Search Film Reviews

Friday, August 29, 2014

From the Mouths of Filmmakers: Shawn Christensen

Shawn Christensen at the 85th Academy Awards
By Shawn Christensen and Joshua Handler 

Recently I've been disturbed by the amount of people who don't seek out independent films, non-English-language films, and classics.  So, I asked some of the most distinctive voices in independent and world cinema to submit responses to a few questions about why/if they think indies/non-English-language films/classics are important to view, and how those films have been influential on their careers.

The responses below are from Shawn Christensen, writer/director of "Curfew", winner of the Oscar for Best Short Film, Live Action. Christensen adapted "Curfew" into a feature film, BEFORE I DISAPPEAR, which won the 2014 SXSW Film Festival's Audience Award.

Do you feel that it is important for aspiring filmmakers and filmgoers to view independent and world cinema and why?
Yes, and especially in the case of world cinema - a foreign filmmaker's view of the world can be so different from your own, and their ideas of how to tell a story, cinematically, can be an eye-opener.  Many of the great American filmmakers in the '60's and '70's were inspired by mid-century European cinema.  They were watching Bergman, Fellini, Bertolucci, Godard, etc., and it changed the way they looked at the film medium.  I remember watching BREATHLESS in college, and I was blown away by the editing - that's when I learned there are no rules when trying to get a point across.
Do you feel that it is important for aspiring filmmakers and filmgoers to view films of the past and why?
At one point, as an exercise, I watched only films made before 1980 for a few months.  The reason for this, was because in the late '70's the "Weekend Box Office" became a well publicized event, and from that moment forward, making movies became more of a competitive blood-sport.  The studios began injecting conventions, clichés and formulas into our entertainment like never before, with an eye to "win the weekend".   It was fascinating to me to realize just how unpredictable many movies were before then.  These days, even really good movies... I feel like I know where they're going.  We all do.
How did viewing indies and films from around the world help you when directing "Curfew" and BEFORE I DISAPPEAR?
I think it's a subconscious thing - drawing from all kinds of different films, even "popcorn" movies, and cherry-picking the kinds of characters and scenes and cinematography that I like.  I watched a lot of Bergman while writing the feature... but I also watched a lot of Pixar, so who knows?
What's one American and one non-English-language film that you would recommend that film-lovers or young/aspiring filmmakers see?
MEAN STREETS - Martin Scorsese
BLOW-UP - Michelangelo Antonioni
From the Mouths of Filmmakers continues on Monday.


Left to right: László Gyémánt as Egyik Iker and András Gyémánt as Masik Iker
Photo by Christian Berger, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

2013, 109 minutes
Rated R for disturbing violent and sexual content, nudity and language.

Review by Joshua Handler

This review was initially published on February 24, 2014.

János Szász's The Notebook was shortlisted for an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language Film and has no relation to the 2004 film of the same name.  It is a crime that The Notebook wasn't nominated for the Oscar.  The film tells the story of two unnamed boys (András Gyémánt and Lázló Gyémánt) who are brought to the Hungarian countryside to live with their brutal grandmother (Piroska Molnár) during World War II.  As the violence and inhumanity begin to pervade their daily lives, the twins begin to do exercises to desensitize themselves to the darkness around them in order to survive.

The Notebook is as original a vision as they come.  There have been numerous films that depict wars from children's point of views, but few come close to capturing something this original.  The unnamed children in The Notebook are largely affectless, showing very little emotion.  They are each other's entire lives - two parts of one whole.  World War II and life with their grandmother is shown through their eyes as an exercise of sorts.  There is nothing that can't be overcome through exercises.  For example, to conquer pain, the boys beat each other to get used to any beating they receive.  Szász makes sure that we develop no emotional connection to anyone in the film, creating a cold piece of work, mirroring the mindset of the twins.  Oscar-nominee Christian Berger's crisp, carefully composed shots complement the lack of emotion, and they add a layer of beauty in a film full of horror.

Children have a need to take control of their lives and almost always manage to do so, even when adults around them can't.  The Notebook shows the twins taking control of every aspect of their lives.  The film itself is a testament to the resilience of children in the face of great evil.  During World War II, entire countries fell due to weakness and fear.  In a short period of time, the twins conquered what many countries failed to conquer: fear of pain, death, and evil.  Had the twins been slightly older, they would certainly have joined the resistance.

Overall, The Notebook is an unforgettable piece of cinema, featuring committed performances (the Gyémánts give two of the most complex child performances ever), strong direction, eye-popping cinematography, and an ending that nears perfection.  Many films lose much of their impact at the end, but not The Notebook.  If anything, the tense, unpredictable final scene gives the movie the punch that it builds up to.  János Szász has created one of the greatest and most unique World War II films in history and I can only hope this masterpiece finds success.


Thursday, August 28, 2014

An Interview with János Szász, Director of THE NOTEBOOK (LE GRAND CAHIER)

Director and adaptor János Szász — Photo courtesy of the artist

By Joshua Handler

János Szász' The Notebook (Le Grand Cahier) is a remarkably cruel look into the violence inflicted upon people during World War II. It's an unsentimental story filled with pain, yet is one of the most beautifully profound films about that period in history I've ever seen. The Notebook tells the story of twin boys who are left at their grandmother's house during World War II and the exercises that they do to desensitize themselves to the cruelty around them. The film was shortlisted for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film and won the 2013 Karlovy Vary Film Festival's Crystal Globe (the top prize). The Notebook is based off of the highly popular Agota Kristof novel of the same name, so adapting it was a very large task. However, Szász and crew were up to that task, and I talked with Mr. Szász on the phone to discuss the film and its creation.

Szász said the following about adapting the novel, "The novel by Agota Krisof is like a screenplay, so adaptation went very smoothly, very quick, you know, and Agota wrote wonderful dialogues and all [of the] description [of the] actions are very, very exact in the book, so it was not that hard to follow it, but what was very important in the caae of adaptation was [finding] how to grab the simplicity that is in the...novel, because in the novel you can see very, very short, not fragmented, not detailed's kind of [written] in a cold way, and what was very important for me as a director and screenplay writer [was] also just to find a way [for us to] achieve this...coldness. [T]he hardest part [was] just [trying] to find the part under the [surface]."

