Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Change the Conversation

For today's blog we have invited Blyth Renate Meier, Producer of "Changing The Conversation: America's Gun Violence Epidemic," to interview the Director Janet Fitch.

Blyth Renate Meier, Producer: How did you get involved in the gun violence issue?

Janet Fitch, Director and Executive Producer:
I've always been active in the Milwaukee community, and when I heard some women friends were heading to the Million Mom March for sensible gun laws in Washington, DC, I knew I wanted to get a crew together to document it. The people I met on that journey and the stories they told me inspired me to dig deeper on this issue and explore it through local, national and state lenses. That was in 2000, and this film completes the 3-part Guns, Grief and Grace in America series. Midway through the process I learned about the concept of reframing discussion to a public health focus on prevention, and from that point on, I've remained extremely optimistic about that possibility.

BRM: What makes you think this kind of massive shift can be made in the public mindset?

JF: When compared with the current conversation - who can argue against this? I really believe people will want to be engaged with a common sense, non-political approach based on medical facts. I am also hopeful because in Milwaukee we have a broad coalition of people working to change this conversation. Across race, age, class and gender, people are beginning to come together to ask what they can do about this problem. Hope expands with this fresh, non-polarized approach so everyone can take their own next steps to further the discussion, and find solutions.

Janet Fitch & Blyth Renate Meier will be in attendance at the 9/30 screening of Changing the Conversation: America’s Gun Violence Epidemic at 7:30pm at the North Shore Cinema.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

STORM on the Horizon

Today I am going to re-post a blog entry of mine from Day 3 of my visit to the Berlin International Film Festival.

Berlinale disrupted by "Storm."

German director Hans-Christian Schmid has cemented his place as a world-class filmmaker and raised the stakes with his latest fiction film, "Storm." Tackling an international justice issue at the heart of foreign relations in war torn regions around the World, we follow the trial of a war time commander of the Yugoslavian National Army at The Criminal Tribunal at The Hague.

Schmid has always possessed a natural ability to put you inside and on the edge of his characters skin, and now with "Storm" he proves that he can create an engaging political thriller.

The scripts greatest asset is that it treats the subject in full and does not create easy solutions or answers for dramatic effect. It brings up the right questions, even if it can't answer them all.

Made with the approval of the tribunal, the film showcases the court in all of its complexity. While doing justice to the people who work for the court, it also looks very closely at the court's purity. The tremendous pressure the judges and attorneys are under when a verdict against a past injustice has unwanted ramifications in the present is palpable throughout the film.

In the end, I merely hope that "Storm" will have a chance to be seen by more people than his previous effort, the criminally under-appreciated "Requiem."

STORM screens Tuesday, September 29, 7:30pm at Oriental Theatre at the Milwaukee Film Festival

Monday, September 28, 2009

We Live In Public

Milwaukee Film invited local Producer, Mark Foote of Flexible Films LLC to interview Ondi Timoner, director of the Milwaukee Film Festival Selection We Live in Public.

21 September 2009, Milwaukee, WI

Today, I spoke with Ondi Timoner, director of the award winning documentary We Live In Public, and I can assure you that over the last several months, she has gleaned some new insights into the meaning of her film for her audiences and our society at large. I realized that this story is about is a cautionary tale about how the internet can and is affecting most all of our lives. It is looking ten years back, when there was no broadband, and predicting a future where we could be exponentially caught in the virtual web." said Ondi.

Since winning the 2009 Grand Jury Prize at Sundance, Ondi has toured the world with this project. The film's web site, lists at least sixteen festivals where the film has screened, and Ondi has attended many of these premiers, including the Sydney and Melbourne Australia fests, and Karlovy Vary IFF in the Czech Republic, where she won the Special Jury Prize.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Alone in the Dark

New York Movie, Edward Hopper

When the 2009 Milwaukee Film Festival ends no one will have seen the same movie. Each of us will have our own experiences and interpretations of the more than 160 films screening in the festival.

This makes me wonder, how in the world can a festival be programmed to satisfy an entire city's population?

Maybe more importantly, with so many movies screening that you have never heard of before, how in the world can you decide which ones to see?

The answers are not as elusive as you may think. At the Milwaukee Film Festival we pride ourselves on the quality line-up of films we present at the festival. We travel the world scouting possible film selections, conduct arduous research in our office throughout the year and view countless hours of films as a staff to pick out several hundred titles, most of them already award winners, that are all worthy of festival selection. But we don't stop there.

Since May of this year, over 30 film lovers have been in our office viewing films on a weekly basis to sort through and select only the best possible films for our festival. This process makes us capable of not only screening award-winning films, but also films that can satisfy a diverse audience of movie goers.

As for deciding which films to see, well, check out the new section of our website, Team Picks, which will be updated daily throughout the end of the film festival with the favorites of several staff and Program Committee members.

