Saturday, May 30, 2009

Men with Eyeliner

Rudy in 1921's The Sheik

"I feel pretty, oh so pretty."
-- Maria, West Side Story (words: Stephen Sondheim)

"What a drag it is getting old."
-- the Rolling Stones, "Mother's Little Helper" (lyrics: Jagger/Richards)

***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****

Specifically: actors. I've been keeping track for awhile now. I'm not talking about
the days of old when everybody wore it—especially Rudolph Valentino and his si-
lent-film brethren—but now that it's become more of a specialty item. Also, per-
iod pieces, drag fantasias, and Johnny Depp's Keef impersonation don't count.

I'm thinking specifically of straight-acting movie or television actors in straight-act-
ing roles (even if the actors or their characters aren't actually straight). Consequent-
ly, theater performers, where visible makeup is a necessity, and so-called metro-
sexuals also get the (designer) boot. Here's the list I started compiling last year.

Another Italian stallion

In the order in which I watched the movie or TV show:
1. Billy Campbell (Once and Again, The 4400)
2. John Cusack (Grace Is Gone, War, Inc.)*
3. Robert Downey Jr. (yes, Iron Man wears make-up)
4. Ray Liotta (Battle in Seattle, Observe & Report)
5. Al Pacino (everything, all the time)*
6. Jason Statham (The Bank Job)**
7. Nestor Carbanell (The Dark Knight: Batman Returns)
8. Hart Bochner (The Starter Wife)
9. Ryan Reynolds (Adventureland)
10. Chris Pine (Star Trek XI)

Pine as James T. Kirk by way of Alex De Large

*Cusack and Pacino worked together in City Hall, but I'm
certain the former was sporting liner prior to that project.

** All the men in The Bank Job appear to be wearing eyeliner. Granted, Roger
Donaldson's film is a period piece, but Statham plays a Steve McQueen-style
bank robber who headbutts an opponent, so the liner was an unexpected touch.

***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****

I realize this survey may seem superficial, but that's kind of the point. I'm not suggesting that these actors are vain—though that may be a factor—but that they, their makeup artist, or director view eyeliner as a way to enhance their on-screen image. It also adds an intriguing, possibly unintentional whiff of sexual ambiguity.

And since I was thinking specifically of men who aren't known for wearing cosme-
tics and extravagant outfits off the set, maybe Pacino shouldn't count. (Mickey Rourke with his godawful shiny suits most definitely does not.) Pacino's also been looking rather orange lately—especially in the unnecessary Ocean's 13—so he's eith-
er going crazy with the bronzer or he may want to cut back on the beta carotene.

The Orange Italian Stallion and the Chicago Kid

Sidenote: In Pop Star on Ice, Johnny Weir extols the virtues of Laura Mercier. His friend, Paris, adds that all male figure skaters wear makeup whether they care to admit it or not. Aside from the fact that he isn't an actor, I'm leaving Weir off this list since he has more of an off-the-ice penchant for lipstick and mascara than eyeliner (the next Pop Star screening takes place at the Kirkland Performance Center on 6/5).

Endnote: Images from This and That and More of the Same,
The Cinema Source,, and People.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

He’s Gotta Have It: Part Four

A Chat with Barry Jenkins (click here for part three)

You weren’t looking at Sundance.

Oh, hell no. Hell no.

I’m glad you weren’t, and that’s not a criticism of Sundance. A lot of fantastic
films play there every year, but it’s just easy to get…lost. That’s the problem.

We just didn’t think we would get into Sundance.

And a lot of good films don’t.

Right. And a lot of good films don’t get into SXSW either. It’s just the festival game, you know? All this stuff is about taste, and it’s not that your movie is bad; it just doesn’t fit the taste of the programmers. There’s a festival for every film. I definitely know that for a fact, because I’ve been to a lot of them this year. So our only goal was to get into SXSW, to follow the mumblecore model, and then go to a few regional festivals. And a few things happened. The first thing was, we sent the movie to bloggers on the heads of the SXSW film festival, and we got a couple of really positive reviews from the bloggers. Karina Longworth at Spout wrote a great review, Mike at Twitch wrote a good review, and Michael Tully at Hammer to Nail wrote a good review also, and so we got to SXSW, and people were like, “What’s this little indie...?”

NBC's Friday Night Lights

I had heard about your film really early on, and it made me want to see it.

