You are viewing a read-only archive of the Blogs.Harvard network. Learn more.

IM Chat w/Adam Roffman, Program Director, IFFBoston

untitled.JPGme: hi
adam: Hi Cynthia
me: how are you doing
me: is the festival stuff over now?
adam: tired!
me: i can imagine
adam: Still doing wrap-up. Gathering the press, mailing back some posters, paying some vendors, etc., etc. And cleaning house for the first time in months.
me: do you live full-time in boston?
adam: yep
me: i read somewhere that you do props for studio films during the rest of the year
me: does that take place in boston?
adam: Well, I do props and set decoration on studio films from May-December. January-April I take off from work to focus solely on the festival. The film work is almost entirely in Boston, RI, and New York for me. The next film I start on Monday in Rhode Island.
me: any films i’ve heard of?
adam: The Departed, Fever Pitch, State and Main, The Perfect Storm, and upcoming films include Ben Affleck’s “Gone Baby Gone” and Peter Hedges “Dan In Real Life”
me: yep, i’ve heard of those
me: have you made any films, or have plans/aspirations to do so at some point?
adam: I made a one-minute short film called THE TERROR OF THE INVISIBLE MAN which played at 26 festivals and then was acquired by IFC. Now, in addition to my art department work on studio films, I am a producer on Alex Karpovsky’s new feature GENERAL IMPRESSION OF SIZE AND SHAPE and will be producing a few other features in the coming year or so
adam: I plan to direct a feature at some point, but am in no hurry. I’d rather have a great script and do it right than rush into it just so I can say “I’m a filmmaker”.
me: you are a busy man
me: do you also travel around to a lot of festivals?
adam: I go to a few each year, but my filmwork keeps me from going to as many as I would like. I make it to Sundance every year (7 years in a row now) and usually hit a few others each year. I’ve been to Seattle, Newport, Cleveland, Hamptons, IFP Market, and some others. Some of the fest staff go to Toronto every year so we get that covered too.
me: can you describe what exactly is a program director’s job?
adam: I oversee the film and special guest programming for the festival. There are 5 people on our core staff who have input in programming and as Director I make the final call on which films actually get in.
me: would you say yours is a more casual or intimate fest than most others? it seems to be to me, but i’ve only been to a few
me: been to silverdocs, and i worked with the boston jewish film fest
me: silverdocs is very corporate though
adam: I feel like it is definitely more casual and intimate from my experiences and most of our visiting filmmakers tell us the same.
me: yeah it seems like a big film party
adam: I haven’t been to Silverdocs, but hope to make it one of these years. I’m friends with Sky Sitney there.
me: whereas others seem much more professional-oriented
me: iffboston just seems much more open and approachable
me: and there seem to be many more friendships being made rather than just “networking”
adam: I think alot of that probably has to do with the fact that from top-to-bottom our staff is between the ages of 25-35. We just try to give the fest a more casual and youthful vibe.
me: also, the film announcers always take care to note that the festival is entirely volunteer-run
me: what exactly does this mean–none of you get any salary whatsoever for the festival?
me: including the directors?
adam: Yes, festival directors are volunteer as well
adam: We put every dime we make at the festival back into the festival. For the time being we are all living off our day jobs and doing the festival as a passion. We hope it gets to a point where we feel comfortable taking some salary, but for the moment we would rather put that money back into the festival and make it as successful as possible.
me: that’s amazing
me: is that common? i imagine it’s not a big money-maker generally for the staff of any festival and every fest has lots of volunteers but i don’t know how common it is for the directors to be unpaid as well, especially for one as big as iffboston
adam: I think it’s common for very small film festivals to be completely volunteer-run, but I don’t think any other festivals our size are volunteer-run from top to bottom. We’re probably unique in that way.
me: there also seem to be more men doing the organizing, which from what i’ve seen is a little unusual
me: seems like most fests are run by women
me: again, from my limited experience
adam: Umm, I am thinking of all the fests I’ve been to and whether it’s more men or women as organizers before I answer the last question
me: ok
adam: From my experience, it is pretty balanced at most of the fests I’ve gone to. BJFF and Silverdocs is almost entirely run by women and those are more the exceptions. I don’t think any of the other fests I go to have a woman as their Exec. Director or program director
me: interesting that the two i know are the exceptions
me: i also heard at silverdocs, on some panel, a complaint from filmmakers that festivals pretty much only show invited films and rarely show blind submissions
me: does iffboston show many submissions or is it mostly invites?
adam: We show more submissions than invites every year. I would say about 70-75% of the films we are show are submissions. Alot of people would like to assume that if a film played at Sundance and then plays at our festival that is was invited, but that’s often not the case. We had a number of films submitted to us this year that played Sundance, Slamdance, SXSW, etc.
me: wow that’s good to hear
me: i imagine the more corporate festivals are the ones that show mostly invited films?
adam: I can’t really say since I don’t know about the inner workings of other fest’s staffs. I would make some of those same assumptions too, but people make assumptions about IFFBoston inviting films all the time and they are usually wrong.
me: is this a common complaint then?
me: sounds like you’ve heard it before
me: it was the first i’d heard of it
adam: no, once or twice a year on a filmmaker messageboard I’ll hear some filmmaker complain about that, but it’s usually coming from a film that has just been rejected so we take it with a grain of salt.
me: always some sour grapes
me: so do you have any favorites from this year’s festival?
me: or do you have a favorite genre in general?
adam: I wouldn’t say I have a favorite genre in general. I definitely lean towards darker material, but I like to mix it up. My faves this year would probably be DAY NIGHT DAY NIGHT, MONKEY WARFARE, PROTAGONIST, EVERYTHING WILL BE OKAY, and THE PATTERNS TRILOGY, but I am very, very happy with the program overall this year. I definitely think it was our strongest program yet.
adam: I checked your blog last night and I was excited to see that you both saw and liked KINETTA. That was a film I knew the good majority of people that saw it wouldn’t get into, but I thought it was a well-made and challenging film and I like to throw a few of those in the program each year even though I know they will probably not well attended and will get murdered in the audience vote.
me: yeah i really liked that one
me: and saw some bashing of it on some blogs
me: it takes some patience to get into
adam: exactly
me: also a strong stomach!
me: i wish i had one, i can’t handle the shaky cameras
adam: so I read
me: happens frequently in indie film unfortunately
adam: luckily, the shaky camera thing doesn’t get to me. I see alot of it going through the submission process
me: i’m bummed that i missed day night day night
me: but hopefully i’ll get to see it at another time
adam: I know it will come out on dvd at the very least. And probably have a one-week run at the Kendall
me: cool
me: did you go to film school?
adam: I went to Radford University (in Virginia) for undergrad and Emerson College for Grad School, both for video production. Then I left grad school a credit shy and started working on Bill Nye, The Science Guy for a season, and then started working on films.
me: leaving grad/film school early makes sense, especially if there’s work available
me: i was film studies so didn’t get to make any films
me: but i’ve been writing screenplays lately and very much want to make one
me: we need some female mumblecores!
adam: I would advise against film school for most people serious about working in the business, except for the growing up/maturing factor. As far as working your way up the ladder, college only slows that down.
me: that’s what i tended to hear from some people outside of grad school, working in the business
adam: I would love to see some female mumblecores! I enjoy films with female protagonists much more anyway.
me: yeah we really need it
me: i have no problem with male directors we just need to add more females to the mix
me: so i need to get moving
me: and make one!
adam: yeah lazy! Get on it!
me: 🙂
me: so do you have any advice for someone interested in starting a festival, what would be the first thing you would do? (or did)
me: i had for some time been thinking boston needed a doc fest, but iffboston covers docs pretty well
me: and the kind of doc i like isn’t made often anymore
me: a more arty doc rather than the typical doc, which is more like journalism
adam: I don’t know why, but I’m having a hard time answering that “first thing to do” question. We do try to cover the docs pretty extensively at the festival and that has always been the strongest part of the program. I think a doc fest would be cool, but I don’t know that there would be enough good docs in a year to support both IFFB and a separate docfest.
me: yeah that was my concern
me: even at silverdocs there are only a handful that i really like
me: as for the ‘first thing to do’ your response is pretty much the same as i got from some other festival people
me: some said pick a date
me: some said pick a venue
me: but the rest is kind of ummmmm
adam: I was going to say “venue”. That is kind of the most important thing to do when starting a fest. Figuring out if it is in the neighborhood of your target audience, making sure it’s not the stronghold of another festival, making sure it is accessible to public transportation, etc.
me: yeah
me: and having a strong theme would help
me: have you heard of the true/false festival?
adam: of course!
me: i like the idea of that festival
me: have you been?
me: i’d love to go but have never made it yet
adam: no, it’s way too close to our dates for me to be able to attend. Same with Sarasota, Nashville, HotDocs, etc.
me: i met the director of that fest at silverdocs last year he was kind of stumped by my question about starting a fest too
adam: Like I said, I think the venues are key. Part of the reason it may stump people is because they are probably thinking back to what they did when they started their fest, not the important thing they learned by year 2 that they should have done from the beginning.
me: yeah
me: so what’s on the radar for iffboston now, do things shut down or is there work to be done throughout the year?
adam: we are starting our monthly screening series at the end of May with a film called THE HAWK IS DYING starring Paul Giamatti and Michelle Williams. It will be at the Somerville Theatre. Date TBD.
me: interesting
me: we’ll watch for that

