“VARDA BY AGNÈS”

Nothing is trite if you look at it with empathy and love. — Agnès Varda, from her last film, Varda by Agnès

a darling illustration of Varda from a bag I was lucky enough to score from the film’s publicist
Tom Luddy, Rosalie Vatda, Martin Scorsese, Mathieu Demy, moderator Annette Insdorf

Agnès Varda, the Belgian-born French filmmaker died in March and the Telluride Film Festival dedicated this year’s festival to her and celebrated her life and work with special guests. Bringing in her friend Martin Scorsese and her two children, Rosalie Varda and Mathieu Demy and the founder of the festival, Tom Luddy to discuss her ground-breaking work and then screening Varda’s last film, Varda by Agnès. An instant film-studies classic, her film is a beautiful overview of her work and collaborations with actors and cinematographers. Varda is shown giving talks to students in both France and the US with clips of her work, then the film jumps to new footage of Varda speaking with her actors in the same locations where she filmed.

Martin Scorsese spoke about having Agnès Varda visit him on the set of The Irishman (Opening at the NY Film Festival where Varda’s film will also screen). She chided him on his politics and he soothed her with saying the film was about unions since she’s was all about the working man. It was touching to hear how he sought her approval and valued her opinion. Rosalie and Mathieu spoke about their unusual upbringing when famous directors and stars were guests at their home and they traveled to LA with their father, Jacque Demy and their mother. She was always busy making films. Indiewire has a lovely interview with Rosalie in Agnès Varda’s Daughter On Her Mother’s Death and the Future of Her Archive.

from the 46th Telluride Film Festival Program

I was so glad I got to be at the Tribute screening of this film because Tom Luddy spoke of his relationship with Varda from his years in San Francisco. He introduced her to Jean Varda, who turned out to be a relative of hers and she immediately decided to make a film about their reunion. Luddy is in the film as she recreated her introduction by him in the short Uncle Yanco…and it’s featured in Varda by Agnès. The short also screened at the festival with Black Panthers, another film that Tom Luddy assembled the crew for and encouraged Varda to make so she could document an important movement in US history. It was great to her about her filmmaking process and how her creative energies; her joie de vivre made her someone that no one wanted to say no to.

Agnès Varda was a true genius, working right till the end of her life and it’s so inspiring to see her work and celebrate her life. Faces Places (Visages Villages) brought her a resurgence of popularity and the film was nominated for an Oscar and won many International awards. I hope this film will also get the acclaim it deserves.

46th Telluride Film Festival — Racing thru Four Days of Films

A gathering of the luminaries at the 2019 Telluride Film Festival

Film Festivals have their own zeitgeist. Cannes has glamour, Sundance has snow and celebrities, and Telluride has a mountain top cathedral for film aficionados. Programmers fight to have films premiere at their festival and attracting celebrities is very important. Film guests sell tickets but also create a buzz at the event. Some festivals like the Mill Valley Film Festival and the Telluride Film Festival have less work to do to attract the big names — both events are in beautiful places and more importantly, attract fans that will allow filmmakers and stars to walk the streets sans bodyguards and publicists.

This year’s Telluride Film Festival was graced with the presence of such luminaries as Martin Scorsese, Adam Driver, Philip Kaufman, Bong Joon-ho, Edward Norton, and Renee Zellweger. Long-time Festival favorites, Werner Herzog and Ken Burns brought new works to the Festival and first-time festival attendees like Antonio Banderas (Pain and Glory) professed their love for the magic of Telluride. Programming was strong. There weren’t as many thought-provoking or life-affirming features as in years past but there was certainly a breadth of subjects covered. From Imelda Marcos (The Kingmaker) to Oliver Sacks (Oliver Sacks: His Own Life) to sports (cycling, soccer, Australian football, race cars) and hot air balloons (The Aeronauts); from portrait painting (Portrait of a Lady on Fire) to art forgery (Lyrebird).

