Alien Trespass: Q&A with Director R.W. Goodwin
By James McCaskill, DC Film Society Member
It's silly but it's fun (R.W. Goodwin)
This Q&A took place on March 18 at a preview screening of Alien Trespass at Landmark's E Street Cinema. DCFS Director Michael Kyrioglou moderated a discussion with the film's director, R.W. Goodwin, and took questions from the audience.
Let's get something straight: This is not a spoof, farce or take-off of 1950s Science Fiction films. Alien Trespass (R.W. Goodwin, USA, 2009) pays homage to 50s SciFi (It Came From Outer Space, Invaders From Mars and War of the Worlds). It pays homage to those films by recreating the genuine scares, the sometimes unintentional humor and the disarming innocence that made those films such timeless classics.
Michael Kyrioglou: We all know R.W. Goodwin from the X-files, winner of four Emmys. Awesome music.
R.W. Goodwin: Best theremin player in the business, Rob Schwimmer. Louis Febre created the score and Schwimmer did the eerie musical effects. And it was five Emmys.
MK: Where did the film concept come from?
RWG: I live up in the northwest corner of Washington state. I had a friend, Stephen Fisher, who took my sci-fi treatment (Invasion of the Spaceman) and mixed it with War of the Worlds, Day the Earth Stood Still and It Came from Outer Space and came up the original screenplay. We grew up in the same area, went to the Saturday films in Englewood but did not know each other. We were sitting just a few rows apart. All those sci-fi films were so funny. Those films were dead earnest. I looked at them again today and they are inadvertently funny. You can't help but care about the characters, warm, funny. I did not want to do a spoof or parody. Everyone in the company had to watch those early films, Earth vs Flying Saucers and all the rest. In these you had the background out of sequence--an actor was walking on a treadmill and would stop but the background would keep going. We did that here. In This Island Earth a couple was standing in a river in reeds, cut away and when cut back no reeds.
Q: Why did you not do it in 3D?
RWG: I would love to do it in 3D. We did this film in 15 days and only had a teeny budget.
Q: You did the opening sequence in black and white; why not make the film in black and white?
RWG: I wanted color. The one film we used as prototype was War of the Worlds and that was in color. We used their color palette. War of the Worlds was our template--big color.
MK: You recaptured the innocence of that age.
RWG: When Jim (co-author of story, James Swift) said do you want to do this? I said yes and he gave me three scripts. One was by Stephen, too long. Everything was in that script. When I start a film I know what it wants to be at the end. My deal with my gang: We are making the greatest sci-fi film ever. Everyone had to look at the three films. Every single department knew what they had to do to make a 50s film.
MK: And the the theremin.
RWG: That had to be there. I had to find Robert Schwimmer, he once did a concert with 15 theremins. Everyone knows what a theremin is?
MK: Yes, there was a documentary at the Biograph some years back (Stephen M. Martin, Theremin: An Electronic Odyssey, USA, 1994).
Q: For that sequence at the end, did you consider CGI?
RWG: In the 50s films were made with models or animation. We did animation. I asked should we do the Ghota in CGI. "NO! It has to be rubber. Nothing is more terrifying than rubber."
Q: Where was the location? Did you shoot in the desert?
RWG: We shot it all in Vancouver. They have a street there that is suppose to be New York, it is terrible. The theatre was real but we had a phony street. We built the exteriors; most was shot on a back lot. In the 50s most of these films were shot on the back lot. There is a desert area just north of the Vancouver with cactus and everything.
Q: How did you get Robert Patrick?
RWG: We shot the X-Files for five years in New York then moved to Los Angeles. I could well go to LA but my family was connected to New York, my son graduating high school. I could have made more money by going to LA. Remember Robert Patrick is funny. He is the nicest person. The scene where he is being eaten by the Ghota he suddenly was pulled in too far and said, 'Hello there.'
Q: Why did you use some new technology.
RGW: In the 50s they used rear projection. We do not have that now. I used front projection. Did green screen, which helped me go through in 15 days.
Q: Where did you find the vintage cars?
RGW: The cars are all from car clubs. They keep them immaculate. We had to dirty them up in filming but had to get them back to immaculate.
Q: How appropriate was it that you killed the little girl? Why?
RGW: Why? She was the most obnoxious person on the set. If I had to kill someone it would be her. No, she was a sweetheart. it just fit the era.
Q: What is the target audience?
RGW: In our screenings so far we have fans in all age groups. Under 10 years old? Don't show it to them. Over 10? Show them. Under 10 they get scared. Early teens that see our film wants to see other sci-fi films.
Q: What plans do you have for future films?
RGW: I am working on a couple of ideas and have several TV pilots. This is the film that is my focus. Tell your friends. Go on FaceBook. Tell everyone. Go to our website. Watch the trailer, become a fan and get special information.
Alien Trespass opens in the Washington DC area on April 3. It stars Eric McCormack, Robert Patrick, Jenni Baird and Dan Lauria.
Paris 36: A Conversation with Director Christophe Barratier and Actress Norma Arnezeder
By Anita Glick, DC Film Society Member
Paris 36 is a charming musical comedy set in an outer suburb of Paris and is about a small community’s passion for the Chansonian, their local theatre. A treat for the eyes as well as the ears, Paris 36 is a heartwarming reminder of the power of community and the romance of the stage.
A screening of Paris 36 was hosted by the Embassy of France on March 8, 2009. Director Christophe Barratier (The Chorus) who trained as a classical guitarist in Paris and actress Norma Arnezeder attended and took questions from the audience. The discussion was moderated by DC Film Society director Michael Kyrioglou.
Michael Kyrioglou: Welcome. I assume you are touring the U.S.?
Christophe Barratier: Yes, today is the third city. We have been in Boston, New York and Washington.
MK: I work in theatre and I am excited to see the theatre represented on the screen. Could you talk a little about that?
CB: The film takes place in a theatre in the 1930’s on a popular street that no longer exists. I thought, "Let's recreate a clear vision of the thirties." You see the theatre and the street are sets but it really doesn’t matter. The theatre was demolished after the four months of filming.
