Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Project in Progress: Don't Ask Don't Tell from Dream Outloud Films

Dream Outloud films, a non-profit indie TV and film company in LA that specializes in true stories, is working on a documentary about the military's "don't ask don't tell" policy with respect to gays in the military. There is a detailed description and fundraising letter at this link.

There have been a number of films over the years that have dealt in some way with the topic of gays in the military. One of the best known is the television film "Serving in Silence" about Greta Cammmermeyer. There is a spoof film "Don't Ask Don't Tell: Killers from Space" that overlays a campy military thriller with Peter Graves. A list of such films is at this link.

(The photo is the NIS building, the Naval Investigative Service (Washington Navy Yard in Wshington DC), which has conducted a number of the witch-hunts)

Monday, September 25, 2006

Project in progress: American Lynching

I wanted to let readers know about an important documentary project in progress, American Lynching. The filmmaker is Gode Davis. As the visitor can see from the website, the project still needs more funding.

The film would document the practice of maiming or killing and "lynching" African Americans would continue into the 1960s. There has never been a federal statute against lynching. On June 13, 2005, On this day the Senate passed a non-binding resolution apologizing for not doing more about lynching from the Civil War to the 1960s. Appearing in the Senate Building are James Allen, Sen. George Allen, Sen. Mary L. Landrieum Sen. John Kerry, and victim James Cameron. I was present for filming of some of the press conference that Monday afternoon. Live documentary filmmaking can be harrowing work; we were lucky to get lunch supplied to us during the long day.

I have watched some portions of the film in progress.

There are more details here on my Wordpress blog, Feb. 2014.

Update: 6/9/2007.

There is a film "Banished" directed by Marco Williams, about the expulsion of African Americans from three southern towns early in this century. Here is the write up from the AFI Documentary film festival. More at this link.

The picture shown here is an intersection in Alexandria, VA where a lynching took place.

Update: July 30, 2007

Check this CNN story by Eliott C. McLaughlin, "Activists re-enact grisly lynching in search of justice", in Monroe, GA, link here.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Project Greenlignt -- and amber

Okay, first of all, when I took the picture here, the light changed to amber before I could click the shutter. Maybe my fate is in the stars, like Julius Caesar's. The diskette was full, so this "The Color Amber" was the only shot I got.

I'm referring to Liveplanet's Project Greenlight screenwriting contest, of course. The "greenlight" comes from the phrase used when a movie project is funded. (It's also used in Internet content rating now; The ICRA says "this site gets a green light" and has a picture of the appropriate traffic light once a site is properly labeled.)

There has been three contests. The first was, I believe, in 2001. They were run by Liveplanet.com, a production company then associated with the older Miramax (now, the Weinstein Company). The site provided an upload mechanism, an automated download facility for screenplay scorers and reviewers (even a true-false quiz submitted by the screenplay author that had to be taken by the reviewer first), and a snazzy announcement system to present the winners at each contest stage. The first two contests also offered elaborate message boards, which were quite lively and were similar to those offered by TheWB (now CW). The contestants actually organized a couple of events or parties that I believe took place in LA.

The contests consisted of a writing contest and a director's contest. At least in the most recent contest, the director's contest consisted of a five-minute short based on a bare-bones proprietary script. You can still watch some of the finalist directors' entries at the PGL site above in a movie player.

The three winners have been Stolen Summer, The Battle of Shaker Heights, and, most recently produced, Feast. Each film had an "art house" theatrical platform release. Each movie has resulted in an HBO documentary series depicting the process of making the movie, and the stress felt on the winning team (winning writer and director) to get the movie done within budget and on schedule is quite striking. (Hence the "amber light".) Chris Moore would really ride the winners hard. (Matt Damon and Ben Affleck were also executive producers, and Ben Affleck actually announced the 2004 contest in a January Sunday morning NBC Today, as I recall. I do not know whether there will be a fourth contest, or when.

I participated in the second contest as a reviewer, and in the third contest I entered a script. That was "Baltimore Is Missing," details here. It did not place. The winnings script, Feast, is quite witty with punch lines, and would read as a funny monster movie. Winning scripts tend to have simple, structured story telling, following the lessons learned by studying the 1948 Vittorio de Sica masterpiece The Bicycle Thief, apparently a staple of film schools. Every screenwriter entrant had to review at least three scripts. I believe that directors also had to score others' works.

