Monday, June 18, 2018

The Catcher Was a Spy opens Friday

According to Michael Frayn’s play Copenhagen, Werner Heisenberg’s commitment to Germany’s atomic bomb program was an ambiguous uncertainty that bedeviled the great Danish physicist Niels Bohr years after the war ended. An American OSS agent had to make that determination based on a few hours observation and a brief conversation. He was not a physicist, he was a professional baseball player. Nicholas Dawidoff’s bestselling chronicle of Morris “Moe” Berg’s WWII service is now dramatized in Ben Lewin’s The Catcher was a Spy, which screens during this year’s Sundance Film Festival.

Berg was a member of the Boston Red Sox, but please do not hold that against him. He was a dependable but not spectacular journeyman player, who held roster spots on several teams. He spoke several languages, including German and Italian, and regularly read foreign policy journals. As a result, he had the foresight to film Tokyo harbor during a 1934 exhibition tour, well before Pearl Harbor. Once the war started, Berg’s talents and his 16mm film attracted the attention of “Wild Bill” Donovan and the OSS, the CIA’s predecessor agency.

Eager for field work, Berg gets his chance when Donovan orders him to prevent the retreating Germans from abducting or killing Italian scientist Edoardo Amaldi, with the help of Dutch physicist Samuel Goudsmit and Major Robert Furman, the Manhattan Project’s intelligence chief (who would later oversee construction of the Pentagon). However, their Italian mission will lead to a trickier assignment in Zurich. Berg is to meet with Heisenberg, assess the status of the German Atomic program, determine whether Heisenberg is trying to advance or hinder its progress, and if the former proves true, kill him.

Without question, Berg is one of the great, under-heralded figures of World War II history. Arguably, he is the sort of renaissance man you just do not find anymore. He was also a “confirmed bachelor,” which led to plenty of speculation that Robert Rodat’s screenplay continues to stoke. Be that as it may, the film also nicely captures the intriguing milieu of the Donovan-era OSS.

Paul Rudd is does some of his best work bringing out the personal contradictions of the deeply patriotic and borderline-savant-like Berg. He also develops some ambiguously potent chemistry with Sienna Miller in the otherwise under-written role of Berg’s lover, Estella Huni. Catcher is also packed with colorful and convincing supporting turns, including Paul Giamatti as the humanistic Goudsmit, Mark Strong as the evasive Heisenberg, and the great Tom Wilkinson as Paul Scherrer, the Swiss anti-Nazi physicist, who brokered the meeting between Berg and Heisenberg.

It is just tremendously refreshing to see a film that celebrates American intelligence operatives as heroes. It also thinks quite highly of scientists and soldiers. It is a fascinating true story and a well-crafted period production. Very highly recommended for fans of historical intrigue (like Bridge of Spies)

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Naila and the Uprising (2017) Human Rights Watch Film Festival 2018

This excellent portrait of Naila Ayesh, and her role in the first Intifada is filmmaking at the highest level.

The film recounts Naila's life from a child when she became politically active because of her living in Gaza, through her marriage (to a man her parents were afraid would end up in jail) to her organizing of resistance and her role in the the first uprising which changed how the world saw the Palestinian/Israeli conflict.

A beautiful marriage of talking heads, news footage and animated recreation the film does everything that a great documentary should. We are introduced to some amazing people and we watch how their lives unfolded and changed the world. It is an amazing story that grips us from the first instant and carries us to the last.

What can I say about the film that will make you understand how good the film is? Perhaps simply I can't wait to not only see the film again but add it to my collection. This is a film that you will want to revisit not only because it's a hell of a tale but also because it is good time with good people.

I apologize if this review isn't deep discussions and explanations of what I think of the events depicted. You don't need my thoughts when the film speaks for itself. All you need do is simply buy a ticket and take the ride.

NAILA AND THE UP RISING is another truly great film. It was on my best films of 2017 list It plays this Wednesday in New York  at the Human Rights Watch Film Festival. For tickets and more information go here.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

The Distant Barking of Dogs (2018) Human Rights Watch Film Festival 2018

THE DISTANT OF BARKING DOGS may very well be one of the most haunting films of the year. It certainly is one of the best films at the Human Rights Watch Film Festival. It probably is also one of the best films about children and war I've seen

This is a portrait of  Oleg, who lives in the Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine. This means he isn't far from where the Russian backed troops are fighting the Ukrainian forces for control of the country.  Not only is his world filled with the sound of dogs but also gun fire and explosions in the distance. At night he can see the rockets and fire in the distance. Still he is a kid and along with his best friend he putters through this day, going to school and getting into trouble-- which in this case could be deadly.

I am in awe of this film. A beautiful shot look at childhood and not so distant war this is a film where the images burn into your brain. Beginning with dash cam footage of a mortar attack we are instantly thrown into the war. The film then cuts to the country where we meet Oleg and the war. The juxtaposition allows the war to remain distant but still always present. It colors everything we see.

Controlling all out emotions is young Oleg. This quiet young boy is the sort of fellow that we all can identify with. He is wonderfully still a kid, though one that has to wrestle with what the war really means. The incident with the gun makes it clear he doesn't fully understand the danger. He possess one of the greatest faces ever to be on the screen. Think of him as the real life counterpart to Aleksey Kravchenko in the shattering COME AND SEE or Christian Bale in EMPIRE OF THE SON. If you want to see how right they got their roles, watch Oleg.

