AFI Docs 2019

Posted on May 15, 2019 at 10:00 am

Copyright 2019 AFI

The AFI Docs festival in Washington DC (June 19–23) is the best place to see the latest, the most searingly powerful, the most surprising, and the most touching films of the year - because they are all documentaries, true stories about real people and places. 

This year is especially exciting because a remarkable 48 percent of the films in the festival were directed by women and 68 percent had female Producers. The film is truly international with 72 films From 17 countries, including six world premieres. There will be films about famous people like Toni Morrison, Mike Wallace, Miles Davis, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg (following last year’s “RGB” and “On the Basis of Sex”), and films about not-famous people like “17 Blocks,” the story of a family who lives just a few blocks from the US Capitol, whose son documented their daily lives and struggles over almost two decades and “The Amazing Jonathan Documentary,” a sort of dueling documentary as two crews compete to make a film about an elderly magician.

A group of documentaries about music includes profiles of David Crosby, the San Francisco Gay Men’s chorus on tour through the South, and Linda Ronstadt, the legendary Apollo Theater and the also-legendary record producer Rick Rubin, who has worked with everyone from the Beach Boys to Public Enemy, Lady Gaga, and Shakira. 

There are documentaries that are an exceptionally compelling form of journalism, covering the most vital contemporary issues from gun safety (“After Parkland” to criminal justice “True Justice: Bryan Stephenson’s Fight for Equality,” “Ernie and Joe”) to immigration (“Border South”) and cybersecurity/election tampering (“The Great Hack,” “Slay the Dragon”).

The festival will also present three classic documentaries: “An American Family,” “Tongues Untied, and Frederick Wiseman’s “Law and Order.” 

Some of the other films I am most excited about:

“American Factory,” this year’s Centerpiece film, is directed by Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert, which examines the culture clash resulting from the takeover of a Dayton, OH, factory by a Chinese company.
“Raise Hell: The Life and Times of Molly Ivins” is the tale of one of the sharpest (in both senses of the word) political journalists of the 20th century. I’ve already seen it, and it is a treat. No matter who you support politically, you will be captivated by her wit, her honesty, and her dedication to her readers.

“Chasing the Moon” commemorates the historic trip to the moon, where Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin not only walked on the moon but, with the help of Michael Collins and hundreds of engineers, scientists, military, and contractors, came safely home. (Watch for the companion book coming out next month as well.)

“Maiden” is the story of 24-year-old Tracy Edwards, who led the first all-female sailing crew to compete in the Whitbread Round the World Race thirty years ago.

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Documentary Festivals

Ebertfest 2019

Posted on April 16, 2019 at 10:08 am

Copyright 2019 Ebertfest

The 21st Ebertfest (formerly Roger Ebert’s Overlooked Film Festival) was one of the all-time best. I was honored to be included on the panel of women critics and filmmakers discussing the opportunities and portrayals of women. It was a thrill to share the panel with so many women I admire, including “Bound” stars Jennifer Tilly and Gina Gershon, Alliance of Women Film Journalists founder and director Jennifer Merin, Sony Classics’ Michael Barker, Stephen Apkon, actress/critic Carla Renata (known as The Curvy Critic), and writer/director/producer Rita Coburn, who was at the festival to present her marvelous documentary about Maya Angelou.

I was also invited to do the Q&A following one of my favorite films, “Rachel Getting Married.”

The festival closed with “Sideways,” and our discussion afterward included an appearance from Virginia Madsen, who was nominated for an Oscar for her role.

Join us next April in Champaign/Urbana!

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Behind the Scenes Festivals Gender and Diversity

JxJ Comes to Washington DC

Posted on April 2, 2019 at 11:51 am

Washington DC’s Jewish Film Festival and Jewish Music Festival are joining forces to become JxJ, a multi-disciplinary cultural event encompassing the performing and visual arts that will take place from May 8-26, 2019 in the Nation’s Capital.

The Jewish Film Festival, now in its 29th year, has a great line-up of international films, with premieres, tributes, and events with filmmakers. I’m especially looking forward to 100 Faces, a British film with 100 Jews, one born in each year from 1917-2017.

Here the filmmaker explains the project:

The documentary about Carl Laemmle, founder of Universal Pictures and a major figure in the establishing of Hollywood.

Carl Laemmle – Film Trailer from James L. Freedman on Vimeo.

Seder-Masochism I’m a huge fan of Nina Paley’s brilliant, gorgeously animated Sita Sings the Blues and have been waiting impatiently for this follow-up.

