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American Women's Club of Hamburg

Sundance 2013

A Powder Keg of Talent
by Karen Pecota
"I want to get this thing started because I feel like am sitting on a powder keg of talent that needs to explode." ~ John Cooper, Sundance Film Festival Director
The 2013 Sundance Film Festival opens with the annual press conference with Sundance Institute founder and president, Robert Redford. His two top comrades Keri Putnam, Executive director of the Sundance Institute and John Cooper, Director of the Sundance Film Festival join him in the official celebration ceremony to open the festival. Every year there is a surprise element to the annual meeting and this year is no different.
This year the surprise element comes in the form of a person. The state is set for the opening gig and one sees four empty brown leather chairs on the platform. Stacks of the festival catalogs sit on the floor and the pretty green Brita (a festival sponsor) water bottles rest on the end tables. Expected are the three festival gurus but who will be joining them? Who would be sitting in the fourth chair?
The press trickle into the theater at least two hours before the official start time so chit-chat and speculation of the person to sit in the fourth chair is a given. I was happy to reconnect with two colleagues I met from the year previous in attendance. We sat together and got caught-up on the happenings of our last year.
The press conference begins. The presence of festival's famed three amigos (Redford, Putnam, Copper) appear on stage. Always an exciting moment. While the photographers click away the fourth man introduces himself as the one who will moderate the discussion--Sean P. Means, movie critic with The Salt Lake Tribune. The surprise element is announced. A great idea to have a moderator. This helps to guide the discussion and keep the time focused.
"It's the first day of festival and it feels like we are taxying out of the gate onto the runway," Sean says and directs his first question to all three of the festival gurus. "What are you most excited about, at this moment, leading up the screenings of the festival?"
Robert Redford begins and shares that for him it comes down to a simple word called change. He says, "Since change is inevitable, I see it develop in three ways. Some people fight it or are afraid of it, so they resist change; some people accept it and roll along with it; and then there are others who see change in a positive way and embrace it."
Redford continues, "These people not only go with it but take advantage of it and use it. I suspect that is where I am, as is Sundance. When you think about art, in this case film, it is an agent for change."
Redford is clear to point out that the festival is diverse. It presents a wide range of content and gives the audience a choice. A rarity in the mainstream market place for film. He feels that as change comes they (the Institute and festival) have chosen to flow with change, accommodated change, and use it. His example is the installations for The New Frontier. He notes, "When high technology began to play a bigger role in film, we created a venue where high technology and artists came together share their work in the installations. We started promoting the online, shorts, documentaries (which are a big deal for me) before they hit the level they are right now." He continues his train of thought, "We've watched as things happen in the universe around us. We adapt with the content we provide. The choice is always the audiences. As long as we go forward and adapt to change, we keep in touch with our original purpose--to support and develop new voices to be seen and heard. And, do whatever we can to promote them. This makes me very proud."
Keri Putnam voices her anticipation for the festival, "It's exciting for me to see everybody arrive and the production of the event really work." She continues, "The movies are the most exciting and seeing the artists in attendance. It is a truly a festival of discovery as the Institute has always been." On a broader level, Putnam points out a few stats that support her enthusiasm.  "I want to point out how diverse the slate is for film and content. We have films from 32 different countries. Out of 113 films we have 51 first time filmmakers. The opportunity to introduce these artists is thrilling. And, to note that 22 of the films at the festival have come through our labs or granting programs at Sundance Institute." The Institute supports 400 artists with critical creative support and awards $2 million annually allowing a vibrant film community to flourish from proper training.
John Cooper is privy to what the audiences will see. In anticipation he feels that what is exciting is the quality of work the festival will showcase. He says, "It is top notch." Cooper likes the idea that the established filmmakers at Sundance will mix with the first-time filmmakers. He notes, "There is a magic in that connection." Mostly because there is an opportunity to become a group force and over time a powerful voice can emerge.
Cooper adds, "I'm really excited about the music in the festival. The music in the films is a direct tie-in to independent filmmaking." The festival incorporates the making of music from the original artist. Cooper explains that sharing the experience with the festival partners KCRW, ASCP and BMI as well as with the attendees to have live music on the mountain is a stellar experience. He shares with anticipation, "I want this thing (the festival) to get started because I feel like am sitting on a powder keg of talent that needs to explode."
Mr. Means, the moderator, did his job--to keep the dialogue moving naturally so there was never a dull moment. The surprise element to have a moderator was a great idea. The Sundance Institute and Film Festival gatekeepers of great ideas found a way to share their thoughts at the first presentation on the festival’s opening day.
The Sundance Film Festival story told by Redford himself is weaved into dialogue with the press. A story I never tire of his sharing. The opportunity Redford, Putnam and Cooper have to address current cultural conflicts arise from the festival buzz words: change, diversity, commercialism and the ever grown technology. Their perspective about how film influences and connects is insightful as they respond to comments such as these: The moving picture is a showcase for a changing society of social mores, i.e., early 60s sex was related to romance and today sex comes in all different packages. And answer questions similar to this: Set on location in the conservative state of Utah what affect does thematic diversity have in film? How does this work? Or, Commercialism, how does it hurt or further independent projects? Or, In relationship to so much gun violence in the U.S., do guns sell film tickets?
"Every great film starts with an idea, and it is a testament to artists that they continually find new ideas, new stories and points of view and new ways of sharing them, year after year. We look forward to hearing from these artists not just through their words and images on-screen but also through the dialogue they create with audiences at our Festival and beyond." ~ Robert Redford, Founder & President of the Sundance Institute.
A Sundance film that is really funny! Austenland is a film for the girls. A breath of fresh air from the typical heavy thematic genre associated with the Independent film scene. Delightfully comedic! Hilariously daring!
Based on the novel by Shannon Hale (who also co-wrote the script), the film was written and directed by Jerusha Hess (writer, Napoleon Dynamite) and produced by Stephenie Meyer’s Fickle Fish Films.