This film left me not so much moved but changed. I don't know what or how or why I only know that coming out on the other side of the film I felt different. How I see the world and war shifted. This is a film that not only opened my eyes but altered how I see the world.

And that I think is all one needs to know about the film- it will change something inside you.

GO see it.

THE DISTANT OF BARKING OF DOGS plays the New York leg of the Human Rights Watch Film Festival June 18 and 19. For tickets and more information go here.

Brief thoughts on It Will Be Chaos (2018) which plays on HBO Monday night

A look at the refugee crisis in the Mediterranean via a survivor of a horrible boating accident that left hundreds dead off the coast of Lampedusa in Italy and a family that fled Syria into Turkey.

How you react to this film will be determined by how many films on the refugee problem you have encountered recently. If you haven't seen many then the film is going to be a punch in the gut and a poke in the eye. Reducing the story down to two affected stories will potentially move you to tears since you will get a sense of just how bad things are.

On the other hand if you are some one who has been taking in a steady diet of films on the subject then this is going to be less effective, not because the film is bad but because you've seen similar stories before. If you've seen films such as FIRE AT SEA, SKY AND GROUND, SEA SORROW, 4.1 MILES and others, then you know the territory you're operating in.

For me the strongest part of the film is the details of the Lampedusa tragedy. The sheer scale of what happened touched me. I took copious notes,  which aren't going to get used because the rest of the film left me unable to say anything new.

I should point out that this doesn't mean the film is bad, more that there is a good chance you may feel you've been here before.

IT WILL BE CHAOS screens Monday on HBO and again on Wednesday the 20th.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Brothers of the Wind (2018)

BROTHERS OF THE WIND is a nice little family film about growing and learning to let go. The film is set in the wilderness of Europe. A boy named Lukas is mourning the death of his mother and retreating from the world. His father is uncertain how to connect. When Lukas finds an eagle chick he begins to raise it with the help of Danzer (Jean Reno) a hunter who acts as a watchman for the forest.

Beautiful scenery mixes with some striking shots of the eagles being eagles make this a visually impressive film. I have not seen nature photography this gorgeous outside of some of the top shelf documentaries that the BBC and Disney have been producing. That shots as amazing like these would be in a documentary makes sense because you shoot and then assemble, but the thought that we have such amazing images and they tell a fictional story is truly amazing. I desperately want to sit down with the director and have him tell me how the film was shot and assembled.

This is a solid little film. This is the sort of film they really don’t make any more. It’s the sort of “true life” wilderness adventure that used to play frequently in the 1970’s (VANISHING WILDERNESS anyone?). It is exactly the sort of film that I ate up when I was a little kid and which I ate up in my current position as an big kid in adult’s clothing.

If this is playing near you then grab the kids and go see this gem of a film on a big screen (this is an absolute must big). If not pop some popcorn and curl up on the couch with it

BROTHERS OF THE WIND hits theaters and VOD on June 19th

DWF ’18: Gatha (short)

The despoilment of the nation of Tibet is not merely an environmental tragedy. It also holds religious implications, due to the sacred status of the nation’s many natural wonders. Mount Kangrinboqê is a perfect example. The Himalayan peak is a frequent pilgrimage destination for believers of the Buddhist, Bon, Hindu, and Jain faiths. Two brothers will embark on the arduous trek in director-choreographer-screenwriter Tang Chenglong’s visually arresting and symbolically resonant short film, Gatha, which screens today as part of the Spotlight: China! sidebar at this year’s Dances With Films.

As the two brothers slowly prostrate themselves towards Kangrinboqê, we can see the grubby modern world started to intrude on Tibet’s pristine mountains and valleys. However, from a pilgrim’s perspective, the landscape is still wild and unforgiving. They will traverse deserts, forests, and mountain ranges on their pilgrimage. Along the way, they also express the ecstatic joy of their faith through dance. Yet, there will also be sorrow, because that is very much a part of the cycle of life.

Geng Zibo and Chen Shifei dance with the striking strength and physicality, but their grace is just as evident. They are well-served by Tang’s dynamic choreography, which incorporates elements of martial arts and hip hop, but also expresses delight and wonder. Somehow, it evokes ancient mysticism, while still looking really cool and sleekly modern. Geng and Chen perform in natural settings that would dwarf most performers, but they still command the stage. Nevertheless, the staggering power of the Tibetan locales cannot and will not be denied.

Gatha is essentially an allegory, but it is deeply moving. It is also a sensory feast and a superb technical package, with special credit clearly due to “executive director” A Luo, who is also credited with the aerial photography and some of the camera work. This is one of the most ambitious and rewarding dance films in years, but it also serves as a timely reminder of what is at risk in occupied Tibet. Very highly recommended, Gatha screens this afternoon, as part of the Spotlight: Kids from China short film program, during the 2018 Dances With Films.

