Thursday, September 27, 2012


Cinema Project's fall season opens this coming Saturday and Sunday night with an extremely rare showing of a collaborative piece by Charles Atlas and Merce CunninghamTorse is a split-screen dance performance prepared for the stage and committed to film in late 70s by the duo.  The program kicks off Cinema Project's year-long residency at Yale Union.

Here's a description of the film from the Cinema Project website:

Merce Cunningham’s dance “Torse” focuses on the flexibility of the back, expanding on five basic positions (upright, arch, tilt, twist, and curve) into 64 possible movements, the total number of symbolic hexagrams in the I Ching. Steps and phrases are arrived at not by instinct or a sense of flow, but through a methodical approach that also happens to be chance driven. The stand-alone filmed version, Torse (1977), from long-time Cunningham collaborator Charles Atlas, continues mathematically. 

Shot at the University of Washington with three 16mm cameras—two mobile and manned by Cunningham and Atlas to capture close-ups and a third stationary—Atlas edited the piece to appear on two screens side by side. This strategy allows viewers to see the dance from various vantage points at once. From Einstein’s theory of relativity, Cunningham took the idea that there are no fixed points in space, therefore no intended perspective point, no preferred seat from which to watch. 

This recent HD restoration also includes the original soundtrack by composer Maryanne Amacher. As with many of Cunningham’s works, the music is created completely separate from the dance. In Torse, then, rhythm is felt then not through musical timing, but through the speed of and weight change from one position to the next. 

Cinema Project presents Torse on Friday, September 29th and Saturday, September 30th at 9pm.  More info on the program available here.

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Wednesday, September 26, 2012


Tomorrow night, the NW Film Center will be screening a showcase of seven short films drawn from Filmmaker Magazine's selections for their 2012 list of the 25 New Faces of Independent Film.  Among those films and filmmakers is Oregon's own Ian Clark whose Searching for Yellow is a study of a landscape painter (seriously, the guy literally paints the land) who's dealing with the dissolution of a complicated relationship.  Clark will be at the screening to introduce the evening's presentation.

Hannah Fidell's The Gathering Squall

Also in the program is Ian Harnarine's Doubles with Slight Pepper, which concerns a man struggling to make ends meet by selling food out of a mobile cart.  When his father returns after a long absence, he is forced to come to terms with both issues of abandonment and mortality.  Harnarine's film is well acted, emotionally authentic, and shows a sharp eye for camera placement

Ian Clark's Searching for Yellow

A.J. Rojas' Hey Jane is a music video for the Spiritualized song of the same name.  It follows the exploits of a transvestite hooker trying to make a living on the street.  It's probably also the most energetic short in the program, kinetic as hell, really.  This short is totally not safe for work, but, that's okay, 'cause you'll be far from the confines of your cubicle when viewing it.

Ian Harnarine's Doubles with Slight Pepper

The best two shorts in the program are Jonas Carpignano's A Chjàna and Cutter Hodierne's Fishing without Nets.  Carpignano's film sheds light on the experience of African immigrants living in a section of Italy known as "the Plains."  The story picks up just as a riot breaks out in protest of violence against the immigrant population.  There's an incredible amount of depth explored in just under 20 minutes here and Carpignano's cinematographer Maura Morales Bergmann knows just how to capture the action.

Fishing without Nets is a short film just dying to be expanded to feature length.  Hodierne tells the tale of Somalian piracy through the eyes of the men planning to capture a large seagoing vessel.  It features amateur actors, vividly captured imagery, and a considerable amount of tension building.  This might be the best short I've seen all year.

Cutter Hodierne's Fishing Without Nets

Hannah Fidell's The Gathering Squall is based on short story by Joyce Carol Oates.  It's about a traumatic event in a girl's life.  It's solid enough, but it might have been even better as a longer piece, since it feels a bit pinched for time as it draws down the curtain on its story.

A.G. Rojas' Hey Jane

There's one more short included in Thursday's presentation (Ryan Coogler's Fig), but I wasn't able to view it before readying this post.

Jonas Carpignano's A Chjana (The Plain)

Filmmaker Magazine's The 25 New Faces of Independent Film screens at the NW Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium (in the Portland Art Museum) on Thursday , September 27th at 7pm.  More info available here.


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Sunday, September 23, 2012


A transcendent image of a glassy blue and roiling sea appears before us three times during Paul Thomas Anderson's latest and most-challenging picture, The Master.  On each occasion, it offers to swallow us whole, dragging us into its chaos, perhaps joining our turbidity with its own swirling, constantly shifting mass.  This vision ends up painting a perfect analogue for the film's two chief characters, both of which have the potential for casting themselves wildly into the abyss, driven by something dark at the center of their being.

Forget what you've heard: The Master isn't (necessarily) about Scientology.  Yes, the character of Lancaster Dodd (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) absolutely takes its inspiration from the figure of L. Ron Hubbard and there are many similarities between Hubbard's organization and Dodd's The Cause scattered throughout the film.