Participation in Project Greenlight was an interesting experience. The automatic uploading facility ought to be emulated by other screenwriting contest operators.

I miss the message boards and I believe that there needs to be a lively message board for "amateur" screenwriters somewhere. If someone knows where there is one, please add a comment letting us know where. I can imagine moderating such a board, but I would not have the time to do it for free. As a baby boomer retiree, I do see doing something like that as a part-time hourly contractor job. Again, I welcome comments to that effect.

I have detailed reviews of the three winning movies at this link.

If anyone knows when a PGL contest might occur, or any other good contests, please feel free to comment.

Subsequent blogger entry on Season 2 finalist screenplay "Renaissance".

Update: July 31, 2007

I found a link for the ten director's submissions, based on a short script owned by Project Greenlight. The link is here. You may need the right version of Media Player. My favorite film was the first one, the only one that was 2.35 to 1, where a young girl shares a last meal with her grandfather and horrific surprises wait.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

International Diversity Film Market

From Thursday Sept 21 to Sat Sept 23, the International Diversity Film Market holds free screenings of new independent films looking for commercial distribution. The events are being held at Landmark's E-Street Cinema at 10th and E Streets in downtown Washington DC (near the FBI Building). The events are held from 1 PM to 7 PM. I believe that the film "Take 3" is being shown at 3 PM today Sat.

The website for this group is this. Note the use ot the .biz domain. The email contact is films at onevibe.biz.

I have a review of their "Take 3" project here.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Lunafest DC Shorts Sept 2006

Lunafest was a separate shorts festival emphasizing women's films at the Landmark E Street Cinema in Washington on Spet 21, 2006. It was a benefit for the Breast Cancer Fund and the Mautner Project. Lunabar is a sponsoring company.

The films were as follows:

Mann ke Manjeere, 5:15, dir. Sujit Sircar, which is a musical retrospect of surviving domestic violence.

Plum Flower, 10:00, dir. Serene Moy, set in 1948, poses the moral problems of the temptations for infanticide of female children in China, where male children and descendents were and are heavily preferred in the culture. This would fit into a pro-life argument.

Slip of the Tongue, 4:17, dir/ Karen Lum, what happens when you misspeak at a bus stop. Ethnic sensitivities.

Breached, 18:10, dir. Laura Richard. A very pregnant woman swims across the Rio Grand from Juarez, Mexico in order to have her child born in the United States, and the swim and subsequent live childbirth are harrowing.

City Paradise, 6:00, dir. Gaelle Dennis. An animated fantasy about London, which looks a bit like a model world.

Top of the Circle, 5:00, dir, Shaz Bennett. The title sounds like a geometric oxymoron, although we learn that it can refer to pregnancy. The rest is about the food chain below. A beautiful cat stars.

Dear Talula, 34:40, dir. Lori Benson, the main film of the festival and almost a feature, is a docudrama of the director's own struggle with genetic breast cancer, from diagnosis all the way through chemotherapy. This is a very intimate film and it is quite explicit but sensitive.

Kylie Goldstein - All American, 3:00, dir. Eva Saks, presents a family that has adopted a little girl from China.

Agricultural Report, 2:30, dir. Melina Sydney Paula -- animated, presents a cow as blissfully ignorant livestock.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

DC Shorts Film Festival Sept 2006

The DC Shorts Film Festival was held at Landmark E Street Cinema in Washington DC (with a few films at the Canadian Embassy) Sept. 14-21 2006. The slogan was
"Keep it short, Keep it reel." Note the hononym.

The short films illustrate the commitment that it takes even to make a short film. Many of them have extensive credits. They tend to take a simple concept (as would a short story, perhaps connecting two ideas in a simple way) and elaborate with visual, musical, and character effects.

The theater assembled a list of the best of the festival. Here is a synopsis.

