April 2011

Last updated on April 1, 2011. Please check back later for additions.


  • Filmfest DC Celebrates 25 Years
  • Adam's Rib Reflects on Meeting Hitchcock Star Farley Granger
  • The Music Never Stopped: Panel Discussion and Q&A
  • Win Win: Q&A with Director Thomas McCarthy and Actor Alex Shaffer
  • Trust: Panel Discussion and Q&A
  • Insidious: Q&A with Director James Wan and Writer/Actor Leigh Whannell
  • Director Tom Shadyac Discusses I Am
  • Best Foreign Language Film In A Better World: Susanne Bier Q&A
  • Miral: Q&A with Director Julian Schnabel
  • Comments on Selected Filmfest DC Films
  • The Cinema Lounge
  • The 61st Berlin International Film Festival
  • We Need to Hear From You
  • Calendar of Events

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    Last 12 issues of the Storyboard.

    25 Years and over 2500 films

    Filmfest DC Celebrates 25 Years April 7-17, 2011

    Filmfest DC, the Washington, DC International Film Festival, marks its Silver Anniversary this year. Slated for April 7 - 17, 2011, the Festival will celebrate 25 years of presenting the best in new international cinema in the nation’s capital. The Festival is a District-wide event, bringing together the city's film community in a spirit of cooperation and celebration. It is one of the longest running major cultural events in Washington, DC and credited with thought-provoking, insightful and entertaining programming.

    Opening Night Film: Potiche with Catherine Deneuve and Gerard Depardieu

    The Festival has also exhibited some star-power. “Peter Bogdanovich and John Malkovich introduced their first directorial features to our Opening Night audiences. Sydney Pollack flew his own plane to Washington to present his work and discuss highlights of his career. Charlize Theron came to Washington to present her production on hip-hop music in Cuba. Filmfest DC’s history also chronicles Washington’s on-going appreciation of quality world cinema. It’s been a privilege to have been a part of this journey,” stated Tony Gittens, founder and director of Filmfest DC.

    “When we started there was no Internet or digital 3D. The District’s theaters were owned by local companies. Filmfest DC was Washington’s first film festival and now there are scores. We have come a long way,” Gittens continues.

    The Festival’s films and invited guests have been highlighted prominently in the national media, with features in Variety, the New York Times, and the Washington Post. The Festival has also been featured on national television including Entertainment Tonight and CNN.

    Filmfest DC showcases Washington DC premieres totaling over 80 films from around the globe with international guests including movie stars, directors and producers presenting and discussing their films. The list of multi-award winning films and talent the festival presented over the years is staggering, reaching at least 25,000 annually.

    Each year, the Festival highlights films from select geographic regions. This year, productions from Scandinavia and South Korea will be featured. Justice Matters, a unique section of films focusing on social justice issues, and Global Rhythms, the Festival’s special section of music films, will also be highlighted. Free programs for children and senior citizens are also be offered.

    Films include Flamenco, Flamenco by Spanish master Carlos Saura, The Green Wave, chronicling the 2009 protests in Iran, Scientology: The Truth About a Lie, the American premiere of this controversial documentary, Juan, the opera Don Giovanni dramatically performed in modern times, Loose Cannons, in competition in the Tribeca and Berlin Film Festival, the opening night film Potiche, starring Catherine Deneuve and Gerard Depardieu, and the closing night film Sound of Noise from Sweden.

    The Festival will award two cash prizes: The Circle Jury Award ($10,000) and the Justice Matters Award ($2,500). For more information
    visit the website or call 202-234-FILM.

    The Cinema Lounge

    The next meeting of the Cinema Lounge will be on Monday, April 11 at 7:00pm. (Note new date).

    The Cinema Lounge, a film discussion group, meets the third 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.

    Adam's Rib Reflects on Meeting Hitchcock Star Farley Granger

    By Adam Spector, DC Film Society Member

    Lost in all the brouhaha over Elizabeth Taylor’s passing was the death of Farley Granger at the age of 85. Taylor’s star outshone most others while she was alive so it's no surprise that the same thing would happen in death. But for me Farley’s death hit closer to home. In 2008, Granger appeared at the AFI Silver for a screening of Alfred Hitchcock's classic Strangers on a Train. I remember that brief brush with film history in my new Adam's Rib column.

    The Music Never Stopped:
    Panel Discussion with Q&A

    By Anita Glick, DC Film Society Member

    Panel Discussion Participants (left to right): Mickey Hart, Dr. Oliver Sacks, Tipper Gore, Jim Kohlberg. Thanks to Jay Berg for the photo.

    A panel discussion and Q&A took place on March 14 at Landmark's E Street Cinema. Guests included Mickey Hart, Dr. Oliver Sacks, director Jim Kohlberg, and Tipper Gore, moderator.

    Dr. Oliver Sacks is a well-known psychiatrist and neurologist, a professor at Columbia University Medical Center and author of ten books including Awakenings. Mickey Hart, a long time activist, is best known for nearly three decades with the rock and roll band Grateful Dead. Additionally, he has written four books, established The Endangered Music Fund and appeared before the U.S. Senate Committee on Aging. Jim Kohlberg, the film's director, is a veteran film producer, most recently of Trumbo; this is first film as director. Tipper Gore is an author, photographer, former Second Lady of the United States and co-founder of ‘Parents Music Resource Center’ (PMRC).

    Honored guests included: Representatives Nancy Pelosi and Jim McDermott and Librarian of the United States Congress Jim Billington.

    The Grateful Dead song is now the heart of a new movie, based on Dr. Oliver Sacks’ real life case study "The Last Hippie."

    The film is a moving testament to not only the love between a father and his son, but to the miraculous power of music to heal a damaged brain.” (Dr. Oliver Sacks).

    The Music Never Stopped concerns a 38 year old man living in the late 1980s whose memories of the past don’t go beyond 1970. The film chronicles the journey of a father and son adjusting to cerebral trauma and a lifetime of missed opportunities and the ways in which music can erase decades of regret.

    Mickey Hart: Pretty good movie wasn’t it; wonderful movie. It says a lot about a lot of things. The power of music! We don’t know where it is going, do we? It has enhanced the lives of millions of people. As I was speaking to Dr. Billington earlier, one thing we do know is that the mind is hard wired for music and dance. All other things follow. It’s what makes us human. This is one of the innate powers that music has. It is used as a therapy – just as physical therapy and other therapies. This movie is a marvelous dramatization of the essay Dr. Sacks has written. Please Oliver (applause); it is a great honor to be part of this adventure. The Grateful Dead were part of it before we knew we were part of it (laughter). I had worked with the patient whose name is Gary. In the movie his name is Gabriel, played by Lou Taylor Pucci (“Thumbsucker”). He was Dr. Sacks’ patient at the Institute for Music and Neurologic Function where I serve on the board. I had facilitated many drum sessions with Gary. It was an amazing story. Oliver and I testified in front of the Senate, actually Senator Harry Reid’s Subcommittee on Aging in 1991, on the power of music for the elderly, the aging, the motor impaired, dementia, Parkinson’s and so forth. I invited Oliver to a 1991 concert at Madison Square Gardens, Grateful Dead, we were playing and he had brought Gary and that is where the story spun from and Oliver wrote the short story "The Last Hippie." So that is kind of the quick back story on that. We have Tipper Gore here to help us moderate this, Dr. Sacks and Jim Kohlberg, the director, please (loud applause) And of course Nancy Pelosi and Jim McDermott and Dr. Jim Billington are here tonight. They have been great supporters. So, how should we start this -- Tipper?

    Tipper Gore: I’d be happy to, first of all we will have questions from all of you later, after the panel has a little discussion. I wanted to start off by asking you, Jim, were you familiar with Dr. Sack’s work previous to this film?
    Jim Kohlberg: Yes, I was. I had read several of his books. One of the great coincidences of life is that when you have an interest in something you begin exploring it and other things come your way. I had an interest in the brain and neuroscience. I had read Oliver’s books and other books by scientists and books by some of the Nobel winners that are a little bit more esoteric but still understandable by the layman. The script came to me and it included that: and the iconic music of the sixties plus it was a great family story and it was exceptionally well written and I knew, when I first read it, that I had to do everything I could to make it happen, even though I never thought it would.

    Tipper Gore: Well, you did a great job making it happen. I think we are all familiar with J.K. Simmons (The Closer and Juno) a great character actor. You cast him in the lead. He did a tremendous job. What led you to do that?
    Jim Kohlberg: In the script, the father, Henry, could have been seen as a little bit harsh because he had actually done some inconsiderate things to his son. I knew for the character of Henry we needed an actor who immediately connected with the audience both physically and emotionally. If we did not, the character of Henry would change the whole emotion of the film. It was really important. He looked at the script and loved it from the start as did the other actors. We just got incredibly lucky.

    Tipper Gore: Dr. Sacks, I know that we are all very interested in knowing, we saw the music bringing Gabriel to life, how similar this is to patients you have worked or dealt with.
    Dr. Oliver Sacks: Very, very similar. There are different sources of music for different patients. For Gary and people like this, these frozen patients who have amnesia, the music carries with it memories and the associated emotions (which otherwise would have been lost). Gary was extremely musical. There was that fantastic evening when we picked up Gary from the hospital and Grateful Dead concert. In the first half of the concert all the songs were from the sixties and Gary sang along. In the middle of the concert Henry whispered in my ear, “What do you mean he’s amnesiac, he’s an encyclopedia.” In the second half of the concert Gary was puzzled. It was more ‘up to date’ music. He has such a feeling for the Grateful Dead that he said “this is the sort of music they might write one day (laughter)--music of the future.” On the way back to the hospital, (one of the last scenes in the film is very accurate) I kept playing tapes of the Grateful Dead. The next morning when I went to visit him he had no memory of having been to the Garden or the evening. There is something very special about music. It almost turned me into a ‘dead head’. (loud laughter)

    Tipper Gore: This was somewhat based your essay “The Last Hippie” and I know that was the inspiration for the film. How similar is it to your essay?
    Dr. Oliver Sacks: It is basically very similar. Certain things had to be heightened. One of them was the relationship between Gary and his father. It was a close loving relationship. The last scene was very close to accurate. In 1991 I was back in London for the summer, when I returned to New York I found out that Gary’s father had died. I went to offer my sympathy and Gary said, “What do mean, he’s here every morning” and I said, “No, he’s not here and he’s not going to be here ever again” and Gary suddenly became shocked. Five minutes later he had no memory of that conversation. I wondered how an amnesiac would mourn. The last scene of his looking for his father everywhere is very accurate. As in “The Awakening” things have been added but in a very legitimate way.

    Tipper Gore: Thank you. So Mickey, okay, you had a very big role in making this happen, particularly with the music. I know that many people are aware of how important drumming is; the value of drumming on music and healing. I wonder if you would tell us about your association with the Institute for Music and Neurologic Function and how that relates to music and healing and connections.
    Mickey Hart: The catalyst for me as far as music and healing was my grandmother. It was in the seventies; she had not spoken for about a year. She had Alzheimer’s and she just went into the darkness. I isolated her one day and I just played the drum for her, a simple membrane drum. After about thirty minutes she said my name and that got my attention and I said “wow.” So music brought her out of this zone of disconnect and that is when I really understood there were innate powers in music; specifically rhythm-based music It’s all about the redundancy and power of the rhythmic statement to create; this is what it is all about. So, after my grandmother passed on I found that the Institute for Music and Neurologic Function was doing major work with the motor impaired. I became part of the board. Music never stops to amaze me. You are dealing with something that is invisible. You can’t see music. You can hear it, you can feel it but you can’t touch it. It is a very mysterious element. Very much like Tesla must have felt when he was dealing with electricity What do you do with this wild energy? We knew that people could dance to it, that it intrigued, that people connected with it. That music is the most important thing and that neuro pathways were stimulated by music and patients reconnected with the universe. Music is just the main ingredient that we connect with, at a nonverbal level. This was what my interest was. So it all started with my grandmother who had a serious motor problem. I wound up doing drum therapy with patients at the Institute for Music and Neurologic Function and Gary was one of them. Of course, I didn’t know at the time but that became part of the story. This powerful energy seemed to be a therapy. Sometimes I would follow the patients walking in the hallways, on the way to their rooms, they would gradually drift back. The shamans used drums and rattles in all their ceremonies and all of their doctoring and so forth. We used drums and rattles in all of our therapies. So, this is basically a modern day shaman, a seat of the pants sort of thing. In the human brain there are different parts that process speech as opposed to music. So when this part of the brain lights up (called auditory driving) that’s when we get these kinds of responses where they remember time and place. This is just an extreme case of that for a fellow that had a traumatic brain injury. I am really proud to be part of the music that played such an important role in the rehabilitation and the giving back of life to this young fellow. Gary passed away about six or seven years ago. Is that right Oliver? It was natural causes.
    Dr. Oliver Sacks: It was a seizure.
    Mickey Hart: It is real. Music therapy – we testified in 1991. We would like to come back to the hill and explain and tell Congress about the changes in the last twenty years. We would love to come back and fill the Congress in. It is so cost effective. It works as you can see here. Almost everybody in this audience has someone in their family that could be helped with the use of music by a therapist, a trained doctor of music. Music scientists of the future will be solving the stigma of Parkinson’s disease, dementia and all the other motor problems. This is my great hope.
    Dr. Oliver Sacks: There is something I want to add here that I did not know twenty years ago. You were talking about the different parts of the brain involved in the processing of language and how it is affected and music. If there is an injury on the left hemisphere of the brain the patient becomes aphasic; losing total or partial loss of the ability to articulate ideas or comprehend spoken or written language. This is terrifying and isolating. Maybe music will help to correct that. There are 400,000 people in America with some severe forms of aphasia, who can’t get speech back by therapy alone but they can often with the right kind of music therapy.
    Mickey Hart: I understand that Gabby Giffords, the congresswoman who was injured in that terrible shooting is using music therapy now quite a bit and is gaining a lot from it. This is what I‘m told.

    Tipper Gore: How come you got involved with this film? I think I might know the answer but could you tell us?
    Mickey Hart: I wasn’t really involved with the film until Oliver wrote the story. I didn’t have anything to do with the film except supplying the sound track.
    Tipper Gore: That was huge.
    Mickey Hart: I was just doing what I do. Our business is transportation. We’re not really in the music business. It may look like a rock-and-roll band but I assure you its not. How did I get involved? Well I guess fate – chance – who knows, I can’t really say.
    Tipper Gore: And generosity.... Your work with all the musicians and the record companies waived really incredible work with the licensing fees. There is no way this movie could have been made. This movie has the potential to help so many people – returning veterans from our overseas wars, all the people in this country that have all forms of dementia, aphasia and other things. This has a great deal of potential. We all want to thank you - Mickey Hart, you - Oliver Sacks, you – Jim and absolutely everyone that had anything to do with this film. (loud applause)

    Question and Comment: I have a comment and question for Jim and Dr. Sacks. My comment is – I am watching this and I’m thinking that it is kind of ironic that the father in the story probably would never have known his son if he did not have this condition. He would probably have died on the street. There was a little bit of irony in the whole story. For the director – that actor up there – I am marveling at the range that this guy had to put on the screen; so subtle and so incredibly difficult and yet is was so seamless the way he moved in and out of that character. Your comment on that? For Dr. Sacks – did he improve at the end of this in real life?
    Jim Kohlberg: It was one of the great privileges of my career to have worked with J.K. I learned a lot from him; the different aspects of acting and directing. For example, I don’t know if everybody recalls that shot where he is walking out, which actually was not in the script, but I thought the audience would need a moment to say good bye to Henry. The screenwriters had the courage not to include the obligatory death scene. He was in character so much that even when he knew the camera was not on his face, he was crying. He brings that kind of professionalism and just real passion. He’s just great to be around and fun to work with. It was just a wonderful experience.
    Dr. Oliver Sacks: Gary came to the hospital in 1975; there was a change in 1991, after the concert with the Grateful Dead. After that we were always able to make contact with Gary. We were more than just doctor and patient after that. We sort of became friends in a way. But there is obviously a limit and someone with amnesia does not have the life history available, they don’t have the past or the future available like the rest of us and yet, music would always bring him into the present.

    Congressman Jim McDermott: Dr. Sacks - do you have any explanation of why the deadhead music reached Gary rather than Paul Simon, Bob Dylan or some of the other iconic music of the sixties?
    Dr. Oliver Sacks: That was what he loved. There was something written about a musician in England that had amnesia, his love was for Bach. Whatever turns the person on. Whatever is their music, their signature music - whatever it is. For Gary, Grateful Dead was ‘it’! Why does anyone relate to Grateful Dead rather than anyone else?
    Mickey Hart: I have nothing to add to that. It works for me. When I first heard it, it grabbed me. It is not for everyone. Garcia used to say “Grateful Dead is like licorice - if you like it you really love it – and if you don’t you hate it.” It’s one of those things that if it really touches you and it reaches down into your soul and makes contact then it is your music. I would say that a lot of it has to do with the lyrics, which are very insightful and spin a beautiful mythological tale. In so many ways it can mean a lot of things that are impossible to describe. It is like when you find yourself in a situation, you may think of a line on two that describes it perfectly. It is just one of those kind of things. Of course Grateful Dead is kind of wild, they are not tame. It plays what it feels when it feel it. It does not operate by any standard music as verse, chorus, verse. We can play for two hours and then sing for forty-five seconds and then play for another three hours. It does not have that kind of form. It operates perhaps on the wild side of western music form. Perhaps there is a certain freedom in that. It’s hard to say. I always felt it was like that. It was sort of movement out of control. A lot of it had to do with the audience participation. We always thought the audience had equity in the music and you could tape the concerts and have the music for free. We play what we play without anyone giving us feedback. So we didn’t own it; people feel ownership in it in that respect. That makes it rare and that makes it powerful. And I think that is one of the reasons that it does what is does. You can’t ask me--I’m too close to it. I’m right in the middle of it. I just know what it does it for me and it affects a lot of other people. It does not affect everybody; like Oliver says there is a lot of music out there. It is just controlled by vibrations – the vibratory world – how you control that and how you deliver that and so much is specific to where you are and who you are with. Who you grew up with and where you were. Gary had his experiences in the sixties.

    Tipper Gore: Thank you again for making this absolutely wonderful film, and thank you, all of you, for coming tonight.

    The Music Never Stopped opens in Washington DC on April 1.

    Win Win: Q&A with Director/Writer Thomas McCarthy and Actor Alex Shaffer

    By Ron Gordner, DC Film Society Member

    A preview screening of Win Win was held at AMC's Georgetown Theater on February 23, attended by director/writer Thomas McCarthy and actor Alex Shaffer who answered audience questions. It was moderated by Nell Minow, "The Movie Mom," who
    writes about movies, television, the Internet, and parenting.

    Nell Minow: I was at the Sundance Film Festival this year and every one asked the same thing: "What did you see that was good?" The answer everyone was giving was the film Win Win. I think you will love it. How many people have seen the director’s other movies--The Station Agent and The Visitor? This film has the same wonderful sensibility and humanity, and a powerful ending, and you will really care about these people.

    Nell Minow: I liked the film even more the second time. Alex, I am going to start with you. Notice his hair is back to its normal color now. I want to know how you came to be connected with this movie? I know you are a wrestler already, are you an actor also?
    Alex Shaffer: Well, now I am, but at the time I wasn’t.
    Nell Minow: So what happened?
    Alex: Tom put out a casting call in the newspapers for wrestlers to test for the role and a friend said, "Hey dude, you should audition for this." My first response was no, but then I did and came in for an audition and after seven or eight more times, I finally got the role.

    Nell Minow: So what advice did Tom give you for acting, because you seem very natural on screen?
    Alex Shaffer: Tom gave me so much advice in general. Anytime I had a problem on the set or with scenery or anything, he would help me.
    Nell Minow: Like a coach?
    Alex Shaffer: Yeah.
    Tom McCarthy: That sounds a bit aggressive doesn’t it?

    Nell Minow: Tom, I am a huge fan of you as an actor and as a director of your films. You round up all the actors I really love and put them in the same film, including Margo Martindale, who plays the opposing counsel and is wonderful.
    Tom McCarthy: Yeah she’s great.

    Nell Minow: The other thing you capture so well is the couple. My husband and I have been married for over 30 years and anyone married for a long time knows that look that couples give each other that communicates a great deal. The dialog was great, but it was the feeling that these people really knew each other and loved each other that came across so well. How did you create that?
    Tom McCarthy: Well there is some of that in the script, but you hire great actors like Paul Giamatti and Amy Ryan. They travelled in the same acting circles, but had never played opposite each other. They were both interested, but surprisingly also a little nervous about it, because they really didn’t know each other. We spent time in rehearsal just letting them get to know each other, and getting them into a mode where they could play off each other. Then it was just sitting back and staying out of their way.

    Nell Minow: It’s nice to see a strong marriage in a film, we don’t see that very often. You also used an actor from The Station Agent, Bobby Cannavale, who was wonderful. Tell me about working with him, his roles in both movies had a high strung energy. Is that something that you know from being friends, or did you create those parts for him?
    Tom McCarthy: I know him very well and that is the way he is. When I was writing this script in L.A., he would come over and ask what I was working on and if there was a part for him. I said maybe. He wouldn’t leave me alone, so I gave him 20 pages to read if he promised to go outside. He sat in a lawn chair in the front driveway, and would occasionally yell: "I’m really liking this!" That’s Bobby. I have known him as a dear friend for a long time. I thought putting him and Tambor and Giamattil in a coach’s office that small, that only good things could happen. There are lots of little nuggets I saw while editing that made it really fun to watch.

    Nell Minow: The film is structured beautifully, and the scenes at the beginning like the tree or the phrase: “whatever the f**k it takes” are played out by the end of the movie. Do you have a structure in mind at the beginning or does that just play itself out or evolve?
    Tom McCarthy: It definitely evolves. You do set some things up in the beginning, but then as a writer, you just keep an open mind and sense of humor about it all. When Stemler is wrestling we know he is a Star Wars fanatic, and through video games, that is the universe he mastered. I remember going to a wrestling match and seeing a kid come out with that black face mask, and I burst out laughing, and thought, wow, this is Stemler’s nightmare. So I keep an open mind and also rely on the actors in rehearsal and in production to help find those little moments that help connect to the character.

    Nell Minow: I’ll ask one more question and then we will go to the audience. How have you as a actor, who has worked with some fine directors, learned about directing from those directors?
    Tom McCarthy: It’s a good question, but everyone has a different approach. The consistent directors are trusting the people they collaborate with, which is hard sometimes to do. You are surrounded by all these talented people: cinematographers, art and costume designers, and actors that can give input and find a texture to the piece that you wouldn’t find on your own. Letting go and trusting those people you are working with is a big part of it. There are a lot egos and pressures involved, but it comes back to being fun. Alex had a real subtle and laid back confidence in him, which made it easier for the other actors to work with him and he had very little or no experience. What was your acting experience, Alex?
    Alex Shaffer: The Pirates of Penzance in seventh grade.
    Nell Minow: Which part?
    Alex Shaffer: Samuel.
    Tom McCarthy: It’s great that Alex could just jump in and act and feel relaxed with these experienced actors.

    Nell Minow: When we first see Kyle, we react like Paul and Amy, that he’s a strange kid and probably on drugs and all that, but throughout the movie he is the real grownup or the one who has it together.
    Tom McCarthy: I think that is right.

    Nell Minow: Let’s take some questions from the audience.

    Question: All three of your films seem to have a common theme of a group of outsiders looking for a home and finding it to some degree. What attracts you to those type of stories?
    Tom McCarthy: I am an outsider... No, I would beg to differ because this time I thought we had an insider, Paul, very much connected to his family and community. I would agree with you about The Station Agent and The Visitor but I thought this was different.
    Question: But wasn’t Kyle an outsider?
    Tom McCarthy: Yes, maybe I need to figure out why I go back to that.

    Question: Why didn’t the wrestlers wear wetsuits, like I did when I wrestled as a kid?
    Tom McCarthy: We talked about that and went to wrestling practices. They focused on that more when I used to wrestle also, but they are more careful now about kids losing weight and doing hydration and body fat tests. The fact is that two weeks after we cast Alex, the went on to win a state wrestling championship in New Jersey. (Applause). I never achieved that. So he had a lot of input on the wrestling scenes and made them very authentic.
    Nell Minow: I love the scene where Kyle tells the coaches how to do the lineup so they can win more points.
    Tom McCarthy: Yeah, they aren’t the greatest coaches, but they are good guys.

    Question: I wanted to comment also on the wonderful alliances and friendships you show that are not always expected. I also recognized the type of areas in New Jersey where my relatives live and you really captured it well.
    Tom McCarthy: Actually it’s funny, because we couldn’t film there because of the tax incentives. I was really bummed out about that until my production designer took me to Long Island, and in the commuter area of a 30 mile radius it was like New Jersey. I literally knew where the deli was in the town or the pizzeria. There is that similarity and we worked hard to create that.
    Nell Minow: Didn’t you love the JBJ tattoo, that was a wonderful touch?
    Tom McCarthy: Jon Bon Jovi is back.

    Question: I thought the movie was very complete from beginning to end except for the plot line about the heater or boiler.
    Nell Minow: Yes, I kept expecting it to explode. What would Checkov say about that?
    Tom McCarthy: Checkov would say sequel. No, we talked a lot about that and even wrote and shot a little about it, but it just didn’t feel like we needed it. I liked leaving something hanging there and not everything is resolved. It’s more that there is a looming threat of explosion. It’s not a totally happy ending. These people have a lot to figure out yet. How can they account for this kid in many ways, including financially? So those are also growing pressures.
    Nell Minow: That’s what I loved about this movie. It had such an economical ending: Amy Ryan has stepped up to the plate and has delivered the fan; and Paul goes and takes care of Leo, exactly what he said he wouldn’t do at the beginning; and he has the job at the bar, so it comes back to “whatever the f**k it takes.”
    Tom McCarthy: That’s a great analysis.
    Nell Minow: I am the Movie Mom!