DWF ’18: Hometown on the Cloud

It is time for Meet the Parents, Naxi style. Luo Li is finally going home to meet her fiancé Mu Shu’s parents in Lijang, deep within Yunnan province. Unfortunately, they are still rather attached to his ex, A Mei, who also happens to be his betrothed, according to Naxi custom. It is awkward for her, but Mu Shu’s sister Mu Yu helps take some of the heat off her when she brings home a foreigner fiancée. Cultures and family members clash in Zhang Chunhe & Wang Lei’s Hometown on the Cloud, which screens tonight as part of the Spotlight: China! sidebar at this year’s Dances With Films.

Luo Li is a student of Naxi culture. That is how she met Mu Shu. In recent years, he has made his fame and fortune in Beijing as a modern sculptor, incorporating traditional Naxi elements into his work. His parents really ought to be more open to her, but they are emotionally attached to A Mei. Working as the village school teacher, she has coached the village children to several victories in traditional folk singing tournaments. Basically, she is Heidi, without the goat.

Alas, Mu Shu’s parents and just about everyone else in the village bitterly resents Mu Shu for breaking off with A Mei. To make amends, he agrees to go through the ancient decoupling ritual, even though that would seem to make her embarrassment even more public. Not that Mu Yu’s fiancé would know. As a foreigner, he will have to make himself scarce, to prevent tainting the ceremony.

Zhang & Wang capture the staggering beauty of Lijang as well as the distinctive colors and rhythms of Naxi culture, but there narrative hits some weird notes (starting with the implied notion the best way to honor Naxi culture is by commoditizing it). Nevertheless, it offers an intriguing window into an under-represented ethnic minority.

Our resilient Luo Li has real star potential and veteran character actor Zhao Xiaoming is suitably craggy and crabby as Mu’s father. Frankly, the cast is quite professional and polished despite the film’s obvious independent status—even produced outside the [embattled but experienced] Beijing indie network.

Hometown looks terrific and it is generally well-meaning. It has been a struggle for many minority cultures to survive in China, especially during the Cultural Revolutionary, so it is nice to see Zhang & Wang helping to preserve it on film. At times, Zhang’s screenplay drifts into melodramatic terrain, but he and his co-helmer maintain a brisk pace. Recommended as cinematic tourism (with an attractive cast), Hometown on the Cloud screens today (6/15), as part of the 2018 Dances With Films.

Psychonautics: A Comic’s Exploration Of Psychedelics (2018) Dances With Films 2018

Director Brian Bellinkoff charts comedian Shane Mauss’ experiment to try every psychedelic drug currently known. We watch Mauss trip while we listen to discussion with Mauss, his friends and experts about the uses of the drugs.

At its most basic level Psychonautics is a really good film. It is a great explanation of the drugs, what you experience while on them as well, and the positive side of their use. It’s a beautifully crafted film that lays out what we need to know without the sturm and drang of the anti-drug advocates. This is a film that is the very sort of “shaman” that people who wish to indulge should have contact with because it gives us information we may need to know.

On the other hand the film has some bumps that take the shine off the whole affair.

The first problem is Mauss himself. How you react to him will determine how you react to the film. A low key sort of guy you have to either go with his dry sense of humor or it can be a tough ride. I really didn’t click with him and as much as I was not quite invested in his journey as I should have been. He is also clearly on a great deal of the time so there really isn’t as sense of Mauss as person beyond the one on for the cameras.

The same goes with the Greek Chorus of his friends who fill in details and add color commentary to Mauss’ experiences. Because they know him and were with him during some of his trips we get to hear about things from an objective standpoint but somewhere along the way there is too much with them. For a film that is trying to bridge the gap between anecdotal and scientific the friends keep things weighted toward the anecdotal.

The other problem, or the elephant in the room, is the fact that as the film begins Mauss is just coming out of the psyche ward after a psychotic break as the result of the drugs. While the film deals with the break, the film begins with it and is discussed at the end, the fact that it happened at all leaves an odd taste in one’s mouth.(more so when someone states that it probably would not have happened if he wasn’t taking drugs)

Despite all my reservations I do like the film a great deal. I want to see it again, which lately isn’t something I can say about most films, even one’s I like.

The film plays tonight at Dances With Films and is recommended for those interested in the subject

Thursday, June 14, 2018

If you see THE AVOCADO (EL AGUACATE) (2018)at Dances with Films 2018 leave after seven minutes (Spoilers)

This review contains spoilers. I say this up front because the PR people are insisting that no one reveal the ending of the film. Normally I will play but the PR people's rules but the filmmakers have pissed me off with the ending and I don't feel bound by the rules.

This is the the story of two older people who work cleaning offices. There is an attraction between them and the possibility of something more.

I'm not going to lie, romance that takes up about seven minutes of this ten minute film is one of the best romances I have encountered. It is a wonderful . It is a beautifully acted romance that warms your heart and makes you feel good. It is, or was one of my favorite films of the year.

And then, as the gentleman is waiting to go out and meet his lady love there is a knock on the door. It's ICE. He is in the US illegally so they take him off to be deported. Meanwhile the lady waits in vein for her suitor. The end.

What the f@#^?

Oh hell no.

You can't just pitch a carefully crafted romance after two thirds of the film for something else with no explanation. Not only will it piss of your audience (and trust me I am pissed off)  and make them think that you don't know what you are doing. My overwhelming thought (beyond a steady stream of profanity) was if you wanted to deal with illegal immigration you really should mention it before you make it a plot point.

