24 Frames

Movies: Past, present and future

Category: Independent Film

Around Town: Superman flies again and the New Wave returns

December 1, 2011 |  7:00 am


A Francois Truffaut retrospective, an animation festival and a screening of 1978’s “Superman” are among this week’s highlights.

The American Cinematheque’s Egyptian Theatre celebrates the legacy of one of the founders of France’s New Wave cinema, Francois Truffaut, who died at the age of 52 in 1984. “The Film Lover: A Francois Truffaut Retrospective” commences Friday evening with his first feature film, 1959’s “The 400 Blows,” his critically acclaimed autobiographical drama about a troubled young boy, Antoine Doinel (Jean-Pierre Leaud in a stunning performance). The second feature is Truffaut’s third entry in the Antoine Doinel series, the 1968 romantic comedy “Stolen Kisses,” with Leaud and Delphine Seyrig.

Truffaut pays homage to one of his icons, Alfred Hitchcock, in his 1968 mystery thriller “The Bride Wore Black,” starring Jeanne Moreau in the title role, which screens Saturday. Also on tap is his 1962 masterwork, “Jules and Jim” with Moreau and Oskar Werner. The retrospective concludes Sunday with his 1960 film noir, “Shoot the Piano Player” with Charles Aznavour, and 1980’s World War II drama “The Last Metro,” with Gerard Depardieu and Catherine Deneuve. http://www.americancinematheque.com

Cinefamily’s Silent Movie Theatre gets highly animated this week. The “Animation Breakdown” begins with “An Evening With Don Hertzfeldt” on Thursday, featuring the L.A. premiere of his latest animated short, “It’s Such a Beautiful Day.” The filmmaker will be appearing in person. On Friday, Cinefamily shines the spotlight on Polish animation with several shorts by noted animators including an exclusive presentation of the Brothers Quays’ latest film, “Maska.” Saturday afternoon’s offering is a sneak preview of Pixar’s newest short film, “La Luna,” six months before its theatrical release. Later in the afternoon, Cinefamily presents a cast and crew reunion of the Cartoon Network series “Space Ghost: Coast to Coast.”

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"Beginners," "Tree of Life" tie for Gotham Film Awards

November 28, 2011 |  8:07 pm

Mike Mills' semi-autobiographical drama "Beginners," about a young man whose widower father comes out of the closet, and Terrence Malick's mystical family epic "Tree of LIfe" tied for best film of 2011 at the 21st annual Gotham Independent Film Awards given out Monday evening in New York City.

"Beginners," which stars Ewan McGregor and Christopher Plummer, also won for ensemble cast. Felicity Jones took home the breakthrough actor award for her role as a lovestruck British woman in 
"Like Crazy." Breakthrough director honors went to Dee Rees for "Pariah." The documentary prize went to "Better This World."

Other awards given out included:

The Best Film Not Playing At a Theater Near You: "Scenes of a Crime"

Festival Genius Award, which is voted on by filmgoers online: "Girlfriend"

Spotlight on Women Filmmakers "Live the Dream" Grant: Lucy Mulloy, "Una Noche"

The awards are presented by the Independent Filmmaker Project, which is the oldest and largest U.S. organization of indie filmmakers. It is one of two key awards given to independent films. Nominations for the other, Film Independent's Spirit Awards, will be announced Tuesday.

PHOTOS: 21st Gotham Film Awards arrivals

Besides the competitive awards, career achievement awards were given out to actors Charlize Theron and Gary Oldman, director David Cronenberg and co-chair and chief executive of Fox Film Entertainment Tom Rothman.

Last year's top winner, "Winter's Bone," went on to receive four Oscar nominations including for best picture and lead actress (Jennifer Lawrence). The Gotham's 2009 selection, "The Hurt Locker," won the Academy Award for best picture, director and original screenplay.