    Question: Having known Amy Ryan for some time, were you cognizant of trying to write for her a part of a Mom character opposite from the one she played in Gone Baby Gone?
    Tom McCarthy: I didn’t think about that, but Amy did tell me it was great to play a different kind of Mom from the one in that film. I have known Amy for years. We live in the same neighborhood in New York and wanted to work together, so she was the first person I had in mind for the movie. I handed her the script in an ATM booth on Sixth Avenue. It was that simple.
    Question: Why wouldn’t Kyle take the money from the adults?
    Alex Shaffer: Kyle was a real loner, and Tom wanted to show that he wouldn’t accept help from anybody. He also wasn’t really comfortable with the family yet.
    Tom McCarthy: I also think this kid is a survivor. If he can’t figure out a way to make money, there may not be any money. I think he has saved some money, and has a lot of pride and was showing he didn’t need anybody’s help and could do it on his own. I think that is part of Kyle’s journey, and I love the way that Paul accepts that and Amy also, which also shows you a part of their personalities.

    Win Win opened in DC theaters on March 25.

    Trust: Panel Discussion and Q&A

    By Ron Gordner and Anita Glick, DC Film Society Members

    This panel and Q&A took place at the AFI Silver Theater on March 24. Panel members included David Schwimmer, Donna Rice Hughes, Hemanshu (Hema) Nigam, and Jane Silk, Moderator.

    Panel Discussion Participants (left to right): Jane Silk, David Schwimmer, Donna Rice Hughes, Hemu Nigam. Thanks to Jay Berg for the photo.

    David Schwimmer, the director/producer, is best known for starring in the television series "Friends." He directed a string of "Friends" episodes and has also directed Run, Fatboy, Fun (2007). Donna Rice Hughes is the president and chair of Enough Is Enough, an American non-profit organization in the anti-pornography movement which seeks to make the Internet safer for families and children. Hemanshu (Hemu) Nigam is the founder of SSP Blue, the leading advisory firm for online safety, security, and privacy challenges facing corporations and governments. Jane Silk is founder and president of Main Street Radio Network and has been both a national host and head of Business Development at Radio America.

    The film's title "Trust" derives from children and parents who have too much of it when dealing with the perils of Internet chat rooms. Trust is a potent drama, a harrowing and cautionary tale that cuts to the core of contemporary family life. Although the subject of online child predators is something audiences have grown familiar with, Trust balances suspense with heart-rending drama.

    David Schwimmer: The project developed 7 years ago with The Rape Foundation, of which I am on the Board. I met incredible treatment counselors and FBI enforcement staff who consulted on the film. I also met some amazing young victims of child rape and their families and heard their stories. I found a great common incapacitating rage that fathers have, mixed with grief and shame, guilt and responsibility. I wanted to use the lens of the special relationship between a father and a daughter.

    Donna Rice Hughes: It was an honor for Enough is Enough to be involved. Many parents will be able to relate to this movie and say, “How can I prevent this from happening”? We have seen child pornography and chat groups forming since 1994. We wanted to help parents protect their kids from the dangers online. Partners like the Department of Justice, AOL, Salvation Army and others helped us create this prevention program, the booklet and
    the website. We want to make it available on the TRUST website also.

    Hamu Nigam: I have been involved in Bad Things Happening to Good People some 22 years. I was sensitive and didn’t want to work on sex crimes, but that is where I was assigned. In 1997, I became one of the first Internet predator prosecutors, just as AOL had started up and a panic was emerging in America about child pornography and child predators. I saw victims from the age of 3 months up. The images I saw and those in the film are just enough to give you a vision of what really happens. I have had the pleasure of seeing some of the former jurors on sex crime cases become rape center counselors. At Microsoft, with the advent of My Space, I implemented over 150 safety procedures to prevent or secure the Internet from predators. A year ago, I started my own company where I continue the work I had started at My Space. You can be a parent in the digital age and feel good about it.

    Jane Silk: By 2015 there will be over 2 billion computers in the world. Add to these cell phones, smart phones, and other social media formats, and it is so easy for children to come in contact with predators. Has technology taken the place of parents?
    David Schwimmer: I will be a parent in 2 months. When I was a teenager, it was really hard to get hold of a Playboy [magazine], but now, it seems every child before the age of 13 has seen or been exposed to pornography. A loss of innocence is experienced at a much earlier age. In the film, working in advertising, Clive Owens exposes the whole idea of sexualization of younger children in advertising. We have become inured to it. Media certainly contributes to this culture of a more sexualized childhood. It’s not about whether the kids are accessing a home computer, or whatever for this material, it’s about developing a better relationship with your kids, so that they feel free to come talk to you. Also invite them to be your tech guide and use that opportunity to talk about safety.
    Hamu Nigam: It is now a time to be more of a parent than ever before. Parents need to say NO in the real world; kids will forget about it later. Don’t post questionable photos or words that you would not say face to face with that person. Parents can’t use the excuse that it’s too hard to do.

    Jane Silk: Donna, what about parental controls and devices on our computers and cable boxes that are now available? You can have controls at home, but kids can go to friends’ houses, Internet cafes, and places in the mall to gain free access. How do you jumpstart communications with your children, when they only want to IM or text.
    Donna Rice Hughes: We can’t make a bad parent into a good parent, but we can educate any parent into becoming an amazing cyberparent. We call our program 101. Predators and other kids are online and ahead of the technology and engaging in risky behavior, so the key is the parent. Parents need to get their heads out of the sand, and recognize their children are not immune to access somewhere. You need to use safety rules and technical measures on all these Internet devices. Parents can get empowered as the first line of defense. On the TRUST site we want to give examples and ask key questions to keep an open line for parent-child communications.

    David Schwimmer: Let’s open it up to questions from the audience, what’s on your minds?

    Audience Question: I thought this might have been a Catch a Predator type of show. I am interested in a point of clarification, when (in the film) the official in Illinois said they were 2,000 cases behind; what did he mean?
    David Schwimmer: They were rape kits. This is a local and national problem because the police departments are understaffed. The rape victim’s body becomes the crime scene, so the samples from the victim: saliva, semen, hair, blood, etc. are taken and transferred to the police department. These kits are sitting in police refrigerators for years due to understaffing. Imagine your child is a rape victim, and you are waiting for the processing of the rape kit. Many predators are repeat offenders and appear in the national registry. Some may even be out on parole. If the kits were processed quickly, some offenders could be arrested and taken off the street before they could repeat the crime. The public must demand that more resources are provided to hire more staff to process these kits. In Illinois it was found that 1,000 to 2,000 kits were still unprocessed in refrigerators.
    Hamu Nigam: When I was prosecuting cases, I was begging for the police to process kits for cases.

    Audience Question: Would you discuss the ending of the movie?
    David Schwimmer: It was the ending I wanted. In New York, I invited 60 people to a test screening and asked about the ending. The studio wanted it to end with the talk of the daughter and Clive (the father) at the pool. Fifty percent of the audience agreed with that ending and the other fifty percent wanted the ending I used with the predator in the park. I didn’t want the audience to leave thinking everything will be alright. I wanted the audience to feel anger or outrage that the predator was there. I wanted to activate them, "what are you going to do now?"
    Donna Rice Hughes: I agree with your ending since we know statistically that these guys commit many crimes until they are caught.
    Hamu Nigam: Many times children report being abused but the parents don’t believe them.
    Jane Silk: Every day 5 children die due to abuse or neglect of some kind and that is 5 children too many. This movie portrayed a middle class family with a picket fence, 3 kids, so it could be any family.
    David Schwimmer: Nationwide, 1 in 4 girls is sexually abused before the age of 18, and 1 in 8 boys, regardless of the race or demographics. Also many people don’t want to talk about this issue at all, but if it can happen to this smart, middle class, white family, it can happen anywhere.

    Audience Question: Wouldn’t the motel or hotel have cameras or question a man checking in with a 14 year old girl?
    David Schwimmer: This predator was smart and chose a small hotel without lots of surveillance, paid with cash, and explained he had lost his wallet with his all his IDs. There are lots of places where eyes are not raised and there are no questions.
    Donna Rice Hughes: This predator looked like an all American guy, not what you would picture as a child predator. We interviewed a predator, a Virginia inmate that was an average looking guy, a teacher who was abused as a child and got involved in pornography and later abused others. Sometimes these girls (victims) are manipulated by the predators and have multiple encounters thinking they are in love.
    Hamu Nigam: The family appears to be perfect in the film, but if you actually look at what’s happening to the 14 year old, she is becoming what we call an at risk teenager. The predators may take 3 to 6 months grooming these kids and may be communicating with several kids at once.

    Jane Silk:The national release for this film is April 1st. Go home and go on your Facebook page and tell your friends to go and see this film and talk about it with your kids and neighbors so a difference can be made.

    Q&A With James Wan, Director of Insidious and Leigh Whannell, Actor/Writer

    By Ron Gordner and Annette Graham, DC Film Society Members

    A preview screening of Insidious was held at the West End Cinema on March 6. Director James Wan and actor/writer Leigh Whannell took questions from the audience. Michael Kyrioglou, DC Film Society Director, moderated.

    Leigh Whannell and James Wan studied at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology's Media Arts School in Australia and started their film making career together. James Wan directed the first Saw (2004), Dead Silence and Death Sentence. Leigh began his career acting in several Australian TV series. He wrote and acted in the first Saw and has appeared in other films.

    Leigh Whannell, James Wan and Michael Kyrioglou

    Michael Kyrioglou: Have you ever thought of doing something outside of the thriller genre thriller, a romantic comedy or a historical drama, or is this what you like to explore in film?
    Leigh Whannell: I did have the idea for a romantic comedy once but when I pitched it to James he [didn't go for it]. We always say we're not horror film fans, we're film fans. We don't want to become the poster children for the horror genre in the way someone like John Carpenter is really happy to be that person, which is great. But we would like to explore other genres. It's interesting that you asked that because we have been talking about that a lot recently. I think we've said our piece for now and should try some other stuff.

    Michael Kyrioglou: Was Saw the first thing you talked about in terms of a project or had you other ideas when that opportunity arose?
    James Wan: It's funny because we cooked up the concept of Insidious at exactly the same time that we came up the idea of Saw. We actually had three ideas. Leigh and I were battling back and forth as to which one to do first when we got out of film school. We wanted to come up with a simple concept that we could make ourselves. So the idea of a simple haunted house is straightforward, and the concept of two people stuck in a room is straightforward as well. And the third concept we had was a movie about a guy who believes that he is haunted by ghosts at night when he sleeps so he videotapes himself while he sleeps. Fortunately Leigh and I made the one about the two guys stuck in the bathroom; that one worked out pretty well for us. And then years later we got together with the guys who made Paranormal Activity and we said, "Let's brush up that third idea that we had."
    Leigh Whannell: We made the one about the guys stuck in the bathroom. They made the one about the guy videotaping himself while he slept and then they came to us and said, "Let's make your other idea." So all three of those ideas have now been made as films.
    James Wan: Yeah, we're done with horror now.
    Leigh Whannell: The idea that we had back then wasn't like the whole film mapped out, it was just the central idea. We talked about a film using the idea of astral projection. That was the theme, the central idea. We thought we would like to see a film about a ghost story like that. So when the guys who produced Paranormal Activity came to us and said, "Let's do a film together." We thought, "Let's break out that astral projection idea."

    Michael Kyrioglou: I'm a huge fan of Poltergeist and I see it's a favorite of yours too. I was wondering in the kitchen scene when you had that steak on your face, if that was an homage to that creepy steak crawling across the counter?
    James Wan: Actually my little anecdote to that is, I had a frozen piece that Leigh's character put on his bruise in the film. But then I saw a whole packet of steak from the catering department so I thought it would be funny to see a piece of raw meat on Leigh's face. And I like to torture Leigh, so that was actually me torturing Leigh more than anything else.

    Question: First, "Tiptoe Through the Tulips," where did that come from? Also, when you were in film school, what directors did you admire?
    James Wan: I'll answer the "Tiptoe Through the Tulips" one first. When I first heard that song, I thought that was the creepiest song I'd ever heard. Especially Tiny Tim's version. And I thought, "This song belongs in a serial killer movie." And since we had already done the serial killer movie I thought that Jaws had its shark theme for the shark and we thought it would be funny if the demon had Tiny Tim as his calling card. As for inspiration in film school, most film students growing up, idolize people like Peter Jackson and Steven Spielberg. Leigh and I are big fans of David Lynch and we think that his sensibility for the quirkiness is one of the things that we admire tremendously. We try to infuse all our films with our sense of quirkiness. For example in the seance sequence we have a gas mask hooked up to the assistant's ear and she is speaking in tongues. And she has to try to translate everything. So we try to take things that are established and that you're familiar with and spinning and turning it around.

    Michael Kyrioglou: What about the record player and the LPs? What was the meaning of that?
    James Wan: This movie is really about my love for very traditional old school scary movies. Everything about it I really wanted to give a very old fashioned approach. Even simple things like production design--like the record player, little things like that. Even the equipment that the paranormal investigators have--really clunky crappy things. You can picture them cobbling it together in a garage. Perhaps Leigh and I are to blame, but after the success of Saw there were a lot of Saw sequels and imitators as well, that took the scary movie genre into a different path. People misunderstood what Leigh and I love about the genre which is making something that has atmosphere, has creepiness and eeriness to it. And that was what I really wanted to do with this film.

    Question: Were you involved with the Saw sequels?
    Leigh Whannell: James had no input on the sequels. A little bit of input on Saw 2 and 3, but he really wasn't involved. They asked him to come back and do Saw 2 but he didn't want to do it; he wanted to do other things. I wrote 2 and 3 and then I stopped being involved. So after Part 3 James and I were detached from it in a weird way. We still talked to the producers and knew them but it was kind of strange. It was like someone else was taking this thing that we had created back in Melbourne and just running around with it. So once a year it would be really strange to be driving around and look at billboards for a new Saw film coming out and think, "I had nothing to do with that." Yet I did in a roundabout way. They didn't have to consult us on anything. We would get residuals from it as they made the films but we didn't have any involvement. They shot the films in Toronto but we wouldn't go up there and check it out.

    Question: You did some interesting things with the sound.
    James Wan: Yes. I'm a very visual director. Sound design is so important in creating mood and atmosphere. As has been proved time and time again on low budget films, the most successful, the ones that are most effective, you never really see anything. It's all done through sound design, like Paranormal, Blair Witch, and the first two thirds of Jaws, you never really see the shot. So I was very conscious going into this film that I wanted the sound and the score to be really unsettling. It was really interesting. I have Leigh to thank for it. When he was writing the script, he made a compilation of music CDs to listen to. Most of the scores he listened to were not music from other scary movies. He went back to classical scores, scores composed by people like George Crumb, Krzysztof Penderecki, and the Kronos Quartet. Avant-garde experimental stuff that I thought really fit this film. I didn't want a melody movie if that makes sense. I knew that I wanted once again to capture that old school, like Robert Wise's The Haunting, with piano and violins. It's ironic that some people think it's reminiscent of The Exorcist and The Shining because Friedkin and Kubrick scored their movies with existing pieces of music. Here's another interesting anecdote, I think Leigh tells it best.
    Leigh Whannell: Joe Bishara who did the music for the film also plays the red-faced demon. So we just thought that was bizarre that the composer plays the bad guy. It would be like John Williams playing Darth Vader. (everyone laughs). Joe is the nicest guy ever, but then there he is playing the bad guy. I just thought it would be fun to do.

    Question: What was your inspiration for the demon?
    James Wan: I don't know if you saw the end credit. There was a scene that was cut out of the film that would probably explain it better. But I actually like that it was taken out but yet I kept the demon credited as the way he is credited in the movie right now which is as the lipstick faced demon. Basically the reason why he has red on his face is because it is lipstick that he paints on his face. To me in a lot of ways he's like a clown, a really twisted creature that tries to entice people but it does it in such a twisted way because it doesn't know what is right and what is wrong. And that why it has this painted red face.
    Question: When you said you liked David Lynch it reminded me of what Diane Ladd did with the red lipstick in Wild at Heart.
    James Wan: I wouldn't be surprised if that was psychologically in the back of my mind. But I just thought that would be really perfect. What Leigh and I like to do ... some people find very jarring, other people think it's really cool. Which is taking what is very grounded and taking what is very out there for lack of a better term--very baroque and very grand guignal and combining the two, and by doing that you get a movie that has a very strange texture to it. It can be polarizing for some people. We noticed that with the first Saw film where who would expect that in the middle of a serial killer movie, a puppet would ride on a tricycle and be the main voice for the villain. Technically we do make comedies, come to think of it.

    Michael Kyrioglou: It seemed to me that you wanted us to laugh at the oddity of some of it. Did you have hesitations about how much to show or not show, to keep it more shadowy and dark versus...
    James Wan: It's a very dark film for that reason.
    Leigh Whannell: It's interesting because this final version that you have seen is slightly tweaked from the version we took to the Toronto Film Festival where we premiered it. When Patrick Wilson's character first entered the Further, the astral world, his character literally floats through the world as opposed to this when we just enters the blackness and has his lantern and looks around and spots the little boy which is himself. In the initial version we were way more stylized but then decided to tone it back a little bit.

    Michael Kyrioglou: What brought you together with the producers of Paranormal Activity? Who initiated it?
    James Wan: They had just done Paranormal Activity, so they were doing a victory lap around town. It had done so well so they got some money to make a bunch of horror films. They got a fund together to make five films through Alliance Films which is a Canadian company I believe. So they wanted to make five different films. And they came to us first. They said, "We just had a meeting with Allied and we want you to be the first people we work with." Basically they said to us we don't have much money, we can't give you a long schedule or really a budget but we can give you total creative freedom. And that was the thing that sold us. With a horror film like this you really need that creative freedom. It's such a fine-tuned machine to make it the way you want to. We felt that there have been so many diluted watered- down horror films released in the last few years that just weren't scary. So we wanted to make something really scary that's appealing. That's when we decided that we should take that idea we came up with years ago about astral projection--that we should make that film now with these guys. It was just a right time situation.
    Leigh Whannell: They didn't have any input really on the creative side. They let us do everything we wanted to do. I wrote the script and handed it in and they said 'great.' When James was directing, they let him do what he wanted to do. They definitely had thoughts and were encouraging but they were so good, they were exactly how you want producers to be.

    Question: What gave you the idea for the title? Was it the original?
    Leigh Whannell: The first title I had was for the script was The Further. Then I was talking to James and he said "I think we can get a better title for this" And then I became defensive (everyone laughs)--"go ahead." But Insidious has grown on me.

    Question: Did you wrestle with the ending?
    Leigh Whannell: James and I made a short film right before Saw that had a similar theme, a ghost on the other side of the mirror and the girl and he swapped places where he is in the dead world and she was in the real world. We knew we wanted an ending like that short film. It's sort of a tweaked version of the short film ending that we did years ago. So it wasn't something that we were going on for months and months.

    Question: You had involvement a few years ago with a trailer for Dead Space which is a really good video game. Have you ever thought of delving into that other media and using your talents there?
    James Wan: I think Leigh and I could actually design a really cool computer game. For the first Saw game we were approached for it. We actually got very excited because Leigh and I for the first time, after being distant from the Saw franchise came back to the Saw franchise again. Between Leigh and I we actually cooked up a really cool story line for the first Saw game, to which the producers--they were making #5 or #6 at that time-- they read the outline we did for the Saw game and said this is really good we should take this to the film. To which Leigh and I said, "No, that wasn't what we were planning for it to be."
    Leigh Whannell: The guys making the video game had to check everything with the producers of Saw. So when they gave the producers our treatment, the producers said, "This is great, this will be the next Saw film, you can't use it." The guys producing the video game said "Really?" "You can't use this because that would ruin our movie." So we started working on another idea for a video game and then the company designing the video game went out of business. So we thought this game's never going to happen. Then Konami came in and bought a bunch of the titles they had in development. And when Konami bought it they didn't consult us at all. They just rushed out the video game.
    James Wan: So the final video game has very little of what Leigh and I had come up with.

    Question: What differences do you find working independently and through a studio?
    James Wan: I would say in a lot of ways without getting into it too much, Leigh and I were burned on our second movie going through the studio system. That's why we were very adamant with this one that we want to come back and make a movie that was outside of the studio system, so that we would have complete control. There are moments in Insidious that if I ran this movie through the studio system it would have been very different. For example, I would probably not be allowed to use Tiptoe through the Tulips, little things like that. I wanted the first half of the film to be very quiet, I wanted the whole film to build build build. Horror movies made through the studio system these days tend to be more like action films. So the funny thing is, most people can't tell, but Insidious is actually my lowest budgeted film. It's way smaller than what Saw was and Saw was made for nothing. Saw was made for $1.50 and this is really independent, so it's like 80 cents. But it was a fun journey.
    Leigh Whannell: It's a bit of a tradeoff. As James said, our second film didn't turn out the way we wanted it to because there were all these studio problems. Every studio story you've heard about happened--rewrites, reshoots. It was kind of a nightmare for a while. So it made me really gunshy about doing studio things. I still haven't quite recovered. I actually like the independent world much more because what you write is what ends up on the screen. I'm writing a film right now that's a big animated film, like a Toy Story. It's been great but at the same time it's like "We're just getting Stuart Beattie who did Pirates of the Caribbean to do a polish." It's just the reality of studio. It depends on which one you like. Are you prepared to have that happen? If you're not prepared to have anyone touch your baby then you should stay in the independent world. But definitely that question came to mind recently with this animated film. That's how it works. They get in someone else to do a quick polish. I read what he did and I liked it but it was just a strange feeling to have someone else come in and work on it. It's weird.

    Question: What was it like to work with Barbara Hershey?
    James Wan: She was really great. People now ask me if she did it before or after Black Swan. We made this film after she had shot Black Swan. Barbara is fantastic. She's a very spiritual person; she's a lovely person to work with. And on top of that she was in one of my favorite scary movies The Entity. So it was really cool to have her in this film as an homage.

    Insidious opens in area theaters April 1.

    Q&A With Tom Shadyac, Director of I Am

    By Annette Graham, DC Film Society Member

    What is wrong with the world? Tom Shadyac explores that question in I Am. A preview screening was held at Regal's Gallery Place Cinema on March 24. Tom Shadyac answered audience questions after the film.

    Tom Shadyac: Thank you for coming. Washington DC is my home. This is an opportunity to have a Q&A. We open tomorrow at E Street.

    Question: Your scenario is about the economic system. What can we, as a people, do to not succumb to it?
    Tom Shadyac: I believe that we have crafted an economy based on what's untrue. We have crafted an economy based on the idea that you and I are separate. We're not really in this together. You are not my brother, you are not my sister. So I am allowed to separate myself from you and take as much as I can. That's the game we play in our economy. That's the game that I played and I won at. And I found it empty. So I'm re-doing the economy in my own life and this suggests that we re-do the economy--if we are really all brothers and sisters, if we are in this together, if we really are connected, if one life does affect another. If I can't be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, if you can't be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be. As Martin Luther King said, we are tied to this love of mutuality, we have to do things differently. So I do the economy in life life differently now. I take what I need which is a lesson I got from nature. Everything in nature is a cooperative--it's had four billion years to figure it out. I take what I need and my needs are simple and what ever comes my way goes back. So I believe that that's a sustainable way to do things.

    Question: If we are individuals but we are all combined, what can't we just get together?
    Tom Shadyac: Richard Pryor said the same thing. Inside this movie theater we are together. When we leave that changes. That's exactly what my father said if you saw the scene where he said we can create these charities and we can be together on Sunday, all different races, colors and creeds can get together on Sunday and say "love, love love". Then we leave and that stays at the door; when we shut the doors our morality stays inside. I think that's a form of insanity. Insanity is not seeing things as they are. And those churches, outside of the dogma that separates, are there to remind us of what we are and who we are and what we're capable of. And so we can no longer shut the doors on that morality, we must open the doors and it must lead us into our business lives. We must be that generous society that we wish to see in the world. People in Washington argue a lot. (everyone laughs). I just came from a talk show which was less a talk show and more a squawk show, there was so much arguing, I felt like kids in a sand box. They're just not meeting each other on principles. You want to do it this way, I want to do it this way. But where is the conversation about who are we? Do you want to see your brothers and sisters, even the least of which is how you judge a society. I'm not the first person to say that. The measure of a society has often led through history how do you treat the least of which. How does society treat those of disadvantage? Does it isolate them? Some societies even wanted to do away with them, eliminate them. We now look back on those societies and we say "how uncompassionate." I think if we got an outside view of our society we would see ourselves potentially as lacking in compassion, in our potential to be compassionate.

    Question: One individual has the power to reach out and help others. But in context of bombing of nations, Afghanistan, Iraq--it's depressing that people can't stop the military-industrial complex. Tom Shadyac: We can. You do it by first healing the violence in your own heart. When there's violence in the world I don't think it's an accident, it shows up as reflections of our own violence. So we're not separate from that. But then you do what any person does as a single act that doesn't know the ripple effect of that act. I would be the first one to say that I have not done near enough to stop the wars and the situations that are happening. But you act. That could be simply sitting in, it could be writing a letter, it could be making a phone call. What ever moves you, you do it. That is how movements start.
    Question: Do you vote?
    Tom Shadyac: Of course you vote. You should vote. But we don't isolate votes to the election day in November. You vote with each moment. You vote with a letter that you write. You vote with a purchase that you make. You vote with the taxes that you pay. I've considered going to jail to not pay my taxes for the war. To take those taxes and whatever I would pay in taxes and say it's not how I choose and I'll give that money over here, but I don't want to participate. And then of course I would go to jail. But I haven't done that because I'm conflicted; I have friends and family that are in Afghanistan. But it does start with us. Everything that we think that is outside of us--even these massive corporations--do you think that Exxon-Mobil has any power without you? It's all around us and we can make different choices.

