Thursday, 10 May 2012

Santa Cruz Film Fest--Yay!

It's been over a year since my last post. Having a third baby will do that to a person. I'm finally ready to jump back in the saddle (albeit for much shorter rides abroad, for a while), so let's get back to watching great films...

If you're looking for a great festival in the San Francisco Bay Area and lower north coast of California, the 11th annual Santa Cruz Film Festival is opening right now (follow their Twitter feed here). The film buzz tonight surrounds CALIFORNIA STATE OF MIND, a documentary about the late Governor Pat Brown (father of Gov. Jerry Brown). This is the man who built the California Aqueduct and arguably turned California into a fully modern state. To see the trailer, visit:

Considering the contentious nature of the political arena today, this may be the kind of film to inspire a new way (or, perhaps, an older way) of thinking about successful governance of the state. It's certainly a must-see for history buffs. The filmmakers have created an accompanying educational curriculum for middle and high school students (teachers, take note), so it's one of those rare, kid-friendly festival films (whether or not tweens and teens find it interesting enough to actually enjoy, I haven't yet heard). It played well at the Newport Beach Film Festival and is likely to continue making the festival circuit.

Santa Cruz is a great venue for hanging out with friends and family--let me know what you think of the festival using the Film Fest Connect Facebook page or the FFC Twitter feed.

Friday, 25 February 2011

The Geography of Hope (and EcoSexuality?)

If you can map it, it's geography. But can you pinpoint as elusive a feeling as hope? The filmmakers screening their works at The Geography of Hope Film Festival, opening today in Point Reyes, California think so. I'm not quite sure how Saturday's panelist, sex activist Annie Sprinkle, will meld her colorful rhetoric with the theme of "hope," but I must say I'm curious! In fact, I'm interested to see just about everything this inaugural festival has to offer.

Organized by Point Reyes Books as part of the Geography of Hope Conference, the theme for this year is "Reflections on Water." The festival opens with The River Why, based on the novel of the same name, and features Zach Gilford, Amber Heard, and Dallas Roberts, alongside Academy Award Nominee Kathleen Quinlan, Golden Globe Nominee William Devane and Academy Award Winner William Hurt. Watch the trailer and tell me if you can't almost smell the ferny, redwood undergrowth of a Pacific Northwest stream...

In addition to the films, there are 12 outdoor art installations, all within walking distance of the Dance Palace Community Center theater venue, and two very unique panels--the kinds of talks you won't see anywhere else, says festival co-director, John Mueller.

Saturday's panel, "To Change the World: Art, Ecosexuality and Environmental Evangelism" features Reverend Billy and Savatri D (if you've never heard of the hilarious Rev. Billy, he's a heck of a character), alongside activist artists Richard and Judith Selby Lang. Rounding out the group are the illustrious artists and "ecosexuals," Annie Sprinkle (yes, that Annie Sprinkle) and Beth Stephens. Definitely not something you'd see anywhere else! Just don't take the kids...

The (much milder) children's film event is on Sunday at 11 a.m., featuring environmental short films appropriate for all ages. If your child is working on an environmentally-related school project, this might be a great starting point for gathering ideas and information. If not, the event promises to be a calm place to chill out (or warm up) with little ones on a blustery weekend morning.

If the spiritual nature of water and its depiction in film is the kind of discussion that floats your boat, you may want to check out Sunday's panel. Featured speakers include John Beebe, leading Jungian analyst; Ernest Callenbach, founding editor of FILM QUARTERLY, who will screen related film clips; and harpist/singer/scholar Therese Schroeder-Sheker, who will perform live. The site describes the event as "an extraordinary, one-time opportunity to experience film, expert commentary, thoughtful insight and beautiful music as they relate to the overarching role of water in our spiritual lives."

Passes for the whole weekend are only $100. Opening night may be sold out (no wait list line--bummer), but all other films are still available for purchase (see the program for ticketing links). Day-of purchases have to made at the Dance Palace: 503 B St., Point Reyes Station, CA 94956

For event info, call: 415-669-7559

Thursday, 10 February 2011

17 Days of #PIFF34: The 34th Portland International Film Fest

Is it a film fest, or a film feast???

