Film Festivals


Writer and artist Kim Morgan and filmmaker Guy Maddin will be a husband and wife programming team as Guest Directors for this year’s Telluride Film Fest.  Their tastes are jointly intriguing, thus their choices should be unpredictable and something to look forward to. Morgan writes brilliant film essays at Sunset Gun, and takes breathtaking photos and self-portraits that she posts on Flickr and occasionally Facebook.  Together with Maddin she is now collaborating on filmmaking, something she seemed kind of destined for (if you ask me). Her photos are so cinematic – she has her own film language already and not much farther to go to become a vital voice in film in her own right.  Maddin, too, is an artistic force to be reckoned with. All in all, this should be a Telluride to remember.



Press release after the jump.

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Big news out of Cannes announced at today’s Weinstein Co. event:

(press release) Stephen Mensch announced as CEO of the Qingdao Oriental Movie Industrial Park with Rose Kuo named as the CEO of the Qingdao International Film Festival

Cannes, France (May 16, 2014) – Hawk Koch, President of the Producers Guild of America (PGA) and Special Advisor to Dailan Wanda Group announced at a press conference during the 67th edition of the Cannes Film Festival, Wanda’s new initiative to build a film studio and media complex along with the launch of a new major international film festival in Qingdao, China. Stephen Mensch was announced as CEO of the Qingdao Oriental Movie Industrial Park with Rose Kuo named as the CEO of the Qingdao International Film Festival.

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The New York Times reports that the Tribeca Film Fest handed out awards for Best Narrative feature to Chef, and best documentary to Keep on Keepin’ on.

The winners were chosen by audiences who voted after watching all of the films.

Chef is not faring so well over at Metacritic, not that it means much at this stage but if even some of these guys, many of whom used to be much more easily swayed bloggers, didn’t go for it, that might not bode well for its overall reception by critics, bloggers, and tastemakers.

Keep on Keepin’ On, however, does seem Oscar bound, as it’s produced by Quincy Jones – has just been picked up for distribution by Radius-TWC (Weinstein Co) and described on the website thusly:

In his melodic debut, Australian-director Alan Hicks spent four years following the charming and sometimes poignant mentorship between jazz-legend Clark Terry and blind piano prodigy, Justin Kaulflin, during a pivotal moment in each of their lives. At eighty-nine years old, ‘CT’ has played alongside Duke Ellington and Count Basie; his pupils include Miles Davis and Quincy Jones, but his most unlikely friendship is with Justin, a 23-year-old with uncanny talent but debilitating nerves. As Justin prepares for a competition that could jumpstart his budding career, CT’s failing health threatens his own. Beautifully nostalgic with a reverence for the importance of finding your own sound, Keep On Keepin’ On celebrates an iconic musician while introducing one of equal vibrancy. It is a mentoring tale as inspirational as its subjects.

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Vanity Fair’s Richard Lawson on Love is Strange – but the picture above alone makes me think it could potentially be a player in some fashion, the who/what/where of it:

Last year, the first film I saw at the Tribeca Film Festival was the graceful, rueful, altogether entrancing Before Midnight. A lovely, summery, only slightly stinging story about love and time, it was a perfect way to start the festival. And, wouldn’t you know it, the first film I’ve seen at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, which began yesterday and runs through next weekend, is the lovely, summery, and only slightly stinging Love Is Strange, the newest feature from writer/director Ira Sachs, whose intimate Keep the Lights On was a highlight of the 2012 festival. A small movie that nonetheless feels like Sachs’s biggest to date, Love Is Strange simulates real life in the most poignant of ways: breaking your heart while sending it soaring.

The film loosely follows what happens after Ben (John Lithgow) and George (Alfred Molina), a couple that’s been together for nearly 40 years, get married in New York City, now that the laws allow them to. George, who is the music director at a Catholic prep school, is quickly dismissed from his job for violating some morality clause in his contract (his marriage got the attention of highers-up in the diocese) and the couple is faced with an ugly reality for any New Yorkers, but especially for people at retirement age: they’re forced to sell their apartment and rely on the hospitality of friends and family while they struggle to find a new home.

