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Report from Berlin: 63rd Berlinale

This year’s Berlin Film Festival has been full of new discoveries and projects by filmmakers with whom Walker has had a long history. Now on day 7, I feel I can share a better overview of what I’ve seen with a better perspective. Most days start at 9 am with a film that is in competition for […]

Berlinale-film-festival

This year’s Berlin Film Festival has been full of new discoveries and projects by filmmakers with whom Walker has had a long history. Now on day 7, I feel I can share a better overview of what I’ve seen with a better perspective. Most days start at 9 am with a film that is in competition for the festival’s top prize, the Golden Bear, and I’ll be running from one venue to another—often at opposite ends of town until midnight or later. I’m far from alone in this endeavor as there have been over 250,000 tickets sold as of the mid-festival. In addition to the festival’s official selections, there are 890 films screened as part to the European Film Market which runs parallel with the festival. At the market, there are 7,650 industry insiders taking part by buying and selling films across all genres.

From the competition, my favorite and the most buzzed-about title is Sebastian Lelio’s Chilean film Gloria, a striking portrait of an awkward, yet charming divorcee in her late 50s entering the dating scene. The thing that sets it apart is the raw performance by actress Paulina Garcia who embellishes her character with humor, vulnerability and passion. It was picked up for U.S. distribution by Roadside Attractions and it’s sure to make the Oscar list for the coming year.

This is a close tie with Ulrich Seidl’s final part of his new trilogy, Paradise: Hope, which is set in a fat camp for teens.  Reversing the Lolita story, one of the young girls develops an obsessive crush on the camp doctor, a man in his late 50s.  As with Seidl’s other films in the trilogy, it mixes humor with behavior that is often taken to extremes.

Urlich Seidl's Paradise: Hope Coutesy Strand Releasing

Ulrich Seidl’s Paradise: Hope
Courtesy Strand Releasing

Many films from Sundance have also come to Berlin for their European premieres like Matt Porterfield’s engaging I Used to Be Darker (produced by Steven Holmgren from the Twin Cities and playing to packed houses here); James Franco and Travis Mathews’ Interior. Leather Bar, a reimagining of the 40 minutes cut from William Friedkin’s film Cruising; Stacie Passon’s (she studied at the U of M) tale of fidelity in Concussion (produced by Rose Troche who was last at Walker with The Safety of Objects); and Kim Longinotto’s (her films Sisters in Law, Divorce Iranian Style, Shinjuku Boys, Gaea Girls all played Walker) heart-breaking documentary Salma concerning a Muslim poet who was confined to her home for 9 years starting when she was 13.

The Foum Expanded program is also presenting a focus on the work of Hélio Oiticica who may be familiar to Walker audiences for his CC5 Hendrixwar/Cosmococa Programa-in Progress installation realized with his collaborator Neville D’Almeida in which visitors remove their shoes before entering the space in the Burnett Gallery to lounge in hammocks, listed to a soundtrack of Jimi Hendrix music and to view the barrage of slides covering the walls. The festival has taken on staging one of the artists’ most ambitious variations of the work, Block-Experiments in Cosmococa-Program in Progress: CC4 Nocagions, a slide sequence with soundtrack that was installed in a swanky swimming pool for one night—unfortunately I hadn’t packed swim trunk (who would for Berlin in February?).  There is one more variation of the Cosmacoca that I’ll catch up with at the Hamburger Bahnhof on Friday. The head of the Projecto Hélio Oiticica, Cesar Oiticica Filho also presented the world premiere of his documentary on his uncle and there was a fascinating panel that included rare Super 8 films including the raw footage of Agrippina e Roma-Manhattan (Walker is in progress in digitizing the edited version of this title).

With just two more viewing days to go, I’m looking forward to Richard Foreman’s first feature film in 30 years Once Every Day, River Phoenix’s final film Dark Blood (yes, River Phoenix—he died before the shoot ended and the film was in limbo for decades), and the restoration of Shirley Clarke’s Portrait of Jason.