IFFBoston: Awards

Once again, the audience at IFFBoston had different priorities than I, as I have seen only one of the festival winners (YEAR OF THE FISH):

Grand Jury Prize:

(Narrative Feature) DAY NIGHT DAY NIGHT
(Documentary Feature) THE KING OF KONG
(Short Film) POP FOUL

Special Jury Prize:

(Narrative Feature) MONKEY WARFARE
(Documentary Feature) KAMP KATRINA
(Short Film) SONGBIRD

Audience Awards:

(Narrative Feature) YEAR OF THE FISH
(Documentary Feature) DARIUS GOES WEST
(Short Film) FREEHELD

Dewars Collective Choice Award:


Apple Programmers Choice Award:


IFFBoston: Hannah Takes the Stairs

The film I was most eager to see at IFFBoston was Joe Swanberg’s Hannah Takes the Stairs. I’m a fan of his previous films and a big supporter of his style of working, which is to entirely improvise his films in conjunction with his friends. There is no script, and the scenes merely grow out of lots of lengthy conversations with his friends/collaborators. For this latest film, he says he rented an apartment in Chicago for one month, had everyone sleeping on the floor, shot the movie every day and edited it at night. He says it was a “magical” month. And I’m sure it was. I’m a bit envious of the depth of connections he must be making in the course of his work. But also inspired.

hannaandrew.jpgWhich is why I am having trouble saying that the film left me a bit underwhelmed. I haven’t quite placed my finger on why, but it might have something to do with the tiny groan I emitted when, after the screening of the film, Swanberg said that it only took a few minutes of meeting his lead actress, Greta Gerwig, to know she could carry a movie. It seemed a particularly male comment to make–not simply because she’s quite fetching, but because her charms are the kind that really only work on men. I have very much liked all of Swanberg’s films, but I like Hannah less so, primarily because I found the actress so irritating.

She’s damn cute, for sure, but she is constantly projecting an awareness of her cuteness and an awareness of being watched and admired for her cuteness that makes me want to *shake* her. I kept waiting for her to drop the giggly act and get real. Even in scenes with other females, or in scenes where she was crying, the tone I got from the scene was “I know you think I’m cute when I’m crying.”

Perhaps it’s not her fault though, perhaps it’s the fault of the filmmaker’s gaze, which clearly adores her. To me, the film was about the relationship between Greta and the camera. It felt oppressive to me, and I really wanted it to back off. I wanted to know more about some other characters. I wanted to breathe; I wanted Hannah to have a chance to breathe. In one scene she’s dancing crazily to some loud music and the camera holds her in a medium closeup as she thrashes her arms and fists wildly, and I like to imagine she is trying to break free of the camera’s frame, its gaze. I have always felt that all of Swanberg’s films have a very male perspective, but it has never bothered me until this film. It felt, overall, like nothing more than a chance to get Greta on film and stare, stare, stare. And for her to enjoy being stared at. And being female, that just doesn’t speak to me.

It’s part of a greater problem I’m having with a lot of indie film, especially the “Mumblecore” movement Swanberg and Andrew Bujalski have been lumped into. It’s a bunch of white twentysomething guys and their gaze. It’s a smarter and more sensitive gaze, but a gaze nonetheless. In and of itself that’s not a problem–they make great films, and I look forward to more from them. I guess we just need more female filmmakers. Lots more, to balance out the gaze. (I’m working on that myself…)

I’d love to hear from any other women who’ve seen the film–did you feel similarly? I don’t know if I’m alone in this, but my feeling is that most men will love the movie, while women will find it a bit lacking. Judging by the questions asked at the Q&A after the film, that’s probably right. Only men asked questions, many of which gushed over Greta’s “luminosity.” The film was speaking to them, and they heard it.

UPDATE–From this Salon article about SXSW and Hannah Takes the Stairs:  “An entire row of Austin women in front of me got up to leave about half an hour in, and I almost ran after them to hear their reasons.”

IFFBoston: Year of the Fish

I recently got a manicure in New York City and remarked to a friend that every time I go into one of these salons I feel an air of oppression. There are teams of Asian women who barely speak English doing the fairly difficult labor of manicures and pedicures all for $8. How can they afford to live? How did they get here? Who is the scowling man who sits in the corner and watches the operations? Am I a jerk for participating in this situation? If I give her a big tip will she even get to keep it?

yearoffish2.jpgThese questions were fresh in my mind when watching Year of the Fish, a sort of fairy tale set among Chinese immigrants in New York’s Chinatown. In fact, the film is based on what is said to be the oldest known version of the Cinderella story, the ancient Chinese fable of Ye Xian. Shy new arrival Ye Xian lands in Chinatown expecting to work in a beauty salon to pay off her travel costs, only to find out that the salon in question specializes in “massage”, not beauty, and the evil shop madam and her bitter masseurs (step-daughters) hold her hostage to pay off her debts. After refusing to do massage, she is forced to scrub floors and toilets and cook for the “family” of prostitutes. There is a dashing prince (an American-born Chinese musician), a royal ball (Chinese New Year Party), and a fairy godmother (fortune-telling sweatshop-owning old chinese woman). It’s a clever premise, and I very much enjoyed the setting, one we rarely get to see close up in film, from the point of view of characters who actually live there rather than just visit for a drug deal and start shooting things and beating people up and crashing cars into wonton carts. I did ask the director why he didn’t shoot the film in Chinese, which would have added to the effect, but it’s understandable that he had certain constraints and this is after all a fairy tale–gritty realism is not a requirement. Then again, the massage-parlor storyline gets pretty graphic in places, and the grit of the Chinatown streets is certainly on full display, so it seems that if you open the door to this kind of mixture of reality and fantasy it’s fair to hope for the full effect.yearoffish.jpg

The director also made the decision to rotoscope the entire film with a kind of painterly effect, which is a clever way to make digital video look less like … well, video. Which, in a fairy tale such as this, is appropriate. It’s odd though, after watching the effect for awhile you become accustomed to it and forget it’s there, and in some ways it loses its effect. I almost wished they had made the effect more dramatic in some way–some of the costuming looked very “costume-y”, which I think is the fault of video. Even with rotoscoping I just saw a guy with a big fake mustache. There were also clever painterly transitions and fades between scenes, all of which could have been kitschy in another film, but here were effective in keeping the film fantasy-like.

And there was absolutely no shakycam! Overall it’s an admirable film and I look forward to David Kaplan’s future projects.

