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THE TALK 2.Still001John Manno and Stephen Taylor in Blue Strait

Last days got word from the Split Festival that they will show, along with Bowman Lake, the film Blue Strait, shot in Port Angeles WA with John Manno and Stephen Taylor.  Long ago my friend Marcus Hu, of Strand Releasing, bugged me about doing a “gay film” – Strand sort of specializes in them.  It sat on the back-burner of my brain for some decades, and then sometime after finishing the shooting of Coming to Terms I had the very vague thought begin to coalesce around the idea of something built around a middle-aged couple breaking up.    I went to Port Angeles and the house of my good friend Steve Taylor (Coming Home, Over Here, Parable and Coming to Terms) and intuitively shot this film.  I was clearly not interested in anything remotely like a conventional narrative film, but rather something else.  Blue Strait offers no explanations, no background, and in the usual sense, no narrative.  Rather it immerses the viewer in a tonal setting, a place, it’s vibes, and drops you in the midst of an acrid relationship teetering on collapse.  The tension is not narrative or literary, but that generated by a visual gorgeousness which frames an ugly relationship.

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While adamantly non-narrative in its form, Blue Strait is quite accessible if one is game for visual and aural play, and willing to forget about “the story” (though there is one) and surrender to what is a delicate tone-poem in time, vision and sound.

The film has been rejected by a handful of festivals in the past year, from Rotterdam to Sundance to the NYFF.  I suspect it is just too not-narrative/conventional for their tastes.  Nice that Split splits from that view.  Festival is September 12-19.

Today came in a request from the Split Film Festival in Croatia, asking to screen Bowman Lake.  I’d thought it would never get screened (as is the case so far with CANYON II) anywhere.  So it is nice to imagine it late at night, outdoors, showing next to the Adriatic.  September 12- 19 is the festival time.  Wish I could go, but I’ll be too wobbly from jaunt to Jakarta to want to think of another long trip.  For those who can’t make it, here’s the film another way.  It is 144 minutes, silent, “real time” imagery of the passage of one day at Lake Bowman, up on the north-west side of Glacier Park, about 15 miles of rough roads to get there.

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THIC TIFF REJECT

Once, quite some time ago, I was a Toronto regular, with the festival showing my films rather regularly.  In the late 70’s, 80’s and I think perhaps until The Bed You Sleep In – way back in 1993.  Since shifting to digital I don’t recall them ever showing a thing.  Along with a handful of other festivals like the Berlin Forum, or Pesaro.   Seems I jumped on digital too early, or perhaps the tieds of fashion have shifted.  Or…?  I dunno.  Wavelength is supposedly Toronto’s slot for the adventurous, experimental or whatever (i.e., not commercial).  So the robo-letter writer sent two of these today.  I vaguely think I also sent them Bowman Lake, so I figure that one should roll in soon.

BLUE STRAIT TIFF REJECT

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This August we’ll be off, Marcella and I, to Jakarta to participate in the Arkipel Film Festival.  I’ll be screening two films – either Coming to Terms or They Had It Coming, and Imagens de uma Cidade Perdida, as well as doing a “master class” and being on the jury.  Below is the list of films I get to see:

