Wednesday, December 19, 2007
Wednesday, July 11, 2007
The newest film by lo-fi YouTube superstar/long-time Rooftop Films alum Cas Nozkowski stares into the blackened soul of the professional spammer. I have a friend who occasionally sleeps with this guy who designs pop-up ads and I have always wanted to meet him one day and ask him what the hell he is thinking. Perhaps he would also wear puffy coats indoors in the summer.
Monday, July 09, 2007
Thursday, June 28, 2007
Two great indie rock bands have signed on for our incredible 4th of July show. Red Leader Records' The New Dress will be playing at 6:00 and Pretty Activity's The Subjects will be playing at 7:00, followed by Vic Thrill + The Saturn Missile at 8:00, followed by the fireworks and some really extraordinary short films.
p.s. Check out this cute interview with The Subjects in Gothamist. Hat tip to former intern Danielle.
Monday, June 25, 2007
AND SAVE TWO INDIE FILMMAKERS FROM ETERNAL DEBT!
For those of you who don't already know this:
Erin Crumley and Susan Buice are really wonderfully sweet, helpful, hard-working filmmakers who made a very good film called Four Eyed Monsters and rung up a HUGE personal debt in the process. Please listen to their plea above (in YouTube format) and below (in English text format). Give them a chance to convince you to join Spout. If you join it costs you nothing and they get a buck. If enough people do it, they get out of debt. Pretty good deal for everyone, right? At least hear them out, won't you?
This is their message:
We need everyone's help. We need you to join this site and they will give us one dollar, and after you join, you'll be taken to a page where you can watch our entire 71 minute film for free.
So this will not cost you anything, and you'll get to see our film for free. Check out the link here and please forward to everyone you know:
We've gotten over 25,000 people to join and if we can get 100,000 then we'll be out of debt. So please, even if you don't want to watch our film, take a second to join and help us get out of debt so we can keep making films and not have to go back to working day jobs to pay off
our credit card debt.
Thanks a bunch,
Arin & Susan
Monday, June 04, 2007
* 100 OF THE BEST FILMS FROM THE ROOFTOP FILMS SUMMER SERIES NOW ONLINE AT IFC.COM—A NEW SHORT EVERY DAY
* FRIDAY, JUNE 8: OFFICIAL OPENING NIGHT ON A ROOF IN THE LOWER EAST SIDE
For 11 years, Rooftop Films has been a champion of short films. In fact, for the first several years of our existence, all we screened was short films--and we were quite happy about that. A program of short films can create a communal feeling that works perfectly at an outdoor screening. When making a short film, a filmmaker is free of the costs and conventions that often burden a feature film production, ans some of the most innovative films in the world are shorts. We love short films and for years we have worked tirelessly to promote shorts and to raise their profile closer to that of the feature film. And now we’reone step closer. Rooftop Films is proud to partner with IFC.com to present 100 short films from our festival online.
Since 1994, The Independent Film Channel, IFC.com and IFC Films have been creating the movies that people talk about, working with directors who receive accolades for taking chances, and bringing the best, brightest (and darkest) independently-produced films to audiences around the world. They have worked long and hard to bring these films to the airwaves and distribute them theatrically, and now they are also focusing their attention on bringing some of these great independent cinema to audiences via the internet. We couldn't think of a better organization to partner with to promote these fantastic films.
WATCH A NEW FILM EVERY DAY
Each and every morning from today through September 22nd, you can visit our dedicated Rooftop Films page on IFC.com to see some of the best short films in the world. There are four films up there right now to watch and there are 96 more to come. All the shorts will stay online until at least the end of 2007, so very soon there will be a huge library of extraordinary films to peruse and enjoy. The films we are selecting will come from all over the world and will span every imaginable genre in the short film universe. There will be everything from an animation about lovers meeting in a dystopic factory, to a comedy about a bizarre stalker looking for dietary advice; from an artful documentary about the beauty of carniverous plants, to a satire that somehow manages to find humor in the execution of the mentally challenged in Texas. Rooftop Films receives more than 2,000 short film submissions a year and we are choosing the very best of these shorts to stream on IFC.com. The Rooftop Films page on IFC.com will be one of the most exclusive online collections of great shorts available anywhere in digital world.
Monday, May 21, 2007
SLO-MO HORROR FEST
the slowness waits...
the slowness attacks...
the slowness kills...
when the bell tolls...
like a whisper..
Our friend Ryan Junell has a new project, and it's so cool I wish that I had thought of it first. Ryan put together the original Slo-Mo fest in 2006 and it was tremendously fun, wondefully weird, and occasionally transcendent. Now he has expanded on the concept--100 one minute long videos, all of them done in slo-mo--but this time he is only looking for the scary stuff. Ryan is a big fan of the sublimely screwed-up film, so I am confident it will turn out awesome. Here are the details:
postmark YOUR entry by june 15th to participate in
the scariest... the slowest... film and video massacre ever!
