g The Film Panel Notetaker: February 2008

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Museum of the Moving Image Breaks Ground for $65M Renovation

Tonight at the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria, honored guests broke virtual ground for the Museum's previously announced $65 million renovation-construction. Among the notable groundbreakers were Museum Director Rochelle Slovin, renovation architect Thomas Leeser, the current and former Queens Borough Presidents Helen M. Marshall and Claire Shulman respectively, New York City Councilman Peter F. Vallone, Jr., John McGuire, and many others.

Here is a video clip from tonight's ceremony:


Sunday, February 24, 2008

"The Axe in the Attic" Q&A with Lucia Small at Museum of the Moving Image - Feb. 23, 2008

The Axe in the Attic
Q&A with Co-Director Lucia Small
The Museum of the Moving Image
Astoria, NY
February 23, 2008

(Livia Bloom and Lucia Small)
Saturday night, the Museum of the Moving Image presented the documentary The Axe in the Attic by filmmakers Ed Pincus and Lucia Small about their personal journey to chronicle the people who were displaced by Hurricane Katrina and how their lives were affected by its aftermath. Lucia appeared after the screening for a Q&A with the audience moderated by the Museum’s Livia Bloom. I recently interviewed Ed and Lucia about the making of their film. The Q&A offered further insights into the filmmakers’ process and the people whose lives they documented.

Livia: How did you meet Ed and how did you both develop The Axe in the Attic?

Lucia: We met in 2002 as jurors at the New England Film & Video Festival in Boston. He had a name I knew of and I had read his Filmmakers Handbook. We watched films together for four days with other jurors. We talked about many ideas for making a film together over the course of the next few years, and when Katrina happened, I called him up.

Livia: What was the division of labor between you and Ed?

Lucia: Ed is a great cinematographer. I had done some cinematography. I ended up doing the sound, but also filmed a lot of tracking shots. Our deal was if he shot it, I got to edit it.

Livia: What was the process like?

Lucia: This was the first film I ever edited. We had 187 hours of footage. It took three months to log and digitize. I felt it was such a collaboration of views and point of views. We needed to be side by side.

Livia: How did you select your subjects for the interviews?

Lucia: Sometimes we would stay at locations for two days or a week. When we were in Alabama, we made a whole film of the Cross family. We went to their house a lot. There’s footage of their uncle that didn’t make it into the final film. We filmed over 150 people. We wanted to cast a large sweep that showed a diversity of the problems. It was important to show a diverse class and cover the basis.

Livia: How did you get them all to open up and participate?

Lucia: Most of them were excited to talk with us. They were frustrated with talking about their cases to FEMA over and over again, and not getting it documented.

Livia: Why did you and Ed include the footage of yourselves in the film?

Lucia: It was a big debate of how much we should film ourselves. Ed is the grandfather of autobiographical filmmaking. For Diaries, he filmed himself and his family for five years. My first film, My Father the Genius, was also autobiographical. The access issue is simple, but it became more complicated, for instance, when I had to show myself crying. We kept asking ourselves, what’s the honesty in the film?

Livia: How did you approach the score for the film?

Lucia: Todd Horton, our composer, was great. Some people wanted there to be a New Orleans sound. I wanted hints of it, but have it be more obtuse. Todd worked endlessly to get the melancholy. I didn’t want the music to tell you how to feel.

Livia: There wasn't really any “talking heads” type interviews in the film? Why was that?

Lucia: Ed is from a cinema verité style of filmmaking. We wanted to be more in the trenches. We incorporated ourselves because we wanted the viewer to be with us on our journey.

Livia: How can people get a copy of the film?

Lucia: On the donation page on our website.

Livia: What other projects are you working on?

Lucia: Since February 2003, I’ve been working on a film about post-traumatic stress disorder. It’s a hybrid documentary/narrative focusing on soldiers returning from Iraq.

Audience Q&A

Question: Does The Axe in the Attic have distribution? Have you shown it anywhere else?

Lucia: We were fortunate to have our world premier at the New York Film Festival. There is no distribution currently. The difficulty is people have a hard time figuring out how to sell it. There are about six other Katrina films out there. I think they should be packaged together.

Question: Has distribution been difficult because this is a story that’s real and of a political nature?

Lucia: I think there is some of that. It’s about responsibility as a whole citizenship. It’s really complicated, I don’t understand. These are critical stories.

Question: Have you been back to New Orleans recently?

Lucia: We’re trying to organize a reunion and screening there. We were in touch with some of the people during the making of the epilogue.
Question: Are there any ways people all over the U.S. can help?

Lucia: We’re trying to align our film with foundations and developing supplemental materials and links on our website.

Question: Did you encounter any wildlife while shooting your film?

Lucia: We had a bird section. There was very little wildlife. Mostly just black crows. Brandon, one of the volunteers interviewed in the film, was very excited when he saw a roach.

Question: Did you think about interviewing people who were less affected by Katrina?

Lucia: We did, but this was a story of a homeland that was forgotten and shaken. The balance came with the stories of the people who were displaced.

