Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Hurricane on the Bayou; Johnstown Flood

The IMAX film “Hurricane on the Bayou” shows now only in one theater in the DC area, the Hazy-Udvar Imax Theater at the new Smithsonian-Nasa Museum at Dulles Airport in Chantilly, VA. It costs $12 to park there to go, but the facility is huge and understandably has to charge to operate. I wish the show were available at the downtown locations.

IMAX, remember, has a film size of ten times conventional size, and since about 1997, there have been some impressive films in IMAX-3D, and a few major studio releases (like Harry Potter movies) are being offered in IMAX, a practice that takes up display time as most IMAX documentaries are only about 45 minutes or so. A variation of IMAX that became popular in the 1980s is Omnimax, with a half-planetarium-like screen.

The Hurricane film, from MacGillivray-Freeman films [directed by Greg MacGillivray] and The Weather Channel, shows actual footage of the Hurricane Katrina event in 2005 in New Orleans, as well as the horror of the immediate aftermath. (It’s ironic to see corporate brand trademarks like ING hanging from the Superdome as the victims live in squalor.) But the main point of the film is that what helped contribute to this tragedy was not just global warming, but the practice of dredging and building levees along the Mississippi River, back to the 1930s. As a result, the wetlands do not get replenished with silt, and wash away, leaving the New Orleans area vulnerable to perhaps ten extra feet of storm surge compared to what it was during Hurricane Betsy in 1965. The film shows repeated spectacular views of the remaining flat wetlands with their maze of waterways.

There was a PBS “American Experience” film called “Fatal Flood” about the 1927 flood on the Mississippi, along with the politics of Leroy Percy and his gay son Will. That flood contributed to the incentive to build the levees to protect southern cotton farming near the river, as well as more conventional farming farther north, up to St. Louis.

There have been some other important films on Cable about Katrina, the most important being Spike Lee’s “When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts”. Another is National Geographic’s “Inside Hurricane Katrina.”

But a more interesting comparison comes from Johnstown Flood (2003, Inecom, dir. Mark Bussler, narrated by Richard Dreyfuss, DVD), about the flood of Johnstown, PA and other communities when an earthen dam built upstream (on the Little Conemaugh River) for the recreation of the rich (“the South Fork Hunting and Fishing Club” burst on May 31, 1889 during torrential storms. Even a passenger Pennsylvania Railroad train was swept away. Over 2200 people died. Most of the film is in black-and-white and reconstructs the scenery and incident with great realism, and there are many old actual photographs. I wonder what this would have looked like in IMAX. A similar film is shown at the Johnstown flood museum (which I visited in 1994).

Monday, May 28, 2007

On the Lot: 18 one-minute comedy films

The Lot continued tonight (Memorial Day, Monday, May 28, 2007) with eighteen one-minute comedy films from the finalists. The judges were Carrie Fisher, D. J. Caruso, and Garry Marshall. (Caruso replaced Brett Ratner, who had been a judge for the pitches.) I voted for four of these films to get 10/10 scores myself at

Spaced Out, by Andrew Hunt (from Minneapolis, and I lived there from 1997-2003 and got to know ifpmsp pretty well and went to a lot of indie film events there) had a UFO, a cop responding, and cute little robot-looking aliens who barfed on the cop.

Danger Zone, by Zach Lipovsky (from Vancouver, BC, itself a big film center) has the “domino theory” in a product safety lab where nothing can ever go wrong, until it can. There just a bit of Michael Crichton in this concept. Let the high school kids watch this and give them a video quiz on the details. (By the way, Zach, SAFEco is a major insurance company, especially for land title insurance.)

Check Out, by Shira-Lee Shalit, from Johnannesburg, SA, made a nice erotic fantasy out of the controversial TSA pat-down going through airport security (procedures which may change with better technology).

Replication Theory, by Sam Friedlander, took the common fart, again on an airplane in flight, and drew out the sky marshals, after some humorous fantasies and flashbacks (one of them back to “The Dawn of Man” in 2001). A blowout can be covered up if it can be replicated, or if it becomes flatulence and contributes enough to global warming.