The real story being told here is about the uneasy connection formed between an alcoholic drifter named Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix) and Hoffman's Dodd.  Without these two halves of the same soul, there is no film, something which Anderson goes to great lengths to ensure, fragmenting and suppressing most every nod to conventional or sustained storytelling in order to reduce the film down to a basic stew comprised of these men, their similarities, and the different directions in which they are headed.

The aptly named Quell is a World War II naval veteran cast adrift after his experiences in the war.  He's drinking too much (concocting potions out of fuel, paint thinner, or whatever he can lay his hands upon) and running from the consequences of having poisoned a man with his home brewed liquor; he tells Dodd that you have to know how to "drink it smart."  The truth is that Freddie is recklessly careening through life when he drunkenly stumbles onto a seagoing vessel containing Dodd, his wife (Amy Adams) and family, and a boatload of his followers.

Upon regaining consciousness, Freddie becomes drawn into Dodd's orbit, undergoing the questionable manipulations of his "screenings," and becoming an unpredictable and volatile protector against anyone who dares to defy the older man's quasi-religious rhetoric.  There's little indication that Freddie believes or even understands what The Cause stands for and so, since it is mostly through his eyes which we view the film, neither do we.  In fact, if the film passes judgment at all on the charismatic Dodd's belief system, it's when his son Val (Jesse Plemons) asks if Freddie can see that his father is "making it all up as he goes along," an accusation that Freddie later lays at Dodd's doorstep.

For reasons not entirely pronounced by the film, Dodd takes this reckless heap of a man, blind animal-like behaviors and all, under his wing, trying to cure him while simultaneously delighting in some of Freddie's "magic potions;" a weakness that Dodd's wife discourages with a shockingly commanding sexual act.

It's within this contradiction that we're able to locate the duality expressed by these two characters; Dodd could clearly inhabit Freddie's position in life and jealously guards this truth compounded with the basic deception at the core of his trade, while Freddie hopelessly attempts to mask his disease and pain-even if it's plainly apparent to all who look upon him-expecting that no one should be able to question his path.  There's a shared essence of self-determination binding these men; as before, two halves of the same soul.

Where many viewers will have difficulty is with the pacing of the piece, as well as Anderson's resolve to allow the performances to trump the plotting of his film.  At nearly 2 1/2 hours long, The Master contains about an hour's worth of focused, conventional storytelling.  During those moments explored in Boogie Nights, since both films share observations on small sects performing transgressive social experiments way outside the mainstream.  But visually and, especially, in terms of its atmospherics, The Master is very much in tune with P.T.A.'s There Will Be Blood, albeit a far less immediate and darkly charming version of that 2007 piece.

This is an incredibly well made, slowly drawn out film that will likely bloom further on subsequent viewings.  One suspects that the experience will benefit the second time around, much as Terrence Malick's The Tree of Life did, from being freed of the burden of trying to harmonize what's onscreen into an easily digestible story.  For now, though, the lack of moorage within the tale speaks volumes about the principal characters in this drama, articulating just how lost they are in their own private whirlwinds.

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Saturday, September 22, 2012


John Flynn's (Lock Up, Out for Justice) notorious 1977 revenge thriller Rolling Thunder has been discussed over the years almost as much for its unavailability on dvd as for the explosive acts of violence littered throughout it.  Even though it was finally released last year via the MGM Limited Edition Collection (the studio's trumped up name for the orphaned films in their portfolio, dumped onto burnt dvds, often with questionable transfers), it'd be a crime to miss out this Tuesday night when Dan Halsted has a rare 35mm print of the film lined up for his monthly Grindhouse Film Festival event at the Hollywood Theatre.

Yes, Quentin Tarantino likes the film so much that he named his short-lived distribution company after it, which is all fine and dandy, but the real reason to pay attention to Rolling Thunder is Paul Schrader.  Obviously, Schrader's best known for his screenplays for Taxi Driver and Raging Bull, as well as for his work as a writer/director on such films as American Gigalo and AfflictionRolling Thunder is Schrader at his prime, when his entire output seemed to be dedicated to investigating outsiders prodded towards acts both violent and transgressive.  If you're a fan of any of the films dissected in Robert Kolker's "A Cinema of Loneliness", you owe it to yourself to catch this film.

Enough of my blathering, here's the press release for this month's Grindhouse event:

On Tuesday September 25th at 7:30, the Grindhouse Film Festival presents a rare 35mm print of the 70′s revenge masterpiece Rolling Thunder. Written by Paul Schrader around the same time he wrote Taxi Driver, this is one of the most underrated American films of the 1970′s. 

Rolling Thunder (1977) William Devane stars as Major Charles Rane who returns from a long tortuous stay in a Vietnamese POW camp to find his wife married to another man and his only son wary of a father he doesn’t know. Tommy Lee Jones co-stars as a shattered POW survivor who finds it impossible to readjust to civilian life, and sees Rane as the only man he can relate to. When a crew of thugs invade Rane’s home, mangle his hand in a garbage disposal, and kill his son, Rane begins down a focused path of revenge. With a sharpened hook for a hand and a duffel bag full of shotguns, he crosses the border to Mexico with the only purpose he has left in his life.

Here's a bonus clip of director Eli Roth (Cabin Fever, Hostel) discussing the film:

Rolling Thunder plays one-night-only at the Hollywood Theatre on Tuesday, September 25th at 7:30pm.  More info available here.

