New York Film Festival rage continues this week as Japan Society put their two cents in, IFC Center inaugurates yet another series and a magical little DIY special pokes it's head into the Anthology Film Archives.
If there ever was any question about what independent film truly is, it was cleared up this weekend at the Anthology Film Archives with two extremely rare screenings of Eric Zala's "Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation." Though the script may not be original, Zala's labor of love found him and his friends at the age of 12 attempting to pair Speilberg's classic down to a $5,000 budget, recreating the original to meticulous detail that makes Gus van Sant's "Psycho" look like a cheap Hollywood remake. It took them seven years to complete - saving their allowances to buy props, build sets, create costumes and, yes, purchase more VHS tape - and never saw the light of day for fifteen years. That was, until it found it's way into the hands of Harry Knowles, the mind behind Ain't It Cool News. Through Knowles, the film found fans in Tarantino, Eli Roth and even Spielberg himself, who invited the boys (all grown up) to the Skywalker ranch for a tour.
Despite its underground following, Zala has kept "Raiders" mostly under wraps for legal reasons. It is hardly ever screened anywhere and, when it is, all the proceeds are given to charity. Last Friday and Saturday, two packed audiences crammed into the AFA to witness a rare screening of this treat and hear a Q&A from Zala himself. Huge wait lines were turned away, saddened that they may never get to see this magical piece of DIY filmmaking. With any luck (and some huge financial support), Zala will one day unleash his masterpiece widely unto the world.
Filmmaker Mag Talks Film
Monday night saw the kickoff of the IFC Center and Filmmaker Magazine's auteur driven series, Dialogs on Film. The series will host a different director monthly - many of which will be graduates of Filmmaker's annual "25 New Faces" feature, screening some of their work and presenting the audience with an onstage dialog with Filmmaker editor Scott Macaulay. The first filmmaker chosen was Bradley Beesley, who's latest documentary, "Summercamp!," will be opening at the IFC Center shortly. On Monday, Beesley showed clips from previous films, including selections from his extensive collection of work with The Flaming Lips, a rock group that he considers himself lucky to be very closely tied to. "They've had offers from people like Spike Jonze to direct videos for them..." Beesley recalls, "but I think (they) work with me because he knows I will go along with what (they) want to a certain extent." For The Lips, Beesley has made one documentary, "The Fearless Freaks," a concert film, "UFOs at the Zoo" and is currently working on a feature narrative with them.
Also screened were clips from Beesley's upcoming documentary, "Money the Hard Way," and his classic, "Okie Noodling." "Money" takes an in-depth look at prison rodeo, exploring the lives of the inmates involved. "Noodling," which has earned Beesley much acclaim in the documentary community, tells the story of the first ever noodling competition - the art of fishing with your hands. "It's still on TV every week," Beesley sites. He's even working on a short sequel to the film, following up with many of the classic characters he made famous on the Doc Channel. But still to date, Beesley's most effective work is "Summercamp!," a sweet and simplistic meditation on kids in a camp. Though not containing some of the visual talent of his other work - particularly with The Flaming Lips - "Summercamp!" has an honest heart to it that sets it apart from many other docs today. Much like the non-judgmental eyes of "Jesus Camp" director's Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady, Beesley's doc merely observes the children in camp and let's them make their own magic onscreen. If you haven't had a chance to check it out, catch it when it comes to the IFC Center. Also, Dialogs on Film will continue throughout the summer with appearances from Jem Cohen and D.A. Pennebaker.
The Japan Society offers up a whole new set of current Japanese films in their annual series, Japan Cuts. Included in this year's program are a wide variety of selections, from powerful documentaries to stop-motion animation for kids. And let's not forget the beautifully muted drama of Miwa Nishikawa's "Sway," a selection straight from last year's Cannes Film Festival's Director Fortnight section. Nishikawa, who created the film from a dream she once had, was on hand for both a Q&A and an in depth discussion to talk about the "vulnerability of human memory" and how she can create stories out of the perception she has of the world around her and how that is reflected in her dreams. She also recalls using unconventional tactics to make her film more cheaply with high profile talent. "In Japan, usually you find out the actors availability and then you rush to get the script ready in time. I did it the other way around. ... I had to make sure the script was rock solid in order to lure the actors."
Other modern pieces of Japanese cinema selected in the program include the incredibly sweet food dramedy "Kamome Dinner" and the to-cute-to-resist animation "Komaneko: The Curious Cat." But it is films like the black comedy "Matsugane Potshot Affair" that make Japan Cuts a decidedly Japanese language event, as the humor doesn't always quite translate to English speaking audiences. All-in-all, the themes of many of the films are universally powerful, especially the must-see documentary "Ants", the sad story of Waichi Okumura, a ex-WWII soldier attempting to uncover the mysteries of why the Japanese government refuse to furnish him with military compensation. Playing this Sunday, the comprehensive, intelligent and affecting "Ants" is a notable selection well worth the trip all the way to the east side of Manhattan.
IN THEATERS THIS WEEK
"Talk to Me" (July 13), directed by Kasi Lemmons. Distributor: Focus Features. Official website
"Time" (July 13), directed by Kim Ki-duk. Distributor: LifeSize Entertainment. Official website
"Interview" (July 13), directed by Steve Buscemi. Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics.
"My Best Friend" (July 13), directed by Patrice Leconte. Distributor: IFC Films.