The Cinema Lounge
The next meeting of the Cinema Lounge will be on Monday, August 10 at 7:00pm. The topic to be discussed is "Journalism in Movies".
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 July 13, 2009, a large group of attendees discussed "Religion in Movies." The relationship with Hollywood and religion has evolved, beginning with support of religion in Going My Way (1944), The Ten Commandments (1956), The Story of Mankind (1957) with Groucho Marx, and The Singing Nun (1966). Early Hollywood was afraid to touch religious taboos, with Cecil B. DeMille (1881-1959) leading the way by setting a tone of mixing religious themes with sexuality. Notable films within that era include: Gentleman's Agreement (1947), which attacked anti-Jewish sentiment; Ben-Hur (1959), which did not show Jesus' face; and King of Kings (1961), the first movie wherein Jesus was the main character.
From 1930 to 1968, the Hays Code censored movies with three primary rules: (1) No picture could be produced that would lower the moral standards of those who saw it. Hence, the sympathy of the audience should never be thrown to the side of crime, wrongdoing, evil or sin, (2) Correct standards of life, subject only to the requirements of drama and entertainment, could be presented, and (3) Law, natural or human, should not to be ridiculed, nor should sympathy be created for its violation. After the Hayes Code ended, Hollywood questioned religion with satire, confusion and rebellion. Rosemary's Baby (1968), A Clockwork Orange (1971), Straw Dogs (1971), Star Wars (1977), and Oh God! (1977, 1980, and 1984) depicted religion as essentially phony. The Devil's Advocate (1997) made Satan into a near-hero. In The Last Temptation of Christ (1988), Jesus was depicted as a real person, with sin (and lust) within his thoughts.
In the modern era, there is a striking conflict between movies that show people with religious conflicts and people with religious hope. With religious conflict, examples include: The Da Vinci Code (2006), Religulous (2008), Angels & Demons (2009), and numerous South Park television episodes. With religious hope, examples include: Se7en (1995), The Apostle (1997), Pay It Forward (2000), Keeping the Faith (2000), Bruce Almighty (2003), Saved! (2004), and Evan Almighty (2007).
One person innocently commented, "It seems all the Catholic Church does is complain about movies," though the same could fairly be said about Jewish interest groups regarding the blockbuster financial success The Passion of the Christ (2004). Contrastingly, it seemed like a marketing game for producers of The Golden Compass (2007) to offend Evangelical Christians (or at least claim they were offended).
One Jewish participant shared that A Price Above Rubies (1998) was about "Orthodox Jews, which I do not really like much, in spite of being Jewish (myself). But watching that movie, I became sympathetic towards them." The Jazz Singer (1927) used strong Jewish themes whereas Mass Appeal (1984) was about a priest in conflict. Doubt (2008) was about a priest in a conflict. It seemed obvious to many that most modern movies carry a strong anti-Catholic message, depicting sinful priests, horny nuns, and hypocrisy. Certainly the pious example of Father Barry (played by Karl Malden) in On The Waterfront (1954) has become sadly extinct.
We tried to think about movies that dealt with non-mainstream religions. Witness (1985) was a respectful movie about the Amish (which they actually liked), though it created the irony that Amish people could not really watch the film due to their anti-technology beliefs. Kingpin (1996) is a comedy about Quaker bowlers. Burying the Past: Legacy of the Mountain Meadows Massacre (2004) was about Mormons. The Legend of Bagger Vance (2000) was about Hinduism. Dances with Wolves (1990) was about the religion within American Indian cultures. Kundun (1997), directed by Martin Scorsese, was about Tibet's 14th Dalai Lama. Little Buddha (1993) was an insult to the religion with its depiction by Keanu Reeves. Matrix (1999 and 2003) played with similar themes. East is East (1999) was about a Pakistani Muslim. Strangely, we could not think of a movie about Jehovah Witnesses.
Some movies have significant support behind people within a religion. An example is Milk (2008) about a gay Mormon, which was primarily funded by prominent Mormons. Another example is Inchon (1982) a film about the Battle of Incheon during the Korean War, which was largely funded by members of the Unification Church.
Some movies have a religious thrust in them, though they are not angled towards anything specific: Frankenstein (1931), Inherit The Wind (1960), The Exorcist (1973), The Man Who Would Be King (1975), Signs (2002), Witches of Eastwick (1987), and Elizabethtown (2005). War of the Worlds (2005) has a strong God-theme toward the end, though it is not about a specific religion. Although it was not technically a religious movie, The Gods Must Be Crazy (1980) contained many religious undertones, humorously thrusting religion on indigenous people as a battle from Heaven. In fact, in reflection, it seems that that movie was about nothing but religion, though the truth is the opposite. Indeed, the movie felt religious but it was only a figment of the screenplay writer's mind twisted upon the audience.
One person joked that Fight Club (1999) and The Passion of the Christ (2004) were essentially the same movie, with a basically-divine figure being beaten up for most of the movie. Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989) was all about meeting "God," who ultimately revealed himself as an evil alien. Harry Potter 7 (2009) will become more religious, a bending to protests from some Christians. The Scarlet Letter (1995), a movie about strong Christian (and Calvinist) themes, began the fading of Demi Moore's star.
Someone asked why so many modern movies depict Muslims as terrorists. Another guessed that having a movie with a Muslim theme is difficult because a depiction of the Prophet is forbidden. A third person added that being anti-religious has become a religion of its own. Bill Maher's zeal to attack religion in Religulous (2008) by yelling at people for their beliefs bordered on not-funny. It was a coy attempt to replay the profitable Borat (2006) theme, both of which were directed by Larry Charles. It is also note-worthy to read Joe Queenan's insights as a movie critic, as he sometimes skirts into religious topics within film.
Adam: Q&A with the Director, Producer and Actors
By Anita Glick and Annette Graham, DC Film Society Members
Adam is the story of a young man with Asperger's syndrome whose sheltered life undergoes a few changes after the death of his father. Losing his job, meeting a new neighbor and looking for a new job are some of his challenges.
This Q&A took place at AMC's Georgetown Theater on July 16. After the screening, DC Film Society director Michael Kyrioglou moderated a discussion with director Max Mayer, producer Miranda de Pencier, and lead actors Hugh Dancy and Rose Byrne. Director Max Mayer has written three produced plays and directed episodes of network television. His second film, Adam, has won an a writing award. Miranda De Pencier is an independent producer who has worked in film, television and theatre for over 15 years. Hugh Dancy's recent film credits include Confessions of a Shopaholic, The Jane Austen Book Club, and Evening. He has appeared on television (nominated for an Emmy) and stage. Rose Byrne is an Australian native who has been nominated for an Emmy for her role in Damages. Her film credits include Knowing, Marie Antoinette and 28 Weeks Later.
Left to right: Michael Kyrioglou, Hugh Dancy, Rose Byrne, Max Mayer and Miranda de Pencier.
Michael Kyrioglou: What was the inspiration for the story? Did you start out with Asperger's as part of the story?
Max Mayer: I started with Asperger's. I was listening to an interview on NPR in my car. It was a young man being interviewed who had Asperger's syndrome and he was talking about his own sense of isolation. I was really moved by the way he was describing how life felt to him, so when I get moved like that I think, "I should check out what this is about." So I started doing some research on Asperger's and the more I learned about Asperger's the better a metaphor it seemed to me for human relations in general--in a sense that we all have this desire and need to connect with one other and at the same time we are all paradoxically caught up in our own brains and guessing at what's going on in the other.
MK: It was very relatable in terms of any of us meeting somebody of a different world in any sense--different creed, different race, different country, different state--what that jockying is to learn who the person is and what do I say--we have codes and rules to deal with each other. It's interesting the differences between the two characters--the blatant honesty from the one character and how Beth learns... Having seen the film last week and seeing it tonight--the buildup of the scene with the dad at the end was even more striking to me tonight because we aren't led by the nose to see that. It was more shocking to me tonight to see her finally blurt out what she really wanted to say to him.
