The Way Back: Q&A with Director Peter Weir
By Annette Graham, DC Film Society Member
Director Peter Weir attended a preview screening at the National Geographic Society on January 13 and answered audience questions.
The Way Back was inspired by the classic book, The Long Walk by Slawomir Rawicz, and stars Ed Harris, Colin Farrell, Jim Sturgess, and Saorise Ronan. It recounts the story of six men who escape the horrors of one of Stalin’s Siberian Gulags and literally walk 4,000 miles, across five countries, to freedom. The film was co-produced by National Geographic Entertainment.
National Geographic Moderator: You seem to have an eye for detail that I just love in this movie--the lice scene, the moment when the tooth comes out, the moment when you show us the cross of the artist with the clinking pencil. Could you talk a little bit about how important little details like that are in telling the bigger broader story?
Peter Weir: I feel it contributes in some way. In historical material clearly, I think you owe it to history, and in this case recent history. It's curious because we know the Second World War through black and white. But you can go and sit as I did in Moscow with survivors of the gulag or in London with Polish survivors and there they are in front of you, in many cases hale and hearty in their 80s and 90s telling as much as I could get from them about details. So I think there's a responsibility implied there. Although I'll do it also with something that's purely fiction. I'll build a backstory. In some ways it's important to me, actors too. In a way I think it contributes to your feeling that what you are watching is real or true in the artistic sense. Much as I might look at a painter's portrait of someone, it might not look exactly like them like a photograph. But you do feel the artist captured the essence of that personality. Often with that kind of artist they require many sittings. So they obviously get into detail.
National Geographic Moderator: Did the ideas for the details originate in the screenplay or are they from an early draft?
Peter Weir: If I were an architect I would be the kind of architect that had to be onsite, initially to see where the sun fell and so forth and then be there when it's built, so you'd have the blueprints. But I'd probably be infuriating, constantly moving that window or changing that doorway--as a result of being onsite. So it goes in directing. A screenplay is never finished, but it's constantly a working document. Mine begin all white pages and then end up in red. Each change goes through a different color. And then in the cutting room you change it again. But I don't care. It's just a document that is helping you to make the final film.
National Geographic Moderator: It takes an incredible amount of drive to make a film. What's driving you in this one?
Peter Weir: I think you get into a kind of trance. I read that Australian poet Les Murray said that "when I write a poem I get into a kind of trance." And he's not the new age type. One of the addictive things about filmmaking is that you live in the moment. There is no past and there's no future. You're just in that moment. The only thing akin to it perhaps is a really front-line soldier. And of course it's unfair to put the two together; there's no danger of loss of life in that way. But perhaps in common, you live intensely. Consequently when I recall films, particularly in interviews, I can recall them in great detail but without nostalgia. It's not like remembering the days at school or something. But I'm back there somehow--that fantastic computer in our heads records things in minute detail. I found that with survivors, not just in this situation but others I worked with back in the 1980s when I made a film about the First World War [Gallipoli, 1981]. They were still alive, often married, isn't that curious about survivors? Rarely single men. We would have a cup of tea served by his wife. But the old soldier would wait until his wife left before he really started talking. And he would say, "these are things I've never told anyone before." They had photographic detail: "It was about half-past eight. No. It was 7:35." From someone in their 90s! All recorded, because they lived life so intensely. Perhaps this is what causes journalists report on wars and causes soldiers to want to go back to combat.
National Geographic Moderator: You get a script, you have a schedule. The clock is ticking, money is being spent. Is there anything in this movie where you ad-libbed or winged it? Somebody came up with an idea, an actor, yourself. You wanted to make a change. And it was the right moment, it was the right thing to do?
Peter Weir: Constantly. I think my crew and my cast know that I'm extremely open and I think they know that when we turn up to work on that day something might change. I leave a little room in the schedule, if possible a day and half to experiment, to add things. In a linear plot line like this where it's largely anecdotal there were many things that I didn't include that I thought might be useful and others that were improvised that I did include, often provided by the cast. I'll take an idea from anybody.
Question from Audience: Would you tell us about shooting the Trans-Siberian railway scene and then the decision to only show us only five seconds of it?
Peter Weir: I did shoot a scene that developed further with that train which was carrying Polish women and children to resettlement camps. And I dropped it because, although it was quite dramatic in its own way--they were huddled by the side of the tracks; it was night and the train was stopped and hands were waving outside the carriages--scenes of great distress. It was my wanting to cram into it something about the large number of Polish citizens from the east of the country that were shipped out by the Soviets. But it was didactic. It was also the first thing they observed. I could have had something else; I could have had an execution scene that they observed. Whereas everything else I've talked about was their own suffering. So I thought it was best to hold back. Also trains and suffering are linked too strongly to the holocaust and I thought it was unfair to intrude on that well-documented horror.
Question: Do we know what happened to the other characters? We see Janusz return to Poland after the fall of communism, although we don't know what happened to him in the intervening years. Also what happened to the other characters, Mr. Smith for example, does he make it to China and back to the US?
Peter Weir: The ending, the missing years--it was simply my way of illustrating in a symbolic fashion that the Second World War ended in 1989 for many people in the Soviet satellites. There is a book out called Looking for Mr. Smith: The Quest for the Truth Behind The Long Walk, the Greatest Survival Story Ever Told by a woman [Linda Willis] I spoke to on the phone who helped me with research. No, we don't know. There's a man in England who claims that it's his story. I avoided all this controversy by making essentially a fictional film inspired by the novel. The reason I was comfortable to move forward is implied in the credit at the beginning which says "this film is dedicated to three men who came out of the Himalayas." That I know is true. There was an interpreter and a British intelligence officer who interviewed them. So I feel comfortable with that. But I didn't really want to make a biographical film; it's not my sort of thing. So unfortunately not; we don't know. But on the other hand, the suffering of untold millions... There are many stories I found in the research period that were in their own way equally dramatic. People walked vast distances in that period during the war and afterwards, and in other times in history. For us with our modern mobility it seems incredible. But they did.
Question: Both technically and physically, what was the most arduous scene to film?
Peter Weir: The desert scene. I think we were running low on energy. I was a bit worried about the cast. It's not my business what they do after hours but I don't think they were eating very well. And I got worried that they'd get ill and some did. For myself the real challenge was the time. With a very tight schedule we had to complete each day's work. And we were always moving somewhere else, if not to another country then within that country to another geographical spot. So there was never a chance to go back or to extend the period. You had to shoot and get it done in that day which took all of my abilities and it was tense at times for that reason. But basically a very happy shoot. We were out in nature. The cast took great inspiration from living their parts. And at times I used to look over at them in a break and think, we can just swing the camera around and film them sitting there; there isn't much difference.
