Archive for the ‘Principles & Productivity’ Category

The LOL Team: SRF Interview

Thursday, April 20th, 2006

The biggest joke in LOL, Joe Swanberg’s second feature, may be the one that the filmmaker plays on the audience. Neither romantic (though there’s plenty of frank sexual content), nor a comedy (though there are many funny moments), LOL feels less like the rom-com that its title suggests and more like a digital age mash-up of Jean Renoir’s Rules of the Game and David Cronenberg’s Crash ““ on the one hand, a humanistic, if occasionally bitter, social critique disguised as an ensemble comedy and, on the other hand, a chilly, unsentimental look at the ways that our fascination with technology (in this case, cell phones and the internet) keeps us apart when it’s meant to bring us together.

While Swanberg’s lo-fi digital images and casual sense of plotting may not achieve the cinematic heights of either of the aforementioned masterworks, LOL has a charm all its own. Some of that charm, no doubt, is a product of its production history: The whole thing was made by Swanberg and his friends in Chicago without a script for a mere $3000. What’s even more impressive, though, is how the movie starts as a comedy of awkwardness and gradually molts into a bleak satire with a mature, dramatic punch. For this, credit goes to the non-professional performers and Swanberg’s sharp editing of his improvised source material.

After premiering in March at South by Southwest (where it was very warmly received), LOL had its East Coast premiere at the Philadelphia Film Festival. The night after its first screening in Philly, I had dinner with Swanberg and two of his collaborators, Chris Wells and Kevin Bewersdorf. All three, as actors behind the improv, are credited as “co-writers.” (Bewersdorf also composed the soundtrack.) Among other things, we talked about improvisation, choosing one’s collaborators, and making a feature on the cheap.

Here’s some of that conversation:

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Jake Mahaffy: SRF Interview

Friday, April 14th, 2006

“This is the world after the end of the world,” a boy tells us at the beginning of Jake Mahaffy‘s debut feature, War. Then, for the next 80 some odd minutes Mahaffy captures, in black and white, the tedious and transcendental moments of a handful of characters, all male, inhabiting a devastated landscape. They work, play, drive, destroy, search for things lost. In a way, it seems, they wait for the world — seemingly dead already — to just end already. Is this is what purgatory, or limbo, looks like?

Movies this stark, elemental, sui generis are rarely made by conventional means, and in this way War is no different. Mahaffy took five years to produce the thing, shooting it with a Bolex and a handful of non-professional actors in Warren County, Pennsylvania.

Happily, Mahaffy’s spare, spiritual vision found an audience on the festival circuit, playing at Sundance, Rotterdam, Ann Arbor, and several other fine festivals. Response was warm, even glowing. Its premiere at Sundance even led to a positive review in, of all places, that bastion of Hollywood biz reporting, Variety.

As Mahaffy has worked on new projects, other laurels have followed: Jake was recognized as one of the “25 New Faces of Independent Film” by Filmmaker Magazine, and he has been awarded grants from Creative Capital and the Guggenheim Foundation. Just this week, in fact, he was selected as the inaugural Lynn Auerbach Screenwriting Fellow by the Sundance Institute.

Last month, visiting Roanoke, where Jake currently lives and works, I approached him about doing an interview. Here is our conversation:

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Contest: Answers and Winner

Sunday, April 9th, 2006

Here are the answers to the “guess the movie” contest from last week. (Click here if you didn’t have a chance to see the banner.)

Most of the films were selected because I like them and/or because they’re historic, and also because most are handmade and/or regional films. There are some studio films, too. The Griffith and Chaplin movies, for example, are United Artists pictures… but then they started UA so they could have control over their work. Anyway, if you’re scratching your head wondering about the inclusion of one (or more than one), post a comment and I’ll reply with my justification.

The winner of the contest is Chris Cagle.

Top row:

1. Nanook of the North (Robert Flaherty, 1922)
2. Night of the Living Dead (George Romero, 1968)
3. The Hours and Times (Christopher Munch, 1991)
4. The Gleaners and I (Agnes Varda, 2000)
5. Vermont is for Lovers (John O’Brien, 1992)
6. Titicut Follies (Frederick Wiseman, 1967)
7. Taste of Cherry (Abbas Kiarostami, 1997)
8. La Jetee (Chris Marker, 1962)
9. Solaris (Steven Soderbergh, 2002)
10. Punishment Park (Peter Watkins, 1971)
11. Black Girl (Ousmane Sembene, 1966)