And to do this exploration, Szász had a wonderful crew: "I had great mates - these two boys, the twins, the Gyémánt twins, and Piroska Molnár, the grandmother - those actors gave me real inspiration [on] how to lead them, how to show this relationship, and I had a great mate, Christian Berger, the director of photography, who is a great, great person, and he is a wonderful DOP... Without [the] actors and without Christian I would never be able to do a film like this, and the film is a [result of] teamwork, and the team is important because I must be inspired and the people must be inspired from me also."

András and László Gyémánt lead the film as the twins. Their performances are among the best child performances ever put on film, so I asked Mr. Szász how he found the twins. He said, "We had been looking for twins, approximately 13-years-old, [who are] very talented and have [good screen presence]. We wrote to all [of the] Hungarian schoolmasters...'Do you know any twins in your school and if you know, please let us know their name [and] phone number?' [W]e had three different casting teams. It was approximately a bit more than half a year [before finding the Gyémánts]. Fortune is important. We are not able to live without fortune, we need it badly. But we have to serve this [fortune], and [you have to serve] it with good work - it's the only way to serve the fortune."

I remarked that children and animals are notorious for being the most difficult to direct, but Szász made a film revolving around children with many animals in the "supporting cast". To this, Szász said the following: "It's so great to work with children. It's a pleasure because I can learn a lot, and this kind of natural presence, what they have, I just need to follow it, and this is very important. They are not actors, they are in, they don't act, they act just in the story. This is magic, I cannot describe it.

"For children actors, it is very special how to instruct [them]. [The twins] really came from a very, very poor part of Hungary, and them I found them, I traveled two-and-a-half hours from the city, and I found them with the mother, and they had been abandoned by the father, and they desired to be with the father more - they had a hard life. And then I visited them, and I began to talk about hard life. In the film, there are some very emotional moments for the kids and...the source for these moments is their own life."

Most World War II films focus on adults and their experiences during World War II. It's rare to see one focused entirely around children. So, I asked Mr. Szász what drew him to this subject matter and telling a story from a children's point of view. He responded: "I have planned this film for 13 to 14 years, but all options were absolutely occupied. Agnieszka Holland was working on it, Thomas Vinterberg was working on it. It's a very cruel novel and if you put all cruelty into the screen, nobody can see it on the screen." He continued to discuss how literature relies on the reader's imagination, whereas film works "with other tools." Szász wanted to play on the audience's imaginations, but also wanted to use the tools of film to help merge the audience's imaginations with the images of the film.

Left to right: László Gyémánt as Egyik Iker and András Gyémánt as Masik Iker
Photo by Christian Berger, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

Much of the violence in The Notebook is left offscreen, yet some is shown. I asked Szász how he decided what to show and what not to show. He said, "I don't know. It's a decision. I made a general decision before, [to leave some things out]. In the beating scenes especially when the Hungarian Nazi is beating [the twins], I knew exactly where we are in the [film], and it's approximately around one hour, one hour and ten minutes. I just felt it's no time to hide, it's time to show, and it was a very painful part of making this movie, just to shoot these two days, and it was very, very hard, but it was unavoidable... I just decided [to show the violence] because I felt it's a must. We cannot hide in that moment, this kind of cruelty adult people are making with children, how they behave with children, how they can treat children, all the disrespect, which is a part of the war also, and the part of the lost morals also, so I felt that I must...[show the violence]. I just felt it's a must to say 'this is the war and learn [so that it doesn't happen again]'."

Szász said in another interview, "To make this movie was a wonderful and a painful journey for me, like a time machine, took me back into the war time. The jungle of fear and immorality." I asked him how was he able to "nagivage this jungle." He responded, "It's a kind of must because both my parents were affected in the Second World War, Holocaust survivors, and that they have a very hard package... I had a tool to witness [my parents' story in the war], and this is the making of the film. It's a kind of possibility to go back. It's not only a time machine, but its also looking for the roots, how my parents could feel, at the middle of the inhumanity and immorality. It's a kind of...obligation for me who takes it very seriously because I father and my mother, so it was no question that I need to go for hard subjects."

At one point in the film, the Jews in the town are being deported, yet the sound of someone humming happily is heard over this horrific scene. It's a scene of great contrasts. To this statement, Szász said, "I think it's very faithful to the history of Hungary, as many many people had this kind of lightness when they have seen marching children, women, old men and women, it didn't take it very hard and sometimes it was just a joke. It is a part of the Eastern European history, it's not too much people gave help. It's [making] the whole situation [ironic]. This is a part of our history, this humming.

And then, Szász told me what makes The Notebook distinctly Hungarian: "All the stuff that we [were] talking about before. Hungary had such a different history because we have been standing with the losers, and when it happened in '44, it was totally unnecessary to serve Germans, the SS, it was not necessary, but we have made it, and we put Jewish people and Gypsies and gays in a very, very organized way into the wagons and [then to] Auschwitz, and it was two-and-a-half to three months, no more, but Hungary is a kind of disorganized country basically, but Hungary became very organized (during those months)... I was in Bulgaria two weeks ago and Bulgaria was an exception because they did not deport one soul, one Jewish soul, they didn't give one Jew to the hands of the Germans. It means that every country has its own history with the Second World War, its own bad conscience, and we have enough, unfortunately, and I think that if I'm able to talk about this, that maybe it's good for the history just to talk about [it], maybe it's a little relief, because I don't blame any Hungarians now about this, but it's good to talk about this. It's a kind of relief - in Sofia, we had a dinner and suddenly a wonderful German guy just sat opposite me and we had a...conversation and [we talked about our history], and I told him that my father was in a concentration camp, and he told me that his grandpa was in a concentration camp, but he was an S.S. in the same camp [as my father]. We hugged each other - this is very important that I [didn't feel] that [he] is my enemy. He is my friend...we must forgive but we must talk about [it]. He felt, this man felt, the obligation not to hide it but to [talk about it]. When I'm able to make a film like this, I have a kind of obligation to talk about this. Maybe it's uncomfortable, maybe in Hungary people are bored with this subject, but its not clear yet, it's not clear yet what has happened. We haven't looked into the mirror. To make film, it's maybe a mirror. Maybe it's not a good mirror, but it's my mirror, and maybe people can hate my mirror, but it's a mirror."