National Geographic Moderator: Were they in makeup for a significant amount of time each day?
Peter Weir: Yes. But it became less and less necessary to a degree. I don't mean to take away from the wonderful work the makeup team did. [The Way Back has received an Oscar nomination for Best Makeup]. But cheekbones began to appear...
Question: It's amazing how many people it takes to make a film and you are trying to keep the artistic direction with you. But you have people in technology which makes you a master logistician. How do you keep that from distracting you or preventing you from getting there?
Peter Weir: I think it's like these people who put one foot after another, there is a day-by-day operation. I had a wonderful team. I took a large part of the team led by Duncan Henderson who was producer on Master and Commander which was a logistic exercise, and we all knew: "if we don't plan this well we'll have real problems," so it was meticulously planned. That doesn't mean to say things don't go wrong. We were blessed with the weather. It just worked in a strange way. They told us in Bulgaria we were done with snow in November. We were starting in February--we wouldn't have any more snow. I wanted snow. Then there was a sudden fall the weekend we were shooting. That seemed to go throughout. Usually you complain about the weather. That helped a lot. We were never bogged with vehicles. We had a very good and blessed run.
National Geographic Moderator: There's a real texture to survival. How did you learn about survival in a way that allowed you to depict it so effectively?
Peter Weir: I wish I could bring up on stage Cyril Delafosse, a Frenchman, now he's an Australian as it happens by chance, late 30s. I'd been told quite early on that he had done the walk inspired by the original book, somewhere around 2000. He works in the IT business but he's always walking and somehow his wife agreed to him going off ten months. I met him in Ventiane, Laos; his wife working in world health there, and I said "take me through it." And he was so interesting. He carried the food with him, very basic stuff. I said "would you work with us on the film?" He told me a lot of things, some of them I put in the film, notably the mosquitoes, which I had heard about from other explorers or adventurers who worked in that area. When the permafrost melts, these very large mosquitoes come out and they can make you very ill. Cyril told me about this man in the forest who seemed untouched by them and had some bark around his neck. And he showed him how to boil it and it gave off some sort of citron odor that kept them away. He was with us all the time. The actors loved him. In the prep period they went out and camped and skinned rabbits, how to cut with things. Then the actors themselves picked it up, particularly Ed Harris. He used to make a lot of his own props. When they dragged that cart in the desert, I said to him, "I think you've got to work something out to put all your winter clothing on, some sort of a sled". He said, "that makes sense." And I said, "would you make it?" which he did.
Question: Why did you choose this book?
Peter Weir: I knew very little about the history of this period, like most people in the Western world. We know a lot about the Nazis and their crimes but very little about the Soviets. It just came Fedex one day from my agent. It was so outside the normal type of material that I read. It struck me from the beginning and I was absorbed by the story and by the remarkable achievements. I got interested in what it was that made these people have this kind of tenacity. What is it in the human spirit of very ordinary people? I've always loved stories of adventure. I was struck by the 1996 disasters on Mount Everest where a number of experienced guides had died. But often the adventures I was reading were about people who intended to do it--climb things, etc. These were ordinary people just in this situation. Very few escaped. That book triggered my reading. I have a lovely library now, 67 volumes of books, first hand accounts plus my interviews with survivors of the gulag.
Question: You mentioned that you interviewed a number of survivors. What was your impression of them?
Peter Weir: In the interviews the first question would be "Why do you think you survived?" Obvious but also reasonable. The answer was always the same "a sense of humor." And number two, surprising, not in every case, but enough, "to keep clean." If you stopped washing, even if it was in the winter and you just rubbed some snow on your face--if you gave that up and said it doesn't mattter, you lost some self-respect. It varied. As far as inspirational characters go, interestingly, there was always someone who was inspirational. I knew this was not something where everyone was pals together. In my story the reason they can keep together is they get out very quickly. If they had stayed there they would become totally absorbed in their own survival.
Question: Could you talk about your casting decisions?
Peter Weir: Ed Harris I'd worked with before. I tried to write the script without thinking of anybody. I think that's a good idea. It keeps you dealing with somebody that you are thinking of as real. Jim Sturgess I'd seen in Across the Universe cast as a young Beatle and thought he had a certain quality. And meeting him he had this quality, a kind of lack of cool. The only young person that doesn't project cool. Cool can kill you! I thought he was also not the hero type. I didn't want either a neurotic or a hero to be the leading character. The minute they come into the camp you know they're going to do something. I might have enjoyed films like that the past. But in this instance it wasn't right. So he was very much in my mind for that. Saoirse Ronan--very few young women could play that. I had to stay on the right side in terms of age. I wanted her on the threshhold of womanhood; one step across that in casting and it would have created a sexual tension. At the same time, for all of them, she reminded them of something or other--home, mother, sister. She was the feminine presence. She talked to them. It was a wonderful thing to unlock them. Without her they would have perished.
National Geographic Moderator: You said something earlier about Colin Farrell and his connection with the Russian-ness of his character.
Peter Weir: It's interesting. A Russian woman said, [Weir imitates a Russian accent] "Colin Farrell, so good, you know, he's surprise. Couple times, not so good Russian. Oof! When he doesn't cross border, this type I know. He's exactly right. And also I knew, very sad, very affectingly orphan. He's orphan man. He sing the song very well. But I know this type." So I'm going to pass that on to Colin.
National Geographic Moderator: What a challenge it would have been to have lost such a powerful character midway through your movie. Did that pose a challenge for you?
Peter Weir: It was suggested that if he lived on it might have been better for the boxoffice. People would like it. It wasn't an unreasonable thought. It was just untrue to the character. It was very indicative of the kind of film it is not. To have him go off and end up with Mr. Smith heading off into the distance, going to do something in America--it would have been cute and it might have been enjoyable but it wasn't this film.
National Geographic Moderator: It was interesting what you mentioned earlier about what Colin assumed would happen to his character.
Peter Weir: I asked him, "What happened to you, Colin?" He said, "I would have gone back to that town where I got that food. Get into a card game and be scamming in a very short time....
Question: What made you choose these particular nationalities for your characters? And why is only the Russian character a real criminal, not a political prisoner like the rest of them?