See you at the movies!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

2009 Milwaukee Film Festival Trailer


On behalf of the Board, staff and supporters of Milwaukee Film a heartfelt thanks goes out to the incredible team who donated their talent, time and services to create the 2009 Milwaukee Film Festival Trailer.

Crew: Carlo Besasie, Jeff Faber, Mike Gillis, Patrick Haley, Dave Kiehl, Mike Krieger, Frankie Latina, Ryan Plato, Marko Stachniw, Chris Thompson, and Don Unverrich

Cast: Clay Covert, Cesar Gamino, Dan Grenda, Michael Hayden, Richard Lau, Lance Miller, Miles O'Neil, Ryan Plato, Nathan Polzin, Amanda Shalhoub, Nick Sommer, Jason Vollmer, and Lindsey Weigel

Companies: Blend Studios, Blue Moon Lighting, Film Tools, Flexible Films, Independent Studios, Kodak, Light Force of Wisconsin, Milwaukee Film Corps, and North American Camera

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

A Front Row Seat to Revolution

Fragmented social media tools and delayed reports from traditional media have allowed me to stay only intermittently aware of the struggle for democracy in the streets of Tehran. Never having been involved in a violent, passionate uprising against my government, it is strange how well I now understand the action on the ground. I attribute this to two unlikely sources, the Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB) and Danish filmmaker Anders Ostergaard.

The DVB, aka the Burma VJs, are a band of Burmese reporters who operate clandestinely inside the military dictatorship of Myanmar. In 2007, these brave Burmese reporters captured a massive rebellion, the “Saffron Revolution,” on handheld camcorders in the streets. Over 100,000 protesters were led by Buddhist monks, who broke a self-imposed silence in order to speak out against the 40-year-running repressive Myanmar regime. During the rebellion, the internet was shut down and foreign reporters were banned from the country. Fortunately for its fellow citizens and the world at large, the DVB risked life and limb to record the brutal clashes with the military and undercover police and soon became targets themselves. After shooting footage on the streets, the DVB systematically smuggled it out of the county to be broadcast worldwide via satellite.

Now enter Anders Ostergaard, a Danish filmmaker who was planning to make a 30-minute documentary portrait of one of the DVBs, Joshua (his pseudonym). As the revolution erupted, “Burma VJ" was born. Ostergaard has formed the scintillating raw material shot by the DVB into a taught, real-life thriller. Some scenes needed to be reenacted in order to connect the dots in the film, causing a bit of controversy amongst documentary purists, but Ostergaard insists the recreations are exact to what transpired and were necessary to construct the film. The editing project entailed to construct “Burma VJ” was massive; the proof of its success ample. The film has won numerous awards at film festivals around the world.

View the “Burma VJ” Trailer

After first seeing “Burma VJ” at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival, I was reminded of what Francis Ford Coppola said near the end of the remarkable documentary on the making of “Apocalypse Now,” “Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse,” ‘To me the great hope is that now these little 8mm video records and stuff that are coming out, just some, people that normally wouldn't make movies are going to be making them and, you know, suddenly one day some fat girl in Ohio is going to be the next Mozart and make a beautiful film…’

Coppola goes on to ramble about professionalism and art, but the illustrative point is that having technology in everyone’s hands expands the playing field for moviemaking and filmmaking. Few times will it lead to art as skillful and informative as “Burma VJ,” but it always has the potential to bring the world closer together.

Now Tibet and other movements around the world are looking at the DVB and “Burma VJ” to see how they can also use the tools of technology to communicate with the world and their people about their struggles.

If only the people in the streets of Tehran had been able to see this film and learn from the DVB before their uprising, perhaps the military crackdown on the protest would have been so successful.

You can see the Milwaukee Premiere of “Burma VJ” at the 2009 Milwaukee Film Festival, September 24 – October 24, 2009.

For a limited time Ticket Packages and Passes are on sale at their cheapest prices, so buy now and save a bundle at

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Sweet Baseball

By Jonathan Jackson
Artistic Director, Milwaukee Film

It’s amazing how early in the summer everyone in Milwaukee is talking about baseball, but it’s not just because of the Brewers recent hot streak. Screening in Milwaukee now at the Landmark Downer Theatre is the must-see, widely acclaimed drama “Sugar.”

“Sugar” follows Miguel Santos, a talented Dominican youth who is discovered by MLB scouts and travels through several development leagues in an attempt to make it to the big leagues and rescue his family from extreme poverty.

“Sugar” is the second feature from the writing and directing duo Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden, whose remarkable debut film “Half Nelson” also screened to great acclaim and even earned an Oscar nomination for its lead actor Ryan Gosling.

Film festival fans in Milwaukee might remember Ryan Fleck, as he attended the 2004 Milwaukee International Film Festival with his short “Gowanus, Brooklyn.” I caught up with Ryan this week on Facebook to ask him a few questions and try to get inside look at the process of making “Sugar.”

Algenis Perez Soto is magnetic in the title role of ‘Sugar.’ Where and how did you find him?
We found him playing baseball with friends while casting for the movie in San Pedro de Macoris. He was number 452 of about 600 interviews we conducted during the process.