What was interesting was to hear how many film lovers either LOVED or HATED some of the films. Everyone was excited to see the Hollywood films: Ford v Ferrari, Judy, Marriage Story and Motherless Brooklyn but the more offbeat Uncut Gems? Even with the selling point of having Adam Sandler there for a lively Q & A, Uncut Gems warranted a lot of walk outs. Directors Josh and Bennie Safdie tapped Oneohtrix Point Never who also scored their 2017 film Good Time; both films feature a frenetic soundtrack. Sound and scores were an important part of the the film experience this year and Uncut Gems soundtrack was a cacophany that may have reflected the character’s state of mind — but it was difficult to endure.

There were 30 main film programs, three tributes, shorts programs, retrospectives and outdoor screenings. Guest Director Pico Iyer selected five International film highlighting women in film. With this year’s focus on sound, there was a tribute to Dolby Laboratories, two silent films and many films about musicians. Ken Burns unveiled his series on Country Music, documentaries included Billie (Billie Holiday), Amazing Grace (Aretha Franklin), Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice, Tex Mex music (Chulas Fronteras) and The Gift: The Journey of Johnny Cash. Two themes were evident in the 2019 program — music, there were some unusual scores this year — and long screening times. Of the 30 main film programs, 20 were at or over 2 hours.

Waves, 2019 — A24

One of the longer films that was also divisive is Waves. I spoke to people who walked out, a few people who ranked it as a favorite, and others who felt it was trite and the soundtrack annoying. Trey Edward Shultz (It Comes at Night, Krisha) uses a few unusual filmmaking techniques to put the audience in the mindset of the characters. Not everyone was a fan of the spinning Go Pro shots in the car (used repeatedly) or the full-screen color waves to represent emotions. The soundtrack also acts like a character in the film. It’s a hard-driving mix of hip hop and rap by Trent Reznor‎ and ‎Atticus Ross and while the characters are listening and singing to music, the soundtrack is playing something different for us. It was jarring at first and like the color blocks on the screen, took some adjusting to.

Taylor Russell plays the daughter in Waves

A tragedy told from two focal points, the acting is strong particularly from the two young actors Kelvin Harrison Jr. and especially Taylor Russell as the young woman who transforms from a background player who’s withdrawn, to the focus of the narrative. Waves is getting a lot of critical acclaim and though I felt it had some beautiful moments, a little judicial trimming would’ve gone a long way to transforming the film.

Working the festival as a Volunteer (love the Sheridan Opera House crew!), there were many films I didn’t get the opportunity to see. So I’m thankful for the After Festival screenings and happy that I had to opportunity to catch Parasite and The Two Popes. Thank you Telluride Film Festival. What a gem of a festival!

So You Want to be a Festival Gypsy?

As staff and volunteers arrive in the soon-to-be-bustling mountain town of Telluride in advance of the 46th Telluride Film Festival, there’s an excitement in the air. What films will screen? Who will the guests be? Will we get to see all the films we want to get into? For many of us, this is a chance to see friends we see only once a year at this Festival. And for others…this is another festival to work on the festival circuit.

I’ve been working film festivals for over 30 years. I didn’t plan to be a Festival Gypsy. It’s like potato chips, you have one and suddenly you’re looking sadly at an empty salty bag. What starts as a passion for films and one festival job that allows you access to films and behind-the-scene comradery, becomes a few festivals that you travel to to work with your friends…to what can become a full slate of festivals and suddenly–you find that it’s your life. I’ve had the opportunity to produce my own film festivals, curate film programs for festivals and have worn many hats for over 20 festivals here and abroad.

Not to be confused with attending a few festivals when you have the means for Passes and accommodations…a true Festival Gypsy may not even have a home base. I have a few festival friends that stay with family or friends but all of their belongings either fit in a few suitcases or live in perpetual storage. Every gypsy has different story. Some started like myself, in the SF Bay Area, where there’s a film festival every month. Or they found a particular niche in the festival business: Events, Guest Relations, Transpo or Theater Ops and realized that if they knew others in the biz, they could work at other festivals doing the same job. Some festivals even provide lodging and transportation.

The short-term contracts mean that you need serious budgeting skills, you may have to pay quarterly taxes, and you must be able to make dinner out of cheese cubes and bread sticks from the Hospitality lounge. You’ll get to travel, meet many interesting people, and each festival has its own perks and pitfalls; its own zeitgeist if you will. Many festivals don’t hire festival staff, relying mostly on volunteers (Boulder, Portland) or are very difficult to break into for a paid gig (Sundance, Telluride) because so many staff come back every year.