MK: (to Hugh Dancy) Would you like to talk about the research you did for the character?
Hugh Dancy: I started from the point of not knowing anything about Asperger's at all. To be honest, almost the first time it entered my consciousness was when I read Max's script and that was without any awareness of what the script was about. So I talked to Max to start with and then I went on the internet and that lasted a long time, because not only does the internet have a lot about every subject under the sun, but it's an amazing venue for people with Asperger's to go to express themselves--it's an easy, safe, non-contact way. So there's an enormous amount of first-person descriptions on the internet that was very useful and daunting. I read several books; ultimately the point was to absorb as much fact as I could while going back to the script and reminding myself of the work Max had done to create a rounded character. So I was looking for little things that would trigger my own imagination and ultimately allow me to be "armed" to go and meet people who worked with people with Asperger's and also those people themselves, some of whom agreed to talk to me about their lives, their struggle and their day to day lives, their triumphs, etc. And before I could go any further, the movie started.
MK: For me, the most striking part was your eyes, the lack of eye contact was really remarkable for me to connect with the character on a certain level and then when she finally calls him out at some point when she's coaching him on the job interviews.
Hugh Dancy: It was quite hard to do that and be specific about it. It's very easy to just not look at somebody but it's hard to do that and also appear to be listening to that person and not just be roaming around. It took me quite a long time to get that right and Max helped me with that and everything else.
Question: How hard was it for both of you to learn American accents?
Hugh Dancy: It wasn't the hardest thing in the movie. It was much harder for me to figure out the character and particularly the condition. We had both done American accents before in other jobs so it wasn't hugely daunting. There wasn't enough budget for a dialect coach and I don't think we would have wanted one anyway because it can be distracting. It wasn't too bad, in fact it was good.
Question: Did you set out with a structure in mind for the format of the screenplay to follow the classic hero's journey?
Max Mayer: I outlined it. I took 4-5 months to outline it so I was very sure about the story spark. It's the relationship story that I kept my eye on the most in terms of maintaining a balance of plus and minus, positives and negatives in terms of how is this going to work out or is this is a positive for the relationship or a negative for the relationship. And then keeping an eye on building Adam's arc in the last decision to go to California.
Question: (to Rose) What was the hardest part for you in playing your role?
Rose Byrne: Actually it was such a liberating role for me. I had played a lot of very serious roles--characters under siege, running from zombies, trying to save the world. So for me it was just a pleasure. The hardest part were the conditions. We only had 25 days to shoot the film so it was quite rough at times and a little cold. I saw a mouse once in the area where I was sitting. [everyone laughs].
Max Mayer: It was a rat!
MK: It was an amazing cast of characters. Were they your first choices?
Max Mayer: Frankie [Faison] and Peter [Gallagher] and Amy [Irving] were all people I had worked with in the theater and then we just got down to the bottom of the barrel for the leads [everyone laughs]. My casting director was a huge fan of Hugh's and I looked at his work, particularly his work in Elizabeth. At the time we were casting the movie, Evening came out and he really stood out in some very fast company. I thought that's a pretty neat trick to be in a movie with Meryl Streep and Vanessa Redgrave and to stand out. It was a lock on my part anyway and then it became a labor of love between us that I certainly will not forget. I have never had a more joyful time in terms of working on something.
Miranda de Pencier: We got really lucky with Rose, because she was in India at the time and when we sent the script to Rose's agency, they said, "Oh no no she won't do it. She just turned down this huge blockbuster for lots of millions of dollars and she's in India for a month, she's not coming home, you won't be able to get her. "Well, we want her." We sent her the script and her agent said, "I can't believe she's coming home to do your no-budget little movie but she loves it. We had a struggle getting the visa and we started shooting without her but she came in. We got very lucky.
MK: Let's congratulate Rose on her Emmy nomination. [applause]
MK: Do you want to talk a little about the marketing of the film?
Miranda de Pencier: The great thing about a company like Fox buying your film is that you don't have to do much.
MK: Did that process take time?
Miranda de Pencier: We got very lucky. We brought the film to Sundance. We had only shown it to a few friends in Los Angeles, just a few people. So when we brought it, it was like "here's our little baby and we hope Sundance likes it." We didn't really know what to expect. Truly Fox Searchlight has done an amazing job; they've taken it over, they really loved the film from the very beginning and they've been very thoughtful about it.
Question: Can you tell us a little about the scene where the characters were sitting across from each other in chairs in front of the fireplace?
Max Mayer: I really liked that scene. It's actually an exercise in the book that she gives him in which the person with Asperger's is supposed to mirror a half second later in a natural organic way the movements of the person across from them which apparently starts to look very much like a conversation between NTs [neuro-typicals] when it's done properly--so it's a kind of form for an interview. It's nice because it serves two purposes in that way. That's how it starts out and then the weight of the day's events start to crash in on Rose so she stops and he doesn't quite know that she stopped for a moment. Then he does know that she stopped but doesn't know what to do about that.
Hugh Dancy: It's one of the scenes that, before we filmed the movie, I thought if we get it right that's an amazing scene and amazingly written. It's one thing to write good dialogue which is rare enough but to be able to write an intelligent and complicated scene with several beats without any dialogue is really rare and remarkable.
Max Mayer: The other cool thing about it was that it was the only time in the 25 day shoot when we were going like mad that both the director of photography and the producer, after I said, "Okay move on to the next scene" said, "You're not going to do any closeups? What do you mean you're not going to do closeups?" So we did closeups.
Question: One thing about that scene that I thought was great was the end. You feel like they are merging. I would have loved them to be together at the end. How did you restrain yourself?
Max Mayer: Me too. I wrote it that way. At first I wrote a bleaker ending, but people said that I should try for all the reasons that everyone wants them to get together. And I did but didn't like it. I didn't like it for a couple of reasons: I didn't like it because it felt like just kidding about the rest of the movie and it felt too easy for this particular story. I love happy endings--I thought, Garden State had a happy ending, I could do that. I just didn't want Garden State.
Question: Did you have trouble finding information on Asperger's Syndrome?
Max Mayer: Not too much. As Hugh said, the internet is a major source. There is a wonderful publisher named Jessica Kingsley in Great Britain who puts out a full range of books about the autistic spectrum and I was one of her best customers for a few months. Miranda [de Pencier, producer] hooked us up to an organization in New York called Adaptations which is a socialization [organization]. They have meetings of people with Asperger's and they talk about challenges and what's going on with them. They were nice enough to invite us in.
Question: Could you talk about the science aspect? I found it interesting how much real science was in the movie. Are you an astronomer by hobby?
Max Mayer: No. I'm interested in physics right up until it involves math--which means not much. But it's a kind of hobby; I read books about it. One of the best books, if you're interested, is "The Fabric of the Cosmos" by Brian Greene which reads like a novel. It's about going back about to the beginning of the universe and how our knowledge about that developed. It's also one of the categories of things that people with Asperger's tend to have--there are lists of things that are of special interest for people with Asperger's and astronomy is one of those things that's on the list. So I thought I was on firm ground there.
MK: Any upcoming projects you are working on? I know that this is your second feature and Rose has Damages coming up in the fall.
Max Mayer: I have no idea.
MK: (to Rose) Is there a Judd Apatow movie for you?
Max Mayer: She's working constantly.
Rose Byrne: No I'm not! I have a small role in a film called Getting Him to the Greek by the director of Forgetting Sarah Marshall [Nicholas Stoller] where I'm playing a pop star called Jackie Q.
Adam opens August 7 at Landmark's E Street Cinema.
The Cove: Q&A with Director Louie Psihoyos
From the press notes
The Cove is a cloak and dagger-like documentary about secretive hunting of dolphins in Japan. The director, Louie Psihoyos is one of the top photographers in the world and has contributed to National Geographic for 18 years. He teamed up with former dolphin trainer Ric O'Barry to make this perilous eco-adventure/investigation.