If there was a basis for the left turn I could have accepted it, but there is nothing. Just ICE coming and hauling him off for no damn reason dramatically. Was it because of the poll takers he refused to talk to? No idea.  There is simply no reason that I can think of other than to have a shocking ending.

To be honest there is a rule of Raymond Chandler's which says that you can ask the audience to believe one unexplained and unsupported thing, but I don't think he was ever talking about a seismic shift in a story. Everything can't hinge on the left field play, especially in a short film, the tale will never recover from the shock.

Frankly at this point I don't want to know anything why the filmmakers did it. It doesn't matter. No matter what reason they give the film will still be wrecked because the structure of the film can't support the turn. It most certainly would work in a longer film where we got ore information but in a ten minute film it doesn't.

Is this supposed to be a proof of concept film? If so the filmmakers have cut off their nose to spite their face. While the turn may be their intention for a longer film, seeing it in the short makes it look like they have no idea what they are doing. It looks like they are taking the notion that there must be something dramatic in the third act to be taken seriously just because. If I were an investor I wouldn't touch a longer version the film as written because the ending left such a bad taste in my mouth.(Or I would but I would insist on no ICE)

Ultimately while I would like to say burn this film to the ground, I can't. I can't because the opening seven minutes are so good that I can't hate the film as much as I want to.

Easily one of the most disappointing and infuriating films ever made. To that end my advice if you are seeing this at Dances With Films or any film festival is leave after seven minutes so you won't be disappointed.

The Best People (2017) Dances With Films 2018

Anna is living with her younger sister after a recent breakdown following the death of her mom. She is doing okay living on the couch however after her sister announces she is going to get married she goes into a tizzy. Teaming up with Art, the Best Man the pair hopes to break the happy couple up because they are certain it will only end in tears.

Buoyed by some really good performances THE BEST PEOPLE is a film that over comes a few bumps to win your heart.

To be honest I was shocked by how much I liked this film. I say that because the opening monologue where Anna babbles to a bartender while funny had the feeling that it was written ore than lived. Watching it I had the feeling that this was going to be one of those inde films that is much more clever than enjoyable. It was a feeling that was kind of re-enforced when we bounced through the calendar as the happy couple got to being engaged. It was all good stuff but the humor was by the numbers. However once the cuteness was pushed aside and the film allowed for some coloring, and some very serious talk, THE BEST PEOPLE sprung to life.

For e the best part of the film isn't the humor but the drama. The talk about trying to fix our problems, or feeling lost and having to save ourselves kicked serious ass. Anna's discussion with her dad about her mom's problems resonated with me big time. The sequence in the AA meeting where she unspools after that was also deeply moving. Frankly the serious side of the film is so damn good that I really wish they hadn't gone for laughs.

A small little gem and very recomended.

THE BEST PEOPLE closes out this year's Dances With Films Sunday night. For more details and ticks go here


Low key look at the lives of five women who are contemplating their future in Venezuela where the economic crisis has resulted in staggering inflation, food and medicine shortages and increasing levels of dangerous violence. Do they stay or do they go?

Low key film is focused entirely on the women and not the world outside. Director Margarita Cadenas turns her camera on the women and lets them talk with the result we come to understand the madness of the country on a human level.

Worth a look when it plays June 15 and 16.

After the death of dictator Francisco Franco the Spanish government pass a law saying that the past terrors of the Franco years were to be forgotten. There would be no prosecutions or memorials just a false forgetting of what happened. Now forty years on those who didn't live through the terror have have no idea what happened. However some people can't forget and thy are taking steps call for an accounting and find out what happened to missing loved ones.

Solid look at at how it is never too late to ask for justice. We get sucked in as victims try to get the government to address the past by filing human rights lawsuits in countries outside of Spain. I sat riveted for the 90+ minutes as the story unfolded and things slowly moved forward.

Definitely worth a look when it plays June 19 and 20.

A portrait of Khatera who was the first woman to attempt prosecution under a 2009 Afghani law that seeks to prevent sexual abuse of women. In this case Khatera wants to prosecute her father whose repeated abuse has left her pregnant.

This film give a real on the ground look at what is happening in Afghanistan. Its a film that lays out the cost on human terms not only of the abuse but also of the countries refusal to change it's ways. Its both chilling and sad. It will move you to tears and pisss you off.

The film plays June 19 and 20.

For ticket and more information on these or other films at the festival go here.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Human Rights Watch 2018 Short Takes: ANOTE'S ARK, ANGKAR, and THE CLEANERS

Portrait of Anote Tong's battle to save Kiribati, a Pacific island nature that will be wiped from the face of the earth within decades (if not sooner) if climate change isn't stopped.

Gorgeous looking film brings home the dangers of rising ocean levels by putting a very human face on the problem. We watch as the islanders struggle to keep the sea out of their homes  as their leader travels the world to try and make people listen to their plight.

While the film doesn't break any new ground, it does make clear the danger we are all in.

ANOTE'S ARK plays June 15 and 18

Neary Adeline Hay documents her father's return to Cambodia 40 years after he fled the killing fields of the country to see who is left of his friends, family and the men who tortured him four decades before.

