g The Film Panel Notetaker: June 2009

Monday, June 29, 2009

NewFest 2009- "Pop Star On Ice" Audience Q&A - June 11, 2009

Pop Star on Ice
Screening and Q&A
June 11, 2009
New York, NY

David Barba, James Pellerito, Paris Childers and Johnny Weir. Photo by Brian Geldin.

The audience responded with great enthusiasm for NewFest’s closing night film, the documentary Pop Star on Ice. After the screening, directors David Barba and James Pellerito as well as Johnny Weir and Paris Childers came to the stage for a Q&A. The discussion was moderated by NewFest’s Documentary Programmer, Cameron Yates. Audience members included Johnny’s mother Patti, Aunt Diane, Johnny’s Angel Sue Anderson, and fashion designer Richie Rich.

Q: In the film people point out that you have internal struggles holding you back. Do you agree with that? Are you any closer to resolving that?

Weir: I hope so. (Audience laughs)I think that every person has this sort of jumble of people inside them, as crazy at that may sound. I think there is a struggle especially in my sport because it’s a very technical very athletic sport. I’m a little more free-spirited, a little more artistic. To harness one side to match up with the other side its very difficult but I have a very strict coaching regimen at the moment, as you can see in the movie how to the point Galina (current coach) is. I don’t have a lot of opportunity to double think something or go to one side or another. She just says exactly what I need to do, and that’s what I do because that’s what a coach should do. By the end our relationship Priscilla (former coach) and I were very close and I knew how to push her buttons and she could push mine so it was difficult to have a good strong coaching relationship. But with my new coaches it’s taken a new direction because they can harness in all this crazy. (Audience laughs)

Q: Audience member asks about the homophobia in the US compared to Europe.

Weir: There seems to be an internalized homophobia in the North America, whereas in Europe, they have more of an open mind. They appreciate when you can make something beautiful. Here, they worry about the image that surrounds that beauty, they worry about this is going to mean to them, or to the people watching them, or to the children. (Audience laughs) It’s difficult to be different in this federation but if I’ve done nothing else I want to make it easier for people to come up and to be crazy, and to be artistic, and go on the ice and do something that they feel and that they love, not just doing something for points.

Q: Audience member asks about masculinity and figure skating, and the public criticisms directed towards Johnny.

Barba: There was an article in Canada talking about how they needed to make male figure skating more athletic and particularly more masculine. This came out quite recently and it was after we had locked the picture. I think it’s a situation in figure skating where ladies skating is really the focus of skating. And differentiate themselves from the ladies the men want to be seen as athletic. I think what Jamie and I love about Johnny is that has both, and he isn’t afraid to have both. I hope Johnny never stops having both. (Audience claps.)

Childers: I think that it should all be blended together. There should be nothing that defines us really. What is masculine? What is feminine? Someone tell me. Seriously. (Audience claps) Figure skating is not masculine or feminine so who the fuck cares?

Weir: These comments came from a man who I once saw on television wearing purple pajamas and ice skating - with karate chop moves - to the Bruce Lee story. (Audience laughs.) There were gold frogs on his costume and all of that business. That’s who made these comments. What people perceive about masculine and feminine is their own perception. I clearly am not the most masculine person that you’ve ever seen before…but my style is mine and that’s something that I’m proud of. I’m not like anyone else like purple pajamas. Purple pajamas there have been thirteen of them. I’m the one, that’s me. How boring would figure skating be if there was no music, there was no sparkle no razzle dazzle? Nobody would watch it, not that we have the biggest audience at the moment – so everyone needs to watch please. (Audience laughs) Figure skating is what it is…masculine, feminine, beautiful, athletic…that’s my sport and that why people love my sport. There’s all this talk about masculinity and making men into jumping machines and all these manly man things. I mean I am not throwing a football. I will not have a can of pork and beans on the ice, I go out there and I wanna be pretty. I will fight to the death to be pretty. (Audience laughs and loud applause and a “Yes!” from FPN’s Kelly Deegan)

Q: Was it difficult making this film with the national skating association? Did you have any trouble?

Barba: Actually we didn’t. The American Federation have been incredibly generous to us, as well as the International Union. It was a process.We were nobodies we kind of crept in and tried to prove ourselves…we slowly built trust. We showed them what we were trying to do was top bring more people into figure skating. I think that’s what Johnny does is he brings other types of people into figure skating. It’s always been positive.

Q: How did the project come about did you approach Johnny and if so what was his initial reaction?

Weir: So they were filming a documentary about figure skating because it is a very interesting world. There are so many different people in it. It’s kind of like a crack house with rhinestones and glitter. They were following it and they fell in love with a beautiful young boy from Pennsylvania whose name was Johnny and they approached this said Johnny. That was ridiculous just now…they approached me at my home rink and they called me into a meeting and wore their little jackets and they were very business like and prepared. They told me they wanted to follow me around and show what it is to be a real figure skater, a real athlete. So I talked about it with my mom, because my mom and I go over everything together and we decided why not? We were fast friends.

At this point Weir asks the filmmakers a question.

Weir: Can I ask you guys what you’ve learned? It’s been a long time, I want to see what you’ve learned about first of all your jobs and careers, and just about life in general. (Audience Laughs)

Pellerito: Honestly we learned to pace ourselves.

Barba: I think what we learned was that the wrong approach was to say to Johnny ‘we’re going to move into your bedroom with you and sleep on the floor and shoot you every minute of the day.’ I think we would’ve burned out after a day and we never would have gone here. I think we tried to understand what was important to show, we tried to build a relationship with Johnny, his family, and Priscilla (his coach at the time).

Pellerito: and Paris

Barba: And Paris of course. We loved Paris from the beginning and he loved us from the beginning, so that wasn’t hard.

Weir: Beautiful, thank you. (Audience laughs)

Q: How much pre-production went into this or did you just find him and start going? (The FPN’s Kelly Deegan)

Pellerito: I feel like the whole thing was on the fly.

Barba: There was no pre-production. Other filmmakers might have this experience, you just start doing it. I guess we were doing the figure skating documentary. Then we saw Johnny and we said ‘that’s the documentary we should be doing.’ Thank god Johnny said yes. So we just kind of went, and we just kept on going. We never stopped we just kept doing it.

Barba concluded that Weir’s road to the 2010 Olympics will be portrayed in a new 8-part documentary series on Sundance Channel that will premiere next January. It is currently titled Be Good Johnny Weir.

Be sure to check out our One-on-One interviews with filmmaker James Pellerito, Johnny and Paris, below!

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Sunday, June 28, 2009

NewFest Pop Star on Ice Interviews with Johnny and Paris

Pop Star on Ice
Interviews with Johnny Weir and Paris Childers
June 11, 2009
By Kelly Deegan

Paris Childers and Johnny Weir. Photo by Brian Geldin.

This is a quick bonus for fans of the film, figure skating, and fabulous men.

After the screening I was very excited to speak to the stars. First I cornered Paris. We discussed Nina Flowers, stereotypes in gay film, MAC makeup, Liza Minnelli, and a few things about Pop Star on Ice.

Deegan: The lines that you had were so good.

Childers: I’m known for one-liners. They just come around every now and then

Deegan: Why is it such a big deal if a figure skater is gay? I don’t get it!

Childers: There are closeted people in figure skating. I think it’s seen as such a feminine sport you have to prove you’re not gay because everyone perceives femininity for being gay.

Deegan: Did you enjoy experience?

Childers: I did. It was great. We got up early this morning and went to MAC to get our makeup done. It was weird seeing it on the big screen. I’ve seen it at home. Did you guys like the film?

Deegan: Oh my god I loved it.

A few other people got to Paris, and I swiftly moved to Johnny before anyone else got to him. He graciously spoke to me, and I am still charmed.

Deegan: What did it feel like to have the cameras around you all the time?

Weir: The only time I ever get uncomfortable is when I have a pimple. That’s the only time I feel uncomfortable, I have no problem being myself. The great thing about the movie is that nothing was scripted, except obviously putting us in the bubble bath.