Oh, that’s awesome. So, when we were at SXSW, we got our first two screenings, and again we’re learning as we go on to talk to the other filmmakers, and they were like, “Who’s seen your movie?” And we said, “I don’t know.” And they said, “You’ve got to get press. You’ve got to get festival people to see your film.” We had one last screening, so we went through the book, because SWXW lists all the people attending, and we emailed or left voice mail for every person who was from a film festival or [listed] as press, and this woman from the Toronto Film Festival returned one of my calls, and she said, “Hey, I’m glad you guys called me, but I’m pretty tired. My festival is done, I’m too far outside of town. I can’t make it. And my producer, Justin goes, “We’ll pick you up.” And she was like, “Wow.” She thought it was so sweet that we were willing to come pick her up, and she was like, "All right, I’ll come and see your film,” and she loved it, so we got offered to screen at Toronto. Again it was just as random as us calling this woman that got us into Toronto, and little things like that continued to happen, so it wasn’t that we were planning these things, we were just always trying to do extra work, and good things came out of it.

Toronto is about as big as it gets. I was amazed
by it—there’s no way you can see all the films.

[I attended the festival in 1999 and 2000.]

It’s impossible.

And it’s not like, “Oh well, who cares about that film.” You’re literally missing some of the very films you came there to see—it’s that kind of festival. I guess we should go back a little bit, because you mentioned that you went to film school with someone in the audience [at the NWFF] who was from Florida. Are you from Florida?

[The year I planned to see Ghost Dog in Toronto, the screening sold out.]

I’m from Florida, born and raised.

You have a slight accent—it comes and goes. I wasn’t sure where the ac-
cent originated, but I thought it was from somewhere in the Southeast.

Yeah, I was born and raised in Miami. I was a jock in high school.
I was a very, you know, an inner-city kid. It was a straight-forward,
simple, four-block childhood. I played football, I loved football.

I haven’t met very many filmmakers who could say that. [laughs]

You know what? You’d be surprised. There are quite a few of us. Benh Zeitlin, who did the short film—the name escapes me—a great film set in New Orleans, it’s absolutely beautiful—Glory at Sea. He’s a football fanatic, an even bigger football fan than I am. I like college and high school football, but this guy is like totally a nut.

Do you watch Friday Night Lights?

I don’t watch the TV show, but I watched the feature, and actually, I was a little bit upset with the feature. It made me write—I’ve already written my own high school football movie that's about my childhood growing up as a counterpoint to Friday Night Lights. But you always see these films, and they’re about these rural, small-town football teams, but when you get to the NFL, the municipality with the most football players in the NFL is Miami-Dade County, and most of the major stars in the NFL, the position players, come from these really tough, sort of inner-city enclaves, but you never see that story told in films. They’re always small, rural teams.

That’s true.

So I want to make this movie. But anyway, that’s totally a side note.

You should. I’ve always assumed—I don’t know the story behind Friday Night Lights—but in the show, it’s Dillon, TX. It’s either filmed in or inspired by Odessa.

[Peter Berg based his movie on H.G. Bissinger’s 2004 novel Friday Night Lights.]

I think it’s based on Odessa, the Permian Panthers. It was a best-
selling novel that was done by this journalist who lived down there.

I assumed they were also influenced by the documentary Go Tigers!

No, not at all.

Because there’s a similar feel to the show.

Well, it’s the same story over and over again. Go Tigers! was set in Ohio, which is
still not another football-rich state. I get very nationalist when it comes to football.

You have to make your movie then, because football is usually seen as the province of mainstream people like Oliver Stone or Jerry Bruckheimer, who produced Remember the Titans. There have also been comedies, like The Longest Yard remake, although the original wasn’t really a comedy. I just watched it for the first time.

I was actually just watching The Gridiron Gang in the hotel.

The old football movies were different.

Very different. Wildcats—remember that, with Goldie Hawn as the football coach?

I was in a bar recently where it was on in the back-
ground, so I can’t really say I’ve seen it. Is it good?

Yeah, it’s funny. They should remake that movie—I can’t believe I just said that!

Click here for part five

Endnote: Images from Film in Focus and As Far as You Know.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

He’s Gotta Have It: Part Three

A Chat with Barry Jenkins (click here for part two)


I don’t know how to phrase this, but…

Phrase it! [laughs]

Your film feels very personal, regardless as to…

It is personal.

