Festival buzz reached fever pitch in New York this week as the literary New Yorker Festival joined the middle stretch of the New York Film Festival. Werner Herzog and Errol Morris joined in on the event, though the subject of Abu Ghraib maintained a sober atmosphere as the fest began its weekend run. Glitz, however, is never too far away as members of celebritydom turned out for a pair of parties for “Paranoid Park” and “No Country for Old Men,” which screened at the NYFF. And at Lincoln Square, Halle Berry gave a talk after the screening of her new film, “Things We Lost in the Fire“.
New Yorker Fest recalls a dark chapter
The 8th annual New Yorker Festival kicked off last Friday evening with a flurry of high-brow panels, presentations, screenings and discussions between various luminaries and New Yorker contributors. Werner Herzog was on hand to give a sneak preview of his new film, “Encounters at the End of the World” on Saturday night, while Judd Apatow and Seth Rogen got down with critic David Denby, and Miranda July spoke with A.M. Holmes about deviants. At the Director’s Guild of America Theater on Friday night, documentary filmmaker extraordinaire Errol Morris sat down with New Yorker staff writer (and Paris Review editor) Philip Gourevitch, a longtime collaborator, to discuss his new film “Standard Operating Procedure,” about the torture at Abu Ghraib and the soldiers whose famous photographs made it infamous.
“Everybody agrees these seven soldiers in the Abu Ghraib photographs, sometimes called the ‘7 Bad Apples,’ represent kind of a nadir of the American experience,” said Morris. “What was the crime these ‘7 Bad Apples’ were charged with in the end? Was the crime the acts of torture that they supposedly had committed? Or was the crime that they had taken pictures and embarrassed the US military–embarrassed us?”
The majority of the discussion was extremely political in nature, but given the subject it could hardly be otherwise. “Having made ‘The Fog of War,’ I said, ‘I’m not going to make another political film, one is enough for awhile, maybe I’ll come back to it later,'” said Morris. “But I went right back to it, I felt, how can you not make political films in this day and age? What choice do you have?”
Morris’ upcoming film is not the only high-profile documentary to explore this subject. Earlier this year, Rory Kennedy premiered her terrific film “The Ghosts of Abu Ghraib” at Sundance, which also humanized the “Bad Apples”. It is difficult at this point to see how Morris’ film will ultimately differ from Kennedy’s; based upon the clips screened on Friday and Morris’ own statements (and history), it appears to be more focused on the interiority of the participants. While Kennedy’s film was a first-class piece of investigative journalism, Morris seeks to recreate the inner lives of the soldiers, again assisted by his own particular brand of reenactments, a tool he has been using in his films since “The Thin Blue Line,” and which contributes to the high sense of “artiness” in his films. “Everything is a reenactment, really,” says Morris, in response to ethnographic purists who object to the technique. “Consciousness, properly considered, is a reenactment of reality inside of our skulls.”
What final form the film will take remains to be seen, including to Morris. “The movie is still in flux,” he sighed. “I’m supposed to finish it one of these days.”
Celebs and NYC Hotspots on tap for NYFF’s final week
The New York Film Festival continued its 45th annual run with its stellar line-up. On Thursday night, Todd Haynes unveiled his Bob Dylan biopic “I’m Not There” alongside Dylan stand-ins Cate Blanchett and Richard Gere. On Saturday night, the festival screened its centerpiece film, the Coen Brothers‘ Cormac McCarthy adaptation “No Country For Old Men,” leaving critics reeling and proclaiming a return to form. On Sunday, Gus Van Sant screened his latest ode to aimless, occasionally violent adolescence, “Paranoid Park,” featuring the director’s signature brand of photogenic non-actors and cinematography from the great Christopher Doyle.
The parties continued throughout the weekend; Bono and Penelope Cruz turned out to Gabriel’s to celebrate “No Country For Old Men” late Saturday night, and at Sunday night’s Director’s Party, Brian de Palma and Ira Sachs munched omlettes next to the Film Society of Lincoln Center‘s mainstay lunatic Sylvia Miles. On Tuesday night, Gus Van Sant was the awkward guest of honor at IFC‘s super-chic party at cozy West Village hotspot Beatrice Inn, and partygoers took the opportunity to marvel at just how cute Josh Hartnett is in person. The festival concludes this Sunday with Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud‘s animated Cannes favorite, “Persepolis“.
Halle Berry at Museum of the Moving Image for “Things We Lost in the Fire”
A few blocks away from the NYFF hubbub, the Museum of the Moving Image and Variety showed the latest in their New York Screening series with Danish director Suzanne Bier‘s English-language debut, “Things We Lost in the Fire,” starring Halle Berry as a recent widow and Benicio Del Toro as her late husband’s best friend, a recovering heroin addict. The screening was followed by a Q&A with Berry, moderated by MoMI head curator David Schwartz.
The audience couldn’t help but snicker at a few of the scenes meant to be poignant (would a man really have such an horrific withdrawal after relapsing on heroin for less than 48 hours?), but this did not stop them from giving an enthusiastic standing ovation to the luminous Berry, who really is as gorgeous in person as they suggest.
Despite her Oscar pedigree, Berry said she had to fight for this particular role, saying that “there’s so few good roles written for women every year, and there are many actresses who covet each role… [this role] wasn’t written for a woman of color, and often times, when the description doesn’t say ‘a black woman,’ I’m not thought of.” Despite this, Berry was delighted by what her eventual casting said about the state of film. “When we can make a movie like [this] and have it be an interracial family and have it not be mentioned in any way, that says to me that we’re changing.”
Berry said she was aided in her performance by Bier’s filmmaking decisions, holdovers from her time as a Dogme filmmaker. “Our DP had to light the set 360 degrees–at any moment, anybody could move anywhere. There were no marks we had to hit, we didn’t have to look a certain way for the light, and so we were completely free from those thoughts.”
“I choose movies that allow me to express whatever I most want to express in my personal life, I’m drawn to that material. In this case, I realized that I really wanted to be a mother,” said Berry, who recently revealed that she is several months pregnant. “Every single thought on my mind was ‘motherhood, motherhood, it’s got to manifest itself in my life, I can’t miss this.'” The film is being released on October 26.