Tuesday, October 30, 2007

"Desert Bayou": Katrina evacuees wind up in Utah and, after being treated with suspicion, gradually assimilate

Desert Bayou, directed by Alex LeMay and written by Thomas Lemmer, came to Washington last weekend (Oct 26). It was presented at the ANC Dupont Circle 5, one of the oldest and smallest in the city. Sunday, there was no show at all as there was another festival. So this was one of those little, political documentaries that you have to hustle to see. The distributor is Cinema Libre (often associated with Robert Greenwalt) and most of the film is grainy video, fit into 1.85 to 1, and the sound seemed to play only mono.

The documentary traces the lives of a number of evacuees from Hurricane Katrina. FEMA put them on a Jet Blue plane for unknown destination, and on the plane they learned in would be Salt Lake City, Utah. Of course, that location is popularly associated with the Mormon or Latter Day Saints Church, and was thought to be overwhelmingly white.

About six hundred people were first housed on a military base about forty miles south of Salt Lake City. They were subject to background checks and curfews. State and city officials, as well as the military and some townspeople, offered self-serving rationalizations for this. The curfews, it was said, would reassure the newcomers of their safety. From what? In the film, the appearance of the base reminded me of the Nisei Japanese internment camps during World War II, as depicted in Ken Burns ‘s PBS documentary, The War.

The documentary summarized the controversy over the LDS church, with photographs of the Temple and of the high rise office buildings of the headquarters downtown. Only priests, or wives or children of priests, can get into heaven. The film summarized the racially intolerant past of the Mormon Church, which opposed abolition, had practiced a patriarchal polygamy until around 1890. It admitted blacks to the priesthood after a “revelation” in 1978.

The Mormon Church, however authoritarian, has one of the most effective private welfare programs in the world, and was among the first large entities offering help in New Orleans to Hurricane Katrina victims -- a point not covered in the film, but covered in the PBS documentary mentioned below.

Nevertheless, many of the new residents assimilated, and about a hundred of the original 600 remained permanently and got employment and apartments. Many of the outdoor scenes in Utah were taken in winter, with the new residents acclimating to snow.

Some reviewers have criticized the film for making so much of the "regimentation" of the newcomers, and claim that this is common in many such situations and really is non race-related.

The film often revisits New Orleans, showing harrowing, of grainy, footage of Katrina, and the floods in the aftermath, and the wreckage in many neighborhoods today. Many residents feel they will be better off in new lands than in returning home. The film takes the position that reconstruction priorities favor the wealthier and touristy French Quarter and other better-off areas.

I covered the PBS film on the Mormons last May here.

I visited New Orleans and the Mississippi coast in February 2006, President's Day weekend. Volunteers who have gone down to work have often reported that they are not allowed to enter homes for cleanup because of mold.

The producers of this film advise the public that one can contribute to "The Rebuilding Fund" for New Orleans with a text message to 467467.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Eytan Fox has new film about Middle East: "The Bubble"

Eytan Fox (“Yossi & Jagger” and “Walk on Water”) has a new film from Israel that mixes gay issues with Mideast politics, called “The Bubble” (from Strand Releasing, 117 min, would be R). The cover somehow reminds me of “Shortbus” with attractive young men and women stacked, the legs suitably contrasted.

In fact, Magnolia pictures had released a mystery called “Bubble” early in 2006; that movie is discussed on this blog April 3, 2006. The imdb title of this film in Hebrew is “Ha-Buah”.

An appealing young gay man in the military reserves, Noam (Ohad Knoller) lives in a Tel Aviv “bubble” with other young adults, some of whom are gay. It does not seem to cause any problems with his military service at all (again, arguing against “don’t ask don’t tell”, dropped a long time ago by Israel with the military gay theme taken up in Fox ‘s first film, above). One day, he meets a young Palestinian, Ashraf (Youssef Sweid) at a checkpoint where a woman gives birth to a stillborn. In time they see a lot of each other, and Ashraf’s life becomes emeshed in the “Bubble”. They even say that, after all, kibbutzim are bubbles, as are walled-off Palestinian enclaves on the West Bank. Eventually, they celebrate in a disco dance called The Rave, protesting “the Occupation”.

When Noam visits Ashraf’s village, Asraf’s brother sees him, and pressures him to get married and give his father grandchildren to cover up his homosexuality. Pretty soon, Israeli police accidentally kill Ashraf’s sister (critical of his lifestyle), and Ashraf has a personal moral crisis over his own lifestyle and issues like blood loyalty and family. That will hurl the movie toward a tragic, and in some sense foolish, conclusion.

Fox is obviously interested in exploring the moral conundrums of this world. Morality on one level in this region applies only to whole groups of people, who are in conflict for historical reasons. Individual rights in this kind of world have little moral traction, and that makes us think we are better than them, sometimes. Within a family, morality implies absolute blood loyalty, because it is essential for survival. Deeper than that, the loyalty expresses a form of karma, where a character like Ashraf must deal with what he owes, in emotional terms, to the family that created him.

On an individual level, the relationship between Noam and Ashraf suggests that individual love should transcend political conflicts – a kind of gay “Romeo and Jules.” Of course, in the straight world, sometimes vendettas for political feuds are settled with arranged marriages with procreation (even on the soap “Days of our Lives”).

But that is what drives moral debate – one cannot presume a permanent stable world that guarantees absolute freedom. The idea that everyone owes the world “procreation” (or at least the indirect support of it in the Vatican sense) comes to mind as a kind of karma, because it would make the world psychologically safer for the majority of average people, but it would also deny the world a lot of individual creative energy, implicit in a capitalist society, necessary to raise the standard of living for everyone (the Da Vinci Code problem).

It’s often written that suicide bombings on the middle East are the result of personal shame, of being second class citizens with no rights and with property taken away by force. It’s more than that, as some of the shame is religious. It’s hard to say from this film whether it is collective or individual, because the motives for the climax of the film seem a bit self-destructive and wishful.

