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Sunday, December 20, 2009
2010 BAHAMAS FILM FESTIVAL 

The Bahamas International Film Festival wrapped in Nassau Thursday night with the closing night film, Precious, which brought out the island out to watch the film and then partake in a Q&A with screenwriter Geoffrey Fletcher and Lenny Kravitz, who stars in the film. The seven day fest also included a career tribute to Johnny Depp earlier in the week, another tribute to Bahamanian underwater cinematographer Gavin McKinney and a Rising Star honor to actress Sophie Okonado.

I attended the fest, where I moderated the closing night Q&A, and here's some shots from the fest.


Children of God (Opening Night Film) director Kareem Mortimer and the film's editor Maria Cataldo.


Festival founder/executive director Leslie Vanderpool (center).


Elliot Kotek (left) moderates the Career Tribute discussion with Gavin McKinney.


Sophia Okonado Rising Star honor.


Sophia Okonado.


Leslie, myself and Geoffrey Fletcher at the closing night screening. (photo by Elliot Kotek)


Geoffrey Fletcher and Lenny Kravitz. (photo by Elliot Kotek)

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# posted by Jason Guerrasio @ 12/20/2009 05:09:00 PM Comments (0)
Wednesday, December 2, 2009
JOHNNY DEPP TO RECEIVE CAREER ACHIEVEMENT AWARD AT THE BAHAMAS FEST 

The Bahamas International Film Festival announced today that Johnny Depp will be receiving the fest's career achievement award this year.

Check back to Festival Ambassador for reports from BIFF when the fest takes place in Nassau Dec. 10-17.

More News
Children of God/Precious Bookend Fest

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# posted by Jason Guerrasio @ 12/02/2009 01:39:00 PM Comments (0)
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
DEADLINE ALERT: HAMPTONS SCREENWRITERS LAB 

The Hamptons International Film Festival's annual Screenwriters Lab are taking submissions for their 2010 Lab taking place April 16-18. Early Bird deadline is Dec. 4 (final deadline is Jan. 8). Learn more here.

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# posted by Jason Guerrasio @ 11/17/2009 11:11:00 AM Comments (0)
Tuesday, November 10, 2009
CHILDREN OF GOD/PRECIOUS BOOKEND BAHAMAS INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 

The Bahamas International Film Festival will open its 6th editon with Kareem Mortimer's Children of God (which was shot entirely in the Bahamas in Nassau and Eleuthera last summer) and close with Lee Daniels's Precious, according to a release sent out today.

The festival takes place Dec. 10-17 in Nassau. Learn more about the festival here.

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# posted by Jason Guerrasio @ 11/10/2009 02:43:00 PM Comments (0)
Friday, October 23, 2009
WHAT’S IN A NAME: BARBARIAN PRINCESS BEGINS FIRST WEEKEND OF HIFF 



For the past several weeks the Hawaiian film community and Native Hawaiian activists have been abuzz about Barbarian Princess, British director Mark Forby’s new film on Princess Kai’ulani, one of Hawaii’s most revered historical figures whose tragic life story—sent into exile in England as a teenager, she became an international voice against the American-business-led coup that virtually overthrew the Hawaiian government in the 1890’s, and returned to Hawaii to protect her people’s rights, but died tragically at the age of 23—is indeed the stuff of cinema. Last Friday, on the second day of the Hawaii International Film Festival and the anniversary of Kai’ulani’s birth, audiences finally got a chance to see the film for themselves.

Debate had already been raging as to the film’s casting of a non-Native Hawaiian actress as the princess (Q'orianka Kilcher, The New World, who is half-indigenous Peruvian and actually grew up in Hawaii) and especially its rather spurious title, which is defended as “ironic” by its producers, who insist that it references 19th century American newspaper headlines about the princess, and is meant to be ultimately undermined by the reality of her as an elegant, proud, well-spoken woman. “The title Barbarian Princess is intended as an ironic juxtaposition meant to capture the interest of people who know nothing about the history of Hawaii,” noted one producer in an attempt to defuse the situation. “What moviegoers around the world will learn from this film is that Princess Ka`iulani was an intelligent, beautiful and powerful defender of the Kingdom of Hawaii.” At the festival’s opening press conference, Forby fended off one pointed question by stating “the title was meant to bring in, and then challenge audiences from, say, middle America who might be expecting something like sexy dances at a luau."

Others, however, are less than thrilled with having one of their most beloved historical figures (streets, schools, and other institutions are named after the princess in Honolulu alone) being referred to yet again as a “barbarian,” even if it is ironic. “It is a perpetuation of the wrongs and hurtful aspersions cast upon our people for well over 200 years," stated activist Abigail Kawananakoa, while even Kilcher refuses to refer to the film by its name. “Out of respect for Kai’ulani, I never call it that, and I can't call it that. I call it the Princess Kai’ulani film," she replied at the opening press conference. "It saddens me that today in 2009 Princess Kai’ulani is going to have to once more be associated in the same sentence with the word barbarian, no matter the reasoning." Certainly some reasoning behind the title (that it’s catchy and immediate) falls apart when you’re basically forced to then explain the “real reason” of the title; if you have to put a long-winded explanation behind a title, after all, it’s not “immediate.”