A frequent dream-like exercise in memory this is a film that brings us into one man's past life. Part documentary, part memory play, this is a film that grabs you by the lapels and makes you an active fellow traveler.

The strength of the film is in it's showing the line between what is and what we remember (Hay says he doesn't remember many of the people who see to know him). It is here the film stakes out it's own territory and reveals itself to be something special.

ANGKAR plays June 16 and 17

A look at some of the people who act like moderators for big sites such as Google, Facebook, You Tube, ect and remove any content that is deemed inappropriate such as the work of terroristic organizations. It raises the question of if we really do have free speech or just an approximation.

This was curates egg of a film. While I absolutely loved the discussions, when they happened, and I love the issues raised by the film (such as who are these people to make the decisions) I found the presentation, while occasionally nicely moody, ultimately much too distracting. How many times do we really need to see people walking or just sitting at a computer? While I understand some of it is here to set a mood, after a while some of this seems like to be filler.

Ultimately this is a good but unremarkable film with a vital discussion at its core.

THE CLEANERS plays June 17 and 18

For more information for these or any films playing at the festival and tickets go here

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

The North Bend Film Festival announces first wave of programming and unveils chilling poster for first edition this August

North Bend Film Fest opens with Timur Bekmambetov’s captivating computer-screen thriller PROFILE, hosts the World Premiere of surreal tale MODEL HOME, offers a stellar lineup of immersive VR and celebration of multi-reality storytelling

Festival Badges on sale now!
Submissions for shorts and features still open until June 14!
Winning short films receive a free Vimeo Pro Account!

Tuesday, June 12th, 2018 -- The North Bend Film Festival is proud to announce the first wave of titles for the inaugural edition of our destination event in North Bend, Washington, taking place from August 23rd to the 26th, and excited to unveil our haunting poster from Pacific Northwest artist Zachary Schomburg, featuring the region’s scenic slopes and ghostly pines.

Best known as the original shooting location for Twin Peaks, the festival will take place in the beautiful historic North Bend Theatre, embracing the classic diner and eerie woods that once gave David Lynch & Mark Frost so much inspiration, just a couple of miles away from the iconic Salish Lodge!

The festival seeks to spotlight innovative means of storytelling, while exploring surrealism as well as highlighting multi-dimensional stories and one-of-a-kind experiences. Introducing a new structure in nonfiction form, Khalik Allah’s sophomore documentary BLACK MOTHER offers us insight into daily life in Jamaica, unfolding like a historical mixtape that immerses the audience in a sensorial journey in space, time and culture. Building from coinciding social constructs, Patrick Cunningham’s debut film MODEL HOME is a surreal, free-wheeling take on the ostracization of the lower middle class. Blurring the line between dreams and reality, Mitzi Peirone’s BRAID feels like a fever dream by way of Sofia Coppola. A classic at first glance and shocking with every twist, Timur Bekmambetov’s PROFILE uses a minimalist visual setting, a computer screen (familiar to Bekmambetov from 2014’s hit Unfriended, which he produced), to tell a larger than life story about an ISIS investigation gone too deep and too far, all based on true events.

North Bend Film Festival’s focus on crossover storytelling includes the not-to-be-missed World Premiere of the immersive and intimate art performance from Ava Lee Scott (Sleep No More), ANNABELLEE, a mixed-media art experience using tarot reading, immersive theater and live-VR to enthrall and enchant. Navigating new ways of telling stories, the festival will also venture into linear virtual reality territory with five unique titles, each one bringing their own approach to molding new narratives.

Appreciating cinema as an art form, and trying to understand it, involves having the right keys. For our first year, we are thrilled to host a short film program dedicated to exploring the inspiration behind David Lynch’s work as an artist and filmmaker, called “THE EXTRA ORDINARY,” for which Jonathan Marlow of Camera Obscura has curated four influential films that speak to Lynch and his work, ranging from 1966 to 2000.      

Profile (West Coast Premiere)
Cyprus, Russian Federation, UK, USA | 2018 | 103 Min | Dir. Timur Bekmambetov

Amy, a struggling freelance journalist looking for her next big story, pitches her editor on investigating the recruitment of European women by ISIS. Pretending to be recently converted to Islam and using an alias, she creates an incriminating Facebook profile where she begins to like and share posts themed around islamic extremism. It doesn't take long for Bilel, a Jihad fighter in Syria, to set his eyes on this seemingly vulnerable prey.

From the producers of UNFRIENDED, this breathtaking socio-political thriller takes place entirely through the perspective of a computer screen. Director Timur Bekmambetov transcends the format to create a sense of tension and suspense that even Hitchcock would admire. Sometimes we find vanguard filmmaking hidden in the simplest visual aesthetics; something that this sure-to-be iconic catfish thriller achieves tenfold. North Bend is proud to open with such a tour-de-force that pushes the boundaries of filmmaking in a powerfully topical and unique way.

Black Mother (Pacific Northwest Premiere)
USA | 2018 | 77 Min | Dir. Khalik Allah

As BLACK MOTHER begins, like something out a dream, you’re thrust into some of the most intimate areas of Jamaica. What you’re met with volleys from educational to surreal. A large swath of folks ranging from religious leaders to sex workers and wide-eyed children engage with you directly; sonically, deeply introspective narrations from unidentified speakers are constant, with voices and unwieldy visuals sometimes totally out of sync with each other. Breathe easy, though: you’re in the hands of documentarian Khalik Allah, an emerging master of the form.