The ‘Ryan and Anna Internment Acting Class’ sounds pretty interesting… how did you prepare Soto for his first film appearance?

I’m pretty sure we’d be terrible acting teachers. Once we found Algenis (which is the hardest part of directing a movie like this) we spent a lot of time with him and his family just hanging out. And once our crew arrived to the Dominican Republic, they got to know him too. So by the time we were shooting, he felt super comfortable with all of us. We also gave him movies like Taxi Driver and Half Nelson to give him a sense of the understated style of acting we like in movies. Most of the movies they see in the DR tend to be big action movies or broad comedies.

The cinematography by Andrij Parekh, who also shot “Half Nelson,” is crucial to the intimacy between Sugar and the audience. How did you prepare for the photography of the film and what is your onset relationship like with Parekh?

Andrij is extremely sensitive to the acting process. He will never sacrifice an actor’s needs to the lighting. He understands that everything in a movie like this or “Half Nelson” revolves around the actor’s performances. That said, there is a significant amount of baseball in the movie that none of us were familiar with shooting. Once we created a shotlist, we were fortunate to have the opportunity to rehearse some of the baseball sequences on video and have Anna edit them on her laptop to see if they were working. That was a very helpful experience.

Being that “Sugar” is such a close, intense character study, I find it amazing that it also provides the viewer with an authentic look at three very distinct communities, as well as the MLB farm system. I am guessing the authenticity on screen has a lot to do with research, so please describe your and Anna’s research process for the film.
Yes, research was huge. We traveled to the Bronx, the Dominican Republic, Arizona, and Iowa to interview as many people as we could. The story and character details really came together based on our experiences during these trips. For example, in Iowa we learned about the host families that foreign players stay with to ease their financial burden while playing in the U.S. The Higgins family were based on a combination of families we met during the research.

Collaboration with a crew is a necessary part of any film production, but you and Anna take it to the next level by sharing writing and directing duties. There must be plenty of high and low points in your collaborative process, how about sharing one of each from “Sugar?”
The great part of any collaboration is sharing ideas and building upon them until a third idea emerges, which is hopefully better than the original two. The bad part of collaborating is private. Sorry.

I love the eclectic selection of music used in “Sugar,” tell me about process of selecting the songs, in particular the choice of ‘TV On The Radio’s’ “Blues From Down Here”?

We worked with a great music supervisor, Lynn Fainchtein. She came down to the DR and met with record labels and gave us hundreds of songs to sift through. We essentially handpicked the ones we liked. I believe she told us she had a connection to TV on the Radio and we’re fans so we went through their music and found “Blues from Down here” for the montage sequence.

Follow-up: Knowing that you share zip codes with ‘TV on the Radio,’ would you promise to tell them that they have a huge following in Milwaukee and it is borderline criminal that they have not played Milwaukee on their last two album tours?

We don’t know them, but if we ever meet, we’ll let them know. Perhaps we’ll meet at their show in Brooklyn this June. Sorry again.

As a MLB fan, what do you think of the NL Central leading Milwaukee Brewers and their chances this year?

Don’t know much about the Brewers, but I suppose it’s been awhile since they were good, so I’ll be pulling for them.

So an adaptation of “It’s Kind of a Funny Story” by Ned Vizzini is up next. What drew you to the material?

The novel was given to us by a producer and we thought it was fun. It’s very different from “Sugar” or “Half Nelson,” but there are some serious ideas, despite the story’s comic tone.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Interested in the Art of Film: SEE

Monday, April 20 – 7:00 p.m.
Marcus North Shore Cinema
11700 N. Port Washington Rd. (Mequon)
Admission: $10
Purchase Tickets Now Online

“Revanche” Red Band Trailer

“Revanche” Website

Winner of over 14 film festival awards including: Best European Film at the 2008 Berlin International Film Festival & Best Foreign Language Film of the Year from FIPRESCI (International Federation of Film Critics); Milwaukee audiences have a chance to see “Revanche” two weeks prior to its US theatrical release date

At once a gripping thriller and a tragic drama of nearly Greek proportions, Revanche is the stunning, Oscar–nominated, international breakthrough film from Austrian filmmaker Götz Spielmann. In a ragged section of Vienna, hardened ex-con Alex (the mesmerizing Johannes Krisch) works as an assistant in a brothel, where he falls for Ukrainian hooker Tamara (Irina Potapenko). Their desperate plans for escape unexpectedly intersect with the lives of a rural cop (Andreas Lust) and his seemingly content wife (Ursula Strauss). With meticulous, elegant direction, Spielmann creates a tense, existential, and surprising portrait of vengeance and redemption, and a journey into the darkest forest of human nature, in which violence and beauty exist side by side.

