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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 […]

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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.

Reoccurring Images

Recently, seemingly obscure and/or random movies have been infiltrating my life. You see, I have no real problem with this, however, after having a film pop-up over three times within a period of one week, it begins to feel not-so-coincidental and instead just weird. Two weeks ago, I embarked on a cross-country trip to California […]

6a00e54ff1492b883401053702d4a4970c-800wiRecently, seemingly obscure and/or random movies have been infiltrating my life. You see, I have no real problem with this, however, after having a film pop-up over three times within a period of one week, it begins to feel not-so-coincidental and instead just weird.

Two weeks ago, I embarked on a cross-country trip to California via a ’99 red Chevy Cavalier. On day one, my copilot mentioned that she put Pee Wee’s Big Adventure on her laptop to watch. I laughed, found the movie fitting for our excursion, and recalled a random moment in history—when I was a freshman in college; a friend wrote a bogus grant that allowed access to the HUGE soccer dome on campus. There we projected Pee Wee’s Big Adventure on the inside of the dome and encouraged students to bring sleeping bags and lay on the Astroturf to watch the movie.

On day five of our trip (the first four were scenic-scapes of driving), we arrive in California. We take the BART to San Francisco and walk up one million hills. On the descent of the last hill, we land upon an old repertory theatre, whose marquee reads, “Tonight’s Movie: Pee Wee’s Big Adventure.

Day six, I walk into a kitsch/vintage store and a wind-up Pee Wee doll hangs in the window.

Day Seven, the last day in California. Somewhere in Chinatown, a dusty bobble-head-sized Pee Wee guards the cash register in a tourist market.

I get home and forget about Pee Wee’s strange inclusion in our journey; how this movie and others have found a way of infusing themselves into my life. When I thought all was safe, Pee Wee turned up again, almost an entire week after arriving home. Upon making an alteration appointment for a bridesmaids dress, I asked the man at the shop where exactly they were located. He gave me the precise location, and added that there is a different tailor next door and to make sure I go to the one with Pee Wee Herman in the window.

Now it had surpassed coincidence and chance.

What this made me realize is that the movies, as much as we may deny, are inescapable. Past and present films hold a prominent place in the collective conscious and unconscious, and have a tendancy to reveal themselves when the relevant time indicates. It seems that not a single day is able to go by without some mere mention or film reference. What will be next? Cool Hand Luke or reoccurring images of Paul Newman?

So my curiosity lingers, and wonders what the new film/image will be and how it will work itself into my life.

Telluride: Happiness and Laughter Projected

The student symposium programmers must’ve wanted this year’s batch of up-and-comers to stay hopeful and excited about the world. In a festival packed with grim content (most notably Steve McQueen’s Hunger which explores the Irish Republican Army’s 1981 hunger strikes in Long Kesh prison; Gomorrah which brings Roberto Saviano‘s expose of contemporary Neapolitan crime to […]

The student symposium programmers must’ve wanted this year’s batch of up-and-comers to stay hopeful and excited about the world. In a festival packed with grim content (most notably Steve McQueen’s Hunger which explores the Irish Republican Army’s 1981 hunger strikes in Long Kesh prison; Gomorrah which brings Roberto Saviano‘s expose of contemporary Neapolitan crime to the silver screen; and Nandita Das’ Firaaq which takes on the 2002 communal violence in Gujarat India through a series of tragic vignettes), we skipped out on some of this darker material and saw a disproportionate number of films celebrating life and human beings in their best form.

Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi’s documentary Youssou Ndour: I Bring What I Love, which follows the great Senegalese musician through the contentious release of his latest album, Egypt, certainly fits this category. More than the filmmaking, Peter Sellers’ loving introduction and the sounds pouring out of Ndour’s heart convinced me this guy was about more than being one of the biggest musical sensations of our time. Indeed, Youssou Ndour begs us to fill our souls with light and hope, to face our friends and enemies with nothing but love, and to sing and dance with our whole beings. And, after the documentary and the live three song set Ndour shared, it became pretty much impossible to say no.

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The series “Laughing ‘Til It Hurts,”composed of four slapstick shorts from the pinnacle (and end) of the silent era, provided another instance at Telluride where joy was unabashedly held up as something to be saught, captured, and savored at all costs. The series was curated by Paolo Cherchi Usai, a man who–from his position as director of the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia to his wiry, hunched figure and sun-deprived aura to his beautiful indignation that silent film might EVER be considered primitive or “less than”–perfectly fits the mold of silent-film archivist and enthusiast. And great choices he made. The Cook (d. Roscoe Arbuckle, 1918), Should Men Walk Home (d. Leo McCarey, 1927), There It Is (d. Harold L Muller, 1928), and Pass the Gravy (d. Fred L. Guiol, 1928) kept the audience rolling (especially the ridiculous, squawking woman behind me) pretty much the whole time. As it turns out, fat dogs running up ladders and dinners made out of the neighbor’s prize-winning chicken are still unmanageably funny.

