Monday, April 22, 2019

Tim Cox talks Yasmina Reza's Art and acting on the stage

This is the first of three parts of an interview I did with actor Timothy Cox. Tim has worked in theater, TV, and film. He has over 125 credits on IMDB — and the number is growing. He's a great actor and a wicked comedian. He's both written and produced films, and is a champion of indie films of all kinds.

I first ran across Tim when he started to send me short films to review. Emails were exchanged where we talked about all sort of things until I finally said "Why don't just we get together and just talk about what you've done?" He — insanely — said yes. 

Tim is one of the most amazing people to talk to. If you want to know about film and acting (and other subjects) Tim is your man. If you ask him a single question will take you into all sorts of unexpected and delightful places. Tim is the sort of person  you want to spend a weekend with just talking because you don't know where it will go. It also makes interviewing him difficult at times because you have to try to keep things focused on the topic you are talking about, say filmmaking and acting.

The interview took place in December 2018 at the Westway Diner on 9th Avenue in Manhattan, and it ran over two hours. Tim and I discussed theater, film and the life of a working actor. What follows is a transcription of about half of our conversation. Because of the sheer length of the interview I had to cut it down. I've removed a long discussion of 2018's year in films and possibilities for the then-upcoming Critics' and Academy Awards. While it contains some excellent analysis of recent films and actors, the passage of time has made our talk about nominations and awards very out of date. Other trims were made because they didn’t fall within the parameters of the acting.

In this first part of the interview, Tim and I talk about Yasmina Reza’s play "Art." It may sound like a strange place to begin an interview by a film actor, but Tim had just finished doing the play at the San Luis Obispo Repertory Theatre. I'm a fan of the play (I saw it four times, each time they changed the cast on Broadway) and I wanted to know what it was like doing the play. We'd spoken about other things before we were seated in the diner, but Tim started with "Art" when we sat down and I turned on the recorder.

The play concerns three friends and what happens when one of them buys a piece of art, a huge white canvas, without checking with his friends. Pointed and very funny it highlights the friendship dynamics we probably don’t want to admit are operating in our relationships. The play also contains an infamous long monologue that never seems to end in which when Yvan has a breakdown about wedding invitations. It’s very funny, very sad, and never fails to elicit an audience reaction.

Timothy Cox in Art (photo taken by Ryan C. Loyd Of Rylo Media Design)

Tim: I went out to California and did the play Art.

And it reignited a love of the theater again. Ever since then I was gone and I've just been reading plays again. Just 'cause you get into the film stuff. I would only occasionally do a play, but it reignited the fire of wanting to do plays.

When I first moved to New York in 2001 it was exclusively theater, with an occasional film kind of thing. I always thought I'd just be a guy, a road actor doing Shakespeare, Chekhov, stuff like that.

And that's what I did for about the first eight, nine years of living in the city, just doing theater. Working, around here or down in the West Village, like 13th Street Rep, and stuff like that.

And then 2010, like [snaps] film stuff started happening, and it started to be more film and the occasional play. But now we hooked up with this theater in California that we did a play last year, and then just did Art.

Steve: I've gotta ask you. You played Yvan?

Tim: Yeah.

Steve: So you that long monologue? How did you handle that?

Tim: The thing is... we had about six, seven months to prepare. So as soon as we found out that we got the green light, I got the script and I looked at it. "Oh, shit I'm really in it now." It's like there's no going back.

I saved the monologue for the last thing that I memorized 'cause I knew that was gonna be... We affectionately referred to it as "The Beast." I did everything else, and then I probably had maybe two or three months just to work on the monologue.

And it's just one of those things where you just drill it over and over. And when I got into rehearsal with the director, Kevin Harris, we just found like, "OK. Here are the beats. You have to be able to understand what is being said. Speed can come later. And we got to the point, like we would have a lot of these like two or three false stops in it. Just where the friends, Marc and, and Serge can be like, "Oh, he's done." And then he goes on... Like just for breathing and that, 'cause because it's easy to be the kind of a thing that where it could be done so fast where no one really understands it. It has to be energetic because that's what Ivan is, just this kind of a lunatic, really.

But, I never blanked on it. I never... thankfully. My colleagues Travis Mitchell and Lawrence Lesher, they would say, "What did you do backstage?" And he said, "Were you like, like doing jumping jacks?" And I said, "Nope. I was there. I was very quiet. I was very focused," and [claps] boom. Just, you know, because the focus is so important. I didn't wanna be revved up. I wanted to rev up. I wanted to go on and get revved up as the character and going through it because I'm a naturally fast talking person anyway. And I think the first thing Kevin said to me, he says, "You're the last person that needs to go faster."

He said, "Find moments where there's peaks and valleys, because you have somewhere to go." If you come in at ten, even, you know, for five minutes, you're gonna have nowhere to go. You're telling the story, and just think about if you've ever been at a party and someone's told a really, really fun story or a joke or whatever. Think about it like that. And because it's there's peaks, there's moments where it's like it's high, it's low, it's fast, it's slow.

But man, what a ride. What a, what a fun... I mean Yasmina Reza wrote a really, really complex, funny, hard play.

And it took me about two weeks to shake the play out of my system. Because this was a guy going through kind of a crisis. Like I say, Ivan is I would have been if I hadn't met my wife, like that kind of guy who's kinda floundering. He was 40 one minute, [snaps] he blinked, and then he was 40, and like, "Where the hell did life go?"

Steve: I saw it with every cast on Broadway when they changed, every time the audience would just be sitting there, and you would get this beat of like stunned silence.

Tim: Yeah. I got, there was a point where we had put a little thing in. Halfway through the monologue, I would get a little applause. And then, 'cause there's a moment where they think he's done. And he sits down on the couch, and then he does one of these things. It, it's like, "ka," da da, da da. And then you would hear, every once in a while, I would hear from the audience, "Oh man, this poor bastard." And that's like, "Yeah!" And that was the best. It didn't always happen.

I mean that's the thing about live theater, as you know, audience A is going to be different than audience B. There'd be some nights where they would just be kinda like trying to follow along with what with this guy, these three guys, their relationship, and what they were going through in the show.

I would do it again in a heartbeat. I mean we wanna do all of Yasmina Reza. I mean like God of Carnage, The Unexpected Man. All of them are just so well written and funny, but also frighteningly like, "Ooh, this hits a little close to home."

I think we had that, a lot of people who came up to me and said, "I have like a relationship with a friend. We're in a, a trial period as far as the friendship." You hope they work, work things out, but that's, that's nice to hear that the play resonated with them.

Steve: Zoë Wanamaker said, when she was doing Medea, "I wish you could do it once or twice a week because I'm right where I want to be at twice a week. I'm okay twice a week, and then the rest of the time I'm not. But nobody in the audience is ever aware.

