Search This Blog

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

2011 The Cinema Eye Honors: Gift Shop and Last Train Home Win Big

Posted by Melissa Silvestri on Jan 19, 2011
Source: -

It was a wonderful night celebrating documentary filmmaking at the fourth annual Cinema Eye Honors, held in the beautifully renovated Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria, Queens, N.Y. on January 18th. Hosted by filmmakers AJ Schnack (Kurt Cobain About a Son) and Esther Robinson (A Walk Into the Sea: Danny Williams and the Warhol Factory), the nominees comprised of some of the best documentary films of 2010, truly a celebration of nonfiction filmmaking rather than a competition. David Schwartz, the chief curator of the Museum, relayed the thoughts of many filmgoers who say that “the best films at festivals are the documentaries.”

The night kicked off with musical accompaniment by the Quavers and an excerpt of Utopia in Four Movements, performed by Sam Green. His excerpt was at both funny and poignant, touching upon a mix of history and comedy, segueing between 1960s ideas of the future world to stark photographs of Cambodian prisoners before they were executed by the Khmer Rouge. While that sounds dark, it was more about the power of documenting the real yet uncomfortable pieces of life.

Lixin Fan’s Last Train Home was the major winner of the night, taking home three awards for Production, Cinematography, and International Film, sharing the award with co-producers Mila Aung-Thwin and Daniel Cross. Last Train Home is a remarkable debut about the life of migrant workers in China trying to get an elusive train ticket to visit family during the New Year.

Exit Through the Gift Shop took the top award for Nonfiction Feature Filmmaking, as well as winning for Outstanding Achievement in Editing. Unsurprisingly, director Banksy was not there to accept his award. Schnack joked about the controversy surrounding the film, as to whether it is fictional or truth, alluding to the film before playfully pointing fingers at Laura Poitras’ The Oath, which ended up winning for Outstanding Achievement in Direction. For Outstanding Achievement in Debut Feature, Jeff Malmberg’s Marwencol, about a man who recreates a WWII-era miniature town to cope with a life-changing accident, won the award to much applause.

Other winners included Juan Cardarelli and Alex Tyson for their graphic design and animation in Gasland; Norbert Moslang’s music score for The Sound of Insects – Record of a Mummy; the inaugural Heterodox Award, sponsored by Filmmaker Magazine, which celebrates artists who blur the line between fiction and nonfiction, went to Matt Porterfield for Putty Hill; the Spotlight Award went to Andrei Ujica for The Autobiography of Nicholas Ceausescu; Outstanding Achievement in Nonfiction Short Filmmaking went to Vance Malone for The Poodle Trainer; and Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg won the Audience Choice Prize for Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work.

The presenters included James Marsh (Man on Wire), Louie Psihoyos (The Cove), actor/filmmaker Harry Shearer, They Might Be Giants musician John Flansburgh, and Margaret Brown (The Order of Myths).

The night held two loving tributes for two filmmakers who passed away this last year. Morgan Spurlock spoke warmly of director George Hickenlooper, who directed Mayor of the Sunset Strip and Hearts of Darkness and was greatly funny and modest about his own talents as a pioneering filmmaker, speaking that he made films for the story, not the money. And editor Karen Schmeer was given a special tribute by her friends, filmmakers Liz Garbus (Bobby Fischer Against the World), Greg Barker (Sergio), and Lucia Small (My Father, the Genius), who truly brought her quiet yet headstrong personality to life onstage, speaking on how she completely immersed herself into editing, would identify so strongly with the subjects that she would adapt their personalities to the film, and yet maintained a lot of friendships by multitasking between emailing friends while editing films.

The Legacy Award was awarded to the Maysles brothers for their decades of excellent documentary filmmaking, especially highlighting Salesman and Grey Gardens. Their work exemplified true honesty and a deep respect for their subjects, celebrating the Beale family as unique and wonderful women in Grey Gardens. Albert Maysles, accompanied by his co-director Muffie Meyer, quoted Alfred Hitchcock in saying “In a non-fiction film, God is the director.” The award was presented to them by Lixin Fan, Jeff Malmberg, and Laura Poitras, all whom were deeply honored and touched to be celebrating these filmmakers.

The Cinema Eye Honors was a wonderful celebration of the best in documentary filmmaking, where the audience felt like they had all contributed, whether as filmmakers, press, or filmgoers. It truly felt like a big family there at the Museum of the Moving Image.

Favorite Films of 2010

These movies are ones that came out this year, that have been personal favorites of mine. I'm just listing them, not giving a short review or anything like that.

