Blogs Crosscuts Michael Montag

Justin Chadwick to introduce “The First Grader” May 11th

Between the complete 5-film Terrence Malick retrospective and Artists’ Cinema series,  the month of May is shaping into a cinephile’s delight. On Wednesday, May 11, the cinematic mayhem continues at the Walker with a special FREE screening of  The First Grader, the latest effort by English television and film director Justin Chadwick. An official selection […]

Between the complete 5-film Terrence Malick retrospective and Artists’ Cinema series,  the month of May is shaping into a cinephile’s delight. On Wednesday, May 11, the cinematic mayhem continues at the Walker with a special FREE screening of  The First Grader, the latest effort by English television and film director Justin Chadwick. An official selection of the Telluride, Toronto, and London film festivals, the picture focuses on the enchanting true-life story of Kimani Maruge (Oliver Litondo), an old Mau Mau veteran who fought against the British occupation of Kenya during the 1950s, whose seemingly simple dream and ambition is to learn to read and write before his life is over. Ambushed by officials who deem him too old to be a student, the narrative verve revolves around Maruge’s insurmountable determination and drive to educate himself.

The uplifting true story of the world’s oldest primary school student, The First Grader reels you in with its human-interest hook, but packs an even more vital agenda: enlisting Kenyan locals to share little-known details of their nation’s independence. Director Justin Chadwick’s admirable effort manages to do more than inspire, educating audiences with an important chapter in African history—specifically, the treatment of Mau Mau freedom fighters.

See the full article by Peter Debruge

And while Chadwick’s humanistic portrait is certain to warm the heart and lift the spirit, he does so without indulging in mawkish sentiment. An achievement that is becoming increasingly rare in contemporary cinema. Photographed on location in Kenya by Rob Hardy, the sparkling, sun-kissed imagery is truly something to behold.

A discussion of the film with the director follows the screening.

8-Ball: Brent Green

In anticipation of his visit to the Walker February 26, filmmaker Brent Green was kind enough to answer some questions. 1) What first interested you about movies? Did you have an artistic bent as a child? Oh, I was a sports kid. I liked Ty Cobb. When I found out movies could be eloquent, mean, […]

Brent Green

In anticipation of his visit to the Walker February 26, filmmaker Brent Green was kind enough to answer some questions.

1) What first interested you about movies? Did you have an artistic bent as a child?

Oh, I was a sports kid. I liked Ty Cobb. When I found out movies could be eloquent, mean, and moving like Ty Cobb I joined in. As I get older, I like Yogi Berra type movies more and more.

2) What films impressed you as a child?

It’s A Wonderful Life is still my favorite film.

3) Your film, Gravity Was Everywhere Back Then, is a fascinating instance of art imitating life to some extent. How did you happen upon this enchanting tale?

Brendan Canty (who’s playing drums at the Walker performance, and is also the drummer for Fugazi) has a film series called Burn to Shine, where a bunch of bands from one town play one song each over the course of a day in a condemned house in that town. Someone called Brendan and said “we have a house for you in Louisville.” I went down there with the Burn to Shine crew and just stumbled into Leonard’s house—into this story.

4) When you first started making films, was there a certain director or artist whose work had a particular influence on you?

Kurt Vonnegut. He was perfect.

5) Considering this is your first feature-length film, did your approach or style change much as a result?

I had to think a little differently, I guess. My other films rant, which I like. I like to rant. I think in rants. There’s no way an audience would sit through a 75 minute assault of non-stop narration. Aside from trying to contain some kind of epiphanies and truths, I do want my films to entertain. Come to the Walker on February 26th. Let us entertain you.

6) Your studio is in rural Pennsylvania, far from the traditional film centers. What is it about this area that inspires you?

It’s beautiful and quiet. My closest neighbor owns over 200 guns. He keeps them in a shed with giant metal letters on the door—”NRA.” I have to make films that work for him, that work for Al. I have to keep him liking me. Feuds. Avoiding feuds is inspiring.

7) You once said that “the only stories that any of us relate to are the ones we see ourselves in.” Would you say, then, that the ultimate aim of an artist is to get inside your skin and reflect yourself back to you?

It’s tough to imagine a more complicated way of saying “be honest.” But, if you’re kind of clever and thoughtful enough, you can probably see yourself nearly anywhere. Empathy’s important in art and life.

8) Your film Paulina Hollers played at the Walker’s first Expanding the Frame series. What are you most looking forward to about your return to the Walker?

The weather. The weather and the traffic. Our van has heat—we’re gonna sit in the van, watch the weather, AND the traffic. I can’t wait.