James Rocchi writing from Sundance earlier this year:

If “Love Is Strange” were nothing more than as showcase for its performances, it would still be superlative; Lithgow and Molina are perfect not just as Ben and George, but also as the combination they make with each other. It has been noted that early couples say “I love you” with the force of a thousand exploding suns, but that long-standing couples say “I love you” in a way that can also ask, unspoken, if it was you who happened to leave the goddamn garage door open again. That kind of love is rarely seen on film, and hard to portray when it is; Molina and Lithgow make that happen here, with all of the feeling and fights and closeness that a real couple would have.

This is definitely one to keep an eye out for, thanks to Alan for the head’s up.


The Oscar race might be straining the Santa Barbara film festival past its breaking point. Wednesday night, the appearance of Oprah Winfrey nearly broke the festival and last night’s appearance of Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill and Martin Scorsese caused such a frenzy you’d think it was 1964.

Strange things start to happen when big time celebrities mingle among us. One woman heckled Oprah that she’d stolen all of her “work.” And last night DiCaprio was mobbed by a passionate journalist who had to be peeled off him and thrown out. Cutting through all the commotion, DiCaprio and Scorsese calmly took their place on stage. They were just a few seats away from me, just as Jennifer Lawrence had been a few days ago, but I realized again what a enormous star DiCaprio really is — an international, giant supernova.with multi-generational appeal. He simply sat down. Photographers continually took pictures of the two of them sitting there. The whole experience began to mirror some of the ravenous undercurrents of Scorsese’s latest masterpiece, The Wolf of Wall Street, and perhaps a bit of another film DiCaprio starred in this year, The Great Gatsby.

Listen to the Podcast of the tribute.

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Oprah’s appearance as honoree of the Montecito Award at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival was planned before the Oscar nominations were handed out. There was a lot of drama, old-school Hollywood style, as to whether or not She would receive one. A lifetime dedicated to great literature, promoting worthy films, and inspiring millions had still meant only three films in thirty years. One of those, Lee Daniels’ The Butler maybe the worst casualty of Oscars 2013, according to a select few of us, certainly not according to majority of tastemakers who snickered and laughed at the film the whole way through, from conception to execution — how easy that is to do from behind the quiet safety of a dark room and a computer screen. It was obvious from the outset the film would get the snob treatment, none of this rave reviews stuff the King’s Speech had gotten, or even Forrest Gump. Also obvious from the many snide tweets about the film, Lee Daniels, the subject matter and it looking too much like an “Oscar movie.” Of course, that didn’t stop War Horse, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, The Blind Side or The Help.

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Please forgive the quality of this video but Rooney Mara’s speech from the Santa Barbara Film Festival is so beautiful I had to share it with you all. Blanchett speaks towards the end.


Last night, the Arlington theater was packed to celebrate Cate Blanchett who was named as Outstanding Actor of the Year from the Santa Barbara Film Festival. It was a cold night in Santa Barbara, but that didn’t stop the many party-goers and restaurant-hoppers crowding up and down State Street. Perhaps the familiar site of homeless men and women camped out in the corners had been mitigated by the weather. The night had a strange aura to it. Earlier in the day the news had broke that Dylan Farrow had called out Cate Blanchett, every actor who has ever worked with Woody Allen, Hollywood in general, and even us for continuing to honor a man who violated her at the age of seven. It wasn’t just the one incident, she explained. There was a pattern. Now, Woody Allen lives with Soon-Yi and their two adopted daughters. Farrow feels guilt for this too.