Peter Weir: I think the original book did have the multi-nationalities. Every nationality was in the camps to one degree or another. So many thousand Americans, a small number compared to the millions who were in those camps. I followed the book to a degree in that way. The Latvian priest I think was from his book. Polish was important; it is in one way a Polish story. Poland for many people is an unknown crucible of WWII. I know that the greatest suffering occurred in that country and greatest heroism. I have the utmost respect for that country. So Polish formed the nucleus. And then it was the particular people they were arrested with. So they came in a draft not from some Kiev or somewhere but from a Polish camp; and were probably in a group of foreign prisoners. So that's why they were like that. I used English as the lingua franca. It probably would have been Russian but that would be too complicated for the film so I thought English would serve as a reasonable substitute. Then I did want a Russian and I thought it would be interesting if it was this guy, who forced himself on them. They didn't like Russians. You wouldn't go and chat to a Russian prisoner and say "do you want to escape with us?" They may be an informer. You would have to be careful. There were so many informers. Informers are the reason I think the Russians haven't faced their own past, not the older generation. Too many of them were involved. It's been sold to Russia and I had my first Russian interviews. I think this film will work for the young, born after the Soviet empire. They want to talk about it, the older ones don't.
Question: Why isn't the language all in English which would have made it easier for audiences worldwide?
Peter Weir: The choice was reasonable. It kept the Russians foreign. It's a convention in films. It's not my invention. In Polanski's film The Pianist the Poles speak English, the Germans speak German. It helps you differentiate. Sometimes it's confusing if everyone speaks in English.
Question: There were so many good scenes in the movie and the characters just crackle. I thought this was going to be through the eyes of Janusz. But we kept seeing things through different eyes. An example, when they come across the carcass and the wolves and Colin Farrell makes move like a lion pride, was that directed or was that spontaneous?
Peter Weir: I think I looked at Colin and he look at me and he said "Yes." We had that kind of rapport. I have a Scots background. The Scots were once Irish. When I met Colin we got talking, it was like I'd known him all my life. The best thing with an actor is when you have a kind of unspoken rapport. It's also true in love.
National Geographic Moderator: Were there moments when you were on set and something happened that wasn't in the script that went beyond the script, kind of took it to another level? Do you recall moments like that in this process?
Peter Weir: I know what you are talking about. I love that. I don't think there was any particular thing in this. Mainly because the schedule was so tight. I seem to think that when they were at the well and were to leave the well behind. I saw them splashing around, fooling around in the water. Wardrobe said, "Don't get your clothes wet. We've got to shoot the scene." And I thought but we're shooting much livelier, much funnier as a result of that. That's an example.
National Geographic Moderator: It's a great thing. When you are in the world of a scripted drama everything is laid out. You can kind of see the whole thing, a little bit different from an documentary film. But then you realize there's a spontaneity sometimes in the scripted drama that injects a different level of excitement.
Peter Weir: I get fascinated with what happens between scene 114 and scene 115. 114 is night and then you go several days later. And I sometimes think what happened in that period? So I'll sometimes say to the cast. "What do you think happened?" Or that night. Sometimes I'll come up with a scene on my own. It happened in Witness with Harrison Ford. We had a proper plot and everything. And I said, "what if you had a day when you just sort of did something on the farm?" So I talked to the Amish advisor and said "what would you do?" "Oh, we'd milk the cow." Let's milk the cow.
"What happens after that; what time is that?" "4:30." "Milk the cow and then what?" "Then they would have breakfast." "What would you talk about?" So it became this series of scenes we shot, a day's worth. We had great fun making all that up. What would we talk about at breakfast? Great coffee. And Harrison said, "Oh I know what I'd love to talk about. I once went to this Folger's coffee commercial and lost the job. And what I had to say in the commercial was [Peter Weir imitates Harrison Ford] 'Honey that's great coffee.' So I'm going to say that." But the Amish people don't have television. A joke within a joke. (Everyone laughs).
Question: Could you tell us who your influences are as a filmmaker and is David Lean one of them?
Peter Weir: You can't go into the desert with a camera without thinking of David Lean. And that was the case with this. In fact, on one morning not long into the desert shoot, I noticed this man in full robes, long thin face, looked tribal, and he was always wandering around with his plastic bottle. And I asked what job he was doing and was told he cleans the scorpions off the set, traps them in the plastic bottle and also snakes. And I chatted to him about fossils and he gave me a couple of fossils. A few more days passed. He came over to me one day very determined and leaned over in my ear and said "The desert is with you." It was like something out of Lawrence of Arabia. Anyway, influences are generally more in your youth. In latter years you just love a good film and then might get to learn the name of the director too. In younger years, certainly, Stanley Kubrick for my generation was particularly important because he showed that you could make a film keeping your artistic integrity but you could make it for a large audience. Chaplin--I love silent films and got a lot from them. I'd have liked to have known Charlie Chaplin and talked with him. Jacques Tati, very influential when I was young. Of course I went to comedy a lot. Many others.
National Geographic Moderator: Thank you so much.
Peter Weir: Can I thank National Geographic who invested in the film, their first feature film. They took a big risk and they gave me a great welcome here in Washington. It reminds me of something sort of like the World Geographical Society where I'm just back from an expedition.
The Way Back opened in the Washington area on January 21.
Director Alejandro González Iñárritu on Biutiful
From the press notes
After having globe-trotted with Babel, I thought I had explored enough multiple lines, fractured structures and crossing narratives. Each of the films I have made has been shot in a different language, in a different country. At the end of Babel, I was so exhausted I made it a point that my next film would be about just one character, with one point of view, in one single city, with a straight narrative line and in my own native language. Biutiful is all that I haven’t done: a linear story whose characters shape the narrative in an unexplored genre for me: the tragedy.
Biutiful for me is a reflection akin to our brief and humble permanence in this life. Our existence, short-lived as the flicker of a star, only reveals to us its ineffable brevity once we are close to death. Recently, I thought of my own death. Where do we go and what do we transform into when we die? Into the memory of others. This is the anguishing and dizzying race against time that Uxbal faces. What does a man do in his final days of life? Does he dedicate himself to living or to dying? Since the film’s inception, I was never interested in making a movie about death, but a reflection in and about life when our inevitable loss of it occurs.
A film for me always begins with something very vague -- a bit of a conversation, a glimpse of a scene through a car window, a shaft of light or some music notes. Biutiful started on a cold autumn morning in 2006 while my kids and I were preparing breakfast and I randomly played a CD of the Ravel Piano Concerto in G Major. Some months before, I had played the same Ravel piano concerto during a family car trip from Los Angeles to the Telluride Film Festival. The scenery of the Four Corners area was breathtaking but after the Ravel piece finished, both of my kids started to cry at the same time. The melancholic quality, the sense of sadness and beauty that this piece of music contains was overwhelming for them. My kids couldn’t take it or explain it. They just felt it. When they heard that Ravel piano again that morning, they both asked me to stop the CD. They remembered very clearly the emotional impact and how that music moved them. That same morning, a character knocked on my head’s door and said: “Hola, my name is Uxbal.” During the next three years, I would spend my life with him. I didn’t know what he wanted, who he was or where he was going. He was dismissive and full of contradictions. But to be honest, I knew how I wanted to present him and how I wanted to finish with him. Yes, I just had the beginning and the end.