1.Cinza / Ashes (Micael Espinha, Portugal, 2014)
2.Beep (Kim Kyungman, South Korea, 2014)
3.Que Dia é Hoje? / What Day is Today? (Colectivo Fotograma 24, Group of Young People from Montemor-o-Novo, Portugal, 2015)
4.Krieg der Lügen / War of Lies (Matthias Bittner, Germany, 2014)
5.Les Tourmentes / For the Lost (Pierre-Yves Vandeweerd, France/Belgium, 2014)
6.All That is Solid (Eva Kolcze, Canada, 2014)
7.A.D.A.M. (Vladislav Knežević, Croatia, 2014)
8.Paisaje con Perro Roto / Landscape with Broken Dog (Orazio Leogrande, Italy, 2014)
9.Thing (Anouk de Clercq, Belgium, 2013)
10.Sarah(k.) (Christophe Bisson, France, 2014)
11.Meio Corte / Half-Cut (Nikolai Nekh, Portugal, 2013)
12.Continuous Lines (Diana Pacheco, Hungary/Ecuador, 2014)
13.Binario / Binary (Giuseppe Riccardi, Spain, 2014)
14.Infrastructures (Aurèle Ferrier, Switzerland, 2014)
15.Killing Time (Rafi Shor, Israel, 2015)
16.A Place I’ve Never Been (Adrian Flury, Switzerland, 2014)
17.I Dance with God (Hooshang Mirzaee, Iran, 2013)
18.A Barca (Pablo Briones, Switzerland, 2015)
19.Je Suis le Peuple / I Am the People (Anna Roussillon, France, 2014)
20.El Corral y el Viento / The Corral and the Wind (Miguel Hilari, Bolivia, 2014)
21.Dark Matter (Karel Doing, The Netherlands, 2014)
22.Little Girl with Iron Fist (Luca Mandrile, Claudio di Mambro, & Umberto Migliaccio, Italy, 2013)
23.Time and Place (Martijn Veldhoen, The Netherlands, 2014)
24.Grace Period (Caroline Key & Kim Kyung-mook, South Korea, 2014)
25.Tom and Jerry (Ekkaphob Sumsiripong, Thailand, 2014)
26.The Private Life of Fenfen (Leslie Tai, China/USA, 2013)
27.Entre ici et là-bas / Between Here and There (Alexia Bonta, Belgium, 2014)
28.Mutasalilun / Infiltrators (Khaled Jarrar, Palestine/United Arab of Emirates/Lebanon, 2013)
29.El Juego del Escondite / Hide and Seek (David Muñoz, Spain, 2015)
30.state-theatre #5 BEIRUT (Daniel Kötter & Constanze Fishbeck, Lebanon/Germany, 2014)
31.One Blue Bird (Hasumi Shiraki, Japan, 2015)
32.Fractions (Guillaume Mazloum, France, 2014)
33.Endless, Nameless (Mont Tesprateep, Thailand, 2014)
34.Flor Azul (Raul Domingues, Portugal, 2014)
35.The Nation (Pieter Geenen, Belgium, 2014)

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We’ll be there 12 days, and hope to meet new people, make new friends, and explore and enjoy a place neither Marcella nor I have been to before.  We have been across the Straits of Malacca, in Malaysia.

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After a very early morning bus ride from Jeonju to Gimpo airport in Seoul it was on to Tokyo, so that Marcella might have a little taste of Japan, and to do a workshop, again, at the Tokyo Film School.  While here seeing a lot,  including friends, and in a few days we’ll have a meeting with Matsumoto-san, who for some years now has been dangling the prospect of coming to here to teach a class which would result in a portrait of this massive and vastly interesting city.  Find out more then.

Meantime a bit of echo from Jeonju – this review posted on-line a few days ago.  Makes me wonder which projection they saw, the mangled first one, or the second using H264 file.  Or perhaps at the DVD library. Anyway glad it got some nice ink.

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But then having sent a note to Pedro Costa to say how much I liked his film Horse Money, he replied saying his French and German supporters were no more, and it was back to the real cheap film process for the next one.  Doesn’t matter how good you are, if it isn’t calculatedly “commercial,” in the present world it is deemed worthless.  What an ugly world.

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But it is our world.  Brutal – especially if you are black-skinned in America, or poor anywhere – and dishonest, as with Obama approving arctic drilling and trying to slip the TPP “trade deal” over at midnight, or other such things.  For the moment the neo-liberal-con ideology has appeared to triumph, and the world is suffocating under its grasp.  Though as with all such things, seeming “victory” tends towards over-reach, and there’ll soon be a comeuppance.  The current US weather gives a hint of this future….