MK: What was the inspiration for the project?
CB: It was inspired by twelve songs brought to me by the composer, Reinhardt Wagner, and the lyricist, Frank Thomas, that I found charming. I wrote the script in 2004 and after two years of writing the film was shot in 2007. The character of Douce (Norma Arnezeder) is a young unknown artist. I thought it would be a great for me and for the audience to discover a new face. A huge casting was organized and over 300 young ladies were tested.
Norma Arnezeder: I met Christophe Barratier two years ago. He wanted to find an actress and a singer. I had been taking sing and acting lessons. When we first met I was told that I was too young. Maybe I could play a small part. Three months later I got a call asking me if I would like to play the part of Douce.
CB: It is one of the great pleasures and the duty of a director to introduce new faces and not just recycle the old ones. Even though she was only 18, she was absolutely correct for the character.
MK: Did you alter the age of the character to make her younger?
CB: Yes, when I knew her age.
Question: I loved the performance and the whole entire show. I want to ask the director — Would you hire her [Norma Arnezeder] again to be in one of your future films?
CB: No, never, she is too expensive now!
MK: What was the most difficult part of the shoot? Was it trying to create that theatre world? Incorporating so much music?
CB: I was the original writer of the project and the writing process was difficult because there are several characters in the movie not just one or two. Pigoil, a stage-hand; Milou, an electrician and skirt chaser; and Jacky, the sandwich man are three newly unemployed friends from the Chansonia, trying to revive the old theatre. Many stories, the love story of Douce, the attractive new singer; the relationship between Pigoil and his son Jojo (played by my little cousin); Milou and Jacky and all their problems; the reclusive 'Radio Man' who lives alone in his house; and Galpiat, the neighborhood "godfather." The preparations for a period piece are enormous. There are the details of sets, props, costumes, and all these take time. It was a long shoot. We shot six days a week for four months. The set was constructed about 25 miles outside of Prague, in the middle of the countryside. We reconstructed a picturesque Paris of the 1930s, and of course the music hall as well. We had looked for a real theatre, in France and in the Czech Republic. Its destruction broke my heart.
MK: What made you choose Tom Stern, Clint Eastwood’s Director of Photography?
CB: I was looking for real contrasted, sculpted lighting and distinctive choices. I had really liked what Tom did on Mystic River. I didn’t think there was much of a chance he would accept but when I found out he had a house in the region, I had more hope. I called him, he asked me to send him the script. Twenty-four hours later he called and said he loved the project.
Q: The story ends ten years after the father returns. What happened during that time?
CB: It was written [the first draft of the script] and it was too long. The characters were evolving and this did not survive the final cut. But, I can tell you all. Douce had a Broadway commitment and became a star. Milou, who was Jewish, escaped from France, moved to America and married Douce. They had a son and named him Jacky. Radio Man returned to his house and did not come out again. He was, however, very important during the war taking codes from London. Let the audience think about what happened!
Q: What are the expectations for the film's release?
CB: We are very lucky, we have been sold worldwide.
MK: [to Norma] Are you interested in pursuing singing, musical theatre or just straight theatre, more film work, anything particular or everything?
NA: Why not singing and acting. I would be happy if they want me.
CB: She is 20 years old. She has the right to do acting and singing.
Q: Can you tell us more about the opening scene?
CB: It was shot outside of Prague. Paris by night was digital. The scenes of the theatre were shot of our set from a sustained crane that descends and then by a steady cam. There were only three real shots of Paris.
Q: About the sentence for Pigoil — would he have been given a 10 year prison sentence?
CB: Even if it was (supposed) self defense, you would have to go to jail, but not for a long time. At this time, even if it was totally circumstantial evidence — it was the mood of the time.
Q: Nora, would you tell us a little about yourself?
NA: I was born in Paris in 1989. I moved to the South of France with my parents. I studied singing and acting and did some television shows.
Q: What can you tell us about the process of making this film? Did you schedule rehearsals prior to shooting? Did you encourage your cast to improvise?
CB: Dance and music were rehearsed and all songs were recorded and we used playback. We did some readings. Actors always want more lines. Jacky (Kad Merad) said “my dying is too short. I could be badly wounded and take a long time to die.” Sometimes it is a good idea to let an actor have some inspiration.
Q: After making The Chorus, why did you decide to make another musical?
CB: I have been a musician since I was a teenager. My parents are involved in the movie business. I was what you call a “black sheep.” I was not like them. Suddenly, when I was tempted, it was a second language to me. I am still a huge fan of all those American musicals. This film is not 100% musical. We aren’t singing in the streets. Thanks to my experience, I can not imagine directing a movie where music has no importance. Music is an important part of my life.
Paris 36 opens in the DC area on April 24.
Everlasting Moments: New film from Jan Troell
By James McCaskill, DC Film Society Member
Swedish director Jan Troell, for all his awards and acclamations, is almost unknown in the U.S. He has won the Best Picture award at the Berlin Film Festival, been nominated for Cannes' Golden Palm and an Oscar Best Picture nomination. Actually The Emigrants was nominated for four Oscars in 1972, one of only eight foreign language films to be so nominated. But becauses of the slow pace of his work and lack of distribution, only a handful of his films have been seen in the U.S., resulting in few people being aware of this extraordinary filmmaker.
Everlasting Moments (Jan Troell, Sweden, 2008) was nominated for a Golden Globe and in Sweden won six Guldbagge (Gold Bug) Awards, the top honor from the Swedish Film Institute. His latest film, 14 other films in 43 years, follows the family of Maria (played by the fantastic Finnish actress Maria Heiskanen) and Sigfrid (Mikael Persbrandt) through sorrow and joy in the first decades of the 20th century. This memory film is narrated by their daughter Maja (Callin Ohrvall). It is Maria's photography, taken with a camera she won before she was married, that saves the family. Her husband's hellraising threatens the family's stability but the quiet heroism of Maria comes through in this extrordinary film. "What do you see when you look through the camera, Maria?" asks Jasper Christensen the supportive photography studio owner. "You see a world, there to be explored - to preserve, to describe. Those who've seen it - they cannot merely close their eyes. You can't turn back."
