Lee Isaac Chung's Munyurangabo (right), about how outside forces pull apart two Rwandan teenagers – one Hutu; one Tutsi – was the international feature film jury's top choice at this year's AFI FEST presented by Audi, which came to a close last night, Nov. 11, with a screening of Mike Newell's Love in the Time of Cholera.
Though at times poignant, I found Munyurangabo a good 15-20 minutes too long. Indeed, a tighter running time would increase the film's not inconsiderable emotional power. Chung was around for a q&a session after the Thursday night screening, but co-producer Jenny Lund was the one on hand to accept the award given by directors Agnieszka Holland and Isabel Coixet, among others.
The jury for best documentary – composed of Nancy Schreiber, Kirby Dick, and Doug Pray – picked two films: Andreas Mol Dalsgaard's Afghan Muscles, which portrays bodybuilding competitions in Afghanistan, and Nina Davenport's Operation Filmmaker, about the clash of cultures and egos during the making of Liev Schreiber's Everything Is Illuminated, which had an Iraqi assistant (and temporary refugee) among the film's crew.
Nash Edgerton's Spider and Josh Raskin's I Met the Walrus (above) were the short film jury's two picks; the former as best short, the latter as best animated short.
Julian Schnabel's The Diving Bell and the Butterfly was the audience award winner for best narrative feature. As so often happens, my tastes and those of most audience members couldn't be more at odds.
Festivalgoers also chose Jeffrey Schwarz's Spine Tingler: The William Castle Story (right) as best documentary feature and Lauren Greenfield's Kids + Money as best short.
The three jury award winners each received a $5,000 prize of Eastman Kodak Motion Picture Film stock and an Entertainment Partners Budgeting and Scheduling software package.
The three audience award winners received an AVID Technology Suite and an Entertainment Partners Budgeting and Scheduling software package.
Additionally, feature documentary director Michael Addis, whose Heckler was screened at the AFI FEST, won the Audi “Truth in Art” prize – a free one-year lease of an Audi S5 automobile – for his short film about the safety of driving an Audi.
This year, for a variety of reasons I ended up missing nearly all of the films I most wanted to see: Persepolis, The Band's Visit, 4 Months 3 Weeks and 2 Days, The Duchess of Langeais, Silent Light, Voyage of the Red Balloon, The Counterfeiters, The Last Mistress, Alexandra, The Aerial, Clouds Over Conakry. Unfortunately, the films I did get to watch were, for the most part, not nearly as good as the ones I caught at previous AFI FESTs.
Nadine Labaki's slight but charming Caramel, about several women (Labaki among them) having romantic problems in Beirut's Christian district, was my favorite. Shira Geffen and Etgar Keret's Jellyfish and Santi Amodeo's Doghead had much going for them – e.g., first-rate acting, solid directorial touches – though ultimately neither was as satisfying as it could have been.
Arthur Dong's documentary Hollywood Chinese offered some interesting insights into the portrayal of Chinese and Chinese-Americans in Hollywood films, but I felt that an off-the-beaten-track approach to the matters of ethnic stereotyping / Caucasians cast as Chinese / ethnic pride would have served the material better. In fact, the politically incorrect – and two-time Academy Award winner – Luise Rainer was my favorite talking head, arguing that an actor can be right for a role without necessarily looking “exactly right.” (I should add that one of Rainer's Oscars was for her performance as a Chinese peasant in The Good Earth.)
Catherine Deneuve. Photo by Brigitte Lacombe
I opted not to go to the Laura Linney tribute, but I was fuming – at myself – for having missed the Catherine Deneuve evening. I was there, saw Deneuve walk in, but since I didn't get myself a “hard ticket,” that was that. I'll be more on top of things next year, while pursuing Mme. Deneuve (for an interview) under the roofs of Paris.