Tim: You can't tell... It's kind of a thing where, and how it with me, it's that having that time to know that character, know the script so well. Most of the time, we don't have six, seven months advance notice. Most of the time, you have four to six weeks, if even that. Mercedes Ruehl was telling a story, when she was doing an "A" play where she had three weeks to learn it... which scares the shit out of me.

Because Albee was notoriously difficult, especially if he was in the room with you.

But I think it depends on the script, the people that you have working with you. I mean these actors happen to be close friends that we know each other so well. And we were all so perfectly cast.

And there are times that it fits like a glove, there are nights when you go out, "Oh, it's really clicking. It's really cooking, it's really cooking." And then nights when also it doesn't, but still your training and your technique guide you through it.

There were moments during this, where Ivan has a breakdown in the end of the show. There were nights where I didn't think about it. I just kinda rode the wave. And I would be convulsing tears. And out of, I would say, 75 per cent of the time, [snaps] it happened. With no preparation on my end, it was just a simple thing of listening and reacting and taking it in.

I did Long Day's Journey into Night 25 years ago... I was Jamie. O'Neill demands your best. And you've got to be focused. I mean, granted, I was 22 years old... but it was that [for me] just learning the lines was the thing. There was never the connection to the material, that it's like one you wish you could do again.

Now if you just drill it so to the point where you don't even have to think about the lines I would, I would say to my colleagues, Travis and Larry on stage, I'd say, "When I'm out there on stage with you, I don't see Travis and Larry, I see Marc and Serge, and for 90 minutes we are these guys."

And it's so, it was so... I hesitate to say the word "easy," but it was easy to jump into that, because I think... because we were so well cast. It was so well directed, and it's such a good script.

Steve: How did it come together?

Tim: When we did Rounding Third the previous year, we were out with Kevin. Alcohol is always involved. And he said, "OK, guys, I want you to come back. What do you want to do?"

And we, without even hesitation... we said Art because we were all sort of the right age. I'm 42, and Travis, I think, is 45, I mean we're all in that same age range. And we knew it was going to be challenging, but we're at that age where we want to do the stuff that scares us.

And we kind of thought it was drunk chatter. 'Cause, you know, in anything, in the theater or films you say "Oh, I'd love to do this film with you." And then you don't hear anything about it.

A couple of months later,  we got the official word that, "Okay, we're gonna do Art." And Travis and Larry and I had a reading over at the Residence Inn on 54th Street.

And they all went off and they did some other projects, and I, thankfully, I had a few film things to do. But mostly in that six or seven month period, I would just, every day, 45 minutes to an hour every day, I would just [snaps] drill it. Put it away for a little bit, let it simmer, you know, and would just do it like that for six, seven months. And by the time we got to California, all of us were at various levels of prep and memorization. But the, the great thing about being out there is that, you know... when you're out in San Luis Obispo in California, we didn't have anything else during the day.

We were so prepared because we really would only rehearse... I think we were doing runs the second or third day we were in California 'cause Kevin had the show, he had the tech, he had the music.

We had a colleague that saw it from that moment until the time we closed. He said that the show was great that first time, but it got even better by the time we closed, just 'cause.

Steve: How long did you do it?

Tim: I think it was, uh, three weeks. And I think, overall, it was probably like 18, 20 performances. But, it was tough. It was emotionally tough just 'cause of, of where all of those characters went. It was, it was, it was fun, it was painful, but I think that's what you want, I think at this point. You don't want what's easy. You know, you want roles that scare you, and roles that you have to confront, like, "Oh, I have more in common with this character than I would probably care to admit, flaws and warts and all."

Rounding Third was kinds the same thing. I don't know if you know the play?

Steve: I know the name, but I don't really...

Tim: It was a play that ran off Broadway... I wanna say 15 years ago. And then they made a movie of it, that just came out. And I think... I mean it was John C. Reilly and Garret Dillahunt. And I don't think it's a movie that's gonna do, you know, Hollywood big kind of a thing. I imagine it'll be on Netflix.

But Richard Dresser wrote this really sweet, funny play. At first you would think it's kind of like The Odd Couple on a baseball diamond. When I first read it, that's kinda what I thought. And then I read it again and I read it again and I thought, "Oh, wow. This is..., there's more to this." I don't know if it got that kind of attention when it first ran Off Broadway.

Travis played a coach who was the All-American dad kind of athlete, you know, winning is everything. And then I play this guy who basically knows nothing about baseball. His stepson is into this. And he thinks "As long as everybody has fun." And of course that's where they butt heads.

And at first you think it's going to be this one play, and then Dresser such a great job of taking you in an unexpected way, that these guys are more alike than they would probably care to admit.

And, again, like Art, but from a different way, it was challenging. It's like, "Oh, wow, there's more to this than I first thought" Again, there are two really great stage roles that challenged and frightened and scared us... but with preparation... We were so prepared that we could've, we could have done those plays in our sleep.

Steve: So what's the next challenge you're going to do next year?

Tim: I don't know. I'm at the age where I have about 20 years until I can start thinking about Willy Loman or something like that, but I'd love to do The Iceman Cometh. They would never do it at this theater, 'cause it's like a five hour [laughs] Eugene O'Neill play. I mean the one thing that we've been, we've been kinda tossing around and is, uh, you know Peter and the Starcatcher, but that would be different.

Steve: Do you sing?

Tim: I'm from the Robert Preston school of, talking/singing it. Travis is a good singer. He's done Thénardier in Les Mis, roles like that.

And this theater, they had been a community theater for about 70 years, and it's their second or third year of switching, going over to the professional route, and the change hasn't fully turned yet. I've submitted Butley by Simon Gray. It's very British...

Steve: It's very good.

Tim: But again, it's a marvelous play, I mean... I said to Kevin, "Picture a play where you have Marc, Serge, Ivan, all rolled into one very complex, complicated guy." I didn't see that revival that Nathan Lane did. I remember the movie that Alan Bates did, and, of course, he was marvelous. But I imagine that Nathan Lane was quite good in the part. It's a different kind of a part for him.

Steve: I had read that, and it was like, "Wow." And then I saw the Alan Bates film...

Tim: The American Film Theater series is like that. They did Iceman Cometh and A Delicate Balance. And I think they only did 12 films all together. And some of them, I mean, are really, really marvelously done. I just rewatched The Iceman Cometh film version. Robert Ryan and Fredric Marc. I mean people gave... the reviews they gave Lee Marvin... I mean, I thought Lee Marvin, he tried. It couldn't have been Jason Robards because he had that terrible car accident at the time. But I think it would have been, if he hadn't have been in the accident. That kind of a play, Hickey or any of those roles in Iceman or O'Neill or Miller or Albee, I mean, like in the theater, those are the kind of things that I'd love to do.

