Festivals & Events

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Sundance 2020 Dispatch 3: Some Kind of Heaven, Black Bear, The Fight

The Villages—a planned retirement community approximately 130,00 strong in Florida—has, its happiest residents say, “everything”: an orthopedic clinic, karate classes, a bank, etc. There’s overlap here with limited American ideas about what, exactly, the Good Life might look like as cruelly/accurately imagined in Alexander Payne’s Downsizing, whose community for the shrunk-down to live out the rest of their lives is a strip mall adjacent to character-less suburban sprawl. Lance Oppenheim’s Some Kind of Heaven, which explores The Villages through three subjects, isn’t here to either celebrate or roast a community established, as its founder explains in archival footage, to suggest a kind […]

Art House Convergence 2020: Transparency and Crisis

Despite looming industry crises such as the DOJ moving to end the Paramount consent decrees, years of slumping box office sales and the ongoing proliferation of streaming giants offering consumers content in their own homes, arthouse cinemas and independent festivals appeared to be thriving—if one looked only at the surface of Art House Convergence. Now in its 15th year, the annual AHC convenes representatives from art house cinemas, film festivals, service providers and independent distributors for three and a half days in Midway, UT, right before Sundance. Most of the attendees are representatives from US-based organizations. Though they comprised a […]

Sundance 2020 Dispatch 1: Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets; Epicentro; Olla

There will be time and occasion, I’m sure, during this year’s Sundance Film Festival to go big picture: to attempt to take the temperature of independent film in 2020, once again fuss over what that designation could possibly mean at this point and so on. But let’s skip that for now: for this year’s first dispatch, I have the rare of pleasure of leading with enthusiasm, and I’d like to lean into that. Barflies mistranslate William Blake’s exhortation to see the world in a grain of sand as “study the human condition through endless hours sitting at the bar”—if in […]

Sundance 2020 Dispatch 2: Exil

In the very first scene of The Social Network, Rooney Mara memorably informs Jesse Eisenberg that he may go through life thinking that girls don’t like him because he’s a nerd, but “that won’t be true. It’ll be because you’re an asshole.” That line rang through my head all through Visar Morina’s Exil, the first time Komplizen Films has brought a world premiere to Sundance, and was finally directly echoed near its end by Sandra Hüller, star of Komplizen co-founder Maren Ade’s Toni Erdmann, here the long-suffering wife of Albanian immigrant Xhafer (Misel Maticevic), who’s spent the whole movie convinced he’s being discriminated […]

14 Films Not to Miss at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival

Always a bellweather for the health — artistic as well as business — of the American independent film scene, the Sundance Film Festival began yesterday in Park City, Utah, preceded by more than the usual amount of pre-fest news and drama. On the positive front, Sundance 2020 is something of a launch party for a new documentary financing and production company, Concordia, formed by filmmaker Davis Guggenheim and former Participant Media production president Jonathan King, in partnership with Laurene Powell Jobs’s Emerson Collective. One quarter of the Documentary Competition slate boasts the Concordia logo. And then distressingly there’s Oprah Winfrey’s withdrawal as […]

The Sundance Question: What Prop or Piece of Set Decoration is Particularly Integral to Your Film?

Each year Filmmaker asks all the incoming feature directors at Sundance one question. (To see past years’ questions and responses, click here.) This year’s question: Whether capturing or creating a world, the objects onscreen tell as much of a story as the people within it. Whether sourced or accidental, insert shot or background detail, what prop or piece of set decoration do you find particularly integral to your film? What story does it tell? (Check back daily during the festival — new answers are uploaded each day throughout the festival.) “The Main Painting That Is Stolen Is of a Dead […]

All We Have Is Now: Borscht 0 (2019)

“Essentially, cinema is dead, and this fellowship is bringing it back to life,” went part of the on-stage intro for the showcase screening at this year’s Borscht. “The people that most of you know are old, and we’re young, and I think we’re more exciting.” At the screenings I attended, Borscht co-founders Lucas Leyva and Jillian Meyer repeatedly, shamefacedly noted that they’d started the festival (and attendant collective of the same name, the screening of whose work is the fest’s top priority) with the intent of never showing the films of anyone over 30—only to, alas, themselves cross that decade […]

Sundance Institute’s Anne Lai Named New Executive Director of SFFILM

Anne Lai, who is currently the Director of Creative Producing and Artist Support at the Sundance Institute, has been named the new Executive Director of SFFILM. “The board, the staff, and I are very pleased to announce the appointment of Anne Lai to the role of Executive Director of SFFILM,” said Nion McEvoy, President of SFFILM’s Board of Directors, in a press release. “We are thrilled that the search has yielded such an excellent match for our organization and for the Bay Area arts community. We are excited to have Anne, with her incredible vision, exceptional leadership and management skills, […]

SXSW Announces 102 Films and Episodic Shows from its 2020 Edition

SXSW announced today the 102 features and episodic shows that from the first wave of films comprising the 2020 SXSW Film Festival. Judd Apatow’s Pete Davidson-starring The King of Staten Island will be the Opening Night feature. Other highlights include Frank Oz’s film based on magician and artist Derek DelGaudio’s acclaimed theater work, In and Out of Itself; actor and director Amy Seimetz’s follow-up to Sun Don’t Shine, She Dies Tomorrow; features from directors on this magazine’s 25 New Faces list, including Nicole Riegel (Holler), Celine Held and Logan George (Topside), Tod Chandler (Bulletproof), Marnie Ellen Hertzler (Crestone), and Kitao […]