Update from the Berlinale–Berlin Film Festival

February 11, 2008 Well, it’s day five of the festival and I’ve finally found my groove. The Berlinale continues to grow in the number of screenings, especially in the European Film Market which runs concurrent with the festivals established programs including the Competition, Panorama, Forum, Retrospectives, and Generation–the new identity for the children’s film series. […]

February 11, 2008

Well, it’s day five of the festival and I’ve finally found my groove. The Berlinale continues to grow in the number of screenings, especially in the European Film Market which runs concurrent with the festivals established programs including the Competition, Panorama, Forum, Retrospectives, and Generation–the new identity for the children’s film series. The film catalogues resemble phone books in their thickness and with nearly 30 films playing at the same time, quite a bit of work goes into planning a daily screening schedule to maximize coverage.

Most mornings, I’m out the door by 8:45 to get to the first screenings that usually start at 9 am. Having a European Film Market pass has allowed me to bypass most of the daily ticketing which also begins at 9 am. With a huge number of accredited guests for the festival, lines for tickets can reach back a couple blocks in the mornings. If I feel that a screening will sell out, I’ll stop off to pick up tickets, but for the most part I’ve been waived into public screenings with this time-saving pass. The market screenings are much easier. Most of the films are screened in small cinemas with around 30 seats within one of two multiplexes next to each other. The main point of this program is to provide an opportunity for buyers to consider films for distribution, but many film festivals also take part in this as new films and works-in-progress are screened. If you see something good, you can negotiate with the sales agents who are all making deals in the Martin Gropius Bau–normally an exhibition space that is converted into a market for the run of the festival.

Since, I arrived on Thursday morning, I’ve seen some exciting new films including two super films from Mexico. One of my favorites so far is Fernando Eimbcke‘s low-key Lake Tahoe. With a tone reminiscent of the early films of Jim Jarmusch, the sparse story of a teens search to have his car fixed over the course of a day slowly unfolds as a funny and sweet tale. The other, Stolen, is a damning documentary on the inconsistencies in the 2006 Mexican presidential elections and the protests that erupted in light of fraud allegations.

One of my other favorite films was Wonderful Town a Thai drama on a blossoming relationship between a big city architect and a shy innkeeper in a small vacation village struggling in the wake of the Tsunami disaster. I had read great things about the film that also played in Sundance.

There were a couple of other films with connections to artists who have been presented at the Walker. Yousry Nasrallah‘s new film The Aquarium had its world premiere in the Panoram program on Saturday evening. Nasrallah was at the Walker two years ago to present his film Mercedes in one of the first partnerships the Walker had with the Institute for Advanced Study Film Collaborative. There were new documentaries on British Artist Derek Jarman (directed by Isaac Julien) and Gilbert and George (by one of their former models Julian Cole). Patti Smith was on hand for the post-screening Q & A (thankfully due to missing her train to Paris) for an insightful documentary Patti Smith: Dream of Life. Finally, Isabella Rossellini‘s hilarious brief series Green Porno was installed in small vitrines in the lobby outside the Arsenal theatre where the viewer could use the attached magnifying glasses to view the work which played on screens which could not have been one-inch across.

Leading up to my departure on Friday, there are several films that I’m looking forward to seeing. Errol Morris’ Standard Operating Procedure plays in competition. Bruce La Bruce’s Otto; or, Up with Dead People. Jesus Christus Savior, the documentary on Klaus Kinski‘s contentious one man performances portraying his interpretation of Christ which led to near riots in the 5,000 seat halls where it played. There is a short section of one of the concerts in Werner Herzog’s My Best Fiend. Matt Wolf’s Wild Combination: A Portrait of Arthur Russel focuses on the amazing underappreciated musician. Noam Gonick and Luis Jacob’s installation Wildflowers of Manitoba which I missed in Toronto as it played in a gallery that was nearly as far away as Winnipeg. It’s closer here. Finally, Heinz Emigholz who has several of his films playing at Walker this weekend, is back with a new Film Loos Ornimental and his exhibition The Basis of Make-Up is currently on view at the Hamburger Bahnhof museum nearby.

Minneapolis/St. Paul International Film Festival Recommendations

Anytime a festival schedule is announced, it can be an overwhelming experience plowing through the list of films. When I’m traveling, we try to find out what is playing as far in advance as possible to start researching the titles and to confer with my colleagues about what they’ve heard. Recommendations are gold, especially when […]

Anytime a festival schedule is announced, it can be an overwhelming experience plowing through the list of films. When I’m traveling, we try to find out what is playing as far in advance as possible to start researching the titles and to confer with my colleagues about what they’ve heard. Recommendations are gold, especially when films may have played other festivals.

