Wednesday, April 29, 2009

SFIFF52—14 x 75 @ The Auteurs Notebook

I was genuinely complimented when Danny Kasman of The Auteurs Notebook invited me to contribute a piece on SFIFF52. Since each year I seem to have a hissy fit about something at SFIFF, I elected this year to defuse the hiss of this year's irritant by tackling that pesky varmint: the 75-word hold-review capsule. In full disclosure, I must admit that—after working on this piece—I derived guilty pleasure from writing so little about so much. I guess I'll have to second-think the value of the hold-review capsule after all.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

SFIFF52: AL MÁS ALLÁ—On-Stage Conversation With Lourdes Portillo & John Anderson

Linda Blackaby, Programmer for the San Francisco Film Society, had the honor of bestowing upon Lourdes Portillo SFIFF52's Golden Gate Persistence of Vision Award, which honors the achievements of a filmmaker whose work is crafting documentaries, short films, animation or work for television. In as many years as I have been attending the San Francisco International, the Golden Gate Persistence of Vision Award has been given to such luminaries as Jan Svankmajer, Robert Frank, Johan van der Keuken, Faith Hubley, Kenneth Anger, Fernando Birri, Pat O'Neill, Jon Else, Adam Curtis, Guy Maddin, Heddy Honigmann and Errol Morris. Portillo—the "elegant insurgent" (as scribed by filmmaker Renee Tajima-Peña in her commendable program essay)—rightfully joins that esteemed company.

Blackaby provided a brief background of Portillo's career: Lourdes was born in Mexico. She moved to Los Angeles when she was 14. She started filmmaking as a member of the Marxist collective
Cine Manifest and then as a student at the San Francisco Art Institute. She is the mother of three sons and has been making films for 30 years. Her first film was the narrative After the Earthquake (Después de Terremoto, 1979) set in Nicaragua. In total, she's made 14 films, including several shorts. She does installations. She's had eight major retrospectives, has traveled around the world for this kind of recognition, and we're happy to also be recognizing her here. In 1986, Las Madres de la Plaza de Mayo—made with Susana Muñoz—was nominated for an Emmy, an Academy Award, won the Special Jury Prize at the United States Film Festival, and the Coral at the Havana Film Festival. Yasha Aginsky, an editor of Las Madres, recently remarked about making that film: "Lourdes is one of the funniest people I know. We laughed throughout the editing of Las Madres." How does someone who makes films about serious human rights issues still laugh? Renee says: "These are the dissonant sensibilities of Lourdes Portillo—the elegant, the insurgent, the fearless, the wickedly funny…." Many other festival prizes have ensued since Las Madres, including the Golden Gate Award in 1995 at this festival for The Devil Never Sleeps (El Diablo Nunca Duerme, 1994); the Sundance Special Jury Award in 2002 for Missing Young Woman (Señorita Extraviada, 2001); and you see how it goes? I could go on.

There have been various grants and fellowships for Lourdes, including three from the Rockefeller Foundation, a Guggenheim, and most recently a United States Artists Fellowship. Friend and advisor Gail Silva says, "Knowing Lourdes for 30 years has been an adventure. Each new film is different from the last, yet all have a universal consciousness, and a depth of humanity that translates to any audience. And she's brave. Señorita Extraviada has engendered serious threats to her life, yet for the last seven years she has continued speaking out against the murders of young girls in Juarez."

Lourdes is known all around the world, yet she's the sort of person who last week received this shout-out by Galería de la Raza in their weekly calendar: "Rock on, Lourdes! We love Lourdes. She's as bad ass as they come. She's the perfect tía, so to speak, but also a reminder that—in this heady male-dominated industry—there's some sparkling reminders that vision and good old-fashioned persistence can come together and inspire us all. We honor you, Lourdes."

At this juncture Lourdes Portillo walked onto the Sundance Kabuki stage to accept her Golden Gate Persistence of Vision Award. "I've spoken in public a lot and I hardly ever get nervous," Portillo admitted, "but today I'm really nervous and I feel like I have to maybe drink. I'm profoundly honored to have been chosen by the San Francisco Film Society to receive this award. My very special thanks to you, Linda. I'm delighted to be in the company of filmmakers I have long admired, the previous awardees. This moment is so fitting to recognize the most talented collaborators a filmmaker could have. I want to share this honor with
Vivien Hillgrove, editor; Kyle Kibbe, cinematographer; José Araújo, sound recordist; and Gail Silva, advisor and, of course, many others here today who have given of themselves for the films we've made. You have been my team, my friends, and fellow artists, and I thank you. I'm very grateful."

Blackaby then introduced John Anderson, contributing film critic for Variety, The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, Film Comment, ArtForum, Village Voice and—here Blackaby chuckled—Schizophrenia Digest. Anderson is a past member of the Selection Committee of the New York Film Festival and the author of
Sundancing, Edward Yang, and I Wake Up Screening (with Laura Kim). Anderson and Portillo sat down to chat.

* * *

John Anderson: It's really nice to be here. I'm flattered. I was watching a film yesterday afternoon in the festival called Sacred Places from Cameroon which makes—both explicitly and implicitly—comparisons between film and the griot. It dawned on me that you are in that position.

Lourdes Portillo: I saw that film. I thought about that too.

Anderson: The fellow who runs the cine-club says that the griot tells people what they don't know. I thought, "I'm not sure that Lourdes would agree with that." Sometimes you tell people things they know and don't want to know.

Portillo: Yes.

Anderson: Feel free to address that at length.

Portillo: Yes or no is not enough for you? [The audience breaks into laughter. Lourdes addresses them.] We don't know each other that well so I have to be careful not to hurt his feelings.

Anderson: I'm a film critic. I have no feelings.

Portillo: Whatever. [Laughter.] No, y'know, I was brought up this way. At the kitchen table in my house we spent hours and hours with our parents addressing things that people didn't want to know. The news would come in, my father would discuss it with us, they would joke about it, they would talk about it, comment about it, and it was part of my life. When I started making films, I thought that was my journey: to tell people things that maybe they didn't want to know; but, to do it in such a way that it would activate them to do something to help, y'know? Yes, I agree that is kind of what I do.

Anderson: It's very unusual to hear someone say that they grew up in a household where people talked about things. Usually what you hear are reminisces of families who didn't talk about the very things that should have been talked about. To what do you attribute that? Your family sounds like it was rather special.