    Question: What I got from the film is what is even more fundamental than voting or sitting in, calling our congresspeople, isn't it also not feeling anger within ourselves about what is going on? That doesn't mean not taking action. But when we feel anger and frustration, doesn't that put bad....
    Tom Shadyac: You must heal the violence within yourself. Now, it can be very appropriate to be angry at times. It is an appropriate response. But we must not live with that anger; we must not let that anger turn to bitterness; we must not let that anger keep us from loving, even those who are in a different mindset or behaving differently. So we must marshal that anger in love to heal. Martin Luther King led marches against prejudice. It was not something he did not feel anger about. But he did not let that anger turn to bitterness and say, "I can't stand my ignorant white neighbors." He said, "I understand that these are damaged human beings and I will love them, I will show them the dignity of an African American, by not meeting their hate with love." And that broke the energy. So yes, that's the first step. That's why the movie is called "I Am."

    Question: How did you determine who you were going to interview for this? How long a process was it? When did you have the sudden realization that "I Am" should be the title?
    Tom Shadyac: The people in the film had all helped to change me. I had read a book, seen them in a movie and that had changed me. I wanted to have a conversation with people who had helped to form me, about what I was feeling. The movie took about two and a half years to make. The title came very late. The titled used to be "Imagine." Because I wanted to imagine a different way that we would walk in the world, a different way that our children could raise their children in the world. But it wasn't specific enough. Then that G.K. Chesterton quote came to mind and it suddenly snapped the whole picture into focus. And I knew it was the only title that was right for this film. So don't give it away; I think it's part of the journey of the film. "I Am" is the original utterance of god, for those of you knew some of the traditional faith beliefs, but that is serendipity. The fact is that "I Am" is a very practical response to the question "What is wrong with the world?" It starts with me; it starts with healing my own anger, my own violence. And then I can be the solution also.

    Question: If this economic system that you were so successful at is so bad then why are there so few people like yourself? Why are so few people like you rejecting it?
    Tom Shadyac: I believe we're asleep. I simply believe we are asleep. I was asleep to it. But fortunately I had always been on this quest for what's true. I had always been moved by the moral teachings of the faith; I was raised Catholic. I was moved by the moral teachings of Jesus at a very early age; I found those same principles embodied in Gandhi, King, St. Francis and others. And then I realized, this is so hypocritical. Here's a guy that walked with nothing. And here I am walking with everything. Here's a guy who told me, "Don't store up treasures on earth" and here I am storing lots of treasures on earth. Here's a guy who told me "you can't serve god and money." And here I am serving money in some ways. So I realized that's kind of a hypocrisy. Then when I realized that nature behaved completely differently than I behaved. That nothing in nature takes more than it needs. That's the rule of nature. When something does it's a cancer, it will eventually die. Then I realized that I was a part of a cancerous idea that I discovered through this film which is a mental illness identified by Native Americans. It's a principle that doesn't have any sustainability. And it is not kindred with the idea that I believe we are equal. I don't believe that I'm any more important than anyone here. You can sweep a floor, make a meal, take care of a child, educate, be a teacher and whether I make billion dollar movies or not, I'm no more valuable than you in the divine eternal sense. And I want my life to reflect that. So I broke that down and I do it differently now.

    Question: Were there people you interviewed that you ended up not using in the film? And why not?
    Tom Shadyac: Just one woman and she's a wonderful woman. And she came in very late in the picture and it was pretty redundant to everything that we had. So I just didn't use her. Now there were many people I wanted to get. I wanted more ethnic diversity and I wanted more feminine energy in the film. I went out to Maya Angelou, Arundhati Roy, author of "The God of Small Things," Vandana Shiva from India. And for one reason or another they couldn't do it, or couldn't schedule it. I wanted the Dalai Lama and he was ill and we couldn't schedule. But we got who we got and I think they articulate very well the underlying issue.
    Question: But there are no alternative views.
    Tom Shadyac: Yes, and there's a good reason for that. Because you can get that alternative view every day--just turn the television on. If you want the alternative view, watch the news tonight. Watch pretty much any channel. You'll hear that we are violent, aggressive, or angry, you'll hear the symptomatic way of viewing the world. And you will not hear this story. And this is the story that I believe deep in my heart. I also believe that we are competitive. I also believe that we can be angry and frustrated. But I believe that basically, what makes us thrive is love and compassion and kindness. It moves us. Love is literally the force that moves the blood in your veins. I believe it is a force, Gandhi believed it was a real practical force. And I believe that. So I wanted to tell that story, the one you are not hearing. Then you can go home, you've got plenty of this argument. My father expressed a little of it, it's utopian. I don't believe for a second it's utopian. I'm not interested in a utopian society. I'm interested in a society that walks in experience. And from my experience I have gotten all that material wealth that my society told me would pay. And I've been involved in kind acts and compassionate acts, whether through St. Jude or other organizations where I've had the blessing of reaching into another life. And that's life-giving to me; that's neutral. So where's my life going to take me? Weren't the mystics and moral teachers right when they said, "You find yourself by losing yourself in the service of others." "The first shall be last and the last shall be first." Yet in our society if you're not Number One, you lose. It's a hypocrisy that we don't even see.

    Question: You had footage of a place called Institute of Noetic Sciences. What does that mean?
    Tom Shadyac: I think noetic means "pretty cool." (everyone laughs). What does noetic mean? It was started by Armstrong, the astronaut that had a feeling when he was re-entering the earth's atmosphere in one of the Apollo missions. He had that spiritual experience "everything is connected." It was hard to express when he had this knowing. And he wanted to start an institute that studied the principles of connection. The foremost researcher is Dean Radin. You saw him in the picture. He's in Dan Brown's book, "The Lost Symbol." It's an institute that studies the very strange connection that in the time and space model does not make sense. They do studies, one example is the entrainment study. Where they hook a couple, and the closer you are to the person, interestingly, the more positive the results. You measure a person's brain waves, skin conductance, and pupil dilation and you send each of these people off into a different isolated room. If you shine the light into the wife's eyes, somehow the husband will show an entrainment with that experience and it will register on the skin conductance, or brain waves or pupil dilation. It's called the entrainment experiment and they obviously can't explain it in a space-time model. But all you ask the husband to do is "be open to whatever your wife is experiencing." And somehow something translates. This is how Hans Berger came up with the EEG. Hans Berger was a German in the military and almost died in an accident. At the same moment, his sister across Germany knew that something happened to Hans. She sent a telegram. He said, "that's impossible." She had no way of knowing. Something must have transferred instantanously. He began studying the brain and came up with the EEG which measures something else. So, we all know this. Anyone who is a mother knows they have intuitions that are often very accurate. We have this feeling that we know when we are being stared at. The sense of being stared at has been studied by Rupert Sheldrake. And well beyond reason and chance you can tell when you're being stared at. So there's something happening. I'll give you one more study because it's kind of wild--Rupert Sheldrake did it. When does your dog know when you're coming home? Some people say when you put the key in the lock, footsteps up the driveway. It's when you make the decision to come home. That's crazy--when you make the decision to come home. When this Q&A is over, your dog's going to know. Sheldrake studied this. He put cameras in people's houses. He wanted to know when the dog goes to the door. It was at a strange moment, when the person made the decision to go home. My dogs know if they're coming with me or not. They just know--when they see that I'm going somewhere and I haven't said a word, not that they would understand the words. We know this kind of stuff, we have intuition about it, but we live in a society that says if you can't measure it it's not real. And that's what the film and what the new sciences are calling into question.

    Question: There is a recent study showing that Democrats and Republicans are wired differently. Certain people are more willing to share and others are wired not to want to share and don't want to pay an extra 3% more on their taxes. How did you envision carrying this message to those people who are really resistant to it?
    Tom Shadyac: We have carried it to a lot of people who are resistant. We had a screening at Merrill Lynch. The minimum investment that I believe they invited people at was some $10 million or greater in the Merrill Lynch company, so it was a very wealthy audience. And the conversation comes down to principles. If you look at Democrat or Republican and go beneath them, I believe you can meet them on the ground of principles. And yet there may be some differences. But I don't believe they are fundamental differences in the moral sense. And that means when you turn on the television and you see a person in Japan suffering, you see a fireman risking their life to save someone, pull them out of the rubble, that Democrat or Republican will have the same response. The vagus nerve will fire, oxytocin will be released. They may have a different way, because of different experiences, of expressing that. But they will all feel that love. There's no different gospel to a Republican or Democrat. If you follow Gandhi, or Jesus, or the writings of the mystics, Emerson or Thoreau, or the poets, Rumi, Hafiz, they didn't write to Democratics and Republicans. They wrote about principles. They wrote about principles that are alive and deeper than the divisions that we find. So the question I would have for you is, did those differences exist always or did your mental state create those differences? In other words, if I'm in this box, I'm a Democrat I only think this way. Did that shift some things in you, that you might not measure? Because your thoughts can create an energy that can shift things.

    Question: Are you still friends with your Hollywood celebrity friends or do they think you are crazy? Are you still involved in the entertainment world?
    Tom Shadyac: I have interest in true weath. I'm not interested in the carrot of celebrity or the carrot of the next job that if I compromise anything. I will certainly tell stories again. I will certainly engage in storytelling because I think it's a sacred act. I get asked a lot about my friends. Suffice it to say my Hollywood friends are no different than my Northern Virginia friends. Everybody who saw me first moving in this direction questioned my sanity. Moving to a mobile home park--why would I do that? Even though it's an expensive mobile home park where I live, it's way out of the paradigm, it's much less than anyone with any status all would want to live in. You could have a second home there; that's not your primary home. And that's okay. I was raised in the same paradigm. It took me a while to break out of it. Just consider the fact that what I have to consider is that the thoughts and the way I built my life was not necessarily my own thoughts, were not the deepest thoughts. And I by far am not the first person to say this. A mystic named Thomas Merton, who wrote in the Christian tradition called it the false self. It's in the writings of Rainer Maria Rilke. That's there's a storehouse of all our true selves and they're rotting because we live this social vision. Emerson talked about it. We move in lock march step to this social vision that we think is the only way. And your hearts know, because your hearts tell you what is most powerful. You will go to your deathbed saying I look around me and I see love or I don't see love. And that's beautiful. And if anything, I hope to have spent more time in loving, given more in loving. You don't go to your deathbed counting your cash. You can't bring it with you. And we know this. But we are ingrained in images that I believe, as Rumi the mystic poet said, "We have to split the sack of this culture and stick our heads out." What is the root word of culture? It is cult. Cult is not initially bad. It depends on what it teaches. So examine what it teaches.

    Question: What would you say to people who think your choices are poor?
    Tom Shadyac: Everyone here is free. That is one of the things that I think our country got very right, is that we have the freedom to think as we wish. There are other ways we may be enslaved and don't know it. However, there is a freedom to think. So, it's your life. You live and create the life that you want and you will then create the world around that will be around you. So if it is a material world you want to participate in, if you wish to be a part of amassing wealth, I grant you that right. And I share my life as an example of a different way. But that doesn't mean it has to be your way. I have found a power in what I have walked. If money made me happier, I promise you I would have made a film about that and been sharing that with you. Because I want to share what I believe is true. That is what an artist I think does. They share what they believe is just and true. And if different choices are your choices, walk them and feel them. But have the courage to feel them. Because I think many of us don't necessarily feel them. We numb ourselves out. The Romans believed that you entertain people, entertainment, bread and circus. Keep them well fed and give them entertaiment and theyll be fine, they'll just kind of walk through life numb. There's a zen saying, "It's hard to overcome adversity. It's even harder to overcome prosperity." I think we have a very prosperous culture that we need to look at and see if we have a connection to those who have less. I believe we do. I believe that as I have more, something else may have less. And I want to fight in my life through behavior, through the choices I make in art, to level the playing field. That's what I want.

    Question: Where is god in all this?
    Tom Shadyac: In every detail, crack and crevice. Is there a god is the question. God is a term that may turn some off. I personally use that term. I believe in a creative force. I believe there is some kind of creative energy that I call god. I feel that guiding hand. So it's not about religion, it's not about your religion or my religion. It's about a principle.

    Question: How much impact did Heart Math have on you?
    Tom Shadyac: I walked into Heart Math thinking I was going into a new age hippie-dippie place and I want to spend ten minutes then get me to the real science. What they told me blew my mind, blew the doors off my paradigm. But there were things I knew intuitively. How did I know that the first time I had a camera, that this was what I was going to do the rest of my life. I knew it. How did I know that? And Heart Math studies that and it blew me open. I would like to offer one other thing to you. It's a saying that I think has enough spirituality for a lifetime if you chew on it. And that's, "Study to overcome that in yourself which disturbs you most in others." It's by the spiritual writer, Thomas à Kempis. It feels to me like there's been some water has been disturbed here. That's beautiful. I hope you'll have the courage to listen to that. Because that means something got in. Study to feel what that is that disturbed you. Because there's something there.

    I Am opened March 25 at Landmark's E Street Cinema.
    Visit the film's website.

    Best Foreign Language Film In A Better World: Q&A With Susanne Bier

    By Ron Gordner, DC Film Society Member

    This Q&A took place at the Toronto Film Festival in September 2010. In a Better World was winner of the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film and is scheduled to open here April 8.

    In A Better World (Susanne Bier, Denmark/Sweden, 2010). Another stunning film to go with Bier’s films Open Hearts, Brothers, and the Oscar nominated After the Wedding. In a Better World again tackles the theme of male responsibility, fatherhood, and masculinity. Physician Anton (Swedish actor Mikael Persbrandt) serves part of his time in embattled African nations providing needed care to refugee families and children. He is becoming more distant from his young sons and separated wife. Claus (Danish actor Ulrich Thomsen), a successful businessman, is suddenly having problems with his son Christian, who retaliates with others who bully Anton’s son Elias on his first day of school. A finely layered story of both the fathers’, sons’, and society’s morals and actions are questioned in this introspective work.

    The film received a standing ovation.

    Question: Where did you film the African scenes?
    Susanne Bier: In Kenya.

    Question: How did you cast and prepare the two boys who were sensational in the movie?
    Susanne Bier: We had extensive casting sessions. The woman who did our child actor casting interviewed about 120 kids. I auditioned 11 of them. It’s not just casting single actors, but those who could be friends, and I knew who I was going to cast for the grownups. So they had to fit in also as the sons of those parents. They had to be friends but be from different social classes.

    Question: Could you tell us about the screenplay and how it developed?
    Susanne Bier: It’s my 5th or 6th collaboration with Thomas Anders Jensen. We each usually identify with different characters and then develop them together in scenes.

    Question: There wasn’t a plot arc?
    Susanne Bier: Many screenwriters like to work with a treatment or plot outlines, but we never did that.

    Question: Where was the filming done in Denmark?
    Susanne Bier: A geography lesson... it was done at Faborg on the island of Fyn.

    Question: In your last few films you seem to have Swedish actors. Is there a reason for that?
    Susanne Bier: It is because Swedish men are so sexy!

    Question: Why does the film have a direct English title rather than a translated one?
    Susanne Bier: The Danish name is more like Total Revenge which would give the wrong idea about what this film is about. Also in casting it is not really about casting nationalities, I cast the actor because he/she is right for the part and they just happened to be Swedish in my last films.

    Question: Is there really a long running rivalry between Denmark and Sweden? Also do you plan to use this film in a educational environment? It would be an excellent educational tool for parents, as well as, children.
    Susanne Bier: There is a bit of a wall there, but we also are very friendly with the Swedes. We just thought it would be different to have a racist who was not targeting Blacks, Jews, or Hispanics, so having Swedes is a bit different. There are some plans by the Danish Institute of Education or Culture to use it, but I am not sure what those plans are.

    Question: What motivated you to make this powerful film?
    Susanne Bier: That is probably the hardest question to answer. There is no one motivating factor. There are things you are curious about and want to explore. Revenge and forgiveness are very intriguing, and very powerful things and very timely right now. I can’t say that was my major motivating factor, it was more that a director is driven to make movies.

    Question: Do you believe that another Mr. Big took Mr. Big’s place?
    Susanne Bier: That story is written based on a real person; he exists and unfortunately there are many Mr. Bigs. The boy's story is the center of the movie, but in many ways that scene also is central to the movie. The father is right, you really cannot meet aggression with more aggression, but on the other hand, his failure is giving in. You cannot have Mr. Big continuing to do what he has done. So that is the rage and dilemma he feels and really is an appropriate question to end or really start the discussion. Thank you.

    In A Better World will open April 8 at Landmark's E Street Cinema and Bethesda Row.

    Miral: Q&A with Director Julian Schnabel and Writer Rula Jabreal

    By Ron Gordner, DC Film Society Member

    This Q&A took place at the Toronto International Film Festival in September 2010.

    Miral (Julian Schnabel, United Kingdom/Israel/France, 2010). After the 1948 conflict in Israel, Hind Hussein (Hiam Abbass) establishes an orphanage for street children. Nadia, a young Palestinian woman abused at home by her father, fights with an Israeli woman who calls her a whore. Nadia meets inmate Fatima’s brother and later marries him and gives birth to Miral (Frieda Pinto), who later attends the school. Schabel was criticized by many for giving the role of Miral to Frieda Pinto (Indian from birth). The journalist who is the basis for Miral was present at the screening and indeed looked much like the Indian actress.

    Question: What will you say to those who feel it is an anti-Israeli film?
    Julian Schnabel: Would anyone in the audience like to answer that question? I would like to have the writer Rula Jabreal come up first. She is the real Miral. I don’t think the film is anti-Israeli, I feel it is pro-Israeli. As a Jewish person whose mother was the first President of Haddaseh in 1948 and did many deeds like building hospitals and planting trees in Israel, if she were alive, I think she would be very pleased with the film. I am trying to support the sense of freedom and democracy that the state of Israel has always stood for. The Palestinians are our neighbors and are many people not just one. Miral is a young women on the brink of sexual and political awareness. It is about many small stories of people living as refugees or in a state of conflict and where this young girl will go. We all were children at one time, and had decisions made for us. After I read Rula’s book I wanted to make this film because I felt that I watched her grow up. I wanted to portray she had for her father and the forgiveness she had for her mother, and I don’t think it is just a story about Israelis and Palestinians but a story about a family. My mother said go to Israel and feel what is there. It’s about making peace, not just dreaming about peace. Nelson Mandela was not killed like Ghandi, but still had forgiveness and was somehow empowered to put together a country. I hope for those things also, but this is a movie.

    Question: Why is the film mostly in English and not in Arabic or Hebrew?
    Julian Schnabel: I want this film to be seen by as many people as possible. When I made The Diving Bell and the Butterfly I wanted it to be in French, because it was about a French writer and in a French hospital. I didn’t want French subtitles for English speaking actors. But in Israel, people do speak English as a compromising language such as in the Oslo agreements. When I needed the original language to be spoken by kids in the street we used it. They don’t ask Ridley Scott why Russell Crowe is speaking with an Australian or New Zealand accent or that English is spoken instead of Latin in the Gladiator. I just want to reach the largest audience possible.

    Question: How difficult was it to get Frieda Pinto to play this part?
    Julian Schnabel: It wasn’t difficult to get Frieda at all. The problem for many was that she is Indian, but when I first met Rula in Italy, I asked her if she was Indian, and she said, "No, I am Israeli." I said, "Oh you're Jewish." She said, "No, I am Palestinian. Are you scared?" I said, "Should I be?" The fact is that every time I saw something bad happen to Frieda in Slum Dog Millionaire I felt like it was happening to Rula and cried because of their similar look. I asked Danny Boyle to send me the part where she visited her father and it was so compassionate that we both felt she was the only person to play the role of Miral. Also this is a French/Israeli/American coproduction, and you get so many points for having cast or staff from those countries. The director is worth 3 points, etc. I told the producers I wanted Frieda Pinto and was told you can’t because it would cost $2.5 million dollars. We had to get money from India as a coproduction in order to get her into the movie.

    Question: (to Ruha) Thank you for the story and film. In light of the atrocities done to the Palestinians, can one walk away with a sense of hope about anything?
    Rula Jebreal: More painful than writing the story was living the story. Miral is not me anymore, but it is still the story for many girls living in the Middle East today. The school is still open, but it is almost empty. We used to have 3,000 students, now there are only 30-40 girls. This is not because there are fewer orphans, but because many live in other cities and cannot get to Jerusalem. Do I think there is hope? Yes, because there are people like Julian, an American Jew who is walking in my own shoes, taking two years of his life to tell my story. And producers who are French Protestants also putting up funding to tell this story and people like you who want to come and see this story gives me hope every day.

    Miral opens at Landmark's Bethesda Row theater on April 1.

    Comments on Selected Filmfest DC Films

    By James McCaskill and Ron Gordner, DC Film Society Members

    [Editor's Note: These press conference excerpts and other comments on several films in Filmfest DC were gathered from other film festivals.]

  • West Is West
    West Is West (Andy DeEmmony, UK, 2010). This sequel to the multi-award winning East Is East (which was shown at Filmfest DC 15 years ago) takes the desperately dysfunctional Khan family on a journey from Salford, England, to Pakistan. West Is West is the coming of age story of 15 year old Sajid, brilliantly played by newcomer Aqib Khan. The director said of Khan, "He is as close to the real thing as I could have wished for. A natural-born actor. His instincts are impeccable; he is utterly captivating. He will have a major career."

    Om Puri in West Is West.

    Ayub Khan-Din (screenwriter), Aquib Khan (Sajid Khan), Om Puri (George Khan), Ila Arun (Basheera Khan), Emil Marwa (Maneer Kahn), Lesley Nicol (Auntie Annie) were present at a press conference at the London Film Festival which was moderated by Quentin Falk (film biographer). Some excerpts:

    Quentin Falk: 11 years! Why did it take you so long for West is West to follow East is East (Andy DeEmmony, UK, 1999)?
    Ayub Khan-Din: I wrote East is East while at drama school. I did not think about a sequal but the hugeness of East is East was offputting. Sequels usually fail and that was a stumbling block. The next film had to be a stand alone story for me. Sequels tend to repeat gags. The next had to be fresh. The thing about trilogies, maybe next year. We are thinking about it.

    Quentin Falk: (to Om Puri) Was it difficult for you to revisit George Khan?
    Om Puri: It felt normal for me to return to him. I look at George as a mellow person. In George's eyes his empire is over. He has to behave himself. East is East ended with "Half a cup." In this one he is dumbfounded when his English wife ends up in Punjab. I did a lot of research in the stage play [there was a failed attempt to turn West is West into a play]. In West is West George is a more mature man. It was great for me to take the character further, to grow this son. He learned things were not the way father told him.

    Quentin Falk: (to Aquib Khan) How did it feel taking over the role of the youngest child?
    Aquib Khan: The parents were drawn from my own parents. East is East arguments were the same: you duck down quick and let the next one get it. Much later when those arguments were formed I got sent to Pakistan at the age of 12. My parents thought it a good idea to get me out of Salford. My dad's first wife was not keen on me being there and I wasn't either. People wanted to know how that other wife felt when a husband suddenly sends two boys to stay with the first wife. I drew from my experience in British Pakistan.
    Ayub Khan-Din: I think the major challenge in thinking about Ella and the first wife in Pakistan was that these two women had to communicate. A third party would have taken away from the scene. It did not matter as they talked about the man they both loved. That was the most difficult part for me to write. Everything else fell into place. This was jumping into something new. They had respect for the husband to look back at. We only took two boys from the first film, it was hard to drop the other children.
    Ila Arun: I could see thousands of such women [second wives] who are forced to be silent. I am a middle class woman. This was a fantastic role to come into my lap. I was forced to be silent but sometimes silence speaks.

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  • Loose Cannons
    Q&A with director Ferzan Ozpetek, actress Nicole Grimaudo, and producer Domenico Procacci in October 2010 at the BFI London Film Festival

    Loose Cannons (Ferzan Ozpetek, Italy, 2010). From the director of Hamam (Steam) and A Perfect Day comes a family drama/comedy of an Italian upper middle class family that has owned a pasta factory for generations and their three children: 2 unmarried sons and a married daughter. During a large family dinner, Tommasso the younger son plans to announce that he is gay, hoping to upset the father, but remove himself from possibly managing the factory. Family gatherings and dinner conversation of course may lead to loose cannons and other declarations. As with the cooking, many secrets boil to the top. Beautiful cinematography in Apulia, Southern Italy and a wonderful back story about the grandmother and love choices she made in her life make this also another great food movie that is fun, yet touching.

    Question: You are known as an idiosyncratic filmmaker and this one is very different from your last one [A Perfect Day]. Was it a conscious decision to make a comedy after making a darker film?
    Ferzan Ozpetek: The last film I made was not written by me, but taken from a novel. I wanted to film in the place I loved for the last 8 years, full of light and food. I also wanted to deal with the fear of death and family.

    Question: Many of your films deal with the family or family structure. Is this important to you?
    Ferzan Ozpetek: Yes, but it does not have to be a blood related family. We create different families with neighbors and other friends.

