Wednesday, March 10, 2010

One Peace at a Time

Reviewed by Jeremy Carr
(March 2010)

Directed/Written by: Turk Pipkin
Starring: Steve Chu, Willie Nelson, Muhammad Yunus, Helene Gayle and Cameron Sinclair

There is little in the 2009 documentary “One Peace at a Time” that would come as a surprise to most world-weary and aware viewers, but even those parts that are familiar are nevertheless staggering. The film is a compendium of the problems of the world (a “messed up” one as the tag-line proclaims), and its proficiency and downfall derive from an attempt to seemingly cover and show them all.

This is the second globally conscious production by actor-writer-director Turk Pipkin, and he makes it known that, as with any film, there is a separation from reality. He aims to change this, however, by becoming part of his picture, which underscores his interest in not merely remaining a passive observer; instead, he is actively answering the call to action sounded by the film.

While shooting “Nobelity” (his previous feature), Pipkin was told by a Nobel Prize winner that things in this world might not be as bad as they seem, but that’s not the message conveyed in this film. Spanning the world — from Thailand to Bangladesh, from Norway to New York’s Central Park — and covering such areas of international distress as poverty, water shortages, politics and population control (there is a “condom king” who institutes a program of “Cops and Rubbers”), as well as the ever-volatile issues of global warming and health care, the film presents with the best possible intentions the problems and the solutions, showing many people who are truly trying to make a difference. Individuals interviewed run the gamut of professions and backgrounds, each person managing to add something relevant and insightful to the overarching conversation (Pipkin talks with President Obama’s eventual pick for Secretary of Energy Steven Chu one minute, and plays chess with Willie Nelson the next).

It’s clear that Pipkin understands and knows how to fully exploit the essential qualities of persuasive cinema. He utilizes to great effect the manipulations inherent in the topical documentary, expressing much through images of impoverished and endearing children (one child refers to Mickey Mouse as the “friendly rat”), of downtrodden adults (including a lady whom he designates the saddest woman he has ever seen), and the sheer spectacle of natural and unnatural forces colliding (an astonishingly voluminous cloud of factory waste extending seemingly for miles in the sky). Additionally, in a way that at once works against and with the ambition of the film, Pipkin continually captures the beauty of these distressed surroundings, making it almost a travelogue of sorts (he dubs it a “road movie”). This is all combined with statistical data that hammers home the devastating points made by the film and those who speak in it (for instance, we are told that a child dies of hunger in the time it takes a person to read five words).

Two segments stand out in their depiction of typically less-discussed concerns, provoking equal parts shock, disgust, sadness and anger. One concerns schooling, which is taken for granted and disdained by many youths, particularly in America, but is greatly sought after and appreciated by the children presented in these third-world nations. To learn — even the possibility of learning — is of nearly incomprehensible importance. The other deals with weapons of warfare, shown to be appalling in their disastrous and unjust effects, wiping out scores of innocent individuals in their indiscriminate carnage.

Queen Rania of Jordan, speaking at a conference, notes potential for peace and prosperity. These goals, as the title of the film implies, are really the definitive issues at hand; this is what it all comes down to — this and, as one interviewee suggests, energy.

Created with apparent compassion, hopefulness and honesty, Pipkin’s documentary brings everything home (literally), with scenes of himself and his Austin, Texas, family doing what they can to alleviate some of the issues presented. The film’s only real fault is its expansiveness. Covering so many problems in so many places and involving so many people, the picture is a smorgasbord of subjects, but its swift 83-minute running time hardly allows the viewer to absorb and comprehend one concern before being moved on to the next. Possibly more suited to an episodic television special, “One Peace at a Time” still conveys, piece by piece — starting with the essentials — a desire to raise awareness of what is out there messing up our world and “how we could fix it.”

Never getting a wide theatrical run, the film’s best hope at spreading its message will come with its April 13 DVD release.

Photo courtesy monterey media inc., © MMIX The Nobelity Project

Gen Art Festival Unveils '10 Lineup

Josh Radnor’s “happythankyoumoreplease,” winner of the Sundance Audience Award in January, has been selected as the opening film for the 15th anniversary of the Gen Art Festival beginning April 7 at the historic Ziegfeld Theatre in New York City (141 W. 54th St.) and continuing throughout the week at the 480-seat, state-of-the-art Visual Arts Theater at 333 West 23rd St.