Dir. Götz Spielmann / Austria 2008 / Color / 35mm / 1.85 / Dolby Digital / 121 min

“As it unfolds with calculated intricacy and diabolical inevitability, it overturns conventions and preconceptions to construct a haunting parable of crime and punishment, redemption and revenge.” -- Peter Keough, FIPRESCI

“A potent, sympathetically observed tragedy.”
-- Nicolas Rapold, Film Comment

"[Revanche] quietly attested to Spielmann's virtues as both writer and director: his patience, his watchful eye, his essentially compassionate view of human nature. The film goes off in all number of fascinating directions, at least one of which is totally unexpected. Yet it works -- magnificently, in fact."
-- Shane Danielsen, indieWIRE

“A galvanizing psychological thriller worthy of repeat viewings.”
-- Robert Bell,

"Revanche is the kind of taut, thinking-adult's drama that America stopped producing 30 years ago.” -- Darren Hughes,

“A superb existential thriller that haunts you long after you’ve left the theater ... Avoiding cheap sentimentality and one of those scores that pushes buttons, Spielmann’s set piece will draw you in.”-- Yama Rahimi,

“A thing of sheer beauty, the kind of film in which the details of each individual scene - composition, rhythm, performances, stray bits of business - are all so perfectly judged that their cumulative force kind of sneaks up on you.”
-- Mike D’Angelo, The Man Who Viewed Too Much

“Revanche is what we call a grower, its complexity gaining in richness with every turn.”
-- Joshua Rothkopf, Time Out New York

“[A] gorgeous, brooding, unpredictable neo-noir ... it’s dynamite.”
-- Andrew O’Hehir,

“A subtle, poignant and thoroughly captivating film ... Masterfully and subtly, Spielmann puts on the screen all the emotion that can ripple just beneath the surface of lives and personalities, near and felt, but unseen and out of reach.”
-- Valerie Crawford Pfannhauser, The Vienna Review

“A profound revelation ... Spielmann combines a meticulous structural form with emotional truth, a thorough poetics with a penetrating understanding of human nature.”
-- Robert Koehler, Cinema Scope

"A film that simmers within you days after viewing ... as restrained as it is ravishing."
-- Jeff Meyers, Detroit Metro Times

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Local Arts Stimulus

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

April 5, 2009
Sunday Symposium on The Politics of Public Art

I have never been a big supporter of public art. Generally, I find public art pieces to be ostentatious. They tend to draw too much attention to their material and ideas without integrating fully into the environment they inhabit.

Janet Zweig's public art proposal has me speaking up on the issue for the first time in my life. Her proposal for Wisconsin Ave. is a stunning blend of environment, material and insight. Seamlessly attaching to "old world" light poles, the pieces would ingeniously blend into their environment. By combining the mechanical flap signs of train stations with "flip book" animation, considered the earliest form of the "moving picture," she provides pedestrians with unique commentary on the activity of the street.

However, even more important to me is her commitment to match the city investment in the project ($60,000) in jobs for local filmmakers and artists conceiving and creating the images. She is providing our art community with a much needed stimulus package.

Further, it turns her art project into more than public art: community art.

Jonathan Jackson
Artistic director, Milwaukee Film

Click here to join the Facebook cause in support of Janet Zweig's public art proposal in Milwaukee.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Film Critics are Meaningless

How else could you explain the fact that arguably the most acclaimed foreign film of 2008, no, it was not “Slumdog Millionaire,” only reaches Milwaukee four months after its theatrical release.

“It filled me with unadulterated joy” A.O. Scott, New York Times

French director Arnaud Desplechin’s “A Christmas Tale” filled film critic top ten lists and garnered the types of quotes (from legitimate film critics, not the ones living in their parents basement) that make film distributors salivate, but only played in about 30 US cities (14 of which were in California).

“A marvelously rich visual, intellectual and emotional experience” Andrew O’Hehir, Salon

We at Milwaukee Film are presenting “A Christmas Tale” on Monday, March 23 as the opening film of our six week film series “Monday Night at the Movies with Milwaukee Film.” Our exciting new partnership with Marcus Theatres made it possible for us to bring six award-winning, critically acclaimed U.S. and foreign films to Milwaukee. Each premiere film will be shown at North Shore Cinema located in Mequon, a Northern Milwaukee suburb, and admission for each is $10 with tickets available now at or at the North Shore Cinema box office 11700 N. Port Washington Rd., Mequon.

“Nothing could be more energizing, more captivating, more pure pleasure on screen than (this) passionate, evocative experience .“ Kenneth Turan, The Los Angeles Times

We should be thankful in Milwaukee that at least our daily paper has its own film critic, Duane Dudek of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Many dailies around the country have laid-off their film critics and are now only publishing Associated Press reviews. In order for our film community to thrive it is vital that we have a quality film critic like Dudek who has access to the wide audience of a daily paper. The film events here are distinct from other cities and should only be covered from a local angle.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Wisconsin Film Industry in Peril

Your Action Is Needed to Prevent the Removal of Film Incentives in Wisconsin

Fans of Milwaukee Film, are you aware that the growing film industry in Wisconsin is in serious jeopardy?