Question: What was your time frame?

Lucia: We stopped filming in February of 2006, and started cutting in August of 2006. We finished editing at the end of September 2007, which is when we talked with people for the epilogue.

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Friday, February 22, 2008

From Here to Awesome New Videos

The people behind From Here to Awesome, which I previously reported on, have posted two new videos available under Creative Commons attribution for embeding, re-editing and re-posting or television airing. Check them out.

The first video shows the frustration of filmmakers and audiences in the current system and has some pretty funny moments and solid info:

The second video shows exactly how From Here to Awesome will work and is addressed to filmmakers who have completed films:


Thursday, February 21, 2008

Interview: "The Axe in the Attic" Filmmakers Ed Pincus & Lucia Small

The Axe in the Attic Filmmakers
Ed Pincus & Lucia Small

Photo credit: Henry Morgan

On Saturday, filmmakers Ed Pincus and Lucia Small will present their documentary The Axe in the Attic at the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria at 6:30pm. I highly encourage anyone who will be in the area to attend this film about their personal journey to chronicle the people who were displaced by Hurricane Katrina and how their lives were affected by its aftermath. I had a chance to interview Ed and Lucia about the making of their film. What follows is a transcript of that interview. You will have a chance to ask your own questions after the screening this Saturday, as Ed and Lucia will be available then for a Q&A moderated by the Museum’s Livia Bloom, where I will of course be taking notes.

TFPN: Ed, after running your farm in Vermont for 25 years, how did you get in touch with Lucia, or how did she get in touch with you, to make this film?

Ed: In 2002, I got invited to speak at a panel discussion at the New England Film & Video Festival in Boston and said, I’ve been out of filmmaking for 25 years, what could I possibly do? They encouraged me to come. I met Lucia there. Our responses to films were amazingly similar. We had very similar sensibilities, so she was more accepting of stuff than I was in general. We said when the right circumstances happen, we’ll try to make a film together. From a personal point of view, when I was looking at what filmmakers were doing and I thought I was out of it, I felt in fact that I understood that the problems were still there. They hadn’t changed that much in 25 years. It all seemed like an exciting possibility.

Lucia: It was interesting. Whenever you sit on those panels, you’re with someone for four days to think about the possibility of collaborating with them. The reason why I was at the panel was because my film My Father the Genius had won an award the year before and I hadn’t really realized how Ed’s autobiographical filmmaking diaries sort of influenced me. It was sort of a generation of filmmakers who started making autobiographical films, Ed being the teacher [at MIT’s Film Section] of Ross McElwee and Rob Moss. Ross is a big inspiration of mine. It was very interesting for me to sort of find that similarity and approach as well. It was challenging, too, to bring Ed back to film because the one thing that’s so different from film is that formats are constantly changing. I hadn’t even realized to what extent that impacted the filmmaking process because there’s a lot of liberation that comes with a format that stays stable for a long time and you can focus more on the story and the filmmaking itself versus figuring out the technology.

TFPN: When you started on your two-month trip from New England to New Orleans three months after the storms, did you have in mind the current title of the film, or when did you determine the title?

Ed: An interesting anecdote is we were filming our reactions, and we do have a scene in the car where one of us says, “did you hear what he said about the axe in the attic?” And the other said, “yeah that’s really interesting,” or something like that. So it was arresting to us at the time. Maybe Lucia remembers if that was the time we decided we’d use that title. We had different working titles.

Lucia: That’s a pretty good story. It happened really early on with the pastor in Pittsburgh, and he told us that story that you see in the film and we were struck by that. And it wasn’t the first time people told us that same story. It was repeated in different ways and we just thought it resonated with us as a perfect metaphor for what we felt was the issue and problem. Sort of the notion of being left alone in your attic to chop through it with rising waters.

TFPN: Did you have any other titles in mind before choosing The Axe in the Attic?

Ed: We had different working titles. Lucia, do you remember it?

Lucia: I remember the working title. Part of it is sort of the filmmaking process. We called it After the Storm, because we didn’t want a controversial title while we were out in the field, because everyone always asks you what’s the name of your film, and so we felt that was a general enough title. We didn’t want to use it ultimately, but that’s what we called it for a long time.

TFPN: Did you feel like you were taking a risk turning the cameras onto yourselves to become a part of the story, or did you feel it was organically already a part of the story?

Lucia: I found it very risky. In fact, I was talking with another autobiographical filmmaker in town today and saying it’s so interesting because it appears to be so easy, because the access is easy. You are filming your life. There’s an ease to that. This film, we knew would post huge challenges. How do you approach such a large topic that’s so politically layered? So many people have seen it through the news and other storytelling forms that it’s a huge risk to insert yourself. That was one of the biggest challenges of this film. So on the one hand, it comes naturally, but it’s much more challenging than it appears.

