DAILY NEWS: New This Week; Change at Hamptons Fest
with articles by Anthony Kaufman and Brian Brooks/indieWIRE
>> NEW THIS WEEK: “Promises,” Infidelities and Rivalries
(indieWIRE: 12.12.01) — While the big guns are gearing up for an end-of-the-year box office battle between hobbits, Muhammad Ali, U.S soldiers in Somalia and this week’s Royal Tenenbaums, back in the world of reasonable budgets and marketing limits, poignant and powerful stories continue to be told in the independent arena.
Reaching screens this week, both small and large — and not a moment too
soon — are a pair of politically timely tales about Israel and Afghanistan.
While “Promises,” a revealing account of life in the Middle East, isn’t
opening in theaters yet (premiering instead on PBS this Thursday night), it
remains one of the most internationally lauded films of the year. Having
screened at over 40 film festivals, raking in audience awards from Rotterdam
to Vancouver, San Francisco to Sao Paolo, this documentary by Justine Shapiro, B.Z. Goldberg and Carlos Bolado was shot between 1995 and 1998, and captures a group of Palestinian and Israeli children living on opposite
sides of Jerusalem’s checkpoints. In contrast to the suicide bombings and
military incursions occurring on a weekly basis these days in Israel,
“Promises” takes place during a time of relative peace, and through the eyes
of its young protagonists, offers a possibility of hope. (The filmmakers are
currently in final negotiations for a theatrical distribution deal and
expect “Promises” to see movie screens in early 2002.)
Iranian master Mohsen Makhmalbaf (“The Cyclist,” “Gabbeh“) offers a more overtly poetic, somewhat didactic story about life in Afghanistan,
“Kandahar,” hands down the most topical arthouse film of the year. When it
premiered last May at Cannes 2001, no one, certainly not the filmmaker who
is currently back in Afghanistan, knew how relevant his new movie would
become. “Kandahar,” described as a road movie by more than one critic,
follows an Afghani-born Canadian woman who travels back home to convince her
sister, pained by life under Taliban rule, not to kill herself. At Cannes,
critic Mark Peranson wrote for indieWIRE, “The film’s best moments are those
when [Makhmalbaf] diverges from the journey story, and even from the plight
of women, and concentrates on what appear to be deadly accurate scenes of
everyday Afghani life, such as a training school for mullahs, and dozens of
amputees at Red Cross stations after having their own blown off by land
mines.” Mini-distributor Avatar Films (“Nico and Dani“) smartly acquired
“Kandahar” in late November, and are opening the movie this Friday in New
York and in additional cities early next year.
Another big international award winner, Aussie hit “Lantana” (opening Friday
from Lions Gate), received eight top awards from the Australian Film
Institute, including prizes for Best Picture, Best Director (Ray Lawrence),
Best Adapted Screenplay (Andrew Bovell), along with acting kudos to much of
its cast: Anthony LaPaglia, Kerry Armstrong, Rachel Black and Vince Colosimo. A portrait of infidelity that combines several interlocking
relationships with a police investigation around a missing woman, the dark
proceedings of “Lantana” provided an appropriate closing to last September’s
Toronto Film Festival. At the short-circuited Canadian fest, critic Peter
Brunette wrote for indieWIRE, “Director Lawrence fills the visual and aural
tracks of the film with appropriately foreboding images and a haunting
musical score. Moving his camera through the dense underbrush of lantana, he
creates a clotted, clinging feeling that hovers menacingly over all the
doomed spouse-swapping of the story.” Read the complete review
Another story balancing doom with hope is “Central Station” director Walter
Salles‘ latest “Behind the Sun,” which premiered at Venice 2001, where it was quickly snapped up by Miramax and rushed into theaters (opening in L.A.
today and in New York on December 21st at Landmark‘s new Sunshine Theater). While the lush, symbolism of “Behind the Sun” may not generate the crossover appeal of the audience-friendly “Station,” the new film shows Salles is
still a master technician, with a knowledge of cinematography and
storytelling that confirms him as one of Latin America’s most astute
filmmakers. The story, stripped down to fable-like simplicity, concerns two
rival families engaged in a blood feud in 1910 and one son’s struggle to
escape the cycle of violence. Writing from Venice, critic Patrick Z. McGavin
wrote, “‘Behind the Sun’ is a dark and pungent Western reconfigured as a
‘foundation myth,’ a story about civilization and its discontents. The
filmmaking is often exceptional, filled with urgency and grace, power and
subtlety of expression.” Read the complete review.