It wasn’t until one year later, while I was walking in the El Raval section of Barcelona, that everything made sense. Barcelona is the queen of Europe. She is indeed beautiful, but like every queen, she also has a much more interesting side than the obvious and sometimes boring, bourgeois beauty that every tourist and postcard photographer has admired. Since I was 17 years old and traveled around the world working in a cargo ship as a floor cleaner, I have been attracted to, curious about and fascinated by the neighborhoods that are hidden and that nobody sees. That’s what I respond to. And I am talking about the diverse, complex, marginal and multiethnic new world that has been recently created in Barcelona and most of the big cities of Europe. I knew that Uxbal belonged to this place, I knew he belonged to this eclectic and vibrant community that is reshaping the world.
During the 1960’s, Franco promoted and brought to Catalonia hundred of thousands of people from different parts of Spain, trying to disrupt the Catalan culture, and prohibited them from speaking the Catalan language. In the midst of a huge economic recession, the Castilian-speaking people -- mostly from Extremadura, Andalucia and Murcia -- became immigrants in their own country. They were assigned to a suburb of Barcelona called Santa Coloma and they became known as “Charnegos,” a derogatory word that refers to poor immigrants and their children. With the returning strength of the economy during the 80’s and the 90’s, the “Charnegos” started leaving Santa Coloma and immigrants from all over the world started filling it. Even though El Raval, known as the Barrio Chino, is famous for being Barcelona’s most diverse neighborhood, it was Santa Coloma and nearby Badalona, that I fell in love with. Here, Senegalese, Chinese, Pakistanis, Gypsies, Romanians and Indonesians all live together in peace without a problem and each one speaks their own language without a need or worry of integrating into Spain.
And to be frank, it seems the society is not very interested in integrating them either. Unlike in the US, the people don’t come to European cities to blend into a culture. The research I did tells me that most people come here in order to survive and to help the ones they left behind. But more than this interesting sociological phenomenon happening in Barcelona and most European cities, it was the emotional impact it had on me that I found as a great context for the story of Biutiful. Although I am a privileged one, I am an immigrant and I have been for ten years. In Biutiful, there are no grand occurrences. Only the individualization of the difficult every day life of one of the hundreds of millions of modern day slaves that live in this shadow and this light. At the end of the day, when a film is not a document, it is a dream. And as a dreamer, you are always alone, as a painter is alone with a white canvas. And to be alone is to ask questions (as Goddard once said ) ... and to make films is to answer them.
I wrote a meticulous biography of each one of the characters. I did it for the Chinese and the African characters, too. Each one should have a past and a reason and not only be utilitarian characters. I did this in order to know them well and also to help the actors understand where they had come from. Uxbal was born as a “Charnego” and he is one of the 10% Castilian-speaking people who stayed in Santa Coloma. The immigrants are not alien to him. He grew up with them. He works with them. Walking in that neighborhood on a Sunday is a physical, spiritual and emotional experience. You can see Gypsies singing in groups in the streets, while Muslims pray at the park or chant through the speaker of a little mosque, and a Catholic church is full of Chinese people. I wanted this story to be that same kind of physical, spiritual and emotional journey.
I saw Uxbal full of contradictions: a guy whose life is so busy and complicated that he can’t even die in peace, a guy who protects immigrants from the law while he himself exploits their labor. A street man who has a spiritual gift and can speak with the dead and guide them to the light… but he charges money for it; a family man with a broken heart and two kids who he loves yet can’t help but lose his temper with them; a man who everybody depends on but who also depends on everyone; a primitive, simple, humble man with a deep supernatural insight. My father used to say that low-income workers or taxi drivers can’t get depressed. “This is a luxury for the rich,” he said. Life will not allow them to die. And that’s Uxbal: a desperate, lonely man, looking for a father he never knew.
Since I first started writing Biutiful, I always thought of Javier Bardem for Uxbal. Nobody else could have brought to the character what he has brought. I could not have made this film without him because for me, he alone was Uxbal. For many years, Javier and I had been trying to work together. I thought, this character will be the bridge that will get us together on set. My style and process of working with actors is not light or easy. I give of myself fully on each project and I demand the same from the actors. I am obsessed with perfection, or what I consider perfection. Physically and emotionally it is a tough ride. Well, bringing Javier into the equation, it was as if the Hungry and the Starving got together… and we were both yearning to be satisfied. Javier is not just an outstanding actor; he is one of a kind. Everybody knows that. He prepares exhaustively and writes extensive notes about his character. He is committed, intense and obsessed with excellence as well. But what Javier has that makes him so special and unique is a weight, a gravity, an ominous presence on the screen that is based on his deep, strong reflectiveness and his profound interior life. That’s something that can’t be learned. It’s something (angel or devil) that you either have or you don’t. The precision and emotional intensity required in every scene was not easy to sustain, especially while trying to balance this act with non-actors and kids. During the Autumn and Winter of 2008/09, Javier Bardem, the man I knew, just disappeared in order to give life to Uxbal. A film like this drains you, but that extraordinary effort and sacrifice was proportionate to the immense artistic satisfaction that we both shared.
One of the most difficult roles to write and to cast was that of Marambra. Bipolarity, a complex emotional disorder sometimes called manic depression, can be too easily caricatured. I was looking for a very specific vibe and spirit. I held casting sessions all around Spain, and though I saw a lot of very talented actresses there, I couldn’t find what I was looking for. Three weeks before principal photography began, I still hadn’t found her and was close to postponing the shoot. I did an open casting session in Argentina, where we saw Maricel Alvarez. Even in a video test, I knew it was her. Maricel flew to Spain and after 24 hours without sleeping and a text she had just received 24 hours prior to that, she did the most extraordinary rehearsal test I have seen. I put her in front of a film camera for the first time in her life and I asked her, without doing anything, to imagine certain images or circumstances I was suggesting to her. All the set and crew was quiet. One minute later I had goose bumps on my skin and my eyes were watering. It was just pure alchemy and magic. Maricel brought the danger and the tenderness Marambra needed. She has been an extraordinary theater actress for years with a range and craftsmanship very hard to find on this planet.