A couple of other films should be mentioned.
Lucky Penny, by Will Bigham, from Texas (where I lived 1979-1988, in Dallas, with studios now at Las Colinas in Cowboyland – that is, Irving) has a “World According to Garp” effect with a falling piano and a poor slob who found a penny. I love the Pizzicato Polka music of Johann Strauss in the background

The most controversial and perhaps troubling concept came was “Getta Rhoom” (sic) from Jason Epperson of Kentucky. When a couple smooches in a movie, another patron tells them to get a room, and a poor guy whom Jason claims to be a nerd starts repeating it and gets thrown out of the theater, and then out of heaven. The reviewers felt that the character had “special needs” or was developmentally disabled, which could make the concept offensive. But he could just be very withdrawn (like some people with Aspergers) and not know how to communicate. The film suggests that certain people might have no place in the cosmos, which certainly sounds like a disturbing idea (compare to Ben Affleck's speech two blog postings up), given the lessons of history. The concept is certainly double-edged. The next night, we learned that this film finished in the top three, whatever its "offensiveness". Mainstream America is not as concerned about political correctness as Hollywood? Or is it different strokes for different folks?

Marty Martin, instead of a one-minute comedy, showed a trailer for a project “The Big Bad Heist” which seemed like a "Grindhouse", Tarantino interpretation of “Oceans 14” with a little bit of Smokin’ Aces thrown in. The cast did not include Ben Affleck (or Matt Damon).

British director Phil Hawkins, the youngest contestant, exploited the failure of 911 with “Get Hold” and somehow the clip reminded me of the Dogme 95 style of “Red Road.” (Phil was eliminated, but I thought his film worked.)

"Love in the Year 2007" (Shalini Kantayya) tried to connect Myspace (the "friends" list) with hatred of speed dating but didn't quite put all the pieces together for these socially important phenomena.

15 of the contestants remain for next week.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Red Road and Dogme 95; New Wave

The film “Red Road” directed by Andrea Arnold, from Zentropa and distributed in the US by indie company Tartan Films, is cited as a good example of the filmmaking credo “Dogma 95” (or Dogma 95) started by Danish filmmakers Lars von Trier, Thomas Vinterberg, Kristian Levring and Soren Kragh-Jacobsen. (The film is supposed to be the first of a trilogy called “Advance Party”.) The concept is simple “real time” filmmaking using real locations without props, without background scores, hand-held cameras, and focusing on concept, characters and storytelling. The wiki article is good: and Dogme itself has its own site at

The digital video film encapsulates its story through the security cameras, focused around the “Red Road” high rise housing complexes and nearby businesses in a working class area of Glasgow, Scotland. Security police watchperson Jackie (Kate Dickie) sees a man Clyde (Tony Curran) who harmed her family, and much of the film deals with her ventures into this confined neighborhood to set things right. It makes a story, and the creep, grainy world with its natural reds, browns and grays, usually against a cool drizzly Glasgow sky, imparts the appropriate claustrophobia to the audience.

But is this so new? Alfred Hitchcock had experimented with this kind of concept in his films Rear Window (1955) and even Rope (1948). And there have been some other modern thrillers in real time, such as Joel Schumacher’s Phone Booth (2002, 20th Century Fox) and even John Badham’s Nick of Time (1995, Paramount). Also, don't forget the recent thriller about Muslim stereotyping, Jeff Renfroe's Civic Duty (2007). This style of storytelling tends to be well regarded by both critics and executive producers seeking investors.

Lars von Trier’s earlier films experiment with variations of the Dogme concept. The best known is the nearly three hour “Dogville” (Lions Gate), a title that surely suggests the concept. The film is a drama set in 1930’s small town sheltering a woman on the run from the mob, gradually raising the level of risk for everyone. America laid out on a huge stage as if it were a Mr. Ree game board. The story is strictly structured in nine parts and humorously narrated by John Hurt. By definition, stage plays have props, so is this film really an example of Dogme 95? At least, it is a concrete concept. This, too, is a trilogy called “U.S.A. Land of Opportunities”, followed by Manderlay (2005) and to be followed in 2007 by Washington.

There have been other plays copied to film directly (Robert Cassler’s Second in the Realm), and some plays, when you watch them on a stage, seem almost like movies (Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa’s The Velvet Sky (2005), and Don Scime’s The David Dance (2003).

With some of my material, I can see the idea of laying out some sets (like college dorm rooms, a dean’s office, a submarine interior, a classroom, even an outdoor rally), and unfolding a sequence of incidents that conveys a particular concept. But this is not quite the same thing that Dogme defines, even if there is similarity in the underlying technique.

One can even imagine a film set on a large model railroad set (like Roadside America on I-78 in Pennsylvania), with claymation or small dolls as characters.