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David O. Russell at the SBIFF

It is that time of year again for the Santa Barbara International Film Fest, on the heels of the Palm Springs Fest, where many of the Oscar contenders were in attendance.  Those selected to be part of this year’s fest here in lovely SB include Bruce Dern, Cate Blanchett, Leo and Marty, to name a few.  The first tribute gala for the fest this year was David O. Russell, who was named by the festival Outstanding Director of the Year.  The fest’s director, Roger Durling, calls Russell his favorite director going all the way back to Spanking the Monkey.  Because Russell has been plugged into the Oscar game for three consecutive years now – winning Oscars for his actors along the way — one forgets his humble beginnings, his more rebellious younger self, and, frankly, how funny he is.  I’ve only ever seen two people wrestle control from Durling during one of these events — Jennifer Lawrence and David O. Russell.  It is no wonder she functions so beautifully as his muse.  They are cut from the same cloth, speak the same shorthand, and seem to have much the same sense of humor.

Before Sliver Linings and Lawrence, though, there was The Fighter and Oscar wins for Melissa Leo and Christian Bale.  Leo was on hand last night to present the award to Russell and the two made a pact to work together again very soon.

The festival itself has had some major upgrades from last year, including a new VIP room where guests of the festival can drink lots of alcohol, sponsored by a major label, and eat pretty/tiny hors d’oeuvres. This year, Robert Redford and Oprah Winfrey are two honorees who each missed out on Oscar nominations but decided to attend anyway.  To me that says they agreed to do the fest and either they stand by their word or they feel that experience is worthwhile with or without AMPAS’ validation.  Surely both are living legends who don’t need a golden statue to make them more worthy to humanity. The very notion is laughable.  But this is a game and the game has rules and this time these two are breaking them, which I think is kind of boss.

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It was a cold night in Santa Barbara, one of the more beautiful places on the planet. The ocean stretches out longways on your left. On your right, giant homes dot the hillside, twinkling lights within. The Kirk Douglas award was being held at the Bacara resort, an opulent palace hooked over the sea. Oscars 2013 was coming to a close. I was on my way to see Forest Whitaker, whose brilliant performance carries The Butler, celebrated with the Kirk Douglas award for the Santa Barbara International Film Festival.

Fruitvale Station’s Michael B. Jordan and Black Nativity’s Angela Bassett were on hand to pay tribute to the veteran actor, along with hundreds of Santa Barbara’s finest, decked out in black tie attire – heels, furs, diamonds. It was being held all the way across the state from the Palms Springs fest where most of the Oscar populace were on hand. Palms Springs, Santa Barbara – what do these two things have in common? They are where Oscar voters go to rest and watch the sun set in the twilight of their careers.

The Butler’s fate has not yet been determined. The Screen Actors guild, by far the most ethnically diverse of the guilds, honored The Butler big time, with nods for Ensemble, Whitaker, and Oprah Winfrey. But the Producers Guild did not. The only one of the three films — by black filmmakers it must be noted, that did manage a Producers Guild nod was 12 Years a Slave, which guarantees Brad Pitt will be at the party. It used to be that black filmmakers didn’t make films the critics liked. And indeed, they ripped apart The Butler, mostly. They were tepid to encouraging on Fruitvale Station, but they lost their heads with Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave, which goes down as the best reviewed film of this year.

Forest Whitaker is a revelation in The Butler. For me it’s the scene where he has to serve cookies for the bazillionth time. The look on his face, the struggle to keep back the sudden shame he felt in that position, was one of the most pivotal moments of the year for the film and for acting overall this year.

Michael B. Jordan credited Whitaker’s participation in Fruitvale Station as being one of the main reasons the film got made at all. Black Nativity did not make a blip on Oscar, or film critics’ radar, but it was clear from how Bassett talked about it that it was a project meaningful to the actress and to Whitaker. The best part of the evening were the long clips of Whitaker’s career, his work in Last King of Scotland, which earned him an Oscar win, but going all the way back to Fast Times at Ridgemont High when he played the football star.

