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Film Festivals

New Directors/New Films 2016 Offers Surprises

Cameraperson

Once again The Film Society of Lincoln Center and The Museum of Modern Art join forces to complete another lineup for the 45th annual New Directors/New Films Festival (ND/NF), running March 16 - 27, 2016.

Since 1972, the festival has been an annual New York City spring event for cinephiles sometimes offering exciting discoveries from around the world. Other times it has confounded film fans. Dedicated to offering new works by emerging talent, this year’s fest screens 27 features and 10 short films.

Babak Anvari’s debut Under the Shadow opens the festival with a story of a mother and daughter haunted by a sinister, largely unseen presence during the Iran-Iraq War. It supposedly has a mounting sense of dread until its ominous finish. A breakout hit at Sundance, Indiewire’s Eric Kohn called it, “the first great horror movie of the year.”

Well, I missed it but not the closing night selection — Kirsten Johnson’s Cameraperson, a chronicle of the cinematographer-turned-director’s life through her collaborations with documentarians such as Laura Poitras, Michael Moore, and others. A disjointed memoir, Johnson’s first solo directorial effort offered snippets of films I’d would have rather seen than this doc, but it did display some outtakes of worthy films and for that alone, viewing her compilation was worth it.

It was one of nine festival features and four shorts directed by women, several of those made for a time well spent.

Films seen in New Directors/New Films are usually more of mixed bag than most of the festival featured at either MoMA or The Film Society — maybe because of the programming cross-pollination. That notwithstanding, there’s usually enough discoveries to outweigh the films that confuse or dismay.

And I missed several of the bigger buzz films such as Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg’s Sundance Grand Jury Prizewinner Weiner as well as Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s Happy Hour, for which the main cast shared Locarno’s Best Actress award. But others caught my attention.

Disregarding those films which seemed far less than the guide’s description suggested, I was taken with the following three women-centric films.

The Fits
Anna Rose Holmer
USA, 2015, 72m
Though this debut feature isn’t entirely successful, it presents enough mystery and intrigue to engage a viewer long enough to take them to its conclusion. Detailing a transition from girlhood to womanhood, Holmer depicts 11-year-old Toni’s journey of discovery (Royalty Hightower) as a young boxer drawn to dancers training at the same rec center in Cincinnati. She joins one of the troupes, The Lionesses, and becomes immersed in their world. The film successfully conveys her challenge to become part of the group and then a mysterious, convulsive condition begins to afflict her team. Set within the intimate confines of familiar settings — the public school, the gym and its grounds — The Fits tries to intertwine two confusing story lines as one to some curious effect. This Oscilloscope release is worth looking into even with its flaws.


Kill-me-pleaseKill Me Please Mate-me por favor
Anita Rocha da Silveira
Brazil/Argentina, 2015, 101m, Portuguese with English subtitles
Anita Rocha da Silveira’s starts out with a predictable coming-of-age story that becomes something else entirely. Again intriguing but not quite successful, the film’s passive/aggressive sexuality turns from teenage angst to becoming some kind of strange slasher flick. Set in Rio de Janeiro’s Barra da Tijuca —a new upper-middle-class neighborhood of thoroughfares, malls, and white condos — a clique of teen girls become captivated by a series of gruesome murders. Bia (Valentina Herszage) really becomes obsessed and mayhem ensues. Though there’s nods to many classic such as Brian De Palma’s Carrie, Jacques Tourneur’s Cat People, and David Lynch’s entire oeuvre, da Silveira’s isn’t quite yet up to these stars of the genre.

Mountain / Ha'har
Yaelle Kayam
Denmark/Israel, 2015, 83m, Hebrew with English subtitles
In this Israeli production, a Jewish Orthodox woman, Zvia, lives on the grounds of an ancient cemetery with her four children and her disaffected husband, a Yeshiva teacher who pays little attention to her. Kayam's debut transforms this portrait of an isolated woman into something far more insidious. On a late night walk through the tombstones, Zvia encounters a group of prostitutes and their handlers -- she becomes fascinated with them, turning into a voyeuristic bystander to their sexual activities, even bringing them home-cooked meals in order to connect with them. Actress Shani Klein’s performance addresses clichés with a finesse that’s hard to describe.

New Directors/New Films 2016
March 16, 2016 – March 27, 2016

The Roy and Niuta Titus Theaters
The Museum of Modern Art
11 W 53rd St, New York, NY 10019

Walter Reade Theater
165 W 65th St.
New York, NY 10023

 

Japan Sings on Silver Screen at Japan Society

Memories of Matsuko

Sometimes bizarre, sometimes uplifting, sometimes heartbreaking, but always charming, the musicals of Japanese cinema are often overlooked, but have a style all their own. And now the Japan Society (333 E 47th St, New York, NY) will be doing its own retrospective on Japan’s musical history (in glorious 35mm) with Japan Sings! The Japanese Musical Film, running April 8 - 23. Featuring ten films, the festival focuses primarily on the teen idol films of the 1950s and 60’s, but also pre-war musical films, and some of the more offbeat musicals to emerge from the 2000s. And since most of the films being shown are not available on DVD in the US, you better catch this festival while you can.