Portillo: No, no, not special really. I come from a working class family from the north of Mexico. I feel that's a very Mexican kind of thing that happens in families. In fact, I was talking to a friend of mine who—when I came to his house—he said, "Sit down and talk to me. Let's sit at the kitchen table and let's talk." Because that's where all conversations happen and all the truth is spilled out, y'know? Things change once you go in the street. You can't say all the things you can say at the kitchen table. It's kind of a Mexican tradition, I would say. I don't know if anyone agrees with me or disagrees.

Anderson: You came from Chihuahua at 13, which seems very significant. The name Ofelia keeps popping up in your movies and there's that whole Ophelia Complex. A young woman is at the cusp of such insanity.

Portillo: I was thinking of Dante; but, you're right, Ofelia keeps coming up. For me, 13 was very tragic because I was torn from my country; a country that I really loved and I still love and, of course, I've re-created in my memory and in my films. It was a very difficult journey, y'know? But I felt that I had the essence already of a person that had been formed so that I had the strength to fight, I had the strength to struggle, and I had self-possession. I was myself by then to go forward in a country that really diminished me as a human being. Being in school, I saw girls that were Mexican that had been born here or had come much earlier and they had already been destroyed. It touched me. It propelled me to make things that were meaningful, that treated us like human beings, that looked at us as full human beings with intelligence, with humor, all the things that we had. So yes, 13 is very special.

Anderson: In preparation for all this, I've been thinking about all the questions in terms of documentary filmmaking and—at some point—I thought, "Lourdes doesn't really think of herself as a documentary filmmaker."

Portillo: No, I do; but, I also think of myself as an artist that can do other things. A documentary filmmaker—because, again, I'll go back to Los Angeles where I landed as an immigrant—the only thing that I could have done (because I had fallen in love with film after an experience I'd had working on a film for a friend of mine), the only thing that was available to me with the mark of being a Mexican, being all the bad things that people projected onto me, the only thing I could do was educational films. That was the avenue that was open to me. So I said, "If this is the only avenue that's open for me, then I will do the best I can with what I have and with what I can do." I do think of myself as a documentarian and I love documentary but I love all other kinds of filmmaking.

Anderson: You have been deconstructing—if that's the word—the documentary process within your films from very early on. I don't know if you could call them mockumentaries; but, in The Devil Never Sleeps for instance, you are constantly questioning your own process and your own ethics as a documentary filmmaker, not necessarily coming to any conclusions, at least not within the frame of the film. So there's an ongoing debate within the documentary community about what constitutes good documentary making, whether it's the journalistic, whether it's the craft, whether it's the art. Frankly, Lourdes, you're one of the people I would pick as an example of—often you'll see a non-fiction film and you'll think, "Why isn't this a book? Why isn't this something other than a film because there's no reason for it to be a film?"—which you would never say about one of your films because they're so visually elevated.

Portillo: I've flirted with notions that have been coming through a whole academic world about documenting myself. It was probably an inspiration to go on that route. To play with documentary. To not take it so seriously. But to adhere to the truth. There is an adherence to the truth and there are no lies I can tell in my films. Be playful. Expand the medium. It doesn't have to be the boring PBS stuff.

Anderson: Speaking of which, what is your relationship with PBS?

Portillo: Don't ask, don't tell.

Anderson: There seems to be a lack of responsibility of certain cultural institutions in this country.

Portillo: Absolutely! They haven't responded to the numbers. How many people are here? Who needs to be addressed? That's why my journey as a documentary filmmaker is not over until I see a lot of Latinos making films independently, addressing issues that touch us. The PBS thing is pasteurized. Is that the right word?

Anderson: It's a very kind word. Which brings us to Al Más Allá in a way. I find it hilariously funny. Partly because I know so many people involved in documentary making and the people who need to see this film are probably the ones who wouldn't get it.

Portillo: They're not going to like it.

Anderson: No. But it does reflect upon the notion that—for a field that's supposed to be filled with renegades and rebels—it is, as you say, often pasteurized and formulaic. There doesn't seem to be a seat at the table for anybody who's bending the rules.

Portillo: That's true. For that, I'm just so surprised being here in front of you with this award.

Anderson: For your persistence.

Portillo: My son called it the stubbornness award.

Anderson: I had a conversation with a distributor tonight and we were talking about all the poor documentary filmmakers in the world and she said, "What? Are you kidding? Most of them have trust funds. How do you think they make these films?" [Hissing rises from the audience.] Not everybody; but, the distributor said that's the dirty little secret we're operating on.

Portillo: Definitely it's hard to make a living being a documentary filmmaker. I don't think it's easy. It's a labor of love and it's an adherence to justice and truth and then to play with it is horrible—that's what I do—play with the form. But some people take it very seriously and don't want to deviate from that. I just saw a film that was about a mayordomo, a butler, of a very wealthy family and it was a beautiful film; but, it was shot in 35mm, y'know? It went on and on and—though it was quite beautiful—I realized that the person who made it had means. Some things require those means and some people have them and other people don't have them and still make beautiful stuff and I applaud those filmmakers that have a real theme and a drive to tell a story.

Anderson: Where have you found funding? How have you been able to make your films?

Portillo: I was fortunate initially to have made Las Madres de la Plaza de Mayo with Susana Muñoz because that film—with the help of many filmmakers here today—made a name for me. It was much easier after Las Madres because it received so much attention and awards and everything that I was able to raise money for the next film. So it's a matter of having a really good piece and then the road gets paved. That's not to say that it's not hard. It's incredibly difficult in sacrifice. But NEA, Rockefeller, when there was money, we were given money. We were trusted.

Anderson: Wouldn't you say that—formally speaking—Las Madres was one of your more conventional films?

Portillo: Yes. Also, it was not entirely my film. If I had begun my career with The Devil Never Sleeps, I wouldn't be here. I'd be there [Portillo references to the audience].

Anderson: You made a comment once that living in Mexico was like being in a telenovela, which I thought was fun.

Portillo: It's true! Anybody will tell you that.

Anderson: Another comment of your's was about collaboration where you said it's not your favorite way of working.

Portillo: No. I hate it. [Laughter.]

Anderson: That's what I heard.

Portillo: I like to collaborate when I'm the boss. [Laughter.]

Anderson: Your sense of humor is often commented upon but, you know, you draw short of derision when you're dealing with your subjects. The film that makes me think of that is your Selena film, where you could have gone off.

Portillo: That's a great comment.

