Monday, November 24, 2008

11 days and 25 movies later

The Starz Denver Film Festival is over. It was a great ride, with very few low-points (at least from my movie seat).

I have been trying to sort through my favorites, and as in years past, it is impossible.

There were so many.

On the last day, O'Horton was one that could make my top ten list for this year.

Also, earlier in the weekend, The Eternal City is one that I will reflect on for a long time. As a matter of fact, on the same day that I saw The Eternal City, I also saw Two Lovers. I liked Two Lovers very much. Wonderful performances. But frankly, I liked The Eternal City much more. It was made on a shoestring and did not have the big (and expensive) production values of Two Lovers. It did not have that 'slickness' that Two Lovers has. But in telling a story that engages, and deals with human emotions and the need for love, The Eternal City is superior. There is an honesty to it and an earnestness in the production, and the performances. I hate the trite 'labor of love' but that is what this film displays. There is a genuineness to the performance, the direction, everything. Wonderful story-telling with a reason for the telling coming through.

Lots of wonderful short films, and as I noted here earlier great documentaries.

Sunday night I saw Surveillance. The Jennifer Lynch film. Slickly produced, good performances, but somehow not satisfying. It is not just that the film is disturbing (it is), it is that I was trying to find the redeeming value in telling this dark tale. I couldn't find it.

So we wait now for next year.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Denver Film Festival - Random thoughts at the halfway point.

We are halfway through the Starz Denver Film Festival and as usual there are some terrific films being screened. Many of them, I have noted here.

But a couple of other things have struck me.

First it appears to me that attendance is down. I don’t have anything other than my own observation to base that on, but it just seems that the theaters are not as crowed, there are fewer necessary queues’, and certainly at the Big Night screening there were a number of empty seats on the main floor.

Given the state of the economy, it would not necessarily be a surprise if attendance at any discretionary entertainment event is down. We will see after the festival when actual attendance is reported, whether my perception is accurate.

Second, I miss the ongoing screening of a sponsorship film.

In years past, a clever film noting all the key sponsors of the festival was shown before every screening. Not only has that been missing from all the screening this year, the one that was produced and screened prior to the Big Night film was so lame it was painful to watch (maybe that is why it has only been shown once, to date).

Equally lame is the Magic Cyclops pieces that appear to have replaced the sponsorship film before each screening. With perhaps one exception, all the ones I have not only not been funny, they have not been anything. Moreover, one of them probably has a number of film copyright owners pulling their collective hair out. It suggests that moviegoers bring their own video cameras to the theater and tape what they see for later viewing – so they don’t miss anything. I know it was done in jest – and no one will really believe that the idea was serious - but the humor was so lame, it didn’t really read.

Okay, enough negatives.

Logistically, I think the festival has handled things well. The one time I was involved in a queue, staff handled moving the audience from the queuing location to the theater smoothly and fairly. In the past those logistics have devolved into a mob scene, with little or no order. Well done this year. Also, the addition of a public address system in the court yard has improved (and saved staff voices) the ability to inform patrons of information.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Slumdog Millionaire and other Untold Consequences

Untold Consequences is a collection of terrific short films - the longest being 22 minutes. One of the great joys of the Denver Film Festival is the ability to see short films. Often some of those shorts stay in your memory longer than long-form films (last year's The Job is an example). This year, there are some definite possibilities, some I saw yesterday in Untold Consequences. Spider, August 15 and Triple Concerto in D Minor to name just three.

The title of the collection Untold Consequences is very understandable when you see any or all of the shorts. You will have to see them for yourself and you will know what I mean.

Untold Consequences could have included a long-form film, if that film is Slumdog Millionaire.

What a terrific film!

Slumdog was the Big Night film on Saturday. And has been the case in the past, the film deserves to be called a Big Night film. I don't remember being disappointed in Big Night films in the past and this year is certainly no exception.

Did I say Terrific Film!?

See it. It will get a commercial release and probably a big one given how good it is and the buzz that is now accompanying it.

So see it, even though when your friend says, I want to go see this film about impoverished kids in the slums of India who seek salvation through a life of crime and winning a game show.

I'll say it again, what a terrific film.

On another note - No Subtitles part II

No Subtitles the documentary about cinematographers Laslo Kovacs and Vilmos Zsigmond deals a lot with their escape from Hungary during the 1956 uprising. The two were film students in Budapest at that time and as the Russian tanks rolled in and the attempt at freedom was eventually quashed they filmed what they saw and participated in.

As the uprising was quashed the two escaped to Vienna, smuggling the film out with them.

It was noted that those involved in the attempt at freedom in Hungary expected the West and particularly the United States to come to their aid. That expectation - that hope - went unfulfilled.

Tragically for those in Hungary the Eisenhower administration had encouraged such an uprising and paid all kinds of lip service to freedom and overthrowing dictatorial regimes, etc. But it was all rhetoric because the reality was that the United States was in no position to do anything. Eisenhower believed the risk of such an intervention was a widening war in Europe and a global nuclear conflagration.