Equal parts haunting travelogue and tone poem, BLACK MOTHER is a uniquely engrossing look at Jamaican culture and identity that no history book could ever deliver. It’s pure cinema. Inspired by Allah’s mother’s heritage, the director’s remarkable second feature, following his Harlem-focused 2015 debut FIELD NIGGAS and cinematography work for Beyoncé’s LEMONADE, is in a class all its own.

Braid (West Coast Premiere)
USA | 2018 | 82 Min | Dir. Mitzi Peirone

Dziga Vertov Group Films from the Legendary Collective Formed by Jean-Luc Godard and Jean-Pierre Gorin this July at the Metrograph

Beginning Wednesday July 18, Metrograph will present six films from the Dziga Vertov Group, along with special screenings of Godard in America (Ralph Thanhauser) and Ici et ailleurs (Jean-Luc Godard and Anne-Marie Miéville). In 1968, Godard put an end to Godard—at least officially. Teaming with Jean-Pierre Gorin, Godard created the Dziga Vertov Group, a collective named for the groundbreaking Soviet documentarian that would create highly experimental, communally-authored films heavily informed by Brechtian epic theater and Marxist-Leninist self-critique, made outside of the conventional avenues of production for screening outside of conventional theatrical venues and generally intended as a politically-committed alternative to the hopelessly compromised system of auteurist name brands from which Godard had emerged. This program of intellectually-restless firebrand films touches on topics including the British class system, the struggle to escape bourgeois ideology, the history of radical cinema, and the Palestinian cause, a globe-trotting tour of the ideological battlegrounds of the era in which they were made, still undiminished in their fiery, uncompromised force, a frontal assault on all established cinematic order.  
Dziga Vertov Group
Un film comme les autres (Jean-Luc Godard/1968/108 mins/DCP) New 2K Restoration
Godard’s farewell—temporary, as it happened—to working as an individual director before submerging himself into the hivemind Dziga Vertov Group, this is a provocative, fearless, frustrating diptych film, wildly inventive (or deliberately aggressive, depending on point of view) comprised of footage of students and workers conversing outside striking factories about the aims of the ’68 uprising. A film more spoken about than seen, the New York Film Festival premiere allegedly sparked an audience furor that has become legend.

British Sounds (Dziga Vertov Group/1969/52 mins/DCP) New 2K Restoration
The first of two English-language Dziga Vertov Group productions underwritten and distributed by the film arm of publisher Grove Press, British Sounds (a.k.a. See You at Mao) appeared on the heels of Godard’s rejection of narrative lm as irreparably tainted, an explosion of creative energy and innovative sloganeering ending with the blunt image of a bloodied hand reaching for a red flag. Multiple competing sound tracks carry doctrine from Nixon, a women’s liberation group, and the Communist Manifesto, pointedly drowned out by the clangor of machinery on a car factory assembly line, which led Godard to note that the audience couldn’t endure for ten minutes what workers endured for a lifetime.

Pravda (Dziga Vertov Group/1969/58 mins/DCP)
Six months after Soviet tanks had rolled into Czechoslovakia to quash the liberalizing insubordination of Prague Spring, Godard and company were on the ground, shooting in the aftermath. The footage, which the relentlessly self-excoriating Godard later criticized as “political tourism,” would be married to a voiceover sparring match between Lenin and Rosa Luxembourg, trying to locate a truth somewhere between the party lines of the imperial USSR and the reform-minded Slovak politician Alexander Dubček.

Struggle in Italy (Dziga Vertov Group/1970/76 mins/DCP) New 2K Restoration
French Marxist philosopher Louis Althusser provides the text for Godard and Gorin’s first film together under the Dziga Vertov Group name, a triptych financed by Italian television (and, of course, refused for broadcast) and largely shot at Godard and co-star Anne Wiazemsky’s home that follows Christina Tullio Altan’s would-be revolutionary as she begins to question the totality of her commitment to the cause, which she comes to view as unconsciously framed by bourgeois ideology—a reckoning that Godard himself had still recently passed through.

Wind from the East (Dziga Vertov Group/1970/100 mins/DCP) New 2K Restoration
Conceived as a sort-of leftist spaghetti western inspired by an idea from student radical Daniel Cohn-Bendit, Wind from the East decisively changed direction after the shoot with actor Gian-Maria Volonté fell to pieces. Godard invited the young Gorin, then recovering from a motorcycle accident, to help him pick up the fragments in the editing room, and working together they transformed a potentially conventional lm about an executive being kidnapped by strikers into a structurally- challenging kino-fist haymaker, ending with a veritable tutorial in the manufacture of homemade weapons.
Vladimir and Rosa (Dziga Vertov Group/1971/103 mins/DCP) New 2K Restoration
Juliet Berto, Gorin, and Godard himself appear in this pointed, satirical response to the trial of the Chicago Eight. Performers recite in the roles of Abbie Hoffman, Bobby Seale, and so on in the Dziga Vertov editing suite, while the filmmakers provide breathless commentary as they run up and down a tennis court. The resulting lm horrified Grove Press’s Barney Rosset, who created an alternate edit featuring Hoffman and Jerry Rubin watching Vladimir/Rosa and providing a hysterical, dismissive commentary—though what we have here is the savage original object.