The Notebook is in theaters in NYC/LA today and expands throughout the next month.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

From the Mouths of Filmmakers: Amanda Rose Wilder

Amanda Rose Wilder
©Robin Holland/

By Amanda Rose Wilder and Joshua Handler 

Recently I've been disturbed by the amount of people who don't seek out independent films, non-English-language films, and classics.  So, I asked some of the most distinctive voices in independent and world cinema to submit responses to a few questions about why/if they think indies/non-English-language films/classics are important to view, and how those films have been influential on their careers.

The responses below are from Amanda Rose Wilder, director/producer/cinematographer of APPROACHING THE ELEPHANT, a cinéma vérité look at the first year of the Teddy McArdle Free School, "where all classes are voluntary and rules are determined by vote - adults and children have an equal say." The film had its world premiere at the 2014 True/False Film Fest and subsequently screened at BAMcinémaFest.

Do you feel that it is important for aspiring filmmakers and filmgoers to view independent and world cinema and why?
I'm not someone to tell others what should be important to them. If you make brilliant films and watch FIELD OF DREAMS each night for going on ten years straight, to quote PARIS IS BURNING, "hooray for you." Inspiration can come from anywhere - I think the key is to be aware of your voice - and the importance of that it's unique - and attuned for inspiration wherever it may come from - if you are, then you'll naturally want to 'study broadly,' to see what's out there.
Do you feel that it is important for aspiring filmmakers and filmgoers to view films of the past and why?
See above.
How did viewing indies and films from around the world help you when creating APPROACHING THE ELEPHANT?
There were a handful of films I would rewatch now and then while making APPROACHING THE ELEPHANT: The Maysles's GIMME SHELTER, Wiseman's films, especially HIGH SCHOOL and WELFARE, the Dardennes' LE FILS. When I was feeling constricted, these films would soften and enliven my gaze.
What's one English-language indie and one non-English-language film that you would recommend that film-lovers or young/aspiring filmmakers see?
For world cinema, one I saw recently: King Hu's A TOUCH OF ZEN. Rivette's CELINE AND JULIE GO BOATING.
From the Mouths of Filmmakers continues on Friday.

Monday, August 25, 2014

From the Mouths of Filmmakers: Carlos Marques-Marcet

Carlos Marques-Marcet
Source: Carlos Alvarez/Getty Images Europe
By Carlos Marques-Marcet and Joshua Handler 

Recently I've been disturbed by the amount of people who don't seek out independent films, non-English-language films, and classics.  So, I asked some of the most distinctive voices in independent and world cinema to submit responses to a few questions about why/if they think indies/non-English-language films/classics are important to view, and how those films have been influential on their careers.

The responses below are from Carlos Marques-Marcet, writer/director of 10.000KM (in theaters later this year), winner of SXSW's Special Jury Award for Best Acting Duo. Carlos also edited Eliza Hittman's acclaimed film, IT FELT LIKE LOVE.