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And then yesterday, in a BIC Camera store here, I saw the new Sony 4K Handicams, the larger one costing now about $4K.  Half the price of my XDcam a handful of years ago.   To add to the avalanche of unneeded imagery drowning the world.

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Yesterday, at the Jeonju festival, finally had a chance to see Pedro Costa’s latest film, Horse Money.  It follows on the heels (slow) of his Fontainhas trilogy, adding an extension, both in terms of characters, content, and cinematic aesthetics, to those three films.  For me the most striking aspect of these works – Ossos (1997, shot in 35mm film); In Vanda’s Room (2000, dv), Colossal Youth (2006, HD) – is the progression in the cinematic means, in which Costa steadily strips down to the utter essentials for his purposes.  He arrives at an elusive, poetic state in which the most common of conversation – shown in anything but “common” settings and utterance – take on a solemn gravity, such that the recitation of the data of a birth certificate, or the most commonplace of thoughts, become freighted with tragedy.

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He accomplishes this with a mix of imagery that echoes Zurbarán, Ribera and other Spanish painters under the sway of Caravaggio, as well as of Goya in his darker passages.

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Posed in darkened settings, shot in angles which isolate figures and monumentalize them, the light falls carefully upon them, seemingly “natural” light, but in this film clearly highly controlled and composed.  Coupled with his character’s readings of the words – Bressonian in their minimalist recitation – Costa extracts from the most humble of people a stunning and deep chord of humanity, in all its mundane misery and tragedy.  Horse Money, like any serious art, places a heavy demand on those who would get from it what lies in its depths.  A great work by a great artist.

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For further reviews and thoughts on this film, see these:

http://www.indiewire.com/article/locarno-review-pedro-costas-existential-ghost-story-horse-money-will-get-under-your-skin-20140813
 
http://cinema-scope.com/cinema-scope-magazine/tiff-2014-horse-money-pedro-costa-portugal-wavelengths/
 
http://www.indiewire.com/article/locarno-review-pedro-costas-existential-ghost-story-horse-money-will-get-under-your-skin-20140813
http://www.slantmagazine.com/film/review/horse-money

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While here I’ve walked out of a few of the films I’ve gone to see (not many), and did manage to see, after a long wait, Wang Bin’s Man With No Name, which left me pondering a few matters, from how did he manage to get an OK from his subject, to was it a matter of the man appears a bit mentally short and perhaps did not quite understand what he was agreeing with?  Ethical matters.  While I liked the film I felt it missed out just a little, in part from aesthetic matters, like perhaps it would have been a bit more powerful if the contrast had been upped, and such technical/aesthetic matters as that.  I do think any Hollywood filmmaker intending to make a film about poor people might take a look to get an idea what real dirt looks like.

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Back in Jeonju for the festival, lost count how many times now.  The place burst from a small provincial college town I first saw in 1999, to a bustling busy city.  Likewise the festival grew, not long ago underwent a palace revolution in which the original director and programming teams all got shoved out the door or left of their own accord.  Two years ago one still felt the wobble, and personally, I felt the sudden rigid insistence of a DCP to show Coming to Terms.  I asked that they not do this, but they held firm and I shelled out $700 to get one made, at their insistence shifting 29 fps to 24 fps, inducing the totally predictable motion crap changing frame rates will cause.  This year they stuck with their DCP insistence and I went on-line and did it myself, with no means to check it out.  Sent it off a bit doubtful, hastily at their insistence.  They then didn’t look at it, and then having sat on it 2+ weeks, informed me there was a problem, though wasn’t too clear just what it might be.  It did include that there was text in the middle of film, which, as it happens there is.

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I offered to try again, though cautioning that as I have no means to check the package, I had no real reason to believe another go round would result in a proper one.  I did in fact render all the big files needed to do so but just a few days before leaving got word all was OK, and don’t bother making a new one.  So I stopped.  And then, on day of departure got an urgent request to bring new DCP!  Which I couldn’t.

