AFFRetro Review: While Beautifully Filmed, THE ZOOKEEPER’S WIFE Doesn’t Escape the Conventions of Holocaust Cinema

Posted on: Apr 1st, 2017 By:

THE ZOOKEEPER’S WIFE (2017); Dir. Niki Caro; Starring Jessica Chastain, Daniel Bruhl, Johan Heldenbergh; Trailer here.

By Andrew Kemp
Contributing Writer

Before the Atlanta Film Festival screening of THE ZOOKEEPER’S WIFE, an introduction promised the audience that this film was not going to be “just another Holocaust film.” Although it seems callous to think that films about the signature human rights catastrophe of the 20th century could ever be boring, it would be accurate to say that, over the years, a particular set of tropes has taken root when portraying the event on the screen. The situation will look bad; some will say that it will pass; the noose will tighten; and then comes the iconography of the horror—trains, camps, ash. Inevitably, choices must be made about who to help, and how. Sometimes the films end on a down note, sometimes on an up note. But no ending can ever accurately be called “happy.”

I’m sorry to say that, despite that hopeful introduction, THE ZOOKEEPER’S WIFE doesn’t quite escape these expectations. Apart from a few key flourishes, the film follows the pattern mostly down the line. To garble a famous phrase, the people who don’t like this kind of thing will find this the kind of thing they don’t like.

Jessica Chastain plays the title character, Antonina Zabinski, principal animal caretaker at the Warsaw Zoo and wife to stoic Jan (Heldenbergh). We follow Antonina on an idyllic day through the zoo, which is presented as a utopian free-range menagerie where visitors can run alongside a camel or frolic with a set of baby lion cubs. Of course, this scene takes place in 1939, and within short order the German invasion has begun. The zoo is hit particularly hard—the animals are “liquidated” for soap and meat (mostly off-screen, with some startling exceptions—be warned), and the Germans place a permanent munitions garrison on the site. But the Zabinskis are concerned when a Jewish friend is forced to relocate into the Warsaw ghetto, and they decide to hide his wife, at great personal risk (“You can be shot for giving them a cup of water,” Jan reminds Antonina).

The situation is complicated by the presence of Lutz Heck (Bruhl), Hitler’s top zoologist who hopes to breed an extinct auroch from the Zabinski’s oxen. Heck has designs on Antonina, who spends most of her time at the zoo alone as Jan involves himself into the Warsaw resistance, helping as many as he can flee the ghetto to safety. As the war goes on, and as the tunnels beneath the Zabinski house fill with hidden Jews, it becomes harder, but ever more critical, to keep Heck from discovering their secret.

The film’s stakes are certainly high, and the drama is reasonably intense. But director Niki Caro [WHALE RIDER (2002)] fails to give the film the kind of visual tension it deserves. At its weakest moments, the film appears like one of the more inert of the Merchant-Ivory films, nicely decorated but somehow flat, with the performers stuck pantomiming rote material in a dollhouse. For example, as Jan becomes aware of Heck’s flirtations, he becomes bafflingly infuriated with Antonina. Surely he understands her need to keep the German distracted while on their property? And yet he seems to be angry simply because there’s not enough conflict in the second act, and the film still has the rest of the war to wait out.

Jessica Chastain stars as Antonina Zabinski in director Niki Caro’s THE ZOOKEEPER’S WIFE, a Focus Features release. Credit: Anne Marie Fox / Focus Features

The star attraction should be the movie star Chastain, but she plays Antonina with a demure squeak of a voice that befits the muted passions of the movie she’s in. If there is any element to distinguish the film (beyond the costuming and production design, which are lovely), it’s the way in which the story is shifted to Antonina from her more traditionally heroic husband. While Jan is crossing into the ghetto, rescuing abused children, and taking up arms in an open fight, the film posits that Antonina’s role in protecting her family and the all-important hiding place is worth every bit the heroic acclaim. The film attempts to identify a female perspective on the life in occupied Warsaw, where Nazism is inextricably intertwined with toxic masculinity. The Germans don’t simply kill their victims, they displace and starve and rape them, dominating non-German bodies as outbursts of masculine bravado. If there’s a second element to distinguish the film, it’s that it seems eerily uncomfortable when compared to the modern mood in some of the more unsavory—but increasingly visible—corners of our national conversation.

Ultimately THE ZOOKEER’S WIFE is another holocaust movie. Your interest in that promise may vary, but let us be clear that the world, the trajectory, and the situations in the film are nakedly (and all too uncomfortably) familiar.

THE ZOOKEEPER’S WIFE screened this week at the Atlanta Film Festival on march 29. For more information, check out the official site.

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AFFRetro Review: Skateboards, Jet Packs & Silver Scream Spook Show Stars: SPRING BREAK ZOMBIE MASSACRE Is a Graveyard Smash!

Posted on: Apr 1st, 2017 By:

SAM & MATTIE PRESENT SPRING BREAK ZOMBIE MASSACRE (2016); Dir. Robert Carnevale; Starring Sam Suchmann, Mattie Zufelt, Madeline Brumby, Allison Maier; Trailer here.

By Andrew Kemp
Contributing Writer

Sam and Mattie are typical American teens. They like to skateboard and play video games. They chase girls. They have cybernetic implants coveted by the devil and his army of zombies, demons, and zombie-demons. The usual stuff.

SPRING BREAK ZOMBIE MASSACRE is an unexpected title for a heartwarming, feel-good picture. The real-world Sam Suchmann and Mattie Zufelt hail from Rhode Island, inseparable best friends who became fixated on the idea of making a violent, gory zombie film starring themselves, an idea that may have seemed easy for their friends and family to dismiss before the boys revealed the elaborate storyboards they’d been building in their spare time. Director Robert Carnevale helped them launch a Kickstarter, thinking that a few bucks might allow them to put a film together. Sam and Mattie’s story, however, struck a nerve, went viral, and became a runaway crowdsourcing success story. The boys became stars of the mainstream press, and their project attracted talent from across the country, including Atlanta actors Madeline Brumby (Kool Kat here) and Allison Maier, and local special effects maven Shane Morton (Kool Kat here). 

Now, Sam and Mattie’s dream film is very real, and happily delivers more than just its great backstory. The Sam and Mattie of the film are the coolest, most interesting teens at their school, the kind of kids who tend to the needs of their knockout girlfriends before humiliating the local bullies with their sick skateboarding skills. Sam is the sensitive type and Mattie is his aggro best pal. They’ve literally known each other since birth, the moment made memorable when Satan appeared in the delivery room and murdered both of their moms—one of the downsides of having an epic destiny.

Now that they’re teens the Devil is back to finish the job, calling on all the bullies who hate Sam and Mattie’s unbridled awesomeness to join his undead army. The boys respond by unlocking their full superhuman potential, partying at Spring Break, and learning valuable lessons about the dangers of buying drugs. Also, Mattie has jet packs.

L-R: Madeline Brumby, Mattie Zufelt, Sam Suchmann in SPRING BREAK ZOMBIE MASSACRE (2016). Used with permission.

The project resembles less of a coherent narrative than a series of isolated vignettes strung together by the boys’ needs to kill zombies and have their hero moments. The emotional weight of the zombie outbreak is high in some scenes, while in others the monsters resemble irritating pests that have sprung up on Mattie’s lawn. What the film really provides is a bright and imaginative window into the way that Sam and Mattie see the world. Their script—every word of which Sam and Mattie wrote on their own, with Carnevale’s helpful translation—allows them to play out power fantasies and express their take on right and wrong. Sure, it’s a kick to watch Mattie shotgun zombies in the head (he has a surprising presence in the action scenes), but it’s hard to see the occasional quiet moment, such as the pivotal bit where Mattie and Sam stare into mirrors and remind themselves how valuable and special they are, and not think of the artists behind them. This thing is destined for endless cult screenings at midnight festivals and Halloween parties.

SPRING BREAK ZOMBIE MASSACRE may be a vanity project, but it finds its own heartwarming moments amidst its Michel Gondry-inspired cardboard hellfire. The word is that Sam and Mattie are hard at work on a sequel. That’s good. The movie screen is always hungry for real heroes.

SPRING BREAK ZOMBIE MASSACRE screened at the Atlanta Film Festival on March 25. For more information on the film, visit the official site.

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ATLANTA FILM FESTIVAL PREVIEW: ONE PATH TO SPENDING YOUR WEEK AT THE MOVIES

Posted on: Mar 24th, 2017 By:

By Andrew Kemp
Contributing Writer

The Atlanta Film Festival is back, growing this year into additional venues and an absolutely packed lineup of interesting and entertaining films. ATL Retro will be at the festival all week, logging reviews of films while subsisting on a strict diet of beer and Junior Mints, because journalism matters now more than ever.