Do you feel that it is important for aspiring filmmakers and filmgoers to view independent and world cinema and why?
The selfish, but political answer to this question is that it’s important because we need to pay rent and make more movies. If people don’t go to see it, these movies just won’t get made, I know it sounds a dumb, obvious argument, but I feel it is the right one. Sadly, this is how it works in the capitalist society we live in. In the communist world, this logic was very different. I had a film teacher, an incredible Hungarian filmmaker, Gyula Gazdag, who made thirteen movies, and all of them were banned for political reasons even before they were shown in public. Could you imagine in today’s world somebody making two movies that go directly to the shelves and then try to get money for a third one? Imagine thirteen! It’s just impossible to think about it. In our society, if people don’t go to see movies, independent filmmaking will become a weekend hobby, or something that only rich people will be able to make in their free time. If you want to make movies, and expect people to go to see them, we should start being our audiences too.
Then, each one has their own reason to do things, and whatever is important for each person is very relative. I personally do it because I enjoy it. I like to be surprised and learn about other worlds that are not mine. And I like to see movies that give me something that I can take with me. I love TV, but when I watch a show, I just want to see the next chapter, and the next, and the next, it’s a total drug, and then I just want to inhabit these people’s life. I forget about my own life, I actually don’t give a shit about it. With movies, once the lights turn on, you are confronted with yourself. You have to cope with your own reality, your own desires, your own frustrations. Good films are like mirrors that allow you to discover things about yourself by looking at other people and other worlds.
Do you feel that it is important for aspiring filmmakers and filmgoers to view films of the past and why?
Every year you will probably be able to make a list of fifty really good films that were made. And that’s already being very optimistic. Why should you limit to those fifty good films if you actually can have access to over a 100 years of cinema history? It’s just nuts not to do it. That’s actually what I mostly do when I go to the theater in LA. I go to the Silent Movie Theater, the Egyptian, the New Beverly to watch old prints. It’s a good bet that you will see something that fulfils you, that shakes your head and your heart. Just think about the period 1955-1965. It’s insane the amount of masterpieces around the world that were made. In the '20s, an unbelievable amount of amazing movies accumulated, but I guess in the '55-'65 period it was this magical moment where a first generation of movie geniuses were at the height of their art, at the same time a new generation exploded all around the world to change cinema completely. I don’t say there are not good movies now, I don’t like nostalgia, but there are those magical periods of cinema that to me seems completely foolish not to explore.
How did viewing indies and films from around the world help you when creating 10.000KM?
I fantasize very often about being one of those classical Hollywood directors that says that they never watched movies, not even their own. Even Bresson said that, which I think is an absolute lie. So yes, I watch lots of movies, and they affect you in very different ways. I’m not the kind of director who likes to reference other directors with shots. I always try to figure out on my own, looking closely at the material I’m dealing with, although sometimes some friends have pointed out unconscious references that I was making. But in general, other movies help me to find the right questions more than give me answers. For example, the movie that influenced me the most for 10.000KM was I FIDANZADI by Ermanno Olmi, who is one of my favorite filmmakers. The movie tells the story of a couple that is separated by distance in Italy during the sixties, so obviously it is completely different. However, the feeling of the last scene in this movie, when they talk on the phone after the climax with the letters, is exactly what we wanted to convey with 10.000KM. I felt this last scene could be taken today and developed into a whole movie, to explore in depth what he just hinted at. Most of the influences are what I call “spirit references”. For example, like many other filmmakers I got obsessed with Ozu when I discovered his movies. I didn’t want to watch anything else, I just wanted to imitate everything he did, something that can be really ridiculous, because he has the gift of being universal by means of being very local and specific for its time. If I put the camera a foot from the floor, that doesn’t make sense. It made sense for Ozu because the Japanese sat on the floor and the architecture of the houses was what they were. But instead, I asked myself: how can I film an apartment in Barcelona and an apartment in LA, in a way that is culturally completely specific to each place and can create a contrast between them? Where do I place the camera to get that? Which lines do I draw with the framing to create that effect? How do I place objects in the frame? The answers that Ozu give are probably only valid for him, but the questions are for everybody. The same thing with Ophüls and the opening master shot of our movie. Or even with Alan King's documentary A MARRIED COUPLE, that I showed to my actors and was a very useful tool to ask ourselves questions about what it means to be a couple, not in an abstract way, but being very specific. I don’t normally show “direct” references to my collaborators of how I want a movie to look or to be. I would show a few movies (not too many), a few songs, a few photographs, and say, "Hey, that’s the spirit, these are the questions and then let’s make our own thing."
What's one Spanish film and one non-Spanish-language film that you would recommend that film-lovers or young/aspiring filmmakers see?
Only one! It’s so hard! I hate to recommend because I care so much about it. I really want the person I recommend something to to at least take something important out of the experience (that doesn’t mean necessary liking it). I don’t like to recommend “in abstract”. And I would recommend a different movie depending if it’s in the afternoon or in the evening, if it’s summer or winter, to watch alone or with people, etc. Anyway, with that said, I enjoy lists sometimes because it triggers in me the desire of watching some movies - that’s actually how you discover lots of them. One very important Spanish movie, that used to be the cult movie par excellence but now has become just a classic, is Ivan Zulueta’s RAPTURE (ARREBATO). His influence among Spanish filmmakers is huge, especially with what's now being called the new generation in Spain “el otro cine” (“the other cinema”). I don't think it’s been released in the US, but there’s been some screenings, it’s an amazing movie, I can’t say much but I just want people to go to see it if they can. One that's been released and is one of my favorites, a movie I never get tired watching is Saura’s CRIA CUERVOS. It’s so moving, so dense in its layers but with the grace of a magical simplicity. A Spanish non-Spanish-language movie (it only has one sentence in French in the whole movie) that also marked many young filmmakers in Spain is TRAIN OF SHADOWS (TREN DE SOMBRAS), by Jose Luis Guerin. His most known movie in the U.S. is IN THE CITY OF SYLVIA, but Guerin’s earlier movies were very influential, even if many of us had to somehow “kill the father”. I was also one of those Barcelona teenagers, “trendesombristas”, who tried at some moment to make some bad imitation of this movie. But I think that even if you tried to escape from it, TREN DE SOMBRAS follows you everywhere, specially if you see it when you are a teenager cinephile.

The only thing that I think could be useful for young filmmakers who want to make fiction feature films is to watch movies from first-time directors who were able to do incredibly personal movies, just using whatever they had around them but totally uncompromising their vision, being smart but not strategic. There is a danger in trying to be too strategic on what you want to be your first movie, because you can fall in what you “can” do, instead of what you absolutely “need” to do. Movies should choose you even more than you choose them. But you have to be smart because most of the time you don’t have many resources, you have to ask favors from all your friends, and most of the time you even have to self-finance. That wasn’t my case, but I really admire filmmaker friends who had been able to pull off incredible personal and uncompromising fiction feature movies almost by themselves, like Eliza Hittman’s IT FELT LIKE LOVE, Oliver Laxe’s YOU ARE ALL CAPTAINS or Desiree Akhavan APPROPRIATE BEHAVIOR. These are three examples of movies made with the resources they have “at hand”, around them, but there is no single frame in those films that you don’t feel their complete urge to show what they need to show, you can feel their blood and guts in every single shot.
From the Mouths of Filmmakers continues on Wednesday.

Friday, August 22, 2014

From the Mouths of Filmmakers: John Michael McDonagh

Director John Michael McDonagh directing CALVARY.
Fox Searchlight
By John Michael McDonagh and Joshua Handler 

Recently I've been disturbed by the amount of people who don't seek out independent films, non-English-language films, and classics.  So, I asked some of the most distinctive voices in independent and world cinema to submit responses to a few questions about why/if they think indies/non-English-language films/classics are important to view, and how those films have been influential on their careers.

The responses below are from John Michael McDonagh, best known for writing and directing Calvary (in theaters now) and The Guard (nominated for a BAFTA for Best Original Screenplay). 