The proposed 2009 budget for the State of Wisconsin, from Governor Doyle’s office, calls for the elimination of the bi-partisan legislated Film Wisconsin tax incentives that were in effect for 2008. The elimination of the tax incentives would be devastating to the film industry in Milwaukee and throughout all of Wisconsin.

In just one year, the incentives brought “eight feature films, 16 TV shows, three national commercials, two new Wisconsin-produced video games, new film training programs at five colleges and universities and millions of dollars of new private investment in film and television production-related infrastructure throughout the state.” (Film Wisconsin) In addition, the incentives created 759 jobs for WI residents and has garnered the enthusiastic endorsement of the Northeastern WI stage hands union IATSE local 470.

After one year, let’s review and improve the incentives, not scrap them. Understanding the value of tax incentives, our neighboring states (Michigan, Illinois) are clamoring for this same business and are even installing larger tax incentives to lure the film industry. Don’t let Wisconsin fall behind, your help is needed!

Action Steps:

Write or call Gov. Jim Doyle, your senators and representatives, as well as members of the Joint Committee on Finance. Their contact information can easily be found here.

Join the Cause to Support the Incentives (Now Over 1,700 Supporters!)

Talking Points for Film Incentives

Arts Wisconsin Action Alert on the Film Incentives

Now is the time to act.

This is probably the most important film moment in Wisconsin’s history, let’s not be on the wrong side.

Join the Milwaukee Film staff in supporting the reinstatement of the Wisconsin Film Tax Incentives through writing and petitioning.

Diane Bacha
Executive Director

Jonathan Jackson
Artistic Director

Kyle Heller
Operations Director

T.J. Fackelman
Program Coordinator

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Revenge at the Oscars

Tonight at the Oscar's revenge is on the bill.

The Austrian film "Revanche" is one of five films nominated in the Foreign Language Film Category. Directed by Götz Spielmann, this thrilling, sexually frank character study was a surprise nominee. With over 14 festival wins, including the FIPRESCI (International Federation of Film Critics) Foreign Language Film of the Year award, "Revanche" is entering the competition with considerable acclaim. The surprise is that it just seems like it has been a while since an artistically adventurous foreign film has been seriously considered by the Academy Awards.

"Revanche" will reach US audiences in May (Milwaukee in April!) via a stunning distribution deal made between The Criterion Collection and Janus Films. Founded in 1956, Janus is credited with introducing such foreign directors as Ingmar Bergman, Francois Truffaut, Federico Fellini and Akira Kurosawa to American audiences. The Janus release of "Revanche" will mark their first new film release in over 30 years. This distribution arrangement by Janus and Criterion is a testament to "Revanche."

So tonight, root for "Revanche" and a return to the days when films like "8 1/2, "The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie" and "Through a Glass Darkly" were winning Oscar gold.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Lesbian Vampire Killers - What more could you possibly want?

Film markets bring together the most surprising films.

When I first came to the Berlin International Film Festival in 2003, I expected to be ensconced in the great tradition of European art cinema. While that was and still is the case, I also wade through the morass of the European Film Market.

The market is a nexus for films of all sorts and the juxtaposition of the salaciously hyped B-movie “Lesbian Vampire Killers” with the likes of “Garapa,” a sober Brazilian documentary on starvation is the norm at the market.

A film market is essentially a used car dealership for films and the European Film Market at the Berlinale is quickly becoming one of the largest of its kind. Last year, 430 companies from 51 countries participated, with 6,500 film professionals attending. The primary goal of a market is to connect buyers and sellers of films, creating a comfortable marketplace for the transactions that will determine which films of international origin will arrive in cinemas worldwide.

It is at the market where I am able to forge relationships with the various international agencies that will allow Milwaukee Film to screen films that have yet to secure US distribution. Meetings with international sales offices like Fortissimo Films and Celluloid Dreams and the government supported film foundations of Iran (Farabi Cinema Foundation) to Denmark (Danish Film Institute) make the experience invaluable.

The economic crisis is certainly dampening the buying at the market, however as Variety reports the general consensus is that it was not as bad as expected.

Two other areas outside of the traditional festival that have not been dampened by the economic crisis are the Berlinale’s heralded Talent Campus and the youth programming section Generation.

The Berlinale Talent Campus is an intensive week-long academy attended by up and coming filmmakers. Over 350 aspiring filmmakers from around the World attend the workshops, lectures and panel discussions given by industry professionals, many of whom are attending the festival with their films.

UW-Milwaukee Film Department graduate Dave Andre attended the program previously; more of our talented pool of aspiring Milwaukee filmmakers should be applying for this incredible opportunity.

The Berlinale also caters to kids.

Since 1978, the Berlinale has produced a competition called Generation, which screen short and feature films made for youth. The Generation program annually admits over 50,000 youth and in an innovative move, an 11-member youth jury actually selects the best films and gives out cash awards.