Sam Green’s Utopian Crooner

“This is a guy from Cuba named Julian Hernandez singing a song in Esperanto, “Tiel la Mondo Iras,” which means, ‘that’s the way the world goes.’ I guarantee that if you listen to the whole song, it will become irrevocably, perhaps even maddeningly, stuck in your head. It is profoundly catchy…I have a fantasy of […]

“This is a guy from Cuba named Julian Hernandez singing a song in Esperanto, “Tiel la Mondo Iras,” which means, ‘that’s the way the world goes.’ I guarantee that if you listen to the whole song, it will become irrevocably, perhaps even maddeningly, stuck in your head. It is profoundly catchy…I have a fantasy of this song/video becoming a huge viral smash hit.”

8-Ball with Sam Green

In anticipation of his visit to the Walker next week, documentarian Sam Green was kind enough to answer some  questions. 1) Your short films Pie Fight ’69 and The Rainbow Man played at the Walker in the past, and this is your first appearance. What are you most looking forward to about your visit? Yes, […]

Sam Green at work.

In anticipation of his visit to the Walker next week, documentarian Sam Green was kind enough to answer some  questions.

1) Your short films Pie Fight ’69 and The Rainbow Man played at the Walker in the past, and this is your first appearance. What are you most looking forward to about your visit?

Yes, this is the first time I’ll be at the Walker. I’m looking forward to doing our screening there, of course, but I’m also excited to be in Minneapolis – I’ve never been. I’m hoping to maybe run into Prince at some point during our visit. (I wonder if he’ll read this. Prince??? You there?)

2) Do you consider Utopia in Four Movements cinema? How exactly do you define cinema?

Yes. I definitely do. It’s funny, the piece could be considered many different things: a performance or a ‘live documentary’ or even a fancy lecture. In some ways, I think it shows that many of these distinctions are partially semantic more than substantive. Because I am a filmmaker – I’ve made films before and am screening this in a film context, it is for the most part considered a film. With all that said, there certainly are antecedents in film history for this kind of thing: Lowell Thomas was phenomenally successful in the 1920s showing films and narrating them in person, there’s the Benshi tradition of live narration in Japan, or even the travelogues from the 1960s and 70s here. UTOPIA certainly is at the edge of what we might consider film today, but I do see it as being on this side of that edge. It is cinema.

3) Do you see your participation in Utopia as a form of acting or teaching?

Neither actually. What I’m doing with this project is definitely not acting. And I try to avoid anything that’s to pedantic or pedagogical in my work. It’s hard to find the right word for it… maybe “communicating” is right. Yeah, that’s probably good.

4)  What courses do you teach at SFAI and USF?

I’m actually taking a year off from teaching. But when I do teach, I teach courses on the history of documentary and documentary production.

5) How much does improvisation play a role in Utopia, in terms of both the music and your narration? Or do you favor a more disciplined, scripted approach?

There’s not very much improv in this piece. It’s pretty tightly choreographed – the music, the images and the words. With that said, the more we screen the piece, the looser we get with it and the more we are able to play around. At every show, unexpected things happen, and the piece is never quite the same twice. At Sundance last year, someone asked a question in the middle of it! And we are always re-writing sections – tweaking things. So it definitely changes each show.

6) What’s your favorite documentary?

I get this question from time to time, and always feel like I am slightly disappointing the person who is asking when I say that I actually don’t have a single favorite documentary film. There are lots of filmmakers that I am very fond of and lots of films that I love and have been influential. I’m a big fan of Alan Berliner, Heddy Honigman, Adam Curtis, of course Herzog. Specific films that were reference points for me in making UTOPIA IN FOUR MOVEMENTS: The Power of Nightmares by Adam Curtis, Fast, Cheap and Out of Control by Errol Morris, and the live version of Brand Upon the Brain by Guy Maddin.

7) Do you have a Netflix account, and if so, what titles are at the top of your queue?

That’s a good question. I actually had Netflix a while back but canceled my account after a month or two. I have a huge stack of DVDs on my desk that I need to watch. It’s actually hard for me to watch films in a recreational manner. So at the top of my own “DVD pile” queue is: Wide Awake by Alan Berliner, Shutka Book of Records by Sasha Manic, and some short animations in Esperanto by a young filmmaker named Simmon Keith Barney.

8) How are you expanding the cinematic frame?

This goes back to question number 2. I am certainly not doing things that haven’t been done before. And there are other people who are doing great things with live cinema at the moment as well. I’m a big fan of Brent Green’s work – we have done shows together and I’ve learned some things from him about touring with a band. With that said, I do think that there’s a huge push that comes from technology towards online – everything is gravitating in that direction, away from a theatrical model of cinema and towards video on demand or streaming or downloading. I am not against the internet – it’s great for many things – but there’s also a huge difference in the way people engage with media online versus in other contexts – a theatrical context for example. I am creating films that will hopefully be meaningful for the people who watch them. I think that sitting in a theater is still the best way to make that happen. So, in some ways, I feel like what I am doing is pushing cinema in a direction that it’s moving away from. Doing something that can only be screened live and when Dave Cerf and I and the band are there, it feels anachronistic perhaps. But as I pointed out, live cinema is not new.