La Mission

Night Catches Us

Children of Invention

Winter's Bone

A Prophet


The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Never Let Me Go

The Secret in Their Eyes

Easy A


Cairo Time

Last Train Home

127 Hours

NY Export: Opus Jazz

White Lines & the Fever: The Death of DJ Junebug

The Fighter

All Good Things

Relationship Therapy: Jarecki Leaves Viewers Hanging with Haunting Mystery that Lingers

Andrew Jarecki made his mark on the documentary scene with his 2003 film Capturing the Friedmans, an uncomfortable look at a suburban Long Island family in the 1980s, where the father and son were on trial for child molestation. The film was made up of many home videos, both happy family videos and recording their tribulations during the trial. For such a normal-seeming family, it seemed a mystery as to whether these two men could commit these horrible crimes, and these accusations tore the family apart.

Jarecki, himself having grown up in a patriarchal family of privilege with expectations of maintaining that class, continues on this theme of family dysfunction with his narrative feature debut, All Good Things, based on the on the life of Robert Durst, a real estate heir who has been the main suspect in the disappearance of his wife, Kathleen McCormack, since 1982. Their marriage was a meeting of old money and middle-class suburbia, but Durst’s growing hatred of being guilted into the family business, along with his alienation from his career-minded wife, led to tragedy and a fractured existence. The film even opens with a series of 1950s home videos portraying the seemingly happy life of young Durst (fictionalized as David Marks here), frolicking around with his mother before she later commits suicide in front of him.

David Marks (Ryan Gosling) meets his future wife Katie McCarthy (Kirsten Dunst) by chance when he is sent over to fix her sink in the early 1970s. They’re an amiable couple, but David’s father, real estate scion Sanford Marks (Frank Langella) personally lets him know that Katie will “never be one of them.” Katie comes from a happy suburban family in Long Island, where everyone jokes around and displays love and affection. David has grown up in a family of locked-away secrets, fake happy faces, and a reticence of true emotion. Katie’s joie de vivre allows him to shed his family’s conservativeness, and to break away from the pack to start a new life with her.

But, despite a brief life running a health food store together in Vermont, the security and safety of Marks’ wealthy family proves too good to give up. It also seemed positive for Katie, because his wealth would open more opportunities for her in Manhattan, than had she stayed home in Long Island. They were attracted to each other’s differences, but the marriage would only turn volatile and uneasy to escape.

The events of the film are shot with a soft-focus lens by D.P. Michael Seresin, not only mimicking the washed-out look of 1970s films, but also firmly keeping the events in the past, like bad memories. The film looks like privileged glamour with a rotten core at its center. It was a time where, given that there was less surveillance and certain issues were not spoken of (mainly abuse, eating disorders, depression, abortion),the beauty of the upper-class set only looks more like a prison, from which if you wrong the family, any chance of you developing an independent life is thwarted by their patriarchal control.

David is a danger to himself, because of his family history, yet he cannot push himself to change his future for the better. He has been raised to not talk about certain things, especially speaking to an “outsider.” Even Katie doesn’t know all about his family’s personal life, she only finds out things by accident. As David works more for his father, his once loving heart is replaced with a cold stone, and, he takes his frustration out on Katie. Katie uses her societal advantages to pursue a medical career, but David can’t stand her having kind of independence, and continually thwarts her chances.

Jarecki’s film accurately displays how an emotionally abusive marriage is not easy to break away from, and how it can be even worse if the victim tries to escape, only enraging their abuser even more. There is a sequence in the film where David forces Katie to make a critical decision that she doesn’t agree with, but, because her body is as much David’s as it is hers, she has no choice in the matter. David is to support her at the moment when this decision is made, but at the last minute bails, leaving her to face this agonizing choice alone. It’s a chilling and heartbreaking scene of control and emotional manipulation, and Dunst, breaking away from the young girl roles she has played well into her twenties, delivers this scene with anguish and a deep hatred of her husband. All Good Things details the downward spiral of a person’s dreams shattering, giving up their dreams in exchange for the safety net of money, only to resent themselves and take it out on the world. It’s a dangerous trap, and what happens when power is put in place of love. Gosling delivers a chilling performance as David Marks, a shell of a man whose emotions are kept locked inside of him, his humanity drained out of him until there is nothing left. Dunst finds a mixture of vulnerability and strength in Katie, maintaining to stay alive in an unstable marriage. Jarecki’s intimate focus truly makes All Good Things one of the more realistic depictions of domestic abuse and the corruption of power and money.