Deegan: Yes but the conversation going on in the bubble bath I assume would occur on other occasions?

Weir: I am crack house crazy.

Deegan: Yeah me too. I really related to the part where you and Paris were dressing up and taking pictures of yourselves. I was all, “That’s what me and my friend do!”

Weir: Fantastic.

Deegan: So um, are you still filming?

Weir: Yes we’re still filming it. They’re going to film me leading up into the Olympics. We’re getting ready to go to Canada to shoot the choreography for my new programs. They’re troopers. They spend a lot of time in the ice rink filming things that nobody else wants to see.

Deegan: Do you participate in the production?

Weir: If I remember something or I see something in a playback that’s beautiful and I want it in there, I’ll tell them I want that in there - and they’ll do it because they have too. (Laughs) In general they are very talented.


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NewFest "Pop Star On Ice" James Pellerito Interview

Interview with James Pellerito

Co-Writer/Director/DP/Editor/Producer of the documentary Pop Star on Ice
June 11, 2009

By Kelly Deegan

Kelly Deegan interviews James Pellerito. Photo by Brian Geldin.

We had a few more questions after NewFest’s closing night Q&A with the cast and crew of the very entertaining documentary Pop Star on Ice. Luckily, filmmaker James Pellerito was kind enough to talk to us as we walked to the super fun NewFest closing night party.

Deegan: You originally were making a documentary on Figure Skating. Was there anyone who was upset about the focus being switched to Johnny(Weir)? Did you have any contacts that this became a problem with?

Pellerito: Not really. This was an unusual experience, because everyone who spoke to us was happy to speak to us. There are a lot of people we interviewed who weren’t in the film because the material wasn’t related to Johnny specifically. Who knows, maybe we’ll do something with that. It won’t be in the documentary but we can do something with it.

Deegan: How is filming going on the new series (Be Good Johnny Weir for Sundance Channel)?

Pellerito: We have all the footage that exists from the Worlds (World Figure Skating Championships) in March 2008 forward. So we continued filming with him, and all of that footage will probably go into the first two episodes of this eight part series with the focus of it being this coming (figure skating) season, which starts in October. So it’s really about whether he makes it to the Olympics or not.

Deegan: How did you approach the editing? Being that you did it on the fly, you must have had tons of footage, and then at the end there’s the “What do I do with everything?”

Pellerito: Absolutely.

Deegan: Where did you even begin to make a structure or outline?

Pellerito: It was really, really hard to be honest. We had between 100 and 110 hours of footage and we cut it down to 85 minutes. We knew what the highlights were. So we really just tried to use the highlights and structure the film around them. We had already started following him without knowing it. (We filmed) the national championships, when he made all those comments about drugs, and when he was in the swan costume, so we already had that footage and we knew that was going to be a highlight. So we chose our highlights and worked around them.

Deegan: Working with Johnny and Paris, please tell me about it.

Pellerito: Paris and Johnny were great to work with. So when we felt “we need something here” we sort of came up with it, like the bathtub scene. It was collaborative. We thought it would be funny to have him interview Paris as a Russian journalist, and then it just evolved into why don’t we do it in a strange place, like a bathtub? They were totally comfortable in it.

Deegan: I love Paris’ lines that really sum things up, like about the skaters wearing makeup. And really, why is it such a scandal that a figure skater is “gay?!” To me its mind boggling that it would be such an issue. You remained unbiased when showing the clearly bigoted people in the film.

Pellerito: A lot of that footage is not edited. They just said it themselves and we let the camera roll.

Deegan: It’s so offensive. Anyway, so you used the highlights as the skeleton of your film.

Pellerito: Yes, Then we knew that we needed to explain what the skating season was like to people who don’t follow figure skating. (Referring to the timeline visual used in the film)

Geldin: The music was great in the film how did you find the composer?

Pellerito: I worked with him before and I knew he could do a lot of different things. We wanted to have someone who could do classical music but also poppy music.

Geldin: I loved the techno version of the Canadian national anthem you use.

Pellerito: You should have heard what we didn’t use. We had about 25 versions of Oh Canada. It’s techno, it’s classical, its marching band! It was really fun to work with him because he’s so talented. You give him a task - he does it, and gives you many, many versions. Working with the graphics guy Greg was also amazing; he really took our info and ran with it.

Deegan: Who did the editing?

Pellerito: We did. It wasn’t by choice, we didn’t have enough money. It was basically just the two of us doing everything other than that so we got very lucky with the people we worked with.

Deegan: Well you did a damn good job.

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Saturday, June 27, 2009

Silverdocs - Doc Talk: Film Criticism - June 19, 2009

Doc Talk: Film Criticism
Silverdocs 2009
June 19, 2009

Photo by Brian Geldin

Silverdocs Director of Programming Sky Sitney introduced this esteemed panel of film critics from top media outlets as well as the man whose blog post inspired the idea for the panel, Thom Powers, Toronto Film Festival documentary programmer and creator of New York's popular Stranger Than Fiction documentary screening series. Thom's posting was a "call to action" for documentary film critics, something Sitney said is not just important for documentary filmmakers, but the state of journalism today in relationship to documentaries. Therefore, this panel was called to address the changes in mainstream journalism that are affecting criticism and the job of critics. All of these issues were addressed in one way or another, but the discussion got particularly juicy when the panelists debated if there needs to be specialized critics just for documentaries. Below are some highlights from this panel.

Phillip Kennicott – Washington Post Culture Critic

Lisa Schwarzbaum – Entertainment Weekly
David Edelstein – New York Magazine, NPR’s Fresh Air
Thom Powers - Toronto Film Festival Documentary, Stranger Than Fiction
Amy Taubin – British Sight & Sound, Film Comment

Kennicott: Were you (Thom) simply saying that we have to put more time and resources and depth into documentary reviews, or were you speaking of the virtues of specialization?

Powers: I think that there's been this growth of documentary film in the last five to ten years. It's grown to a point where the old-style method of covering it, people whose jobs are mainly covering fiction who also cover documentaries if they come along is no longer quite adequate...I have tremendous respect for what each person (on the panel) is doing here...(Lisa in EW) is always making room for documentary coverage....Amy has such a long and venerable career in documentary coverage. In fact, I would use as an example a kind of criticism I'm hoping for is a piece that she wrote for Film Comment in the last year about James Toback's film Tyson...conceptualizing it in comparison to Barbara Kopple's film about Mike Tyson that was made 10 years ago and has sort of fallen out of appreciation and circulation. It took someone with a deep understanding of history of that field to make that connection...When I talk about criticism, I'm not just talking about people to give two thumbs up to documentaries. I'm talking about we need a more rigorous analysis of this important piece of culture that's becoming more a part of the experience of how we perceive the world. Films like Food, Inc., An Inconvenient Truth...Bee Season, these are films that play a role in our culture that was once more played by print journalism. We all know that print journalism is receding. I think that this work is kind of filling its place.

Kennicott: (Speaking before the panel with Edelstein who told him it's more difficult to review documentaries). Can you talk a little bit more what you meant?

Edelstein: I think it depends on the documentary. We can sit here for a long time to discuss the boundaries between art and journalism...When you're writing about a piece of journalism, it's more difficult because you're really in the role of a reporter...You're relaying the facts (and) arguments...It's very different than reviewing a more impressionistic documentary...I did a column this week on Agnes Varda's The Beaches of Agnes and I had a fantastic time. It's a delightfully goofy movie. Very nutty and impressionistic...I had a terrible time writing about Food, Inc., because even though I admire it much more...what I essentially was called upon to do was relay the facts of the movie and kind of get out of the way. I ended up writing much shorter on Food, Inc., and in fact writing, as Thom said, an advocacy piece...which I'm kind of too pretentious to do that. It made for a great ad quote, but I usually think let's leave that to Peter Travers. I make fun of him because he writes in blurb speak, but in fact I have friends who are documentary filmmakers who really appreciate that, not necessarily for his insights, but they can appropriate his language and use it to sell their films. We do have an advocacy rule, but it it's very difficult. You're trying to write in a lively, witty impressionistic style to win readers...make them want to read you.