Series curator,  Michael Raine (Assistant Professor of Film Studies at Western University, Canada) says"Seeing and hearing the tradition of musical films in Japanese cinema gives us a different view of Japanese popular culture that is smart as well as silly and sometimes devastating, too. In the 20th century, American culture became global culture: Japanese filmmakers faced up to that geopolitical fact with a mix of homage and parody that also sometimes offered audiences a way of understanding their place in the world."

 

succeedThe films being shown are:

  • You Can Succeed, Too
    (Introduction by Michael Raine, series curator. Followed by the opening night party)
    The closest Japanese cinema ever came to the full-blown Broadway style musical, with singing and dancing on the streets of Tokyo, music by avant-garde composer and jazzman Toshiro Mayuzumi, lyrics by renowned poet Shuntaro Tanikawa, and direction by one of Toho's most prominent "new wave" directors, Eizo Sugawa. Popular jazz drummer and actor Frankie Sakaistars in this comic version of the "industrial competition" genre: two tourism companies compete for foreign clients in the run up to the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. Highlighting the coming internationalization of Japan, the film dramatizes the felt tensions between tradition and modernity, the pressures of the "economic animal" lifestyle, and the energy of high economic growth. Not available on DVD.

 

  • So Young, So Bright
    Originally published in and sponsored by the "song and movie entertainment magazine" Heibon, this musical comedy starred three of the most popular young singers in 1950s Japan: Hibari Misora, Chiemi Eri, and Izumi Yukimura. The film makes light of sentimental Japanese melodramas as well as American musicals, featuring Hibari and Chiemi as unlikely high school friends who try to rescue apprentice geisha Izumi from the clutches of a predatory businessman. The most popular film with a modern setting made in 1955, the film’s American melodies with Japanese lyrics established the "three girl" film format as well as the "made-in-Japan teenage pops" that eventually became the J-Pop music we know today. Not available on DVD.

 

  • The Stormy Man
    Yujiro Ishihara, the biggest male film and singing star in postwar Japan, plays a rough drummer given his big break by female talent manager Mie Kitahara. A series of love triangles set within the Tokyo music scene plays out in moody Eastmancolor, but this film is less noir than male melodrama: the central problem is neither corruption nor romance but the lack of a mother's love. Yujiro is both lover and fighter, performing self-assertion and sexual prowess for male and female audiences in conformist Japan. Directed by Umetsugu Inoue, one of the major directors of postwar musicals, who even inserted song and dance performances into his action films. Not available on DVD.

 bomb

  • Singing Lovebirds 
    A tie-up with the Teichiku record company starring jazz singers Dick Mine and Tomiko Hattori alongside singer-actress Haruyo Ichikawa and sword film superstar Chiezo Kataoka. This love quadrangle between a masterless samurai and three eligible suitors was marketed with the tagline "a rare operetta in which jazz bursts into the period film." As an operetta, characters speak in song (including Ichikawa's father, played by Takashi Shimura, the leader of Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai), but the film is also musical in its utopian claim that the only authentic thing in the world is not traditional culture, or money, but love. Directed by Makino Masahiro, perhaps the most prolific director of musical films in Japan.  Not available on DVD.



  • Twilight Saloon
    Tomu Uchida's second comeback film, after staying in China since World War II. Isamu Kosugi plays an alcoholic painter who quit painting when he realized his wartime work was propaganda. He bears witness to intersecting narratives that all take place on a single set, a cheap saloon featuring records and live performance. Gliding long takes and long shots, layered in depth, create a visual cross-section of postwar Japanese society in which classical opera, military marches, folk, and pop songs articulate the political, social, and sexual tensions between groups as well as reveal the interiority of each character. An all-star allegory of postwar Japan as seen by a war returnee. Not available on DVD.



  • Oh, Bomb!
    Toho new wave director Kihachi Okamoto tests the limits of the musical comedy in this experimental "rhythm film" that incorporates Japanese forms of musical performance such asnaniwabushi and Buddhist chant, as well as direct references to West Side Story. The zany revenge plot follows the great Japanese character actor Yunosuke Ito as an old-school yakuza replaced by his former underling. There's also a chauffeur with dreams of the big time and a sidekick who just loves dynamite, but what ties everything together is a musicality that extends to the editing rhythm of the film itself. Oh, Bomb! Was given a roadshow presentation in 1964, in a double bill with Hiroshi Teshigahara’s Woman in the Dunes. Not available on DVD.