Reviewed by Melissa Silvestri
Date Posted: 2010-12-03

Interview: Lena Dunham (Tiny Furniture)

Posted by Melissa Silvestri on Nov 08, 2010
Source: Exclusive

Ever since Lena Dunham’s feature debut Creative Nonfiction won for Best Narrative at SXSW ’09, her career has rapidly ascended in the indiewood ranks with her break-thru year being topped by her sophomore year and comedy-drama about the pitfalls of post-graduation life. Recently nominated for a pair of Gotham Awards (Breakthrough Director and Best Ensemble Performance), Tiny Furniture went under the knife in November of 2009, and was conceived at the same Austin-set festival where she once again walked away with top honors.

Tiny Furniture tracks the misadventures of Aura (Dunham) as she comes home after graduation and is trying to figure out what to do with her life. Hanging with old friends, enduring family conflicts, working a low-paying job, trying to get her art/film career off the ground, and having trysts with the wrong kind of guys, Aura is at both sympathetic in her relatability and frustratingly self-centered and immature. It’s an introspective kind of film, with embarrassing moments as well as a darkly comic sensibility, and a blending of truth and fiction, as Dunham cast her family and friends to play their own roles.

Since Tiny Furniture, Dunham has spent a portion of her summer with Ry Russo-Young hitting the Screenwriters Lab in Sundance for Nobody Walks (Russo-Young will direct next year), inked an HBO deal with Judd Apatow, and was just named as helmer for the Scott Rudin produced Dash and Lily's Book of Dares. I sat down with the very busy Dunham this month in New York City, a week before Tiny Furniture receives it's theatrical release at the IFC Center.

Lena Dunham Tiny Furniture Interview

Melissa Silvestri: Audiences can relate to the depiction of post-college life, coming back home and not immediately starting on their dream career, and still being financially dependent on parents, hanging out with high school friends, and working low-paying jobs while figuring out their next step. Have you found this to be a major theme with college grads?
Lena Dunham: Well, that’s certainly what I did, and it still feels really surreal for me, doing the thing that I want to be doing with my life right now, because when I first got out of college, I worked in a restaurant, I was a babysitter, and I worked in a clothing store. I had all these educational experiences, but they all felt empty to me in the world that I wanted to be inhabiting. So I think especially now, graduating in the recession era, it’s more likely that you’re not going to be doing a job that’s not necessarily in the world that you dreamed of.

Silvestri: It’s difficult when you’re trying to get into your career post-college, and your degree isn’t enough to get you in, or that your career doesn’t immediately start as a full-time, well-paying position...
Dunham: No, no, I think that’s a really crazy reality that you face when you get out of college. Like “Hey, I’ve been thinking professionally for four years, I’m perfectly up for any job,” and then you quickly realize that it’s not the case. I think for me, the film was about the disappointments of life as you imagined it versus life as it actually is.

Lena Dunham Tiny Furniture Interview

Silvestri: How did you decide to both be a filmmaker and the lead in your films?
Dunham: For me, it’s funny. I don’t consider myself an actor, but there keep being roles that are appealing to me, so I keep constantly end up inhabiting. Like this character, she’s like me, in an inappropriate way, so I’ll just inhabit it. I kind of use that as an excuse, like “Oh, there aren’t any other actors to play!” But I’ve only recently felt that I do enjoy the acting part of it, there’s an immediacy to it that doesn’t exist as a director or writer. It just brings me a distinct kind of pleasure. So it’s been this sort of natural urge for me, like directing the same things that I write and act in, wanting to own every part of the process. But the other thing that I love about making movies is that it’s so collaborative. The other actors direct you in a certain way, you’re directed by the on-set experience, so once you’re on set, a certain amount of that responsibility is yours, and a certain amount of it suddenly becomes this amazing group thing, and I think that tells you what to do with it.

Lena Dunham Tiny Furniture Interview

Silvestri: Speaking of collaborators, I was really impressed by the cinematography work by Jody Lee Lipes, having seen his gorgeous work on NY Export: Opus Jazz, bare minimalist wide-screen shots that captured so much with a lot of simplicity.
Dunham: He’s amazing. I love the way he works because his camera work is so gorgeous, but so unobtrusive, so it really lets the characters live and breathe. But it’s also incredibly sensitively done; it keeps you feeling close to people’s experiences, but also gives them enough space to do what they need to do. So I found working with Jody, who I still work with to this day, to be a total revelatory experience.

Silvestri: What was it like having your mother [artist Laurie Simmons] and sister [Grace Dunham] play your mother and sister in the film? Were there conflicts of interest or requests for line changes?
Dunham: They were really open and game. They were really conscious of playing developing characters, which was amazing to me, because I just pulled them in to say “Do what you do when I see you around the house,” to keep it feeling natural, and they gave it this actorly consideration that was so awesome and surprising. They didn’t really request line changes in the way like a mom and sister would, like “Oh, I would never say that, that’s not me.” They only really did it the way an actor would, like “This line feels a little unnatural to me, can we work with it a little bit.” So their openness to the process is something that I’m forever grateful for.