And so, having fueled countless internet blogs and discussion groups, Barbarian Princess finally premiered, to a packed audience of over 1200 people at Honolulu’s grand Hawaii Theater, and promptly sold out three more added screenings afterwards. The result? Well-meaning but sadly missing in any real conviction, this certainly beautifully photographed work seems at a loss as to what, exactly, it wants to be: love story, Merchant Ivory-esque costume drama, political condemnation, or historical document. For better or worse, it winds up being a little of everything, a true “mixed plate” able to please casual viewers but leaving others slightly unsatisfied.

What’s truly bizarre, and rather infuriating, is how utterly unessential the title is to the film; the concept that she is thought of as a “barbarian princess” is only mentioned in a few scenes (some of the most powerful ones, to be fair), and barely devoloped through the work. It’s a lack of focus that infects the entire script, and seems to betray both a heavy hand in the editing room and a few too many hands on the producer’s table: a few moments of injustice here, a couple of awkward teen romance bits there, a bit of sugar-baron skullduggery in one corner, and a helping of desultory natives-versus-cannons battle scenes in another. The film’s vaunted “love story” element (“an epic about a young woman who is forced to choose between the love for her country and the love of a man,” blared one producer, unwittingly also describing the uncertainty of the script itself) seems uncomfortably sandwiched within Forby’s proclaimed vision of the film (to bear witness to the tragedy of the American overthrow of the Hawaiian government), and, even worse, also suffers from a similarly barely developed storyline. No getting to know the characters or watching their love develop here; we’re only given two or three scenes between the princess and her “lover” before they’re suddenly tongue-ing one another on the well-lit beach or, in one odd moment more Skinemax than History Channel, he’s droolingly taking off her thigh-high boots as she coos above him.

This lack of development, whether in characters, relationships, or plot, could possibly be the result of a haphazard edit before the festival premiere; it could explain why other characters pop up without introduction, or disappear just as quickly. In the program guide the film is listed at 129 minutes, but the cut on display seemed more like 105. It’s as if the producers still don’t quite know what they have, or what they want the film to be, a dilemma that again refers back to the odd choice of title. No matter what, they’ve made a costume drama-historical epic (certainly a commendably brave choice in an era of teen comedies, horror films, and gangster movies, but still), and no matter of “ironic” “Barbarian Princess!!” advertising is going to change that. Such films also have a very particular appeal; many of this film's intended audience will be those who are interested in the topic, or students of Hawaiian history, or Hawaiians themselves: the very people, in fact, who may be offended by such a title. And far from the producer’s imaginings of a dozy Middle American audience suddenly shocked to discover that Hawaii offers more than sexy luaus, but it’s not as if this phrase is particularly alluring or appealing anyway: “Barbarian Princess” is, still, at heart, pretty dull, and betrays, like the film, a lack of imagination when it comes to such a fascinating tale.

It's a shame the filmmakers haven't quite figured out what they want the whole to be, as many individual scenes and plot lines do stand out. The princess' friendship with two twin Hawaiian boys; nefariously mustachioed sugar and pineapple tycoons plotting up a storm, and the imprisonment of the Queen are excellently presented and filmed; in fact, most of the Hawaii-set moments have a heart and passion sorely lacking in the England-set scenes, though the princess' encounter with two young British snobs is a highlight. It's as if there's a far more interesting, thoughtful film going on offscreen while the film's fixated elsewhere.

The strongest of the film's elements is undoubtedly the performance of Kilcher as the princess. Asked to look doe-eyed at some British dolt in one scene and steely-eyed at an American one in another, she solidifies a talent and a charisma that’s rare to see; “she’s the best teenaged American talent in Hollywood today,” Forby stated at the film’s post-screening q&a, in his truest statement yet.

A sweeping orchestral score by the Oscar-winning Stephen Warbeck (Shakespeare in Love) adds a welcome dash of class to the entire proceedings, while cinematography by Gabriel Beristain captures the beauty of the Hawaiian landscapes. Certainly the film deserves to be seen, but more importantly, Princess Kai’ulani’s story deserves to be known.

We’ll have more on the Hawaii festival, and some of the other key films, in a later wrap-up. Thanks.

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# posted by Jason Sanders @ 10/23/2009 06:23:00 AM Comments (0)

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2010 BAHAMAS FILM FESTIVAL
JOHNNY DEPP TO RECEIVE CAREER ACHIEVEMENT AWARD AT THE BAHAMAS FEST
DEADLINE ALERT: HAMPTONS SCREENWRITERS LAB
CHILDREN OF GOD/PRECIOUS BOOKEND BAHAMAS INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL
WHAT’S IN A NAME: BARBARIAN PRINCESS BEGINS FIRST WEEKEND OF HIFF


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