One of Van Trier’s earlier films anticipate these ideas. Epidemic (1988), in low budget and grainy black and white, anticipates the pandemic with ouiji boards and seances before opening up to the desolation along the Autobahn. Then there is the related but non-linear “New Wave” of Jean-Luc Godard. In Praise of Love (Eloge de l’amour) is in two parts, the first where artists try to bring their work together in a series of collages (with a famous scene with a book with blank pages), with the black and white part followed by color with existential discussions that took place two years earlier. Then there is Godard’s Notre Musique, taking from Hell (the Holocaust) to Purgatory (Sarajevo) to Heaven.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Paris, I Love You

The closing night event for the FilmfestDC was the montage “Paris je t’aime” ("Paris, I love you"), a set of eighteen short films (about 6 minutes each) set in Paris by internationally recognized directors, but in the style of a Project Greenlight “director’s contest” as in “On the Lot” or a “48 Hour Film Project.” The film started theatrical runs as AMC Select and at Landmark on May 25 in the DC area, with distribution from First Look Releasing.

The first couple of films started slow, with the idea of responding to tourists needing help, but when it got to Gus Van Sant ‘s “Le Marais” it was in psychological territory. A young French artist (Gaspard Ulliel) prattles to young American (Elias M’Connell) about how they could have met in a past life, as if he wants to start a real relationship on a psychological level. Only after the Frenchmen leaves do we learn of the one-way nature of the conversation, as the American speaks poor French. The very next one, “Tuileries,” directed by Minnesota boys Joel and Ethan Coen, set in a Paris Metro stop, plays on the danger of making eye contact with other Metro passengers who may be attractive. Steve Buscemi gets has chance at “fag bashing.”

The others vary in content, many having little dialogue. In “Quartier de la Madelaine” (Vincenzo Natali) Elijah Wood plays a naïve tourist tantalized by a vampire attack from Olga Kuyrlenko, seems immune but then wants to become a vampire himself. Wes Craven directs a bizarre segment “Pere-Lachaise” at the grave of Oscar Wilde. In the final segment “14th Arrondissement” (Alexander Payne), a naïve aspie-like tourist (Margo Martindale) humors us with very force and unidiomatic middle school French. A couple of the skits have placards for other movies, like "Werckmeister Harmonies."

The spoof on the French language may be suggested by the title. In French, second person singular ("tu") is familiar, and the plural form ("vous") is always used in formal speech and writing.

From my four trips to Europe, it’s easy for me to imagine some short films set in various cities. Let’s say, how it feels to navigate a maze in the Guggenheim in Bilbao, Spain (where another tourist complains that the piece is designed to make one feel like s__t). Or loosing a rental car key in the William the Conqueror Museum in Bayeux, France. Or bribing a train conductor for a sleeping berth on the train East from Berlin to Krakow, Poland (to visit Auschwitz). Or making a friend (who narrates how he got out of East Germany as a kid and grew up in Britain) in the Connection Disco in Berlin before going downstairs to the “museum.” Or a discussion with the origins of the Basque people with a waiter in Lourdes, when the waiter suddenly becomes uncomfortable. I can think of a lot of ideas. Or having a personal epiphany in Dresden.

More details as to the individual directors and segment names here.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

On the Lot

On Tuesday May 22 Fox presented the first hour of a new reality contest, "On the Lot." This one in movie making, a kind of “director’s contest” like that of Project Greenlight, or “48 Hour Film Project”. Here, Dreamworks has accepted 12000 short film submissions and picked 50 finalists to go through an “Apprentice” like elimination (or ten-week job interview) for one position as a director of a major film.

The first week was pitch week. The contestants drew one of five loglines out of a hat, and had to pitch the film they would make to a panel of three judges. Since the show has aired, I guess it’s OK to say what the loglines are. Roughly, they are (1) a slacker applies to the CIA as a joke and is taken seriously (2) A Catholic seminarian meets the girl (or perhaps man) of his dreams before his ordination as a celibate Priest (3) A mouse becomes a lab rat (4) A man sees himself as most wanted or as a missing person on TV (5) someone receives a mysterious and menacing package from the government, and believes it a mistake.

A lot of the pitches were bad. One man forgot his pitch and had to ad lib. Another over-acted it. But a couple are good, including one about the mouse. (The proposal reminds one of an existing 1997 Dreamworks film Mousehunt, dir. Gore Verbinski, complete with string cheese).

The parameters of the contest are clear. They want to see who can tell a good story with a concept that is assigned and developed by the beancounters. The situations tend to demand “the perfect storm” – a contradiction, creating a crisis that the storyteller has to resolve with the three-part structure. Of course, some situations are just story-provokers and do not really matter enough to really sustain a lot of interest.

The last situation, which one contestant bungled, is something similar to something that happens in my (still on my harddrive, not yet shown) novel. In my scenario, a man with a rental car breaks down when visiting an abandoned nuclear test site in Nevada. When the help arrives (he has broken the terms of his rental agreement), he is given a small packet that he must deliver. You know what they say, never accept anything from a stranger at the airport. What about out in the desert? Maybe you would take it if you have ridden down your own “Seraphim Falls”.