Silvestri: Tiny Furniture can be uncomfortable to watch, as Aura can be quite self-centered and embarrass herself, such as at her sister’s party or trying to get Keith, her co-worker, to like her. Those moments are very emotionally raw, was it difficult to shoot those scenes?
Dunham: It’s not difficult to act out. As an actress you would just do what the script requires, try to make it feel honest, or just live it honestly and see what happens. As a writer and director, and in the editing room later, it’s just a high-wire act of making sure that you don’t lose people in your depiction of yourself, and you make sure that your character is sympathetic enough that they can sustain an audience. At the same time, it’s funny, I never critique films in terms of “I liked this person” or “I didn’t like this person,” I tend to think, “Did their journey feel truthful to me?” That’s the base that I judge films on, I know not everyone feels that way.

Silvestri: The character, even if they are unlikable, have to have something redeemable or interesting about them...
Dunham: If you don’t feel any connection to them, or you don’t feel any hope that they’re ever going to change or become better, then there’s a way that their story doesn’t mean anything to you, so you sort of have to become invested in the journey of someone who you think is capable coming out the other side.

Silvestri: Have you had difficulty with basing characters on real-life people or as composites of people?
Dunham: Not in difficulty writing, and even in casting, you can have this really fun cast counter to what you saw in your head or make interesting choices. You really want to make sure that you’re being sensitive in your depiction, because it’s my right to reveal myself in my films, but it’s not my right to reveal the lives of other people. But at the same time, my life intersects with that other person, so for me, I take from life, but I also do a lot of composite characters and creating characters who are amalgamations of many people who I’ve known, and people I haven’t known. But yes, there have been moments where I’ve wondered, “Is this thing I’m writing over the line in some way?” not sensitive to the feelings of somebody who I am close with or have been close with. You really have to ask yourself every time you do that, “Is this worth it, am I making something that is putting ‘good energy’ into the world versus bad energy?” So I definitely think about all of those things.

Silvestri: Ever since Creative Nonfiction won at SXSW, you have gone so far in such a short time span. Magazine features, The New York Times, HBO, and IFC... What has it been like for you?
Dunham: It’s been amazing. Tiny Furniture’s coming out in theaters and On Demand literally a year after we started shooting it. It’s been one of the most unbelievable roller coasters. I think the most incredible thing, besides getting positive attention from many people I admire, [has been] making it easier for me to do my work, which is all I ever really wanted and what the film is about in the first place. So it’s this amazing, beautiful irony that making a movie about that time of my life is sort of what got me out of that time of my life, in a certain way. Of course, I’m still 24, with bumblings and worries and all of the classic anxieties that accompany that age. But I’m getting to do something I really love on a day-to-day basis, and I think that’s the most amazing thing that this year has given me.

Silvestri: What are you working on now?
Dunham: Well, I’m a week and a half away from shooting a pilot for HBO, so that’s a big thing in my life right now. And aside from that, I am readying another script that I am adapting called Dash and Lilly’s Book of Dares, which is a young adult novel that I really adore. And working on taking my baby Tiny Furniture and sending it off to college [laughs]. It does feel like I’ve raised a child for a year and now it’s going off to live its independent life. So that’s what I’m doing, and just continuing to work, which is what I enjoy most.

IFC Films releases Tiny Furniture at the IFC Center this Friday, November 12th. It receives a limited release in more locations in the weeks to come.

2010 DOC NYC: Josh Freed's Five Weddings and a Felony

Posted by Melissa Silvestri on Nov 05, 2010
Source: Festival Coverage

Josh Freed is a piece of work. The first-time filmmaker ends up making his first film a documentary where he is the unlikable star. In it, he continually dicks around women for his own selfish reasons, while thinking of himself as both the unlikely “player,” and the sweet, modest type. He freely admits to always having had issues with relationships and dangerous patterns, yet it only makes his film, Five Weddings and a Felony, frustrating to watch. His immaturity and disregard for others’ feelings is really disgusting, and it’s unclear whether his honesty about his insecurities makes it any better to take.

2010 DOC NYC First Festival Edition

Freed is at both a hopeless romantic and a commitment-phobe. He has had the same pattern with romantic relationships since he was 12: he likes a girl, she doesn’t want to date him, so he dates a female friend, drawing her in and making her think he really cares for her, then he ends it abruptly by saying that he doesn’t want to be serious with her. Yet he is jealous if she goes and dates another guy. His friend Liliana, whose sister Paulina he jerks around, gives the honest truth: he doesn’t want to be with her sister, but doesn’t want her to be with anyone else. After his casual girlfriend Katja says she doesn’t want to be exclusive, Josh falls for Paulina’s beauty and sweet charm, but while he doesn’t want to be serious with her, he still keeps up correspondence and messing with her mind.