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Thursday, September 20, 2012


Compliance is a troubling, true-crime drama set at a fast food joint.  No, it's not about a drive-thru robbery.  Instead, director Craig Zobel (Great World of Sound) has a far more insidious tale to tell, one that confronts blind adherence to authority while asking the audience to endure to some fairly icky developments.  He's crafted a complex cocktail that raises far more questions than it ever intends on answering and doesn't shy away from interrogating the audience's response to the nightmare it presents.

Zobel opens the picture with a convincingly mundane depiction of life in a fast food restaurant.  Most of the workers there are, predictably, teenagers.  It's plain to see how the much older manager, Sandra (Ann Dowd), wearily deals with the daily disappointment of still working around fried chicken, barely masking her condescending tone as she leads her crew through a morning meeting.  What seems like an average morning shifts abruptly when the phone rings in Sandra's office. 

The voice on the other line identifies himself as Officer Daniels (Pat Healy).  He claims that one of Sandra's employees, Becky (Dreama Walker), has stolen cash out of a customer's purse.  Daniels says the theft has been confirmed because Becky is already under observation for "an unrelated investigation."  Since all police personnel is currently tied up with that other investigation, Officer Daniels tells Sandra that she'll need to detain Becky in her office until someone for the department can make it down; which is all fine and good, if somewhat questionable, until the voice on the other line asks Sandra to strip search their suspect.

The request destabilizes our understanding of what's going on here.  It's like the film is letting us in on a dirty secret and the impact of that revelation ripples throughout the remainder of the film.  What follows is a test of Sandra, the other employees at the restaurant, and the audience itself.  Each time the instructions of Officer Daniels are followed, another more invasive command is issued and the tension grows.  And we're left to watch as it all unfolds.

This is not a feel-good film.  There were moments when I wondered if I'd accidentally stumbled into a torture porn film, such is the level of degradation on offer.  Compliance rises above the pointless sadism of that horror subgenre by actually having and coherently delivering a well-organized interrogation of how culpable we are in the structure of evil, refuting the notion that such phenomena ever springs from a single individual.  Let's just say that I don't think it's a mistake that Zobel has cast a chicken restaurant as the setting (the incident it's based on happened at a McDonalds).

Bottom line: this movie will be rattling around in your head for weeks after viewing, so powerful are its themes, accusations, and the level of filmmaking on display.

Highly recommended.

Compliance begins its run at Cinema 21 on Friday, September 21st.  More info available here.

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Wednesday, September 19, 2012


It seems like nowadays there's no end of films about folks unable to make it in the adult world.  A good deal of these narratives are aimed directly at a male experience (y'know, like most films produced) of arrested development.  Refreshingly, Hello I Must Be Going, like last year's Young Adult, has its eye on unpacking the life crisis of a woman in her thirties dealing with a post-divorce depressive spiral.

Amy (Melanie Lynskey) has landed back at her parent's home after being jilted by her ex-husband.  There's little indication that she's ready to move on with things anytime soon.  She constantly wears a ratty old t-shirt around the house and has developed sleeping patterns more akin to a teenager on summer break.  Her mother (Blythe Danner) is reaching the end of her rope with Amy, while Amy's father (John Rubinstein), perhaps due to his own economic worries, appears distracted, willing to allow Amy to figure it out in her own time.

Things begin to shift as Amy encounters Jeremy (Christopher Abbot from Lena Dunham's Girls), a significantly younger man, at a dinner held at her parent's home.  The social engagement is meant to lubricate a possible business arrangement between Amy and Jeremy's fathers, one that would allow Amy's dad to recover enough financially to be able to retire.  There's a instantaneous spark between Amy and Jeremy.  Despite Amy's sense that the relationship is inappropriate, she quickly gives in to their mutual attraction and begins sneaking around at night with Jeremy.

Directed by actor Todd Louiso (probably best known for playing Dick in High Fidelity), Hello I Must Be Going is an actor's piece.  The story doesn't stray too far outside the basic setup and viewers probably will guess how it will all work out fairly early on in the film.  The real attraction here is the performances, especially those of Rubinstein and Lynskey who create a believable, organic father/daughter relationship out of very little.  Watching them interact, one can easily draw a line between the way he deals with his failures and how she reacts to her own.  Whenever they share the screen, there's an intimacy between them that's breathtaking in its quiet, emotional depth.

Overall, Hello I Must Be Going is a modest piece, well-drawn, not too flashy, and peppered with fine, measured acting by its small ensemble.  It compares favorably with other unsung indie fare of the past like Tully.  It's a film waiting to be discovered by a small, enthusiastic few.  With a little luck, perhaps word of mouth will carry it far.  Maybe not.  Those who do stumble upon it will be pleased that they did.

Hello I Must Be Going begins its run at Regal Fox Tower 10 on Friday, September 21st.  More info available here.