Question: What drew you to want to film Ric O’Barry and his work in Taiji?
Louie Psihoyos: I was curious at first about why he wasn’t allowed to talk at this conference. Then, when I found him, he explained that he was going to talk about this secret cove in Japan where the dolphin traffickers select most of the dolphins for dolphinariums and parks. He told me they were slaughtering the ones they didn’t choose and using them for school lunch programs. I couldn’t imagine any civilization killing dolphins and Richard invited me along the following week to see Taiji, the little town with this big secret.
Question: What was Taiji like?
Louis Psihoyos: The town was like out of a Steven King novel - outwardly the whole town was about the reverence and respect and love of dolphins and whales, but what was happening in the secret cove belied another story, one I was determined to get at. The secret cove is a natural fortress, protected on three sides by steep cliffs. The entrance on one side is protected by a series of high spiked gates with barbed wire and razor ribbons, and there are two tunnel entrances protected by guards and dogs. After a tour of the town with Richard, I contacted the Taiji mayor’s office and the dolphin hunters’ union – I wanted to get their side of the story and I wanted to do the story legally. I had noticed that I had picked up a tail; I had 24-hour police surveillance while I was in town. But the town was not interested in cooperating – they were making too much money with the captive dolphin industry to jeopardize it by having a journalist milling about. The mayor told me that I could get hurt or killed by getting too close to the dolphin hunters or the secret cove. The cove, oddly enough, is in the middle of a National Park right in the center of town, between city hall and the whale museum. Richard told me that to penetrate the secret cove you would need to get a Navy Seal team, and that is pretty much what I did, but my team was more of an “Ocean’s Eleven” team.
Question: It is a really eclectic group of characters. How did you put the team together?
Louis Psihoyos: I enlisted my friends Mandy Rae-Cruickshank and Kirk Krack to help us set underwater cameras and hydrophones. Mandy is an eight-time world champion freediver. She can hold her breath for 6 and a half minutes and dive down to almost to 300 feet and back on her own power. Her husband, Kirk, is also a freediver. A former photo assistant of mine went on to become the head mold maker at ILM, Industrial Light and Magic, Lucas’ 3-D division and they helped us make fake rocks to hide high definition cameras and microphones. An electronics expert formerly with the Canadian Air Force helped us hot rod the hard drive cameras with larger drives powered by expedition batteries used for climbers on Mount Everest. He also helped us make unmanned drones so we had aerial support and video - a remote controlled helicopter with a gyro-stabilized high definition camera below it as well as a blimp with a remote controlled camera. Some pirate friends from the islands helped me place the cameras and many nights we were in blinds in full camouflage and face paint. We foiled the guards and police many nights by the use of high-definition military grade thermal cameras to scan the hills for movement, and an assortment of other diversionary techniques.
Question: What were your biggest challenges during filming?
Louis Psihoyos: The Cove was definitely not your normal film production. Most of our work happened in the middle of the night, under cover, and our biggest challenge of all was simply trying to avoid being killed or arrested and put in jail for months if we were caught. There were other challenges, too. Early on in the formation of our non-profit film company, I met Steven Spielberg and he advised me from his work on Jaws to never work on boats or with animals because of the unpredictability and high cost. Well, we used a lot of boats in the making of The Cove and we had to work with a lot of large uncooperative animals. It was a first-time director’s nightmare.
Question: Did making The Cove change you?
Louis Psihoyos: I have been a vegetarian, or rather a pescatarian, for 20 years. I eat fish but nothing that walks. Now, I don’t eat any fish very high up on the food chain because I learned from the making of this movie that I have mercury poisoning - very high levels of mercury from eating apex predators, fish at the top of the food chain like tuna, marlin, striped bass and grouper. My attitudes about animals have changed considerably since making this film. My sensitivity to all animal life has been heightened because once you have your eyes open to their plight it’s difficult to close your heart up again. Dolphins have larger brains than us, there are more folds for neurons, they have an extra sense – sonar - and they are the only wild animals known to come to the rescue of humans. They have been legendary for extraordinary feats of compassion since man had the ability to write. They have always come to our rescue and I feel that it is about time somebody tried to rescue them.
Question: What is the most surprising thing you discovered while making this film?
Louis Psihoyos: There is a systematic cover-up of mercury and dolphin hunting issues in Japan. The Japanese trust their government. But the government does not want them to know basic information that would affect their health, especially that dolphin meat is many more times toxic than their own country’s health standards allow. Corruption is rampant and people are profiting from misinformation.
Question: Have there been any new developments since you left Taiji?
Louis Psihoyos: Dolphin meat used to be part of school lunch programs there. That stopped this year. Ric O’Barry and our organization, the Oceanic Preservation Society, had a hand in that. Our work with a toxicity expert there eventually reached several Taiji town council members, who had their own children in the school system, and who did their own tests on dolphin meat. These confirmed our findings. School children across Wakamaya prefecture are no longer fed toxic dolphin meat for school lunch programs. As a result, the head of the fisheries, Hideki Moronuki, who had set the quotas for dolphins and porpoises and whales, has been fired. But the hunt for dolphins is still going on. We hope awareness will shut the dolphin drive down by next year, once the Japanese people learn about it.
Question: Can you tell us more about the Oceanic Preservation Society and how it was created?
Louis Psihoyos: The founder of the Oceanic Preservation Society is the inventor and venture capitalist Jim Clark, a modern day Zelig who built three groundbreaking industries from scratch. He worked himself out of poverty and in college he helped set up the computer systems that sent man to the moon. As a professor at Stanford, he invented the first 3-D graphics engine computer chip with Silicon Graphics, the first commercial internet browser with Netscape. After he discovered he had a rare blood disease, he created WebMd, a portal that connects doctors and patients with the most recent medical and health information. At the forefront of innovation his whole life, he has also been an avid diver and sailor, traveling to the world’s best preserved reefs but also witnessing the collapse of the oceans in his lifetime. He founded OPS to create films and stills to raise awareness of the plight of the oceans, a demise that also jeopardizes humanity, as we derive 70% of our protein from seafood, a diminishing and increasingly and polluted resource.
Question: What do you hope audiences will take away from The Cove?
Louis Psihoyos: First, I hope people stop taking their children to dolphin amusement parks and swim with dolphin programs – having intelligent sentient animals perform stupid tricks for our amusement is a form of bad education for our children. Secondly, I hope the Japanese people stop killing dolphins for food because, ethical reasons aside, all dolphin meat is toxic and not fit for human or animal consumption. Third, dolphins and whales are polluted mainly because of the dumping in the ocean of toxins from man’s activities. The burning of fossil fuels, particularly coal, contributes to most of the build-up of mercury in the environment so getting us off coal is important in saving the oceans. So, at the OPS headquarters we have 117 solar panels that now generate 140% of our energy needs; and we have two electric cars that are totally powered from energy generated from the sun. Everybody can help in these ways.
The Cove opens at Landmark's E Street Cinema on August 7.
The 63rd Edinburgh International Film Festival
By James McCaskill and Ron Gordner, DC Film Society Members
Photo from the Edinburgh Film Festival website.
The 63rd Edinburgh International Film Festival (June 17-28, 2009) came to a glittering end with the announcements of the winners in the competitive categories. Patrons Sir Sean Connery and Seamus McGarvey joined EIFF's Hannah McGill and Diane Henderson in presenting the top awards. Award for the Best New British Feature Film went to Duncan Jones for Moon. Best Performance in a British Feature Film went to newcomer Katie Jarvis, who celebrated her 18th birthday just the week before, for Fish Tank. USA's Kyle Patrick Alvarez's phone sex flicker Easier With Practice took home Best New International Feature Film. Audience Favorite was the animated telling of the time when monks saved Ireland's important artifact, the Book of Kells, from the rampaging Vikings, The Secret of Kells. Holland's Aliona Van Der Horst won Best Documentary with her film about Russian poet Boris Ryzhy.