Freed’s film is an extension of his passion for filmmaking, and he freely says that he was jealous of Katja because she was having a successful screenwriting career while he couldn’t get a film started. So Paulina, being a schoolteacher and more vulnerable, is like his own revenge. What is awful is that Freed keeps a front as being shy and modest and cute, drawing in girls by being artistic and self-effacing, when in fact he is narcissistic, self-absorbed, shallow, and still playing mind games with women like when he was a kid. He is personally jealous of his friends who are getting married, yet can’t find it in himself to maintain a healthy relationship with a woman.

Five Weddings and a Felony has been called a “compelling portrait of modern love,” but it isn’t. It’s one man’s selfish intentions towards romantic relationships, where he wants to be adored and fawned over, yet cannot bring himself to get past the puppy love stage and deal with the everyday truth of maintaining a relationship like a grown man. Freed is fully aware of his habits, yet doesn’t seem able to really change them. Talk is cheap, and actions are the true test of whether one is able to grow up or not.

2010 DOC NYC: Robert Greene's Kati with an I

Posted by Melissa Silvestri on Nov 05, 2010
Source: Festival Coverage

Kati with an I, directed by Robert Greene, is an introspective documentary about an Alabama teenage girl named Kati who is two days away from graduating high school and engaged to her high school boyfriend. Her parents live in North Carolina for work reasons, and her graduation spells the end for her years of adolescence, getting ready to enter adulthood. Kati, who is Greene’s half-sister, is a bright and lovely young woman; however, the film’s slow and meandering pace does not provide enough interest in what is a rather dull story.

2010 DOC NYC First Festival Edition

Kati spends her last days before graduation living it up with her friends: having a pool party, taking long drives, and getting dressed up for a party. It’s as if they’re trying to hold onto their sisterhood before they inevitably part, possibly drifting apart while they attend college. Their sisterhood is beautifully captured by cinematographer Sean Williams (Beetle Queen of Tokyo), and despite being on the brink of 18, they seem more like cherubic young girls.

Kati’s relationship with her fiancĂ© is fraught. James, while he wants to be a meteorologist, is still very childish and apathetic at his age. He is watched over closely by his mother, and doesn’t seem like an intellectual equal for Kati, who speaks with an astute awareness of the world around her. He hesitates to follow her to North Carolina to spend the summer with her and her parents, and for all of their talk of “I love yous,” it never rings as particularly genuine, more of what a teenage couple says to each other out of infatuation or puppy love. James doesn’t seem quite all there, and when the end of the film reveals their future, it looks like a hard road ahead of them.

Kati with an I attempts to document the coming-of-age of a young woman growing into adulthood (and even interjects scenes with home video footage of a child Kati talking about her life and emotions) and shedding her teenage skin. But it plays like a home movie mixed with a teen drama, and isn’t compelling enough of a watch. Greene obviously has personal attachment to Kati, through blood and her experience in front of his camera as well as his ex-girlfriend’s photo work. But it rambles along, and by the end of the film, there isn’t a solid, much-needed resolution.

2010 DOC NYC: Ryan Kerrison's MindFLUX

Posted by Melissa Silvestri on Nov 04, 2010
Source: Festival Coverage

His name may not be as well-known as Stephen Sondheim, but Richard Foreman is a legendary freak of a genius. A playwright whose abstract plays defy definition, his shows of absolute madness and confusion have both turned on and weirded out audiences since the 1960s. Ryan Kerrison’s documentary mindFLUX examines the life of this strange and unusual artist, who has touched the lives of many of the most celebrated theater artists in New York City.

2010 DOC NYC First Festival Edition

Richard Foreman debuted his theater the Ontological-Hysteric Theater in 1968, a venue where he could give a stage to the out-there performers who didn’t belong anywhere near Broadway. Ontology is the study of the nature of being, and Foreman’s theater is dedicated to balance the primitive with the absolute mad, taking the perplexity of life and throwing it onstage for extensional understanding. Foreman’s work is anti-commercial, hilarious in a sick way, and is not performed to please the audience, but rather to challenge them.

Foreman’s work has touched the lives of many theater professionals who have either worked with him or been influenced by his eccentricity. Amongst the interview subjects are James Cromwell, Willem Dafoe, Lili Taylor, Suzan-Lori Parks, Yoko Ono, Lou Reed, and Eric Bogosian. As actor T. Ryder Smith tells a long and strange tale of his audition for Foreman, his story is presented in an animated sequence, turning Foreman into a grizzly ogre and his apartment building a dank and smelly fortress, heightening the auditioner’s sense of insecurity and hesitation over giving themselves up for critique by this enigmatic individual.