For the role of Igé, we looked at more than 1200 women in Spain and Mexico. Diaryatou Daff was found in a downtown Barcelona salon where she worked cutting hair. She is Senegalese and, like hundreds of thousands of other African women, she risked her life and left her country to look for a job to help maintain her family members. Her life hasn’t been easy. Working day and night, she supports not only her husband and child but 30 other people who depend on the little money she is able to send back to Senegal. Diaryatou was always afraid she might lose her job in the hair salon. While we were rehearsing I could sense the clear understanding she had for the character I wanted her to play. She did it with such honesty and profundity -- the story of Igé was her story. I have never experienced a person in a film whose life was this close to her character. Reality was dancing with fiction in front of my eyes. She struggled while making the film but her commitment to speaking in the name of millions of women like her was bigger. I always liked the idea that Igé starts out looking like a secondary role, but without seeing her coming, she ends up a cornerstone of the story. She is Mama Africa -- a rational, intelligent, loving mother. That it is Diaryatou in real life. Subtle, talented, sensitive, beautiful and more than anything, real.
Kids are always difficult to find. The scenes with the kids were very challenging due to the subject matter of the events and, in this case, the physical characteristics of Bardem and Maricel didn’t make it easier. We found Guillermo to play Mateo early in the process but trying to find Uxbal’s daughter put all of us on edge. It was only 2 weeks before the start of production, when we had resigned ourselves to continue without her, hoping we would find her, that I was doing a technical scout in a local school where we would be shooting. Suddenly, Ana, who happens to study in that school, tapped my back and ask me what I was doing. I turned and saw her. I said, “I am making a movie.” And she said, “I would love to be in it.” And that was that. She was an angel knocking on the door of a desperate man looking all over Spain without knowing that the answer was at the end of his nose.
As always, I dedicated this film to a family member -- not because they are part of my family but because they are the reason, the source, or who I want to speak to directly through the film.
This one is for my Father, and he knows well why.
(Condensed from the original press notes).
Biutiful is currently playing in area theaters and is on the short list of Foreign Film Oscar Nominees.
Rule Britannia: The King's Speech Silences Harry at the DCFS's Coming Attractions Trailer Night, Winter 2010
By Cheryl Dixon, DC Film Society Member
It’s happened only once before, during the Summer 2009 Trailer Night program held on May 19, 2009. In this much-anticipated season of the final crop of Oscar contenders, the trailer for The King’s Speech, a festival favorite and biopic, delivered the knockout punch to worthy contender, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1, the seventh installment of the famed series. DC Film Society fans may recall that previous Harry trailers have almost always won the popularity contest. However, once again, attendees at the Coming Attractions Trailer Night, Winter 2010 program held on November 16, 2010, at Landmark’s E Street Cinema, counted Harry down. Rule Britannia! Attendees and hosts alike predicted Oscar glory for English actor Colin Firth. Both suggested this well-crafted trailer would deliver a Best Picture nominated movie that not even the usual spectacular dramatic and visual special effects Harry trailer could beat.
Attendees enjoyed the always witty and insightful commentary on the trailers made by our fave co-hosts and film critics Mighty Joe Barber and Kill Bill Henry. And the more vocal attendees got to actively participate in the no-holds-barred, opinion fest about over 25 trailers for this winter’s offerings. We promised to provide insider buzz about the stars and films looking for holiday audiences and awards momentum. If you liked what you saw in the trailers, and enjoyed the evening’s scintillating discussion about them, hopefully you will check out the movies! Ready to make your Oscar predictions?
For those amongst you who have never attended Trailer Night, here are the rules: the audience rates each trailer on both its entertainment value and whether it more or less generates interest in seeing the movie. There’s an informal applause-meter to capture the enthusiasm and a formal ballot on which attendees can select from a 0-5 rating scale. Seven general film categories were chosen, from which the audience selects the best trailer* within each category and finally votes for the “best of the best” trailer overall. Informal results indicated the finalists from each category were: Black Swan, Tron: Legacy, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1, The Tempest, The King’s Speech, Unknown, and I Love You Phillip Morris. The King’s Speech was the evening’s winner overall. Plus, attendees got to vote on three additional bonus trailers, including Sucker Punch.
Stay tuned, the formal balloted results will be revealed soon!
Free movie promotional items were plentiful: lots of free movie posters, T-shirts, CDs, DVDs, books, and absolutely fabulous raffle prizes, including movie tickets were on hand.
Thanks to the DC Film Society Directors and Coordinating Committee for putting together this twice-annual event, especially Michael Kyrioglou, Jim Shippey, Karrye Braxton, Billy Coulter, Cheryl Dixon, Annette Graham, Larry Hart, Charles Kirkland, Jr., Ky Nguyen, Adam Spector, and all volunteers. Special thanks to Joe Barber, Bill Henry, Allied Advertising, Landmark’s E Street Cinema & staff, Terry Hines & Assoc., and all participating film studios.
Joe & Bill’s general remarks included commentary on the addition of movie/movie principals’ pedigrees (for example, Oscar winner, Jeff Bridges; Oscar nominee, Colin Firth; Venice Film Festival Opening Night Film). They continue to educate us on the movie marketing strategies employed in the trailers.
Missed our event? Here’s what you missed; remember, there’s still time to see the movies that these trailers promote before the Oscars:
Bad Boys, Worse Girls
This is Natalie Portman’s finest hour. The audience was captivated by the beauty and suspense of her troubled character’s internal struggle to land and keep the principal role as the White/Black Swan in “Swan Lake.” The trailer confirmed for attendees that Director Darren Aronofsky’s movie is a winner and we just might as well hand her the Oscar. Mila Kunis, Barbara Hershey, Winona Ryder, and Vincent Cassel round out the cast.
Robert Downey Jr., Zach Galifianakis, and Michelle Monaghan star in a road trip movie that resembled a lower budgeted version or excerpt of “The Hangover”, but much less humorous. A few chuckles from attendees could be heard.
The Farrelly Brothers direct Owen Wilson, Jason Sudeikis, and Christina Applegate in a comedy about two husbands are given a free pass by their wives to make a pass at other women! Hilarity follows when the wives decide to have some fun themselves….
Love & Other Drugs
Jake Gyllenhall portrays a charming rogue and pharmaceutical rep who meets his match in his unserious encounter with the equally unserious free spirit portrayed by Anne Hathaway. Will love, the ultimate drug, convince these characters that they were made for each other? Attendees roared at the encounter inadvertently witnessed by “the roommate.”
And to Think We Gave You an Oscar
Diane Keaton and Harrison Ford star in a comedy about warring journalists on a morning TV show mediated by a producer portrayed by Rachel McAdams. Will they or won’t they all just get along? Make love, not war? More seasoned attendees commented that the storyline looked a bit like “Broadcast News.”
