The Russian Woodpecker
By Ray Pride
While it’s never been a more fertile time to produce innovative, powerful, even poetic documentaries, the marketplace is another matter. Even a movie that cost a few thousand dollars has to find a way into the distribution pipeline, gain a little awareness, to get the attention of just a few more eyeballs at a time, maybe recoup a fraction of its cash outlay. Netflix, HBO, fantastic festivals around the world: but what about on the big screen at a theater near you? Several distributors, notably Magnolia (“Life Itself,” “Iris,” “Muscle Shoals”) and Radius (“Citizenfour,” “The Great Invisible”) are combining theatrical and video-on-demand releases for their films, but there’s so much more for audiences to explore, with only a fraction of the nonfiction getting farther than the spreadsheets of programmers and the notebooks of festival critics.
Longtime film journalist (including a stint as founding film editor at Time Out Chicago) and Chicago International Film Festival programmer Anthony Kaufman returns to the Music Box with his curatorial fervor for a second round of “Docs at the Box” in June, presenting five films that represent “the full spectrum of current nonfiction filmmaking, from archival-driven and vérité to avant-garde” each Tuesday night. Read the rest of this entry »
“L For Leisure”
As moderator of the festival’s fourth edition of “Bar Talks,” I can’t formally review what’s in store in the five days of the Chicago Underground Film Festival, but I’d like to indicate the goals of the annual “Bar Talks,” four extended filmmaker/audience conversations, especially in light of the notably consistent focus on atmosphere, mood and elusive narratives in the feature and shorts programming at the twenty-second edition of CUFF, the world’s longest-running underground film festival. The “bar talks,” taking place in the Logan Lounge at the Logan Theatre, are informal gatherings of local and guest filmmakers, with conversation the intention without the ping-pong of panel-like proclaiming. The talks may run an hour, or even an hour-and-a-half, depending on how much everyone has on their mind. Read the rest of this entry »
Photo: José María Castellví
By Ray Pride
When I finished gorging on Josh Karp’s “Orson Welles’s Last Movie: The Making of The Other Side of the Wind,” the late great director’s cryptic title was both fragrant poetry and flagrant prophecy, a sparky introduction to a film maudit no one would likely ever see. The book was released the Tuesday before Welles’ May 6 centenary, now amplified by May 7’s announcement of a $2 million Indiegogo campaign to complete a feature-length version of Welles’ long-in-the-not-finishing final film, drawing on a trove of 1,083 elements, including the immaculate negative, that reportedly weighs more than a ton-and-a-half.
Welles started his project forty-five years ago; he’s been dead for thirty of those. I recently asked Karp how long he’s been working on his often-rollicking, sometimes-detail-oriented tome on Welles’ parallel satire of Hollywood insiders and European art film of the era. “I think I signed the book deal in mid-2011 and the book was essentially done in Fall 2014,” the Northwestern lecturer and onetime Newcity contributor tells me, “So it was three years, give or take a few months. In my mind, it was going to take two years. I always think that, and it’s always three or three-and-a-half.” Read the rest of this entry »
By Ray Pride
The films are of differing stripes and strengths on the first of a promised series of “Chicagoland Shorts,” curated and compiled by filmmaker-producer Eugene Sun Park (a 2014 Newcity Film 50 alum), Beckie Stocchetti of Kartemquin Films and Park’s production associate Kayla Ginsburg. But just as interesting as the work on hand is the timing of the compendium of ten shorts from Park, Fawzia Mirza and Ryan Logan, Lydia Fu, Michael Paulucci, Valia O’Donnell, Fred Frederiksen and Dylan Jones, Amanda Taves, Robert Carnilius and Amir George (the latter two also listed in the 2014 Film 50.) We talked to Park about his intentions.
What’s the virtue of having theatrical runs and DVD and Blu-ray releases of these short films?
The purpose of the theatrical release is to create a public event, or a series of events, so people can come together as a community to watch and celebrate these films. Fewer and fewer people are going to movie theaters these days [to see non-mainstream movies], and something is clearly being lost. In order to preserve the theatrical experience, my feeling is that filmmakers have to do more to create added value to that experience. In other words, make the theatrical experience something that truly needs to be experienced in person, something that cannot simply be downloaded and viewed on your iPad. As for the DVD release, that’s focused on the film geek who wants to go deeper into the films. The DVD release is packed with extra features, including exclusive interviews with the filmmakers, cut scenes, storyboards, and additional films and videos that are not part of the main collection. Read the rest of this entry »
Courtesy Nicolas Genin via Creative Commons license.
By Troy Pieper
Growing up in Modesto, California, George Lucas fell in love with building cars and “didn’t do that well in high school.” After surviving a car crash while racing in 1962 the elder filmmaker had a “touch of understanding about the world” that would serve him through the long career ahead of him. “Life is an illusion. You make it be what you want it to be, but you have to actually believe it… maybe there’s a reason why I survived.”
The grey-bearded survivor gave a talk to students at a closed event on April 15 at the School of the Art Institute, interviewed by Walter Massey, the school’s president, as well as a theoretical physicist. Lucas said it was chance that led him to the University of Southern California, which was one of the country’s first film schools. Lucas’ first film, a sixty-second montage of iconic 1960s youth culture photographs set to a percussive soundtrack, won at film festivals around the country. “I thought, hey I know how to do this,” Lucas said. He called his fellow students “misfits” because their chances of working in the Hollywood of that era were zero. But that was all right with Lucas and his fellow misfits: ”All we wanted to do was make movies; we weren’t interested in a career.”