Foreman’s work stayed underground for years, until he gets the opportunity to stage Bertolt Brecht’s The Threepenny Opera at Lincoln Center in 1976, starring Raul Julia, a gifted Shakespearean actor who got Foreman’s macabre side to deliver a stunning performance as Macheath. While Foreman himself is not an accessibly likable character, and his shows that are abstract for the sake of being that way can be frustrating to watch and verge on pretentiousness, his willingness to forgo mainstream acceptance is to be admired. Foreman himself would say of aspiring artists that he is “hungry for your uniqueness.” Anybody who shakes up audience’s expectations and opens their minds to the reawakening of life is to be commended.

2010 DOC NYC: Werner Herzog's Cave of Forgotten Dreams

Posted by Melissa Silvestri on Nov 03, 2010
Source: Festival Coverage

It's business as usual for legendary Werner Herzog -- the prolific documentary and narrative filmmaker (My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done, The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call - New Orleans) utilizes a technology that we would normally associate with fiction films, and applies it to the soulful and mesmerizing 3-D documentary. With the help of archeologists in the south of France, Herzog's Cave of Forgotten Dreams visits the Chauvet Cave, which is populated with not only a damp and quiet eeriness, but cave drawings of long-extinct animals and pictorial depictions of ancient mankind.

2010 DOC NYC First Festival Edition

Herzog’s camera combined with stunning 3-D technology truly draws the audience into the cave, listening to the dripping off of stalagmites and practically touching the etchings of human figures and wild animals, including extinct creatures like the cave lion and the cave bear. Aside from Herzog’s narration, the film is dominated by the archaeologists’ insightful commentary on the way that man once lived, and the stories that they told through their drawings. The cave’s ground is so fragile that the people can only walk on a two-foot wide walkway, and at times, cannot get close enough to the walls to truly observe the drawings.

Herzog allows the audience to see the drawings for themselves, sans commentary or interviews, in a quiet segment near the end of the film, where the camera just pans over intricately detailed drawings like two large beasts locked in horns, their legs braced for action, or the multiple legs of a man meant to portray him walking, as if he was being animated via flipbook. The peace of the cave combined with the visual effects brings serenity into the theater, a hushed silence, as if the audience is all on this rare journey together.

Cave of Forgotten Dreams is a breathtaking film to highlight the wonders of this cave, which, due to toxic levels of radon and carbon dioxide as well as fragile ground, is not open to the general public. Herzog does a great service in bringing this natural beauty to the big screen.

NYC DOC screening times.

2010 DOC NYC: Josef Birdman Astor's Lost Bohemia

Posted by Melissa Silvestri on Nov 04, 2010
Source: Festival Coverage

Carnegie Hall has not only been the place where great classical music is performed. It has housed 165 studios above the theaters since 1895, where artists live and work to create dance, music, art, photography, and act. The artists who live there taught students in these very studios, and many 20th century luminaries graced these illustrious halls, including Isadora Duncan, George Balanchine, Elia Kazan, Marlon Brando, and Martha Graham. But in the past few years, Carnegie Hall has decided to tear down the studios to replace them with offices and music studios, leaving many of its elderly residents out in the cold, many who were instrumental in the mid 20th century art scenes of New York City. With studios full of fifty years’ worth of their life’s work, it seems hypocritical that an institution devoted to the arts would throw out many of the people who are living works of art. Lost Bohemia, directed by photographer and longtime resident Josef “Birdman” Astor, pays tribute to these singular individuals losing their livelihood to big business.

2010 DOC NYC First Festival Edition

Lost Bohemia takes the audience on a trip through time, exploring the vast studios of a select group of individuals who have been living in the studios for decades, their lives intertwined with their immense contributions to the cultural arts of New York City. Many of these people were instrumental in saving Carnegie Hall in 1960 when it was in danger of demolition. A pianist who has been recording since the 1950s is at home at his large piano. A dancer in her eighties, named Star, still stretches diligently with remarkable flexibility in the stairwells. Robert Modica, an acting teacher, has taught at the studio for nearly 50 years. Editta Sherman, at age 98, has been the public face of the fight to save the studios, a former model and muse for many designers and artists. Her home, like the others, is furnished with grand photographs of past stars like Grace Kelly and Leonard Bernstein, with an innumerable amount of books, music, and irreplaceable historical memorabilia.

