Thursday, May 29, 2008

Nina Paley was not looking for an international controversy. Nevertheless, in April, when the now 40-year-old Jewish cartoonist screened her latest film, “Sita Sings the Blues,” at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, she said that’s precisely what she got.

Read more in the Forward...

Labels: , , , , , , , , , ,

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Like a demented child’s fantasy, Uwe Boll’s Postal fails to comprehend its own corrupt nature. I don’t fully understand or care about the German émigré’s brash confrontations with critics and the hatred leveled against his filmmaking (a petition to get him to retire has been circulating the web in the last few weeks), but the problem with Boll’s latest videogame adaptation for the big screen has less to do with his admittedly crappy direction than its indolent treatment of pertinent ideas.

Read the rest of the review in New York Press...

Labels: , , , , , , , , , ,

When Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skulls premiered at the Cannes Film Festival last week, the fanfare fit Hillary Clinton's infamous mockery of Barack Obama: "The skies will open, the light will come down, celestial choirs will be singing." Except, in this case, the majestic Palais des Festivals doors opened, the lights of flash photography came up, and a thousand voices called out to catch the attention of Indy pioneers Steven Spielberg, George Lucas and Harrison Ford. You couldn't ask for a better homecoming (even the mob outside the press conference huddled close to television screens), and the frothy reception extended through the following weekend, when the first Indiana Jones film in 18 long years scored a whopping $151 million opening-weekend gross. The world of America's cherished pop hero is not a cheap one.

Except, that is, for Eric Zala, Chris Strompolos and Jayson Lamb, the three Mississippi-born filmmakers living in it since their teenage years. When the trio set out to make Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation in 1981, they were all around the age of twelve, and couldn't have imagined the long gestation period that would culminate in international notice for their project. Made for no money on clunky camcorders, Raiders: The Adaptation does a surprisingly spot-on job of recreating the original film shot-for-shot (the kids even set their basement on fire to replicate certain explosive sequences), and the adolescent actors, offering their best impressions of Ford, Karen Black and the rest of the cast, add an additional context that turns the whole thing into an accidental coming-of-age story.

As the years went by, the team went into various different lines of work. Then, in 2003, horror director Eli Roth found out about the project and managed to pass it along to Steven Spielberg. A lengthy feature in Vanity Fair followed, and Raiders: The Adaptation became a cult phenomenon, screening all over the world. Zala left his job at Electronic Arts, joining Strompolos in founding a new production company. While Raiders: The Adaptation continues to have a life of its own, Zala and Strompolos have managed to leverage its success into a launching pad for their filmmaking careers. In essence, an innocuous fanboy tribute became a notably unique DIY strategy. A week after Raiders: The Adaptation had its Los Angeles premiere, Zala spoke to Stream about their newfound exposure, with an eye toward the future.

Read the whole interview in Stream...

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Perhaps it's appropriate that the documentary "Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired" received a special screening at this year's Cannes Film Festival, considering that its firm distribution deal really does seem like something special. During the latest Sundance Film Festival, "Wanted and Desired" became the first purchase after days of trepidation emanating from niche distributors -- an indicator of the dispiriting trend among buyers that continued into the Cannes Film Festival, although there was a slight burst of activity as the event comes to a close this weekend. The increasing difficulty to get American distributors interested is all the more evident now, with diagnoses for the problem spanning from broad cultural associations to specific issues popping up in the corners of the independent film landscape. With the dollar weak and alternative distribution venues on the rise, Cannes arrived like an intervention, bringing everyone under the same umbrella to figure out if they can come to terms with the problems at hand. So far, it looks like they're able, at the very least, to acknowledge them.

Read more in indieWIRE...

Labels: , , , , ,

After a long, virtually sleepless week of diving through the riotous choreography of film industry self-congratulation during the Cannes Film Festival, I left the south of France with my perspective of the business intact, even if my judgment felt a little frazzled. Above all else, Cannes deserves attention as a fascinating set of contradictions: Big and commercial, artistically inspired and enhanced by European lyricism, it works however you want it to work. As with any conflicting situation, there are valuable lessons to be learned. Here are a few that I picked up, with some notes from some of the enterprising personalities I encountered along the way.

Read the rest in Stream...