This film (shot flat) is at its visual best “on the road” with many spectacular shots of the West Bank communities. He makes the Middle East into a kind of Middle Earth.

Curiously, the film apparently did not appear in the recent Reel Affirmations 17 film festival, documented on this blog.

The reader may want to look at John Crosby's novel "An Affair of Strangers" from the 1970s.

Update: Nov. 1, 2007

On Thursday Nov. 1 HBO broadcast its 75 minute documentary film "To Die in Jerusalem", directed by Hilla Medalia. This docudrama analyzes the 2002 killing of 17 year old Rachel Levy by Palestinian female suicide bomber Ayat al-Akhras. Like the film above, it shows breathtaking on-location scenes of the crowded West Bank, including Bethlehem itself. Four years later, in 2006, journalists go back (and there is a sign warning visitors that they are effectively endangering themselves by entering the West Bank). But the climax, or "Third Act" of the movie comes with a video conferencing of a confrontation between the mothers of the two teenage girls. The high-tech meeting is necessary because apparently the Palestinian woman is not allowed transit into Jerusalem. The Jewish mother wants to emphasize the interpersonal and human tragecy. The Palestinian mother expresses relentless outrage and shame of being expected to live under occupation, with their property and individual rights taken away and very much as less than "second class citizens." The Jewish woman begs her to transcend the politics. Only at the end is there any hint of possible emotional reconciliation.

From a filmmaking point of view, the confrontation is extremely effective and dramatic, and shows how much can be done with just two "characters" in an indoor scene. This certainly encourages low-budget filmmakers. In the acting classes in Minneapolis (the Twin Cities Actors Forum), we used to try to set up two character confrontations (like firings over lunch as in "Kramer v Kramer") and tape them.

There is a moral point to the film, too. It's one thing to tell people to transcend political wrongs and give up violence. It's another thing to ask them to bond to people over the objection of political problems. The latter is a real challenge.

This is a stunning film and it deserves a theatrical release from a company like Miramax or Picturehouse.

Friday, October 26, 2007

"The Darjeeling Limited" brings back the short subject with "Hotel Chevalier" as a prologue

Well, suddently the “two part film” is back. I talked about this on this blog on April 7 with the B double feature “Grindhouse.” Now, on Friday October 26, 2007. Fox Searchlight Pictures has prefixed its feature comedy “The Darjeeling Limited” (dir. Wes Anderson) with a thirteen-minute prologue “Hotel Chevalier” (no relation to "Hotel Rwanda"). As far as "limited" goes, a 70s Broadway show "The 20th Century Limited" that I saw during my last week living in New York comes to mind.

I could say that big time filmmakers have discovered the “amateur” art form, the short film, and with more money, they can make it snazzy, like a racing bike. The film had been sold on iTunes, but today it was scheduled to open as a prologue in (North American) theaters only to the Darjeeling movie. It looks grand, again like a tribute to old Fox Cinemascope pictures. It opens in a luxury Paris hotel room, and with Jason Schwartzman’s (the character Jack) hairy legs stick out from a bed, and the story develops as Natalie Portman returns. In a series of stages, he disrobes her, and at one point, we see strange bluish bruises on her upper arm. She says she doesn’t want to hurt him. What popped into my devious mind was Kaposi’s Sarcoma, with the moral lesson (in a Masters and Johnson heterosexual context) at hand. Anthony Brezican posed the question about the bruises in his USA Today article Tuesday Oct. 23 in the Life section (“’Darjeeling Limited’ leaves mysteries in its path). Throughout the scene, Schwarzman (one of Tinseltown’s best looking actors) remains clothed.

Fox tells the audience that this is a prerequisite short, and then proceeds with the feature, starting with the Fox Searchlight trademark, music and all. The feature was written in part by Schwartzman as well as Roman Coppola and director Wes Anderson (with the Coppola family, you never know, they say, but the film obviously has high-powered origins even given its indie arthouse distribution by Searchlight). But the feature is “Part 2,” so we’re not quite back to the 50s neighborhood theater concept of a short before a feature; "Hotel" is more like a gaudy film festival short. But it doesn’t quite work on it’s own without the feature, which is your comedic (with pretty vicious satire) road trip through desert areas of northern India on an old train, as three brothers (adding a facially damaged Owen Wilson as Francis, and an Adrien Brody (as Peter) whose girlish gams show a lot and are a bit embarrassing. There is plenty of cigarette smoking in the movie, and that’s depressing. Forget the health messages and the morality. The movie becomes funny and wacky, but refers back to the hotel (Jack wears a robe from it). But it is Peter who has fathered a child. Francis was hurt in motorcycle stupidity. Their misadventures seem arbitrary, staggering into tragedy in one sequence Peter tries to rescue a native boy and winds up going to his funeral. They finally have a showdown with their mother (Anjelica Huston). Bill Murray adds some seasoning as “the businessman.”

Just before the stream rescue sequence, the brothers sit around the campfire, and Schwartman's character ponders, "could we have gotten to know each other, not as brothers, but as people?"

Jack (Schwartman's character) is a published writer in the story, having written a book called (as I remember) "Lonesome Ink" and the question as to whether it imitates life comes up. In one scene, where they recall the death of their father and have to set up a funeral, Beethoven's Seventh finale plays in the background with odd effect. Debussy's "Claire de Lune" is also used.