If you have a certain skill set and can adapt easily to new environments, working festivals can be a wonderful experience. As with any job, it’s your team that makes all the difference. Everyone who works a festival will have a different experience. You may find yourself joining a team of long-time friends that doesn’t make room for newbies or land in a venue that requires long hours and heavy lifting. As in any line of work, there are a few power-mad staff that think a walkie-talkie or a position of authority give them carte blanche to act like a dictator. Not everyone working a Festival knows that without the FEST, ie. the fun, they shouldn’t be part of the crew, or at least not on the front lines.

If you live in the town like Telluride or San Francisco, you can work the plethora of festivals that happen there almost every weekend. In Telluride, that would be summer work and you’d be traveling out of town come the end of September after The Telluride Festival of Cars and Colors. However, most of the jobs are volunteer, so you’d be hard pressed to make a living. Very few people have the wherewithal to travel the festival circuit as a Volunteer. A Gypsy is likely working multiple jobs for the privilege of traveling to do what they love–becoming part of the crew that bands together to bring amazing, potentially life-changing films to the masses. So if you see someone carrying a festival sign, toting a bin of passes/waters/ballots, wearing a headset or badge…give them a smile and acknowledge their hard work. They may be sleeping on a couch, subsisting on bagels and coffee (LOTS of coffee), and possibly, they’re a Festival Gypsy far from home.

And Now For Something Completely…similar to the previous remake…

Did we need a remake of Aladdin?

I get it. You have little ones at home. Summer Camp is out. You’ve made so many trips to the ice cream place that you’re hoping you don’t have to put on a swimsuit again till next year. There are many families that will look forward to going to see the NEW Aladdin; a family film that can be enjoyed together. This might replace the worn out DVD at home and give someone in the family ideas for a Halloween costume. Dad and Mom might appreciate that the casting is more ethnically-appropriate and the animation is lovely. Everyone can enjoy the songs that are now so well-known. Directed by Guy Ritchie, I expected a more updated version of this tale from 1001 Arabian Nights. The story sticks pretty close to the 1992 version featuring Robin William’s Genie. Will Smith is a good replacement, there’s a Bollywood number and beautiful sets and Aladdin is a good end of summer film to enjoy.

If however, you’re itchin’ for Fall Films and something that’s a little more challenging or unique than this summer’s spat of sequels, superhero films and remakes…there’s hope for you. Director and Writer, Lulu Wang has already been winning accolades for her touching, personal film. The Farewell was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance and the film won Audience Favorite. This delightful film, based on a true story, presents a Chinese family hiding the truth about the grandmother’s diagnosis. One of the most popular Indie Films of the summer and I’ll review it next week.

There are lots of great films released this summer that fit the bill as entertaining but also breaking the mold of the typical summer fare.  For a twist on the high school party film, see the female-centric comedy, Booksmart. The young stars are self-assured in their nerdiness and it’s a great portrait of true friendship even if it’s for mature teens with fumbling teen sex and crass language. If you’re an action film lover, I’d suggest Stuber, the fight scenes are funny, the actors, Kumail Nanjiani and Dave Bautista have great chemistry and though the plot is ludicrous the concept of an Uber driver fighting crime is original.

Looking for an unusual and lyrical take on San Francisco’s gentrification? A great cast was assembled to tell this tale of two men trying to find home and family. The Last Black Man in San Francisco is artfully-shot and directed. Local childhood friends, Joe Talbot and Jimmie Fails wrote this paean to SF and to male friendship. It’s a quiet film with an insider’s look at some thorny issues and I’m betting that it’ll win some awards. The NY Times published a “The Best Movies of 2019 So Far” list as have many other publications. Look for lists that don’t consist of blockbusters and Disney films and you’ll find many great films you may have missed. Many of these films are now available to stream and there are some new films and series for Fall Season on television now.

I’m looking forward to the Telluride Film Festival over the Labor Day Weekend. I often see some of my new favorite films of the year…that likely won’t be released till NEXT year. Oh Hollywood…

Inspired Cinema in 2018: Innovative, Universal and showcasing flawed human beings as Heroes!