Bonnets off to the filmmakers for going after this story from Hale. Their "girlishly" film celebrates fun with literature when the imagination is put to the test. What more could an all-star cast want or need to add to their filmography recognition? The film features actors Keri Russell, Bret McKenzie, Georgia King, Jane Seymour, JJ Field and Jennifer Coolidge.
The adorably sweet, thirty-something, young professional Jane Hayes (Keri Russell) consumes her extra-curricular activities with an obsession of all things Jane Austen. Her life-size poster of Mr. Darcy greets her each day in her apartment that she has decorated in the era only the characters in Jane Austen's novels would have lived. Mr. Darcy's silent  presence is her hope that even in the modern world she will find the man of her dreams who  also holds to everything good about the English and their old world customs--especially the romantics of true love.
Hayes decides to take a trip to England for the vacation of her dreams. Hayes' friends work hard to keep her in a reality-check but this time they are worried. To pacify their concerns of her eccentricity, Hayes convinces them that a trip to the English countryside will cure her obsession. Her friends are thrilled until they find out she is spending her life savings on the trip to this English country-side resort that caters to women who fantasize about being one of Jane Austen's female heroines.
Warned that her idea is a disaster waiting to happen is unheeded by Hayes in her naivety. Off she goes to be immersed into a life of old world charm for a solid week that includes appropriate costuming and accommodations.
Hayes is picked up at the train station in full turn-of-the century fashion---a horse drawn carriage. Her first stop is to meet with the proprietor of the British Estate, Mrs. Wattlesbrook (Jane Seymour) before Hayes' extended stay begins with Mr. Henry Nobley (JJ Feild), Miss Elizabeth Charming (Jennifer Coolidge), Martin (Bret McKenzie), Lady Amelia Heartwright (Georgia King), and Colonel Andrews (James Callis).
Saddened by the news that her life savings does not buy her status of what she had dreamed in the world of Jane Austen, Hayes relinquishes her dreams and expectations to take her place among a more lowly social standing. But, not without a fight and Hayes' Austenland comes alive! Let the comedy of errors begin!
Words from the director Jersuha Hess, "Austenland was as girlishly indulgent to make as I hope it is for you to watch. Enjoy." A September 2013 release date is schedule in the theaters across the country. Plan for a girls-night-out! You will not be disappointed. (Karen Pecota)
Ain't Them Bodies Saints
The second feature from writer-director David Lowery Ain't Them Bodies Saints is a product developed at the Sundance Institute's Writing and Producing Labs. Lowery is not afraid of learning and being mentored. He is an alumni of the Berlinale Talent Campus and the Sundance Screenwriting Labs. Variety magazine named him as one of the top ten directors to watch for 2013.
IFC films, a leading U.S. distributor for quality talent-driven independent films based in New York, has acquired the U.S rights to the film. They are happy to partner with what they see as a fresh new voice in the film industry.
Deep in the heart of Texas in the small town of Meridian lived two outlaws. The two were husband and wife--Bob Muldoon (Casey Affleck) and wife, Ruth Guthrie (Rooney Mara). Besides their wild and crazy schemes to run from the law and the love of that life, they were crazy about each other. The two had a run-in with the local authorities that put them both in jail. The local sheriff, Patrick Wheeler (Ben Foster) was wounded during the shoot-out. He's not sure who lamed him but blames Bob. Ruth is released earlier than Bob and gives birth to a little girl that becomes the center of her universe. With Bob still locked up, Patrick takes a fancy to Ruth and wants to provide for her and the child.
Running from the law seems to be less important to Ruth now that she has a child to care for, and Bob is not around. She loves who she is with Bob but realizes that her calling to be a mother to a little girl who needs her every day is her most important responsibility. Hiding her secrets wanes less attractive and more burdensome. She is tired. In conflict with the fact she did not choose to leave her old life behind but it was chosen for her, she misses Bob. Bob gets out of jail and is still looking for the pot at the end of the rainbow.
Lowery says of his modern western, "I want the audience to feel like they've just heard an old folk song after viewing Ain't Them Bodies Saints." He adds, "The whole movie is meant to feel like a song. An old American ballad. Timeless. Classic. Relevant." (Karen Pecota)
Silent and golden are the words that come to mind regarding a student project from the Netherlands that landed a spot in the Sundance 2013 short film selection. Directed by filmmaker Sam de Jong and screenwriter Shady El-Hamus Magnesium is a portrayal about life choices. Decisions made that are life altering and bare consequences.
Jong and El-Hamus tell a gripping short story about an Olympian gymnast hopeful, Isabel (Denise Tan), who is told by a doctor she must endure a cooling off period of five days before a decided abortion. This is a State law bearing reflection on the implications from such a decision. Isabel confronts her demons for the duration of the narrative.
With very little dialogue the filmmakers allow the audience to follow Isabel during the five days after the news of her pregnancy. The positive result comes at the least opportune time for her career. Isabel's body is already beginning to adjust to the life inside of her causing the team trainers to notice something is different. Isabel needs to be in top form for the upcoming qualifying meet and struggles to endure the hardcore training on her body.
We (the audience) see Isabel doing life as usual--keeping up with her strained daily routine as a gymnast-in-training. We feel the intensity and weight put on Isabel's shoulders forced to contemplate her decision. The drama of Isabel's' heart-wrenching dilemma is creatively executed with the films' deliberate pace and stunning close-up visuals.
Magnificent raw story telling via the moving picture is Magnesium. The filmmakers Sam de Jong and Shady El-Hamus will be names to keep on your radar for future film projects; as will cinematographer, Paul Ozgur, musician Alekes Vuskovic and film producers Marloes de Rijke, Beau van Assew and Alexander van Damme. For your viewing pleasure the film can be viewed on VIMEO. (Karen Pecota)
Narco Cultura
Veteran war photographer and filmmaker Shaul Schwarz gives an up-close and personal reportage of an ever growing subculture of the Americas in Narco Cultura.