It definitely feels personal, and it’s gotten a lot of good reviews and a
lot of play throughout the country. If that hadn’t happened, how would
you feel? It seems like it would be impossible not to take it personally.

[Medicine for Melancholy scored an 88% at Rotten Tomatoes.]

No. That’s exactly—I did not expect any of that to happen. I was completely sur-
prised as the year went on and more and more things happened, and a lot of the things that happened just happened by chance. I mean, I worked for the Telluride Film Festival, and I have for the last seven years, so I kind of know—I see from the inside how that system works. It’s all about connections, and we made a film with a group of people who no one knew. So actually, I didn’t think any of this stuff would happen, and would not have been the least bit disappointed if any of it hadn’t.

2002's Vendredi Soir (Friday Night)

That’s good.

Before we started making the film—it was literally just me and my friends, it
was really inexpensive, and it was more about proving that we could make a
film. One of the things that changed our expectations was the fact that Matt
Dentler, who at the time was the head of South by Southwest, found out a-
bout the movie from a blog. This guy, Sujewa [Ekanayake], who’s a blogger…

I recognize that name.

He was complaining about the mumblecore movement, and the fact that there were no filmmakers or characters of color, so one of my producers, who is white—beside myself, Wyatt, and Tracey, everyone involved with the film is white; they're kids I went to school with and we bonded because we worked on sets 18 hours together...

That sounds like Aaron Katz, who’s also been to Seattle, and went to the same school as David Gordon Green. He’s with the people he went to school with, and Green is with his people. If you meet people then, and you hit it off, you’re lucky.

The other thing, too, was that we started out talking about Darnell and Halle
Berry and Oprah, and I wrote this script and I decided I wanted to make it, and
I wrote some letters to those people and for whatever reason—sometimes very
good reasons or maybe [it was due to] their busy schedules—they just couldn’t
help me. Some of the people who would help me were my friends so, un-
doubtedly, that's who was going to help me make the film.

That almost gives you more to be proud of, though. You guys did it yourselves.

I’ve said all year that even if I’m not happy with the movie, I’m extremely proud of it. So yeah, Matt Dentler found a post that one of our producers put on Sujewa’s blog that said, “I’m a producer of a film by a minority filmmaker that’s a mumblecore film.” I would never call it mumblecore, but she referred to it as mumblecore…


Then Dentler wrote an email in response to her comment and said, “I hear you’re making a movie, and it sounds really interesting. Keep me posted.” And so, right away, it sort of put a bug in our ears, like, “Hey, maybe people will be interested.”

SXSW seems like a good place for your film to be seen, since it’s becoming
more and more important for independent films and first-time filmmakers.

Well, one of my motivators for the film—I always cite Claire Denis’s Friday Night
as being the inspiration for the actual scenario. The other motivator behind actual-
ly making the film was a friend of mine, Chris Wells, who was involved with Joe Swanberg's LOL. I worked with Chris Wells at the Telluride Film Festival. He work-
ed one year, and he didn’t come back the next year, and I was like, “Where did Chris go?” I heard, “Well, he made a movie with this guy Joe Swanberg.” And I was like, “What—Chris made a movie?” And so I looked it up, and there was “Joe Swan-
berg” and “mumblecore,” and I started reading about how they made the films.

You can’t stop him!

Exactly: a few friends, simple scenario, digital camera, and they all went to SXSW, so I said, “Shit! We’re gonna make a movie digitally, just a few of us, very simple, and we’re going to screen at SXSW.” And that was the only goal—that’s all we expected.

Click here for part four


Endnote: Images from Harvard Film Archive, indieWIRE, and Scarlett Cinema.

Monday, May 18, 2009

He’s Gotta Have It: Part Two

A Chat with Barry Jenkins (click here for part one)


I noticed you acted a little in your short films.

But never a featured role. I’m in the background, and I help
out on other people’s films sometimes, but not on camera.

Micah says he’s “the number two aquarium guy in the city.”
Have you ever been “the number two guy” in anything?

I feel like I’m always the number two guy. I don’t
ever think I’m the number one guy. [laughs]

I liked that line, I don’t know why.

You know, that actually comes—a lot of the things in the movie are taken
either from my life or the lives of my friends. The apartment we shot in, Mic-
ah's apartment, belonged to a friend of mine and her boyfriend is the number
two aquarium guy in the area, and I didn't want to move his aquariums out
of there, and thought it was a really interesting job, so I gave it to Micah.