Ed: I made a bunch of movies and one was interpreting what the diaries form would be. I decided that I was going to film for five years (1971-76). I was going to let it sit in the can for five years. I naively assumed…partially the arithmetic was faulty and everything would be 10 years old, or some of it was five years old, so when I started off, I thought time would insulate me from risk taking so to speak, beyond the normal risk taking in the film. In some sense, you’re trying to experiment with the forms. That gave me the freedom to film anything I wanted for five years without having to worry about it. In fact, I would say if anything, it’s more organic for Lucia to do it, but she had more struggle with it. Does that sound fair?

Lucia: Yes, I’m not shy about it. It’s a very complicated thing to try to insert yourself into this grandiose story, but on the other hand, it sort of felt more honest to us. We wanted to tackle the notion of who tells the story, who is behind the camera. You can hide behind the camera in these social documentary films. That’s an easier thing for some viewers to digest and accept, because in a way, many of us want to hide behind the camera. We want to hide behind the screen. This was a way to sort of break that and sort of mix it up. I guess it’s a long answer to me finding it more organic, but more difficult. I think Ed shares a lot of these concerns, too.

Ed: Yes, that was a mutually agreed upon reason for doing this. In general in social documentaries, people always know what’s right or wrong. There’s a shared pact that the filmmakers will protect themselves from ambiguity. In some sense, I think we wanted to question that because we thought that would just get to another level. It’s easy to look at the TV and hate Bush, and it’s not like we don’t do that, too, but in part that’s what the film is about.

Lucia: Here’s what’s hard: when someone doesn’t see the layers and complexities of this film and basically thinks we’re comparing our problems to Katrina. It’s just the total opposite. We’re using juxtapositions in the film. We’re a device for that. So when that’s misinterpreted, it’s hurtful and it makes me question the approach sometimes, but I still stand by the approach. It’s sometimes difficult for the filmmaker.

TFPN: Lucia, is this a style you have employed in your other documentaries?

Lucia: Yes. My first film My Father the Genius is about my father. It was in festivals all across the country and in Europe.

Ed: It’s a wonderful film. It was a great part of how I thought we could work great together.

Lucia: And then I watched some of Ed’s early work and was really interested by the rawness of some of it, which was some of the stuff I was trying to do with My Father the Genius, because there’s always a delicate line when you’re doing autobiographical films. When you’re doing any film, how much do you reveal? How much do you show of your vulnerability? So it made sense, our collaboration.

TFPN: Many of the people you interviewed seemed very embittered and impassioned about the aftermath of Katrina and the lack of response by FEMA. Have you gotten back in touch with any of them since completing the film? Do you know what they’re doing now and how they feel two years later? Have you shown the film to any of them, or are you aware if they have seen it yet? What have their responses been?

Ed: The coda was done about a half year ago and we were in touch with everybody we could get in touch with. So in the subsequent four or five months, we’ve been in touch I think about half the people, but not all of them. And essentially some things really didn’t change very much. As far as we know, only two have seen the film recently, so we haven’t gotten any feedback. I think in a month, if we haven’t heard back from them, we’ll call them or they’ll call us.

Lucia: I think one of the big problems with all this displacement is a lot of their cell phones expired because they were New Orleans numbers and now they’re relocated to different areas and their cell phones went down. They had those three- or six-month cell phone plans, so a lot of those ran out, and they didn’t have a way to re-new it. In fact, some of them got sacked with huge bills that were shocking to them. One of our characters, Ray Cross, when we were leaving New Orleans, was going to try to fight a $2,000 bill that he had because he was living in Alabama and didn’t realize he was getting roaming charges. We have tried to stay in touch with people. I was hoping that with some of the screenings, we could even bring them to the screenings and we would get a screening in New Orleans where we could probably have a reunion. It was one of the big challenges of filming, trying to approach the whole notion of diaspora and displacement. It’s hard to find some of these people.

Ed: We did that in the coda because of the inability to get in touch with somebody that even if it was a short period of time, you had an intimate relationship with.

TFPN: In the coda, it says FEMA made it difficult for you to film in the FEMA trailer parks. What were some of their reasons or excuses they gave you?

Ed: Privacy. They were protecting privacy, but it was bullshit, because when it came down to them looking good, they even illegally revealed secret things about people that they had no business doing.

Lucia: It was huge media management. We got a friendly person who got us approval to go to the parks. It was a two-hour drive from New Orleans and we traveled back and forth to the park. After a week of going back and forth, when we tried to come back again, there was a FEMA entourage managing the media there and they prohibited us from filming without them being next to us.

Ed: They had to be next to us, and we had to make an appointment.

Lucia: And they wouldn’t let us film Christmas or New Year’s, because those were private days. They started to have all these rules and regulations. And even after we left the park in Alabama, we tried to get into another park in that state, and we were told flatly that we weren’t allowed.

TFPN: Lucia, to the man in the film who asked you to send him money from the earnings of the film when you had asked them to sign the releases, did you ever send him anything?