100 One Minute Slow Motion Horror Films by
100 Filmmakers and Video Artists
get the bloody details at http://slomohorror.com/
Friday, May 11, 2007
ON INDEPENDENT LENS
One of the most powerful documentaries from the 2006 Summer Series is premiering next week on PBS. SENTENCED HOME airs this coming Tuesday, May 15 at 10PM on PBS as part of the Emmy-award winning series “Independent Lens”.
*Check your local listings for exact date and time in your area here
Putting a human face on controversial immigration policy, SENTENCED HOME follows three young Cambodian Americans through the deportation process. Raised in inner-city Seattle, they pay an unbearable price for mistakes they made as teenagers. Caught between their tragic pasts and an uncertain future, each young man confronts a legal system that offers no second chances.
Tuesday, April 10, 2007
Friday, March 30, 2007
Check out this interview to see how Meni and Producer Dane Smith (formerly the Rooftop publicity go-to guy) plan on adapting the short film Terra (Rooftop 2004) into the first ever CGI feature film with an overtly political message. How are they going to pull this off? Well, Brian Cox, Dennis Quaid, Amanda Peet, Chris Evans, Luke Wilson, Danny Glover, Ron Perlman, and David Cross are planning on helping out. Amazingly, it appears Meni will be able to get this film completed and released without compropmising his original vision at all. Who would have guessed it was possible?
Thursday, March 29, 2007
Former Rooftop curators Imagenation reminded me this morning to support the opening of Charles' Burnett's classic 1977 American Neo-Realist film, Killer of Sheep, at the IFC Center this weekend. If you don't know much about the film, you can read on ReverseShot.com about how much better than Bubble it is. Or you can just stay positive and take my word for it.
Vic Thrill and the Saturn Missile have a new album out, and of course it is packed with multi-layered, retro-futuristic, electro-infused power-pop. If you have seen them play at a Rooftop show before, I am sure you remember them--their shows are unforgettable and Vic and the MIssile are are great to be around even when they don't have instruments in their hands. Listen to some songs from The Circus of Enlightenment HERE and then buy the album on iTunes.
Wednesday, March 28, 2007
The one and only original New York Underground Film Festival starts up this weekend and there are going to be dozens--literally dozens--of beloved Rooftop alumni at the Anthology Film Archives with their new films and selected classics. Some of the films/filmmakers you should check out are:
*Jim Finn's latest socialist masterpiece
* Sundance roommate Josh Safdie's Jerry Ruis Shall we do This
* A new sexy Lynne Stewart doc by Paul Chan
* A program devoted entirely to the films of Paul Tarrago and Ben Coonley
* Animation by Mariana Ellenberg
* New work by Aaron Valdez
* A program of ridiculously low budget shorts curated by Mike Plante featuring such buddies as the Zellner Bros., Roger Beebe, Bill Daniel, Eileen Maxson, Carson Mell, Sebastian Wolf and even many people who haven't yet had their films up on the roof.
* The most fun thing you can do with a roomful of Pabst-upped underground NYC filmmakers and a really unreliable internet connection--It's TubeTime
Monday, March 26, 2007
GLORY AT SEA
The trailer for Court 13's Rooftop Films' Filmmaker's Funded short Glory at Sea is online and it looks freakin' amazing. Shot entirely on location in Katrina-torn New Orleans, Glory at Sea tells the story of 11 survivors who build a boat and sail to sea to retrieve their loved ones from the bottom of the ocean. You need Quicktime to watch it at http://www.court13.com/glorytrailer.mov. The full film should be ready for screening this summer on the roof, so check back here for updates. More info at Court13.com
Saturday, March 24, 2007
JOHN CARNEY'S ONCE
There have been a lot of attempts over the last ten years (or 40 years, or whatever) to update the classic Hollywood musical film. Most of these movies are pretty painful to watch. Dancer in the Dark, Moulin Rouge, Everyone Says I Love You, O Brother Where Art Thou?, etc., all suffer from one or more of the following: bad scripts, bad songs, bad casting (John Leguizamo as a squealing midget?), silly politics, excessive nostalgia, or (most of all) an inability to move the action from dialogue to song without creating hopelessly contrived and awkward moments that seem to make both the actors and audience squirm nervously. And then there is John Carney's Once, an ultra low-budget busker musical shot in Dublin with non-actors, most of whom were themselves former street performers. Whereas most recent musicals (save Hedwig and a smattering of musical animation) have struck me as hopelessly misguided, Once is a genuinely appropriate 21st century musical--it's raw, real and lightly melancholy like the The Puffy Chair or some of the other better ultra-indies; but it is also still romantic, hopeful and musical, like a modern day Singing in the Rain. And somehow that works out perfectly.
