Check this space all week for coverage and reviews of the 2011 FirstGlance Film Festival.
Set in nearby Mt. Airy, Controlled Burn asks viewers just how far one human can go to support another. Does one life have the right to live if it overtakes another? Echoing the sentiments of a forest overrun with foliage and grasping vines, the short film shows how a controlled burn can ultimately let the standing trees shine. Local filmmaker Dan Van Wert based the short piece on his father’s own short story, entitled "The Firebringer." Juxtaposing love and common comfort with the dramatic tones of fire, betrayal and independence, this film works hard to offer an intimate space of troubled love. The cinematic elements — the way light provides both intimate space and confusion — are what keep the narrative alive. While the premise questions basic assumptions about humanity and will surely spark many a philosophical conversation, the prize really goes to the actors (including locals Nancy Boykin and Dan Kern) for their interaction with the scene around them.
CITY PAPER GRADE: B
Sat., Oct. 15, 3:15 p.m., $8, screens with Little Hero, More to Live For, Franklin Institute, 222 N. 20th St., firstglancefilms.com/philadelphia.
Check this space all week for reviews and coverage of the 2011 FirstGlance Film Festival.
Already winning awards right and left, Michelle Steffes' The Interview is a testament to the “dark comedy” genre. Only 12 minutes long, the short packs in well-scripted comedy, incredible effects, amazing attention to detail and a poignant socio-political taunt. Set in a post-apocalyptic Earth, the last man alive seeks a job from the second-to-last man, a radio host. Traveling past realistic burning cities and empty streets, young Sam Cohen (played by Abington, Pa's Adam Shapiro) comes to sit in front of Howard for a job position as the executive of the radio station — a job recently vacated by a bird-flu victim. Noting his strengths (a great immune system and stellar social skills), Sam should be a shoe-in for the only corporate position left in the world. But then again, all of his references are dead. Perfectly scripted dark humor ensues, touching on the soreness and almost-preposterous scenarios and situations in the current job market — one that doesn’t look too dissimilar to an end-of-times interview.
CITY PAPER GRADE: A
Thu., Oct. 13, 8 p.m., $12, screens with Bad Days, Chord, Calendar Girl, Franklin Institute, 222 N. 20th St., 215-448-1200, firstglancefilms.com.
The FirstGlance Film Festival has come a long way from its 1996 debut venue — a dingy, Center City basement. And this year's local-heavy lineup is shining proof that the indie film community in this town is on the up-and-up, too.
“Philadelphia’s scene is on the rise … there are a lot of talented people in our area that believe in it and they’re really turning out fantastic projects," says local filmmaker John Guarnere (pictured). "You weren’t getting that five years ago.”
Be sure to check this space all week long for our reviews of all the flicks making up Philly's contributions to the festival — including every genre from feature film to music video.
Thu.-Sun., Oct. 13-16, various times, $8-$60, Franklin Institute, 222 N. 20th St., firstglancefilms.com/philadelphia.
Known for his thrashy dance, seizuriffic live shows and brutal remixes of Kanye, Pink Floyd and, uh, Alan Parsons apparently, Derek Vincent Smith aka Pretty Lights has earned his stripes at the big festivals. It's all glitchy samples, furious synths, flashing strobes, glowing cubes and the guy next to you asking to bum a hit. Check out this ridiculous video of him playing Bonaroo. You could always go home early.
Also playing Popped: The Shins, Rakim, The Hold Steady, Pains of Being Pure of Hearts, Girl Talk, Black Thought and more. Fri. and Sat., Sept. 23 and 24, Single-day tickets $59.50, both days $110, FDR Park, near Broad and Pattison, poppedphiladelphia.com.
Ex-City Paper staffer Helen I Hwang sent in this pic from her current home in Glasgow, which is impersonating Philly right now for the shooting of World War Z.
