September brings an onslaught of quality movies competing for an Academy award nomination. In approximately 10 weeks, 82 films will open in New York City to satisfy the Academy rule for a theatrical run in both NYC and Los Angeles. Some will sneak into town under the radar and others will attempt an explosion of visibility to push themselves into public view and build a buzz that gets people short listing them before any Academy announcement is made.
It is also NEW YORK FILM FESITVAL season. This is the 50th anniversary and the last Festival Columbia Professor Richard Pena will act as chief programmer. Pena is credited with both keeping the Festival sharply focused while bringing in younger programmers like citics Scott. Melissa Anderson and Dennis Lim and the most recent appointment of the duenna of indie film critics Amy Taubim have been able to continue the insightful selections that retains NYFF as along with Sundance the most influential film festivals in the US.
Go here the 50THANNUALNEWYORKFILMFESTIVAL Be sure to look at the public conversations as well as the main film selections.
LETS GO TO THE MOVIES!
OBAMA 2016 dir Dinesh D’Souz
Hollywood producer Gerald G. Molen (Schindler’s List, Minority Report,Rain Man) has assembled a first class production team to support the making of Dinesh D’Souza’s book The Roots of Obama’s Rage into a right wing documentary. OBAMA 2016, a crafty piece of distorted facts with an obsessively narrow focus, is currently tricking Obama supporters into theaters thinking they will learn something about America’s first African-American President.
They are in for a shock.
D’Souza is no dummy. The Dartmouth graduate and right wing ideologue has written 12 books on subjects ranging from a Deification of Ronald Regan to America being God’s chosen country. He knows how to spin a web of deception while frosting his poison thread with sprinkles of refracting truth. Tea Baggers were so excited at the public screening I attended that I thought the air conditioning had failed.
D’Souza travels to Africa after first admitting Obama was born in Hawaii. After portraying Obama’s mother as a radical cultist with a taste for minority men, he goes to to Africa to dig up dirt on Obama’s father and grandfather, a polygamist who had five wives. He interviews George Obama, a poor author who is resistant to being set up to say Obama had abandoned him.
D’Souza posits Obama as a not-real American because he is trying to live his father’s politics of making an anti-Colonialist state with a hatred for capitalism. Not that there is any footage of the dead father documenting D’Souza’s theory of Western hatred, he skips over facts that do not advance his theory that Obama is anti-American and yearns to make his long dead father proud of him. It is pop psychology on the level of pulp fiction.
Although Obama was sent to live with his mother’s mother and father during his formative adolescent years, there is not a word, not a frame of the grandparent’s talking about what “Barry” was like. D’Souza builds to the climax of naming who acted as Obama’s surrogate fathers including the controversial liberation theology based Rev Jeremiah Wright and former 60s SDS member and now university professor, Bill Ayers. So palpable is the skillful viewer manipulation, you would think that D’Souza was trained at the Joseph Gobbels’ School of Film making.
It is a dangerous film because of its skillful way to twist fact and slowly present an alternative vision of Obama while making clear his charisma with the public. Disgusting. Don’t your money. Better yet donate to a candidate that represents the America you believe in.
ORNETTE: MADE IN AMERICA. dir Shirley Clarke
In 1985, the last feature film by Oscar wining US indie fim pioneer Shirley Clarke opened. Its subject was Ornette Coleman, legendary jazz innovator. Made ostensibly to celebrate the opening of the Fort Worth Texas art space, The Caravan of Dreams was in reality, 20 years in the making.
Clarke had been a well trained modern dancer who had studied with Martha Graham, Hanya Holm and Doris Humphrey, three divas who invented modern dance. She turned to film making in the 50s studying with Hans Richter. Like her friend Maya Daren, also a dancer, she saw film as an expressive medium that her dance sensibility would embrace in unconventional way.
Ornette Coleman was born in Fort Worth Texas. He never had a music lesson but picked up and taught himself to play the saxophone and over the course of 20 years, changed forever the sound of jazz. He believed that emotion expressed was the essence of music and called his new approach harmolodic. Shirley and Ornette met in the late 60s through Yoko Ono.
When he decided to make his 11 year old son, Donardo, his drummer, Shirley started shooting. Ornette recognized that Clark cared about black people from her films like The Connection, Portrait of Jason and The Cool World. He had seen her ground breaking and award wining short films.
Ornette went to California and turned the tables on so called “cool jazz.” Usually not understood by most jazz folk, he did gain the respect of critics, especially the New York Times John Rockwell and Robert Palmer. Palmer, besides being a critic was also a blues and roots musician.
Clarke experimented with different camera formats until the producer walked in exasperation. The footage was boxed and shoved under a bed at the Chelsea Hotel where Shirley lived and held court until the last years of her life.