Middle row:
12. Inextinguishable Fire (Harun Farocki, 1969) or What Farocki Taught (Jill Godmilow, 1998)
13. Hail Mary (Jean-Luc Godard, 1985)
14. Pather Panchali (Satyajit Ray, 1955)
15. Eyes Wide Shut (Stanley Kubrick, 1999)
16. Harvest 3000 Years (Haile Gerima, 1975)
17. The Celebration (Thomas Vinterberg, 1998)
18. Rome: Open City (Roberto Rossellini, 1945)
19. War (Jake Mahaffy, 2004)
20. Kandahar (Mohsen Makhmalbaf, 2001)
21. A Trip to the Moon (Georges Melies, 1902)
22. Slow Moves (Jon Jost, 1983)

Bottom row:
23. Meshes of the Afternoon (Maya Deren & Alexander Hammid, 1943)
24. El Mariachi (Robert Rodriguez, 1992)
25. Broken Blossoms (D.W. Griffith, 1919)
26. Killer of Sheep (Charles Burnett, 1977)
27. Salesman (Albert & David Maysles and Charlotte Zwerin, 1969)
28. Funny Ha Ha (Andrew Bujalski, 2002)
29. Faces (John Cassavetes, 1968)
30. Dog Star Man (Stan Brakhage, 1962-64)
31. In a Year of 13 Moons (R.W. Fassbinder, 1978)
32. The Kid (Charles Chaplin, 1921)
33. The Jackal of Nahueltoro (Miguel Littin, 1969)

Ken Burns’ Anger, or: Connecting the Dots between AIVF, Showtime, and Smithsonian

Tuesday, April 4th, 2006

Over the last couple of weeks the Association of Independent Video and Filmmakers (AIVF) has only raised $11,000 of the $75,000 they need to weather their current financial crisis. Things could turn around but, as it stands, it’s looking dark.

There are arguments, of course, that AIVF has outlived its relevance:

– AIVF has long provided useful resources and information to independent filmmakers. Now, with the internet, such information is easily (and freely) available to anyone.

– AIVF created (or at least aimed to create) networks of filmmakers. Now, with the explosion of film festivals around the country and internet discussion forums (plus newer developments like IndieWIRE’s IndieLoop) filmmakers can connect without needing organizational support.

Shouldn’t we be happy that we don’t need an organization to supply these things anymore? I think so.

Still, one vital way that the Association of Independent Film & Videomakers has distinguished itself amidst a crowded landscape of film, video, and media arts non-profit organizations has been through its public advocacy work. (For example, AIVF was instrumental in the creation of ITVS.) I’m concerned that this is where AIVF’s death — if it indeed dies — will be felt most strongly.

For example, I am reminded of the importance of AIVF’s advocacy work when I recently read about the Smithsonian’s exclusive licensing of its archives to Showtime. Anthony Kaufman covers the story on his blog, and offers a way to protest. Ken Burns (quoted in the NY Times) sums the situation up:

I find this deal terrifying…It feels like the Smithsonian has essentially optioned America’s attic to one company, and to have access to that attic, we would have to be signed off with, and perhaps co-opted by, that entity.

Of course, in healthier days AIVF — because of its non-profit status, because it is a national member organization, because it represents all types of filmmakers — would be uniquely qualified to lobby against this selling off of America’s cultural resources to the highest bidder. AIVF has done this work in the past, and it would probably be very effective at reversing, or at least drawing substantial critical inquiries, into the deal. Yet AIVF’s current financial crisis is preventing them from doing so.

How will the cultural landscape change if/when AIVF ceases to exist? Is it possible that some new advocacy group can be formed if AIVF shuts its doors? The only certainty is that this won’t be the last time that someone attempts to make public cultural resources exclusive to a for-profit corporation.

For now, if the Smithsonian-Showtime deal makes you angry (or you simply want to know more), read this fine post at Daily Kos. If you want to help save AIVF, click here.

ADDENDUM: Eugene Hernandez writes about an AIVF discussion that went down last night in New York. I was at that meeting. It was a good conversation, and it led me to further refine my opinons on the AIVF situation…hence my posting today. Though some other people at that meeting possibly share my views, my writing (as usual) only speaks for me.

Fair Use, Pt II: Ctr for Social Media

Friday, March 31st, 2006

Agnes Varnum from the Center for Social Media has reminded me of another important resource for filmmakers dealing with issues of public domain, copyright, and fair use. It’s the Documentary Filmmakers’ Statement of Best Practices in Fair Use. Download it here.

Agnes describes the Statement as “a short handbook that articulates certain circumstances in documentary making when it is appropriate to claim fair use for copyrighted material.”

In her comment on this blog, Agnes adds, “I’m going to be at several fests over the next few months on panels about the issue and helping doc makers understand how to make better use of fair use. It’s a small step, but an important one. We already have a lot of movement on the gatekeeper side to adopt the principles at work in the handbook.”

She’ll be at the Nashville Film Festival (one of my favorites) in April. Check out Agnes’ blog, in addition to the Center’s website, for more info and other dates.