It was pretty tough to get tickets to Once at Sundance in January, so I missed it while I was there--and felt terrible once I spoke to people who had seen it. The reviews were great (check out the 100% red Tomatometer) and everyone seemed to love it (it won Audience Awards at Dublin and Sundance). So I was very pleased when Stu VanAirsdale of the Reeler (my favorite NY film blog, if I haven't mentioned that before) called up to offer Rooftop a couple of free tickets. Mark and I quickly accepted the offer and dashed up to MoMA to snatch the tickets from his hands.
I'm glad to say that Carney's film is deserving of all the hype. Often described as a sort of neo-verite musical, Once tells the tale of a lonely Irish vacuum cleaner repair man (played pitch-perfect by Glen Hansard of the Irish band the Frames) who supplements his income by playing cheesy mainstream ballads in the street during his lunch breaks. At night after work he returns to playing in the streets, but once the crowds have cleared he performs his own songs--tremendously well performed, angst-ridden, autobiographical ballads that he feels are too depressing to play for the cheerful shoppers who stroll past in the afternoon.
After hearing one such song, Marketa (Marketa Irglova) introduces herself. She is young and pretty and from the Czech Republic, apparently lonely or heartbroken as well, loves his songs and has a broken vacuum cleaner to boot. It seems a perfect match, but Glen is skeptical and withdrawn and he doesn't at first give her much of a chance. Nonetheless, she returns the following day, pulling her little Hoover behind her by the nozzle as if it were puppy on a leash. Carney unabashedly sets out to make Marketa irresistibly, cutely charming, and he largely succeeds by giving her a number of adorable little lines reminiscent of those that Godard once wrote for Anna Karina. Glen invites Marketa to have lunch with him by asking Marketa if she is hungry and she says cheerfully and nonchalantly, "Yes! I am always hungry," and hops into the cafe.
It turns out Marketa is also a musician and the two of them improvise a surprisingly touching duet in a music store and share a bus ride to Glen's house/Hoover repair shop. Along the way Glen explains the source of his emotional turmoil via a charming series of little ditties about his ex-girlfriend, and by this point it has become apparent that the songs performed live in the film will communicate far more about the emotional lives of the characters than any of the dialogue. When Glen makes a clumsy pass at Marketa later that day in his bedroom she merely stands up and says, "What? Fuck this. Thanks for the Hoover," and walks out the room. It's a cute moment and a priceless line, but it's also understated and oblique, and it sets the tone for the entire film; the songs are baldly confessional and very emotional, but the characters are mostly incapable of baring their feelings once the music stops.
The tension between the open nerves displayed in the music and Glen and Marketa's inability to express themselves in their daily life is exhilarating to watch. Though the basic storyline of the film is slight--let's put on a show!--the film never drags for a moment, as we can't pull our eyes off the two leads as they alternately dance towards and away from one another. The songs are mostly performed and recorded live in front of the camera and are consistently strong and strangely well recorded (Mark and I were both rather confused as to how these two things were achieved, but alas...no Q and A). What's perhaps just as important is that though the songs serve the traditional function of filling in the emotional content of the story, the characters are always motivated to sing them aloud by some plausible action within the plot. Given contemporary audiences reluctance to give in to the conventions of the musical this is not an easy thing to pull off. But Carney (and Hansard) create the illusion of effortlessness that keeps the film feeling breezy and allows the emotion of the songs to sneak up on us. More than once I felt blindsided by a beautiful chorus, as if I wasn't prepared for the depth of feeling I suddenly felt for the characters, and I could feel the audience around me reacting the same way. It is quite an invigorating film to watch in a theater.
Unfortunately, Carney was too sick to attend the Q and A, so a lot of my questions about the production have yet to be answered. But Stu caught up with the filmmaker on Thursday and asked him some good questions. The film is being released by Fox in May and you absolutely must see it should you get the chance--my first official must-see film of 2007. If you want to read more about Once you can check out a few of these interviews:
from The Reeler
from Comingsoon.net (Sundance)
from Indiewire (Sundance)
Thursday, March 22, 2007
Tuesday, March 20, 2007
Thursday, March 15, 2007
When Jennifer Venditti was casting Carter Smith's Sundance award-winning Bugcrush, a gay-themed horror short about small town teens, she scouted a high school in rural Maine for weeks, sitting in the cafeteria and observing students, startled by the enduring strength of the social cliques. One time she sat with a group of bullies, and they told her about how they once invited a kid over to their lunch table simply in order to make fun of him and torture him. She asked which kid it was, and they pointed to a short, skinny kid with a small ponytail, sitting all by himself at the fringes of the lunchroom. That kid was Billy Price. When Jennifer started to spend time with Billy, all the other kids pestered her: Why are you talking to him?