Yesterday they screened the film, to a decently sized audience.  I did not stay to watch as somehow I knew carnage was in the works, and indeed, arriving for the post-screening Q&A, a friend of mine was exiting and told me the projection was a total unwatchable mess.

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Requested a few opening words, I explained the whole deal, and informed the audience they had not seen my film, but rather the result of a totally unnecessary and wrong-headed policy.  Strangely though many had clearly liked the film, despite the butchered version on offer and we had a long discussion.  I gave the URL and password to the audience so they could go on line and see what I’d actually made.

To compensate for this unhappy bit I went to see a former student of mine at Yonsei University, LEE Sangwoo, who had a film on that surely cost many multiples of my most costly.  It was, like him, a weird, vulgar, aggressive and really well made film titled SPEED.

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Today, after a not so wonderful exchange with the projection people, they let me know they would do tomorrow’s screening with the H264 file I’d included with the DCP, just in case….

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Unless there’s a real juicy enticement to bring me back, I think this is last time around for me to Jeonju.  And maybe the last time around making these kinds of films.  I kinda feel like the character up top after 52 years of this….

BV-dorisrefugeUpcoming screenings of Vera Brunner-Sung’s lovely film, Bella Vista, in Montana, as follows.  For a nice intelligent review see this.  If near, go see.
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HELENA, MT
14-21 May 2015, times TBA, Myrna Loy Center

CHOTEAU, MT
13 May 2015, 7PM, Roxy Theatre

PABLO, MT
30 April 2015, 7PM, Salish Kootenai College, Johnny Arlee/Victor Charlo Theater

KALISPELL, MT
29 April 2015, 7PM, The Museum at Central School

MILES CITY, MT
24 April 2015, 6:30PM, Miles College Library

BILLINGS, MT
23 April 2015, 6PM, Yellowstone Art Museum (Murdock Gallery)

BOZEMAN, MT
16 April 2015, 7PM, Montana State University, Gaines Hall #101

BUTTE, MT
15 April 2015, 7PM, Imagine Butte Resources

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Roxanne Rogers and Blake Eckard

For what seems like for the umpteenth time, headed to the Jeonju Film Festival in South Korea, this time invited to screen They Had It Coming.   This will give us a chance to see some friends, former students, have another taste of delicious Korean cuisine, and see how much things changed in two years.  Don’t yet know the screening dates, but was looking like May 3 and 5.  It’ll be the first public screening, though given that it is heavily talky and quite “American” I wonder what the largely Korean audience will make of it – a real subtitle marathon?   Not going to exactly provide a good reading of how the film works on viewers.

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Set in Blake Eckard’s home town of Stanberry MO (pop. 1185), we shot in two phases, which, if it were up to my brain to sort it out, I couldn’t say just when.  I think spring and then autumn, 2014 or was it 2013?  Dang if I remember.   While in Stanberry shooting and acting in Blake’s film Ghosts of Empire Prairie, he told us a handful of local stories, embellished in his story-teller manner, and finding these just too juicy to pass up, I asked if maybe we could spin a film around them and him.  Such was the genesis of They Had It Coming.  I tossed in a few things that had been lingering in my files for 20 or 30 years, we each wrote a bit more, and bang, we had a film.  Frank Mosley, Arianne Martin, Roxanne Rogers and Tyler Messner came in, and in pretty quick order (less than a week?)  it was mostly shot, in Blake’s mother, Susan’s, kitchen! Yep, that was the studio space where nearly 2/3rds of it was shot with window light and a black cloth.  While I was off on a trip to Europe Blake used my camera to snare shots (above) of locals when they came into Eckard’s Hardware to shop. Roxanne’s sister Sandy let me use one of her songs, I tossed in a few of my own, Stephen Taylor’s dad, Larry, lent his voice for a smooth TV announcer (he used to be anchor in Boise Idaho news program), and after a short bit of editing on CS6, out popped the film.  My thanks to everyone who helped.