When asked to provide comments from Mr. Troell for this article the distributor provided the following director's statement:
“Every film is my last," Ingmar Bergman once wrote in his 40s. A good work ethic, I think, because at almost twice that age, these words have assumed even greater relevance for me. At my age, a person must choose very carefully how to spend the last vestiges of his time and energy as an active filmmaker. His hand must be turned to something quite extraordinary.
Everlasting Moments is the result of an involvement that began as far back as 1986 when my wife, Agneta, met Maja, eldest daughter of Maria, the film’s central character, who was also Agneta's father's aunt. Maria was a poverty-stricken, working-class woman with seven children who won a camera in a lottery and thereafter photographed the life of her family and the life around her, through the rest of her life. Agneta realized this could become a marvelous book and interviewed Maja up to her death at the ripe old age of 92.
I, too, realized this was unique material about life in Sweden at the turn of the 20th century. The description of the importance of photography really gripped me, as I have been a devotee of still photography since the tender age of 14. The fantastic Fellini-like gallery of characters also fascinated me, so did the social perspective.
When I grew up in Limhamn it was still a working-class suburb on the outskirts of Malmö, and even though my father was a dentist and I hailed from a different social class than that of my playmates and therefore had an outsider’s perspective, I have no problem recognizing the people and the milieu in which the story takes place (even though the actual events took place in Gothenburg).
It was for many years a dream for me to make a film that takes place in precisely such an environment as this, a film story that affords me the opportunity of drawing on my own childhood feelings and memories. (Jan Troell, Director's Statement, September 2008)
Everlasting Moments just opened in the DC area. You can see it at the Cinema Arts Theater in Virginia and at Landmark's Bethesda Theater.
Sin Nombre: Q&A with Writer/Director Cary Fukunaga and Producer Amy Kaufman
From the press notes
Sin Nombre won the Directing Award and the Excellence in Cinematography Award at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival. Cary Joji Fukunaga directed the film, his feature debut and did extensive first-hand research on Central American gangs and immigrants. The actors are a mix of experienced, first-timers and authentic extras.
Question: How did this project take shape for you, as a first-time feature director?
Cary Joji Fukunaga: It came about through my short film, Victoria para Chino, which was about a truckload of immigrants who were abandoned and suffocated in Victoria, Texas. In doing research for that and filming in Mexico, I learned about the Central American side of immigration; when we think of immigration, we usually think Mexico-to-the-United States. But there are Hondurans, Guatelmalans, and Nicaraguans who are traveling north to get into Mexico and then go Mexico-to-the-United States. I knew this was a story I wanted to tell in a feature film. It struck me personally. I wanted to have audiences experience this from a human perspective, one which has nothing to do with politics or agendas about what immigration “means” or what it “should” be. The Web and newspapers and books have information, but for me it is hard to get a sense of things unless I go in person to see what someplace is like. Now, the short film played at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival, and I was asked to submit a script for the Sundance Lab. I had spent all my time finishing the short, so I had just two weeks to draft the feature script. I drew on the research I had done for the short, but I knew I needed to find out even more about the things that I didn’t know about and write more drafts. I wanted authenticity.
Q: What with the larger scale, were you considering presenting the script for a director to consider?
CJF: No, it was always going to be a project I would direct, and I always planned on filming in Mexico, because that’s where the story takes place. There was no way I could have written Sin Nombre without seeing what I was writing about. So, in the summer of 2005, I went down to Chiapas and Tapachula, Mexico with a couple of friends who had worked on the short, to do firsthand research. We spoke to police. We went to jails to meet with gang members who were part of the immigrant smuggling trade. We went to the borders, and saw rafters on the Suchiate River between Guatemala and Mexico. We visited immigrants at train stations and yards and also at shelters, including one that is designated for immigrants who have been injured on trains; 16-year-olds who lost their legs, for example. These are people who were headed north to try for a better life for themselves and their families, and now they had gotten hurt and never made it north. After seeing them, my friends decided they didn’t want to ride the trains. So I ended up doing that by myself. One night, at 2:00am in the Tapachula yards, I jumped on a freight train with two Hondurans that I’d met the night before. I had invited them to stay with me at a hotel rather than wait all night at the station, which was dangerous. We all jumped on and traveled across Chiapas; a lot of what happened on that 27-hour trip – within the first couple of hours – formed the basis for what happens on top of the train in Sin Nombre. The bandit attack that happened not far from us, and the camaraderie with the immigrants, enriched my perspective.
Q: Was there a lot of chaos on the trip?
CJF: Well, if you see drama or crazy stuff, it happens instantly and then it’s gone as soon as it came. What surprised me is how mundane a lot of the journey is – like ordinary life. Here’s the way I learned to look at it from the immigrants’ perspective; whether bad things or good things happen, it’s just another day and everything and everyone is in God’s hands. If they’re on top of the train and completely dehydrated, they’ll say, “It will rain and we will collect water.” If bandits attack the trains, they’ll say, “We’ll run and then come back to the train when the bandits go away.” Whatever happens, they will roll with it. They don’t dramatize what’s happening in their lives.
Q: That was your purview. So what did you learn from them that motivated your storytelling?
CJF: The immigrants that I met knew that the journey, and the life they were going towards, was going to be hard. I didn’t meet any who thought that the streets were going to be paved with gold in the U.S. That’s not the perspective people have any more. The journey is now one of survival, necessity, and basic economics; at home, they make 45 lempiras a day, and milk costs 15. You have people who can’t make enough money to meet the cost of living or feed their families in their country, where the economy is falling apart. We would be stopped for several hours, and they would be looking in irrigation ditches for water, along the way. At that point, there is nothing else to do but talk, and I would get asked, “What are you doing here?” I would answer, “I’m writing a story.” The idea that someone would have all the time in the world to sit and conceive and write a story ... I’d write in my journal, and some people would say “Good for you” and others would say “Please tell our story.” By the end of the trips, I had learned so much and lived some of it myself. So I felt even more responsibility to tell the story.