Special Screenings
Godard in America (Ralph Thanhauser/1970/45 mins/DCP)
Godard and Gorin tour the restless campuses of America with 1969’s brazenly provocative and propagandistic British Sounds, fundraising along the way for money to complete an ultimately unfinished film on the Palestinian Al Fatah movement. Thanhauser, a Harvard student, finds the visiting Frenchmen in full flourish of radical rhetorical brilliance and high-handed snottiness, while capturing the crackling intellectual energy of the moment and Godard’s rock star draw—utilized, ironically, to nance the anti-auteurist activities of the Dziga Vertov Group.
Ici et ailleurs (Jean-Luc Godard and Anne-Marie Miéville/1976/55 mins/16mm)
The material that finally surfaced as Ici et ailleurs originated as a document of the Palestinian independence movement financed by the Arab League with the working title Until Victory, shelved after many of its subjects were killed in Black September by the Jordanian army. Years later, Godard and Miéville returned to the footage to produce this interrogation of the cinematic representation of political violence and the walls that exist between “here” and “elsewhere.”

NYAFF announces the 2018 slate

Announce Full Lineup for
June 29 – July 15, 2018

New York, NY (June 12, 2018) – The Film Society of Lincoln Center and Subway Cinema announce the 17th edition of the New York Asian Film Festival (NYAFF), June 29 – July 15, 2018.

From vicious, life-destroying phone scams to balletic battles between equally corruptcops and yakuza, NYAFF offers films that reflect on contemporary society while offering extreme genre pleasures. There are self-referential takes on cinematic zombies, existential date nights, and teens finding their own corners of the world despite familial and societal expectations.After last year’s Sweet Sixteen, this year’s program is dubbed the Savage Seventeenth edition with four world premieres, three international premieres, 21 North American premieres, three U.S. premieres, and twelve New York premieres, showcasing the most exciting comedies, dramas, thrillers, romances, horrors and arthouse films from East Asia.

Savage Seventeen: The festival has a rich history of presenting films that deal with the social issue ofteenage bullying. Many of these have proven to be launching pads for some of Asia’s biggest stars, and the subject is at the root of such modern classics as All About Lily Chou-Chou, Whispering Corridors, and Confessions. In a year when youths in the U.S. are standing their ground and demanding political change, NYAFF presents the North American premieres of three films about teenagers who just won’t take it anymore: Kim Ui-seok’s After My Death, Ogata Takaomi’s The Hungry Lion, and Naito Eisuke’scompetition title Liverleaf.

More than ever, the festival aims to show that Asia is a beacon of cinematic excitement, its films as rich in provocative artistry and as emotionally compelling as those of its Western counterpart. In the age of algorithm-dictated curation and Eurocentrism, NYAFF holds two convictions: that taste in films cannot be deduced or reduced to one’s browser history; and that the best in new cinema is rising from the East.

Opening Night is the North American premiere of Tominaga Masanori’s Dynamite Graffiti, an unorthodox and sprightly drama based on the life and times of Japanese porn magazine king Suei Akira, who cultivated future artists such as Araki Nobuyoshi and Moriyama Daido. This spirited tale of sexual exploitation is an ode to free expression, proving that the so-called “smut” of today might very well become the art of tomorrow. The film is a metaphor for the humble origins of the festival as a Chinatown-born grindhouse showcase introducing the works of Johnnie To and several of the modern masters of Korean cinema.

Closing Night is the world premiere of Erik Matti's BuyBust from the Philippines. On the surface, it is structured like an action film in the vein of The Raid, with superstar Anne Curtis and MMA worldchampion Brandon Vera as narcs taking down a drug kingpin against insurmountable odds over one unrelenting rainy night. The film employed 309 stuntmen and features a wildly ambitious three-minute, one-cutaction scene. Being a Matti film, it also offers a searing perspective on the ongoing drug war and broader issues of political corruption. The director and stars will attend the screening.

The Centerpiece is the world premiere of Sunny Chan’s Men on the Dragon, starring Francis Ng and Jennifer Yu. Always central to the festival’s DNA, Hong Kong cinema demonstrates the resiliency of an industry whose identity is easily blurred with Mainland China, but on which it also exerts a considerable influence and provides storytelling expertise and craftsmanship. The film is a quintessential underdog story about a group of blue-collar workers who reluctantly join their company’s dragon boat team. A directorial debut of a veteran Hong Kong screenwriter, Chan’s film is being presented one year after NYAFF had a special focus on first-time directors from the territory. Chan and actress Jennifer Yu will be among the attending guests.

Seven films will battle in the second edition of the festival's re-launched Main Competition: Shiraishi Kazuya’s Blood of Wolves (Japan), Nam Ron's Crossroads: One Two Jaga (Malaysia), Naito Eisuke's Liverleaf (Japan), Dong Yue's The Looming Storm (China), Sunny Chan’s Men on the Dragon (Hong Kong), Jeon Go-woon's Microhabitat (South Korea), and Treb Monteras's Respeto (Philippines). Six of the seven films are receiving their North American premieres at NYAFF, with one world premiere. Four of the competition titles are debut films, reflecting the festival’s ongoing support for new directors.