Kennicott: Do you have time to be a journalistic and a fact checker on the schedule you keep?

Schwarzbaum: That's a fine question and I don't know if any of us have time to be a journalistic fact checker, but it also gets into an interesting question whether that is what we are supposed to be doing. We are looking at the material that is given us. I think David and I both jump on this word 'advocacy'...yes, we want to write about a documentary film we think is good and therefore want people to see it...What we have to do is get the word out for people to see it, but that's not our primary job...that's what advertising is for...We are to look at the work in front of us to put it in the context of what the film is and it so happens that the subject of the film is going to also be a part of this, but if I had to check the facts...it gets into a challenging issue, because how can we?

Edelstein: I mentioned on the phone...I loved like may other people the film Roger & Me, but I was somewhat shamed by (??? Jacobson's???) expose on the way that Michael Moore had manipulated the facts in the film...Admittedly, he took a long time and did a lot of digging. I should have been a little more suspicious of the film. I still love it, I think it's a landmark. I thought it was extremely vital, but I'm comfortable with the fact that I have to function as a fact checker...Our own politics will inevitably enter in.

Schwarzbaum: That's a huge part of it...What happens when there is a film, the subject of which resonates with us versus a film that we don't care for the subject? When it comes to documentary filmmaking, it's about real things...real people...How did they shape this film?...It's interesting that we as humans can't help but also have our own head in there.

Edelstein: As critics, too.

Schwarzbaum: I think Amy (Taubin's) writing is always driven by a passion that comes through you...with a political passion as well as a critical eye. Am I wrong in saying that?

Taubin: I care about movies. I obviously have politics. I obviously am a human being. I'm a woman and therefore certain subjects move me more than others...I think I write out of a sense of what is a movie, what is film language, what is this thing doing with that? There is a particular type of documentary language. I think that people who write about documentary who write about a range of film, I think yes, you feel nervous about...not understanding something about this film and no critic, I think when they feel ignorant...you get to a very complicated Chinese movie and you can't tell one character from the other and you absolutely do not want to review it because, oh my G-d, they'll know that I couldn't tell these characters apart...With documentary it's the same kind of problem. But I think that's what's missing is that people don't talk about documentary language...what it means to make one type of documentary, an essay documentary as opposed to a journalistic documentary. But also the kinds of things like, he couldn't possibly have gotten that shot unless he had five cameras there and was waiting for it to happen. Why is it trying to tell me that he's a fly on the wall? That's the kind of things that I think you really need specialized critics?

Edelstein: What do you mean specialized?...That should be what we do. I was appalled by that American Teen in which it was very clear that they had manipulated their subjects intending to be a documentary, but it was the same kind of manipulation, you know when you hear about these nature films where the lion jumps on the poor little caribou, and you hear later they pushed the caribou into the frame and had the lion there waiting off camera. That was what that movie was like...It's our job to understand verite. It's our job to bring a different set of tools to a (Chris Marker???) documentary to a verite documentary to an extremely stylizes Errol Morris...that's our job. We don't need specialized documentary critics...We have plenty of time to learn about this stuff and just do it.

Powers: I wonder if someone whose job it is to do be on top of everything that's happening in American cinema...and world cinema...and also has the time to take on the expertise of documentary.

Schwarzbaum: Thom, you're asking for a specialized group? You're asking for a special exception for documentary in a way. You're saying, well this requires very specific thinking. I think what David is saying is right that as a critic, whether it's a Chinese film or documentary...I understand what you're saying about long form and in depth, I do think that's where writing that's being done on a line where there is a tremendous amount of space for people to go on and on and perhaps get to a point. I think that's great.

Kennicott: Do you think it's okay...to rhetorically say if this film is truly good, and then review it from there? [NOTE: Either Kennicott's microphone was on very low or he is a low-talker, ie in a Seinfeld episode, I couldn't quite make out what his question was here, and the above is the best I could make out, so hopefully the panelists answers make sense in relation to this question]

Schwarzbaum: The idea that a subject that seems strong carries the film for many people writing about documentaries is a problem to me...Oh look, they did a story about underappreciated black musicians who did Motown. We're not talking about what the film looks like, how it was put together. Telling truth requires a structure, too. It is an art form that we're writing about...a medium that we're writing about, so it's not just a truth, but how it's presented in a cinematic form that I think is as important to me as a critic, not just whether you're getting a word about An Inconvenient Truth.

Edelstein: (Talking about the documentary Under Our Skin about Lyme Disease that just came out theatrically)...I thought was very fine...It was not a great piece of cinema. It was a great piece of advocacy...an expose. I'm going to put the review online...The publicist of the movie (thought) it's much more prestige for the film if it's reviewed in print oddly enough.

Schwarzbaum: You're not doing for them to satisfy prestige for this.

Edelstein: I sat through the two-part distribution panel that preceded that and it was very sobering to hear that so much of their marketing strategy revolves around getting the films to critics because in many cases, we're the only ones who tell the audience and reports what's actually in the film...As I saw the people on the stage, many of whose films I didn't get to...I felt a sense of shame. There's 600-plus films that come out every year. I'm very lucky if I see 300 of them. Sometimes I don't get to these films or I don't treat them in the kind of depth that I should. I want to be better.

Kennicott: Just before the panel, (Amy) said she had 300-some odd screeners.

Taubin: Anyone who wants to send me a screener of course you can, but I don't know when I'll get to it. As a result, I have hundreds...I just want to go back to something that David said about that distribution panel. There was a brilliant piece in the New York Times...about the Hollywood studios and quotes. And critics like Lisa and David and particularly my friend Manhola Dargis hands out a sheet to the marketing people. You may do this, you may not do this with my copy...you cannot change my punctuation, you cannot change my capitalization, because I am not a publicist. That is not what I do. The point of view of this piece is that the studios don't think that they get enough out of book quotes of people like us and they are really looking forward to critics having more prestige so that they can simply take fabulous and sensational Twitter box, name an app, and they think that it will mean more. They think it will mean more to younger audiences...The idea that you got to get in print...I think that time is really about to be passed.

Kennicott: What will tell us that the primacy of print is finally over?

Edelstein: There's brilliant criticism on the web. The question is if these people can make a living doing it. Many of them have day jobs.

Powers: As an independent filmmaker, I'm totally uninterested where the review appears. Of course, it's nice when it happens under a prestigious headline. I get the pleasure of being panned in both New York Magazine and The Washington Post. It was more important to me to read something thoughtful...As much as we hunger as filmmakers to make money off of what we do, we also...want to think that our films are making ripples in the culture...One impetus behind my essay was that there's a lot more happening in documentary that is going unnoticed. (To pick up on something Lisa was talking about)...I think absolutely there is an important place for people who are writing about fiction an documentary, but I think there's a gap missing. I do think that specialists can bring a certain depth of background and understanding and more brain space to think about this.

Edelstein: We should have more brain space…In the Village Voice in 2007 you were saying, ‘I’ve seen 25 documentaries in the last year and they all seemed exactly the same to me.’ And you listed them. Stylistically, narratively or non-narratively everything about them was different. We’re not all like that. We really try…If we establish and audience that likes our voice…we might bring the reader into things that they might not otherwise seek out.

Schwarzbaum: I do think that you will find the in-depth pieces of the future online, just because of the amount of space or lack of space available in print…In general, space is shrinking in publications except for a very specific few. Whereas the Internet and online sites are where you can actually have amazing and beautiful and long pieces.

Powers: (On Food, Inc., which has a larger distributor, and The Line coming out on the same weekend, two thematically similar films)…It’s a real shame that there’s not room somewhere, and it doesn’t have to be in a major publication, it could be on someone’s blog, for the brain power to be applied. Let’s think about these two things together.