Q: What does the title mean?
CJF: The title Sin Nombre translates as “without a name,” or, “nameless” in English.
Q: What drives the main characters?
CJF: This movie is about people in our day, in our time, at this very moment. They are living their lives and they have made the decision to try to look for something better. Smiley is looking to be part of a community. Having been raised by his grandmother, he had no male images of role models. Casper, as a member of the Mara, is his example. There may be standard stories of why kids join gangs, yet every case is an individual one. Casper and Sayra are both looking to reconstruct families they have never had; that theme is set against the worlds of immigration and gangs. When they meet, a trust builds up between them bit by bit. They become linked to each other, yet at the end of the story are in very different places.
Q: Amy, what appealed to you about Cary’s script?
Amy Kaufman: Most of all, how it was based on the real stories that Cary learned about in his travels and his research. For him, it was important to tell the authentic story of how families travel from all over, to try to get to the United States, and we don’t really know just how much is involved in the journey. For me, it read as a Greek tragedy –
CJF: I see it as a Western, actually ...
AK: Either way, there was drama and much of it takes place on top of a moving train with people functioning in an extreme situation – so I knew it would be exciting, too. I had seen Cary’s Victoria para Chino, which I thought was incredible. When I found out how he had made it – and for no money – I thought, “I have to meet him.” When I did, I learned that he had a feature script, written in Spanish, that he wanted to make in Mexico. I decided I wanted to try and work on it, so I brought the script to Focus Features – where I am based as a producer – and they were enthusiastic about it.
Q: Then it was just that one trip, Cary, that got you all you needed to write the script and prep the movie?
CJF: Oh no. I made more trips back to Mexico. The last train I rode was in the summer of 2006, across Veracruz. A year and a couple of months later, we were filming scenes where I had traveled –
Q: So you filmed in the fall of 2007 –
CJF: Right, and right where I had been before. We were creating a fiction in spots where the real thing is still happening. The actors would be on camera, and a few feet away there would be real immigrants who had just traveled for days.
Q: What were the challenges of filming?
CJF: During filming, I would sit and wish that I had written a story about two people in a café talking about life and relationships. [laughs] I mean, we had trains, rain, hundreds of extras, nearly daily location changes, blood and other effects. One of the most difficult things was the time it took just to get everything in synch, and realize the mise-en-scene I wanted – all on a tight schedule. The original plan was to shoot from Honduras all the way to Texas. When we learned how expensive that would be, we knew we couldn’t film all the way. But the locations we filmed at were beautiful. The only sad thing was that we never had time to take advantage of them because we were on to the next one; we weren’t in any one for more than three days, and usually it was just one day. Luckily we also had a second unit capturing parts of areas we had to move on from first.
Q: Where did you shoot the movie?
CJF: On Mexico City locations that were so diverse; we were able to find so many in a 200-mile radius. For example, Orizaba is gorgeous with its colors and light. The Tegucigalpa, Honduras scenes were filmed in Naucalpan. You see how they built those concrete houses on the edge of a valley.
Q: How did you find the crew to be?
CJF: Amazing. Everyone did their research and would get inspired. Sometimes I didn’t have to say anything; they would just do their thing, and I would get excited once I saw what they came up with. The crew ran like a family; a lot of them had been together on Apocalypto for eight months.
AK: The crew members proved to be incredible, and so supportive of Cary; I would make another movie there in a second. People welcomed us into their homes.
Q: Cary, how did you work out the visual approach for the film?
CJF: Well, since we were mostly using real locations, Pache [the production designer] and I talked a lot about colors and textures. We went for a saturated, yet not overt, palette; there are these natural decaying backgrounds mixed with hot spots of color. In terms of the cinematography, Adriano and I talked from the beginning about doing less inflected camerawork; no messing with the negative. We wanted the camerawork to be natural and let what happens be the drama.
Q: How did the key actors come together, and how did you work closely with them?
CJF: That was also in terms of it being authentic; we had it written into the contract to make the movie that we would be casting Central Americans. For the principal roles, I wanted people who caught the spirit of their parts. So through [casting director] Carla Hool, we cast people with a lot of experience, like Paulina Gaitan, and people with practically none, like Edgar Flores; she could give me four variations on a scene, while he was in a lot of ways just being him. So it was a good mix for me, and it meant that I couldn’t over-plan a scene – which I don’t like to do in the first place, since I like spontaneity. Yet I can also control the dramatic flow of a scene towards authenticity.
AK: We cast out of Los Angeles, Mexico, and Honduras. Edgar, whom we found in Honduras, brought something raw – and that helped his chemistry with Paulina, who has been acting since she was younger. Those with experience were able to meld nicely with those who had less experience.
CJF: Exactly; experienced actors can help inexperienced actors through scenes and with feedback. I like to give advice, and not just direct; I’ll ask one of the actors to talk to another one, actor to actor. It’s something I learned to do when I was making short films. When I had kids and adults in the cast, I would have them spend time together so they could create a bond that would then come across naturally in a scene. For example, Tenoch [Huerta Mejía, who plays Mara leader Lil’ Mago] is a natural leader and charismatic, so in the gang scenes I would say to him, “You control your guys and you decide how things are going to happen.” That strengthened the dynamic on-screen. During the writing, I found that character starting to take over scenes; despite all the bad things he does, you still want to like him. That was true of certain gang members I met, too – and with Luis Fernando Peña in playing Sol. We cast people off the streets, because I had always hoped to cast as real as possible.
AK: We were able to do a lot of on-site casting based on locals who were around on a given day, and were happy to be extras.
CJF: They were, and for the barrio dieciocho [Barrio 18] scene, where Smiley and Sol are in that neighborhood [and pursued by a rival Mara gang], we found three real gang members – two of whom had been part of the Mara. For a scene like that, you don’t necessarily direct; you just set up a scenario and let them live it.