The jury citation to Duncan Jones read, "We award Moon for its singular vision and remarkable assured direction as well as for the inspired manner in which it transcends genre. The central performance by Sam Rockwell embodies the film's emotional complexity and compelling philosophical perspective."
In the following we have ranked film from Must See to Must Flee.
Must See Films:
A Boy Called Dad (Brian Percival, UK, 2009), The First Day of the Rest of Your Life (Le Premier Jour du Reste de ta Vie, Remi Bezancon, France, 2008), The Hurt Locker (Kathryn Bigelow, US, 2008), The Maid (La Nana, Sebastian Silva, Chile, 2008), Mary and Max (Adam Elliot, Australia, 2008), Mesrine: Killer Instinct (Mesrine: L'instinct de Mort, Jean-Francis Richet, France, 2008), Moon (Duncan Jones, UK, 2008), Only When I Dance (Beadie Finzi, UK, 2009), Scratch (Rysa, Michal Rosa, Poland, 2008), Seraphine (Martin Provost, France-Belgium, 2008) The Secret of Kells (Tomm Moore, Ireland-France-Belgium, 2009).
The Architect (Der Architekt, Ina Weisse, Germany, 2009), Big River Man (John Mariingouin, USA-UK, 2009), Fear Me Not (Den Du Frygter, Kristian Levringm, Denmark, 2008), Fish Tank (Andrea Arnold, UK, 2009), A Light in The Fog (Panahbarkoda Rezaee, Iran, 2008), Little Soldier (Lille Soldat, Annette K. Olesen, Denmark, 2008), Mesrine: Public Enemy No 1 (Mesrine L'ennemi public No 1, Jean-Francis Richet, France, 2008), My Year Without Sex (Sarah Watt, Australia, 2009), No Puedo Vivir Sin Ti (Bu Neng Mei You Ni, Leon Dai, Taiwan, 2009), On the Way to School (Orhan Eskikov, Ozgur Dogan, Turkey, 2009, Pomegranates and Myrrh (Al Mov wa al Rumman, Najwa Najjar, Palestine, 2009), Stella (Sylvie Verheyde, France, 2008), Unmade Beds (Alexis Santos, UK, 2009).
Adam, Baraboo, The Birdwatchers, Blooming Business, Boogie Woogie, Breathless, The Calling, Crying Without Laughter, Distanz, Garapa, Goodbye, How Are You, Jalainur, Katalin Varga, The Masquerade, Members of the Funeral, Paper Soldier, Pardon My French, Terribly Happy, Thanks Maa.
Synopses of Must See Films:
A Boy Called Dad. Last Spring the British tabloids were filled with stories about a 12 year old who had fathered a child. Turns out he was not the father after all but in Brian Percival's film the 14 year old (played by newcomer Kyle Ward) is the father and wants to be involved. He wants to be a hands on father not like his father (wonderfully acted by Ian Hart). Growing up too soon.
The First Day of the Rest of Your Life. A smart and entertaining chronicle in director Bezancon's second feature film that is fuelled by terrific performances, especially from beautiful breakthrough star Deborah Francois, who is also in Unmade Beds.
The Hurt Locker. Currently playing in the DC area.
The Maid. Catalina Saavedra is superb as a maid who fears being replaced by someone younger. And she keeps potential replacements away by any means, including locking them outside. Director Sebastian Silva proves to be most capable in his second feature film.
Mary and Max. A stop action film that handles adult topics with great wit and skill. Not a smutty film but its deft handling of topics of interest to adults that will bore children. An Australian school girl accidentally becomes a pen pal to Max, a middle-aged, obese New Yorker. This film of great skill narrowly missed being named Audience Favorite.
Mesrine: Killer Instinct. In the first of a two part film, Jacques Mesrine (chillingly played by Vincent Cassel) is discharged from the French Army and sets out on a life of crime and becomes France and Canada's most wanted criminal. This brutally realistic film gives Gerard Depardieu a chance to exercise his acting skills as a mob boss but it is Cassel’s performance that mesmerizes. Cassel was awarded best actor Cesar at the equivalent of the French Oscars. The two films should open in DC later this year, probably in August or September.
Moon. Currently playing in the DC area.
Only When I Dance. Two gifted Brazilian ballet dancers want to use their dance skills to escape the grinding poverty in Complexo do Alemao, a violent section of Rio. This documentary traces the two as they audition for some of the world's most important ballet companies while their families scrimp to fund their chance.
Scratch. In my interview with Jadwiga Jankowska-Cieslak, Poland's Helen Mirren, I asked her about the depth she and co-star Krzysztof Stroinski brought to this tight drama about a marriage's dissolution fueled by politics, secrets and doubts. She told me, "It all depends on the director. Because of my improvisation training we drifted away from the script. There was always good communication between me, the director and my partner. We understood the characters."
The Secret of Kells. A second animated film made our top ten films. That is very unusual but both are brilliant and unusual films. This one is suitable for all ages. The Book of Kells is Ireland's most prized artifact. With the Viking hordes days away from laying waste to the abbey at Kells the monks are forced to turn from transcribing manuscripts to building barricades. The young nephew of the Abbot Cellach saves the day.
Seraphine. This French film is in theaters now in DC and tells the story of a cleaning woman living in the French countryside town of Senlis around 1914, who also paints and is discovered by a German art critic and collector. The film won 2009 French Cesar awards for best film, best actress (Yolande Moreau) best cinematography, best original score, and best costume design.
Must Flee Films:
These two are so bad you will race out of the cinema. Romeo and Juliet versus The Living Dead. Sadly all their creativity went into naming the film. The second horror is Van Diemen's Land that documents a band of Scottish, Irish and English convicts who escape a brutal prison only to face cannibalism. The cinematography of the Tasmanian landscape is gorgeous but this is a really brutal film.
Most Controversial Films:
Two films in the Love It or Hate It categories were: Giallo and a special added screening of The Antichrist.
Giallo. (Dario Argento, UK, 2009) is the kind of film Midnight Madness film fans usually love. It is a campy, cheesy, high art horror/detective mystery starring Adrian Brody and Emmanuelle Seigner. Milan police inspector, Brody, tries to solve the case and catch the strange Phantom-like killer who is kidnapping, torturing, and killing beautiful young women. The acting is uneven and is the kind of campy viewing pleasure where the audience may warn the actors about impending doom.
An added surprise screening of The Antichrist, which had an infamous start at Cannes, was packed to the rafters. I only noticed a few viewers leave during the intense viewing. Lars von Trier’s newest Danish film, again is in English and supposedly is set in Seattle, although everything looks very European. This strange mixture of opera, theater, art, and filmmaking tells the tale of a married couple, Willem Defoe as a psychoanalyst and Charlotte Gainsborough, winning best actress at Cannes, as his grieving wife after the death of their child during their lovemaking. The film involves von Trier’s usual misogyny, with added torture, masturbation, and genital mutilation, among other atrocities. The cinematography and art design bring to mind Dutch paintings, especially the tortured works of Bosch. It will be interesting to see how the MPAA will rate this film. The British equivalent rating group, the BBFC has given it a rating of 18 for the UK.
Synopses of Some Other Excellent or Good Films:
The Architect. Georg Winter takes his family back to the small Alpine village where he grew up to attend his mother’s funeral. Trapped by snow and past secrets, the family dynamics are sorely tested. Famous German actor Josef Bierbichler plays the father who must finally stop avoiding his past.
Baraboo. Mary Sweeney, long time American editor and producer for David Lynch, writes, directs, produces and edits her own film about a circle of inhabitants in the Wisconsin small town of Baraboo. This film is reminiscent of Lynch’s film The Straight Story in nature and style.
Big River Man. A US/UK coproduction directed by John Maringouin about Martin Strel, a Slovenian marathon swimmer who swims some of the globe’s longest rivers to highlight the environmental plight of the rivers and the surrounding lands. An overweight middle aged man with a two bottle a day wine habit, he attempts to swim the Amazon River. A fascinating documentary of his trip, aptly separating the man from the myth.