The films’ title refers to the culture created from a world of drug traffickers--narco-culture or narcocultura. This world battles over territory, narcoscapes, also known as drug war zones. A variety of drug cartels and the state on both sides of the border fight against one another for control over these territories. Lucrative passage ways for drug products to reach the United States (the largest buyer) is only one of its battlegrounds. Control and power is the name of the game. If you can 'show the money' it is impressive to a country that is poverty stricken and war torn. Intervention is needed to stop or even slow down the war on drugs across the Mexican-American borders. Schwarz gives his audience a picture into a conflict on the rise.
Schwarz, a renowned photojournalist, uses the eye of the camera as his tool to tell a story that can no longer be ignored. Nor will the issue the story tells be going away any time soon. Schwarz's film is as educational as it is a call to action. The answer to the call to rally remains to be seen.
In 2008, Schwarz started his portfolio of still photography of the never-ending violence in Juarez, Mexico--an area known for brutality, kidnapping and extreme corruption. Two years of intense documentation was enough. Schwarz said, "I was overwhelmed." He adds, "At that point, I knew that simply continuing to show pictures of death, violence and crime scenes would not tell the full story." It was time he put his photography into a moving picture and put a face on the lives of those struggling to survive each and every day. He continues, "It is not a faraway issue that only happens across the border. It is our issue and we are all a part of the narrative and its outcome."
The film is shot from a single photographer’s perspective, capturing the emotion of human conflict with clarity and precision. His art of filmmaking provides an image (both literal and figurative) for the realities and the pain experienced within the confines of the drug war zones. Schwarz follows two fascinating people entangled in the drug war: a Los Angeles narcocorrido (folk songs) singer dreaming of stardom and a Juarez, Mexico crime scene investigator fighting every day against Mexico's Drug War.
The folk singer uses his music to support the narcocultura as a way out of the ghetto and into the American dream by way of addiction to money, drugs, and violence. The lyrics to the songs pump-up the idea that violence from the narco-traffickers should be praised and uplifted as their post-modern role model for success. The Narco Club scene in the United States is gaining popularity and a growing concern even for Mexico's law enforcement.
The infiltration of the narcocultura into the United States is not a surprise but the popularity of violence it represents is alarming according to Schwarz's research. He feels that without a doubt, the generations to come will be socially impacted by this conflict. He ponders, "Do we want a generation that believes organized crime is the only way?" (Karen Pecota)
SALMA - Documentary
"Salma defied her village to become the most famous female poet in Southern India."
Internationally acclaimed documentary filmmaker Kim Longinotto (Rough Aunties) and screenwriter/film editor Ollie Huddleston use this tagline to begin to tell the story of SALMA--a legendary Muslim Tamil activist, poet, author and politician.
Salma's journey to her current notoriety has come with a horrific price. Longinotto allows Salma to share her story. The audience is taken back in time through her opening a very personal memory scrapbook. Salma is the storyteller. The film crew figuratively collect the snap shots and turns them into a remarkable moving picture, purposefully slow in its delivery. Time is needed to unravel the electrifying narrative of Salma's multi-layered Indian cultural of contradictions. Salma is hidden twice from the outside world: first by her family and then again by her husband. Yes, she was physically locked away by both parties.
The documentary reveals unexpected imagery from the highest of expertise with clear esthetically beautiful cinematography; heart wrenching interviews from family and friends; connecting sights and sounds of Salma's Tamil culture.
As a young girl, Salma was a lover of education. She longed to study at the University. Village mores in southern India had other plans for girls like herself. Girls were allowed to go to school until they reached the age of puberty. At the age of 12 or 13 it was time for the girls to end their education and enter into an arranged marriage set up by the family. Salma's schooling was coming to an end. To marry would be the death of her so she begged her family to send her away so that she could  continue her studies. Money and a place for her to stay would be difficult for the family to provide. She rebelled against a marriage. Her actions did not sit well with the family nor the village leaders. Salma's parents were forced to extreme actions to keep her in line.
Oddly, a socially embarrassing episode occurs two months prior to Salma ending her schooling as the real cause for strong parental punishment. Salma shares that, "One night, she and three other girls her age snuck out of the house to go see a movie. If asked for permission, it would not have been granted. Unbeknown to them the film was a soft porn-flick. The four were the only women in the cinema of a packed house of men. The girls were so embarrassed that they had their heads buried in their laps the whole show." The news spread of the rebellious girls. Salma says, "My parents were liberal intellectuals. They understood the complexities of identity that I might face.Struggling with their own identities, they felt compelled to encourage some form of conservatism within me."
Salma was locked up in a very small room that had a tiny open window partially barred by iron rods. It was later to be calculated that she would live in confinement from her formative teenage years to those of young adulthood. The resources Salma drew from to remain mentally alert was the love she had for the books she read. Recollecting stories of people and various subjects kept her mind active. She devoured and imagined words. It was out of her trained love for words that she began to formulate poetry. She had no means to write her poetry down so for awhile it was in her head. Salma's sister was her inspiration. She risked the freedom of her own life in order to give Salma what she needed most: paper and pencil. Salma's sister smuggled paper and writing tools that were far more precious than gold or silver for the budding poet. It is on these coveted papers that Salma's youthful years of questions, discovery, and emotional ups and downs are words of liberation and transformation for women all around the world.
The tiny quarter was her residence for nine long years until she finally agreed to an arranged marriage. It was arranged that she to be married to a village leader. A probable future of freedom. Salma's frustrating fate doesn't end with marriage. Her husband will lock her up too. Another form of confinement was not going to alter Salma's will to be free.
The undying love of Salma's mother who was once her jailer now longed to save her daughter from a culture that entrapped Salma's talent. Her mother and sister work in secret to smuggle the poetry out of the village and into the hands of publishers. A dangerous journey. A complicated escapade.
While Longinotto was able to capture Salma's story, the fact is that there are millions of women all over the world who share Salma's experience only they never escape to tell their tale. (Karen Pecota) 
Hats Off to the Sundance Volunteers
by Karen Pecota
A word of praise please for the Sundance Film Festival Volunteers. It's true! They run the show! And, everyone involved with the festival is proud of this fact. If it were not for the 1,500 or more volunteers who service the film festival attendees year after year; the festival organizers could not accommodate the crowds that flock to the most renowned independent film festival in the nation.