I presume that Fox distributed the short this week and that theaters were contractually obliged to program their projection centers to show it in the proper sequence. This may have caused some consternation. Yesterday (Thursday) I went to a modern Landmark theater in Washington DC to see “Reservation Road” at the matinee, found the auditorium suddenly switched with “Darjeeling” (which had been moved to an auditorium with DLP). The theater was unable to get the show rolling, so it gave me a free pass to see “King Corn” (Balcony Releasing, dir. Aaron Woolf), a spirited Iowa documentary (“come to Iowa and have some fun”) about how corporate agribusiness is giving us Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus (bad for the legs, at least). Finally, three hours later, the “Reservation Road” feature (Focus, dir. Terry George) started, and it is a tragedy. A young musical (cello) prodigy boy is killed in a hit-run, and the guilty man is a lawyer (played by Mark Ruffalo) called upon to help the boy’s father (Joaquin Phoenix) find the guilty party, with echoes of “In the Bedroom” (Miramax, Todd Field) a few years ago. The film played irony with the Boston Red Sox, in the World Series after all. The film also bears at least a tangential plot relationship to the Scottish Dogme film "Red Road" (Tartan, dir. Andrea Arnold), that came out last spring.

After seeing this movie, I had a rem-sleep dream last night of a "Part III". It was to be from 20th Century Fox (not Searchlight), was shot flat (without scope) in B-movie sepia, and was called "Don't Tell." The imaginary movie was to be shown as a midnight sneak at an AMC theater in the dream. In my dream movie, a troupe of straight soldiers go into drag and do a show to raise money for veterans. The three stars from "Darjeeling" make the troupe, and all three do drag. (After all, that's the "payoff" in "Rocky Picture Horror Show" -- everybody does drag.) Owen Wilson (Dupree), and Adrien Brody make sense with this, but even Schwartzman has to do it, so it turns into S&M. But (in the movie) the Pentagon doesn't get it and tries to crash the show, under "don't ask don't tell". Bill Murray plays "Big Gay Al" (from "Southpark"), sings "Blame Canada" and wants to intervene on the benefit of the USO as well as the veterans. When the regular Army (RA all the way) can't get in to the theater, the fibbies use nerve gas to paralyze the celebrants (and the voyeuristic audience). At this point in my dream, the film broke, and the theater emptied. I had some paralysis of sleep and couldn't walk (even get out of the suddenly darkened auditorium) until I woke up. But in the dream I also "my" own 84-page shooting script in FinalDraft (which means the comedy isn't very long). So how about that, a dream in which one makes a "pitch" for a new movie that could go to an agent.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

AMPTP and WGA near showdown; newswriters also involved now

There is a lot of angry talk on the web right now as the expected deadlines and showdowns approach for the possible WGA strike.

The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) has its own page here and it has its own side expressed in its FAQ page, here.

The AMPTP claims that WGA proposals would limit its (“our”) agility and flexibility to “promote and market TV series and films, and prohibit us from experimenting with programming and business models in New Media.” This seems to play on concerns that newbies, who make super-indie films often outside of the normal world of unions, might not be able to produce and market their work. This is in an environment where companies serve up ads to “self-publish your film.” This ties in to other controversies, like the way major film festivals pick films (are they just a showcase for established stars doing their own work?) and so on. Many of the films at the Reel Affirmations festival, just discussed on this blog, were of the “real indie” variety, produced outside the system, although SAG held a meeting Monday night (Oct 15) for GLBT filmmakers.

Carl DiOrio reports that AMPTP gas dropped its recoupment issue, in the Hollywood Reporter, Oct. 17, here.
However, Variety had a story Oct. 15 that the AMPTP president (Nick Counter) had threatened to sue WGA, in a story by David McNary (“WGA Strike Rules Bashed, AMPTP president threatens to sue guild”), here.

The latest story appeared this morning in the news business “CBS newswriters threaten strike authorization vote,” By Carl Di Orio, here.
The WGA homepage is here. Here is its Contract 2007 Negotiations Statement. Its strike authorizations story (David McNary, Variety, “Turnout yields 90% approval from voters”) is here.

There have been other rumors of lockouts, and of demands by studios and production companies to have shooting scripts turned in by Oct. 31. In case of a long strike, one wonders how series and particularly daily shows like soap operas (the notorious "Days of our Lives") would fare.

Some network television news outlets report that WGA wants reality television shows to go union -- and it hardly seems realistic to imagine candidates for "The Apprentice" to join a union first!

Talks / Progress / Strike possibility and afteraffects: Updates: Nov. 2, 2007

The Nov. 1, 2007 Wall Street Journal, on p B1 Marketplace, has a story by Sarah McBride and Rebecca Dana: "Scenes from Next Week? ... Value of Content Distributed by Net, Phone Is Big Issue as Writers' Strike Looms." The older model based on VHS is certainly out of date. The National Writers Union has also raised similar issues about secondary distribution of materials over the past few years.

ABC News has a big story by Sheila Marikar "Writers' Block: Strike Set for Monday Federal Mediator Calls For 11th-Hour Negotiating Session," link here. The pun isn't funny. The effect could be much harder on television than movies (although I put it in my movies blog). It could finish off some soap operas if prolonged.

On Nov. 3, Saturday Night Live did a spoof on the producers' position. "I have 20 million dollars but I don't have $200000."

Nov. 5 The strike has begun. CNN story here.

Previous coverage

I had some comments about this on Sept. 30 after my review of “Into the Wild.”.

"Fun" Update: Oct. 25

While one hopes the two "both" sides come together before Halloween, CWTV's Smallville tonight proposed a fictitious movie "Warrior Angel" in which one of Clark's protege's acts. Viewers were invited to video blog about it (especially in the absence of professional writers) and CW has some sort of contest. Except that imdb already shows an obscure B movie called "Warrior Angels" from 2002 directed by Byron Thompson. Lana also managed to mention the silly 2001 thriller "Don't Say a Word."

There was a proverb, an inevitable epigram in the Smallville script tonight, "he who saves the world remains alone."

I guess a Warrior Angel is not someone to trade places with. So much for upward affiliation.

In the mean time, amateur screenwriters will continue their table readings.

