Doing Shots with Rooftop

The Crew on the Roof; photo credit: Adam Schartoff (c) 2011

After Friday night’s near wash-out at the Old American Can Factory, Rooftop’s organizers heaved a sigh of relief when it was clear that the weather was going to cooperate on Saturday night.  It was an especially gratifying thing since the evening’s event, also on the top of the Can Factory and entitled “Rooftop Shots” was the closing night event of the 2011 season.  The evening included two opening musical artists including talented singer Lady Lamb the Beekeeper (aka Aly Spaltro) a powerhouse of emotional performance.

The crowd at in Gowanus was treated to an evening of, in the word of Founder & Artistic Director Mark Elijah Rosenberg, shorts films about conclusions.  The centerpiece, and certainly the most moving, was Tim Hetherington’s”Diary”, a dazzling 19-minute montage of arbitrary moments from Tim’s various global assignments.  Seeing the film was all the more painful in the wake of his death in a bombing episode in Libya this past April.  Tim had, necessarily put himself in harm’s way as a war photographer for Vanity Fair.  He was co-director for last year’s Oscar-nominated “Restrepo”.  I had the good fortune to interview Tim during one of his press junkets in NYC.

Lady Lamb the Beekeeper; photo credit: Adam Schartoff (c) 2011

During a mid-evening break, Rosenberg took a moment to show his appreciation for his staff by introducing them to the crowd who were seated both on the rooftop and in the ground-level courtyard below.  After the second half of the slate played, which included Nicolas Steiner’s memorable “It’s Me, Helmet”, a charming short that was little more than a series of visual puns.  Once the films were over, everyone gathered down in the courtyard for cocktails and Pilsner courtesy of Rooftop Films and sponsors.

INTERVIEW with Jim McBride (Part 1)

The classic mockumentary 1967 “David Holzman’s Diary” makes it debut on DVD and Blu-ray today.  It hasn’t been available in years accept on a couple of websites.  It had been my intention to show the film as part of the filmwax film series and so I looked up director Jim McBride to chat with him.  He gave me a generous amount of his time for the interview.  He’s had such an interesting career that I wanted to make sure I published the interview in its entirety.  Here’s Part 1 which primarily focuses on his early career and the making of “David Holzman’s Diary and its subsequent release.  Part 2 will focus on his Hollywood years.

Adam Schartoff: Congratulations on the DVD/Blu-ray release.  People will finally have the chance to see “David Holzman’s Diary”.  The movie has a new opportunity to reach a new audience.

Jim McBride: I guess.  Maybe it was better when no one saw it.

Schartoff:  That’s a little bit nihilistic almost.  I do understand that it played at MoMA for a week.

McBride:  Yes, but I wasn’t there.

Schartoff:  No?  Scheduling conflicts or its just not your thing?

McBride: I wasn’t invited.

Schartoff:  You weren’t invited!

McBride:  Well, no one offered to pay for my plane ticket.  Anyway, it’s not an issue because I was actually up in San Francisco.  The website Fandor was doing a screening.

Schartoff:  I was already somewhat familiar with them but it wasn’t until I was doing some research on your film where I came across Fandor again.  I ended up watching it on youtube.

McBride:  You watched it on youtube? Read more

Cornering Kopple

Barbara & I; photo credit: Photo credit: Simon Luethi (c) 2011, http://gallery.me.com/sids alamander#gallery

Barbara Kopple is one of those iconic documentary filmmakers that I’ve been wanting to chat with forever.  Now that P.O.V. shoes are worn in and comfortable, I can begin to put on my strut a little bit.  Looking at STF’s newsletter a couple of weeks ago I came across the news that Ms. Kopple would be showing her 2006 concert film/documentary hybrid “Shut Up & Sing” and make a post-screening appearance.  Not only is there a Q&A but there is also an after party across the street from the IFC Center at a local West Village tavern.

I took advantage of the fact that Tom & Raphaela would be in Toronto and was able to swoop right in and grab Ms. Kopple’s ear.  I had met her briefly while covering the New Day 40th Anniversary tribute at MoMA’s Doc Fortnight film festival some months ago but this time I was going to make a real connection.  As a docu-geek and a true fan of her films, I was so pleased that she was warm, receptive and engaging.  So, there you have it.  This is my version of meeting a movie star; I was star struck but fortunately didn’t stumble over myself like the jack-ass I am.  Well done.  I can finally move on.

film review: Littlerock

If not for actress (& co-screenwriter) Atsuko Okatsuka, “Littlerock” might have still been an average to above-average indie film.  However. Ms. Okatsuka’s performance is so seemingly effortless, it’s downright deceptive.  I can guarantee you you’ll be thinking about her and the indelible character she creates in Mike Ott’s second feature long after you finish watching.

