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Homecoming Vibes: Olivia Peace and Jess Zeidman on Tahara

TaharaTahara

Way back when, during the last in-person Slamdance in the cursed year of 2020, I went to see Tahara, the feature debut of Northwestern University graduates director Olivia Peace and screenwriter Jess Zeidman.  The feature focuses on two teenage best friends and Hebrew students, Carrie (Madeline Grey DeFreece) and Hannah (Rachel Sennott), who face a gear shift in their friendship during the funeral of one of their classmates. Carrie is timid and awkward, Hannah is self-obsessed and inconsiderate. When Carrie kisses her Hannah to find out if she’s a good kisser or not, sparkles light up her world. Throughout the day, Carrie begins to question her sexuality, all the while grappling with grief.  The union between Peace’s stylish lens—incorporating a 1:1 Instagram…  Read more

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“Elvis’s Eyes Were Very Special”: DP Mandy Walker on Elvis

Baz Luhrmann and Austin Butler on the set of Elvis (photo: Kane Skennar)

While the use of larger format sensors like the Alexa LF and the Sony Venice has continued to accelerate—increasingly eclipsing Super35 as the default for robustly budgeted digital cinematography—the sprawling canvas offered by the Alexa 65 has remained more of a specialty, employed by projects seeking a scope of particularly monumental proportions. That’s exactly how cinematographer Mandy Walker envisioned Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis. “I remember Baz and I talking about the film really early on and thinking, ‘This character is larger than life,’” said Walker, who also used the Alexa 65 on Mulan and The Mountain Between Us. “Elvis was epic, and what better way to express that than shooting on the most epic format you can?” Shot almost entirely on the backlots and…  Read more

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Kiss Me Before You Wake Up: An Excerpt From Michael Almereyda’s Book, Tesla: All My Dreams Are True

Ethan Hawke in Michael Almereyda’s TeslaEthan Hawke in Tesla

Tesla: All My Dreams Are True, forthcoming from OR Books, is a jigsawed account of my attempts at conjuring a movie about Nikola Tesla over the past 40 years, tracking questions and clues about the elusive inventor’s life and legacy. The following excerpt is one of the least self-effacing of the 25 chapters, in which the author shamelessly confides early experiences as a screenwriter and director while Tesla’s name is hardly mentioned. This is in keeping with one of the book’s epigraphs, an injunction from Derek Jarman: “As the film falls apart, gather up your mistakes and treasure them.”  See shadow puppet plays and imagine that you are one of the characters. Or all of them. —Ron Padgett, How to Be Perfect  The first feature film I wrote and…  Read more

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“Not Just a Formal Thing, But a Political Ethic”: Alice Diop on We

NousNous

Alice Diop’s Nous begins with images of a white family looking through binoculars at an apparently uninhabited landscape, then cuts to a shot of the landscape itself, as if inhabiting their point of view. Immediately, then, the film suggests that the act of looking is one worth paying attention to. The question of who gets to look and how the looker reacts to what they see is inscribed, almost wordlessly, onto the film. I thought immediately of W.J.T. Mitchell’s Landscape and Power, which examines the artistic depiction of landscape as a politically charged one central to the formation of national identities and, often, the conquest of new land. As the film proceeded to vignettes on other subjects, mostly African immigrants…  Read more

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“It Was More Akin to Shooting Dance than Shooting a Live Sporting Event”: DP Zak Mulligan on Hustle

Juancho Hernangomez and Adam Sandler on the set of HustleJuancho Hernangomez and Adam Sandler on the set of Hustle (Scott Yamano/Netflix_

In Hustle, a burned out Philadelphia 76ers scout (Adam Sandler) discovers a raw talent (pro hooper Juancho Hernangómez) in a Spanish pick-up game and attempts to put him on the NBA’s draft radar. It’s got the familiar structural bones of the underdog sports drama—complete with epic training montage—but Hustle is like a perfectly run play. Even if you know what’s coming, you’re defenseless when it’s executed properly. The plot mechanics may be recognizable, but the approach to shooting the basketball scenes is novel. As Hustle cinematographer Zak Mulligan points out, televised presentations of the sport—and most basketball movies—offer the action from the long-lens perspective of the courtside observer. Inspired by Raging Bull, Mulligan inserts his lens into the fray, using unique…  Read more

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Back To One Episode 209: Antonia Campbell-Hughes

I watched the movie Cordelia not knowing anything at all about it, and never having seen Irish actor Antonia Campbell-Hughes in anything before. The psychological thriller greatly impressed me in no small part due to the captivating performance of Campbell-Hughes, particularly the emotional depth that she invites the viewer to examine without words. In this episode, she talks about the layering work she did to build that character, the unorthodox way her process (or conscious lack of process) has developed over the years, and why it all started with what continues to be the main ingredient—truth. Her feature directorial debut It Is In Us All just won a jury award at SXSW. She talks about getting that film made, why…  Read more

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“I Can’t Afford to Let Cliches Live in the Cinema I Make”: Leilah Weinraub on Shakedown

Shakedown

Leilah Weinraub’s 2018 Shakedown, which began playing Metrograph on June 17th (and has been held over through June 30th due to high demand), has been touted by Variety as the “the first-ever non-adult film” to be picked up by Pornhub. Yet it could also be called the sex site’s first-ever Berlinale-premiering and Tate/ICA/MoMA PS1/Whitney Biennial-screened acquisition. And likely the smut streamer’s first-ever labor of love release as well. Indeed, Shakedown is a film that defies any easy categorization. Ostensibly a longform cinematic exploration (crafted over 15 years starting in 2002) of the titular, mid-city, Los Angeles, Black lesbian strip club, the doc is likewise a study in the invention of identity, family and community — especially for those marginalized by both blood relatives…  Read more

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“We Shot Seven Parties in 20 Days in an Abandoned Mall”: Cooper Raiff on Cha Cha Real Smooth

Cooper Raiff in Cha Cha Real SmoothCooper Raiff in Cha Cha Real Smooth

Titled after the hit party song no child of the early 2000s could escape, Cooper Raiff’s second feature, Cha Cha Real Smooth, originated as a love letter to parents of disabled children. Inspired by the perserverance of his own family (Raiff’s younger sister does not possess the ability to walk nor speak), Raiff’s screenplay eventually grew to become the story of Andrew (Raiff), a 22-year-old Tulane University graduate who moves back in with his brother (Evan Assante), mom (Leslie Mann), and her lover (Brad Garrett) in Livingston, New Jersey. Working a dead-end job and with his girlfriend in Barcelona on a Fulbright scholarship, Andrew accepts a summer gig as a Party Starter at local bar and bat mitzvahs, hyping the…  Read more

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