  • Irresponsible Era of Japan
    The Crazy Cats comic jazz band and their featured singer Hitoshi Ueki did not invent the local genre of the "salaryman" comedy but they were its ubiquitous face in the 1960s. Some of the first big stars of the new medium of television, they brought standing-room-only audiences to a cinema in decline. This film established Ueki's comic persona as a salaryman who would goof off at work and yet somehow always come out ahead, every so often bursting into one of his well-known Japanese folk-inflected songs while dancing something like the twist. The first in a series of "Irresponsible" films whose comic songs formed the soundtrack of Japan's high economic growth. Not available on DVD.

 

  • A Treatise on Japanese Bawdy Songs (aka Sing a Song of Sex)
    Nagisa Oshima uses pop singer Ichiro Araki to depict the "obscenity" of underclass desire. Four male and three female students from a provincial city accompany their teacher to Tokyo to take university entrance exams. The teacher dies and one of the boys may be the culprit. But the film is less a narrative than a collage of scenes about power imbalance: between city and country, young and old, rich and poor, Japan and Korea. Taking a hint from Twilight Saloon, Oshima uses song to mark out different social positions, from wartime naval trainees and university radicals to ethnic minorities and resentful adolescents. The question is who gets to sing, and what.

 treatise

  • The Happiness of the Katakuris
    Based on a non-musical Korean film— The Quiet Family by another genre-mixing filmmaker, Jae Woon KimTakashi Miike uses the increasing absurdity of this comedy-horror-musical to explore the state of the Japanese family after the collapse of the economic boom that underpinned the popular song film. The film's claymation opening sequence and bleak narrative of a downsized salaryman opening a B&B in the country presents contemporary life as a hopeless cycle of exploitation, but the performance of the film's lo-fi musical numbers by a cast that includes Kenji Sawada, star of several "group sounds" musical films in the 1960s, highlights a nostalgia for intimacy and optimism. The New York Times wrote, “Mr. Miike is celebrated for his ‘anything goes’ style of filmmaking, and certainly anything and everything goes here,” and the A. V. Club called it, “A joyously demented musical-comedy built on a macabre foundation, like The Sound of Music with a kickline of corpses.” Rated R.

 

  • Memories of Matsuko
    Another darkly hilarious film about family—the desire for recognition and the pain of its refusal. Cute digital effects and gaudy musical numbers belie a story of abuse that has much in common with Kenji Mizoguchi's Life of Oharu. Matsuko (Miki Nakatani of the Ring franchise) is found beaten to death in poor suburb of Tokyo. Alienated from her family, her life is dismissed as meaningless until her loser nephew, tasked with cleaning up her apartment, starts to piece it together. The musical interludes transform everyday exploitation into an ironic utopia that only accentuates the overwhelming emotional suffering of the rest of the film. Time Out London called it, “Astounding: yes, it’s vibrantly, often toe-curlingly, bright. But it’s also stunningly inventive, crammed with ideas and emotional truth, high on the possibilities of cinema."

 

For more information, go to http://www.japansociety.org/

Japan  Sings! The Japanese Musical Film
April 8 - 23, 2016

The Japan Society
333 E 47th St.
New York, NY 10017

 

Socially Relevant Film Festival Returns for Third Year

Dance Iranian Style

Now in it’s third year, the rising Socially Relevant Film Festival (March 14 - 20, 2016) has its own blend of panels, documentaries, features, and shorts tackling a range of issues in today’s society in its mission to promote social change through the power of cinema.

Addressing genocide, sexuality, race, and identity, the Socially Relevant film fest assembles filmmakers from around the world for its hard-hitting themes and stories.

Documentaries include:

  • Who Killed the Armenians?
    Dir. Mohamed Hanafy Nasr
    Filmed in three countries: Egypt, Armenia and Lebanon, Who Killed the Armenians? unearths rare footage and interviews related to the genocide of the Armenian people during World War I.
  • The Neighborhood that Disappeared
    Dir. Mary Paley
    In 1962, one of the most massive urban renewal projects in American history sterilized the cultural and ethnic heart of Albany, New York. An arrangement made by first term Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller and longtime Albany Mayor, Erastus Corning the 2nd, displaced almost eight per cent of the City's diverse population, razed more than a thousand buildings, dislodged 3,600 households, and closed 350 businesses.
  • The Sex Temple
    Dir. Johan Palmgren
    Christian runs a swingers club in Norrkoping, Sweden. He has just experienced a catastrophe. The club has burnt to the ground. He meets Robin, the owner of the beautiful old theatre in town just about to start a LGBTQ burlesque show, inspired by the Moulin Rouge in Paris, in an effort to attract audiences and solve the theatre’s deficit. Having tenants in the empty cellar seems to be an excellent idea and the two new friends cooperate to bring new life to the theatre, while the townsfolk of Norrkoping are in rage against the upcoming Sex Temple.