Note: I continued the coverage of the WGA strike on the Nov. 4 entry of my TV blog, here.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Meeting Resistance: documentary home movies with Iraqi insurgents speaking

A small film getting attention for the political questions it asks is “Meeting Resistance” (link)(Wellspring / Goldcrest / Nine Lives) directed by Molly Bingham and Steve Connors. Technically unpretentious 4:3 video, it shows the war in Iraq from the viewpoint of eight insurgents in various walks of life (warrior, teacher, etc). Most of the film is in Arabic with subtitles. Most of the film, all shot on location in Baghdad, is monochromatic – black and white with a greenish print tint (it would be better to make the monochrome neutral) and occasionally some red (as from flags). (Steven Spielberg had experimented with occasional color in “Schindler’s List”.) The film is being shown in a platform release, in Washington by the AMC Dupont Circle 5 (a small theater due to close soon), and the filmmakers are available after some performances.

The marketing caption says something like, imagine that your own country is invaded. That premise has been tried, as with the 1984 film Red Dawn (MGM/UA, dir. John Milius), where Communist paratroopers land in a high school athletic field in Colorado to start an “invasion.”

But that may characterize how the speakers view what is going on. They had a deeply tribal society (in which familial and blood loyalty means everything) which has been disrupted. They seem na├»ve about the evils of Saddam Hussein’s “reign” (A grizzled Saddam is shown after his capture in December 2003). They claim that there is no animosity between Shiites and Sunnis, something we know not to be true.

There is some discussion of how insurgency is financed. Dinars and US dollars are shown. There is some suggestion that the money comes from outside from clandestine sources, perhaps Saudi Arabia Wahhabists. The movie is general about this, an issue that has received interest in the press recently because of British litigation over a book on the subject.

RA Closing Night: The Walker (not exactly GLBT "genre"); other GLBT films to watch

On Saturday, October 20, 2007 Reel Affirmations held it’s closing night film “The Walker” and closing night party at nearby Nellie’s.

The film The Walker, produced by European company Pathe and now distributed by ThinkFilm, written and directed by Paul Schraeder, a Washington political intrigue film made in the UK and perhaps France (and the Isle of Man) with Washington DC outdoor scenes. The movie looked great on a full 2.35 to 1 screen – the first scene recalls the mood of 20th Century Fox 50s fashion Cinemascope movies – but soon we see that this is a ruse and we are in a present day political drama. Though the projection looked great, the sound system in the Lincoln Theater is antiquated and the dialogue sounded muffled, making the talky movie hard to follow even with concentration.

At the closing night party, I sampled some opinions and they were mixed. Some people thought that the movie did not belong in a “gay” film festival. Now, the story is about a “walker,” a southern gay gentlemen played by a disguised Woody Harrelson to drive around rich women. It’s a kind of gay “Driving Miss Daisy” but then it isn’t. You think that this occupation, being an adult nanny, belongs in the 50s, but suddenly you see laptop computers, and a boyfriend playing gumshoe with Abu Ghraib photos. Then there is a corpse, and The Walker finds himself accused of murder because, at least, he is in the wrong place at the wrong time. Actually, the movie seems to aim at a moral lesson, as to how easy it is to become a mark if you attract attention to yourself the wrong way; furthermore, previously unrelated matters can come together in unusual ways to get people framed. Now, the audience did cheer at the female cast (including Lauren Bacall. Lily Tomlin, Kistin Soctt Thomas). Other well known starts like Willem Dafoe appear in the movie and get to moralize about being on the right side of history. This is another one of those ambitious independent films that gets big stars and assembles different genres – mystery, political thriller, GLBT, 50s, modern day high tech, drama, thriller. I rather liked it; it’s just too bad about the sound. Ultimately, the film had something to say about corrupt politicians and covering up of torture, a topic more openly explored in a big studio film that opened the same weekend, Rendition, from New Line (dir. Gavin Hood), with a beefy but gentled Jake Gyllenhaal – someone a gay male audience would have relished in a festival.

In the goody line, I met the filmmaker Kimberly Johnson, who made “Soy-n-Sugar: Drama to Realty” that played at the Goethe Institut Saturday Oct. 13. I did not see it and cannot find a DVD for it on Netflix or Amazon. But I’m sorry that I did, because it looks important. (The Washington Blade has a review dated Oct 12, 2007 here. The story is that of a murder of a filmmaker making “Soy-n-Sugar”. It seems timely because the movie world has said a lot about the murder of Theo Van Gogh in Amsterdam for his short film “Submission” which I discussed on this blog on Aug. 11. I hope the filmmaker will get a DVD into distribution.

The party at Nellie’s seemed to be two parties. Upstairs there was a separate group, which we did not know about, and some of us migrated and saw the Red Sox clobber the Indians, 12-2, with shots off the Green Monster in Fenway Park (some singles off the wall), before we realized that wasn’t part of the party.

Of course, there are other films around that might have been selected but weren’t. I discussed “Saint of 9/11” on this blog Sept. 9, two days before the tragic anniversary. There are two recent major films about gay parenting: “We Are Dad” (2005, Indie-Film, dir. Michel Horvat) about a gay male couple in Florida that cares for HIV-infected foster children but then cannot adopt them (and has to deal with the threat of one being taken away for heterosexual adoption) because of Florida’s ban on gay adoption. There is Rosie O’Donnel’s HBO film “All Aboard! Rosie’s Family Cruise” (2006, dir. Shari Cookson) which even Donald Trump would have to admire (he as that ongoing vendetta with Rosie). At the end of the cruise, the gay families and especially the kids have to face brutal anti-gay demonstrations in Nassau. I discussed a couple of “long shorts” about gay parents that were in the festival in the blog entry for Oct. 15.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Dogme film comes to Reel Affirmations

Some of the 5 PM shows at the Reel Affirmations festival are free, and on Wednesday Oct. 17 the festival presented a film certified as Dogme-41, the first Dogme film from Canada, in this case, Quebec. The film is Lonely Child (2005, dir. Pascal Robitaille, Quebec, 50 min). This seems true to Dogme, with hand-held cameras and no artificial or exogenous music score. The film is black and white, but looks grainy; to be effective Dogme, when in black and white, needs the power that crisp black-and-white photography can provide. The story starts with a mother getting mad at the behavior of her gay teen son, who goes on an odyssey to summer camp. The story starts to ramble, whereas normally in a Dogme film you need tight plotting. Also, the filmmaker often talks while he films other people. This was not the most effective use of the technique. The French was hard to follow. I usually can follow Parisian French in the movies, but (in Quebec) this sounded different, particularly with slang and idioms and pronunciation. I’ve noticed that with Spanish, too. Castilian Spanish (Madrid) seems easier to follow (for an Anglo person) than the language in Mexican film.