IFFBoston: Kinetta

I very much admire the intentions of Yorgos Lanthimos’ Kinetta, but unfortunately the camerawork was a little too “kinetta” for me to really enjoy the experience. I was looking away for about 85% of the film to tame the shakycam-induced nausea that is so prevalent these days in indie film. I really hope that trend stops someday. Either my stomach getting stronger or the shakycam stopping, either would be fine. But either is equally unlikely.




Nausea aside, it was a beautiful and bizarre film, slow and nearly no dialogue other than the scripted stage directions of the man orchestrating the re-enacted murder scenes. The film unfolds at a glacial pace, revealing bits of the isolated lives of the three characters–a maid at the off-season seaside resort which serves as the location for the re-enactments, a policeman who supplies the scripts for the murders from the crimes he investigates, and a photographer who takes passport photos and aspires to be a filmmaker–just barely giving you an impression of who they are and why they might be participating in these bizarre rituals.

The sparse (really nearly non-existant) dialogue dramatizes the characters’ isolation, especially when they are in the presence of others–whatever words are spoken end up sounding useless and futile, like the cries of a person falling off a cliff. The only source of anything resembling intimacy and connection comes in the form of touch, when the characters are acting out murder scenes. They cannot face each other in normal situations–the girl hides in the bathroom when the photographer delivers shoes she is to wear for a beach murder scene–but the way they grapple with each other with faux violence becomes at times like an awkward dance, at times a very satisfying (for the viewer) release of their excruciating longing and isolation. None of the scenes are of sexual crimes, but their re-enactments take on sexual overtones; when the maid practices her scenes alone, it is reminiscent of masturbation. The film reminds me of Bresson’s Pickpocket in this way, especially in that film’s beautifully choreographed and strangely intimate and tactile scenes of the title character teaching a protegee how to get close to strangers and lift their wallets. Like in Kinetta, these practiced crimes are the only intimacy in the film, and itself a kind of faux intimacy, an intimacy by proxy.

The silence also heightens the effect of the images and sound. The crackling of feet walking on gravel, the clinking of dishes, the sound of a prostitute’s hair slapping across a man’s chest. Certain scenes are beautifully impressionistic–in one scene, we suddenly have loud swooping ballroom dance music on the soundtrack and we see an extreme closeup, out of focus, of what looks like part of the back of a woman’s head with the ocean in the distance, sparkling with light. Eventually the film cuts back to silence and a long shot of our hotel maid, sweeping the floor and listening to this music with headphones, lost in her own world, a world we just glimpsed in the blurry ocean shot.

I could go on for days about this film, and I realize more about it even as I write. It’s a film that stays with you and gets richer over time, and I encourage you to see it. If your stomach can handle the shakycam, that is.

IFFBoston Day 1 … er … 2

Due to unforeseen logistical problems, namely a mover who never showed up and left me waiting in an apartment the entire day, I missed IFFBoston‘s opening night last night. The film was Hal Hartley’s latest, Fay Grim, a sequel of sorts to Henry Fool, and as I am not a huge fan, I was not hugely disappointed to miss it. I was mostly just bummed to miss the festivities. And it’s a film I’m sure I’ll get another opportunity to see.

On the slate tonight is a Greek film called Kinetta, which my Greek friend Serpico will be proud of me for making time to see.

“Against the backdrop of a deserted resort town, three otherwise unconnected people—a chambermaid, a photographer, and a government official—meet to re-enact murders. But these documented re-enactments have nothing to do with crime-solving or for that matter any other discernable productive purpose; rather, the three appear to perform out of a perversely pleasurable fascination with death and with male-female power dynamics. They work with few props, but the government man, who provides the “scripts,” insists on such detailed blocking that their movements are mechanical, slow, awkward, and unprofessional. What emerges from this strange relationship is a meditation on despair, restlessness, and a disturbing attachment to prescribed roles.”

There are two other films competing for my attention tonight:

The Good Times Kid. “What would you do if you met yourself? Rodolfo Cano (Azazel Jacobs) and Rodolfo Cano (Gerardo Naranjo), by chance, cross paths. But there is more to these men in common than just their names. Both Rodolfos flounder through life, barely getting involved and want to step back even further. Rodolfo is exasperated with his girlfriend, Diaz (Sara Diaz), and walks out on her. Rodolfo walks in on her. These multiple chance meetings have created the most magical night for any of them and as the night flows on and on, each character’s secrets slowly rise to the surface. As the sun starts the next day, we finally see who each character really is.”

Gretchen. “Wildly expressionistic and deeply strange, this expansion of Steve Collins’ SXSW prize-winning short film GRETCHEN AND THE NIGHT DANGER follows Courtney Davis’ titular foot-clomping high-school casualty, adrift in ugly sweaters and laugh-out-loud pig-tail holders, and still always undone by her misguided love for bad boys. Stringy-longhaired chain-smoking Ricky hasn’t been treating Gretchen right, which – for reasons it is probably best not to get into here – leads to our heroine spending a fair amount of time at the Shady Acres Center for Emotional Growth. … an eerie echo of a recently bad affair sends Gretchen on the road to track down her long lost father (News Radio genius and Texas indie film hero Stephen Root). The results of this reconciliation are both heartbreaking and darkly hilarious, as Collins finds a way to convey the awkward outsider ethos that appreciates and accepts his main character’s pathos without ever devolving into NAPOLEON DYNAMITE-styled mockery.”

Gretchen has gotten good reviews but that mention of Napoleon Dynamite is possibly enough to keep me away. And I’m working up a post about how indie film–and indie culture more generally–is annoyingly obsessed with the childlike, the childish, with childhood in general. I think it’s damaging and I’m tired of seeing it. I thought it was exclusively an American thing but I heard recently that a recent trend in France is people drinking cocktails out of baby bottles in bars. WTF.

IFFBoston Here I Come

Look out Davis Square, I’ll be back April 25-30 to cover the Independent Film Festival of Boston. The lineup is looking good, and seems very doc-heavy. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Here are a few of the narrative features I’m looking forward to:

Hanna Takes the Stairs. I really liked Joe Swanberg’s LOL, which I saw at last year’s IFFBoston, and I also very much liked his Young American Bodies series for So I’m looking forward to his new film, though am wondering if he’s going to break any new ground with this one…the other two projects are good, but mostly cut from the same cloth, and this one looks to be as well, so making something fresh out of that cloth is the challenge he’s facing. Although perhaps it’s a vast enough cloth that there’s still material to be mined. At the very least the film has plenty of cameos by indie film darlings to check out–Andrew Bujalski, Mark Duplass, and Todd Rohal. I’ll let you know how it turns out.
Congorama. A Belgian finds out he was born in Canada and travels there to find his biological parents, but “all he finds in the Canadian countryside is bad fries and bad beer.” I look forward to someone making a movie that slams Canada for a change. Move over America, there’s a new asshole on the map!
(Full disclosure: I stole that line from The Kids In the Hall. And I have a grudge against Canadians.)

Day Night Day Night. The description of this film sounds very Jeanne Dielman: “A 19-year-old girl prepares and waits. Though what she is waiting for is not immediately clear, we are caught up in the minutiae of her preparation. When hooded handlers arrive, what follows is the suspenseful and emotional outcome of someone who has not only chosen when and how she will die, but also why.” But if that film description just totally ruined the film I’m going to be pissed.

Year of the Fish. And indie film fest usually specializes in films that are trying hard to be ‘quirky’. It can get to be annoying because all the films start to seem the same. But this one just sounds loopy enough to be interesting: “A modern-day Cinderella travels to New York’s Chinatown to earn to money help her father. Before she knows it, she’s working as a servant for an evil massage parlor madam. Her only companion is a fish that acts as narrator to our trip through this painted fairy tale.”

