This year, the 54th edition of the New York Film Festival (NYFF) arrives. New leadership under Kent Jones is firmly in place. Keeping true to one of its core missions, it will provide a survey of the world's top film festivals, bringing to NYC cinephiles the best of the best. The NYFF seems to have survived its midlife crisis. I don’t mean it panders to pop culture taste but the programming committee brings home a number of diverse cultural bloodlines. I welcome the
separate category for documentaries, the new technology and the future of film section called Convergenceas well as two sections devoted to experimental film. Personally, I wish the Film Society of Lincoln Center would have pulled what looks to be sidebar programming and given each its own run during the year (too many choices in a limited amount of time). Of course, it would not be the NYFF if there weren’t films to provoke controversy: Staying Vertical by the director of Stranger by the Lake and The Settlers, is a documentary on the Jewish camps surrounding Palestinian territory. I suggest that you avoid the BIG PICTURES that will open soon (films directed/conceived by: OlivierAssayas, Pedro Almodovar, Ang Lee, Ava DuVernay, Mike Mills, James Gray, Kelly Reichardt, Paul Verhoeven, Ken Loach, Kenneth Lonergan) and seek out the films that might only be seen on the Festival circuit:
- Aquarius (Brazil)
- Graduation (Romania)
- Moonlight (U.S.)
- Neruda (Chile/Argentina)
- The Rehearsal (New Zealand)
- Sieranevada (Romania)
- Son of Joseph (France)
- A Quiet Passion (U.K.)
- The Living Idol (U.S.)
- Memories of Underdevelopment (Cuba)
- Hissein Habre: A Chadian Tragedy (Chad)
- I Am Not Your Negro (James Baldwin) (France/Belgium)
- I Called Him Morgan (Sweden)
- Two Trains Runnin’ (U.S.)
- Uncle Howard (U.S.)
Check out the NYFF website for FREE programming and remember about both standby (full price) and rush tickets.
Let’s Go To the Movies
Director: Oliver Stone
First, I want to ask the question: How important is privacy to you? Seriously. It seems to be a generational question. Millennials grew up in a digital world where privacy was not an issue to them as they surfed and searched and utilized the World Wide Web. But does an individual citizen have the right to not have all of his information snatched without consent? Think about it.
I’m also going to ask a second question: What is patriotism and what is a patriot?
Oliver Stone in SNOWDEN has buried these two question at the very core of his film. Stone is a master filmmaker and a provocateur extraordinaire. He loves popular culture and uses it as a filmmaker to raise hot-button, impolite, I-don't-want-to-think-
He seems to enjoy the attention.
In SNOWDEN, he foregrounded the love story as he simmers these critical questions. A geek love story no less. Knowing full well the contemporary image of geeks as dull, boring people more interested in immersing themselves in technology and digital toys than interpersonal love. More interested in mind fucking than actual human contact. Stone tells the Edward Snowden story in a way that makes personal who Snowden is and why he did what some have called treason and others have called patriotic. This is the tale of how a geek went from someone who wanted to work for the CIA and the NSA after 9/11 to someone who confronted deep personal, ethical, and moral questions about what his government is doing to the average citizen who had no idea. When he decides to make public the data he has liberated from the NSA, it blows open the question of what is privacy in a world of a digital military? As cyber warfare is replacing the traditional weapons of war, we move from soldiers on the ground and in the air to the new weaponry: drones, robots, and cyber weapons.
“Terrorism” is a word used far too often these days to cover a variety of individual acts planned or unplanned post 9/11. Civil liberties as we had known them under the U.S. Constitution are suddenly being reinterpreted in a panic mode after the 9/11 attack. Government agencies charged with keeping Americans safe resort to trampling over many of the basic civil liberties protections that were in place historically to protect the privacy of individuals. What SNOWDEN brings to the table is the politicization of public safety to the degree that the government agencies sought and received the complicity of major digital corporations including Apple and Google. Companies violated their own standards of privacy to cooperate because of national security. SNOWDEN woke up U.S. citizens and governments around the world to the fact that our personal information is not only at risk for hacking but has been a primary target of U.S. government security police. We did know from media that organized crime and foreign governments were engaged in hacking. SNOWDEN revealed our own government was spying on all of us.
Stone is successful in humanizing a political polemic by revealing that ordinary human beings are capable of extraordinary acts of conscience, and geeks can have the courage to put public awareness before personal safety.
SNOWDEN is superbly cast. Joseph Gordon Levitt did his homework and brings Edward Snowden to life on the screen by finding his voice and shyness and firm belief that he was doing the right thing. I told you it was a love story on the surface, with those bubbling questions underneath.
Snowden’s girlfriend and his relationship with her is pivotal to Stone’s narrative. Seductively played by Shailene Woodley, she brings a smart riot sensibility to the screen. Some of my favorite actors appear: Melissa Leo (Laura Poitras), Zachary Quinto (Glenn Greenwald) and especiallyRhys Ifans as the 1984 omnipresent Big Brother CIA Bureau Chief. He chillingly brings alive the narrative Stone and Fitzgerald have written.
Rooted in humanity, SNOWDEN is a tale of coming-of-age morally. Snowden chose to leave his high paying job and home in Hawaii and the woman he loves because his conscience brought him to a place of personal sacrifice in order to alert American citizens as to what its government and major corporations were doing to them without public approval and, most importantly, knowledge.
Stone knows how to tell a story. His narrative, regardless of what attitude you have walking into the theater about Edward Snowden, will make you see a human being making human choices about what is important to him. Because of major media attention and the excellent Oscar winning documentary CITIZENFOUR, you may think you know this story. But I’m going to strongly suggest you see this film because it achieves the most important thing that I think a movie can do—it humanizes the communication between the actors playing the characters and between the characters and the audience.
Last month, I wrote about ZERO DAYS, the documentary from Alex Gibney documenting the new frontier of cyber warfare. Gibney sets out to find out who is responsible for disabling and erasing Iran’s nuclear energy computer system’s programs as well as the murder of high-placed computer technologists in the Iranian government. Today, we hear a lot about hacking and fingerpointing at China, Russia, and the Ukraine, but rarely do we hear about how the United States is engaged in the same kind of cyber warfare. ZERO DAYS poses the question of who did it because nobody wanted to step forward to say “I did it.” Gibney, as usual, does his deep investigation and points to a partnership between the U.S. and the Israeli government.
The next war will be fought not only by drones but by cyber technology, and it is something that each of us should be concerned with for a peaceful world. Edward Snowden came of age, found his conscience and acted accordingly. See SNOWDEN because we hear much about hacked emails, private servers a la HRC, half a million members' personal information at Yahoo hacked. I tried to set up this film and why you should see it not in the usual manner of talking about the actors and the crafting of the film, all of which, by the way, are excellent. This is a serious movie about America in the 21st century. SNOWDEN is about survival on many levels. It is about how the personal is still political and, finally, about love.