Anderson: Thank you. That's for the people who hissed at me before. What was your motivation with that film? It seemed like an unlikely subject for you in a way.

Portillo: In a way; but, y'know, I want to be truthful. I want to portray people as they are. "Short of derision" is so observant of you. I'm always on the cusp of derision. Fortunately, I have an editor who is the most moral, wonderful editor who prevents me from being a complete criminal. [Laughter.] I think if I were allowed to let go, I would be really fearful.

Anderson: Getting back to Selena, you were dealing with people who—in someone else's hands—could have been made into the objects of ridicule in many instances. Like the woman at the grave.

Portillo: Yeah; but, y'know, the father wouldn't have let them. I had to pacify the father. The father would not give me the rights to the music if I didn't do what he wanted me to do. I did a little dance there. I tried to get what I wanted and at the same time be critical. I understand what you're saying about the woman by the grave; but, I think worse than that was who the father really was. He was a villain. He was like a Shakespearean character. He would have been a great subject for a documentary. He had a lot of control.

Anderson: Who did you make that film for?

Portillo: Teenage girls. So that they would see themselves. For the first time Latina girls saw themselves portrayed on the television screen. They saw a brown girl that looked like them. You can't forget the historical impact Selena had. That's why I wanted to make the film. Up until that moment for girls in Texas—like I told you when I came to this country I saw girls who had been destroyed—when I went to Texas, I could see girls who had been destroyed. But at the same time, in Selena, in some way, they had some self-worth. So that's who I made the film for.

Anderson: You've stated that your fascination with Mexico also involves your fascination with death.

Portillo: Yes.

Anderson: Could you talk about that a little bit?

Portillo: Well, y'know, in Mexico death is a part of life. Again, I'll go back to my parents. Around the kitchen table my parents would say, "When I die, I want you to do this and that." They would always mention their deaths. Death is a constant companion. They always made reference to it. It's not something to be afraid of. It's just something that is. A fact. At the same time, later on in the Day of the Dead film, you see the joyful aspects of death. Later on that became darker and darker, like in Señorita Extraviada, y'know? But death is a part of life and I accept it in that way; but, I must say that—after making Señorita Extraviada—I don't want to make films about death anymore. I want to make films that don't deal with violent death.

Anderson: For those who might not know what Señorita Extraviada is about, it's about the Juarez murders of … how many women? Hundreds?

Portillo: Yeah, hundreds. I mean we don't know how many women; but, to this day, women are still being murdered in some ritualistic way by narcotraffickers.

Anderson: You were threatened after making that film?

Portillo: Oh yeah. Everybody who has made an impact on the community of Juarez is threatened. I was threatened when I showed the film in the exterior of Mexico when I went to Europe and traveled all over. The Mexican government became aware of the impact the film was having on people and—when I returned to Ciudad Juarez—one day I was there with other people who were doing a function to help the women. A man took me aside, a Secretary for the Attorney General, and he called me by the nickname my mother called me—my mother was dead—and he said, "I know where Esmeralda Street is." That's where I live. He said, "Yes, I do. I know this and I know that" and I said, "Oh, that's nice, that's good; I got to go now." I realized that was a threat. That they knew everything about me. Absolutely everything. Sometimes when I show the film to this day—it's been many many years—but there's always someone in the audience, a man generally … I don't know if I should say all this. In any case, I'm always asked, "Well, are you going to make another film? Aren't you going to follow it up?" and I always have to say, "No."

Anderson: Because you're afraid?

Portillo: Because I'm afraid. After I made Señorita Extraviada, after being threatened, I felt very vulnerable. I kept on traveling with the film and I kept on telling everybody what was happening and I felt more and more vulnerable. Then I felt like I was falling apart. I don't think that's unusual. People who work in this kind of activism feel that way. When I started to fall apart, I decided that I had to get myself together again. But it's taken many years. Finally, I feel just okay. I have like post-traumatic stress syndrome. I can't hear anything about the women of Juarez or how they died or how they disappeared because it upsets me. What is really amazing to me is: why didn't it upset me when I first was there? When I saw things? And I witnessed things? I think it's a process that people who are engaged in human rights to that extent of knowledge, suffer a lot for it in some way. I don't want to make myself a victim but I think it's good to tell this to documentary filmmakers.

Anderson: The other thing that might be helpful to documentary filmmakers is often what distinguishes a good doc from a great doc: it's the filmmaker's ability to get information out of people. I don't know if the word "wheedles" is correct there; but, people talk to you in Señorita Extraviada in remarkable ways. They're revealing things to you that are amazing. Do you have anything you can frame in the way of a "tip" to other filmmakers how you get information out of people?

Portillo: People ask me this a lot. I'm trying to figure it out. I don't know what it is. You have to feel like you're in that person's shoes. You have to treat them with respect and kindness. You have to really feel the curiosity that you have inside of you and express it and not formulate things, y'know? To be sincere. Sincerity is very important, y'know?

Anderson: Real sincerity?

Portillo: No, no, fake. [Laughter.] You devil! [To the audience] I don't know him very well and now he's showing me who he really is. It has to do with sincerity and truthfulness and how the person perceives you. If you're being fake, you're never going to get anything. If you have an agenda, you're not going to get anything. If you're sincere and you follow through. Also, you don't abandon your subjects. The people in Señorita Extraviada, we went there and then we came back and came back and came back many times. I can't say I gained their trust; they became my friends. They knew that I wanted to help them so they would tell me the things that they wanted me to know and the world to know.

Anderson: Is it sometimes the case that people need to be encouraged to say the things they want to say?

Portillo: I did that once and it was really tragic. Not really tragic; it was horrible. That's a strong word. It backfired on me, y'know? But not in any film that you've seen. That's hidden. No, I don't like to do that too much.

Anderson: That sort of brings us back to Al Más Allá because the filmmaker in that film represents everything you're not describing. She's not sincere. She's not looking for the truth. Or maybe she's blinded to it?

Portillo: She's blinded to it, yeah.

Anderson: Was there something in particular that inspired her? Anyone in particular?

Portillo: Y'know, Al Más Allá is really … I think what happened—I will put it to you as a personal experience—it was my response to everything that happened with Señorita Extraviada and the self-importance and hubris that overtakes you from getting so much undue attention as a filmmaker because your subject is so compelling. I felt that I didn't deserve that. Many times I was stumbling into ideas or into the truth or into the story. Al Más Allá represents me at my lowest.