In addition to drooling over Catherine Deneuve for a few minutes, my two AFI FEST 07 highlights took place on the night of the Diving Bell and the Butterfly screening. First, it was a thrill to see Max von Sydow in person. Then, it was equally thrilling to get a chance to speak with Marie-Josée Croze, who plays one of the nurses in the film.
Ironically, due to a misunderstanding, Croze felt it necessary to explain to me that she'd made other movies both before and after Diving Bell. I retorted that I knew some of her work, adding that I felt her performances were the best things about The Barbarian Invasions, Munich, and The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. (Even jaded bloggers can turn into gushing starstruck fans every now and then.)
Here's looking forward to watching Marie-Josée Croze next year in Thomas Vincent's Le Nouveau protocole / The New Protocol, playing opposite Clovis Cornillac, and in veteran Jean Becker's Deux jours à tuer, opposite Albert Dupontel. (Jean Becker, by the way, is the son of Jacques Becker, whose Casque d'or is one of my favorite films of the 1950s.)
Among other AFI FEST 2007 attendees were Robert Redford, Meryl Streep, Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes (right), David Beckham, and Will Smith for the Lions for Lambs premiere; Emmanuelle Seigner, Mathieu Amalric, Ronald Harwood, Janusz Kaminski, and Julian Schnabel for the The Diving Bell and the Butterfly screening; Ellen Page and Jason Bateman for the Juno premiere; Jennifer Jason Leigh, Noah Baumbach, Flora Cross, and Jack Black for the Margot at the Wedding screening; plus John Sayles, Alex Cox, Dwayne Johnson, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Malcolm McDowell, Don Rickles, Roger Corman, Carl Reiner, and Orlando Bloom. (And, in the audience, I spotted Julie Delpy, Matt Groening, John C. Reilly, Ian Whitcomb, and Chris Leavins.)
Additionally, various film panels were composed of people like Nancy Kwan, Werner Herzog, Vilmos Zsigmond, Paprika Steen, Lisa Lu, Arthur Dong, Amy Tan, Randy Haberkamp, Tsai Chin, John Landis, Kevin Wall, Nigel Lythgoe, Steve Golin, Hector Elizondo, James Ellroy, and Bruce Wagner.
Overall, AFI FEST 2007 screened 97 features (69 narrative, 28 documentary) and 51 shorts (43 narrative, 8 documentary), in addition to 8 video art works for a total of 148 films representing 37 countries.
Tom Cruise/Katie Holmes photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images
AFI FEST 2007 Awards
AFI FEST 2007: ArcLight theater complex in Hollywood, Nov. 1-11, 2007
Stephen Berkov (Director, Brand Marketing & Innovation, Audi of America), Jenny Lund (MUNYURANGABO), Nash Edgerton (SPIDER), Lauren Greenfield (KIDS + MONEY), Jeffrey Schwarz (SPINE TINGLER! THE WILLIAM CASTLE STORY), Andreas Mol Dalsgaard (AFGHAN MUSCLES), Micheal Addis (HECKLER), Mike Cagle (Region Director, Western Region, Audi of America)
INTERNATIONAL FEATURE COMPETITION GRAND JURY PRIZE: MUNYURANGABO by Lee Isaac Chung, Rwanda/USA
INTERNATIONAL DOCUMENTARY COMPETITION GRAND JURY PRIZE (tie): AFGHAN MUSCLES by Andreas Mol Dalsgaard, Denmark, & OPERATION FILMMAKER by Nina Davenport, USA
INTERNATIONAL SHORTS COMPETITION GRAND JURY PRIZE: SPIDER by Nash Edgerton, Australia
BEST ANIMATED SHORT: I MET THE WALRUS by Josh Raskin, Canada
FEATURE: THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY (LE SCAPHANDRE ET LE PAPILLON) by Julian Schnabel, France
DOCUMENTARY FEATURE: SPINE TINGLER! THE WILLIAM CASTLE STORY by Jeffrey Schwarz, USA
SHORT: KIDS + MONEY by Lauren Greenfield, USA
INTERNATIONAL FEATURE COMPETITION JURY: Agnieszka Holland, John Ridley, Joan Chen, Isabel Coixet, Henry Bean
INTERNATIONAL COMPETITION DOCUMENTARY JURY: Nancy Schreiber, Kirby Dick, Doug Pray
INTERNATIONAL SHORTS COMPETITION JURY: Tate Donovan, Maggie Biggar, Ioan Grufford
The AFI FEST 2007 premiere of Mike Newell's Love in the Time of Cholera took place last night, Nov. 11, at the ArcLight theater complex and the Cinerama Dome in Hollywood.