AK: I met with some former Mara who are now living in Los Angeles, because we also wanted to be true to what they have gone through. The Mara scenes were so important, so it was a challenge to find someone as young as Kristyan Ferrer, who could do everything that we needed him to do. He’s amazing; I think we’ll be seeing a lot more of him.
Q: As the film’s producer, what other challenges did you feel you or the film faced?
AK: Trying to figure out the best way to shoot everything; that was a giant puzzle, what with the trains and the budget and location constraints. Some of the trains in the film were actual trains, and some of them were freight cars that we built on top of flatbed tractor trailers – sort of a “process train,” if you will. In both instances, we had an entire crew with equipment, and cast and extras, atop a moving train car going through actual landscapes. We did do just a couple of process shots. This was a hard film to make in only seven weeks, given that we spent so much time on the tops of trains. Of course, we had harnesses and safety people, so imagine what it’s like for the immigrants who really are traveling on trains. I have to say that when we met and talked with immigrants, what we found is that they are friendly and open and helpful. Seeing Sin Nombre, I hope that people will have more of an understanding of what immigrants go through to access opportunities that a lot of us are born with; and more of an understanding of how and why people are enticed into the Mara.
Sin Nombre is scheduled to open in the DC area on April 3.
Wrong Rosary: Coming to Filmfest DC
By James McCaskill, DC Film Society Member
Wrong Rosary will be shown during the Washington DC International Film Festival on April 24 and 25 at 9:30pm at Regal Cinema, Gallery Place.
The following interview took place with the assistance of the Press Desk, International Film Festival Rotterdam in January 2009.
Beguiling would be the most fitting word to describe Mehmut Fazil Coskun's film Wrong Rosary (Uzak Ihtimal, Turkey, 2008). Musa (played by film newcomer Nadir Saribacak), a young muezzin from Ankara, is posted to a mosque in the Galata district of Istanbul. A muezzin is the person who leads the call to Friday service and the five daily prayers. He is chosen for his good character, voice and skills. From his mosque-arranged apartment window he sees Clara (played by experienced actress, screenwriter Gorkem Yeltan) the nun-in-training taking care of an elderly woman in the next apartment. If you think that the friendship turning into romance in this film is about as polar as one can find that would be alright with first time director Coskun. When I interviewed him he said, "About two years ago I was with a friend who is a novelist. This was his first novel and the theme was Hopeless Love. We went through more sets of opposite lovers; different religions was one of the ones we came up with. We actually came up with three possibilities; I liked this one best. We brought in four writers that included a poet, the novelist, a scriptwriter, an actress and myself and began to write. We changed the script so many times. At the end I knew what kind of film and format I wanted. Even knew the music, I just did not have a shooting script."
The muezzin-nun relationship was just what he was looking for. "First I cast the actress who was also the screenwriter, Gorkem Yeltab. Saribacak was then cast as the muezzin. He was a theatre actor who had only been in small film parts." The third major player in Wrong Rosary is the older second hand bookseller, Yakop (Ersan Uysal), who hires the younger man to help with his Ottoman language books. "The bookseller is a retired actor who was not well known," continued Coskun. "I was casting for a certain look."
"The apartment interior was shot in an actual Istanbul apartment. It was very hard to find as so many details were in the script. The elevator, the kitchen layout." I asked him about changes in the script while he was shooting. He said, "We wrote first then wrote on set. Wrote in editing. The film was changed at every step. We changed scenes and set ups. The old man was dying in the shooting but I changed it in editing so he lived. The film is not about religion. I wanted to do a film on modern multi-religious Istanbul." And indeed it is not about religion. It is the simple story of a lonely man's daily routine. His early awakening for prayers, his trips to the mosque, his wanderings alongside the Bosporus. Then Clara enters his life. Coskun beautifully interweaves the three principals' stories.
Most of the film is set in confined spaces from their separate apartments, Yakop's book shop, the mosque and the church, reflecting the confined life of Musa and Clara. All are real spaces, all chosen for their special look. When I asked when the film will be released in Turkey, Coskun replied, "It will not be released there until next December. Wrong Rosary will spend 2009 travelling the film festival circuit: Rotterdam, Brussels and Copenhagen among others.
"I lived in Los Angeles for four years, four months in New York City," Coskun said when I asked about his background. "I studied at UCLA. Wrong Rosary is my first feature length film. Previously I worked in Turkey as a documentary maker. I made a film on the head of "Bosnia-Herzegovina. He died and the film got distributed." When asked about the film's financing I was told, "The Turkish Ministry of Culture gave half of the budget. Banks gave 25% and we came up with the last 25%. Twice a year the government announces their film partnership. They announce ten to twenty films a year. Turkey sees film as Little Ambassadors."
Wrong Rosary was one of three films to win the Tiger Award at the International Film Festival Rotterdam. In making the award, the jury said: "A brave film, fragmented in a way that each bit is very sharp as an edgy, personal and political statement. As critics, we were most challenged on many levels by this work which kept coming back again and again in our discussions as the song "I Just Called to Say I Love You" did infectiously in the film".
Provoking with Silence and Still Looking for Sylvia: Filmmaker José Luis Guerín Visits Washington, DC
By Annie Steidel, DC Film Society Member
In February of 2009, the National Gallery of Art hosted a short series of films by Barcelona filmmakers José Luis Guerín and Pere Portabella. José Luis Guerín attended the screening of two of his films on February 28 and took questions from the audience.
In her introduction, Peggy Parsons, head of the department of film programs at the Gallery, stated that he has made seven features and approximately as many shorts; he teaches film at a university in Barcelona and learned filmmaking by watching films at the cinematheque. Very briefly, she described the films to be shown, Some Photos in the City of Sylvia (2007), as a silent photo essay video in black and white, and In the City of Sylvia (2007), as a colorful film with an interesting soundtrack. In the City of Sylvia was nominated for a Golden Lion Award at the Venice Film Festival.