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Above all, Mike Leigh’s new film Happy-Go-Lucky–which will show as part of the Walker’s Mike Leigh Regis Dialogue and retrospective this October–embodies the world view behind the slapstick-ers’ comedy and Youssou Ndour’s music. Poppy (Sally Hawkins) is an elementary school teacher who maintains a pretty serious high-on-life disposition and calls on those around her–a disgruntled but complicated driving instructor, an impassioned flamenco teacher, one feisty, sarcastic sister and one super square sister–to do the same. That we sometimes identify with these supporting characters’ impatience and frustration with Poppy and her perpetual joy, drives the point home. For when Poppy brings unharnessed energy into the suburban home of her married and pregnant sister, or goads the inner rage of her driving teacher, or wanders into desolate surroundings and shares a moment with a crazy person, we’re put on edge. We get annoyed or tense up in response to Poppy’s behavior. And just at that moment, it becomes crystal clear that through Poppy, Leigh is asking all of us cynics in the dark theater to give ourselves over to optimism, to see colors in all their vibrancy and life in all its opportunity, and to engage in the joke before all else. Once I realized Poppy and Leigh have a point, a really really good point, Poppy transformed from a naive and slightly annoying distraction into a mindful being exercising the courage to confront the world’s bleak moments with laughter and grace. Leigh and Hawkins serve up digestible portions of this life philosophy throughout the film; The wild giggling of best friends, Poppy’s mantras of you’ve got to make your own luck, haven’t you?, and Leigh’s choice of Kodak’s brand-spanking-new color-friendly film all work to shout, go ahead and live!

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Telluride: Waltz with Bashir

Martha Polk is an intern in the Walker’s Film/Video department. Recently graduated from Carleton College with a degree in Modern Middle East History and Cinema and Media Studies, she plans to write and talk about movies for the rest of her life. Apparently once the Telluride festival and the accompanying student symposium start, they unfold […]

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Martha Polk is an intern in the Walker’s Film/Video department. Recently graduated from Carleton College with a degree in Modern Middle East History and Cinema and Media Studies, she plans to write and talk about movies for the rest of her life.

Apparently once the Telluride festival and the accompanying student symposium start, they unfold at mind-crushing speed. All of a sudden I’m back in the Twin Cities with four days behind me that permitted hardly a moment to eat a meal or navigate the bears roaming the nighttime streets. Well, better late than never, I suppose:

As an animated war documentary, from the outset Ari Folman’s Waltz with Bashir operates on intriguing ground. After all, documentaries are supposed to at least tip their hats to that murky, malleable concept of objectivity, so why the cartoon medium in this business of uncovering truth? Alas, Folman combines these somewhat contradictory tendencies successfully. An Israeli veteran from the 1982 war between Israel and Lebanon, Folman opens the film with his realization that he has virtually no memory of the war and thus ventures on a personal and cinematic quest to uncover what actually happened. In this way, Waltz with Bashir embarks on the kind of fact-finding missions of more traditional documentaries and halts on familiar questions of war reflection, namely, who and how did I hurt. He interviews classmates, other soldiers, the first Israeli reporter on the war, and his best friend who also happens to be an expert in post-traumatic stress disorder. Slowly, the pieces start to come together around the Sabra and Shatila incident, a massacre that left thousands of Palestinians dead by the hands of Lebanese Phalangist militiamen and by the acquiescence of Israeli forces. Such interviews and historical descriptive elements could have thrived on film or video (as such material does in the talking-head/news footage documentary genre) but Folman’s movie demands more. Waltz with Bashir is made complete not by mountains of facts but by the fog of memory, the fluidity of dreams, and utter darkness–both emotional and aesthetic. In other words, a revealing interview with the ex-reporter carries the same narrative significance as a dream in which Folman jumps the boat to war and finds refuge on the curves of a giant naked woman in the sea. A pack of wild charging dogs, their ferocity other-worldly; a vague and repeating vision of silhouettes emerging from water; a surreal dance through gunfire–these elements necessitate the animated image in order to realize their full effect. “I knew it had to be this way,” says Folman, “if I couldn’t animate the film, I couldn’t do it at all.”

And so, Waltz with Bashir manages a difficult harmony of elements. The animated image pulls us into personal dream worlds that, side by side with interviews and bits of historical exposition, compose Waltz with Bashir‘s truth, a truth which lies both in the hidden intimacies of one man’s memory and in the assertion that universally, war is hell.

Welcome to Telluride

Martha Polk is an intern in the Walker’s Film/Video department. Recently graduated from Carleton College with a degree in Modern Middle East History and Cinema and Media Studies, she plans to write and talk about movies for the rest of her life. Maybe it’s all the dogs moseying in and out of restaurants absorbing affection […]

Martha Polk is an intern in the Walker’s Film/Video department. Recently graduated from Carleton College with a degree in Modern Middle East History and Cinema and Media Studies, she plans to write and talk about movies for the rest of her life.