And this festival is no exception from the quirky-as-genre rule–there are several which seem to fit the profile, but could be good: Eagle vs. Shark, GoodTimesKid, Gretchen, Quiet City, Low and Behold, Monkey Warfare, The Sensation of Flight. There are also several films in the fest which are, as usual, questionably “indie”–there’s Brooklyn Rules, a gangster film starring Alec Baldwin and Freddy Prinze Jr., Away from Her, an alzheimer’s drama starring Julie Christie, and On Broadway, a Boston Irish funeral drama starring former NKOTB Joey McIntyre and Eliza Dushku. But hey, every festival needs a little starpower, no?
As for docs, there are so many I’m looking forward to but I’ll name just a few–A Lawyer Walks Into a Bar, about lawyers and lawsuits and America’s fascination with both, The Paper, about modern journalism and its problems, including declining circulation, and Strange Culture, about an artist who was interrogated post 9/11 but who can’t speak about the case, so actors such as Tilda Swinton tell the story.

Young American Bodies

I had to find out via Greencine that Joe Swanberg, creator of my favorite IFFBoston film LOL, has been shooting a mini-soap opera for called Young American Bodies. Not sure how I missed this before. At any rate go check it out, it’s interesting. Not safe for work though–lots of graphic sex, lots of penises (including Swanberg’s) and breasts. I like that we are seeing more penises in films these days. Go penises!

Greencine also has an extensive compare/contrast between Swanberg and Andrew Bujalksi, which defends Swanberg against accusations of being “Bujalski-light.” I myself, if you recall, wrote upon seeing LOL that it seemed Bujalski-like, and then when I saw that Bujalski himself makes an appearance in the film, that confirmed it for me. So the compare/contrast/defense is certainly appropriate. I’m not sure that pinning the difference on the fact that Swanberg’s characters lie to each other while Bujalski’s struggle to tell the truth is a big enough distinction to make the case, though. To me that seems more of a socioeconomic distinction. Bujalski’s characters are Harvard kids, well-groomed and well-mannered and overthinking and overanalyzing everything and therefore sidestepping most primal drives. They’re always striving first and foremost to be honorable. But they can be just as cruel to each other, only indirectly or unconsciously. In Funny Ha Ha Bujalski’s character is fucked with by the girl he has a crush on–after turning him down for a date she seems to have forgotten about his feelings for her and actively seeks out his companionship in a way that, to the viewer, and to Bujalski’s character as well, is completely exploitive. He knows what she’s doing to him, yet he is powerless to resist. He’s the beta male and she’s the alpha female. An alpha female who is in exactly the same position with a guy she has a crush on, so she should know better. When Bujalksi one afternoon inexplicably throws a bottle of beer off her porch, shattering it on her neighbor’s porch below, angering her but unable to explain to her why he did it, I understoood. It’s an (inappropriate) outlet for his unspoken frustration, but any rupture of this placid, polite, well-spoken facade is not allowed in this world. He apologizes profusely for his indiscretion, but the viewer is left wishing he’d smash a few more bottles, so weary are we of the characters’ relentless restraint.

Swanberg’s characters, on the other hand, don’t have the burden of this constant restraint. They give in to their impulses. They have personality disorders. They fight and yell and call each other assholes. They lie and cheat and are insensitive pricks. They overanalyze and talk things to death as well, but it doesn’t necessarily stop them from behaving “inappropriately.” A character tossing a beer bottle off a porch in a Swanberg film would not likely cause such a ruckus. Or if it did, someone would call him an asshole. Perhaps it’s overly reductive to attribute it to socioeconomic factors (and possibly wrong, of course, because I don’t have any idea what is the socioeconomic status of Swanberg’s characters, though I know they’re not Harvard kids). It could just as easily be attributed to regional differences–Boston is a very head-oriented city, not a very body-oriented city. There’s not a whole lot of primal going on here. People from other areas come here and find people cold and distant and well-mannered, boring, they find it difficult to socialize outside structured groups. But Harvard’s presence, and the presence of privilege in general, has a lot to do with that. Swanberg’s characters are in Chicago, a city I don’t know much about but as far as I know it doesn’t have the chilly and dowdy reputation that Boston does. A friend from LA came here to attend grad school at MIT and when she went home this summer she had to explain to all her friends why she looks so unkempt since going to MIT. “If it doesn’t make me smarter, I don’t need it in Cambridge,” she said.

LOL the Movie Soundtrack

As I said earlier, I really loved the movie LOL, and I got one of the free copies of the soundtrack at the IFFBoston screening. I’m really digging it, though I’m also perplexed by it, does anyone else out there have a copy? It is all written and recorded by Kevin Bewersdorf, who plays a musician in the film and performs much of the music in the film. It’s all electronic and has a sort of Clockwork Orange feel in some places, and I like the sound, but the lyrics in some places are outright ridiculous, and I don’t know if they’re supposed to be that way. How do you take seriously a song that has a lyric like “The chill of winter/is nothing compared/to watching your lover/be murdered in spring”? That has to be intentionally funny, right? It’s so Spinal Tap. I like the sound of the song though. The scene where he performs it in the film reminds me of a scene in Caveh Zahedi’s A Little Stiff, where he’s trying to impress a girl and shows her one of his films–a completely depressing and dour and graphically violent short animated film–and it falls flat, she’s kind of like “Um, great…” It’s totally the wrong film to show in that moment, and shows he’s a little out of touch when it comes to connecting with people. The character in LOL is supposed to have that same character trait–he relies too much on technology and allows it to screw up his real-life connections to other people–so I’m wondering if this is all intentional. Perhaps I will contact the filmmakers and ask.

IFFBoston Roundup

Well I ended up skipping Walking to Werner last night, figuring it might be brought back at some point while a Jeanne Dielman screening is too rare to pass up. So let’s hope Walking to Werner comes back. And if anyone else out there saw it, please let me know what you thought. It seemed to have the potential to be ridiculously self-indulgent and irritating (and probably full of shakycam) so maybe I didn’t miss much.

As for the rest of the screenings–I’d still say LOL was the best in the festival, and among the others I saw, In Between Days was a runner-up. It did make me a little nauseous with the shakycam, but I loved the simple storyline of a teenage Korean girl’s quasi-unrequited crush on her male best friend, as well as getting a peek into the world of first-generation Korean immigrants moving about in their own subculture in America. Barely a word of English in the film, and it takes some time to even realize where they are.

Another favorite was Arctic Son, a documentary about a man living in tough terrain in the Yukon who brings his teenage son to live with him in an attempt to get him off drugs and alcohol and out of trouble. The boy is also an artist, and he shows us his book of drawings, most of which feature women suffering, he says, “because women go through a lot of pain in their lives. A lot more than men.” One is of his female friend who killed herself, another is of his mother, who raised him by herself after her husband, his father, left. “I’m really angry at him for not being there,” he says. While this issue is never discussed between the two–indeed, nothing intimate is ever discussed, it’s mostly lots of hard work and small talk–over the course of the film a bond develops between this stoic, unaffectionate man and his wayward son.

One of the most hyped films in the festival was Guatemalan Handshake, which sold out most likely on its advanced press comparisons to Napoleon Dynamite (a film I hated). But I went, and while the film has some superficial similarities–rural setting, a cast of weirdos who do inexplicable things, etc–it’s really not very similar. It’s not a comedy first of all. And the storyline doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. I read an interview with the filmmaker who said he was worried it made no sense and people wouldn’t get it, and I think that’s a reasonable concern, because what he says it’s ‘about’ wasn’t really what I got out of it, but I think people will like it anyway. These days your film doesn’t have to make sense for people to like it. In fact that might be a benefit. Quirky and amusing is good enough.

I also caught The Legend of Lucy Keyes which is representative of everything that’s wrong with the term “independent film.” It has stars (Julie Delpy and Justin Theroux) and a completely conventional ghost-story plot, and the director said afterward that the film was just bought by Lifetime. The film is moderately interesting (apparently the people sitting behind me were involved in the making of the film and were pointing out their names in the credits–one a hairstylist, the other a videographer–and when the film was over they said “well, it wasn’t that bad.”) but more interesting is the story of its making. It was shot on high-definition video using one of those cameras that has a hard drive–not a single tape was used in the making of the film. And it looks like film, doesn’t look like video at all. The future is here, baby.