If you’re looking for some tips on what to check out during the festival, please enjoy this day-by-day selection of films that we thought might interest the retro-inclined. Of course, any preview such as this can only barely scratch the surface of what the AFF has to offer, so for a more detailed preview be sure to visit the AFF’s official website.

Friday, March 24 — Opening Night

The festival kicks off with its traditional opening night ceremonies, including a screening of Bill Watterson’s DAVE MADE A MAZE, a high-concept comedy about a man whose quest to produce something great and wonderful (presumably on a budget) leads him to construct an elaborate, DIY labyrinth inside his own home. Of course, he promptly gets trapped in his own creation, leaving his loved ones wondering how to mount to rescue (Plaza Theatre, downstairs, @ 7:00pm).

After the show, all those with tickets, as well as badge-holders, are invited to the Opening Night Party taking place at Paris on Ponce until midnight, but be sure to get your butts back to the Plaza to see Lips Down on Dixie stage their show alongside THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW(1975), a longtime Plaza tradition that the AFF has happily embraced.

Saturday, March 25

Avondale’s Towne Cinema joins the festival this year as a venue, which is where you’ll want to be to check out TRENCHES OF ROCK, a documentary about the three-decade history of the Christian metal band Bloodgood (Towne Cinema @ 2:30pm).

Jill Campbell’sMR. CHIBBStakes a look at the post-NBA career of former all-star Kenny Anderson, dealing with the fleeting high of fame and celebrity, and the plight of athletes who are faced with spending the rest of their lives in the real world, away from the bright lights of the big time. The film screens with the short film GAME, a narrative short about a kid at the other end of this basketball lifestyle, high school tryouts (Plaza Theatre, downstairs, @ 4:30).

For fans of the Atlanta horror scene, certainly the most anticipated event of the day is the long-awaited debut of SAM & MATTIE PRESENT SPRING BREAK ZOMBIE MASSACRE, featuring members of the local horror community and hosted by the immortal Professor Morte and the Silver Scream Spook Show. Sam Suchmann and Mattie Zufelt drew national attention last year with their Kickstarter campaign to fund the epic zombie movie of their dreams, and the result of that campaign is set for two screenings on Saturday, so you’ll have plenty of opportunities to see the gory results. (Towne Cinema @ 5:30 & 8:30)

Sunday, March 26

Sunday is likely to feature some of the most popular events of the festival week, what with the 25th Anniversary screening of the well-loved Marisa Tomei vehicle MY COUSIN VINNY hitting Plaza Theatre (12:00pm) as the movie half of the “Food on Film” program. Ticket- and badge-holders are invited to head over to the Callanwolde Fine Arts Center after the film for a celebration of grits in southern cooking, and other after-party shenanigans.

Once properly stuffed with southern cuisine, head on over to 7 Stages forMELE MURALS, a documentary about Hawaiian history and culture as seen (and expressed) through the street art of Hawaiians Estria and Prime (7 Stages @ 5:45pm).

The upstairs theatre at the Plaza suffered some damage recently, forcing a venue change for several films to the Druid Hills Presbyterian Church across the street. If you want to visit the venue, and perhaps thank them for helping the Plaza and the festival out in a tight spot, there’s a perfect opportunity when the film WOMAN ON FIRE screens on Sunday night. The film looks at the story of Brooke Guinan, New York’s first transgender firefighter (8:00pm).

But whatever you do, be sure to get back to the Plaza early enough to get a good seat for the perennially popular PUPPET SLAM, featuring local performers and riotous scenes of little felt people doing at least a few inappropriate things. Live puppetry performance combines with a few puppet-y short films for what usually works out to be one of the funnier times you can have in a theatre all week (Plaza Theatre, downstairs, @ 9:30pm).

Monday March 27

It’s doing a disservice to mention only one film happening on Monday, but in the interest of brevity in this preview, we simply had to point out that Dad’s Garage is getting in on the screening action this year, putting on a screening of SYLVIO, a typical movie full of the usual cliches: a gorilla living in a human world wants to share his favorite hand puppet with the world. You know, that old story. SYLVIO was another Kickstarter success story, and doesn’t seem like the kind of movie that’s easily missed (Dad’s Garage @ 8:00pm).

Tuesday, March 28

Fans of retro cinema will want to check out THE HERO, featuring legend Sam Elliott as an aging hero of the silver screen whose sudden illness drives him to reconnect with his estranged family. The film also stars Nick Offerman, Laura Prepon, and Krysten Ritter (Plaza Theatre, downstairs, @ 7:00pm).

Then, if you want to end your evening on an up note, swing over to 7 Stages for LEAGUE OF EXOTIQUE DANCERS, which takes viewers to Las Vegas to spend time with the aging ladies who were there for the classic era of burlesque (7 Stages @ 9:30pm).

Wednesday March 29

OK, it’s mid-week. You’ve been at this for a while. You are have part Junior Mint. Persevere! There’s so much more to see, such as THE ZOOKEEPER’S WIFE, the new film from Niki Caro starring Jessica Chastain as a Polish zookeeper in 1939 who must put her own life at risk to save the people at risk from the Nazis after the Germans invade (Plaza Theatre, downstairs, @ 7:00pm).

After the show, skip dinner and get thee over to 7 Stages forCHERRY POP, a narrative film about the performers at a drag club having a wildly unexpected night. If that doesn’t energize you for the festival’s second half, then there may be no hope left for you (7 Stages, @ 9:15pm).

Thursday, March 30

Acclaimed director James Gray has delivered another provocative film with THE LOST CITY OF Z, the true story of the British explorer Percy Fawcett, who entered the Brazilian jungles with his eldest son in 1925 in search of “Z,” a rumored city believed to have a link to the mythical El Dorado (Plaza Theatre, downstairs, @ 7:00pm).

Friday, March 31

You’ve made it to the weekend! As a reward, enjoy a second screening of THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW at midnight, but before you do, be sure to attend the screening for WAITING FOR B., a documentary about the lengths Brazilian fans of Beyonce are willing to go for a chance to inch closer to the stage (Plaza Theatre, downstairs, @ 9:30pm).

Saturday, April 1 — Closing Night

It’s April Fool’s Day, and so despite the existence of a slate of films on Sunday, tonight is considered the official Closing Night. You’ve put the time in, you’ve seen an unbelieveable number of great films, and so don’t even think about missing this year’s closing film, Joshua Z. Weinstein’s MENASHE. The film is set in New York’s Hasidic Jewish community, and follows the struggles of the title character as he looks for a way to raise his son as a single parent in the wake of his wife’s death, in spite of religious traditions. The screening will be attended by the film’s Executive Producer, Danelle Eliav (Plaza Theatre, downstairs, @ 7:30pm).

Sunday, April 2

The festival may be over, but you aren’t. No, you’re still craving the sweet sensation of new and exciting films, and Sunday has you covered. For starters, check out NORMAN: THE MODERATE RISE AND TRAGIC FALL OF A NEW YORK FIXER, starring retro cinema icon Richard Gere as a lonely New Yorker looking to get ahead, who suddenly finds himself in the orbit of the new Israeli Prime Minister. The film is presented in partnership with the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival (Location TBD, but likely the Druid Hills Presbyterian Church — see website for updates, @2:45pm).

And, finally, there’s THE PROMISE, featuring current Hollywood it-guy Oscar Isaac as a medical student in 1914 Constantinople who lands in the middle of a torrid romance and the political turmoil of war. Also starring Christian Bale (Plaza Theatre, downstairs, @ 7:00pm).

Conclusion

And that’s just one possible path you could take through the Atlanta Film Festival’s epic schedule. Of course, your preferences may vary, so check out the website to be sure you find the events that are right for you. From short film blocks to special presentations, there’s no shortage. Drop us a line here at ATL Retro and let us know what films you saw, and what you thought! We’ll see you there!

Andrew Kemp is a screenwriter and game designer who started talking about movies in 1984 and got stuck that way. He can be seen around town wherever there are movies, cheap beer and little else.