 Narrative features include:

  • Caged No More
    Dir. Lisa Arnold
    A 67 year old Cajun woman, discovers that her two goddaughters have disappeared. She risks everything to cross paths with two of the wealthiest and most connected people in New Orleans through a laptop left behind, the only clue that she possesses. Even with their help, no one can foresee the dangers that lie ahead in the dark world of trafficking.
  • Before Spring
    Dir. Ahmed Atef
    A young blogger who lost both eyes during the Egyptian Revolution recounts in flashback the story of the Spring that has finally come to his country. He tells how he and his friends were able to move a mountain. His insight, which often surpassed his ability to see, predicted the coming Egyptian Revolution. This film is based on the true story of five young activist bloggers who should receive the greatest credit for inspiring the Egyptian Revolution.
  • Dance Iranian Style
    Dir. Farshad Aria
    After her refugee claim is denied by the Dutch Immigration Service, Roya, a young Iranian girl is forced to enter an illegal life on the streets of Amsterdam. Attempting to capture the experiences of an illegal refugee, the crew follows Roya from a distance. Entirely shot in Amsterdam, in a film-within-a-film storytelling structure, the film develops through an improvisational work style where fiction and reality interweave.

 There will also be panels and workshops addressing issues like low-budget production and distribution, the applications of virtual reality to filmmaking and documentary storytelling.

To learn more, go to: http://www.ratedsrfilms.org/

Socially Relevant Film Festival
March 14 - 20, 2016

Various locations in Manhattan

A Look at SXSW 2016

When it comes to North American film festivals, Austin, TexasSouth By Southwest (or SXSW) is one of the top three fests, alongside Sundance and Toronto.  But SXSW not just a film festival, but a music festival, political event, and electronics trade show in one.


Most of the SXSW "festival territory" is on the notorious Sixth Avenue entertainment district, where there are dozens of clubs and the best pizza in the state. Within this area is 80% of the whole thing.


The SXSW festival (known by some as “South-buy”) was founded in 1986 by the people who ran the New Music Seminar (http://newmusicseminar.com/). After the first few years, the festival changed it’s name from NMS to Southwest, and became an annual fixture that basically takes over downtown Austin for two weeks.
The whole mishegas is divided into three major parts and several smaller ones. Music, Movies and Interactive, plus what they call “eco” and some other things I can’t recall.


Interactive
The Interactive portion of the festival is is a trade show, pure and simple, with products on exhibition and various seminars.
The thing will start when at 8AM with the first panel discussions. President Obama himself makes a keynote speech Friday, March 11 at 2:30pm at Dell Hall at The Long Center for the Performing Arts (701 W Riverside Dr., off Guadalupe), admission for that is via a lottery.


Music
When Interactive ends, then the music festival starts.  This is also a convention, but is more open and there are lots of places where one can just hang out and do what God put Austin there for you to do, listen to country-western and punk until you’re ears bleed.  The entire industry will be there to some extent and it’s going to be one of those party-till-you-drop events.


Film
This thing goes on for nine days.
They’re going to screen 139 films: 89 world premieres, 14 North American premieres and seven U.S. premieres, including 52 films from first-time directors. These films were selected from 2,455 feature-length film submissions composed of 1,467 U.S. and 990 international feature-length films from a total of 7,235 submissions.


Among the highlights are a special work-in-progress preview screening of Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele’s catnapping comedy Keanu, Richard Linklater’s  Dazed and Confused sequel Everybody Wants Some and John Michael McDonagh’s brilliantly titled: War on Everyone.


Notable world premieres include Mike Birbiglia’s  Don’t Think Twice, starring  the above mentioned Keegan-Michael Key; Ti West’s In a Valley of Violence, starring Ethan Hawke and Taissa FarmigaThe Master Cleanse, with Johnny Galecki and Anna Friel; Sophie Goodhart’s  My Blind Brother, starring Adam Scott and Nick Kroll; Shovel Buddies, featuring Bella Thorne; The Trust, starring Nicolas Cage and Elijah Wood; and Kasra Farahani’s  The Waiting,  with James Caan.


Among the non premiers are: Jean-Marc Vallée’s Demolition, which opened Toronto in September, stars Jake Gyllenhaal, Naomi Watts and Chris Cooper and biopics about Miles Davis Miles Ahead, starring Don Cheadle, which closed the New York Film Festival last year) and Chet Baker (Born to Be Blue, starring Ethan Hawke).
Not only that, they’ve decided to include TV shows: Danny McBride’s Vice Principals will also be featured.
Between these three, there’s almost no time to sleep.  (there is also an “Eco” section, or so they say—wow).

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