Lucia: What happened was he and his wife were signing the release form and a volunteer asked to see it. We wrote into the clause that if there’s a profit made on the film, he would be compensated. It was very general that line he had asked for. And the whole notion of $5 came up when the volunteer said, why don’t you give him $5 or at least mention that you’re going to give him some money for filming, so that got into the scene. My dream as a filmmaker is still there to align this film with a foundation that could help use it. I think the thing we both left that scene saying to each other, as you see in the car, that it was very disturbing for me on an emotional level mainly because I think we were both on the same side of the volunteer and Ed and I were trying to help in different ways. I think what we realized is what we could do was we could try to make the best film possible and give that to the people we were filming so that there stories would be told and remembered. And so that was the mantra we kept reminding ourselves about. I was more ambivalent about it. I still am, but it is an important story to be told.

TFPN: I’m sorry I missed The Axe in the Attic at the New York Film Festival. When it played there, did you both do a Q&A with the audience? What was the audience’s reaction? What were some of the questions they asked you, and what were some of your answers?

Ed: Yes. When it got exciting, we got cut off. Correct me if I’m wrong Lucia, I think the thing that set people off was the notion that you couldn’t just blame the Bush Administration. There’s a sense of shared responsibility because of the kind of history of inequality. And then somebody said that nobody in this room is responsible. And then somebody said, “Oh yes, we are!” It started a shouting match. Is that pretty accurate Lucia?

Lucia: Right. We had two Q&As. One was for the press and we had one for the audience. They were both intense. They both triggered things in people, and I think the one in the public audience was good because people responded with their gut, and I think that was what was exciting for us because those two points of view are exactly what we wanted to try to open up for discussion. I think even at the Q&A at the Human Rights Watch International Film Festival in Boston, it went on and on there were lots of people who could have talked forever about the topic. It was just very rewarding to see that the complexities of the story were resonating. People get really upset about it, they don’t know what to do. There’s still big questions about what to do about this issue. The same thing about this film. There’s no resolution right now. It’s the law of historical struggle.

TFPN: On The Axe in the Attic website, it says “Coming Soon” for Axe Facts and Outreach. What do you plan to have on those pages?

Ed: Let me tell you what I hope to be putting there. I hope to put everything that’s implied in the film and said. Almost everything that people say in the film is contradicted somewhere else, so I want this to basically have everything outlined as best as is known and discuss some of the issues the film raises that really are unresolved. How many people died to what FEMA actually did. It turned out to be a very difficult task. We barely made it over the finish line and we were both exhausted and totally depleted and ran out of money to have somebody do research and we did try to get some volunteers to research it. To them, if they found it on the Internet, that was good enough, and I really wanted to have it incredibly accurate. I wanted everything that’s ambiguous in the film to be backed up with well corroborated and acceptable sources. It was the combination of no money and the volunteer research was not up to snuff to do it.

Lucia: We are spending a lot of effort trying to figure out who can help us with outreach, getting the screeners to everybody, trying to come up with a plan. We had grand ambitions for the supplemental materials for the website. We haven’t given up on it yet, but it’s still coming soon.

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Sunday, February 17, 2008

Spoke at Metropolitan College of New York Friday Night

I would like to thank Professor Paula Landry for inviting me to speak Friday night in her Film Business class that she co-instructs with Professor and President Stephen R. Greenwald at Metropolitan College of New York, my alma matter where I attended grad school for Media Management a few years back. The program served as a foundation for my notetaking, since it was during my studies there that I began to attend film panel discussions at festivals such as Cannes, and though I didn't realize it at the time, I would soon be sharing my notes on this very blog.

Flash forward to Friday night, and there I was explaining the genesis of The Film Panel Notetaker to a new batch of young media entrepreneurs, all with various concentrations. Speaking of which, you might be seeing some notes posted here in the near future from some of these students on a wide spectrum of panel discussions from the music, fashion, public relations and web industries.

I am hoping to work with Paula soon to program a panel discussion at the school. I will keep you informed of any developments.


Friday, February 15, 2008

SXSW Film Panel Schedule Now Available

As indicated in a previous post, today SXSW posted the complete film panel schedule online. Panels run from Saturday, March 8 through Tuesday, March 11. See here which panels you'd like to attend if you'll be in Austin during the festival.


Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Stranger Than Fiction - WHOLPHIN - February 12, 2008

Wholphin's Brent Hoff and Emily Doe at Minetta Tavern after Stranger Than Fiction

Two weeks ago, The Film Panel Notetaker shared notes from the Film as A Subversive Art Q&A at Thom Powers’ popular documentary series at New York’s IFC Center, *Stranger Than Fiction. Last night was week six of STF presenting Brent Hoff and Emily Doe of the DVD anthology Wholphin published by McSweeney’s. The event was sold out.

* Next week at Stranger Than Fiction is Best of Orphan Film Symposium presented by curator Dan Streible and special guests. Every other year, archivists from around the country gather to present unusual films of unknown origins dubbed "orphans." Founder Streible returns to STF with a rich sampling.