Maybe it’s all the dogs moseying in and out of restaurants absorbing affection from strangers, or maybe it’s the crates of fresh Colorado peaches sold at every corner, or maybe it’s just these humbling pine-covered mountains, but I think I’m finally understanding why everybody kept telling me Telluride Colorado is a special place. I come to the Telluride Film Festival 2008 as part of the Student Symposium, a program that invites a lucky group of 50 undergraduate and graduate students from around the country to watch and discuss the festival’s films. I arrived yesterday afternoon and though the official screenings have not yet begun (the schedule kicks off in all its intensity this afternoon), the festival is alive and breathing. Everybody smiles here… all of the time. Seriously. The sun is fierce, the tap beer is $2.50 a glass (take that Sundance!), and the usual boring banter between strangers has been replaced by non-stop-movie-talk.

Last night I did manage to get into a special staff screening of American Violet, a new film by director Tim Disney and writer/producer Bill Haney. The film tells the story of an African American family struggling against the corruption and racism of the police and court systems in small town Texas. Disney and Hall give us a straight forward narrative replete with all the heart-string tugging clichés of classic good guys vs. bad guys drama, all of which had something like a 50% success rate; the unfolding action earned applause and sharp intakes of breath from about half the Telluride staff crowd. I must say, newcomer Nicole Behaire throws down a remarkable performance and manages to look stunning the whole time…even when desperate and in jail. Lastly, the film followed Obama’s acceptance of the nomination by a mere hour, pushing the film’s political pertinence to extremes. Not only did Disney and Haney mention the connections between their work and Obama’s ideals in their introduction, but the film takes place during the epic battle of 2000 between Bush, Gore, and hanging chads. Bush’s rhetoric and Gore’s unrealized promises fill tv screens and political posters, composing a powerful backdrop to American Violet at this significant moment in American history.

So, let the Telluride games begin. I’ll keep bashfully coating myself in sunscreen and shamelessly combing the streets for Werner Herzog and hopefully you’ll check back soon for updates. Exciting things to come include: Ari Folman’s Waltz With Bashir, Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi’s Youssou Ndour: I Bring What I Love, October Regis Dialogue guest Mike Leigh and his new film Happy-Go-Lucky, among so much more.

The Walker Conquers Cannes

Cannes, France– Halfway through the Cannes Film Festival, which wraps up this weekend with the revelation of the Palme d’Or and other awards, two absurdly fortunate and extremely busy cineastes from Minneapolis somehow manage via phone, text, e-mail, and various psychic fax messages to schedule one those “ What’ve you liked so far?” chats. (Don’t […]

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Cannes, France–

Halfway through the Cannes Film Festival, which wraps up this weekend with the revelation of the Palme d’Or and other awards, two absurdly fortunate and extremely busy cineastes from Minneapolis somehow manage via phone, text, e-mail, and various psychic fax messages to schedule one those “ What’ve you liked so far?” chats. (Don’t worry: No spoilers here.)

But by accident, the curator and critic–the Walker Art Center’s Sheryl Mousley and moi–run into one another two hours before the agreed-upon time while queuing for the Dardennes brothers’ Lorna’s Silence, and decide to observe their own quiet. No talking until after the movie becomes Rule #1–the only rule, in fact–of our Dogme of Q&As.

Yet as rules are meant to be broken, we agree to make small talk in French (e.g., “ Le nouveau vol de NWA est magnifique, n’est-ce pas?”) until the lights go down. Then we suspend the discussion even further while trekking through the gargantuan Palais des Festivals to the fourth-floor meeting place known as Le Club. Eventually it trickles out, even before the microphone is on (quelle horreur!), that while we’re somewhat split on the Dardennes’ latest–Mousley’s thumb points straight up, mine sideways–we’re both big fans of Le Club, in particular its jus d’orange gratuit.

So roll tape–and cheers to free orange juice in Cannes!

 

Mousley, peeling back the curtain on the Film/Video Department’s theater of operations, explains that “judging the film is how everything begins” for her and assistant curator Dean Otto. As well it should. Last year, for example, Mousley’s Cannes screening of The Mourning Forest–“ a film I adored immediately,” she says–led to the Walker visit of Japanese director Naomi Kawase in March. “ Scheduling is always a major hurdle,” says Mousley. “ Filmmakers are filmmakers; when they’re not in production, they’re in pre-production or doing publicity or taking a rare vacation. But with Naomi, it worked perfectly for her to come in conjunction with the Women With Vision’ series.”