    Question: Nicole, what was your experience on the film and what drew you to this story?
    Nicole Grimaudo: It’s the second film I have made with Ferzan. He allows you to love your own fears, and forces you to feel beautiful which for a woman is very important and to draw out feelings for the part that you didn’t think you could do. He cut my hair and I am wearing heels today.
    Domenico Procacci: I loved the first scene with the family dinner, and the story became so moving.

    Question: You always have secrets in the characters or families, is this your perception or reality that we all hide them?
    Ferzan Ozpetek: Yes, people have many complexities and many things are hiding below the surface. I have people who live in my building that are literally loose cannons in what they say, so I may take the opposite action. If everyone was perfect and never told a lie, life would be very boring.

    Question: Your films many times deal with difficulty experienced with homosexuality. Is this true in Italy?
    Ferzan Ozpetek: Remember this film portrays Italian society in the year 2000, not 2010; the lack of legislation in Italy protecting human rights has made what was a more open society much worse. Also many people introduce their gay or homosexual friends with those labels, but people rarely introduce others as their heterosexual acquaintances; we must move on from labeling or categorizing each other. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, other walls were created between peoples and cultures. For me there are 3 events in modern history that have changed people: (a) the fall of the Berlin Wall, (b) the death of Princess Diana, (c) the attack on the Twin Towers. Even in the most advanced countries, there is something increasingly heavy in the atmosphere. Let’s talk about pasta instead.

    Question: Do you think in Italy we can stop making movies about the mafia and films more like this?
    Ferzan Ozpetek: Rather than cinema, we should talk about that area in Italy, how wonderful and humane the people are and we should export that feeling in Italy and all over the world instead.

    Question: What was the criteria to select the wonderful sound track for the film?
    Ferzan Ozpetek: You should know that I started out as a singer. I just choose the songs that I like and are pleasing. The sound tracks are usually very successful, more than the films sometimes.

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  • Mamma Gogo
    Icelandic director Academy Award nominee Fridrik Thor Fridriksson applies his trademark humor and strong visual style to this semi-autobiographical story told with wit and compassion. Will the feature film "Children of Nature" save the Icelandic film industry? Its director seems to think so. And possibly his loving mother Gogo. But just about nobody else does. Undaunted but broke, he sets his sights high: if he gets an Oscar nod, Icelanders will rush to the theaters and he'll be in the black again. His creditors are more realistic and want their money back.

    Mama Gogo

    Director's remarks: "The film is based on two very personal aspects of my life: my mother's Alzheimer's disease and my own previous struggles with my financial problems. While writing the script I studied the financial collapse in Iceland using my own experiences and had the idea of intertwining them with the process of my dealing with mother's illness. The film, however, does not have logic in time or space. I'm often asked whether it is difficult emotionally to use elements from my own life in a film. But I have used my life as inspiration before, namely in "Movie Days" which was based on my childhood in Reykjavik back in the 1960s. You have the feeling that at least you know your life well and there is some truth in that shines through in a film and that the audience can recognize.

    "My father died when I was a young boy. But my mother is still alive (even though she was diagnosed with Alzheimer's 12 years ago) and we have always had a very close relationship; she has been an important and positive part of my life and has shaped the way I am today. And then I started seeing an alien person before me. The experience with my mother was difficult but it was gradual since it took time to identify the disease. I have seen films dealing with Alzheimer's that are very bleak. I wanted to do this film differently and try to see the humour in my own situation; hence, a comedy about film making and Alzheimer's. In essence, the film can be described as an elegy to my mother.

    "But the film also emphasises the strife of the filmmaker. Being an old cinephile, I have always made references to film history and quoted other filmmakers in my own work. I'm proud to be part of the history and like to say, "Thank you for the music." As Stanley Kubrick puts it: "A film is - or should be - more like music than like fiction. It should be a progression of moods and feelings. The theme, what's behind the emotion, the meaning, all that comes later." Often people see symbolism in my work. I say that is purely by accident. Poetry sometimes writes itself."

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  • Armadillo (Janus Metz, Denmark, 2010). Armadillo is the name for a heavily fortified UK-Danish army base in Helmand Province, Afghanistan. Here, documentarist Janus Metz and his crew were embedded in 2009 following a group of young Danish recruits as they adjust to the realities of conflict, in and outside their secure camp. The result is a powerful immediacy, observational in style, its close quarters view of the inexperienced soldiers a vivid look at the conflict on these young soldiers. Pedersen remains sympathetic from their teary farewells to their families at home to the boredom of camp routine. He is especially sensitive to the voices of the Afghan civilians caught in the crossfire between the coalition troops and the Taliban. The centerpiece is an extended firefight between the Danes and a few Taliban fighters, an intensive piece of reportage that later prompted controversy in Denmark over the troops' conduct. (From the London festival catalogue).

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  • Home for Christmas (Bent Hamer, Norway/Germany/Sweden, 2010). It is Christmas Eve in the small fictional town of Skogli, Norway. Nestling in the glow of Northern Lights, the town is a happy home to some, and to others an all poignant reminder of better times. Over the course of a few hours we meet various lost souls hoping to find their way to a place they can call home: a modern day Mary and Joseph, refugees desperate to find a safe haven for the birth of their first child; a rather unconventional Father Christmas who'll get gifts to his estranged children by any means necessary; a voracious lover, hoping that this will finally be the year she gets her man home for Christmas. Basing his script on a collection of short stories by Levi Henriksen, Hamer weaves the material together with his usual wit to produce a snapshot of life blending humor and tenderness with misfortune and sadness. (London festival catalogue).

    The 61st Berlin International Film Festival

    By Leslie Weisman, DC Film Society Member

    Fest directors rarely draw attention to empty seats, and with some 300,000 tickets sold to the more than 400 films from 54 countries represented at this year’s Berlinale, Dieter Kosslick would have been hard pressed to find one. But he did — and drew the world’s attention to it. Because the empty chair was a juror’s chair, to have been filled by the renowned Iranian director Jafar Panahi whose award-winning, intensely humanist films (including Offside, Crimson Gold and The Circle) and participation in demonstrations against actions by the regime have made him the repeated target of government reprisal.

    Photo from the Berlin International Film Festival website.

    Just weeks before he was to serve on the Berlinale jury, Panahi had been condemned by an Iranian one (perhaps literally “one”: in most such trials, the judge serves not only as judge but as prosecutor, jury, and arbiter) to serve six years in prison. And in a blow not only to Panahi but to the world, the filmmaker was banned for 20 years from making movies, writing screenplays, giving interviews, or leaving the country.

    But he did leave the country, at least metaphorically. Not only were five of his films (including the aforementioned) screened; his absence and his legacy were part of the conversation throughout the festival, as actors, directors, reporters and jury members invoked his name, making his enforced silence a defiant shout that would reverberate around the world.

    “The world of a filmmaker is marked by the interplay between reality and dreams,” wrote Panahi in an open letter read by jury president Isabella Rossellini to a rapt crowd in the Berlinale Palast at the festival’s opening. “The filmmaker uses reality as his inspiration, paints it with the color of his imagination, and creates a film that is a projection of his hopes and dreams.

    “The reality is I have been kept from making films for the past five years and am now officially sentenced to be deprived of this right for another twenty years. But I know I will keep on turning my dreams into films in my imagination....

    “I submit to the reality of the captivity and the captors. I will look for the manifestation of my dreams in your films, hoping to find in them what I have been deprived of.”

    If Panahi has dreamed in 3D, he was indeed at the Berlinale, where even the festival promo preceding each film began with a brilliant, slow-mo, mesmerizing 3D explosion of golden stars that transformed themselves into the festival logo. The technology itself gave evidence of having won over filmmakers at both ends of the professional and generational spectrum. Sixty-five-year-old master Wim Wenders, certainly no stranger to innovation (New German Cinema, anyone?), whose Pina had German Chancellor Angela Merkel happily donning 3D glasses for the film’s premiere in the majestic Berlinale Palast, averred to the Berliner Morgenpost that “I can only film in 3D now.” (Note: All translations from the German are this writer’s, including comments by native English-speaking actors and directors that were translated into German for publication in local newspapaers and magazines.)

    Wenders’s message was not lost on young up-and-coming directors at the Berlinale Talent Campus, a week-long, intensive series of workshops initiated by Kosslick four years ago to bring together young talents and filmmaking professionals from around the world to learn from master filmmakers, and from each other. Scores of “talents” listened attentively as Wenders described how his almost quarter-century-long aspiration to make a film about the inimitable yet highly influential German choreographer Pina Bausch — whose tanztheater, a mixture of dance and theater, depends upon the dancers’ own emotions and memories and the director’s ability to draw them out and incorporate them — for a long time seemed fated to remain just that. “What I admired most about Pina’s art was the reason not to make the film,” said Wenders, who has called her the “discoverer of a new art.”

    “There was something almost untranslatable, immediate, physical, about her work” that went beyond the bounds of traditional cinema, he told the talents. “Between my cameras and Pina’s art, there was a wall; I didn’t have the tools to go there. But 3D opened the door into the realm of Pina’s dances, their immediacy and physicality.”

    Wim Wenders at the press conference. (Photo from the Berlin International Film Festival website).

    And then ... a door closed, with jarring immediacy and physicality: Bausch died, just five days after receiving a diagnosis of cancer, at the end of June 2009. At first Wenders announced that he was abandoning the project, but Bausch’s dancers convinced him not to give up on something that had meant so much to them both. (“That was our running gag, whenever [Pina and I] saw each other in the world,” Wenders told the Berliner Morgenpost. “When!?” — “When I know how!”) The result is a passionate hommage to Bausch and her work.

    Curiously, the jury is still out on whether the film, and by extension 3D, will be good for dance and dance theater. As a Morgenpost writer observed at one point as he alternated between admiration and uncertainty regarding Pina, “Until now, film was the wrong medium for dance,” something “flat” in which the absence of live performance was keenly felt. “But suddenly, film becomes a real threat to the theater, because here dance is even closer, even more elemental” than it is on the stage. True enough: Here, the dancers leave the stage, go outside and “conquer” it, as well, turning the everyday into the magical. We follow them, breathtakingly alive, as they dance in, through and across a street, a park, a river, a factory and a railway car, Wenders’s savvy and sophisticated use of 3D infused with a childlike wonder that intensifies the viewer’s experience.

    For Pina is a film that employs 3D not in the service of spectacle, but — as Green Party head Claudia Roth, calling it “one of the greatest film experiences I’ve ever had,” told a reporter: “You’re suddenly right there, in the center of this world of feeling. I’ve never experienced anything like it.” (The New Zealand Herald went a step further: “This movie is so beautiful it aches.”) Indeed, unlike films such as the Oscar-winning, wow-how-did-he-do-that Avatar (“For Pina,” Wenders told epd Film, “my greatest dream is that after 10 minutes, you forget the medium”) — which no one would mistake for a documentary — Wenders sees the future of 3D precisely in that mode. “I can imagine that in a few years, nobody will be seeing documentary films in anything but 3D. Look: In the mid-‘90s, the documentary film was as good as dead. With the new digital techniques, the genre has practically been rediscovered.”

    Almost as if to prove the truism that for every rule there is an exception, of the two additional 3D films of note that would screen here, one was about as far from a documentary as you can get: a fictional animated film in the style of legendary silhouette animator Lotte Reiniger whose protagonists recreate scenes from international folk tales. The second was indeed a documentary, whose title with seeming prescience would gain a poignant layer of resonance in the light of Panahi’s moving invocation.

    The allure of 3D was demonstrated in a very personal way for your reporter early on a Sunday morning when, on a hunch, she arrived for Tales of the Night (Les contes de la nuit, Michel Ocelot, France 2011) nearly an hour before screening time and found five intrepid pressies already out there, waiting patiently in the frigid air. As the time passed we would smile or shake our heads as each new arrival without fail tried the locked doors — some insistently or even angrily, as if in disbelief, despite the early hour, that their obvious need, their press-pass-given right to enter the Palace would not cause the doors to open for them. (Like something out of a fairy tale.”)

    It was worth the wait. Tales of the Night is one of those kid-friendly films whose charms will reach out to adult audiences with its blend of innocent wonderment, sophisticated humor and technical wizardry. “I’ve never made films for children,” Ocelot told The Hollywood Reporter. “That’s why children like my films. Nobody wants to be treated as a baby.” But we are willing to have our inner child spoken to.

    Every night, a girl, a boy and an elderly technician meet in a little cinema that seems abandoned, but is in fact full of wonders. The three friends research, draw, invent, dress up and act out the stories that take their fancy in a magical night where anything is possible — sorcerers and fairies, powerful kings and stable boys, werewolves and merciless ladies, cathedrals and straw huts, cities of gold and deep forests, the waves of harmony of choirs immense and the spells of a single tom-tom, malice that ravages and innocence that triumphs…

    His words have the soothing, hypnotic rhythm of a bedtime story. And the tales the film presents in rich, gorgeous hues, strikingly contrasted with the pure black silhouettes of the human characters, all drawn and designed by the multi-talented Ocelot (“You’re a writer, director, artist, production designer, animator, editor, cinematographer and former president of the International Association of Animated Films. When do you sleep?” The Hollywood Reporter demanded), are cast in the form of dreams (Panahi!). The fairy tales, which are a passion of the director — “Fairy tales have a hidden power... They’re the best way to get messages across” — are laced with the wisdom of the ages, reaching across continents to tap into the ancient storytelling treasures of Europe, Asia, and South America.

    You can’t get much more ancient than the messages discovered by Werner Herzog in his latest (and first 3D) film, Cave of Forgotten Dreams, named “one of the ten most-hyped TIFF 2010 films” by Torontoist and celebrating its European premiere at the Berlinale. Inspired, and to an extent driven, by the lingering memory of “the shudder of awe and wonder” evoked by a volume of cave paintings he’d spotted in a bookstore window more than half a century before as a boy of twelve, Herzog followed his own unforgotten dreams to the Chauvet Cave in southern France, on whose walls are inscribed “the earliest known visions of humanity” dating back over 30,000 years.

    Gaining access to the inside of the caves was no mean feat: to protect the fragile paintings from exposure to elements from the outside world that could damage them irreparably, the French government had rejected all requests from filmmakers to record them. Until, that is, the redoubtable Herzog — the man who, among other things, ate his shoe on a bet and filmed it; tamed the legendary “wild beast” Klaus Kinski and made a film about their tortured, decades-long relationship in the aptly titled My Best Fiend; calmly continued a televised interview after being hit by an air-rifle pellet fired by a crazed gunman, observing that it was “not a significant one”; and walked from Munich to Paris to keep a terminally ill friend alive (no, not to gather pledges, but because he reasoned that she wouldn’t dare to die before seeing him again) — made the minister of culture an offer he could not refuse. He would, at least for a time, become a French government employee, for which he would accept a salary of one euro. And pay taxes on it.

    At least, that’s the story, tongue-in-cheek though the last part may be. In any event, Herzog and a small crew were allowed, with severe restrictions, to film inside the cave for a couple of weeks. Their job was made more difficult (not to mention precarious) by having to balance with their cameras on the narrow metal catwalks spanning the cave, and by the high levels of radon and carbon dioxide that make it impossible for them to work for more than a few hours a day. And the use of 3D was “imperative,” Herzog told Screen Daily: “Since my film in the cave may be the only one ever permitted to be shot there because the climate is so delicate, you had to bring the audience into the cave itself.”

    In anticipation of its screening, which the director was unable to attend because he was in Houston shooting a new documentary about death row in the U.S., Herzog gave a telephone interview to Spiegel Online as he prepared to visit a maximum security prison. “You have to realize that, about 20,000 years ago, there was a cataclysmic event when an entire rock face collapsed and sealed off the cave. It’s a completely preserved time capsule,” he said. Herzog minced no words in assessing the cave’s importance. “This is the birth of the modern human soul. The artists are like us, not like the Neanderthals, who had no culture — and who incidentally were still roaming the landscape at the time the paintings were made.”

    Why 3D? Herzog hasn’t jumped on the bandwagon for the new technology, calling himself “in general ... skeptical” about its use. But here, “you have these enormous niches, bulges and protrusions, as well as stalactites and stalagmites. The effect of the three-dimensionality is phenomenal.”

    Technical three-dimensionality is not the only kind that would prove a boon to many a cineplex film whose characters sometimes struggle to achieve two. By contrast, this year’s opening night film, first-time director J.C. Chandor’s star-studded yet intellectually and emotionally complex Margin Call, takes on a subject and people often dismissively written off by most of us, and peels away the layers of prejudice and self-righteousness with which those of us on the outside have come to regard them.

    Not the poor, and no, not the homeless; not even the street people who imploringly hold out cups or hats as we busy, important people try to get where we’re going. No: The once powerful and secure, now broken, beleaguered, frightened men and women who are treated with a measure of respect and compassion in Margin Call are ... investment bankers.

    If the Wall Street movies pretty much confirmed our suspicions that, as Roger Ebert memorably wrote, “Gordon (‘Greed Is Good’) Gekko became the role model for a generation of amoral financial pirates who put hundreds of millions into their pockets while bankrupting their firms and bringing the economy to its knees,” Margin Call asks us to look at the human beings who were caught up in the catastrophic financial meltdown. The ones who, as Kevin Spacey declared at the press conference, “are just regular people who have regular jobs and aren’t making gazillions of dollars and in many cases had to follow orders.

    “And that’s the crux of the morality of the piece,” he continued, “and why I found it so fascinating to humanize a character” — Spacey plays an executive at the firm — “the kinds of people who had been dehumanized for so long. It’s very easy, I think, and a bit lazy, to put everybody in the same wheelbarrow.” That’s something Chandor does not do, and for a good reason, besides the basic one of fairness: as the son of a father who worked for Merrill Lynch for almost 40 years, Chandor had a “fundamental knowledge of the people in this world and most importantly had a strong understanding of what and who they cared most about.”

    Chandor, who in addition to directing wrote the screenplay, was adamant that the film, which has a tense energy that turns terrifyingly desperate as the walls inexorably begin to close in on everyone at the firm from the top execs to the temps, remain focused on the human side and the human cost. “I tried to look at it with a more sympathetic eye on both sides. It’s not like I’m a banker who is defending other bankers, but also knowing a lot of these people, you recognize that it’s not pure evil, either.” At the press conference, Chandor added: “To me, the film is a tragedy. You see people who have wasted a good bit of their lives....”

    Jeremy Irons, who plays the big-gun CEO who comes in to issue the edict that will supposedly save the company — but at the cost of its “nonessential” employees, and stockholders’ assets — mourned the “amoral[ity]” of the banking industry. “We have to care about the fact that people are having their houses taken away from them, we have to care about the fact that people have borrowed sort of beyond their dreams... We live with limited resources in this globe and we have to find a way to share those resources so that everybody’s relatively happy, has a job, has a roof, and not allow consumerism to go rampant, which it has been allowed for twenty, twenty-five years. I suppose that’s what I feel, but my role . . . he was an amoral man who just wanted to keep the ship afloat. And would do anything to keep the ship afloat because that was his job.

    “But we have to add something else to the mix, I think. As far as the people who are making the big decisions globally. And there has to be morality.”

    The cast visited Wall Street firms to get a feel for the culture and learn about the people who work there to inform their portrayals and their understanding of their characters. Paul Bettany, who plays a mid-level exec, found it “a really interesting journey, and I think I became a lot less judgmental because of that process.”

    In response to a question, the discussion turned to an exchange about the film industry. “I don’t know that it’s ever been easy to raise money to make films if they’re not being backed by large corporations and studios,” said Spacey. “We can go back into the beginnings of the independent film movement and see that every single director or producer has always had a sort of remarkable story of how they managed to [cobble] it all together.

    “What has become more difficult I think as the result of the financial crisis is that distribution for independent films has become much more difficult. So that what ends up happening is there’s a sort of cycle in which if a film that perhaps is a wonderful story and has a great cast and is directed well even gets a release, but it’s such a small release that it doesn’t make money its first two weeks, then the theater owners want it out and they want the next one in, and that then in turn makes it harder for the next independent film.

    “I wish and hope that we could return to the days that the major studios had ‘arms’ for independent film — if you look at some of the work that was done even a decade ago in the film industry, from the sort of specialized arms of the major film companies, rather than them only going out and finding movies like this at film festivals...

    “I [see] nothing wrong with the tentpole movies or the franchise movies, but I wish they’d take some of those proceeds and make ten great, small films about stories that should and need to be told. So yes, it’s more difficult, it’s more challenging. But I also am a big believer that if you have a story you absolutely must tell, that you will find a way to tell it.”

    The film’s impressive cast includes, in addition to Spacey, Bettany and Irons, Demi Moore, Simon Baker and Stanley Tucci. U.S. release was scheduled for March 23, when it opened at Lincoln Center in New York.

    “... if you have a story you absolutely must tell ... you will find a way to tell it.” In theory, those words could apply to virtually any independent filmmaker. But for those living in countries where freedom of expression is regarded not as a right, but as a threat, finding that way can be more than difficult, more than challenging. It can be outright dangerous.

    “Sacrificial oligarch” is not a phrase that flows easily across the tongue. Nor is the person such a term might describe very easy to conceptualize. Then again, neither is the name — or the man — Mikhail Borisovich Khodorkovsky, to whom the phrase refers in ExBerlin’s article about the eponymous documentary by German director Cyril Tuschi. The thieves who stole the film out of his office along with four computers just days before its official premiere at the Berlinale also smashed up his furniture. (A nice, hooligan touch — or a warning?)

    Who is this man? And to whom is he, or the film — or its subject — a threat?

    Those who follow the international news may recognize the first name as that of, as described by The Washington Post, a “Russian oil tycoon” whose “evolution from ambitious communist to fabulously wealthy capitalist to political renegade has become emblematic of the destiny of post-Soviet Russia.” Khodorkovsky, whose wealth has allegedly funded several Russian political parties and thereby made him a threat to the power of premier Vladimir Putin (or at least an intolerable irritant), had been found guilty of fraud in 2003 and sentenced to eight years in prison, then brought to trial again in 2009 on charges of embezzlement and money laundering and once again found guilty.

    Tuschi developed a fascination for the man — “[H]e had more than one chance to leave the country and stay in America with tons of money. Instead he returned to Russia and let them put him in prison. And I thought, why? Even his enemies don’t understand it. This I wanted to explore,” he told ExBerlin. Getting to the heart of the matter, Tuschi told the Berliner Morgenpost that what he mainly wanted to find out was: “Why did such a sharp and strategically thinking man make these mistakes?” And Khodorkovsky was the result. “They’re flipping out in the blogosphere in Russia,” added Tuschi, whose film, Khodorkovsky’s supporters fear, will further damage him. “I just show that [he] is no saint, but a human being.”

    That he does. The film is even-handed, offering no judgment on the imprisoned oligarch’s guilt or innocence. And yet, perhaps given the circumstances surrounding its production — “When it came to Khodorkovsky, everyone was afraid,” Tuschi told ExBerlin. “I was afraid, normal people were afraid. Rich people feared losing their money. People in the government feared they would get in trouble” — Tuschi also can’t resist playing investigative reporter. The conceit is not fully realized, however, as his documentarian instincts to let things play out take over and he misses the chance to tease out apparent contradictions in statements of his interview subjects.

    What is fully realized, to the viewer’s surprised gratification, is Tuschi’s ability to work his way (not to mention his camera) past innumerable institutional obstacles and interview Khodorkovsky in the courtroom. The interview is as puzzling as it is revealing: Khodorkovsky is charming, relaxed, and utterly self-aware. But then, maybe he knows something. He was, after all, a Putin confidant. How, and why, did everything change? “To me,” Tuschi tells ExBerlin, “the bottom line is: he was better looking and he had more money.” Well, there is more: “He was clean and wanted to become independent, play by market standards. This wish to be really free was the scary thing for Putin.”

    What can be a scary thing for someone who is independent, is to awaken from a four-day coma, find yourself in a hospital in a foreign country with no ID, retrace your steps in an attempt to prove your identity — and find that someone else has assumed it so convincingly that even your wife claims that he is ... well ... you. Oh — and find yourself the target of repeated murder attempts. Which also doesn’t ring any bells: As best as you can remember, you are a university professor in Berlin for a biotechnology summit, whose life was saved by the beautiful blonde Bosnian taxi driver who pulled you from the Spree River after the cab plunged spectacularly off a bridge and crashed into the river. Sounds like something out of a movie script.

    Which as you’ve probably already guessed, it is; the movie being Jaume Collet-Serra’s blockbuster Unknown, which on opening weekend in the U.S. (also the weekend of its European premiere in Berlin) recouped more than half of its $40 million budget, and by the time this article is posted, will probably have been seen by many, if not most of the people who are reading it. So — let’s go behind the scenes.

    For the director, Berlin was the perfect setting for the story. “At the heart of the film is a crisis of identity, and Berlin has that, having been divided for so many years. To me, Berlin was an extension of the main character,” said Collet-Serra. Liam Neeson, who plays the befuddled botanist, felt no such uncertainty when offered the role. “For me, it’s always the script, and this was a real page-turner. My litmus test is this: if I can get to page 50 without stopping for a tea break, then it’s a very good sign. This was such good material that I had to read it all in one sitting.” Producer Joel Silver calls it “a freight train, it just grabs you and goes. And you may think you know where it’s going, but I don’t think you’ll see this one coming.”

    The cast and crew probably didn’t see the heavy December-through-February snowfall coming, either, or that the climactic car-chase scene would require 10 nights of shooting in the frigid Berlin air. For Diane Kruger, who plays Gina the Bosnian taxi driver, the scene in which she pulls Neeson out of the underwater car, although filmed in a large tank at the Babelsberg studios, was “very demanding, exhausting,” the strain exacerbated by the fact that she had to spend an entire day fully clothed, thrashing about in the water in a small enclosed space.