My favorite story about when O'Neill was writing because when he was writing Iceman and Moon for the Misbegotten and Long Day's Journey into Night, he was writing his agent. And he said, "I have to put Long Day's Journey away. I'm having some problems with it, but I'm having a ball with this other play, and I'm laughing a lot." That was The Iceman Cometh. There's humor in Long Day's Journey between the brothers. I mean, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, same thing. Edward Albee wrote a comedy. It's a comedy — not in the sense of Neil Simon. H wrote a comedy of — that's, I think, what we called Art — a comedy of discomfort.

And I think that's the best kind of comedy, because it's comedy that people can be like... I remember Ivan would be doing the monologue, and people were,"Oh, that poor bastard," or be like, "Oh, Ivan," you know, "you're just, you're just making it worse." "Oh, why didn't you just keep your mouth shut?," you know?

And you love that kind of a reaction. A good play like that or Iceman or Death of a Salesman, the playwrights hint that you know these guys. You might be these guys. You all know a Hickey or a Jimmy Tomorrow or a, a Larry Slade or someone like that, or an Ivan or a Marc. You know, they always have that friend that like, "Oh, they can't keep their opinions to themselves."

But, so those are great roles in the theater.

I've always known. From the time I was in college, I knew I was a character actor, which is great because character actors, you always work.

But the thing is, you have to be patient. Right now, Bryan Cranston is riding this incredible wave, and he is like, I think he's 60.

Have you seen Network?

Steve: End of January. Did you see it?

Tim: Oh, yeah. We saw it in previews. He's exceptional. Doesn't make you think that Peter Finch, as someone said, Peter Finch's is Peter Finch, I mean, and Bryan Cranston's is Bryan Cranston. It's the same thing that someone came in and said, like, "Oh, that Tatiana Maslany is nowhere near Faye Dunaway." No one's going to be near Faye Dunaway.

Steve: You've gotta make the role yourself.

Tim: You gotta, and you have to... It's kind of like what Jeff Daniels said about To Kill a Mockingbird. "We're gonna do, you gotta remember the book, remember the movie, but you gotta come in, you gotta throw it all out." As far as he's concerned, he's originating the role, which you have to go with that mentality because there's always gonna be people that say, "Well, he didn't do as well as Gregory Peck."

I mean, if we went and saw The Odd Couple and said, "Well, it was good, but it wasn't with Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau." The actors would be like, "Of course it's not." You can admire someone's performance, but the actor has to make it their own.

One of the things that somebody mentioned about Denzel Washington,... his Hickey showed how funny and charismatic he is, and that's what Hickey is. And they said, "It didn't make me think of Jason Robards."... It should be different. I mean if you get ten Hamlets, you should see ten interpretations. And, you know, if they're all the same, that's boring.

Part Two of my interview with Tim will run tomorrow with Part Three on Wednesday.

(A huge thank you to John DiBello for his help in putting this interview together and to Timothy J Cox for taking the time to sit down and talk to me.)

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Hellboy (2019)

Eleven years and a falling out between creators later Hellboy returns to the big screen in a film that part reboot and stand alone adventure.

Hellboy is drawn into the battle again Nimue, The Blood Queen who centuries before had tried to wipe out mankind so monsters could rule the world. Dismembered and spread across the English Isles by King Arthur The Blood Queen,  finds a willing servant in a changeling who wants revenge on Hellboy. With his help the Queen collects her body parts and tries to bring about the end of mankind, hoping to make Hellboy her king, even if it means bringing about the apocalypse.

Jokier, bloodier and more foul mouthed than the films directed by Guillermo Del Toro this new film has been reviled by critics across the board. I'm not sure why. Once you get past that the film doesn't quite have the weight of the earlier film, and you allow for uneven effects and a couple of bumps at the start, this new take proves itself to be a great deal of fun.

Is it high art? No but it it is entertaining and I laughed my ass off all through it. It is another person's take on a a well loved character. Yes David Harbour's reading of the character is damn close to  Ron Pearlman's at times but there is a bit more silliness to the reading which off sets things nicely. Best of all it has some truly amazing monsters in it especially those which rise up from hell at the end. (They are freaking awesome because they don't look like any other movie monster)

I'm not going to say that the film is remotely perfect some of the jokes kind of fall flat, a bit of the plotting is a tad bumpy, and as I said the effects are hit or miss but this is far from the disaster that some people would have you believe. Frankly I think this is going to be one of those films where when people see it on Netflix or cable they fall in love with it.

I had a grand time watching the film and I happily chomped on my popcorn and soda in a near empty theater, laughing and cheering from start to finish.

I recommend it.

And I am saddened to think that there probably won't be a sequel.

Hercules and the Black Pirate (1964)

Mash up of the peplum and pirate genres has Hercules (or Samson depending on the dub) battling pirates as part of the Royal army. When he is then set up by the evil Rodrigo he is thrown out of the army. Rodrigo then conspires with the Black Pirate to eliminate the hero once and for all.

Rip roaring action film is a great way to spend a rainy night on the couch.  Full of good good guys and bad bad guys this is a film where you can boo and cheer depending upon who as the upper hand.

At a time when the sword and sandal craze was chugging along some producers wanted to spice things up and setting the action in another time period was often a way to do it. Some times it works and some times it didn't. Here it does. Frankly if star Alan Steel didn't end up with a torn shirt that makes him look like Hercules or one of the other ancient muscle men you couldn't call this swords and sandal film.

This film is a lot of fun and highly recommended.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Quick thoughts on Captain Marvel (2019)

The Carol Danvers story comes to the big screen just in time to make her a major player for the next Avengers film. It’s a solid film that entertains pretty much from start to finish.

The story had Carol Danvers going through her paces as a Kree soldier. Severely wounded six years earlier, she has no memory of what her life before was (including that she is from earth). Chasing a group of Skrulls to earth where they think an energy source which could power a faster than light ship resides. Teaming  with Nick Fury she fights the bad guys and reclaims her past.

A matter of fact origin story is enlivened by a killer cast, a couple of neat twists and witty repartee between Danvers and Fury. At its most basic level there is nothing new here but it is really a hell of a lot of fun. The problem here is that the film can’t really go its own way but has to fit into the run up of Avengers. What I want to see is the next film when Danvers will be able to, hopefully, do something truly spectacular and not end on a note that sets up a movie three months later.

Regardless of my questions Captain marvel is recommended.

Friday, April 19, 2019

Carmine Street Guitars (2018) opens Wednesday

I regularly go to Carmine Street in Manhattan because there are several restaurants there that I love to share with friends. In all the many trips I've made I've never really noticed the small non-script guitar store that resides there. However after seeing the film about it you can be damn sure that I will be visiting it just to see the wonders produced there.

CARMINE STREET GUITARS is a "week" in the titled guitar shop during which owner Rick Kelly, his apprentice Cindy Hulej and Kelly's 93 year old mother Dorothy during which they make guitars and hang out with the likes of Bill Frisell, Jim Jarmusch , Marc Ribot, and too many others to mention. Over the course the conversations we get a sense of how Rick works, why so many people love his guitars and how he is keeping parts of old New York alive through using old wood.