"Descendants," "Beginners" among Gotham Independent Film nominations

Gotham Awards give top prize to 'Winter's Bone'

— Susan King

Photo: Christopher Plummer and Ewan McGregor in "Beginners." Photo credit: Andrew Tepper.

'Dog Sweat': Underground filmmaking in Iran

November 18, 2011 |  2:14 pm

'Dog Sweat' scene Iran film

Iranian cinema has been much in the news of late, though far too often for legal and bureaucratic entanglements involving directors working in the country rather than for the films themselves. Abbas Kiarostami, arguably Iran's best-known filmmaker internationally, has taken to making movies outside the country. Jafar Panahi, facing a prison term and ban from travel, interviews and filmmaking, recently created the dazzling, inside-out "This Is Not a Film" as an act of creativity and protest. Asghar Farhadi's "A Separation" is considered among the front-runners for this year's foreign-language Oscar.

The film "Dog Sweat," directed and co-written by Hossein Keshavarz, was made within Iran but without the official permits and censorship approval normally given to films. Made in a guerrilla, underground style, its interweaving stories look to capture the small, everyday rebellions that make up life in Iran, such as trying to have a drink, steal time with a lover, follow your own path and simply be yourself. "Dog Sweat" — the name refers to local bootleg liquor — earned Keshavarz a Spirit Award nomination and opened Friday in Los Angeles at the Music Hall.

"It's not hard making a film through official channels, but then you have to go through the censorship board," said Keshavarz, 34.

Keshavarz, who has both Iranian and U.S. passports and went to Columbia University's film school, was planning to make a movie titled "This Modern Love" in Iran with permits when his mother was in a car accident. Once he helped her back to good health, he found the political climate changing in the build-up to the 2009 elections, and his plans were adjusted accordingly.

"Things were more open and there was a space to make films that were about social topics in an artistic way," said Keshavarz, "but as things got restricted more and more, it was very hard to do in a way that felt honest, up to the point where a lot of young filmmakers would just make short films they knew would never be shown."

Keshavarz's sister Maryam Keshavarz made the film "Circumstance," which won a prize at this year's Sundance Film Festival. The two each helped out on the production of the other's film, with Maryam opting to shoot in Lebanon rather than deal with the difficulties she had seen her brother go through.

Hossein Keshavarz is a bit cagey as to the specifics of how he pulled off his shoot without interference, though he acknowledges that it took about 30 actual shooting days over many, many months. He has not tried to return to Iran since "Dog Sweat" began appearing on the festival circuit, and he somewhat coyly added that "I officially don't know" whether or not the film has been seen in Iran.

"The film hopefully is evenhanded," he added. "Even though it has politics in it, I think the thing I'm trying to get at is these very human people looking for a connection. In living their everyday lives, sometimes there's politics, but it's not like I want to make a political point. I'm trying to make a film. I want to make a point about how people live and how political things come into it." 


Young Iran seen through '"Circumstance" and its cosmopolitan crew

Abbas Kiarostami returns to narrative form with "Certified Copy"

— Mark Olsen


Photo: A scene from Hossein Keshavarz's "Dog Sweat." Photo credit: IndiePix.

Around Town: Rooftop Films comes to L.A. with free screening

November 17, 2011 | 12:19 pm

Emilia Zoryan and Parker Croft in 'Falling Overnight'

Getting Los Angeles audiences out to see independent films, especially those from fledgling filmmakers without big-name stars, is a notoriously difficult proposition. Yet one group that has found success in New York doing just that now hopes to translate its efforts to the West Coast.

Rooftop Films will put on its first event in Los Angeles on Thursday night at the Andaz West Hollywood with a screening of the film "Falling Overnight."

The nonprofit organization recently wrapped its 15th season of outdoor film screenings in New York City with some 48 events staged at various venues. The group previously has set up events in other cities, and program director Dan Nuxoll described Thursday's one-off event in L.A. as a way for the Rooftop Films to "get our foot in the water" for future screenings in town. 