The festival is greatly appreciative of the many wonderful sponsors (a volunteer in their own way) such as Kenneth Cole who delight in giving volunteers special items in honor of their hard work. Cole provides the perfect outerwear necessary for the jobs to be done while in the cold winter weather.
Mid-festival there is even a day designated to honor the volunteers. Before each film screening there is an announcement about the volunteer day, a special trailer is screened and the festival attendees are encouraged to thank the volunteers for their investment of time and energy.
The caliber of people who become a Sundance Film Festival volunteer is impressive. I have met several over the years. They come from all walks of life and all ages. They come from all around the world. Groups of friends meet up and work the festival year after year as long as they are able. In the past, I have written up a few stories of how people became a volunteer. They all have a fun story to tell.
I have cause to be especially thankful for those who worked inside the Holiday Village Theaters. They are organized and know how to guide the festival attendees in and out of the showings easily and explain the procedures. They politely ask us time and time again to take out our trash and all our belongings when we leave the theater after each film showing. I am mindful of their heed and try to I carry out their wishes.
As working press it's hard to keep track of all my stuff--iPhone, ipad, notebook, schedules, food, drinks, pens, camera, purchases, books, make-up, sunglasses, reading glasses. Not to mention all my winter outerwear taken on and off at each showing. Therefore, I have a great light weight backpack that holds a place for all my daily needs. When we do need to leave the film early for some reason, I admit it takes time to get it all together. And, in the dark it is often a comedy of errors.
One of my longest film days, I entered one film late but the movie had not begun. Once seated I took off all of my outerwear and laid each item in a pile on my lap. I opened my stuffed backpack to grab my lunch to eat while viewing the film. During the credit roll, I quickly gathered my things to beat the rush-after-the-film and headed to my next destination: an appointment for coffee. I reached into my back pack to get my special zipper pouch to pay for my coffee and snack. I carry a lightweight black zipper pouch for my cash, credit cards and photo ID. The pouch wasn't in its proper safe place in my pack. No worries, I had some cash in my pants pockets. I assumed the best--the pouch just relocated in my pack when I hurriedly left the theater.
After my appointment I found a place to unpack my belongings. No black zipper pouch was found. I panicked! My mind raced as I tried to recall where it could have fallen out of my pack. I had to get to a public screening twenty walking minutes away to attend  the film with a friend.
After the film, I re-traced my steps on my walking route. Several hours had passed. Nothing had appeared on my route. Not surprised! The thought of loosing all my money, credit cards and drivers’ license made me ill. Discouraged, I ended my journey back to the press theaters and explained to a festival volunteer my situation. I asked if I could look through the lost & found box for my black zipper pouch. The volunteers were very protective of the lost & found area and while standing next to me they allowed me to look for my belonging. I gasped at the sight of my black pouch. I gleefully exclaimed, "Yes! This is it!" They asked me what items would be inside. The volunteer opened the little bag. Saw my contents. Looked at me and smiled. She handed me my black zipper sack. I thanked her profusely. As I sat waiting for my next film, I nervously opened the pouch and found nothing missing. Oh! Wow! I was so grateful.
Thank you to the volunteers who keep the press theaters clean. Not only from the trash but the extra duty to keep track of attendee’s lost prized possessions. My hat goes off to the volunteers who pride themselves at being honest. I am forever grateful for their integrity.
The Crash Reel
"Don't forget your helmet!" is an infamous shout-out from mothers of bikers (cycle and motor), skateboarders and snowboarders. Fortunately, today many sports where there is potential for head injuries a helmet for protection is part of the attire. Thankfully extreme sports require the special head gear.
I'm a wife and mother of snowboarders. For years it wasn't cool to wear a helmet and my words of shout-out fell on deaf ears. If we had a chat with Snowboarder Champion Kevin Pearce and his family about how to love your brain by wearing a helmet; their words would be cause for deep soul searching regarding the quality of life.
The latest documentary from twice Oscar-nominated filmmaker Lucy Walker The Crash Reel is all about the reel of film that forever changed the career path of Snowboarding Champion, Kevin Pearce.
Twenty years as a sport fanatic and master of the slick board made to glide across any snow covered base, Kevin Pearce was unstoppable. Five years earlier, at the age of eighteen, Kevin achieved professional snowboarding status. In the years to follow, Kevin Pearce became a household name within the snowboarding world. Kevin would be known for his brave and courageous skill to take the art of sport tricks and the complicated techniques to a whole new level. He was in the thick of a rapidly evolving sport and raising the bar to where few feared to tread--except multi-award winning contender Shawn White.
In 2007 and 2008, Kevin experienced some of the highest victories the sport had to offer from competitions such as: The Oakley Artic and The Air & Style Challenges. In 2009, Kevin brought home the Silver Medal for Superpipe at the Winter X Games. White brought home the Gold. Both would be strong contenders for the Gold Medal in the 2010 Vancover Winter Olympics.
New Year's Eve, December 31, 2009, while training in Park City, Utah, Kevin practices a one-of-a kind trick on the half-pipe. If successfully executed this would guarantee him an Olympic Medal. Kevin takes a horrific fall. While Kevin was wearing a helmet his fall coming out of the maneuver left him in a serious state. Suffering from a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) Kevin was in a coma.
Walker's storytelling with film par excellence is revealed in The Crash Reel. Her use of archival film footage of Kevin's early days of snowboarding (just-for-fun), his competitions (good & not-so-good), and personal home-movies collaborates with special film footage at the onset coming out of the coma to his journey toward recovery. Walker's narrative never forgets to celebrate Kevin’s passion for the extreme sport of snowboarding, one determined to overcome the tragedy, and his desire to share his journey with others. The most celebrated fact was that he never could have come through the accident without the love and support of his family and friendship circle. Kevin celebrates their love and his thankfulness in Walker's feature documentary--especially to Kevin's brother David. David, born with Down syndrome has been an important influence in his life and career.
