“It is rabidly anti-American, and it is the biggest draw in town.” That’s the headline of Sarah Rainsford’s BBC article on the Turkish blockbuster Valley of the Wolves – Iraq, directed by Serdar Akar, and adapted from a successful local TV series by Bahadir Ozdener.
In Valley of the Wolves, Turks are shining heroes whereas Americans firebomb mosques, execute innocents, and deal in organ trafficking. The film stars Necati Sasmaz, Ghassan Massoud, Billy Zane, Berguzar Korel, and Gary Busey.
Here are a couple more quotes on Valley of the Wolves – Iraq:
Baha Güngör in the Deutsche Welle:
“The most expensive Turkish movie of all time, Valley of the Wolves, does nothing to contribute to an inter-cultural dialogue. It can neither be interpreted as pro-European nor deemed to promote the integration of Turks and Muslims in Germany or other EU countries. But that was never the film’s intention.”
Via The Jerusalem Post / The Associated Press:
“’We are speaking out against the war, the occupation and the human rights violations,’ [Bahadir] Ozdener told reporters in Berlin, where three theaters are currently showing the film. ‘We in no way wanted to exploit prejudices.'”
There’s more detailed information on Valley of the Wolves in the Turkish Weekly.
Robert Altman Honorary Oscar
Iconoclastic director-producer-writer Robert Altman, 80, will be the next recipient of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ Honorary Award, to be presented at the 2006 Academy Awards ceremony next March 5. The Honorary Award will be given to Altman for “a career that has repeatedly reinvented the art form and inspired filmmakers and audiences alike.”
Altman has never won an Oscar despite five Academy Award nominations for directing – for MASH (1970), Nashville (1975), The Player (1992), Short Cuts (1993), and Gosford Park (2001) – in addition to nominations as a producer of best picture nominees Nashville and Gosford Park.
In the last 55 years, he has directed nearly 90 features, made-for-TV movies, and episodes from televisions series, in addition to producing and/or writing nearly 40 of them. His latest effort, A Prairie Home Companion, set in the world of radio, and starring among others Meryl Streep, Lily Tomlin, Woody Harrelson, and Lindsay Lohan, will open later this year.
Born in Kansas City, Missouri, Altman began his film career working on documentary, employee training, industrial and educational films. While still in Kansas City, he made his first feature, The Delinquents (1957), which was eventually distributed by United Artists.
Later on he moved to Hollywood, where he directed episodes of television series such as Alfred Hitchcock Presents and Bonanza. His film career took off in 1970 following the gigantic box office success of the military satire MASH, starring Donald Sutherland and Elliott Gould.
Altman’s career peak was in the early 1970s, when he made a series of generally well-received offbeat films such as the anti-Western McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971), starring Warren Beatty and Julie Christie (above); the anti-noir The Long Goodbye (1973), with Elliott Gould; and the anti-musical Nashville (1975) – Altman’s best film of the ones I’ve seen and eons better than his other efforts of the period (with the exception of MASH and the weird Brewster McCloud).
Among Altman’s other films are several critical and box office flops, including the mystifying Quintet (1979), with Paul Newman; the disastrous Popeye (1980), with Robin Williams; and the much-panned all-star extravaganza Prêt-à-Porter / Ready to Wear (1994).
Among Altman’s well-received recent efforts are the caustic unHollywood Hollywood drama The Player, starring Tim Robbins (right), and the more than a little baffling (but entertaining) anti-murder-mystery murder mystery Gosford Park, featuring a top-notch all-star cast that includes Maggie Smith, Alan Bates, Helen Mirren, and Clive Owen.
Photo: Courtesy of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences
Kirby Dick ‘This Film Is Not Yet Rated’ Takes on the MPAA
USA Today reports that Kirby Dick’s documentary This Film Is Not Yet Rated “drew cheers from an audience of 1,200 at its Sundance Film Festival premiere Wednesday for its exposé on the secret group that can mean life or death for movie earnings at the box office.”