Do you feel that it is important for aspiring filmmakers and filmgoers to view independent and world cinema and why?
It depends what kind of a filmmaker or filmgoer you want to be. If you want to be the director of Thor 4, then it's not important at all to view independent or world cinema. If you're happy being the kind of sheep who will watch any studio movie regardless of quality, ditto. But, ultimately, nothing is important. Getting up in the morning isn't important if you don't want it to be.
Do you feel that it is important for aspiring filmmakers and filmgoers to view films of the past and why?
See above.
How did viewing indies and films from around the world help you when directing CALVARY and THE GUARD?
Almodóvar was a big influence on The Guard in regard to its colour palette, but that film is mostly a tribute to the studio work of John Ford and Preston Sturges, and the buddy-buddy comedies that were released by the major motion picture companies in the US in the '70s. Calvary is a different matter, as its influences range from Buñuel to Bresson to Bergman to Bruno Dumont and Carlos Reygadas. Both films, however, are heavily indebted to the editing style of Takeshi Kitano, particularly in reference to his masterpiece, Sonatine.
What's one British or Irish indie and one non-English-language film that you would recommend that film-lovers or young/aspiring filmmakers see?
Powell & Pressburger's A Matter of Life and Death, and Jean-Pierre Melville's Le Samouraï.
From the Mouths of Filmmakers continues on Monday.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

From the Mouths of Filmmakers: Talya Lavie

Talya Lavie. Photographer: Eran Cohen 
By Talya Lavie and Joshua Handler 

Recently I've been disturbed by the amount of people who don't seek out independent films, non-English-language films, and classics.  So, I asked some of the most distinctive voices in independent and world cinema to submit responses to a few questions about why/if they think indies/non-English-language films/classics are important to view, and how those films have been influential on their careers.

The responses below are from Talya Lavie, writer/director of ZERO MOTIVATION, winner of the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival's Best Narrative Feature Prize (the festival's top honor) and the Nora Ephron Prize, a prize given to a "woman writer or director with a distinctive voice."  ZERO MOTIVATION was also nominated for 12 Ophir Awards (the Israeli equivalent of the Oscars), the most of any film this year.

Do you feel that it is important for aspiring filmmakers and filmgoers to view independent and world cinema and why?
Watching films from different cultures and different artistic styles is one of the best ways to expand your horizons; it's the ultimate way to travel without a passport. Since cinema combines almost all art forms, it can provide a very intense view on the local people and artists.  
Do you feel that it is important for aspiring filmmakers and filmgoers to view films of the past and why?
Like most art forms, films also use references from past works, with the use of homages and tributes. I personally think that it's important to respect the greats and also it's fun to watch old movies.
How did viewing indies and films from around the world help you when directing ZERO MOTIVATION?
I draw inspiration from everything I see, so I try to watch as many films as I can. Before shooting ZERO MOTIVATION I focused more on army/war films and you can see a few homages in the film.
What's one Israeli indie film and one non-Israeli film that you would recommend that film-lovers or young/aspiring filmmakers see?
Almost every Israeli film is considered indie, budget and distribution-wise.
I'd like to recommend the film FILL THE VOID, directed by Rama Burstein, that offers a unique glimpse at a fascinating Israeli subculture, the Hasidic Ultra-Orthodox community in Tel-Aviv. The film is extremely moving and beautifully shot.  
MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE directed by Sean Durkin - I loved this film. It has a beautiful structure, which takes the viewer on a journey into the haunted heroine's stream of consciousness. It has precise craftsmanship, yet still keeps its free spirit.
From the Mouths of Filmmakers continues on Friday.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

BREAKING: Scorsese, Maysles, Wiseman, Oppenheimer, and More at NYFF

I'm weeping with happiness. To see why, read the following press release from the Film Society of Lincoln Center:



15 documentaries include new films by Les Blank, Debra Granik,
Ethan Hawke
, Robert Kenner, Albert Maysles, Joshua Oppenheimer,
Ed Pincus, Martin Scorsese, 
J.P. Sniadecki, Frederick Wiseman, and more

New York, NY (August 19, 2014– The Film Society of Lincoln Center announced today the selections for the Spotlight on Documentary and the Short Film sections for the 52nd New York Film Festival (September 26 – October 12). Spotlight on Documentary will feature an impressive lineup of new films by filmmakers such as Les Blank, Debra Granik, Ethan Hawke, Robert Kenner, Albert Maysles, Joshua Oppenheimer, Ed Pincus, Martin Scorsese, J.P. Sniadecki, Frederick Wiseman, among others.

NYFF’s Director of Programming and Selection Committee Chair, Kent Jones said of Spotlight on Documentary: “This section of the festival has become increasingly important to us, and to me personally. It’s kind of a commonplace to think of documentary as an add-on to fiction, something extra, and of course nothing could be further from the truth: cinema started with documentary, and it will always be at the core of the art form. These 15 films, so vastly different in outlook and method and tone, represent the best in documentary filmmaking today. And I need to say that the presence of new work by some of the greatest figures in the documentary strain known as verité—Fred Wiseman, Al Maysles, and the final films by Ed Pincus and Les Blank, whose doc is about Ricky Leacock—is, for me, both exciting and moving.”

The lineup for the Spotlight on Documentary section includes the highly anticipated film from Scorsese and David Tedeschi,The 50-Year Argument, about The New York Review of Books; and Oppenheimer’s The Look of Silence, in which he follows up on the aftermath of the Indonesian genocide explored by his Academy Award–nominated The Act of Killing. The latest works by documentary filmmaking legends Maysles and Wiseman are featured, with Maysles’s Iris focusing on another legend—fashion- and interior-design master Iris Apfel, and Wiseman’s National Gallery training his camera on the art of painting.

Two filmmakers very familiar to NYFF and the Film Society of Lincoln Center audiences, Blank and Pincus, return as well. Blank and Gina Leibrecht’s How to Smell a Rose: A Visit with Ricky Leacock in Normandy, is exactly what its title suggests: the film chronicles a visit by Blank to Leacock in which the two filmmakers spend time together discussing, among other things, Leacock’s philosophies of living and filmmaking. Pincus and Lucia Small’s One Cut, One Life reunites the two filmmakers for a treatise on life with a demonstration of the necessity of love, work, and beauty.