Adapted by Ronald Harwood from Gabriel Garcia Marquez's novel, Love in the Time of Cholera tells the story of a man who waits 50 years for his one true love. Javier Bardem, Giovanna Mezzogiorno, Liev Schreiber, Laura Harring, John Leguizamo, Catalina Sandino Moreno, and Benjamin Bratt star.
Javier Bardem. Photo by Michael Buckner/Getty Images
Angie Cepeda, Mike Newell. Photo by David Livingston/Getty Images
Javier Bardem, Benjamin Bratt. Photo by David Livingston/Getty Images
Javier Bardem, Giovanna Mezzogiorno, Benjamin Bratt. Photo by David Livingston/Getty Images
Shakira. Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images
Los Angeles' AFI FEST 2007 is being held at the ArcLight theater complex in Hollywood.
Clouds Over Conakry (above, France / Guinea) at 1:45 p.m. - Set in Conakry, director-screenwriter Cheick Fantamady Camara's film depicts the clash of cultures taking place not only in Africa but all over the world. A young man secretly works as a cartoonist for the city paper, using his drawings to satirize the local religious freaks. One problem: his father is an imam. (Replace fundamentalist Islam with fundamentalist Christianity, and you'll see that this story – or something quite similar to it – could be taking place right next door.) In French /Malinke with English subtitles. 115 min.
Manuela y Manuel (above, Puerto Rico) at 4:45 p.m. - Raul Marchand Sanchez's contrived, juvenile dramatic comedy about family, friendship, and drag queens was a big hit with Monday evening's AFI FEST audience. It's a mix of La Cage aux folles with (a very mild) Pedro Almodóvar. On the positive side, the colorful costumes and the decor are first-rate, and so is the cinematography – especially considering that Manuela y Manuel was shot on video. In Spanish with English subtitles. 94 min.
Hollywood Chinese (US) at 6:45 p.m. - Arthur Dong's Golden Horse Award-nominated documentary takes a look at the portrayal of Chinese and Chinese-Americans in Hollywood films. Among those featured are Turhan Bey, Christopher Lee, Nancy Kwan, and two-time Best Actress Oscar winner Luise Rainer (The Great Ziegfeld, 1936; The Good Earth, 1937). Several cast members and the filmmaker are expected to attend the screening, which will be followed by a panel discussion. 89 min.
The Duchess of Langeais (France) at 6:45 p.m. - Nouvelle Vague veteran Jacques Rivette, 80, is back with this romantic melodrama set in Paris during the Restoration, where a married woman entices a handsome general only to turn him down. The roles, however, are eventually reversed. Screenwriters Pascal Bonitzer and Christine Laurent adapted Balzac's novel, while Jeanne Balibar, Guillaume Depardieu, and veterans Michel Piccoli and Bulle Ogier star. In French with English subtitles. 137 min.
Silent Night (left, Mexico / France) at 7:15 p.m. - Carlos Reygadas' drama is set in a small Mennonite community in Mexico where a married man falls in love with another woman. Silent Light tied with Persepolis (screening this Saturday) for the Special Jury Prize at this year's Cannes Film Festival. In Plutdietsch with English subtitles. 127 min.