Three Summers (2006, "Tre Somre", Super16 / Nordisk, dir. Carlos Augusto de Oliveira, 28 min, Demark, Cinemascope, R) In the marshes of the Denmark coast, a middle aged man ("Jorgen") of some wealth struggles with appearances and possible marriage problems, when he meets a most precocious teenage boy ("Thomas"). The “teenage brain” is a dubious topic indeed. The subject matter may be more acceptable in Europe than in the US. Indeed, if this happened in the United States, Jorgen might wind up in a cinder block cell with the light always on, and some day give Chris Hansen a Dateline interview about the need to resist temptation which it comes out of the blue. However, the "story" ends rather happily, with the prospect that Jorgen, rejuvenated, may rebuild his "real" marriage. The film technique resembled Dogme, as a lot of the work appeared to be hand-held (though you shouldn't have wide screen and background music).

The shorts program Wednesday night is “Men on the Edge.”

Police Box (2006, dir. Josh Kim, Hong Kong, 8 min) is a goofy spoof of life in the big city.

(dir. Michaeline Babich, USA, 14 min) has an appealing young man hooking up (legally) with Internet chat. The “partner” even pays his cab fare. He spends a wonderful evening with a slightly older man, only to find that the man has a partner dying of AIDS.

The Manual
(dir. Sarah Spillane, 14 min, Australia) has a boy sent away for “developmental” problems which could be “homosexuality” but the boy is too young for that. When he returns as a 28 year old man, it's not clear what's real, as now a sister is in the same fix, being criticized for having an imaginary playmate. This really is a “mainstream” film.

Wet Shave ("Die Rasur", 7 min, Germany) is like a miniature of the “Barber Shop” movies, literally. The fantasy doesn’t go as far as it could.

Testify (2006, Think! Outside the Box / Clarendon, 12 min) An African American preacher visits an African American young man dying of AIDS in a hospice. The young man does not welcome him. Soon, he learns that the young man, to his surprise, is straight. That provokes some soul-searching in the congregation.

Parting Words ("Derniers mots", 2006, dir. Joe Balass, Quebec). A guy on monitors is transferred from a hospice to the hospital (rather odd), or perhaps to his own end. At death’s door, he is interested in the orderly. (What comes to mind is a 1986 indie film about AIDS called "Parting Glances".)

Slideshow (2007, dir. Greg Atlkins, 4 min), Just stills.

Miss Popularity
(2006, dir. Wayne Jung), 6 min, Germany) a spoof of sitcoms, in black and white..

Le Weekend (2007, Attack, dir. Timothy Smith, UK). A gay film student from France comes to London, goes clubbing and picks up a "straight" man who plays along for the ride and eventually “tells”. The movie is shot somewhat in Dogme style with the student photographing his film as he makes it.

Monday, October 15, 2007

SAG visits Reel Affirmations at DC GLBT shorts presentation

Tonight (Monday, October 15, 2007), Reel Affirmations 17 held (at the Lincoln Theater in Washington DC) a free showing of some short films by DC area filmmakers, followed by a panel discussion with Chad Tyler from the Screen Actor’s Guild and three local filmmakers. The focus of the discussion was SAG and GLBT issues. Generally, professional actors are expected to be comfortable playing gay and straight roles regardless of their own sexual orientation. SAG has a variety of low budget film programs, starting with the Short Film Agreement, the Ultra Low Budget Agreement, and on upward with various budget limits and requirements for theatrical releases (usually platform releases) on the higher levels. Check the Sagindie site. http://www.sagindie.org/

The short films program consisted of these films:

GLLU Unit – a documentary about the Gay and Lesbian unit of the District of Columbia Metropolitan Police Department.

Offline (dir. Gant) – a shy man is accompanied by a friend to a fern bar and ordered to meet people. He succeeds, over a spilled drink. The film simulates Myspace in the real world with CGI screen name tags for the characters.

Brian the Gnome Slayer 4 (2007, dir. Brian Tosko and Flip Vanevski, 11 min) is the fourth in this shorts franchise, and it comes across as a cross between NBC’s “Heroes” and “Chuck,” gay style. There is one scene in front of the Lincoln Theater and in the parking lot.

The First Lesson I Learned (2007, dir Ian Cook, 7 min) has an elderly gay man recalling an elementary school lesson where he was asked to draw a circle and an X and humiliated by the teacher because the cross would not fit into the imperfect circle. He would not fit in. I remember getting berated in grade school for drawing pumpkins as red, because I liked the longer wave length color. “Pumpkins are orange,” the teacher insisted. I was made to sit in the Red Chair. The teacher also divided the class into Brownies and Elves, and I was a Brownie (the term did not refer to race, just a general sense of social awkwardness; I am Caucasian).

House Guest (2007, dir. Michael Chiplock, 7 min) A roommate knocks on the door late at night, disrupting a straight couple’s sleep with a revelation. Outside, an angry pursuer asks, “how much f—money do you have.” That has really happened.

Talk To Me (2004, dir. Spencer C. Parker, 4 min) has two gay male twins talking, following the concordance of Chandler Burr’s “A Separate Creation.”

The Preacher and the Poet (2007, dir. Spencer C. Lewis, 12 min) balances an anti-gay sermon at the “Million More” march in Washington with an African American gay man’s
poem. This is no “poet and peasant overture.” The preacher reminds me of Farrakan with his 1995 Million Man March.