Full Disclosure (about 15 min) dir. Dylan Horn, shows a probably engaged couple dining in an Italian restaurant promising to do the "asking and telling" thing. Dylan shows a barren shirtless picture of himself, and admits that he needs to mind his table manners, else drive people away. Ten years later, at the end of the film, they enjoy a wedding anniversary there and the film shows about the right amount of aging.

Bone Mixers (22.44, dir. Mike deChant and Doug Gritzmacher) is an docudrama of a Wednesday night "bone collector" -- that is, dominos party in a home in Silver Spring, MD. It brings back memeories of the poker parties my coworkers used to have Friday nights in Texas back in the early 80s.

Artistic License (23:00, dir. Michael Wohl) has a snappy actor David Lago playing David Milken, turning his job as the photographer at a California DMV into an exercise in self-expression. Too bad that he (the fictive person) smokes. He does conquer the boss. Full wide screen, compressed by cropping.

Vagabond Shoes (18:06, dir. Jackie Oudney) won the prize for best female direction. It is sumptuous jazz musical with that “Chicago” look. A homeless man with a pair of plaim shoes comes inside becomes a male Cinderella for the event, then he dematerializes, or does he?.

Victoria (6:10, dir. Marc Carlini, Cinemascope) provides a retrospect of a full life time of an elderly woman in her final moments as she lets go. There is no tunnel like in a near death experience.

A Short History of Sweet Potato Pie and How It Became A Flying Saucer (17:25, dir. Nina Seavey) was made with the help of George Washington University and shows a woman in a Washington DC assisted living retirement home who makes her baking of sweet potato pies a labor of love and creativity. Unfortunately, they become flying saucers quite literally.

Dirty Mary (19:00, dir. Stuart Rogers) is a bad girl who tempts men at bars. A couple scenes have a bit of the wine country Sideways look. She teases men, gets one back to her place, and she throws up out of a hangover. Call her Bloody Mary and call him Dirty Harry.

Zombie-American (8:27, dir. Nick Poppy) is a satire about how someone who looks “different” will be treated. The protagonist is made up as a horror film zombie, as if from "Night of the Living Dead", and can even stick himself with voodoo pins, into the forehead and nose. Clever language.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Minneapolis screening and discussion of self-distributed Film by Kacques Thelemaque, "The Dogwalker"

On Tues. Sept 19, 2006, IFPMSP offered a screening at the Walker Arts Center in Minneapolis, MN of The Dogwalker, a "self-distributed" film, written and directed by Jacques Thelemaque. The writer was present to discuss cooperative interactive filmmaking with are Robb Mitchell of ScreenLabs, Lucinda Winter from the Minnesota Film and Television Board, and Walker film curator Sheryl Mousley.

I lived in Minneapolis from 1997-2003 and found the indepedent film community very active. Minneapolis has an active Screenwriter's Workshop that gives new writers opportunities for group readings of their scripts, and some scripts get public table readings, or stage readings with actors.

I will see if this film will come to the DC area where I live. The films website shows it in a platform release in several other cities.

April 16, 2009:

This film is available from Netflix, and I rented it.

The film comes from Truly Indie and Breakthrough Distribution, and was produced by Bigfoot, and directed by Jacques Thelemaque.

A battered woman Ellie (Diane Gaidry) flees to LA and meets up with a down-and-out woman Betsy (Pamela Gordon) who walks dogs in the Hollywood hills for a living. As Ellie tries to help her, they bond in a way and Ellie starts working for her and living in her house. The movie ventures off into exploring the behavior of dogs as social pack animals whose values (especially with hierarchy) mock those of humans. Gradually Ellie learns more about Betsy who is locally “famous”. Pretty soon Betsy’s dark past (including battering and a murder) come out of the woodwork.

The film has some great lines: “better a dog than a wife” and later “bow down to me for giving you a life.”

The DVD interview discusses the shooting of the film on MiniDV (with the sensitivities to lighting). And actress Pamela Gordon passed away shortly after making the film.

Four short films on the DVD by the same director are “Love without Socks" (1998), “Egg” (2001), “Infidelity in Equal Parts” (2001), “Transaction” (2005).

The first film has a couple of professionals hog-tying family, and then the bald-legged man goes back for his socks that he left behind. The family waits, and the girl waits.