The “secret group” in question is the ratings board of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), which makes some of the wackiest – or just downright inane – decisions about what is and what isn’t acceptable for American children and teenagers to watch.
Worse yet, with the NC-17 rating (no one under 17 allowed), the MPAA censors actually have the right to prohibit teens from watching films even if their parents would consent to it. That’s a lot of (undemocratic) power. (Ironically, NC-17 was the initial rating given to This Film Is Not Yet Rated.)
Needless to say, the censorship board of the MPAA finds graphic violence acceptable if teens are accompanied by an adult, but explicit or semi-explicit sex or nudity are major NC-17 baits – especially if it’s gay sex or male nudity as in, for instance, Pedro Almodóvar’s outstanding Bad Education.
“We don’t try to set standards,” explains MPAA spokesperson Kori Bernards. “We just try to reflect them.” In other words, the MPAA is supposed to be a reflection of America’s cultural hangups and prejudices. But the question is, whose America do those censors actually represent?
As an aside, Dick, whose documentary Twist of Faith was nominated for an Academy Award last year, has accused the MPAA of making pirated copies of his film. An ironic twist worthy of an unrated Hollywood movie.
István Szabo Defends Past as Informant
The Guardian reports that Hungarian director István Szabo, 67, whose Mephisto won the 1981 best foreign-language film Academy Award, has been exposed “as a former informant for the communist authorities in 1950s Hungary. His activities coincided with the Soviet crackdown that followed the 1956 revolution and occurred when he was a student at the Budapest Academy of Film.”
Szabó defended himself from the accusations, saying that “the state security job was the bravest and most daring endeavor of my life because we saved one of our classmates after the revolution of 1956 from exposure and certain hanging.”
Besides Mephisto, which stars Klaus Maria Brandauer as an actor who sells out to the Nazis, Szabó’s films include Colonel Redl (1985), also with Brandauer and a best foreign-language film Academy Award nominee; the anti-Communist family saga Sunshine (above, 1999), starring Ralph Fiennes, Jennifer Ehle, and Rachel Weisz; and the fluffy Annette Bening vehicle Being Julia (2004).
According to the IMDb, the director is currently working on Rokonok, the tragicomic story of a young man (Sándor Csányi of Kontroll) whose life is changed after he becomes the attorney general in a small Hungarian town. The film is scheduled to be released later this year.
‘Two Sons of Francisco’: Brazilian Biopic Becomes ‘Sertanejo’ Hit
In the New York Times, Larry Rohter writes about last year’s biggest box office hit in Brazil, 2 Filhos de Francisco / Two Sons of Francisco. Directed by Breno Silveira, the film tells the rags-to-riches story of two poor rural boys – Zezé and Luciano di Camargo – who grew up to become one of Brazil’s biggest sertanejo (the national “country music”) singers. Two Sons of Francisco is Brazil’s submission for the 2006 best foreign language film Academy Award.
Rohter’s article is quite readable, though I do have a couple of quibbles with it. To the best of my knowledge, the current Brazilian president, generally known by his nickname, Lula, was never really a peasant. He was born in the rural Northeast, but his family migrated to the industrial south when he was still a small child. Also, the article never explains why the Portuguese-speaking sertanejo singers cut a Spanish-language record in English-speaking Nashville. (Are they trying to break into the Spanish-language market? Are they already famous in Spanish-speaking countries?)
In the last five years at least two Brazilian films set in the poverty-stricken Northeast – Andrucha Waddington’s Eu Tu Eles / Me You Them and Walter Salles’ Abril Despedaçado / Behind the Sun – opened commercially in Los Angeles. Even though most Brazilian films depict the lives of working- or middle-class urban Brazilians, I can’t think of a single internationally renowned Brazilian movie in the last several years that was set anywhere besides Rio’s slums or the Northeastern hinterlands.