With the Minneapolis/St. Paul International Film Festival opening tonight, there has been little printed material in advance. Their website, however, has never been easier to navigate.

Here are my recommendations based on what I’ve seen and heard:

Films that I’ve seen that I’d recommend:

Journals of Knud Rasmussen (4/28)

Ghosts of Cité Soleil (4/24-4/26)

Something Like Happiness (4/24-4/26)

12:08 East of Bucharest (4/27-4/28)

Films I’m looking forward to seeing:

Away From Her (4/27)

Summer Palace (4/26)

Forever (4/25)

Sweet Mud (4/26-4/28)

Once (4/27)

Eagle vs. Shark (4/24-4/28)

Final Dispatch from Berlin

In the quest to find films that could work for a continuing series of international films for children to be programmed at future Free First Saturdays, an interesting quandary emerged. While I strongly believe that it’s important to use film as a tool to introduce cultural competence and interest in other cultures, it was clear […]

In the quest to find films that could work for a continuing series of international films for children to be programmed at future Free First Saturdays, an interesting quandary emerged. While I strongly believe that it’s important to use film as a tool to introduce cultural competence and interest in other cultures, it was clear that themes and content of some of the films would be difficult to translate to audiences in the U.S.

This first came to light when I saw a market screening of Kirikou and the Wild Beasts, directed by French animator Michel Ocelet. His earlier film, Kirikou and the Sorcerer, was the closing-night program of last year’s Childish Film Festival sponsored by MFA. The film is sure to be a classic international film for children, but it will have a difficult time being shown to young audiences in the U.S. due to issues of nudity which are culturally appropriate for the setting of the film. Ocelet has adapted an African folktale set in a remote village where the women and most the men are not clothed.

After the screening, several of my colleagues from North America agreed that it was a great film, but worried about how to introduce the film to young audiences without raising fears from parents, sponsors and the press. It turns out that these fears have been shared by North American distributors who have not picked up this film for distribution. Even by addressing the issue in the press release, informing funders, introducing the film and providing talking points for parents, I’m dreading the reaction of some parent who is not prepared and just walks into the screening.

A similar thing happened a few days later when I went to a screening of a highly recommended Dutch children’s film Winky’s Horse. The film, about a young Chinese immigrant girl’s first Christmas in Holland, included some important lessons about cross-cultural understanding and tolerance that are important tools to teach young children. Her classmates, and the audience, learn that cultural celebrations are not shared across each culture, and in this case, Winky needs to be walked through the celebration of St. Nicholas.

This celebration was also new to me. St. Nicholas is honored by Dutch children on his birthday, December 5. He travels with his white horse to each house from his home in Spain to deliver small presents to the children. Kids prepare for the holiday by stuffing shoes with carrots for his horse and leaving them by the fireplace.

What was troubling to me was the image of Santa’s helper, Black Pete. Donning blackface, Pete, is an elf-like character who distributes toys to the good kids from one bag and has a switch in the other for the bad kids.

Cis Bierinckx explained this holiday to me later and agreed that it was a racist cultural icon that was influenced by Holland’s colonial past. He also mentioned that Pete could also be black from climbing down the chimney, but I wasn’t buying it as Pete has an impeccable costume that is not affected by soot.

My jaw dropped to see the character in blackface with no commentary. I was so confused and upset watching the film when there was no commentary on this. For a film dealing with cross-cultural acceptance, how did they miss the mark on this aspect?

I ran into a friend from the British Film Institute and a programmer from the London Film Festival after the screening and they were equally baffled. The LFF programmer explained that he’s had more trouble with issues of swearing within films that he’s seen that are supposed to be for children. We all agreed that through our efforts to provide opportunities to investigate other cultures, our cultural biases were becoming more apparent. The best we can do is to provide environments where these issues can be discussed.