The most-wanted situation is interesting because one possibility is that one could have committed a crime and not even know that he had committed it. (Think about some intriguing ways that can happen – they are all disturbing.)

The lab rat scenario is interesting, because the UPN David Greenwalt show “Jake 2.0” in 2003 was essentially a forced human lab rat situation. That’s more interesting to me as a possibility than the animated feature that the contest probably wanted (for Dreamworks Animation).

The show itself was quite gaudy, with set tours and scenes at the legendary Biltmore Hotel in LA.

The “elimination room” here has the phrase “Please step forward” instead of “You’re fired!” or “Don’t call us, we’ll call you.” About fifteen of the contestants got their pink slips in the first round.

In round two, the contestants are assembled into teams to make a short film on the concept "Out of time" with assigned locations and props.

I may be pitching my own material later, and the pitching contest (pun) certainly gives me some parameters as to how to make my own. You have to know the rules before breaking them.

Actually, most pitches are done by aspiring screenwriters or people with scripts to sell. Typically, one must go through a "third party" (for legal reasons) in order to be presented to an investor or (executive) producer.

Earlier posting (Sept 13) about Sunsetscript conference in here.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Netflix offers online viewing; The Shape of the Future

Netflix has recently started offering some of its films for online “play,” apparently without extra charge to subscribers.

I tried this facility, which requires Internet Explorer (at least IE 6) and a high speed Internet connection. The film that I would watch was “The Shape of the Future,” directed by J. Allen Schneid, written by John Marks, in two 48-minute parts first aired on UDC Cable in July 2005. The DVD distributor is Cinema Libre, which normally also distributes its politically-oriented films for art-house theatrical exhibits in larger cities.

Nineteen minutes into the film, the software told me that my Internet connection (from Comcast) was two slow and that it would reset the playback in two minutes. But it sat there in the reset, accumulating only to 3% in 15 minutes. So I gave up and ordered the conventional DVD, which arrived from Netflix the next day.

I think what happens is that many residential cable high speed connections just are not quite stable enough for this to work. They slow down during heavy use periods because cable companies keep adding more customers without extra capacity. This many be all right for ordinary surfing, but not for an application that must work at 100% for two solid hours.

I've never tried P2P (peer to peer) although I might as a way to distribute my own work later. This is the closest I have come yet to viewing movies this way. But that will change, as more distributors are looking at direct Internet distribution of their movies (with careful piracy controls and DRM, of course). This may even "encroach" upon the successful business models of Netflix and Blockbuster for DVD rental (Blockbuster offers an in-store option which I haven't tried yet.)

The movie, which I also discuss the political details of here, is a straightforward documentary. What comes through from a psychological perspective is the collective identity of peoples in the Middle East. Many people on the Israeli side of the debate emphasized the need for a Jewish state since their people had been driven out of Europe (the Holocaust) and other lands, but that the state should be compatible with democracy. The Palestinian people are faced with the shame of having their individual homes and lands (even olive groves) taken from them without compensation. The general consensus was that Israel would have to spend billions of dollars to remove West Bank and Gaza settlers in order to allow Palestine to have a contiguous state and to treat everyone “fairly” by more modern ideas of individualism – something that the Muslim world especially needs. The quick escalation of terror, and tendency to blame civilians as guilty of acquiring “tainted fruits” (almost as original sin) is quite striking in the interviews.

Netflix offers a number of films this way. One curious entry was the curious drama about the Catholic Church and the papacy (including the election of the fictitious first Russian pope), “The Shoes of the Fisherman”, 1968, MGM, dir. Michael Anderson, novel by Morris West. I saw this shortly after finishing basic training with a graduate student friend and devout Catholic, in the old L’Enfant Plaza in Washington, and I remember my friend thought that the Papacy would never “give in” this way. History may have surprised us. (The book actually had a closeted gay cardinal as a major character.)(Review).

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Films at the Andy Warhol museum: Water, Factory Diaries, Asian imports

Film at the Andy Warhol Museum.

In 1969, when I was in the Army (yes, I actually served uneventfully as a half-open gay), one of my “bunkmates” (so to speak) from California, who called himself Rado Suhl, introduced me to the world of Andy Warhol movies, at least verbally. I actually saw “Trash” and “Flesh” I think (Paul Morrissey ) in Newport News or Norfolk, places to reach on pass from Fort Eustis (or Fort Useless). “A point,” he said, “there is no point.”

I saw three films this weekend at the Andy Warhol Museum in downtown Pittsburgh.