72 film tickets which doesn’t include films screened for festivals, shorts watched on my computer or any of the 15 films watched on Netflix, rented from Redbox or DVDS!

This was a wonderful year for movies. No matter how you consumed them: via Netflix, at your local cineplex or at a starry Festival premiere, there was a broad array of offerings. A few of the sequels were as good, if not BETTER than the original films (Paddington 2, Incredibles 2, Bumblebee), our comic book films celebrated diversity and empowerment (Wonder Woman, Black Panther) and it was a banner year for documentaries (RBG, Won’t You Be My Neighbor, Free Solo).

My favorite movies this year were two beautiful black and white films that transported me to another time and place with amazing cinematography and rich storytelling. Cold War, Pawel Pawlikowski‘s tragic love story tracked lovers thru a decade of Polish folk music to jazz in Paris. It was in the small moments when a stillness seemed to freeze frame the characters so we could study their emotions. The lush cinematography and the amazing, luminous performances of Joanna Kulig and Tomasz Kot really drew me in. The film had a documentary feel and was almost as moving as my favorite films from 2013, Ida, by the same director.

 Roma, Alfonso Cuaron’s personal film about life in an upper middle-class Mexican family home is also shot in black and white (by Cuaron). Told thru the eyes of the caring family helper (both maid and nanny), Roma reveals how the personal and the political impact and influence everyone’s lives. The casualness of how a normal day can be shattered by violence, transformed by a brush with death or unite a family to battle a brush fire; while the family tries to maintain security and stability. We may not suffer as much trauma but it’s a universal struggle to protect those we love that everyone can understand.

There were some astounding films this year. I was so moved by A Beautiful Boy (Steve Carell and Timothy Chalamet), and Ben is Back also explored the drug crisis with searing performances (Lucas Hedges and Julia Roberts). Welcome to Marwen and Annilahation were visually stunning as was the sweet Paddington 2. Into the Spiderverse was a zany Pop Culture Spiderman that we didn’t know we needed.

There were some great explorations of race and gender this year in film. My favorite was Blindspotting. I had to see Black Panther and Wonder Woman twice! And cheered for RBG AND On the Basis of Sex. One of my favorite moments at the movies this year was Edna Mode in The Incredibles 2 transforming into Aunt Edna and hustling the exhausted Dad (Bob, trying to be a Super Dad) back home. I felt that this year, the movies gave us some heroes that were flawed and all the more likable for it. Our society is changing. How we perceive ourselves and others is changing. Our films should too.

There may well have been other films I would’ve ranked in my Top 10 if I’d made one, but I know I missed seeing some great films this year: Madeline’s Madeline, Happy as Lazzaro, Private Life, The Rider, Support the Girls, Let The Sunshine In, Capernaum, Never Look Away, Burning, and Shoplifters.  A few I’ll be able to see on Netflix or Hulu, and a few that may still screen at an arthouse cinema somewhere.

Follow me on Instagram for snapshots of films as I see them.

See you at the movies my friends!

Men. In cars. Bonding. “Green Book” & “The Upside”

Green Book
The Upside

My favorite film at the Denver Film Festival this year was The Biggest Little Farm.  I’m excited for people to see this beautiful documentary when it comes to theaters in April. Oddly enough, it was two films with major stars that tied as my other favorites…and both films haven’t been getting much love from the critics.

Green Book and The Upside both feature actors at the top of their game playing characters that are extreme opposites. Based on true stories, both films have scenes that show the characters finding common ground while driving in cars.  And the similarities keep coming. While writing love letters to a woman, both sets of characters reveal their softer, sentimental sides. Black and white, rich vs poor, educated vs street smarts…even the conversations about music play out similarly. They may be set in different time periods and in different cities but where Bryan Cranston’s character loves opera–Kevin Hart is a fan of Aretha Franklin.  Mahershala Ali’s pianist, Dr Don Shirley teaches Viggo Mortenson’s working class stiff, Tony Lip to appreciate classical music and in turn, the refined Dr Shirley learns to appreciate 70’s soul music.