José Luis Guerín, speaking in Spanish because he said he spoke English poorly, said the two films were independent of each other and could be seen separately, but it was possible to show them together to compare and contrast them. He said he made City of Sylvia within the filmmaking industry, with color, sound and actors. Some Photos, he said he made alone, for himself and for friends. He explained that, as Jean Renoir said, a good bottle of wine can only be shared with friends. He elaborated on Some Photos by saying that it’s a film made with photographs, in silence, which is the greatest transgression. To further clarify his point, Guerín said that people turn the TV on, not to watch something, but to hear something. He said he conceived the film to watch it in silence. Guerín said he discovered cinema at the cinematheque. He seems to admire silent films and silent filmmakers and said he likes the feeling of sharing silence. And that while some people cough as a nervous manifestation, he feels that silence provokes intimacy, similar to literature and the intimacy of the reader with his book.
Guerín described City of Sylvia, in a wonderful ironic manner, as a film with a lot of sound, actors, big entertainment. He concluded his introduction to the films by saying that he would come back after the screenings in case anyone had any reproach.
Some Photos in the City of Sylvia travels via photographs from Strasbourg, France, where Guerín met Sylvia many years ago, as he returns to look for her, and then continues to other European cities, alluding to literary references: Goethe and Werther, Dante and Beatrice, Petrarca and Laura. In his journey he photographs women in many places, as he follows them and also gets close to them.
In the City of Sylvia shows the protagonist, played by Xavier Lafitte, in Strasbourg looking for Sylvie, whom he had met there some years ago. Thinking he has found her, he follows a young woman, played by Pilar López de Ayala, throughout the streets and then on a tram, where he finally speaks to her. The film has very little dialogue, but has wonderful ambient sounds, music, parts of conversations in different languages and many people in a beautiful, lively city.
When asked why he chose Strasbourg as the city in the film In the City of Sylvia, Guerín said that the city in the film is not meant to be a specific city, but an abstraction, more as an urban geography of a woman. He said that Strasbourg is a city between France and Germany with a certain indetermination, where, as the soundtrack of the film shows, there are many languages, and also indetermination, as represented by the migrant character. He also talked about the importance for him of the medieval look of the city and thinks of the protagonist as a gentleman in a medieval fairy tale, who should look for his luminary woman. Guerín thinks that Strasbourg is a harmonic city and he tried to show the choreography of the city. He likened his role in the film as that of the operators in the Lumière brothers’ films, who studied the places, times, motion and different aspects of the space. Guerín relates cinema to a journey. He is saddened when he is shooting a film and everyone goes home to sleep at the end of the day. He prefers to live in one location with the people working in the film, as this adds intensity to the film.
Regarding the cinematography, Guerín commented that he prefers a static camera with the rhythm of entrances and exits from the camera view, that choreographic sense of people moving into and out of the image.
To explain the relationship between the two films, Guerín said they were two variations of the same theme. The first one (Some Photos) is the sketchbook of a filmmaker, the first composition to make the second film. It is also, in first person narration, subjective. In the second one (City of Sylvia), there is dialectic between the subject and the object. He questions the look (regard) of “the dreamer” [as Guerín will continue to refer to the protagonist].
Guerín thinks that the two films should be seen in the reverse order, first City of Sylvia and then Some Photos. He said that we don’t know anything about “the dreamer” of City of Sylvia, who could be a poet, a psycho-killer, a painter, a filmmaker or a cynical seducer. Watching Some Photos first, limits the view of the other film because of everything that is said in it.
Guerín was asked about a recurring graffiti that appears on walls in City of Sylvia which reads “Laure Je T’aime” (Laura I love you). He said he put them there, to help memorize the spaces. [In Some Photos we see a picture of an actual graffiti in Italy that reads “Laura ti amo”, which is clearly where the “Laure Je T’aime” came from, translated to the French language spoken in Strasbourg.]
To answer a question about how much was staged in City of Sylvia, Guerín referred to the dialectic in cinema: control/chance, documentary/fiction. He said that Goddard called Hitchcock the “universe controller”. Guerín likes to open the door to chance; he needs to be the first spectator. He talks to the people who appear in the film and creates situations, then lets the camera wait. Like a fisherman, concluded Guerín.
To a comment about the obsession of the character in City of Sylvia, Guerín said that the character is looking for one image, not a woman.
Guerín was asked about his influences, in particular if Chantal Akerman was an influence. Convincingly, he replied that he loves cinema and is a spectator. He confirmed that Akerman is very important, and also his friend, and mentioned Akerman’s News from Home. Other directors mentioned were Hitchcock (Vertigo), Rohmer, Bresson (Four Nights of a Dreamer). But to make films he tries to forget everything that he has seen, films, paintings, books that form a part of his life. He forgets and he relates.
When questioned why he made City of Sylvia in French, and not in Spanish or Catalan, Guerín stated the obvious: it goes with the location. But he pointed out that the actress who is followed in the film, Pilar López de Ayala, speaks in French with a Spanish accent [since she is from Spain]. He also mentioned that the film was a co-production with France. He reiterated that he likes to understand cinema as a journey with the attentive regard of the traveler, and the best is that he can reinterpret the journey. He believes that there should be ecology between the location and the sounds. He does not believe in co-productions with actors from many different countries - films without a concrete language, but prefers to look for faces and people from the place where he is filming.
To the question of who the sketcher is in City of Sylvia, Guerín quickly responded not me and not the actor, but a sketcher from Barcelona. After shooting all the sequences and editing, they shot the close up of the drawings.
We look forward to seeing more films of José Luis Guerín, as he continues his cinematic journey.
The Cinema Lounge
The next meeting of the Cinema Lounge will be on Monday, April 13 at 7:00pm. The topic to be discussed is "Sequels" (excluding Spiderman 3).
The Cinema Lounge, a film discussion group, meets the second Monday of every month at 7:00pm at Barnes and Noble, 555 12th St., NW in Washington, DC (near the Metro Center Metro stop). You do not need to be a member of the Washington DC Film Society to attend. Cinema Lounge is moderated by Daniel R. Vovak, ghostwriter with Greenwich Creations.
Last month at Cinema Lounge
On March 9, 2009, we discussed the topic "Movies that surprised: What was I supposed to think?" Unfortunately, it was a topic that was difficult to pinpoint, though we tried.