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By Ray Pride
Coinciding with the City of Chicago’s jam-packed Lake FX Summit & Expo, the seventh year of CIMMfest (Chicago International Movies and Music Festival) lavishes their most expansive, ambitious programming yet, a bold first flush of spring movie festivals (Chicago Underground) and music festivals (You don’t have tickets already? Sorry.) We asked CIMMFest executive director Dave Moore about the scope of this year’s edition.
CIMMfest, especially combined with Lake FX, is starting to look like South by Southwest, which now sprawls across several weeks in Austin.
What’s inspiring about SXSW is the vast number of creative people together in one place, allowing for collaboration in artistic pursuits as well as connecting them to help on the business end. CIMMfest should continue to grow toward those goals. Like SXSW, we support as much local art as possible while bringing in great films and musicians from around the world. In short, supporting artists and creating an inspiring weekend for artists and their fans is where we want to be like SXSW. Read the rest of this entry »
Running each Tuesday through spring, Doc Films presents “Frederick Wiseman: An Institution,” ten features from the documentary elder’s expansive library. (The remaining titles are 1969’s “Law & Order”; from 1975, “Welfare”; 1977’s 174-minute “Canal Zone”; “The Store” (1983); “Blind” (1986); “Aspen” (1991); “Ballet” (1995); “Public Housing” (1997) and 2001’s “Domestic Violence.”) Behind the effort are local film critic and Odd Obsession alum Ben Sachs, thirty-two, and his wife, Kat, twenty-six. “Like Robert Bresson or Andy Warhol, Wiseman challenges viewers to look and listen harder. His films are famously devoid of identifying titles, on-camera interviews, and nondiegetic music. In giving up these staples of documentary cinema, Wiseman achieves a profound sense of immediacy,” the Sachs write. It’s their fourth curatorial enterprise since mid-2014. Ben answered a few questions about the intentions of the series, shown entirely on 16mm.
So these particular films are from Wiseman’s substantial back catalogue?
For a while now, I’ve considered Wiseman to be America’s greatest living filmmaker. In our essay for the Doc Films website, Kat and I compare him to Warhol and Bresson; and like them, Wiseman has the power to transform hard and fast reality into something wholly cinematic. His movies, for us, represent cinema in its purest state. One benefit of watching multiple Wiseman films in close succession is that you start to look beyond the subject of each one and become more aware of his methods—how he builds individual scenes and overall structures, how he transforms real people into characters.
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By Ray Pride
The news, oh the news from Hollywood. What providence does the future hold for the eager moviegoer? What fate lies ahead?
A few of the facts: Worldwide box-office is up one measly percent, but only because China’s audiences spent a whopping thirty-four percent more on tickets. “Star Wars VIII” gets a release date in 2017 and Rian Johnson (“Looper”) is confirmed as writer-director. A “Star Wars” standalone movie will be called “Star Wars: Rogue One.” The female-cast “Ghostbusters” will be joined by another sequel to the thirty-one-year-old movie, likely starring Chris Pratt and Channing Tatum, following the original misogynist cries on the internet with questions of why anyone’s childhood needs to be spoiled twice. Disney says they’ll rerelease the original “Star Wars” trilogy without the additions, deletions and graffiti George Lucas added across the years when he still owned Lucasfilm. And look! “Frozen 2”! Announced the day before the short “Frozen Fever” debuts before “Cinderella”! Let it go!
Damning, distressing, infuriating. Not the sequels to the news of sequels, not limited to the Marvel “Universe,” but in the universe around us. And not the economic fact that newspapers and legacy media continue to shrink as the interest in nonfiction filmmaking grows and grows. Damning, distressing and infuriating is another fine documentary opening this week, Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering’s blunt, forceful advocacy doc, “The Hunting Ground,” a sort of sequel in itself, which takes aim at another dreadful contemporary social ill after the investigation of the plague of rape in the military and its willful, systemic whitewash in the military in “The Invisible War”: the rash of sexual violence and the cover-ups that follow on college campuses today. Read the rest of this entry »
The second of a series of updates on Film 50 subjects.
Filmmaker and visual artist Melika Bass’ newest work, “The Latest Sun Is Sinking Fast,” has its opening Sunday, January 18, a site-specific installation at the Hyde Park Art Center’s large Kanter-McCormick Gallery and runs through April 19. “The show has some creepiness and humor in it,” Bass says of her immersive, cinematic, multi-channel video and sound installation. The HPAC writes that the work combines “macabre and magical elements, revealing a fictional, fractured Americana.”
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Michael Kutza/Photo: Emily Oscarson
By Ray Pride
Michael Kutza could be the longest-serving head of a film festival—anywhere on earth?—but it isn’t a topic he’d ever dwell on.
One warm September afternoon in an empty boardroom in the festival’s Loop offices, the Wabash Avenue El rackets directly below and street music rises up the eight floors like the soundtrack of the opening scene of “The Conversation.” Kutza says offhandedly, “He knows five songs,” including the Flintstones theme song. “Then someone gives him a couple of bucks and he starts the cycle again. He has one seasonal one for Christmas.” He pauses meaningfully. “At three o’clock, the saxophone player arrives.”
The founder and artistic director of the Chicago International Film Festival knows a thing or two about arrivals and departures. For forty-five minutes, we dished about personalities, considered whether film festivals have changed across the decades, and what fifty years in the biz means to him. Read the rest of this entry »