Anderson: I wouldn't have thought it was you who inspired that character.

Portillo: Yeah. Sometimes I don't know what I'm doing. Many times. It was a means of making fun of my own arrogance and my own hubris and my own self-importance that I felt was so undue. That's partly what the film is about. At the same time, we were making a film and we were looking for a story and we ran into a different story. It's all about luck, also. The film is about luck.

Anderson: Have you had that happen in a larger sense? Starting with one story and having it turn into another story? In The Devil Never Sleeps, you knew everything ahead of time but for the viewer, of course, it becomes one story opening up into another story.

Portillo: Right.

Anderson: But I've often heard of films that start out to be about one thing and turn into another. It's the difference between knowing what you've got or not.

Portillo: That's right. In Al Más Allá it was really a surprise. It just happened as we went, as we moved along, that we found this other story.

Cross-published on

Monday, April 27, 2009

SFIFF52: ADORATION—A Critical Overview and A Question For Atom Egoyan

At last year's Cannes Film Festival, Atom Egoyan's Adoration won the Ecumenical Jury Prize: the award given for movies that celebrate spiritual values. Steering The Greencine Daily at that time, David Hudson gathered the conflicted critical response from Cannes08, which bore considerable breadth. At The Hollywood Reporter, Ray Bennett praised the film's intelligence and musicality and proclaimed it "a haunting meditation on the nature of received wisdom and how it can warp individuals, damage families and even threaten society." At First Showing.Net, Marco Cerritos countered that Adoration was "full of great ideas that crash together resulting in a mediocre execution." Adoration then had its North American premiere at the 2008 Toronto International Film Festival and—upon its screening at the London International Film Festival a month later—Catherine Grant presented an extensive roundup of text, audio, and video on the film at Film Studies For Free. Adoration now sees its U.S. premiere in the World Cinema sidebar at SFIFF52.

Although Variety's Justin Chang complained that "this ambitious think-piece ultimately smothers its good intentions in didactic revelations, earnest pleading and incessant violin music" (emphasis added), for me Mychael Danna's score emotionally redeemed the muddle; being, perhaps, the one element in this narrative that I didn't have to work so hard to understand. I took the opportunity during the Q&A session following the screening to ask the following:

Michael Guillén: I'm impressed with Mychael Danna's score, which comes across as a dominant character in this ensemble. Can you speak to your collaboration with your composer?

Atom Egoyan: Mychael Danna has been scoring all of my films for several years. We have a special relationship. We are now at a point—because of the nature of the relationship—where the score is not something that is added later on; it is part of the conception of this piece. In this film because Rachel Blanchard plays a violinist, the score has that certain sound of the instrument, something ominous. There's nothing electronically treated in what you're getting at the beginning; that's all harmonics with the bows, sforzando, where the violin sounds like the lead instrument. It's a beautiful texture—very eerie—but, I wish you could have seen the musicians performing; it was just so unusual.

All these scenes and motifs that are woven in are part of the privilege of working with someone you trust. It's very tricky with a composer because everyone else is doing something that's quite technical. Your DP, designer, costume designer are actually doing something which is completely tangible; but, your composer, you're asking them—in the one-month or two-month period that they have—to be inspired. It's not like a script where you wait until it's inspired or you wait until it's ready to shoot it. Composers have to come up with that inspiration in that short period. In my book, Mychael Danna is an amazing composer.

Cross-published on

Sunday, April 26, 2009

SFIFF52: DON'T LET ME DROWN—Introductory Remarks and Q&A With Cruz Angeles and Maria Topete

"The world's insane / the paper's gone mad / but our love is a peace vibe, yes."—Laura Nyro

Introducing New Directors Prize contender
Don't Let Me Drown [site], SFFS Executive Director Graham Leggat specified that the New Directors Prize—which carries a cash award of $15,000—is singular in a number of ways. "First of all," he enumerated, "it's for debut feature narrative films. It's not for documentaries or second or third time filmmakers. It's for the freshest new talent. The competition features 11 films but each one is from a different country so—in effect—Don't Let Me Drown is the American entry."

Leggat first saw and was moved by Don't Let Me Drown at this year's
Sundance Film Festival. "It has a particular resonance for me," Leggat offered, "as it does for many people of New York City [who]—at 9:00 on September 11—[were] on the D Train crossing the Manhattan Bridge. The first plane had hit the towers so that tower was burning and the second plane hit shortly after—as I understood it—my train re-entered the tunnel. Everyone ran to the window of the train gasping. The worst thing that happened to me on that day was I got a really bad sunburn walking back across the Manhattan Bridge—it was hot so I took my shirt off—but, many people suffered greatly, as you are well aware.

"Don't Let Me Drown is smart because it doesn't look directly into the sun, so to speak. It looks just a little off to one side where the difficulty in the aftermath is taking place and it's very moving as a result. It's also tremendously funny and full of life and as authentic as the day is long with a pair of terrific performances by two young leads who are perhaps not too much younger than the creators themselves."

Director/screenwriter Cruz Angeles and producer/screenwriter Maria Topete fielded questions after the screening, beginning with Leggat's own query as to where the film came from and how it progressed?

Angeles answered that the film started right after 9/11. Under the auspices of the United Nations, he had been working with young refugees from Kosovo who had resituated to Manhattan from their war-torn country. A mere month or two after 9/11, they started cracking jokes about the people who had been photographed jumping from the towers. It rubbed Angeles the wrong way and he didn't understand what they thought was so funny so he started scolding them, momentarily forgetting that they themselves had come from a place of conflict. One of the kids replied, "Mr. Cruz, sometimes in a war you have to learn how to laugh in order to survive." The comment started him thinking. He came home to Maria and talked to her about it because—like everyone else living in New York at the time—his emotions were mixed between sorrow and anger. The kid's comment resonated for him.

Maria had grown up in a rough neighborhood in Oakland in the '80s when it was considered the murder capital of the country. He grew up in South Central Los Angeles. At that time they were both about the same age as these kids from Kosovo. Remembering that, and considering the kid's comment, they realized he had a point. When Angeles was a kid growing up in his neighborhood, he'd see yellow police tape blocking off crime scenes where pieces of brain were spattered on the sidewalk from where someone had just been shot and he and his friends would make jokes about it because that was the way they coped with it. When you're that young, the only thing that can help you forget—however briefly—the weight of stress and hardship is falling in love. A crush on a boy or a girl took your mind off the terrible things going on around you. You'd listen to music in your room and drown out all the madness. He and Maria decided they wanted to make a film set in the turbulent atmosphere following 9/11 and to focus on people who weren't in the mainstream narrative.