“When I cast Billy in Bugcrush,” Jennifer said at one of her SXSW screenings, “it was partly because of what an amazing kid he was, and partly as a Fuck You to all those other kids.”
Billy the Kid, a feature-length documentary about this astonishing 15-year-old, is the quietest, sweetest, most heartbreaking Fuck You I’ve ever seen.
The film begins by spending time with Billy alone. He self-consciously tries to explain himself, the contradictions he knows he has: his love of heavy metal and his affection for his pet cat, his violent streaks and his sensitivity. While playing a shooting game at an arcade, Billy remarks, “I don’t shoot the girls, because I think it’s wrong to hurt women, real or fake.”
The opening section is filled with wonderful revelations, and throughout the film watching Billy’s relationship with his mother provides a touching example of the way a parent should deal with a brilliant but troubled child – she’s patient, she listens, she learns, she supports letting him make his own mistakes. But for me the film really takes off when Billy spies a girl his age who works at the local diner. Heather has an eye condition that makes her eyes flicker from side to side, and she is nearly blind. Her younger brothers tell Billy that she gets teased a lot, and where many kids who are bullied might see someone weaker than them that they could turn their aggression on, Billy’s heart goes out to her immediately.
Their courtship and romance play out like the finest fiction, extended scenes that are perfectly paced and shot with a delicacy and tenderness that is a joy to watch. Describing it would be largely pointless, as so much is loaded into every blurted aside, every expectant look, every pause. Suffice it to say that Billy the Kid is very deserving of the Documentary Feature award at SXSW, and much more. This portrait of a young outcast and his struggle to shed “a lifetime of loneliness” had my palms sweating, my heart racing and my eyes tearing up, as though I was the one with the live-or-die teenage crush all over again.
Wednesday, March 14, 2007
As a native New Yorker, I loved what director Aaron Katz and his tight crew accomplished presenting Brooklyn in their new film Quiet City – they found solace. The film follows a simple story – a young woman visits New York but can’t find her friend, and ends up spending the weekend with a slacker guy she meets in the subway – but Katz says he penned a 120-page script which provided the platform for improvised character development that is endearing and insightful.
One might say that it appears that this crew brought their pastoral North Carolina atmosphere to NYC (David Gordon Green served as an assistant grip of some sort), but I prefer to think that they lovingly captured a side of New York that not many people, and certainly not many non-natives, are ever able to appreciate: the wistful solitude you can find, particularly when you’re falling in love, when you’re able to shut the world out and serenely drift through the streets of the world’s most bustling town.
The two actors, Erin Fisher and Cris Lankenau, had never really met before the 6-day shoot began, so the learning and exploring process we see on screen is very real. Apparently the camera rolled and rolled on the pair, sometimes going for takes as long as 35 minutes (hot swapping out digital memory cards to keep recording). The results are delicate camera work, austere sound, and rich, engaging performances.
At the Q & A following the premiere, an audience member asked the two actors what they thought happened next for their characters, after the film’s final moments. [Warning: A charming little semi-spoiler follows.] Erin said that she assumed that they did fool around when they got back to the guy’s place, but that the shot of the airplane that ends the film indicated that her character went home, and there was no long-term, long-distance relationship. Taking over the mic, Cris responded, “So I was used and abused, huh?” He explained that he thought the airplane shot was just mood-setting scenery, and that she stayed and their relationship flourished. “Is that what you wanted,” Erin asked him. “Yeah, that’s what I wanted.” If you saw this film, you’ll understand how that little meta-extension of the story is fittingly sweet and poignant.
Tuesday, March 13, 2007
I’m not going to tell you too much about Michael Jacobs’ doc An Audience of One, because I’d rather focus on the stunning Q & A that followed the screening at SXSW today. But quickly: this charming, wild, astonishing film follows Richard Gazowsky, a Pentecostal minister from San Francisco, who has raised $600,000 from his congregation to make a sci-fi future distopian feature-length film version of the Biblical story of Joseph. Suffice it to say, that in making this film all hell breaks loose. (God forgive me for that pun.)
After the film played, one audience member asked the minister, with all those people in the audience laughing at you, and with so many people in the film, including your mother and your daughter, questioning your judgment, what was it like watching the film? Gazowsky replied, “It felt like watching myself go to the bathroom.” [Paraphrasing]: “I was sitting back there, turning red, getting embarrassed. It was hard. But I believe in what I’m doing, and if I succeed, then I know it will be worth it.”
Another audience member said that making films is a skill that takes years of training. You wouldn’t watch a surgeon, and then go try brain surgery. Why did you do this, or at least, why not start with something more simple? Again, the preacher was unflappable, and said that he loves film, but that he saw that the surgeon, Hollywood, was killing the patient. And that he felt like he needed to learn surgery and save cinema. They used to make a TV show, a low budget preacher show “that people like you would never watch, because it was mediocre. And I was tired of mediocrity.” So he wanted to do something big. And he knew that he couldn’t climb the ladder in Hollywood. Independent cinema is much like Christian cinema – outsiders who can’t get in and need to make films any way they can.