As I watched the documentary I remembered those days. I was 10 years old, but the memory of the news footage and the reports is still vivid. And in remembering, I thought of a recent similar kind of event. The invasion of the Republic of Georgia, again by Russian tanks. In that case there was no uprising by Georgians to overthrow their government and there are a lot of differences between what happened this summer and that summer over forty years ago, but what was similar was a lot of bold talk by a US administration and political leaders, with the knowledge that the rhetoric could not and would not be backed up with action. Just as in 1956 (though for somewhat different reasons) the US was powerless to back up its words.

The tragedy then as now? Those that hear the words, the encouragement and act in the belief that the words will be backed up do so and then have the rug pulled out from underneath them.

Georgia in 2008 is different than Hungary in 1956, but the callous arrogance of those that hold out hope where they know none will be is despicable.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

No Subtitles Necessary

Last night was the second night of the Denver International Film Festival. I saw two documentaries. DIFF is notable for the number of documentaries it shows as part of the festival and I always try to see as many as I can. Firstly Documentaries rarely get shown anywhere else, and certainly not in conventional, commercial movie houses. Unless it is Michael Moore, don't look for them at anyplace other than an art movie house and even then rarely. They do show up on niche cable TV channels and on Public Television stations, but still the vast number of documentaries made are almost impossible to see, thus my desire to see them at the film festival.

The two I saw dealt with 'entertainment figures'. Entertainment figures who were/are giants in their respective venues.

"Count Basie: Then as Now, Count's the King" and "No Subtitles Necessary, Laslo & Vilmos."

The Basie documentary left me wanting something more. I thought it could have done so much more with a subject such as the great Count Basie. The film consisted of the usual archival footage and photographs and then former band members sitting around a table at Elaine's in New York, reminiscing about their days with the band.

The stories were fun and it was enjoyable to hear them, but as I said, it left me wanting more. I really didn't come away with a sense of who Basie was; no real sense of the person. And for those too young to know about Basie or experience his music, the film really didn't establish his huge impact on music and popular culture; and why 'the Count's still the King.'

"No Subtitles", however is a different story. This look at two of greatest cinematographers of the last half of the twentieth century was wonderful. It not only described their impact on film-making and their influence on the visual - 'the picture' and its style and quality as the story-teller - but who these two men really were and their friendship that was extraordinary.

A superb documentary. Among other things, it made me want to re-see many of the films they each made. As clips from their respective films (i.e. Easy Rider, Five Easy Pieces, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Paper Moon, The Deer Hunter, MaCabe and Mrs. Miller) were shown as part of the documentary, I found myself thinking about each one, 'oh wow, I love that film! I'd like to see it again!"

And of "No Subtitles", I'd like to see it again.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Barack has won -

And as much as I am looking forward, at my age I always have to look back.

Earlier in October, I heard talk about how if McCain was going to win it was going to take 'the perfect storm' meaning there needed to be a convergence of many elements for McCain to overcome what was clearly a juggenaut.

I believe that the 'perfect storm' existed but it was the convergence of elements that led to Obama's election.

But beyond that, this year was about Obama, his great ability to organize and run a successful campaign, it was about Howard Dean and his 50 state strategy, but at the end of the day, that would have elected a Democrat this year, but to ensure that an African-American was elected, it did indeed take someone of Obama's abilities and accumen and it meant that he stood on the shoulders of those that came before.

He is the product of Brown v. Board of Education, Rosa Parks, John Lewis, Thurgood Marshall, students at Little Rock High and James Meredith and yes Jack Kennedy and Robert Kennedy. He is also the product of all those who died in bombings and lynchings - both white and black - in the name of freedom.

I got on a Continental Trailways bus in Salina Kansas in March of 1965 to go to Selma Alabama. I was a very young, and very frightened young man of 18. When I got on the bus in Salina, as a member of the Methodist Student Movement, I was full of bravado. As the bus moved farther south, my bravado changed rapidly to fear and a thought rattling through my head: What the hell are you doing?

But I was there, not brave, but committed to what was right; what needed to be done.

As I watched Obama's speech tonight and thrilled to what I believe is indeed a transformative election, I felt a part of that history.

Obama transforms our nation. He does it because of his intellect, his ability and his unique ability to connect with hundreds of millions of Americans: black, white, hispanic, young, gay, etc.

He is in a position to do that because he matches his abilities in the context of history. What came before set the table for what is to come.

I could not be happier, nor prouder.

This is not a victory for Barack Obama, it truly is a victory for America, our values and our history.

As Franklin Roosevelt's election preserved capitalism and kept revolutionaries from the streets, Obama's election preserves our democracy and keeps revolutionaries from the streets.

I don't think I overstate.

Obama has indeed provided hope. Because without Hope, despair and frustration prevail and that can lead to revolution.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Political ads

It is Saturday before the election, and I know everyone is sick of political ads. Here in Colorado, in addition unheard of numbers of candidate ads (we wanted to be a battleground state, didn't we?)
we have 14 (18 if you count the questions that will not be counted but are still on the ballot) state-wide ballot questions.

I say, everyone is sick of the ads, but I'm not. They are a part of the process, and to avoid any hypocrisy, I cannot complain about political ads because I often do them.

None the less, my friend Steve, his wife Chris and some others have recorded a ditty that Steve wrote about political ads. Take a look and listen.