New Directors/New Films might still be in full swing, but the latter part of this week in New York saw the opening of the (New York Undergound Film Festival as well as a preview party for the upcoming GenArt Film Festival). From the partying lifeblood of GenArt to the grassroots uniqueness of the New York Underground Film Festival, a few fantastic happenings made quite a splash on the New York Film Scene.
"Eryuv" Looking for Love
Starting off the week right, last Thursday, The Makor of 92nd St. Y hosted a special screening of John Mounier's haunting documentary "Beyond Eryuv". Several years in the making, "Eryuv" follows Moshe Galan, a surprisingly endearing young Hasid who flees from his native land of Israel to come and live in America, only to find himself struggling with whether to leave is Orthodox lifestyle behind. Set against a series of basic adolescent challenges, Moshe struggles with his relationship to God as he develops a drug habit and an affinity for the temptations of a secular lifestyle, not finding absolute comfort on either side. Mounier employs haunting cinematography and music to tell his timely tale of growing up.
Present for a Q & A, the endearing Mounier answered questions about the background of the film and its future. Doing multiple rounds at Jewish film festivals around the country and special screenings at independent cinemas like this one (the second time it played at the Makor), the film just can't seem to find a home. Seventh Art's Udy Epstein, who is consulting on the film, but not distributing it told us, "We are happy to have helped it establish itself in this community and wish it the best of luck in the future." Given Mounier's overwhelming talent and charm, there is little doubt in the minds of many who have seen the film that someday, either this or his next work will reach a wider scale. In the meantime, you'll have to wait until the next time "Eryuv" circulates back around to The Makor to catch this little gem.
GenArt Starts Its Engine
Fast forward past the ND/NF hubbub of the weekend to Wednesday night in SoHo. Set in the classy, glitzy decor of Te Casan, GenArt hosted an elegant launch party to promote their upcoming film festival. Set to take place April 11th - 17th, the festival prides itself on consisting of 7 features, 7 shorts and 7 fabulous after parties, all to promote emerging filmmakers who exhibit promising talent. "I'm excited about how diverse the program is," noted GenArt's Film Divison Manager Aaron Levine. "We have a horror film. We have a fantastic documentary. We have drama. We have comedy. We have it all." All is right, in a year in which a program of merely seven films places the Sundance, apocalyptic triptych "The Signal", directed by David Bruckner, Dan Bush and Jacob Gentry on back to back consecutive nights with Rob Stewart's "Sharkwater", an insightful and entertaining documentary about shark preservation and mistreatment. Other notable selections include Mike Akel's "Chalk", a mocumentary about the trials and tribulations of middle school teachers that has been making it big on the festival circuit and Ryan Eslinger moody, experimental "When a Man Falls in the Forest" starring Dylan Baker and Timothy Hutton.
Though the program may contain a large amount of diversity, one common theme seems to keep popping up throughout many of the films. "People in crisis," sites Jeffrey Abramson, the Vice President of the GenArt Film Division, "which is obviously a sign of the current times, but in some of the cases there's hope." Jeffrey describes the filmmakers as "passionate" and says he's excited to work with the group, especially the closing night film, Frank Capello's offbeat comedy "He Was a Quiet Man" starring Christian Slater as an introverted office worker with violent tendencies who unexpectedly becomes a local hero. "I'm glad that even the films that we have with big names are creative so that we can draw the audience in and then they can take something away from it."
NY Underground Makes Them Squirm
Far from the hip, sheik atmosphere of the GenArt Launch, New York Underground Film Festival opened this years event with a screening of Anna Biller's homage to 70s sexploitation films "Viva". Meticulously constructed - from the cheesy acting and stilted direction to the shag sets and vintage film stock - "Viva" is a pitch perfect resurrection of the Valley of the Dolls days of cinema. Starring Biller herself as a repressed housewife, slowly discovering her sexuality through a series of increasingly racy encounters, "Viva" takes us on a self-reflexive trip back to the 70s, embewing us with that naughty spirit that the NYUFF audience yearly seems yearning for. When asked about the referential nature of her work, Biller said, "It's all I've ever done." She laughed, "I have trouble taking myself seriously and I watch a lot of movies." Luckily, those are the magic ingredients to creating this dish.
After a rather disturbing festival trailer involving a suggestively bloody, intrusive S & M scenario, the tone in the room was a little uncomfortable. The film, which seemingly met with a tepid reaction at first, won the audience over in the end, as seen by the enthusiastic Q & A, which was followed by a homespun sleazy disco party at Sin Sin Leopard Lounge. The festival will continue throughout the weekend with screenings of promising, soon-to-be pulp sensations like "The Great Happiness Space", a hilarious documentary about male Japanese escorts, Jem Cohen's latest ode to New York entitled "NYC Weights & Measures" and the newest, most engaging cut of Usama Alshaibi's personal war story "Nice Bombs". Undergound indeed.
Next week promises to be busy with the conclusion of New Director/New Films, a special appearance by animator Bill Plympton at the IFC Center, a series of B-musicals at the Film Forum and the premiere of the new Richard Gere film, "The Hoax".
Opening in Theaters this Week (March 25 - 31):
"Killer of Sheep" (March 30), directed by Charles Burnett. Distributor: Milestone. Official website
"Sacco and Vanzetti" (March 30), directed by Peter Miller. Distributor: First Run Features. Official website
"The Lookout" (March 30), directed by Scott Frank. Distributor: Miramax. Official website
"Live Free or Die" (March 30), directed by Gregg Kavet, Andy Robin. Distributor: THINKFilm. Official website
"After the Wedding" (March 30), directed by Susanne Bier. Distributor: IFC Films. Official website