Thom opened the program by asking the audience if they had ever heard of Wholphin. A good chunk raised their hands. Thom said, “You’re virgins now, but you’re leaving here experienced.” Then he mentioned that that Issue 5: Winter Edition of Wholphin will be available soon. Thom then brought up Brent and Emily, who came in from San Francisco to brave the snowy weather in New York.

Last night’s line-up included a diverse array of non-fiction films from the outright hilarious to the very serious. And they were:

Heavy Metal Jr.
This was third viewing of this humorous short doc about a band of pre-teen Scottish heavy metal rockers. The first time I saw it was on the 4th edition Wholphin DVD. Then I saw it again on Sundance Channel recently. It was even better in a theater listening to other people’s reactions. Brent made a joke that there were no CDs of the music from the film to sell afterwards in the lobby, but it is available online.

Drunk Bees
This, and all of the following films, was my first viewing. The short doc examines the behavior of bees that are drawn to a special flower that produces fermented nectar, enabling them to be in an inebriated state. Other bees are also given alcohol in a research lab to examine their behavior. The doc, which was produced by Wholphin, features Brent in a bee suit.

Piece By Piece (Producer Jigar Mehta in attendance)
Much like the strange behavior of the drunken bees, Piece By Piece examines the addictive behavior of human beings who are drawn to making the Rubik’s Cube the soul essence of their being. Groups and individuals talk about their experiences of solving the colorful cubical puzzle in competitive matches. Brent said that all of the records since the film was made have been shattered. Jigar, who worked with Westside Filmworks on the film, said the idea for the documentary came from students at a summer workshop to film speed cubers. The directors of the film picked up cubing during the production and they all became quite good at it.

Next up was a series of one-minute films involving violence to balloons made by Wholphin contributor and artist William Lamson. Thom asked William why he chose balloons? William said they are really cheap material and all have a life span. Lamson is also known for his giant paper airplanes short film that has been playing as the trailer before the main program in Stranger Than Fiction for the past several weeks. Thom mentioned this short will also appear on Issue 5 of Wholphin.

American Outrage
A 30-minute excerpt of the feature documentary American Outrage was the final film screened. It is about two Shoshone Indian grandmothers in Nevada who struggle to keep their animals and livestock on native land that had been granted to their ancestors in a peace treaty many years ago. The U.S. government claims that these women and the Shoshone do not have rights to this land, and take evasive actions to round up their horses, killing and injuring most of them in the process for the sole purpose of clearing the land so they can dig for what is supposed to be one of the richest deposits of gold in the world. And if that wasn’t bad enough, the government soon decides that they’re going to make this land a test site for nuclear bombing, so the grannies and the people stand up and protest.

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Tuesday, February 12, 2008

SXSW Film Festival 2008 Panels Announced Today, Yeehaw!!!

Here's the latest news from the SXSW press office about the planned panel discussions. Stay tuned to The Film Panel Notetaker in March when I'll be there covering the panels over the first few days of the fest. I am especially looking forward to the Stanley Nelson, Helen Hunt, and Writers Strike panels, and the Harold & Kumar panel seems very clever and inventive. I don't think I've ever seen a panel on drugs, politics, and race before, at least not all in the same session. FYI, the entire panels lineup and schedule, will be available on the SXSW Website on Friday, February 15, which I will for sure be checking out so I can plan my entire SXSW schedule including what films I want to see.

SXSW Announces 2008 Film Panels
Billy Bob Thornton, Helen Hunt, and Stanley Nelson Among Speakers

Austin, TX ­ February 12, 2008 - The South by Southwest (SXSW) Film Conference & Festival is happy to announce its complete slate of panels and workshops for the 15th annual event in Austin, Texas. The SXSW Film Conference will take place in the Austin Convention Center during March8-11, and is open to all SXSW Film, Gold, and Platinum registrants. In addition, the SXSW Film Conference will co-host joint sessions with the SXSW Interactive Conference. Nearly 200 industry veterans and experts are on tapas speakers for the panels.

Among the newly-announced additions to the panels schedule are: A Conversation with Billy Bob Thornton & Dwight Yoakam on March 11, ComingSoon: The Making of a Trailer scheduled for March 10, An Actor's Workshop with Jeffrey Tambor on March 9, Drugs, Politics, and Race: A Harold & Kumar Panel and What the Writers Strike Taught Us on March 8. These panels join already announced highlights such as A Conversation with Harlan Ellison, Stanley Nelson: History in the Making and A Conversation with Helen Hunt, both confirmed for March 9.

The SXSW Film Conference will conclude on the afternoon of March 11 with A Conversation with Moby, where BMI's Doreen Ringer-Ross will conduct an interview with the prominent musician and film composer.

New this year for the SXSW Film Conference is Global Doc Days, an event built around programming by various international film organizations. In the Austin Suite of the Austin Convention Center, countries such as Mexico, Canada, Norway, and China will present some of their latest documentary programming to SXSW Film Conference participants. Global Doc Days will strive to bridge gaps between international documentary industries, and place itself as one of the only venues in the United States where such activity occurs. Two selections from Mexico, the documentaries Born Withoutand The Old Thieves, have also been added to official festival screenings lineup of SXSW.