Another tour-de-force of image-making comes in the long-delayed exhibition
of “Tuvalu,” Veit Helmer‘s mostly silent, lyrical 1999 feature debut.
Starring Denis Lavant (from Leos Carax‘s “Boy Meets Girl,” “Bad Blood” and “The Lovers of Pont Neuf” as a public pool employee who falls for a young girl (Chulpan Khamatova), the movie was shot in black and white, with scenes subsequently tinted with different colors. Winner of the Slamdance Jury
Prize for best cinematography in 2000, “Tuvalu” was acquired by
micro-distrib Indican Pictures (“Pariah,” “The Girl Next Door“) and is currently playing in New York, with new venues in Los Angeles, Berkeley and
San Jose scheduled for Friday, followed by more theaters in 2002. indieWIRE
published an interview with Helmer during the 2000 Rotterdam Film Festival,
Read the article.
Also a long-time coming is Gerardo Vera‘s 1999 feature “Second Skin,” which is now playing in San Francisco, Los Angeles and opens this Friday in New
York through Menemsha Films (“101 Reykjavik,” “Werckmeister Harmonies“), the distribution apparatus set up by producer’s rep Neil Friedman. Starring Jordi Molla, who received a Goya nomination for his role as a married man who has a secret affair with Javier Bardem (“Before Night Falls“), the film is being marketed as the Oscar-nominated Bardem’s return to U.S. screens.
And in Miramax’s never-ending pursuit for Oscar, the studio will launch
another couple of Academy-qualifiers in limited one-week runs, the
GreeneStreet Films produced indie, “Pinero,” starring Benjamin Brett as the Nuyorican ex-con-poet-playwright Miguel Pinero; and “Iris,” a Paramount Pictures co-production that has Judi Dench‘s Oscar win written all over it, with her portrayal of Iris Murdoch, the Alzheimer’s afflicted author. In the
universal words of Helmer’s “Tuvalu”: “Technology. System. Profit!” [Anthony
>> Linda and Lynda Depart Hamptons Fest
(indieWIRE: 12.12.01) — The Hamptons International Film Festival‘s two
Co-Directors of Programming, Lynda A. Hansen and Linda Blackaby are bidding farewell to the fest after serving in the positions for three years.
Commenting on their amicable departure in a prepared statement, Executive
Director Denise Kasell praised the pair for their “innovative and original
programs, film selections and astute insights about the film industry.” Both will pursue
other interests. Hansen will continue consulting through her company Lynda
A. Hansen & Associates which works with film festivals, film companies,
screenwriters, producers and directors on development and marketing.
Recently, Hansen was involved with the sale of Sandi Dubowski‘s “Trembling
Before G-d” to New Yorker Films and she is currently developing and
producing projects of her own.
Blackaby will become a Director of Programming at the San Francisco
International Film Festival where she has been living. She has held a
position at the San Francisco International Asian-American Film Festival
while working with the Hamptons fest. Blackaby was also the Founding
Director of the Philadelphia Festival of World Cinema.
“We will miss them and hope that they will keep an involvement in the
programming plans for future festivals,” commented Kasell in a prepared
statement. “The board and I deeply wish that Lynda and Linda find great
success in their future projects and endeavors.” A replacement search is
already underway at the Festival. [Brian Brooks]
>> YESTERDAY in indieWIRE DAILY NEWS: French Film Acquisitions; Castle Hill Deal
(indieWIRE/12.11.01) — With Miramax Zoe‘s “Amelie” ushering in another
banner year for French films in the United States, New York’s French Film
Office announced a handful of new acquisitions of French-made productions.
And, North American rights to “The Last Man” by Harry Ralston have been
picked up by Castle Hill Productions.”