Leggat asked where they had found the two young actors, each quite different with varying experience? Topete responded that E.J. Bonilla (Lalo) had more experience and was with the project from day one. He even went to the Sundance Lab with them. After the Sundance Lab, E.J. was hired on the soap opera The Guiding Light. The only problem with that was that he picked up certain "tricks" on the set of the soap. They found Gleendilys Inoa (Stephanie) when she auditioned for them. She didn't really have any experience other than high school drama. Angeles added that—during the audition—when he called "action", she was horrible; but, as soon as he called "cut", she was awesome. She left the audition and Angeles turned to his producers and said, "That's Stephanie" and they were mortified because she had auditioned so poorly. They argued that he needed to look at more people but he insisted, "No, she's Stephanie." She just didn't know how to act. Rather, he had to teach her not to act; to be herself, because in herself she was the character he wanted. He had to teach both of the kids not to act, to just be, to understand that acting isn't reciting lines; that there's subtext to those lines, emotion, psychology. He worked with them for about eight weeks to get them up to speed.

One of the most beautiful things about casting them, Angeles added, was that—the minute they were in the same room—E.J. was smitten head over heels. That's when he definitely knew Gleendilys was the one because you can't buy that kind of chemistry and it was a love story after all. But he warned E.J., "You better not call her at all. You better not get her number because—if you get her number and you call her—you're fired. I'm not asking you. I want to save that for when the camera is rolling. As soon as we end production, you can do what you want."

Leggat mentioned that in an interview he'd read Angeles had acknowledged his love for Italian neorealist films and stressed how he wanted to keep the feeling raw in the film. That authenticity gave Don't Let Me Drown a feeling of "being found, not made" Leggat ventured, and he asked how Angeles kept the film raw and how he avoided veering off into something contrived?

Angeles answered that—when he was a kid and went to movies where they were allegedly representing his folks—he saw them as "cheesey" and not like his folks at all. They didn't talk the same. And in working with kids, he's learned they don't mince their words; they'll tell you straight off if something works or not and, of course, they all curse a mile a minute so including profanity in the script was important to capture the feel of the real deal. Kids might not curse in front of the teacher but they'll curse among themselves. In having worked with kids for a long while, he and Maria have frequently been reminded that adults sometimes lose sight of the value of honesty. Above all, Angeles was inspired by the street, by life, and not by other movies. It was difficult for him to be a film student at NYU because—if you didn't have a reference for the kind of film you wanted to make, if it wasn't like some other movie that had already been made—your ideas would go right over their heads. He had a hard time conveying what he wanted to do. The only thing he could really reference was the neo-realist style because it's a natural style that resonates more. Talking to his DP and his actors, he emphasized that he wanted people to feel that they were eavesdropping, like when you're sitting in the subway and listening to someone else's conversation when they don't know you're listening. That's what he wanted to get on film. That was his intent. He wanted to find a way to eavesdrop, to have a cinema verité feel to the film. "I like movies that suck me in and make me forget that I'm watching a movie," he explained.

Asked of the role of cinematography in creating mood, Angeles stated that—along with being influenced by the street—he's likewise been influenced by literature and art history, notably painting. The one thing he feels is universal in films is the conveyance of emotion, irregardless of content, details, nuances. Emotion can cross boundaries and change people. He always admired a photograph that could inspire emotion and so he aspired towards that with the images in his film. "I figure that my voice is a camera," he specified, "but I don't want my voice to interfere with the characters." Rather, he wanted to elevate what people needed to feel in order to understand the story. The filmmakers he most admires and who have influenced him create tones with their work. They have a distinctive voice without being heavy-handed. Ultimately, camera work is intuitive. If it becomes too heady and you think about it too much, you jeopardize the emotion.

I commended them on the script, colored with the language of the streets, tough, credible, authentic, pivoting around this tender love story, which—as he mentioned earlier—truly is the only way to counter tragic, irretrievable loss and an ensuing culture of fear. I asked if they could speak about the process of developing the script? Topete answered that—when they first started talking about the story—they outlined the script. Once they had an outline, they worked on their first draft. They shared it with someone who said, "This is great but it sounds like you're limiting yourself." When they were first writing the script, they were thinking of doing it as a $50,000 on-video first feature; but, their friend told them to stop thinking like producers, to write the story they wanted to write, and deal with all the rest later. They ended up writing a more involved story that included elements they originally didn't think they would have a budget for. Once they had that script, they were encouraged to submit it to the Sundance Institute. That proved to be an amazing and beneficial experience because at the Institute they had advisors who read their script and offered one-on-one feedback. That necessitated a lot of rewriting; nearly nine drafts over a five-month period.

"Writing is rewriting," Angeles emphasized. "If you don't rewrite, you won't find things." He's interested in layered narratives that explore beneath the surface. Whenever they were not working, paying bills or eating, they were writing. But they enjoyed the process. What kept them going on an emotional level was remembering that love is good medicine for hard times. They both understood that. After 9/11 people were spending a lot of time with their families for emotional strength. He and Maria kept their focus on that target. They kept working at what they wanted to say without it becoming didactic. He doesn't understand people who write a script in three weeks. He doesn't understand how that works. For him, a script has to sit for a while. It has to breathe. You have to take time off between drafts to gain perspective and keep focus. It has to incubate.

As for whether most of the dialogue was scripted or impromptu, Angeles claimed the film was about 90% scripted because—in his experience—actors don't do well on camera when asked to improvise, unless they're geniuses. Most of the dialogue for the kids was definitely scripted because what they came up with on their own was often not suitable for an audience. But the process of improvisation during rehearsal was instrumental to shaping the script. As a director, he sometimes liked to take away the script to let the actors rehearse the scene through improvisation and to hear what would come out of their mouths. Not necessarily to find dialogue for the script but so that they would become familiar enough with the scene that it didn't feel like a performance. Once their bodies understood what a scene was about, then they could return to the lines and organically take ownership over the lines, as if the lines were coming from them for the first time. Angeles opined: "The meaning to the line is more important to me than the line."