The Friday night feature was I Don’t Want to Sleep Alone (“Hei yen quan”, Strand Releasing, 2006, Tsai Ming-laing, 115 min, R) was slow and repetitive with little spoken dialogue, and what little is said is simpleton-like. Fits the stereotype. The film shows to squalid poor sections of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (unlike the exhuberant Entrapment (1999), which had emphasized the Petronas Towers and the metro). The city is smoggy because of fires in SE Asia. A few poor street people are rescued and gradually nursed back to health, particularly Hsaio-Kang (Kang-sheng Lee), found by some men from Bangaldesh after being beaten up by a male prostitute (the homoeroticism is most minimal here) particularly by Rawang (Norman Bin Atun). There is a nurse / waitress Chyi (Shiang-chyi Chen) to takes care of a paralyzed man, at one point mauling his scalp hair as she washes it. There are a lot of scenes that focus on the most mundane aspects of crowded third world apartment rooms (often in concrete, formerly modern buildings now collapsing), as people negotiate for their space on a dirty mattress. People are receptive to each other’s physical attention in ways that would be unacceptable to middle class people. The film has lots of long, rather static intimate shots, including a harrowing scene where lovers deal with the intensifying dust haze and cough. At the end, a trio is on a mattress floating out into a flood, sleeping innocently.

Tears of the Black Tiger (“Fah talai jone,” 2001, Magnolia / Film Bangkok, dir. Wisit Sasanatieng, 115 min) was presented by the Warhol Museum the week before in conjunction with the Silk Screen Asian Film Festival. But it had an art house theatrical release early this year. It seems like a spoof of the Italian western, here is a cartoonish style, heavily colorized with deep greens and pinks and very abstract sets. Dum (Suwinit Panjamawat), trained to be a gunslinger / mercenary, goes on a quest for bride Rampoey (Stella Malucchi) but is called away fighting bandits while her father tries to unload her in an arranged marriage. The movie leads to the inevitable showoff ending: here two bullets, in mid air as in Smallville fashion, can collide in midair and ricochet, with violent results. Later there is even a place for the family pictures. The movie constantly questions the “why” of the social customs by which we live, while paying curious homage to them. Intentionally clunky soundtrack, with caricatures of classical music (including Dvorak's New World).

The museum store sells Absolut Warhola (2004, TLA, dir. Stanislaw Mucha, 80), a pseudo-documentary in which filmmakers travel to the village of Mikova, Slovakia, home of Andy Warhol's ancestors. The townspeople are rather glib. One of them bemoans the fact that Andy never married "for his mother" (to give her a lineage), whereas another blames Warhol's homosexuality on his ex-wife (a contradiction). There is a museum for Andy in the city of Medzilabaforce. Many of the scenes are in winter (it is very cold in the continental interior), and in the summer scenes all of the people look very rustic, even the girls having hairy legs. In Czech with subtitles.

Every day the museum has been showing Water (1971, 33 min), at 12:30. If there was such a thing as Andy Warhol “nilhism” (or just minimalism), this is it. The fuzzy black-and-white “film” shows a glass of water (you can barely see the meniscus) while some friends talk about living in the Big Apple.

Then there was Factory Diaries (1972), Montauk & Hamptons, edited tape. That is, the last couple of stops on the Long Island Rail Road, and Warhol himself was lounging around in a beach house with his dog, who loves him, and another couple. There were some oddly embarrassing shots of people on the beach. Black and White. They don’t look as good as you want them to. In 1977 and 1978, I got to know The Pines and Cherry Grove (Fire Island), myself, but that's another planet.

I have more Andy Warhol films discussed here.

A related book review is at this link.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

The Black Book: 1949 and 2007

The film “Black Book” (“Zwartboek”) from Dutch director Paul Verhoeven, completed in 2006 after many threats to its production budget and purchased by Sony Pictures Classics (essentially the indie division of Columbia), missed the DC Filmfest, although it would have obviously been an interesting film for it. A Jewish girl Clarice (Rachel van Houten) joins the Resistance in northern Holland after she escapes the slaughter of her family because of an informant to the Nazis. She eventually has an “affair” with a Nazi officer (Sebastian Koch) but all bets are off when Amsterdam is liberated, and all the intrigues of the secret lists of dissenters kept in the “black book” are uncovered as the violence reaches its climax. The film runs for 135 minutes, is in Cinemascope and is quite spectacular in recreating the Nazi era in the low countries. The film has played in the DC area for three weeks now , in a limited list of theaters (now just at the Cinema Arts in Fairfax VA) but it was, curiously, advertised in the Washington Blade although there is no real gay content.