I like the montage where he talks about aquariums, so
it isn't the only one you end up seeing in the movie.

And you know what, that's—we're jumping all over the place in this interview.

I like that. I kind of hope for that.

Wyatt is a really dedicated performer and that monologue in the screenplay was-
n't meant to cut away to montage. What Wyatt did is, we brought him to San Fran-
cisco for the part, and he just started wandering around on his days off, looking for aquarium stores and that was one he stumbled into, and he asked the guy, "Hey, can we shoot here?" And the guy was like, "Yeah sure, no problem," and we couldn't work it into the schedule—we were on a really, really tight schedule—but on the last day when we were taking Wyatt to the airport, we pulled over to the side of the road, took the camera out, ran inside the store, and got those shots in about five minutes.

Without a permit?

Oh yeah. This entire movie is permit-free, except for one sequence.

I was wondering about that. I noticed more scenes than I'm used to seeing in a lower-budget film where you're in a big city, and there are a lot of people around, but for obvious reasons, you don't [usually] see that much. You see more interiors.


That was interesting. I was watching the people—I can't help doing that—to see if they were looking at the camera or not, and you seemed to get both. Some people were just doing their thing, while a few faces started to move [towards the camer-
a], but it never became self-conscious enough to draw me away from the movie.

Even in the one sequence where we got permits, we couldn't lock anything up. We were literally a four-person crew, us and the two actors. We just used really long
lenses, and if people were looking at them, they were looking in the camera.

I'm assuming it was a pretty small camera?

Yeah, it was pretty small.

That's the advantage you now have over directors in the '70s who were making
films on the street and trying to get naturalism while holding huge cameras.

Wassup Rockers (2005)

This is a question I hate to ask, because I'm of two minds about it, but I have
to go there. I liked the article, but it spawned a horrible word. So Micah talks
about being a minority at indie rock shows. Has that been your experience?

Yeah, of course.

Did you read that New York Times article about "blipsters"?

[Blipster = a black hipster.]

I did.

I'm on a list for women who write about music, and everyone has been talking about it, and no matter what their racial background, they thought it was horrible. The sad thing is, it isn't a horrible article, and I wish more people had paid attention to what these individuals had to say, and then dismissed the word. The word was offensive.

The word was terrible.

It was awful, but it's how newspapers work. If you're a writer, and you have
a catch phrase, everybody's going to read your article and everybody's going
to talk about it, but if she—I think it was a she—had just left out that word...

Then the article would have been much more—would've real-
ly engaged them, as opposed to just combating the word.

That made me sad, because people should be talking about this, but some of
these women thought, so what? Maybe they haven't had that experience and don't know what it's like to feel left out, but why shouldn't we read about that and be sympathetic to that? Every time I'm at a show—even before I read that article—I always look around, and if the audience is mostly white, I think something's wrong.


It makes me uncomfortable. Sorry, that's not much of a question. If a band isn't attracting any female or minority fans, then something's wrong with that picture—not necessarily with their music, but with their image. That's what concerns me.

There's a flipside, too. Like you go to a TV on the Radio show, and it's still a predominantly caucasian crowd. For whatever reason, people's musical tastes fol-
low along certain lines, in a macro point of view, and part of that is because we've
gotten so used to determining people's ethnicity or cultural identity by things that don't have anything to do with ethnicity. Like hip-hop isn't really about being
black, but it just so happens that...the majority of hip-hop artists are black.

And then you have Eminem—and he's from Detroit.

But even the bonafide hip-hop has
more to do with environment than ethnicity.

That's a good point. I was glad Curtis Hanson made that movie. He did well.

He did well. And if you asked the average hip-hop fan,
they'd be like, I hope he does the new 50 Cent movie.

I actually went to the 50 Cent movie, even though I don't
have any strong opinions about 50 one way or the other.

I haven't seen it.

I'm a Jim Sheridan fan, and I'm Irish, and I thought, how did an Irish guy end up making this movie, but I would recommend it, because 50 Cent is shot—I think the story is that he was shot nine times—and Sheridan films the sequence like an IRA hit, and I don't think I imagined it, because I've seen Alan Clarke's Elephant...