Used Parts (Mexico / France / Spain) at 9:30 p.m. - In this socio-psychological drama, writer-director Aarón Fernández Lesur tells the story of a 14-year-old Mexican whose “American Dream” is quite literally the United States. Like so many good Americans and American-wannabes, in order to achieve his dream the teenager will do whatever it takes.
Additionally, the AFI FEST will screen a number of shorts all day tomorrow, including Lilah Vandenburgh's Bitch (“love at first sneer”), Robert Cosnahan's Psycho Hillbilly Cabin Massacre (“a bloodbath erupts when a group of Ivy League students discover an isolated hillbilly cabin in the woods”), Osbert Parker's Yours Truly (“film icons burst through lost layers of yesterday's emulsion in this gripping second installment of Parker's contemporary noir trilogy”), and Albert Jan van Rees and Diederik Ebbinge's Naked (eight-year-old boy visits a sauna with his mother).
The AFI FEST 2007 is being held at the ArcLight theater complex in Hollywood.
Alexandra (above, Russia) at 1:30 p.m. - Alexander Sokurov weaves an anti-war story set at a Russian army camp in Chechnya, where Alexandra (Galina Vishnevskaya) goes visit her army officer grandson. At the camp, nobody wants the old lady. Nobody wants to go on fighting, either. In Russian with English subtitles. 92 min.
Irina Palm (Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg, UK) at 2:00 p.m. - Another grandmother-grandson love story, but with a twist. Veteran actress-singer and 2007 European Film Award nominee Marianne Faithfull (above) stars as a working-class grandma who loves her ailing grandson so much that, unable to get either a loan or a “regular” job to pay for the boy's life-saving trip to an Australian medical facility, decides to work at a sex club – where she becomes the Best Wanker in London. Unfortunately, Irina Palm is neither as risqué nor as subversive as it sounds. In fact, this is one more in the series of naughty-cutesy comedy-dramas that have been made in the UK in the last decade or two. (Think The Full Monty.) It's ideal Pedro Almodóvar material bowdlerized for the enjoyment of 11-year-olds and churchgoing old ladies. Sam Garbarski directed from a highly sentimental – and much-too-tame – screenplay by Martin Herron and Philippe Blasband. 103 min.
Shame (Sweden) at 3:00 p.m. - In Ingmar Bergman's 1968 psychological drama, Liv Ullmann and Max von Sydow play a married couple whose lives are about to be turned upside by a world war. Hey, does it sound like the state of the world in 2007? Go check it out. In Swedish with English subtitles. 103 min.
Afghan Muscles (Denmark) at 4:00 p.m. - Andreas Mol Dalsgaard's documentary shows male bodybuilding in Afghanistan, supposedly a very popular activity in that country. In the film, buffed-up guys parade around in Speedos to the delight of their (male) audience. In English / Pashto with English subtitles. 58 min.
The Aerial (Argentina) at 6:45 p.m. - Esteban Sapir's surreal film is set in a city where people have lost their voices, though they apparently can – literally – read what each other is saying. According to AFI FEST reviewer Jacqueline Lyanga, The Aerial has touches of Georges Méliès' A Trip to the Moon, Luis Buñuel's Un chien andalou, Sergei Eisenstein's Battleship Potemkin, and Fritz Lang's Metropolis. In Spanish with English subtitles. 90 min.
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (France) at 7:00 p.m. - For this film, Julian Schnabel won a best director award at this year's Cannes Film Festival. That is hardly surprising, but for all the wrong reasons. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly exemplifies the sort of self-conscious filmmaking that calls attention to itself – funky camera angles, funky music, funky editing – so as to disguise the vacuousness of the material. The screenplay is based on an autobiographical book: Elle editor Jean-Dominique Bauby suffers a stroke, ends up paralyzed but manages to write said book by blinking one eyelid. Those who thought that Schnabel's Before Night Falls actually had something to say about the human condition will probably love this. Others might want to look for entertainment/enlightenment elsewhere. But no movie with the outstanding Marie-Josée Croze can be a total waste of time. She's in this one, playing a nurse – unfortunately, a relatively minor supporting role. Also in the cast: Mathieu Amalric (as Bauby), Emmanuelle Seigner, Anne Consigny, Marina Hands, and Max von Sydow. In French with English subtitles. 111 min.