Finally, asked about what other possible endings the film might have had, Angeles immediately deferred to Topete who asserted without missing a beat, "There was only one ending. Period." Though some people had wanted them to adjust the ending and though at times Angeles was willing to do so, Maria never wavered. It was important that Stephanie pumped Lalo on the bike because—in terms of gender politics, in terms of relationships—that said something about a good relationship that might actually last, precisely for being balanced. Topete added that it was important for Stephanie not to become her mother, not to follow that pattern, and to strike out into life as her own person.

Of related interest: David Hudson culled the critical reception at Sundance for
The Daily @ IFC. To his consummate survey, I might add Reyhan Harmanci's article for SFGate; Neil Miller's rave review for Film School Rejects; Steve Ramos's review for indieWIRE; and New York Magazine's profile piece on Gleendilys Inoa.

Cross-published on

Saturday, April 25, 2009

SFIFF52: LA MISSIÓN—Opening Night Introductory Remarks

Acknowledging the many sponsors, consulates, organizations and individuals that make the San Francisco International Film Festival possible, Executive Director Graham Leggat proudly beamed that this year's opening night held special meaning for him because his older daughter Vhary—recently relocated to San Francisco from New York—was attending the festival for the first time.

"The festival," Leggat reminded, "shows 150 films from 55 countries and its stock and trade is international film. But this year we have seen an amazing vibrancy and vitality of local films in the festival. For the last 51 years, the San Francisco Film Society has been something of a high-end florist. It's taken the best films from all over the world—the flowering of world cinema—and put it in the vase of the San Francisco International Film Festival; but, last August the Film Society underwent a radical organizational transformation with an agreement with our friends from the Film Arts Foundation, which for 32 years ably and inspirationally served filmmakers in the Bay Area and around the country. The Film Society took over the stewardship of many programs the Film Arts Foundation had run—that includes fiscal sponsorship, grants and residencies, membership services, classes and workshops and so on—and for the last nine months the Film Society has … become less of a florist and more of a nursery. Part of that increased responsibility has meant getting closer to taking more responsibility for and caring more about all the wonderful filmmakers in the Bay Area. This year at the festival, we're very proud and honored to be able to carry on the Film Arts tradition and I know I speak for all our stakeholders—and especially the staff—when I say that we have never in 52 years had as much enjoyment on a day-to-day basis as we have doing more for people in the City.

"This year there are more than 30 films from Bay Area filmmakers in the festival and that includes features and shorts and it numbers among those 30-some films four Bay Area documentaries in competition, five narrative and documentary films in our Cinema by the Bay section, which includes probably what's going to be the definitive documentary on living legend Lawrence Ferlinghetti. It also includes the superb first feature I highly recommend all of you see beginning its first screening tomorrow night: Don't Let Me Drown by UC graduate Cruz Angeles and screenwriter Maria Topete. We're giving our Persistence of Vision Award this year to Lourdes Portillo. New Marin transplant Robert Redford—a local boy—will receive the Peter J. Owens Award for excellence in acting. Master filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola will be here on this stage a week from tomorrow to receive our Founders Directing Award. He will be in conversation with a few of his friends; people you might have heard of: George Lucas, Carroll Ballard, Walter Murch, Matthew Robbins and—we think—a guest appearance by a star from his upcoming film Tetro and we will show a brand-new print of the 1969 film Rain People on its 40th anniversary….

"But among all these films, dare I say none is dearer to our hearts than the film you are about to see tonight. [
La Missión is] a moving, powerful portrait of one man's struggle to overcome his inner demons. It's a film with a heart as big as the neighborhood in which it's set." Leggat then invited onto the stage La Mission's executive producer Alpita Patel and "local heroes, los hermanos" Peter and Benjamin Bratt.

On behalf of the others, Peter Bratt expressed how humbled they were to be present and thanked Leggat and the Film Society for the experience, adding: "It's truly an honor for us local boys—born and raised here just over the hill—….,"only to have Benjamin intervene, "Yo. We ain't boys anymore." Once the laughter subsided, Peter continued: "It's truly an honor to have our little local film play in an international film festival of this caliber. Before we get started, we really want to acknowledge all the filmmakers, all the artists, who helped us bring this story to life." He asked for a round of applause for all those individuals in the house.

Before rolling the film, the Bratts invited one of the elders from the Mission community—Concha Salcedo—to invoke a prayer of blessing. "When we were growing up," Peter explained, "whether it be at the Indian Center for a potluck or a march down Mission Street to the Civic Center for farmworkers' rights, whenever we gathered as a group we usually have one of our elders ask for a blessing from the spirit world. We want to bring some of that spirit from the neighborhood and bring it here tonight and share it with you. I cannot tell you how many lives and families Concha has touched with her selfless work for decades in the community—you could say in the trenches—and she was one of the first people we went to when we wanted to make the film. San Francisco, we love you and thank you very much for coming out tonight."

The Castro Theatre then filled with the scent of burning copal as Concha Salcedo, accompanied by concheros in full Aztec regalia—feathered penachos/copilli, maaxtlas, faldas and taparabos, and rattling anklets—conscripted the space of the theatre and evoked spiritual blessing for La Missión's West Coast premiere.

Of related interest: Susan Gerhard's write-up for
SF360 and red carpet photos of opening night from WireImage. Photo of Peter and Benjamin Bratt on the SFIFF52 red carpet courtesy of Getty Images.

Cross-published on

Thursday, April 23, 2009

SFIFF52—For The Love of Movies: The Story of American Film Criticism

I take two big gulps of black coffee this morning. First, because the Cannes line-up has been officially announced (and it's downright thrilling), and second and most immediately, because the 52nd edition of the San Francisco International Film Festival launches this evening at San Francisco's majestic movie palace The Castro Theatre with the West Coast premiere of Peter Bratt's La Mission, followed by an opening night party at Bruno's and a rare opportunity to party among the ruins of El Capitan, one of the jewels of yesteryear's Miracle Mile. I take a third gulp to chase those two down.

Although I've already offered a few previews for SFIFF52, I'd like to officially begin my coverage with comments on what I consider to be one of the most prescient, fascinating and must-see selections in SFIFF52's line-up: the West Coast premiere of Boston Phoenix critic Gerald Peary's For The Love of Movies: The Story of American Film Criticism, presented in association with the San Francisco Film Critics Circle and in conjunction with the related panel "A Critical Moment", convening on Sunday, May 3, 6:00PM, following the 3:45PM screening of Peary's documentary.