In “Egg” a girl on a restraining order has contracted to sell her ova. Then she wants the egg back. It gets violent

The "Infidelity" film splits a full screen into four parts.

Transaction” explores the “dynamic” of a call girl and elderly male client in a motel room.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

The Puffy Chair

Title: The Puffy Chair
Distributor: Roadside Attractions/Cinesite/Netflix
Director: Jay Duplass
Where Seen: Landmark E Street Cinema, Washington DC, Summer 2006

This is another film with practically simultaneous DVD and platform theatrical release. And what makes it work is that it takes a mundane family situationt to create a road movie and a personality study of the lead, Josh Sagers (Mark Duplass) who can manipulate anyone into doing anything just by being himself. ("This is Josh Sagers"!) He scores 100 on the assertiveness scale. He makes a living in Brooklyn booking musicians, and one day buys a chair on Ebay to deliver to his father. He takes his girl friend and picks up his socially backward kid brother on the trip. Getting the chair re-upholstered takes major maneuvering, but the kid brother will undo everything. This is true Seinfeld-style comedy: a great film about nothing.

(Photo: a puffy chair in a Super 8 Motel room.)

Friday, September 15, 2006

This Film Is Not Yet Rated

This Film Is Not Yet Rated
Distribtor: IFC; Production: Netflix
Where seen: Landmark E-Street, Washington DC, 9/15/2006
Type: Documentary
Director: Kirby Dick
Rating: NC-17 (not listed on the marquee, but the film documents the rating from the MPAA)

This digital video documentary exposes the secrecy of the motion picture ratings process at the Motion Picture Association / National Theater Owners Assocation ratings board in the gated community in Encino, CA. The director hires two female private detectives to track down the board members. You have to have kids to be employed as a rater (how is that for forced family values?) but many of the children of board members are grown. The "unfairness" of the system to gay films, and the focus on explicit sexuality, and the lack of accountability are all covered. The film also discusses the DMCA, and also touches on Internet censorship, a tangential reference to COPA (the Child Online Protection Act), already being litigated. There are many more-or-less explicit film excerpts, themselves converted to somewhat grainy video.

Note: When the current rating system was implemented in 1968, the ratings were G, M, R, X. The X would become NC-17, and M would be replaced by PG and PG-13.

My Country; War Tapes; In Shifting Sands; The Dreams of Sparrows

My Country, My Country:
Distributor: Zeitgeist
Production: Praxis
Director: Laura Poitras, 97 min
No rating but would probably correspond to PG-13

A solo filmmaker, working alone, tracks the family of an Iraqi doctor during the days leading up to the general elections of January 30, 2005. The director gave a Q&A after the performance at the Avalon in Washington DC on September 2, 2006, and filming this was quite harrowing. There is some discussion of the politics of the election, with the Sunnis withdrawing. But the real value of the film is the opportunity to see the streets of Baghdad as in no other film, since no tourist can go there now.

The War Tapes (2006, from Sen-Art/Scrantom-Lacey, dir. Deborah Scranton, follows several national guardsmen from New Hampshire during their tour in Iraq. The film has graphic footage of poorer sections of Baghdad after the mortar attacks, and the soldiers keep their graphic diaries by hand, as they do not seem to have access to blogging. The family reunions at the end are quite emotional. Early in the film, some video of the WTC site after 9/11, shot by one soldier Mike Moriarity, appears. This film was part of the 2006 DC International Film Festival.

The Dreams of Sparrows (2005, Harbringer/Iraq Eye Group, dir. Haydar Daffar, Hauder Mousa Daffar, 74 min) shows the lives of ordinary Iraqis in Baghdad and Fallujah during American "occupation".

Im Shifting Sands (2001) is an older documentary about Iraq by former UNSCOM Chief Weapon's Inspector Scott Ritter. I saw this in an international film festival in Minneapolis in 2001 in the University of Minnesota Bell Auditorium. Ritter maintains that Saddam Hussein had lost most of his ability to make WMD's after the 1991 Persian Gulf War. Ritter maintains that the government tried to suppress this film as it would interfere with its plans to invade Iraq which, as we know, were carried out starting in March 2003.