In Bowfinger (1999), it was a surprise when the man imitating Eddie Murphy was a character in the movie playing Eddie Murphy's brother.
In Batman Begins (2005), one person thought she was turned off by the batman franchise, only to be surprised at the vibrant new spin on the characters, even within the first fifteen minutes of the movie.
Pay It Forward (2000) was a surprise because of its artistic message, with a different edge than the norm.
In Casino Royale (2006), the new Bond character, Daniel Craig, was a surprise for changing the image of Bond, reminiscent of how Timothy Dalton transformed the character.
Mr. and Mrs. Smith (2005) was a surprise in its cartoonish-like twist on the War of the Roses (1989) theme, using assassins.
Valkyrie (2008) was better than expected, which was a surprise.
After struggling with the topic, we evolved it into people in Hollywood who have found their own brand. The list includes: Tyler Perry (Black comedy with the same characters), Coen Brothers (Corny Movies), John Carpenter (Vampires), M. Night Shyamalan (Twists), Quentin Tarantino (Violence), Wes Craven (Horror), Jerry Bruckheimer (Explosions), and Judd Apatow (Crude humor), though Judd Apatow seems to be declining of late. In essence, "You know branded people in Hollywood, by their products."
Calendar of Events
American Film Institute Silver Theater
"Paul Newman Remembered" is a two-month celebration of a 50-year range of Newman's films, concluding this month. Titles in April include Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, The Hustler, Exodus, The Color of Money, The Verdict, Hud, Torn Curtain, Road to Perdition, Buffalo Bill and the Indians, Rachel Rachel, The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds, The Sting and Slap Shot.
The AFI and the Freer take part in "In the Realm of Oshima," a festival of Nagisa Oshima films, concluding in April. At the AFI is Diary of a Shinjuku Thief, Death by Hanging, In the Realm of the Senses, Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence and Max Mon Amour.
A series of films produced by Alan Pakula begins in April with To Kill a Mockingbird and The Parallax View. More in May.
Two locations (AFI and Freer Gallery of Art take part in "Korean Film Festival DC 2009". At the AFI is Forever the Moment (2008) with director Yim Soon-Rye in person, Treeless Mountain (2008), Crush and Blush (2008) with director Lee Kyoung-Mi attending, Like a Virgin (2006) and Night and Day (2008).
Silverdocs presents The English Surgeon which won the award for Best International Feature Documentary and Silverdocs 2008 and Throw Down Your Heart, winner of the Music Documentary Award at Silverdocs 2008.
Freer Gallery of Art
The Freer concludes its part in "In the Realm of Oshima" along with the AFI. On April 3 at 7:00pm is Empire of Passion (1978) and on April 5 at 2:00pm is Gohatto (1999).
Two locations (American Film Institute Silver Theater and Freer Gallery of Art take part in "Korean Film Festival DC 2009". On April 17 at 7:00pm is Forever the Moment (2008) with director Yim Soon-rye in person; on April 18 at 2:00pm is Waikiki Brothers (2001) with director Yim Soon-rye in person; on April 19 at 1:00pm is a panel discussion with director Lee Kyoung-mi and a screening of Crush and Blush; on April 24 at 7:00pm is Going by the Book (Jung Jae-young, 2007); on April 26 at 1:00pm is Milky Way Liberation Front (Yoon Seung-ho, 2007) shown with the documentary Taxi Blues (Choiha Dong-ha, 2005) at 3:00pm. More in May.
National Gallery of Art
To accompany the photography exhibit of Robert Frank's "The Americans" is a film program "By and about Robert Frank," a series of eight of Robert Frank's recent films, three documentaries on different points in his career and a program of works inspired by Frank's films and photography. On April 1, 2 and 3 at 12:30pm is Fire in the East: A Portrait of Robert Frank (Philip Brookman and Amy Brookman, 1986). On April 18 and 25 at 1:00pm is "Robert Frank, Recent Films" including The Present (1996), Flamingo (1997), I Remember (1998), Sanyu (1999), Paper Route (2002) and True Story (2004). On April 19 at 4:30pm is the feature-length documentary Leaving Home, Coming Home: Robert Frank (Gerald Fox, 2005) with the filmmaker present to discuss the film following the screening. On April 22, 23 and 24 at 12:30pm is An American Journey (Philippe Seclier, 2008), a retracing of Frank's trip around the US in 1955 and 1956. On April 25 at 3:30pm is "For Robert," a selection of 11 short avant-garde films by various artists.
"Saved by Anthology Film Archives" looks at some recent preservation by the film archives. On April 11 at 3:30pm is A Town called Tempest (George Kuchar, 1963) shown with Chafed Elbows (Robert Downey, Sr., 1966). On April 12 at 4:30pm is "Robert Breer: Reinventing Drawing," a collection of 12 short animated films. On April 18 at 3:30pm is "A Mixed Bag," a collection of short avant garde films.
Other film events at the Gallery include films from the International Festival of Films on Art on April 4 at 2:00pm and April 11 at 1:00pm (two separate programs). On April 5 at 4:00pm is a lecture and screening "From Giotto to Pasolini: Narrative in Fresco and Film" by art historian David Gariff followed by a screening of Accattone (1961). On April 26 at 4:30pm is "Bruce Conner: A Tribute," a collection of short films introduced by film historian Scott MacDonald.
Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden
On April 23 at 8:00pm is The Universe of Keith Haring (Christina Clausen, 2007), a documentary about Keith Haring. On April 26 at 11:00pm, 1:00pm and 3:00pm is La Riviere Gentille (Brigitte Cornand, 2007) a feature-length documentary on artist Louise Bourgeois.
Museum of American History
On April 29 at 3:00pm, 5:30pm and 8:00pm is Chops (Bruce Broder, 2007), a feature-length documentary following three high school jazz bands as they compete in the Lincoln Center's 2006 jazz band competition. After each screening director Bruce Broder will discuss his film.