The Birdwatchers. This film also played DC FilmFest like several others and is the tale of Indians trying to survive on the small tract of land the Brazilian government has given them. A speaker highlighted the struggle that the Guarani Kaiowa Indians and other tribes face.
A Blooming Business. This Dutch documentary shows how the large flower farms in Kenya have changed the lives of the people and environment.
Boogie Woogie. A world premiere of a British film that skewers in a tongue and cheek fashion the art world of collectors and dealers. It was campy at times but had a star-studded cast including Gillian Anderson, Alan Cumming, Danny Huston, Christopher Lee, Joanna Lumley, Charlotte Rampling, and Stellan Skarsgard.
The Calling. Pretty, 20 year old Joanna announces to her dazed mother, boyfriend, and best friend that she wants to be a nun, but does she really have the calling? Progressive Sister Ignatius (Brenda Blethyn) and some eccentric nuns (including veteran British actresses, Susannah York and Rita Tushingham) are at the convent to assist or dissuade Joanna in her quest. The director, Jan Dunn, said that Rita Tushingham was not at our world premiere screening because she was being given the keys to the city of Liverpool. A real convent was used in the filming in Kent and a local priest served as the religious consultant. Brenda Blethyn said it was wonderful driving a short distance from home to work every day for a change.
Fish Tank. Straight from a Cannes showing, Andrea Arnold’s sophomore film after Red Road, shows 15 year old wild child Mia and her struggles in an estate and with life--her future, her family and prospects of love in all the wrong places. Katie Jarvis was named best actress at the festival.
Jalainur. The setting is a state owned mining area and locomotive repair works in China’s Inner Mongolia. The solitary locale and beautiful cinematography really are paramount in this tale of the elder train driver Zhu and his younger apprentice, Zhizhong, at work and leisure.
Katalin Varga. A real Greek tragedy in the form of this Romanian/Hungarian tale of Katalin who must flee with her son and tries to retrace her life years before and find the men who raped her. The Carpathian woods and landscape and the dark music create and maintain the Biblical theme of vengeance.
Light in the Fog. An Iranian film with little dialog about a widow Rana who lives with her elderly ill father. The cinematography of the countryside, the inside of their small home and the fog create an almost painting atmosphere reminiscent of many of Sokurov’s films.
The Little Soldier. A remarkable Danish film about an adult daughter who returns from service in Afghanistan and begins working security for her pimp father and his prostitutes. A compelling, but strange mix of gender issues and third world and global politics. A strong lead acting performance by Trine Dyrholm who must reassert her position as a woman in a man’s world.
My Year Without Sex. A 2009 Australian by writer/director Sarah Watt (Look Both Ways, 2005) tells the dramatic and sometimes comic story of Natalie, wife, mother, and physical therapist, who suffers an aneurysm and is warned about the dangers of having sex while in her condition. Actress Sacha Horler was in attendance at EIFF2009 and said the film was not really autobiographical. She did talk to patients with similar disorders in order to prepare for the role and liked the writer/director’s screenplay which never went in the direction expected.
No Puedo Vivir Sin Ti. A Tawainese film based on a real story of a father whose daughter is taken from him by the state and tries to win her back.
On the Way to School. A Turkish documentary, reminiscent of the French film Etre et Avoir, about a young teacher who travels to a remote poor village in southeast Turkey. Trying to get children to come back to the one room school house, he teaches the Kurdish children the Turkish language and the history of their country, while the children teach him about life.
The One Man Village. This also played at the Kennedy Center during the Arabesque festival as did Pomegranates and Myrrh in the past year. A Lebanese documentary about the director’s uncle, who is the last remaining individual living in a formerly active village. Relatives and others visit Semaan and we get a poignant history of the war torn region and his deep connection with nature and his animals.
Paper Soldier. The Russian feature about early cosmonauts and their doctors and trainers in the wilds of Kazakhstan. Early days of the Russian space race and a doctor who must choose between his wife and mistress.
Pardon My French. A light French concoction film with Chiara Mastroianni in the lead role as a mundane blocked writer who likes to change her name often and some other practices to break up the monotony of her life.
Stella. A French feature film about an 11 year old girl adapting to her new school and issues in her family and extended family who work or cohabit in a small Parisian bar. The lead actress Leora Barbara is wonderful as a young girl dealing with oncoming adolescence, poor schoolwork, while portraying a girl with a tough outer shell of a troublemaker, and at the same time a lonely, vulnerable child trying to find friends and fit somehow into her old and new worlds.
Thanks Maa. The sadder side of Slum Dog Millionaire, this Indian feature is about several street kids in Mumbai and their daily struggles for survival in a society that ignores them.
The weather was lovely this year with only one day of rain. Fellow DCFS member Linda Schwartz made her first visit to Edinburgh. Besides taking in films in EIFF 2009 she found the city and its environs an interesting place for sightseeing. Especially memorable was a three day trip to the Isle of Skye. She remarked on the ease in getting tickets to the films and access to venues. Her favorite films were Fish Tank and The First Day of the Rest of Your Life.
The Edinburgh International Film Festival is an exceptionally good festival in this historic and architecturally gorgeous city. Last year the powers that be shifted it from August when the city is awash in festivals to June when it would stand alone. It seems to have been a good decision as attendance has risen each year. This year there were 23 World Premieres, several of them on our top list.
In addition to top quality films there were special events that featured live interviews with film personalities Roger Corman (director), Joe Dante (director), Brenda Blethyn (star of The Calling) and Bill Forsyth (director). Plus a conversation with Seamus McGarvey and Anthony Dod Mantle, cinematographer on Slumdog Millionaire.
At his In Person interview, Bill Forsyth said, "Gregory's Girl was originally scheduled to be a TV series. Talked them into making it a feature film." Forsyth also directed Local Hero and Comfort and Joy. "Local Hero had both an American ending and a British ending. The American version closes with Mike on his balcony and then the phone box rings. They wanted a happy ending. The British one is more ambiguous. It closes with a long shot of Macaskill Arms hotel and the village.”
Albert Maysles Honored at Silverdocs
By Annette Graham and Anita Glick, DC Film Society Members
The Guggenheim Symposium honors a filmmaker whose work captures current events, frames history and inspires audiences. This year's honoree was legendary documentarian Albert Maysles who has directed more than 35 films and photographed 64. On June 18 artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude and filmmaker Barbara Kopple made statements in tribute to Maysles, the audience saw clips of several Maysles films, then a conversation took place between Maysles and Entertainment Weekly film critic Lisa Schwarzbaum.
Lisa Schwarzbaum: Please help me welcome the 2009 Guggenheim honoree Albert Maysles. [sustained applause]
Albert Maysles: It's not really fair. You saw some of the very best of what I've shot over the years but you weren't told of the best scene of all that I missed. I was 10 years old. It was 1936. It was at a time when misbehavior was met with a strap. My father would never use a strap on me, but it was an occasion where I must have done something terribly wrong. And he hit me with the strap. It didn't hurt but as I left that scene and walked through the apartment, I happened to pass through his bedroom and I looked back and there he was with his head against the wall, crying. And I stood there in utter amazement. He could have told me so many many times how much he loved me but it still wouldn't have matched the love that I felt for my father at that time and which I still feel for him even though he's long gone.
Lisa Schwarzbaum: But that was your documentarian's eye at the age of 10 seeing the extra scene. We could not begin this conversation in any better way. You saw what put the scene in context which is really what all of your work has been about. And I wanted to start our conversation by reading from your beautiful Maysles films website. You have some dos and don'ts and I wanted to read two particular things you have to get us started. You say, (1) "Remember as a documentarian you are an observer, an author, but not a director; a discoverer, not a controller." and (2) "Don't worry that your presence with the camera will change things. Not if you're confident you belong there. And understand that in your favor is that of the two instincts--to disclose or keep a secret--the stronger is to disclose." I want to start out talking about feeling the right to be with the people that you choose to film. And what brings you to these subjects that you feel that comfort and that you establish a relationship with them?