The synopsis is pretty straightforward: a la “Mystery Train” —comparisons to the Jarmusch 1989 classic are inevitable—, Japanese siblings Atsuko and Rintaro (Rintaro Sawamoto) are playing tourists in the States.  They’ve ended up in the dusty So Cal hamlet of Littlerock (there is no reference to that other Little Rock).  Intending to stay in a motel just for a night or two before heading up to San Francisco and to the former Japanese interment camp and current National Historical Site, Manzanar, the two fall in with a group of local townies and it is Atsuko, at first reluctant, who decides to stay behind while Rintaro goes to northern California on his own for a couple of days.   In the time on her own and despite not knowing a word of English (Rintaro does all the translating), Atsuko becomes friendly with outcast and wanna-be model Corey (Corey Zacharia) and has a brief fling with the earnest Jordan (Brett L. Tinnes).

There’s not much more to the story then that.  A few other local beer swilling doofuses that round out the rest of the cast are somewhat menacing as is Francisco (Roberto Sanchez), a Spanish speaking kitchen worker who works in Corey’s father’s restaurant.  Nothing mounts up to anything near violence though it’s suggested that that’s where things are heading.  That things don’t necessarily go where you expect provides both the film’s tension (and prevents it from being too lightweight) as well as its relief.  The film’s tone is even and well paced thanks to editor David Nordstrom and looks great thanks to cinematographer Carl McLaughlin. Though I’ve not seen Mike Ott’s first film, “Analog Days”, it seems like he is yet another to watch for in what seems to be a new crop of remarkable low budget indie filmmakers.  In these dog days of summer amidst the usual banal line-up of comic book movies, “Little Rock” serves those looking for something subtle but more full-bodied.

film review: SENNA

In the popular media Ayrton Senna has often been portrayed as arrogant, a womanizer or driven (pun intended) despite all else.  Asif Kapadia’s new documentary, “Senna”, looks to alter that perception, or if not alter it, at least broaden it. The movie successfully introduces a far more rounded-out and sympathetic personality for the mainstream, many of whom may not be terribly familiar with either Senna or the sport of high-speed auto racing.  That’s certainly the case here in the United States where Formula One is probably sandwiched somewhere between rugby and Jai-alai in terms of its popularity.

There’s no doubt that Senna was a man of great ambition but his humanity seeps through most every frame in which he has been captured.  And there are ostensibly thousands of hours of which 106 minutes have been impressively edited by Chris King and Gregers Sall, and presented in Kapadia’s emotionally satisfying documentary.

While the film shows his personal scuffles, most notably with his McLaren teammate Alain Prost and the late Formula One FISA president Jean-Marie Balestre, we are also privy to Senna’s ceaseless fight to introduce more safety measures to the sport and his rather Zen approach to the grid.  The film, to some degree, dispels the criticism that he was too aggressive, though there were numerous occasions he collided with other racers. Kapadia’s neglect to criticize Senna with any significance might be one of the film’s minor pitfalls.  Yet one can’t deny that the man brought a combination of athleticism and spirituality to the sport that previously didn’t exist and is largely responsible for modernizing it.  And while he was not always particularly popular in the clubhouse he was beloved to millions of fans and remains a national hero in Brazil to this day. Read more

INTERVIEW with Alison Edwards

Alison Ellwood, Co-Director of MAGIC TRIP, a Magnolia Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.

Interview posted on POV on June 24, 2011 (see hyperlink at bottom).  “Magic Trip” opens today at the Cinema Village in Manhattan.


Alison Ellwood, filmmaker and editor, has been collaborating with Oscar-winning documentary director Alex Gibney for many years now, spanning “Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room” (which was seen on PBS’ Independent Lens), “Casino Jack and the United States of Money”, “Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson” and “Catching Hell”. Their latest project, “Magic Trip”, with Ellwood taking the wheel this time around, takes us on a psychedelic road trip with Ken Kesey (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest) and the Merry Pranksters, with entertaining — and mind-blowingly coherent — results. With the blessing of the Kesey family, Ellwood began excavating the remarkable trove of footage taken from the cross-country trips.

Adam Schartoff: Had you been of age at the time when “Magic Trip” took place, would you have joined the Merry Pranksters?

Alison Ellwood: If I had the opportunity I would have gotten on the bus, yes. Now, whether they would have had me is another question.

Schartoff: Why the Merry Pranksters of all subjects? You were knee high at that time, weren’t you?