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Tuesday, September 18, 2012


Portland's own Jackpot Records knows how to throw together a music-themed film festival.  They've been cobbling together one classic lineup after another for the annual Jackpot Records Film & Music Festival for nine years running now.  Past highlights have included hometown screenings of Alan Zweig's fascinating and shocking documentary ode to hoarding Vinyl, a live TV Carnage event, the PDX debut of Jandek in concert, and, of course, enough psych and garage goodies to thrill even the most jaded record nerds in attendance.

This year's fest is "dedicated to misunderstood geniuses and visionaries. The ground breakers that weren’t afraid to reveal the vision of their true selves, their true sound, or their truly irreverent music-loving souls."  From the looks of it, the schedule stays true to the intended theme.  I saw Jobraith A.D. when it played earlier this year at QDoc; you won't want to miss it. 

Pretty much all of these look great, from the tale of record store madness that informs Rhino Resurrected to one man's late-in-life play for a music career in Charles Bradley: Soul of America there's certainly something for everyone (my enduring love for Mudhoney, for instance, will surely be sated by Tuesday night's feature, I'm Now: The Story of Mudhoney).

Admission is a paltry five smackers per night.  You can't beat that with a stick. 

And now, here are the trailers:

The Jackpot Film & Music Festival runs from Monday, September 24th through Friday, September 28th at the Bagdad Theater.  More info available here.

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Is it already time for another installment of Kung Fu Theater at the Hollywood Theatre?  Man, this year is just slipping through my hands!  Well, back to the good news: KUNG FU on a big ass screen, projected from a rare 35mm print!  And, boy, do Dan and the crew at the Hollywood have a real treat in store for faithful attendees this month.  It's a Shaw Brothers classic directed by Kung Fu Theater favorite Chang Cheh: 1978s Crippled Avengers.

As per usual, buying tickets in advance is advisable, as these events regularly sell out.

Here's the details courtesy of Kung Fu Theater's release:

On Tuesday September 18th at 7:30pm, Kung Fu Theater presents an extremely rare 35mm print of the martial arts classic Crippled Avengers. 

The Venom Mob star as a group of men each individually attacked and left crippled. One is blind, one is deaf and mute, one legless, and one mentally challenged. Now they must each learn unique kung fu to overcome their disabilities and exact revenge on the person responsible: the ruthless man with the iron hands! Get ready for non-stop martial arts mayhem, wild acrobatics, and homoerotic funky style (did ancient kung fu masters really roam the Chinese countryside bare-chested, sporting huge sideburns?) Directed by Chang Cheh. 

35mm kung fu trailers before the movie.


Crippled Avengers plays one-night-only at the Hollywood Theatre on Tuesday, September 18th at 7:30pm.  More info available here.

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Saturday, September 15, 2012


Okay, the general rule of thumb: if a local theater plays a film by legendary Japanese film master Akira Kurosawa, you go.  No overthinking it, no waffling necessary: JUST GO!  Beginning this afternoon, the Hollywood Theatre is offering up an excellent opportunity to practice your adherence to that basic movie going principle.  Once again proving their brilliance at repertory programming, they've wrangled a 35mm print of Seven Samurai.

Yes, Seven Samurai is almost 3 1/2 hours long and it's in Japanese; sure, you could spend that time downing quite a few Hamms while playing Tiddlywinks (or whatever you kids get up to nowadays).  Here's the skinny, though: your life will have far more meaning if you forgo the routine and dive into the deep end with A.K. and Mifune (Toshirô, if you're nasty).  This is some serious top shelf cinema here.  So put down the remote, get off yer duff, and get thee to the Hollywood for what may be the greatest film ever made.  Seriously, this film's got mileage...can I get an amen?

Seven Samurai begins a three day engagement at the Hollywood Theatre beginning on Saturday, September 15th.  More info available here.

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Monday, September 10, 2012


Several months ago, I came across an article on Laughing Squid about a quirky looking, new documentary called Bible Storyland.  The film deals with the discovery of conceptual artwork and plans for a large, 1960s Bible-themed amusement park by one Harvey Jordan, an art-collector/dealer from Southern California.  Although (or maybe because) the park was never built, Harvey's interaction with these long-forgotten artifacts send him off on a journey to learn the behind the scenes secrets of Bible Storyland.  Driven by his own doubts and fears, Harvey chases after the abandoned dreams of the park's would-be-entrepreneurs to the detriment of his family and, perhaps, his own best interests.

I'll be running a review of the film in the very near future, so keep an eye out for that posting.  In the meantime, Bible Storyland director Stephanie Hubbard took some time to speak to me about the film.  Here's how our conversation went down:

NICK: Can you tell us a little bit about how you became involved in telling the story of Bible Storyland? Did Harvey Jordan approach you with his discovery of the design sketches, paintings, and a forgotten tale of 1960s Americana or did you stumble upon the subject matter some other way? 

STEPHANIE: Harvey came to my workshop then as I worked with him on ideas of how to make the film - he suggested that I be the director. I said no at first, but he persisted, and ultimately I took on the role, and I'm glad I did.  

NICK: What elements tend to be present for you to begin thinking about telling a story via a film or documentary treatment?

STEPHANIE: I'm always looking for transformation...and funding.