I should add that Two Sons of Francisco has also created a political furor.
If it weren’t enough that his Labor Party is at the core of what may well be the worst corruption scandal in Brazil’s history – and that is saying a lot – Lula was caught watching a pirated DVD while aboard his private jet during a Moscow-Brasília flight last October. The Brazilian president later expressed his regret over the incident, stating that he is friends with the two singers.
Update: If Two Sons of Francisco becomes an international hit, I’ll have to add “Midwestern hinterlands” to the shortlist above. See comments section below.
Oscar shorts 2006: Academy Award-nominated Animated and Live Action shorts to be screened at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will present “Shorts!,” featuring the ten films nominated for the 2006 Academy Awards in the Animated Short and Live Action Short categories, at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 28, at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Beverly Hills. The evening will also feature onstage discussions with the filmmakers of the animated and live action shorts (subject to availability).
The animated and live action short films to be featured in the 2006 Oscar “Shorts!” are the following:
Oscar Shorts: Animated Short Film
- Badgered, Sharon Colman, director
- The Moon and the Son: An Imagined Conversation, John Canemaker, director; Peggy Stern, producer
- The Mysterious Geographic Explorations of Jasper Morello, Anthony Lucas, director
- 9, Shane Acker, director
- One Man Band, Andrew Jimenez & Mark Andrews, directors
Oscar Shorts: Live Action Short Film
- The Runaway / Ausreisser, Ulrike Grote, director; featuring Peter Jordan, Maximilian Werner, and veteran Monica Bleibtreu
- Cashback, Sean Ellis, director; Lene Bausager, producer; featuring Sean Biggerstaff, Emilia Fox, Stuart Goodwin, Michael Dixon, and Michael Lambourne
- The Last Farm, Rúnar Rúnarsson, director; Thor S. Sigurjónsson, producer; featuring Ólafía Hrönn Jónsdóttir, Jón Sigurbjörnsson, Sigurður Skúlason, and Kristjana Vagnsdottir
- Our Time Is Up, Rob Pearlstein, director; Pia Clemente, producer; featuring Kevin Pollak, Johnny Messner, Vivian Bang, Michael Cornacchia, and Frankie J. Allison
- Six Shooter, Martin McDonagh, director; featuring Brendan Gleeson, Rúaidhrí Conroy, David Wilmot, and Aisling O’Sullivan
Note: Tickets for the “Shorts!” evening are sold out. Stand-by tickets may be available at the door of the Samuel Goldwyn Theater. Doors open at 6:30 p.m.
The 2006 Academy Awards ceremony will be held on March 5.
2006 Oscar “Shorts!” photo of Peter Jordan and Maximilian Werner in The Runaway / Ausreisser: Filmstudium Universität Hamburg.
Berlin & Beyond
In the San Francisco Chronicle, G. Allen Johnson reports that the 11th Berlin & Beyond festival opens Thursday at the Castro with a screening of Marc Rothemunds Nazi-era drama Sophie Scholl: The Final Days / Sophie Scholl – Die Letzten Tage, which boasts the best performance by an actress that I saw last year. Julia Jentsch does a superb star turn as the doomed idealist Sophie Scholl, a member of the German-based anti-Nazi resistance movement.
The festival will also screen the 1929 avant-garde silent classic Menschen am Sonntag / People on Sunday. According to the IMDb, the film was co-directed by Robert Siodmak (The Killers, The Devil Strikes at Night / Nachts, wenn der Teufel kam), Curt Siodmak (The Beast with Five Fingers), Fred Zinnemann (From Here to Eternity, A Man for All Seasons), and Edgar G. Ulmer (Detour), from a screenplay co-written by Billy Wilder (Sunset Blvd., The Apartment). Via SFGate.com.
Note: The German Film Institute page on Menschen am Sonntag says the film was written and directed by Robert Siodmak, Ulmer, and Wilder, and co-written by Zinnemann. It makes no mention of Curt Siodmak.