Taubin: You said something interesting in the beginning where you listed critics who had made a difference…I grew up reading Sarris…Jonas Mekas. They made an enormous difference in terms of avant garde films. There would not have been an avant garde film movement in the United States…if there wasn’t this person who had an amazing journalistic strategy and didn’t care about conflict of interest. He wrote about these films that he programmed, that he made, that his friends made. And he wrote about it with great passion…You can talk till you’re blue in the face about their being good writers online and for various site until there’s someone who has a real passion for the subject and also knows how to draw attention. This is the place where you go if you want to find about everything about X, Y & Z films, if their documentaries, if they’re American insane movies… (Peter Broderick advises people on)…how to self-market their films. If a documentary filmmaker can make $2 million marketing their film online by getting a good mailing list…then I would think that documentary filmmakers could get someone who is part of their world who can really speak about this in a passionate voice, get all those mailing lists and make a real site that says…this is where you go to find it out. Until that, there’s just a lot of people writing all over the map online.

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Friday, June 26, 2009

NewFest 2009 Closing Night Awards

NewFest 2009
Closing Night Awards Ceremony
June 11, 2009
New York, NY

NewFest Acting Director Lesli Klainberg. Photo by Brian Geldin.

NewFest handed out its 2009 awards before the Closing Night presentation of David Barba’s and James Pellerito’s documentary on figure skating champion Johnny Weir, Pop Star on Ice. The Film Panel Notetaker team scored interviews with Pellerito, its fascinating star Weir, as well as his best friend Paris (named Best Supporting Actor in a Nonfiction Film 2009 by Michael Tully on Hammer to Nail).

Award presenters included Rose Troche, Basil Tsiokis, David Kwok, Heather Matarazzo and more. And the winners were:

NewDraft Screenplay Competition Award:
“The Most Famous Woman in the World,” screenplay by Kerthy Fix & Craig Harwood
“Hannah Henri,” screenplay by Akiva Penazola

Audience Awards:

Short Film: “Dish,” directed by Brian Harris Krinsky
Documentary: Florent: “Queen of the Meat Market” (Work in Progress) directed by David Sigal
Narrative: “Mississippi Damned,” directed by Tina Mabry

Jury Awards:

Special Jury Award: John Hurt (Quentin Crisp) - “An Englishman in New York”
Best Short Documentary: “Kaden Later,” directed by Harriet Storm
Best Short Narrative: “Countertransference,” directed by Madeleine Olnek
Best Feature Length Documentary: “Prodigal Sons,” directed by Kimberly Reed
Best Feature Length Narrative: “Light Gradient,” directed by Jan Kruger

Breakout Performance:

Mireille Perrier - “Out of the Blue”
Gustaf Skarsgard - “Patrik 1.5”


Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Silverdocs - "Defamation" - June 19, 2009

Silverdocs 2009
June 19, 2009

Defamation Q&A with Yoav Shamir at Silverdocs. Photo by Brian Geldin.

Defamation is Israeli filmmaker Yoav Shamir’s feature documentary that made its World Premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival this year. I met Yoav at the Documentary Press Meet & Greet there, and was very intrigued by the premise of his film and had also read Pamela Cohn’s great review of it on Hammer to Nail, but I didn’t get a chance to see Defamation until this past Friday when I attended Silverdocs in Silver Spring, Maryland.

Defamation takes a controversial stance and often humorous look in a sort of Michael Moore fashion on how anti-Semitism is defined in the modern world, centering on the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), an organization with a budget of $70 million a year. Shamir's point in the film is to find out how the ADL actually flights anti-Semitism. He gets unprecedented access to the ADL’s leader Abraham Foxman, who at first seems skeptical of Shamir, but continues to allow him to document him as he goes around the world to meet with foreign dignitaries about eliminating anti-Semitism. The underlying purpose of the ADL, to combat anti-Semitism, is a worthy mission, however, Shamir discovers through interviews with other people on the subject of anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism and by following Israeli students on a field trip to Holocaust sites in Poland, that perhaps more harm is being done than good with their underlying messages of guilt for past actions. At one point in the film, Rabbi Hecht says in the film about Foxman, "He has to create a problem, because he needs a job." But the most outspoken person Shamir meets is Dr. Norman Finkelstein, who has often been described as a "self-hating Jew." The film does raise a lot of interesting questions, and I'm not quite sure which side of the fence I'm on after watching the film, but it has surely opened my eyes. The film sparked debate even among the members of the audience in attendance at the Q&A. Below are some highlights of that discussion.

Moderator Question: I was really struck by some of the performances in the film, such as by the students or Abraham Foxman. Can you talk about performances in documentaries?

Shamir: I don't think they were performing, but certainly as a filmmaker, it makes my life easier on people that have a very strong ideology of conviction to what they do...A lot of the time the key is access...interviews and attitudes. When people are very engaged in what they are doing, they have a strong belief.

Audience Question: I want to tie your film to an incident that happened in San Francisco not too long ago...what I observed in front of the Israeli consulate that genocide was practiced on Palestinians in Gaza. The local Jewry turned out in force. Are they anti-Semitic? They were protesting something political they didn't agree with, but in the newspapers the next day, the phrase anti-Semitic was used over and over again. It seems to me, this is a way to curtail debate by the State of Israel and by the corporate media, people who profit from war...What is your opinion as a filmmaker having seen both sides of this?

Shamir: Certainly I would wouldn't describe what happened in Gaza as a genocide. It's a very unfortunate and stupid war where a lot of people died, but genocide is a totally different thing. Just to make fair, at least the way I distinct these things. It's a very complicated subject with many grays. Anti-Semitism in Israel and in the Jewish world is very influenced by the past. That's what the film is trying to speak about, these issues to be debated... I wanted to make a film that would make people think about the role that anti-Semitism takes in our lives as Israelis and Jews. Is it constructive? Is it eventually damaging us?

Audience Question: I wonder why you chose to make such a light-hearted film about such a serious subject. It seems to me you're suggesting that anti-Semitism isn't really a problem. It's easy to feel that way in America, although just a few days ago, a lunatic burst into the Holocaust Museum and shot dead a security guard because he hates Jews and Blacks. Just a little reminder that it does exist. But this does not replace where it exists at the greatest level. You should have gone to Spain. You should have read the Pew opinion poles, which show that anti-Semitism is rising in Europe. 46% of Spaniards have an unfavorable attitude toward Jews. It doesn't help that they also don't like Muslims. And the other place you might have gone to is Lebanon and talk to Hezbollah and their attitude toward Jews. Why did you not investigate the anti-Semitism, which is inherent in these founding documents of Hamas and Hezbollah, and might have you also gone onto the Internet and found Norman Finkelstein expressing his solidarity with the Jew-hating Hezbollah?

Shamir: It's kind of interesting to have these two remarks. One coming from the Right and one from the Left. (The man who asked the question interrupts and says, "There's nothing Right Wing about it, sir. I'm actually a supporter of Obama.") I didn't mean to offend you. The question of anti-Semitism in our world is a serious question. I think what is happening in many cases is a lot of the Arab media and the uneducated Arab press. I taught in Palestine. I follow on what's going on there and they don't know almost anything about the Holocaust, because no one is teaching them about it. It's not only the Palestinians, it's also the Arab Israelis....Until three years ago, Yad Vashem, the biggest museum for the Holocaust, they had translations for 12 languages, but Arabic. After a strong battle with a lawyer from Nazareth, they decided to have it translated to Arabic...For me the Holocaust is not only for Jewish people, it's a human lesson for everybody...I've been researching this film for a long time. I was looking all over the world. I'm not saying anti-Semitism is not an issue. Even my parents call me every time they read about an incident. There are crazy anti-Semites and crazy racists, homophobes. All these people exist. They should be fought honestly, but to what extent? What is the level of the treatment of the problem that is causing more problems than the problem itself? I think we have to consider these things.

Audience Question: Did you edit out all the extreme fringe groups?...When I looked up slavery on the Internet and was really researching something else, I got this huge list of topics that the Jews brought all the slaves, that the Jews are the cause of it all...Do you feel it's not a problem any more in America?