Whitaker received two standing ovations at the dinner, and gave a humble speech that talked all about dreams and the possibilities. He is full of optimism, which infused the room with a permanent glow. He graciously shook hands with the many attendees who wanted to meet him before posing with his award for photographers.

The guests in their high heels and penguin suits filed out to wait in the valet line. Driving out of the Baraca resort was as pretty as driving in. The ocean still reaches as far into the horizon as you can see, its edge eventually dissolving into the night sky. Oil rigs, or birds? You can’t really tell what those things are out there until they are hit with the light of day.



The Santa Barbara Film Fest will honor Emma Thompson with the Modern Master Award, their highest honor:

Santa Barbara, CA – The Santa Barbara International Film Festival will honor actor, screenwriter and producer Emma Thompson with the Modern Master Award at the 29th edition of the Fest, which runs January 30 – February 9, 2014, it was announced today by
SBIFF Executive Director Roger Durling. The Tribute will take place on Saturday, February 8, 2014 at the historic Arlington Theatre and is sponsored by Adobe.

Both Cate Blanchett and Emma Thompson will be honored at the fest.


It was just announced that Oprah Winfrey will receive the prestigious Montecito Award from the Santa Barbara Film Festival on February 5, 2014. Winfrey receives the award for her work in Lee Daniels’ The Butler and as a celebration of her overall career.   In The Butler, Winfrey plays the wife of Cecil Gaines, a White House butler who last through many US presidents, but more to the point, the presidents who stood watch during the pivotal Civil Rights era.  Winfrey brings much to the role – including her sexuality, long thought extinct. There it is, in vivid color for the world to see. It’s a beautiful thing.


Cor, I stink. And my nails are shockingly long. They enter the room before I do. My last shower was Friday, and I figure 48 hours is about the limit I ought to go without washing. Fuck it, 72 hours will have to do this time. It’s not like I’m spending my time in a sterilised bunker, I’m spending my time surrounded by people and dirt and all manner of stuff that lodges itself in beneath my nails, which are now so long it’d take James Cameron and his diving crew to get down there and clean them out fs. Home tomorrow. Gonna have a shower, cut my nails and take a dump. And watch TV. I’ve missed more shows being away for a week than you watch in a year.

I’m at a bit of a loss regarding the location of my first screening today, Claude Lanzmann’s latest Holocaust documentary The Last of the Unjust. Only because I’ve not yet been there, I mean I’ve worked out the tube route and the directions from there, and sure enough it ain’t far and it ain’t difficult. It’s in Cine Lumiere, at l’Institut Francais. Ooh la la. That’ll do! But the film is over three hours long and they don’t allow food and drink in the screen! Shiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiit. Before we’re even half way through, I feel sleep making its return. Its unwelcome yet irresistible return. Well, rules are rules, so if I’m gonna take a couple of the caffeine pills I wisely packed in my laptop case today, I’m gonna have to take them dry. But I’m not missing no Lanzmann. Unlike on Monday, during At Berkeley, they work a treat. How come it’s always the longest films which send me off? Not even at the end, at the bloody start! I was knackered for the first 30 minutes of Norte, the End of History, then wide awake for the remaining 220!

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I saw Steve McQueen’s Hunger on opening weekend in 2008. The UK was one of the very first countries to see his debut feature, and the Belfast screening was packed, of course. It was the best film I saw that year. A little over two years ago, I was having a pretty bad day, and decided to treat myself. Rather than wait for its January release, I booked rail and sail to Manchester, via Dublin and Wales, for an early-December screening of Shame, followed by a Q&A with McQueen after. For this screening, I stayed up until 2am, walked into town to the bus stop, got lost in Dublin, waited outside for hours for the boat, and spent most of the next day on various trains. 36 hours with just about no sleep, all to see one film. And it was the best film I saw that year.