For seventeen days, the Portland International Film Festival will be harvesting what the city's Northwest Film Center deems the golden crop of world cinema features, shorts and documentaries for audiences ready eat up. Somewhere around 125 films will screen, this year, plenty to keep our eyes full. And with two new "social hubs" providing chill space--and food--it should be a feast all 'round.

Many of the movie menu selections are award-winning delectables. If I might make a few recommendations for your viewing pleasure, madames et monsieurs?

His&Hers (short)
Even if the Irish accent is difficult for you, I'm sure you'll be gettin' the jist of it. (And if you've any Irish blood in you at all, you'll want catch this charming, award-winning short.)

How To Die In Oregon
This film won the Grand Jury Prize for Documentary at Sundance at the end of January.

Also don't miss Incendies (pronounced "on-sohn-deez") and In A Better World (Haevenen), both Academy Award Nominees for this year.

Son of Babylon
I know I've featured this film before, but it bears repeating. Set amid the sweeping landscape of a world that has seen more histories than we can conceive in its thousands of years as the hearth of human civilizations, this beautiful, poignant and thought-provoking film offers a rare glimpse into the stark realities of the aftermath of wartime atrocities and the difficult journey toward healing. Ahmed, a young Kurdish boy (Yasser Talib) and his grandmother (Shazda Hussein) are traveling south through Iraq in an attempt to find the boy's missing father (the grandmother's son), who was conscripted into the Iraqi army during the Gulf War. Along the way, Ahmed realizes he is no longer a just passenger but a determined participant as the weight of responsibility shifts to his shoulders.

You should know going into the theater that only a very few of the actors were professional. The boy and his grandmother were not among them, yet their performances are deeply emotional because they are drawing on real-life experiences of the horrors of their war-torn country (Shazda Hussein was herself jailed by Saddam's army and lost a baby while in prison, there). It soon becomes clear that the change from boy to young man that we see is deeper than what is on the screen.

According to award-winning Director Mohamed Al-Daradji, the movie was filmed entirely on location in Iraq, and in chronological order, as the pair travel from the Kurdish north toward the city of Babylon. IMDb reviewer Dick Steel writes, "This is as close as you can go on a road trip from Northern Iraq to Baghdad, onward to Nasiriyah then Babylon." A soldier in the audience at the film's Sundance screening appreciated the authenticity of the depiction, claiming This is how it really is there. Though it didn't win one of the coveted Sundance awards, the film has won several others since then, and with good reason.

A hilarious account of a Maori boy with an imagination just grand enough to make his idiot father's schemes look like the love Boy so desperately craves. Stars Taika Waititi of Flight of the Condors fame and an untrained, downright magical cast full of characters who will make you shake your head and laugh though the tears.

Venues can be found on both sides of the city, though most are centered around the neighborhood of the Portland Art Museum, which hosts the Advance Ticket Outlet and the Closing Night Party. Two social venues tie the events together, east and west: the PIFF Lounge at Nel Centro (grab a PIFFtini and some grub while you check the Festival's update board) and the PIFFbar at 20th and SE Hawthorne (Indian food and Belgian Lagers from 2/18-2/24). Check this Google map for venue locations.

Tickets are still available for most films, but they'll start to disappear soon--be sure to check the ticket and pass info page and the event calendar for prices and availability, as well as dates and times.

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Sundance 2011: Awards Recap

A pared-down version of the following article was first published as Sundance 2011: Film Festival Award Winners on Technorati.comAdditional notes have been added in brackets, below.

Although it's been a week since Park City, Utah went from fizzy to still, the Sundance buzz continues. Be sure to watch for the award winners (and the rest of this year's amazing selections) as these films roll out into theaters over the course of 2011 and beyond. Many of Sundance's best have become Oscar contenders and box office hits. This festival received over 10,000 submissions, this year--a testament to its ability to generate sales and success for a film's creators.

Saturday night's award winners at the Sundance Film Festival were humble, grateful, teary-eyed and funny as they accepted their snowflake-etched mini-monoliths. Sam Levinson, who received the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award for penning Another Happy Day, was barely able to keep himself together during his acceptance speech: "When I introduced my film, I cried. So I don't know what the fuck's going to happen, now."