Shamir: There's all sorts of radical skinheads and crazy groups. It's a 90-minute film about anti-Semitism...I'm not saying that (it's not a problem anymore in America.)...The biggest insult a Jewish person can have is for someone to tell him, 'you're not being hated' or 'you are hated less than you think you are.'...Why do we have to go an look for it and dig?...What kind of purpose does it serve really? I live in Israel...It's a personal journey. I'm not representing all Jewish people in the world and I'm not representing all the Israeli people in the world. I live in one of the most racist societies in the Western world for sure right now. Israel is seriously a very racist place. We have a lot of tolerance to racism toward Arabs. Nobody gets excited if you see graffiti, 'Death to the Arabs.'...At the (football) championships, there was an Arab minister (of sports). None of the winning team shook his hand. They just passed him by like he didn't exist....For my Arab-Israeli friends who try to rent an apartment in Tel Aviv, it's an impossible mission. They cannot find an apartment. We are living in such a racist society and we are so sensitive to other forms of racism. This turns us blind to what's happening in our country. To me, this is a bigger problem than what maybe some Jewish people are facing in the world today, and I just want people to think about it. (Shamir gets a round of applause from the audience).

Audience Question: I'm curious about Abraham Foxman's reaction to your film. Have you heard from him?

Shamir: (Joking) He has seen the film in Israel and he loved the film and wants to join the solidarity movement with the Palestinians and donate all the money from the ADL to them. (Laughter from the audience)...(Shamir gets serious)...He saw the film with his wife and they didn't like it very much. His wife thinks I need to go to therapy....There was a press release on their (the ADL's) website against the film. To be honest, I have to say I have respect for the organization for being so open to me and for letting me film. I don't think there is anything conspiratorial about what they are doing. I think they're doing it out of real concern for Israel. They're passionate about the way they feel is the right way, which I disagree with obviously...Does the end result help Israel or make our situation worse?

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Monday, June 22, 2009

Silverdocs - "The Way We Get By" - June 19, 2009

The Way We Get By
Silverdocs 2009
June 19, 2009

Photo by Brian Geldin.

Aaron Gaudet’s The Way We Get By, which has been making its rounds on the festival circuit since it premiered at SXSW in March, made its way to Silverdocs in Silver Spring, Maryland, where The Film Panel Notetaker returned for the third year in a row. (Check back later in the week for more coverage from Silverdocs.)

The Way We Get By is a charming and poignant story of three seniors who make the most of their day at the Bangor, Maine, airport greeting men and women from the armed forces who are returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan. Gaudet’s mother Joan is one of the three greeters. She rarely leaves the house unless it’s to greet the soldiers, even if it’s the middle of the night. Next we have Bill, a veteran and widower who’s been diagnosed with prostate cancer and lives in squalor in a farm house with lots of cats and his dog. Finally, we have Jerry, who views himself as an Independent politically, and lost his son at the age of 10. Ultimately, their stories are sad, but in the end, they are a complete and utter inspiration. Gaudet has crafted a beautiful elegy to the devotion given by these humble everyday American citizens giving something back to their country. It was a treat to see Joan, Bill and Jerry at the Q&A, along with Gaudet and producer Gita Pullapilly. Below are highlights from their Q&A.

Q: How did you decide to make this film and what inspired you?

Gaudet: Gita and I were working in television news in Grand Rapids, MI, in 2004. We met and started dating in October of 2004. For Christmas that year, I was just bringing her home to meet my mom. I had known that my mom had started troop greeting and it really changed her life. She was so active and into what she was doing. The first thing we wanted to do was go down and see what she was doing with all of her time day and night. She got a call that there was a flight coming in at two in the morning and we went down with her. We met Bill that night and fell in love with Bill and knew that we wanted to spend more time with him. Then we met Jerry and he made us laugh. We kind of went from there.

Q: For the three of you in the film, how did you like having Aaron and Gita around making the film?

Gaudet: Jerry liked having Gita around. He was trying to get rid of me the whole time.

Bill: It was pretty surprising. One day, Aaron comes up to me and says 'I want to make a documentary with you.' I said, 'Go right ahead.'...He put a microphone on my collar and I had to be careful everything I said.

Q: What was it like for you to see yourself and all that raw emotion on film?

Jerry: It was overwhelming to say the least. I'm just so pleased that I could be part of it. I had no idea when they asked to film me that it would go this far and turn out like it did...(tearful) I never had this experience. It almost makes a wimp out of me.

Joan: I still cry every time. It feels strange. I'm very proud of (Aaron).

Bill: I was kind of amazed with most of it. Every time I watch it, I see something different.

Q: How did you all get started being greeters?

Bill: Primarily, there were about 19 of us in the Bangor area, retired military.When the troops came home from Iraq, they weren't allowed to wear the uniform when they went out on the streets...That hurt us very deeply. We decided to do something. The thing was to do something that wouldn't object to our government, so we decided we would greet the troops coming and going...I think I'm one of the last of the Mohicans as they used to call them. I think all the rest of them have gone to meet their maker. I'm hanging on here enjoying the visitations of various groups and people who are interested in what we're doing.

Gaudet: They originally started it during the Gulf War and then started it back up again this time. The first time, it was much shorter. It was just troops coming home, so now this time it's been a much bigger commitment that continues.

Q: From afar, is there anything we can support what you do?

Gaudet: They do take donations (at www.themainetroopgreeters.com).

Q: Has your local community of greeters, vets or non-vets, expanded?

Bill: We have more non-vets than we do veterans as a whole...As long as you want to do it, we're willing to take you.

Gaudet: It's not easy keeping up with them. As we were making the movie, every plane seemed to come in in the middle of the night. We were praying for something to come in at noon and it would come in at 4:00 a.m. instead. I don't know how they've done it for six years and still keep going.

Joan: We need help at night.

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Tuesday, June 16, 2009

A Conversation With Lynn Redgrave @ The RHFIFF, 5/17/09

A Conversation With Lynn Redgrave
at High Falls International Film Festival
May 17th, 2009 at 11am
Little Theatre, Rochester, New York

Lynn Redgrave, Actress
Catherine Wyler, Artistic Director, High Falls Film Festival
Davina Belling, Producer, Member of High Falls Film Festival Advisory Council.

L to R: Catherine Wyler, Davina Belling, and Lynn Redgrave.

The previous evening, Lynn Redgrave received the Susan B. Anthony "Failure Is Impossible" award. Earlier that afternoon, Redgrave was shown Susan B. Anthony's house. She was honored to have an award named after the suffragist because she had become an American Citizen in 1997 to vote. Later, she was disappointed to find out that in the first election she voted in, only 2% all eligible voters voted that day.

The conversation began with a showing of a montage that included Tom Jones, The Girl With Green Eyes, Georgy Girl, Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex..., Gods and Monsters, Kinsey, and The Countess, which featured her recently deceased niece, Natasha Richardson. Following the montage, Catherine Wyler introduced surprise guest Davina Belling, and had a tea setup brought out, mentioning this video:

Lynn Redgrave is part of a fourth generation of a theatrical family. Despite this, Redgrave had her sights set on becoming an equestrian as a child. At one point, she'd even been offered an apprenticeship. She changed her mind after having seen her parents perform in a production of Twelfth Night directed by Sir Laurence Olivier.

As Wyler noted, Redgrave began her career as a comedienne, something Redgrave chalks up to her place in the family: "Me and other third children find that the only way to have a niche in the family is to make people laugh. Making people laugh was something that could hide my shyness."

Redgrave joined the National Theatre Company during their inaugural season in 1963, under the direction of Sir Laurence Olivier. (She shared with the audience that everyone called Olivier "Sir".) Redgrave has continued to participate in Shakespearean productions throughout her career. Sometimes, she teaches, too. "I love to teach, and I teach quite often," she told the audience. However, "I usually skip the Shakespeare because people always act in [at least] one Shakespeare."

