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Art House Convergence 2020: Transparency and Crisis

małni – towards the ocean, towards the shore (courtesy of Sundance Institute)

Despite looming industry crises such as the DOJ moving to end the Paramount consent decrees, years of slumping box office sales and the ongoing proliferation of streaming giants offering consumers content in their own homes, arthouse cinemas and independent festivals appeared to be thriving—if one looked only at the surface of Art House Convergence. Now in its 15th year, the annual AHC convenes representatives from art house cinemas, film festivals, service providers and independent distributors for three and a half days in Midway, UT, right before Sundance. Most of the attendees are representatives from US-based organizations. Though they comprised a wide range from single-screen “jewel boxes” to screening series to venerable NYC institutions, AHC itself was visibly going through a…  Read more

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Sundance 2020 Dispatch 1: Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets; Epicentro; Olla

Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets (courtesy of Sundance Institute)

There will be time and occasion, I'm sure, during this year's Sundance Film Festival to go big picture: to attempt to take the temperature of independent film in 2020, once again fuss over what that designation could possibly mean at this point and so on. But let's skip that for now: for this year's first dispatch, I have the rare of pleasure of leading with enthusiasm, and I'd like to lean into that. Barflies mistranslate William Blake's exhortation to see the world in a grain of sand as "study the human condition through endless hours sitting at the bar"—if in vino veritas, then more wine must equal more truth, right? Bill and Turner Ross's Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets is a day-night-day portrait…  Read more

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14 Films Not to Miss at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival

Time directed by Ursula Garrett Bradley

Always a bellweather for the health — artistic as well as business — of the American independent film scene, the Sundance Film Festival began yesterday in Park City, Utah, preceded by more than the usual amount of pre-fest news and drama. On the positive front, Sundance 2020 is something of a launch party for a new documentary financing and production company, Concordia, formed by filmmaker Davis Guggenheim and former Participant Media production president Jonathan King, in partnership with Laurene Powell Jobs's Emerson Collective. One quarter of the Documentary Competition slate boasts the Concordia logo. And then distressingly there’s Oprah Winfrey’s withdrawal as a producer from Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering's documentary on On the Record, about sexual abuse allegations against hip hop…  Read more

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The Sundance Question: What Prop or Piece of Set Decoration is Particularly Integral to Your Film?

Photo: Kelsey Doyle

Each year Filmmaker asks all the incoming feature directors at Sundance one question. (To see past years’ questions and responses, click here.) This year’s question: Whether capturing or creating a world, the objects onscreen tell as much of a story as the people within it. Whether sourced or accidental, insert shot or background detail, what prop or piece of set decoration do you find particularly integral to your film? What story does it tell? (Check back daily during the festival — new answers are uploaded each day throughout the festival.) "The Mystic, Magical Vibes of His Home": Cristina Costantini and Kareem Tabsch | Mucho Mucho Amor "Not your regular scented candles": Natalie Erika James | Relic "It Serves as a Physical Manifestation of Climate Change and…  Read more

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“Since My Background was from Journalism I Had to Learn Film Language, and Relearn What I Thought About Storytelling”: Benjamin Ree on His Sundance Doc The Painter and the Thief

The Painter and the Thief

Spectacularly cinematic and employing a risk-taking structure that keeps the viewer as off-balance as the film’s emotionally fragile protagonists, The Painter and the Thief is the second feature-length doc from Norwegian director Benjamin Ree. (Ree’s prior film Magnus, a coming-of-age tale about the chess prodigy Magnus Carlsen, premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2016.) The film follows the stranger-tha- fiction story of Barbora Kysilkova and Karl-Bertil Nordland, the former a Czech naturalist painter living in Oslo, the latter a Norwegian ex-con struggling with drug addiction. Their worlds collide when Nordland and an accomplice steal two of Kysilkova’s artworks from a local gallery, resulting in the men's fast apprehension but not the recovery of the paintings. Instead of leaving things to the authorities, however, the…  Read more

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Black and Blue: The 35mm Colors of Uncut Gems and Star Wars

Kevin Garnett in Uncut Gems

Fall 2019 provided us with a massively budgeted 35mm feature in the form of J.J. Abrams’s The Rise of Skywalker (shot by Dan Mindel and colored by Stefan Sonnenfeld at finishing house Company 3) and a surprisingly visible A24 mid-budget art film in the Safdie brothers’s Uncut Gems (shot by Darius Khondji and colored by Damien van der Cruyssen at The Mill). In each case, the choice to shoot on celluloid was rooted in what could be termed (charitably) as a nod to film history or (uncharitably) a nostalgic gesture. I make no claims as to which it is, nor would I say the ways in which their use of film is similar beyond a deliberate referencing of past icons.…  Read more

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All We Have Is Now: Borscht 0 (2019)

My First Film

"Essentially, cinema is dead, and this fellowship is bringing it back to life," went part of the on-stage intro for the showcase screening at this year's Borscht. "The people that most of you know are old, and we're young, and I think we're more exciting." At the screenings I attended, Borscht co-founders Lucas Leyva and Jillian Meyer repeatedly, shamefacedly noted that they'd started the festival (and attendant collective of the same name, the screening of whose work is the fest's top priority) with the intent of never showing the films of anyone over 30—only to, alas, themselves cross that decade line. (Beats the inevitable, as they say.) Implicit in the festival/organization's work is a thesis that it's important to engage…  Read more

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“Our Society is Riddled with Contradiction and False Talk”: Hal Hartley on His Career

The Unbelievable Truth (courtesy of Possible Films)

There’s something perverse to the notion that Hal Hartley’s three decades of writing and filmmaking amount to a “career,” as Metrograph would have it in the catalogue copy for its ten-day retrospective of his medium- and feature-length films. Whatever one thinks about Hartley, to say that his work represents a “career” means viewing the films episodically, as evidence of an enterprising filmmaker’s increasing personal ambition and competence. But if I’ve suspected anything from watching and re-watching Hartley’s films—including the shorts, which unfortunately don’t appear anywhere in the Metrograph series—it’s that they can’t so easily be assimilated in this way. I would argue that the least among Hartley’s films are, for all their flaws, still lighted up by a spirit of…  Read more

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