A long queue maneuvered its way down Avenue of the Americas on Tuesday night with crowds hoping to get into the "Stranger Than Fiction" series screening of Vit Klusak and Filip Remunda's "Czech Dream" at the IFC Center downtown. While all were surely anxious to see the film, most no doubt were drawn by an appearance by Michael Moore, whose Traverse City Film Festival (set for its third edition July 31 - August 5), screened the film following two students from the Czech Film Academy who commission a leading advertising agency to organize a huge campaign for the opening of a supermarket called -- appropriately -- "Czech Dream." The supermarket, however, does not exist, but a huge push including radio and television ads in addition to faux photos promote the non-development.
"One of the only things that I agreed with the last Pope -- the one that died -- is that capitalism is evil," said Moore during a post-screening Q&A with the audience. "It's a system that benefits the few and the expense of the many." Moore recalled during a trip to the Czech Republic that he hoped the former Eastern bloc would find a new way economically beyond the two systems that dominated during the Cold War. "You're not going to succeed by replacing one evil empire with another one that now dominates," he said.
The film will have a limited release in theaters and will be distributed via the new Morgan Spurlock Presents DVD label later this year.
Moore also touched on his anticipated next film, "Sicko" which is widely expected to debut at the upcoming Festival de Cannes in May. "The pharmaceutical [companies] have a whole fire drill including [instructional] videos and hotlines [for employees] who see Michael Moore," said the Oscar-winning director on the production "obstacles" he has faced in making the film. "But disgruntled employees have sent me material."
The same night a few blocks uptown, DVD distribution company Docurama premiered its first theatrical release, the shockingly good SXSW Audience Award-winning "Air Guitar Nation", at Lowe's 19th Street. The doc's director Alexandra Lipsitz gave opening remarks, as did the film's affable hero Dan Crane, aka Bjoern Tueroque, the perennial also-ran of air guitar competitions the world over, who concluded his introduction with the words "it's so good to be a part of something that doesn't suck." And it didn't. While a documentary about an air guitar competition might threaten to wander into the irritating territory of Jack Black, this one stays remarkably, propulsively focused on the extremely likeable characters and their various theatrical rivalries, eventually developing into a treatise on performance and human nature and, unlikely though it may seem, international relations -- Docurama co-principal Steve Savage was not kidding when he claimed to feel the movie was "funny, entertaining, and could possibly save the world." In the end, this is the key to the movie's success: while even the founders and judges of the air guitar competition have a hard time keeping a straight face, Lipsitz takes them all seriously, and the audience cannot help but to get involved.
After the screening, the boisterous crowd wandered over to the after-party at The Cutting Room, amid periodic bursts of "That was so awesome" and dares to try the party's Air-aoke competition, DJed by JayJay French of Twisted Sister and MCed by Turoque, who wasted no opportunity to show off his skills. As enjoyable as the film, the competition featured "performances" by 2004 World Champion MiRi "Sonyk-Rok" Park, as well as a bevy of contestants from multiple seasons of "Project Runway" (for which Lipsitz was a producer), and a rendition of The Breeders' "Cannonball" performed by Lipsitz with the backing of any of the ladies in the audience she could convinced to come share the stage. The film opens today (March 23) at the Angelika.
The 36th Annual New Directors/New Films Series opened at the Museum of Modern Art on Wednesday night, with a reception in the lobby museum's education building, as the directors mingled with each other and eventually fled the crowds to the less publicized lounge upstairs. Organized in a collaboration between MoMA and the Film Society of Lincoln Center to highlight emerging talent, and free of the pressure to provide premieres in its line-up at the cost of quality (almost all of the films have played in other festivals), ND/NF boasts one of the reliably good line-ups of any festival on the circuit. This year it offers such exciting gems as Andrea Arnold's harrowing Scottish working-class drama "Red Road," the Brazilian "Love for Sale" by "Madame Sata" director Karim Ainouz, and Michael Jacobs simultaneously hilarious and terrifying religious-right doc "Audience of One."
One of the most inspired choices made by the festival programmers was to open with its strongest selection, the Argentinian "Glue", a beautiful, hazy look at adolescent longing in rural Patagonia. Underscored by The Violent Femmes, with inspired angst and sexual ambiguity in a sun-baked, dusty world, the film is a sort of positivist "Kids" that truly loves its protagonists. Adorable director Alexis Dos Santos, never taking off his backpack throughout his introduction and Q&A, looked happily overwhelmed to be opening the festival (along with author Paul Auster's less terrific "The Inner Life of Martin Frost") that gave a first look at such directors as Pedro Almodovar, Chantal Ackerman, Steven Spielberg, and Spike Lee.
"We wanted "Glue" to open the festival," said festival curator Marian Masone from the Film Society, "because it showed off so well exactly what we think of when we think of new directors. Every moment of the film shows the energy, vision and experimentation of a young, exciting filmmaker." Audiences will have another chance to see "Glue" today (Friday, March 23rd), and the festival continues through Sunday, April 1 st at both MoMA and Walter Reade Theater at Lincoln Center.
Meanwhile back at IFC Center at the end of last week, an evening screen of "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" was the main event. "The films of John Hughes were titanic," introduced IFC's Harris Dew, "for anybody growing up in the '80s or anybody who even heard about the '80s," with a nod to the largely collegiate attendees, many of whom could be heard making the alarming statement "This movie was made before I was born!"
The panel that introduced the show, then, was sort of a Gen-X history lesson, led by moderator Jaime Clark, editor of the collection Don't You Forget About Me: Contemporary Writers on the Films of John Huges and including several contributors from that anthology. The discussion remained squarely on the level of a nostalgia trip for the authors, although panelist Allison Lynn scored a high-point by recalling the Hughes-inspired side-to-side dance shuffle taught to her during a Disco Bar-Mitzvah.
Audience members for the panel caught a glimpse of what has made the IFC Center so special in the past year and a half that it has been operating. A sign advertising the final showing of David Lynch's "Inland Empire," which that night concluded its 14-week run, celebrated the final showing. The evening was celebrated with a giveaway of IFC Center's remaining stock of David Lynch t-shirts, a trivia contest, and a Q & A with one of the film's stars, Justin Theroux. With Empire's 3 hour, non-narrative structure and Lynch's self-distribution limiting its New York release exclusively to the IFC Center, the film clearly had the potential to be a sort of happening, a fact which the IFC Center encouraged by making every showing an event, preceding them with video clips from a Q&A with Lynch and a brief introduction by Theroux (both from events held in December at the Center), and sometimes with a short film named "Lumiere" that Lynch shot on a century-old camera. The center is continuing to serve Lynch's signature coffee in its lobby, which the director unveiled at the film's premiere, and IFC Center head John Vanco threw bags of coffee out to audience members who could answer his Lynch trivia on Thursday night.
"We couldn't have expected this movie," said Theroux. "We shot it over 3 years on a moment's notice, sometimes with no crew. We thought it would be a romantic comedy, and then we saw this."
[Brian Brooks contributed to this article.]