    Kruger went into more detail about the water scene at the press conference. “I would have been happy to let a very capable stunt lady take over for me, but I felt like in this particular movie, it was very much a part of who Gina was, or is — she’s a pretty tough chick, really — and I felt that it was important that the audience believe that it was me. And even for myself, I wanted to make sure that I believed that I could do this.” Collet-Serra continued the thought, noting that “People don’t realize that if you’re in the water for more than twenty minutes” — “fully clothed,” chimed in Kruger — “ you’re completely exhausted. It’s very complicated. It’s nerve-wracking, it’s dangerous.”

    Asked about the film’s Hitchcockian elements, the director was quick to agree, saying that “Hitchcock is always an influence in whatever I do; I’m a big fan.... One of the things that’s very Hitchcockian about the film is the ordinary man in extraordinary circumstances, and there are a few scenes that are an hommage to his movies. He’s definitely a big influence in my work.”

    The subtleties of the film and of her character were important to Kruger, who “enjoyed the relationship between Liam’s character and mine. It’s not romantic. So it created a space for two actors to have a complicity and some sort of understanding that is much more honest than ‘huh, he’s hot, she’s hot, let’s help each other out.’ It’s unusual in this kind of film, and I really applaud the studio for allowing us this space.”

    Meanwhile, Berlin’s world-famous, five-star Hotel Adlon, where many of the scenes were shot (although the film’s climactic, heart-stopping, glass-shattering explosions were filmed at Studio Babelsberg) was not offended by its portrayal in the film. Still, as a reporter for the Berliner Zeitung noted: “On checking in, the guest is admonished by the front-desk clerk. Despite security precautions every lowlife can slip through the employees entrance. And the security chief is practically an idiot. Welcome to the Hotel Adlon, the most famous guest accommodation in Berlin!”

    No problem: Although a few scenes did make them “a bit queasy,” in the end, “We’re figuring on positive international PR,” the hotel’s press arm told the paper. “Everybody knows it’s fiction.” (At the press conference, a Romanian journo invited Collet-Serra to his homeland, where there is “the biggest building in Romania, one of the biggest in Europe: the parliament house,” and suggested it might be ideal for blowing up in a sequel.)

    As to the film being fiction, for Diane Kruger, part of it is very real: the question of migrant workers, one that she has encountered in reality in Germany, New York and Paris, each of which she has called home. “And I can well imagine how it is to live in a country where you always have to keep your head down,” she told Tagesspiegel. “How it is to want to survive, although there’s no chance of finding legal work because you don’t have papers. That was something that also interested me about this film, because it gives it a depth and complexity that other action thrillers often lack.”

    Cinema purists might go a step further and contend that it is not just action thrillers as a genre but all the things that go with them, characteristics variously found in mainstream cinema as a whole — brilliant color, surround sound, quick cuts, shallow characters — that deprive them of depth and complexity. If so, have I got a film for you.

    Hungarian director Béla Tarr, perhaps best known to U.S. auds for 1994's Sátántangó (Devil’s Tango), whose seven-and-a-half-hour screening time made seeing it a challenge in more ways than one, took home the festival’s Jury Grand Prix Silver Bear and the FIPRESCI Competition Prize for The Turin Horse (A torinói ló), a significantly shorter film clocking in at 146 minutes. Tarr’s films have been lauded by such diverse artists as Gus Van Sant, Jim Jarmusch and Susan Sontag, who famously called Sátántangó, “Devastating, enthralling for every minute of its seven hours. I’d be glad to see it every year for the rest of my life.”

    For those who fear they may have begun to suffer eyestrain from the vivid hues of Fujifilm and Kodak, or whiplash from the bullet-like rapidity of quick cuts, Tarr’s black-and-white Turin Horse, comprising in all an astonishingly minimalist 30 takes (“I like the continuity [of the long take],” Tarr told Bright Lights Film Journal more than a decade ago, “because you have a special tension. Everybody is much more concentrated”), was either a welcome relief, or cause to regard the cineplex more kindly.

    The film was inspired by Tarr’s curiosity about a story he had heard some 20 years before. It introduces the film:

    In Turin on 3rd January, 1889, Friedrich Nietzsche steps out of the doorway of number six, Via Carlo Albert. Not far from him, the driver of a hansom cab is having trouble with a stubborn horse. Despite all his urging, the horse refuses to move, whereupon the driver loses his patience and takes his whip to it. Nietzsche comes up to the throng and puts an end to the brutal scene, throwing his arms around the horse’s neck, sobbing. His landlord takes him home, he lies motionless and silent for two days on a divan until he mutters the obligatory last words, and lives for another ten years, silent and demented, cared for by his mother and sisters. We do not know what happened to the horse.

    Bela Tarr and his Silver Bear for Turin Horse. (Photo from the Berlin International Film Festival website).

    This introduction is, to return to Hitchcock, something of a McGuffin: Tarr’s film is concerned not so much with what happened to the horse, but rather with the conditions surrounding the episode that, at least apocryphally, drove Nietzsche mad. (It may not end with Nietzsche: The film’s deliberate pacing caused Screen International to suggest that it “ought perhaps to be accompanied by a warning for the depressive.”) At the press conference, Tarr was faced with a small group of journos who seemed determined to unlock the mysteries of the small, soft-spoken, gray-haired man before them, and it almost seemed, for a few — if they asked the right questions — perhaps even those of life itself.

    Watching your film, I couldn’t help but think of Samuel Beckett. Is there still too much hope in this world? Tarr gave it some thought. “We don’t want to convey hope, we don’t need to come up with a solution, it’s not our job to do that, or to tell people what they should do next, what direction they should be moving in,” he said at last “We can simply report, simply depict, simply narrate. To show the way in which we see the world, what happens. And I think this film shows what happens sooner or later to every one of us: transience. The fact that everything in the world passes away is very important. Perhaps the world itself,” he concluded quietly, “will pass away.”

    How does it feel to have your film competing at the Berlin Film Festival? Tarr didn’t bite. “It’s very strange to have works of art competing against one another. How do you compare Proust to Dostoevski? You see how absurd the question is. The question is whether a film is authentic, whether it’s true, whether it moves people and touches them. I think everything else is completely irrelevant.

    “In two weeks’ time everyone [will have] forgotten these prizes. The next festival keeps rolling along, new films keep rolling along, more glitter. It’s simply not worth it to get involved in this kind of combat; we lose our authenticity.”

    Will this be, as rumored, his last film? Tarr declined to answer the question directly, allowing only that “With this film we’ve come full circle, and after this point perhaps we’d end up repeating ourselves.” Co-Director Agnès Hranitzky pointed out that with Sátántangó, film itself was said by some to have reached its apotheosis. Now, “With this film we’ve abolished film. We’ve brought film to its logical conclusion.” (A sobering thought for the talents.)

    Each of your films seems to end on a note of hopelessness. And yet you come back and start again. How do you manage to start again? “We get up in the morning and look in the mirror — some people don’t even have a mirror, they don’t have a roof over their head — but each and every one of us gets up in the morning and starts the day new, over and over again. There’s this pathological clinging to life, this pathological insistence. How miserably we live, but nonetheless we want to experience that day, and the next day.

    “Because we always think that something’s going to happen on that day, things can’t go on like this, something has to happen. And if this sense of revolt awakens in people, then it’s worthwhile after all. And perhaps things will turn out all right.”

    But Tarr is clearly of two minds on that score. “The film portrays mortality,” he writes in his Director’s Notes, “with that deep pain which we, who are under sentence if death, all feel.” Tarr’s despondency may have its roots, at least in part, in the current political situation in his homeland, which the director spoke of in an interview with Tagesspiegel. “For the past 20 years Hungary was free, but now, once again, that’s over. A horrible déjà vu.” A group of prominent Hungarian artists protested against the ruling nationalist party’s draconian actions — “The government cut off every subsidy. Half of all producers are already broke. Cinemas shut down, even my own production plans are on ice, although everything is ready with my financial partners” — and were soon joined by 40 international artists.

    Are you playing with the idea of moving, going abroad? “I am a Hungarian. This government has already changed the constitution, and is preparing for a 20-year stay in office. But they have to go. Not I.”

    Leaving one’s homeland, and in some cases even one’s hometown, is a radical decision that few undertake without a compelling reason. And few reasons are as compelling as the one facing a loyal young party official who learns, by chance, of the explosion of a reactor tower in the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. But the Party bosses around him are denying that anything happened and warning him not to spread needless panic, while his girlfriend only half believes him and insists on buying a new pair of shoes when her heel breaks in their rush to the train station. And, after all, it’s Saturday, people are out enjoying a beautiful spring day, there’s a wedding going on, everything seems normal. Besides, the band needs a drummer after theirs succumbs to one too many vodkas, and Valery used to play percussion with them...

    Alexander Mindadze’s Innocent Saturday (V Subbotu) is an intensely wrought dramatic imagining, or in the director’s words, “filmic metaphor,” of the Chernobyl catastrophe. “What really fascinated me was the question as to why people who knew about the catastrophe did NOT escape the city. Perhaps because the danger was invisible? For people who live unreflectingly, obliviously, who are satisfied with their everyday lives — for them it is the many little pleasant aspects of life that become increasingly valuable in such circumstances,” writes Mindadze. “When life has become intolerable and is reaching its end, it blossoms one last time before it vanishes...”

    At the press conference the director, who also wrote the script, asserted that Chernobyl is “still with” the Russian people. “It’s genetically embodied in us now and will be in the future,” but at the same time “paradoxically, life was flourishing in that time of imminent danger.”

    The film’s German producer noted that although they tried to remain apolitical, the film is nonetheless inescapably political “in two respects: in the sense of the ‘big lie,’ of people hiding the disaster, which may be a systemic fault of the system”: it would turn out that the people were not officially informed until 36 hours later. “And I think it also may have contributed to the fall of Gorbachev.” The film’s Russian producer called Chernobyl “not just an important event which killed hundreds of thousands of people [immediately and for years afterward], but it was one of the major reasons that broke up the [Soviet empire], because when Gorbachev made his speech on the eighteenth day of the tragedy, when millions of people came out on the streets, the drama of silence, the ‘big lie’ as was already said,” made him think of doing a movie about it. But none of the scripts he saw sold him like Mindadze’s.

    For his part, Mindadze told us that his “expectations have been met” by having the chance to meet the press at the Berlin Film Festival. “The more people that will see it, the better it is for us. That’s what we work for — the producers, the actors, all of us.” Added another of the producers: “Ever since it happened, the root causes of this disaster have not been [publicly] identified, and it’s the most severe technical disaster in history.... We felt it very important to show it here at the Berlinale on such a high level because we believe that it’s something the media should continue to talk about.”

    What was the young actors’ familiarity with the disaster before making the movie? While Anton Shagin (Valery) mainly recalled the different-colored meal coupons children “with certain dietary requirements” got in school because “they were in the epicenter when the disaster happened,” Svetlana Smirnova-Marcinkevich, who plays his girlfriend Vera, was in her mother’s womb at the time, “and everybody was very worried, they were giving toys and clothes to people living in that area.” The film’s costume designer, she recalled, who was an adult and was there, told her that “‘people really weren’t very worried at all ... It was only a day after the disaster that they were told something had happened, and they were taken out of the city, never to return.’ When she told me that, it really made my flesh creep.”

    Critical reaction to the film was interesting, in at least two cases, for the way in which the writers’ personal point of view clearly influenced their assessment. For the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ), Innocent Saturday “could have been a big film ... Unfortunately, it wound up being just a small film with big ideas.” The writer was disappointed by the director’s decision to “throw away the tension he’s built up in the first minutes on narrative gesticulation, plot ‘noise,’” concluding that “the film thereby loses its force.” He clearly had been prepared to like the film — lavishing six column inches on a respectful deconstruction of the action of those “first minutes” — but then recalls a Munich revolutionary’s slogan: “We’re all just dead people on vacation,” and faults the rest of the film for not just taking it literally but also proceeding to show the inconsequentiality of their last minutes in equally meaningless detail.

    For Neues Deutschland, whose critic was a student in Kiev during the summer of 1989, maybe we shouldn’t be so quick to condemn the inaction of others: “Is it always other people who shut their eyes in the face of danger? In the summer of 1989 ... everyone had known for a long time the scale of the radioactive contamination.... It was a beautiful summer and I went swimming every day in the Dnieper River. Why this irrationality? Because everybody was doing it and you’d rather believe in normality than in a [constant] state of emergency.” (We can only hope that few, if any, in the center of Japan’s ever-worsening nuclear crisis are caught up in the same state of denial.)

    The Berliner Morgenpost critic also took it personally, but in a different way: Watching doomed people party like it’s no tomorrow “is hard to bear, because you want to kick Valery in the butt.... [The characters’] inability to flee is also a kind of martyrdom for the viewer because it’s incomprehensible. They remain in the death zone and live for the moment. Cheers! They drink a vodka. And then some red wine.” Concludes the critic, understandably feeling somewhat benumbed: “I’ll have a schnapps.”

    A far more dangerous forgetfulness drug — one that has increasingly been of concern to parents of teens and caused more ink to be spilled, in everything from advice columns to medical journals, than an overturned “hp” truck — is the Internet. Specifically, the virtual world that allows many to escape the sometimes threatening outside world for the seeming security of one where, at least at first, they feel secure and in control. But the virtual world can be equally dangerous, as the young victims of vicious cyber-bullying have learned. And as the world has learned, by reading their heart-rending stories.

    Twenty-nine-year-old Polish director Jan Komasa’s Suicide Room (Sala samobójców) brings to the screen with heart-stopping CGI that alternately grabs you out of your seat and thrusts you back into it, the story of a spoiled upper-middle-class teen with preoccupied professional parents who becomes one of those victims. Dominik makes the fatal mistake of taking a dare at his prom party to make out with one of his male friends. Of course, the kiss is captured on somebody’s cell phone and posted on the Web for all to see — and for some to see as an opportunity to make Dominik’s life a living hell.

    Unable to talk to his parents (“Even if you are gay, keep it to yourself”) and receiving about as much support from his teachers, the boy shuts himself in his room and finds what he thinks is solace online with the dark and mysterious Sylvia. But his savior turns out to be more satanic than angelic, eventually revealing herself as the Queen of the Suicide Room whose faithful stooges are spectral, bone-chilling, bloodthirsty avatars straight out of Sword & Sorcery.

    At the press conference, the director (who could pass for a high-school kid himself) explained that when it came to the animation, “The main thing was to direct avatars,” beginning with animatics to see what worked, then shooting the scenes with real actors “using multiple cameras,” and handing the edited results over to the animators “so they could reconstruct it in the 3D world. We did not want to hide that we’re in a game” by using a “photorealistic shoot like in Avatar by James Cameron,” but instead wanted to make it look like a 3D game “and become more and more realistic” — what DP Radoslaw Ladczuk called “stylish animation.” “You see the avatars breathing, we hear their screams of pain,” continued Komasa. The “main issue” was to have the actors’ gestures “transferred into the 3D world.”

    While the actors spent months observing high school students to get their behaviors down, the director was also inspired by the classics. “The movie is very contemporary, it’s now, it’s modern, it’s in reality. So maybe that’s why we went to literature to find role models,” deciding to use Goethe’s Werther and Shakespeare’s Hamlet as role models for Dominik and the world surrounding him, reading them through and studying them carefully as they developed “his attitudes, his approach to reality.”

    As for Sylvia, “we wanted to use the language of poetry” in creating her, said Roma Gasiorowska, who plays her in the film. An important element for Gasiorowska was that the animated world was more meaningful, more real to Dominik than the “real” world, where people were more one-dimensional than the avatars he came to know.

    One of Komasa’s inspirations was an article about a teenage girl who had committed suicide, whose mother he interviewed, then gave the script for feedback. She expressed concern that Dominik’s parents were portrayed as heartless and selfish and questioned that as simplistic, even off the mark. “So we ‘de-monsterized’ the parents,” instead making them “lost.”

    “In a world where everyone has learned how to express one’s needs and fight for oneself, to be effective and demanding, everyone knows how to speak,” writes Komasa. “However, not everyone knows how to listen.... Suicide Room is a hymn for suicides, all those who kill themselves every day, a hymn about stopping for just a short while and listening, since this could let one live for at least a second longer.”

    We get up in the morning and look in the mirror — some people don’t even have a mirror, they don’t have a roof over their head — but each and every one of us gets up in the morning and starts the day new, over and over again. There’s this pathological clinging to life, this pathological insistence. How miserably we live, but nonetheless we want to experience that day, and the next day.

    Because we always think that something’s going to happen on that day, things can’t go on like this, something has to happen. And if this sense of revolt awakens in people, then it’s worthwhile after all. And perhaps things will turn out all right

    When that “sense of revolt awakens” in people who decide that “something’s going to happen” because they’re going to make it happen, whether “things ... turn out all right” depends in large part on who they are, what drives them, and what they’re willing to do, and risk, to achieve it. If Not Us, Who (Wenn nicht uns wer), award-winning German documentarian Andreas Veiel’s first feature film, brings to the screen the politically and emotionally explosive story of the ménage à trois between Gudrun Ensslin, one of the founders of the German terrorist Red Army Faction (RAF); Bernward Vesper, son of an unrepentant Nazi, whose interest in revolutionary literature she shares; and Andreas Baader, for whom she leaves Vesper to form what later came to be known as the Baader-Meinhof Group. (Journalist Ulrike Meinhof was a friend of Ensslin’s who helped break Baader out of prison.)

    DC filmgoers are probably most familiar with Gudrun Ensslin and Andreas Baader by way of Uli Edel’s Oscar-nominated The Baader-Meinhof Complex (2008), in which Bernward Vesper doesn’t even merit a mention, no doubt because the film focused on the political and ideological extremism motivating the group’s acts of terrorism. Veiel, on the other hand, had a motivation of his own. Its source was Gerd Koenen’s “Vesper, Ensslin, Baader — Urszenen des deutschen Terrorismus [Prehistory of German Terrorism]” which cast an entirely new light on what preceded the events that would shake Western Europe in 1968 and would have far-reaching repercussions around the globe. “I realized after the first few pages,” said Veiel, whose 2001 documentary Black Box Germany had already examined the relationship between Ensslin and Vesper, “that what seemed so ‘already told’ was new and fresh here.”

    At the press conference, Veiel agreed that his film and its title have contemporary resonance. “We have problems in this world from the next climate disaster to the next financial crisis. We still have to get involved today. That’s why the motto ‘If not us, who?’ is still valid today.” (As was the Berliner Morgenpost’s variation on the theme: “If not him, who?” a reference to Dieter Kosslick’s rumored departure from Berlinale chiefdom after this, his tenth year at the helm of Germany’s biggest film festival. Another headline called Kosslick “The man with a victor’s smile,” while The Hollywood Reporter labeled Berlin “Europe’s new It city ... the place to be.” Why leave indeed?)

    In an interview with Screen Daily, Veiel dismissed the contention of those who reject the combination of a love story with a political story as the equivalent of “sprinkling sugar on it. In this case, it is bullshit. If you go into these political issues, you cannot ignore the personal side of the protagonists, because the love story is the nuclear fusion behind it.” Veiel’s fusion lit a spark: The film won both the Alfred Bauer Prize in memory of the Berlinale’s founder for a work of particular innovation, and the Prize of the German Art House Cinemas.

    In a press interview, Veiel said he felt more constrained when making feature films, a feeling some might associate more with the making of documentaries. Not Veiel. “Documentary work allows me to tell a story with more complexity. In purely fictional works my hands are tied by dramaturgical needs and emotional undertones. That can be stretched, but if it were about the complexity of a finance system, bringing a love story into the mix would be absurd. Structures are in one playing field; love stories are in another.”

    Interestingly, Veiel’s next venture, according to Variety, will be a film examining the financial crisis, which given his remarks we can assume will be a documentary. That is not to say, however, that other filmmakers might not see the possibility of finding humanity, and even love, amidst the complexities of the financial system, as J.C. Chandor did in Margin Call (above). Or for that matter, that fictional films are guaranteed purveyors of drama and emotion.

    In Nanouk Leopold’s Brownian Movement (Netherlands/Germany/Belgium 2010), Sandra Hüller — whose bravura performance as an epileptic university student who begins to believe she’s possessed by demons in 2006's Requiem earned her nine international Best Actress awards — plays a physician driven by her own equally persistent, and equally inexplicable, inner demons.

    In contrast to the theme, the film itself is handsomely, deliberately, coolly shot, which either intrigued, bored or annoyed critics. In one scene, when Charlotte’s handsome, successful husband (with whom she has what seems a loving relationship) discovers the truth of her “extracurricular activities” — she’s even rented an apartment for her purely physical, utterly emotionless sexual encounters with patients chosen because they have something physically repugnant about them — the two of them sit, expressionless, on the bed, each staring blankly ahead, for a full five minutes.

    A critic for mubi.com praised Hüller’s “tremendous performance as clinically precise in its introspected abstraction ... as the film is aesthetically so,” while dismissing the film as a whole as “art cinema ... and one of pregnant silences and empty interiors amply decorated.” Indiewire, on the other hand, found it “emotionally affecting and troubling,” crediting Hüller’s “transfixing and courageous performance,” while The Hollywood Reporter split the difference, saying the film “squanders its noteworthy features on a story that’s slim to the point of emaciation.” The Berliner Morgenpost lamented that “It is not for one second about empathy and psychology, which are part of every good melodrama, just laboratory tests.”

    For Hüller it was a dream role that she wanted as soon as she read the script, the actress told the Berliner Morgenpost in a separate interview. “There are characters I must play because I don’t want anyone else to play them. That mean so much me that I must protect them.” As a policy she neither pathologizes nor psychologizes her characters, the actress noted, but rather approaches them from a basic idea, which for Brownian Movement was a universal, almost biblical love outside the bounds of convention. This woman feels herself connected to everyone, said Hüller; these were much more than mere sexual encounters. “For me there was nothing dirty or forbidden in it.” Of particular interest for the actress was what, if anything, the role had to do with her and her own life. “Do I really fall in love with other people, or rather, with the picture I have of them? Or does it just fill an emptiness in my life? I find that fascinating.”

    And then there is the love that Leopold’s camera has, per the Tageszeitung, for Hüller’s face. “Yes, you can say everything,” the director told the paper in explaining her disinterest in verbal exchanges. But for her, the body, the face and the eyes are the most reliable storytellers, here closely examined by the camera’s long-held close-ups and extreme close-ups. “My characters must always ask themselves: ‘How much can I bear to know about myself?’”

    A question that director, actor, screenwriter, author, visual artist and performance artist Miranda July, who burst onto the cinema scene with 2005's Me and You and Everyone We Know (it took four prizes at Cannes and a special jury award at Sundance) and has not let the flares fizzle ever since, asks in The Future, one of Kosslick’s favorites this year according to the Berliner Morgenpost. Which must be true: it had eight screenings (including two invitation-only for the European Film Market), a rarity at a festival with more than four hundred titles.

    But back to the question of self-knowledge. “In a moment of desperation,” we read in the film’s press book, “[Sophie] calls a stranger, Marshall — a square, fifty-year-old man who lives in the Valley. In his suburban world she doesn’t have to be herself; as long as she stays there, she’ll never have to try (and fail) again.” Or live up to her boyfriend’s, or her own, expectations.

    It all begins with a stray cat that Jason (Hamish Linklater) and Sophie (July) have found and decide to adopt — they name it PawPaw — but it needs medical work. Reluctantly, they leave it at the animal shelter for treatment for what they are told will be a month. The cat becomes the film’s narrator in the form of a cartoon character, voiced by July in a gentle, meowing tone, who expresses their unarticulated thoughts and feelings, along with those of the hopeful stray who lives in anticipation of their return. But PawPaw will not survive. And neither will their love.

    At the press conference July was asked why she decided to use the cat as a narrative device. “I think it’s hard to talk about longing and love in a new way, because we’re so used to talking about it in the same way, and even maybe feeling it in the same way. And so I had to find [a place] to put love and loss that was new to me so that I could feel it new. And so, maybe,” she added, looking out across the packed press room, “you guys could, too.”

    Your film is also about the life in the cage and in the wilderness. Could you tell us a little bit about that? “The wildlife — the desires you have despite yourself that maybe aren’t even the best idea — and also the fears,” responded July. “I mean, during the day [maybe] you can believe in all this. But at night, maybe even all the things you hold dearest don’t even exist. And to me, that’s the true wilderness.”

    In the part where Sophie tries to dance and can’t: Have you ever gone through a similar situation with your work? “One of the greatest possible villains in my life is, “‘What if I couldn’t make art?’ And it feels like I just might have to abandon myself. And if I did that, what would I do? And so I followed that nightmare to the end. Which is almost like a fear fantasy. In real life, luckily I have a little bit of Jason in me. And he’s very filled with faith, and he’s curious. On a good day, that’s really all you need. Just a little bit of that.”

    Asked how she found her actors, July was unequivocal in her esteem for them and for her casting director. “When you’re casting these intimate men, it’s like an opportunity — you can have anyone,” she murmured with a flirtatious shrug and eyeroll, causing a ripple of appreciative laughter in the audience. She then grew serious, declaring that her casting director had proved prescient when she put these two actors at the top of the list: After dutifully auditioning dozens of aspiring Jasons and Marshalls, July had to admit that the first were indeed the best. Asked what it was like to work with July, both the thirtyish Linklater and the fiftyish David Warshofsky (who plays Marshall) briefly became tongue-tied and even seemed to blush almost imperceptibly, finally praising her to the skies.

