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that were announced this morning.Last week in this newsletter I ruminated, just a little facetiously, on the surfeit of movies in the marketplace, speculating that decisions of what movies not to watch take place more frequently, and with greater impact, than decisions on what movies to watch. On Monday of this week I experienced this first-hand as I gathered with my Gotham Award "Best Film Not Playing at a Theater Near You" colleagues to select the five nominated films
The jury this year consisted of our editorial staff -- myself, managing editor Jason Guerrasio, contributing editors Alicia Van Couvering, Brandon Harris and Ray Pride -- and Joshua Siegel, Associate Curator of Film and Television at MoMA, where we'll show all five nominees in November. Here's the way our selection works. We solicit a wide range of festival directors to come up with the nominees, which are the films from their fests they felt were most deserving of distribution but didn't receive it. These 80 or so titles went through rounds of screenings to boil down to 33 that all members of our jury watched. We used a point system to gauge where our collective and individual passions lie and then began our discussion.
We started our deliberations this year by agreeing to knock out 15 films that had little support. We then ran down the list and talked about all the remaining 18, with the top advocates for each extolling their virtues followed by those less enthusiastic expressing their thoughts. Two films received high praise from all of our committee, and we quickly voted to nominate them. More discussion followed, and we focused on films' strengths but also their weaknesses. Were the goals of one film perhaps better achieved by another? How original were the films? How well executed? Which films felt unfinished - as if the filmmakers had left parts of their stories un-filmed? The commentary got interesting. It was pointed out that the vociferous commentary provoked by one film was a sign of its strength -- it got us riled up and talking about it. We talked about boredom, and when it's a bad thing but also, sometimes, a good one. We also talked about simple moviegoing pleasures, and the value of films that just make you happy versus films that make you uncomfortable.
By the end, we wound up with five titles -- and our egos intact. (I know people who have been on wildly contentious juries, but I've never had that experience.) I'm really happy with the list. Two of the filmmakers -- Green's Sophia Takal and Without's Mark Jackson -- were featured on our 25 New Faces list this year. They were joined by a fellow narrative filmmaker, Madeline Olnek, with her Codependent Lesbian Space Alien Seeks Same. And then there are two docs: The Redemption of General Buck Naked, Eric Strauss, Daniele Anastasion; and Scenes of a Crime, by Blue Hadaegh and Grover Babcock. It's a diverse group of films dealing with the most piercing of personal issues to the gravest of social ones with tones ranging from the ominous to the joyous. And yes, all these films should be in theaters.
Watch the blog in the coming days for extended thoughts on each one of these films, and I hope to see some of you when we screen them at MoMA in November.
See you next week.
NOMINATIONS ANNOUNCED FOR THE 21ST GOTHAM INDEPENDENT FILM AWARDS Twenty-four films were announced today as nominees in the six competitive categories for IFP's 21st Annual Gotham Independent Film Awards. Cited for Best Feature were Mike Mills' Beginners, Alexander Payne's The Descendants, Kelly Reichardt's Meek's Cutoff, Jeff Nichols' Take Shelter, and Terrence Malick's The Tree of Life. Best Documentary feature nominees are Katie Galloway and Kelly Duane de la Vega's Better This World, Richard Press' Bill Cunningham New York, Danfung Dennis' Hell and Back Again, Steve James' The Interrupters, and C. Scott Willis' The Woodmans. In the "breakthrough" categories, directors Mike Cahill (Another Earth), Sean Durkin (Martha Marcy May Marlene), Vera Farmiga (Higher Ground), Evan Glodell (Bellflower), and Dee Rees (Pariah) were singled out for Breakthrough Director, while actors Felicity Jones (Like Crazy), Elizabeth Olsen (Martha Marcy May Marlene), Harmony Santana (Gun Hill Road), Shailene Woodley (The Descendants), and Jacob Wysocki (Terri) have been put forth for Breakthrough Actor. The year's Best Ensemble Performance nominees are casts from Beginners, The Descendants, Margin Call, Martha Marcy May Marlene, and Take Shelter. Singled out as the best undistributed films which will vie for the Best Film Not Playing at a Theater Near You award are Madeleine Olnek's Codependent Lesbian Space Alien Seeks Same, Sophia Takal's Green, Eric Strauss and Daniele Anastasion's The Redemption of General Butt Naked, Blue Hadaegh and Grover Babcock's Scenes of a Crime, and Mark Jackson's Without. In addition, the 2nd Annual Gotham Independent Film Audience Award will be voted on again by the independent film community, 230,000 film fans worldwide. Voting begins today for the Audience Award. For a complete list of nominees go here. The Gotham Awards ceremony will be held November 28th at Cipriani Wall Street; tickets and table info available here.