Look (US) at 9:30 p.m. - Adam Rifkin's film follows different people whose lives have one thing in common: they have been watched, are being watched, or will be watched by those pesky surveillance cameras. Note: Look is shot entirely from the point of view of the cameras. 93 min.
The AFI FEST 2007 is being held at the ArcLight theater complex in Hollywood.
The Aerial (Argentina) at 1:15 p.m. - Esteban Sapir's surreal film is set in a city where people have lost their voices, though they apparently can – literally – read what each other is saying. According to AFI FEST reviewer Jacqueline Lyanga, The Aerial has touches of Georges Méliès' A Trip to the Moon, Luis Buñuel's Un chien andalou, Sergei Eisenstein's Battleship Potemkin, and Fritz Lang's Metropolis. In Spanish with English subtitles. 90 min.
Munyurangabo (US) at 2:00 p.m. - Lee Isaac Chung's Rwanda-set drama follows two young friends – one Hutu, one Tutsi – who set out to kill the man responsible for the death of the Tutsi boy's parents during the 1994 genocide. Can they remain friends after stopping by the Hutu boy's village? Chung weaves an honest and at times poignant tale about friendship, family, and the evils of tribalism, but one crucial problem with Munyurangabo is its length. Scenes drag on for much longer than they should, thus diluting the film's emotional power. In Kinyarwanda with English subtitles. 97 min.
Margot at the Wedding (US) at 3:00 p.m. - Noah Baumbach's messy comedy-drama tells the story of two loving-hating sisters (Nicole Kidman, Jennifer Jason Leigh) and the soon-to-be husband of one of them, played by Jack Black. There's quite possibly a good movie in there somewhere, but if so, it got lost amidst all the neurotic arguing. 93 min.
Flight of the Red Balloon (right, France / Taiwan) at 6:45 p.m. - Inspired by Albert Lamorisse's classic Le Ballon rouge, Hou Hsiao-hsien's film follows the travails of a Parisian mother (Juliette Binoche) and her young son. In French with English subtitles. 113 min.
Tribute to Catherine Deneuve / Persepolis (France) at 7:00 p.m. - The Deneuve tribute will be followed by a screening of Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud's Persepolis, co-winner of the Special Jury Prize at this year's Cannes Film Festival and France's submission for the best foreign-language film Oscar. The animated feature, based on Satrapi's series of autobiographical graphic novels about Iran during the Islamic Revolution, stars the voices of Deneuve, veteran Danielle Darrieux, Deneuve's daughter Chiara Mastroianni, and others. In French with English subtitles. 95 min.
The Counterfeiters (top photo, Germany / Austria) at 9:00 p.m. - Stefan Ruzowitzky's World War II suspense-drama revolves around a black-market forger and Russian Jew (Karl Markovics) who is put in charge of a massive Nazi effort to flood Britain and the United States with counterfeit currency. Director Ruzowitzky is expected to attend the screening. Also in the cast: August Diehl, 2007 German Academy Award winner for Best Supporting Actor Devid Striesow, Martin Brambach, and August Zirner. In German with English subtitles. 99 min.
Confessions of a Superhero (US) at 11:00 p.m. - Matthew Ogens' documentary depicts the aspirations and disappointments of four people who earn a living by playing superhero characters on Hollywood Boulevard. Director Ogens is expected to attend the screening. 92 min.
The AFI FEST 2007 is being held at the ArcLight theater complex in Hollywood.