And finally, I went to the podcasting panel, mostly to see the makers of the Four-Eyed Monsters podcasts, which I have been following and I really like. Gerald Peary was in the audience and is apparently a big fan as well. You should check them out if you get a chance–they have six podcasts up, and showed us a sneak preview of episode 7. I was so inspired. Now I want to get a video camera and start podcasting myself.

Overall the festival was a lot of fun–makes me want to be a filmmmaker and just travel around to festivals and party and meet new friends and make connections. I think that is my next goal in life. Better get cracking on that screenplay…

IFFBoston: LOL

How could anyone in our generation not go to see a movie called LOL? If you can, try to see it at IFFBoston Sunday, the last screening of the film. So far it’s the best I’ve seen. It’s an entirely improvised film about relationships–between people, and between people and social technologies–that was made for $3000. That means lots of IM, email, cell phones, etc. The film has little plot other than following the development or degeneration of a few friends and their relationships, and how technology is an integral part of that, both bringing them together and keeping them apart. You might say that the organizing device in the film is a musical project one of the characters is putting together–making short videos of people making random noises with their mouths, which he then edits together to make music out of just their sounds. Watching the film I felt it had a very Andrew Bujalski feel, and then *poof* one of these video heads making noises is Bujalski. Turns out the filmmakers, who live in Chicago, sent out a bunch of emails to people asking for videos of themselves making noises, and Bujalksi sent one in. So did several other indie filmmakers. It’s like a who’s who of indie festival darlings. At the screenings they are giving out free copies of the soundtrack as well, which was actually made by the actor in the film, who is in fact the musician he is playing in the film. So as you can see, like Bujalski, the filmmakers keep their characters close to the actors’ actual performances, which makes for excellent performances, because there’s not much performance going on at all.

Today I’m off to see In Between Days and Guatemalan Handshake, more soon…

A Plea To Filmmakers:

Please stop with the excessively shaky camerawork. It’s unnecessary and vomit-inducing. Please learn to handle your camera more carefully. I’d like to tell you what I thought of Chalk, which I tried to watch at IFFBoston tonight, but I had to leave after about a half hour for fear of vomiting. And I was so nauseous I couldn’t go to any other screenings either. So please stop torturing your audience. Thanks.

IFFBoston Opening Night: Half Nelson

Let’s get this out of the way first: Ryan Gosling is sexy. Sexy in that smooooth, cocky, I – know – he’s – working – me – but – it’s – so – much – fun – falling – under – his – spell kind of way, the way we girls kick ourselves afterward for being attracted to. I kicked myself for it while watching the movie, in fact. It’s all in the way they look at you. A guy who’s not afraid to look you dead in the eye, and hold your gaze, subtly predatory yet at the same time slightly elusive, luring you in rather than pouncing. It is even literalized in his body movement in one scene where he’s talking to a girl while peeking from around the corner.

That’s the main impression I came away with after watching Half Nelson, anyway. It’s not really the point of the film, and in fact I wonder if it might have detracted a bit from the film, which is about a drug-addicted high school teacher and the friendship he strikes up with one of his students who discovers his secret. After awhile his shtick got a little annoying, and felt instead like he was hamming it up for the camera. But it is also all a part of the inappropriateness of his character–his highly sexually-charged persona, like his drug addiction, is something we don’t expect, nor want to think about, in our teachers. In fact, thinking of them having personal lives at all usually brings a grimace to the face of any high school student. Maybe college too. The Village Voice says the film “pays fond tribute to, even as it slyly subverts, the inspirational classroom fable,” and I suppose that’s true, though a film that plays with genre conventions really only accomplishes a stretching of those conventions–it doesn’t ever break them. The genre just folds them in and they become new conventions. Overall it’s a strange beast–an “edgier” Lean On Me, where the teacher is as flawed as his students and no one is really saved in the end. In the obligatory inspirational teacher’s speech near the end, he preaches against Western black-and-white values that refuse to acknowledge that a tree can be “both crooked AND straight, a person both right AND wrong…” making sure you get the point the filmmakers are trying to get across.

But Gosling’s performance is the real reason to see this movie–there are shades of greatness, and once he learns to control the hamminess I think he’ll be one of the truly great actors of his generation. Newcomer Shareeka Epps likewise delivers a wonderfully subtle performance–so subtle that I thought it might just be the effect of shyness or nervousness in a young, new actor, but when I saw her gregariousness at the Q&A afterward I realized that was some serious acting going on there.

Tonight it’s more of the same themes as I’m off to see the public high school satire Chalk and then the morally-ambiguous drug-addict drama Cocaine Angel. More soon…

IFFBoston Opening Night Tonight

You’ve probably seen the posters all over town. I’ll be covering opening night tonight, where they’re screening Sundance fave Half Nelson, and hopefully will see a lot of people I haven’t seen in a long time. The festival is looking good this year, and they expanded it to six days to accomodate the demand. Last year pretty much every show was sold out, and some are already sold out this year. More soon…

IFFBoston Coverage Coming Soon

The festival is next week, April 19-24, and I’ll be blogging it again this year…stay tuned…

IM Chat With Rachel Clift of Mutual Appreciation

You may recall I mentioned the pleasant surprise I got when seeing former grad school colleague Rachel Clift onscreen in the fabulous Mutual Appreciation. So I decided to get back in touch and conducted an informal IM interview of sorts, which I have pasted below. There is *so* much more that can be talked about in this film, this is just a taste…and the transcript was already 10 full pages long, so this should be enough for now. But the more I talked about the film the richer it became to me…that’s the best kind of film, the kind that keeps you thinking long after you’ve left the theater.

I could only find three pictures to go with the text, so this is not the prettiest formatting, but I’m working on that. I have kept in much of the extraneous, small-talk bits that are not necessarily pertinent to the film. That’s not completely true, because I did cut a lot. But bits that are pertinent to readers of this blog, such as mentions of Serpico and immature Americans, I kept in. And I guess in the big picture they ultimately do relate to the film (and it’s in keeping with the improvisational/conversational tone of Andrew Bujalski’s films, of course).

One warning–you might say this interview has spoilers. If that can be said about a film with a plot as loose as Mutual Appreciation, that is. But you have been warned, read at your own risk. I’ve marked the spot where spoilers start.

cupcake: hi there
rachel: is that cynthia?
cupcake: that’s me, sorry
rachel: I was like, “oooh, cupcake – that’s intriguing”
cupcake: I tend to have a cupcake fixation
rachel: ah
rachel: well it’s very coy
cupcake: ha–yes it’s my secret IM flirting identity
rachel: I should try that
cupcake: ha
cupcake: so how do you like new york?
rachel: (the guy near me just said “he’s a douche”)
rachel: nice
cupcake: haha
rachel: New York…it’s wonderful and awful all at the same time
cupcake: awful because it’s so expensive?
rachel: no…awful because it’s a constant struggle to craft a good life, which I don’t think is just about the money, although that’s a huge part of it
cupcake: yes that’s hard to avoid
rachel: I suppose the rent does getcha, but it’s also about finding meaningful work in such an image-based, competitive city
rachel: it can take a very long time to find your niche
cupcake: image-based meaning the way people look?
cupcake: would you say boston is less difficult in that way?
rachel: boston…yes, it’s less difficult because boston is a less blatantly capitalist, money-hungry town
rachel: there’s a crunchiness to boston that feels comforting in comparison – when I think of boston these days, I think of walden pond (but I also think of their winters and then I stop thinking about boston)