The Gen Art fest showcases the New York premieres of seven features and seven shorts from emerging filmmakers, followed by seven afterparties at various New York nightspots.

“happythankyoumoreplease,” the story of 20-something relationships and shot in New York City, stars Radnor, Malin Akerman, Kate Mara, Tony Hale, Pablo Schreiber and Zoe Kazan.

Closing the festival is “Mercy”, directed by celebrity photographer Patrick Hoelck and written and produced by Scott Caan, who also stars along with Wendy Glenn, Troy Garity, and Erika Christensen, with Dylan McDermott and James Caan. The drama revolves around a cocky L.A. novelist who doesn’t believe in love until he meets a female literary critic named Mercy.

Also on the slate unveiled Tuesday is “Tanner Hall,” a world premiere film at last year’s Toronto International Film Festival and a recent acquisition by Moving Pictures Film & TV. The coming-of-age story was co-directed by Francesca Gregorini and Tatiana von Furstenberg, and stars Rooney Mara, Tom Everett Scott, Georgia King, Brie Larson and Chris Kattan.

The remainder of the films includes “Elektra Luxx,” directed by Sebastian Gutierrez and set for its world premiere at this month’s SXSW festival. It stars Carla Gugino, Timothy Olyphant, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Malin Ackerman and Adrianne Palicki; “Waiting for Forever,” directed by James Keach and starring Rachel Bilson, Matt Davis, Jamie King, Blythe Danner and Richard Jenkins; Toronto International Film Fest’s Best First Canadian Feature and Slamdance Audience Award winner “The Wild Hunt,” directed by Alexandre Franchi; and Adrian Grenier’s personal documentary “Teenage Paparazzo," which explores humanity’s and media’s obsession with the culture of celebrity. It premiered in January at Sundance.

Tribeca rolls out '10 slate

A new Alex Gibney documentary chronicling the rise and fall of former New York Gov. Elliot Spitzer and a newly restored version of David Lean’s 1965 epic “Dr. Zhivago” that marks the film’s 45th anniversary are among the highlights of the 2010 Tribeca Film Festival (April 21-May 2) in New York, the first with former Sundance festival director Geoff Gilmore at the helm.

Other films set to be screened include Jay Anania’s “William Vincent,” starring James Franco as “a quiet and peculiar criminal uninterested in the fruits of crime”; and “Open House,” written and directed by Andrew Paquin, about a man who watches over his sexually predatory partner and her violent urges. Featured here in cameo performances are Paquin’s sister, Anna, and Stephen Moyer, co-stars of the HBO vampire series “True Blood.”

In all, 85 feature-length and 47 short films will be on display at the ninth annual event in lower Manhattan.

Of the 96 featured directors at this year’s festival, 20 have had films screened previously at Tribeca. Thirty-eight filmmakers will have their feature directorial debuts in the 2010 edition of the 11-day event.

The following are the films announced Wednesday by festival organizers:

World Narrative Feature Competition
"Buried Land," directed by Geoffrey Alan Rhodes and Steven Eastwood, written by Rhodes, Eastwood and Dzenan Medanovic. Set in a war-torn town in Bosnia that attracts tourists visiting ancient pyramids.

"Dog Pound," directed by Kim Chapiron, written by Chapiron and Jeremie Delon. A look at three incarcerated teenagers.

"Loose Cannons" ("Mine Vaganti"), directed by Ferzan Ozpetek, written by Ozpetek and Ivan Cotroneo. A family comedy set in the picturesque city of Lecce in the deep south of Italy.

"Lucky Life," directed by Lee Isaac Chung, written by Chung and Samuel Gray Anderson. When one of them falls ill, a group of friends takes one last trip to the beach.

"My Brothers," directed by Paul Fraser, written by William Collins. A quick road trip soon turns into an emotional odyssey.

"Open House," directed and written by Andrew Paquin. A man watches over his sexually predatory partner and her violent urges.

"Paju," directed and written by Chan-ok Park. Two men live in Paju, a gray town where the urban landscape is as bleak as the fate of its residents.

