, flirted, chatted, drank and ate…generally, had a working-good time. Saw filmmakers whose work I adore (“Kavi”, Palm Springs ShortFest 2009). Danced with a Lebanese journalist while waiting in the food line. Left before I could become a bore.

Screen International continues to rise in its dominance over the other trades for my money—faster stories with better in-depth analysis. Only IndieWire these days gives me as much on the spot coverage. Variety is a close second, Hollywood Reporter an also-ran. Still I haven’t seen journalists working this hard in a long time.

The Short Film Corner has had a face lift. I haven’t been a fan in the past, but the attention paid this year to presentation gives luster to the “tucked away in a corner” Corner. Still, I want these films more integrated into the larger festival and I want more shorts added to the general line up. Just a handful in competition is a short film crime, I say. If you really are nurturing new film talent, Cannes, this is where you find them. A perfect example is the short “Tanglin Road” (PSSF 2009) from writer/director Boo Junfeng, whose feature film debut, “Sandcastle” is playing in Cannes Critics Week.

Director Mike Leigh is everywhere today (Saturday) as his film “Another Year” screens in competition tonight. I like his quote in Screen Daily best, to sum up Cannes: “It’s a feast of human foible and glory and nonsense, and I love it for all that.”

The feast is on. Appetizer course was a little bland, but the soup course tasty…

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Cannes 2010

Thursday, Day 1 People predicted an odd year at Cannes, and from a ground-level p.o.v. I think they might be right. Fewer people so far. More former exec’s who are now back out on their own, looking for projects and for money. These are old guard producers, some of them legends from thirty years ago when they were making the term “American Indies” a household name. Cinephiles still clamor to get tickets to the competition films, but so far the hordes of aggressive ticket-seekers who would rip the clothes off your back in search of a coveted film ticket aren’t in full force. Buyers aren’t racing to any screenings, hot or otherwise. The dynamic convergence of anticipatory cinematic excitement and eager celebrity expectancy seems dulled so far—more like the slowly lingering volcanic ash than the explosive eruption Cannes itself has been.

You know it’s a different kind of Cannes when Matt Lauer and the US Ambassador to France officially open the American Pavilion. For those of us with a birds-eye view from the Irish Pavilion (where the coffee is free and the whiskey available), the Secret Service outnumbered filmmakers 2:1.

The regulars are here, those of us who expect to see each other and those who move stealthy and quickly through their 8 films a day—in and out of the market screenings, no time for chit chat over coffee or the ubiquitous Rosé and Salade Niçoise. By the way, if you thought no one smokes any more, come to France. Come to Europe.

And if you’re a filmmaker wondering about the state of your chosen industry, stay away. Far away. I think, so far at least, the atmosphere of Cannes this year is enough to make dental hygienists out of any auteur. If you’re looking for the heartbeat of new cinema, the pulse here is a little weak.

Tomorrow: Looking for Proof of Filmic Life….