I stayed for the show, and there was one more short:

My Last Ten Hours With You
(2007, dir. Sophie Hyde, wr. Matthew Cormack, Australia, 15 min). Two gay men, one of them tattooed, have a fling in a South Australia beach house on their last night before the break up. Joel Mcllroy, Toby Schmitz.

The feature that followed as My Super 8 Season (“Ma Saison Super 8,” 2005, Du Contraire / Anitprod, dir. Alessandro Avellis, France, 71 min), which seems to take off where Bernardo Bertolucci’s “The Dreamers” (2004, Fox Searchlight) left off with the labor riots in France in 1968, and presents a fast moving love polygon (partly gay) among left wing activists over the years. The film title refers to the “Super 8” shots made by one of the characters, as if to refer back to the film context of the Bertolucci opus.

Update: Oct. 16, 2007

On Tuesday there were two "long short" about gay parenting. First, Queer Spawn (2005, dir. Anna Boluda, USA/Spain, 30 min) interviews a number of teenage kids adopted by gay male and lesbian couples. The film comes to a climax with a depiction of "Family Week" in Provincetown, MA. One of the couples was finally legally married in MA. Another lived just outside Austin TX and the parents of neighboring kids tended to shun them. A NYC gay male couple adopted a Hispanic boy and named him Christopher, after a famous street in Greenwich Village, and got the boy into a charter school because they met a diversity quota. The second film was In My Shoes: Stories of Youth with LGBT Parents (2005, Collage, dir. Jen Gilomen, 31 min) was similar (if a little grainier in photography). One California lesbian couple was married and then the marriage was dissolved after Gavin Newsome's order was reversed; the teenage daughter fought for her mother in court. Both films mentioned that most states allow only single parent adoption in theory (even if the couple and kids live as a family); if the couple breaks up or the adopter dies, the other partner may have no rights to see the child.

There is an interesting YouTube film "Parental Instinct: a Film on Gay Parents Through Surrogacy" (2006)" dir. Murray Nossel.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

For the Bible Tells Me So: Moving, and level-headed documentary film about the Bible and homosexuality

For the Bible Tells Me So (2007, First Run Features, Atticus / Vision Quest, dir. Daniel G. Karsdale) may be the most effective documentary yet on homosexuality and religion, mostly (in American) Christianity. The most important characters covered are Gene Robinson, who marries, then comes out, and then struggles to be appointed bishop in the Episcopal Church; and the family of Congressman Dick Gephardt, with his lesbian daughter, and the fear that she could affect his political chances. Also covered is a the family of a Minnesota businessman, with his teenage son, who at one time attracts threats, but who eventually travels (as a family) to Colorado Springs in an attempt to confront the head of Focus on the Family, Dr. James Dobson. The confrontation and trespassing arrest, as well as Robinson’s “coronation” come at the end of the film and make its climax. In the middle, the film presents another harrowing tale of a young adult suicide, and presents frightening statistics on teen gay suicide. Oddly, the first image of the film is that of Anita Bryant in 1997, getting to become a pie face. (See the short "I Just Wanted to Be Somebody," reviewed June 17 on this blog.) There was also a reference to the group "Love Won Out."

But the real value of the film is the way it dissects the religious objections to homosexuality, and how these beliefs apparently drive some people into violence or hateful behavior that seems so unacceptable by modern moral standards of civilized conduct. There are only a few “clobber” passages in the Bible that appear to refer to (male) homosexual conduct. The famous passages in Leviticus are explained by translating the word “abomination” as a “ritual wrong” for a particular group (the Jews), not a moral wrong. Jewish law was constructed for the general welfare of the tribal Jewish people as they came together after the Exodus. Procreation was important for the well-being of the people, and there was a belief that “seed” could not be wasted (an idea that seems ridiculous to modern biology). The story of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 18) is told (with some excerpts, apparently from the 1962 20th Century Fox film, imported from France and dubbed, dir. Robert Aldrich -- the “spectacle” looks pretty silly comparison with the spectacle Cinemascope Fox films of the 50s, like “The Robe”). The cities might have sealed their fate by deciding that they did not have to be hospitable to strangers, a cultural requirement in some parts of the ancient world. In any case, it’s hardly clear that the angels were assaulted out of homosexual attraction as a modern understands it. Later, in Romans and Corinthians, the apostle Paul makes comments that appear to condemn homosexual conduct in the context of the way it seems to have been practiced by the Greeks and Romans. African American Harvard religion professor Peter Gomes ("The Good Book: Reading the Bible in Mind and Heart" (1996)) appears and discusses how to interpret the Bible culturally.

The real question, though, it the psychological roots of homophobia. People say “for the Bible tells me so” (even when it doesn’t) because they need to believes in some immutable moral facts as reassurance. So often there is unwillingness to question religious authority in a normal Socratic manner. But there is something deeper, here, about family. Many people have notion of heterosexual marriage – connecting sex to lineage and procreation -- as organizing society and providing meaning for everyone, providing security for the individual in a world of enemies and threats. Challenging its authority is a threat to the security of some people. (It’s also a threat to the patriarchal authority of others.) Some people may see procreation (or at least a willingness to remain silent and take a back seat to others who have kids if one personally does not – the “don’t ask don’t tell” problem fanning out from the military) as a way of paying back an “obligation” to one’s parents or ancestors. They may see disinclination to procreate as a way of passing morally inappropriate judgment on one's own family or of "cowardly" avoiding the uncertainty of reproductive risks that had been taken by their parents to create them, and they may see "normal heterosexuality" as something someone is supposed to grow into, like toilet training. In this regard, the film (in a cartoon segment) presents some information on genetic concordance in identical twins, as well as curious statistics that latter born sons seem to be more likely to be homosexual (perhaps less pressured to carry on the “family name” but more likely to become the “family slave” if an eldercare burden occurs). All of this, however, makes one wonder about where marriage can be about “love” after all – if social approbation matters more.