The entire panels lineup and schedule, will be available on the SXSW Website on Friday, February 15.


Sunday, February 10, 2008

A Tribute to St. Clair Bourne - February 10, 2008

A Tribute to St. Clair Bourne
Museum of the Moving Image – Astoria, NY
February 10, 2008

(L to R: Armond White, Esther Iverem, Warrington Hudlin, George Alexander, Clyde Taylor and David Schwartz)

(Filmmaker Melvin Van Peebles in the audience)

At the Museum of the Moving Image on Sunday, critics and scholars were in person to discuss the career of and show clips from documentary filmmaker St. Clair Bourne, who died in December 2007, and made more than 40 films, mainly about African-American culture and politics. His subjects included Paul Robeson, John Henrik Clarke, Gordon Parks, Langston Hughes, and Making of Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing. The discussion was organized and moderated by Warrington Hudlin producer of such films as House Party and Boomerang, and the founder of DV Republic.

The panelists included Clyde Taylor, professor at the Gallatin School and writer for the PBS documentary, Midnight Ramble: The Life and Legacy of Oscar Micheaux; George Alexander - business entertainment columnist at Black Enterprise magazine and author of Why We Make Movies; Esther Iverem, journalist, poet and author of The Time: Portrait of a Journey Home; Armond White , film critic at New York Press and author of The Resistance: Ten Years of Pop Culture That Shook the World and Rebel for the Hell of It: The Art-Life of Tupac Shakur.

The Museum’s David Schwartz opened the presentation by remarking that Hudlin had the idea to do this tribute to Bourne, who was a prolific filmmaker. Schwartz thanked Hudlin for arranging the tribute and said that Hudlin would someday get a tribute of his own. Hudlin joked, “When I’m alive!” Schwartz continued by saying that this would be one of the last programs at the Museum before it undergoes construction at the end of the month.

He then introduced Nonso Christian Ugbode of the Black Documentary Collective, who presented a short clip montage that he cut himself of Bourne’s work. Afterwards, the panelists each presented clips from a selection of Bourne’s films.

Clips Presentation:

Clyde Taylor (CT) - Clip from Let the Church Say Amen (1974)
Taylor said he chose this clip because it was a breakthrough film for Bourne and was made at the point when they got to know one another. Bourne had created his own production company at the time. This film became his ID or calling card. Taylor initiated an African-American film society in San Francisco and invited Bourne to show his film there. They became close friends. This clip is one that reflects a cinema verité style of filmmaking that follows a young seminary student, showing the connection between religion and the black experience.

George Alexander (GA) – Clip from Langston Hughes: The Dreamkeeper (1988)
Alexander said that Bourne was a generous and giving soul. He got to know him during the centennial birthday celebration of Langston Hughes at the Museum of Natural History. Alexander didn’t know Bourne too well at the time, but knew his work. Alexander worked on Bourne’s book and viewed all his films, and got to know him very well and they became good friends. This clip shows the idea of cultural authenticity, which is the notion that the subject of the documentary was talked about. If you do work about a community, you also have to show the social context.

Esther Iverem (EI)– Clip from Making ‘Do the Right Thing' (1989)
Iverem said as a young journalist, she was very impressed by the use of journalism on screen in Bourne’s films. She respects real stories a lot more than most narrative films she has to review. She had corresponded with Bourne through email. He was very active with the online community. When he was going through issues with his health, he was still interested in helping other people with their careers. This clip combines so many of his interests and emphases like social activism. It captures so much of what was happening in New York City in the 1980s.

Armond White (AW)– Clip from John Henrik Clarke: A Great and Mighty Walk (1996)
White said he met Bourne in the 1980s when he was an editor for the New York City Sun. He went to Bourne’s Upper West Side apartment for an interview. Bourne was a very principled and humane person. He didn’t talk like other filmmakers. He came from a family of journalists. It was the journalism aspect Bourne brought to filmmaking that made him special. White showed two clips. The first was the opening sequence of the film. He said this clip helps to show that movies don’t fall out of the sky. People collaborate with one another. The montage gives a sense of Bourne’s style. This is a film of self-identification. Bourne reflected on his own life as a filmmaker and as a n African-American. The second clip is of John Henrik Clarke sitting in a leather chair in a room with books and African sculptures. It evokes a professor’s office or a middle-class family’s den, like that of on TV’s “Father Knows Best.” This documentary has a rich, story-like quality. One of the only Bourne films that is in distribution.

Panel Discussion and Audience Q&A

Hudlin then opened the panel discussion, a mix between his own questions to the panelists and also comments and questions from the audience. [FYI, among those in the audience was filmmaker Melvin Van Peebles, whose Sweet Sweetback’s Badasssss Song was a pioneering African-American independent film of the early 1970s.]

(WH) How long had you known Bourne?

(CT) Since 1976. It was an important moment for black independent cinema, but documentaries were happening as well from such people as William Greaves. Bourne kept that leadership with the Black Documentary Collective.