Stephen Dorff and Elle Fanning portray father and daughter and explore the father-daughter relationship under the guidance of Director Sofia Coppola.
Beautiful Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie star in a movie about an American tourist (Depp) visiting beautiful Italy and meeting Jolie there, by choice or by chance? Accidentally on purpose?
Disney’s continuation of a cult classic. Jeff Bridges, Garrett Hedlund, and Olivia Wilde star in a decidedly updated special effects-laden story of a son seeking his father who long ago disappeared into the digital world that he created.
Writer/Directors, the Coen Brothers, Ethan and Joel, present Academy-Award winner Jeff Bridges, Academy-Award winner Matt Damon, and possible Academy-Award nominee Hailee Steinfeld in a remake. Joe & Bill assure that this is not an exact replica of the previous 1969 version. But if you squint you can almost see the resemblance between Jeff Bridges and John Wayne as the U.S. Marshall assigned to track down a murderer.
We Know You Are Just Going to Vote for Harry Potter Anyway
*Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows: Part 1
Harry, plus pals Hermione and Ron, minus Dumbledore, prepare for the final battle against the dark forces of he who has no name (Voldemort) and his tightening influence over Hogwart’s Ministry of Magic. Spectacular, dramatic, and intensely visual and powerful special effects. The audience wildly applauded the trailer. Joe & Bill were absolutely correct in placing this trailer in its own category. All of the movie series trailers have been wonderfully effective in conveying a sense of the story without giving away too much and encouraging fans, old and new, to excitedly anticipate the movie’s opening. Muggles and wizards alike will enjoy this one with more A plus special effects and a good story to boot…the audience is anticipating the movie release and the exciting trailer definitely teases and effectively builds up suspense. We know we want to see the movie. It’s a given, must-see….
Faraway Lands Across the Sea
Jim Broadbent, Imelda Staunton, Lesley Manville, and Ruth Sheen star in Director Mike Leigh’s rom-com about a married couple’s happy marriage.
Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader
Director Michael Apted portrays the continuing adventures of Lucy, Edmund, Cousin Eustace, and Reepicheep, who reunite with Price Caspian on a voyage to the end of the world. Joe & Bill point out that the Chronicles, sort of an older generation’s Harry Potter franchise, make a lot of money abroad.
Anthony Hopkins and Ciaran Hinds star in a very Exorcist-looking movie. Can it out-scare the standard?
This is Julie Taymor’s version with Helen Mirren as the Prospero character. The trailer featured all kinds of character actors (Djimon Hounsou, Alfred Molina, Chris Cooper, Alan Cumming, Russell Brand, David Strathairn to name a few) in Shakespeare and is full of the delightful imagery she is known for. Attendees wondered aloud what some of the actors were doing in a Shakespeare vehicle, they seemed a bit miscast.
Oh Just Give Them the Oscar Already
Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams star as a married couple on the outs with a view of happier times interspersed throughout the film.
How Do You Know
Writer/Director James L. Brooks presents a comedic love triangle featuring Reese Witherspoon, Paul Rudd, and Owen Wilson. Wilson’s character is a baseball player whose home stadium was filmed on location at the Nationals’ own DC base.
A Belgian animation feature about an Illusionist’s love affair with a woman. The writer/director, Sylvain Chomet, also was at the helm of The Triplets of Belleville and employs a similar, distinct whimsical animation style. Not to be confused with a live action drama of the same name.
*The King’s Speech
O.K. attendees almost certainly loudly applauded the trailer for this well designed trailer deftly depicting the real-life travails of England’s King George VI’s speech impediment and the unorthodox treatment of his speech therapist. Joe & Bill predicted that both Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush, respectively, accidental monarch King George VI and unorthodox therapist, were naturals to receive movie’s highest honors, the Oscars and the anointing of Film Society fans that this was the best trailer of the bunch.
Made in Dagenham
It’s 1968, in Dagenham, England, Bob Hoskins, Miranda Richardson, and Sally Hawkins in a real-life drama about women’s fight for equality at a Ford automobile plant. Attendees could not help but draw comparisons to Norma Rae.
Good Hair/Bad Hair
Director George Tillman, Jr.’s at the helm of a total guy flick, featuring “who else?” Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Billy Bob Thorton. Action! Crime! Drama!
Bostonian that I am, I’m always partial to films made in Massachusetts, especially “authentic” ones with good Massachusetts accents. Mark Wahlberg himself is actually from Boston (Dorchester to be exact), but Melissa Leo and Welshman Christian Bale truly distinguish themselves by doing a “wicked good” job of portraying real Massachusetts folk in the true life story of two brothers’ (Micky and Dicky Ward) fight for redemption and reunification along the road to a boxing championship. Director David O. Russell be proud. Amy Adams rounds out the cast.
An animated fairytale, exploring the idea of Rapunzel seeking a scoundrel she falls for. Mandy Moore and Zachary “Chuck” Levi provide voices.
Poor Liam Neeson! His character awakens after an accident and no one, not even his wife, seems to know him. Talk about identity theft. His wife is seemingly married to someone else bearing his name, or what he seems to remember. This trailer had all the makings of a Hitchcock-style mystery-thriller.
*I Love You Phillip Morris
Attendees were unsure what to make of this rom-com film featuring Jim Carrey and Ewan McGregor. Jim Carrey’s character comes out of the closet and engages in a romantic relationship with Ewan McGregor’s character, Carrey contrives all kinds of schemes to break his lover out of jail to be with him.
Writer/Director Danny Boyle (“Slumdog Millionaire”) does it again! Film Society fans got the fabulous opportunity to meet and greet him at a preview screening prior to this event, so attendees were a bit disappointed with the trailer which didn’t quite portray the brilliance of the movie, which is based on a true story. It tells the tale of the canyon climber Aron Ralston’s adventure in a cave leading to a difficult decision to save his life. Mmmnnn Pretty Boy James Franco and Aron Ralston, possible Oscar moment?
Yogi Bear, Boo-Boo, and Ranger Smith come to life in this movie where attendees wondered what had happened to Tom Cavanaugh’s career since TV show, “Ed.” Clearly this is a movie for the kids, or the kid in all of us. Could this make the transition from cartoon to real life? Any lessons learned from “Underdog?” Dan Aykroyd and Justin Timberlake provide voices.
See you at the movies!
Calendar of Events
American Film Institute Silver Theater
The AFI takes part in "Best of Input," a program of TV films on February 2 at 7:00pm with two ethnographic films Baltazar Ushka Ice Man from Ecuador and Contact from Australia.