SF360 editor Susie Gerhard's cogent program capsule warrants replication in full: For a century, film critics have separated the wheat from the chaff and made the case for great films. But who will make the case for these bleary-eyed, ink-stained devotees? Boston Phoenix film critic Gerald Peary sharply evaluates the history of critical-analytical writing on moving pictures in this stimulating tour through the rise, fall and reorientation of film criticism in the United States: Early silent-era plot summarizers give way to the daily newspaper reviewers of the '30s, replaced by auteur-theory debaters of the '60s, succeeded in turn by the alt-weekly thinkers of the '70s who, finally, face extinction via the past decade's upsurge in bloggers. Peary's documentary begins by calling film criticism "a profession under siege," but this is no strident whine from a victim class. It's a smart look at key figures and how they've changed public consciousness of both the movies and criticism itself. Peary prioritizes the wry over the dry, even giving Andrew Sarris the opportunity to dish on his adversary Pauline Kael, who was not above gay-baiting her rival in the early stages. (His retort: "I took one look at Pauline, and she was not Katharine Hepburn.") In addition to the iconic Sarris, interviewees include The New Republic's stately Stanley Kauffmann, self-starting phenom Harry Knowles (aintitcoolnews), pop-and-academic theorist B. Ruby Rich, Boston Globe daily reviewer Wesley Morris, the Los Angeles Times's sometimes embattled Kenneth Turan and breakthrough newspaper-to-TV critic Roger Ebert. Few opinions are shared, but all stand shoulder-to-shoulder on a broad and abiding love of film.

As one among the "upsurge of bloggers" prevailing among film commentary, For the Love of Movies' first appeal was the opportunity to attach faces to names; an opportunity amplified by the film's own website. Some of these individuals—Molly Haskell, Elvis Mitchell, B. Ruby Rich, Jonathan Rosenbaum, Richard Schickel—I've had the great honor of meeting, interviewing and in some cases—dare I say?—befriending. Further, in contrast to the misguided notion that bloggers are out to usurp the critical establishment, I hold these writers in great regard, have learned and continue to learn from them, even as we all move forward into the uncertain (and exciting, precisely for that) future of film criticism.

Past the who's-who allure of Peary's documentary—and much more importantly—the film structures its examination of the history of American film criticism in a thorough and engaging manner, situating the practice such that—as David Bordwell asserts—"In all, For the Love of Movies offers a concise, entertaining account of mass-market movie criticism, and I think a lot of universities would want to use it in film and journalism courses." Bordwell caught the film at the Hong Kong International and—apart from its topical interest—the film set him thinking: "Is love of movies enough to make someone a good critic? It's a necessary condition, surely, but is it sufficient?" In contrast to The Beatles' optimistic insistence that "all you need is love", Bordwell counters that "Exemplary critics try for more: analysis and interpretation, ideas and information, lucidity and nuance." He emphasizes that "the problem may be that film criticism, in both print and the net, is currently short on information and ideas. Not many writers bother to put films into historical context, to analyze particular sequences, to supply production information that would be relevant to appreciating the movies. Above all, not many have genuine ideas—not statements of judgments, but notions about how movies work, how they achieve artistic value, how they speak to larger concerns. The One Big Idea that most critics have is that movies reflect their times. This, I've suggested at painful length, is no idea at all."

One of the film's most arresting examinations is the well-known "conflict" between Andrew Sarris and Pauline Kael, which Bordwell argues matters because "they represented alternative ideas of cinema. Sarris wanted to show, in the vein of Cahiers, that film was an expressive medium comparable in richness and scope to the other arts. One way to do that (not the only way) was to show that artists had mastered said medium. Kael, perhaps anticipating trends in Cultural Studies, argued that cinema's importance lay in being opposed to high art and part of a raucous, occasionally vulgar popular culture. This dispute isn't only a matter of taste or jockeying for power: It is genuinely about something bigger than the individual movie."

Jonathan Rosenbaum concurs to the educational value of Peary's documentary but objects to one particular chapter heading—"When Criticism Mattered (1968-1980)"—which he reads "as a generational marker of sorts" and that—though he and Peary belong to the same generation—suggests there is a world of difference in how they relate to that fact. Though Bordwell asserts an argument could be made "that print reviewers, by becoming less idea-driven, paved the way for DIY criticism on the net", Rosenbaum carefully avoids setting one against the other. "My own experience, for whatever it's worth, is that criticism matters a great deal to some young hard-core cinephiles today, and in very much the same way that criticism mattered to some young hard-core cinephiles between 1968 and 1980. Among the key differences are the facts that this criticism is often found today in different places (i.e., on the Internet and much less often in libraries), that there's considerably more of it (including academic stuff, omitted from Peary's survey), that whether or not it's American is of little consequence (though whether or not it's in English is vital), and that it's about many more films than anyone could have possibly had access to between 1968 and 1980."

Of the many interesting personalities profiled in Peary's documentary, I was particularly struck by the comments of Lisa Schwarzbaum who came to film criticism after successfully pursuing other careers and who—in offering advice to up-and-coming film critics—extolled the value of acquiring genuine life experience to temper one's critical appreciation of film, sagely cautioning for a healthy balance between immersion in film and non-film-related interests. It amused me that she valued friends who had little interest in film, precisely for the variance of perspective they could bring to the table of friendship. Her experience at film writing perhaps speaks best for mine.

I'm excited to catch For the Love of Movies at a public screening to witness what, I imagine, will be a fruitful discussion afterwards, as Peary is accompanying the film to San Francisco, and will be taking part in the panel "A Critical Moment" afterwards. That panel will address the now-familiar downsizing of daily newspapers and the disappearance of the most prominent voices in film criticism who are (allegedly) being replaced by the democratizing discourse of the Internet. "What will the future of criticism look like in the blog-and-Twitter era?" the panel asks, as it looks at both the crisis and opportunities brought about by the transformation in written media content and delivery, how this transformation will effect audiences, the art itself, and the people who've been practicing film criticism professionally for the past decades.

Along with Gerald Peary, panelists will include John Anderson, David D'Arcy, Jonathan Curiel, Dennis Harvey, Mary F. Pols, and B. Ruby Rich, moderated by Susan Gerhard. My only regret is that the panel—in its focus on the travails of the old guard—fails to include individuals from the online sector. Contrary to presumption, this is as much a critical moment for them.

05/14/09 UPDATE: It didn't time out for me to interview Peary while he was in San Francisco accompanying For the Love of Movies, and—though we talked some about following through with a phoner—I'm willing to concede to Chris Fujiwara's interview with Peary for the current issue of Undercurrent. I doubt I could possibly improve on that conversation.