"Don't leave home without it!" is simply not only a tagline for an insurance company but also for those who love their brain and will wear a helmet for head protection when sporting. Though a helmet may not be the only thing that could save a life from TBI it just might be the attire to assist accident victims to live a productive altered lifestyle. The Crash Reel's story of inspiration with electrifying visuals of snowboarding performance is an impressionable narrative. Every viewer will have a take-away (something to be learned) from its message.
The Crash Reel aires in the USA on July 15th at 9:00 pm ET. The documentary will be released in theaters in December 2013 with DVDs and On-Demand to follow in 2014.  It will also be released internationally--go to the regional schedule on the The Crash Reel website for details.
Kevin and the Pearce family invites the public to join #LoveYourBrain (#LYB) Campaign. It is an outreach born from Kevin's story told in the film The Crash Reel from director Lucy Walker. You can Facebook The Crash Reel for the latest updates. (Karen Pecota) 
One finds independent filmmaking at its best in THE EAST directed by Zal Batmanglij. THE EAST is an espionage thriller that takes a cause for justice seriously. It's also a love story with grit. The screenplay is brilliantly written by the director himself and writer-actress Brit Marling.
Batmanglij met filmmaker Mike Cahill (Another World) in a philosophy class while studying at Georgetown University. The two collaborated on a student produced short film. When Brit Marling saw their film she asked if she could work with them. Educated and professional, the three have been working together as independent filmmakers since their university-days. They have been on a journey of a lifetime each contributing their talents to the good of the whole--similar to a theme of THE EAST.
Marling has been writing, directing, producing and acting since 2004. Cahill and Batmanglij started some years earlier, concentrating on directing and screenwriting for film and television. Cahill had an amazing year in 2011 with his feature film Another World--Marling was his main actress. The year 2011 proved to be a resounding experience for the Marling and Batmanglij duo with a Sundance Film Festival hit SOUND OF MY VOICE. The two co-wrote the screenplay; Marling played the main actress and Batmanglij the film’s director. The success of their projects brought all three to Los Angeles to take up residency and enjoy some time off to simply live life.
Not aspiring to make another film so soon but the brains of the creative somehow never seem to rest; now, do they? After their cross country move, Marling and Batmanglij began to talk about themes for scripts relating to alternative lifestyles. Marling said that she had read about the 'Buy Nothing Day' and tried it. She adds, "There was something liberating about purposefully not buying something for one whole day." The idea was discussed if one could buy nothing for a whole summer. Batmanglij and Marling decided to take up the challenge. They grabbed their backpacks and bedrolls to hit the road on foot for an adventure of a lifetime--buying nothing for a summer.
"We weren't thinking at the time that a movie would come out of our experience." Marling says, "We were just living our lives and the story gradually began to take shape." Their journey forced them to abandon a conventional lifestyle. You could have seen them hopping trains, living in tent cities or empty buildings and following after the freegan movements code (dumpster diving for food). Hanging out with nomadic folk was their pleasure. Batmanglij says, "We spent several months living and traveling with strangers who shared a similar disaffection with contemporary consumer culture." He comments, "The people we met were really awesome, warm and welcoming, but tough." Excited about his experience, Batmnaglij adds, "Going weeks without spending a dollar is an amazing feeling. Everyone should try it."
Sarah Moss (Brit Marling), a former FBI agent starts a new career at Hiller Brood, an elite private investigative firm. The firm's reputation in known to take care of their own without scruples. Unbeknown to Sarah the firm goes to great lengths to protect their high profile corporate clientele. Sarah's first assignment is to go undercover and infiltrate a collective organization called The East, a group of rebels that use drastic means of revenge for criminal acts made on innocent people by money-hungry-corporations. The people who run the corporations are their targets. They seek to destroy these people. They seek justice.
Sarah's boss, Sharon (Patricia Clarkson) has hand-picked the natural beauty with a skill set proving her to be an outstanding spy agent. She is physically able to take care of herself. She's experienced. She's tough. But, to endure the psycho-drama the rebels represent could break her cover if she is emotionally drawn into their web. Sarah has a soft side to her alter-ego that will no doubt be challenged.
The East is a highly successful operation. The members are few but skilled, intelligent and organized. Their fear tactics are impressionable. As pure as their motives appear to work for the good of the whole, they are protective of who enters into their lair. Sarah slowly wins the trust of most members. The hardest acceptance comes from the youngest member of the collective, Izzy (Ellen Page). She's the most protective for reasons that take on more of a personal vendetta--her father and his corporation being one of the rebel’s targets. Sarah's initiation into the group takes her on their next "jam"--a devious act of violence. Sarah is secretly repulsed from her first excursion. As time goes on, she comes to understand the heart of the matter The East rally. Her sincere affection for each member of the group strengthens--especially with the group’s leader, Benji (Alexander Skarsgard). Sarah is increasing torn between her two diverse worlds of moral conviction. The East collective has caught Sarah in their web of anarchy. The cat and mouse games begin. (Karen Pecota)
THE EAST is a Scott Free Production
Produced by Ridley Scott, Michael Costigan, Jocelyn Hayes-Simpson, Brit Marling. Executive producer by Tony Scott
The New Frontier Installations 2013
by Karen Pecota
It's hands on! It's innovative! These words describe the ever present New Frontier Installations exhibition during the Sundance Film Festival. The specialized exhibits are open to the public the entire duration of The Sundance Film Festival housed in Park City, Utah, held in the dead of winter. Without a doubt, the New Frontier Installations are a highlight event for festival attendees. Oh! Did I mention that it is free?
The development of this venue has been a work in progress since its conception in 2006. The installations bring together the moving picture and artwork from some of the most talented and innovative artists in the world. Every year the artists chosen try to achieve in their projects a unique creative bent to where film and artwork happily collide to tell a story. The venue is called the New Frontier because it is a showcase for innovative storytelling projects that were first ideas and then experiments by artists who dare to take the moving narrative to the next level and go to where "no man has gone before."