"L.A. seems like a natural fit. You guys have some great outdoor events," said Nuxoll, making specific reference to the Cinespia series at Hollywood Forever Cemetery, "but it seems to me there's a lot more room for outdoor events in L.A., especially stuff that's a little more indie than some of the other events."

"Falling Overnight," which screened in New York as part of Rooftop Films' Summer Series, tells the story of an L.A. twentysomething (Parker Croft) who is about to have brain surgery. On the eve of the procedure, he meets a young photographer (Emilia Zoryan), and the two spend the night covering the city. The film marks the feature debut for director Conrad Jackson, who also co-wrote the screenplay and served as the movie's cinematographer, editor and executive producer.

The event at the Andaz will not technically be outdoors, but the screening will be in an event space on the roof of the hotel that looks down over the Sunset Strip, giving this L.A. film an added dimension.

"I think showing the film with a view in the background of Los Angeles, it always changes the way people appreciate the film," Nuxoll said. "That's something that we always strive to do whenever we do our screenings. Whenever we can, we want the location to augment the experiences of watching the movie in that place, so there's a little bit of of a dialogue between the location and the film itself. It sort of changes the way you look at your city, it changes the way you look at the film."

As Rooftop Films begins to put on events in Los Angeles it will face the typical challenge of building an audience here. Some of this summer's screenings in NYC drew crowds ranging in size from 1,000 to 1,500 people, but it will likely take some time to reach anywhere near those kinds of numbers in L.A.

"Our mission is to help these films and advance these filmmakers," Nuxoll said. "It's not just in Los Angeles that indie films have trouble breaking in — indie films still have trouble breaking into the market anywhere in America. So our mission isn't just to expand in Los Angeles but to get these films out there in any way we possibly can. And of course Los Angeles is a hugely influential market and anything we can do to push forward these films we really believe in, we think it's our mission to look into what we can do."

Doors open at 7 p.m. with the screening starting at 7:30 p.m. to be followed by a Q&A and reception. The event is free with RSVP,though seating is limited. Visit the Rooftop Films website for more information. 


Movies al fresco

Arthouse films find a colder welcome in L.A.

— Mark Olsen


Photo: Emilia Zoryan and Parker Croft in 'Falling Overnight.' Credit: Rooftop Films

Around Town: Clint Eastwood and Italian classics

November 3, 2011 |  6:00 am

Clint Eastwood

Silent flicks, Italian masterworks, a chat with Clint Eastwood and an evening with longtime Los Angeles Times film critic Kevin Thomas are on tap this week.

The Silent Society of Hollywood Heritage pays tribute to silent-screen actresses all day Saturday at the Hollywood Heritage Museum. Films screening include 1925’s “Are Parents People?” with Betty Bronson and 1928’s “Lilac Time” with Colleen Moore and a young Gary Cooper. Michael Mortilla provides the accompaniment.

On Wednesday, Hollywood Heritage’s “Evening at the Barn” series hosts a tribute to Thomas, the longtime Times film critic and current contributor. www.hollywoodheritage.org

The New Beverly Cinema presents four films by the great Charlie Chaplin Sunday-Monday: 1919’s “A Day’s Pleasure” and “Sunnyside,” 1921’s “The Idle Class” and 1928’s “The Circus,” for which he won a special Oscar. www.newbevcinema.com

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'Descendants,' 'Beginners' among Gotham Independent Film nominations

October 20, 2011 |  8:10 am

Nominations for the 21st Gotham Independent Film Awards were announced
Nominations for the 21st Gotham Independent Film Awards were announced Thursday morning in New York, officially heralding the arrival of the movie "award season," which are to conclude in late February with the Oscars. Nominations were announced in six categories:

Best feature: "Beginners," "The Descendants," "Meek's Cutoff," "Take Shelter," "The Tree of Life."

Best documentary: "Better This World," "Bill Cunningham New York," "Hell and Back Again," "The Interrupters" and "The Woodmans."