Let’s hope sometime soon children in Milwaukee will be afforded a similar experience.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Berlinale - Day 5

Female directors take over the Berlinale.

It's about time.

Many in the general movie going public don't realize this, but it is staggering to understand how male dominated the movie industry still is.

Question: What percentage of the top grossing films in 2007 were made by women?

Answer: 6%

Yes, 6%. It does not stop there. A recent study by San Diego State's Center for the Study of Women in Film and Television revealed that 70% of film criticism in the nation's major newspapers were written by men.

It was refreshing today then to see two films in a row, in significant programming slots, by female directors in the prime of their careers. Each film employed a distinct voice, an abundance of artistic and intellectual merit, but unfortunately several flaws of characterization and tone.

Actor turned actor/director, Julie Delpy's film "The Countess" suffered some from the cold tonal approach to the subject, but it still stood above many other recent period films that deal with love, or rather unrequited love.

Rebecca Miller burst onto the scene in 2002 with her second film "Personal Velocity." With "The Private Lives of Pippa Lee" she defies genres and conventions in the inventively told story of a middle aged woman struggling to come to a deeper understanding of her own life. It is unfortunate that she choose such wooden and banal characters to explore.

If my article photos are too much of a tease, click here for a cool gadget from the Berlinale to view tons of the official festival photos.

Berlinale - Day 4

The Berlinale is a dark, brooding and provocative Mammoth.

It is impossible for one person to gauge the overall scope of the programming of a festival. Especially one of this size. Everyone has a skewed perspective of the film selections, as one can only see about 1/10th of the total package.

That being said, it is a very dark year for the Berlinale. Not dark in terms of poor quality films, but darkness in terms of the subject matter, themes and messages of the countless fiction and documentary films I have seen thus far.

I have been trained through years of programming to be able to digest films ad infinitum like this, but it seems to be a taking a toll this year.

In particular, iconoclastic Swedish director Lukas Moodysson's "Mammoth" has me swearing I will never travel again without my loved one.

Extremely well directed, even if a bit repetitive and long on exposition, the global morality tale features an ace performance from Michelle Williams in the tale of three separate mothers who regret not spending more time with their children.

The sharply focused tale takes the tension and strain of separation on an epic scale, leaving one feeling that maybe the industrial revolution was not such a good thing after all. It is a tale of the toll that globalization takes on family life.

Think of "Mammoth" as a meditative "Babel," without all of its contrivances.

Here is a link to the trailer for "Mammoth."

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Berlinale - Day 3

Berlinale disrupted by "Storm."

German director Hans-Christian Schmid has cemented his place as a world-class filmmaker and raised the stakes with his latest fiction film, "Storm." Tackling an international justice issue at the heart of foreign relations in war torn regions around the World, we follow the trial of a war time commander of the Yugoslavian National Army at The Criminal Tribunal at The Hague.

Schmid has always possessed a natural ability to put you inside and on the edge of his characters skin, and now with "Storm" he proves that he can create an engaging political thriller.

The scripts greatest asset is that it treats the subject in full and does not create easy solutions or answers for dramatic effect. It brings up the right questions, even if it can't answer them all.

Made with the approval of the tribunal, the film showcases the court in all of its complexity. While doing justice to the people who work for the court, it also looks very closely at the court's purity. The tremendous pressure the judges and attorneys are under when a verdict against a past injustice has unwanted ramifications in the present is palpable throughout the film.

In the end, I merely hope that "Storm" will have a chance to be seen by more people than his previous effort, the criminally under-appreciated "Requiem."

Friday, February 6, 2009

Berlinale - Day 2

Damn, the Danes know drama.

The positive dramatic effects of the Danish born "Dogma 95" film movement are still being felt in its contemporary independent cinema. One need to look no further than Annette K. Olesen's competition picture LITTLE SOLDIER for evidence. The taught drama follows the relationship of a female Iraq war vet, with untold war scars, to her father, a pimp. The scenario is a touch on the ridiculous, but the emotions and intensity are very real.

Spending a lot of time in the European Film Market. Held in conjunction with the Berlinale, more than 20,000 industry professionals from around the World attend the market. The market allows sales offices, distributors, producers and cultural film offices from around the world to sell, and hype, the films screening in the festival as well as hundreds more. See, in addition to the films screening in the festival, the market features several hundred more as anyone can rent a screening slot. ATTENTION Milwaukee filmmakers: where are you?

Saw my first shorts program today and once again I am left totally befuddled. I just can't seem to lock into the sensibilities of the short film programmers here, even after several years of attending. I don't seem to be alone in this, as every year the audience is always very shifty, exerting several groans, inappropriate timed laughs and even catcalls. I don't think it is simply a different German or European sensibility, as I have yet to find an equal for features programming than the Berlinale. However, I do have to pay tribute to their vision. They have stayed consistent over the years and at least are looking for some new voices and film language.

Off to see some more films...

Berlinale - Day 1 - Part 2

Being shut out of your first screening at a festival is never a good sign.