rachel: mind you, this is my view from mid-town manhattan, at a temp job where i deal with tv salesmen
all day. when i do my own thing, or spend time with friends, new york often feels like paradise
cupcake: that makes sense–I’ve only ever visited nyc, never lived there, so have not felt the full impact I guess
cupcake: I like that–crunchiness
rachel: I hear you
cupcake: do you live in williamsburg? [serpico] lived there for awhile, do you remember him?
rachel: serpico……was he really tall and shy?
rachel: (I live in park slope)
cupcake: yeah
cupcake: he lived there last year, now he’s teaching english in korea
rachel: woah, that’s something different from williamsburg
cupcake: yeah he wasn’t very happy in ny
cupcake: just as you noted, he had a lot of trouble finding a social circle
cupcake: he said he lived among lots of hipsters but didn’t know how to talk to them
rachel: oh geez, i relate to serpico’s experience
rachel: oh my gosh! yes!
cupcake: I’ll have to tell him someone else shares his misery
rachel: I wonder about your take on andrew’s film(s) given that hipster factor…..
cupcake: actually I almost didn’t want to see it because it seemed so hipsterish
cupcake: but then i heard great things so i went anyway
rachel: you mean “mutual”?
cupcake: yeah
rachel: very interesting
rachel: had you seen funny ha ha?
cupcake: no i still haven’t seen it, but plan to
rachel: ok, well it will be interesting for you to compare the two – i’d like to hear what you think
cupcake: just from the description of the film (mutual apprec.) it sounds very hipsterish, you know, a musician in nyc, slackerish, the jarmush comparisons, etc
cupcake: but i was very pleasantly surprised
rachel: yeah… did it surprise you
rachel: ah – we are on the same wavelength
cupcake: yes
rachel: what surprised you about it? (i know you’re supposed to be asking the questions, but i’m tapping into my journalist character now)

cupcake: although i probably would have hated the film if your character and justin’s did actually get together
rachel: wow! that’s so cool, what a great thing to point out
rachel: haven’t heard that one yet
cupcake: ha–interesting. i was starting to get a feeling of dread near the end, but was relieved
cupcake: it was actually a surprise ending for me
cupcake: I’m a little bitter about male-female relations at the moment though, so that probably colored my feelings about it
rachel: hey, I totally understand that
rachel: yes – it’s as if the characters, who seem like they’re dangling between adolescence and adulthood, are trying so hard to make the right choices
cupcake: yes, i really loved that the film is about people who act with integrity–so much of film today, especially indie film, seems to be about celebrating human weakness
cupcake: like that’s the only way to be real
cupcake: and it was very refreshing to see people really trying to do the right thing
cupcake: and succeeding
cupcake: I have had a running theme on my blog lately about americans being immature, and i think films that celebrate this kind of weakness contribute to that
rachel: I agree. it’s fascinating to hear this because andrew and i talked a lot during production – and to some extent during post when he was back on the steenbeck day in day out – about whether this would end up being some dark comedy or a warm film…
cupcake: so there was a chance that they were going to end up together?
rachel: it was really hard for us to gauge whether the characters were, in fact, doing the right thing

rachel: no – the script never changed a bit, but the energy during scenes certainly did, and andrew’s style is so open to his actors’ interpretations or moods – he allows himself to run with it…which means the sort of emotional realism you get could go in many directions
rachel: the actions never changed, but the emotions were shifting constantly
cupcake: ah you mean whether staying in the relationship really was the right thing or not

cupcake: so it could have seemed to be a tragic ending rather than an uplifting one, depending on the take
rachel: and I believe this is what makes his films so brilliant – his willingness to be open to those subtle shifts. he doesn’t insist on a level of control I imagine a lot of other directors do
cupcake: it is probably an indication of how brainwashed I was during grad school that all of this of course makes me think of carney
rachel: well, you can never escape the ray-nator
rachel: (carney)
rachel: once he gets in your blood, it’s all over
rachel: yes – exactly (what you said about a possible tragic ending)
rachel: like who knows if that was a happy ending or not? or if ellie and alan are total jerks for even letting it happen at all?
cupcake: yeah that’s true, it is ambiguous
cupcake: and it’s still slightly ambiguous about whether anything will happen between them in the future
cupcake: I assume andrew is aware of carney?
rachel: between ellie and alan – yes, absolutely
rachel: I don’t think the group hug is a real resolution
cupcake: yeah definitely–and the ending is rather abrupt
rachel: well – you should see funny ha ha’s ending! this one is far less abrupt….
cupcake: though I did walk out thinking that if she did go for the rockstar guy he’d end up breaking her heart and it would turn into the same old story
cupcake: as it stands, she maintains control, the options are hers
rachel: I have a hunch you’re right about that
cupcake: but if she were to go for the rockstar, it would turn out very differently
rachel: it’s a pretty common pattern with rockstars
cupcake: indeed
rachel: although I’m not sure ellie feels too in control
rachel: did you feel any conflict between her and Lawrence in terms of how their relationship was operating?
cupcake: definitely from her end, not much from his though
cupcake: I was actually a little surprised when she tells him about their little “moment” and then says she still wants to be with him–in some ways I didn’t believe her
cupcake: but I wanted to
rachel: well, yeah, I think that’s why the film doesn’t offer up any real resolution…plus, alan is very sheepish about his encounter with ellie and barely takes any responsibility.
cupcake: yes, typical male
cupcake: ha
rachel: of course
cupcake: I also walked out of the theater thinking that if the roles were reversed–if it were a guy in a relationship and a single woman–they would have slept together
cupcake: a bit bitter, I am!
rachel: my favorite, favorite scene in the movie is when lawrence grabs a beer with alan at the beer garden knowing that something has happened between his girlfriend and his best friend, and his listening to alan go on about his rock star life and the camera stays on lawrence, listening to his friend with that look on his face, that shift – it’s hard to contend with a friend who betrays you and I’m not sure alan and lawrence would get over it with just a hug
cupcake: yes that’s a great scene
rachel: your previous comment – do you think alan would have slept with ellie if she’d let him?
cupcake: and yes a hug probably wouldn’t cut it–though having it all out in the open helps
cupcake: I think so
cupcake: (about alan sleeping with ellie)
rachel: and what makes you think they didn’t? just because her clothes were still on in the morning….
cupcake: yeah I thought about that too
cupcake: it’s ambiguous
rachel: that’s one of andrew’s all-time favorite words
cupcake: ha–I’m not surprised. it definitely allows for many interpretations (that scene)
rachel: he’ll be like, “it’s ambiguous whether or not we are actually meeting at this bar, or the other one, to get a drink tonight”
cupcake: haha. the fact that her clothes are on and they’re in some sort of chair (am I remembering correctly?) are clues, but definitely not definitive evidence
cupcake: too many definites there
rachel: nothing is for sure, but certainly the only thing that is not on her person in the morning is her sweatshirt
cupcake: yes
rachel: although maybe she’s not wearing pants
rachel: but in my heart of hearts, I think she kept them on
cupcake: and when she says hello to the roommate it’s that awkward morning-after moment, even if nothing happened
rachel: absolutely
rachel: always awkward with those roommates, damn them
rachel: like there’s some omniscient presence you will forever have to deal with whenever you do something naughty like almost have sex
rachel: maybe someday I’ll be able to afford my own apt
cupcake: yes it’s a moment we all know
cupcake: even coming home to your own place if you have roommates becomes one of those moments
cupcake: also, even if nothing happened, they both downplayed what happened when they talked to lawrence
cupcake: neither said she actually spent the night, they only acknowledged a ‘moment’
rachel: yeah, “the moment” – they don’t say “we slept in the same bed”
cupcake: right