"Screen Valentines: Great Movie Romances" is a series of eight films, one from each decade (1930s through 2000s) shown throughout February. Titles include Bringing Up Baby, The Palm Beach Story, Sabrina, West Side Story, Somewhere in Time, Grease, Notting Hill and Love, Actually.
An Alfred Hitchcock Retrospective in three parts begins in February with Blackmail, Murder!, The Skin Game, Rich and Strange, The Man Who Knew Too Much, Number Seventeen, The Lodger and The Thirty-Nine Steps. More in March, with Parts II and III later this year.
"Backward and in High Heels: Ginger Rogers Centennial Retrospective" begins in February and continues through early April. February films include Star of Midnight shown with Rafter Romance, and a number of films she made with Fred Astaire: Flying Down to Rio, The Gay Divorcee, Top Hat, Roberta, Follow the Fleet, and Swing Time. More in March.
"Hollywood Modern: Film Design of the 1930s" is presented in conjunction with the National Building Museum's exhibit "Designing Tomorrow: America's World Fairs of the 1930s. See modernist set designs in Grand Hotel, Female, Trouble in Paradise, Design for Living, The Women and A Star is Born.
Other special engagements include a restored 35mm print of The Red Shoes (Michael Powell and Emric Pressburger, 1948), a perfect accompaniment to this year's Oscar-nominated Black Swan.
Freer Gallery of Art
The Iranian Film Festival 2011, now in its 15th year, concludes in February. On February 4 at 7:00pm and February 6 at 2:00pm is Please Do Not Disturb (Mohsen Abdolvahab, 2010), a comedy weaving three tales. On February 11 at 7:00pm and February 13 at 2:00pm is Salve (Alireza Davoodnejad, 2010) set in Tehran's underworld. On February 18 at 7:00pm and February 20 at 2:00pm is Frontier Blues (Babak Jalali, 2009), a comedy set along Iran's border with Turkmenistan. On February 27 at 2:00pm is a special documentary program: a double feature All Restrictions End (Reza Haeri, 2009), about Iranian fashion shown with We Are Half of Iran's Population (Rakhshan Bani-Etemad, 2009) about women's rights activists. At 3:45pm on February 27 is the documentary Pearls on the Ocean Floor (Robert Adanto, 2010) about Iranian women artists.
National Gallery of Art
"Neorealismo 1941-1954: Days of Glory," a series of Italian neorealism films from eight directors, concludes in February. On February 4 at 2:30pm is Teresa Venerdi (Vittorio De Sica, 1941); on February 5 at 2:00pm is Bicycle Thieves (Vittorio De Sica and Cesare Zavattini, 1948); on February 5 at 4:00pm is Miracle in Milan (Vittorio De Sica and Cesare Zavattini, 1951) with an introduction by Millicent Marcus; on February 6 at 4:30pm is La Terra Trema (Luchino Visconti, 1948); on February 18 at 2:30pm is Bellissima (Luchino Visconti, 1953); on February 19 at 2:00pm is Without Pity (Alberto Lattuada, 1948; on February 19 at 4:00pm is The Overcoat (Alberto Lattuada, 1952); on February 20 at 4:30pm is Sunday in August (Luciano Emmer, 1950); and on February 26 at 1:30pm is Chronicle of Poor Lovers (Carlo Lizzani, 1954).
"Jem Cohen: Curious Visions" is a two-part series of shorts and a feature by American artist Jem Cohen. On February 12 at 2:30pm Jem Cohen will be present with a series of recent short films and on February 27 at 5:00pm members of the the band Fugazi will be present for the documentary Instrument (1999).
Other special events at the Gallery include Killer of Sheep (1977) with the short film When It Rains (1995) with director Charles Burnett in person on February 13 at 2:00pm. The Festival of New French Shorts is on February 13 at 5:00pm--four short films The North Road, Another's Reason, The Best Place and The Herd. The Washington premiere of Lou Harrison: A World of Music (2010) is shown on February 26 at 4:00pm with director Eva Soltes present for discussion after the film.
National Museum of African Art
The North African Film Festival focuses on 4 films from Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco and Algeria with discussions moderated by leading film directors, critics and scholars. A lecture "Perspectives on North African Film" complements the four films. On February 3 at 7:00pm is Cairo Time (2009) set in Egypt with director Ruba Nadda present to moderate the discussion. On February 10 at 7:00pm is Raja (Jacques Doillon, 2003) from Morocco, about a Westerner's complex relationship with a poor local girl. On February 17 at 7:00pm is Bab Aziz-The Prince Who Contemplated His Soul (Nacer Khemir, 2006) from Tunisia and on February 24 at 7:00pm is Outside the Law (Rachid Bouchareb, 2010), Algeria's choice for Foreign Film Oscar, about three brothers and set during the time of Algeria's independence movement. On February 20 at 1:00pm is the lecture "Perspectives on North African Film," with participants Danny Glover, actor; Rachid Bouchared, director; Manthia Diaward, film scholar; Nicholas Mirzoeff, art historian and moderator Mbaya Cham of Howard University.
National Museum of the American Indian
"Shared Experience: Telling Our Stories" is a collection of 12 short films of the award-winning LongHouse Media's Native Lens Program. The films are shown daily throughout February except Wednesdays at 12:30pm and 3:30pm.
Museum of American History
On February 9 at 6:00pm is Freedom Riders (Stanley Nelson, 2011), a documentary about the Civil Rights movement. Discussion with the filmmaker and others will follow the screening.
Smithsonian American Art Museum
On February 5 at 3:00pm is Body and Soul (Oscar Micheaux, 1925) with Paul Robeson in his screen debut. Live music by the Thad Wilson Orchestra will accompany this silent film.
To complement the new exhibit "Alexis Rockman: A Fable for Tomorrow" is a short series of sci-fi films. On February 3 at 6:00pm is Silent Running (Gordon Douglas, 1954) and on February 24 at 6:00pm is The Incredible Shrinking Man (Jack Arnold, 1957).
Washington Jewish Community Center
The popular Israeli television series Srugim (Eliezer Shapiro, 2010), set in an Orthodox neighborhood in Jerusalem, will be shown on four Tuesdays in February. Episodes 1, 2, and 3 are on February 1 at 7:00pm; episodes 4, 5, 6, and 7 are on February 8 at 7:00pm; episodes 8, 9, 10, and 11 are on February 15 at 7:00pm; and episodes 12, 13, 14 and 15 are on February 22 at 7:00pm. Series passes are available.
On February 9 at 6:30pm is In the Family (Joanna Rudnick), a documentary and discussion about the director's impossible decision to either have preventive surgery or risk developing cancer.