Ellwood: When I first looked at the footage, it was shaky and the copy I was looking at was pretty lousy quality. There wasn’t a shot that lasted more than two seconds. It was dizzying to watch. But there was something about it that sucked me into it. I felt I was there. I felt I could smell the bus fumes. It felt very immersive and real to me.

I talked to some friends of mine, Joan Churchill and Hart Perry, to name two. They’re both familiar with the footage and told me I was crazy to take this on, telling me, “There’s nothing there.” I explained to them that I felt something special. It took a long time to wrangle it and get it to make any sense. But it was experiential the first time I saw it and remains so until this day. I hope other people feel the same way. We’ll see. Read more

Bellflower… Yes, Another Pre-Post-Apocalyptic Love Story

Yikes!  I can’t say I wasn’t warned.  “Bellflower” gets under your skin and, like some sort of viral infection, it stays.  It’s a lot like “Another Earth” in that way, only “Another Earth” creates a second planet Earth while “Bellflower” sets to destruct the one we’re stuck with.  I’ve heard it compared to Gaspar Noé’s “Enter The Void” in that way; and it’s true, Noé’s films are disturbing and gut wrenching, and stay with you long after closing credits.  You feel, initially, somewhat assaulted by the disturbing images and violence but there is also something emotionally authentic about the experience so you can’t just dismiss it either.

“Bellflower”, the first feature by Evan Glodell in which he also plays the lead role of Woodrow, who along with his best friend Aiden (Tyler Dawson) are two Wisconsin transplants living in Los Angeles.  In anticipation of some remote prediction of an apocalypse, Woodrow and Aiden build a flamethrower which they expect to use for protection against who knows what.  One evening, early in the film, they go to a local bar where Woodrow meets the fetching Milly (Jessy Wiseman) and love is in the air.  They ride off spontaneously to Texas for a prolonged first date and come back as a couple, despite Milly’s warnings of being romantically destructive.

The look of “Bellflower” which is largely a product of Glodell’s camera, the Coatwolf Modell II, the homemade product of much mechanical noodling, which let’s you know right away that the film is not likely to have a happy ending.  There are many such clues most of which are found in the visual and aural design of the movie.  Joel Hodge shot the film while the crew boasts a crowded sound department.  “Mad Max” and its sequel “Road Warrior” have been widely mentioned as an influence on the film, and it shows most obviously in its references to ‘Lord Humongous’.  It should also be noted that one of the other stars of the film is ‘Medusa’, an indestructible tank of car which shoots flames out its ass.  Aiden builds it for Woodrow as part of their nihilistic fantasy.  It’s nothing to smirk at since by the movie’s end, you’re caught up in the fantasy as well.

“Bellflower” opens Friday, August 5th at The Angelika in NYC.

film review: TRUST

[Article originally appeared: http://ondemandweekly.com/blog/article/do_you_trust_david_schwimmer/]

What would you do if you found out your daughter had fallen prey to an online sex predator? “Trust” is David Schwimmer’s second feature wearing the director’s cap. His first, “Run, Fatboy, Run” (2007) was an amusing enough romantic comedy starring Simon Pegg and Thandie Newton.

Given his past work (mostly comedy) the thematic 180 degree turn with “Trust” may come as something of a surprise to Schwimmer’s fans but it turns out that the film holds up pretty well. This might be in part due to its strong cast which includes A-list actors Clive Owns and Catherine Keener as Will and Lynne, the parents of pretty adolescent Annie (newcomer Liana Liberato).

Annie is 14 and develops a relationship with Charlie, someone she believes to be a high school boy, roughly her peer. At a stage considered to be at risk —her father works too many hours, her older brother is on the cusp of leaving home for college, she has trouble fitting in at school— Annie is largely left to herself. As much as her parents clearly love her, they don’t seem terribly concerned with just how much time she is spending chatting on line and on her cell phone. Read more

Brooklyn Bridge Park Conservatory “Dragon” Their Feet

In response to the Brooklyn Bridge Park Conservatory decision to screen “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” despite its rather insensitive (read racist) portrayal of its Asian character Mr. Yunioshi as played by Mickey Rooney, and despite protests from the Asian community (pause for breath), filmwax will be screening Rob Cohen’s 1993 biopic, “Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story”.  The event will take place simultaneously to the BBPC’s screening on Thursday, August 11th at 7PM at The Fifth Estate (506 5th Avenue in Park Slope).  All are welcome!

The idea is to come together and applaud one of Hollywood’s most successful Asian stars, Bruce Lee while at the same time send a signal to the BBPC for their decision to screen that film, and subsequently ignoring requests not to by the Asian community.

Here’s a clip from from “Dragon” where Lee and his date (Lauren Holly) are attending a screening of “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”.