g The Film Panel Notetaker: GenArt Presents Advanced Screening of Brad Anderson's "Transsiberian"

Thursday, July 17, 2008

GenArt Presents Advanced Screening of Brad Anderson's "Transsiberian"

GenArt Presents Advanced Screening of Brad Anderson's Transsiberian

(Transsiberian Director Brad Anderson.)

Wednesday night in New York, a special advanced screening of Brad Anderson's newest film Transsiberian was held at the AMC Loewes Village 7 presented by GenArt Film. Anderson's previous features include The Machinist (starring The Dark Knight's Christian Bale), Next Stop Wonderland , Session 9 and Happy Accidents. Starring Woody Harrelson, Emily Mortimer, Kate Mara, Eduardo Noriega, Thomas Kretchschmann and Sir Ben Kingsley, Transsiberian opens in limited release in New York on Friday.

Before the film began, I had a brief conversation with Anderson mentioning to him that I saw him speak at the IFP Market back in 2004 where he and Bale presented a case study of The Machinist. Here are my notes from that (See p. 7 in the PDF). Anderson told me that several years before that, his very first feature film, The Darien Gap, was in the IFP Market, which was actually known then at the time as the Independent Feature Film Market (IFFM), but is now called Independent Film Week. Not only that, but The Darien Gap also opened the very first GenArt Film Festival in 1996.

As the program began, GenArt's Aaron Levine introduced the two films of the evening. The first was a short by Andrew Okpeaha MacLean called Sikume (On the Ice). Levine said he was excited about the program because it's been so hot in the city lately and both of these films take place in the snow. "Be prepared to be very cooled off," Levine said. Levine said of Sikume that GenArt loved the film, but couldn't find a slot for it in its annual GenArt Film Festival (held this past April which only shows seven features and seven shorts), but they selected the film for Wednesday's program because it plays together brilliantly with Transsiberian.

While there was no Q&A after the screening, the two filmmakers got up to say a few words beforehand. MacLean said Sikume was shot in his hometown in Alaska. "It was very cold up there all the time," he said. Anderson further reflected on his first time at the GenArt Film Festival when The Darien Gap opened it up. That film was made for just $60,000 and played at Lincoln Center's Alice Tully Hall, which was followed by a party in a big abandoned church on the Upper East Side. "I remember that very well, because it was such a small movie in a very big space," he said. On Transsiberian, Anderson said it's "been a long journey in the making" that started about 20 years ago when he took a backpacking trip through Asia. He started in India and ended up in China where he stopped in Beijing to purchase a ticket for $130 to go on board the Trans-Siberian Railway, which goes all the way across Siberia more than 5,000 miles to Moscow. "It's like the longest, most epic train journey on the planet," he said. For Anderson, it was a moment that inspired him 20 years later to make the film. He went back a couple of years ago when prepping for the film, and took the train again, hadn't changed at all. "It's the same exotic shady people on the train. The same vodka flowing ceaselessly," he said. Anderson said what he's trying to do in the film, beyond telling a good story, is capturing the raw experience of what it was like taking the train.

So is Transsiberian worth the ride? It gets off to a somewhat slow start, introducing the central characters, a married American couple played by Harrelson (Roy, a train enthusiast) and Mortimer (Jessie, a photographer), who after spending time helping kids in China, decide to journey across Russia on the train to rekindle their romance. On their trip, they befriend fellow passengers Carlos (played by Noriega) and Abby (played by Mara), who seem to have some secrets. Not until the film's second act does Transsiberian really take off. I don't want to give too much of the plot away, but let's just say that some Hitchcockian twists and turns shake things up for Abby, and most of the rest of the film is pure nail-biting suspense. Things get even further complicated when Russian narcotics detective Grinko (played by Kingsley) enters the picture as he investigates drug trafficking taking place on the train. The film does an excellent job of playing tricks on the audience as to who is good and who is evil, but then eventually turns to a rather over-the-top finale. While Transsiberian is often a bumpy ride, it's definitely worth the trip.

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