I love this film. This is just good time with great people talking about something thay have a deep passion for, while playing some occasional bit of music. This was manna from heaven for me, a man who loves great conversation.

Rick Kelly and Cindy Hulej

Part documentary, part staged conversation, any sense that this isn't really a day in the life disappears once everyone begins to talk. Nothing seems forced or out of place. It's just people lost in good conversation.

One of the things that clicked with me as a New Yorker and history buff was Rick Kelly's drive to connect with his past. Kelly is constantly searching out pieces of wood from old New York Buildings to make guitars out of. There is something about the the old wood that enhances the sound the guitar makes so he is constantly trying to get really old wood to work with. (Not in the film, but in the press notes is the fact that Jim Jarmusch was the man behind Kelly's quest)

Another thing I loved about the film is the passion everyone has. Watching everyone talk and play and create you feel their love of their art bleeding off the screen. We watch the guitars come into being and musicians play them and it all looks so easy. Cindy and Rick bang out their guitars as if it is nothing- and yet we know it isn't. We watch the various musicians just whip off a song and we know it's not that simple- they are just doing what they love and what they have been doing for years and the love makes us love the film and its subject even more.

When the film was done I wanted to go down to Carmine Street and hang out in the shop. While I know I could never afford anything they sell, I just wanted to be there when more wondrous things happened.

This was the first great film I saw from the New York Film Festival and it's another addition to my favorite films of the year.

An absolute delight and highly recommended when it opens on Wednesday

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Okko's Inn plays as a Fathom Event 4/22 and 4/23

Based on a series of 20 children's novels which were then turned into a manga and TV series OKKO'S INN if the story of young Okko who moves in with her grand mother after her parents are killed in a car accident. Deciding to help her grand mother run the inn the young girl is helped by the ghosts of her grandmother's best friend from when she was a child and the sister of her rival in life and commerce, not to mention a bell demon who has a knack for bringing people into the inn.

Lovely and charming little film will delight you and bring a tear to your eyes with its honest and heart felt emotion concerning the comings and goings of friends, and the learning that we are never really alone. The audience at the New York International Children's Film Festival that saw the World Premiere of the English language version laughed and cheered and sniffled in all the right spots.

If there is anything really wrong with the film is there are a couple of times in the second half when I had the feeling that there was more to somethings than we were being told. It wasn't that we didn't have enough details but simply some back story to make the moments come fully to life. When I found out about all the previous source material it made perfect sense that things were left out of a 95 minute film.

Regardless of  any quibbles, OKKO'S INN is a charmer of the highest order. You will get misty at times.

Highly recommended.

The film will be playing as a Fathom Event on April 22 and 23rd. For tickets go here.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Nate Hood takes in GRASS (2019)

The camera pans back and forth between the young man and woman as they sit in the cafe and talk, their drinks growing cold as they trade barbs and niceties. At first it holds them in a neutral two-shot, afterwards panning to the left to focus on just the woman, then to the right on the man. As the conversation turns to frenzied shouts over a dead friend, the camera zooms a few feet forward, not to focus on anything specifically, but almost as if the camera were leaning in for a better look. Finally the man storms out of the cafe and the camera turns 125° to reveal a young woman furtively tapping away at her MacBook. Her name is Areum (Kim Min-hee), and though she insists she is NOT a writer, she will spend the rest of the day at that coffeeshop eavesdropping on the various customers, taking quiet notes for a screenplay. Or perhaps a novel? It's difficult to say, for despite the script's intimacy, Hong Sang-soo's latest film GRASS languishes in ambiguity.

As the day continues, different people pop in and out of the cafe, revealing more and more of their lives. Here's an aging stage actor pathetically begging an old female friend to let him crash in her apartment. (Later, when an old colleague begs him to move in with him, he flatly refuses.) Here's a wannabe screenwriter frustrated by writer's block asking yet another female friend to temporarily move in with him--purely to help the creative juices get flowing, of course. Later Areum becomes a character herself in these dramas as she cruelly berates her brother and his fiancée, revealing more about her own emotional hangups and anxieties than anything we learn about the other customers.

By the end of the film's 66 minute runtime we feel we know more about her--and the other talkers--than they might know about themselves. But for what? GRASS is one of the most punishingly uninteresting films to screen at this year's NYFF. The problem with making a film about eavesdropping in a coffee shop is that you literally spend the entire movie eavesdropping in a coffee shop--perhaps not a bad idea if the screenplay was interesting, but in Sang-soo's rush for objective naturalism it's impossible to watch the film without getting bored. Watching GRASS is the cinematic equivalent of chewing raw tofu--perhaps good for you, but entirely flavorless.

Rating: 4/10

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Be Natural (2018) opens this in LA and next Friday in NYC

Pamela B Green's portrait of Alice Guy-Blaché is a vital document that will hopefully go a long way in correcting the historical record concerning a one of the true creators of cinema.

Alice Guy was a young woman who took a job working for Gaumont in the 1890's. When she saw the Lumiere Brothers films projected she knew there was something to it beyond recording daily life. She began making narratives for the company before taking over production. She eventually married and moved to the US where she had one of the earliest film studios in Fort Lee New Jersey. Through circumstance her place in film history began to be forgotten. However through her own efforts and the fact that people like Eisenstein and Hitchcock remembered seeing her films helped keep the flame alive that she really did all the things she said- which is largely invented narrative cinema.

Its not so much that Guy just made probably over a thousand films it's that she invented the language of cinema before anyone knew what it was. Eisenstein talks of seeing her films and what she did in decades before the master even made a film ended up in his films where the innovations were heralded as revolutionary. She made films with female protagonists and used actors in ways no one had thought of. She was also making sound films 25 years before the JAZZ SINGER changed history.

The problem for Guy was that she worked at a time when most creators were not credited. As a result it wouldn't take much to make a mistake- as has happened frequently- and films to be attributed to the wrong people.

BE NATURAL goes a long way in correcting the record and setting history straight...

...I just wish it were a better organized film. Bouncing from Guy's story to the search for information on her and her films the film seems not to have a narrative thrust. Is this about Guy or the search to find her story and films? It doesn't always seen clear as we bounce back and forth and back again. I understand she wants to tell the parallel stories but they sometimes scrap against each other with the result we aren't as engaged as we should be. Details are lost, things repeat and the film doesn't seem as tight as it should be. We could also use more details on her personal life.

The problem is all in the editing which just throws the material at us haphazardly. For example its clear Green did dozens and dozens of interviews for the film, we see a huge grid of faces at times, but almost all of them are simply dropped in to say that they never heard of Alice Guy-Blache. Why tease us with something that has no real place in the film? Other threads are picked up and abandoned as well.