There was a panel discussion afterward in the Lincoln Theater, and one of the panelists said, “you can’t outthink someone who doesn’t think.”

The film is moving in a circumspect way and keeps a certain objectivity that is lacking in, say, a Michael Moore film.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Civil Obedience: Reel Affirmations social justice short films; plus one "horror" short

Reel Affirmations 17 held a number of documentary programs at the Washington DC Goethe Institut today, and I attended one of them, a program called “Civil Obedience”.

The longest film in the set, “Freeheld” was reviewed on this blog June 17 (from the AFI Silverdocs festival).

Get Running: Stories from the Campaign Trail,” (2007, Victoryfund, dir. Dve O’Brien, Borga Dorter and Samantha Reynolds, 22 min, consists of three portraits of openly gay candidates for public office: Jim Roth, candidate in Oklahoma City for a local office; Virginia Linder, candidate for state supreme court in Oregon; Matt McCoy, state representative in Iowa. The first portrait was in 4:3 aspect; the other two were wider and reduced to fit as video. McCoy was presented as a family man, once married, with a small boy. The last two of these candidates won their elections. Whether one should run for office and play partisan politics, or scribe from the sidelines, has always been a controversy among gay activists.

"We Belong" (2006, qWaves.com and Current TV) dir. Dean Hamer and Joe Wilson, 11 min) examines anti-gay bullying in public schools in Yenango County, PA (Franklin, near Oil City), a rural area on the edge of the Appalachian Plateau. One kid who was attacked nevertheless is railroaded with a disorderly conduct charge by the assistant principal. The kid wanted to make a movie about homophobia as his senior project, and was denied the opportunity to “criticize the local school”. So he started to make the film anyway but was forced to leave school. Another kid left a neighboring school and the parents sued the school district and won a $300,000 award but lost their business and received personal threats because of the publicity. The film, possibly with the assistance from the students, may become a feature. The Q&A afterwards established the idea that the locals in these communities did not tolerate their beliefs being questioned by others. It's relevant to look at my review of Susan Lipkins 's book on school hazing in my April 2007 books blog (link).

"Courage Doesn’t Ask" (2007, Zaydoe / Modern Digital / Spliced Films, 8 min) has a soldier (Robert Guthrie) being fitted with an artificial prosthetic leg. He recalls the battle in Iraq when he lost his leg. Though shot 4:3. the flashbacks of the battle are quite compelling, with tracers flying overhead as in night infiltration course in Basic. The graphic battlefield violence is hard to watch. All of the actors in the film are now openly gay veterans. (The film does not say who, if any, were discharged under “don’t ask don’t tell”). The mood of the film recalls Minnesota filmmaker Darin Heinis ‘s WWII short “The Retreat” (2002), a film for which I tried for a part.

Today, I also got to see an unrelated short (at the Lincoln Theater), "Hitchcocked" (2008, Unicycle, dir. David M. Young). Two gay men meet over the Internet, and then in person, expect a "shower." While clothed, there is a lot of tension in the acting. Once in the "shower," we wonder if this is a bit of “Psycho” or just an S&M joke. Only Mother knows for sure. David Grant Beck plays the aggressor, with Yuval David as the enticing “mark.” This would look great on Saturday Night Live, even with a mixed audience. On the Lot (the film-making contest this summer on Fox), this film would, if entered, have come across as having a definite beginning, middle and end. The film is included in Wolfe's 2007 collection "Boy Crush".

You can watch this film on YouTube (must be signed on to an account, as adult) here Get's interesting at about 3.10.  "Glad you like it."  Then "I'll do that".  Read what you want into the ending.  

Reel Affirmations starts in DC; the film "Shelter"

Reel Affirmations 17, the Lesbian and Gay Film Festival for Washington DC, kicked off with an opening night film of a stage event (discussed in my drama blog – see the profile) followed by the party at Nellie’s, a sports bar a few blocks down U Street from the primary venue, the Lincoln Theater. Other venues are the Goethe Institut and Landmark’s E Street Cinema downtown.

This year, the party venue offers two major rooms downstairs, one upstairs plus a deck. The view is not quite as spectacular as it was last year from the roof of the Ellington Apartments. The bar was playing the National League Championship game between the Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies, but then switched all the screens to a black and white Tarzan film.

A Centerpiece Screening on Friday night at the Lincoln was a new film by Jonah Markowitz, "Shelter" (2007), from Regent and Here! Films. The film takes place on the California Coast and in the Bay Area and recalls the mood of TheWB (CWTV now) series “Summerland.” Here, a young artist Zack (about 20 or so, played by Trevor Wright) and surfer lives with his older sister after a family tragedy and helps raise her son (some reviewers call him the "family slave"). He meets a successful fiction novelist Shaun (Brad Rowe) one of whose novels he has actually read, and there is a remark that the novel resembled a real life event, itself a dangerous possibility (the “Touching” case well known in California law). He begins to discover himself and a rocky relationship ensues. The moral question comes, what is his responsibility to be a “role model” to his nephew since he is the only male around. This question is important to many people, and the “morality” of the events and outcome could be
interpreted in more than one way by mainstream society.

There is a line that is particularly telling, when Shaun taunts Zach as to his lack of personal freedom to make his own decisions, and Zach says something like "some people simply can't do that; they have too many responsibilities." And the responsibilities don't always seem to be voluntarily chosen.

(See also Aug. 24 on this blog for other films about "mandatory family responsibility" for those without their own children, such as "Saving Sarah Cain".)

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Warner Bros: with movies for grown-ups: Michael Clayton, Jesse James, Robert Ford

Warner Brothers came out with two major releases this weekend in platform fashion, aiming for the adult or grown-up audience, as well as critics, to build the market for the films by word-of-mouth.

