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NY NY | Human Rights Watch Fest Breaks it Down, and NYC Hosts the Premieres of “You Kill Me” and “Br

NY NY | Human Rights Watch Fest Breaks it Down, and NYC Hosts the Premieres of "You Kill Me" and "Br

While the world’s biggest issues are being deconstructed uptown at Lincoln Center with the Human Rights Watch International Film Festival, distributors Magnolia Pictures and IFC Films vie for places in the market with the premieres (and subsequent releases) of their latest star-driven projects this week in New York. Magnolia thew a stylish bash for their latest, “Broken English” by Zoe Cassavetes that recalled a time just a few years ago when New York premieres could be relied on for good times, while IFC debuted John Dahl‘s “You Kill Me” the following night.

Human Rights Watch Fest brings on the beef

The biggest new event of the weekend was the opening of the New York chapter the Human Rights Watch International Film Festival, kicking off with a double-bill of Lynn Herschman Leeson‘s “Strange Culture” and Laurent Herbiet‘s “Mon Colonel,” two of the most engaging dramas about moral dilemma this year. “Culture,” which premiered at Sundance, uses an innovative mixture of documentary and indie star-powered reenactments to tell the story of a “scientific artist” whose latest exhibition attracted serious legal scrutiny after his wife mysteriously died during the installation.

The uneven, but intriguing film garnered a lot of hype around the moral implications of reenactments, giving it a second layer of debate–an element that HRWIFF feeds off. The second opening night film, the New York premiere of “Colonel,” was penned by the father of all human rights filmmakers, Costa-Garvas “(Missing”). Though certainly a more traditional feature than “Strange Culture,” “Colonel” it is still no less a gripping story about an army investigator being tormented by the assassin of a retired colonel responsible for running a torture camp for Algerian prisoners.

Unlike other specialized film festivals which often clutch at straws to find good material that fits into their mission, HRWIFF seems to have the pick of the litter these days, and the warm reception for the two thoughtful opening films drove that home. Despite being period pieces, both films speak to a major paranoia that looms in society and, while it may take a more serious approach than the pop allegory of “Hostel 2,” HRWIFF boasts a program of great intelligence in a time of great challenge.

If you are looking to expand your mind this weekend, do not hesitate to attend impressive selections cherry picked straight from last January’s Sundance Film Festival like Laura Dunn‘s “The Unforeseen” or Eva Mulvad‘s “Enemies of Happiness.” Or, for the most adventurous, there is the North American premiere of Sam Lawlor and Lindsay Pollak‘s surprisingly uplifting portrait of HIV-positive Romanian orphans, “We’ll Never Meet Childhood Again.”

“Broken English” premiere brings back class

Manhattan’s gleaming new Bowery Hotel hosted a posh, yet classy premiere soiree Monday night for Magnolia Pictures’ big weekly release, “Broken English” directed by Zoe Cassavetes. The first feature from the daughter of famed improvisational director John Cassavetes, the film stars Park Posey as a pessimistic hotel manager trying to discover herself via a zany relationship with a loose-cannon actor, played by Justin Theroux. The film was produced by Andrew Fierberg and HDNet, Magnolia’s production affiliate that has been breathing new life into classic indie directors such as Hal Hartley, allowing them access to a relatively inexpensive platform for experimentation. However, despite the good intentions, “Broken English” comes off rather tedious, with Cassavetes skill as a director so far outweighing her skill as a writer.

Producer Andrew Fieberg and director Zoe Cassavetes at the premiere of their film “Broken English.” Photo by Brian Brooks/indieWIRE.

Nevertheless, the premiere included an incredibly enthusiastic screening at Landmark‘s Sunshine Cinema followed by beautifully swank party at The Bowery. The guest list featured everyone from fashion designer Mark Jacobs and director Sofia Coppola to Academy Award-nominated co-director of “Jesus Camp,” Rachel Grady, and actor Liev Schreiber as well as, of course, Posey, Cassavetes and Theroux themselves, making a splash with their glammed outfits and late-night antics. “Broken English” opens this Friday June 22 and, though it may not be Magnolia’s strongest release in their impressive summer slate (make sure not to miss Dan Klores‘ “Crazy Love,” for one, still playing at the aforementioned Sunshine in NYC), it’s sure to be a hit with its crowd pleasing pop sensibilities.

IFC ups the ante with “You Kill Me”

The following night, IFC Films threw a gala premiere for the bigger of their two releases this Friday, John Dahl’s “You Kill Me.” Starring Sir Ben Kingsley as an alcoholic hitman who must go into rehab, he befriends a mysteriously intrusive woman while in treatment (played by Tea Leoni), who gets mixed up in his business. “You Kill Me” marks a significant shift in the IFC releasing agenda. In an effort to more clearly define its day and date label IFC First Take, IFC will be taking on more high profile films for their premiere banner. The company seems to have figured out the secret for tapping money at both ends of the market, releasing films like “You Kill Me” to keep themselves afloat while using the VOD model to make art films more profitable. Other future higher profile projects include the Reese Witherspoon-produced children’s comedy “Penelope,” starring Christina Ricci, which IFC Films will be releasing later this year.

IFC premiered “You Kill Me” at IFC Center on Sixth Ave (another exciting development in the last few years), followed by a party at Crash Mansion on the Lower East Side. The film opens this Friday, June 22, with IFC Films tries to carve a spot in the bigger arthouse market, First Take will be holding down the fort with the simultaneous release of their gooey, zany New Zealand splatter comedy “Black Sheep,” a hilariously fun effort that is sure to get any sloshed midnight audience’s heart pumping.

In theaters this week:

A Mighty Heart” (June 22), directed by Michael Winterbottom. Distributor: Paramount Vantage. Official website.

Black Sheep” (June 22), directed by Jonathan King. Distributor: IFC First Take. Official website.

Broken English” (June 22), directed by Zoe Casavettes. Distributor: Magnolia Pictures. Official website.

Lady Chatterley” (June 22), directed by Pascale Ferran. Distributor: Kino International. Official website.

The Real Dirt on Farmer John,” directed by Taggart Siegel. Distributor: Cavu Pictures. Official website.

SiCKO” (June 22 in select locations), directed by Michael Moore. Distributor: The Weinstein Company. Official website.

You Kill Me” (June 22), directed by John Dahl. Distributor: IFC Films. Official website.

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