NICK:  Your film is ostensibly about Harvey’s quest to research a biblically inspired theme park that was never built. But a fascinating thing happens as the story moves forward: the focus shifts from Harvey’s detective work to become a portrait of Harvey himself, his fears and relentless drive to solve the mystery at the heart of Bible Storyland are all laid bare. 

Was there a moment during the production when you began to understand that the story was moving in a whole different direction? And, if so, was there some initial discomfort at coming to the realization that the project would be much more of a character piece than an investigation of Bible Storyland itself?

STEPHANIE: Well thank you - I'm glad you found it to be fascinating. 

When I was first exposed to the material and to Harvey - I knew that Bible Storyland was a jumping off point for something more - and that more had to be there to make it a film worth making. So before production began I knew it had to be bigger than Bible Storyland. I also knew from talking to Harvey that there were issues afoot in his household - that his wife was not being supportive - in fact, before we started shooting, he came very close to quitting. So - in answer to your question: I had no discomfort at the realization that it would be more of a character piece - I knew that's what it needed to be. Fortunately Harvey and Debi trusted me and themselves to tell the story. 

NICK: Obsession appears to be the main theme forwarded by the film. As we follow Harvey, he encounters what begins to feel like an endless series of dead ends to finding out the truth about Bible Storyland, none of which discourage him enough to abandon his investigation. 

Far more curious is Harvey’s admission that he’s developing a sense of kinship with Nat Winecoff, the forgotten early Disney exec turned chief instigator of the Bible Storyland project, even going so far as to begin talking as if he plans to break ground on the long-abandoned Bible Storyland construction himself. 

How many years did Harvey end up devoting to this project? Do you think it’s fair to say that at a certain point along the line that the quest began to take over Harvey’s life?

STEPHANIE: By the time we finished the film - Harvey had spent 10 years - now it's been eleven years. 

Yes it's fair to say on the one hand that the quest took over Harvey's life. On the other hand, Harvey has a variety of interests (including his meditation - he goes on one or two ten day silent meditation retreats a year in the time I've known him) (and Debi doesn't like him to go on those either) that he finds engaging and interesting. 

NICK: Do you see his particular form of obsession as pointing to a larger, societal trend or issue?

STEPHANIE: I think that it's fair to say many many people don't like everything about their daily lives, and are looking for ways to escape. A lot of folks just watch TV - and get really into a show (I have friends who both work on The Bachelorette and others who seem to live for it) or into movies - other people get into complicated hobbies - like Live Action Role Playing - or motocross - or what ever that might be. 

One thing that struck me about Harvey's quest is that it was essentially very lonely. He was the only guy going after the Bible Storyland Story - and I think he really liked the uniqueness of his quest. Other people get a hold of something and it makes them part of a group and that's the appeal. That was not the case with Harvey. 

NICK: Okay, so do you feel that Harvey’s compulsion becomes easier to identify with because, to a certain degree, so many of us are driven by passions that aren’t always rooted in reality?

STEPHANIE: Well, as a filmmaker - I really related to Harvey's quest. 

Most of the people I know here in Los Angeles are driven by similar passions, though I'm happy to say that in my community I think my friends are increasingly rooted in reality. But to be an artist working to make art - especially an expensive and essentially speculative art form like filmmaking - the passion almost has to be detached from reality. 

It's interesting - because as I was making this film about Harvey becoming unhinged in an artful quest for Bible Storyland, the protagonist of my second book (a novel) was feeling that all this time spent and dedicated to pursuit of her art form had actually been a betrayal to herself - now she was past 45 years old, still an artist, and still struggling in a rotting rent controlled apartment, seething with jealousy at anyone who had health insurance much less a pension. It was almost as if the Harvey project was success enough to free me to explore this angry aspect of the life I'd created for myself as a working artist. 

I think that it's very important in my work to explore the domestic, the struggle to express oneself amid the daily constraints of paying the rent or picking up the kid. That's what I think is interesting, and what I think Bible Storyland managed to explore just a little bit. 

NICK: Harvey really commits to putting himself out there as a subject, allowing the audience to see some fairly unflattering and tense moments in his domestic life, as well as more than a few confessional and crisis-driven moments along the way. I’ve got to say that it’s really inspiring to see his growth as a character from the time we meet Harvey until the point where the film reaches it’s conclusion.

Was featuring so much of Harvey’s personal life a process of negotiation between you, Harvey, and his family? Did the necessity of telling the story the way you did become more evident once you entered the editing room or were those decisions arrived at before you began cutting the film?

STEPHANIE: As I said in the beginning - I knew I wanted and needed to include Harvey's story even before we started shooting. What I didn't know was how much they'd show me. The good news was that from the very first or second shoot - they were on board. I never asked them for permission or negotiated anything. I and my cameraman would just show up with cameras and Harvey and his family lived their lives. 

Once we hit the editing room then began the waltz to really hit the right mix. I felt it was really important to find that line where Debi's frustration was understandable, and where Harvey's transformation was complete. I've also done this long enough to know to edit almost to the end before we were done shooting - that way after I had screened it and gotten notes and knew where I needed to bring elements forward, I was able to have one last day of shooting to gather it all. 