Two artists more familiar to the narrative world are also featured. Debra Granik, who made a splash with Winter’s Bone in 2010, returns with Stray Dog, a documentary portrait of Ron “Stray Dog” Hall, who appeared in that film, an aging biker and RV park manager and veteran in southern Missouri who was transformed by his tours in Vietnam and dedicates his life to helping his loved ones and fellow vets. Actor Ethan Hawke takes a turn behind the camera to look at the life of pianist Seymour Bernstein with Seymour: An Introduction. Hawke traces the life’s journey and the balance ultimately achieved by a man that mastered the piano very early and had great success on the concert circuit before giving it all up to devote his life to helping others develop their talent.

Additional highlights include Gabe Polsky’s Red Army, which explores the story of the Soviet Union’s Red Army hockey team, which was arguably the most successful sports dynasty in history; Robert Kenner’s Merchants of Doubt, which sheds light on the methods with which opponents of policy to counteract climate change go about their work to confuse and muddy the issue; and J.P. Sniadecki’s The Iron Ministry, in which the filmmaker looks at the lives and personalities of the people that ride the railway cars crossing China every day.

Additional special screenings, events, filmmaker conversations and panels, as well as NYFF’s Projections, Short Films, and the full Convergence programs, will be announced in subsequent days and weeks

The 17-day New York Film Festival highlights the best in world cinema, featuring top films from celebrated filmmakers as well as fresh new talent. The selection committee, chaired by Kent Jones, also includes Dennis Lim, FSLC Director of Programming; Marian Masone, FSLC Senior Programming Advisor; Gavin Smith, Editor-in-Chief, Film Comment; and Amy Taubin, Contributing Editor, Film Comment and Sight & Sound.

NYFF previously announced the Main Slate selections, the retrospective Joseph L. Mankiewicz: The Essential Iconoclast, as well as initial selections in NYFF Convergence and the Revivals section, including Burroughs: The MovieThe Color of PomegranatesHiroshima Mon Amour, and Once Upon a Time in America. 

Tickets for the upcoming New York Film Festival range in price from $15 & $25 for most screenings to $50 & $100 for Gala evenings. Film Society members receive a discount on tickets as well as the benefit of a pre-sale opportunity.

For NYFF Free events: Starting one hour before the scheduled time of the event, complimentary tickets will be distributed from the box office corresponding to the event's venue. Limit one ticket per person, on a space available basis. Please note that the line for tickets may form in advance of the time of distribution.

Visit for more information.

Please note: All sales are final. No refunds or exchanges. Tickets are subject to availability. Programs and prices are subject to change.

Updated NYFF App will soon be available on iOS and Android.


Films & Descriptions

New York Premiere
Dreams Are Colder Than Death
Arthur Jafa, USA, 2013, DCP, 52m
In this new essay film, filmmaker and cinematographer Arthur Jafa (Daughters of the DustCrooklyn) begins with a question: what does it mean to be black in America in the 21st century? He composes the many troubled and troubling answers, offered in the form of evocative images of African-American men and women (intermingled with more abstract visual correlatives to certain remarks), and spoken answers from former Black Panther Kathleen Cleaver, filmmaker Charles Burnett, poet Fred Moten, artist Kara Walker, and others, into a powerful choral work of sustained, burning intensity. Jafa’s aesthetic strategy of separating sound and image has a political charge: he wanted his interviewees to speak freely, unencumbered by the burden of “survival modalities,” i.e., learned forms of self-presentation for public consumption in general and the white world in particular. As of this writing, we are still in the wake of Eric Garner’s death in Staten Island, the National Guard has been called into Ferguson, Missouri, and Jafa’s haunted meditation seems increasingly relevant as the minutes tick by.

New York Premiere
The 50-Year Argument
Martin Scorsese & David Tedeschi, USA, 2014, DCP, 96m
The New York Review of Books, a renowned NY literary institution that’s played a substantial role in American cultural and political life gets the royal treatment in this celebration of a half-century of critical engagement and dissent. Interweaving the history and evolution of the publication, founded by Robert B. Silvers and Barbara Epstein (in reaction to what they considered the impoverished state of book reviewing in The New York Times!), with an examination of its amazing track record of wrestling with the urgent issues and inconvenient truths of the day, from Vietnam to Iraq, this look at the magazine and the journalistic values it enshrines is thoughtful, lively, and moving. It’s also a juicy compilation of greatest hits and historical bull’s-eyes, with guest appearances by James Baldwin, Gore Vidal, Susan Sontag, Norman Mailer, Joan Didion, and a host of other literary and political luminaries.

New York Premiere
How to Smell a Rose: A Visit with Ricky Leacock in Normandy
Les Blank & Gina Leibrecht, USA/France, 2014, DCP, 64m
Just about a decade ago, Les Blank went to France to film Ricky Leacock as he shopped for food, made meals, and talked about his boyhood, his attraction to reality-based moviemaking, his experiences with Robert Flaherty, Robert Drew, D.A. Pennebaker, Ed Pincus, and others, his life with his creative and romantic partner, Valerie Lalonde, and his philosophies of filmmaking and living. The movie that resulted, finished after Blank’s death by his own creative partner, Gina Leibrecht, is a lovely tribute by one great artist to another. “He really uses the camera as a tool to search for something revealing in a simple moment,” Leibrecht once said of Blank, whose films—like Leacock’s—are unassuming, disarming, and build momentum out of seemingly stray details that coalesce into graceful portraits in time. How to Smell a Rose is a joyous film about a man who found harmony between his existence and his art. It is also a moving celebration of cinema verité itself.