What is do find interesting is the stray remark made by an AFI archivist who said that in researching Guy's place in cinema history he discovered materials that indicated that there was a time when female directors were not as uncommon as they are even now as film magazines spoke of their achievements as if it was the norm.

I like BE NATURAL but I don't love it. While it goes a long way to restore Alice Guy-Blache's place in cinema history I don't think it is as good as it should have been. Definitely worth a look, but be prepared to want to know more when it's done.

Monday, April 15, 2019

Instant Dreams (2018) opens Friday

I reviewed Instant Dreams when it played at DOC NYC last year. Here is the brief review

Trippy look at the effort to keep instant physical photography alive (not digital but something like a Polaroid). This is a look at instant photography on several levels mixed up in a one of a kind head trip film. While filled with endless tidbits the film is almost more interesting for its wonderful visuals. Definitely worth a look, especially if you want a film that doesn't look like every other film

The End Of The World (1916)

Danish film about the end of the world is probably the first post apocalyptic film ever made. It is also a messy duck of a film with way too much going on for a 77 minute film.

The film begins as we watch people from various walks of life going through their daily routines. Wen word reaches the population that a comet will touch the earth chaos reigns. Then the comet comes and wipes out pretty much everyone.

Long meaningful sequences fill much of the first hour as director August Blom goes about setting up stories lines with very clear moral implications. He is making a film with a point and not just something with a spectacular ending.  This makes for slow going as we are given probably way too much to chew on before the comet comes.

Once the comet comes and the world deals with the effects of the comet the film becomes haunting as actual locations of destroyed homes and landscapes are used to reflect the destruction. There is a realness to the end of the world that I don't think any other similar film has ever had- we feel that this is the end. It makes for one hell of a pay off.

While far from perfect THE END OF THE WORLD is a real curio and recommended to anyone who wants to see the first end of the world film or just an intriguing  footnote with the warning that this can be a slow go for a chunk of it.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Charlie Chan at the Olympics (1936)

If you view the Chan films in order there is actually a weird around the world trip that happens. Its almost as if Chan is moving from place to place in one trip. Its clear from the internal details that time has passed between adventures, but at the same time its as if Chan is taking the long way home to Hawaii.

This stop is in Germany where Chan is visiting his son who is on the US Olympic team during the infamous Berlin Games. Chan is sucked into the mystery as a favor to one police organization or another, since at this point in the series he was still a detective with the Honolulu police force.

Amazingly watching the film one loses ones self in the mystery (which has to do with the theft of a military guidance system) and completely forgets the darkness that would devour the world. Here the Nazi's are the good guys, almost comedicly so.

One of the better Chan films is most certainly worth a bag of popcorn and a glass of soda.

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Mine 9 (2019)

Eddie Mensore’s MINE 9 is a must see thriller about men tapped two miles underground with only an hour of oxygen left before certain death. Not only is it a frightening thriller, scarier than most recent horror films but it also acts as a wake up call for anyone who doesn't fully comprehend the dangers of coal mining.

The film tells the story of a group of miners in a productive mine that is short on everything. They don't have an escape team  and the foreman above ground is sick. Worse their equipment is in need of repair, especially the pump that is keeping the place from filling with water. The mine manager just wants them to keep going because at some point the company will take care of all the work orders she has been sending in when they can. One night after a shift almost goes wrong they decide to wait in calling in the Feds. They all need the money. The next night despite knowing the amount of methane in the mine is on the increase, and still having safety concerns,  the men go back down unaware that they soon will be  fighting for their lives.

Moving and looking unlike anything that a major Hollywood studio would turn out MINE 9 is a deep dark claustrophobic thriller about men in crisis. Feeling incredibly real from the very first frame this film will put you on the edge of your seat and keep you there until the very end.  Shot in a real mine with mostly practical effects there is a tactile quality to it all. We can feel the dirt, we smell the stale air and sense the danger. Once things begin to happen there is almost no music simply the sound the men and the rocks and machines. There is nothing to distance us from what we are seeing. There are no big name actors to act as a hero so we don't know what the hell is going to happen. Death is not spectacular but painful and tragic. Minds and bodies are broken. Blood when it comes, can't always be seen for all the dirt.

What I love about this film is it feels like Mensore found out what would really happen in a situation like this and did exactly that, not what would look good on the big screen or be easiest. Its all dirt and water and pain.Some scenes are dark. Some are confused. People behave as people behave in real life, some rise up, some are broken and heroism doesn't have a thunderous score.  It is an anti-Hollywood film and we are so much better for it.

Whether you are claustrophobic or not  MINE 9 will make you afraid of tight places. There is only so many ways to move and with each explosion or collapse or obstacle the options to get to freedom get fewer and fewer.  It will make you wonder why anyone would go into a place like this. More importantly it will make you wonder why if they are going to go into places like this they aren't going to protect them better.

I was rocked by this film. It gripped me more than almost any film in the last year or so.

You have to see this film because it is one of the best thrillers of 2019.

MINE 9 is currently playing across Appalachia it expands nationally beginning April 19th and April 26th

Yuen Woo-Ping: The Unseen Films Interview

Yuen Wing-Poo Photo from IMDB
With MASTER Z : IP MAN LEGACY opening in theaters across the US I was given a chance to interview via e-mail the film's director, the legendary Yuen Woo-Ping. Woo-Ping is responsible for changing how action is portrayed in the movies. His work in DRUNKEN MASTER, THE MATRIX films, The KILL BILL films, the IRON MONKEY  films, KUNG FU HUSTLE,  and dozens of others set and reset the bar of what is the cutting edge in action. The chance to interview him was a once in the life time sort of thing and of course I jumped at the chance.

It may have been a once in life time chance, but I realized that in order to do the interview properly I was going to have to ask for help. While I would have no questions asking about MASTER Z I felt out of my league discussing his extensive body of work, so I did what any rational person would do and turned to the members of the Unseen Film and asked for thoughts and questions. Mr C, Nate Hood Hubert Vigilla and Jared King responded with the questions that ended up making up the bulk of the interview. (Actually Jared went even further and asked his friends what they thought would be the best questions.) Without the help of the experts this would have been two questions instead of 
twenty. (Thank you gentleman. Having friends like you is what makes Unseen Films a family. I appreciate your help to no end) 

I want to thank Yuen Woo-Ping for taking the time to respond. It was an honor. I also want to thank the people at Falco Ink for setting this up.

UNSEEN FILMS:  With MASTER Z being a sequel you have to set up just how good Cheung Tin Chi is for anyone who hasn't seen the earlier films and you do that by having him effortlessly take on an entire gang of men. Later on we can gauge how good someone is by how many people he is fighting. How do you decide how to show how good the various characters are in your films?

YUEN WOO-PING: Each hero has to be special in some way. Whether it’s a character extraordinary ability or an ordinary person faced with extraordinary challenges. Tin Chi is a bit of both. He possesses talent in wing chun but has sworn to stay away from wing chun and the trouble it brings. He wants an ordinary life for him and his son. But trouble eventually finds him no matter how hard he tries to stay away.