Another film, not one for children, about the lack of cultural understanding is going to be a top runner for the Golden Bear. The Road to Guantanamo, directed by Michael Winterbottom (he won the top prize for In this World two years ago), was one of the most coveted tickets of the festival. There were no seats available at the press screening and I managed to snag the very last ticket for the final public screening, much to the dismay of the man behind me in line. The film follows a group of Muslim friends from Britain who travel to Pakistan for a wedding. On a lark, they travel into Afghanistan in October 2001 and become stranded when war breaks out. Having lost their guide they are left to their own devices. Not knowing the language, they are captured in a Taliban enclave and turned over to the U.S. Suspected of being terrorists, they are held for over two years in Guantanamo. This docudrama packed a punch and has such currency with this week’s call by Kofi Annan to close the camp.

Another highlight was a screening of Matthew Barney’s Drawing Restraint 9 followed by a discussion of the film with Barney (who is on the competition jury). Bjork was the composer of the musical score and co-star. This new film revolves around the theme or resistance that he had started in the series back in the early ’90s as a student at Yale. At that time, he created a number of physical challenges to the act of drawing, such as being tethered away from the drawing surface or having to jump great distances to access the surface.

In this new incarnation, he develops a myth set on a Japanese whaling vessel. Several tons of liquid vaseline are poured into a mold on the deck and congeal to form an image of a whale. The tension between old and new forms plays throughout the film; Vaseline, a petroleum-based product, serves as a substitute for whale blubber, once a form of heat and light.

A documentary on the making of Drawing Restraint 9, screened in Panorama, helps make sense of his influences, working style, and development of the material. Matthew Barney No Restraint even features an interview with former Walker Chief Curator Richard Flood. The documentary has yet to find a U.S. distributor and I pressed one of the acquisitions executives from IFC, who are distributing the feature in the U.S., to also pick it up. We’ll see if it can be added to schedule for May when we screen the feature in our First Look: Premieres program. Landmark will handle the theatrical run which will open Memorial Day weekend.

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The audience of the Barney screening and discussion at the Talent Campus, a conference for emerging filmmakers, had clearly been preparing their questions for Barney. Maybe questions isn’t the right word. They were more like long-winded statements or comments on his work followed by “ Wouldn’t you agree?” Barney tried to answer as best he could, but some audience members weren’t wild with some his answers. When pressed to talk about his film influences, snickers went out when he mentioned slasher films defined by space, such as Friday the 13th, which was set at a summer camp.

Rampling.jpgCharlotte Rampling had a much more adoring, albeit smaller, audience for her dialogue with Peter Cowie two days later. As president of the competition jury, Rampling was feted to aRegis-style dialogue with clips from her films. My biggest disappointment with this event was that it was fairly brief and Cowie’s questions could have been more probing. For example, he opened the event by asking her if she had been influenced by the Swinging ’60s in London. With a career that started out with roles in The Knack and How to Get It and Georgie Girl, this seemed a no-brainer. Rampling politely took the questions and even answered his questions about the differences in making films in the U.S. and Europe. She could not have displayed more class, tact and effortless cool.

Earlier: The first dispatch from Berlin, the second, and also, Drawing Restraint 9 will be screened at the Walker in May. Tickets are not yet on sale; to get first word on tickets, sign up for the Walker email alerts or RSS calendar feed.

More from the Berlin Film Festival

One of the most highly anticiapted films of the competition at Berlin is the world premiere of Robert Altman’s Prairie Home Companion. The screenings were held yesterday, and by screenings I mean the press screening and the huge public red-carpet premiere. Like all competition films, there is a screening for the press and industry in […]

One of the most highly anticiapted films of the competition at Berlin is the world premiere of Robert Altman’s Prairie Home Companion. The screenings were held yesterday, and by screenings I mean the press screening and the huge public red-carpet premiere.

Like all competition films, there is a screening for the press and industry in the huge Berlinale Palast which has about 1,800 seats in the morning and early afternoon. The evening premieres are an ordeal taking up to 4 hours. As an industry member I can get tickets to these red-carpet affairs, but the tickets are in the top two of the vertigo-inducing balconies.

In addition to the screening, most evening screenings include a presentation of Shooting Stars, a dog-and-pony show for emerging “stars” which is also broadcast on German television. In addition to showing up a 45 minutes early to claim a seat, one has to sit through an hour of the talent show before the real stars are paraded out and the screening can actually begin.