(WH) What were some of the choices he made with his documentaries?

(CT) He was committed to handheld cinema verité. No narrator. More personal and intimate. In later years, he got better funded. Archival footage is very expensive. In the later years, he made films of people with profiles of greatness such as Paul Robeson, but he was not the ‘PBSification’ mode.

(WH) When you interviewed Bourne for your book, did he talk about any challenges?

(GA) He talked about how independent film was about to change. Up until Spike Lee, documentary filmmakers were making films about real life. The Spike Lee made narrative films that were entertaining in a realistic way. For John Henrik Clarke: A Great and Mighty Walk, he employed an MTV editor using quick cuts. In terms of getting funding, frequently people who controlled the money had little experience with African-American stories. Filmmaker Julie Dash talked about the same struggle to incorporate realistic elements. It was always challenging.

(WH) In your book We Got to Have It, you talk about the consumer’s appetite. How are African Americans responding to documentaries?

(EI) Can’t say that there has been an explosion in our documentaries and African Americans responding to them. What audiences are going to see versus quality of the films is a different thing. In recent years, filmmakers like Michael Moore get a lot of credit for documentaries being played in theaters. A lot of times, these films aren’t made by black filmmakers.

(WH) Are there any advantages or disadvantages to fiction vs. non-fiction films?

(AW) It’s a choice. You take a risk of not interesting an audience. Most movie goers aren’t interested in documentaries. Bourne took a risk because documentaries tell things to audiences that fiction cannot. I wouldn’t put him in the same sentence as Michael Moore. Moore degraded documentary filmmaking. Bourne believed in the truth of history.

(WH) Will anyone defend Michael Moore? He and I are personal friends. When he sold Roger & Me for $4 million, he called me and asked if I needed some money. Fahrenheit 9/11 is the only documentary that has reached blockbuster status.

(GA) Moore is aware that audiences evolve. People want to see something that entices them.

(AW) Moore has changed the form. Popular films aim to entertain more than to inform. His films are aimed toward a particular political mindset. Bourne didn’t play around with the truth or history.

(EI) Bourne had integrity, but we don’t have to honor that by throwing someone else under the bus. It doesn’t mean that Moore isn’t sticking to the facts. Just because he uses those techniques, doesn’t mean he doesn’t have integrity.

(Audience Comment) I worked with Bourne and he wouldn’t want us knocking down filmmakers like Moore.

(Audience Question) I am amazed and appalled that only one of Bourne’s movies is in distribution. What can we do about it? How do we get his films into circulation so future generations can see his work?

(CT) There’s a movement out there to get his films in a box set. Something is in the works.

(Audience Question) Was Bourne working on anything up to his death?

(CT) A project about the Black Panthers. He got some extraordinary interviews. He also wanted to have a book done on his photos.

(EI) He was also developing some fiction narratives. Might depend on who owns the actual rights to his work.

(Audience Comment) The Black Documentary Collective will catalog his work.

(Audience Question) Why wasn’t a clip from Half-Past Autumn: The Life and Works of Gordon Parks shown?

(EI) I would have chosen that clip to screen, but Bourne was the producer, and not the director of that and the Museum chose to screen just clips from films he directed. Half-Past Autumn was on HBO. It was one of his films where he was able to break through the ceiling.

(GA) It still fits his desire to chronicle important black people in history who made enormous contributions to African-American culture.

(WH) Bourne created the Black Documentary Collective. He created an infrastructure that survives him. The institution he left behind didn’t die away. What is the Collective doing these days?

(BCD Representative) We meet the first Monday of every month. We have rough-cut screenings and panel discussions.

Towards the end of the discussion, Melvin Van Peebles stood up and said, “I’m clairvoyant!” Bourne knew the problems that he wanted the public to understand. He would have wanted filmmakers to continue to educate the audience. To push forward. Keep on fighting. Hudlin reminded Van Peebles of a button he once gave him that’s a circle with a line through it that means, “No Whining, Keep Working.” Van Peebles said he just made a new feature. At the end of the shoot, he was on his knees scrubbing the floor. “You got to do the whole thing,” he said. “I do any G-d damn thing necessary!”

- Notes by The Film Panel Notetaker

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Thursday, February 07, 2008

Plenty of Programming Planned Outside of Astoria During Museum of the Moving Image's $65M Renovation-Expansion

The Museum of the Moving Image (MMI) in The Film Panel Notetaker's neighborhood of Astoria, Queens, has announced that it will hold a groundbreaking celebration for its $65 million expansion and renovation project on February 27. Anticipated for completion in late 2009, the "project will double the current size of the Museum, transforming the entire first floor and creating a strikingly contemporary new three-story addition," according to the MMI.

But don't fret, the MMI has assured that "during the construction period, when its on-site activities will be curtailed, the Museum will continue to provide the public with a diverse and exciting array of off-site screenings, discussions, and family and community programs in all five boroughs."