Cross-published on

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Michael Hawley Looks Ahead

I usually turn to Brian Darr at Hell on Frisco Bay to keep apprised of upcoming film-related events in the San Francisco/Bay Area, but as his entries at that site have become infrequent—no doubt because he's avidly working on his essay and slide show for this summer's upcoming San Francisco Silent Film Festival—I turn to Michael Hawley and film-415 to nudge me towards this screening or that. My thanks to Michael for sharing his previews with The Evening Class.

* * *

With the 52nd SF International Film Festival kicking off tomorrow evening at the Castro Theatre, it seems almost gluttonous to be peering past May 7. But several Bay Area venues and festivals have announced upcoming film programs which merit an immediate look-see.

Just when you thought Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (YBCA) film/video curator Joel Shepard couldn't possibly top the giddy diversity of his recent programming, he marshals a line-up like this one. I zeroed right in on two important films I'd hoped to find in the SFIFF, but didn't—Hong Sang-soo's Night and Day and Philippe Garrel's Frontier of Dawn. Like Asian directors Tsai Ming-liang and Hou Hsiou-hsien before him, Korean director Hong has sent his characters on a sojourn to Paris. Night and Day's protagonist is said to be typically Hong-ian; a cluelessly boorish 45-year-old married artist who flees a messy drug scandal in Seoul, only to entangle himself with several younger female Korean ex-pats in the City of Lights. (May 21, 22 and 24)

Following through on last year's double bill of Philippe Garrel rarities I Don't Hear the Guitar Anymore and The Virgin's Bed, YBCA now brings us the director's 2008 Cannes competition entry Frontier of Dawn. As with 2005's Regular Lovers, Garrel is working once more in B&W and with his impossibly handsome son, Louis. Garrel fils stars as a photographer hired to shoot an unhinged actress with whom he falls in love. She ends up in the nuthouse and commits suicide, and a year later her ghost impedes on his relationship with a new woman. The film has gotten very mixed reactions as it's traveled the fest circuit, so I'm grateful to YBCA for giving me the chance to see for myself. (And perhaps if we're lucky, YBCA will get around to bringing us Louis Garrel's second outing with director Christophe Honoré, 2008's La belle personne.) (May 14 and 17)

In the documentary The Upsetter: The Life and Music of Lee Scratch Perry, directors Ethan Higbee and Adam Bhala Lough profile one of contemporary music's undisputed geniuses. Perry was instrumental in transforming Jamaican ska into the music we know as reggae, as well as being sole creator of the stripped-down, reverb-heavy sound known as dub. He produced many of the greats, from Bob Marley to The Clash, as well as his own legacy of solo sonic experimentations (earning him the nickname "The Salvador Dali of Reggae"). Unfortunately, it's a musical success story that devolves all too familiarly into a tale of drug abuse and madness. (April 24 and 25)

Francine Parker's F.T.A. (a.k.a. Free the Army or Fuck the Army) documents Jane Fonda and Donald Sutherland's tour of Pacific Rim army bases during the height of the Vietnam War. Accompanied by other actors and musicians like Peter Boyle, Steve Jaffe and Holly Near, their satiric sketch comedy/musical revue aimed at getting soldiers to speak out against the war. Interestingly, the film opened in U.S. theaters the same week Fonda made her infamous trip to Hanoi. It was "mysteriously" yanked from cinemas after a seven-day run and made to disappear—until now. F.T.A. screens on May 7 as part of a program called "Coming Apart: Two Views of 1972"; that other view being Wes Craven's original Last House on the Left. (May 9)

Arguably one of the most anticipated film at this year's Cannes Film Festival is Quentin Tarantino's remake of the cult WWII action adventure flick The Inglourious Basterds with Brad Pitt. Days after either winning or not winning the Palme d'or, YBCA audiences will have a rare opportunity to see the 1978 original starring Bo Svenson and Fred Williamson. This first version is about a gang of condemned army criminals who get a shot at redemption—by volunteering for a commando suicide mission behind enemy lines. (May 29 and 31). Finally (and totally unrelated) on May 30 YBCA presents a program of classic Laurel and Hardy shorts, including Men O'War, Their First Mistake and Busy Bodies.

Over the past year the SF Museum of Modern Art has become an increasingly important venue for Bay Area repertory programming, featuring both themed series (May '68, Dystopia) and comprehensive tributes (Derek Jarman, Chantal Akerman). Up next is a two-month retrospective of maverick photographer/filmmaker Robert Frank, arguably best known for his 1972 Rolling Stones tour documentary Cocksucker Blues. SFMOMA's tribute to Frank includes 18 of the 21 films listed in his IMdb profile—but alas, Cocksucker isn't one of them. The film last screened here at the 1998 SFIFF with Frank in person, a stipulation that was part of the director's original court settlement with the Stones over copyright ownership. The film series appears in conjunction with a SFMOMA exhibit celebrating the 50th anniversary of The Americans, Frank's seminal work of American photography. The exhibit will feature all 83 photographs from the book (out of the 28,000 he took while traveling across the U.S. from 1955 to 1957), exhibited in the order in which they appeared therein. The film retrospective runs from May 2 to June 27, and the exhibit "Looking In: Robert Frank's 'The Americans' " can be seen from May 16 to August 23. In other exciting museum film news, the Nagisa Oshima retrospective that's been touring North America for the past year is finally coming to the Berkeley Art Museum's Berkeley Art Museum's Pacific Film Archive in May/June.

The Frameline festival and SF Jewish Film Festival have recently revealed tidbits of what we might expect from their annual events in June and July respectively. Getting my attention big-time was the announcement that Little Joe, the Joe Dallesandro documentary which had its world premiere at Berlin, will get a Frameline screening with Joe himself in attendance. Also expected are new films from inveterate Frameline favorites John Greyson, Monika Treut, and duo Olivier Ducastel and Jacques Martineau. Some personal anticipated highlights of the SFJFF are Empty Nest, the latest from Argentine director Daniel Burman (Family Law, Lost Embrace), and Defamation, another controversial work from Israeli documentarian Yoav Shamir (Checkpoint, Flipping Out). The festival's Freedom of Expression Award will go to Aviva Kempner (The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg) and there'll be a tribute to the Ma'aleh Jerusalem film school.

Cross-published on
film-415 and Twitch.