On February 13 at 3:00pm is Me Facing Life: Cyntoia's Story (Daniel H. Birman), an investigation into how a 16 year old girl got sentenced to life in prison for murder.
"A Deeper Look" showcases films by directors seen in January's "Film | Neu" festival. On February 14 at 6:30m is Cologne's Finest (Ralf Huettner, 1997) and on February 28 at 6:30pm is Vacation (Thomas Arslan, 2007). More in March.
The "Best of Input," is a series of programs from public TV. On February 3 at 6:30pm is a series of short films from Brazil. Other programs in Best of Input are shown at other locations.
National Geographic Society
See all five Oscar-nominated films for the 83rd Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film. On February 18 at 7:00pm is Incendies (Denis Villenueve, 2010) from Canada; on February 19 at 5:00pm is In a Better World (Susanne Bier, 2010) from Denmark; on February 19 at 8:00pm is Biutiful (Alejandro González Iñárritu, 2010) from Mexico; on February 20 at 2:00pm is Dogtooth (Yorgos Lanthimos, 2009) from Greece and on February 20 at 5:00pm is Outside the Law (Rachid Bouchareb, 2010) from Algeria.
The French Embassy takes part in "Best of Input," on February 1 at 7:00pm with a screening of Taboo from Switzerland.
On February 8 at 7:00pm is Love Like Poison (Katell Quillévéré, 2010), winner of the 2010 Jean Vigo award.
The Japan Information and Culture Center
On February 16 at 6:30pm is What the Snow Brings, rescheduled from last month. On February 25 at 6:30pm is Chocolate Underground (Takayuki Hamana), an anime film.
A series of films by DC area filmmakers will be shown in February. On February 2 at 8:00pm is Chocolate City (Ellie Walton and Sam Wild, 2007), a documentary about low-income families from a housing project in Southeast DC who were displaced for new development. Filmmaker Ellie Walton will discuss the film after the screening. On February 9 at 8:00pm is Out of the Silence (Joe Wilson and Dean Hamer, 2009), a 2010 Rosebud Film and Video Festival Winner, about a chain of events that unfolds in a small Pennsylvania town when a gay wedding is announced. Filmmakers Joe Wilson and Dean Hamer will be present for discussion. On February 16 at 8:00pm is Yoo-Hoo Mrs. Goldberg (Aviva Kempner, 2009), a documentary about television pioneer Gertrude Berg, creator, writer, and star of The Goldbergs, a radio show that ran for 17 years.
In conjunction with the exhibit "Discovering the Civil War, Part Two: Consequences" is the 9-part television series by Ken Burns. The first six parts were shown in December and January. All are shown at noon. On February 10 is "Most Hallowed Ground" (1990); on February 17 is "War Is All Hell" (1990) and on February 24 is "The Better Angels of Our Nature" (1990).
Also in conjunction with the Civil War exhibit is The Hunley (John Gray, 1999), a feature film about the submarine CSS Hunley starring Donald Sutherland.
The Archives will show the Oscar-nominated documentaries and short films. On February 23 at 7:00pm is Waste Land (Lucy Walker and Angus Aynsley); on February 24 at 7:00pm is Gasland (Josh Fox and Trish Adlesic); on February 25 at 7:00pm is Restrepo (Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger; on February 26 at 7:00pm is Inside Job (Charles Ferguson and Audrey Marrs); on February 27 at 4:00pm is Exit Through the Gift Shop (Banksy and Jaime D'Cruz), all Documentary Feature Nominees. On February 26 at noon are the Live Action Short Film Nominees. On February 26 at 3:30pm are the Animated Short Film Nominees. On February 27 at 11:30am are the Documentary Short Subject Nominees.
Interamerican Development Bank
On February 10 at 6:30pm is the DC premiere of Mas Man Peter Minshall (Dalton Narine, 2010), a documentary about the Trinidadian Carnival artist Peter Minshall. His bands are exercises in total theater, using music, drama, dance and visual spectacle.
This month's "Greek Panorama" film, on February 2 at 8:00pm, is Hard Goodbyes: My Father (Penny Panayotopoulou, 2002), about a young boy coping with his father's death, set in the late 1960s.
On February 9 at 8:00pm is this month's "Czech Lions" film, Close to Heaven (Dan Svatek, 2005), a "Grand Hotel" type drama.
This month's "French Cinematheque" film is Hadewijch (Bruno Dumont, 2009), about a novice nun who returns to normal life after being kicked out of her convent.
The newest of the Avalon's Wednesday foreign film series is "Reel Israel DC" shown on the 4th Wednesday of every month starting in January 2011. The film for February is Precious Life (Shlomi Edlar, 2010), a documentary about how an Israeli pediatrician and a Palestinian mother struggle to get treatment for a baby with a genetic disease.
On February 3 at 6:30pm is The Cool School (Morgan Neville, 2008), a documentary about the Ferus Gallery of Los Angeles, a catalyst of modern art from 1957-1966.
Anacostia Community Museum
On February 6 at 2:00pm is Family Across the Sea (Tim Carrier, 1991), a documentary about the connection between the Gullah people of South Carolina's Sea Islands and the people of Sierra Leone.
On February 10 at 7:00pm is The Language You Cry In (Angel Serrano and Alvaro Toepke, 1998), another documentary about the Gullah people and their link with Sierra Leone.
Embassy of Argentina
On February 3 at 6:30pm is a documentary film and discussion with Dr. Matilde Holte of Howard University. Los Afroargentinos (2002), in Spanish, is about Afro-Argentinians in Argentina's history and culture from the colonial period to today.
Reel Affirmations XTra
Reel Affirmations Xtra is a once-a-month screening held at the Washington DC Jewish Community Center. Tickets are $12. On February 11 at 7:00pm and 9:15pm is Children of God (Kareen J. Mortimer, 2009) set in the Bahamas.
The University Club of Washington, DC
On February 5 at 6:30pm is the Washington DC premiere of Keep Eye on Ball: The Hashim Khan Story (Josh Easdon, 2009), a documentary about Pakistani squash legend Hashim Khan who entered the British Open in 1951 and won the first of seven titles. Post-film discussion with the film's producer Beth Rasin; reception at 5:30pm.
The Phillips Collection
On February 17 at 6:30pm is a screening of Nicholas and Sheila Pye's film trilogy, the short films The Paper Wall, A Life of Errors and Loudly, Death Unties. Curator Vesela Sretenovic will discuss the work with Nicholas and Sheila Pye.
The Torpedo Factory
On February 4 at 7:00pm is Beyond Borders: The Debate Over Human Migration (Brian Ging, 2007), a documentary about immigration. A panel discussion will follow the screening, led by Executive Producer Simon Burrow.