A remake of the brilliant French film, The Intouchables, The Upside has not received a wide release. On-hold since 2017 due to Miramax and #metoo villian Harvey Weinstein’s involvement—is it throwing the baby out with the bath water to stall this film? I really enjoyed it. There are some wicked funny moments between Bryan Cranston and Kevin Hart and there are touching scenes that reveal both character’s grief. Though Nicole Kidman has a small role here…her presence of gentle guidance and respect give the film a sure footing. I loved the refection on how wealth changes ones approach to art (both good and bad) and felt that this version based on the real lives of the ex-con and the quadriplegic has something new to say.

Green Book melted my heart. Critics have been calling it trite or sentimental, even complaining that it’s predictable. I found it charming and frightening in places and yes, some of the scenes we’ve seen before. But aren’t stereotypes, stereotypes, because of an endearing trope that has some basis in truth? A tale of two men, but also of two cultures and the racism and bigotry of the South that resonates with our own troubled present. Viggo Mortenson’s Tony Lip is a charming ruffian with a heart as big as Kansas but little opportunity or skill to express it and limited options for betterment. His role as bodyguard and driver to the refined and reserved Dr Don Shirley changes both of their lives. The juxtaposition between concert hall and juke joint, between Dr Shirley’s ornately-decorated penthouse–beautiful ye cold and empty, and Tony Lip’s loud, happy family home…these moments provide both the blues and the joyful jazz to this film.

Denver Film Fest Winners 2018

41ST DENVER FILM FESTIVAL ANNOUNCES ALL AWARD RECIPIENTS

DFF41 honors Green Book, The Weight of Water, Shoplifters, Wrestle, and so much more…

November 12, 2018 (DENVER) – The Denver Film Festival (DFF) has announced the recipients of its annual People’s Choice Awards and Festival Juried Awards in multiple categories.

People’s Choice Awards
After conclusion of the Festival on Sunday, November 11, the following films were recognized as the People’s Choice Award winners for the 41st Denver Film Festival by a tally of ballots.

Narrative Feature:
GREEN BOOK
Director: Peter Farrelly

Documentary Feature:
THE WEIGHT OF WATER
Director: Michael Brown

Short Subject Film:
EARTHRISE
Director: Emmanuel Vaughan-Lee

Music Video:
MIDAS – CAROLINE
Director: Michael Middelkoop

True Grit Award
The following Colorado-made feature film was selected as the winner of the True Grit Award by a jury of members of the Denver Film Academy, which is comprised of dues-paying alumni board members.

THE LAST HONEY HUNTER
Director: Ben Knight

The jury statement reads:
“This year the true grit award goes to Ben Knight for the short subject The Last Honey Hunter which is beautifully filmed in the mountains of Nepal and vividly embraces the harmony of villagers and their unique natural setting. This story of agricultural interdependence reminds us that feudal systems can exist as the smallest geographies and cultures and that faith in oneself can overcome rational fear. It is beautifully told and very moving. We hope everyone has a chance to see this fine film.”

Special mention:
THE RESCUE LIST
Directors: Alyssa Fedele, Zachary Fink

“This year in addition to the True Grit award the Academy has decided to give a special achievement award to Alyssa Fedele and Zachery Fink for The Rescue List, which is an engrossing documentary centering on child slavery in the Lake Volta region of Ghana. The film chronicles the work of a group of social workers whose purpose is to return these boys to their families. It is more than well worth seeing.”

Krzysztof Kieślowski Award for Best Narrative Feature Film
The following narrative feature film was selected as the winner of the Krzysztof Kieślowski Award by a jury of international film industry members.

SHOPLIFTERS
Director: Hirokazu Kore-eda

The jury statement reads:
“The surprising structure of the screenplay, combined with an outstanding ensemble cast, created an authentic portrait of hidden poverty in Western society. The meticulous production design and superb direction drew us into this controversial family; the lack of sentimentality layered with social, political, and moral questions demonstrated a nuanced approach to the meaning of parenthood and the unpredictable dynamics of love.”

Special mention:
ASH IS PUREST WHITE
Director: Jia Zhangke

“Additionally, the jury would like to award a special mention to Jia Zhangke’s Ash is the Purest White for its compelling transformation of human relationships and social identities in modern China.”