Breakthrough director: Mike Cahill, "Another Earth"; Sean Durkin, "Martha Marcy May Marlene"; Vera Farmiga, "Higher Ground"; Evan Glodell, "Bellflower"; and Dee Rees, "Pariah."

Breakthrough actor: Felicity Jones, "Like Crazy"; Elizabeth Olsen, "Martha Macy May Marlene"; Harmony Santana, "Gun Hill Road"; Shailene Woodley, "The Descendants"; and Jacob Wysocki, "Terri." 

Best ensemble performance: "Beginners," "The Descendants," "Margin Call," "Martha Marcy May Marlene" and "Take Shelter."

Best film not playing at a theater near you: "Codependent Lesbian Space Alien Seeks Same," "Green," "The Redemption of General Butt Naked," "Scenes of a Crime" and "Without"  

Gotham Audience Award: The independent film community and indie film fans will vote for a U.S. movie that has won an audience award at one of the top U.S. or Canadian film festivals from last November through this month. Voting begins today here. The nominations will be announced Nov. 7. 

The awards are sponsored by the Independent Filmmaker Project, which is the oldest and largest U.S. organization of indie filmmakers.

IFP is also presenting a new award, the Calvin Klein Spotlight on Women Filmmakers "Live the Dream" cash grant for an alum of the Independent Filmmaker Lab.  Nominees are Jenny Deller for "Future Weather," Lucy Mulloy for "Una Noche" and Rola Nashef for "Detroit Unleashed."

In addition to the competitive awards, actors Charlize Theron and Gary Oldman, director David Cronenberg and Co-Chair and CEO of Fox Filmed Entertainment Tom Rothman will receive career tribute awards.

The awards are to be presented Nov. 28 at the Cipriani Wall Street in New York City.

Last year's best picture winner was "Winter's Bone," which went on to receive four Oscar nominations, including best picture. The 2009 winner, "The Hurt Locker," took home the best picture Oscar.


Gotham Film Awards gives top prize to 'Winter's Bone'

National Board of Review names "Up in the Air" best film

-- Susan King

Photo: Zachary Quinto and Penn Badgley in "Margin Call." CreditJojo Whilden / Roadside Attractions

Toronto 2011: This time, 'Humpday' director feels sisterly

September 17, 2011 | 10:00 am

Lynn Shelton came to prominence in 2009 when she made a low-budget improvised movie, "Humpday," featuring the hook of two buddies who dare each other to star in a male porn flick.

No one is getting in touch with their inner Ron Jeremy in Shelton's similarly improvised follow-up, the Toronto Film Festival breakout "Your Sister's Sister."  The Seattle writer-director puts women at the center this time -- and actual siblings instead of just bro-dudes -- as it examines a pair of sisters for whom genuine love doesn't always mean complete honesty.

"This is about  healing, grief and forgiveness," Shelton told 24 Frames in an interview Friday afternoon at the festival. "It's a movie about the basic fallibility of human beings, and our need to accept that."

Which makes "Sister" sound a little dry, like a slice of whole-wheat bread, instead of the comedic shot of rum punch that it is.

Most of the action in "Sister" takes place over a weekend in an island vacation home to which young Iris (Emily Blunt) has sent friend Jack (Mark Duplass) to spend some time in quiet isolation. Jack's brother, who was also Iris' ex-boyfriend, died the year before, and Iris hopes some time away will help Jack heal. Once there, Jack runs into Iris' sister Hannah (Rosemarie DeWitt), who has come unexpectedly to help recover from her own trauma, a breakup with her longtime girlfriend.

To describe the film further would be to deprive viewers of some enjoyable secrets and revelations, but suffice to say that what follows is both a drama and a romp involving love, sex, pregnancy and sibling loyalty. (Filmgoers will get a chance to see it for themselves when IFC, which acquired the movie at the festival, releases it next summer.)