Adapted from David Nicholls’ bestseller, One Day begins when Emma Morley (Anne Hathaway) and Dexter Mayhew (Jim Sturgess) meet for the first time, on July 15 (St. Swithin’s Day), and end up spending the night together.
Director Lone Scherfig’s film chronicles Emma and Dexter's experiences over the next two decades as their friendship grows more intense. They try not to get their feelings of love and/or interest in sex get in the way of their friendship. As such, the film asks: Can men and women benefit from friendship, or do they always end up as friends with benefits?
“I think it’s possible for a straight woman to be friends with a straight guy and vice versa," said Hathaway in a recent interview. "And yes, sometimes tension can get in the way of friendship; usually that dissipates into what it’s meant to be — which is a friendship.”
But then she added, “But I’m not the person to answer this question. I’ve been in a rock-solid relationship for three years, and I’m a one-man woman, so I don’t really look at other men. The majority of my friends are gay men, and I’ve never had any sexual tension with them — which I consider to be a personal failing. That said, [I’m going to be playing] Judy Garland — so I’ve got to get on that.”
The International House recently kicked off its series of archival film screenings — “Archive Fever!” — with Jesse Lerner’s documentary The Atomic Sublime.
At 72 minutes, the film depicts the rise of abstract expressionism in the U.S. and its role as an instrument of propaganda during the Cold War. The New York School of Abstract Expressionism — with its representation of nondescript shapes alongside bold colors and patterns — was sharply divergent from socialist realism, the only form of art permitted to exist in the Soviet Union. The contrast between the art forms was not seen as coincidental in the age of the atomic bomb. Like everything else, art was swept up in the culture war between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. Abstract expressionism was even elevated to the level of a national art form in the United States, despite the fact that it was never overtly political. In all, The Atomic Sublime offers a shining example of the role art played in the social and political context of its time.
The message may not be novel, but the production of the film is. Relying entirely on “found footage,” Lerner pieced together the documentary with clips from newsreels and educational programming from the 1940s, 50s and 60s. As a result, The Atomic Sublime comes across as a patchwork of images and ideas. The film, however, does not provide a cohesive storyline. Instead, the narrative unfolds in fits and starts. But for Lerner, making sense of it all is part of the fun. He created The Atomic Sublime using a technique called “assemblage” — a form of art production where the artist re-purposes found material to create something new. The finished product is esoteric in parts, but will undoubtedly appeal to anyone appreciative of avant-garde cinema.
Q&A with MIKE CAHILL: "We have a primal fear of being alone in the universe. That’s why we reach out."
Another Earth starts and leaves its viewers with one haunting question: If there were a mirror Earth, what would it mean? Could lost loved ones be there? Could you wipe away the stains of your crimes and sins? Would you like your mirror-self? And what sacrifice would you be willing to make to be on that other version of Earth?
Director/writer Mike Cahill and star/writer/co-producer Brit Marling probed these questions in their film, in which Marling plays a girl who leads a charmed life — including having just been accepted into MIT. But then she strikes a sedan and kills the family in it (all but one member). After being imprisoned for four years, feeling worthless and working menial jobs, she seeks out the once-comatose widower of the deceased family, a classical composer played by William Mapother. While she grows close to the widower without him knowing who she is, she enters and wins an essay contest where the prize is a trip to Another Earth.
To tell you more would be cruel. But to let Cahill do it is a joy.
City Paper: How does a guy with such a deep résumé of music documentaries (Sting, Leonard Cohen) start thinking about Another Earth?
Mike Cahill: When I was still studying at Georgetown, I was making a lot of shorts — fictional films starring Brit, who was like four years younger than me. So we had this collaborative background in fiction, kids telling stories. When I graduated, I started working for National Geographic and started on real authentic stories, like the music docs. But I always wanted Brit and I to go back to our roots. Documentaries give you a confidence in regard to walking into a scene. You so often have to capture the unpredictable. Add an extra amount of control and your meter for authenticity goes up — that’s your barometer. So I approached Another Earth as if it were a documentary, taking a story that is science fiction but grounding it in reality.