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Festivals

More from SDCC 2018: MAD Magazine, Nancy, and Witches!

Posted on July 30, 2018 at 10:07 pm

More from San Diego Comic-Con 2018:

Copyright MAD 2018
MAD Magazine: This was the first MAD panel with the new staff, following the magazine’s move from New York to LA in January. Bill Morrison and the less-usual gang of idiots introduced themselves “as the all new hip, cool, MAD,” reassuring us that “we’re just as slovenly and dull and ordinary as the staff in New York.” Then they proved it by showing us a series of hilarious tweets from people who really hate the new version and feel very, very strongly about it.

Morrison showed us some new features and introduced us to new staff, and made some of the room’s long-time fans by promising to bring back some beloved MAD classic sections like “The Lighter Side Of…” and “A MAD Look At….” He also promised that it would not always reflect “the white male perspective.” They’re also staying up to date with a Twitch channel for watching people do things.

And there was a tender tribute to the beloved Nick Meglin, the heart and soul of MAD, who died in May.

How to Read Nancy It has been said that the comic strip “Nancy” endures only because it takes less energy to read it than to skip it. It is both iconic and generic — a panel of “Nancy” is used to illustrate the term “comic strip” in the American Heritage Dictionary. Creator Ernie Bushmiller kept a copy open to that page in his studio.

Scholars Paul Karasik and Mark Newgarden not only wrote a book about what is often considered the simplest comic strip ever; they wrote an excellent and very smart one. It seems somehow fitting that the strip they selected for deep analysis was the one that happened to fall out of a book and was thus easy to photocopy. And yet, it could be used to illustrate nine aspects of comics language. “The gag takes precedence over everything, including temporal reality,” they explained. “It’s a real kid in a completely unreal universe.” The gag may be simple, but the composition is very sophisticated, both in individual panels and in the strip as a whole.

WitchesSuperheroes tend to be male. Female characters with special powers tend to be witches. And the witches panel at Comic-Con had women from shows like the original and remake of “Charmed,” the original “Sabrina the Teenage Witch” (also about to be rebooted), and “Supernatural” to talk about feminine power and the threat powerful women have been perceived as over the centuries. Nell Scovell (creator of “Sabrina the Teenage Witch” and author of the acclaimed memoir Just the Funny Parts) talked about the wish fulfillment of the power of magic — to movie objects with our minds or to go back in time. Sabrina was a teenager finding her own voice and the powers were a metaphor for that. It was “a way to run all the old teenage stories through this new lens.” She also worked on the original “Charmed,” where “you undercut the horror with the sisterhood. They can be badass and then have tea,” like the Patsy and Edina on ‘Abfab,’ whose friendship makes their outrageously selfish behavior less appalling.

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Festivals

SDCC 2018: Leonard Maltin

Posted on July 30, 2018 at 4:48 pm

The name of the panel was “You’re Wrong, Leonard Maltin,” and the audience was invited to argue with one of America’s most respected and beloved film critics. Disagreement there was, but all presented with affection and good humor, delightful moderated by Jessie Maltin Hadfield, his daughter.

Maltin began by quoting Steven Colbert: “opinions are like mixtapes–I don’t want to listen to yours.” He continued by citing Harlan Ellison: “Everyone is entitled to an informed opinion.” He also cautioned us about ranking movies in top ten lists, top one hundred lists, etc. “They have one purpose only — for people to argue.”

All images copyright 2018 Nell Minow

The first challenge was to one of his most controversial reviews, just two stars for “The Dark Knight.” Remember this was at Comic-Con, where people have very strong feelings about superhero movies. “Each film is rated on how well it meets its own goals,” Maltin said.” (That’s my approach as well.) He stuck with his verdict on “Deadpool 2” as well. “We’ve seen it before. Mildly amusing but not cause for celebration.”

Maltin said that he always wants and even expects a movie to be good. Even when it is disappointing, he looks for a good moment or a good performance he can highlight in his review.

Maltin shared some good stories, especially one about shooting a five minute segment with Warren Beatty, dressed as Dick Tracy. “He will reshoot until somebody turns out the lights. He may still be shooting.”

By the end of the panel it was clear that people had very strong opposing views about movies but everyone loves Leonard Maltin.

Just as much fun — Maltin also appeared on a delightful panel paying tribute to the delightfully trashy Queen of Outer Space, starring Zsa Zsa Gabor and celebrating its 60th anniversary, and of some of the other cheesy Warners films of the era.

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