In 1991, Redgrave got an offer to come to Washington to do a program called "An Evening With Lynn Redgrave". Instead, Lynn wrote and performed in a one woman show titled Shakespeare For My Father, and later toured with it. She credits Shakespeare For My Father with jump-starting her career: after seeing her in Shakespeare For My Father in Houston, director Scott Hicks cast Redgrave in Shine, her first movie role in six years.

"When you put out energy yourself, energy comes back at you."

Redgrave has since written more plays about her famous family, most recently, Rachel and Juliet, about her mother Rachel's relationship with her favorite role, Shakespeare's Juliet.

Diagnosed with Breast Cancer in 2003, Redgrave and her youngest daughter, Annabel Clark, began a personal project documenting Redgrave's treatment. At the time, Annabel was a senior at Parsons and was hoping to do a seperate project for her finals, but Clark was so overwhelmed by her mother's illness that she decided to make their personal project her final project. After being in the Student Showcase the final semester, the photos were published in The New York Times and later as a book titled Journal: A Mother and Daughter's Recovery From Breast Cancer. The photographs launched Clark's career, and recently, she has done work for Redbook.

Lynn Redgrave is often times overwhelmed by the expectations she puts on herself when she's performing. But having survived Breast Cancer and the recent sudden death of her niece, Natasha Richardson, she reminds herself that there's a good possibility she might not be here right now, doing what she loves the most: performing.

Lynn Redgrave at Java's, May 16, 2009.

Q: How do you prepare for a role?

Redgrave: I've been asked about acting, wouldn't you believe it? Usually, when you've got to insert yourself into the character, look inside the character, and ask, "Why are you here? What are you here for? How are you here?" Once, I found myself standing at the side of the stage in a play in New York. Opening night in New York, standing on the edge of the curtain, it's like saying, "I'm going to go skydiving for the first time." There's a sense of danger, which I love. As time goes by and I get older, I expect more from myself, and I do mind tricks, which is quite stressful, in order to go out and feel that at least I did the best I could. I get out there, and I think, "Why did I do that? This is the thing I love to do so much, which is to work and appear in great plays. Why do I put myself through mindtricks? I've had cancer. I could be NOT there. Why do I put myself through this mind trip? I could've died from cancer. I could be NOT working right now." Everyday, you have to have some proper protection, I guess. But I can't NOT get up every day. I find freedom within the role.

Jack Garner: In an interview that I read a few weeks ago, you said something very reassuring to The Washington Post (following the death of Natasha), about what your father did the day your grandmother died.

Redgrave:The day I finished the show (Rachel & Juliet) was right after Natasha had died. People were expecting me to cancel, and I think that a lot of times, being part of a theater family, that's what we do--the show must go on. When my father's mother passed away, he was sobbing, absolutely sobbing, and that night he went out and gave one of his greatest performances. I felt if I had decided to cancel, that would be, in a way, a disgrace to her. I went out there because that's what you do.

My sister, as you probably heard, was supposed to put on a performance of The Year of Magical Thinking, but had to postpone, of course, because of the play's subject matter. Eventually, she did perform it, and I think that's a testament to our family.

Erin/TFPN: I met you at Java's last night, and we had a nice conversation about the British New Wave.

Redgrave: Yes we did!

Erin/TFPN: You were talking about Georgy Girl and how you feel that people appreciate the message more now than they did at the time. Can you elaborate on that?

Redgrave: Actually, I don't remember saying that. But for some of you who weren't alive at the time, I think it's one of the sixties films that have survived--it has a really good story. A woman who feels completely out of place in society and in life. Charlotte Rampling played an incredible bitch who abandons her child. [Rampling] was nothing like that in real life. My character is willing to marry a man she doesn't love and take on a child. Every once in awhile, they'll show a movie from that period, and it'll be like, "That's interesting, but it doesn't stand up to today." Somehow, I think the movie has a very modern story.

Special Thanks to Ruth Cowing for identifying Davina Belling for TFPN.

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Tuesday, June 09, 2009

State of the Movement - NewFest - June 6, 2009

NewFest 2009

State of the Movement Panel Discussion

June 6, 2009

New York, NY

NewFest commemorated the 40th Anniversary of the Stonewall Riots in New York City’s Greenwich Village with a panel discussion sponsored by In the Life Television at the Logo Lounge. Members of the LGBT media and advocacy organizations gathered to open a dialogue that put into perspective the issues, the historical benchmarks, and the progress that the movement has made over the past 40 years and how it continually affects and empowers us as a vital and vibrant diverse community. Below are highlights of that discussion.


Katherine Linton, TV Producer/Host & Director, Follow My Voice: With the Music of Hedwig


Michelangelo Signorile – Radio Show Host, Sirius XM & Author/Journalist

Angel L. Brown – Founder, Queer Black Cinema

Ibby Carothers, Marriage Equality New York

Linton: Where did we have pivotal moments in our movement?

Signorile: I think it’s been a series of having these ideas of what victory would be…In the 1970s, we were coming off the empowerment of the Civil Rights Movement, the sexual revolution…Just to have the ability to go out and meet people and not getting arrested by police…was a victory…and then AIDS came and I think people realized we hadn’t really won all that much…It became an issue that raised the bar of what are goals are…What about the fact that our relationships aren’t recognized?

Brown: I was just talking to my producer about that and we feel that it’s just the beginning….We have a long way to go…So many people are still getting beaten just for their sexuality.

Carothers: I come from a unique perspective as a straight ally…It’s a growing sector.

Linton: When we talk about our community sometimes, we’re not always on the same page. How do we come together as a “community” with the same goals?

Brown: That is a good question. What is the community? Who identifies with the community?...With the situation happening out in California, a lot of people of color got blamed for that…A lot of the time, people of color feel like we’re not exactly in that whole community and basically build our own community…Is marriage at the top of our priorities of what we’re fighting for? It’s not just marriage, it’s also healthcare…LGBT youth of color are one of the largest groups of homeless people out there. We also have police brutality…To me, we’re all LGBT people. We’re just all gay people period. At the end of the day, you’re walking down the block with your partner who happens to be Caucasian and you’re black, they’re still going to know you’re gay…We should be in this together and really focus on communication.

Signorile: I agree and just want to expand on Proposition 8. A lot of people were so disappointed and they looked for scapegoats…Absolutely there was outreach to people of color and the Hispanic community as well, but in fact, the polling was distorted broken down by income level, white people with the same income as most Latinos or African Americans voted the same way.

Linton: Let’s talk about expectations and disappointments. In 1992 after 12 years of Reagan and Bush…we then had (Clinton) who’s our champion, but what happened there?

Signorile: I think there was after Reagan and Bush this idea that we were really a part of moving that era out of power and bringing Bill Clinton in…The Christian Right was still enormously powerful. The Republican Party was still exploiting homosexuality…I think we were all blindsided including President Clinton on how they would all be used. We came to realize we don’t have the kind of support and the kind of power we think we have. We’re a small minority and at the end of the day, we will be tossed aside if it’s politically expedient…We have to remember that we’re a small minority who continually need to step up and speak out loudly. One of our biggest weapons is what’s going on here, the media…We have been able to get our message out and are incredibly resourceful.

Carothers: To add to that, Twitter and Facebook are available to young people to galvanize more people.

Linton: In the 1990s, we galvanized to say “we are Americans.” It was the military, marriage, even the Boy Scouts. We had to prove ourselves as family.

Signorile: I think AIDS did enormous things for us and against us. Obviously, it’s horrible and traumatic and took the lives of so many people and caused enormous heartache and conflict for us as a movement, but it also created a whole new way of organizing and really brought so many people out of the closet. It taught us that being out and being open is the most important thing, because that’s what ultimately brought attention to our families…who we are. That pushed a lot of public figures and celebrities to come out…It really did help to define who we are in the American media.

Brown: It’s slightly different in the people of color community…There is not a lot of representation of us out there…We can’t really say they’re out unless they out themselves. That’s why a lot of LGBT of color are homeless because they choose to come out…We have a lot more at stake…That’s why Queer Black Cinema is showing different images to our communities and letting them know we have families and live our everyday life just like anyone else.