World Premiere
Albert Maysles, USA, 2014, DCP, 78m
The great documentarian Albert Maysles recently celebrated his 83rd birthday, but he and his ever flexible and responsive camera eye are still as fresh as a daisy. His latest film is about fashion- and interior-design maven Iris Apfel, who is herself just south of 92, as she celebrates the late wave of popularity she enjoyed on the heels the Met’s 2005 exhibition of her collection of often affordably priced fashion accessories. Maysles, who pops up from time to time as a cheerful on-camera presence, follows Iris as she makes selections for the touring exhibition, advises young women on their fashion choices, and bargains with store owners, usually in the company of her husband of 66 years, Carl, now over 100. Iris’s resilience is a wonder to behold, never more so than when she dismisses the idea of being “pretty”—for her, the only thing that matters is style.

New York Premiere
The Iron Ministry
J.P. Sniadecki, USA, 2014, DCP, 82m
Mandarin with English subtitles
This thrilling new film from J.P. Sniadecki (People’s ParkForeign Parts), shot over three years during a series of train journeys across China, begins with metal: the sounds and sights of gears, wheels on tracks and linked railway cars meshing, crunching, and grinding. We are gradually introduced to the people who ride and work on the cars, with their luggage, their produce, the products they’re hawking, the goods they’re transporting. People are crammed into every corner of every train car, with the exception of a first-class compartment from which the filmmaker is barred. At one point, Sniadecki follows a food vendor from one end of a train to another, as he nonchalantly makes his way through a sea of humanity so thick and ungainly that the very idea of negotiating it seems impossible. Little by little, the passengers begin to speak about their country, their lives, their dreams for the future.

New York Premiere
The Look of Silence
Joshua Oppenheimer, Denmark/Indonesia/Norway/Finland/UK, 2014, 99m 
Indonesian and Javanese with English subtitles
In his 2012 documentary The Act of Killing, Joshua Oppenheimer stunned audiences with his bold approach to unmasking the perpetrators of the mid-1960s genocide in Indonesia. While that film exposed the killers themselves, its companion piece The Look of Silence revisits the scenes of their crimes and follows one family among the hundreds of thousands in a quest for understanding as they attempt to confront the remaining murderers—a dangerous endeavor, because the killers are still in power and there hasn’t been any official reconciliation process. But this is no simple confrontational documentary told from a survivor’s point of view. In Oppenheimer’s quietly concentrated second look at the generations affected, a young man, concerned about raising his own children in a society cowed into silence, tracks down his brother’s killers and tries to force them to see the past with fresh eyes.

New York Premiere
Merchants of Doubt
Robert Kenner, USA, 2014, DCP, 96m
The evidence of man’s role in climate change is overwhelming; despite that, there are many alleged scientific experts, ubiquitous presences in the mass media universe, who have managed to confound and confuse the issue. In their 2011 book Merchants of Doubt, authors (and scientists, academics, and historians) Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway uncovered the agendas behind these ideological sales pitches. Now filmmaker Robert Kenner (Food, Inc.) explores this issue further through interviews with some of the best of these scientific spin doctors, some of whom let us in on their secrets. Kenner likens their public relations and marketing skills to magic, and he puts their many appearances before congressional committees and on CNN in an entirely fresh light. Kenner’s take on these “magicians” at work is funny and witty, but it’s also chilling to witness their sleight of hand, which has helped to land us that much further from saving the planet. A Sony Pictures Classics release.

U.S. Premiere
National Gallery
Frederick Wiseman, USA/France, 2014, DCP, 180m
Frederick Wiseman’s glorious new film is about the energies of, and around, painting—discussing, framing, mounting, lighting, repairing, restoring, creating, and, perhaps most of all, looking at painting. This is a film of color, light, and sensuous action, in the artwork on the walls and within the universe of London’s great National Gallery itself. In fact, the dividing line between the paintings and the life around them dissolves almost immediately, as Wiseman attunes us to pure response: the individual’s response to the paintings, the painter’s response to the subject at hand, the filmmaker’s response to the people, activities, and light around him. There are discussions of budgetary concerns and social media, but the film and the people within it are always drawn back to the magnetic power of the art itself. National Gallery is a film of faces: the faces of those looking and the faces of those who look back from the canvases, in an endless, joyful exchange.

U.S. Premiere
Non-fiction Diary
Jung Yoon-suk, South Korea, 2013, DCP, 93m
Korean with English subtitles
Chronicling a history of violence and death from society’s lower depths to its corridors of power, Jung Yoon-suk’s gripping documentary is a quietly devastating indictment of pervasive injustice nested within the post–military dictatorship economic breakout of South Korea in the 1990s. The film begins by recounting the case of the “Jijon Clan” (“Supreme Gangsters”), a group of youths from a backwoods province arrested in 1994 for committing a series of horrific murders, enacting a savage and warped form of class warfare in the face of growing social inequity. Jung provocatively compares and contrasts their case with two other notorious episodes of the era—the 1994 Seongsu Bridge disaster and the death of 502 people in the Sampoong Department Store collapse of 1995. Resisting the temptation to sensationalize, this cool and methodical cinematic essay uses these ostensibly unrelated incidents to demonstrate that the punishments did not fit the crimes, and also to draw a series of uncomfortable conclusions about South Korean society.

New York Premiere
One Cut, One Life
Ed Pincus & Lucia Small, USA, 2014, DCP, 107m
In the mid 1970s, Ed Pincus, one of the key figures in the history of documentary cinema, gave it all up and devoted himself to flower farming at his home in Vermont with his wife and children. In 2002, Pincus met filmmaker Lucia Small and asked her to join him as a creative partner in his return to movies, which resulted in The Axe in the Attic, their raw, potent 2007 doc about the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The experience took a toll on their relationship, but Small was moved to film again after two of her closest friends died extremely violent deaths in close succession. When Pincus was diagnosed with myelodysplastic syndromes, they decided to collaborate on a new project. The reality of death laid the foundation for a piece about life—not a “celebration” but a joyous demonstration of the necessity of love, work, and beauty, one and the same. Perhaps the film’s most emotional moment is Pincus’s simple admission to the camera: “I’m a filmmaker. That’s who I am.”

