This past week in New York was all about climbing. Two people created a public spectacle climbing the New York Times building as Werner Herzog gave a talk inside. Meanwhile, people climbed onto the Open Road Rooftop to celebrate the opening of Rooftop Films summer series, and the temperatures climbed into the upper 90s and stayed there along with heat's best friend humidity... Summer's here!
Climb aboard Herzog
Everybody in attendance agreed that there was something strangely appropriate about the fact that somebody was climbing the New York Times building just as Werner Herzog was inside, for a discussion with director Jonathan Demme. Maybe it brought to mind the director's famous stunt of pulling a boat up the side of a mountain in "Fitzcarraldo," or any of the many inaccessible places he has made almost impossible films (most recently in Antarctica, for his documentary "Encounters at the End of the World"), but it seemed to fit.
The great German director was being honored by the Museum of the Moving Image to celebrate the launch of its impressively comprehensive new film and media website, Moving Image Source, including a number of film essays by many of preeminent film critics and a calendar of film series worldwide. It can be perused at http://www.movingimagesource.us
After journalist Dennis Lim gave a somewhat protracted demonstration of the site, Demme and Herzog took the stage, and the former read a heartfelt letter by film critic Roger Ebert, who published it on his website in lieu of a review of "Encounters" (as Herzog dedicated the film to him).
Demme was clearly delighted to be sharing the stage with Herzog, suggesting "I think if you had a business card...I think it should say 'Werner Herzog: Previously unseen images, previously unheard sounds and thoughts.'"
The source of those sounds and thoughts, suggested Herzog, may have been in his anarchic upbringing in a remote, isolated section of Bavaria (which he somehow distinguished from Germany, saying "I don't like the Germans"). "I had no knowledge of the world outside. I only knew about the world through fairy tales... We had to make our own toys. Later, I would have the feeling I was inventing cinema myself, because I had not seen films until I was 11. I didn't even know they existed."
He knows they exist now. "Encounters at the End of the World" is currently playing at Film Forum.
Keeping it in the community Rooftop
In case the weekend's stifling heat wave didn't clue you in, summer is officially here, as confirmed by Friday night's opening of the 12th annual Rooftop Films series. Started by filmmaker Mark Elijah Rosenberg in 1997 as an opportunity for aspiring filmmakers and artists to show their work off on an old 16mm projector, the festival has expanded into a major showcase of hundreds of features, documentaries and shorts across a number of outdoor community spaces, such as lawns, courtyards, and rooftops, including the festival's home base at the Old American Can Factory in Gowanus, Brooklyn.
"We've got a reputation now as a place that will show new independent films that won't play anywhere else, combined with amazing locations," says Rosenberg. "When you show these films in our context, it really creates a unique environment...we always say, we don't screen in theaters, we screen in communities."
This weekend, Rooftop will hold its first Rooftop Panorama, a special series of events meant to act as a festival-within-the-festival. "This is an opportunity to host a number of screenings, panel discussions and live music on a bigger scale than we've done before," says Rosenberg. "We get to show off all our different venues, and the many things we do, including teaching video education to NYC public school students and the Rooftop Filmmakers Fund, a grants program we run which sets aside $1 of every ticket sold and $1 of every film submission fee...for grants to filmmakers whose work we show."
The Panorama will host a shorts program on Thursday night entitled "Making the Mission" featuring films that have been aided by the Rooftop Filmmakers Fund with the notable inclusion of post-Katrina Orpheus myth "Glory At Sea." Rooftop has been fundraising for its director, Benh Zeitlin, after he was badly injured by a car on the day of the film's SXSW premiere.
"I can't say it enough, it's the sense of community that really sets our film festival apart, and we want to do everything we can to give back to that community," says Rosenberg. Can you think of a nicer sentiment for summer? For the full Rooftop schedule, visit their website at http://www.rooftopfilms.com/
Film Society goes Italian
The Film Society of Lincoln Center celebrated the return of its annual "Open Roads: New Italian Cinema" program Friday evening, a showcase of the best contemporary films from that country whose film industry is just beginning to return to its fabled past.
Film Society director Richard Pena introduced the opening night film, Sylvio Soldini's brilliant "Days and Clouds," saying "The promise that we felt so strongly in this new generation of Italian filmmakers in the late 1990s was more than fulfilled this year at Cannes, where at least two of the most discussed, appreciated films were Italian, Matteo Garrone's 'Gomorrah' and Paolo Sorrentino's 'Il Divo.'"
That promise was also fulfilled by Soldini's film, a tense, striking look at the breakdown between a comfortable middle-class couple in Genoa who suddenly face financial ruin when the husband is forced out of the company he started, and is unable to find work in the current dreary economy.
"I wanted to film two people who have lived together for some years, explore that dynamic," said Soldini afterwards, "but at the same time a make a film that is very near to what we see happening nowadays, in the world."
In one of the many precise touches in this film (a study in astute psychology), the couple's fear initially center around financial concerns, while the eventual quandary is more spiritual than material, as the husband sinks into total despair while the wife gives up her love of fresco restoring for two mindless office jobs to support them.
"They talk a lot about money in the beginning, because they did not used to think about it and suddenly they have to," explained Soldini. "It changes because they change; they have to change to continue, to discover something in themselves that they may not like."
"Open Roads: New Italian Cinema" ends tonight; "Days and Clouds" will be distributed later this year by Film Movement.
Webby Webby Webby Webby Webby -- and Gondry's genius feet
As the Internet age continues to advance at a frightening pace, the line between "art" and "Youtube office diversion" grows ever more indistinct. To that end, the insanely comprehensive Webby awards, now in their 12th year, rewarded a huge number of web-filmmakers in their elaborate Film and Media awards ceremony at NYU's Skirball Center on Monday night (and even more in their general ceremony the following night at Ciprianni's).
It was a strange ceremony, owing to the fact that the dozens of recipients were allowed only five words to give their acceptances. The limitations made for short, surreal speeches, among them:
I wish I'd worn jeans
The revolution will be webcast
Has anyone seen my pants?
Don't take your organs to heaven
Please don't climb our building (from the New York Times)
Julie Ruth Smith: will you...?
Thank you for this Pulitzer
The main attraction of the evening was the bestowing of the Person of the Year award to adorable Michel Gondry, presented by Rosie Perez, who was given more than five words to describe him, saying "This man is dope. He's very strange and he's really weird, but he's French, and that's why." After showing a viral video Gondry made of himself solving a Rubik's cube with his feet and maybe some video effect work.
"I have a foot fetish, so it was really weird for me to watch that," commented Perez. "Just imagine what that cube smelled like afterwards.
Gondry took to the stage to deliver his unique wisdom, also limited to five words. He chose: "Keyboard are full of germs."