Those are noble and insightful comments, and the respectful way that Jacobs (the doc filmmaker) treats his subject makes for a fascinating and enjoyable film. Still, I couldn’t help think that Gazowsky was a great con man, a disillusioned liar, and a crook. I loved the film, and I’d be interested to hear what others think of him.
Check out this trailer.
Hanna Takes the Stairs is something of a miracle. Director Joe Swanberg took a bunch of non-actors, camped them out on a living room floor in Chicago for a month, and improvised a delightful, insightful and nuanced film.
The title, Joe told a packed and enthusiastic house, comes from a sketch of the plotline Joe made, which looked like a woman climbing stairs: she tries to move up (or down?), hits a plateau, and then tries to shake things up again. Most of the actors are also directors and/or writers themselves (Greta Gerwig, Andrew Bujalski, Kent Osborne, Mark Duplass, Ry Russo-Young and Todd Rohal), and I think that expertise allowed Joe and the cast to always find the dramatic shifts and tension in every scene.
Hannah herself is a fascinating character: at times manipulative, at times a victim; there are times she’s working hard to figure herself out and times she throws up her hands; but through all of it, one gets the sense that Hannah (as a character) is a very genuine person, even if she doesn’t know what she’s doing or she’s stabbing you in the back. I was strangely reminded of Jack Nicholson’s character in Five Easy Pieces. And yet this film is also fetching hilarious. There are fantastic set ups and visual jokes, pop culture gags and pure oddness, but what makes the film funny in a meaningful way is that most of the the humor is predicated on insights into the characters psyches, piercing their vivid emotional states.
My only regret is that for something that was left on the cutting room floor. Todd Rohal told me he ended every scene he was in with the same line: “Ok, I’m going to go take a poop and call my mom.” I can’t wait for the deleted scenes on the DVD. Watch for camera-shake in Todd’s scenes when Joe told me he was laughing so hard he couldn’t keep the framing.
At the premiere of Big Rig, director Doug Pray said that he set out thinking he would make a doc about the myth of the wild trucker life-style: high speed and danger, dodging cops and taking drugs, lot lizards and madmen. But once he got to know American truckers – over the course of five years of riding and shooting – he made a U-turn and ended up with a film that celebrates the hard-working, honorable and insightful men and women who are the lifeblood of America’s commerce. “If you bought it, a truck brought it” is the trucker creed, with so many goods transported by truck that a national stoppage would shut down the American economy in three days.
This dynamic film features gorgeous shots from across the country and interviews with about 20 drivers of all types, talking on a wide range of issues – from customizing your rig to the economic struggles of the independent trucker, from the destruction of truck stop culture to the destruction of American freedom. One driver showed how he was getting $800 for a long haul, and over $300 of that would go into diesel fuel – which is cheaper to produce than regular gasoline, but costs on average $0.50 more per gallon. The situation, drivers say, is not tenable.
Many of the truckers in the film were at the premiere, and I asked if it was possible for drivers to switch to other fuels, or if they thought America might change the nature of shipping entirely. But they said their profit margins are so tight, and fuels like bio-diesel and ethanol are still not readily available, so they can’t afford to try to switch. As one driver put it, the oil companies, the shipping companies, and the Department of Transportation “have us by the cojones.”
Macky Alston and Andrea Meller’s powerful documentary Hard Road Home exposes one of the most difficult and tragic issues facing the United States vast and growing prison population: what to do when you get out. You have become used to a static and structured life, where meals, clothes and shelter are provided for you. You are legally barred from many professions, and far more employers simply won’t hire you. And many of your friends and family members are just waiting for you to get busted again.
This film is about a non-profit non-governmental organization, run by former convicts, which helps people when they get out of jail. Based in East Harlem, the Exodus Transitional Community is simply amazing, going far beyond traditional social services. For example, they not only help you find a job listing, they’ll train you how to talk in an interview, give you a suit to wear, and give you a wake-up call to make sure you get there. Most of all, they provide an astonishingly caring community. In the film, when one of the instructors in the program has a drug relapse, the underpaid staff immediately takes up a collection for his family, and takes to the streets to find him. When he finally comes in after several days, he fully expected to be chastised and fired. Instead, his co-workers greet him with hugs, hot food, and words of encouragement.
The film itself is hard-hitting and delicately told, heartbreaking, uplifting and insightful, with in depth coverage and a fantastically effective structure which highlights the difficult struggle ex-convicts face and the astonishing power of the Exodus house. Julio Medina, the inspiring head of the program, was at the screening, and he said that Exodus is in grave danger as one of their major grants is drying up. That a program as effective and necessary as Exodus is in dire need of funding is, quite frankly, criminal, and I hope this film can be a catalyst to help this program and many others like it.