    “This beautiful script ... it’s a beautiful read, and Miranda’s vision is so laser-sharp and clear,” said Linklater. “She’s really special, so I was really lucky.” Warshofsky described the “odd experience” of having one person in three roles: “You’re acting with somebody — and they wrote the words — and then they’re also directing you. So every time you have a question, you’re going to the same person.” Warshofsky concurred with Linklater’s appraisal of the script, adding that “Miranda and I would sometimes even say, ‘We have to trust the script.’ She’s the one directing me, she’s opposite me, and she wrote the script. And we’re saying ‘We have to trust these words. They will save us.’ It was,” he concluded, “a miraculous experience.”

    But that’s OK; even the press was smitten. “An elfin creature has evaporated into the ostentatious, taste-hostile lobby of a Berlin hotel,” wrote an awed Tagesspiegel reporter, “a Puck, a Pinocchio, a marionette-made-human of her own imagining.... The large eyes are fixed on the stranger, and — watch out! — he who gazes into them a second too long, drowns in a fairy lake!”

    Which, all things considered, is not a bad way for a film critic to go. Certainly better than drowning in a desert full of weeds, which is what Argentinian filmmaker Rodrigo Moreno sees as the purpose of his work. “At first glance, it can seem boring and unattractive, but that’s what I like in the world.” On the other hand, part of Moreno may find a kindred spirit in July: “I’m not interested in winners and losers. I’m interested in characters who are outside of the competition.”

    A Mysterious World’s (Mundo misterioso) Boris is not only out of the competition; he’s utterly out of gas, both literally and figuratively: The incongruously colored baby-blue, Ceaucescu-era Romanian rattletrap the expressionless Boris buys breaks down, shortly after his relationship with his (equally blasé) girlfriend — whom we meet in a static, 10-minute bedroom scene shot canted and sideways, forcing us to stare at the least expressive parts of their heads — does the same. (“In the audience a man groans in pain,” observed the Berliner Morgenpost, “as though he’s got 1,000 hours of relationship dialogue behind him and really doesn’t need any more of it in the movies.”) Linklater set the gold standard for slacker movies (if that’s not an oxymoronic concept); it would take more than this to challenge, or even to approach him.

    But there are some saving graces, including effective atmospherics in a scene where Boris is driving his car in a thundering downpour: seen from his POV, his face sporadically illuminated by the headlights of passing cars as they zoom by, an intense sensation of claustrophobia sets in, and you can almost feel and smell the rain. Or the scene where Boris takes his car to the mechanic’s shop: Here, the meticulous deliberateness with which the older man examines the engine, analyzing it aloud as he slowly lifts, shakes or twists each part, identifying them as though he expects Boris to remember — even the way he languidly prepares and stirs his tea, to Boris’s frustration, before commencing the repair — is spellbinding.

    At the end of the film there is a surprisingly affecting song, “Déjà.” Surprising, because the viewer has not really built up any emotional investment in the film, or anyone in it. Yet the song, recorded in 1931 by iconic Argentinian tango singer Carlos Gardel, hits home. “Rain has a destiny that I would like to have,” sings the guitarist. “How nice my destiny would be if I could run along the path to kiss the thirsty stones and flow between the stones, then go back up to the clouds and become rain again.”

    Few have achieved that renewal as affectingly — and effectively — as the subject of Susanne Rostock’s rousing, inspiring biographical documentary, Sing Your Song, which opened this year’s Sundance Film Festival and had its European premiere at the Berlinale, its star the toast of the town. “B is for Belafonte, Harry,” according to the Tagesspiegel’s “festival alphabet.” Why? “Was celebrated and surprised with a prize [the Berlinale Camera] at the Freidrichsstadtpalast on Sunday, attended the Talent Campus on Monday, [received] the UNICEF Germany Honorary Award [for Child Rights] at the Academy of Arts on Tuesday, and on Wednesday [returned] to debate the revolution in Egypt. And the man,” it concluded, “is almost 84!”

    Sing Your Song: Harry Belafonte and Director Susanne Rostock. (Photo from the Berlin International Film Festival website).

    Indeed he is. But Harry Belafonte’s youthful vigor and fifty-plus-year commitment to what began as civil rights, expanded to children’s rights and now encompasses global human rights would put Bono (who, after all, has only been on the earth for as long as Belafonte has been a fiercely impassioned activist) to shame.

    In short, it’s way past time to draw the shades on “Day-o.” And yet ... in a larger sense, maybe not.

    As we see in the film, distilled from over 70 hours of interviews, eyewitness accounts, movie clips, film and TV footage, and excerpts from FBI files, what may at first glance seem demeaning — reducing a man who is not only a singer, but an actor, composer, author, producer, and lifelong activist who is very much in the now — to a song from 1956, may not be, when viewed from another angle. Especially when that angle comes in the form of advice offered by a fellow African American singer, actor, and civil rights activist: Paul Robeson.

    The young Belafonte was performing at a club in New York, he related, when Robeson came to see him backstage. “Get them to sing your song,” the older man told him, “and they will want to know who you are. And if they want to know who you are, you’ve gained the first step in bringing truth and insight that might help people get through this rather difficult world.”

    Belafonte brought them both to the Hyatt hotel after the press screening, answering questions with unfailing graciousness spiced with frankness and humor. This being Germany, the first question dealt with his previous appearances in that country. When was your last concert in Hamburg? After much back and forth on possible dates with his producers onstage and his associates in the audience, Belafonte looked out at us and smiled ruefully. “I have four promoters — they’ve represented me for 30 years — and they’ve all lost their memory,” he finally said, to appreciative chuckles.

    Not so Belafonte, whose memory on more critical matters was all too sharp. Asked by a reporter from African Refugee News with a quiet hopefulness tinged with a sense of inevitability and despair what can be done to stem the tide of violence in Africa, Belafonte turned serious, looking down at the podium for several seconds as pain crossed his face. “When I was younger — like you,” he finally said with a smile to the late-middle-aged reporter, “I thought all things were possible. And that all you had to do was do it once, or maybe twice, and all things would be perfect. Now that I am a little bit older — I’m not too sure how much wiser — I’ve just found that the [peculiarities] of the human [species] are forever giving us surprises.”

    His spoke slowly, choosing each word with great care, accelerating at moments that clearly meant a lot to him or using his hands for emphasis. “I have no idea how long anything will take. It seems each time we fix something we wake up the next day only to find there’s yet more to be fixed. I think those who resist progress, those who resist truth, work at that scheme 24 hours a day. I think people who are activists and get involved in ‘decent’ deeds take time off, and rest, and think. It’s during those periods of ‘blinking,’ I think, that we sometimes lose our vision or our path.

    “In my film I have a conversation with Nelson Mandela, and I asked him pretty much the same question you just raised. And he said, ‘I don’t know. Just keep doing it. Keep trying.’ I had never suspected that there would be a Tunisia. And then a Yemen. And then an Egypt. I have no idea where it will next come from.

    “What encourages me is that I think the globe is finally in motion. And with the use of technology, and all of the things that are at our disposal, people are beginning to discover each other in ways that they have never discovered each other before. And I think what we see in that ... is progress.” Belafonte cautioned the West not to be “too quick” to brush off the populist uprisings in Africa and the Middle East, reminding us of the national impact of a black woman whose refusal to move to the back of the bus became a catalyst for the U.S. civil rights movement.

    Expressing great respect for the intellectual capacity of John Kennedy, Belafonte said that he sees Barack Obama as the next in line, “one of the most intelligent presidents we’ve had in a very long time,” one who “is learning. He may be learning a bit too slowly” — an observation that was greeted with knowing chuckles from the audience — “but he’s learning.” What he lacks, said Belafonte, is “an active community, an active citizenry” to be a driving force such as there was in the sixties. “That’s the only ingredient lacking in America: There’s no force ‘pushing’ Barack Obama. The only voice he hears is the one percent, Wall Street, that carelessly and recklessly shape the economy to serve them only.”

    But other voices are out there, and Belafonte and his daughter Gina (“who can sometimes be a royal pain in the ass — ”), producer of the film and every bit her father’s daughter (“He taught me everything I know,” was her swift reply, causing him to add: “— and I love her forever”), have harnessed those of young people, gathered together several years ago under the auspices of “The Elders,” civil rights activists and supporters of the elder Belafonte’s generation. Their purpose? To explore what concrete steps could be taken to address the high rate of youth incarceration, with a focus on African-American youth, in the U.S. [Since the first “Gathering for Justice,” The Gathering has grown into a nationwide organization of 48 groups. Its focus has expanded to include a range of social justice activities.]

    Belafonte was “absolutely delighted” to have the film invited by the Berlinale, as it took him back not only to those concerts of so many years ago — coming back to Germany is “the most poetic thing that could happen” — but even earlier, to his drama student days, when he and Marlon Brando (“we were very close”) shared the same German drama teacher, a Max Reinhardt specialist. It was Brando’s passing in 2004 that was the impetus for Belafonte to make a film that would capture the people whose courageous actions, he felt, should not die with them (as he feared Brando’s had), and Gina’s urging that turned it into a film about Belafonte: his life, his remarkable history, his still-propulsive passions. The film is scheduled to air on HBO this fall.

    Across the ocean, meanwhile, the Oscars were less than two weeks away, and The New York Times’s Manohla Dargis and A.O. Scott were wondering whether in the “Age of Obama,” Hollywood may have “slid back into its old, timid ways” and stopped making meaningful films about black people. “Is class the new race?” they asked.

    Ah, the Oscars, in whose glitter Berlin basked well ahead of the game. True Grit? For the press conference of the festival’s opening film, the Coens came fully loaded: Bridges, Brolin and Steinfeld. The King’s Speech? His Majesty himself graced the stage, crowned with a new title: “Colin the Firth,” inventively anointed by (as it would turn out) several scribes. And a flick featuring filmdom royalty and a playbook borrowed from the Bard: Coriolanus, set to singe U.S. screens (Variety called it “bloody” and “bellicose”) later this year, brought Butler, Fiennes and Redgrave before the maw of the international press.

    Berlin loved Joel and Ethan Coen, their film and its stars, on a gut level if not always an aesthetic one. Most of all the local press loved interviewing not only the film’s stars but its director brothers, who while superficially similar in appearance (both are dark-haired and bearded with glasses), could not be more different in demeanor, with Joel a cross between aging hippie and biblical scholar and Ethan more the affable guy next door. The indisputable favorites at the press conference were more firmly on either side of the age and experience divide. Jeff “Rooster Cogburn” Bridges, whose 60-year screen career is at one with his age, grew up in the business and was held in his mother’s arms before a movie camera at the age of four months. Conversely, Hailee “Mattie Ross” Steinfeld’s entire résumé is — or was, at the time of the screening; there will no doubt soon be several more notches on her actor belt — seven lines long.

    What was the most difficult challenge for you in making this film?, came the question for the delightfully self-possessed Steinfeld, who tried to come up with something before admitting that “once I got the dialogue down, I didn’t really have anything to worry about after that.” She turned to see if Joel could come up with anything, but he could only agree. “We told her, ‘You’re gonna have to go down in a cold river and after that be hangin’ out of a tree, you know, 60 feet off the ground,’ and she was like, ‘Yeah, OK, fine,’” he said, mimicking her pleasantly equable shrug. [“She definitely understands she’s driving the truck, the truck being the expedition,” Ethan told The Hollywood Reporter. “That’s the central joke of the book: she’s the grownup.”]

    Why do you think this film is the biggest success you’ve ever had? With neither of the brothers willing to bite, Jeff Bridges replied. “I think it’s maybe that people are finally becoming hip to how great the Coen brothers are. They are masters. They make it look so easy , but ... That’s my theory, anyway.” (Asked by the Berliner Morgenpost what his reaction was when the Coen brothers offered him the script, Bridges minced no words: “That the gentlemen — and many will say this is no new discovery — were stark raving mad,” because True Grit was “a classic of the genre” for which “the legendary John Wayne” received his only Oscar.)

    Why is there so much violence in your films? Does it stem from something within you, or something else? Ethan shook his head. “The violence thing I tell you, I find it hard to relate to myself; you know, it’s not a personal thing,” he said, but “when you tell a compelling story, you want the stakes to be high.”

    And the dialogue: It’s almost biblical in its complexity. How did the actors deal with that? Bridges took his cues from the book, but agreed that it was “a challenge getting your tongue around” the “lack of contractions” in the language and apologized for the “intelligibility” of some of his dialogue. “But that’s the way the guy talked, and you want to be consistent to that and still be understood. Fortunately we have subtitles. Even in the English version,” he cracked, to uncertain laughter from those who had not yet seen it.

    As to why they decided to do a “remake” of the classic John Wayne film, Ethan made it clear that while they had seen the original film as kids, they had only vague memories of it and instead drew their inspiration from Charles Portis’s novel (on which the earlier film was also based). The point was emphasized to interviewers by the brothers and Bridges whenever they were asked what became the inevitable question. (When offered the role of Rooster he asked much the same question, Bridges told us, and was told to read the book. “And I was surprised at how it read like a Coen brothers screenplay!”) A key difference is the POV: Like the book, the Coen brothers’ film is told from Mattie’s.

    Speaking of which: What was it like to be the only girl among all those guys? Josh Brolin cut in with a rakish grin: “This is more about you, isn’t it?” he teasingly prodded the woman journalist. “It’s more about you than about Hailee,” then leaned over to give Steinfeld an affectionate squeeze. After saying how great the guys were to work with — “they all really became father figures to me” — Steinfeld noted that she was actually “surrounded by women the whole time,” including her mother and much of the crew. “Actually, she kept us all in line” with a “cursing cup,” said Bridges, recalling how much she charged for “the s-word” or “the f-word.” “She made much more money from that jar than she did from the movie,” smiled Brolin ruefully.

    In an interview with Berliner Zeitung, Bridges became philosophical. Do you like playing typically American characters? “Dunno. Nobody asks a fish how it feels to swim in the sea. American culture is all I know.” Do you see yourself as an American antihero, someone who in True Grit conquers the West practically against his will? “The whole human race is antihero. We’re hopeless bunglers, complete wrecks, and for whatever strange reason are still allowed to exist on this earth. That’s a real miracle, isn’t it?”

    Not that we always make it easy for each other to exist on this earth, especially those in insular, repressive societies who dare to challenge centuries-old social, moral and religious codes that both define, and sometimes threaten to destroy them. In the CICAE- (Confédération Internationale des Cinémas d’Art et d’Essai, or Confederation of Experimental and Arthouse Cinemas) winning The Forgiveness of Blood, which also won the Silver Bear for Best Screenplay, director Joshua Marston and his Albanian-born co-screenwriter Andamion Murataj draw us into a country that, although a member of NATO since 2009, has remained resistant to some of the social and cultural changes that have spread throughout Eastern Europe since the fall of the Wall. But only some.

    The film opens somewhere in Northern Albania,. Two men in a horse-drawn cart crossing a field of mostly dead grass come across several large rocks blocking their path, wearily remove them, and continue on their way. Cut to a group of teens chatting on their cell phones, sending SMS messages and planning their weekend in what seems to be the universal teen argot — except it’s in Albanian. In every other way it could be any U.S. city: one of them takes a funny photo of some of the others with her phone, they all agree it’s awesome and decide to upload it to Facebook. Even at home, parents and their video-game-hooked kids have the same conversations found in any middle-class home. So — having forgotten the horse-drawn cart, which now seems like something from another film — we are totally unprepared for what happens next.

    It seems that by removing the stones and taking the familiar route they and their family have taken for generations, Mark and his 17-year-old son Nik have trespassed on what their hotheaded neighbor insists is now his property. The neighbor approaches the cart in a fit of righteous anger (he did, it turns out, purchase the land) and nastily insults both Mark and his manhood. The spark will ignite a blood feud based on an authority even more ancient than Mark’s claim. One that demands retribution not against the father, who has gone into hiding for fear of his life, but in his absence, against one to whom it is almost as foreign — “In our European world there is no place for fights over honor that draw blood and reduce life to the principles of an archaic code,” observed OutNow in its review — as it is to 21st-century Americans. (It would not have been to Rooster Cogburn.)

    Nik feels himself very much a part of that European world. And that his father’s rash act could mean the boy’s virtual imprisonment in their small home, because the traditional laws that guide, and can even dictate behavior give the neighbor’s family the legal right to exact eye-for-an-eye vengeance upon the eldest son ... is like virtual reality gone horrifyingly real. And yet, in this time that is so woefully out of joint, where a woman’s place in a fiercely patriarchal society is ruthlessly circumscribed, it is his younger sister who, finding herself the only member of the family whose movements are not restricted, will find the strength to keep the family itself, anchored for centuries at least nominally in its men, from going under.

    At the press conference one of the journalists remarked that, given that the film ends with the face of the young girl, “it looks like the future of Albania lies in the hands of women,” who throughout it “seem to be cleverer, stronger, and do not think only about themselves.” The actress who played the role responded forcefully, emphasizing that it was the importance of family and their well-being that moved her character to react as she did. “Any Albanian girl would do the same,” she declared.

    Director Joshua Marston summarized the conundrum confronting the NGOs that are trying to help Albanian society free itself from the destructive elements of the Kanun: If the government pays the “elders” who interpret Kanun law and issue judgments, it is in effect legitimizing that which the state wishes to phase out and eventually do away with. If, however, the government doesn’t pay them, it is then left to each family to come up with large sums of money, without which they will be doomed to virtual house arrest until the “besa” is lifted.

    A Rwandan journalist wanted to know how effective mediation in such disputes can be, given that from her observation, the success of the Gacaca legal process in her country has been limited. In responding, Marston differentiated between the two situations, explaining that in Albania the mediator is not a judge, but rather more like a middle man who goes between the families until a mutually satisfying solution is reached. In some cases, the wronged family can regain the honor lost with the murder of its son or father by choosing to forgive the perpetrator, which places them on a higher moral ground. [Forgiveness was also a key element of the Gacaca, as portrayed in the 2009 film My Neighbor, My Killer and discussed in the September 2009 Storyboard article on the Munich Film Festival.]

    Asked whether he was expecting Gold or maybe Silver (Bear), Marston smiled. “The real pleasure is just to be back in Berlin,” having been there last in 2003 with his Alfred Bauer Award-winning Maria Full of Grace, “... and to see [his film] on such an enormous screen with 1,851 terrifying people in the audience.” An eye-opening moment for those of us whose eyes otherwise, or so we tell ourselves, miss nothing: to see ourselves from the “subject’s” POV. Does the red-carpeted and red-velour-seated Berlinale Palast, where stars gleam nightly for frantic camera flashes, then party the night away in the cavernous cellar’s Adagio Disco, really hold so many in the early-morning cinema that we’ve come to call home?

    It does indeed. When it comes to terrifying people, though, no one does it better than Ralph Fiennes in his film director debut, Coriolanus, which premiered at the Berlinale to near-universal acclaim. Adapted from Shakespeare’s rarely staged tragedy, last seen in DC four years ago when the Royal Shakespeare Company brought it to the Kennedy Center, Fiennes’s film brings it into 21st-century Serbia, with explosive dramatic power laced with you-are-there contemporaneity, as TV newscasters break in with expository updates and the bloodthirsty Roman general is sentenced via televised trial.

    At the press conference, Fiennes explained how he had “developed, I suppose, an obsession with the play” when he did the role 10 years ago in a London stage production, convinced that it would make “a strong and very contemporary film” and finding in screenwriter John Logan (whose credits include Gladiator, The Aviator and Star Trek: Nemesis) a kindred spirit who could help translate his vision “beyond my dreams” into reality. “We saw the play in exactly the same way — raw and contemporary,” Logan would say in a separate interview. “Neither of us was interested in doing a polite ‘museum piece’. Why bother? The movie had to work first and foremost as modern cinema.” Fiennes was of the same mind, telling Süddeutsche Zeitung that “in the end, I think I made the film I wanted to make — a lean, contemporary, political Shakespeare that I hope hits you in the gut.”

    At the press conference, the first questioner wanted to know how challenging it was for Butler, better known for action roles and romantic comedies, to play a more intellectual role. “It’s definitely, something intellectual is always challenging for me,” replied Butler, half-blushing as scattered applause and laughter broke out across the room. Coincidentally, Butler’s first professional role was in a production of Coriolanus, he said, so “there was just too much synergy there” for him to pass up the challenge.

    The fight scenes between Coriolanus and his chief antagonist, Tullus Aufidius (played by Butler) have almost an erotic quality — “I’ve seen sex scenes that were less intimate than that, and I mean that in a good way,” said a journalist. And to Vanessa Redgrave, who plays Coriolanus’s mother: What makes Volumnia tick? She’s power-hungry, she’s honor-hungry; she’s hungry about so much.

    “The erotic element is I think apparent in Shakespeare’s story, and [John and I agreed that] the fights should be suggestive of something very close to some kind of lovemaking,” responded Fiennes.

    The question for Redgrave had been preceded by an observation about iambic pentameter, which the actress graciously asked to be repeated — “the word ‘iambic’ stuck in my mind and I’ve forgotten everything else.” The journalist repeated the question, adding that it was Redgrave who taught her about iambic in Looking for Richard. “The pentameter of the soul,” said Redgrave, regarding the questioner with a mix of mild curiosity and quiet intensity.

    But now: the character of Volumnia. What did Redgrave want to convey on the screen? “I tried to convey whatever you’ve seen in the film,” she smiled, Sphinx-like. The reporter wouldn’t be put off so easily, so Redgrave replied, at a length the reporter may not have expected. “I don’t see this lady as being power hungry, because power has been part of her family for five or six centuries. And more important than power — for her — is her country. And her country cannot be separated from her family....

    “But that doesn’t explain about playing her. And I didn’t think I could play her. But Ralph is an extraordinary director, I had complete trust in him, and everybody who was working with him, in camera, lights, production, wardrobe, set design — sound, of course — he assembled such a fantastic team of people, all of whom had trust in him, and therefore we all had trust in each other — and that created [an almost] unique condition in which to be able to work.

    “For that reason, and through Ralph’s conceptions, I could see my way to a woman who is prepared for her son to be killed, rather than for him to lose his honor, or for him to lose his country, which is her country. It’s a concept that is very unfamiliar in families today, I think, except in military families.” While certainly not a military family, Redgrave’s nonetheless saw service during the last World War — an uncle who like the rest of the family had planned on a career in the theater, was killed while serving in the Royal Navy — “and that synthesized with my finding my way to Volumnia.”

    Coriolanus will find its way to U.S. cinemas in the fall.

    British royalty also found its way to Berlinale screens by way of a film that not only did not premiere here, but had already been nominated for twelve Oscars and would leave the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood less than two weeks later with four of the most prized, to no one’s surprise: Tom Hooper’s The King’s Speech. Its phenomenal success only intensified the frenzy of the fest’s photographers, whose competing screams and shouts of “Here! Over here!” did not ruffle a hair on the head of any of their targets: Colin Firth, calm, collected and elegant in a bespoke suit and smiling broadly; Helena Bonham Carter, whose chicly tattered, jagged-hemmed black lace dress may also have been aimed, in part, at those familiar with the other film screening here in which she was featured, S.J. Clarkson’s Toast; and director Tom Hooper, grinning like the cat that swallowed the canary.

    For Firth: How difficult was it for you to learn to stammer for the role? And was it hard to lose the stammer in real life after doing it for so long? Firth turned to Hooper, who confirmed what the actor’s hesitation had suggested. “It might sound counterintuitive, but we didn’t really spend a lot of rehearsal time worrying about the stammer. We watched footage of the real King George VI ... we talked to the writer, David Seidler, who had a severe stammer as a child and gave us wonderful insights. I just remember Colin slowly, discreetly trying it out as he read it.” Carter added that Firth “had George in his pocket: I’ve got the iPhone” and Hooper noted that speech therapists are trained to stop people from stammering. “It’s not possible to find a speech therapist to make you stammer.”

    Firth agreed. “I was absolutely on my own. We used David Seidler, our writer, who stammered himself and was very eloquent on the experience, and described it as ‘a drowning sensation’.... In the end I knew it wouldn’t work unless it was personal, and visceral, and vulnerable, and you could hear the battle that he was having with himself. Tom and I watched a tape of George VI giving a speech and it broke both our hearts. This man has a boxing match going on inside his body.”

    To Bonham-Carter: You’ve played a few queens: in Lady Jane, in Alice in Wonderland, and now here. Which one is nearest to you? “I like doing queens. I’m often asked that same question, but I don’t self-assess. But I do have a strong belief that we all carry many, many multiple selves within us — not schizophrenic, multiple personalities, but many selves. And that’s the fun thing of acting.” But “the Red Queen is most like my daughter,” she smiled ruefully, “the bossiness and sense of entitlement.”

    To Firth: As King George you had to overcome fear. What is your own relationship to fear? “Goodness me. This is like being faced with Lionel Logue,” Firth said, turning to his co-panelists with a half-smile. “I’m going to give you Lawrence of Arabia. Peter O’Toole says to Omar Sharif: ‘My fear is my concern.’ I’m going to leave you with that.” A smattering of approving applause followed.

    What impact did each of you have on each other’s roles? “You are entirely dependent on each other,” said Firth. “You just use the other person’s energy, their box of tricks, their surprises. The ability of an actor like Geoffrey, I just felt I was surfing on what he was doing. And it made the job remarkably easy. I also think when you watch the film, there’s a dynamic between all of us that means that each of us is strengthened by what the other is doing. You think of being moved by a moment from me, but what’s really moving you is the way she’s responding. You know, the end of the big speech in Wembley, it’s agony. But to me, the moment that hits home — the emotional bulk that goes to your heart — is the tears welling up in her face.”