Too often I've seen filmmakers think that there were two discrete phases: shooting - then when that's done - cutting. It's much better for there to be a time of capturing but for that to overlap with cutting, input, more cutting - and then more shooting. Sometimes it's simply not possible, but more often then not it's entirely possible. 

NICK: Congrats on bringing the film to completion. I think it’s a really solid piece.

You’ve taken Bible Storyland to a few festivals now. What’s the reception to the film been like so far? You’re currently selling the dvd on your website. Are you still looking to tour the film in various cities? 

STEPHANIE: Thanks very much. I was very lucky to have a great producer who really gave me free rein with my artistic vision and really made himself available. It was a really wonderful experience which he and I have both really appreciated.

We've actually only premiered the film in July in San Antonio, and people were really engaged and really enjoyed it. The film just ran a couple of days ago at the Kingston Film Festival, but we weren't there. This upcoming week, it will be shown as part of DocUtah. 

Yes we sell the DVD on the site - but it's really fun to watch in a crowded theater - lots of laughing and self recognition. And yes we are currently looking to tour the film in various cities. We'd love to bring it to Portland. 

NICK: It’s kind of an uncertain time as far as distribution for independently produced films is concerned. What’s your experience of self-distributing a film in today’s crowded market been like so far?

STEPHANIE: We are not actually self distributing it YET. We are represented by Cargo Films Releasing and David Piperni.   We have been making the rounds of festivals. We are currently actually (and frankly very surprising to me) in the process of pursuing a small theatrical release. 

I really hope we are able to run in Portland and attend. 

As far as standing out in today's crowded market: here is what I will say: I feel that Bible Storyland is the way I like documentaries to be: fun, and edgy and warm and unexpected. When I think of what has influenced my storytelling in this film, I keep coming back to "The Big Lebowski", fun and edgy and warm and unexpected - full of twists and turns - and ultimately: "The Dude Abides". 

One by one - we find our viewers: people looking for documentaries that are fun, and edgy and warm and unexpected and who don't get scared by the title. 

NICK: Looking to the future, do you have any projects in the works or any that you’re excited to begin developing?

STEPHANIE: Actually I have a few projects. I just completed a Kickstarter Campaign for my next film, for the time being, it's called, The Improv Movie - and it tracks a top level comedy improv team and the concept of "Group Mind" in a fun way of course. 

I've also been working with my good friend Joanna Vassilatos on an album - I've written the words, she's the vocalist and doing the music and we are working together with Sasha Smith to producer it. 

I have finished my second book (you can find out about my first at and I'm partnering with an amazing producer on a documentary series that i can't talk about yet, but which is really cool. 

In the meantime I'm story producing for folks making a documentary about BronyCon - and teaching my workshops - and writing my blog at Also for the record, I have health insurance, and do not live in a rotting apartment (anymore). 

Bible Storyland is available for sale on the film's website.  More info available here.

Saturday, September 8, 2012


The early word on the street about Spike Lee's Red Hook Summer was that it would be a return to his early storytelling concerns.  And, yes, there are plenty of signs that Lee was attempting to mine his back catalog with this new project.  There's the return to a decaying and poor urban setting, the Crooklynesque device of a kid coming of age via an extended stay in an unfamiliar place, and then, there's the very brief return of Lee as Mookie, his character from his 1989 masterpiece Do the Right Thing.  All these things do not, it turns out, add up into a Spike Lee film for the ages.  Even though it's not among his best, Red Hook Summer still contains moments that remind viewers why they paid attention to Lee in the first place.

The film opens up on young Flik (Jules Brown) traveling to stay with his grandfather (Clarke Peters of "The Wire" and "Treme" fame), a pious bishop of a small, struggling church in the heart of "da Red Hook."  Flik's never met his grandfather and the two immediately butt heads over technology (Flik's iPad), diet, and faith.  Hanging around the church, Flik soon befriends Chazz (Toni Lysaith), a girl his age who attends services there.  Chazz serves as a sort of tour guide to Red Hook, walking around with Flik to the neighborhood spots that his grandfather would probably rather he not visit, all while a playful antagonism/flirtation develops between the kids.

What's missing here is Lee's usually strong ability to commit to a dominant story thread amidst all the texture building side arcs regularly peppered into the mix of his films.  As a result, Red Hook Summer feels very uneven at times, sporting long passages searching for a larger theme to anchor them.  During the first third of the film, there's a never ending stream of r&b pop balladry mucking up the sound mix.  There's nothing wrong with the songs in and of themselves but their constant presence end up dampening the onscreen action; I kept wishing I could turn down the volume on just the music, feeling like the work would approach a more realistic and appropriate tone without it.

Eventually, the film does settle into something a bit more consistent.  The omnipresent music shifts away from being dominated by pop music, replaced mostly by a score written for the film by Bruce Hornsby(?!).  The strongest work here is done by Peters, most effectively in scenes when he's behind the pulpit, dramatically convulsing and raging against inequity and the ills of society.  But then the film takes a sharp left turn with a third act reveal that's shockingly off-kilter with the tone that Lee's established for his movie.  It's probably the best, most lucid part of the film, but it's so in conflict with the rest of the picture that it comes off like an excerpt from an entirely different, perhaps better, film.