Linton: It often takes tragedy to get us in the streets. Anita Bryant united us in the 1970s. We had AIDS in the 1980s. We had Matthew Shepard in the 1990s. Is Proposition 8 that moment for us now?

Carothers: I think it’s certainly put a spotlight on the issue that wasn’t there before. I think it was a wake up call to make it clear that organizing has to be part of the message and more effective. Collaboration between the partnerships has to be that much more effective in order to get the message clearly out there. I think one of the tragedies about Prop 8 in terms of education was that people that were for equality voted yes thinking they were voting against it, but were voting for it…It's necessary to talk to everyone you know and for them to talk to everyone they know and have those one-on-one personal conversations.

Brown: I personally feel the whole Prop 8 is a slight distraction of what’s really happening. Don’t get me wrong. Once I have the opportunity to vote for gay marriage, I’m going to vote yes…One of the films that we’re pushing is Jumping the Broom that shows you the perspective of black LGBT people…Yes we should have equality, but that’s not one of our main issues that we need to be focusing on…Maybe this is a way to talk about police brutality. This is a way to talk about more healthcare…I would like to see more people of color just connecting with the LGBT community at large period.

Carothers: I see your perspective. From my perspective marriage equality relates to homophobia in the streets, and schoolyard, and healthcare facilities etc. They're connected.  For those reasons, I see it as a priority of the movement. Marriage equality says culturally and legally that all families are equal, and therefore that all family members (children and adults alike, regardless of a person's sexual orientation and gender) are deserving of and responsible for equal respect for life choices, including if they chose to marry or not (... everyone has equal freedom to choose to create marriages and families or not). This awareness of equality/mutual freedom drives at the core of homophobia and ignorance.

Signorile: I just want to say that I, too, think Prop 8 was a distraction for some of the reasons that Angel gave. Katherine put the question out there, are these moments like Anita Bryant and AIDS…I’m sick of responding to moments, number one. Number two, those are moments that we couldn’t control where we had to rise to the occasion. We were being responded to. Anita Bryant is a response to us because of our wins. Prop 8 was ours to lose and we blew it. We lost it and we need to acknowledge that…Think about all the money that was spent on Prop 8 and we lost it. That money could have been spent on so much more important stuff. Now we have to spend it again to try to win this again…We did a bad job. We got to copy the groups in California, and nationally did not articulate the message properly. They allowed the Right to do what it did and we went back to Anita Bryant, which is to use children as a weapon against us and we ran away from it instead of taking it on…In the end, people do get out on the streets and protest, but where were they before Prop 8? Where was the media? I criticized some of the luminaries in the media who are gay and lesbian who weren’t focusing on Prop 8 until we lost.

Linton: Where is this movement today? The statistics about our youth have not changed, in fact they’re getting worse. It’s shocking that our youth are homeless. We’re focused on gay marriage. How do we shift that?

Signorile: I think it’s very difficult to control a movement. This is the most multi-faceted extraordinarily diverse group imaginable. We talked a little about how homosexuality plays a role in different racial or ethnic groups, but then there’s transgender people and what transgender people need. There’s hate crimes…It affects us differently by age and how we structure our relationships…What’s been brilliant about it and is also its downside is it’s really about 25 movements. There’s nothing else like this. If you go and talk to the people organizing around hate crimes legislation, they are incredibly organized. If you go up to the transgender people focusing on transgender laws, they’re going to be organizing. Everybody’s pushing. Just the other day we saw the United American Families Act debate in Congress. It was the bill that came out of nowhere because people who are in bi-national relationships said we have to do this now. The major gay groups were not even involved with this. Senator Leahy just decided to take it on…I do think the issues affecting the next generation of LGBT youth is something that is getting lost in the shuffle. It’s kind of like we have created this world for them where there’s a lot of opportunities, but there’s also a lot more hatred that’s out of the closet, too. We’re telling people to come out, come out, come out, so they’re coming out at 13 or 14 and there’s not the support there. We owe it to them now…to make sure it’s safe in schools. I think personally this has to be our goal for the next generation in every community.

Linton: We always have to be vigilant of the role of the religious right in schools. Because of the effectiveness of groups like these, they are using children and saying “Look at these homos recruiting our children at 12 years old. They want to teach you that gay marriage is OK.” We think that we have a victory with Obama, the Right is on us, are we at risk of becoming complacent?

Carothers: We can’t afford to be complacent. We must refute the religious right's lies, both by engaging in personal one-on-one conversations, as well as in the media. In truth, marriage equality does not "push" marriage to children; it neither advocates that people should or should not marry; it says that every person has the equal freedom to choose to marry, and that gender neutral civil marriage is OK for everyone equally (... that all genders and all sexual orientations are equally acceptable in society). Reiterating what I said earlier when young people, of every sexual orientation, see that all families are respected, they see that they are validated as individuals ... and it is this awareness of equal validation and mutual respect that counters the core of homophobia and ignorance.

Signorile: Even in Massachusetts where you think that there’s full civil rights for (LGBT) people…and yet…they’re still blocking Internet sites in schools. Blocking information to kids about sexual orientation under the idea that it’s about sex. Still preventing kids from learning who they are. It is about the schools. It is about the religious right organizing fiercely in the schools to push their agenda. I think that’s where we really have to focus in terms of the future…In the 1980s, they built their movement by going onto school boards and that’s what we have to do.

Linton: What the Right Wing has on their side is a better focused message…fear.

Carothers: To address this fear, is to address with them what it is they’re afraid of and put them to task in defining what is their fear. They are choosing to be afraid. There really isn’t anything to be afraid of. 

Signorile: I think we do have a really potent rallying pride that will always in the end blow them away because ours is really what’s right. We are about people who don’t have rights wanting their rights…They have to really create their message very carefully…We don’t have to manufacture anything. We have a force of what this country is about on our side and we change minds everyday. As we’re seeing, it’s slowly shifting even on the issue of marriage. I think we need to be out there with that message. For us, it’s more about getting people motivated. Once they get out there, it all takes care of itself.


Panels with a Breeze and View

Rooftop Films "Panorama" returns this year for a special four-day long mini festival within the 2009 Summer Series that is meant to demonstrate what makes Rooftop Films the truly unique, community-based organization that it is. And on Saturday, June 13 (see details below), in conjunction with IndiePix and Shooting People, Rooftop Films will host panel discussions on the state of independent filmmaking and the ways that truly independent filmmakers can survive and make new work, bringing in filmmakers, programmers and funders to discuss issues that are crucial to Rooftop Films’ mission.

Persona Non Grata (Fabio Wuytack Belgium & Venezuela 90 min.)
US Premiere! Prosecuted as a rebel. Banned as a priest. Committed as an artist. Loved as a father. An inspiring and important documentary co-funded by Rooftop Films.

Venue: On the roof of the Old American Can Factory Address: 232 3rd St. @ 3rd Ave. (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

5:00PM: Panel discussion: “Message vs. Craft,” outside in courtyard
6:30PM: Panel discussion: “Filmmaking Strategy,” outside in courtyard
7:30PM - 9:00PM: Reception in courtyard including free sangria courtesy of Carlo Rossi
8:30PM: Live music presented by Sound Fix Records 9:00PM: Film Tickets: $9 at the door or online at www.rooftopfilms.com. Presented in partnership with: Cinereach, New York magazine, IndiePix, Shooting People & XØ Projects

Persona Non Grata (Fabio Wuytack Belgium & Venezuela 90 min.)
Prosecuted as a rebel. Banned as a priest. Committed as an artist. Loved as a father. An inspiring documentary—co-funded by Rooftop Films - about the filmmaker’s father, Franz Wuytack, a radical left-wing Belgian missionary in the slums of Venezuela in the 1960s. With a new liberal movement sweeping Latin America, and people like Wuytack needing to continue the fight for social justice in the US and around the world, this film is crucially relevant today.