Category: Features | Tags: , , , , , , ,

Kool Kat of the Week: Bret Wood Extinguishes Bloodlines and Thrills Us Yet Again With His Latest Cinematic Venture, THOSE WHO DESERVE TO DIE

Posted on: Feb 22nd, 2017 By:

by Melanie Crew
Managing Editor

The last time we caught up with the ever-busy Atlanta filmmaker Bret Wood was before the 2014 Atlanta Film Festival screening of THE UNWANTED, his contemporary take on Sheridan Le Fanu’s vampire novella “Carmilla.”  Bret is at it again with his current independent cinematic endeavor, THOSE WHO DESERVE TO DIE (TWD2D), a loose modern-day adaptation of Thomas de Quincey’s novella “The Avenger.” Fueled by visions of ‘60s gialli.” TWD2D is a thriller that “subverts the formula of the revenge film,” following its “hero” as he seeks gruesome justice. According to its official description: “Goaded by the cold-hearted spirit of his undead 10-year-old sister Berenice, Jonathan wades into ever-deepening, ethically muddier water—for their plan is to not just punish the guilty, but extinguish their bloodlines entirely.” The film stars Joe Sykes [V/H/S (2012); THE LITTLE DEATH (2010)], Alice Lewis (first starring role) and Rachel Frawley. While Bret has personally funded all of his prior film projects, this ghastly twist of a revenge story is being partially funded by a Kickstarter campaign chock full of enticing perks, including copies of the film upon its release to video (Fall 2018). Be a part of bloody fantastic film history and snatch up a killer perk or two via the crowd-sourcing campaign available through February 25! Check out the full range of rewards here!

A rare and obscure film connoisseur, Bret regularly digs deep into the historic cinematic landscape through his enviable day-job as Vice President of Special Projects with Kino Lorber. On the heels of receiving the 2016 Film Heritage Award from the National Society of Film Critics for his PIONEERS OF AFRICAN-AMERICAN CINEMA (2016) collection, he dove right into his next restoration project, PIONEERS: FIRST WOMEN FILMMAKERS, promising to expose viewers to lesser known, yet significant female film pioneers.

ATLRetro caught up with Bret for a quick rundown on THOSE WHO DESERVE TO DIE, his devotion to film history’s weirdest and wackiest; and why going with crowd-funding made sense for this project! While you’re takin’ a gander at our little Q&A, why not take a sinister peek at the teaser trailer for TWD2D here.

ATLRetro: The last time ATLRETRO caught up with you was with your take on “Carmilla,” THE UNWANTED (2014). And now we see you’re diving head first into Thomas de Quincey’s novella “The Avenger” with your newest film adventure, THOSE WHO DESERVE TO DIE. Why “The Avenger” and why adaptations of classic literature?

Bret Wood: I’m a voracious reader, and I usually follow some thread of ideas from one book to another rather than just randomly choosing books from a shelf. It’s a great way of discovering writers I wasn’t previously familiar with. At the time I discovered The Avenger, I had been reading a lot of Gothic novels — specifically pseudo-memoirs from a skewed perspective — things like de Quincey’s CONFESSIONS OF AN ENGLISH OPIUM EATER, Charles Maturin’s MELMOTH THE WANDERER and James Hogg’s THE PRIVATE MEMOIRS AND CONFESSIONS OF A JUSTIFIED SINNER. I think it was Joris-Karl Huysmans’s THE DAMNED (LA-BAS) that started me on this whole journey. I like this era of literature because it’s the kind of thing not many other people are reading, and it’s all in the public domain, so if I do find a story that would work well as a film, it’s mine for the taking. There’s nothing worse than discovering a story that would make an incredible film, but knowing it would be impossible to clear the rights (there’s a William Lindsay Gresham [NIGHTMARE ALLEY] story I’m dying to adapt.)

And with pre-1900 books like these, I’m really adapting the spirit of the work, not the plot. As THE UNWANTED bears little physical resemblance to “Carmilla,” THOSE WHO DESERVE TO DIE does not replicate the plot of The Avenger. But hopefully both of them capture the emotional essence of what makes both of those stories so compelling, and so troubling.

(l-r) Bret Wood, Rachel Frawley

Why a Kickstarter for THOSE WHO DESERVE TO DIE? What are the advantages of taking the crowd-sourcing route?

Previously I’ve self-funded all my films, but the cost of indie filmmaking in Atlanta has risen considerably since the arrival of Hollywood productions. It’s become more difficult to secure locations, and we have to compete with major studio productions for crew. Just a few years ago, when filmmaking opportunities were limited, there was an abundance of crew who were eager to take on labors of love in order to get experience and make the kind of connections they could build careers on. Now, everyone’s busy on well-paying projects, and it’s not fair for us to ask them to show up on their days off and work 10 to 12-hour days for the love of the art. Over the course of making TWD2D, we’ve assembled a terrific, very dedicated core crew, but I want to treat them fairly and not burn them out on independent production. We want to leave them willing to support the next grassroots project – to insure that this kind of filmmaking can continue in Atlanta.

There are several great things about crowd-funding. One is that it allows anyone to participate. And the size of the donation is less important than the knowledge that someone out there likes the idea of what you’re doing and wants you to see it through to completion. Another attribute of Kickstarter is that when people make a contribution, there are no strings attached. They are supporting the creation of your work without imposing conditions or restrictions upon the donation. As soon as artists accept money from an investor, they can’t help but begin to think of the film as a business and bear the responsibility of shaping the film into something that will become profitable. You can’t help it. That Hollywood mentality starts to creep in.

Joe Sykes as Jonathan

I’m not saying my vision is “pure” or that profitable films are somehow corrupt. But I am trying to make films from the gut – that evolve and find their own form through the process of collaborating with other artists. THOSE WHO DESERVE TO DIE is a film that emerges from the process of making a film. Just last week, two of the actors (Joe Sykes and Keith Brooks) helped me re-conceptualize a scene that was problematic, and we shot that sequence over the weekend. Likewise, we try to make sure the set is a place where new ideas are welcome, and we’re not just banging a punch list of predetermined shots.

You’ve put together some great bonuses for investors, ranging from special DVDs and Blu-rays to pass codes to stream your past films to posters and private screenings (Exciting!). What can folks looking to invest via Kickstarter expect to get when they back your film?

I think most people want to get a copy of the finished film, but for those who don’t want to wait the year-and-a-half it will probably take for TWD2D to be completed and then released on video, they can join us for the cast-and-crew screening, get copies of my previous work, two different styles of T-shirt, and I’ve dragged out a few things from my memorabilia closet, including a key prop from THE UNWANTED [Millarca’s severed head] and an original print by David Lynch for any big-money donors out there. Of course the greatest reward of all is the satisfaction of keeping truly independent film alive and well in Atlanta – and you get that even at the $5 pledge level.

Looks like many of your cast and crew are Atlantans or from the surrounding area, including yourself. What can you tell us about your cast/crew and why do you think it’s important to work with local talent?

With Atlanta being overwhelmed with studio production, I think it’s more important than ever that indie film projects ORIGINATE locally. The studios have come here for the tax breaks but quickly discovered what a rich and deep pool of filmmaking talent resides here. I don’t think anyone expected the Georgia film industry to expand the way it has — and you can’t chalk that all up to tax incentives. The problem is that the writers/directors/leading actors of these projects are still almost exclusively brought in from the West Coast. The studios and networks don’t see this as a place where ideas are originated and projects germinated. The most successful content-originators in Atlanta are self-starters — people like Will Packer and Tyler Perry. And we need more filmmakers like that — who are crafting their own unique work, and not asking some corporate entity for permission to make films.

You’re a well-known local film historian, as Vice President of Special Projects with Kino Lorber, and have produced Blu-ray releases for the films of legendary directors Mario Bava, Stanley Kubrick, Jess Franco, D.W. Griffith and more! Which project was the most intriguing? In the grand scheme of things, why do you feel it is important to not only preserve film, but to share these works of art with the masses?

Just as I read books from another era, I’ve always loved watching films from the past. Part of it is my distaste for all things contemporary, but mostly it is the thrill of discovering something new. If you love cinema, then there is a whole universe out there waiting to be explored. And you can’t do it from the convenient portal of Netflix. You’ve got to get up off the couch and look for it yourself. And it’s exciting to go on a quest to track down obscure works by obscure filmmakers that only YOU truly understand and appreciate (or so it seems, until you discover there are others who share your passion for the odd and eclectic). And that process opens up social opportunities and enables you to create new friendships (both real and virtual). Go over to Videodrome and strike up a conversation with whoever’s on duty — you’ll see what I mean. That’s really a snapshot of who I am and how I defined myself during my youth.

Alice Lewis

I try to hold on to that sense of discovery in my day job, as I ferret out lesser-known films and give them the best possible presentation so that they’ll be out there for other cineastes to discover. I produce DVDs/Blu-rays of the classics, but I’m also allowed to slip into the release schedule some truly strange and fascinating films that aren’t on most people’s cultural radar; things like the silent-era drug film THE DEVIL’S NEEDLE, the satanic soft-core film THE LAST STEP DOWN, the 3-D film A*P*E, the oddball noir THE CHASE. I’ve got a full plate for 2017 and look forward to introducing some strange new flavors to people’s cinematic palate.