However, the opening night film getting panned by critics is a pretty standard occurrence.

Rarely does a festival of this magnitude open with a great film; there are too many political, audience and sponsorship considerations that come into play. So it was no surprise that the timely film THE INTERNATIONAL (bankers steal your money and give it to arms dealers) was widely panned. The film was shot in Germany and was directed by one of its more famous filmmakers in Tom Tykwer (RUN LOLA RUN), who, with each additional film, looks more and more like a one-hit wonder.

Since I was shut out of Julie Delpy's THE COUNTESS (I swear there were still seats left in the cinema when they cut off the line - only letting film buyers in) I ended up catching a Sundance film I missed THE SEPTEMBER ISSUE. Similar in vein to the delightful 2006 drama THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA, but real. The documentary follows the infamous Anna Wintour, who has been the editor at Vogue Magazine for over 20 years.

Delving deeply into the process of compiling the biggest issue in the magazine's history, the film reveals a fascinating process and explores the dynamic mind of an artist (Creative Director Grace Coddington) and editor in a commercial enterprise.

Tomorrow I have at least five films on the docket.

In case you were wondering, I have posted this photo because it is the Starbucks I blog from. On the right side of the frame is the poster for my most anticipated film of the Berlinale, STORM by Hans-Christian Schmid. Schmid made the film REQUIEM, which was my favorite film of 2006.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Berlinale - Day 1

Milwaukee, Chicago, Brussels...Berlinale!

I have arrived, and thanks to some sleeping pills, am reasonably well rested. First on the docket is to sort through the 600 films screening and drink 42 cups of coffee while trying to plot out a schedule for the first few days. If my eyes are still open, I am going to see the new Julie Delpy film, "The Countess."

Considered the World's largest film festival, over 400,000 tickets sold annually, the Berlinale (as it is often called) is now in its 59th year and does not look to be slowed down by the global economic crisis. As Festival Director Dieter Kosslick says "it's not a real financial crisis. It's a crisis of idiots in suits and ties who gambled with billions of dollars and the tax money of ordinary people." (excerpted from Variety)

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Sundance Film Festival - Day 4 (5 & 6)

Nicholas Kristoff is developing a video game?

A conversation between two people, a documentary photographed largely on low-grade video cameras and an ultra-violent drama about a prisoner who discovers that violence is his art highlighted my past three days of Sundancing.

Two Pulitzer Prize winning authors, Nicholas Kristoff and Samantha Power, debated the merits of the printed word versus filmmaking in a stimulating discussion on the mediums. Both writers are showcasing their first forays into film at the festival. The discussion covered a range of topics and became particularly rewarding when it focused on how best to reach an audience to create change. Anecdotal highlights included Kristoff’s revelation that he is exploring every way possible to reach new audiences, including developing a video game.

“Reporter” follows Kristoff as he travels deep into the Congo to expose the desperate poverty and conflict in the region through his twice weekly column in The New York Times. It is a fascinating first-hand view of the travails of a reporter in a war-torn region, as well as a probing look at the challenging decisions about coverage, risk and subject manipulation he must constantly make. A particularly complex scene involves his interview and subsequent dinner with a notorious and brutal war lord.

“Sergio” is a look at the charismatic United Nations diplomat from Brazil, Sergio Vieira de Mello, who is often described as a cross between James Bond and Bobby Kennedy. Based on the novel by Samantha Power, this beautifully photographed, crisply edited and fascinating look into his life focuses on his appointment as U.N. ambassador to Iraq and a day that will live in infamy, August 19, 2003, the first time the U.N. had become the target of terrorism.

One of the most urgent films I have ever seen in my life, “Burma VJ” follows the harrowing journalistic exploits of the Democratic Voice of Burma (or simply DVB). Comprised mostly of handheld, low-grade video camera and cell phone footage, it surpassed the power of almost all of the talent laden, higher budgeted and tightly orchestrated dramas I have seen so far at Sundance.

The DVB band of renegade journalists provides the world and Burma its only news source in a country where reportage is strictly prohibited by a repressive regime. The film deftly compiles their footage, including the reporters’ firsthand accounts, of the 2007 peaceful rebellion led by Buddhist Monks that turned into a nightmare for the citizens of Burma.

On the dramatic side the highlight was “Bronson,” the latest film from Danish filmmaker Nicolas Winding Refn. Refn is famous for his “Pusher” trilogy, about underground crime in Copenhagen, which is considered a cult hit many circles.

With stunning imagery and a tour-de-force performance from Tom Hardy (who reportedly gained 100 pounds of muscle for the role!), “Bronson” dramatizes the real life of Charlie Bronson, Britain’s most violent prisoner. Stylistically urgent, this ultra-violent exploration of character can‘t be missed.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Sundance Film Festival - Day 3

“She was in some Seth Green film…and she’s on TV a lot.” Unfortunately I did not get a peek at the young starlet in question, but simply overhearing this comment on Main Street provided enough pleasure.