Albert Maysles: I think the most important thing in life as it is in filming is that you love people. And with that love you get to understand them. Or it could be the other way around: in your attempt at understanding people you get to love them. But love is what it's all about. The perfect example of mishandling the camera is the television commercial where there's no love whatsoever, not even for the product. I would like to make a commercial for Kleenex. I would film a woman just at the moment when she is being handed the infant she has just given birth to. And just film her--there's got to be a moment there, when there's a tear--and she reaches out for the Kleenex. It sells the product and it gives us something to think about, something to feel about, and something to talk about.
Lisa Schwarzbaum: And that means how many hours were you sitting there quietly and unobtrusively waiting for the tear? You were supposed to be an objective observer and yet you are looking for something to happen. That's exactly what happens in all of your films. You're there, you are holding back and yet you are looking to see something in the background, a guy smiling at the Ozawa concert, or the little gesture that Ringo Starr does at the end of his piece. Talk about that eye.
Albert Maysles: A lot of good photographers have that. Henri Cartier-Bresson made that Matisse photograph with the white pigeons surrounding him. Just narrowing in on his face would have been nowhere near the photograph that he took. To put it another way, Orson Welles said it is important that the eye behind the camera be the eye of a poet. So many cinematographers and photographers, too--they know the techniques; they know how to light a situation, how to compose a shot. But if they don't have that poetic instinct then forget about it. I was walking down the street and somebody was coming in my direction with his arms outstretched and he had this strange look on his face. And if I only had my camera, because what happened was that he was catching a butterfly. I would like to see a whole new genre of documentary films where you could save these little moments as pieces of poetry.
Lisa Schwarzbaum: This actually gets into an interesting place that I think we're in now. It seems that we are all aware of the camera at all times. I feel as if we live our lives ready for a reality show. Everybody watches their reality TV, they're immediately ready. Do you find that people are different subjects now than they might have been when direct cinema was just beginning?
Albert Maysles: I don't have any more problem now than I had then and I don't have a problem because somehow I achieve that kind of rapport where people just go on with what they're doing. And if I feel that the camera is too much of a nuisance, then I'll put it down and wait for something fabulous to come along. I remember when I started filming Mick Jagger. I remember him coming over to me and saying something about a problem that he might have. And I listened and then I waited. Then something fascinating began to take place and I picked up my camera and filmed it. No problem thereafter. There was never a single moment when I was filming him when he said "let's not take that."
Lisa Schwarzbaum: But that's Mick Jagger, who is used to being in front of a camera at all times. I'm talking about LaLee's Kin, or people who are not famous who you are catching in the midst of doing something.
Albert Maysles: It's interesting that you mentioned LaLee's Kin. Here's a very poor African-American family with so much to hide. All the men are in jail, nearly all of them. The education they get is just terrible. The kids are only learning how to do well in SAT testing. No one has a job. And people are living in trailers. But again, right away, grandma, the main character, felt a trust me. And I felt confident that I would get that trust which is just as important. When the filming was all over, we finished the film and brought it down to Mississippi and showed it to grandma. At the end she turned to us, there was a long pause, and she said "Well that's the truth. But couldn't you have made it longer?"
Lisa Schwarzbaum: What has been the hardest one you have worked on? What confounded you in the course of making any particular one of your documentaries?
Albert Maysles: That's a tough one. None of it is that easy because it requires a great deal of patience and confidence. After all, in a way it's so much easier to make a Hollywood film where you get actors, tell them what to do and everything is under your control. As Alfred Hitchcock put it so beautifully: In a fiction film, in a Hollywood film, the director is God and has everything he wants to do--to heighten the drama: okay so we'll kill a few people. Have conflict, same thing. In a documentary, in a nonfiction film, God is the director. Or call it reality if you're an atheist.
Lisa Schwarzbaum: Is God the director or the editor?
Albert Maysles: The editor is controlled by the character, the essential character of what has been captured and of course it requires a great deal of skill in putting it all together.
Lisa Schwarzbaum: But it seems that there are two places where in the course of looking dispassionately but with love at truth--there are two places where you as a human being are making a choice. One is what you are looking at, where you eye goes and the second is what you do with that footage and how you assemble it afterwards.
Albert Maysles: This is why, when we make a film we always give as much credit to the producer, to the cameraperson and to the editor. We call them directors only because it helps them in making the next film to have that kind of credit. It should always be just filmmaker.
Lisa Schwarzbaum: Was there a project you were working on where you thought it was going in one direction and as it unfolded in front of you it either was not what you thought or when you got the footage afterwards you turned it into something else. I'm interested in your actual process of moving from saying, okay I'm going to follow Christo or Jeanne-Claude and see what comes out of that particular project and how you shoot them?
Albert Maysles: When making a film we never know precisely how people are going to react to it or precisely what the process is going to be. And they're full of surprises and of course that's the real thing.
Lisa Schwarzbaum: You guys keep coming back together again. You respond very much to Christo and Jeanne-Claude's projects and you really have become the documentarian of their work and they clearly have an ease in front of you. What is it particularly about their artwork and your artwork?
Albert Maysles: I keep bringing God into the picture. I remember during the course of the Gates project finding myself on the sixth floor of an apartment building on the west side of Central Park and looking out the window and seeing a photograph that someone had taken from that position with a panoramic camera, seeing all of Central Park from south to north and Fifth Avenue and beyond at a time when there was a rainbow that went across from one end of the Park to the other. Well, that was God's addition to Central Park that made it even more beautiful. Christo and Jeanne-Claude try to do as best as they could which was very very good. In rendering an artists rendition of something to be added to the Park that would be a true and beautiful addition.
Lisa Schwarzbaum: Over the years of working together because you know them so well now and you understand their process, has your eye changed? Do you go about a Christo/Jeanne-Claude film in a different way?
Albert Maysles: It's the same way as I do anything. Looking to see what I can't really control and have confidence that the interesting and important things will take place. And they always do.
Lisa Schwarzbaum: I want to move back to Grey Gardens. Why, of all this vast repertory of yours, why does this have this hold on popular culture so that it's told and retold and turned into theater and turned into movies and it's become a touchstone of a particular kind.
Albert Maysles: It's been retold again in still another way. My daughters [Sara and Rebekah] have just come out with a book on Grey Gardens. It's called "Grey Gardens" and it's loaded with drawings created by my skillful daughter. The other daughter took 150 hours of wild sound, sound that was not accompanied by the camera running and worked it all the way down to 60 minutes. And that's in the form of a CD that's tucked into the book.
Lisa Schwarzbaum: So why do we keep coming back this allure?
Albert Maysles: I think there's something in this relationship between these two eccentric women that touches upon something that is in ourselves. I love this expression: "Just like anybody else, but more so." It's interesting to me how a number of critics have just dismissed them. Oh, you shouldn't have made that film; what an exploitation. They're crazy, they're this, they're that ... putdown... putdown. They don't understand all the wonderful healthy things that are going on between these two eccentrics. We have a disregard in some quarters for nonconformity. Unlike their neighbors who have their grass cut to exactly two inches or whatever it is, their grass grows wild. They're wild characters themselves.
Lisa Schwarzbaum: It was interesting as we were watching these clips, we saw Salesman and when we saw Grey Gardens, there was a moment in each where I think we the audience laugh, or we're uncomfortable, or there's something about the Bible salesman trying this combination of religion and commerce and what he's trying to do and there is a moment when we might laugh and then be aware of these not-so-noble reactions in ourselves.
Albert Maysles: That scares people, some people. But we should get to know the truth. We have this thing, a pet peeve of mine which is to reject the notion which is so common that if you open your heart and soul to another person you're going to get hurt. In fact we describe it as a moment of vulnerability. And I'd like to know what the other word is for when you open your heart and soul to the other person and something good, something healthy takes place. I'm hoping tomorrow to meet up with Mr. Kucinich--because he's a great guy. And he has a few great ideas. One of them is, he stated that whereas we have a department of defense and we have a Pentagon we should have a department of peace. I want to meet him so I can see what it's all about. And promote peace through his experience.