For those in need of a scorecard, here's my final word on the picture: it falls somewhere in between the best and the not so great works in Lee's filmography.  Those who find his films interesting even when they're flawed - and film is plenty flawed - will find some things to latch on to here.  I found the movie soared unexpectedly in several moments, despite the long periods where it could barely get off the ground.

Red Hook Summer begins its run at the Hollywood Theatre on Friday, September 7th.  More info available here.

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Wednesday, September 5, 2012


The annual Time-Based Art Festival (TBA) usually has at least one film-related event intermingled with all its dance, theater, art installations and various other programming.  The 2012 edition of the festival is all set to knock it out of the park with this year's big film presentation, The Love Song of R. Buckminster Fuller.  The program is a live documentary directed and performed by Sam Green, whose 2002 documentary The Weather Underground was nominated for an Academy Award.

For the Buckminster Fuller piece, Green has transformed himself into an MC of sorts for his own multimedia presentation.  The show has him reflecting on the archival images and research he's gathered in real time, offering context about the life and times of his subject that couldn't be arrived at via the filmed materials alone.  Musical three-piece Yo La Tengo serves as the third element in the mix, providing a live score, supporting and elevating Green's work.

The Love Song of R. Buckminster Fuller had its world premiere this past May at SFMOMA.  Thanks to the NW Film Center and PICA's efforts, Portland's got it's dirty mitts on one of the first touring performances since the May premiere.

Sam Green was kind enough to offer up his time for a short interview in advance of the event.  What follows is a transcript of our conversation:

NICK: Film fans are probably most aware of your work because of your Oscar-nominated documentary The Weather Underground. Since then, you’ve made several shorts, including the excellent Lot 63, Grave C, and then, beginning with Utopia in Four Movements (2010), you’ve branched out into multimedia performance pieces based in non-fiction or “live documentaries”, including your current piece The Love Song of R. Buckminster Fuller

Did you have a history of performance prior to conceiving these live documentary projects?

SAM: No, I really didn't. And I still think of myself as a kind of accidental performer. I sort of backed into it. 

NICK: In your mind, what does the live presentational aspect of these projects add to an audience’s appreciation and understanding of a given subject? Conversely, is there anything that’s lost by moving away from the concrete safety of a film where, once the editing is finalized, there’s no risk of going off script?  

SAM: This is a great question. I am really interested in "liveness" these days and what the difference is between seeing a regular movie and seeing a movie that is performed live. 

A few years ago, Guy Maddin did a live film. It was called Brand Upon the Brain. I saw it at a film festival in Mexcio City. It was phenomenal! Isabella Rossellini narrated as the film screened. There was a live band. And even a group of people doing live foley! It was such a magic experience - people in the audience were giddy. 

NICK: That was great!  I saw it in Portland w/ Karen Black narrating.

SAM: Later Maddin released Brand Upon the Brain as a regular movie that screened in theaters like a regular film, and it was just so-so. 

There's something exciting about live events, I think. The unpredictability, the ephemeral nature of what you are experiencing, the fact that you are in a room with other people and are not checking your phone. Especially now, when filmmakers have to accept that more and more that people are watching their work on a phone, or one a laptop while they check email, I feel like the live film events I'm doing are a valuable way to hang on to the magic of cinema.

NICK: Can you conceive of a time where you would return to a purely cinematic presentation or embrace one rooted entirely in performance? 

SAM: I actually am still making normal movies, even as I do the live documentaries. I'm currently editing a short film about fog in San Francisco. I was just doing a residency at an art center in Troy, NY last week called EMPAC and they set me up to edit the fog movie in a huge theater! It was wild. (see photo below).

NICK: Buckminster Fuller was a man who wore many hats. He was an engineer, inventor, architect, and, as your piece forwards, a bit of a philosopher, too. The format in which you’re working requires you to take on several roles at once. 

Were you drawn to telling Fuller’s story in part due to the multi-disciplinary techniques you’ve developed for these live documentary pieces? Or, more to the point, did you find yourself identifying with elements of Fuller’s journey through life as you became engaged with telling his story?

SAM: I did a previous live documentary called UTOPIA IN FOUR MOVEMENTS. That piece was a kind of essay/poem about utopia and the fact that today we live in an anti-utopian age. I thought that the live form really worked for that piece because utopia has always been about a kind of collective experience. The idea of a bunch of people watching a film about utopia, all sitting alone in their own apartments is kinda tragic. So the live form actually came out of the subject of that film. 

With this new piece, I feel like the film fits, but for other reasons. Buckminster Fuller, perhaps more than anything else, was an amazing performer. He spent years and years traveling the world speaking all over the place and a big part of his fame and popularity came out of these campaigns. 

Fuller was legendary for speaking for five to eight to ten hours at a time. Sometimes at a college he would speak all night, and then take the few remaining students who were still in the auditorium at daybreak out to breakfast. He once did a lecture series called "Everything I Know." It's 42 hours long! (A video of it is actually on youtube in about 7,000 little parts). 

So the live element was very important to Fuller - he loved people and got a lot of energy from engaging with them. And that seemed to fit with this form. 

