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It's not uncommon for fiction filmmakers to make movies about places they don't know well at all. Many if not most filmmakers today imagine their stories set in a kind of "generic normal" universe. Then they location scout -- usually to a location defined by its state's available tax credits. Sometimes the specifics of their eventual shooting locations seep into the movies, transforming them.... And sometimes not. Often a bland, class-less backdrop devoid of regional specificity is what winds up poorly representing the diversity of American life. (And then, there are fascinating films by filmmakers who willfully, perversely avoid the reality of their surroundings -- but that's another article.)
Matthew Porterfield's Putty Hill won the Heterodox Award, and it's an example of an entirely different kind of fiction filmmaking. As we discussed at that jury deliberation, Porterfield deliberately relinquished some of a fiction filmmaker's usual control by allowing his setting and the real people he found there to shape the film. He took a step back, allowing his non-actor performers to become true collaborators by inviting them to place their daily lives into his movie. I think it's a haunting, beautiful film that is also a welcome respite from so many of today's over-determined indie dramas.
There's another film we support opening this weekend -- Tariq Tapa's Zero Bridge -- that is also inseparable from its location. This neorealist, DV-shot tale is the first film in over 40 years shot in Kashmir, the territory disputed by India and Pakistan. When I wrote about Tapa for our "25 New Faces" in 2008, he said, "I spent every summer and extended vacations [in Kashmir] with my father's side of the family. But when the war began in '89, I didn't see them in a decade. When I went back in 2002, my cousins and I had grown apart. I thought it would be interesting to make a movie because no one knows about daily life in Kashmir, and it was also a way for me to reconnect with my family and heritage." In a production that had to deal with car bombs and random shootings, Tapa had to be for his non-professional crew and actors not only director but film school teacher, explaining his process by showing them DVDs of such movies as Tree of Wooden Clogs, The Bicycle Thief, and Il Posto.
One of cinema's first pleasures for its early audiences was the ticket it gave them to other places. So, if you're in New York this weekend, consider visiting Kashmir and suburban Baltimore in the form of Tapa and Porterfield's pictures. And while you're there, think about how your own stories can be enriched by the places you shoot them in.
TICKETS NOW ON SALE FOR IFP'S SCRIPT TO SCREEN CONFERENCE IFP's Script to Screen Conference explores new opportunities available to indie filmmakers and writers with this full day of workshops, seminars, and networking on March 5. Anchored by conversations with veteran writer/director Barry Levinson (Diner, Avalon, Sleepers) and hot newcomer Mark Heyman (Black Swan), the day will also feature a look at new platforms for writers with Carol Kolb, Head Writer of the Onion News Network; a case study with the creative team behind Sundance breakout Martha Marcy May Marlene; and once again - a chance for selected attendees to pitch their script idea to a panel of experts. Full details on panels and tickets here
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Vanishing on 7th St
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PUTTY HILL Putty Hill, directed by "25 New Face" Matthew Porterfield, follows a circle of Baltimore residents gathered for the funeral of a friend who has died from a drug overdose. Using fiction and documentary styles, Porterfield moves the camera from friend to friend, highlighting the neighborhoods of his eponymous hometown while revealing insights into the characters (and the actors who play them). "I hope my films can perform some kind of social function by bridging gaps and offering a shared version of city life that is underrepresented in the mainstream media," said Porterfield when we interviewed him for 25 New Faces. Winner of Filmmaker's-sponsored Heterodox Award at the Cinema Eye Honors, the film has been a festival favorite from SXSW to Berlin. VANISHING ON 7TH ST Directed by Brad Anderson (Happy Accidents, The Machinist), Vanishing on 7th St looks at an unusual global blackout that causes many people to just disappear into thin air, leaving only their clothes and belonging behind. As the disappearances increase -- and daylight diminishes -- a group of survivors huddle together into a Detroit bar, awaiting the inevitable. Only the remaining light sources can keep them from truly vanishing. The film stars Hayden Christensen, Thandie Newton, and John Leguizamo. ZERO BRIDGE The feature debut of the L.A.-based Tariq Tapa, Zero Bridge uses first-time actors to tell the story of Dilawar, a teen street hustler who gets through life by picking pockets, working for his uncle's mason crew and doing math homework for his schoolmates. But when he befriends a woman named Bani, his outlook changes and he builds a plan to escape for a better life. Shot on DV with the filmmaker's backpack substituting for a production cargo van, Zero Bridge is the first film to emerge from Kashmir in over 40 years. The film was nominated for Filmmaker's Best Film Not Playing at a Theater Near You Gotham Award in 2009. This week on the blog, Criterion strikes a deal with Hulu Plus; IFP Narrative Lab application launches this week; Darren Aronofsky lists his top 5 books on the movies; Filmmaker puts out a call for business writers; and SXSW 11's lineup for its Midnighters, SXFantastic and shorts film sections (pictured left).
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MIGUEL ARTETA, CEDAR RAPIDS By Jamie Stuart
Miguel Arteta talks about his latest film, Cedar Rapids, and what still interests him about making comedies. see video
Illinois International Film Festival
Early Deadline: Feb. 28
Regular Deadline: June 30
Festival Dates: Nov. 4-6
Seattle International Film Festival
FutureWave Submission Deadline: March 1
Festival Dates: May 19-June 12
Late Deadline: Mar 1.
Extended Deadline: March 31
Festival Dates: Jun. 22-26