Monday, March 12, 2007
Saturday, March 10, 2007
Every now and then there are moments when the folks at the Anthology Film Archives remind you how uniquely valuable they are. Friday night was just such an evening as Al Maysles and the good guys at the Maysles Institute came downtown to present a batch of rarely (or never) before seen clips from the Maysles overflowing archives. Seeing these short clips broken up is not as engrossing as watching a fully realized Maysles film, and I'll admit that my mind wandered here and there during the two hour screening that featured excerpts from 12 different doc projects, plus a small selction of commercials and a clip from a strangely charming appearance they made on the original Late Night with David Letterman show. But the gems within this program...they are simply amazing. My personal favorite and definitely the crowd-pleasingest of the bunch was the simply extraordinary short promotional film "Salvador Dali's Fantastic Dream." Apparently Disney commissioned a painting by Dali in some madcap attempt to promote their Raquel Welch sci-fi spectacular Fantastic Voyage and also paid the Maysles to document his artistic process. If only corporations wasted money so creatively today. Dali's portrait of Welch is silly pop-art, but watching the painter dash wildly about about Manhattan with his waxed moustahce and a gaggle of sycophantic reporters, searching for "inspiration" is unlike anything I have ever seen. That the short is narrated by in sardonic newsreel style brings it all together perfectly. Serendipitous moments of humanist camp trash that even a Bouvier Beale could never match.
I walked over to the screening of Third Ward, TX, taking in some warm Texas atmosphere before checking out this lovely documentary. The Third Ward is a neighborhood in Houston that was historically populated by African-Americans. In the 1960s, the city ran a highway through the area, removing 30,000 people, isolating and dividing the area, and wrecking the tight, vibrant community. In the late 1990s, a group of black artists began The Project Row Houses, a program in which they converted abandoned houses into artist residencies and low-income housing, primarily for black artists and particularly for single mothers. The artists in the project were careful to communicate and listen to the local residents, and the results have been spectacular, rebuilding the community, staving off gentrification and providing historical and cultural dialogue. I missed or the film leaves vague the facts of how this program operates, but the focus of the film is on the clearly powerful, rejuvenating effects Project Row Houses has on the neighborhood. It's a great story, told with charm and dexterity, and really has universal appeal -- these are issues facing every city in America, and our country needs more innovative ideas like Project Row Houses. A first step is for people to see Third Ward, TX.
There are a few films I’ve already seen, and I highly recommend:
King Corn (Aaron Woolf, Ian Cheney, Curt Ellis)
Murder Party (Jeremy Saulnier)
The Prisoner (Michael Tucker & Petra Epperlein)
Fish Kill Flea (Brian Cassidy, Aaron Hillis, Jennifer Loeber)
When Adnan Comes Home (Andrew Berends)
Kamp Katrina (David Redmon & Ashely Sabin)
I plan on writing up a few sentences about each soon, but if you're around, trust me, they're all great and worth seeing.
7am and I’m on my way to Austin, where it’s 82 degrees and there are about 82 films I want to see. I’ve only got so much time, though, so I’ve had to narrow it down a bit. The short list includes:
Third Ward, TX (Andrew Garrison); Hard Road Home (Macky Alston / Andrea Meller); Lost in Woonsocket (John Chester); Election Day (Katy Chevigny); Big Rig (Doug Pray); Crazy Sexy Cancer (Kris Carr); Hell on Wheels (Bob Ray); Hannah Takes the Stairs (Joe Swanberg); What Would Jesus Buy? (Rob Vanalkemade); Audience of One (Michael Jacobs); Quiet City (Aaron Katz); Great World of Sound (Craig Zobel); Billy the Kid (Jennifer Venditti).
If anyone has other recommendations, drop me a line.
What I'm going to try to do with this blog is give quick reviews of the movies, but also incorporate facts and anecdotes about the films which I learned from Q & A's and my personal discussions with the directors, cast and crew. It will be totally like you're here at the festival yourself!
Thursday, March 08, 2007
Wednesday, February 28, 2007
Letters from Beirut is a political documentary that owes more to Chris Marker than Michael Moore, and it's worth seeking out.