When watching Lost Bohemia, you might feel like you're in mid-20th-century New York City, when artists lived on the cheap, roomed with one another, ate at local delis, and the work they put their sweat into revitalized the local arts scenes with thought-provoking youthful energy. Be it Kazan and Tennessee Williams collaborating to bring uncomfortable truths to the theater, Jerome Robbins developing the street ballet of West Side Story, or the indie film actors of the 1980s honing their craft with Modica, the Carnegie Hall studios provided an exceptional channel for the greatest artists of the 20th century.

The artists did not win their battle, but their stories and contributions to the arts of New York City will never be forgotten or be unappreciated.

2010 DOC NYC: Paul Clarke's Mother of Rock: Lillian Roxon

Posted by Melissa Silvestri on Nov 05, 2010
Source: Festival Coverage

Lillian Roxon was a pioneering music journalist in the hedonistic rock ‘n’ roll world of the 1960s. A transplant from Australia, she made her mark in the boho scene of Manhattan, hanging out with the likes of Bob Dylan, The Velvet Underground, and Andy Warhol. She had a sixth sense for predicting who was going to be culturally significant, and her charm and enthusiasm was infectious. Paul Clarke profiles her brief but incredible story in Mother of Rock: Lillian Roxon.

2010 DOC NYC First Festival Edition

Roxon was raised in Australia after her family emigrated from Italy in the 1930s to escape fascism. She was a free spirit who preferred to live as a single and adventurous woman in 1950s Sydney rather than wait at home to be married. Wherever there was a party, she was there. Getting started in tabloid journalism, she moved to NYC in 1959 and became the correspondent for several Australian women’s magazines. There, she served as ambassador for other Australian visitors, soaked up the nightlife, and was drawn like a magnet to the electrifying world of rock ‘n’ roll.

Roxon stood out as a freak, both as a foreigner and as a female writer in the burgeoning world of rock journalism. Iggy Pop, whose punk rock stage antics Roxon was blown away by, pointed out that she was attracted to the reckless dark side of rock ‘n’ roll, knowing everyone at Max’s Kansas City. She was a singular force who was an early promoter of punk rock before it had a name, the glam rock scene, and anything that was wild and weird and unusual. Her life burned out at age 41 due to an asthmatic condition, but while she was here, the world was a little brighter with her in it.

Lillian Roxon paved the way for seminal female rock music journalists like Ann Powers and Jancee Dunn. No inhibitions, no regrets, just a woman who, with the power of her pen, brought the freak side of New York City’s rock scene to many rock music fans and lonely outcasts, detailing the underground scene of music, art, sex, and theater that was just exploding with raw and vibrant power.

Interview: David Soll (Puppet)

Posted by Melissa Silvestri on Nov 05, 2010
Source: Festival Coverage

When we think of puppets, a few things come to mind. Jim Henson. Ventriloquism. Sock puppets. Puppet takes the chance to challenge the misconception of what is normally perceived as merely children’s entertainment. Puppetry has been a creative art of storytelling for centuries, to tell many stories through lifelike figures. Director David Soll intertwines the history of puppetry with the staging of the show Disfarmer, by puppeteer Dan Hurlin, about the nearly-obscure Depression-era portrait photographer Mike Disfarmer. Puppet captures a uncanny parallel between the photographer whose work was nearly forgotten and the puppeteer who struggles to make a show that resonates with audiences and shines a spotlight on the ingenious craft of puppetry. I spoke to David Soll via phone.

Melissa Silvestri: How did you get involved in Puppet?
David Soll: Pretty simply actually. I saw the show. I read David Rakoff’s article in the New York Times previewing Hiroshima Maiden [Dan Hurlin’s previous show]. I went to see that show, not knowing what to expect. It had never occurred to me that puppetry could be for adults. My only reference point was The Muppets and Sesame Street. I had no idea that in every other country in the world, puppetry was either high art or religion or folk craft, and it was only in America that this had been marginalized as children’s theatre. So this was completely new to me. And [it was] the unexpectedness of seeing such a moving piece, done with subtly and nuance as a puppet piece, combined with Dan’s exquisite aesthetic. [It] just really inspired me and thrilled me. And I didn’t do anything about it, until I met Dan by chance. And I told him how much I loved Hiroshima Maiden. And he told me about his upcoming piece, Disfarmer. And he told me the story of Disfarmer, and I said to him, “It seems to me that there should be a much larger audience for this work than there is,” and I would come up to his church where he was having his first rehearsal residency. He would bring these puppeteers up from New York City to work with him in this church. And once I saw them operating the puppet, looking at it through the camera, I couldn’t really resist. It was such a compelling image to see a close-up of the puppet being operated by these three extremely talented puppeteers.