In 1981, when Fort Worth art space, Caravan of Dreams, decided for its opening to bring back to Fort Worth, home town boy Ornette to perform with the Fort Worth Symphony Skies of America and his orchestral jazz composition first composed for the London Philarmonic Orchestra. Kathelin Hoffman Gray, decided she wanted to document the opening and Ornette’s performance. Ornette recommended Shirley and out from under the bed came all the tapes footage. She had filmed people like William Burroughs commenting on Ornette and performance footage of his prime time including jazz legend’s like Charlie Haden, Bern Nix, Charles Ellerbe and Jamaaladeen Tacuma Dean.
In no way a conventional documentary, Made In America covers Ornette’s life from Fort Worth to finally settling in NYC. Very much like harmolodics in music, Clarke’s non-conventional, non linear story telling jumps around and weaves through a life of a man dedicated to being true to himself and not caring what other people thought. His creative idiosyncrasy meshed well with Clarke unconventional filmic innovations. Note cinematographer Ed Lachman supervised the reconstruction of the film. He had worked on the original filming himself and understood as well as anyone how despite the format differences and the challenge they created he was able to remain true to the aesthetic through line of Clarke. What a treat Ornette Coleman by Shirley Clarke. Genius meets Genius.
LEAVE THE LIGHTS ON dir Ira Sacks
When Weekend, the British indie directed by Andrew Haigh broke out of SXSW in 2011, gay/queer film making finally came of age and could drop the descriptive sexual orientation adjective as a marketing tool. Weekend told a universal story of a chance hook up, sexual intensity and desire. The fact that the two lead characters were men and the story a same sex love story was not the critical issue. It was the human universality of attraction and the consequences of venerability. Weekend prepared the way for the centrality of human experience that LEAVE THE LIGHTS ON explores.
We meet an adult son of a wealthy family who calls himself a filmmaker and is trying to make a documentary that will prove to his family and himself that he is not just about being fashionably artistic. The politics of mainstreaming homosexuality have presented an image of assimilation that seems to say we are all the same except for how we have sex.
Well yes and no.
Ira Sacks, to his credit, brings the reality of how gay men have sex and fall in and out of love that is almost universally absence in cinematic portrayals of homosexuals.
Sacks is a critically acclaimed filmmaker who won the Grand Jury prize at Sundance for 40 Shades of Blue, a film about an outsider’s desire to conform. The best film making is when a director brings personal insight into the complexity of the script. Sacks is fearlessly personal in his commitment to reveal the complexity of a relationship going bad because of one partner’s crack addiction and the other’s desperate belief that love will cure him. This is a middle class love and addiction story, not a new story, but historical theme in modern dress.
Erik, (Danish actor Thure Lindhardt), the documentary filmmaker and Paul, (Zachary Booth, Damages) a closeted lawyer, deliver brave performances that portray the couple’s 10 year relationship. It is a story of toxic love, the seduction of enabling and the devastation of addiction and consequences of venerability. Lindhardt plays the filmmaker with a sensitivity that will mine any memory the viewer may have of a personal situation the stills lies buried in painful repression.
Secondary roles are expertly cast with Julianne Nicholson radiant as Eric’s best female friend. Sacks is able to make seemingly normal those things that are different in the lives of gay men without making an assimilation’s dream come true fairy tale.
KEEP THE LIGHTS ON is a breakthrough film and possibly the best American indie film of the year. Not pretty, but like life itself, sometimes romantic and deeply complicated.
The soft, sad, hypnotic, sexy music of Arthur Russell is perfect. A contemporary soundscape for the soul sonics the film requires. Brilliant choice on Sacks’ part. arthurrussellletsgoswimmngremixwaltergibbonsAudikarecords
Yes, KEEP THE LIGHTS ON says that gay males are different. It is a story that regardless of your sexual orientation, is located in the human experience and resonates across all identify boundaries. However, and this is the critical turning point, Sacks shows how emotions are not defined by sexual orientation. By doing so, Sacks like Haigh, opens the door to commonality of emotional resonances across all the barriers that identity politics have created.
A must see movie. Oh did I say it is sexy too? Very sexy.
Sometimes we do festival reviews before a theatrical release. Film Movement’s TEDDY BEAR is opening at the Film Forum. We loved it at Sundance and reviewed it when it was featured in New Directors at MoMA. Also, HBO’s How To Survive A Plague, a documentary that premiere at Sundance and has been popping up on HBO and film festivals as actively campaigning for a nomination.
TEDDY BEAR dir Mads Matthiesen
Winner of the Audience Award for World Narrative film at Sundance, TEDDY BEAR is the story of a steroid sculptured body builder who, at 38 still lives at home with his emotionally incestuous mother and how he finally breaks away from her and finds true love in Thailand of all places. Describing the narrative line does not do justice to this sensitive study of how one finally grows up and must leave home. His mother is something with which to reckon! I must admit, when I first read the film’s description, I though I would pass on it until a fellow critic I trusted suggested it would surprise me. It certainly did. So I will suggest the same to you.
(c) jim fouratt reeldealmovies nyc August 28, 2012