UNSEEN FILMS How did you cast the film? MASTER Z is so perfectly cast, how did you choose who would be in the film? How did Dave Baustista end up in the film? Frequently when a Western actor is brought in for a film like this they seem out of place but he seems to fit in perfectly.

YUEN WOO- PING: I wanted someone unique in each role to bring sometime different than the most obvious casting. For example Michelle Yeoh’s role was originally written for a man. But that story of a gangster trying to turn good has been told many times using a male character. It’s more interesting as a woman, especially an elegant woman who doesn’t look the gangster part. But put a Sabre in her hand she turns into a different woman. With Dave Bautista one of my producers suggested him for the part of Owen Davidson. I wanted someone physically intimidating but who can really act and bring the character to life. Dave fit the bill.

UNSEEN FILMS:  How does casting affect or influence a film or sequence? Do you wait to see who is going to be in a film before designing a sequence or do you alter it once casting is done?

YUEN WOO- PING: Casting is everything in drama or action. Every actor has a different read on a scene and different physical ability. With action it looks best if the actor can perform as much of a sequence as possible so it helps to tailor the sequence to their strengths. Whether it’s Muay Thai for Tony Jaa or wrestling for Dave Bautista, performers need to be comfortable in the character for them to shine.

UNSEEN FILMS: Where did the idea for the neon sign sequence in MASTER Z come from? How difficult was it to shoot?

YUEN WOO- PING: It was something I thought up during development. That Hong Kong street was the main exterior location and they spent quite a lot time (and money) creating these vintage neon signs. So after we shot the rest of the movie, I designed a fight sequence on those signs so we could destroy them! The trouble came when we were about to shoot the sequence and a typhoon was about to make landfall. If it hit us our set, it would surely destroy our signs before we could and at that point we couldn’t afford to rebuild. We went back and forth on a contingency sequence. But in the end we took the chance and stuck to the sign fight. The heavens watched over us and we had perfect whether. We even finished the sequence 3 days early!

UNSEEN FILMS: Could you talk about how you link action to story telling and how that affects the choices when you are designing a scene?

YUEN WOO- PING: The goal is that story and action need to inform one another — story should motivate action and action should tell story. It’s not always about fighting for literal survival. Sometimes I use action to further character moments for example the drinking glass sparring between Tin Chi and Kean or the rooftop fight with Max and Fu, those scenes are to develop the story through an interesting fight.

UNSEEN FILMS: How important is plot to your films? Do you have to have a story that works from start to finish or are you more interested in using the plot to hang the action sequences from it?

YUEN WOO- PING: I try not to over complicate the plot to distract from film because audiences see my films for entertaining action sequences. On this film we had different versions of the script where the drug smuggling plot was much more complicated. I felt that plot dragged on and got rid of it. We just got to the point quickly.

UNSEEN FILMS: How Important is rhythm when you Choreograph a fight? Do you view the sequences as pieces of music?

YUEN WOO- PING: I do see fights as a kind of dance but how that rhythm works with music I left for the editor and composer to figure out. Fights are so logistically complicated that it’s difficult to set that to existing music so music has to accommodate to the sequence.

UNSEEN FILMS: What shot or sequence required the most takes and most work in all the films you've made?

YUEN WOO- PING: It’s probably the bamboo sequence from Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. That was a sequence that was really unlike anything I had attempted before that. We were really at height in a real bamboo forest and the logistics were daunting. The first couple days of filming that sequence we got nothing useable. I think at that point it may everyone secretly thought this might be impossible. But we kept at it and the sequence came out beautifully.

UNSEEN FILMS: How do you deal with multiple duties on a film such as directing, choreographing and acting at the same time?

YUEN WOO- PING: Well I haven’t acted for a while so I haven’t had to worry about. Choreographing in China we call action directing. I guess you can call directing drama directing. So to me it’s natural for that to be one job. However when I’m directing a film the time commitment is much greater. For action directing I’m usually just around for the shoot but on this film because I was also directing I spent nearly two years from idea to finished film.

UNSEEN FILMS: What was it like to work with your father? Did it help having him playing say a role in a film where he could help with choreograph and direct a film? What is it like to have a working relationship with your brothers and has it evolved in regard to the new Hong Kong Cinema?

YUEN WOO- PING: It was a great pleasure to work with my father and my brothers. My father was the first martial arts choreographer so he created that position and brought me into the film industry. It was a great honor to direct my first films with him as an actor. Looking back, many of my films are about father son stories and I don’t think that is an accident.

UNSEEN FILMS: Has something been lost now that action sequences have become driven not so much by the action but by editing and special effects?

YUEN WOO- PING: In general I think having too many options and possibilities often hurts the vision of sequences. I got my start in an industry with neither much opportunity to edit or VFX. To save film we developed the “Hong Kong zoom” where we’d zoom in and out in a single take, editing in camera. And VFX didn’t exist at all back them. And we were able to make incredible films under those circumstances. The filmmaker tells the story, everything are tools to help in that process. So even now, I design my fights to an edit, it’s not shot from a bunch of angles and figured out in post. And as much as possible I try to avoid vfx to give a sense of reality to the sequence.

UNSEEN FILMS: You were instrumental in ushering in the modern-day action genre in Hong Kong would you ever return to that genre?

YUEN WOO- PING: It’s actually something I’ve been discussing recently. There are a couple modern kung fu stories I’m developing. We’ll see where they go.

UNSEEN FILMS:  What do you think of the new generation of Hong Kong Action directors?

YUEN WOO- PING: I think the young filmmakers do great work. What I’m worried about is the lack of interest in that line of work. It used to be that young people were excited by kung fu and would practice as a hobby. Then some of those people would find their way in the industry and become filmmakers. But years of hard work for a hobby isn’t appealing to the younger generation and I worry how that will affect our industry.

UNSEEN FILMS: What do you think about the future of Hong Kong Cinema?

YUEN WOO- PING: Hong Kong cinema has all but moved to mainland China because the filmmakers have gone to where the market is. A lot of storytelling is driven by the market, films are more about spectacle and VFX and the budgets balloon in pursuit of a big box office. But having good ideas doesn’t always mean spending big dollars. I hope to see more of those kind of projects.

UNSEEN FILMS: Do you have any thoughts on the seeming increasing use of action spectacles in Mainland films as a means of propaganda?

YUEN WOO- PING:  I don’t think propaganda is the right word. I think films like Wolf Warrior and Operation Red Sea are certainly patriotic, but I don’t think they are trying to convert audience into an opinion they don’t already hold, it’s not that easy to sway people nowadays. I think audiences anywhere around the world want to believe the place they live in a good place to live, a place that stands up for values. If you look st Michael Bay films they are showcases for the American military people Americans and Chinese love his films because they’re enormously entertaining.