"Gainsbourg: Je t'aime...Moi Non Plus," directed and written by Joann Sfar. A biopic about crooner/poet Serge Gainsbourg.

"Snap," directed and written by Carmel Winters. A psychological drama about three generations of a family poised to repeat the mistakes of the past.

"When We Leave" ("Die Fremde"), directed and written by Feo Aladag. A young Turkish-German woman flees from Istanbul with her five-year-old son into the arms of her family in Berlin.

"The White Meadows" ("Keshtzar haye sepid"), directed and written by Mohammad Rasoulof. The fable-like story of Rahmat, who sails from island to island off the coast of Iran to collect tears.

"William Vincent," directed and written by Jay Anania. James Franco stars in the story of a quiet and peculiar criminal uninterested in the fruits of crime.

World Documentary Feature Competition
"American Mystic," directed by Alex Mar. The stories of three young Americans exploring alternative religion.

"The Arbor, directed by Clio Barnard. The true story of troubled British playwright Andrea Dunbar and her tumultuous relationship with her daughter.

"Budrus," directed by Julia Bacha. A Palestinian family man unites rival parties Fatah and Hamas, Western activists and groups of progressive Israelis in a nonviolent crusade to save his village from being destroyed.

"Earth Made of Glass," directed by Deborah Scranton. An investigative documentary weaving interviews with President Kagame of Rwanda and Jean-Pierre Sagahutu, a survivor of the 1994 genocide.

"Feathered Cocaine," directed by Thorkell Hardarsson and Orn Marino Arnarson. Falcon smuggling.

"Freetime Machos," directed by Mika Ronkainen. Finland's worst amateur rugby team.

"Into Eternity," directed by Michael Madsen. Three miles below the earth, the people of Finland are constructing an enormous tomb to lay to rest their share of humans' 300,000 tons of nuclear waste.

"Monica & David," directed by Alexandra Codina. A couple with Down Syndrome.

"Sons of Perdition," directed by Jennilyn Merten and Tyler Measom. Teenage boys banished from a polygamist community.

"Thieves By Law" ("Ganavim ba Hok"), directed by Alexander Gentelev. The Russian mafia.

"The Two Escobars," directed by Jeff Zimbalist and Michael Zimbalist. Born in the same city in Colombia but not related, Andres Escobar and Pablo Escobar shared a love of soccer.

"The Woodmans," directed by C. Scott Willis. A family united in their belief that art-making is the highest form of expression.

"Blood and Rain" ("La sangre y la lluvia"), directed by Jorge Navas, written by Navas, Carlos Henao and Alize Le Maoult. A taxi driver begins his night shift bent on revenge after his brother's murder.

"A Brand New Life" ("Yeo-haeng-ja"), directed and written by Ounie Lecomte. A young girl is abandoned at an orphanage.

"Heartbreaker" ("L'arnacoeur"), directed by Pascal Chaumeil, written by Laurent Zeitoun, Jeremy Doner and Yoann Gromb. A romantic comedy about one couple who breaks up other couples for a living.

"Lola," directed by Brillante Mendoza, written by Linda Casimiro. Two elderly matriarchs bear the consequences of a crime involving their grandsons.

"Metropia," directed by Tarik Saleh, written by Saleh, Fredrik Edin and Stig Larsson. (Sweden, Denmark, Norway) In the year 2024, all of Europe is united by a vast web of underground railways and populated by an army of downtrodden worker bees.

"Moloch Tropical," directed by Raoul Peck, written by Peck and Jean-Rene Lemoine. (Haiti, France) Haitian auteur Raoul Peck reflects on absolute power corrupting absolutely.

"Road, Movie," directed and written by Dev Benegal. A young man drives his uncle's beat-up Chevy truck across India to its new owner.

Special events
"Doctor Zhivago," directed by David Lean

"Untitled Eliot Spitzer Film," directed by Alex Gibney

"The Western Front, directed and written by Zachary Iscol. A former U.S. Marine returns to Al Anbar.