New York Premiere
Red Army
Gabe Polsky, USA, 2014, DCP, 85m
English and Russian with English subtitles
Soviet hockey players? As in the ones that were defeated by a young, inexperienced American team at the 1980 Olympics? In fact, the “Miracle on Ice” is just a blip in the story of Soviet hockey, as demonstrated by Gabe Polsky’s exhilarating documentary, in which the Cold War is fought on the ice. The Soviet Union’s Red Army team was the most successful dynasty in sports history. Players, trained from a young age, were stronger and more skillful than any others in the world and were meant to show up the West at every opportunity. Polsky, a child of Soviet immigrants who grew up playing hockey in the United States, finds a prime example of artistry on ice in Red Army team captain (and one-time NHL star) Slava Fetisov, who went from national hero to political enemy to American star to post-Communist Russian Minister of Sport. Polsky’s wildly entertaining film examines the many ways that sport both embodies and reflects social, political, and cultural realities. A Sony Pictures Classics release.

New York Premiere
Seymour: An Introduction
Ethan Hawke, USA, DCP, 81m
Seymour Bernstein started playing the piano as a little boy, and by the time he turned 15 he was teaching it to others. He enjoyed a long and illustrious career of concertizing before he gave it up to devote himself to helping others develop their own gifts. Ethan Hawke’s lovely film is a warm and lucid portrait of Bernstein—his work habits; his memories of learning the piano with Clara Husserl; his army stint during the Korean War; his sharp observations about his fellow pianists; his interactions with his students and conversations with friends; his preparations for a private concert. But it’s also a film about the patience, concentration, and devotion that are fundamental to the practice of art and life. Seymour: An Introductionallows us to spend time with a generous human being who has found balance and harmony within himself.

U.S. Premiere
Silvered Water, Syria Self-Portrait
Ossama Mohammed & Wiam Simav Bedirxan, Syria/France, 2014, DCP, 92m
Arabic with English subtitles
Syrian filmmaker Ossama Mohammed has been living in exile in Paris since 2011. At a certain point, he began collecting online images that had been shot clandestinely with small cameras and cell phones of the day-to-day horrors of life in his home country, where the armed struggle against the Assad regime is now in its fourth year. He started to build a film from this “fountain of images” from a people “filming and screening itself, celebrating freedom and sharing tragedy.” He was soon contacted by Wiam Simav Bedirxan, a young Kurdish woman who would eventually become Mohammed’s co-director. Bedirxan was present during the uprising in Homs, and she records deprivations and horrors that are almost unimaginable to those who have never had an experience of war. Silvered Water, Syria Self-Portrait is, it goes without saying, extremely difficult to watch. It is also a very brave movie that embodies freedom through the very act of filming and making cinema.

New York Premiere
Stray Dog
Debra Granik, USA, 2014, DCP, 105m
English and Spanish with English subtitles
Debra Granik could have gone in any number of directions after the success of Winter’s Bone. She decided to focus on a documentary portrait of Ron “Stray Dog” Hall (who played Thump Milton in the 2010 film), an aging biker and RV park manager from southern Missouri. When we are introduced to Hall and his friends, they appear to be the very image of “middle America” held by New Yorkers: hard-drinking (moonshine, no less), gun-toting, tattooed motorcycle freaks. Slowly, gradually, another image comes into view, of a man who has been permanently altered by his tours of duty in Vietnam, who has come to terms with himself and acquired a rare wisdom and patience in the process, and who is now dedicated to helping his friends, his loved ones, and his fellow vets. This is a moving film about community and the bonds that hold it together; in its surprising second half, when the children of Hall’s Mexican wife arrive in Missouri, it is also a vivid snapshot of a changing America.

U.S. Premiere
Sunshine Superman
Marah Strauch, USA/Norway/UK, 2014, DCP, 96m
Marah Strauch’s jubilant, evocative movie tells the incredible story of Carl Boenish, the exuberant inventor of BASE jumping (parachuting from a fixed object), and his beloved wife, soulmate, and diving partner, Jean. After graduating from USC and doing a stint as an engineer at Hughes Aircraft, Boenish devoted himself to “freefall cinematography” (he is credited with “Special Aerial Photography” on John Frankenheimer’s The Gypsy Moths) and many of the breathtaking images in Strauch’s movie were drawn from footage that Carl and his team shot for a series of sky-diving shorts (Jean came aboard after they were married in 1979). As demonstrated and embodied in Strauch’s film, Boenish was much more just than a thrill-seeker, and his jumps off of taller and taller bridges, buildings, and peaks throughout the world were done in the spirit of joy and freedom, which together comprise the true subject of this exultant and heart-stopping film experience.

Founded in 1969 to celebrate American and international cinema, the Film Society of Lincoln Center works to recognize established and emerging filmmakers, support important new work, and to enhance the awareness, accessibility, and understanding of the moving image. The Film Society produces the renowned New York Film Festival, a curated selection of the year’s most significant new film work, and presents or collaborates on other annual New York City festivals including Dance on Camera, Film Comment Selects, Human Rights Watch Film Festival, Latinbeat, New Directors/New Films, NewFest, New York African Film Festival, New York Asian Film Festival, New York Jewish Film Festival, Open Roads: New Italian Cinema and Rendez-Vous with French Cinema. In addition to publishing the award-winning Film Commentmagazine, The Film Society recognizes an artist's unique achievement in film with the prestigious Chaplin Award. The Film Society’s state-of-the-art Walter Reade Theater and the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center, located at Lincoln Center, provide a home for year-round programs and the New York City film community.

The Film Society receives generous, year-round support from Royal Bank of Canada, Jaeger-LeCoultre, American Airlines, The New York Times, Stella Artois, HBO®, The Kobal Collection, Trump International Hotel and Tower, Row NYC Hotel, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the New York State Council on the Arts.

Support for the New York Film Festival is also generously provided by KIND Bars, Portage World Wide Inc., WABC-7, and WNET New York Public Media.

For more information, visit and follow @filmlinc on Twitter.