    Which scene was the most challenging for you? Firth at first seemed prepared to say that none came immediately to mind, then reconsidered. “I suppose one that does spring to mind that I was afraid of was the childhood, having to talk about the damage of the childhood. Because I felt that one of the pitfalls that we could have fallen into was one of self-pity and sentimentality. I think it would have killed the story. Because Bertie does not strike me as kind of a self-pitying man at all.

    “And yet we needed some information about him. Not because I think the stammer was because of his nanny,” he added firmly. “Some people think we’re suggesting that; that’s absolutely not what’s being suggested. It’s just the fact that Lionel Logue is trying to heal a man and make him manage the fear that he lives with.... So I believed that it was very important to get this information, the difficulties of his childhood. What I worried about was hearing about it from me, because I didn’t want a ‘poor me’ aspect to the character.

    “But there was nobody else that could give you that information. I wish we could’ve come up with a character that could say ‘You know, his nanny was really horrible to him’ and I could have thrown it off. Basically Tom and I worked very closely on that to make sure that it wasn’t self-pitying and sentimental and that there was just enough information, and then we could undercut it with a bit of humor, a bit of irony.... Tom?”

    Hooper was unequivocal in attributing the success of the portrayal to Firth — “He’s been drawing people from all over the world from eight to eighty to really care for this character” (“Ninety,” corrected Firth mischievously; Hooper readily agreed), “to really fall in love with this character, without ever overemotionalizing ... always working within the deep reserve of this character. And I think it’s his genius that leads us to care about him while at the same time not overtly pursuing sympathy in the way that might have been possible in other [performances].”

    Hooper then let us in on a bit of stunning insider info. While the story of the abdication was well known, at least in Britain, “We had a story that was completely new. And it was so new, in fact, that we discovered the diaries of Lionel Logue nine weeks before the shoot in an attic belonging to his grandson in London, and we had in our hands effectively a new primary source document, a handwritten diary of his relationship with the king which no one knew existed and no one had ever seen before. And I think it’s the dynamic between the king and his maverick Australian self-taught failed-Shakespearean-actor speech therapist which is the core of the movie and the thing that promises something a little more subversive than a faithful telling of the A-plot of history.”

    Ah, the A-plot of history, from which even historical films keep a careful distance. This year’s Berlinale had a goodly share of prize-winning ones, including not only The King’s Speech, Coriolanus and If Not Us, Who? but the double-Bear-winning (for outstanding artistic achievement in cinematography and production design) El premio (The Prize). A Mexican-Polish co-production, The Prize is the feature-film debut of Paula Markovitch, until now a screenwriter whose previous work includes Lake Tahoe (which also hit a double, taking home the Alfred Bauer Prize and the FIPRESCI Prize in 2008).

    But The Prize is a special sort of historical film in that it is an autobiographical film, drawn from Markovitch’s childhood memories of life under the Perón dictatorship. Here economic austerity is, for seven-year-old Ceci (all names in the film are changed), both exacerbated by the moral bankruptcy of the political officials who hold sway over her school, and tempered by the freedom she finds with a friend in the rocky, windswept sands along the shore (beautifully filmed with a handheld camera) where she and her artist-mother live in a ramshackle cabin.

    This is an autobiographical story. The action takes place in the sceneries of my childhood, to which I always return in my dreams....

    I know I must not reveal my true identity to the other kids.... [My] family’s life depends on my silence.... I lie, just as they said I’m supposed to. I manage to have them believe my lies...

    Until an army official comes to class to announce an essay contest. The subject? The army, what it means to the children and their families, and how it has changed their lives. Ceci, whose father has been locked behind the iron bars of one of Perón’s fearsome prisons, is understandably confused about their situation. While compelled by her mother to repeat every day what she must tell anyone who asks: “My father sells curtains; my mother is a housekeeper,” she also must repeat, when asked by her mother why they are there, “Because they want to kill us.” The essay is an opportunity for the child to articulate and maybe even try to make sense of her confusion; to crack open a window of her own prison. “The army is bad,” she writes. “The soldiers are crazy. They killed my cousin.” Now her horrified mother must get the essay back before anyone reads it....

    At the press conference Markovitch spoke with passion about the primacy of words in her work. In the continuing dialogue over whether cinema is primarily a visual or a verbal medium, Markovitch is firmly on the side of the wordsmiths. “I have come to the conclusion that cinema is not so much the art of telling stories with pictures, but telling stories with few pictures,” she said, adding that she sees cinema “as a form of literature.”

    Expanding on that line of thought in response to another question, Markovitch said that “When I say that I am a writer first and foremost, what I mean by that is that I see directing as a symbolic activity that is sort of close to writing. Because what a writer is doing in his or her study is coming up with images. What a director does on the set is come up with images, too. Now obviously the practicalities are different ... [but in both], you’re telling a story with pictures. You’re giving pictures meaning. And writers do that too, on paper.”

    How did you direct the little girl who played Ceci when it came to the very traumatic story she would be acting? Did you tell her everything, or did you simply tell her the kinds of reactions you wanted from her? The general practice was to tell the children what was wanted from them in each scene and what the premise of the scene was, the director replied, but not to give them a history lesson, which was unnecessary and might have been too much for them to process emotionally.

    Tell us something about the schoolteacher, who seemed to switch between severity and compassion. Who was Rosita? A normal woman who made compromises, or a fascist? Was that sort of behavior normal then? Viviana Suraniti, who played the role, remembered the dictatorship “from when I was a young child in Buenos Aires. And it’s certainly real. Rosita is real. That was the atmosphere, the authoritarian atmosphere that permeated education and the whole of society. So it affected teachers. I went to school in Argentina in 1979, and I would say there was an excessive respect for the military on the part of schoolmistresses. But, as in the rest of Argentinian society, there were moments of humanity.”

    The last question was outwardly unrelated to the film, but touched on what was left unspoken in it and perceptible on a deeper level: acquiescence or resistance to dictatorship. Do you have anything to say about what’s been happening in the Middle East, where other dictatorships are being challenged? Markovitch was silent for several seconds before responding. “I don’t want to comment on what’s happening in Egypt because I’m not familiar with the details,” she said at last. “But I will say this: The horror is palpable. Any dictatorship, any cruelty, any situation in which there is oppression ... is a situation which will leave a wound in society. There is a big danger, not just that blood is shed, but that society will be affected for a long time. That has been my experience.

    “So I think we have to be very careful. We have to look out for each other, care for each other. Because in times of cruelty and genocide, I think the wound which is left behind afterwards is much deeper than we might imagine, and its impact on people will last for hundreds of years.”

    What has become the historical paradigm for cruelty and genocide inflicted by a dictatorial regime is of course the Holocaust, whose wounds continue to be felt and, if Markovitch is right, will do so for generations to come. To get past the pain, directors from Chaplin to Lubitsch to Benigni to Tarantino have tried to find humor in the horror by injecting elements of comedy into films dealing either directly or indirectly with the Holocaust. The subject is so sensitive that controversy almost inevitably accompanies or precedes whatever success is achieved. (Although having stars like Chaplin, Benny, Benigni and Pitt in leading roles seems to help.)

    In Wolfgang Murnberger’s My Best Enemy (Mein bester Feind) one of Germany’s most popular actors, Moritz Bleibtreu (familiar to DC audiences from his award-nominated performance as Andreas Baader in The Baader-Meinhof Complex) takes on a role that adds yet another layer to the challenge. It is that of Victor Kaufmann, the son of cosmopolitan Jewish gallery owners in 1930s Vienna who is astonished and hurt to learn that his best friend Rudi, their housekeeper’s son who was raised alongside him as their own after her death, has become a rabid member of the SS.

    The conflict will be calamitously complicated by a work of art that becomes a pawn at both the individual and national levels: a sketch by Michelangelo that has always been considered lost, but has actually been in the Kaufmann family for generations. The family has kept its existence secret for fear of happening what does in fact happen when Rudi learns of its existence and brags to his superiors: the Kaufmanns’ home is turned upside down, the drawing is not found, and the Kaufmanns are dragged into a waiting car and packed off to a concentration camp. Meanwhile, Victor’s longtime girlfriend Lena, the object of Rudi’s desire, agrees to marry him, hoping to use his influence to free the Kaufmanns.

    Unlikely as it may seem, humor pops up throughout the film, which can’t seem to decide whether it’s a drama or a satire. At the start the humor is gentle, and diegetic to the story and its characters. The sharp shift in tone comes when the plane carrying Rudi and Victor is shot down and crash-lands somewhere in Poland. (Rudi has been ordered to escort Victor, who has spent the last four years in a concentration camp, to neutral Switzerland to meet with his mother, who has miraculously survived internment in another.) With both men injured, but Rudi more severely, Victor drags his friend to safety and proposes that they share the inmate uniform to protect themselves from payback at the hands of the partisans. As luck would have it, the “partisans” who burst into the hut are members of the Wehrmacht, which Victor hears from outside. Quickly putting on Rudi’s uniform he presents himself as the Nazi officer and the flabbergasted Rudi, whose protests to the contrary are met with swift kicks and punches by the scornful storm troopers, as his Jewish prisoner. And the game is on.

    Do clothes really make the man? How does what we wear, change the way others see us? And how does it change the way we feel, not only about ourselves, but — and here’s the rub — about others? Georg Friedrich, who played Rudi, was asked those very questions at the press conference. His answers were revealing. “It certainly did affect me a lot. Donning this uniform and looking at myself in the mirror ... in a way ... I mean, these uniforms were really, really elegant, very cleverly crafted and the design so well cut. It really gives you a certain stature and presence.” Uwe Bohm, who plays the most fanatical Nazi officer in the film, downplayed the effect of the SS uniform per se. “Any uniform gives the person wearing it a sense of power.”

    As it does Victor in the film. In one of its most telling scenes, the anxious, hunted man who now, in his sharply pressed uniform replete with military decorations, is regarded by his enemies with respect and fear, catches his own reflection in a mirror. Slowly his shoulders draw back, his spine straightens, and his lips form a smile of growing admiration as he regards his new image with new eyes. This, of course, has implications beyond the fictional character of Victor Kaufmann. And while they did not come up at the press conference (although the Morgenpost couldn’t resist wryly observing that “Victor is probably the most well-nourished concentration camp inmate we’ve ever seen”), they did in press interviews conducted by Peter Krobath with director Wolfgang Murnberger and actor Moritz Bleibtreu in advance of the film’s premiere at the Berlinale Palast.

    Murnberger related how he decided to shift the paradigm of the Jewish character, who in most World War II films is portrayed as the victim, to one of the hero who not only outwits his would-be persecutors, but does so by wearing their uniform, which symbolizes everything repugnant to him. “Of course I asked myself whether it was even possible, against the contemporary historical background, to make a comedy about a Jew who puts on an SS uniform,” said Murnberger. “We had lots of discussions about this. And there were Jews who said that they were fed up with always being depicted only as victims in films set during this time period.”

    Moritz Bleibtreu (who plays Victor but couldn’t be at the press conference because he was on a film shoot) also had to get his head around the evident absurdity of a Jew in 1930s Vienna who not only manages to convince Nazi officers that he’s one of them, but does so by wearing their despised uniform. “This is obviously an enormous challenge for an actor,” he said. “And then there’s also the role-exchange story that makes everything even more absurd. How a Jew felt when, as a prisoner in a concentration camp, he suddenly put on an SS uniform, when everything was suddenly upended and the balance of power shifted in his favor... I say: ‘OK, if he really is wearing such a uniform, couldn’t it be that, for a split second, he thinks to himself that he will never take this uniform off again, that he’ll stay on that side?’

    “At this point, many people will rise up and scream: ‘No! How could he ever think such a thing!!!’ But I feel that if someone was locked up for four years and had nothing decent to eat for four years, was beaten and lived in grime and filth — is it so hard to believe that he might not think, even for a split second, of staying on their side? Of never going back there [to those earlier conditions] again?”

    Two small but striking films in which “going back there again” was either a fervent hope or a deep-seated fear were the Czech Eighty Letters (Osmdesát dopisu, Václav Kadrnka) and the Armenian Amnesty (Amnistia, Bujar Animani). Both screened in the Forum section, known as the place for daring and unconventional cinema: “Avant-garde, experimental, essays, lengthy observations, political reportages and yet-to-be-discovered cinematographers.”

    In the case of these two films, the first would fit into the essay category, its political undercurrents bubbling almost imperceptibly beneath the surface. Written off by mainstream media giants — by Variety as an “oddly stylized, low-budget pic [that] provides a tiresome viewing experience” and by The Hollywood Reporter as “trying to sit through, despite a short running time” — Eighty Letters caught the eye of a few discerning viewers (in THR’s words, “auteur purists”). One at negativ-film even called it “a small masterpiece” that was “my personal Berlinale highlight,” while a successful young fellow filmmaker unhesitatingly deemed it “a work of art.”

    Based on letters written by Kadrnka’s mother to his father who defected to the West from communist Czechoslovakia in the 1980s and Kadrnka’s memories of a day that has remained lodged in his consciousness, the film is not one whose plot will keep you glued to your seat. But in the film’s attentive, aesthetic portrayal of everyday people, places and things, the ordinary does indeed become art. The intensity of the experience is a function of the way in which the director and his cinematographer capture the mother’s frantic pursuit of exit papers as the boy patiently tags along (having been excused from class for allegedly not feeling well), aware of the urgency but at the same time realizing there is nothing he can do to help. “Those are the images I recall,” Kadrnka told an interviewer. I believe cinema has the power to make strong metaphorical images out of ordinary things if you use them in specific connection with other images.”

    Watching a teenage boy patiently await his mother in an office anteroom and pass the time by watching an older man peel a decorated egg with painstaking care, each dropped shell fragment fluttering or insouciantly flipping through the air to land on the scuffed linoleum, may sound like the next best thing to watching paint dry. Instead, it is a study in painterly and allusive observation, one that speaks to the mother’s patience (which the title tells us is “eighty letters” long) and the intractable, uncaring bureaucracy that either rejects her outright or sends her back a step at every turn. “I wanted to capture a piece of quietude,” explained Kadrnka, “in the time’s culture of ugliness and bluster.”

    As does Elsa, in Bujar Alimani’s Amnesty (Amnistia). Elsa lives in a dreary Albanian village with her two little boys and piece-of-work father-in-law, who spends whatever time is left — after a day of sleeping, drinking and making messes for her to clean up when she gets home late at night from her factory job — by accusing her of being a whore and violently threatening to throw her out. Having just been laid off, Elsa has now lost whatever worth she may have had in his eyes. But there is nowhere else to go.

    What about Elsa’s husband? Why doesn’t he intervene? Because Elsa’s husband is in prison (gambling debts). And from what we see of him during her monthly conjugal visits (a law established as another step toward bringing Albania in line with EU policy), which are brutally and almost humorously mechanical, he would probably either ignore the conflict or take his father’s side if he were home. What we intuit through deftly controlled framing — “Here every take is held and considered with deliberation as if for eternity, several shots are like poured paintings....” wrote the Tagesspiegel, while themoviearts.com noted Alimani’s “assured hand, timing all his shots with precision so that they are lyrical and contemplative” — is the intensity of long-dead passions that come suddenly, if cautiously alive between this woman with a quiet, canny smile and a man with matinee-idol cragginess in this place of depressingly overwhelming grayness.

    For a small light has appeared in the shadows. As she waits in the prison’s anteroom to be summoned to fulfill her “spousal duties,” Elsa’s eyes meet those of a man who is there for the same reason, and who is locked in as loveless a marriage as hers. From the look that passes between them, we know sparks will fly. “[While the] whole film revolves around the prison and the two leading characters’ visits there,” said Alimani, “at the same time, I developed this law” — the amnesty law, which authorized early release for prisoners convicted of certain offenses — “into a metaphor for the real prison at issue here: the lives of these two characters. Indeed: from what we learn about the inflexible mores of the village’s fiercely patriarchal society through Alimani’s almost documentarian portrayal of the people Elsa encounters on the streets or on the bus, we almost know, all the while hoping against hope that we’re wrong, that it cannot end well.

    Fortunately, the same cannot be said for the long and happily married couple in Julie Gavras’s Late Bloomers (France/Great Britain/ Belgium 2010) — at least until the years begin to creep up on them, which neither the polymathic Mary (Isabella Rossellini) nor the trail-blazing architect Adam (William Hurt) wants to admit. But when Mary’s memory loss begins to look more than momentary — “I’m old,” she tells him wistfully, half surprised and half resigned, “and you’re old. We’ve crossed over to the other side without realizing it” — and Adam begins to see himself through the eyes of the firm’s new Gen-X and -Y hotshots who regard him with either condescending tolerance or a kindness tinged with sympathy, or even pity... something has to give.

    And it does, in ways that give the phrase “the gift that keeps on giving” a multivalence commensurate with that of its subjects as Mary and Adam rebel — with sometimes hilarious results; according to writer-director Julie Gavras, it is at heart a romantic comedy — against the inevitability of “crossing over,” and become strangers to each other. Until Mary comes to terms with it, and tries to help her husband do the same. “It’s not a choice between acting like 20 and acting like 80,” she submits gently to a conflicted Adam. “There’s a middle point.”

    If anyone exemplifies the ability to both recognize and gracefully ignore that middle point, it is the remarkably versatile and still radiantly beautiful Isabella Rossellini, this year’s jury president, who slipped unhesitatingly into the skin of a fiftyish matron just two years after slipping rakishly into the shell of a bug — actually, several bugs — in her directorial debut, the “Green Porno” series of shorts on the sex life of insects, which had screened at the Berlinale three years before.

    At the press conference Rossellini handled the question of aging with an amused equanimity, saying that while most films that deal with getting older are very dramatic, “My personal experience has not been very dramatic. It’s been very comical at times.... As you grow older humor is very helpful, especially for women. For women, growing older is seen as a major tragedy. So it took a woman [writer and director] to see the humor.”

    Director Julie Gavras, who also wrote the screenplay, recalled the experience of her father (Costa Gavras) with his film Amen (2002). “He went around the world to show the film, and each time he went into a country they would do a lifetime retrospective of all his films. For the first three months I thought it was great, but after a while I thought it was a bit depressing, that it was time to move on and do something else. And I became interested in everything that had to do with age and aging. And then it made a story.”

    How did it feel for Rossellini in the scene where her husband doesn’t even see her, it’s like she’s not even there? “Well, you know, that happens. This is going to happen to all of you,” she cautioned. That said, “You know, it was a relief. I didn’t particularly like walking down the streets of Rome and having men” — and here she gave a wolf whistle — “or try to touch you or pretending accidentally to step on you and [putting] their hands on your ass,” which brought a round of sympathetic laughter. “I found that to be very frightening.” The laughter stopped. “No, it wasn’t pleasant. I didn’t feel flattered. So when age came and that all went away, it wasn’t bad. I kind of liked it.” This time it was Rossellini who laughed, with relief.

    You seem to have experienced a new freedom in your later years to say what you think and do what you want. “It’s linked to being old,” declared Rossellini. “This is one of the things nobody talks [about]. “Of course we get wrinkles. Of course we put on weight. Of course there are many things physically that change. But there is one great thing that happens with age. Which is freedom. It doesn’t happen when you’re younger, because when you’re younger you have to prove to yourself that you can work, have a career, be financially independent, to show your parents. Then you’re busy managing the children. And at a certain point you’ve done everything that you were supposed to do, and you find yourself at sixty saying, ‘What is there to do?’ You say, ‘You know, I might have just a few more years to live. now [I’ll] do what I want.’”

    And how specifically has this manifested itself? Recalling the “Green Porno” series, Rossellini noted that if she had made them when she was younger, “they would have said, ‘Well, would Vogue [still] give you the cover if you pretend to be a worm?’” As you get older, you’re more willing to do “those funny, eccentric things. Why not? There’s an enormous freedom in old age, and it’s great.” As for the scene where she and Hurt were naked in the bathtub, Rossellini shrugged. “Will kept on saying, ‘Well, it is what it is.’”

    Are you afraid of mummification? “You mean as the next step?” laughed Rossellini, with a worried frown. No, no: as in being typecast. Not really, at least as long as she stays in European films. “European actors play different characters. American actors can be superstars, but they always play the same character. Humphrey Bogart is Humphrey Bogart in every film. And this is part of the American tradition.”

    A final question: How do you stay so young looking? Do you exercise? Rossellini shook her head. “I don’t want to be young. I want to be my age. I want to be elegant, I want to be vital, I want to be sophisticated, but I don’t really dream to be younger than my age. I find it strange when people say, ‘You look younger than your age.’ I find that is a little bit of an insult. It’s like, my son is black, and a lot of people say, ‘Oh, but you’re not very dark.’ I mean, what am I supposed to say, thank you? I think it’s an insult.

    “I feel the same when people say, ‘You don’t look your age.’ Don’t say I don’t look my age,” said the 59-year-old Rossellini. “Say, ‘You look your age, but you look good.’”

    It would be hard to argue with the second part of that assessment, although it was also hard not to at least want to argue with the first. That reaction was multiplied at a special film screening, part of the festival’s comprehensive Ingmar Bergman Retrospective, which featured an unforgettable, rub-your-eyes-to-make-sure-you’re-not-dreaming dual introduction by the daughter of one of the film’s stars and the star of many of the director’s films.

    As the audience prepared to sit back and let ourselves be drawn into the emotional vortex of the double-Bergman Autumn Sonata, directed by Ingmar and starring Ingrid in her last feature film — as it was just one of the festival’s screenings of every film in the director’s oeuvre, we weren’t expecting anything but the most perfunctory introduction, if any — our eyes were drawn to the left-hand side of the screen. There in the dimly lit cinema, almost as if by sleight of hand, the muse of one and the daughter of the other slowly emerged from a side entrance. Stylishly attired in sequined black lace and pearls, they had agreed to stop by on their way to a reception in their honor at one of the Berlinale’s glamourous party venues. Despite their more pressing commitment, as the great ladies they are, Liv Ullmann and Isabella Rossellini responded willingly and informally to questions, seemingly relaxed and clearly fond of each other, smiling and exchanging the occasional quick hug or hand squeeze as they spoke. (It struck your reporter that seeing Rossellini in this context was almost like seeing a different person from the one who had joked and commiserated with us at the press conference, and that this was probably due more to the circumstance that to any change in her behavior.)

    It turned out that besides the Bergman connection, another commonality the two shared was the jury presidency, Ullmann having served in 1974, when, conscious of her enormous responsibility, she insisted that the members meet for hours to discuss each film in exhaustive detail. “I thought I was loved, that everyone appreciated my thoroughness, until Vargas-Llosa gave an interview years later calling me a terror!” Rossellini assured her friend that she herself would be less severe. “We’ll see sixteen films and meet three times.”

    Ullmann expressed her “tremendous admiration” for Ingrid Bergman, not just as an actor but as a woman, leading Rossellini to recall (not personally; she was born two years later) her mother’s public denunciation on the floor of the U.S. Senate after she fell in love with the married Italian director Roberto Rossellini and bore his son, sending her Hollywood career into a tailspin. “Yet she was never bitter about it,” said Ullmann. “She’d laugh and say, ‘Well, that’s how life is.’” Those of us who had been at the press conference several days before recalled that Bergman’s daughter had quoted William Hurt’s “It is what it is” with what could be taken as knowing agreement.

    It is, however, the mother from Autumn Sonata that Rossellini remembers, and not the one from the role that would make her a legend. “I feel no emotion when I watch Casablanca; she’s an icon,” she told us. “Except maybe the voice. But when I watch Autumn Sonata,” and sees both the harshness of the character she portrays and underneath it, the mother she remembers, “I cry. But I hope you will enjoy it.” And with a smile, she and Ullmann were off.

    Ullmann was on a few days before in a wide-ranging conversation with film historian Peter Cowie, titled “Film Begins With the Human Face,” at the Deutsche Kinemathek Museum für Film und Fernsehen, where an exhibit and lecture series accompanied the Ingmar Bergman Retrospective. [For those planning a trip to Berlin: the exhibit runs through May 25.] Although not widely advertised — your reporter happened to pick up a small information card while browsing the museum bookstore — arriving nearly an hour before the event was to begin barely assured a seat. By the time it did begin the large room was filled to capacity, with dozens left standing, leaving little more than elbow room between them.

    Cowie observed the panorama with evident surprise and pleasure, saying that his “bitter experience” with film festival panel discussions is that they are as a rule sparsely attended — everyone is off seeing films — and saw the huge turnout as a tribute to Ullmann and, by extension, to her mentor, Ingmar Bergman.

    Without a trace of makeup but looking every bit as lovely as she would at the pre-party film screening described above, Ullmann responded with grace, humor and candor to Cowie’s questions. Bergman preferred working with women, she said, because they were “willing to be naked” with their emotions. While close-ups are the bane of many a Hollywood actress because they show every blemish and pore, Ullmann loved close-ups. “You would speak to [Bergman], and he would watch you and watch you and seem to really dig into what you were saying.”

    Cries and Whispers was the only film in which he allowed her to wear makeup, Ullmann said, and “I loved looking in the mirror. And I didn’t realize until later that it was not just the character of a vain woman, but it was Liv who was a vain woman looking in the mirror.” Did he let you look at the rushes? Only once. But it wasn’t for Cries and Whispers. Rather, it was for the first film she did with him, Persona (1966), in which Bibi Andersson plays a nurse who finds that her mute actress-patient’s (Ullmann) persona is merging with hers. To show the blend, he had to meld the two faces, and he wanted the two actresses to see what he was doing. Neither one of them recognized themselves in the mix. But that wasn’t the real problem, admitted Ullmann: “Neither one of us understood the script.”