I've seen Alan Clarke's Elephant—I have Elephant on my Sony PSP. [laughs]

There you go. That's awesome. Once you've seen that, then watch Get Rich or Die Tryin' and see how he stages the hit: it's dark, it's at night, you don't see who it is... Supposedly 50 Cent didn't know who it was, but I have my doubts about that. For the most part, critics didn't really review that film, and I'm not saying it's great, but it isn't terrible either. There's more to it than meets the eye—probably more than is even in 50 Cent's life. Jim Sheridan was trying to put some of his own stuff in there.

This thing about being the only black guy at the indie show or the only white guy at a hip-hop show—what I wanted to say about The New York Times piece—is that there's this thing where if you grew up in a certain place—like if you grew up in inner-city Mi-
ami, if you grew up in Harlem—it's not cool to listen to rock music. It's just not what you do, and it's almost like if you do that, instantly there's a part of you that's less black because you might want to listen to Nirvana or the Rapture or something like that. What I feel about the Times article—like you said, "except for the word blip-
ster"—is that it legitimately stated that these are young black kids who like skate-
boards, who like mohawks, who like rock music, and there is nothing wrong with that.

But skateboard culture can be kind of limiting, too.

Even if the article only hit on three or four of them, skateboard culture is a culture that is not hip-hop. Although it was saying they're "special" because they listen to these things, it wasn't saying they aren't any less black; it was saying black kids are into these things. I was walking down the street in LA the other day, and there were these four Mexican kids. They're wearing skinny jeans, they're out there on their skateboards, they're trying to do tricks, and it's like, "Hey, we're just out here on
our skateboards, doing tricks." That's the shit I'm talking about—it doesn't make them any less Mexican. It just makes them more skateboard people.

Did you see Wassup Rockers? Because the kids are skateboarders and they're
into the Ramones, and oddly enough—since we're talking about cultures and subcultures—a middle-aged white guy, Larry Clark, made that film. Go figure.

I was going to say: don't go figure, because it's Larry Clark. [laughs]

Another thing more people didn't address is that hipster has become a bad word. That's another problem people seemed to have with the Times article, i.e. "I'm
not a hipster because I like TV on the Radio!" It breeds a sort of defensiveness.

We consciously do not put it in the movie.

Some reviewers have.

Some reviewers definitely have.

I didn't want to touch that word.

I don't think they're hipsters.

I don't either.

Click here for part three


Endnote: Images from the Internet Movie Database, OutNow!, Trailer Addict,
and my personal collection (Jenkins with NWFF program director Adam Sekuler).

Sunday, May 17, 2009

He's Gotta Have It: a Chat with Barry Jenkins

Medicine for Melancholy is a masterpiece. It is the most important film by a black American director since Charles Burnett's To Sleep With Anger, black American cinema's highest achievement.
-- Charles Mudede, The Stranger

***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****

From the moment I first heard about Medicine for Melancholy, which was initially described as a sort of African-American spin on mumblecore, I knew I'd like it, and I did. (Even if the dreaded m-word has lost traction in recent years, I still consider myself a fan.)

In fact, the debut feature from Barry Jenkins is one of the finest films of 2009. The voters behind Film Independent's Spirit Awards came to the same conclusion and nominated him for their prestigious One to Watch Award, along with Nina Paley and Seattle’s Lynn Shelton.

I interviewed Jenkins while he was in town earlier this year to introduce Medicine
for Melancholy
at the Northwest Film Forum, and here’s what he had to say...

Click here for my review of the film.

I haven’t seen your bio, but I know some basic facts, and I'm definitely going to be asking you questions you’ve answered before, but they’re kind of important. Since it comes up in the movie—Micah says "born and raised"—I have to ask: were you born and raised in the Bay Area?

No, not at all.

You weren’t? I’m not assuming you're Micah, but I figured you grew up there.

Well, he is, but…I’ve only been living in San Francisco for about three and a half years.

That’s a surprise to me.

I was a regular visitor for six years, because when I first moved to LA, my best friend from film school, James Laxton, the cinematographer, was born and raised there, and I used to visit him all the time, because I did not enjoy LA, so it feels like I’ve been living there for six years.

That’s interesting. I don’t have cable, and had never heard of Wyatt Cenac
before, so I didn’t know he was on The Daily Show. Is he a San Franciscan?

No, he’s not. The only person involved with the film who’s a born and raised
San Franciscan is James, and right now the only person who lives there is me.

The film credits indicate that you spent time in LA.

Yeah, there are a lot of LA names in the special thanks.