The Ground Truth: After the Killing Ends (2006, Focus Features, dir. Patricia Foulkrod, 78 min, R) recalls "An Inconvenient Truth" by its title and presents an even more disturbing truth: that the military hoodwinks young adults as "volunteers" into a backdoor draft, trains them to become killing machines, and abandons them when they return. The film consists mostly of interviews of returned soldiers, and shows horrific images of wounds.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Sunset Script conference (Events)

Sunset Script was been offering seminars at various cities around the country. As of early September, it looks like the next major one is in Dallas, TX.

Since I live in northern VA, I attended the conference at the Doubletree Inn near Thomas and Logan Circles in Washington DC Aug 12-13, 2006.

A keynote speaker was screenwriter Peter Iliff, who wrote Patriot Games, Varsity Blues, and Point Break.

There were panels and speakers from various other agencies and production companies, including Mike Esola from William Morris, Brett Forbes from Fortress, and Courtney Calaker from Neo Art and Logic. Sean Stevenson from Writers Guild of America, East explained some of the legal and contractural issues regarding guild membership and benefits.

Production companies that come to these events tend to be very specialized in the kind of material they are looking for. One company here was looking for monster movies. Another wants low-budget family. Esola indicated that family films typically are the best sellers. A representative for Nickelodeon was present and discussed a writers' internship in California. Companies that make television series for children or specialized audiences often must develop their own writers.

Dan Decker, author of Anatomy of a Screenplay, was the MC. He warned participants that he would pull someone out of a chair if he/she tried to make an unwelcome pitch. However, Sunday afternoon we all got to make practice pitches.

My pitch went something like this:

"A young reporter's pregnant fiancee disappears. The police suspect a Scott Peterson-like potentiality because he has been sleeping with another woman. The reporter suspects that the fiancee was abducted and discovers a right wing plot to prepare the public for massive social upheaval that would accompany a real alien landing. The break the plot, the reporter must subject himself to a clandestine night journey and an initiation that will challenge his own self-worth as a man. Will he find the fiancee, who took her, and get back to her?" The sentence in italics was added in a coaching session, to increase the sense of urgency for the movie goer.

A tentative title for the movie is Titanium. building material for the spaceships, maybe.

I personally like Michael Hauge's Screenplay Mastery site with its six-part structure (a refinement of the three-part structure).

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

World Trade Center; United 93: Is Hollywood really ready for 9/11 films?

I've heard instructors say in screenwriting classes that 9/11 is a no-no as a script topic, and that Hollywood won't go near it. That was in 2004. In 2005, the attitude seemed to change, as there were at least two major studio releases of films about 9/11 in 2006. Both were considered riveting by critics.

United 93 (Universal, dir. Paul Greengrass) was financed in France, with some indoor scenes shot in Paris, even though the even is the most traumatic in modern American history. It is in full anamorphic 2:3 to 1 CinemaScope, and about half of the movie deals with the response of air traffic control and law enforcement, with the rest being the buildup of a plan among the United 93 passengers to storm the hijackers in the cockpit. Of course, we all know that the passengers found out about the plan from loved ones through cell phones. Thomas Burnett (Christian Clemenson), Todd Beemer (David Allen Basche) and Mark Bingham (Cheyenne Jackson) were particularly important. At the end of the film, the audience would sit stunned, in silence. I saw this at the Regal Cinemas in Ballston, Arlington VA, in April 2006.

There have been at least two cable movies about this flight that would crash in Shanksville, PA, near the Allegheny Mountain tunnel. There was Flight 93 from Fox (dir. Peter Markle, aired 1/2006) and The Flight that Fought Back (Discovery Channel, dir. Bruce Goodison, aired 9/2005). Both of these films showed brief shots of the ritual body preparation by the radicals in their motel rooms in Portland ME.

World Trade Center (Paramount) is much more minamalist and true to fact that popular myth expects from director Oliver Stone. The film is presented flat, in 1.85 to 1, without the fullest wide screen, in order to focus upon the closeups of the firefighters trapped in the rubble. As such, it seems claustrophobic and a bit like a stage play. The story particularly focuses upon two Port Authority Police officers John McLoughlin (Nicholas Cage) and Will Jimeno (Michael Pena), who would finally be rescued with the very determined effort of an off-duty Marine (Michael Shannon). I would see this film on its opening day at a National Amusements theater complex in Merrifield, VA.