CP: The film definitely has that feel. What visual twist did you wish to lend Another Earth to make it adaptable to fiction?
MC: I always thought it was be interesting if the camera from Dogma 95, the stripped-down, bare, naturalistic thing, caught that other Earth in the sky. District 9 in its intent, more modest in its budget. If it felt real in its look and its technique, we could make it feel real. There are cues and syntax that an audience understands. Magic realism, if you will; heavy-handed, even.
CP: You took the words out of my mouth. Talk about the emotionalism of second chances and how you married that with science.
MC: We as humans have a primal sort of fear of being alone, alone in the universe. That’s why we reach out. We don’t want to be the only ones here. That’s just a microcosm. Humans have a singular perspective. No matter how people are around us, there’s intense loneliness. That emotion — that’s captured in The Double Life of Veronique, the cultural notion of doppelgangers — a soul mate, is part of the subconscious. We made a twist on that by saying that there is another one of each and every one of all of us, 3 billion of us. Think about that complication, externalizing that interior process. That emotion bled into the science and the fiction of it.
Hey Conan fans, O'Brien's very public firing from The Tonight Show is the topic of a new documentary. During the whole shenanigan, film-maker Rodman Flender (an old Harvard pal of Conan's) was apparently following Conan's Twitter-fueled live tour, with cameras rolling. A humanizing documentary, Conan O'Brien Can't Stop, is only being released in a handful of theaters around the country. But luckily, you can catch it at our nearby Colonial Theatre (227 Bridge St.) in Phoenixville.
When asked how The Colonial Theatre got so lucky to be on the short-list, assistant director Kirsten Van Vlanderson said: "We're big Conan O'Brien fans. When we heard about the documentary, we called the film's distributor, Abramorama, who we had worked with in the past, and told them we'd love to show it."
For tickets and showtimes, check Colonial Theatre's website or call them at 610-917-1228.
Q-Tip, Phife Dawg and Ali Shaheed Muhammad were and still are (for all practical purposes despite having broken up in 1998 and again in 2008) A Tribe Called Quest, the legendary Queens hip-hop collective on the Native Tongues tip. Their sound was jazzy, literate and holy.
Michael Rapaport is a New York City native who has famously acted in Zebrahead, Higher Learning, Woody Allen's Mighty Aphrodite and the Fox series Accidentally on Purpose. His sound is rapier fast and heavily accented. This week, though, it is not his voice or acting skills that is being celebrated. It is his sometimes contentiously incendiary and always glorious directorial debut — a documentary, Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest (read Drew Lazor's review).
Though it’s received accolades along the fest circuit (Sundance in particular, the Audience Award at the very recent L.A. Film Festival) it is the innovative hip-hop act who have been weird regarding the true raw nature of the film with Q in particular at odds with the tense portrayal of the band’s bad brotherly interaction. They fight in the movie. They split apart. They’re like any other act that grew up together. Phife likes the film. Ali goes every which way. But Q and his crew have written Rapaport angry tweets and emails and threatened to sue to bar the film’s release. Sounds like a movie.
We caught up with Rapaport during a round-table chat (other journo's questions are mixed in) at the Four Seasons. The director had just read my Gamble & Huff cover story and expressed interest in my tale before the interviewed started. We went from there.
Question: We were talking about this Sound of Philly story and what your connection was.
Michael Rapaport: I pitched that idea — about doing a documentary — on the Sound of Philly and Gamble & Huff around, to (producer) Tracy Edmonds in particular. It was probably smart to have not indulged that idea because at that time, I probably wasn’t ready to do it, what like 11, 12 years ago. You mentioned that there is no Scorsese-worthy documentary on those guys. Now, I’m no Scorsese but their story is one I could tell. I was curious about them in the same way that I was about Tribe.
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