SheltonSibling rivalry is on the minds of independent filmmakers at this festival. Duplass' own directorial effort, "Jeff, Who Lives at Home," sees Jason Segel and Ed Helms as estranged brothers who must come together under surreal circumstances; Duplass wrote and directed the movie with ... his brother.

Shelton, 45, said she was inspired by the oft-cited "Bridesmaids" (et tu, indie filmmakers?), not so much for the Kristen Wiig film's raunch as for its realism. "You've seen big studio comedies where you think, 'That's how men really talk,'" Shelton said. "But you don't really see any where you think 'That's how women really talk.' It was hugely inspiring."

Actors in most Shelton films come into her movies with only the loosest outline in place and instead work out scenes and dialogue on set in the hope of capturing a spontaneous moment. "I'm compelled by improvisation," Shelton said. "So many times I'm watching a movie and I think, 'It's so well-written but you can see the writing on the page.' And I want the purest, realest form of interaction."

Although it comes from a filmmaker who gained acclaim for so-called mumblecore films earlier in the 2000's (Shelton's movie immediately before "Humpday," "My Effortless Brilliance," used a similar improvisational technique to create a real-life vibe), the look of this film is more polished and the dialogue delivered more fluidly than other expressions of the genre.

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L.A. Film Festival: A focus on Film Independent fellows

June 23, 2011 | 10:28 am


Many people know Film Independent as the folks who put together the indie-minded Spirit Awards and also the Los Angeles Film Festival, which wraps up on Sunday. Yet the organization not only showcases films once they’ve been made but also has programs to help upcoming filmmakers bring their vision to the screen. 

The L.A. Times is a presenting sponsor of the festival, and Thursday at 12:30 p.m. at the festival’s downtown Filmmaker Lounge we continue our series of free lunchtime talks. (You can watch at latimes.com.) Joining the discussion, moderated by Times contributor Mark Olsen, will be three filmmakers -- Robbie Pickering,  David Nordstrom and Mike Ott -- who have all participated in the programs of Film Independent.

Pickering, director and writer of “Natural Selection,” won an armload of prizes when his film -- about a devout Christian Texas housewife who seeks to fulfill her dying husband's wish to find his illegitimate son (who turns out to be an escaped convict) -- premiered at the South by Southwest Film Festival this year. (It's also playing at the L.A. Film Festival.) Nordstrom, writer, director and costar of “Sawdust City,” had the world premiere of his film Saturday at the L.A. Film Festival. The movie, set in his hometown of Eau Claire, Wis., follows two brothers, who haven't seen each other in years, spending Thanksgiving scouring the town's bars for their father. Ott, a producer on “Sawdust City,” won the Someone to Watch prize at this year’s Spirit Awards for his own film,  “Littlerock.”


Cheat Sheet: Los Angeles Film Festival

Fresh looks at Cuba in the Los Angeles Film Festival

James Franco back to the esoterica in another turn as a gay poet

--Mark Olsen

Photo: A scene from "Natural Selection." Credit: L.A. Film Festival

Experience the intensity of running Hood to Coast, with none of the blisters

January 10, 2011 |  2:39 pm

Hood To Coast_Struggle

To an outsider, nothing about the Hood to Coast relay makes sense. Starting with 12,000 runners -- a mixture of seasoned vets and flabby novices -- the world's largest relay stretches through 197 miles of hellish roller-coaster terrain, tree-lined mountain passes, dark valleys and a crowded city, all the way to the Pacific Ocean. Sleeping is a luxury. Comfort is virtually nonexistent. Prize money for winning? Nope, nada.

Yet somehow this painful test of adrenaline and stamina has remained a Portland, Ore., tradition since 1982 (it's now in it's 30th year), drawing teams of runners from all over the world to the top of Mt. Hood, where the race begins. If you're curious about the event but don't want to get blisters yourself, then get yourself to a movie theater on Tuesday night for the independent documentary "Hood to Coast." The film is playing at 14 theaters across Los Angeles and Orange County, including Regal Cinemas' L.A. Live Stadium 14 downtown and in IMAX at the AMC Burbank 16 in Burbank.