Not having time for that pain, I opted to attend the press screening in the afternoon and I’ve never seen as many press delegates pushing to get into the screening. The press has priority for seating, so I’m glad that I showed up 45 minutes early to wait for any of the available seats. Most press screenings fill the main floor, but this one was packed. I started getting nervous as we weren’t allowed to enter and it was three minutes to showtime.

Then, there was the announcement. Only 30 industry people would be let in, but we’d have to sit in the top balcony. I was one of the lucky 30, but my seat was in the back row. It took several minutes to get over the dizziness.

I have to admit to not being a fan of the broadcasts of Prairie Home Companion. In fact, I’m still a bit unnerved upon hearing the opening of the show by accident when MPR revised their broadcast schedule. I had expected to hear Click and Clack of Car Talk and PHC was more than sloppy seconds, it was a audio assault.

This said, if you like PHC, you’ll love this film. I thought there would be more narrative to drive the action of the film, but it’s slight. The film really focuses on the performances of the live broadcast which will be a treat to PHC admirers. Not being one of those, I was left to marvel in the complex cinematography of Ed Lachman which will be nominated for an Oscar next year, I’m sure.

I was also curious as to how an international audience would react to the film, not being familiar with the radio broadcast. Most of the press was positive and did translate well with a broader audience.

PHC1.jpg

The red-carpet arrival of the stars managed to occur when I was between two screenings, so I did make my way through the crowd to get a couple photos. Meryl Streep, Robert Altman, Woody Harrelson, and Lindsay Lohan all walked the red carpet. If you look closely you’ll see Lohan a few feet away from me signing autographs.

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While this was a treat, there was so much other viewing going on throughout the weekend. Some of my top picks over the weekend were mostly documentaries. Amos Gitai’s final section of his House trilogy, Close to Home, followed up on Israeli and Palestian families who have lived in one house in the disputed zone over 60 years. Matthew Barney No Restraint followed Barney and Bjork on their collaboration during the production of Drawing Restraint 9 set on a Japanese whalining vessel. China Blue showed the exploitation of young women from the Chinese provinces who more into large industrial areas to work in sewing factories. This, along with Workingman’s Death, show the real price of globalization among the people who are not profiting from the new capitalism.

Two new revelations for me were Royston Tan’s 4:30 from Singapore and Pavee Lackeen: The Traveller Girl from Ireland. With minimal dialogue, Tan creates a dark tale about a young boy who becomes obsessed with his mother’s boyfriend who is taking care of him while his mother is working abroad. Both are desperately lonely and disconnected. The boy is so desperate for attention that he wakes up at 4:30 each morning to go through the boyfriend’s room while he sleeps. The relationship becomes increasingly disturbing and Tan crafts a dark visual style and sound design that is tense. Perry Ogden’s rough cinematography packs a visual punch and the actors are so natural that it seems more like a documentary. These technical features add to the gut-wretching poverty and frustration experienced by the 10-year old girl, one of ten children living in a trailer on the outskirts of Dublin.

There is sure to be more powerful films in store tomorrow. Stop back for a new report on Drawing Restraint 9 (with a dialogue following with Competition Jury member Matthew Barney–I wonder what he thought about PHC), Wild Tigers I have Known (highly recommended by B. Ruby Rich at the dinner after her Regis Dialogue with Lili Taylor earlier this month), a conversation with Charlotte Rampling (Competition Jury president) and Peter Cowie, and Broken Sky a new film by the Mexican director Julian Hernandez.

Earlier: The first dispatch from Berlin. Also, Drawing Restraint 9 will be screened at the Walker in May. Tickets are not yet on sale; to get first word on tickets, sign up for the Walker email alerts or RSS calendar feed.

Update from Berlin

It seems that everything associated with the Berlin International Film Festival has grown this year. From the number of films screening to the accredited guests, it’s making great strides to raise the profile among the top festivals in the world. The festival is made up of several programming strands curated by separate staffs. Most attention […]

It seems that everything associated with the Berlin International Film Festival has grown this year. From the number of films screening to the accredited guests, it’s making great strides to raise the profile among the top festivals in the world.

The festival is made up of several programming strands curated by separate staffs. Most attention is directed at the Competition which features world or European premieres that are judged by a prestigious jury. Charlotte Rampling is the president of the Jury and Matthew Barney is one the members. One of the most anticipated competition films this year is Prairie Home Companion which is receiving it’s world premiere here.