The New Frontier, directed by its curator, Sheri Frilot (also a Sundance Film Festival senior programmer), is under the institutional umbrella of the Sundance Institute. Their focus is to pave a way for storytelling using different types of art form because they believe it the wave of the future. Frilot and her team showcased another year of impressive pure class acts of art in motion for storytelling--seven exhibits total.
Here is the list of exhibitors and their installation:
Coral: Rekindling Venus
Australian artist Lynette Wallworth is intrigued with the latest technologies. Her installations reflect beauty, revelation and wonder with a primary goal to connect people and the natural world. She uses photography, film and interactive technologies. Her touch-based interfaces will allow the viewer to engage in her films for an intuitive experience. Lynette likes to work with one theme at a time and then builds a series of installations featuring the theme. Coral: Rekindling Venus uses the coral reef as the subject and presents a purposefully measured pace for patient observation. Lynette explains, “It’s an extraordinary journey into a mysterious realm of fluorescent coral reefs, bioluminescent sea creatures and rare marine life, revealing a complex community living in the oceans most threatened by climate change.”
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North of South, West of East
Artist and filmmaker Meredith Danluck uses four screens to shape a square format wrapping around a room. Each screen showcases a narrative short film. To view this installation one must sit in the middle of the room in a chair with wheels. Only twenty chairs are allowed at one time during the showing.
Cityscape 2095
AntiVJ (Yannick Jacquet, Mandril, Thomas Vaquie) artists blend music, sound design, painting with light projection to transform a city and its relationship to architecture.
Joanie Lemercier, an AntiVJ artist experimenting with three-dimensional optical illusion visuals: a mapping order that uses painting, audiovisuals and light projection to show what might have happened during the 2010 Icelandic volcanic eruption in Europe.
E.M.-bed.de/d, Augmented Real
A Cal Arts graduate, Yung Jake, releases his first rap video, "Max Moyer" on YouTube. His creativity is geared to the internet. Screened from a laptop on to a large screen.
What's He Building There?
Klip Collective designed a 3-D projection-mapped parable, inspired by the Tom Waits song. This installation is to be viewed on the outdoor walls of the New Frontier Venue sipping a hot drink in the outdoor lounge. The walls will transform a story about a man on a mission inside a building. Yes! It's art colliding with movement Pur.
Pulse Index from creative artist, Rafael Lozano-Hemmer is the installation I choose to feature for this article but all of the seven installations present an equally powerful exhibit of storytelling.
My thumbprint on display! A crazy thought, right? Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, earned a B.Sc. degree in Physical chemistry and is classified as an Electronic artist whose soul interest it to create a variety of platforms for public participation. His work can been seen in at least seven countries since 2010.
The project called "Pulse Index" is a biometric installation that records participants' fingerprints at the same time as their heart rates. The display is capable of holding data from the last 10,952 participants.
Here is how it works: the most recent image is as tall as the room while the older ones gradually decrease in size until they are life-sized. This creates a Fibonacci spiral of skin (see images). The tools used are projectors, computers, digital microscope, industrial camera, metal enclosure, custom software. To participate, one must put their finger into a custom-made sensor equipped with a 220x digital microscope and a pulsimeter; the fingerprint appears on the largest cell of the display, pulsating to their heart beat. The more people try the piece one's own recording travels sideways and is reduced in size until it disappears altogether. The whole display is projected on three walls of the same room.
Wow! My thumbprint as a display of art. Pretty cool!
This is Martin Bonner
Written and directed by filmmaker Chad Hartigan This is Martin Bonner delights the 2013 Sundance Film Festival audiences with full-house screenings and interactive Q & A (question and answer) sessions following the screenings. It is no wonder Hartigan's film wins the 2013 Sundance Film Festival Best of Next Audience Award. When asked, "Have you seen anything good yet?" The answer to nine out of ten people mentioned the film This is Martin Bonner without hesitation. This festival street buzz is exactly the kind of talk an Independent filmmaker hopes to hear.
Hartigan taps into the essence of Independent filmmaking and genuinely shares a narrative of something abstract to define character. Hartigan's individual style takes an interesting and believable approach to relationship building and self-discovery.  Hartigan's slow moving cinematography plays a smart role in the gentleness of discovering the person of Martin Bonner (Paul Eenhoorn).
The middle-aged Martin Bonner is in need of a new lease on life after declaring bankruptcy. An East Coast resident for several decades, Martin leaves his old life behind and moves to Reno, Nevada for a volunteer job helping released prisoners transition to a life outside the penitentiary. His adult children are deeply concerned for his well-being and commit to regular phone calls while Martin transitions to a new existance. To combat the natural loneliness living in a foreign place, Martin takes up a couple regular activities on the weekends: speed dating and working as a soccer referee.
Martin's first attempt to assist a released prisoner is cause for concern but Martin holds his own. His next client Travis Holloway (Richard Arquette), released after serving 12 years in prison finds it hard to adjust to his new life. Martin goes the extra mile to befriend Travis in his time of need Martin's help is taken advantage of. Reality bites and each man is at a crossroad to determine the importance friendship will play in their new lives. (Karen Pecota)
Twenty Feet from Stardom
"Millions know their voices, but no one knows their names," is the tagline from the latest documentary film directed by Grammy nominee and filmmaker, Morgan Neville.
Produced by legendary recording executive Gil Friesen and Caitrin Rogers, Twenty Feet from Stardom is Friesen's swansong before leaving this earth on December 13, 2012, from complications with Leukemia. Though not a musician himself, Friesen's illuminating career in the music industry stemmed from his influence helping to build the iconic A & M productions owned by Herb Alpert and Jerry Moss. Some note that it was one of the "most influential and successful" independent record labels in the country for at least three decades. The company began in 1962. In 1964, Friesen was A & M productions second employee.