The activities that will remain during the renovation include:
  • The Museum's monthly series of talks, panels, and special programs at The Times Center in Manhattan.
  • Scholars and researchers will still have access to the Museum's collection of 130,000+ objects.
  • The Museum will also expand its presence on the Web with such programs as The Living Room Candidate (2008 edition) and Moving Image Source, a new international site for serious movie goers.
In advance of the groundbreaking, the Museum will close its Riklis Theater. The final screening there will be John Ford's How Green Was My Valley at 6:30pm on February 24.

The list of closings includes:
  • The Digital Play exhibition will close immediately after groundbreaking.
  • The Museum's core exhibition, Behind the Screen, will close to the public as of March 23, though school groups will still be scheduled through June. Behind the Screen is expected to re-open to the public in early 2009.
Though there's less than a month before the Museum undergoes its renovation-expansion, there's plenty of great events programmed there that The Film Panel Notetaker will attend including:
This past year, I attended such events as Marylou Tibaldo-Bongiorno's and Jerome Bongiorno's Revolution '67 and Ramin Bahrani's Chop Shop previews and discussions. I will surely miss attending events in Astoria, but look forward to going to as many of the great programs planned throughout the city as I can. I eagerly await the Museum's re-opening at the end of 2009. It will certainly be a great destination for cinephiles throughout New York City and beyond.

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Wednesday, February 06, 2008

"Off the Grid: Life On The Mesa" Opens In Select Markets On Feb. 8

Here's the latest news from IndiePix. This looks like a haunting documentary. I can't wait to see it:


NEW YORK, NY – IndiePix announced the theatrical premiere of the festival hit “Off the Grid”. The film will open on Friday, February 8 at the Hoff Theater in College Park, MD and at the Guild Cinema in Albuquerque, NM. These screenings will be followed by a nationwide theatrical release and television premiere on Sundance Channel's “The Green”. “The independent spirit of 'Off the Grid' makes this film an ideal match for IndiePix and our expansion into the theatrical market,” says Bob Alexander, CEO of IndiePix.

About Off the Grid

Twenty-Five miles from town, a million miles from mainstream society, a loose-knit community of eco-pioneers, teenage runaways, war veterans and drop-outs, live on the fringe and off the grid, struggling to survive with little food, less water and no electricity, as they cling to their unique vision of the American dream. As word about the Mesa spreads to the outside world, the community experiences growth and begins to attract new elements. A group of young people with anarchical tendencies, calling themselves “the nowhere kids,” claim responsibility for stealing food from houses, including that of a single mother. The community grapples with how to establish rule and avoid violence in the absence of of governmental interference.

Among it's many awards to date, “Off the Grid” was awarded the Michael Moore Award for Best Documentary Film. John Anderson of Variety found the film “stunning... the characters come to vivid life” and Michael Lerman of IndieWIRE writes: “A look at the American Southwest that will send chills down your spine.” “Off the Grid” has screened at Film Society of Lincoln Center's Independents Night, MoMA, Best of Slamndance Documentary Showcase 2007 at IFC Center, AFI/Silverdocs, Miami IFF, True/False, Sarasota and Raindance among others.

Watch the trailer at IndiePix.

About IndiePixIndiePix is a distributor that delivers a highly-curated collection of the best independent films from around the world. Offering a hand-picked catalog of over 3,000 independent film gems - arthouse, foreign, and documentary - the IndiePix team selects the best titles from the international festival circuit. Avenues for distribution include IndiePix' patented Download-to-Own technology, delivery of DVD by mail, and theatrical.

Key Links
Off the GridFilm Website: http://indiepixfilms.com/film/3392
IndiePixIndiePix Home Page http://indiepixfilms.com/

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Tuesday, February 05, 2008

SXSW Film Festival Announces 2008 Film Lineup

South by Southwest today announced the film lineup for its 2008 festival, which takes place from March 7-15 in Austin, Texas.

According to the festival press office, "Over the course of nine days, 114 features will screen at the festival, with 65 of those having their world premieres at SXSW 2008. Among the high-profile films added to the festival's "Spotlight Premieres" category are: Kimberly Peirce's Stop-Loss, Nicholas Stoller's Forgetting SarahMarshall, Martin Scorsese's Shine A Light, Michael Almereyda's NewOrleans Mon Amour, Joe Swanberg & Greta Gerwig's Nights and Weekends, Jay & Mark Duplass' Baghead, Liz Mermin's Shot In Bombay, Nanette Burstein's American Teen, Aaron Rose & Joshua Leonard's Beautiful Losers, Sylvia Stevens' Chevolution, Morgan Spurlock's Where in the World is Osama BinLaden?, and the festival's Closing Night Film, Stephen Walker's documentary Young@Heart. They join previously announced titles such as Opening NightFilm 21, as well as Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay, DreamsWith Sharp Teeth, Then She Found Me, and Run, Fat Boy, Run."

FYI, The Film Panel Notetaker will be in Austin for the first few days of the festival covering the panel discussions. The complete list of panels is expected to be announced soon. In the mean time, you can view a list of most of the panels that are being planned here.