Light Through the Darkness: The 2019 Black Nights Film Festival

Darkness falls around 4 p.m. every day in late November when you’re as far north as Tallinn, the capital of Estonia, whose annual Black Nights (PÖFF) nods to the presiding nocturnal mood. Most of the winter light is up on screen, where the festival’s vast programming unspools across 17 days that also are chock full with industry forums and meet-ups. A city of some 400,000 that feels like a village, the Tallinn most visitors experience divvies up between its tourist-speckled Old Town, whose medieval bonafides are rooted as far back as 1154, and the modern design/tech neighborhood Teleskivi, with acres […]

Chris Doyle, Ed Lachman, Lech Majewski, John Bailey and More at Cameraimage 2019

This was the year Cameraimage brought it all back home. The much-vaunted Polish cinematography festival, which launched in 1993 in Toruń—a UNESCO World Heritage site whose history dates back to the 8th century—returned to its native soil after two decades away (first in Łódź, the industrial locus so close to David Lynch’s heart and host to the national film school, and for the last nine years in Bydgoszcz). The homecoming inspired a comical short starring two of the festival’s best-loved regulars on a mission to “save” Cameraimage, with the wiry and wild-haired Chris Doyle wheeling Ed Lachman, signature fedora firmly […]

The Social Dilemma, High Art, Born into Brothels Added to the 2020 Sundance Film Festival

A new documentary world premiere — the latest from Jeff Orlowski, dealing with the social controls and neuroprogramming aspects of technology platforms and social networks — and two restored works from the Sundance Collection were announced today. Orlowski’s film, The Social Dilemma, will screen next month in Park City as will two distinguished works that are favorites here at the magazine: Lisa Cholodenko’s High Art and Zana Briski and Ross Kaufman’s Born into Brothels. From the press release: Archival screenings are made possible by the Sundance Institute Collection at UCLA, and give audiences the opportunity to discover and rediscover the […]

Dive In: Doclisboa 2019

Let’s state the obvious: attending a film festival for a prolonged period is a privileged experience. Few can boast that they got to spend a week sitting and watching movies all day. You have two options on your hands in attending any festival. There is the Indiana Jones approach: run in, grab the treasure and bottle it out the door. Assuming you have the inclination, this is your ticket to compile a gratifying best-of-the-year list in a relatively bloodless fashion. In this case, movie festivals become a convenient service with a practical goal: better to see this stuff here than […]

Sundance Announces 2020 Festival New Frontier Selection

Thirty-two independent experimental and independent media projects comprising the 2020 Sundance Film Festival New Frontier program were announced today by the Sundance Institute. Included in what is often Sundance’s most surprising section are an art/journalism project riffing on the newsreel format by artist and Lemonade collaborator Khalil Joseph; an “under construction” AI based on the thoughts of linguist and critic Noam Chomsky; and a 35mm short consisting of 16,000 cuts. Also included are new works that are the latest installments in the lifelong practices of artist and filmmakers (and Sundance veterans) Lynn Hershman Leeson and Narcissister. Of note too is […]

Sundance 2020 Announces 118 Feature Films

For independent filmmakers the most eagerly awaited announcement of the year is here: the 118 feature films selected for the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. The films hail from 27 countries and were chosen from a dizzying record high of 3,853 features. And the 2020 edition is the final one for outgoing Festival Director John Cooper, who says, “The program this year, my last as Director, is a celebration: of art and artists, yes, but also of the community that makes the annual pilgrimage to Park City to see the most exciting new work being made today. Watching this group expand […]

“How Do You Know If the Festival is a Scam?” Martha Shane on Narrowsburg

A well-meaning regional film festival can be welcoming and tightly curated—a true community endeavor. A bad one can be a deceitful scam. Such was the case with the Narrowsburg International Independent Film Festival, founded in 2001 by a couple from nearby New York City.  Things didn’t start out so rocky. After a successful first year and an inaugural picture show in the books, the husband and wife wanted to expand upon the event (and the town’s exposure) by featuring its setting and community in a low-budget indie, Four Deadly Reasons, about the mafia invading the town. Its star? The festival’s […]

“I Chose to Yell, You Chose to Whisper:” Zhang Yimou and Jia Zhangke at Pingyao International Film Festival

I was loitering around the ticket office of the Pingyao International Film Festival, waiting for the day to begin. This was the second morning of the festival and, like all international delegates, I was still adjusting to being in China. That adjustment is at least threefold: to the time zone, to the food and to the place. Already I had seen Jia Zhangke, festival founder and one of the greatest of all directors, mobbed by legions of fans. I had seen Zhao Tao standing tall and beautiful in the queue for the opening film, apparently invisible to those around her. […]

Uncut Gems, The Lighthouse, Give Me Liberty Score Big as Film Independent Announces 2019 Spirit Award Nominees

Josh and Benny Safdie’s Uncut Gems and Robert Eggers’s The Lighthouse topped the nominations list with five nominations each as Film Independent announced today the 2019 Film Independent Spirit Award nominees. Chinonye Chukwu’s Sundance winner Clemency, Julius Onah’s Luce and Alma Har’el’s Honey Boy also received multiple nominations as did lesser-promoted films such as Kirill Mikhanovsky’s Give Me Liberty and Tom Quinn’s Colewell. And so did one festival sleeper that premiered in Tribeca before then going to Netflix: Stefan Bristol’s See You Yesterday. That particular Spirit blend of higher-profile titles mixed with smaller ones continues throughout the rest of the […]