But ABC Entertainment's The Path to 9/11 (Touchstone Pictures, dir. David L. Cunningham) would present a 5 hour detailed dramatization of the events, starting with the 1993 WTC incident on 2/26/2006. It would attract controversy over the way it portrayed various actions within the Clinton Administration (to the point that Bill Clinton would ask that it be pulled). The film gathers steam in the second half and the last forty minutes are riveting. Although shot in regular aspect ratio for TV, this ought to be experienced in a theater screening, with at least one intermission. It was aired on Sunday and Monday 9/10 and 9/11 2006. Reportedly, it did not do as well as ABC hoped in the Nielsen ratings, losing out to NFL football. Yet, the coming of HDTV and widescreen TV and home entertainment centers could make the market (and profit or earnings potential) for longer, historical films like this stronger in the future.

At the same time on 9/10, CBS would rebroadcast its 2002 video documentary (Paramount Home Video) 9/11, the only film with actual footage inside Tower 1 during the rescue attempts. Tower 1 stood about 98 minutes after it was struck. Documentary filmmakers Jules and Gedeon Naudet filmed inside NYCFD Engine 7, Ladder 1. Robert De Niro was involved in the original film that started in 2001 and was to depict the life of a rookie fireman, with his forced socialization into the tribal, quasi-military culture of firefighters.

On 9/11/2006 MSNBC rebroadcast a "Living History Event," the exact Today Show broadcast starting at 9:46 AM on 9/11/2001. Matt Lauer would actually interrupt his regular normal Today Show broadcast at 9:51 when he got his feed, but there was no video of Tower 1 on Today until 9:53.

CNN has offered a similar replay on its "Pipeline" service.

Also on 9/11 Ted Koppel on Discovery presented a three hour show "One Day in September: The Price of Security" about balancing civil liberties with security. There was a town meeting. There were some shocking proposals, and yet a call to go back to our core principles.

Monday, September 11, 2006

WTC View; 25th Hour

Name of movie: WTC View
Distributor: Logo
Production Company: Edgeworx
Director: Brian Sloan
Rating: No rating known but would likely be R (soft)
Length: 102 min
Where seen: Landmark E-Street Cinemam Washington DC, DVD projection, Oct. 2005. Netflix now shows DVD availability
Event: DC GLBT Film Festival, One in Ten, Reel Affirmations

In this film, an appealing young gay man Eric (Michael Urie) places an ad for a roommate in an apartment that overlooks the 9/11 World Trade Center site, and meets an interesting assortment of people, some of them quite appealing by conventional ideas. A young stockbroker Max (Jay Gillespie) recounts how he got out of the North Tower before it collapsed.

In Spike Lee's film 25th Hour (Touchstone, Buena Vista, 2002), a convicted dealer (Ed Norton) spends his last 24 hours of freedom, but in one important scene there is a nighttime view of the World Trade Center site, with some heavy equipment in the cavity dwarfed by the size of the opening. This may be one of the first known references to 9/11 in a major film since the 9/11 attacks.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Islam: What the West Needs to Know

Distributor: Quixotic Media
(This is also the website for the film)
Date: 2006
See: July 2006, at Landmark E-Street Washington DC
Director: Gregory M. Davis, Bryan Daly
Rating: Not rated by MPAA. But if it were rated, it would probably receive a PG-13.
Length: About 95 min.

Speakers: Walid Shoebat, Robert Spencer, Serge Trifkovic

This film presents interviews and discussions by various scholars on Islam, and presents the controversial viewpoint that Islamic ideology, taken literally out of the Qur'an, seems to promote aggression against non-Islamic, western societies.

This interpretation is certainly debatable. We also know about other scholars who maintain that much of the "gripe" of radical Islam is based on historical abuses of Islamic lands rather than specific resentment of western individualism and modernism.

The film does discuss nihlistic ideology and traces it to apparent ideas in Islamic thought.

I am listing and giving references and links to this movie out of a desire to inform the reader of this viewpoint. I do not necessary subscribe to it personally.