Cyrano Fernandez (Venezuela / Spain) at 12:00 p.m. - Writer-director Alberto Arvelo transposes Cyrano de Bergerac to the slum of Caracas. Edgar Ramírez stars in the title role. Jessika Grau is the object of his affection. In Spanish with English subtitles. 100 min.
The Savages (US) at 1:00 p.m. - Laura Linney co-stars with Philip Seymour Hoffman in director-screenwriter Tamara Jenkins' comedy-drama about siblings who are brought together after their estranged father falls ill. 113 min.
Chris & Don. A Love Story (US) at 1:15 p.m. - See Chris & Don post. 90 min.
Val Lewton: The Man in the Shadows (US) Kent Jones' documentary follows 1940s RKO producer Val Lewton, the man in large part responsible for psychological/atmospheric horror classics such as The Cat People (right, with Simone Simon), I Walked with a Zombie, and Isle of the Dead. Narrated by Martin Scorsese. 77 min; video.
The Counterfeiters (top photo, Germany / Austria) at 3:00 p.m. - Stefan Ruzowitzky's World War II suspense-drama revolves around a black-market forger and Russian Jew (Karl Markovics) who is put in charge of a massive Nazi effort to flood Britain and the United States with counterfeit currency. Also in the cast: August Diehl, German Academy Award winner for Best Supporting Actor Devid Striesow, Martin Brambach, and August Zirner. In German with English subtitles. 99 min.
Lynch (US) at 3:45 p.m. - A trip inside David Lynch's mind, as he completes Inland Empire. The documentary is credited to “blackANDwhite,” who's expected to attend the screening. Rumor has it that bAw's evil twin, COLor, will also show up. Sit tight. 84 min; video.
AFI FEST's Closing Night Gala: Love in the Time of Cholera (US) at 7:30 p.m. (at the Cinerama Dome) and 7:45 p.m. (at the ArcLight complex) - Javier Bardem, Giovanna Mezzogiorno, Liev Schreiber, Laura Harring, John Leguizamo, Catalina Sandino Moreno, and Benjamin Bratt star in director Mike Newell and screenwriter Ronald Harwood's adaptation of Gabriel Garcia Marquez's novel. Set in Cartagena, Colombia, Love in the Time of Cholera follows a man who waits more than half a century for his one true love. Director Newell is expected to attend the screening. Tickets are $75.00. No need for subtitles as in this film's Colombia everyone apparently speaks fluent English (with Italian, Spanish, American, etc. accents). 120 min.
'Chris & Don: A Love Story': AFI FEST Movies
Guido Santi and Tina Mascara's documentary Chris & Don. A Love Story will be screened on Nov. 10 at 7:30 p.m. at the AFI FEST 2007, currently being held at the ArcLight theater complex in Hollywood.
Chris & Don portrays the relationship between British writer Christopher Isherwood, whose The Berlin Stories inspired the musical and film Cabaret, and American portrait artist Don Bachardy. Isherwood and Bachardy began their courtship in 1952; the former was 49, the latter had just turned 18. Some found – and will find – their intimacy weird, sinful, disgusting, or what have you. They apparently didn't. Despite no small amount of difficulties, the couple stayed together until Isherwood's death of cancer in 1986.
Bachardy himself narrates Chris & Don, while Michael York, who plays the Isherwood-inspired leading character in Cabaret, reads passages from Isherwood's novels, letters, and (published and unpublished) diaries. In addition to home footage shot by the couple in the 1950s, the documentary also includes interviews with actors Liza Minnelli, Leslie Caron, Jack Larson, and Gloria Stuart; director John Boorman; Christopher Isherwood Foundation co-founder James White; Huntington Library and Isherwood Archive curator Sara Hodson; and Katherine Bucknell, editor of Christopher Isherwood Diaries.
Bachardy, editors-directors Santi and Mascara, producer James White, production designer Francisco Stohr, cinematographer Ralph Q. Smith, associate producer Signe Johnson are expected to attend the screening.
Q&A with filmmakers Guido Santi and Tina Mascara.