Lisa Schwarzbaum: Does this mean that you would be interested in making a documentary about him?
Albert Maysles: Absolutely.
Lisa Schwarzbaum: Is this a possibility?
Albert Maysles: A great possibility.
Lisa Schwarzbaum: Now we're talking! With a teabag and everything in his pocket. I want to talk about the generations whom you have influenced and the kind of nonfiction films that are coming out today from people who learned from your films, who have gone off in their own direction. Is there anyone you are aware of who you think is moving in a new direction or a direction that you are following?
Albert Maysles: Not that much comes to my mind, but so often people have come to me and told me that they have seen Salesman in school or wherever and that they wouldn't be making documentaries if they hadn't seen that film. So it's had an enormous influence on young filmmakers.
Lisa Schwarzbaum: Do you watch the work of other filmmakers?
Albert Maysles: Yes. Just the other day I saw a film by Bob Elfstrom called Johnny Cash and it's a great music film. The film When We Were Kings--I happened to participate in making that film but at that time it was not just the fight that occurred in the Congo but also there were a great number of very distinguished African-American musicians who went there at the same time. There was a lot of that footage, some of which I've shot that has become a film. It's called Soul Power. It hasn't come out yet but you have to see it when it does.
Lisa Schwarzbaum: It's playing here [Silverdocs] tomorrow. [It also opens August 14 at Landmark's E Street Cinema].
Albert Maysles: See that's another talent--I'm a promoter as well!
Lisa Schwarzbaum: Let's talk equipment for a moment. Sixteen millimeter has been your standard. You work with classic sources, classic equipment. Has the digital world changed your eye? Have you stepped into that?
Albert Maysles: I'm all for it. In fact on my website you'll see 30 reasons why I switched from film to video. How else could I have made this little seven minute piece that I filmed not so long ago: three 3-1/2 year old children having breakfast and all told, it took me one tape, not four rolls of film which would have cost me by the time it was processed, several thousand dollars. That tape cost me $3. And I had exactly what I needed--a little camera in my hands with a microphone, it was simultaneously picking up the sound. I didn't need another person. Just myself sitting with these little kids. In fact, I'm making a whole film of a number of such get togethers. Two kids usually, ages four to six, each talking to the other, without any direction, of course. Just spontaneously.
Lisa Schwarzbaum: We talked earlier about your training and background in psychology and your early films looking at -- I guess all of your films look at the psychology behind whoever it is. But then you went through a tremendous period of doing a lot of films on artists, musicians. Now it seems that psychology and the inner soul of regular people is driving you again.
Albert Maysles: Well it started out that way with the psychiatry in Russia. It's always been the respect for anybody, famous or not. And there's one film that I've had in mind now for years, my dream film and one of these days when I get enough financing for it, I will make the film. I've already started it. [they decide to discuss this later].
Lisa Schwarzbaum: Did anyone ever turn you down? A subject that you couldn't do; they said no?
Albert Maysles: I wrote a letter to Mr. Nixon and never got an answer. And the odd part of it is, that as much as I disliked the man's policies, I would have turned out a film that I think he would have liked.
Lisa Schwarzbaum: On your website is says (1) "Distance yourself from point of view" and (2) "Love your subjects." So that means that Mr. Nixon or anybody you would approach with ... what?
Albert Maysles: Somebody got hold of that thing and said "How would you like Adolph Hitler." And that's a tough one. A very distinguished artist from way back told me that in the 1930s he would go to restaurants and cafeterias in Berlin and Vienna attended by other famous artists like himself. And one day he saw this guy come in and sit at a table nearby and just get more and more morose. It was Adolph Hitler. That kind of scene, that kind of information, somehow or other, I'd want to get into the film. Some way of understanding him as a human being, dreadful as he was, but get some insight of what made him the violent person that he was. I read a book on psychiatry called "Violence" and discovered that it's shame and lack of self respect that makes people violent.
Lisa Schwarzbaum: This comes back again to something you said about feeling the right to be where you are when you're filming. Feeling that you are not intruding. Do you ever actually leave a room because you think, "Oh no, I just shouldn't be here."
Albert Maysles: I'll give you an example. I was on a train and filming a woman, hoping to film her because she had this wonderful but dreadful story to tell about one of her children. And she had to tell it to me but she didn't want to be filmed. So instead I just filmed her hands as she was telling the story, and it was okay.
Lisa Schwarzbaum: Did she know who you were as you? Did she know you as a sympathetic ear, a documentarian of great renown?
Albert Maysles: As a sympathetic ear; I'm sure she didn't know anything of my work.
Lisa Schwarzbaum: And you just struck up a conversation with her?
Albert Maysles: Yes.
Lisa Schwarzbaum: Do you always have a camera with you?
Albert Maysles: I had a camera with me one day on the New York subway and it was on my lap and the woman next to me said, "Are you filming?" And I said, "No, but I make documentary films." "Oh, what's your name?" "Albert Maysles" "Oh, I'm from Plainfield, Vermont and I know Charlotte P[__]." My first girlfriend!
Lisa Schwarzbaum: Do you have something in your pocket all the time? Any camera that you could just capture...
Albert Maysles: I should have. If nothing else in order to capture those little moments of poetry. I think back to 1961-2 when I was with Mr. Fidel Castro spending several 24 hour days. I remember filming with my big 16mm camera on my shoulder and one day he said, "Look, this evening I'm going to be at the Chinese Embassy. There's a reception, would you like to come along?" So I went along with him and of course I couldn't carry the camera in there. I wish I had a little video camera in my pocket because what happened was during the course of the evening and standing shoulder to shoulder next to him a messenger came rushing in and handed him a telegram. He opened it, read it, turned to me and said, "Should I translate it for you?" I said, "Yes of course." And he said, "Your State Department has just broken off relations with Cuba." Well one of these days, I don't know if I can film Fidel, he's in such bad shape but there are other things, other people that I filmed 48 years ago that I'd like to catch up with. A family whose story I got very beautifully and the kids who were eight years old and now are that much older and I want to see what's happened.
Lisa Schwarzbaum: Now is the time to talk about what you are doing next. Tell me about a couple of the projects that you are working on?
Albert Maysles: I already gave you some idea of my interest in trains and meeting strangers on trains. So that's the film. Strangers that I meet on trains in half a dozen countries around the world. Long distance trains where I had the opportunity to find that two or three day trip somebody with a story that is about to take place when they get off the train. I filmed a woman some years ago who was in Pittsburgh when she got on the train and she was headed to Philadelphia. Why? Because when she was three years old her parents broke up in an ugly divorce and she has never seen her mother since. She's lost touch with her mother. She just got a call from Philadelphia: "I'm your mother. Get on the next train. I'll be waiting for you at the train station." So I kept on filming of course. We get off the train; she got to the stairs that lead up into the station and there was a woman at the top of the stairs who flung open her arms, rushed down the stairs, they embraced and stayed embraced for some time talking to each other. Finally the mother turns to me and says, "Isn't she gorgeous?"
Lisa Schwarzbaum: This is the Maysles touch. Isn't HE gorgeous?
The audience was then shown a clip of an Albert Maysles work-in-progress.
Calendar of Events
American Film Institute Silver Theater
Contining in August is "Totally Awesome 3: More Films of the 80s." See River's Edge, Heathers, Escape From New York, Weekend at Bernie's, Footloose, Robocop, The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension, Sid and Nancy, Some Kind of Wonderful, Gleaming the Cube, Body Double, Blow Out, The Legend of Billie Jean, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, The Transformers, Heavy Metal, Lucas in August with some repeats in early September.