Labels: , , , , , ,

After a long, virtually sleepless week of diving through the riotous choreography of film industry self-congratulation during the Cannes Film Festival, I left the south of France with my perspective of the business intact, even if my judgment felt a little frazzled. Above all else, Cannes deserves attention as a fascinating set of contradictions: Big and commercial, artistically inspired and enhanced by European lyricism, it works however you want it to work. As with any conflicting situation, there are valuable lessons to be learned. Here are a few that I picked up, with some notes from some of the enterprising personalities I encountered along the way.

Read the rest in Stream...

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

CANNES, France -- The presence of video-on-demand and streaming video companies at the Cannes Film Festival, a place where the giants of world cinema screen their works in staggeringly immense structures, might appear somewhat incongruous. However, a place so insistent on reminding people of its ongoing role in film history should embrace the inevitability of digital distribution. For that reason, the online movie rental service Jaman , which participated in several panels and hosted a party on the Croisette in Cannes this week, justifies its attendance by the very nature of its existence — and the Silicon Valley team doesn't shy away from that fact.

Read the rest of the article in Stream...

Monday, May 19, 2008

Sunday, May 18, 2008


I just wanted to throw that out there.

More details in Stream later this week.

Labels: , ,

Saturday, May 17, 2008

CANNES, France -- Wandering around the dense collection of parties, promotional events and, yes, even movie screenings at the Cannes Film Festival, you can't help but feel the sheer scale of the place barreling down on your senses. The environment easily accommodates lavish expressions of power, with any number of celebrities and affluent investors flocking to private gatherings along the messy length of the Croisette to talk business over the finest rosé until dawn breaks. The festival and the marketplace swirl together as a furious spectacle. The international film industry these days is all about swimming with sharks.


Friday, May 16, 2008


Core issues raised as Cannes kicks off its first day

by Eric Kohn

"I don't think we went blind. I think we always were."

--Danny Glover in Blindness

CANNES, France -- Members of the press are divided into color-coded categories ranging from white to yellow badges in a system that vaguely sounds like class discrimination, but the media keeps on coming; movie stars hog the spotlight, but bump shoulders with obscure art house personalities on the red carpet; the sun beats down hard, but the weather is glorious. The innate paradoxes of the Cannes Film Festival, which began its sixty-first year on Wednesday, come from all directions. Often accused of celebrating materialistic enjoyment under the pretenses of championing film as high art, Cannes features a very particular dissonance of form and content. Sometimes, the chaos is glorious, but other times it's just plain chaotic.

Read more in Stream...

Labels: , , , , , , , ,

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Combining pop whimsy with nuanced characters, Joachim Trier's "Reprise" constructs a simultaneously moving and satiric portrayal of two young struggling writers, Erik (Espen Klouman-Hoiner) and Phillip (Anders Danielson Lie), in Norway's chic modern professional scene. After a warm reception at the Sundance Film Festival in 2007 and a similar response later that year at New Directors/New Films, "Reprise" remained without distribution until producer Scott Rudin, a fan of the film, pressured Miramax's Daniel Battsek to purchase it. Incessantly lively, filled with contemporary references, and containing a number of creative flourishes to help give the heavier ideas a sense of levity, "Reprise" marks Trier's directorial debut. In a conversation with indieWIRE last week at the Soho Grand Hotel, the filmmaker matched the positive qualities that make his movie so distinct.

iW:A lot of movies about the writing process don't work. How did you work these two characters into a credible literary environment?

Yeah, it's a problem -- if you're going to have someone (in a film) read from the greatest novel, then you have to write the greatest novel. We're avoiding that. We're more interested in the dynamics of composition than we are in exploring exactly the contents of the books, but there are references to various writing traditions in the film, and a lot of those are, I guess, local references. They're a language-oriented literature, rather than the social-realist tradition. It's insinuated in the film that (Eric's book) 'Prosopopeya' has greater literary ambitions than being experimental, and it seems like the critics don't think it works. So we're playing around with a great literary person's desire to do the radically different story, which is kind of self-referential, because we're playing around with little things here and there. It's about very intellectual characters. We wanted to take that seriously, but we wanted to laugh a bit as well.

Read the rest of the interview in indieWIRE...

Labels: , , , , ,

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

CANNES, France -- The strikingly abnormal image of a blindfolded woman set against a black background adorning the poster for the 61st Cannes Film Festival was taken from a photograph by David Lynch. Ever the eccentric American artist, Lynch's career offers a distinct frame for understanding this monumental gathering of the film industry's greatest powers.