On the heels of receiving the 2016 Film Heritage Award from the National Society of Film Critics for your PIONEERS OF AFRICAN-AMERICAN CINEMA (2016) collection, you’ve jumped right into PIONEERS: FIRST WOMEN FILMMAKERS. Can you tell our readers a little about this project?

PIONEERS OF AFRICAN-AMERICAN CINEMA succeeded beyond our expectations, and I really felt as though I had helped consolidate and publish a hugely important chapter of American film history. It was unique in that it wasn’t just a “greatest hits” of early black cinema; it explored both the cornerstones of the movement and the virtually unknown work. We included lesser-known films. We included incomplete films. We included films so eroded by nitrate decomposition that they are almost incomprehensible. But these films are important nonetheless. They are the mortar that fills in the cracks of the bricks of black film history. And they would never be released under ordinary economic circumstances. PIONEERS was funded by a Kickstarter campaign and the $50,000+ that we raised afforded me an unprecedented amount of creative freedom — resulting in a collection of films that would otherwise have been impossible, or at least commercially unviable.

Fortunately, I was able to maintain the momentum, launch a second KS campaign, and am now knee-deep in producing PIONEERS: FIRST WOMEN FILMMAKERS, which focuses specifically on women directors of the American film industry in the silent era. Our aim is specific because, as with the first PIONEERS, we didn’t want to make this a “greatest hits” collection [Lois Weber, Alice Guy-Blaché]. We want to show you the works you’ve never seen, and expose you to the filmmakers you’ve never heard of [Gene Gauntier, Angela Murray Gibson, Julia Crawford Ivers, Ida May Park, Marion E. Wong]. And by focusing on American silents, we’re able to tell a fascinating – and ultimately depressing – story of how women were pushed out of the director’s chair and into support roles within the Hollywood studio system.

Can you tell our readers how you got into film preservation and filmmaking?

After meeting film historian Dennis Doros when he came to speak at a screening at the University of Tennessee (where I was a student), I was offered a job at the film/video distributor Kino International (now Kino Lorber) in 1987. I started out doing telephone sales for near-poverty wages but was just happy to be working for a company with impeccable taste in its library of films. As the years passed, I migrated away from sales – which I was never very good at – into design work, eventually becoming the Art Director. I gradually accumulated a knowledge of post-production, film mastering, digital restoration, editing, and became Kino’s primary producer of archival projects. Today, the company is much larger, and I’m one of several producers, but I’m still the archival classics guy. And while I have more freedom in acquiring films and negotiating with the archives and licensors, I’m still a very hands-on producer, writing liner notes, designing packaging, supervising film restorations, cutting trailers. Every day is something different (today I get to work on the Republic serial DAREDEVILS OF THE RED CIRCLE and Josef von Sternberg’s ANATAHAN) and that’s what I love about the job.

You seem to be drawn to exploitation films, with your preservation projects, your documentaries [HELL’S HIGHWAY] and your writing projects [“FORBIDDEN FRUIT: THE GOLDEN AGE OF THE EXPLOITATION FILM” and “MARIHUANA, MOTHERHOOD, AND MADNESS”]. What is the magnetizing power of exploitation flicks? And which exploitation film is a definite must-see for our readers?  Yes, we’re forcing you to choose just one.

(l-r) Alice Lewis, Joe Sykes

Funny you should bring these up. I’m just about to close a deal with Something Weird Video for Kino Lorber to revive their “Roadshow Rarities” collection and carry on the tradition that Mike Vraney began with his VHS releases of the early 1990s. We’re going to perform 2K restorations, launch theatrical re-releases of certain titles, and eventually release them on Blu-ray. What I love is that these films, routinely dismissed a kitschy and naive – that was the whole gist of New Line’s marketing of REEFER MADNESS on the midnight movie circuit in the 1970s – are actually much smarter than we give them credit for. They are playful films made by clever filmmakers who figured out a way to game the system, bypassing the censor boards, defying the studio distribution system, and lining their pockets with cash. They pretended to make films to educate the masses on the dangers of drug addiction, venereal diseases, bestiality, polygamy, and other social problems, but were actually making outrageous films that indulged America’s appetites for these forbidden vices. We don’t think of the 1930s and 1940s as a heyday of indie cinema, but it was, and there is still much to be learned from these films.

A favorite? Definitely MANIAC (1934). It is a psychological horror film made by self-taught husband-and-wife filmmakers Dwain Esper and Hildagarde Stadie Esper that plays like a true crime surrealist art film with dashes of Edgar Allan Poe.

Can you give us five things you’re into at the moment that we should be watching right now—directors or movies, past or present, well-known or obscure.

I don’t want others to rush out and discover them — these are MY current fascinations: 1) the novels of Peter Ackroyd;  2) the music of Jacques Brel; 3) any film by Michael Haneke; 4) Bill Gunn’s 1973 film GANJA AND HESS; and 5) Rouben Mamoulian’s APPLAUSE (1929). If you are determined to watch a recent film, I recommend THE LOBSTER and UNDER THE SKIN.

Getting back to why we’re here chatting you up, THOSE WHO DESERVE TO DIE and the film’s Kickstarter campaign! Without giving too much away, what can you tell our readers about the film and when they can expect to catch it on the big screen?

THOSE WHO DESERVE TO DIE is a revenge story with a supernatural twist. It follows a war hero [Joe Sykes] who returns to his home town to avenge the death of his family guided and goaded by the spirit of his dead sister, played by Alice Lewis. When he meets a social worker [Rachel Frawley] who treats PTSD and war-related “moral injury,” the character begins to question the purpose of this campaign of gruesome violence, and his whole quest for justice begins to unravel into chaos. We hope to finish photography in late spring, and have a cast-and-crew screening around the end of the year. Festival screenings should begin happening in Spring 2018, with a home video release in Fall 2018.

The Kickstarter campaign ends Saturday February 25, so it’s not too late to score a T-shirt or give us that welcome boost of confidence that comes with ANY donation to the cause! Check it out here!

All photos courtesy of Bret Wood and are used with permission.

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ATLFF Review: SIREN Gets Weird and Makes It Work

Posted on: Apr 15th, 2016 By:

SirenSIREN (2016); Dir. Gregg Bishop; Starring Hannah Fierman, Chase Williamson; Justin Welborn; IMDB link here.

By Andrew Kemp
Contributing Writer

I’ll admit that SIREN didn’t encourage my expectations. Screening at the end of a long week of films, SIREN felt like a pitch from a carnival barker: “Did you like V/H/S (2012), that found-footage horror anthology? No, not really? Well, what about “Amateur Night,” arguably its most popular segment? You know, the one where some bros pick up a strange young woman for hotel porn, but get a rampaging monster ripping through their innards instead? Yeah? All right, well SIREN takes that premise but expands the world. This thing’s got a menagerie of fantasy monsters, a supernatural brothel, a southern-fried monster wrangler, and a fresh batch of victims with a fresh batch of innards. Step right up!”

Taking the original’s simple karmic reversal set-up and turning it into a NIGHTBREED-esque freakshow does not feel like a great idea. “Amateur Night” director David Bruckner had been swapped out for Gregg Bishop from the weaker V/H/S VIRAL (2014), and seeing the logo of Chiller—the notoriously cheap horror network—had me sinking into my chair and settling in for a long night. But, little by little, SIREN won me over, and horror junkies who discover the film are going to find an unexpectedly inspired bit of monster mayhem.

V/H/S Amateur Night.

V/H/S Amateur Night.

The script swaps out the assholes from the original segment for a (slightly) more sympathetic bunch. Jonah (Chase Williamson) is about to get married, and his standard issue buddies—the Asshole Brother, the Saintly Best Friend, and the Funny Guy—drive him out into the swamps for a bachelor party because, of course, that’s where the wildest stuff happens. The gang gets conned into visiting a wild house run by Nyx (Justin Welborn), who tracks and traps critters from legend, including a lady that munches on memories and a naked nymph (Hannah Fierman, reprising her role from the original) he keeps locked up in the back. In “Amateur Night,” the nature of this particular creature was unclear, but in this film she’s officially a siren, complete with a singing voice that lures men to their deaths, and which drives Jonah to do something incredibly stupid (he even says out loud, “I’m about to do something incredibly stupid,” so we know). He releases her from her prison, and the carnage begins.

The rest of the plot revolves around the bachelor party attempting to escape from the beast while Nyx and his posse try to reclaim their “property”. It should be noted that Nyx is one flamboyant sunofagun. Welborn realizes what kind of movie he’s making, chewing enough scenery to fill all the spittoons in his character’s brothel. Somehow it works, especially paired with the nearly mute, doe-eyed performance of Fierman who vacillates between innocence and savagery and back again without warning, raging all over the screen like an unchecked id.