Thu. Mar 1, 2007, 9:00 pm at the Two Boots Pioneer Theater,
as part of Alwan's New York Arab and South Asian Film Festival
Last week at Bluestockings Books, I attended a "Through The Lens" work-in-progress screening (co-curated by Rooftop veteran filmmaker Mark Read) of Letters from Beirut, an experimental doc directed by Richard Rowley of Big Noise Films. Big Noise is radical media collective who have produced some of the most coherent and watchable movies from the frontlines of major rallies since the 1999 WTO protest in Seattle, and though I haven't seen all of their work, this film seems like a bold and welcome new departure for contemporary activist filmmaking. The film centers around letters written by Hanady Salman, a Lebanese woman who doesn't see a division between her role as a journalist and her role as a mother, a neighbor, a friend. As she lived through the 2006 war in Beirut, Salman wrote open letters to the world, filled with heartbreaking and uplifting stories, measured and overwhelming feelings, and rich philosophical ideas. The film balances her readings with footage from Lebanon, ranging from interviews with distraught neighbors who find the ability (or the need) to laugh to near abstract visual poetry outlining the dichotomy of natural progressions and man-made destruction.
Letters will NOT give you a history of the ongoing conflict nor details of this brutal war, so the best way to appreciate this film is to read up on the facts and then take in Letters from Beirut as an emotional and intellectual counterpoint. This 10-minute video which Big Noise produced is one of many places to look first for background.
Every day deserves its own demon, and Stefan G. Bucher has spawned a world full of them, which other net-trawlers have been happily embellishing and giving greater life to.
Every day for 100 days, Bucher made a little ink splot on a piece of paper, then sketched a funny monster out of it, filming the development as it went. I've been checking on the monsters for months now, so it's a bit pathetic on my part that I'm only cluing you, dear reader, in on it now, but it's still a delight to watch each monster evolve and see the whole process diversify. Although Bucher's not drawing them daily any more, people can now download ink splots and make new creatures, post pics of their demons, and write stories for the little troublemakers. Witness the beginning of the Daily Monsters, but also peep the latter-day tangential trolls and tales.
Wednesday, February 14, 2007
Oscar nominated shorts will be screening at the IFC Center starting this Friday, Feb. 16. Frankly, most of the live-action stuff that was nominated was a little schmaltzy--lots of children breaking the rules to do what's right, saving their villages from the cynicism of the elders, etc. But the animation is generally pretty great and the shorts that Magnolia is releasing alongside the Oscar stuff are all fantastic, particularly Adam Parrish King's The Wraith of Cobble Hill, Bill Plympton's Guide Dog--both of which screened at Rooftop last summer--and One Rat Short, which is pictured above and which you can also watch online HERE.
Monday, February 12, 2007
SPECIAL SCREENINGS AND DVD RELEASE
“Hawley and Galinsky know how to make pictures that shudder with feeling.” - Manohla Dargis
The classic underground Indie-Rock road movies Half-Cocked and Radiation are coming out on DVD this week and you should all come out to the special double-feature at the Anthology Film Archives tomorrow (Tuesday) night.
Long-time Rooftop Films fans probably know a lot about Micheal Galinsky and Suki Hawley. We have been big fans of theirs since they started making films in the long-ago 1990's and we have screened two of their unforgettable documentaries—Horns and Halos (2002) and Code 33 (2005). In true DIY fashion, they are releasing the underground classics Half-Cocked and Radiation as a double DVD via their RUMUR imprint, and if you are a fan of indie-rock bands that don't own their own equipment, feel any wistful nostalgia for the 90's or just enjoy inspred filmmaking, we highly encourage you go see their films this week and buy their DVD.Made in 1994 in Louisville, Nashville and Chattanooga, Half-Cocked follows a group of kids who steal a van full of music equipment and pretend to be a band in order to stay on the road. The film features Ian Svenonius and members of Rodan and The Grifters, with music by Unwound, Slant 6, Freakwater, Versus, Polvo, Smog, Helium and others. Read more about the films, the screenings and the DVDs HERE.
SKIZZ CYZCK'S MANAGER'S CORNER
In honor of the start of Spring training, here is Skizz Cyzyk's animation set to an infamous radio show featuring the foul-mouthed Orioles manager, Earl Weaver. There will not be many interviews like this one broadcast in 2007, but I bet that the obscenities directed at A-Rod this year will be a lot more profane than anything Earl ever said about Terry Crowley--though most of them won't be spoken aloud on air. Maybe.
Saturday, February 10, 2007
Sid Ganis, Jedi Master
Or at least Lucas has really, really bad taste--especially when his own films are concerned. This isn't very indie-film of me to post, but the Hot Blog just posted this:
George Lucas, giving the award to Sid Ganis, who was the in-house publicist on Star Wars: Episode Five - The Empire Strikes Back, said, "Sid is the reason why The Empire Strikes Back is always written about as the best of the films, when it actually was the worst one."
Does lucas really believe that the reason that most of the series' biggest fans--most of who were between the age of 2 and 10 when they first saw the films--have spent the last 25 years calling Empire the best of the 6 films, is because they have been unwittingly mouthing the opinions fed to them by a clever publicist in 1981? That's just a really weird thing to say.