Is that how you ended up working on Their Eyes Were Watching God?

Yes, I graduated from film school and moved directly to Los Angeles. I graduated on Decem-
ber 15th and I was in LA by December 21st. I was there before Christmas, which was nuts.


I’d gotten this grant called the Pathfinder Award, which was like a $5,000 grant.

Which is enough to do a move.

It was enough to move, but in retrospect, I should’ve taken that money and gone to Europe
or hobo'ed around the country. Instead, I moved to LA, paid way too much for an apartment, and took a very, very underpaid job as a director’s assistant on Their Eyes Were Watching God.

But it’s nice to be involved with something big like that.

Yeah, and it was the right move. I mean, I was the only person in town, so I was like one
of only three people interviewed for the job—that’s why I got it, despite having no experience, and man, it was like a crash course in how different making movies would be in LA as oppos-
ed to coming from film school where you have to make a movie [during] a certain semes-
ter, and you’re guaranteed a crew and you’re guaranteed film. Nothing’s guaranteed in LA.

Even within that protective Oprah bubble?

Exactly, but when you get to LA, nothing’s guaranteed. Everybody’s fighting for the same few jobs. So, I was the director’s assistant, and I saw that movie from the earliest pre-production
all through post-production, so it was about nine months, and I was fresh out of school.

That seems long for TV—that's longer than a lot of features—but it does look good.

Yeah, I mean, this was the biggest-budgeted TV movie at that point. And then it was the highest-rated television movie in network history, too. So, it was like being on a really big Hollywood set. I mean, you had Halle Berry, and she was on top of the world at that point.

I liked it, but I haven’t read the book [by Zora Neale Hurston], and I know that peop-
le who have are going to be more discriminating. My Mom has recommended it to me.

You see, I had read the book and I was just coming from college. I have a dual degree; a bachelor’s in creative writing and in film, so I read Their Eyes Were Watching God in a serious literary discourse, and then we made the Harpo version, which is just not the same as the book. I was going to say it doesn’t stand up, but I’ll be polite, and say it’s just not the same. [laughs]

And it probably couldn’t have been, even in a feature film. You know, if it’s within a certain budget, it seems like it would have to have…

With that much money and that many people, you can't have made the book, there’s no way.

You thank Darnell Martin. Are you still in touch?

We're still in touch, we're still friends. Darnell is very proud of Medicine. She was super supportive of me. Darnell gave me that job because she knew I didn't have any footing in LA, and she liked my short films. She's always looking for filmmakers as her assistants.

That's very cool.

It was really cool, and it was a really intense job, because Darnell was going through a transition in her personal life. She's a single mother with a three-year-old child in New York. So, she doesn't drive and she's trying to get her kid into school on the East Coast, and she's at the helm of this huge movie and it had been awhile since her last feature, so it was really important for her.

My unusual connection with her [work] is that I’ve seen Prison Song, but more people have probably seen I Like It Like That, her first feature, which I haven't, although I've heard good things about it. I've also seen Cadillac Records, so I'm somewhat caught up.

I Like It Like That was great. She has a really interesting style, and she's amazing with actors.

BeyoncĂ© was a better Etta James [in Cadillac Records] than I expected. I was thinking: you can’t take a tall thin woman and…but Darnell did a good job, I thought, with the whole cast.

Darnell is intense, and she will pull a performance out of you, and it was really cool to see that, because the one thing—the thing you learn the least about in film school is directing actors.

Click here for part two

Their Eyes Were Watching God

Endnote: Distributed by IFC, Medicine for Melancholy isn't yet a-
vailable on DVD. Image from my personal collection (Jenkins at the NWFF).

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Celebs Invade Seattle: Part Two

Non-SIFF edition. Click here for part one.

Award-winning author/screenwriter Sherman Alexie (The Toughest Indian in the World, Smoke Signals) cuts loose with one of his infectious laughs at the Northwest Film Forum screening of Kent Mackenzie's lost Native American classic The Exiles in 2008.

More Alexie at the NWFF in '08. Keep an eye out for the Milestone DVD with commentary from Alexie and local critic Sean Axmaker.

Click here for my review of The Exiles.

Director Barry Jenkins shares a laugh with NWFF program director Adam Sekuler after a 2009 screening of Medicine for Melancholy, one of the finest films of the year. Fellow Independent Spirit Award nominee (and eventual winner) Lynn Shelton, an admirer, describes Jenkins' trademark cardigans as "yummy." She got that right!