Silvestri: There is a way that these puppeteers bring life to these creations that make the puppets very lifelike and emotions are projected onto them, despite their fixed expressions.
Soll: That’s absolutely right. I’ve spoken to the puppeteers, [and] they describe their role as facilitating a connection between the audience and the puppet. So while they are performers, and they recognize that they are performers, there’s a certain immediate connection that people have with the inanimate object, that once it has just the slightest amount of life breathed into it, [it] captivates, and really inspires an audience to connect, and bring all of their own emotions into the scene. So the puppeteers just see themselves as really enabling that primordial connection.

Silvestri: Audiences may be turned off to puppetry because of a fear of puppets, of something inanimate being given human emotions and feelings, and almost coming to life.
Soll: There are definitely people who find puppets creepy. But I think it’s the robotics theory, from the late 70s, [that] has become really popular, as with 3-D animation, the uncanny valley, this notion that a human simulacra, [like] an animated figure or a puppet, as it approaches lifelike, it reaches a point where it’s almost human, but not quite, and it goes from being amusing and engaging to uncanny and terrifying. And that was the theory behind why The Polar Express as a film did really badly at the box office, because they were too lifelike but not quite lifelike enough. As something gets too close to being lifelike, the audience starts to focus on the ways that it’s not alive, and get revolted, rather on the ways that it is alive, and be delighted. So I think puppets, when they’re done well, exist right on the edge of the uncanny valley where they’re completely compelling, but not quite uncanny.

Silvestri: The slow acceptance of a puppet as an lifelike creature reminds me of Todd Haynes’ Superstar, which allows the audience to initially get past the absurdity of Barbie and Ken dolls acting out a story and feel emotions for the story via the voice acting and music, projecting their own emotional responses onto the plastic faces.
Soll: I think that’s right. It’s really a tricky line between being boring, because they’re just dolls, and being completely captivating, and being revolting. The difference between those three categories is really pretty subtle, I think. And you’re not really sure how or why that line gets crossed.

Silvestri: I had seen an exhibit of Disfarmer’s work at a Manhattan gallery [Steven Kasher Gallery], I was curious to know if Dan related to Disfarmer in being a misunderstood artist?
Soll: I don’t think Dan was entirely sure why he wanted to make a piece about Disfarmer at the beginning. He thought he was fascinating, but I don’t think he started out seeing himself in this puppet. That’s something that evolved for him over time. And I don’t think it’s necessarily about feeling unappreciated it was more about connecting to someone for whom issues of legacy and mortality were really salient. So for Dan, it’s more like the life in his show. He spent three years making this project with collaborators, investing with enormous personal, emotional and creative resources into it, and when it’s over, it’s just gone forever. And that to me, just in terms of any performance art or theater, is really terrifying. As a filmmaker, I want to make things that will last. That’s just something that I’m attached to, and I don’t know how people like Dan Hurlin do it, and invest so much time and energy into something that when it’s over, it’s really gone. So the least that he’s hoping for is a really significant run where he gets to feel like a lot of people saw it, that it made its mark on theater, that it did something. That it had a life in the world.

So he chose as his project this story about a man who had done incredible work, completely outside the New York art world, completely unknown to the art world, and then passed away completely in obscurity. And only thirty years later did his work find its own new life, completely separate from him as a human being. There was something about that overlap and intention.

Silvestri: Disfarmer’s photographs show people who have strong, stoic expressions, and whose backgrounds are completely mysteries, that you can project whatever kind of background you want onto them.
Soll: Absolutely, and that was Dan’s first epiphany when making his piece, that was he was drawn to these photographs the same reason that he was drawn to these puppets, and the same reason that he was drawn to Disfarmer, that they all invite that kind of interpretation. And they also feel like they just barely exist. They’re there enough to captivate your imagination, but you don’t know anything about them. We don’t know anything about Disfarmer. We just know that he was an eccentric guy who took amazing photographs, so he’s just there enough to inspire an evening performance, but not enough to tell you the whole story. The Wikipedia entry on Disfarmer’s life is pretty short [laughs]. There’s just not much there.

2010 DOC NYC First Festival Edition

Silvestri: The documentary gives audiences a wider view of the art of puppetry, beyond children’s theater or hand puppets. The puppetry in work like The Lion King expands an awareness that puppetry can be more alive and one with the performer or work as a support to an artist rather than being the star itself. And that puppetry is more respected in other countries as a legitimate art form rather than the U.S., where it is demoted to only being for children, and not high art enough for adults.
Soll: I’m glad to hear that that comes across. And what I was hoping to do was not just make it a lot of context for this guy [Hurlin], but have Mike Disfarmer, Dan Hurlin, and the form of puppetry as three intertwining threads, which have these overlapping themes of disappearance and revival. All three experience issues of disappearance and legacy and marginalization, and I was hoping to find a way to put those three in dialogue with each other.

Click here for festival dates for David Soll's Puppet.