Photo courtesy of Tribeca Film Festival

Monday, March 8, 2010

Oscar Night Nods

By Howard Burns
(March 7, 2010)

"The Hurt Locker," the tense war story that examines the rigors of being a soldier in an elite U.S. Army bomb squad in Iraq, was the big winner at Sunday's 82nd Academy Awards, taking home six statuettes, including nods for Best Picture and Direction.

Adding to the drama at Hollywood's Kodak Theatre was "The Hurt Locker's" Kathryn Bigelow becoming the first woman ever to win an Oscar for directing a film. In announcing the win, presenter Barbra Streisand summed up the moment by exclaiming, "The time has come."

"The Hurt Locker's" winning ways began early in the ceremony when former journalist Mark Boal got the Oscar for Writing (Original Screenplay). The film was also recognized in the Film Editing, Sound Editing and Sound Mixing categories.

Hollywood stalwart Jeff Bridges received the Oscar for Actor in a Leading Role for his performance as hard-living country singer Bad Blake in "Crazy Heart." It was Bridges' first win after five nominations, the first coming in 1971 for "The Last Picture Show."

Sandra Bullock came away with the award for Actress in a Leading Role for her role in the real-life story "The Blind Side" as Leigh Anne Tuohy, the mother whose family took in and nurtured Michael Oher, a homeless and traumatized boy who would go on to be a professional football player. It was the first time Bullock had been nominated for an Oscar.

Christoph Waltz continued his impressive awards run by taking the Oscar for Actor in a Supporting Role for his role of Col. Hans Landa, the sadistic "Jew Hunter," in Quentin Tarantino's "Inglourious Basterds."

Also riding a wave of momentum was Mo'Nique, whose harrowing portrayal of an abusive mother in "Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire" earned her the Academy Award for Actress in a Supporting Role.

Like Mo'Nique, a winner Friday at the Film Independent Spirit Awards, Geoffrey Fletcher was honored again Sunday for Writing (Adapted Screenplay) for "Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire."

Pete Docter's "Up," the Pixar film featuring the voice talents of Edward Asner and supporting actor nominee Christopher Plummer, was named the winner in the Animated Feature Film category.

Argentina's "The Secret in Their Eyes" (“El secreto de sus ojos”) won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film.

A complete list of winners follows:

Best Picture
"The Hurt Locker" Kathryn Bigelow, Mark Boal, Nicolas Chartier, Greg Shapiro

Actor in a Leading Role
Jeff Bridges in “Crazy Heart”

Actor in a Supporting Role
Christoph Waltz in “Inglourious Basterds”

Actress in a Leading Role
Sandra Bullock in “The Blind Side”

Actress in a Supporting Role
Mo’Nique in “Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire”

Animated Feature Film
“Up” Pete Docter

Art Direction
“Avatar” Art Direction: Rick Carter and Robert Stromberg; Set Decoration: Kim Sinclair

“Avatar” Mauro Fiore

Costume Design
“The Young Victoria” Sandy Powell

“The Hurt Locker” Kathryn Bigelow

Documentary (Feature)
“The Cove” Louie Psihoyos and Fisher Stevens

Documentary (Short Subject)
“Music by Prudence” Roger Ross Williams and Elinor Burkett

Film Editing
“The Hurt Locker” Bob Murawski and Chris Innis

Foreign Language Film
"The Secret in Their Eyes" (“El Secreto de Sus Ojos”) Argentina

“Star Trek” Barney Burman, Mindy Hall and Joel Harlow

Music (Original Score)
“Up” Michael Giacchino

Music (Original Song)
“The Weary Kind (Theme from Crazy Heart)” from “Crazy Heart” Music and Lyric by Ryan Bingham and T-Bone Burnett

Short Film (Animated)
“Logorama” Nicolas Schmerkin

Short Film (Live Action)
“The New Tenants” Joachim Back and Tivi Magnusson

Sound Editing
“The Hurt Locker” Paul N.J. Ottosson

Sound Mixing
“The Hurt Locker” Paul N.J. Ottosson and Ray Beckett

Visual Effects
“Avatar” Joe Letteri, Stephen Rosenbaum, Richard Baneham and Andrew R. Jones

Writing (Adapted Screenplay)
“Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire” Screenplay by Geoffrey Fletcher

Writing (Original Screenplay)
“The Hurt Locker” Written by Mark Boal