Jenkins at the NWFF. Dig the way the coffee cup completes the outfit!

Click here for my review of Medicine for Melancholy.

***** ***** *****

Endnote: Cross-posted at Facebook. Interview with Jenkins to come.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Celebs Invade Seattle: SIFF Edition

"A man's got to know his limitations."
-- Harry Callahan, Magnum Force (1973)

While in town last July to shoot World's Greatest Dad, actor/director Bobcat Goldthwait introduced The Landlord at the Northwest Film Forum.

***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****

I love photography, but I'm not much of a photographer. I can always get better, but I'll never be great. I just want to remember specific people and places that are better served by pictures than by words.

Furthermore, I
use the cheap-
est possible e-
quipment. I've
got a 35mm
camera and
a digital model,
but they've proven to be less than re-
liable. For a Luddite like myself, a Pola-
roid, Diana, or Lomo device would seem like the best way to go, but they cost money, too, and aren't always that easy to track down, so years ago, I threw my lot in with the Kodak disposable, and I've enjoyed the results.

I usually opt for black and white film, which eliminates most grey tones,
resulting in a high-contrast, Weegie-like look. Sometimes I opt for color.
On the downside, faces can look shiny--especially mine--but hues can
appear brilliant. I particularly like the way my snapshot of the Experi-
ence Music Project turned out. If you stick to the rainbow-saturated, copper-plated side of the building, you can get some lovely images.

Former NWFF Exec Director Michael Seiwerath introduces Bobcat
So, here are a few of my celebrity shots from the past year. Whenever there was too much shine or glare, I digitally dialed down the brightness until it disappeared, resulting in the 16mm look that characterizes some of these photos. I like the way it makes them seem much older than they really are, and although I don't have a problem with the clarity of digital, the grain makes it clear that these are definitely--maybe even defiantly--film images. Cheap film, perhaps, but film nonetheless.

Bobcat and Michael
As it turns out, Goldthwait had never seen Ashby's debut. Instead, he spoke to his affection for the late filmmaker's better known follow-up, Harold and Maude. (Click here for my piece about his visit.)

World's Greatest Dad plays the Egyptian on 6/6 at 6:30pm and on 6/7 at 4pm. If The Wire's Omar Little were sitting beside me at the moment, he'd surely say, "I'm feelin' the chapeau and the specs, you feel me?"

Robin Williams also co-stars with Matthew Broderick in Wonderful World, which plays the Kirkland Performance Center on 6/5 at 7pm and the Egyptian on 6/11 at 7pm and 6/12 at 4:15pm.

Note: As ever, dates, times, and venues are subject to change; I suggest
double-checking the SIFF site before making plans or purchasing tickets.

Graphic novelist and screenwriter Daniel Clowes (Ghost World, Art School Confidential) and editor, publisher, and co-founder Gary Groth at the Fantagraphics Store on 9/08. I asked Clowes if he was still working with Michel Gondry on an adaptation of Rudy Rucker's Master of Space and Time. He said they had decided that it was impossible. Instead, he, Gondry, and Gondry's son, Paul, are working on an original project.

(Click here for my chat with Michel, conducted at SIFF '06.)

Next up: Sherman Alexie and Barry Jenkins. Alas, my snaps of Ramin Bahrani didn't turn out (and yes, Alexie's local, but he's still a celeb!).

Endnote: Cross-posted at AndMoreAgain ("Reelin' in the Years: Part Four") and at Facebook. Three years ago, Robyn Hitchcock turned the Callahan quote at the top of this post into the swell song "A Man's Got to Know His Limitations, Briggs." It appears on the album Ole! Tarantula.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

I Turn My Camera On: Part Four

A Chat with Tia Lessin (click here for part three)


Actually, he’s having us out to the Traverse City Film Festival next month.
He [Michael Moore] created the film festival a few years back. He renovated
a theater in Traverse City that he owns, so he’s inviting us to show the film.

That’s great, because that really, in a way, puts his stamp on it, as well.
Here’s another person saying: This is something I think you should see.

Like most everybody with any kind of conscience in this country, he had strong feelings about Katrina, so he was really happy to see this political, emotional film.

I read about how you ended up in New Orleans, and why you made the film,
but how did Kim and Scott, these specific people, come to your attention?