National Portrait Gallery
On April 15 at 7:00pm is Paris Blues (Martin Ritt, 1961) starring Paul Newman and Sidney Poitier and filmed on location in Paris. The Oscar-nominated score by Duke Ellington helps this film celebrate Jazz Appreciation Month.
Smithsonian American Art Museum
On April 30 at 6:00pm is Bound for Glory (Hal Ashby, 1976) with David Carradine as folk singer Woody Guthrie; this film complements the exhibition "1934: A New Deal for Artists."
"Art:21" is a special series from the award-winning documentaries Art in the Twenty-First Century featuring behind-the-scenes conversations with contemporary artists in their studios. Continuing in this series on April 1 at 6:00pm is "Structures" featuring Roni Horn, Matthew Ritchie and others. On April 23 at 6:00pm is "Ecology" featuring Robert Adams, Mark Dion and others.
Films on the Hill
On April 24 at 7:00pm is Ten Tall Men (Willis Goldbeck, 1951) in Technicolor, starring Burt Lancaster in a spoof of the French Foreign Legion film, preceded by the cartoon Sahara Hare with Bugs Bunny defending a Foreign Legion outpost.
Washington Jewish Community Center
On April 13 at 7:00pm is As Seen Through These Eyes (Hilary Helstein, 2008), a feature-length documentary about artists who created their work during and about the Holocaust. This film won seven awards including the Best Documentary at the Palm Springs International Film Festival. After the screening Aviva Kempner and Bernice Steinhardt, both daughters of Holocaust survivors who were artists. On April 19 at 3:00pm is Crips and Bloods: Made in America (Stacy Peralta, 2008), a documentary about Los Angeles gangs. On April 28 at 7:30pm is Annie Hall (Woody Allen, 1977) which accompanies Theater J's production of The Rise and Fall of Annie Hall.
As part of the series "Lincoln Bicentennial" is The Littlest Rebel (David Butler, 1935) starring Shirley Temple on April 2 at 7:00pm. On April 9 at 7:00pm is Abe Lincoln in Illinois (John Cromwell, 1940) starring Raymond Massey as Abraham Lincoln and Gene Lockhart as Stephen Douglas. On April 16 at 7:00pm are two made for TV programs: Lincoln--Trial by Fire (Ed Spiegel, 1974) shown with Small World (1959). On April 23 at 7:00pm is Young Mr. Lincoln (John Ford, 1939) with Henry Fonda as Abraham Lincoln. On April 30 at 7:00pm is The Tall Target (Anthony Mann, 1951) shown with the short film Portfolio (Bill Linden, 1961).
Last in the "Globalization--Threat or Opportunity" series of films is Losers and Winners (Ulrike Franke and Michael Loeken, 2006) on April 6 at 6:30pm. This documentary, winner of numerous awards, follows the dismantling of a coking plant, the world's most technologically advanced, built in 1992 and sold just eight years later to the Chinese.
"People in Cities" is a new films series about the issues faced by people in urban cultures. On April 20 at 6:30pm is Berlin is in Germany (Hannes Stoehr, 2001) about a prisoner who was a citizen of the GDR when he went in and finds that he scarcely recognizes his re-united homeland when he is released. On April 27 at 6:30pm is Do the Right Thing (Spike Lee, 1989) set in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York. Three more films in this series will be seen in May.
The third in a series of film seminars about basic emotions in European cinema is "Fear" on April 25. Film critic Desson Thomson moderates the seminar beginning at 2:00pm, followed by a champagne reception at 5:00pm and at 5:30pm the French film Diabolique (Henri-Georges Glouzot, 1955) starring Simone Signoret and Véra Clouzot.
National Geographic Society
A day of films for kids presented by the All Roads Film Project begins at 11:00am with a series of six animated films from India, Canada and the US. At 1:00pm is a documentary for older kids March Point (2007) about three teenagers who are asked to document the effect of oil refineries on their community. The filmmakers will be present for discussion.
On April 8 at 7:00pm is With a Little Help from Myself (François Dupeyron, 2008) set in a French urban black ghetto, preceded by a short film Deweneti (Dyana Gaye, 2006) from Senegal.
The Japan Information and Culture Center
On April 15 at 6:30pm is Maiko Haan (Nobuo Mizuta, 2007) a comedy about "maiko" or apprentice geisha. Reservations are required.
On April 2 (Parts 1 and 2) and April 3 (Parts 3 and 4) at noon is Appalachia: A History of Mountains and People (Jamie Ross and Ross Spears), a four-part series on how the landscape and human cultures shape each other. Two one-hour episodes will be shown each day. On April 2 is "Time and Terrain" and "New Green World" and on April 3 is "Mountain Revolutions" and "Power and Place."
On April 18 at 3:00pm is A Night to Remember (1958) about the sinking of the Titanic, based on Walter Lord's book. On April 18 at noon is The Horse Soldiers (1959) based on an actual Civil War incident. On April 25 at noon is The Littlest Rebel (1935) starring Shirley Temple.
National Museum of Natural History
On April 24 at 11:00am to accompany the exhibit "Written in Bone: Forensic Files of the 17th Century Chesapeake" is a screening of a documentary film exploring the work of Dr. Douglas Owsley, one of the top forensic anthropologists and co-curator of the exhibit. Dr. Owsley introduces the film.
On April 8 at 8:00pm is Little Girl Blue (Alice Nellis, 2007) part of "Lions of Czech Film" and winner of the Czech Oscar for Best Film and Best Cinematography.
As part of the "French Cinémathèque" series is La France (Serge Bozon, 2007) on April 15 at 8:00pm. This film, set in WWI, won the Prix Jean Vigo.
On April 6 at 8:00pm is a discussion with film clips about politics and film. How do movies shape our views of politics and politicians? Discuss this with NPR's Susan Stamberg, Linda Wertheimer, Ron Elving and Film Critic Bob Mondello.
Kennedy Center for Performing Arts
NSO's "Nights at the Movies." On April 4 at 8:00pm the National Symphony and organist Dennis James accompanies the great classic silent comedy The General (Clyde Bruckman and Buster Keaton, 1926).