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Karlovy Vary Film Festival 2010

The old town of Karlsbad two hours west of Prague is sleepy most of the year. It’s a place for spa treatments, and most of the patients areMaria de Mederios old. So is the best architecture in Karlovy Vary.

German was the language of this resort town. Mozart visited and his music was performed here. During the days of communism, the hotels were filled with guests from “fraternal” Arab countries. They still return in the summer. These days the new visitors are Russians. The former occupiers, for whom furs and jewelry are the new uniform, have bought up property. They support a restored Russian Orthodox church with an excellent choir and they fill the tables at the Casino at the Hotel Pupp.

They also fill screenings of Russian films at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival (July 2 - 10, 2010). Nikita Mikhalkov (Burnt by the Sun) and Alexei Popogrebsky (How I Ended This Summer) were two of the Russian directors who made the trip this summer.

The Russians have driven up prices here, to the contentment of the local merchants. They could soon be filming their movies here, as could Hollywood studios, thanks to a new 20% rebate on money spent, intended to incentivize a lagging industry. Yet Karlovy Vary remains a place where you can get a great massage for $30 and a great beer for $1.50.

The film at Karlovy Vary that you weren’t likely to see anywhere else was Hitler In Hollywood by the Belgian director Frederic Stojcher. It’s a mockumentary about an international conspiracy to destroy European cinema, and the film is in the form of an investigative journey by Maria de Medeiros (one of many stars in Quentin Tarentino's Pulp Fiction) and Micheline Presle (the octogenarian who was a glamorous actress in French post-war cinema). 

Read more: Karlovy Vary Film Festival 2010

19th NYJFF opens at the Walter Reade

The 19th New York Jewish Film Festival opens at the Walter Reade with Ludi Boekens' Saviors In The Night / Unter Bauern. Nineteen years already? Amazing. That's how long the increasingly popular NYJFF has been entertaining/awakening us. This year's program, opening tomorrow at the Film Society of Lincoln Center's Walter Reade Theater, offers a total of 32 features and shorts from 13 countries.

Among its delights are two films I have seen, along with many that I haven't, so I'll tell you now about the opening night attraction, making its debut tomorrow, Wednesday, January 13 -- for two showings only: 1 pm and 6:15.

Read more: 19th NYJFF opens at the Walter...

The Topp Twins: Untouchable Girls

The Topp Twins: Untouchable Girls
June 10th @ 7.30pm Poster for the Topp Twins film
SVA Theatre, Chelsea, New York
Newfest June 3 - 13, 2010
(Encore screening Sunday, June 13 - 7.30pm)

On June 10th, as part of NewFest 2010, The Topp Twins: Untouchable Girls premiered at the SVA Theater in Chelsea, followed by a performance and Q&A. It proved to be a remarkable documentary not just for the style in which it was made, but for the subjects it documented -- New Zealand's Topp Twins, Jools and Lynda, a very talented and remarkable set of sisters. This duo can be described as comedians, entertainers, singers, songwriters, army veterans, political activists and yodelers. Yet they always maintain the earthiness of farm girls raised in a small country town. And both happen to be lesbians.

This inspiring film not only illustrates their lives as performers, but also as activists who protested apartheid when the segregated South African rugby team visited their country in 1981; demonstrated against visits by nuclear powered navy ships, and fought for the land rights due the Maori, New Zealand's indigenous people. They also fought for the 1986 Homosexual Law Reform Bill. After the screening with the twins in attendance, they explained further about the things captured in the documentary. Said Lynda to the audience after the screening, “It was best to chant and sing during these demonstrations rather than talk; it gave unity to the group."

And added Jools, "We were in the fighting spirit in our country at a time of major changes. Just stand up and when you simply stand there people will go with you."

This documentary traces their lives since the 1980s, from their days as teenage buskers -- street musicians who perform for change -- to success as local television stars and touring musicians playing to sold out houses from Australia to Scotland.

But the most somber scenes from the film deal with Jools' breast cancer struggle, her treatment, and recovery. The film poignantly shows Lynda hugging Jools while she undergoes chemotherapy session. Yes this is also a love story.