But what I found myself enjoying the most is Bishop’s eagerness to make SIREN more than a boilerplate midnight monster movie, looking for ways to elevate the action in clever ways. When the guys take shrooms, for example, his depiction of the trip they’re on is surprisingly realistic and gives the brothel the funky intro it deserves. A later action sequence benefits from focusing on Jonah—hiding and ears plugged to avoid hearing the creature’s song—so that we only see bodies flying around the edges of the screen, and we only hear the muffled thuds of gunshots and the murky pitch of screams.

SIREN isn’t a new classic, and in many ways it feels like a step backwards from the original short film, abandoning most of the elements that made “Amateur Night” work. But by sticking with Fierman and spinning a wacky backwoods mythology around her beastie, the film manages to stand on its own, and Bishop’s clever staging wrings a lot of extra mileage from what could have been boring, standard horror set pieces. In that respect, I guess the carnival barker got it right. SIREN is a freak show, but sometimes it’s a whole lot of fun to see weirdness for weirdness’s sake.

Andrew Kemp is a screenwriter and game designer who started talking about movies in 1984 and got stuck that way. He can be seen around town wherever there are movies, cheap beer and little else.

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ATLFF Q&A with GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY Director James Gunn and Actor Michael Rooker: “Atlanta has treated us really, really well!”

Posted on: Apr 12th, 2016 By:

atlffguardiansBy Andrew Kemp
Contributing Writer

James Gunn’s GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2 is now filming in Atlanta, and last week’s Atlanta Film Festival took advantage by booking a screening of the original GUARDIANS movie with a Q&A after with Gunn and actor Michael Rooker. If you heard about this event, it may have been in context of the grumpy final exchange between Gunn and a fan who asked Rooker if his GUARDIANS character, Yondu, was a just a copy of his racist redneck Merle from THE WALKING DEAD. But prior to that hiccup, the Q&A had been a lovefest between Gunn, Rooker and a roomful of appreciative fans. Here are some highlights from the rest of the session:

Gunn on taking the time to do the Q&A: “One of the reasons we wanted to come do this today is because, really, Atlanta has treated us really, really well so far. We have an amazing crew, many of whom are from Atlanta; the majority of them are from Atlanta. And it’s nice to be able to come and do something with you guys and give a little thanks for what you guys have given us. So we really just appreciate being here, and really the hospitality of the city in general. “

rocketOn GUARDIANS 2: “It’s been a lot of hard work, honestly. It’s a much bigger film. Also at the same time, a much more intimate film, more character-driven in certain ways, so it’s just a lot of work. And everybody has been on their game. The new cast members… Kurt Russell has been incredible. And Pom Klementieff… who plays a new Guardian has been just, she blows me away. She’s really been perfect.”

On directing actors: “It’s kind of like going through a dark cave and you’re looking for those moments of truth, which means that you’re kind of working together , you’re holding hands, you can’t always see exactly where you’re going, but you’re trying to find those true moments. So that often means that I’m having people do things again and again and again and again and again.”

On moving from indie films to blockbusters: “I don’t think I was ever scared of the scope. I feel like I’ve always wanted to do huge movies, so I think that I’ve always been working towards that. I’ve always been afraid of ‘are people going to like the movie,’ ‘is the movie going to make money?’ There are times on the first movie where I’d wake up at 3 a.m. and go ‘Oh no, am I making PLUTO NASH (2002)?’”

Rooker on people dressed up as GUARDIANS characters: “It’s better if they’re undressed.”

Gunn joking about Rooker: “We’ve done four movies, two webseries, two reality shows, a video game… it’s really my penance for my success. He is the cross I carry on my back. ‘OK, you can have all your dreams and your money and whatever, but you have to work with Michael Rooker.’”

Rooker on acting with pop songs: [After Gunn describes playing the pop songs on set as they’ll appear in the film] “It’s going, the music’s going. And then you hear ‘action.’ But by the time you hear ‘action,’ you’re already into the music. I’m telling you, it’s so hard to not bop along.”

Gunn on convincing the studio to hire Rooker: “There were a couple of people I had to fight for on the first movie. I had to fight for [Rooker] real hard and I had to fight for Dave Bautista. It was an uphill battle….Especially because you have these guys who are, like, 50ish year old guys, there’s a lot of them, a lot of really big actors around that age that would die to be in a Marvel project. So he’s not just auditioning against all of these other no name actors, they have to trust me to hire him over a bunch of A-list actors or guys who are just out of being A-list actors. So that’s what they had to put faith in.”

Guardians-of-the-GalaxyGunn on Rocket Raccoon: “Rocket is my inner child. The whole movie to me was based on Rocket. Marvel came to me with this movie, I thought ‘you guys are crazy,’ this sounds like an insane idea. I was driving home from the meeting and I’m like, ‘OK, let’s say there was really a talking raccoon. How would that exist? And it was really that scene is everything, GUARDIANS was built out of that, so I have a very strong emotional connection to Rocket…. Rocket is really a combination of a lot of people. I write the character. My brother Sean does all the acting on set. Bradley [Cooper] comes and does the voice. We have a whole team of animators who help with the acting there. So there’s a lot of control I have, a lot more attachment to Rocket and to Groot in that respect.”

On SUICIDE SQUAD (2016) and other movies emulating GUARDIANS’ humor: “If it’s sincere, I think that’s great. For me, honestly, the reason why GUARDIANS was successful, and I believe the reason a movie like DEADPOOL (2016) was successful is because we really are sincere about it. This is the real stuff. Everything in this movie is something I believe in. I believe in those characters. Some people think I’m crazy. Because I love that raccoon. I mean, as much as I would love my own child. Really, it’s a little bit insane. But I love those characters so much, and I love that story so much, and I love that I was a kid that was not a normal kid and felt very alone. And luckily I had some artists out there, who I could listen to their music or watch their films, whether it was David Cronenberg movies or Alice Cooper’s music, where I thought ‘goddamn I’m not the only weirdo in the world.’ And to be able to make a movie that speaks to those people, that speaks to people that feel like they’re alone or like they’re outcasts or that don’t have friends or have screwed-up families and need that connection with other living beings, that they can feel some small part of that through seeing GUARDIANS, that is why I make the movies. And that is the only reason I make them.”

Andrew Kemp is a screenwriter and game designer who started talking about movies in 1984 and got stuck that way. He can be seen around town wherever there are movies, cheap beer and little else.

Category: Features | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

ATLFF Review: SPEED SISTERS Wins by Racing Against Expectations

Posted on: Apr 12th, 2016 By:
Noor

Noor in SPEED SISTERS.

SPEED SISTERS (2015); DIR. Amber Fares; Documentary; Atlanta Film Festival; Website here.

By Andrew Kemp
Contributing Writer

SPEED SISTERS opens with a shot of a young Palestinian woman struggling with her car. Three men appear from nowhere to offer support, so she stays behind the wheel, grinning, as they push her where she needs to go. I read this scene as a mission statement. Amber Fares’s film is about the first all-female racing team in the Middle East, after all, and I live in a country with (incorrect) assumptions that women in that region rarely get behind the wheel. But if SPEED SISTERS is about gender equality—and in part, it is—the film gets there without preaching or proselytizing. These women can race, and so they get to race. Duh. The film is far more concerned with being kinetic, fast-paced and blisteringly entertaining, so if there are political points to be made, they’re going to have to learn to keep up.

Marah.

Marah.

Auto racing is a relatively new sport in Palestine, and thanks to the region’s network of checkpoints and crowded neighborhoods, there’s very little room to rally. Instead, races happen through tightly wound tracks, seemingly in borrowed parking lots. Cones mark the track, and racers drive their own modified cars—compact and nimble—through the twists and turns. The sport is dominated by the men who started it, but Maysoon, frustrated by traffic jams, founded the all-women’s team and acts as its captain. The team competes alongside the men and makes frequent media appearances to promote the sport. Most of the public reaction seems positive. Occasionally, an old-timer grumbles that the women don’t wear the hijab, or that racing isn’t a proper sport for a lady, but the girls laugh off these complaints. One younger man tells the camera that it took only a couple of races before the women had earned the men’s respect and acceptance. Racing is a community, it seems, and they’re all in this together.

Most of the personal conflict comes from within the team. Betty, a fashion-plate born into racing royalty, and the team’s public face, is a champion. Marah, young and hungry, fights to take Betty’s spot despite resistance, perceived or otherwise, from the organizers. Noor’s hot-headed nature triggers costly mistakes on the track. Mona is talented, but willing to toss racing away if her new husband asks her to. As the film follows the team from race-to-race, throughout Palestine and into Jordan and elsewhere, Fares does an expert job of keeping these storylines humming, shifting them between the foreground and the background with precision, punctuating the character drama with dashboard shots of the team whipping cars around obstacles, laughing with the freedom the track offers, enjoying the thrill of being behind the wheel. Their passion is for driving. It certainly can’t be the money; there doesn’t appear to be any.