Friesen mentored several musicians who became stellar performers and hundreds more that became backup singers. Their style and sound made each star performer unique, but it was in Friesen’s heart to honor the backup talent and show it through music history. After dialoguing about it with Neville he realized his dream in Twenty Feet From Stardom. The film shows how each singer has a story to tell of how their vocals dictated a unique performance style.
Warren Zanes, consulting producer on the project says, "Twenty Feet From Stardom was a way Friesen could tip his hat to some of the talent that had so enlivened his long career in the music business." A New York Times obituary read, "Friesen was someone who worked just beyond the footlights, just like the singers featured in the film." Zanes continues, "Aware that the film would premiere on opening night at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival, Friesen felt pure satisfaction." The Sundance upcoming debut of Twenty Feet From Stardom convinced Friesen that his unsung performers would not be forgotten once their story appeared on film and showcased in a venue that valued artists. He could not have asked for a better way to say good-bye to his fellow business associates.
"Backup singers pretty much all started in church choirs," says filmmaker Morgan Neville. The undeniable influences of faith, church and gospel music have given backup singers talent and grit to survive a tough music   industry. Morgan's latest feature documentary Twenty Feet From Stardom is the heartfelt story and tribute to the talented singers who perform in the shadows of the superstar.
The historical account begins with famed African-American Darlene Love from the 1950s and continues to the most recent young acclaimed backup singer today, Judith Hill. She is the youngest featured in the film. Hill, a contestant on this year's (2013) hit TV singing competition The Voice. She is on track to become a solo artist. Hill says that one fact everyone in her profession must face is that when you are a backup singer, "There is a springboard at the beginning, but it can easily become quicksand if that's not what you want to do." Along with artists such as Elton John and Stevie Wonder, Hill worked with Michael Jackson on the project "This Is It" prior to his sudden death.
Several famous musicians share insights and the impact backup singers have made in the history of music, as well as, what the talent has unmistakably done for their careers. Cameos from artists such as Sting, Bette Middler, Bruce Springsteen, Stevie Wonder, Mick Jagger take to the camera but the real spotlight in Twenty Feet From Stardom are the voices and stories from these artists who have made musical history: Darlene Love, Mary Clayton, Judith Hill, Lisa Fisher, Tata Vega, the Waters Family, Claudia Lennear, Gloria Jones, Dr. Mable John, Lynn Maybry, Cindy Mizelle, Susaye Greene, Jo Lawry, Rose Stone and Janice Pendarvis.
Darlene Love, a member of the vocal trio the Blossoms made it big singing behind Sam Cooke, Dionne Warwick and Frank Sinatra when she was a young woman. Although fully capable of becoming a solo artist her producer held her back because he needed her voice as a backup singer. Her story isn't a pretty one but today, in her 70s she is reunited with her Blossoms band mates having the time of their lives.
Merry Clayton, a preacher's daughter began her career singing gospel music in church. Her voice gels with the likes of Carole King's on the album Tapestry, or, Mick Jagger's "Gimmer Shelter", or Lynyrd Skynyrd's, "Sweet Home Alabama" or Joe Crocker's Feelin' Alright.
Lisa Fisher offers special insights into the ego required of backup singers as opposed to the solo artist--a Grammy-winning solo artist herself. She notes, "Some people will do anything to be famous; other people just want to sing."
Tata Vega, signed to Motown in the 70s as a solo artist. She made several albums but was dropped making her future fully uncertain. Her path was formed by connections in the business that continually moved her forward to a better position. While working with Gospel singer and songwriter, Andre Crouch, he introduced her to Quincy Jones. He introduced her to Steven Spielberg that landed her a vocal job on the film The Color Purple. She currently tours with Elton John.
Mable John, came from a church singing background and signed with Motown under Berry Gordy as a solo artist but spent many years as a "Raelette" singing backup for Ray Charles. Today she is Dr. Mable John and the pastor of Joy in Jesus Ministries in Los Angeles. Her experience has taught her the need to be spiritually grounded whether you long for stardom or never reach it.
Thankfully the Weinstein Company acquired all North American rights and will launch the film in 2013. Elle Driver with Wild Bunch acquires worldwide rights--pleasing to Neville. No doubt that Gil Friesen would have been pleased. The distribution rights mean that the film will be in theaters. Twenty Feet From Stardom is a must see documentary and not only for music lovers. (Karen Pecota)
HBO Documentary Films
"Slated to cover the civil war in Libya with my good friend and journalist  colleague, Tim Hetherington, I had to pull out at the last minute." recalls New York-based writer and journalist Sebastian Junger. He adds, "On April 20, 2011, I got a phone call telling me that Tim may have been wounded in the combat’s crossfire in the city of Misrata, Libya." Worried, Junger desperately searches the Internet for any news of Hetherington. A twitter message confirmed Hetherington had been killed in a mortar attack less than an hour earlier.
The shock at the sudden death of Tim Hetherington and Getty photographer, Chris Hondros quickly spread throughout the community of journalists and media teams around the world.
Junger, found it hard to believe that his famed friend was taken from this earthly life. So quickly! So Young! The reality was shear agony. He needed to understand the tragic death in order to properly mourn and process the implication of Hetherington's absence.
The memorial service gave Junger the perfect opportunity to unravel the pieces of the tragedy. A number of journalists who had been present at the mortar attack in Misrata attended the memorial service in New York. Junger interviewed each of them and the outcome is the reason for the film about Tim's life directed by Junger himself in WHICH WAY IS THE FRONT LINE FROM HERE? THE LIFE AND TIME OF TIM HETHERINGTON. Simply reading this title, one can imagine hearing the voice with the question that would constantly flow out of the mouth of a war photo journalist looking for the front line action as did Hetherington and Hondros.
Hetherington liked to describe his war photography and front line combat filmmaking as "image-making". The complexity of his visual artistic style of media presentation will be studied in depth by future journalists. His short ten-year career is iconic. Hetherington will be remembered as one of the most important journalists of his generation. Hetherington said once, "I become deeply embedded emotionally in all the work I do." His photographs and films allowed his audience to see and think about human suffering. His specialty was to document the experience of war from the perspective of the individual defining his compassion and humanitarianism. His work is gripping, mostly documenting in areas of West Africa and the Middle East. His work received many awards for portraying amazing variety from a child soldier on the front lines to sleeping American servicemen in a combat post.