As twins, the film shows that they have a love and unique dynamic that, despite both enjoying long-term relationships with loving partners, During the Q&Ademonstrate that they are spiritually inseparable.

“God forbid if anything or anyone comes between us," explained Lynda. "We never question our link with each other, we always make something fun, because it’s not a career, it’s a lifestyle."

In the film, Jools and Lynda recalled traveling from one small New Zealand town to another in a caravan drawn by a tractor. Said Jools, “It was so slow and tedious that we would travel 40 kilometers and decided we had enough, but some of those farming towns had not seen a live show since the early 1950s so we carried on and it was a great experience."  

Their outrageous characters have become beloved in New Zealand and beyond. From performing as "The Two Kens" to often bewildered (yet amused) audiences of steelworkers and farmers, or playing their female alter egos as Camp Mother and Camp Leader, the Bowling Ladies or posh socialite sisters -- Prue and Dilly -- they are always spot-on hilarious.

Later, Jools states to the audience during the Q&A, “We don't like to make distinctions in social and gender roles, rather evolve these characters evolve to capture people's imaginations.”

Released in April 2009, the film has taken in nearly two million NZ dollars at local box offices, making it the top documentary film ever released in that country. It had its premiere at the 2009 Toronto International Film Festival, where it [yes/no?] won the Cadillac People’s Choice Award for Best Documentary - beating out a Michael Moore film. To "Topp" it all off, the documentary won the Best Doc Award at NewFest 2010 as well.Topp Twins Live [photo: Carmella Belle]

Following the screening, The Topps performed on stage their songs "Untouchable Girls" and "Graffiti Raiders," and did a short yodeling demonstration. They had started yodeling since they were five, practicing on their horses when riding home -- influenced by Australian Pasty Montana and American Shirley Thoms. Reminiscing on their adolescence, the Twins captivated the audience with comical stories of busking on the streets to singing in university café’s showing their love of being live performers.  

This feature deserved the accolades it has gotten not only because it is such an outstanding film, but because The Topp Twins are true stars. Their humor, warmth and honesty not only cause laughs but also makes us experience their love of humanity and sense of commonality with people of all nationalities, ethnicities, genders and orientations.

Four Standouts at the Cannes Film Festival

The most subdued Cannes Film Festival in recent memory ended May 23, but a few entries are sticking with me. The following comprise my fabulous foursome.
Inside Job
Charles Ferguson's evisceration of the crooked bankers and pundits who led us to financial disaster gets my nod for best film -- even if it didn't screen in competition. His in-your-face camera made subjects squirm to provide accountability for the 2008 crash and our ongoing woes. Their hemming and hawing will stoke your rage, and Inside Job's meticulous breakdown of how we got screwed might make you the smartest guy in the room.
Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps
Big-studio slickness meets real-life fiscal sickness in Oliver Stone's recession-set follow to his 1987 Wall Street. The "greed is good"-spouting Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas) emerges from prison to confront a world where he says, "greed is now legal." This is his cue to chew up some scenery (in a good way) and figure out how to manipulate his long-estranged daughter (Carey Mulligan) and her fiancé Jake (Shia LaBeouf), the earnest hedge-funder. Lots of longing looks at tall buildings and a story about avarice told with heart.
The Strange Case of Angelica

Beyond a curiosity for its 101-year-old director, Manoel de Oliveira, the film beguiled with old-fashioned pacing and a timeless tale of an outcast. Isaac (Ricardo Trepa), a Jewish refugee in Portugal after World War II, is called in the wee hours to photograph a beautiful bride (Pilar Lopez de Ayala) who has just died. Her image comes alive for him as Isaac mopes his way through daily life in an all-Catholic village. He pines for the dead . Without supernatural silliness, de Oliveira makes us believe that Isaac might be able to have her.
Blue Valentine

It's very Sundance-y and very good. Director Derek Cianfrance trains his camera on an unraveling marriage. Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams are the couple, locking horns in semi-verité moments that'll make you cringe. Blue Valentine is not a feel-good movie; it's a feel-good-about-movies movie.

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