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THE CATECHISM CATACLYSM By John Lichman
At the heart of Todd Rohal's work is a very basic concept lost on today's major theatrical audience who are hypnotized by the tired routine of familiar narrative structure. It's so simple that it could be lost in the ether of the week's releases comprised of cults and the continued ascension of the Catfish crew, but I'll lay it out: Anything Goes. It's a mindset that will definitely help you take on The Catechism Cataclysm, which is equally about God, storytelling, instrumental trance music, literature, race, the Internet, growing up, rejection, drinking beer and, ultimately, dealing with the absence of hope when your sister's ex-boyfriend from high school is reincarnated for a brief second before God performs the equivalent of stating, "LOL! J/k." read more BEING ELMO: A PUPPETEER'S JOURNEY Since his first appearance in 1972, Elmo has slowly overtaken his puppet pals to become the most iconic, profitable, and instantly recognizable character on the long-running children's institution that is Sesame Street. Seen less often is Kevin Clash, the voice actor and puppeteer who has been bringing Elmo to life for decades. Being Elmo: A Puppeteer's Journey sheds light on Clash's life story in a wholesome and entertaining way, tracking his progress developing Elmo through voice-over narration by Whoopi Goldberg and illuminating home video footage featuring Jim Henson and Frank Oz. THE CATECHISM CATACLYSM The Bible, Mark Twain and campfire stories are all bizarrely blurred in Todd Rohal's The Catechism Cataclysm, the follow up to his cult favorite, The Guatemalan Handshake. Starring Steve Little (Eastbound and Down) as Father Billy, we follow him as he questions his faith after being forced to take a sabbatical, leading to a canoe trip with Robbie (Robert Longstreet), who hasn't seen Billy since high school. In a trip filled with funny stories and a search for faith, Catechism is a film you won't soon forget. Read our interview with Rohal before the film's premiere at Sundance. ELEVATE From first-time director Anne Buford comes an inspiring documentary that tracks four Senegalese teens recruited to the US and put on a track towards a career in professional basketball. Elevate probes deeply into the emotional states of its subjects, presenting their progress over four years as they leave their roots behind for a lifestyle that is the cultural opposite of that which they'd grown up with. Budford shows great empathy towards her subjects, as she portrays four exceptionally mature young men forced to overcome culture shock in order to pursue their dreams. MARGIN CALL As thousands of protestors march daily amidst the seemingly impenetrable skyscrapers of Wall Street, this corporate thriller from first-time filmmaker J.C. Chandor sheds light on the 2008 market collapse that laid the groundwork for today's spreading discontent. Margin Call follows a low-level investment firm analyst (Star Trek's Zachary Quinto), who, over one night, discovers the seeds of the impending economic crisis. Featuring masterful turns from seasoned vets such as Kevin Spacey, Jeremy Irons, Demi Moore, and Stanley Tucci, Margin Call is a tense morality play that ruminates on the origins and end-results of corporate greed. MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE A hit at Sundance this past January, this striking debut from Sean Durkin (producer of Antonio Campos' Afterschool and one of our 25 New Faces in 2010) has been steadily gaining hype for months. Martha Marcy May Marlene follows a young woman (Elizabeth Olsen) recently escaped from a cult, mirroring her journey towards readjusting to everyday life against her time under the tutelage of the cult's charismatic leader (John Hawkes). An artfully constructed character study, Durkin's film is ultimately made most memorable by Olsen, who gives a multifaceted performance worthy of the buzz she's getting. Read our interview with Durkin and Olsen in our upcoming Fall issue. See our video with Durkin, Olsen and Hawkes from Sundance. This week on the Blog, guest blogger Alma Har'el shares a deleted scene from Bombay Beach, Jason Geurrasio talks with Todd Sklar about his new film Awful Nice, and Dan Schoenbrun reports on the website for Tim Sutton's upcoming Pavilion (pictured left).
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AKI KAURISMAKI, "LE HAVRE" By Damon Smith
In The New Biographical Dictionary of Film, published in 2003, critic and film historian David Thomson ends his favorable entry on Finnish filmmaker Aki Kaurismaki by noting that the Helsinki-based auteur might gain some edge if "his sardonic eye turned to politics." It's hard to imagine what a political film by Kaurismaki might look like, given how masterfully he has balanced deadpan humor and dour heartbreak in his wry tales of social estrangement among the working classes; films like The Match Factory Girl and Ariel feel more like poetic, strangely poignant chamber works. But now, at least in spirit, we have one. Kaurismäki's latest comic fable, Le Havre, which won the FIPRESCI prize at Cannes in May and is Finland's official Oscar entry, channels some of Europe's not-so-welcoming attitudes toward newly arrived immigrants and transforms the conflict into an amiably humanistic fairy tale resonating with goodwill. read more OCTOBER
Minneapolis Underground Film Festival
Regular Deadline: October 21
Late Deadline: November 4
Festival Dates: December 2 - 4
Slamdance Film Festival
Late Deadline: October 21
Festival Dates: January 20 - 26, 2012
Portland International Film Festival
Regular Deadline: October 28
Late Deadline: November 30
Festival Dates: February 9 - 25, 2012