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)