cupcake: how did you meet andrew, by the way?
rachel: well that’s a good story
rachel: I came home from a movie at the coolidge (Pennebaker’s concert film “Down From the Mountain”) and was parking my car on the street in JP where I used to live…
rachel: ….and as I was walking the rest of the way to my house, I saw this low-budget shoot going on, so of course I had to stop and say hello
cupcake: of course
rachel: turned out it was andrew, shooting an exterior for funny ha ha, and we started chatting (while his crew was working….of course)
cupcake: this says a lot about random connections
cupcake: talking to strangers etc
rachel: yes, I’m a big believer in talking to strangers
cupcake: and he lives in ny now too?
rachel: nope – he’s still a tried and true JP resident – he moved there after funny ha ha was out
cupcake: wow, I assumed he was a new yorker now because the film seemed to live there so authentically
rachel: you felt it was authentically new york?
rachel: authentically brooklyn?
cupcake: yes–though I don’t live there so I suppose I wouldn’t know
cupcake: it seemed to me to be, though
rachel: a bunch of his friends live in brooklyn – most importantly, justin, who he wrote alan’s character for, so it made sense to shoot there and try and work around justin’s real life musician schedule
cupcake: makes sense
cupcake: why does he stay in JP then?
rachel: I ask him that all the time
cupcake: ha well I guess loyalty is good
rachel: I think ultimately it’s cheaper, more nurturing, and more manageable. he gets to visit new york enough for his own taste, I think
cupcake: that makes sense, if you know enough people there and visit often you don’t really need to live there I guess
rachel: I think that’s true
cupcake: have you done much film work since your thesis film?
rachel: not nearly as much as I would have liked
rachel: I shot and edited a film for habitat for humanity, and I’ve started producing a feature doc, sort of personal memoir film
cupcake: is documentary still your main interest?
rachel: absolutely – can’t get enough of it
cupcake: I really liked your thesis film by the way
rachel: oh thank you!
cupcake: I was just complaining the other day about docs that don’t attempt to go beyond their subjects, docs that are just journalism
cupcake: but yours did
rachel: oh…that’s nice to hear
rachel: it’s a fascinating, never-ending conflict in my mind…how to make non-fiction film that’s art, not just “document”
cupcake: yes it’s rare these days
cupcake: it seemed there was a heyday in the 60s-70s for that but not so much any more
rachel: yes
cupcake: now it’s all reality tv, people just trying to get the best/weirdest story, which says nothing about someone’s artistic capabilities
rachel: (ugh, don’t get me started on reality tv)
rachel: have you seen ross mcelwee’s new one?
cupcake: I haven’t yet–bright weeds?
rachel: yes
cupcake: I see him all the time at harvard, I’m a little startstruck
cupcake: I see hal hartley too
rachel: is hal teaching at harvard???
cupcake: yep
cupcake: for the past 2-3 years
rachel: wow
rachel: those harvard kids are lucky
cupcake: I walked into the classsroom where I t/a and was reading, waiting for class to start, and these two guys walk in and put in a tape and start screening it, and the super-tall one comes over and asks if they’re disturbing me
cupcake: and as he walks away I said “oh, that’s hal hartley”
cupcake: and he was looking at a rough cut of his latest film
cupcake: which also screened at iffboston, by the way, but I couldn’t catch it
rachel: amazing – and this is happening quietly in the halls of harvard, in a town which has suffered such a lack of vibrancy in production for a while now
rachel: who woulda thunk it?
cupcake: indeed. well maybe there’ll be a renaissance with hal and andrew
cupcake: and ross
rachel: maybe……

cupcake: anyway do you plan to do more acting?
rachel: I’m not planning on it, but if someone asked me to play a role I liked, I’m not saying I’d turn it down either
cupcake: I hear you–and filmmaking is still your primary goal?
rachel: yes, but I’d like to combine filmmaking with the more general field of communications – from journalism to media relations to pr for the non-profit, NGO world
cupcake: definitely more job options that way
rachel: yes
rachel: the goal being to enjoy my day job, maybe even travel a bit, and earn enough money to buy a nice little editing system of my own
cupcake: ah the american dream…
rachel: yes
rachel: speaking of which, I really need to get the new bruce springsteen album
cupcake: ok one last question–probably a standard one, as everyone talks about the seeming-improvised nature of Mutual Appreciation–was there a full script before shooting started, did the script come out of improvisation, etc?
rachel: there was a full script indeed, and a fair amount of rehearsing
cupcake: so to quote carney, the script wasn’t improvised but the emotions/tone may have been
rachel: yes, and some of the conversations too…
cupcake: so there was a script but andrew was open to changes
cupcake: serendipity, frisson, all that
rachel: yes — I would say he was pretty clear about where he wanted to story or the scene to go; but allowed us the freedom to get to that place in a natural way
cupcake: and do you prefer working that way?
rachel: which was scary at times
cupcake: yeah I was going to say
cupcake: you definitely can’t phone in that kind of performance
rachel: I can’t say that I know what I prefer, since I haven’t done much acting for film. there were definitely scenes where I was yearning for more direction – days when I was hungry or cranky
rachel: (aw, geez, thanks!)
cupcake: well you were great, as was everyone–it all fit together very well
rachel: ….and just wanted andrew to tell me what the hell to say or do, but of course he wouldn’t, and he pushed, gently, to get authenticity every moment, and that wasn’t always easy
cupcake: that does sound scary, and very challenging, but it’s interesting to know he’s actually such a hardass!
rachel: it can be hard for everyone
rachel: yes, he really does know what he wants, when it all comes down to it, and I suppose you must – that’s the difference between wanting to just hang out and make a film versus actually having a vision of some sort about what it is you want film – as a language – to explore or say
cupcake: yes when watching the film it does seem like it’s just a bunch of people hanging out, but when you think about it, random people hanging out is never that interesting so there has to be some hand shaping it
cupcake: btw I really loved the scene with the three girls in wigs
rachel: oh, yeah? it’s pretty classic!
cupcake: so great
rachel: what did you like about it?
cupcake: I think it’s mostly just an emotional reaction–knowing that kind of situation,
cupcake: late night party, few people there, all a bit drunk, and sharing moments with strangers
rachel: yes
cupcake: random connections etc
cupcake: and it is completely extraneous to the “plot”, also the fact that it’s giving the characters life, beyond the plot…I just love it.
rachel: I love pamela in that scene, the one who begs him to put on a dress and then calls him “little lord fauntleroy”
cupcake: yes that’s great
rachel: that’s also the scene where kate dollenmeyer, star of funny ha ha, makes a cameo, which I find extremely comforting in the way that familiar people are
cupcake: which one is kate?
cupcake: is she one of the sirens?
rachel: yes, she’s the one that puts eye make-up on alan
cupcake: ah yes
cupcake: now I see it
cupcake: ok well I have taken up enough of your time
rachel: no worries, have enjoyed it
rachel: really glad you enjoyed the film!
cupcake: yes I loved it–I look forward to more from andrew
rachel: me too

IFFBoston Awards

Apparently my priorities were very different from the other IFFBoston audience members as well as the Grand Jury for the festival, as I managed to miss every single one of the winners for both Jury and Audience awards. I therefore cannot give you my own commentary on the winners, so I will instead tell you why I missed each and give my own alternate winner:

Grand Jury and Special Jury Award Prizes

Narrative Feature: BLACKBALLED: THE BOBBY DUKES STORY, directed by Brant Sersen. This is a mockumentary and therefore I question its placement in the narrative feature category. And I did plan to see it but I chose instead to see some real documentaries. I was flying high on idealism after seeing Chain and Mutual Appreciation and didn’t want to spoil the ride with silly cynical Comedy-Central comedy about Paintball players. And I want to know who the hell is on this Grand Jury if they picked this as the best film. I did manage to catch Filmic Achievement, another mockumentary, but was not impressed. It takes a very subtle hand to make an effective mockumentary–a little too much of one thing or another and you just look like a bad imitation of Spinal Tap or The Office. And Filmic Achievement, a mockumentary about film students, looked like that. MY SELECTION FOR THE AWARD: Andrew Bujalski’s Mutual Appreciation, natch.

Best documentary: Ellen Perry for THE FALL OF FUJIMORI. I did also plan to see this one but couldn’t due to time conflicts. It is not possible to see all films in a film festival, unfortunately. I could’ve made time, but there are very difficult decisions to be made when you are trying to see as much as you can at a festival. Sigh. Such sacrifices we make. MY SELECTION FOR THE AWARD: I didn’t see enough docs in the festival to really have an authoritative opinion, and of those I did see I wasn’t bowled over by any, so I would have to go with The Future of Food, which I suppose you could say did bowl me over–with horror at our government and corporate greed. But if you allow Chain into the documentary category, that would definitely be my choice. It doesn’t really fit into doc or fiction categories, though.