Betty

Betty.

Above all, SPEED SISTERS is a blast. The races are thrilling, the characters are compelling, and the jokes are laugh out loud funny. But while the politics are backgrounded, they’re impossible to ignore. If the people the film presents to us are united, it’s because they see enemies all around them. Their country is claustrophobic. Marah sees racing as a means of announcing her freedom to Israel, who she sees as an occupying force in her homeland. Fares backs her by contrasting the energy of the races with the unimaginable slowness of everyday life in the region. Traffic jams. Inspections. Orwellian checkpoints. One racer waves to soldiers on patrol, and is shot by a tear gas canister for her presumption. For the women with more restrictive travel passes, the ocean is just a concept. “They took all our most beautiful places for themselves,” one woman says when she finally lays eyes on the sea.

Better, then, to make her own beauty out of asphalt and cones. Behind the wheel, squealing tires in hairpin turns, wind whipping their hair as they scream in excitement, the team takes back their agency. If they can only race fast enough, their problems get left in the dirt and the dust. The world belongs to them, and they keep it in a rearview mirror.

SPEED SISTERS is playing at festivals across the world. For more information, visit the official Website.

Andrew Kemp is a screenwriter and game designer who started talking about movies in 1984 and got stuck that way. He can be seen around town wherever there are movies, cheap beer and little else.

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ATLFF Review: Standing By: THE WITNESS Confronts the Controversial Circumstances of Kitty Genovese’s Murder

Posted on: Apr 7th, 2016 By:
KItty Genovese.

KItty Genovese.

THE WITNESS (2016); DIR. James D. Solomon; Documentary; Atlanta Film Festival; Website here. ATLRetro’s Festival Guide here.

By Andrew Kemp
Contributing Writer

If you saw a person in need of emergency help, what would you do? Most of us would probably say we’d call 911, but would we really? Those trained in first aid know that the best strategy in an emergency is not to scream for somebody to call for an ambulance, but to choose a specific person and tell them to make the call. Otherwise, maybe nobody calls at all.

You may or may not know the name Kitty Genovese, but you’re certainly familiar with the cultural impact caused by her 1964 death in New York City. Genovese, a 28-year-old bar manager, was murdered on the street, half a block from her home, randomly chosen by a man in the midst of a crime spree. Two weeks after her murder, the New York Times published an article detailing the unsettling circumstances of her death. It’s quite possible that Genovese’s life could have been saved, the story goes, if only the 38 witnesses who watched the attack had bothered to call the police. Although her screams ripped through the neighborhood, although she begged for aid, no help came because no help was called. The tragedy became an example of the ways that New York City—and perhaps even America itself—had lost touch with its values of community and compassion. How could Kitty Genovese bleed to death while her neighbors watched? How could so many witnesses produce no action? The case was a major impetus in the creation and marketing of 911 as a national emergency number, and became a centerpiece of a sociological theory of the “bystander effect,” in which the larger the group of people, the less likely any individual is to act in an emergency, due in part to the belief that surely somebody else will be the one.

The story is so well known, in fact, that one might be forgiven for wondering what, exactly, remains to be explored. THE WITNESS, a new documentary that screened Wednesday at the Atlanta Film Festival, spends its first section failing to make this case for itself. The film introduces Bill Genovese (younger brother to Kitty, and an executive producer on the film) who, after struggling with five decades of emotional trauma, finally decides to track down the 38 witnesses and ask them why they let his sister die. There’s a hint of redundancy around his quest. The news show 20/20 tried the same in the 1970s with poor results, and many of the witnesses, elderly even at the time, have long since passed. If this was all the film had up its sleeve, there would seem to be little reason for it to exist at all. But, as it turns out, THE WITNESS has many, many cards to play.

Bill Genovese

Bill Genovese in THE WITNESS. Used with permission.

Very soon after Bill Genovese begins his quixotic quest, inconsistencies appear. With the sight lines from the apartment building, it wouldn’t be possible for all 38 people to watch Kitty die. Some would have only heard her scream and seen nothing. Only five witnesses were called at trial, so who are the other 33? And what of the woman who raced to Kitty’s side and held her as she died? Why was she absent from the official news story? As the discrepancies pile up, Bill Genovese begins to question the canon, which is no small transition. Genovese, you see, enlisted in Vietnam in the years following his sister’s death, and suffered catastrophic injury, primarily because he refused to be like those people who ignored Kitty, the “silent witnesses” who let tragedy unfold without acting. Was it possible that his choice, and the trajectory of his life, had been based on a lie?

THE WITNESS is an engrossing exploration of the repercussions of trauma. Bill Genovese suffered not only the loss of his sister, but of his own future, and he’s not the only one. Through the careful reveal of information, the film probes how the official story shook the Genovese family, the supposed witnesses, and even the family the murderer, Winston Moseley (who coincidentally died this week in prison, putting the case back into the news), left behind on his way into prison. An astonishing meeting late in the film reveals the fear that the Moseleys have lived with for five decades and reminds us that murders often have more victims than we expect.

10294346_10153376281298424_3819900343571644880_nThe center of the film, however, remains Bill Genovese, who narrates and drives the action as he pieces together the truth, which is not so simple a thing as the ‘facts.’ He doesn’t only want to know what happened, but why, and even how. Confined to a wheelchair due to his war injuries, Genovese is a nonetheless imposing figure as he confronts reporters, lawyers, and even the aging witnesses in an attempt to set the record straight in his mind. (He has a journalist’s tenacity, often asking witnesses if they ever spoke to the police, and then regardless of their answer, revealing that he has their police statement right in front of him.) He is the witness of the film’s title, not present at the event itself, but willing to stand for his sister, to shine light on her vibrant and rich existence (and, in a particularly moving section of the film, her secrets) to reclaim her from the cold register of history and return her, in some way, to life.

If there is a complaint to be found, it’s in the final minutes, in which the filmmakers execute a macabre event that fails to do much more than provide a punchy ending for their film. But this is ultimately a minor complaint in what remains a compelling and complex exploration of the ramifications of “facts.” The Genovese family cannot bring Kitty back, but perhaps it is enough to remind the world that we are not so alone as we thought.

THE WITNESS opens in theaters in New York later this year before rolling out to additional cities. Further information can be found at http://www.thewitness-film.com/ and the filmmakers’ twitter account is @thewitnessfilm.

Andrew Kemp is a screenwriter and game designer who started talking about movies in 1984 and got stuck that way. He can be seen around town wherever there are movies, cheap beer and little else.

Category: Retro Review | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Seventies Slackers, Bikers & Psychedelic Japanese Animation: All That and Much More in Our Retro Guide to the 2016 Atlanta Film Festival

Posted on: Apr 2nd, 2016 By:

10294346_10153376281298424_3819900343571644880_nCinephiles rejoice! Now in its 40th year, the Atlanta Film Festival (ATLFF) is back in bloom from Friday April 1 through Sunday April 10. ATLFF has long been known for a huge line-up of more than 200 diverse and offbeat features, shorts and documentaries from local to international filmmakers, and this year has one of its most exciting line-ups to date with some gems to warm our Retro heart.

Because it can be challenging to wade through such a wide-ranging schedule, we’ve taken the time to sort out some productions that you, our Retro readers, might particularly find of interest including a number of cult and classic revival films screening for free. We’ll also be running social media coverage and reviews of some of our favorites, so be sure to check back. And because we can’t mention everything, be sure also to check out the full festival schedule because there are lots more great films you won’t want to miss.

All screenings below are at the festival HQ at the Plaza Theatre, unless otherwise indicated. 

dazed-and-confused-movie-poster-1993-1010327275 Friday April 1

Opening night brings a red carpet of stars at the Atlanta premiere of THE FUNDAMENTALS OF CARING directed by Rob Burnett and starring Paul Rudd, but we know our readers will be more ready to get back to the 70s with a rare chance to see Richard Linklater‘s hilarious comedy DAZED AND CONFUSED (1993) at 9:30 p.m., followed by Lips Down on Dixie as they present their extremely popular midnight performance of THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW (1975). Although a Plaza staple for years, the show gets even better when seen with a festival crowd of fervent movie fanatics.