Michael Clayton”, directed by Tony Gilroy (his son -- I believe -- Sam Gilroy appears as a Kinkos clerk) based on what sounds like an original story, presents the ethical problems of a middle aged lawyer (played by George Clooney) who works as a “fixer” or “asset person” or “bad man” for a top New York law firm. We are puzzled by why he never made partner, why he guards his walkaway money and then blows it on a bar business. The story covers six days before his “transformation,” starting at a critical point just before a car explosion and then going back four days to tell the story, much of which involves a class-action suit against a corporate polluter, a high flying female litigator who will stop at nothing, and another trial lawyer who has gone bonkers. The ethical questions in the film are not about corporations, they are personal. Yet, there is stunning filmmaking, particular when the manic-depressive other lawyer (Tom Wilkinson) is assassinated in his Soho loft, with imaginary shots like a hypo injection between the toes.

The other grown-up-thing-to-do (those are words that Shia La Beouf used on his 21st birthday on Leno) is to see The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, directed by Andrew Dominik. Casey Affleck, as the boyish, soft-looking, tenor-voiced but volatile Ford, steals the show; Brad Pitt apparently raised the money for the film, and he looks craggy and furrowed as Jesse James (who was only 34). The 160-minute film moves slowly and hypnotically, the most psychological of all westerns (it happens in the Midwest, mostly Missouri, though it was filmed in Canada), teasing us into wondering if Ford’s naive hero worship of James is homoerotic, and if James really feels the same way. At one point, it looks like James does; then the narrator says they "slept together" as an overstatement, shortly before Ford brings James down from behind his back while James is dusting a picture. Indeed, Ford has come to believe that his ocelot hero walks on clay feet.

I suppose that the movie could have been written as a moral examination of "cowardice" as some maximal sin in frontier culture. Perhaps that is the meaning of Ford's own demise, yet the intimacy of the film seems to take us away from that kind of interpretation.

Warner Brothers is marketing these to the arthouses first, as if they were indie films. (They both the big widescreen look of 2.35 to 1 aspect.) I wondered why the “Warner Independent Pictures” brand was not used instead. The Clayton film included contributions from Summit Entertainment, generally known for the art movie market (imdb lists Summit as an all-media distributor). (As an interesting aside, Thinkfilm contributed to Universal’s recent thriller about Saudi Arabia, “The Kingdom,” which again is aimed for the grownup indie-like market.) In any even, when Warner Brothers opens a film with the proud orange photos of its studios, it should ways play that majestic piano-and-orchestra music portion of its trademark, the Casablanca theme. In both of these films, the musical trademarks were omitted to avoid distracting the audience from the director’s mood. But that seems wrong. A studio should always use its full pictorial and musical trademark (including the marks for all of the production companies). In this case, WB did not show the Castle Rock or Summit trademarks at the beginning of the film at all (as would usually be done with multiple companies). Then, if a new mood needs to be established, let the screen go blank and silent for about two seconds, and start the film itself.

The grand old studios are getting the message, even if from some of the amateurs at the small film festivals (who I think are starting to pressure the big studios with their shoestring experiments): the public really does want to see grown-up stories with real problems and issues. It doesn’t have to be negative to be challenging.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Jean-Luc Godard: quick review of French New Wave: some interesting parallels for today

The French “New Wave” style of filmmaking, while encompassing quite a bit of territory, has left, in the directorial work of Jean-Luc Godard, a paradigm that sets some examples of layered storytelling or presentation that can inspire other experimental films.

An older film, Alphaville (1965, “une etrange aventure de Lemmy Caution”) provides a prescient view of how today’s Internet could come to be viewed as an antithesis of personal privacy. A detective visits a city on another planet that looks a bit like late 60s Paris, in the abstraction of black and white film. He finds everyone trying to escape from the prying eye of supercomputer Alpha 60, that seems to be everywhere (like chickenman). Is Alpha 60 the Internet – is it Web 2.0 with social networking and the worry about “reputation defense” from what others say about us? Or is it just an Orwellian big brother? I think a few decades ago we thought of BIGBR as the government, and maybe it can be (the Patriot Act, the FISA courts) but sometimes it is us, which the detective finds out in this film noir. The “outlands” is the real world (“bricks and mortar”) and in the end, he can just drive home from another planet. Well, the only way that could happen is something like the Reconciliation (and In Ovo) in Clive Barker’s novel Imajica, which would make a great movie now.

In 2004, Wellspring Media released “Our Music” (Notre Musique) which is more like a Godard structure. It is a film in Three Parts. (A friend of mine in Minneapolis made a short film about extreme sports and called it exactly that “A Film in Three Parts”, like Igor Stravinsky’s “Symphony in Three Movements.”) The first part is a black and white short about the horrors of war. The second part is a short feature in modern day Sarajevo, starting out with an image of a tram car with the opening theme of the Sibelius Second Symphony. There is discussion about the dichotomy between intellect and action in the real world. This section is a paraphrase of Holocaust (or purgatory); the last section is a brief introduction to Heaven (and not exactly What Dreams May Come). The film is in 4:3 aspect and looks compressed, rather like Dogme. 

But maybe his most famous film is “In Praise of Love” (“Eloge de l’amour”) which is a two-movement film, rather like Beethoven’s last piano sonata (or Prokofiev’s Second Symphony). The first part is truly a self-reflection. An author / producer contemplates a project of the various expressions of love with three couples of varying ages. The movement, in black and white, moves inside and outside, sometimes at a riverbank, sometimes at a train station, sometimes at dinner, setting up the interviews. The author doesn’t know if he will write a book, make a movie, write a stage play, or what. There is this book that has sold a few copies, and there is an image near the end of the section of a book with blank pages. He then learns, as he finishes the research, that one of the women has died. The “second movement” in color but also grainy video, examines his interaction with the woman a couple years earlier, when she had been asked to make a film about her activities in the resistance. 

I took a screenwriting class in the spring of 2004 and the first film that the instructor wanted us to watch was this one.

Inserted link, video of "In Praise of Love" still available (expensive).