Bonanza: A Documentary for Five Screens

The Walker’s Expanding the Frame series, which is now in its fourth year, is dedicated to showcasing artists who are willing to traverse and explore the gaps between mediums and challenge the audience to reconsider traditional modes of cinematic experiences. As a result of the ongoing contemporary bombardment of moving-images in everyday life, one could […]

The Walker’s Expanding the Frame series, which is now in its fourth year, is dedicated to showcasing artists who are willing to traverse and explore the gaps between mediums and challenge the audience to reconsider traditional modes of cinematic experiences. As a result of the ongoing contemporary bombardment of moving-images in everyday life, one could argue that audiences have been lulled into a kind of dreary cinematic passivity. One of the chief aims of the series is to break this behavior and build a better, more active dialogue between the moving-image artist and the audience. This notion of activating the spectator has its most famous origins in Bertolt Brecht’s Epic Theater; Brecht strove to alienate his audience from the spectacle of theater so they could develop and maintain a criticality of the work. In many ways, the artists that are featured as part of Expanding the Frame go even further than Brecht by synthesizing, and paradoxically fragmenting, theater, film, sculpture, and music. What emerges out of this combination of mediums is a new genre: performative cinema.

The Series begins with Bonanza: A Documentary for Five Screens. Created by the multimedia collective Berlin, this singular documentary explores the smallest official town in Colorado and its seven inhabitants. Although the town of Bonanza provides the filmmakers with material of considerable merit, it’s the structural and formal aspects of the documentary that prove to completely transform the spectator’s relationship to the work. Five screens present five different sequences of images that are all networked to one story. Not only is this visually demanding but also potentially distracting. Because the viewer has to decide where he or she will look, the very notion of choice is embedded within the experience itself. To make the experience even more complex, a static model of the town is situated above the five screens, which gives the work a heightened sense of verisimilitude. These stylistic demands make it impossible to be submerged in the entire event, and the audience is left to reevaluate and rethink everything they are seeing. Paradoxically, in going beyond cinema, the documentary Bonanza returns to cinema’s roots insofar as it’s an ephemeral, communal experience, which requires you to leave your home just as audiences did in the era between the nickelodeon and television.

Bonanza: A Documentary for Five Screens will play in the McGuire Theater from Thursday, January 20th to Saturday, January 22nd and is presented in collaboration with the Performing Arts department’s Out There Festival.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c2DozAXHipc[/youtube]

Mike Leigh’s Another Year

In the fall of 2008, the Walker paid tribute to English writer-director Mike Leigh with the ten film retrospective and regis dialogue, Mike Leigh: Moments. Over the course of Leigh’s marvelous and prolific career, he’s garnered special attention for bringing psychological and emotional clarity to a decidedly English brand of mannered comedy. His latest ensemble […]

In the fall of 2008, the Walker paid tribute to English writer-director Mike Leigh with the ten film retrospective and regis dialogue, Mike Leigh: Moments. Over the course of Leigh’s marvelous and prolific career, he’s garnered special attention for bringing psychological and emotional clarity to a decidedly English brand of mannered comedy. His latest ensemble piece, Another Year, opened at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival in competition for the Palme d’Or and will make its US premiere fittingly at the end of the year, on December 29th. Like so many of Leigh’s films, the title aptly hints at the picture’s theme.

In Mike Leigh’s Another Year, four seasons come and go, characters arrive and depart, produce ripens and rots, everything and nothing changes. There’s such weariness in that title. Living is shadowed by dying, bounty is turned over by hunger, loneliness is assuaged by company. People can’t go on, yet they still do. They fret through Sunday night to board the train on Monday morning.

See the full review by Eric Hynes.

Leigh, who has to be reckoned as one of the greatest living actor’s directors, casts three longtime collaborators as the central characters: the ebullient, inimitable Jim Broadbent inhabits the skin of Tom, a geologist, while the long-faced, expressive Ruth Sheen plays his wife, Gerrie, a medical counselor; but it is Lesley Manville’s performance as Mary, a dipsomaniac and friend of Gerrie’s, that has attracted the most attention. With her emotional expansiveness, Manville brings to light the vulnerable semi-tragic, semi-comic sides of her character and has already won the best actress award from the National Board of Review of Motion Pictures. Another Year should be another film lover’s delight.

The Mike Leigh Regis Dialogue with Scott Foundas is also available for your enjoyment on the Walker Channel.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cm-mfxOiUXI&feature=related[/youtube]

So long for now, folks. This is my first foray into the Walker’s blog as a new Film/Video intern.