My day started with a movie at dawn, no, Sundance does not screen around the clock; I viewed this Sundance film from the comfort of my bed, um, couch that I sleep on. While at Sundance I trade the comforts of a bed or my own room for sharing a two room condo with four film critics. Not only do I save money for Milwaukee Film, and experience the pleasures of sharing a bathroom between five men, I get access to several DVD screener copies of films from the film critics.

The highlight of my viewing day was by far the press & industry screening of “Push: Based on the Novel by Sapphire.” My last minute decision to see the film, instead of going to a panel that I found out I catch online later, was rewarded with what I would consider, even at this early junction, the surprise of Sundance. In the clear favorite for the competition prize, bleak subject matter is given a refreshing and stylish treatment. Read John Anderson’s review in Variety, posted to the Milwaukee Film Facebook group page, could not have said it better myself.

The social highlight was a Milwaukee reunion at the edgier Slamdance Film Festival with Howie Goldklang (Event Producer at Slamdance for the past 8 years and Owner of and Scott Robbe (Executive Director at Scott and I then moved onto dinner and screenings, concluding the evening with a spirited debate over the merits of Sundance documentary “Art & Copy.”

I have started posting photos to the Milwaukee Film facebook group page, check them out if you get a chance.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Sundance Film Festival - Day 2

The best thing about Sundance so far this year is by far the new seats at the Yarrow Hotel Screening Room. No disrespect to the films I have seen, but if you have ever sat 12 hours-a-day, for 8 days straight in conference room plastic chairs you will understand how I feel. To my delight, the Sundance Film Festival decided to splurge on the Press & Industry and actually brought in old cinema seats!

See, at Sundance, I rarely go to the screenings you read about in the media. Thankfully, they keep the programmers, press and miscellaneous industry folk away from the hordes and locked into closed to the public screening venues. The luxury is that you can easily get into 99% of the screenings without waiting and don’t have to deal with being herded like cattle. You see more movies this way, but unfortunately have fewer Dakota Fanning sightings.

Day 2 Film Tally: 15! Okay, it is not as impressive when more than half are shorts, but I am still proud. The most original and creative in the bunch were by far from the animated shorts program. Don Hertzfeldt, not to my surprise, highlighted the program with “I Am So Proud of You,” a continuation of the story of Bill from “Everything will be Okay.” The program also featured a mesmerizing and moody Quay Brothers style short film called “Out of Control” from Mexico.

Also of note was the complex and very personal competition documentary about the infamous defense attorney “William Kunstler: Disturbing the Universe.” You follow the creators, his two daughters, journey into their father’s past as they try to come to terms with his controversial legacy.

Tomorrow will include my first visit to Main Street, so let the celebrity gawking begin!

Friday, January 16, 2009

Sundance Film Festival - Day 1 - Part 2

I made it with 15 minutes to spare! Granted, I did have to pay extra and skip the shuttle for a cab from the airport, but I made it just in time for the opening night screening of "Mary & Max." A curious, stop-motion clay animation film from Australia created by Adam Elliot. Elliot may be familiar to some as the director of "Harvie Krumpet," the 2003 Academy Award Winner for Best Animated Short Film.

Based on the unlikely, 20-year pen pal relationship of a chubby 8-year-old girl from Australia and a 44-year-old Jewish man in NYC who is morbidly obese and suffers from Asperger's Syndrome, "Mary & Max" charms in the beginning, showcases excellent voice acting (Philip Seymour Hoffman & Toni Collette) and surprising visual complexity, but seems to stretch itself a bit thin by the end. Definitely worth the effort to see, but would be surprised if it receives any kind of wide distribution in this market. Word on the street is that distributors are really reluctant to pull the trigger on buying films this year an with no easily identifiable audience, “Mary & Max” may just slip through the cracks.

I mentioned in my opening post that the Sundance Film Festival is celebrating its 25th Anniversary, well, sort of. The Sundance Film Festival was actually founded in 1978, but was then known as, get this, the United States Film Festival. It is the 25th Anniversary of the Sundance Institutes purchase of the festival that is being celebrated. Purchased in 1985, it was immediately moved to Park City from Salt Lake, and shifted its focus to more independent film fare. In fact, in the first year the Coen brothers won the Grand Jury Prize for their debut film “Blood Simple,” a crisp, low budget neo-noir caper. They did not change the name of the festival until 1991.
For more on the history of Sundance, visit:

Tomorrow will be a full day of planning and screenings. The industry office was kind enough not to schedule a morning screening, allowing all of us to get our bearings.
Also of note, this is the first time since I have been going to Sundance that I would describe the temperature as balmy. However, I believe that has more to do with temperature in Milwaukee when I left this morning then the 35 degree temperature here.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Sundance Film Festival - Day 1

En route to Sundance Film Festival, hoping to arrive in time to catch Opening Night Film "Mary & Max," a clay animation film from Australia. - Jonathan Jackson