Read more in Stream...

Labels: , , , , , , , , ,

Friday, May 09, 2008

As a documentarian, Nick Broomfield has dissected American pop culture with films like "Biggie & Tupac" and "Kurt & Courtney." With his more recent forays into narrative feature filmmaking, he has broadened his scope to include global issues. "Ghosts" explored the dark world of Chinese migrant workers in the UK, and his latest work, "Battle for Haditha," which opened at Film Forum earlier this week, recreates the infamous 2005 incident where U.S. marines murdered two dozen Iraqi civilians in a small village, driven by rage after encountering a roadside bomb. An attempt by the military to cover up the role of the American soldiers in the slaughter didn't last long. Media scrutiny led to an internal investigation, and the events have now been thoroughly recorded in various reports.

Using real soldiers and Iraqis to recreate the event, the movie creates a raw, brutal portrait of wartime insanity. While "Haditha" escapes the pratfalls of rhetoric by taking a fly-on-the-wall approach, Broomfield clearly has a unique agenda: Unlike any other contemporary war film, the drama emerges from the action, rather than being superimposed on it. You'll find plenty of shouting, but no histrionics. Broomfield and actor Elliot Ruiz, an Iraq War veteran Broomfield cast as Corporal Ramirez, recently sat down with indieWIRE to discuss the main themes at work in the film.

iW: The central event of the film is based on real testimonies. Given your documentary background, why didn't you take that approach?

Nick Broomfield: I've been making documentaries for a number of years, and I think far too many people just stay in a groove and carry on what they've been doing for far too long. I think it's important as an artist, in whatever field you're in, to take on new challenges, try to tell stories in different ways, and develop your techniques into something new. When I did "Ghost," the film before this, I took a big risk by basically casting all non-actors using real locations, and shooting in a style that's not applied in traditional feature films. Feature films are still very much caught in this time warp of shooting master shots, close-ups, reaction shots - which is all a style that cinema verite is completely not about. Cinema verite is all about real time, long takes, uncertainty, the moment. I tried to keep all that in the style of making this film. At the same time, I tried to tell a story in a much more structured way. Obviously, it's a story that I don't appear in. I tried to forge a new technique of film, which I think is possible because of all the technological changes. I don't think you need to make feature films in the way they're made anymore. It comes out of a 1930's technology, and we've gone past it now.

Read the rest of the interview in indieWIRE...

Labels: , , , , , , ,

Today in Stream, my old colleague/drinking buddy John Lichman has a fantastically witty and informative interview with the dude and dudette behind the "Marvel/DC" parodies available on the internet. I discovered these sketches rather recently, and now I'm a devout fan. See what creator Michael Agrusso has to say for himself.

Labels: , , , , , , , , ,

Thursday, May 08, 2008

The tragedy was in plain sight, but nobody thought it would hit this hard. As word spread today that Warner Bros. planned to close its specialty divisions Picturehouse and Warner Independent Pictures, shifting all projects currently in development to the larger studio and its recently absorbed subdivision New Line, a mournful tone took hold of the independent film industry. "It is a sad day when any film company, large or small, bites the dust," said President of THINKfilm Mark Urman. "One had heard and one had even considered that this was a possible scenario. It's still surprising when you see it in print."

The announcement reverberated throughout the day, as it became clear that all Picturehouse and Warner Independent employees -- seventy-four combined -- just lost their jobs. "This was a strategic decision that came after a lot of careful consideration," said Alan Horn, Warner Bros.' president and CEO, in an e-mail to indieWIRE. "We have been thinking about this for a couple of months, since Time Warner put New Line under our company." Following in step with a statement he issued earlier in the day, Horn argued that the decision resulted from a need to consolidate their interests. "To have three theatrical development, marketing, production and distribution arms, essentially serving the same function and even competing with one another on various levels does not make economic sense," Horn said. "That's a bottom line reality."

Read more in indieWIRE...

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Friends and colleagues (and some folks who fall into both categories) have been asking me what exactly I'm doing these days, what with my byline appearing in some half dozen outlets now on a regular basis, making it hard to find the common thread. Well, there is one, kinda. Around January, I became involved with a newly launched online magazine called Stream, which focuses on independent filmmakers using the internet as a major resource for production, marketing and other related areas. It's a great way to delve into new media discourse without getting bogged down with constant reporting on the corporate world (although there's a little of that), and I'm constantly amazed at all the artists out there becoming pioneers of fresh distribution models. History is now, people.