Not many people know that there was a black-and-white film in 1949 also called “The Black Book,” also called “Reign of Terror,” directed by Anthony Mann, 89 min, from an obscure company called Eagle Lion. The film concerned Robespierre (Richard Basehart) during the French Revolution, with Napoleon uttering one clever line (“I am a soldier”) at the end. Robert Cummings is Charles d’Aubigny. The basic plot is similar in structure tit gar if the Verhoeven film, and probably inspired it. There is a black book with government dissenters during the revolution, and it is unclear whether Robespierre has let it loose. A secret list in those days was as deadly as anything on today’s Internet; Nazi Germany, after all, required all Germans to carry “work books” with them.

Picture: My “black Bible”, a King James Version from 1949, turned to the story of the Parable of the Talents, with the words of Jesus in red (hard to find today).

Monday, May 14, 2007

NASA short "films" on the planets

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) offered a “movie trailer” on the Washington Mall last week, with a show: “The Moon, Mars and Beyond,” in two parts. The first part was a generic introduction to the space voyages, with interactive atlases of the Moon and Mars. But the second part of the show offered cyclorama like film clips of the Moon and Mars, and the a brief artists rendition of what it would be like to stand on the surface of Titan, moon of Saturn, and the only moon in the solar system with a dense atmosphere.

Mars looked a bit like Iraq, and Titan had a gray-brown surface with frothy pools and foggy twilight sky. There is a question of how much light would reach the surface, with the weak sun; much of the light would have been reflected off Saturn, which could hardly be visible through the thick clouds. If there were geological activity underneath the rock and methane ices of Titan, perhaps there would be self-replicating organic chemistry (thiolins).

On the floor, there were images of balls like langoliers (as in the Stephen King movie from 1995) that kids could kick around as in grade school circle soccer.

In time Hollywood (maybe even “Hollywood Pictures”) will want to portray the surface of Titan as if probably really looks.

Another interesting world could be Triton (a moon of Neptune). Of course, Europa might have life in water underneath the ice cap (perhaps Ganymede also). Europa was the subject of the Arthur C. Clarke film "2010."

There is a DVD from AIX and RCA, “The Planets—Epoch 2000” made in 2000, with simulated art of the major planets to the symphonic suite by Gustav Holst. The review is here, and the page includes reviews of some other IMAX films about the planets.

National Geographic had a one-hour program “Extraterrestrials” in which it posted that an earth-like planet orbiting a red dwarf would have one side facing the star but could be in the right range of temperature to support life, however bizarre. Such a planet around a distant red dwarf, 20 light years away, may have been found recently. Review is here.

NASA's main web page on the Cassini mission is here. In May 2007 Cassin will do a flyby to determine if those dark areas on the poles are really Minnesota-like lakes (of methane and ethane).

Here are some good Titan pictures.

Here is a chart of time for light to reach various planets.

Here is the abstract (and text) of my experimental screenplay "69 Minutes to Titan." Some material is not shown completely in free public display for various reasons.

Here is another script (PDF) of an experimental short film about Titan (mine), "Surprise Planet."

Pictures: NASA probe on Mall; the "Tower of Ned" from my Titan screenplay.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

48 Hour Film Project in DC

The 48 Hour Film Project , founded by Mark Ruppert, gives amateur filmmakers (usually teams) to an opportunity to compete to make a film with a given genre, line of dialogue, character(s) and prop in a 48 hour period. The DC event was held at the AFI Silver in Silver Spring MD (Metro accessible) this week. I attended the 7 PM Friday show. Here is the DC link; here is the blog.

The SAG information is here:

The genres varied, the prop was a bracelet, the character was Roosevelt. Each show is based on a different specification. As a concept, this contest resembles the Project Greenlight Directors’ Contest, which each contest had ten finalists. As a whole, the Greenlight films tended to have a lot of substance and were often miniature thriller, dramatic or horror shorts. The 48 Hour Films tended to be spoofy and work toward a surprise payoff. Most of the films were 5-8 minutes in length.

Here is a rundown on what I saw. About half of the films were 1.85 to 1; some were 4:3 videos.

Group Therapy (Faison Film). A participant in a group therapy session wants to blow it up, literally. And it’s funny.

Reposed (K3WL). Some colonial history (resembling Jamestown or St Marys City) is buried beneath, reenacted in flashbacks, and it comes out of the woodwork. It’s not a blob.

Oh! Jesus (Can Chocolate). A local Nazarene Church tries to raise money, with some tender mercies as a result.

If the Shoe Fits (Teen Rh) with an enterprising teen and a lost shoe.