"The Films of Francois Truffaut, Part I" is essential for everyone's film education. See Fahrenheit 451, Mississippi Mermaid, Stolen Kisses, The Bride Wore Black, Bed and Board, The Wild Child in August.
"AFI Life Achievement Award Retrospective: Michael Douglas" screens some of the defining works in Douglas' career as producer and actor: Wall Street, Basic Instinct, Falling Down, Wonder Boys, Traffic can be seen in August.
"Steven Spielberg Retrospective, Part II" looks at films from the 1990s and 2000s: A.I.: Artificial Intelligence, Minority Report, Catch Me If You Can, The Terminal, Munich Saving Private Ryan, Hook, Jurassic Park, Amistad, Schindler's List are all from the 2000s.
NIH's "Science in the Cinema" will again take place at the AFI. Concluding the series in August are Romulus, My Father (2007), and The Accidental Advocate (2008). Each film has a medical or science-related theme and a guest expert will take audience questions after each show.
Freer Gallery of Art
The 14th annual "Made in Hong Kong Film Festival" concludes in August. On August 2 at 2:00pm is All About Women (Tsui Hark, 2008); on August 7 at 7:00pm and August 9 at 2:00pm is One Nite in Mongkok (Derek Yee, 2004); on August 14 at 7:00pm and August 16 at 2:00pm is Eye in the Sky (Yau Na-hoi, 2007); and on AUgust 21 at 7:00pm and August 23 at 2:00pm is My Mother is a Belly Dancer (Lee Kung-lok, 2006).
"Asia Trash!" celebrates some of Asia's best cult movies. On August 6 at 7:00pm is The Host (Bong Joon-ho, 2006) from Korea; on August 13 at 7:00pm is Tears of the Black Tiger (Wisit Sasanatieng, 2000) from Thailand; and on August 20 at 7:00pm is Tokyo Gore Police (Yoshihiro Nishimura, 2008) from Japan.
National Gallery of Art
"From Vault to Screen: New Preservation" is an annual showcase of recently preserved and restored films from international archives. On August 15 at 3:30pm is The Green Goddess (Sidney Olcott, 1923) with live piano music by David Arner. On August 22 at 1:00pm is British Agent (Michael Curtiz, 1934). On August 23 at 4:30pm is Hapas Legomena (Hollis Frampton), parts 1-3 with parts 4-7 on August 30 at 4:30pm. On August 28 at 2:30m and August 29 at 2:30pm is Pandora and the Flying Dutchman (Albert Lewin, 1951).
"From Novel to Screen" looks at two adaptations of Pierre Louys' 1898 novel La Femme et le Pantin: On August 8 at 3:00pm is La Femme et le Pantin (Jacques de Baroncelli, 1928) with live music by Alexander Wimmer and on August 15 at 1:00pm is The Devil is a Woman (Josef von Sternberg, 1935) with Marlene Dietrich.
"Carl Theodor Dreyer: The Late Works" is a four-part series of some of Dreyer's sound films. On August 2 at 4:30pm is Vampyr (1932) preceded by the short film They Caught the Ferry (1948). On August 9 at 4:30pm is Day of Wrath (1943). On August 16 at 4:30pm is Ordet (1955) and on August 22 at 3:30pm is Gertrud (1964).
The Alloy Orchestra will accompany Dziga Vertov's Man with a Movie Camera (1929) on August 1 at 3:30pm.
Smithsonian American Art Museum
As part of the exhibition "1934: A New Deal for Artists" is a screening of The Man Who Knew Too Much (Alfred Hitchcock, 1934) on August 13 at 6:30pm.
Films on the Hill
On August 5 at 7:00pm is a double feature: Tombstone the Town Too Tough to Die (William McGann, 1942) shown with The Kansan (George Archainbaud, 1943) both starring Richard Dix, both high-budget "A" westerns. On August 12 at 7:00pm is The Raging Tide (George Sherman, 1951) a film noir starring Richard Conte as a San Francisco mobster on the run and Shelley Winters as his girlfriend. On August 15 at 7:00pm is The Conspirators (Jean Negulesco, 1944) a WWII film starring Hedy Lamarr with a Casablanca-like cast including Paul Henreid, Peter Lorre and Sidney Greenstreet.
Washington Jewish Community Center
On August 4 at 7:30pm is Four Seasons Lodge (Andrew Jacobs, 2008), a video documentary about a group of Holocaust survivors during a summer together in the Catskill mountains. Albert Maysles contributed to the cinematography. A reception follows the screening.
"German Sound Movie Classics" is a series of films from the 1930s and early 1940s. On August 10 at 6:30pm is Three From the Filling Station (Wilhelm Thiele, 1933); on August 17 at 6:30pm is La Habanera (Detlef Sierck [Douglas Sirk], 1937); on August 24 at 6:30pm is Laughing Heirs (Max Ophuls, 1933); on August 26 at 6:30pm is Munchhausen (Josef von Bakry, 1943); and on August 31 at 6:30pm is M-A Town Is Looking for a Murderer (Fritz Lang, 1931).
The Japan Information and Culture Center
On August 12 at 6:30pm is Ponyo (Hayao Mizayaki, 2008) based on the Hans Christian Andersen tale The Little Mermaid.
On August 28 at 6:30pm is Death Note II: The Last Name, part of the Summer 2009 anime series.
The National Theatre
This summer's star is Elizabeth Taylor. On August 3 at 6:30pm is Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (Mike Nichols, 1966), winner of five Academy Awards.
National Institutes of Health
"Science in the Cinema" is a summer series of films with a science theme. An expert in each field with discuss the film with the audience. Films are held at the AFI's Silver Theater. On August 5 at 7:00pm is Romulus, My Father (2007) with the medical theme of mental illness. On August 12 at 7:00pm is Accidental Advocate (2008), a documentary with the medical theme of stem cell research.
Film Festival Benefiting NIH Children's Charities
This 13th annual outdoor festival takes place at Strathmore. Films begin at 8:10pm; bring a blanket to sit on. On August 14 is The Curious Case of Benjamin Button; on August 15 is The Dark Knight; on August 16 is Kung-Fu Panda; on August 17 is Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull; on August 18 is Singing in the Rain; on August 19 is Twilight; on August 20 is Slumdog Millionaire; and on August 21 is Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa. See the website for more information.
Screen on the Green
On August 3 is On the Waterfront with Marlon Brando and on August 10 is Rebel Without a Cause with James Dean. Films take place at dusk on the mall. Bring blankets to sit on.
"From the Vaults: Newsreel Theater" is a program of commercial and government newsreels on August 6 at noon. To celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Archives is the exhibit "Big" which also features big movies--on August 15 at noon is Close Encounters of the Third Kind (Steven Spielberg, 1977).
On August 12 at 8:00pm is Grapes (Tomas Barina, 2008), part of the "Czech Lions" series of films.
As part of the "French Cinematheque" series is Rumba (Dominique Abel, Fiona Gordon, Bruno Romy, 2009) on August 19 at 8:00pm.
Anacostia Community Museum
Where Did You Get That Woman? is an award-winning video weaving urban black experiences in Chicago with blues and folk music. Followed by a discussion.
On August 28 and 29 at 7:30pm is The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (Peter Jackson, 2002) in HD with a live orchestra, chorus and soloists, shown on huge screens in-house and on the lawn.
The Jerusalem Fund
A Summer film series "Voices of Palestine" presents recent documentary and feature films from and about Palestine. The remaining film in August is Wounds of the Heart: An Artist and Her Nation (John Halaka, 2009), a documentary about Palestinian visual artist Rana Bishara on August 5 at 6:30pm.
The Phillips Collection
As part of the "Phillips After 5" on Thursday nights is The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (Julian Schnabel, 2007) on August 13 at 6:00pm. On August 20 at 6:00pm and 7:00pm is The South Bank Show: Francis Bacon (David Hinton, 1985) a documentary about the artist filmed in London in locations including his studio. On August 27 at 6:30pm is Bride of Frankenstein (James Whale, 1935).