Drake Doremus, Dir. of 'Like Crazy'
The highly-anticipated U.S. Dramatic Competition Grand Jury Prize went to Drake Doremus' sweet love story, Like Crazy. It was presented by four-time Oscar-nominated writer and director Jason Reitman. "I came to this festival in 1998, when I was still in college," Reitman said. "I came as my father's son and I left a filmmaker." Having been a part of the festival was a huge accomplishment, "and no one could ever take that from me." He pointed to the gathered crowd of filmmakers. "Now, no one can ever take that from you."

Festival patrons watched the live stream from laptops or followed the @Sundancefest and @Sundancefestnow Twitter feeds. Who won what was the hot topic of the evening, especially for those with tickets to the award-winner screenings, as the films they were about to see were not announced publicly until the ceremony.

Many of Sundance's 2010 films were nominated for Academy Awards this year, and audiences will do well to partake of this year's awards crop--a mission made easier by the fact that many of the winners have already scored distribution deals. By the end of the winter, it may be that all of them have.

Read the full list of winners, accompanied by notes on selected films, here:

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Sundance Kick Off A Success

The first night of the Sundance Film Festival appears, by all accounts, to be a success, the scattered tweets about freezing temperatures notwithstanding. Be sure to follow Twitter for updates from the crowd (watch for #Sundance and #Sundance2011) and the countless blog/news pieces--reports are coming in fast! Here is the official Sundance Twitter list, with @'s for all of the films playing from now until the 30th: Follow your favorites and send some love.

Also be sure to follow @sundancefest, @sundancefestnow, and @filmfestconnect!

The short, Skateistan: To Live and Skate Kabul, which played last November at the Adventure Film Fest in Boulder, Colorado, helped to open Sundance today. It details, in the kids' own words, the lives of several teens in the ravaged Afghan city and the hope-encrusted joy they exhibit while riding:

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

"Idiot" Impresses Roger Ebert

In honor of the beauty of film (and the creativity of one New Yorker in the face of blizzard conditions), today's focus piece is the short, Idiot With A Tripod, by Jamie Stuart. Featured in Filmmaker Magazine and raved about by Roger Ebert in his 'Journal' at the Chicago Sun-Times, this piece shows incredible technical skill and artistic excellence.

"This film deserves to win the Academy Award for best live-action short subject," says Ebert.

Be sure to read Stuart's responses to Ebert's questions and see the piece from ITV in London at the end of Ebert's mini-review.

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Sundance 2011: Two Must-have Festival Apps!

Sundance Film Fest app
Few events can cram as much entertainment into 10 days as the Sundance Film Festival. Given the logistics of trying to find one's way through it all during Park City's peak snow season, it's a relief to know there are myriad ways to survive and have a great time. For those that prefer the pocket-sized, interactive version, two helpful applications are now available for your SMART devices.

For the second year running, the Sundance Film Festival has developed its own app, with transportation info, survival tips, calendar planners for film and off-screen events, and ticket availability (updates will likely start when individual tickets go on sale on the 17th). Although it costs $4.99, this app is constantly being updated (seems like almost daily) with new content, including past festival shorts, filmmaker interviews, blog posts and photos. The shuttle schedule alone is worth its weight in gold...I'm sure the poor bus drivers who have to answer, "Does this bus go to [venue X]?" five bzillion times a day would agree.

Gowalla has also teamed up with the Sundance Film Festival to create a special Sundance event section, allowing visitors to check into festival venues using iPhone, iPad, Android, Blackberry, or Palm devices.  Here are just a few of the event's "passport" stamps:
Users can log a photo, leave a note for a friend at a location to work out a meet-up, and create a personalized list of activities each day with the "Your Day at Sundance Film Festival" digest. You can even redeem your stamps and other app tokens for special prizes when you check in at select spots around Park City. (Film Fest Connect signed up today, so watch for us around town!)

Finally, don't forget to add Sundance to your Twitter feed using @sundancefestnow@sundancefest, and the #Sundance hash tag. The Salt Lake Tribune also has detailed festival coverage--follow them daily on their @sundancelive feed.

This ought to be enough to keep you busy until the 20th. No? Well, stay tuned in, here, then!

Photos are the property of their respective owners--no copyright infringement intended.