g The Film Panel Notetaker: Lee Isaac Chung To Receive 2008 Rooftop Films and Eastern Effects Equipment Grant

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Lee Isaac Chung To Receive 2008 Rooftop Films and Eastern Effects Equipment Grant

Here's the latest news from Rooftop Films as sent to me by Mark Elijah Rosenberg, who I saw last weekend at Rooftop's screening of Song Sung Blue (which I missed at Silverdocs) and Neil Diamond karaoke on Roosevelt Island in New York.

Here's a picture I took from my cell phone (which didn't come out too great, but all I have) of Thunder, one half of the Neil Diamond tribute band Lightning and Thunder that is profiled in the documentary Song Sung Blue. Here, Thunder sings the ABBA song "S.O.S."

And here's Rooftop's latest news on its Equipment Grant Recipient, Lee Isaac Chung, director of Munyurangabo.

Rooftop Films and Eastern Effects announce Equipment Grant recipient Lee Isaac Chung (director of the acclaimed Munyurangabo, screening at Rooftop on August 23) will receive a fully-loaded lighting and grip truck for 30 days for his feature narrative Lucky Life.

Details at http://rooftopfilms.com/produce.html
And http://easterneffects.com/

Rooftop Films is committed to helping emerging filmmakers in a variety of ways, from providing large and diverse audiences for underexposed films at our screenings and online, to helping artists produce new films through the Rooftop Filmmakers’ Fund. In 2008, Rooftop Films and Eastern Effects, a film equipment rental house in Brooklyn, inaugurated an Equipment Grant, lending one Rooftop alumni filmmaker a two-ton lighting and grip package for 30 days, to be used on a feature-length film. Dozens of excellent filmmakers submitted their treatments and screenplays in the hopes of receiving the package, valued at approximately at $15,000.

We are now pleased to announce that Lee Isaac Chung will be the recipient of the 2008 Rooftop Films and Eastern Effects Equipment Grant. Chung screened his short film Sex and Coffee at Rooftop in 2006, and will use the grant for a drama entitled Lucky Life, about four friends on a poignant road trip. Mark and Karen are preparing for the birth of their first child, while Jason is coping with his recent diagnosis with terminal cancer. A meditation on life, death and spirituality, Chung says the film, which will begin production in September, was inspired by his trips to Spanish cathedrals, and the revelation of “cinema as a medium for creating spiritual space.” The title comes from a book of poetry by Gerald Stern: “Lucky life isn't one long string of horrors / and there are moments of peace, and pleasure, as I lie in between the blows.”

Lucky Life will be Chung’s second feature film, following on the tremendous success of his debut Munyurangabo, which screened festivals including Berlin, Toronto, and Cannes, where Variety praised the film as “flat-out, the discovery of this year's Un Certain Regard [section].”

Munyrangabo will screen at Rooftop Films on Saturday, August 23, at the Old American Can Factory, in Gowanus (near Park Slope), Brooklyn.

Saturday, August 23, 2008
Rooftop Films and Eastern Effects present
Munyrangabo (Lee Isaac Chung Rwanda & USA 1:37:00)
A stunning neo-realist drama about revenge and friendship in post-genocide Rwanda. The debut feature from the 2008 recipient of the Rooftop Films and Eastern Effects Equipment Grant.

Venue: on the roof of The Old American Can Factory
Address: 232 3rd Street @ 3rd Avenue (Gowanus / Park Slope, Brooklyn)
Directions: F/G to Carroll St. or M/R to Union Ave.
Rain: In the event of rain the show will be held indoors at the same location
8:00PM: Doors open
8:30PM: Sound Fix presents live music by Twi the Humble Feather
9:00PM: Film
Tickets: $6 in advance at http://www.rooftopfilms.com/ $9 at the door
Presented in partnership with: IFC.com, New York magazine & XO Projects
“Like a bolt out of the blue, Korean American filmmaker Lee Isaac Chung achieves an astonishing and thoroughly masterful debut with Munyurangabo, which is—by several light years—the finest and truest film yet on the moral and emotional repercussions of the 15-year-old genocide that wracked Rwanda.” — Robert Koehler, Variety

“We hear so often today of the “collapse of Western culture” that it comes to sound like a bit of cocktail party repartee, almost taken for granted, such an obvious fact of life that of course there’s nothing we can do about it, like global warming. Nothing could be more dangerous. Munyurangabo also grows out of cultural collapse on a grand (and horrific) scale, and then proceeds to transcend it.” — Robin Wood, Film Comment

Munyrangabo (Lee Isaac Chung Rwanda & USA 1:37:00)
There is an old axiom in narrative that a weapon seen in the first act will be used in the final act. The drama is what lies in between. Munyurangabo opens with a scene of a young man in a Rwandan market, watching a nearby fistfight, and stealing a machete. But the portent of that act—under violent circumstances and in a nation still reeling from a brutal Genocide in 1994—is immediately destabilized in one of Chung’s astonishing camera moves, which manages to be naturalistic and subtle, but also momentous. From a close-up on the now bloody machete, the camera tilts up to the troubled face of Ngabo, then back down to the machete, clear of blood. The drama posed within Munyurangabo does not follow your typical action/revenge plot—the question posed is not if or how Ngabo will use the machete. The question is should he use it.

Ngabo and his best friend Sangwa set out on a journey. If there is any doubt as to their goal, it’s cleared up early in the film, when Ngabo asks Sangwa, “Do you forget that we’re on a journey to kill a man?” The conversation is covered with direct addresses to the camera, quietly accosting and implicating the viewer, and mirroring a stunning moment later in the film, when the opposite sentiment is expressed in a direct address from Edouard B. Uwayo, Rwanda's actual poet laureate, who recites a stark and lovely poem calling for peace. The poem is aptly titled “Liberation is a Journey.”

Along the way, Sangwa must deal with his own difficult past, returning to his home after three years with no communication. The rich back-story is subtly revealed, perfectly weighing the tension of the scenes, which are played with a minumum of dialogue, few close-ups, and a langorous delivery that belies the complex passions. Long takes and wide angles allow the subtle gestures of body language to grandly enrich the emotions—Sangwa’s mother eagerly feeding her grown son when there is so little food, and dejectedly waiting alone in the doorway as her son leaves the house off-camera; Sangwa’s father aggressively showing his son how to till a field after the boy had abandoned the family for city life; Ngabo contemplatively hacking at a tree stump with the machete; and everyone moving as if exhausted by the myriad burdens of heat, poverty, hunger, illness, and guilt.

As the friends press on, Sangwa and Ngabo’s friendship is tested, torn between their expectations for a brutal fate, and their hope that somewhere in them lies the willpower to discover liberation. By leaving us with core ambiguities in the plot, Chung challenges the audience to ask complex and poignant questions. As an individual, what is the moral thing to do, when given the opportunity for revenge? And given that Western manipulations and indifference have forced Rwanda and much of Africa to prey on itself, what is the proper punishment for a criminal, when the entire nation has become a victim?

* * *

Lee Isaac Chung was awarded Rooftop Films and Eastern Effects 2008 Equipment Grant, lending him a complete two-ton lighting and grip package to shoot his second feature film, Lucky Life. The film will begin production in September. Read more about the grant and Lucky Life in the “About Rooftop Films” section.

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