In the National Guard Armory, which you see in the film with the soldiers return-
ing; across the parking lot was the Red Cross shelter where Kimberly and Scott had arrived that night with 25 people in a truck, so their community—their friends and neighbors—were staying there, and they were down the road in a trailer, so they had this footage, they knew they had a story to tell, and they spotted us from the street.

How funny.

[Lessin and Deal originally intended to make a film about the
redeployment of the National Guard from Iraq to New Orleans.]

The view from Kimberley's attic

The story that Kim and Scott tell is that they saw us, we looked important, and
they honed right in. So that’s really how the film begins, with Kimberly essentially interrupting the interview Carl was doing with the head of the Red Cross shelter. Some people call it serendipity, some people call it fate—it happened to be Carl’s 40th birthday. Look, there are a lot of people with incredible stories to tell, and they’re not really extraordinary storytellers like Kimberly. I think that was really—
the footage she had was important ultimately, but also her voice, her ability, and
her invitation for us to get on the road with them to see how their story turns out.

That’s amazing that she found you.

And we were looking for a story to tell, there’s no question about it, and we also realized that it was the personal story that was lacking, that we weren’t seeing in
the news media, and we objected to how the residents of New Orleans were being characterized. They were either victims or they were looters, and Kimberly and Scott presented this opportunity to tell a story of survivors, of powerful resourceful people who were nobody’s victims, so they were looking for someone to help them get the story out, we were looking for someone…our objectives were aligned, let’s say that.

And you end up getting their community’s story out, too—not that Scott and Kim-
berly wouldn’t be interesting enough, but other people come on board, as well. I wanted to ask you, and I know you don’t have much time to go in to detail, but I’m sure not everyone realizes she had a baby at Sundance. I’m wondering how else their lives have changed since the film, because they go through so many changes during the course of it, through moving to Memphis, and other things that happen.

The thing I’m starting to think about Kim and Scott is that they have used ev-
ery crisis in their lives as an opportunity. I mean, they’ve been through a lot of storms—whether related to Katrina or not—and they have emerged from the other end stronger, and so they decided to have a baby, and not just to have a baby, but they decided they were in a good place where they could have a baby, and where they had created a good environment in which that would be possible. Kimberly has also recorded a new album, and they created a record company called Born Hustler Re-
cords. You can look at the website at She's selling it in con-
junction with the film’s release, so some of the songs you hear on our soundtrack are on this album, and many more. And they’re raising this beautiful little girl. And
I guess the one other thing, she’s been traveling around with this film. And unfor-
tunately, she wasn’t able to come to Seattle, but they’ve been to New York, they’ve been to Utah. They’ve been able to see audiences respond, really emotionally, to the film and their story, and I think that has been life-changing for them.

After Hoop Dreams came out, there was some talk about the fact—and the film-
makers were open about this—there’s a point in which the electricity gets turned
off for one of the subjects, and the filmmakers pay the bill. And in the film, the lights go off, then they're back, and the film moves on. I’m wondering how you and Carl feel about this, when you’re watching people going through a crisis. Is it wrong to do something like that, or is it something you don’t even have to talk about?

First of all, Kimberly and Scott aren't just subjects in this film. They contributed to it.

I think that’s how the Hoop Dreams directors felt, too:
We’re in these people’s faces with cameras at all times, so...

Right. She also had footage, which we licensed. We paid commercial rates, so: yes.

I don’t have a problem with it. And since then, I think the issue isn’t as contro-
versial as it was at that time, but then what do you do, leave these people with-
out electricity? That’s your only other choice, at least in the case of Hoop Dreams.

Everybody has a different situation, and I think documentary filmmakers need to interrogate themselves about their relationships with—Carl’s and Tia’s situation in this world is quite different from Kimberly’s and Scott’s. We have a lot of power and privilege that we try to keep in check, and we interrogate ourselves all the time.

That’s good, and I like your clarification. It’s important to remember, as viewers, that they might be subjects to us, but not to you. That’s a good point to make.

We licensed their footage, but we pretty much kept out of their
lives as much as we could, because they had a lot to do. [laughs]

And she seemed pretty comfortable. I love that line in the film where someone asks, ‘Do you always travel around with a film crew?’ I thought that was great.

That was literally after only about a week with us. She was a natural.


Trouble the Water is now available on DVD. For more information,
please click here. Images from indieWIRE, Ojai Docs, and Zeitgeist Films.