Yesterday, the very thought of seeing just two films in one day was so unappealing I paid almost £15 for a ticket to see another. Today, I took things a bit easier. Two would do me today, especially as the first of those two was 12 Years a Slave. You’ve probably heard all those rave reviews out of Telluride and Toronto, huh? The capacity screening in Odeon West End wasn’t even the film’s first showing at LFF. Two American girls sat down beside me. You know that bit in In a World… where Lake Bell rips the shit out of that girl’s voice? These two are that girl, only considerably less irritating, I’ll add. Their droll platitudes suggested they weren’t very well acquainted: “That’s so awesome…” was a particular favourite of the pair. But they spoke with more intelligence on the films they had seen in London than anybody else I’d overheard since arriving here last Sunday.

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It’s my day off, kind of. I’m still seeing two films, and actually they’re both pretty high-profile Cannes entries: Asghar Farhadi’s The Past, for which Berenice Bejo won the official Best Actress award, and Alain Guiraudie’s Stranger by the Lake, for which he himself won the Un Certain Regard Best Director award. But these screenings are, respectively, showing at 18:00 and 21:00, so I have the afternoon to do what I want! And what do I want to do? Go to the cinema!

I’ve sort of lost all track of regular time since Sunday, so when I turned up in Leicester Square, having traversed through Green Park and along Piccadilly, to find that Captain Phillips, the film which had opened the LFF last Wednesday and which I had thus missed, was out in cinemas, I was a little caught unawares. I bought my ticket, and the chatty vendor informed me that she’d heard it was good. Well, yeh, me too. Not knowing what day it was (standard chez moi), I thought she must have heard this from friends or customers. Not bloody likely, I was seeing the second screening of the day.

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Last Monday, I felt a cold coming on. Well, I thought it was a cold. It was tonsillitis. Not very pleasant. Got some penicillin from the doctor; by this time, the tonsillitis was subsiding. I packed what remained of the first packet out of two for London, and by the time I had run it through, my throat felt pretty much back to normal. It’s what, Thursday today? And the tonsillitis has returned. With a fucking vengeance. I do not intend to sit through nine films shivering like a fucking hobo in Helsinki and convulsing every time I swallow. FML.

The three films I saw yesterday, though all very good, were also all pretty dry, if you know what I mean. Not exactly designed to entertain. The same cannot be said for my first film today, Rigor Mortis. Chinese pop-star-turned-actor Juno Mak has now turned director, for a homage to the classic Chinese horror films of the 1980s. Vampires and ghosts and blah blah blah, you know the kind of film I’m on about, right? Bloody good fun, that’s what I was looking for. And yes sir, that’s what I got.

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Full list of the AFI fest:

SAVING MR. BANKS – The extraordinary, untold story of how Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) and author P. L. Travers (Emma Thompson) proceed to turn her novel into the film MARY POPPINS. DIR John Lee Hancock. SCR Kelly Marcel, Sue Smith. CAST Tom Hanks, Colin Farrell, Emma Thompson, Paul Giamatti, Bradley Whitford, Jason Schwartzman, B.J. Novak. USA. North American Premiere.
Thursday, November 7, 2013.

Centerpiece Galas

AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY – In this dramatic comedy with an all-star cast, a crisis reunites the women of an Oklahoma family and reignites their dysfunction. DIR John Wells. SCR Tracy Letts. CAST Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Ewan McGregor, Chris Cooper, Julianne Nicholson, Juliette Lewis, Dermot Mulroney, Abigail Breslin, Benedict Cumberbatch, Margo Martindale, Sam Shepard. USA.
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My stay here in London has so far been comprised of long stretches of business, punctuated by curious moments of inactivity. This morning was one of the latter. Three films today, all squeezed in to a mere few hours, with the first, Robin Campillo’s Eastern Boys, kicking off at 15:15. So, after a generous lie-in, a shower (the hostel showers here are proof against the existence of god, imo) and a chance to peruse the hostel’s suddenly half-decent wifi to publish my Inside Llewyn Davis review, I casually set off for Leicester Square once more, laptop in tow, umbrella not. But hey, the tube’s normally pretty dry.