Audience Awards

Narrative feature: BROTHERS, directed by Susanne Bier. This was a late addition to the schedule and only had one screening, which I learned of too late, and I don’t really understand how a film can get that many votes from a single screening. It’s not something that I probably would’ve wanted to see anyway, though, and I suspect it got its votes because it is a dramatic and timely war film.

Documentary feature: AFTER INNOCENCE, directed by Jessica Sanders. Another that I was only mildly interested in. The docs in the festival seemed very straightforward and while generally I am more interested in documentary, I am not usually in it for the actual subject matter. If that’s all you want in a documentary, it becomes merely a matter of somebody finding the best/weirdest story. It’s then about journalism, not about filmmaking. The docs I did see (Future of Food, Rhythm Is It, Spew, and Inside Out) were all in this vein. Rhythm Is It, which is about a troupe of troubled teenagers who were wrangled together to put on a dance performance in Berlin, was perhaps the only one that tried to say more than its subject matter. But in a fairly didactic way, which to me undermines the artistry. And I didn’t see anything in the doc lineup at the festival that attempted much in the way of artistry. I could be wrong, of course, as there were a dozen or so that I didn’t see. But I don’t think I’m wrong.

In sum, I don’t think much of these award winners, neither the Grand Jury nor Audience Awards. Pfft.

Favorites From IFFBoston

Rain, rain, rain…what great weather for sitting in the theater all weekend. The festival is now over and I saw about a dozen programs (it is not physically possible to see all films in a festival, I have discovered). Not surprisingly for an independent film festival, anti-commercialism was a clear theme in many of the films, one of which was my favorite from the festival–Jem Cohen’s fantastic experimental feature, Chain (other notables being Hal Hartley’s The Girl From Monday and several documentaries such as Deborah Koons Garcia’s highly upsetting The Future of Food). Chain hovers somewhere between documentary and fiction in a Sans Soleil-like essay-film set in the sterile locales of corporate chain hotels, shopping malls, and the interstate. One assumes the film takes place in one specific area, as it follows two characters and their movements throughout this seemingly lifeless space, but in possibly the most powerful intro to a credit sequence ever, Cohen reveals the list of shooting locales – dozens of cities all across the world. You’d never know it by watching the film, where each hotel, shopping mall, and stretch of highway looks identical. The two characters in the film, a Japanese businesswoman on a business trip in America, and a homeless teenager who squats in abandoned housing and spends her days wandering the mall, engage with no one and speak only in monologues to the camera or in voiceover. It’s the loneliest film I’ve ever seen. But also a very exciting one. I advise everyone to see it if you can.

Another of my favorites from the festival is I suppose anti-commercial in form if not explicitly in content. It’s Andrew Bujalski’s Mutual Appreciation. (It turns out that the main actress, Rachel Clift, is someone I know from grad school at BU. That was a surprise. Go Rachel.) This is a wonderful film about pretty much nothing – a bunch of twentysomething creative types do a lot of talking in New York. That’s pretty much the story. I want to compare it to Jarmush, but I daresay the acting is better than pretty much every Jarmusch film out there. It has a similar tone though (and was shot in black and white). I’d also compare it to Cassavetes, though there’s much less drama here than in most Cassavetes films. But these two are clearly influences for Bujalski, though the film is all his own. If I had to classify the film I’d say it’s a beat film. It’s about connections between people, both random and lasting, it’s about creativity, and community, and love and respect. I haven’t seen Bujalski’s first film, Funny Ha-Ha, but I have heard raves about it from all the right people, so I do plan to see it soon. It opens next week at the Coolidge, as a matter of fact, so I’ll definitely be heading over there at some point.

Then there were the obvious anti-conventional selections like the program of freaky Finnish experimental shorts, most if which were actually pretty conventional, I thought. The curator of the program warned us that there were two films that were extremely disturbing and difficult to sit through and said she’d understand if we walked out–I was bracing myself for animal mutilation or diarrhea-inducing low-frequency sonic effects but none of that appeared, and I never figured out which films were supposed to be so disturbing. Methinks she underestimated the tolerance of the Boston crowd. No one walked out.

Much more disturbing was Garcia’s The Future of Food, a straightforward documentary about genetic engineering of food and its effects on farmers, on health, and on the world. Possibly the most upsetting film I’ve ever seen. Monsanto comes across as a truly evil giant corporation which must be stopped, and the government its knowing accomplice.

More to come…

IFFBoston – Lonesome Jim

It was a packed house for opening night of IFFBoston last night, with hipsters lined up around the block at Somerville Theater to see Lonesome Jim and director (and indie-film poster boy) Steve Buscemi in person. Apparently 400 hopeful hipsters didn’t get in. As for me, I walked in and was suddenly surrounded by people I knew and hadn’t seen in awhile. It was definitely a Film Scene night. Blogcards were passed around, screenplays were discussed.

Buscemi was quite charming, and fielded an array of dumb and intelligent questions with a mixture of sarcasm and honesty. (Why is it a rule that the first question asked at these things is always the dumbest?) I admire a man who doesn’t let the dumbness of a question slide. Most interesting was his comment that shooting the film on DV gave him the freedom to not say “cut.” Once a shot is over and the director calls “cut”, the crew starts rushing onto the set and moving things around and screwing up the vibe. So he didn’t ever cut and instead would just keep talking to the actors and moving on to new takes. If he were shooting on film, he said, that kind of approach would be too expensive. It’s an approach that only an actor-director would be likely to take, I’d imagine. Buscemi himself doesn’t act in this film, and didn’t write it, and he sounded as if he now preferred directing to acting. He did also mention John Cassevetes, the pioneer for independent actor’s cinema, and it seems he’s following the Cassavetes career path.

And now, onto the film.

I’m getting tired of watching movies that are merely twentysomething male fantasies written onto the screen. See Garden State. And if you have seen it, you don’t really need to see Lonesome Jim. It’s pretty much the same basic story–some very funny dialogue, but overall your typical depressed-guy-meets-cheery-and-unbelievably-patient-girl-who-saves-him story. Lonesome Jim is a bit darker, and Jim (Casey Affleck) is much less likeable than Zach Braff in Garden State, which makes it even more infuriating that the female lead (Liv Tyler) is inexplicably so in love with this jerk. It’s a wonder men get so frustrated with women who are only attracted to jerks when that’s the same story that’s been fed to us over and over by movies–Hollywood and Indie alike. Let’s see, Jim is 27 and had to move back home with his parents because he couldn’t make enough money walking dogs in New York to live there, where he was trying to be a writer. He steals money from his mother, is cruel and indifferent toward her, tells his brother he’s such a loser he should kill himself (and he then tries), worships only authors who have killed themselves, doesn’t care about anyone or anything, including her, until for some reason near the end he tells her he really likes her (and it’s not believable at all). Yep, that’s my idea of a dream man, how about you, ladies? The sad thing is that most of us have had boyfriends like this in the past, and we continue to be encouraged to do so by films like these, which teach us that if we are just patient and loving enough, the guy will come around. Fuck you. Liv Tyler’s character is a saintly one, of course, works as a nurse in the hospital, talks about how much she likes helping people, pastes a smile over the frown on Jim’s poster of Ernest Hemingway, and has an adorable 5-year-old son to give her the saintly single mother aura. Oh, plus she’s slutty and screws Jim within hours of meeting him. A whore and madonna, all in one, how original!

That said, the sold-out hipster crowd at the screening last night loved the film, and I’m not surprised. It’s written for their demographic. And I do admit to laughing out loud in several places in the film. It is entertaining. First-time screenwriter James Strouse has some writing chops, and I look forward to seeing what he does once he gets past the twentysomething male cliches.


At the end of this week this blog will be wholly possessed by the spirit of a film blogger, as I’ll be covering the Independent Film Festival of Boston. Consider yourself warned.