Next is Panorama, which focuses on independent and queer cinema. It’s like an edgy-Sundance festival, and several of the biggest films from Sundance have their European premieres in this series. Quinceanara (which brought in top prizes at Sundance) and Container (directed by Lukas Moodyson) are a couple of the titles receiving the most buzz.

The Forum features some of the most challenging auteur world Cinema and is one of the most respected sections. Sharon Lockhart’s Pine Flat (which will open at Walker in both film and installation components in April) and James Benning’s One Way Boogie-Woogie/27 Years Later are receiving much attention. The program has also added several media installations throughout the city including a new work by Michael Snow.

In addition to this, there is a children’s film festival, a retrospective of some of the film sirens of the 1950s, premieres of new film restorations (Dryer’s Michael will screen this weekend with a live score), a shorts festival, and a celebrations of the 20th anniversary of the Teddy Award, the festival’s best gay and lesbian film.

Running concurrent with the festival is the European Film Market, which has doubled in size this year. With more of major distributors setting up shop in the huge new market hall, the Martin Gropius Bau and twice the number of screenings, buyers are flocking here. In previous years, the market was shoe-horned into the lobby of an insurance building. This year, the festival invested over 2 million dollars to remodel a huge lavish building, the site of art exhibitions most of the year, into a place better able to meet the demands of the film business. In fact, the market was oversubscribed and some of the distributors had to set up shop in a nearby office complex.

The line between business and art is becoming blurred. One example of this is the red VW cars parked all around the market. Each one of them has smoked glass in the windows with a description of one of the “Traumfrauen (Dreamgirls)” feted in the retropective. Inside each of the cars is a TV monitor playing clips from one of their films. You can view them only by looking through a peek-hole in the passenger window.

I arrived yesterday morning and hit the ground running. When I arrived at the market to pick up my accrediation material, former Walker F/V Curator Cis Bierinckx was in line right in front of me. We did a quick run through the market stalls together and he introduced me to his colleagues from Flanders Image. They pitched me on an interesting children’s film that I’ll see later this week.

Next, I rushed over to my first screening, A Perfect Couple by Nobuhiro Suwa which stars Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi (her film which she directed and starred in will play in the Women with Vision festival on March 10). It was an intimate relationship drama about a couple splitting up. The cinematography was stunning and it won the top prize at last summer’s Locarno Film Festival.

Later, I joined Cis for an amazing performace by Meg Stuart at the Volksbuhne. Replacement combines live video with some of the most exiting experimental dance that I’ve seen in years. The piece opened with a video camera on a crane panning the floor as the dancers moved in to stage disturbing tableauxs. These images are projected on a screen off stage right. The action takes place in an office which is suspended within a 3-story round frame which turns and spins during the performance. It remined me of the early films of David Lynch directed by Gene Kelley. It was beyond exhilerating. She’s performing a piece at Walker in April and you should get tickets right away.

Cis introduced me to their company manager and we all headed off to a party at Meg’s home. One of the guests at the party was lighting desiger Asa Frankenberg who had also worked with Lars von Trier on Dogville and Manderlay. She’s very talented and had a very difficult job with Meg’s piece.

Today has been filled with many back-to-back screenings which included the tense competition title A Soap, a disappointing story about the relationship between a woman who is separating from her husband and her new downstairs neighbor, a MTF transexual. Next was the colorful animated children’s film Kirikou and the Wild Beasts by Michel Ocet. Some people were fussing about the nudity, but it’s appropriate for a film based on African folklore and set withith a rural village. Quinceanara was a crowd pleaser, but could have had more of a bite in dealing with gentrification. Lucas Moodysoon’s Container was baffling as somewhat unconnected BW images shot with a handheld camera and lights are combined with a voiceover by a woman riffing on gender, celebrity and pop culture. The cinema was packed and a screening needed to be added to accommodate the crowds. It was too much to expect out of an intimate film that could really play better as an installation.

It was also great to catch up with some of my colleagues. After Kirikou, I met up with Noah Cowan, the programming director of the Toronto Film Festival; Marcus Hu, co-president of Strand Releasing; and Carl Spece, director of programming for the Palm Springs and Seattle film festivals to compare notes. I’ll see them later this evening at a reception honoring the Teddy Jury which Noah is heading.