I add news updates and features to Stream on a daily basis, and we've got a wide variety of material, from filmmaker profiles to revenue reports to festival dispatches and more. The magazine is attached to a revolutionary online film search engine called The Looking Glass Guide that's well worth checking out.

In the meantime, I'm still regularly contributing to New York Press (although I'm just doing a few pieces a month now, rather than jotting down a couple reviews each week), and I've been doing a number of interviews, features and festival notebooks for indieWIRE.

I've also got a couple of magazine pieces on the stands now: A nifty survey of Christian cinema in Hollywood that I wrote for Heeb, a survey of some up-and-coming writer-directors for Moviemaker (print only), and an overview of New York City film production for The Hollywood Reporter.

On the more eccentric side of things, I wrote an essay about Jonas Mekas' A Letter from Greenpoint in the brilliant new issue of Reverse Shot, and Cinematical, a blog I've admired and learned much from over the years, has brought me on board to contribute posts throughout the week. Recent subjects range from Amy Poehler to movie accents to misogyny. Yes, misogyny.

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

There was a time when only ruthless Hollywood producers had the power to bring cinematic visions to life. Now, it takes a village -- or, rather, a community. That's the idea behind IndieGoGo , the social network for funding independent film productions launched January 14 by Slava Rubin, Eric Schell and Danae Ringelmann. By allowing filmmakers to create profiles for their projects, build fans and get them to donate to the projects, IndieGoGo makes it possible to find an audience before a single frame is shot -- and allows them to get involved. "All you need is an idea in your head," explains Rubin, whose background in strategic planning combines with Schell's consulting experience and Ringelmann's industry work in the field of film and media finance. "We've all been passionate about independent film and helping artists," says Rubin, who works out of New York City while Schell and Ringelmann complete their MBAs at UC Berkeley.

Read more in Stream...

Labels: , , , , ,

Saturday, May 03, 2008


“It became a morality tale by accident,” Bill Plympton says of his latest animated feature film, Idiots and Angels, which has two more screenings at the Tribeca Film Festival on April 30 and May 3. Regardless of Plympton’s intent, the thematic consequence is right there in the title: Idiots and Angels follows a sadistic gun salesman ignorant to the struggles of those around him—until a pair of angel wings inexplicably grow on his back, and with them comes an emerging sense of responsibility.

Like Plympton’s best works, dialogue is non-existent, replaced by the expressive quirks of his fluid line drawings and abstract comedy. Where quintessential Plympton shorts—such as the Oscar-nominated Guide Dog—express a vivacious, chaotic glee, the new feature contains a relatively contemplative feel.

Read more in New York Press...

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Friday, May 02, 2008

Click the image for a larger view.

For some reason, I find this hilarious.

I just realized that I forgot to sign this one, so please don't steal my idea.


NEW YORK, New York -- Eight years have passed since Mike Figgis' Timecode first appeared in American theaters, combining soapy drama with Hollywood satire, using the highly ambitious arrangement of four screens to reveal multiple scenes at once -- but, despite claims to the contrary, the British filmmaker doesn't think his romp with mini-DV cams heralded a new age. "The digital revolution has hit, but behind the scenes," the frequently witty and insightful Figgis told the audience at the DGA Theater in midtown Manhattan earlier this week, appearing for the Tribeca Film Festival's "Tribeca Talks" series. "Film is still the best way of making a big movie...but, in the meantime, digital has crept into our lives."

Mike Figgis' 'Timecode' (2000)
Figgis certainly isn't opposed to the technology -- he wrote a great book about it -- nor does the sixty-year-old director display any trepidation towards the internet. Quite the opposite, actually: He helped start the online social networking community Shooting People, which helps connect filmmakers across the globe. Still, Figgis said he has serious reservations about the so-called democratization of filmmaking caused by the popularity of digital aesthetics. "Digital technology has accelerated the problem of cultural saturation," he said, rather bleakly. "You see a steady progression toward the lowbrow."

Read the rest of the dispatch in Stream...

Labels: , , , , , , , , , ,