The festival honors its tradition of presenting awards to recognize outstanding talent and filmmakers from Asia that are still under the radar in the West.

Hong Kong's Dante Lam has been at the creative forefront of the action genre for ten years, when his psycho-thriller Beast Stalker became an instant modern classic. The festival celebrates his career by awarding him the Daniel A. Craft Award for Excellence in Action Cinema and a special 10th anniversary screening of Beast Stalker on 35mm, together with his MMA drama Unbeatable and his latest film Operation Red Sea. The latter made over half a billion dollars in China to become the second highest-grossing Chinese-language film of all time, and Asia’s biggest hit of 2018. Lam attends our opening weekend to discuss his films with long-term producer Candy Leung.

This year, the festival presents two Star Asia Awards:

South Korea's Kim Yun-seok is best known to North American audiences for his role as the grizzled ex-cop in 2008 serial killer thriller The Chaser. A decade on, he stands firmly in the top tier of his country’s leading men. Like his contemporaries Song Kang-ho and Choi Min-shik, he came late to movies after a background in theater. Jang Joon-hwan’s powerful drama 1987: When the Day Comes screens, in which Kim plays the frightening head of South Korea’s anti-communist bureau, hellbent on holding back the country’s democracy movement.

Chinese filmmaker Jiang Wu's career has bridged independent cinema and mainstream success for 25 years. Two decades ago, he was at the forefront of a new populist independent cinema about big city life that transformed modern Chinese cinema with Zhang Yang's Shower. He has worked with Zhang Yimou (To Live), Jiang Wen (Let the Bullets Fly), Jia Zhangke (A Touch of Sin), and Herman Yau (Shock Wave). Xin Yukun's part noir, part western Wrath of Silence will screen in tribute, in which his terrifying nouveau riche mining magnate falls into a trap of his own design.

The Star Asia Lifetime Achievement Award goes to Japan’s Harada Masato, a former U.S.-based film critic. He is most recognizable to Western viewers for his role as the villain Mr. Omura opposite Tom Cruise in The Last Samurai. Since his debut in 1979, he has positioned himself as one of Japan’s most unique and important directors. While he has worked in nearly every genre, he is best known for tackling societal issues such as teenage prostitution, illegal immigrants, and the role of the media. Screening in the festival are his dark classic gem Kamikaze Taxi on 35mm, the recent Kakekomi (2016), a period piece about female empowerment, and his most recent historical epic Sekigahara, about the one-day battle in 1600 that defined modern Japan.

The Screen International Rising Star Asia Award recipient will be announced at a later date.

The Hong Kong Panorama, backbone of the festival’s programming, returns with nine features, including two world premieres: Sunny Chan’s debut Men of the Dragon and Antony Chan’s comeback House of the Rising Sons. Antony Chan is an original member of The Wynners, the popular teen-idol band of the 1970s that launched the careers of mega-stars Alan Tam and Kenny Bee. Chan, the band’s drummer, returns to the director’s chair after 26 years to present a vibrant biopic that avoids hagiography. Highlighting the miracles of motion and irresistible kinetic force that are the signature of Hong Kong cinema, is a three-film Dante Lam tribute, and an action-packed thriller run on July 4: Jonathan Li’s debut The Brink, Oxide Pang’s The Big Call, and Wilson Yip’s Paradox. Also screening is Chapman To’s family drama set in the world of karate, The Empty Hands starring Stephy Tang.

The China section continues to take a more central role. One year ago, NYAFF committed to supporting the new generation of first-time directors emerging in Asia with the Young Blood series, focusing on Hong Kong; this year the festival shifts to Mainland China. Once again, the films are heady and diverse in subject matter, including Hunan-set, rain-drenched serial-killer thriller The Looming Storm, Inner Mongolia-set sexagenarian drama Old Beast (produced by Chinese auteur Wang Xiaoshuai), and the razor-sharp Northeastern comedy Looking for Lucky, which revolves around a man, his father, and a missing dog. The Chinese film industry is changing fast, and trends are best reflected in where new directors are taking it. We also present films about the shifting rules of romance: Dude’s Manual and The Ex-Files 3: The Return of the Exes.

The New Cinema from Japan lineup is represented by one of the festival’s largest contingents of directors yet. In addition to NYAFF’s tribute to veteran director Harada Masato, the festival is bringing a group that could be described as defining a “new wave” of Japanese cinema: Naito Eisuke with his circle-of-revenge drama Liverleaf, Ogata Takaomi with experimental youth drama The Hungry Lion, Takeshita Masao with slow-burn drama The Midnight Bus, and Kanata Wolf with his slacker debut Smokin’ on the Moon. Also attending is actor Emoto Tasuku who brings his mischievous charm to the protagonist of porn publishing odyssey Dynamite Graffiti. Other highlights include Sato Shinsuke’s cross-generational superhero showdown Inuyashiki, Ueda Shinichiro’s meta zombie film homage One Cut of the Dead, and Yukisada Isao’s brutal youth drama River’s Edge.