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Problem is, nobody wants to talk. None of this is top secret, mind you. But everyone is saying things are “too new,” that they are not sure how projects will develop, and that they don’t want to go on record talking about their ventures until things are further along.
Fine. So what we will put in its place? The writer and I batted around some other thoughts. He went online and read a bunch of blogs, fishing for ideas, and he reported back. Why did his piece have to be about a trend, he asked me? A business issue? Wasn’t there a filmmaker out there whose story was compelling on its own, one that didn’t need to be folded into some larger take on the independent scene and its new business models?
I finished a book yesterday: Stoner, by John Williams. I was abroad, and I had a bunch of sample first chapters from different novels downloaded into my Kindle iPad app. I read a few before deciding which book to buy. I assumed I would read the hot award-winning intellectual sci-fi noir novel by the hip writer who I’m embarrassed not to have read yet. But after reading the first chapter I just couldn’t get into it. The first chapter of a not so well known book, Stoner, was also there, though; I vaguely remember downloading it a few months ago after a couple of writers I respect effusively praised it.
Stoner’s first pages were compelling, so I clicked, bought the book, and pretty much burned through it on the plane ride home. Written in the mid-‘60s, it’s about a young man who grows up on a farm in the early 1900s. His father sends him to study agriculture at the University of Missouri, thinking that he’ll come back with new knowledge and continue the family business. But the young man, Stoner, takes an English survey course, and he falls in love. Not first with a person, but with medieval literature, grammar, and the intellectual sanctuary the university provides in a country soon frayed by world war. Stoner tells his parents he’s not coming back to the farm, and shortly he is an assistant professor. He falls in love again, this time with a woman, but within months their marriage becomes a profoundly unhappy one. And the holiness of Stoner’s university refuge winds up stained by department politics, a nearly lifelong dispute with another professor that encapsulates one of the novel’s main themes, which is the struggle to uphold cultural values -- or, more properly, the sincere love for culture -- in a coarsening world.
Hopefully I’ve made Stoner sound interesting, but I suspect I haven’t. (There’s more to it, of course. A short description makes it seem like small-scale tragedy, but it’s actually achingly beautiful, with Stoner’s considerable hurts outweighed by the extraordinary clarity of his understanding of the fluidity of love between the worlds of people and ideas.) Indeed, this challenge of significance, of what’s deemed important, is acknowledged in the book’s second paragraph: “An occasional student who comes upon the name may wonder idly who William Stoner was, but he seldom pursues his curiosity beyond a casual question. Stoner’s colleagues, who held him in no particular esteem when he was alive, speak of him rarely now; to the older ones, his name is a reminder of the end that awaits them all, and to the younger ones it is merely a sound which evokes no sense of the past and no identity with which they can associate themselves or their careers.”
If I had told you more about the book I didn’t buy, I bet you would have preferred hearing about that one. It sounds a lot cooler, and it ties into ideas that are really of the moment. You can link it to other writings, not just fiction but criticism about art, architecture, technology and film. You could write a trend piece about it.
I’ll probably get back to this other book. But after finishing Stoner, I had to call a friend and tell him to read it. “What’s it about?” he said. I got a few sentences in and he cut me off. “Sounds cool, but I gotta go.”
I’m going to tell my writer to write whatever he wants to write. Not to worry about the things we often worry about, like connecting films to the zeitgeist, or subsuming smaller works into larger trends. And maybe his piece will uncover something life-changing. Or maybe you’ll read it, shrug, and move on. And while we’ll never know, maybe some guy on whatever the equivalent of a blog or newsletter is in 2061 will be discovering it and telling you it’s just as if not more important than a lot of the stuff that people thought was important way back then.
See you next week.
TWO IFP ALUM PROJECTS HAVE NYC PREMIERES AT GEN ART The Gen Art Film Festival, showcasing and celebrating emerging talent through seven red carpet premieres and seven parties, runs June 8-14 in NYC and will host the local premieres of two recently completed IFP program alumni projects. Victoria Mahoney’s Yelling to the Sky stars Zoe Kravitz as 17-year-old Sweetness O’Hara, navigating the chaotic and emotional minefields of both her troubled family and the intense peer pressure in school and her tough working class Queens neighborhood. Yelling, alum of IFP’s 2010 Narrative Filmmaker Lab, had its World Premiere at the 2011 Berlinale. Tucker Capps and Ryan Sevy’s documentary Goold’s Gold, follows maverick geophysicist Jonathan Goold as he leads a merry pursuit of the American Dream – taking advantage of global warming’s effect on melting Alaskan glaciers to seek a mother lode of previously inaccessible gold. Goold’s Gold was a selected project of the 2007 Project Forum of Independent Film Week. More information on these films and all of the Gen Art offerings here.
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OUT OF THE BLUE By Michael Tully
American cinema has spoken quite well for itself in the first half of 2011, but watching a new 35mm print of Out of the Blue makes even the most graphic new releases seem so utterly tame. As disturbing today as Dennis Hopper’s 1980 drama presumably was back then, Hopper’s long-overdue directorial follow-up to his grand folly The Last Movie unflinchingly depicts the loss of one young girl’s innocence while simultaneously existing as an explosive time capsule of the burgeoning punk rock scene of that very moment. While it’s admittedly silly to bitch about the “glory days” and whine about how they “don’t make ‘em like they used to,” in the case of Out of the Blue, they really don’t. read more BEGINNERS The sophomore narrative effort from Mike Mills (Thumbsucker) is a huge leap forward for the director. Beginners is a mature, personal and oftentimes hilarious meditation on love and loss. The story follows Oliver (Ewan McGregor), who falls in love shortly after the death of his father (Christopher Plummer). This new relationship forces him to come to terms with the memory of his father, an irreverent man who came out of the closet at age 75. Be sure to check out the Spring issue of Filmmaker (on newsstands now) for an interview with Mills conducted by director Gus Van Sant. Read the interview now by subscribing for a digital issue of the magazine. THE LAST MOUNTAIN Muckraking documentarian Bill Haney (The Price of Sugar) returns with a politically-charged expose on the ecological obliteration of the Appalachian mountains. The Last Mountain targets big coal companies that practice "mountaintop removal" - a process as environmentally destructive as its name suggests. Through interviews with locals, scientists, and left-leaning politicians (including Bobby Kennedy Jr.), Haney argues that it's not too late to save America's natural landscapes from our own destructive forces. SUBMARINE This Wes Andersonesque coming-of-age story is the debut directorial effort from British comedian and actor Richard Ayoade, best known for his roles on British TV series The IT Crowd and
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LADY VENGEANCE: SUMMER BOX OFFICE'S REVENGE OF THE NERDS By Farihah Zaman
Summer is a strange and wonderful time when many of the rules of regular conduct cease to apply, and this pertains not just to the frequency of ice cream consumption and the blessing of “summer Fridays.” Many people have an image of how genre films are usually consumed – by dedicated genre fans, in a quirky downtown arthouse theater, perhaps, or via DVDs shipped from Hong Kong while alone on the couch wearing a snuggie — but in the summer, the entire country seems to develop a taste for blood or kung fu. Independent genre features continue to be released, of course, but in the summer months genre steps into the limelight and dominates the multiplex. read more
Santa Fe Film Festival
Early Deadline: June 3
WAB Deadline: August 19
Festival Dates: October 20 - 23
New Hampshire Film Festival
Early Deadline: June 5
WAB Deadline: August 15
Festival Dates: October 13 - 16
Early Deadline: June 8
WAB Deadline: July 29
Festival Dates: November 2 - 8