Though the next such series remains nine months away, Cannes isn’t too early for Mousley to focus on films by women here. The curator naturally has her eye on Argentine director Lucrecia Martel’s brilliantly surreal La Mujer Sin Cabeza (The Headless Woman) as well as Kelly Reichardt’s follow-up to Old Joy, Wendy and Lucy, which hadn’t yet screened when we met for OJ. Lamenting the dearth of women-directed films this year, I joke that maybe multimillion dollar baby (and Hillary Clinton supporter) Clint Eastwood could earn honorary inclusion in “ Women With Vision” for his direction of the strikingly feminist Changeling (starring Angelina Jolie); and perhaps he could bank frequent flyer miles to Minneapolis for having previously visited the Walker for the very first Regis Dialogue back in 1990, back in the pre-Unforgiven days when proclaiming Clint as an auteur was something close to radical.

“ Of course I’ve looked into whether Clint would come back [for another Regis],” says Mousley. “ But what I’ve heard from Pierre Rissient”–the Gallic “ man of cinema” featured in critic Todd McCarthy’s like-titled documentary–“ is that [Eastwood] doesn’t like to revisit old territory.” Not geographic territory, anyway, as Eastwood does trod generic turf repeatedly: Changeling, wherein Jolie plays a mother grieving for her lost son and suffering the rampant sexism of 20s and 30s L.A., harkens back particularly to the director’s Mystic River and A Perfect World as a critique of socially sanctioned exploitation and abuse.

Our juice glasses still half-full, like le festival itself, Mousley and I note that Changeling is the likely Palme pick for a jury headed by Mystic River‘s Sean Penn. But Palme or not, Eastwood’s star vehicle won’t face the slightest challenge in finding a screen, whereas one of the Walker’s chief missions is to usher in the unknown and otherwise endangered. To this end, Mousley is meeting tomorrow with a group of Iranian film exporters to discuss the details of a continued collaboration that would bring more Iranian cinema to Minneapolis at a time when it’s sorely needed anywhere in the United States.

“ Iranian cinema is tricky now, for obvious reasons,” says Mousley. “ Paying film rentals can be complicated, and then, of course, there’s the problem with visas for visiting [Iranian] filmmakers. So it’s very good for us to get together [with Iranians] to work through strategies for keeping these films on the [U.S. festival and museum] circuit.”

And with that, the conversation is fini: Mousley is heading to another meeting in the Marché du Film, and I’m gonna sprint up the Croisette to the Directors’ Fortnight, where Albert Serra’s El Cant Dels Ocells (Birdsong) will be featuring the brilliant screen acting debut of my Cinema Scope editor and friend Mark Peranson, playing Joseph, earthly father of…oh Lord, I almost gave it away!

Cameron Jamie/The Melvins/Keiji Haino

We caught the Cameron Jamie show last night at Symphony Space in NYC. He was presenting Jo along with the now complete trilogy of Kranky Klaus/Spook House/BB in conjunction with the Whitney Biennial. Jo came first with a live soundtrack from Keiji Haino. It was just Keiji, his guitar, and four amplifiers. The performance was […]

We caught the Cameron Jamie show last night at Symphony Space in NYC. He was presenting Jo along with the now complete trilogy of Kranky Klaus/Spook House/BB in conjunction with the Whitney Biennial. Jo came first with a live soundtrack from Keiji Haino. It was just Keiji, his guitar, and four amplifiers. The performance was captivating, making it difficult to focus on the film on the screen. After a brief intermission, the Trilogy began with Kranky Klaus up first. It documents a Christmas tradition in rural Austria in which St. Nick arrives to give out gifts and along with him come the Krampus, a heard of furry, horned beasts that come to intimidate and punish those who have misbehaved. The Krampus costumes are truly bizarre, and watching furry horde work is jaw-droppingly astounding. They overturn tables, tackle parents, and terrorize children. The live score for this piece was provided by the Melvins, with a reverent pause for the point in the film where the Krampus take a break and sing along to Black Betty by RamJam. Next up was Spook House, which explores haunted houses around Detroit in the days leading up to Halloween. Keiji Haino joined the Melvins onstage, for what Walker Chief Curator Phillippe Vergne told me was the first time ever, to score Spook House with an intense and noisy duet. The evening finished with BB, an investigation of a violent backyard wrestling phenomenon in Southern California. These kids jump off of roofs and ladders and smash each other with folding chairs and trashcans in imitation of their favorite pro wrestlers. Jamie and the Melvins presented BB at the Walker several years ago in conjunction with the show How Latitudes Become Foms. The Melvins took a completely different approach for their score this time, again working with Keiji Haino to create an imposing and visceral counterpart to the onscreen violence.

The show was amazing, and plans are in progress to bring the Melvins and Keiji Haino this fall for a performance in conjunction with Cameron Jamie’s solo show that will run July 15-October 14. Keep your eyes open for the announcement, as you will not want to miss this.

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.

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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.