Krzysztof Kieślowski Award Jury: Angela Catalano, Antonio Falduto, Laura D. Smith

Maysles Brothers Award for Best Documentary Feature Film
The following documentary feature film was selected as the winner of the Maysles Brothers Award by a jury of national film industry members.

WRESTLE
Directors: Lauren Belfer, Suzannah Herbert

The jury statement reads:
“A film as deceptively simple as its title, Wrestle chronicles the lives of four male high school students in Huntsville, Alabama for whom athletic success via the school wrestling team means the nearly unfathomable opportunity to go to college and beyond. Through its nuanced editing, heart-stopping wrestling cinematography, and intimacy with its subjects, this film transcends any perceived boundaries of its subject matter or competition-film structure. Wrestlepresents a deep portrait of what it means to be young, black and poor in America today that never reduces its complex protagonists to victims or heroes.”

Maysles Brothers Award Jury: Zaman Farihah, David Fenster, Greg Rhem

American Independent Award
The following narrative feature film was selected as the winner of the American Independent Award by a jury of national film industry members.

GHOSTBOX COWBOY
Director: John Maringouin

The jury statement reads:
“The jury has chosen a totally original, dark comedy that fuses documentary and fiction storytelling, taking on late stage capitalism through the chaotic exploits of a wannabe cowboy entrepreneur.”

Special Mentions:
LITTLE WOODS
Director: Nia DaCosta

“We are awarding a special jury mention to Nia DiCosta for outstanding achievement in first time directing. Her film Little Woods elicits remarkable performances from her two main actresses, and evokes a searing portrait of a North Dakotan oil boom town, alongside our broken healthcare system.”

TYREL
Actor: Jason Mitchell

“Additionally, we are awarding a special jury mention to Jason Mitchell. His performance in Tyrel is the driving force in this highly prescient film about the most uncomfortable of weekends in the Catskills.”

American Independent Award Jury: Kate Hurwitz, Michael Sladek, Matthew Soraci

Short Film Awards
The following short films were selected by a jury of national film industry members.

Liberty Global Domestic Student Filmmaker Award

DIOS NUNCA MUERE
Director: Barbara Cigarroa

The jury statement reads:
“Family, immigration, ownership, and duty are explored through the eyes of a single family living in the hills of Hudson, NY. With remarkable restraint and moving performances, this filmmaker highlights the human right of “home” and the basic necessities migrants are so often deprived of.”

Liberty Global International Student Filmmaker Award

TANGLES AND KNOTS
Director: Renée Marie Petropoulos

The jury statement reads:
“A film that lives up to its title with complicated situations and performances vividly brought to screen.”

Best Animated Short

BLOEISTRAAT 11
Director: Nienke Deutz

The jury statement reads:
“This raw and authentic portrait of adolescence, charmed us with its unique style. Blending multiple animation techniques, it captured the world in a really beautiful way.”

Special mention:
AIRPORT
Director: Michaela Müller

“And we’d like to give an honorable mention to Airport for its beautiful and technically challenging artistry.”

Best Documentary Short

SKIP DAY
Director: Charlie Lyne

The jury statement reads:
“What ostensibly begins as a fun day trip to the beach with friends reveals itself as a deep, dark, and powerful reckoning on race in America. For the pure distillation of modern life, its complications, and its joys.”

Shorts Jury: Jeffrey Bowers, Suz Loshin, John VonThaden

Project NEXT High School Student Awards

Best High School Short Subject Film

MOONAGE DAYDREAM
Director: Oliver Chamberlin
Denver East High School

Best High School Documentary Short Subject Film

THIS IS OUR COUNTRY TOO
Directors: Jack Cosgriff, Elena Katz
Denver School of the Arts / Denver East High School

Best High School Animated Short Subject Film

MARBLES
Director: Hallie Farmer
Rock Canyon High School

High School Short Subject Viewer’s Choice Award

DOUBLE TAKE
Director: Tanner McGarr
Denver School of the Arts

Awards previously given or announced:

Rare Pearl Award

ROMA
Director: Alfonso Cuarón

Reel Social Club Indie Voice Award

IN A RELATIONSHIP
Actor: Dree Hemingway

John Cassavetes Award

Jason Reitman

Career Achievement Award

Governor, John Hickenlooper

Stan Brakhage Vision Award

Barbara Hammer

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