UNSEEN FILMS: What non-action films inspire you? Even though you are so attached to action cinema would you ever make a film that wasn't action packed?

YUEN WOO- PING: I've always liked comedy and in fact most people forget that most of my early work were action comedies. Films are meant to entertain and if a non action script speaks to me, I’d love to direct it.

UNSEEN FILMS: Are you going to be involved with Kung Fu Hustle 2?

YUEN WOO- PING: There have been rumors there will be a sequel but Stephen Chow hasn’t called yet!

UNSEEN FILMS: Are you ever totally happy with any film or sequence you direct?

YUEN WOO- PING: When I watch films I’ve worked on I try to see it as an audience member rather than a crew member. Filmmaking is about taming the daily challenges that prevent you from achieving your goals. Weather, time, budget. Sometimes you have to make compromises. Sometimes they’re for the better and sometimes not. But you can’t focus on the negatives or else you’ll be too scared to work again.

UNSEEN FILMS:Will there be a MASTER Z sequel and or series?

YUEN WOO- PING: I could see many ways of continuing the story but there has been no definite plans yet!

Yuen Woo-Ping's MASTER Z-IP MAN LEGACY is now playing in theaters across the US.

Maniac Landscapes (2019) San Francisco International Film Festival

Don't let the simplicity of the image fool you this plant hides a truncheon 
Matthew Wade is again making trippy and disturbing animations with MANIAC LANDSCAPES. His synopsis goes as follows: “As disembodied cried move through the rooms of a house, their emotional intensity provokes a reanimation of the dead, cosmic shifts, and the manipulations of time and place.” I'm not sure if that's wholly right but it is deeply disturbing.

Wade is a wickedly talented filmmaker. He loves to mess with our heads. Things that seem simple suddenly turn dark or unexpected not so much because of what we are seeing but because he marries these seemingly unremarkable images, say some abstract plants growing, with a slowly building soundtrack which changes the feel of everything. By the time MANIAC LANDSCAPES ends you've traveled in space and time with out a ship or drugs and you no longer feel as you did when it started, the hair has stood up on the back of your neck and things feel different.

I have no idea how you will react to the film but I assure you that when the film is done you will know you have seen something that has changed how you felt eight minutes before in a profound way.

Highly recommended

It is premiering at the San Francisco International Film Festival on April 13 and 16. It will behaving its international premier in Scotland at the amazing Alchemy Film & Arts Festival on May 5.

Friday, April 12, 2019

Why you should go see THE RUSSIAN FIVE (2018) when it plays near you.

This is the story of five hockey players from the Soviet Union who became known as The Russian Five. Despite it being an absolute insane pipe dream to think that Soviet players would go to the NHL, the Detroit Red Wings drafted five of the best players in the world even though there was “no way” that they would ever end up on the hockey team since they played for various Soviet hockey teams. They did it because no one was drafting them, and because they were so deep in the draft rounds whomever they picked would probably work out just as remotely. Then again the team figured someday, if the political situation changed, it might just pay off. How the impossible happened and the quintet ended up in the Motor City is the story and it is a one hell of a tale. Think of the craziest spy story you can think of and then kind of go weirder and you’ll have an idea who this went.

The Russian Five is a real head scratcher for me. Not because of the film itself, which is so awesome as to transcend any thought of it being just a sports documentary, more because the film is not on anyone’s radar. How the hell can a film this great not be on anyone’s radar?  More importantly why hasn’t this film been snapped up by a major distributor who can push this film like mad?

I don’t have a clue. I really don’t. Most people don't kow this film exists and they should.

While I love a good sports film and I am a hockey fan, my enjoyment of film entirely rests in how good this story is. Forget the sports angle, this is just a great story expertly told. We have a great selection of talking heads featuring not only the people involved but fans such as the great Jeff Daniels, who perfectly explain not only what happened by why. There is a genuine attempt at making those who didn’t live through the Cold War understand why the Russians were never coming, laying out the political situation that assured they would stay in the USSR. The facts aren’t just thrown at us but there is an attempt to put it all in context.

One of the things that I love about the film is that the film is that the filmmakers more or less let the interviews and video tell the story. Yes we get some animated recreations but for the most part this is simply the story with no pumping up and no flourishes. Honestly, the story doesn’t need them this is just a story that is just amazing.

And the fact that the film is amazing is what makes this film transcend it being just a sports film. This isn’t about the game but about crossing borders and building bridges while doing the impossible which makes it something special.

I was talking up the film the morning after I saw it to an attorney in my office and as I spoke the heads of all the secretaries started to pop up.

“What are you talking about?”

“A documentary about getting Russian Hockey players to come to the US.”

“Hockey? It doesn’t sound like a hockey film”

“It’s not really. It’s a kind of a spy film”

“I have to see that”

Yes they do. And so should you.

I know this isn’t a deep discussion of the film. I’m not laying out what happens and why it matters, but you don’t need that. In a way you don’t want that. You just need to see the film and let the stories carry you along. It’s so much fun seeing how it unfolds that you don’t want spoilers.

I will give you one word of warning, bring tissues. Because this film tells its tale so well you just might be spritzing at one point. Be prepared.

THE RUSSIAN FIVE is one of my favorite films of 2019 and one of the great finds.

See it.

THE RUSSIAN FIVE is currently across Michigan, Las Vegas and Pittsburgh

It opens today in Phoenix at the HARKINS SHEA
In Seattle on April 26 at SIFF
It opens in NYC on May 31 at the IFC CENTER

Check the website for additional cities as announced.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Held For A Moment (2019)

A young woman tries to come to terms with the stillborn death of her child while her husband does what he can to help.

Based on the experiences of women who have had a child stillborn, including family members of the filmmakers, HELD FOR A MOMENT has lived in quality to it. It wonderfully doesn't try to explain what exactly happened it simply shows how a woman is shattered by the experience. It is not showy or flashy it simply shows us what one woman's experience is and we are left reeling.

Beautifully acted and winningly told HELD FOR A MOMENT is a film that will haunt you long after it is finished.

Currently on the festival Circuit HELD FOR A MOMENT is highly recommended and a must see.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Brooklyn Film Festival announces 2019 edition: THE GATHERING, to feature the largest presence of female directors within a single festival edition to date

Announces 2019 Edition: THE GATHERING

BROOKLYN, NEW YORK, April 10, 2019 - Brooklyn Film Festival (BFF), the first international competitive film festival in New York, has closed submissions for its 2019 edition: THE GATHERING. BFF received a record number of 2,659 films from 100 countries and will select 120 film premieres to be announced in May. The films are divided in six categories: Feature Narrative, Feature Doc, Short Narrative, Short Doc, Experimental and Animation.

BFF’s selection criteria, a 22-year-old set of rules, constitute the true festival’s trademark. Participating films cannot be older than two years. Films are selected from submissions only. All the selected films are shown twice. All the selected films participate in the competition. And the smallest film can win the top festival award: The Grand Chameleon.