The latter being material for the making of the documentary RESTREPO directed by Hetherington and Junger. RESTREPO chronicles one year at an American combat outpost in the deadliest valley in Afghanistan known as the Korengal Valley. Their film wins the 2010 Sundance Film Festival's Grand Jury Prize for best documentary. Their story received a nomination for an Academy Award in 2011 for best documentary.
I recall listening to Hetherington and Junger talk about the dangers of their journalist job while working on RESTREPO. Watching their film, you see it and you believe it. The tragedy of war they witnessed and documented is the reason this story is so important to tell. War doesn't produce a win-win senerio. Innocent lives are lost and casualties' are too many. When RESTREPO debuted Hetherington and Junger made several radio interviews. I listened to one of their interviews while Hetherington simply could not contain himself emotionally upon remembering the horrific losses of those he knew (and those not) while working on the project. I was moved! He had become one of the platoon members. The only difference was that he held a camera instead of a gun.
The HBO Documentary film directed by Sebastian Junger in honor of his dear friend and colleague Tim Hetherington Which Way is the Front Line from Here? The Life and Time of Tim Hetherington will air April 2013. A film to be sure to keep on your radar. (Karen Pecota)
Right on the shirttails of his two critically successful films: Shotgun Stories (2007) and Cannes Grand Prize award winning film Take Shelter (2011); Jeff Nichols has produced MUD. It is a story he wanted to tell for over a decade. Though it is not a traditional love story, it is a narrative that messages a surprise discovery about love, loyalty and commitment.
"It's about love", says screenwriter and filmmaker, Jeff Nichols, describing his latest feature film MUD.  Nichols, a lover of Mark Twain and his literary accomplishments, uses themes in his third feature film similar to those in Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn: sacrifice, forgiveness, and love. Nichols' main teenage character, Ellis (Tye Sheridan) shares with Twains' Huckleberry Finn’s, life lessons learned while experiencing innocent boyhood adventures. Escapades that turn a boy into a man. The names alone of Nichols’ characters in MUD conjure up visuals of simple but intelligent southern folk who have a past and a story to tell.
The storyline of MUD began to spin in his head years ago while doing research in an Arkansas Public Library. He happened upon a picture of a river diver in bizarre diving gear. The outfit appeared too imaginative to be real. Nichols was intrigued. He wondered what kind of a man would use the strange equipment and for what purpose while in a river. Nichols incorporated his fantasy about the river diver in MUD. He magically brings to life a sweet, slow pace world safely hidden along the ebb and flow of the Mississippi river. Folk minding their own business until Mud (Matthew McConaughey) appears. He’s a man who has never grown up nor been able to live a practical life, a dreamer and a poet, he could easily have run with Peter Pan and his Lost Boys--characters created by Scottish novelist and playwright, J.M. Barrie.
Nichols version of a timeless boyhood adventure captures the essence of curious boys exploring unknown territory. Doing what southern country boys do. Renowned actor, writer and Academy Award winner Sam Shepard who plays 'Tom Blankenship,' a reclusive older man living in a houseboat opposite the river from Ellis gives Kudos to his young co-stars. "They are thank God, untrained!" He added, "You can't manufacture these kinds of kids in Hollywood. They are true, southern, rural boys that hunt and fish and drive boars and do all the stuff that is written in the character."
Ellis and his best friend, Neckbone (Jacob Lofland) sneak off one early summer morning to go to their favorite hide-away, an island on the Mississippi River. They can only get there by boat from their small town that is set on the banks of a river in Arkansas. Neckbone takes his uncle Galen's (Michael Shannon) boat for the boys’ excursion. If Uncle Galen gets wind of the escapade without his knowledge, Neckbone is in serious trouble. Uncle Galen uses the little skiff for his scrabbling occupation diving for oysters. The skiff is a work tool. It is needed upon demand. The second reason for an uncle-nephew interrogation is that strange things do happen to on the island. Uncle Galen concerns himself with his nephew’s boyhood ventures. Neckbone is required to check-in with his surrogate parent when unsupervised. Ellis, likewise, needs approval from his parents to venture to the island but he didn't care this particular morning. He needed to escape. The pain of the marriage dissolving between Ellis's parents--Mary Lee (Sarah Paulson) and Senior (Ray McKinnon)--is a heartbreak he cannot deal with nor can he understand.
Neckbone discovered a strange sight on the island some days earlier and needed Ellis to see his finding. Ellis was shocked to see a motor boat balancing on tree branches high above the ground. The boys climbed up the tree to check it out. Neckbone deemed it his castle in the sky. Ellis noticed fresh food spread around as well as big foot prints. The sight gave the boys an eerie feeling. They scramble down the tree and run back to the island shore hoping to find their skiff still anchored. Ahh! A sigh of relief! The skiff is in clear view. Nearing the skiff they notice imprinted on the sandy shore the same footprints seen earlier. They begin to pull up anchor and a man appears out of nowhere wanting to converse with the boys. Startled and frightened the boys remained calm. They want to leave the island alive. The man introduces himself as Mud (Mathew McConaughey) and twisted their ears with lots of questions. Mud needs help. He needs to know if he can trust the boys to help him. Mud tells a wild and crazy story of how he is on the run from the law; therefore, hiding out on the island until it is safe to reunite with his one true love, Juniper (Reese Witherspoon). The boys are skeptical but curious.
Ellis has a soft spot in his heart for Mud. He wants to see Mud fulfill his dreams. The lack of love between Ellis’ parents is a visual of destruction that crushes his heartfelt belief that true love wins. In Ellis's innocence he longs to see a love that can live forever. Ellis talks Neckbone into joining him to help Mud. Against his better judgment, Neckbone joins Ellis's plight only to discover that Mud is more than a shady character. (Karen Pecota)

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