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DISPATCH FROM THE NYFF: With NY Fest Underway, "Little Children" and "Bamako" Stir Viewers

By Indiewire | Indiewire October 3, 2006 at 2:57AM

Those who attend the New York Film Festival for the first time quickly notice that at the esteemed Manhattan event things are done a bit differently. This is not your typical film festival, rather its more of a nightly showcase. Just two films from the event's main program screen for the public each evening at Lincoln Center's Alice Tully Hall during NYFF; there are four screenings on weekends. Meanwhile, sidebar showings and events running concurrently in the Film Society of Lincoln Center's adjacent year-round venue, the Walter Reade Theater. Unlike the upstart Tribeca Film Festival which has expanded to numerous New York City neighborhoods, the NYFF didn't add a venue when a large, modern multiplex opened across the street a decade ago (but the Tribeca event seized the opportunity with showings there this year). Following Friday night's gala screenings of Stephen Frears' "The Queen," the New York Film Festival got into gear over the weekend with screenings of Alberto Lattuada's "Mafioso," Tian Zhuangzhuang's "The Go Master," Hong Sang-soo's "Woman on the Beach," Marc Recha's "August Days," and Todd Field's "Little Children." Also underway is a tribute celebrating the 50th anniversary of Janus Films.
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Those who attend the New York Film Festival for the first time quickly notice that at the esteemed Manhattan event things are done a bit differently. This is not your typical film festival, rather its more of a nightly showcase. Just two films from the event's main program screen for the public each evening at Lincoln Center's Alice Tully Hall during NYFF; there are four screenings on weekends. Meanwhile, sidebar showings and events running concurrently in the Film Society of Lincoln Center's adjacent year-round venue, the Walter Reade Theater. Unlike the upstart Tribeca Film Festival which has expanded to numerous New York City neighborhoods, the NYFF didn't add a venue when a large, modern multiplex opened across the street a decade ago (but the Tribeca event seized the opportunity with showings there this year). Following Friday night's gala screenings of Stephen Frears' "The Queen," the New York Film Festival got into gear over the weekend with screenings of Alberto Lattuada's "Mafioso," Tian Zhuangzhuang's "The Go Master," Hong Sang-soo's "Woman on the Beach," Marc Recha's "August Days," and Todd Field's "Little Children." Also underway is a tribute celebrating the 50th anniversary of Janus Films.

Love and Marriage in "Little Children"

Todd Field's "Little Children," the latest film to capture a familiar topic, that of the malaise and repressed desires that go on in American suburbia, has been getting heated reactions since screening for press and industry over a week ago at the 44th New York Film Festival. Scanning the indieWIRE-hosted blogs alone, you can find either admiration and Oscar buzz (yep, it's never too early) or intense criticism and a sentiment that the film is facile and dated.

In "Little Children," Kate Winslet plays Sarah Pierce, a failed graduate student and stay-at-home Mom who is bored with the intellectual shallowness and tedium that life in a small town has thrust upon her. She is "an educated woman who has an active mind that has been deadened," said Winslet at the press conference following the press and industry screening. Deadened, that is, until Sarah meets stay-at-home father Brad Adamson (Patrick Wilson) who offers Sarah a respite, sexually and emotionally, from the doldrums that plague her.

Brad is also in an unhappy marriage and, suffocated by the very adult goal of becoming a practicing lawyer, chooses to spend his evenings watching teenage skateboarders instead of studying for the bar. Having a sort of mid-life crisis, "You find what have I done, how did I get here?" noted Wilson at the press conference in regards to his troubled character.

To add to this story of repressed desires, "Little Children" offers a disturbing portrait of an accused child molestor, (played to creepy effect by Jackie Earle Haley), who draws the scorn of the town and in particular, an ex-cop (Noah Emmerich) who spends all of his time stirring the local populace into a near panic. On his portrait of a controversial character, director Todd Field said that "he is everybody's nightmare" and becomes the "receptacle of a whole form of McCarthyism based on one man's accusations." Field spends a lot of time trying to make what could easily be a despicable character more complex, and also added that Haley's character, "is more upfront about his problems than these other characters" in "Little Children" as he struggles with his illicit desires.

As these characters struggle, we also see the way in which they interact with little children, who in the suburbs (and certain Brooklyn neighborhoods like Park Slope) are at times viewed as minor deities. Whether an abnormal obsession by Haley's character, or a way for Winslet and Wilson's characters to spend time together, children and family life are what drew Field to the material. "Family life is fascinating to me because that's what I've known for a very long time," explained Field, a father of three.

Winslet, also a parent, found it difficult to play her character since she viewed her as a poor mother when she puts her own needs ahead of her daughter's. "We learn so much from our children. They become the human beings they are because of their parents," Winslet said. [James Israel]

Talking About "Bamako"

Abderrahmane Sissako's "Bamako," which debuted Monday night at the festival, got a boost of pre-screening attention over the weekend with the announcement that New Yorker Films has acquired U.S. rights to the narrative film, which offers a critique of the World Bank, IMF and policies harming the economy in Africa.

Festival organizers have added a free panel discussion for Tuesday, October 3rd exploring the new movie and discussion the issues it raises. Filmmaker Sissako will be joined, in the at the Furman Gallery adjacent to the Walter Reade Theater's lobby, by actor/activist Harry Belafonte and a trio of Columbia University professors, including Mahmood Mamdani, Jeffrey Sachs from The Earth Institute, and Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz.

The film was described as, "The intimate personal story of an African couple on the verge of breaking up is told alongside very public political proceedings. The country's civil society is taking action against the international financial institutions whom they directly blame for Africa's woes." It was executive produced by Danny Glover and Joslyn Barnes of Louverture Films and has already screened at the Cannes and Toronto Film Festivals. New Yorker plans to release the movie in Februrary 2007. [Eugene Hernandez]

This article is related to: Festival Dispatch





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