Parting Shots
(Never Group)

Cupid Incorporated

Food Fight (Untied Artists)

COP 2000

De Leon Company (Teen Jaberwocky)

Last Man on Earth
(Dead City)

The Animal Within
– a setting of “The Werewolf” as a suspect begs to be arrested before he converts. It’s too late.

The Rochambeau

Posi-tive. In 2023, HIV has mutated, and people with HIV are forbidden from any sex. So the free market invites an “I Robot” as a partner. It plugs in through the navel.


The AFI / Discovery Channel Documentary Festival occurs in June in Silver Spring. See this link.

AFI means "American Film Institute."

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Films at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

I had visited the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum at 14th Street and Independence Ave. in Washington DC in the mid 1990s, and I visited it again yesterday. A visit requires as timed ticket to accommodate groups, and cameras are not allowed inside the exhibit.

The Permanent Exhibit starts on the fourth floor and is in three sections. (1) Nazi Assault: 1933-1939 (2) (Middle Floor) The “Final Solution: 1940-1945; (3) Last Chapter. There are many newsclips and reels on television monitors throughout the museum, and there is a particular focus on American response over the years.

When the visitor enters the exhibit, the visitor sees a continuous color film about the liberation of Dachau.

There is a small theater on the upper level that shows a 14-minute short film called “Anti-Semitism.” Most of the film is in black-and-white. The film traces the history of negative attitudes toward the Jewish people back to the early days of Christianity. There has always been a rationalization that Christians have an obligation to “convert” others aggressively. The film make the point that Martin Luther, despite the reaffirmation of freedom when he posted his points and started the reformation, developed a hatred of Jews who would not convert. The Enlightenment seemed to produce some improvement, but new rationalizations for anti-Semitism were developed. Gradually, however, the Jews often assimilated into European society, especially in the professions, commerce, arts and academic areas. In some cases, society took a “don’t ask don’t tell” kind of attitude.

Because of the hardships faced by the people of Germany after World War I with the wild inflation and reparations, it was easy for politicians and demagogues to look for scapegoats and make “moral” rationalizations that the hated people had cheated the “normal” people. So Hitler could make up an argument that the Jews had, with an intellectual “snobbery,” harmed the integrity of the “Folkish” German people. At the same time, the Nazis were inventing racial theories, with no conceivable scientific foundation, that the Jews were essentially like an alien species, inferior and constituted a biological “enemy.” Furthermore, the Nazis developed the idea that only the "State" can establish what is virtuous and beautiful (that is, the "state" becomes like "Allah" or "Jehovah"), and that individuals may not do this on their own. This ideology does not make sense today, but it did appeal to emotions of the times, where people had limited information. One of the most amazing things about the Nazi reign of terror and buildup was the propaganda and manipulation of information that the people could receive. The pogrom would follow. Near the theater, the museum shows pictures of book burnings, “Fahrenheit 451” style. The conclusion of the film covers the rapid elimination of Jews from all visible areas of German society, leading up to the deportations to concentration camps. Two-thirds of the Jewish population in Europe would be murdered, a episode of genocide unprecendented im history. Other areas of the museum show similar treatment of other groups, especially homosexuals. It would be interesting to watch the Charley Chaplin United Artists film "The Great Dictator", made in 1940, and see how the ideology could be manipulated with deception.

There is also a picture exhibit of the voyage of the St. Louis (or Saint Louis) (in 1939), which was to take many German Jews from Europe (Hamburg) to Cuba, but they were never allowed to land anywhere, not even by President Roosevelt (the Coast Guard kept them out of Florida). This story was the subject of the three-hour 1976 Avco-Embassy film “Voyage of the Damned,” directed by Stuart Rosenberg, boob by Gordon Thomas.

The middle floor shows “The Final Solution” and contains an audio theater of testimonials. A box car is shown, as are models of the camps and crematoriums. Auschwitz-Birkenau, which I visited in May 1999 (30 miles from Krakow, Poland, after a night train ride from Berlin) had over 200 “dormitory” buildings laid out in a grid. Prisoners, once arrived, were completely shaved, including their bodies, so that they could not look at themselves as distinguishable individuals.

The lower floor has another film, “Testimony”, which is shown in another theater on a digital video screen. The film consists of interviews of concentration camp survivors, and includes in some cases personal accounts of their liberation. Most of them expressed a determination to survive for the benefits of their families and their people, even though their own individualities had been effaced. The film is in color. I believe that much of this was shown on PBS in the 1990s.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Secondary school filmmakers make prize winning shorts on major political issues

WJLA (Channel 7, ABC) in Washington DC (actually Arlington VA) provides a story and external link about these politically charged student documentary films won prizes recently and will be shown on CSPAN or other networks in June 2007. The link is here.
On May 9, 2007, the story was reached from "Newslinks" (then "Iraq Documentary") on the WJLA home page and has the names and schools of many other prize winners.