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I sent an early cut out last summer, accruing a list of festival “no’s,” and getting the suggestion from Mark Rappaport, that I should change my title, which had been “True Gentry County Stories” to one of the lines in the film.  I took his advice. They Had It Coming, while itself being a fiction, is simultaneously a kind of tone-poem/essay on the process of “story-telling.”  In my view a rather strange little beast it is, that for some reason gathers towards the end to provide a visceral punch of a conclusion.  I don’t really understand quite how it manages to do so – adamantly skirting all the usual mechanisms used – but it does.

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Blake and Tyler Messner

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Arianne Martin and Blake

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Upcoming screenings include Coming to Terms in Houston TX, April 23, at the Blaffer Art Museum, and then on May 11 in Austin at the Austin Film Society; Last Chants for a Slow Dance will screen May 10 at AFS.  And something is cooking for Phoenix AZ, just when up in the air.  As is life….

we-are-going-01We are going to record

Yesterday I went with Marcella and comps to MoMA’s film series, Documentary Fortnight, invited by friend Peter Snowdon, to see a new short film of his, We Are Going To Record.  This was a nice piece, shot by his collaborator, Juan Javier Rivera, in a small village in the Peruvian Andes, where a large copper company has its sights on local deposits.  Thwarted by lack of adequate funding to make the film they intended, Peter culled many hours of footage to make this droll commentary, which it is suggested is a metaphor for the indigenous people’s struggles with the copper company.  I read it rather otherwise.  The shots, in a small improvised studio are all static, of a handful of people brought in to record their memories, some music, some poems.  What we see is the process of professional sound recordists from Lima setting up.  We never hear a note played, the intended words said.  Rather we get the complete failure of those doing the recording to be conscious of themselves and what they are putting these people through.  As the film, 11 minutes long, plays out, it becomes a rather comic collision of cultural and social mores.  Discreet, funny, sad, it has a hint of Pedro Costa in the simplicity with which it is done, though while the film itself is respectful of those who were to be recorded, it shows the curious failure of the pro’s to respect the natives.  Very nice film.

The rest of the program was for me a surprising melange of near amateur “experimentalism” of a quality that I was surprised was being show in the hallowed space of MoMA, and struck me as the kind of things I get from students, and a ghastly slickness in a 3D portrait of a prison in Norway, part of a Wim Wenders conceived package of films about “the souls of buildings.”  This one was slick, the 3D meaningless and irritating, the voice-over grating, and the over-all thrust utterly wrong-headed.  The audience responded with tepid applause.

Controversies

There was though one film which was quite good, Controversies, by Winnipeg filmmaker Ryan McKenna.  Using archival tapes from a famed radio show, McKenna drolly shoots, in gorgeously done extreme wide-screen b&w, portraits of people in their homes, and some out of doors, tossing in a few actors (naked), and cityscapes, as we listen to comments phoned in for the show.

 

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Owing a touch to Diane Arbus, and to Guy Maddin, McKenna makes a somewhat surreal and down-beat portrait of his home town.  A bit on internet research suggests there is a whole school of Winnipeg filmmakers working in a vaguely similar tone.

In both cases, if chance let’s you have a look at these, I suggest you grab it.

On another level, in the NY Times read a puff piece on a Sundance favorite, so they said, English filmmaker Yann Demange.  In it he is quoted this way:

“I saw images of the streets, and it was something like Cormac McCarthy’s descriptions in the book ‘The Road,’ ” he said. Sidewalks were torn up; burning cars filled the air with black smoke. “It looked like the apocalypse.” His film, he resolved in salty terms, would treat the scene as a moody thriller. “Every frame,” he said, “should have an element of mystery to it.”

The production still posted with the article, from his film about The Troubles in Northern Ireland, looked like this:

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Boy, look at that grit, the uniform just out of the costume department, not worn 3 hours.  And the spic and span kid.  Yep, movie folks really know what real is.  Like the glossied up botox brigade on last night’s spectacle in Hollywood.

 

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