DudeDesigns_FCB_WEBSaturday April 2

Things get badass crazy with the world premiere of FRANKENSTEIN CREATED BIKERS (2016) at 9:30 p.m., which kicks off the MORPHINE DREAMS horror/weird series. The homegrown 1970s-style neo-exploitation feature promises to be even more over-the-top than its precursor DEAR GOD! NO! (2011) (Read our Retro Review here).  Just about everyone involved with this feature is a dear friend to ATLRetro and lots of the cast and crew will be there, including star Lawrence R. Harvey (HUMAN CENTIPEDE 2 & 3), so we wouldn’t miss it even if we might have to cover our eyes once or twice. Read our Kool Kat of the Week interview with Director James Bickert for a pretaste of the ultraviolent insanity (WARNING: not for everyone!). Just $10 but buy in advance as we betcha it’ll sell out. Facebook event page here.

Gwilliam_Poster_11x17_v03Also on Saturday: Get your bizarro horror fix started early at Noon with THE WOOL shorts segment which includes the award-winning GWILLIAM by Kool Kat Brian Lonano and more of what the ATLFF describes as “other-worldly fibers.” 1979 (do we detect a theme here?) is the setting for GOOD OL’ BOY (12:30 p.m.), about the challenges of assimilating into a new culture for a 10-year-old boy who moves with his Indian family to an American small town and has a crush on the girl-next-door. everybody-wants-some-posterThen EVERYBODY WANTS SOME! (2016), Richard Linklater’s new “spiritual sequel” to DAZED AND CONFUSED set in the world of 1980s college life, screens at 7 p.m. Actors Ryan Guzman, Tyler Hoechlin and Blake Jenner are scheduled to attend. Also at 7 p.m. and free with RSVP at the Hill Auditorium at The HighRUBY IN PARADISE (1993), Ashley Judd‘s film debut as a Florida girl struggling to escape her working class life and achieve her dreams during Pensacola spring break, gets a rare return to the big screen as part of a retrospective of director Victor Nunez‘s career. A PECULIAR NOISE (2015) at 7:30 p.m. (7 Stages), is a sentimental documentary of the DIY underground music scene in the college town that spawned such alt-favorites as The B-52s, R.E.M. and Pylon. Director Jorge Torres-Torres is scheduled to attend.

CcufcVTW8AER7JQSunday April 3

Festivities kick off at noon with a 25th anniversary screening of Southern foodie comedy classic FRIED GREEN TOMATOES (1991) (free with RSVP). If you’re hungry afterwards, for just $20, there’s a Food on Film after-party at the Callanwolde Fine Arts Center from 2-4:30 p.m. CONCERTO, at 5:15 pm (7 Stages), is a documentary about brothers Christopher Rex (Principal Cellist of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra since 1979) and Charles Rex (a first violinist with the New York Philharmonic since 1981) who struggle to overcome a childhood at the hands of a disturbed but brilliant composer father. At 6 p.m., head to the Rialto Center for the Arts to revisit the explosive 1991 Clarence Thomas Supreme Court nomination hearings where Anita Hill accused him of sexual harassment in HBO Films’ docu-drama CONFIRMATION, filmed in Atlanta.

2012110720180322562_artikelThe second installment of the MORPHINE DREAMS series at 7:15 pm at 7 Stages, THE FORBIDDEN WORLD (2015), directed by Guy Maddin and Evan Johnson, is seriously crazed with a side of William Hope Hodgson : “A never-before-seen woodsman mysteriously appears aboard a submarine that’s been trapped deep under water for months with an unstable cargo. As the terrified crew make their way through the corridors of the doomed vessel, they find themselves on a voyage into the origins of their darkest fears.” Then rush back to the Plaza if you like crazy Japanese trippy Weird animated horror for MD#3, Eiichi Yamamoto‘s legendary BELLADONNA OF SADNESS (1973), a real event being that it was previous unreleased in the USA. Based on SATANISM AND WITCHCRAFT by Jules Michelet, young and innocent Jeanne is ravaged by the local lord and makes a pact with the Devil. According to the description: “The Devil appears in phallic forms and, through Jeanne, incites the village into a sexual frenzy. In a new restoration using the original camera negatives, this erotic and psychedelic trip of a film springs to life.”

CHEERLEADER

CHEERLEADER

Monday April 4

Get your dose of bubblegum, side ponytails, ’80s music and revenge in the 7 p.m. world premiere of CHEERLEADER, a witty satire of an all-American pastime.  Director Irving Franco and Producer Nathan Marcus are scheduled to attend. Then at 9:15 p.m., THE FOUNDERS goes back to the 1950s and the 13 women who fought male chauvinism to found the Ladies Pro Golf Association (LPGA). Co-Directors Charlene Fisk and Carrie Schrader, Producer Phoebe Brown and Actor Caleb Messer are scheduled to attend.

HandmadeVol6final_medTuesday April 5

At 7 p.m., the COTTON documentary shorts series at 7 Stages includes HOTEL CLERMONT, about residents of the notorious seedy and recently closed Atlanta landmark (yes, we said landmark), and THE NEW ORLEANS SAZERAC, about the quintessential Big Easy cocktail. Released first in 2005, HANDMADE PUPPET DREAMS (also 7 Stages, 9:15 p.m.) doesn’t date back to the 20th century in itself, but puppetry is a Retro art, right? This handpicked selection of puppet film shorts has received tons of international acclaim and just looks friggin’ cool, plus it’s introduced by Jim Henson‘s daughter Heather Henson. Read our Kool Kat of the Week interview with her here.

Bill Genovese in WITNESS.

Bill Genovese in WITNESS.

Wednesday April 6

At 7 p.m., THE WITNESS reopens the famous Kitty Genovese murder, which 38 witnesses watched from nearby apartments and did nothing. Forty years later, her brother Bill Genovese, who was 16 at the time of his sister’s death, digs into the case and “uncovers a lie that transformed his life, condemned a city, and defined an era.” Bill Genovese, Director James D. Solomon and Producer Melissa Jacobson are scheduled to attend.

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MANOMAN, directed by Simon Cartwright, UK

Thursday April 7

Head to the Center for Puppetry Arts at 7 p.m. for WOOD, a screening of international puppetry shorts, followed by a reception in the Atrium and free entry into the new Worlds of Puppetry Museum featuring the Jim Henson and Global Collections, which includes rare artifacts from Henson-related films such as THE DARK CRYSTAL (1982) and LABYRINTH (1986) and a selfie opportunity with Muppets Kermit and Miss Piggy.

LOA

LOA

Friday April 8

During COPPER, a special presentation by the always intriguing Contraband Cinema at 7 Stages at 7 p.m., see contemporary and classic avant garde and experimental shorts with some of the filmmakers in attendance. At 9:15 p.m. also at 7 Stages, director George Koszulinski and other members of his creative team will be on hand for a screening of the “mystical, experimental” Haitian documentary LOA about the life of the Extanta Aoleé, a local houngan or ‘Vodou man.” And ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW screens again at midnight with Lips Down on Dixie audience participation floor show (see Fri. April 1).

MV5BOTA3Mjg2NDQ3NF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMjExNTU3NzE@._V1_UY1200_CR73,0,630,1200_AL_Saturday April 9

In HUNKY DORY, at 12:30 p.m., “Sidney—an artist of many things but an extraordinaire of nothing at all—struggles to live up to the expectations of his glam rock dream.” Director Michael Curtis Johnson, Producers Tomas Pais and Jacqueline Johnson and Actor Chad Hartigan (who also directed “closing night feature” MORRIS FROM AMERICA which screens Sat. at 7:30 p.m.) are scheduled to attendAt 2:30, the GOLD documentary shorts series includes SAULTOPAL, in which Atlanta-based artist Susan Cofer invites Georgia-born filmmaker John Henry Summerour (SAHKANAGA) to spend a year documenting Saultopal, an 1100-acre farm in northwest Georgia populated by Longhorn cattle, gigantic rock sculptures and Carl, her husband in his 80th year, and TOURIST about a Vietnam vet revisiting the nation where he once fought.

41cIba3SqsL._SY355_Sunday April 10

The last day of the ATLFF is pretty Retro-kickass, we have to admit. See David Bowie live again on the big screen as the iconic Goblin King in a 30th anniversary screening of LABYRINTH (1986). Then in the much-anticipated MILES AHEAD at 2:45 p.m., Don Cheadle directs and stars as legendary jazz man Miles Davis. Not a full biopic, it centers on the period of five years in the late 1970s when Davis was holed up in his home with chronic hip pain and a fictional encounter with a music reporter which leads to a quest for a stolen tape of his most recent compositions. There’ll also be some Encore screenings yet to be announced, so keep checking the schedule if you miss a screening and/or it sells out.

Of course, these films represent just a tiny portion of the events, shorts, seminars, screenings and receptions/parties taking place. For a complete list, again you need to check out the official Atlanta Film Festival Schedule. And keep an eye on ATLRetro throughout the fest for coverage on all the fun and films. Enjoy this year’s ATLFF, movie lovers!