The festival will run from May 31 through June 9 at two main venues: Wythe Hotel in Williamsburg and Windmill Studios in Greenpoint. Additional programming will be presented on June 4 at Syndicated in Bushwick and on June 7 at UnionDocs in Williamsburg. On June 5 and 8, BFF will present a total of five shows at Made in NY Media Center by IFP in Dumbo, where it will also present the 15th annual kidsfilmfest on June 1. On June 8, the 8th annual BFF Exchange program will be hosted by Kickstarter in Greenpoint and on June 3, BFF will be hosted by Alamo Drafthouse in Downtown Brooklyn. Additional programming and networking events will be announced at a later date.

In a successful effort to broaden the festival’s Latin American horizon in terms of film submissions, for its 22nd edition BFF has been collaborating with several South American film organizations: Proimagenes (Colombia), ChileDocs, IMCINE (Mexico), Universidad del Cine (Buenos Aires, Argentina), Festival Internacional del Cine Buenos Aires (FIDBA). Locally, BFF has been collaborating with Cinema Tropical and Proyector Film Series.

BFF Executive Director Marco Ursino said of the 2019 edition, “We are calling the upcoming festival: The Gathering. The theme-statement is essentially a call to all those people who are searching for clarity and intelligent exchanges. On the programming side this year, more than ever before, we wanted to empower all those filmmakers who are thinking and working in critical systems, outside of the box, and against all odds. Understanding that for women the “system” is always critical, and inspired by the acceleration of the women’s movements, in 2019 BFF will feature the largest presence of female directors within a single festival edition up to date. I’m also proud to say that four out of our six festival programmers are women and the actual festival is run mostly by women.”

BFF’s list of sponsors for 2019 includes WNET, G-Star Raw, VER, AbelCine, Heineken, Florida State University, Final Draft, Big Screen Plaza, and for the 7th consecutive year, the “disruption company” TBWA/CHIAT/DAY will create BFF’s promotional campaign. Several BFF networking events this year will be organized in collaboration with Brooklyn Filmmakers Collective, Brooklyn Documentary Club, Film Shop, Video Consortium and UnionDocs.

In each of the six film categories, BFF’s judges will select the Best Film while the festival will select the Spirit Award and the audience the Audience Award winners. Among all the six categories combined, BFF will award one of each of the following: Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Composer, Bet Style, Best Editor, Best Cinematographer, Best Screenplay Writer, Best Producer, Best New Director and Best Brooklyn Project. Through the resources of our sponsors, BFF will assign to the winning filmmakers over $50,000 in prizes (products, services and cash).

About the programmers
BFF’s Feature Narrative programmer is Jason Stefaniak. An Emmy Award-winning filmmaker, he received a Master of Fine Arts in Film and Television Production at NYU, where he was awarded an Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Scholarship and a Graduate Craft Award for Producing. The Feature Documentary programmer is Brandon Harrison, a graduate of the UCLA School of Film and Television who programmed short docs for BFF for the past few years. Natalie Gee, a multiple short film producer, leads BFF’s Short Narrative category. Mara Bresnahan is the Short Documentary programmer, who currently serves as the festival director for the Boston ReelAbilities Film Festival and as a lead programmer for the Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival. Melanie Abramov, a BFF Alumni and director from Brooklyn, is the Experimental category programmer. She received her BFA from Parsons School of Design and later founded her production company, Dame Productions, which lends a necessary and provocative voice to women in media. Julia Cowle, BFF’s Animation programmer, is an independent filmmaker, illustrator, animator and comedy writer.

About BFF Exchange (BFFX)
For the eighth consecutive year, on June 8 from noon-5pm at Kickstarter in Greenpoint, the festival will continue its BFF Exchange, aimed ultimately at connecting filmmakers with film distributors. BFF Exchange will feature a pitch session, panels and a Happy Hour.

About kidsfilmfest
On June 1 from 1pm-3pm at Made in NY Media Center by IFP, BFF will present the 15th annual kidsfilmfest, which aims to discover, expose and promote the youngest generation of filmmakers. The film program is tailored for children of all ages (films are rated "G"), and consists of numerous animated shorts, documentaries and live-action films. A Q&A with the filmmakers and a filmmaker's workshop will follow the program.

About BFF
The organizers of the Brooklyn Film Festival have been staging International, competitive film events since 1998. BFF's mission is to provide a public forum in Brooklyn in order to advance public interest in films and the independent production of films, to draw worldwide attention to Brooklyn as a center for cinema, to encourage the rights of all Brooklyn residents to access and experience the power of independent filmmaking, and to promote artistic excellence and the creative freedom of artists without censure. BFF, Inc. is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization.

For more info about the festival please visit
For more info about kidsfilmfest, visit

Subway Cinema's Old School Kung Fu Returns

Anthology Film Archives
32 Second Avenue, at Second Street
New York, New York

Friday, May 3 @ 7:30pm
Saturday, May 4 @ 12:30pm

👊🏼 Tickets on sale at 👊🏼


Subway Cinema’s Old School Kung Fu Fest returns to the mothership with a two-day blast of bare-fisted fury that will leave the Anthology Film Archives a smoking pile of shattered bricks! The Anthology spawned Subway Cinema 19 years ago, and now we’re back to turn it into a Times Square grindhouse theater, circa 1978, showing nothing but old school kung fu flicks.

Kung fu movies belong on the big screen, so we’re psyched to screen a line-up of seven old school flicks - some classic, some totally obscure, some dubbed into crunky English, others subtitled, some cut into surreal storms of flying feet, others screened uncut - and every single one of these movies delivers more electrifying entertainment than anything in a modern day multiplex.

The insanity begins with a screening of DRAGON PRINCESS (1976, 35mm, dubbed) an ultra-hardcore Sonny Chiba production where Chiba's daughter (Etsuko Shihomi) grows up to murder men with her bare hands. So, it’s not kung fu, but it is KARATE!!!!! And it’s completely berserk. Then afterwards, we're having a beer bash! Hang out and drink $1 beers, make new friends who know karate too, and speculate on what kind of madness we're unleashing tomorrow.

Tickets are $15 and that includes admission to both the movie and the party.

Were screening six secret back-to-back old school kung fu flicks in two blocks. First, it’s three films from massive, international stars before they were famous. Then it’s three kung fu mash-ups in a row! Maybe kung fu horror? Maybe kung fu westerns? Maybe kung fu musicals? Maybe kung fu science fiction? The only way to know is to BE THERE.

Block 1: Young Dragons: Superstars Before They Were Famous
Starts at 12:30pm

Block 2: Infinite Kung Fu: Genre Mash-Ups
Starts at approximately 6:30pm

6-Film Marathon: $35
Half a Loaf of Kung Fu (see just one of the blocks): $20