Wuytack was a hands-on activist, gathering scrap lumber by himself to build housing for the homeless, frolicking with hundreds of impoverished children in the fountains of wealthy Caracas to protest the lack of clean water for the poor. You can see in his face and hear in his voice the deeply personal connections to the people he was fighting for. And all these years later, hearing the stories from the people who lived them, the connections he forged come alive, there to excite and incite us.

But Wuytack’s very public tactics ran afoul of the conservative church, causing a rift that stung him deeply, but didn’t dampen his passion for activism. Stories of being hounded by the police, and hidden like a fugitive, play out with the energy of an action film. Eventually Wuytack was exiled—twice—and returning to Belgium to become an internationally acclaimed politically-minded sculptor. Now with the new left-wing movement led by Hugo Chavez, Wuytack is finally allowed to return to Venezuela for a revelatory solo art show and a joyous homecoming.

Part of Rooftop Films and XO Projects’ INDUSTRIANCE Series: films, discussions, installations and more about the changing landscape in industry, architecture, agriculture, labor and related fields, and the way these changes affect individuals around the world.

PANEL DISCUSSIONS, presented with Cinereach, Shooting People and IndiePix:

Message vs. Craft: The Art of Effective "Issue" Storytelling
When a filmmaker takes on a topic related to social justice or human rights it is often with the hope of influencing public opinion and inspiring action. To achieve that, a film must reach and engage the right audience, in the right numbers. It must also portray the human impact of the issue or problem persuasively. How does a “social issue” filmmaker balance the need to educate with the public's desire to be entertained? How does he/she move past preaching to the choir and make a film that can become a catalyst for real change? This panel will provide advice on the above from documentary and fiction filmmakers including Justin Schein (No Impact Man), Fabio Wuytack (Persona Non Grata) and Paola Mendoza (Entre Nos), whose work successfully walks the issue/entertainment line. Leah Sapin of Arts Engine (which specializes in production and outreach for socially relevant films), and New York magazine film critic Bilge Ebiri will join the discussion, to be moderated by Lina Srivastava.

Panelists include: Lina Srivastava (consultant to non profit media companies working for social change) - moderator
Justin Schein (Co-director of No Impact Man)
Fabio Wuytack (Director of Persona Non Grata)
Bilge Ebiri (film critic from New York magazine)
Leah Sapin (Arts Engine)
Paola Mendoza (Director of Entre Nos)

Filmmaking Strategy:
Tips, Tools and Wisdom to Help You Make the Right Decisions For Your FilmFilmmakers have to be both artists and strategists to get their films made and seen and this is the case now more than ever as changes in funding and distribution force filmmakers to shoulder more of the crucial decisions on their own. This panel will help you learn how to be the best advocate for your film by asking all the tough questions that you will have to ask along the way. For example: How much work (and what work) do you need to achieve on your own before approaching a funder? And how can you tailor your pitch to communicate your vision to a foundation vs. an equity investor? What other funding options are there? How do you balance traditional outreach to festivals, sales agents, broadcasters, and distributors with the need to also create your own fan base? Which distribution deals do you accept? How do know when a deal is a good deal? How do you hope for the best but plan for the worst?

Panelists include:
Adella Ladjevardi (Cinereach)
Janet Brown (Cinetic)
Liz Ogilvie (B-Side)
Tia Lessin (Co-Director of Trouble the Water)
Andy Bichlbaum (Co-Director of The Yes Men)
…And more

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Monday, June 08, 2009

"Florent: Queen of the Meat Market" - Sneak Preview Screening at NewFest

NewFest 2009
Sneak Preview Work-in-Progress Screening
Florent: Queen of the Meat Market
June 6, 2009

Photo by Kelly Deegan.
NewFest welcomed filmmaker David Sigal to show a rough cut sneak preview of his feature-length documentary Florent: Queen of the Meat Market, about charming and provocative restaurateur Florent Morellet whom last year closed his legendary diner in New York’s Meatpacking District. Through thick and thin, even when he learned that he was HIV positive, Florent seemed to have a passion for entertaining and feeding his colorful clientele, as well as a creative flair for political activism. They came not only for the great food, but also for the wild and crazy entertainment from drag queens to burlesque to comedy. It was an unusual and fabulous extended family. Sigal brings to life the humble beginnings of Florent in 1985 until its bittersweet closing in 2008 due to the extraordinary spike in rent. The film shows not only Florent (the man and his restaurant), but the people who have worked there over the years reminiscing about all the memorable and crazy moments that occurred there. Among the interviewees in the film are Julianne Moore, Isaac Mizrahi, Diane von Fürstenberg, Michael Musto, Sylvia Miles, Jacquie Hoffman, Murray Hill, Nora Burns, David Rakoff, Penny Arcade and many more.

Sigal, Florent, and other collaborators on the film came to the stage for a Q&A that NewFest Documentary Chair Cameron Yates moderated. Sigal mentioned to the audience that this was the first time Florent has seen the film, and Florent said it was wonderful. Florent looked sharp in vibrant pants that were a hue which seemed to mix fuchsia, magenta and lavender. Sigal also handed out a questionnaire to the audience to fill out to provide their feedback on the film, as it’s still a work in progress.

Yates asked Sigal how he become involved with Florent in making this documentary. Sigal said he’d been a customer, not one of those middle of the night people, but more of a breakfast person. The more he got to know more about Florent, the more he got to admire what he’s done for everybody. He was a role model.

One member of the audience asked Florent what he’s doing today since the restaurant closed and what’s become of the space? Florent jokingly replied that he’s never heard that question before. But for real, he tries not to talk or to give information as much as possible about the space. He thinks it’s great that the restaurant had a 23-year life. He realized that it had an end and it was kind of an enjoyment. Now he’s working on other projects, but nothing is set in stone. He would like the next place to be a restaurant with a cabaret with the same suspects involved. He’s tired of “doing the French cancan on the counter.” He’ll also continue to work on his maps. He has been working on memoir writing with a teacher and prophesized that one day their may be a book about him, but not till after he dies. “Retirement is exhausting,” he said and the audience laughed with him.

- Notes by Brian Geldin and Kelly Deegan

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NewFest 2009 Comedy Shorts

NewFest 2009
Comedy Shorts
June 6, 2009
New York, NY

The first time I went to NewFest in 2005 I saw the Comedy Shorts, which were utterly hilarious. Standouts were Irene Williams: Queen of Lincoln Road, Standing Room Only, and Kiki and Herb on the Rocks. Fast forward to 2009, and I’m back for more. While I didn’t find myself laughing out hysterically like I did the first time, there were a few impressive showings that are worth the attention. Perhaps the most blatantly gay and funniest film there was Queerer Than Thou with its rye take on sexual orientation and gender identity. And the most prolific and clever film was the mockumentary Revelations, by Tom Gustafson, the same director who brought us last year’s magical and musical Were the World Mine. Revelations is a satirical look at a real-life hate group family, often referred to as “The G-d Hates Fags” family, with an actress portraying the matriarch of the family videotaping herself in the closet confessing as to why she really hates the gays.

During the audience Q&A, Gustafson said he’d been fascinated by this family for quite some time and he tried to figure out what the best way would be to deal with these people. He originally thought he’d try to make a feature-length film of it, but decided to go with the short instead.

Kyle Thomas Coker, director of Astoria, Queens, said his film is about “creating your New York family.” He was inspired by moving miles away from his home in Texas to New York City (in the film the characters move to New York from Kansas). “My friends became my New York family,” he said.

Kenny Hillman said of her film Don’t Mess With Texas that they were “looking to explore our own prejudices in rural communities.”

Madeleine Olnek who directed Countertransference, said she’d seen a book about gays and lesbians and their therapists and there was a section about countertransference, when the therapist projects onto the patient, and that’s not supposed to happen.

Kate Brandt, director of Tools for Fools, said she’d been talking about the high price of dildos. What if someone sold second-hand sex toys? They wanted to explore this area of lesbian sexuality and bring it into light.

Queerer Than Thou director Ramses Rodstein said that basically the whole cast of friends was playing versions of themselves and poking fun at the stereotypes and the idea that someone can be more authentically queer than the other.