Wednesday, February 07, 2007
Daniel Gold and Judith Helfand's Everything's Cool and Michael Tucker and Petra Epperlein's The Prisoner: Or, How I Planned to Kill Tony Blair will be playing as part of Thom Powers' Stranger Than Fiction series later this month at IFC. I haven't seen Everything's Cool yet, but Mark an I both got a sneak peak at The Prisoner a few weeks back and we highly recommend it. The film tells the story of Yunis Khatayer Abbas, an Iraqi journalist who has the peculiar misfortune of having been unjustly imprisoned by both Saddam Hussein and the U.S. occupying army--at Abu Ghraib, no less. An earlier (and slightly less developed) version premiered to good reviews at Toronto, but one of the soldiers mentioned in interviews with Abbas showed up at a screening in Toronto and footage with him was quickly--but effectively--added into the story. Definitely a more serious and powerful film than Tucker's last film, the flawed but unfairly maligned (in my opinion) Gunner Palace, The Prisoner is yet another really powerful documentary about the war. I realize that things look grim in Iraq and there has been plenty written and whined regarding mass media's failure to convey an accurate picture of life in the war zone, but I genuinely believe that we will one day look back on all the amazing documentaries shot in Iraq or otherwise made about the war and realize that at least American documentary filmmakers didn't drop the ball. Anyway, buy tickets and congratulate the filmmakers in person on a job well done.
KATHY HUANG'S NIGHT VISIONS
A short, melancholy portrait of Blake Roberts, an Iraq vet just back from the war. Honest and direct, he shared with Kathy tales of daily life in the barracks as well as intimate, tragic moments. Though Blake does not question the motives of the U.S. government in Iraq or the missions he completed, he nevertheless has been shaken by his experiences in the Middle East. Screened at Rooftop on July 4th, 2007. You can watch it HERE
Sunday, February 04, 2007
BOBBY BIRD: DEVIL IN DENIM
If I can find a picture without the balls blacked out, I'll post that one. Until that point, you will have to go HERE to watch the uncensored video. For those wondering, Bobby Bird is NOT a real rocker. But Carson says that he is hoping to create a live-action Devil in Denim feature film, and this Bobby Bird short is one of many things that he is doing to try to push that effort forward. Though Rooftop generally frowns upon calling card shorts, we'll make an exception for Bobby Bird, since it stands so well on its own. I, for one, am seriously considering getting my first tattoo as a result of this short--I bet you can guess which one I am leaning towards. Find out more about Carson and his characters here.
JOERG WAGNER'S MOTODROM
Ahhh...Motodrom. I loved this movie before I even saw it. From the moment I first read the description of Joerg Wagner's experimental documentary about hellriders who travel from carnival ground to carnival ground with their giant wooden tower and their antique motorcycles and go carts I was anxious to track down the film. Luckily it got into Sundance (it had previously played at many European festivals) and I saw it in Park City. We ran into Joerg and his co-producer and they were really good guys. You can watch it HERE, but hopefully we will get to screen it this summer and you will be able to watch it on the big screen at Rooftop as well.
Saturday, February 03, 2007
MATTHEW POND'S THE NAKED COWBOY
Veteran Rooftop volunteer (from our Bushwick days) and all-around good guy Matthew Pond made this tremendously entertaining portrait of Times Square's famously talentless Naked Cowboy. You can watch it HERE
Wednesday, January 31, 2007
ANDY BLUBAUGH'S SCAREDYCAT
We screened Andy's charming short Hello, Thanks last summer and we are really excited to see that he has continued working in a similar vein but seems to really be making strides as a video artist, or video diarist, or personal documentarian or whatever he decides to call himself. Scaredycat is really great and since it screened at Sundance Sundance you can watch it online HERE.
Hollywood Reporter printed these stats yesterday, originally compiled by critic Carrie Rickey (all stats are 2006 only):
60% (3 of 5) of 2006 Oscar nominated documentary features are directed by women,
40% (2of 5) of 2006 Oscar nominated foreign-films are directed by women,
25% of Sundance 2007 features and shorts are directed by women
10% of 2006 best-picture Oscar nominees are directed by women
6.25 % of top-250 domestic box office grossers in 2006 are directed by women
1.8 % of top-1000 domestic box office grossers in 2006 are directed by women.
As the article points out, you can probably spin this raw info any way that you want, but it's interesting to see that even though Sundance is roughly 15 times better at presenting women's films than the market as a whole, it can still only manage to fill 25% of it's slate with films by female directors. This is not a criticism by any means--I am sure they are doing everything that they can. I'm merely pointing out how few films are directed by women at this point in time, and how few of those films that do get made get any significant distribution whatsoever. Clearly, institutions like Sundance, most other film festivals, and even the Academy are inclined to recognize as many good films by women as they can. But for whatever reason, women get very few chances to succeed in the film marketplace.