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Kool Kat of the Week: Brian Lonano Explores the Ins and Outs of Goblin Lovin’ With His Latest Short Film GWILLIAM!

Posted on: Jun 16th, 2015 By:

by Aleck BennettGwilliam_Poster_11x17_v03
Contributing Writer

Atlanta filmmaker Brian Lonano has been garnering raves on the festival circuit for humorous horror short CROW HAND!!!, which makes all of us at ATLRetro laugh like crazed lunatics every time we see it. Now he  is on the cusp of bringing us another heaping helping of the hilariously bizarre with GWILLIAM, a tender tale about the love between a man (William Tokarsky of TOO MANY COOKS and YOUR PRETTY FACE IS GOING TO HELL) and a goblin (an animatronic puppet). But he needs your help! That’s why he’s running an IndieGoGo crowdfunding campaign, promising an insanely inventive and perfectly perverse variety of rewards for donors.

The short film has long been the weird nephew in the motion picture family. Since theatrical exhibitions largely abandoned the “selected short subjects” of days gone by (aside from, say, Pixar’s commitment to the form) in favor of more movie trailers and before-the-show advertisements, it’s been a constant struggle to get short films in front of large audiences. Sure, film festivals routinely devote chunks of programming to shorts, but the audience is always limited to the people in attendance. In recent years, however, that has changed. Say what you will about the Internet’s impact on the film industry, one thing is indisputable: it’s provided makers of short films with a platform that allows more people to see their work. That, in turn, has had an impact on television programming. Animated TV series have used the “two cartoons in one half-hour” format for a long while now, but some networks—most notably Cartoon Network and its [adult swim] programming block—have embraced the 11-minute episode as a standalone entity. And [adult swim] has taken that short film format into live action, with series like Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim’s multiple offerings (such as TIM AND ERIC AWESOME SHOW, GREAT JOB! and CHECK IT OUT! WITH DR. STEVE BRULE), YOUR PRETTY FACE IS GOING TO HELL and that twilight zone of weirdness at 4:00 a.m. where things like TOO MANY COOKS show up.

Brian Lonano - SXSW

Brian Lonano – SXSW

That’s where we cross paths with Kool Kat of the Week Brian Lonano. Lonano has been making short films for a decade now. His nine shorts have screened at festivals from SXSW to Fantasia International Film Festival, from Canada to Cambodia. And here in Atlanta, he’s been shown at the Atlanta Film Festival and the Buried Alive Film Fest. (He’s done promotional bumper shorts for many festivals around the world as well.) His shorts are typically a deft mix of wacky comedy, horror or sci-fi tropes and inventive practical effects.- a combo no better seen than in last year’s CROW HAND!!! His 10th film, GWILLIAM, is currently in preproduction, and to raise the funds for this endeavor (because while the Internet is a convenient platform, it’s really hard to monetize it), Lonano has turned to the new audience that the Internet has provided for assistance via this IndieGoGo campaign.

ATLRetro caught up with Brian Lonano to ask him about the campaign, his history in short films, what GWILLIAM is all about and what’s on the horizon.

ATLRetro: You’ve got nine short films under your belt in the past decade, including the inspired THE TRANSMISSION and the utterly berserk CROW HAND!!! What first drove you to dive into filmmaking?

I grew up watching films that featured a lot of special effects and puppets. I am a big fan of Jim Henson, Tim Burton, Spielberg and classic STAR WARS. JURASSIC PARK came out when I was 10 and I wanted to make movies ever since. I became obsessed with seeing any and every movie that Industrial Light & Magic did the special effects for. I didn’t have a camera for a long time so I drew comics and made puppets. As I get older I seek out more bizarre film oddities like HAUSU, THE VISITOR and A FIELD IN ENGLAND. Those kinds of films coupled with what I grew up worshiping keep me inspired to make movies.

You’re not only known for your short films, which have screened all over the world, but you’ve also been recognized by the industry for your usecommissioned work for festivals and television, something our readers might not immediately know about. What does Brian Lonano do when he’s not dreaming up weird short films?

My full time job is working at a post-production facility that processes dailies for TV shows and movies that shoot in town. The commissioned work I make is mostly for film festivals. I would direct a short film called a bumper that advertises the film festival and I would more or less have creative control which is great. I’m very grateful to film festivals that show my work so when I’m asked to make a bumper for one, I put a lot of effort in making a kick ass bumper to show how bad ass the festival is.

It’s a tale as old as time: a man and a goblin in love. What attracted you to this story, and just how disgustingly screwed up can we expect the end result to be?

GWILLIAM came about from a drawing my brother did back in 2011. He was drawing a picture of this weird little man—it just looked completely wrong in the best way possible. We laughed about the picture and decided we had to name the weird man. So we asked ourselves, what’s a gross name that would fit this monstrosity? And we decided on Gwilliam. After that we came up with a strange story where a different man was prowling at night and has an encounter with Gwilliam…I’ll leave the rest to your imagination. I’m excited about how gross this movie is going to be because it’s not gore centric like my previous film CROW HAND!!!. It’s a whole new kind of disgusting.

The preliminary sculpt you’ve shown on the website is impressive even in this early stage. Who’s behind the design of the Gwilliam puppet?

IMG_0150The sculpt of Gwilliam is actually created by Splatter Cinema super team Blake Myers, Luke Godfrey and Nick Morgan. They will be responsible for making the creature puppet for the film.

I see designer Rachel De Urioste mentioned in the IndieGoGo campaign. What she’s bringing to the table? Rachel De Urioste is a local artist, fabricator and designer and she’s designing the GWILLIAM perks for IndieGoGo. She designed the crow totem that was featured in CROW HAND!!!. When we were on the festival circuit with CROW HAND!!! I asked Rachel to make some plastic versions of the Crowtem so I could plant them in theaters and see if anyone would pick them up. I loved the idea of something tangible to take away from the movie. CROW HAND!!! is so short that I wanted to make a big impact with the promotion of it. So with GWILLIAM I wanted to make a new prize to give out to potential donors. If I was giving to a campaign, I would want something cool like a toy. I think people gravitate towards tchotchkes like that.

The variety of rewards you’re offering investors range from the innocuous (digital downloads, credit listing) to the utterly depraved (a Gwilliam sex doll???). How did you come up with these ideas?

I brainstormed ideas for prizes with Rachel and my wife/co-producer Victoria Cook. We all agreed the totems from CROW HAND!!! were a great idea and we wanted to take it a step further. Rachel had never dabbled in designing toys and I am a big fan of Archie McPhee‘s novelty finger puppets so I thought a Gwilliam finger puppet would be a great prize to give out. As I said earlier, if I was donating to something, I would want to get a cool toy. Rachel is making full painted Gwilliam finger puppets but she is also making rainbow editions of the Crowtem and Finger Puppet as well as solid color Gwilliams (we’re calling it the ROY G BIV collection) and even glow in the dark finger puppets! The blow up is another prize we allROYGBIV Gwilliams came up with. The doll would be life size (meaning Goblin size) and the goal is make it a functioning doll. We wanted our campaign to stand out and I figured weird finger puppets and blow up dolls would do the trick!

You’ve lucked up in nabbing William Tokarsky fresh off the TOO MANY COOKS brouhaha, but he’s also popped up in projects ranging from THE HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE to YOUR PRETTY FACE IS GOING TO HELL. How did your paths cross, and how did you know he was the right man to romance a goblin puppet?

William was very easy to get in touch with. I sent him a message on Facebook asking if he would be interested in working together on a project. We agreed to meet in person and I gave him the script to read. I didn’t say much about it until he read it. Thankfully, he was laughing at the script and said he would absolutely be a part of it. So far working with William has been terrific. He’s easy going, very funny and a great team player. I look forward to shooting so I can direct him.

On the local front, you’ve worked with the Buried Alive Film Festival as a judge, you’ve shot a great bumper for them, and you’ve had your shorts exhibited there as well. Any hope you’ll be bringing GWILLIAM to BAFF screens in the future?

If the film is completed in time I would absolutely love to screen it at BAFF this year. But because I am friends with Blake and the whole team (and they are also working on the film), it would be an out of competition entry. I love screening my work here because the audience gets what I am trying to do and they all seem to really enjoy it!

CROW HAND!!! from !ROBOT HAND! on Vimeo.

All photos courtesy of Brian Lonano and used with permission.  Aleck Bennett is a writer, blogger, pug warden, pop culture enthusiast, raconteur and bon vivant from the greater Atlanta area. Visit his blog at doctorsardonicus.wordpress.com.

Category: Kool Kat of the Week | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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