The Grand Prize went to Zach Chastain, Bryan Cink, 12th & Ryan Kelly, 11th Grade,
"Jupiter or Bust: The El Sol Solution"
Jupiter High School, Jupiter, FL; to be distributed by Comcast, Air Date: 6/15/2007

This film (clip is 7.09) discusses the immigration issue for Jupiter, FL. Many of the immigrants come from Guatemala, and are descendents of the Mayan population that was the subject of Mel Gibson’s Apocalypto. When coffee prices fall (as documented in the film “Black Gold”) more of this population comes to the United States to look for construction jobs. Jupiter is typical of many sunbelt communities experiencing residential building booms capable of providing jobs, good paying and hard work.

A first prize went to Anthony Hernandez & Dustin Gillard, 11th Grade, "Our Duty", Austin High School, Austin, MN, to be distributed by Charter Communications of MN, Air Date: 6/13/2007

Austin, the home town of Hormel Foods (“Spam”) is located about 70 miles or so south of Minneapolis. Two high school students document the effect of the war in Iraq on military families and their support groups in Austin. Both Barach Obama and John McCain appear to take their positions on the current buildup in Iraq, which President Bush requested be accelerated in early 2007 and which Congress has recently tried to cap with legislation that Bush vetoed. The film implies that voters must decide ultimately what is “right” (as the filmmakers say at the end), but underneath the narrative is an implied concern of how the burden of the military service is shared, with the “back door draft” of multiple deployments from the volunteer military, even drawing down national guard deployments at home for disasters (like the recent tornadoes in Kansas). Tim Walz is also interviewed. When I lived in Minneapolis, a Unitarian fellowship where I once spoke about my books met in a national guard center in Rosemont.

A first prize for middle school goes to Ian Scott Wilson, 8th Grade, "When the Boys Come Home: The Controversy at Walter Reed", Luther Jackson Middle School, Falls Church, VA, to be distributed by Cox Communications, Air Date: 6/14/2007

Station WLJA interviewed local middle school filmmaker Ian Scott Wilson. His film documents the controversy over the care given wounded veterans, often with amputations and other horrific injuries, at Walter Reed Medical Center in NE Washington NC on Georgia Ave. There are plans to combine Walter Reed with the Naval Medical Center in Bethesda. The surgical and medical care in the hospital itself has been first rate, but the outpatient apartment complex in which the soldiers, still on active duty and subject to military regimentation, were housed has been a disgrace that led to the firings of some Pentagon officials. Wilson tried to get Senators Webb and Warner to talk to him, and they didn’t, but Republican congressman Tom Davis from Fairfax County VA was of considerable help. The film also interviews a Military Times editor presents Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

Saturday, May 05, 2007


Title: Fired!
Distributor: Shout! Factory / Sundance Channel
Director: Chris Bradley, Kyle La Brache
Producer, Writer, Principal Actor: Annabelle Gurwitch
Date: 2007
Length: 71 min.
No rating (would suggest PG-13)
Technical: Digital Video, 1.66: 1

This little movie was screened at The Avalon right after the DC Filmfest. It starts with a Woody Allen lecturing Annabelle and firing her from a play, and even talking (when mentioning agents) like she could be blackballed. The movie then becomes a somewhat meandering exposition about firings, terminations and layoffs in America. At one point, the film mentions “The Ax,” which is the name of a French thriller (“Le couperet) about a laid-off executive.

Now terminations can be for cause, or (under most state laws) at will, for no reason. They cannot occur for illegal reasons. Most jobs are lost because of downsizings and “layoffs”, or even corporate bankruptcies or offshoring. Typically, with white collar positions, however, the hit list is based on a combination of job performance and office politics rather than seniority, so in a sense a white collar layoff is a “firing.”

The film goes through a long recitation of brief accounts of all kinds of job losses, many of them blue collar, one a coat checker fired after only four hours on the job. Then it presents a typical outplacement firm for white collar workers, Right Management. This is the firm I had when I was laid off and “retired” at the end of 2001.

The film also presents the issue of people fired for off-duty behavior, specifically, nicotine use (usually, cigarette smoking) at Weyco in Michigan, and attempts to change Michigan law to forbid the practice. One Human Resources person admits that his job is to be chummy with employees so he can report them to management!

Finally, the film presents some interviews with politicians, especially Robert Reich, former Labor Secretary in the Clinton Administration. The idea that corporate America has “raided” the middle class with scandals and bankruptcies and lucrative settlements for executives is presented.