    It was only 20 or 30 years later that she knew what it was to be a woman who is tired of people asking her questions and expecting answers. “He used us to portray the agony he felt,” said Ullmann. Yet he did not let his agony show, and was “the happiest person” on the set, perhaps because that was where he felt at home. “He loved it, like someone who had never felt a part of things as a young boy and now felt a part of it,” safe among “his people.”

    Of course, that didn’t mean he was easy to work with. Ullmann recalled that once during the shooting of Saraband (2003) he became angry when she refused to do something he had asked, and began to chase her around the set. Down corridors and through the gathering crowd of incredulous and amused spectators they went, looking for all the world like something out of Italian opera. By that time his anger had dissipated, and she played along, both of them keenly aware that “the papers would love it.”

    Ullmann was “proud to be working with Ingrid Bergman” in Autumn Sonata. The director, however, wasn’t as pleased. Why not? Because “she kept asking questions. ‘Why am I saying that? Why do I move here?’” But Ullmann will always remember Ingrid Bergman as “a great lady” who learned that she had breast cancer during the shoot — Autumn Sonata would be her last film — and yet “was the first in the studio and the last to leave.”

    The two Bergmans also had different views when it came to “a woman’s place” vs. women’s rights, which came to a head when it became clear that the director saw Charlotte as a bad mother because she has a career, and the actress was — in fact, both actresses were — working mothers. “So can we play against the lines?” The lines in question are in the scene where Ullmann’s daughter character Eva goes off on a tirade, not unjustified from the director’s point of view, accusing her mother of selfishness, of never being there when she needed her. In the script, Charlotte responds with “Forgive me.”

    Ingrid Bergman would have none of it. “I’m not going to say that,” she told him, “I’m going to slap her face.” Bergman saw that he was outnumbered. The film now has another layer that the director never intended — “Ingrid said the line with all the anger of mothers everywhere, not just then but from the beginning, who have felt that way” — but that gives it a relevance and complexity that are both contemporary and eternal.

    You are now a director yourself. What did you learn from him that has helped you in your own work? Ullmann did not hesitate. “Everything. A good director will allow you and watch you and encourage you,” will pick the best cameramen and actors and technical professionals to support you. Bergman was “tremendously disciplined, and I admired that whatever was happening he would be sitting at his editing table working.”

    Interestingly, the best movie experience she had with him was 2002's Faithless, where she, not he, was the director, and for which he wrote screenplay. It was filmed on his beloved island home of Faro, where they brought their families to stay during the shoot (and where he would die five years later).

    Despite their history, Ullmann’s favorite films were not done with Bergman, but with Swedish director Jan Troell: The Emigrants (1971) and The New Land (1972), both of which won Golden Globes for Best Foreign-Language Foreign Film; the first was also nominated for the Best Picture Oscar, as was Ullmann for Best Actress. Ullmann also received a Golden Globe for The Emigrants and the National Society of Film Critics award for The New Land.

    Ullmann has proved to be as effective on the stage as she is in front of the camera. Yet while she loved doing “Long Day’s Journey into Night” last year with the Norwegian touring theater Riksteatret and won Tony nominations for “Anna Christie” and “A Doll’s House” (“I can do onstage things as a character I would never do as Liv”), she “will never go onstage again as an actress.” And she misses it; or rather, her — that “un-Liv” — already. “I’m missing that person, as if she’s a friend. I may sound a little cuckoo,” she laughed, “but that’s how it is.” Those times onstage “are the best golden moments you can get as an actor.”

    But just because we won’t see her in the theater doesn’t mean she won’t be there. Just as she went from being in front of the camera to behind it, Ullmann also recently took up the directorial challenge on the boards (as DC theatergoers will remember if they were lucky enough to get tickets to the sold-out shows), directing Cate Blanchett in the touring production of A Streetcar Named Desire, which came to the Kennedy Center in 2009. Calling it “the most difficult thing I’ve ever done,” Ullmann, clearly pleased, told the Berlin audience that “we took it to America.”

    But back to films, and one that probably won’t make it to America, but should. In the (translated) words of negativ-film, “Every festival has its pearls; films that can’t be seen anywhere else; singular glimpses into the lives of people of other cultures. Different, and yet familiar; a truly enriching experience. One such pearl is the ‘situational documentary’ Nesvatbov – The Matchmaking Mayor, by Erika Hníková,” which won the Tagesspiegel Readers Prize. Selected from among 31 films screened by a bleary-eyed but enthusiastic nine-member jury who announced their decision to an audience of film-going gamblers who knew only that they would see whatever film the jury chose, The Matchmaking Mayor (released commercially as The Heart Can’t Be Commanded) is a hilarious look at small-town singledom that would (quietly) challenge the best of Tyler Perry. And it’s all real.

    We are in the dying Slovak town of Zemplinski Hamre, whose mayor, a retired general, sees the writing on the wall and has decided to do something about it by getting his unmarried thirty-somethings to, in his colorful phrase, “nest up.” As the film opens, a lurching camera introduces us to the town drunk outside city hall, who tells us that if we want to see the mayor, we’ve come to the right place: the mayor will soon come out to chase him off. Sure enough he does, then turns and aggressively attempts to do the same to the camera, which seems in danger of toppling over as the picture we are watching jerks and sways as crazily as the town drunk. Fortunately for us, our director is one determined lady.

    But Jozef Gajdoš is one hands-on mayor who doesn’t usually take no for an answer and makes his presence known in ways large and small, beginning with a town-wide PA system on which he broadcasts twice-daily public announcements that boom from strategically placed speakers mounted on light poles or hanging from electrical wires. The looks on people’s faces as another “Hello, beloved citizens” begins are worth the price of admission, with one kerchief-and-aproned grandma regarding a booming box with such a baleful glare, the viewer almost expects it to jump off, grow feet and escape down the nearest storm drain.

    The mayor is serious, though. And while underneath is the steel of a general who mounts a campaign to win, his sword is two-edged, coated with honey so that it can catch more flies. And he wants his flies to multiply. “It’s summer,” he croons over the loudspeaker, announcing a party to which all thirty-something singletons are invited. “Maybe we can get some of your hormones going.”

    “The film simultaneously presents two ways of looking at life,” said director Erika Hníková. “The mayor ... believes that everything can be organized, even the spark that attracts two people. Our unattached protagonists represent the passive approach. They are actually pretty much content to be alone, but on the other hand they’d like to be with someone. It’s completely normal but they don’t do anything about it.”

    The mayor has carefully mapped out his plan of action with the help of his secretary, who doubts much will come of it but resignedly sets out to personally deliver invitations in pink hearts-and-flowers envelopes. “We’ll let them enjoy a little booze to loosen them up,” he explains to her, “and then let them outside to get to know each other better. Then we’ll round them up and put them on the bus, and bring them all back at 3:00 a.m.” “If they want to come back,” she says, adding, “If we can find them.”

    While there is humor in the idea of a retired general who becomes a mayor and finds a new mission in directing the love lives of his citizens because he wants to make them happy and keep the town on the map, there can be only tragedy in that of a government that seeks to censor the films of its most gifted directors because it wants to direct every aspect of its citizens’ lives.

    And while Jafar Panahi’s jury chair was left symbolically empty throughout the festival to signify the Berlinale’s solidarity with him, as Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi stepped up to receive the Golden Bear for Best Film for his unanimously acclaimed Nader and Simin, A Separation (Jodaeiye Nader az Simin) — “... a truly perfect film ... subtle, gripping, and moving, superbly acted and directed, with finely etched characters whose faces develop in small frames while at the same time telling a larger story of the society around them,” raved the Süddeutsche Zeitung; “Such enthusiasm, such critical consensus has not been experienced at a Berlinale for years,” marveled the Morgenpost — his friend and compatriot’s words may have echoed in his mind.

    The world of a filmmaker is marked by the interplay between reality and dreams. The filmmaker uses reality as his inspiration, paints it with the color of his imagination, and creates a film that is a projection of his hopes and dreams.

    Farhadi’s film portrays the conflict between an urban upper-middle-class husband and wife whose fundamental disagreement about where their obligations lie — Simin’s primary concern is their eleven-year-old daughter Termeh, whom she does not want to grow up under the prevailing political conditions; Nader’s is his elderly father, who suffers from Alzheimer’s disease and depends upon their care — leads Simin to file for divorce. With her departure, Nader must find someone to care for his father while he is at work. He engages a poor and deeply religious young woman who, it turns out, is pregnant and has taken the job without the knowledge or consent of her violent husband, whose approval would have been needed.

    The tensions below the surface erupt when the woman leaves the house for a doctor’s appointment, and Nader returns home to find his father, having worked his way out of the temporary restraints, lying on the floor unconscious. Nader rages against the woman when she returns, causing her to fall down the stairs and lose her unborn child. The lives of all these people are now in the hands of the court and the woman’s husband, neither of which can be expected to show much sympathy for Nader, for whom an adverse verdict can reverberate against his wife and daughter.

    At the press conference, the first question for Farhadi was not about his film, but about his views on the Panahi situation. “I’m very sorry about what has happened,” he said. “I think that no director anywhere in the world has not felt sorrow and sadness given this sad event. And you are familiar with him through his films; I know him personally.... I am very sad. [Before I left] I gave him a call ... I said goodbye to him, knowing I was leaving for a place he couldn’t go.”

    More he could not say; even by simply answering the question, he was treading on thin ice. Iran’s Culture Ministry had rescinded Farhadi’s production license after he spoke out for changes in Iran and expressed solidarity with his imprisoned colleague, as the FAZ reminded us before the start of the festival, and he had to withdraw his statements to be allowed to finish his film. Indeed, as the Tagesspiegel observed the next morning: “Farhadi cannot be sure of what he will set in play with the mention of Panahi.”

    But he was not there to discuss politics, but to discuss his film. Asked about the story’s premise, Farhadi noted that while “you would think that Iran is a very traditional country,” in Iran “the divorce rate is very high.” Not that Iran is by any means a modern country, “but there is this wish to be more modern. And I’m not saying that is good or bad, but one consequence is that we have this phenomenon of a high divorce rate. And there are many undercurrents and crises in this society, and that can lead to great predicaments and disasters. One such risk is the war between the classes. There is a struggle going on between the poor who are more traditional and religious, and the other class of society that wants to live according to modernized rules. It’s a somewhat hidden struggle, and it’s a clash between the old and the new in our society.”

    Responding in English, the beautiful Sareh Bayat, who plays Simin, briefly recapitulated her character’s quandary. “I think this film is about human weaknesses and faults. You can be right, but at the same time harm others. And as a woman who has a duty to guarantee the future of her daughter, at the same time she knows that by separating, she makes her daughter suffer. That’s why it touches everyone ... regardless of your social class or your culture.”

    It’s a question of moral standards, said Farhadi. The traditional ones “are much more difficult to apply because the times are much more complex. So there’s really no standard that you can directly use for your actions. For those who are still linked to the traditional standards, for them it’s a bit simpler. A modern person with a modern life has a lot of conflict. And I think therefore people are looking for new definitions of morals. So you can’t really condemn Nader for what he did.”

    What is the future for their daughter (played by Farhadi’s own daughter Sarina)? “One of the most important things that human beings worry about is the future. All [of us] who have children don’t want our children to [repeat] our mistakes. We want to pass on something different to our children. And so these children play an important role in this film. And we see they’re waiting; they want to know which path to go down.

    “At the end of the film Termeh has to choose between her mother and her father, but in actual fact she’s going to choose a path for her own life. And we don’t know what that will be.”

    As he spoke those words, citizens in fiercely traditional societies far beyond the borders of the Berlin International Film Festival from Cairo to Tripoli to Sana’a to Syria were choosing, or would soon seek to choose paths for their own lives, trying not to repeat their parents’ mistakes and in many cases hoping to build free and democratic societies. At the Berlinale, a group of Egyptian filmmakers were keeping close watch, hoping almost against hope that their countrymen’s and -women’s courage would bring positive results for themselves, their children and their country.

    Many observers are skeptical about the demonstrations, the Tagesspiegel told a young Egyptian filmmaker, because the movement has no leaders. “We don’t need leaders,” she replied. “The Egyptian people are leading. Every single citizen is a leader.... The last word belongs to the Egyptian people.”

    “‘The personal is political and the political is personal,’ goes the old activist slogan, which had its origin in the feminist movement,” festival director Dieter Kosslick would tell Variety before the first film of the 61st Berlin International Film Festival had screened. “It also holds true for the arts.” Asghar Farhadi would no doubt agree. “I don’t know why women tend to be more of a driving force [in Iran],” he said in a pressbook interview. “... Currently, in Iran, it is the women who are struggling most in an attempt to recover the rights they have been deprived of. They are at once more resistant and more determined.” Expanding on the point, Farhadi told the Morgenpost that “The most erroneous picture of Iran is that of its women. The social contribution of women in Iranian society is indescribably large, they are very active, lead many political parties and constitute over 60 percent of Iranian students. In my opinion, women are the future of Iran.”

    Not to discount its men. “This is, if nothing else, the event with the highest security of this Berlinale,” reported the Morgenpost from the Talent Campus, where human rights activist Mehrangiz Kar and film directors Ali Samadi Ahadi, Sepideh Farsi and Rafi Pitts addressed up-and-coming filmmakers in a discussion of “Censored Cinema.” (Pitts’s December 10 open letter to Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad protesting the sentencing of Panahi and fellow filmmaker Mohammad Rasoulof had gained international traction, appearing in Sight & Sound and reported in other major media outlets.)

    At the Talent Campus, attendees learned that the “Green Revolution,” the protests following Ahmadinejad’s disputed election in June 2009, “is not in any way dead,” wrote the Morgenpost. “That Iranians are sick of living in a country where even the word ‘why’ is a crime.... And that in Iran, Pandora’s Box — the electronic channel to the world — is open. And no one will be able to close it.”

    Indeed, the festival’s public focus on the situation and the resulting international publicity it brought may have had a collateral, but for Berlin no less consequential impact. “The two Berlin reporters from Bild am Sonntag who were arrested in Iran have been released after four months,” announced the Morgenpost as the festival came to an end. “Iran had charged the reporters with working in the country as journalists without the necessary visas.”

    For the Tagesspiegel, objective, front-page reporting would not suffice for such a moment, which it was able to update with a twitter-worthy addition. “The Magic of the Moment,” read the headline: “The 61st Berlinale will assume a special place in the chronicle of film festivals because of its moving parallels. The Golden Bear for Iranian director Asghar Farhadi concluded the festival at the same hour in which foreign minister Westerwelle landed in Tehran, shortly after the two German reporters were released.”

    “There remains something that makes the Berlinale distinctive from Cannes and Venice: its pride in being a public festival,” observed the Tagesspiegel. But “it can only shine if no one loses sight of the goal: the extraordinary, sometimes even life-changing film.” The Berlin International Film Festival brought at least one to its public this year, a year of life-changing international developments.

    I have been kept from making films for the past five years and am now officially sentenced to be deprived of this right for another twenty years. But I know I will keep on turning my dreams into films in my imagination....

    I will look for the manifestation of my dreams in your films, hoping to find in them what I have been deprived of.

    As we watch the near-filmic narrative of international developments play across our iPhone, television, cell phone or computer screens, we can only hope that at its dénouement, we will see those dreams become reality.

    The winners on stage. (Photo from the Berlin International Film Festival website).

    Visit the website.

    We Need to Hear From YOU

    We are always looking for film-related material for the Storyboard. Our enthusiastic and well-traveled members have written about their trips to the Cannes Film Festival, Karlovy Vary Film Festival, London Film Festival, Venice Film Festival, Telluride Film Festival, Toronto Film Festival, Austin Film Festival, Edinburgh Film Festival, the Berlin Film Festival, the Palm Springs Film Festival, the Reykjavik Film Festival, the Munich Film Festival, and the Locarno Film Festival. We also heard about what it's like being an extra in the movies. Have you gone to an interesting film festival? Have a favorite place to see movies that we aren't covering in the Calendar of Events? Seen a movie that blew you away? Read a film-related book? Gone to a film seminar? Interviewed a director? Taken notes at a Q&A? Read an article about something that didn't make our local news media? Send your contributions to Storyboard and share your stories with the membership. And we sincerely thank all our contributors for this issue of Storyboard.

    Calendar of Events


    American Film Institute Silver Theater
    An Alfred Hitchcock Retrospective in three parts which began in February continues in April with Foreign Correspondent, Rebecca, Suspicion and Mr. and Mrs. Smith. More in May and June.

    "Backward and in High Heels: Ginger Rogers Centennial Retrospective" ends in early April. The remaining titles include The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle, The Barcleys of Broadway and Storm Warning.

    The documentary Shoah (Claude Lanzmann, 1985) will be shown in two parts April 2, 3, 9 and 10 in a new 35mm print. Other special engagements are Michelangelo Antonioni's The Girlfriends (1955), Jean-Luc Godard's Every Man for Himself (1980), and Pier Paolo Pasolini's Momma Roma (1962). There are two "royal wedding" films Royal Wedding (1951) with Fred Astaire and Young Victoria (2009). Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1951) starring Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell will be shown in a new 35mm print. Ken Russell's Tommy (1975) and Kon Ichikawa's The Makioka Sisters (1983) can also be seen.

    A series of films starring Morgan Freeman, this year's recipient of the AFI Life Achievement Award begins in April with Driving Miss Daisy and Lean on Me and continues through May and June.

    A retrospective of five films directed by Todd Haynes begins in April with Poison and Safe and continues in May.

    "A Season of Rohmer," films directed by Eric Rohmer will be split between the AFI, the Embassy of France,and the National Gallery of Art in April and May. April films at the AFI begin with "The Six Moral Tales:" The Bakery Girl of Monceau, Suzanne's Career and La Collectionneuse with the rest in May.

    A series of films by Czech director Frantisek Vlácil's films will start in April and continue through May and June. The series begins with The White Dove, The Devil's Trap and Marketa Lazarova.

    Freer Gallery of Art
    The Freer's annual National Cherry Blossom Anime Marathon takes place on April 2. Films include Kiki's Delivery Service, The Place Promised in Our Early Days and Paprika. Other anime events include a costume contest and a book signing with special guest Roland Kelts, author of "Japanamerica: How Japanese Pop Culture Has Invaded the US."

    The Korean Film Festival DC 2011 takes place at the Freer (April and May) and the AFI Silver Theater (May and June). Films at the Freer in April include Secret Reunion, Breathless, Possessed, Hahaha, Poetry, Old Partner, Oki's Movie and Paju.

    National Gallery of Art
    "A Season of Rohmer" is a comprehensive retrospective of all of Rohmer's extant films, shown at the Gallery, the AFI Silver Theater and the Embassy of France in April and May. Titles shown at the Gallery during April include The Sign of Leo, A Tale of Springtime, A Tale of Winter, A Tale of Autumn, A Tale of Summer, and Four Adventures of Reinette and Mirabelle.

    Art films in April include "Stravinsky on Film" with Stravinsky specialists Robynn Stilwell and Alexander Toradze present for discussion. The program also includes a restoration of Richard Leacock's documentary A Stravinsky Portrait (1966) and Tony Palmer's Stravinsky: Once at a Border (1982) with the filmmaker and critic Joseph Horowitz in attendance. The Washington premiere of Lost Bohemia is a documentary about the artists and dancers who inhabited the Carnegie Studio building. Filmmaker Josef Birdman Astor will appear in person.

    The annual "Black Maria" event is a selection of documentary and short films from the 2010 festival, presented by the festival's director John Columbus.

    "Richard Dindo: Artists, Writers, Rebels" is a four-part series of documentaries by Swiss filmmaker Richard Dindo who will appear in person for several programs. The films include Gauguin in Tahiti and the Marquesas (2010) shown with Aragon, the Book of Matisse (2003), Who Was Kafka? (2006), The Marsdreamers (2010), and Arthur Rimbaud, a Biography (1991).

    Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden
    My Dog Tulip (Paul Fierlinger), an animated feature film based on the book by J.R. Ackerley is shown in April.

    National Museum of the American Indian
    River of Renewal (Carlos Bolado, 2009), a documentary about the conflict over water among ranchers, farmers and tribes who depend on salmon fishing, is shown throughout April. There will be a special screening with Q&A on Earth Day (April 22) with Stephen Most, author and Jack Kohler, who provides the film's viewpoint.

    Smithsonian American Art Museum
    Films shown in April include Gaslight (George Cukor, 1944), It's A Wonderful Life (Frank Capra, 1946) and The Seventh Victim (Val Lewton, 1943), all of which are shown in connection with the exhibition "To Make a World: George Ault's 1940s America." The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (Eugene Lourie, 1953) complements the exhibition "Alexis Rockman: A Fable for Tomorrow."

    Washington Jewish Community Center
    Films shown in April include the documentary Bhutto, about Benazir Bhutto and her political family and Jewish Soldiers in Blue and Gray, a documentary about American Jewish soldiers on both sides of the Civil War. Special guests will be present for discussion and reception.

    Goethe Institute
    A new film series "Helke Sander in Focus" focuses on Helke Sander, a feminist filmmaker and writer and the co-founder of the German feminist film journal "Women and Film." The series, which began in March, concludes with two films in April: the documentary In the Midst of the Malestream (2005) and Liberators Take Liberties (1991), a documentary about women who raped by Red Army soldiers at the end of WWI.

    "Shorts Courts Kurz" is a series of award-winning short German and French films from the 2011 Clermont-Ferrand and the 2010 Dresden festivals, two of the most important short film festivals in Europe. A discussion with French, German and American specialists will accompany the screenings.

    In April the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra conducted by Marin Alsop performs the original music score to Charlie Chaplin's 1925 film The Gold Rush. (The BSO also performs at the Meyerhoff in Baltimore). See the website for more information and tickets.

    National Geographic Society
    In conjunction with the exhibit "American I Am" is the film Pip & Zastrow: An American Friendship (Victoria Bruce and Karin Hayes, 2008). There will be a Q&A after the screening with the filmmakers and Joseph "Zastrow" Simms, one of the film's subjects.

    "Women Hold Up Half the Sky," part of the All Roads Film Project presents a short series in April. Professor Norman Cornett (Alanis Obomsawin, 2009) is a feature documentary about Dr. Norman Cornett, a popular Religious Studies professor dismissed by McGill University in 2007. After the screening, both the director and the professor will discuss the film. Schooling the World (Carol Black, 2010), shot in the northern Indian Himalayas, looks at the effect of modern education on the world's last sustainable indigenous cultures. The director and Alanis Obomsawin will be present to discuss the film. Zum Zum: The Career of Azumah Nelson (Sam Kessie, 2010) is a documentary about the boxer from Ghana known as the "Terrible Warrior." A discussion with the writer/producer will follow.

    French Embassy
    April's French Cinematheque film is Jimmy Rivière (Teddy Lussi Modeste, 2010) is about a young gypsy who is pressured to convert to Pentecostalism. The director stated: ""My film tells the story of a character who tries to find his place in a community; it analyses how this character finally finds his place and conquers his own individuality."

    "Silents With the Snarks" is a program of silent comedies accompanied by the Snark Ensemble.

    Embassy of Canada
    See below.

    The Avalon
    This month's "Greek Panorama" film, is Quiet Days of August (Pantelis Voulgaris, 1992) weaves three stories of people who remain in Athens as it's deserted for vacations in August. April's "Czech Lions" film is a romantic comedy From Subway with Love (Filip Renc, 2005), winner of several awards. The "French Cinematheque" film for April is My AFternoons with Margueritte (Jean Becker, 2010) starring Gérard Depardieu and adapted from Marie-Sabine Roger's novel La tête en friche. April's "Reel Israel DC" film is Five Hours From Paris (Leon Prudovsky, 2009), winner of the Best Film award at Haifa's International Film Festival.

    Anacostia Community Museum
    Films shown in April include the documentary The Language You Cry In (Angel Serrano and Alvaro Toepke, 1998), a kid's film How the Leopard Got His Spots, narrated by Danny Glover, and the documentary Family Across the Sea (Tim Carrier, 1991).

    Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Program
    "Beyond the War: Vietnamese American Film and Literature Envision a New Homeland" is a panel discussion on new Vietnamese American literature, arts, and filmmaking. Panelists include Vietnamese-American filmmaker Mark Tran (All About Dad), poet and visual artist Truong Tran and novelist Monique Truong. See the website for more information.

    Atlas Performing Arts
    An Elizabeth Taylor film tribute in April includes A Place in the Sun, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, National Velvet, and Father of the Bride.

    The Meyerhoff Symphony Hall
    In April the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra conducted by Marin Alsop performs the original music score to Charlie Chaplin's 1925 film The Gold Rush. (The BSO also performs at the Strathmore). See the website for more information and tickets.

    George Mason University
    Poster Girl (Sara Nesson, 2010), one of the five nominees for Best Documentary Short Subject, will be shown in April at the Johnson Center Cinema. The Director and the subject Robynn Murray will take part in a Q&A following the film.

    The Phillips Collection
    Films in April include the U.S. premiere of NO, Global Tour (Santiago Sierra) followed by a panel discussion and the documentary Philip Guston: A Life Lived (Michael Blackwood, 1981).


    The Washington DC International Film Festival
    The 25th Annual Washington DC International Film Festival takes place April 7-17 at various locations in Washington, DC. See above.

    The Baltimore Jewish Film Festival
    This festival takes place March 28-April 14 at the Gordon Center for Performing Arts. See the website for more information.

    The Johns Hopkins Film Festival
    This short festival runs from April 1-3. See the website for more information.

    Francophonie Cultural Festival
    Theater, literary events, music, and film are part of the Francophonie Cultural Festival. One film remains in April: 1981 (Ricardo Trogi, 2009), a coming-of-age comedy from Canada.

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