Gen Art capped its 2007 edition in New York with Rob Stewart‘s “Sharkwater” taking the top prize following a screening of the fest’s closing night film, which was perhaps eerily reminiscent of the weeks current events. In all, Gen Art showcased 14 films over seven days, followed by their signature after-parties. Up at MoMA, psychoanalyst Slavoj Zizek had the focus turned on him in a doc by Sophie Fiennes. And Monday night, New York University‘s Office of Public Affairs hosted a public screening of Joseph Mathew and Daniel DeVivo‘s troubling illegal immigration doc “Crossing Arizona” at its King Juan Carlos I of Spain Center as part of a two-part focus on immigration documentaries.
Debating “Crossing Arizona”
The film largely focuses on the humanitarian crisis that has resulted from the funneling of illegal immigrants to the least protected stretch of the U.S./Mexican border along a long, barren expanse of desert that kills thousands each year and strands countless more. For the most part, the subjects of the film who are closer to the border attempt to help the immigrants survive their attempt, no matter what their own personal feelings on the matter; the same cannot be said for those politicians and right-wing pundits further from the actual scene.
In a Q & A following the screening, filmmaker Mathew discussed the film’s run, which has mostly been confined to festivals and a brief theatrical stint in San Francisco, where Mathew discovered that the film played dramatically differently to different audiences. “Our primary motive was to see what was happening on the ground,” said Mathew, “we wanted to cover the U.S. border instead of the Mexican border, and so the focus was not on the migrants and their journey, but on the people on the U.S. side, and how they are affected.” Sundance, he said, was a surprise. “Docs tend to play to people who are more liberal… at Sundance, such a liberal place, it was a surprise–the audience was really 50/50 on the issues, and the Q&As were like a battle.” Not so at NYU, where the audience praised it immeasurably. The film will play on PBS later this year in condensed form. (fellow Sundance alumnus “DeNadie” will screen at NYU on Monday, 4/23).
Gen Art’s “Timely” Screening and Winners
On Tuesday night, the 2007 Gen Art Film Festival came to a close with a staggering bit of unfortunate timing; as the nation mourned for the 33 people killed in Virginia Tech’s shooting rampage, an uneasy audience gathered at the Chelsea Cleaview West to watch Frank Capello‘s “He Was a Quiet Man,” a dark comedy about a crazed gunman preparing to shoot up his office who accidentally becomes a hero (by way of the Travis Bickle School of Irony) after he kills another crazed gunman who beat him to the punch. Yeah. The director voiced some optimism that the audience might watch “art transcend life,” and the film’s stars Christian Slater and Elisha Cuthbert both looked adorable during the Q&A, but in light of recent national events none of that could quite transcend the movie’s rampant misanthropy, though Slater’s talking goldfish, urging him to “kill the bastards”, is more sympathetic than his universally grotesque co-workers. Slater turns in an amazingly nuanced, revelatory performance, despite looking like that guy from “Office Space.”
“I tried to make myself as small and uncomfortable as possible,” said Slater during the post-screening Q & A, “I was clenching my ass the whole time.” “He Was a Quiet Man” had a tremendous lead-in with Jamie Travis‘ masterful short “The Saddest Boy in the World,” but all in all the crowd seemed relieved to head out of the theater and over to Rebel for the after-party to watch the band Morningwood.
Before heading out, though, festival director Jeff Abramson gave a closing presentation, boasting, “We’re the hardest film festival to get into on the circuit…” in reference to Gen Art’s abbreviated roster of one film, one short, and one party for each of seven days. Abramson announced the festival’s jury prizes, with Stewart’s enormously well-received documentary “Sharkwater”–the first documentary to receive that award in Gen Art’s 12-year history–and the Phil Van‘s futuristic short “High Maintenance” the winners. Both films were also the recipients of the fest’s audience awards.
Zizek in Fiennes Doc at MoMA
A more lovable lunatic was on hand at the Museum of Modern Art on Wednesday night. Slavoj Zizek, the suddenly ubiquitous Slovenian psychoanalyst whose cinematic presentation and analysis is captured perfectly by documentarian Sophie Fiennes (sister of Ralph Fiennes) in her absorbing three-part BBC series “The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema,” screening at MoMA for the next week. Zizek fires on all cylinders, and as a result his absolute genius-to-indecipherably dense jargon ratio is about 50/50.
Fiennes’ true accomplishment is in perfectly editing down his lecture to only the nuggets of genius, along with clips from the films and reenactments starring Zizek himself for a sort of “The Human Mind Plays Itself.” “This was conceived as a humble, one-part film for television,” said Fiennes at the oversold premiere, “but it just grew and grew…”
Zizek, never one to hold back an opinion, amused the crowd in his introduction by announcing that if a fourth part were to be made of the series, he would include a discussion of Zack Snyder‘s “300,” which he loved (“it’s a truly leftist film”) and “The Lives of Others,” which he did not love (“it’s primitive anti-communist sentiment…the honest film would feature honest bureaucrats helpless in a corrupt system”). Say what you will about that, the man has damn good taste, as displayed in his film critique in Fiennes’ doc.
In Theaters This Week…
“Alice Neel” (April 20), directed by Andrew Neel. Distributor: SEETHINK Productions. Official website
“Everything’s Gone Green” (April 20), directed by Paul Fox. Distributor: First Independent Pictures. Official website
“Hot Fuzz” (April 20), directed by Edgar Wright,. Distributor: Rogue Pictures. Official website
“The Valet” (April 20), directed by Francis Veber. Distributor: Sony Pictures Classic. Official website
“Stephanie Daley” (April 20), directed by Hilary Brougher. Distributor: Regent Releasing. Official website