Opening nationwide for one night only in 350 theaters, the film follows four teams chosen to participate in the ordeal (which is touted by its sponsor, OfficeMax, as "The Mother of All Relays").

For the runners highlighted in the documentary, the process of enduring such an unnatural challenge is a sweaty, bloody, tiresome quest for camaraderie.

"It carries a special thing," said producer Anna Campbell, a veteran Hood to Coast runner whose husband, Christoph Baaden, co-directed the film with Marcie Hume. "People are there for each other in a way that people often aren’t." "Hood to Coast" marks the directorial and producing debut of Baaden, Campbell and Hume.

The Tuesday screenings will include interviews from a red-carpet screening in Portland as well as a recorded panel discussion with professional runners. Baaden says the idea behind the limited opening was to give participants and fans of the race from all 50 states the chance to see it.

Of the hundreds of runners that volunteered to be filmed participating in the 2008 relay (typically held  the weekend before Labor Day weekend), four teams were included. In the end, the teams Dead Jocks in a Box, Heart 'N' Sole, Thunder and Laikaning and R. Bowe embodied the diverse, triumphant and comical soul of the race, even if they didn't know it at first.

Jason Baldwin, 29, ran as the pink-haired mascot of Thunder and Laikaning -- a humorous bunch of Portland animators. He admits he was surprised by the directors' interest in his tribe of unfit goofballs who entered the race on a whim with zero marathon experience.

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Can 'Winter's Bone' get its mainstream due?

November 30, 2010 |  5:51 pm

When it came out this summer, "Winter's Bone" was a favorite among art-house filmgoers. But the character-driven story set amid Ozark poverty has remained off the radar of much of the American mainstream -- a bit ironically, since it's a story as much about America as any big-budget Hollywood blockbuster.

That could change this fall, and well, winter, providing the film gets an Oscar nomination for best picture. Awards attention of course doesn't much matter to the mainstream filmgoer for a movie that's already a populist hit; it's unlikely that Oscar love would make many more people take notice of "Toy Story 3." But for a small independent movie that can't afford to market like the big boys, awards attention -- and all the free media that comes with it -- is a coveted substitute.

Pundits have been divided over whether Debra Granik's "Bone,"  with Jennifer Lawrence earning raves as precocious teenager, will make the cut. But one encouraging sign for fans of the mystery-cum-drama: It led all films in Spirit Awards nominations this morning.

Leading the Spirits has at times had a popular-in-Canada feel to it. (In 2007, Todd Field's quickly forgotten Bob Dylan enigma "I'm Not There" garnered the most nominations.)

But since the motion picture academy expanded the Oscar best picture category from five to 10 slots last season, being the Spirits' darling now may mean a lot more. The Spirits suggest there's a spot for you on the Oscar best picture list, and all the benefits that come with it.

At least that's what happened for last year's Spirits nomination-grabber "Precious," which went on to be nominated for best picture and get a lot more attention as a result. (For more on the snubs and surprises at the Spirits this season -- including the overlooking of "Blue Valentine" star Ryan Gosling and "The Kids Are All Right" star Julianne Moore -- please see our colleagues' take over at The Times' Awards Tracker blog.)

It's unlikely "Winter's Bone" -- without the backing of an Oprah and the same level of buzz as "Precious" -- can ultimately achieve the crossover popularity that film did. But "Precious" does show that a story of an American underclass has caught on with us before. It even got the ultimate compliment: a running gag on "30 Rock" (with the movie-within-a-show "Hard to Watch").  If things break right, it may not be long before Jenna Maroni and Jack Donaghy are riffing on Ree Dolly and Teardrop.

--Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Jennifer Lawrence in "Winter's Bone." Credit: Roadside Attractions


'Winter's Bone' takes audiences into the Ozarks

Awards Tracker: Indie Spirits shockers



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