With two and a half hours to kill, I strolled back to Costa Coffee for a Pepsi Max and an opportunity to sit by my laptop, where I am naturally most comfortable (it’s my only friend, *sob*). Pepsi Max is gross but it’s two calories. I’m a cola addict, and nothing beats Coca-Cola, but Pepsi will do. Diet Coke will not. Coke Zero is fine. Pepsi Max is marginally less heinous than Diet Coke, so I tolerate it when I know I’m likely to eat shit for the rest of today. With both of my first two screenings taking place in Vue Leicester Square (another major British chain), I knew more junk food would be on the menu today. Maybe not nachos. Maybe crisps. When crisps cross the Atlantic they become potato chips, even though they’re still the same things. Kind of like when Mexicans cross the border they become illegal aliens, even though they’re still the same people.

Vue Leicester Square is quite nice inside. Lots of warm orange lighting. Orange is my favourite colour. And chartreuse. And lime green. I like colours which make people retch. They suit my character. There’s wifi here, according to the website, and according to the lady at the till. I ought to go upstairs to the bar to get good signal. A bar! A plush cinema with a bar! The only cinema in Belfast with a bar is the arthouse, QFT, which is actually alright, but it doesn’t have warm orange lighting, and it doesn’t have wifi! Neither does this place though, as it turns out. I approach the barman. He doesn’t know the security key. There’s a more senior employee with a walkie-talkie. He doesn’t know. He radios for help. No response. The general manager then picks up. He doesn’t know. I ask if any of them at least know what the point is in having wifi when no-one can access it. They don’t know that either. They’ll get back to me, apparently. Yeh, they still haven’t. Donna Summer and Barbra Streisand’s ‘Enough Is Enough’ comes on my iPod. Indeed.

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There was a moment, yesterday, as I sat in the back of the taxi, watching the fare rise, imagining the first fifteen minutes of the film I was missing, Borgman, sweating like a priest in a playground, when I thought, “I’ve had enough. I haven’t even lasted two days in London. It can’t be worth this much stress. I might as well go home.” I did not go home. And I’m bloody happy I didn’t.

My hostel is pretty central, though everything in London is as long as you take the tube. It’s in Pimlico, which always makes me smile. I’m there, on the tube, with my Passport to Pimlico! Having a much better time than all the other passengers as a result. Then again, I bet some of them are going to Cockfosters. Lucky bastards.

Two venues today for three films, although both situated in the same locale: Leicester Square, the site of a host of small, ancient theatres owned by major cinema chains. Odeon Manchester has 20 screens, I remember. Odeon West End has two. Leicester Square is a pretty nice place to spend the day, as it turns out, especially if you like eating food (check!) and going to the cinema (check!). Catherine Breillat’s competition entry Abuse of Weakness was screening in OWE’s Screen Two, which is nestled underground, all clandestine like. 20 minutes early, I took the opportunity to do what I always do when I visit an Odeon: eat.

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The reason packing stresses me out is because I know there’ll be things that I’ll need to pack that I’ll also need on the morning I leave. So not everything’s going to make it into the suitcase the night before; I’m relying on keeping a clear head the next morning so I don’t forget anything. And four hours’ sleep + too much lager = anything but a clear head. Among the items I left in Belfast: shaving foam (meh), towel (damn), flip flops (FUUUUCK!!).

One ticket would do me, sure. Two films today, but I’ll just pop back to the hostel for the second one, cos sure it doesn’t start til around nine or something, right?

Shortly before the film, Fred Wiseman’s At Berkeley, I left the BFI Southbank (a nice cinema — clean, spacious, stylishly furnished in bold black and red, a theatrical colour scheme serving to enhance the occasion), which I had been using for its wifi – immeasurably superior to that in my hostel – to get a big bag of chocolate and a bottle of Fanta. This I justify on my diet by eating eff all else most of the time so my calorie count is nice and low! Have I no sense?

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