NICK: It’s quite a burden you’re taking on with a piece like this, representing an individual who can no longer speak for himself. 

In conventional documentary filmmaking, you’re often dealing with more direct and primary texts, since the folks you’re highlighting can tell their own stories or, at the very least, it’s other people interpreting your subject’s lives and actions. Here, though, you’re taking on the responsibility of being seen as the interpreter of the story, both as the narrator in the performance and for having conceived the piece. Obviously, you can’t distill every nuance of a person into a one-hour performance. 

When researching Fuller’s life and work, how difficult was it to select those characteristics, beliefs, and contributions that best described him?

SAM: Another great question. Obviously, there are hundreds of different films that could be made about Buckminster Fuller - there's the one that focuses on his geometry, there's a film about Fuller and his World Game project - you could make a movie that focuses on the trauma of his early life and how that shaped who he was. So you get the point: there's almost an infinite number of "angles" one could approach him with. 

In making movies, I'm always very clear that this is just my own take - the parts of the story that happened to resonate with me. I never make any claim to be making an authoritative film about Fuller. I think that in some ways, this is easier to do w/ a live film. You can see that it's just me up there talking - it's in some ways a humble form. 

In any event, what draws me most to Fuller is the fact that he really was a utopian - and I mean that in the best sense of the word. He had certain points that he made over and over again in interviews and speeches and in his writing. 

When you've looked at his work long enough, you start to see these themes reappear constantly. And one of his most consistent spiels was the fact that there were plenty of resources to go around - it was completely possible back in the 1920s, when he first started saying this, and still in the 70s and 80s, and even today - the fact is that there are enough resources so that every person on the planet could have a very comfortable life. 

The problem is not that there's not enough to go around - it's that we don't distribute things fairly. That's a radical thought and one that I think is more relevant and important today than it's ever been. 

NICK: Were there things that you discovered about Fuler that you really wanted to include but had to be set aside for the benefit of telling the best overall story? 

SAM: Oh, there are tons of things. When you are putting together a film, you fall in love with things, and then when you have to cut 'em, or you can't fit 'em in the piece, it's heartbreaking. Editors call this killing your babies. 

Anyway, there are lots. I was hoping in Portland to be able to include some photos I found in the Fuller archive of him at Oregon State University in 1953 building a dome with students. I couldn't figure out the right place to fit this in the piece, but I still love the photos.  (Note from Nick: Sam shared a few of those pictures.  The next 3 photos are among the ones he's referring to.)

NICK: This project is a collaborative presentation with the band Yo La Tengo. Besides being a popular indie rock group, they’ve developed a sizable body of non-album oriented work composing music for a variety of films. Probably the closest they’ve come to filling the role they’re playing in this project is with their live musical accompaniment for a presentation of Jean Painlevé shorts (toured around as The Sounds of Science). 

How did you hook up with the band for this project? Were they quick to come on board for it or did you have to convince them over time?

SAM: I saw the premiere of Yo La Tengo's Painlevé program at the San Francisco Film Festival about 10 years ago.  

NICK: Hey, I was there, too!

SAM: I was just completely agog at how luminous and fantastic it was. I was practically sitting there weeping! It's still one of my top 5 all-time film experiences. I've always loved the band's music, but seeing that really showed me that they could do music for film (which can be a whole different thing). 

This Buckminster Fuller piece was commissioned by the SF MOMA and the SF Film Festival earlier this year. When we started to talking about who might be right to play the score, I thought of YLT. Since they had already worked with the SF Film Fest, there was a relationship there. It didn't take a lot of convincing. 

I met with Georgia and Ira and explained the project and they were game. I think they like trying new things, and they certainly love film. You know that Georgia Hubley from YLT comes from a famous animation family. Her parents Faith and John Hubley were amazing filmmakers and animators, as is Georgia's sister Emily. 

NICK: I love the Hubley animations and once attended a workshop led by Emily Hubley at the NW Film Center.

Would you mind describing how the collaboration took shape over time?  

SAM: To put this piece together, I gave them ten different sections of footage - one section that's some great newsreel footage of Fuller's Dynamixon Car, for example; another section shows the huge dome he built at the Montreal World Expo - and they made music for those segments. 

That's kind of like the backbone of the piece. And then I wrote words around that. We got together a few times at their practice space in New Jersey and just went through it a bunch of times fine-tuning and really putting together the piece like that. 

NICK: I’m really looking forward to seeing the show next Wednesday. It’s pretty much the highlight of this year’s TBA schedule as far as I’m concerned. 

Am I correct in my understanding that Portland will only be the second city (after the premiere in San Francisco) where you’ve performed the show? Do you foresee touring the piece beyond the PDX dates?

SAM: We premiered the piece in SF in May. Then we are doing a show in Seattle on 9/11 - the nite before Portland. After that we have a few other shows this fall. You can see those dates at:

Sam Green and Yo La Tengo will perform The Love Song of R. Buckminster Fuller twice as a part of this year's TBA Festival at Washington High School on Wednesday, September 12th at 6:30pm and again at 8:30pm.  The program is a co-presentation of the NW Film Center & TBA.  More info available here.

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