By Brian D. Johnson - Tuesday, December 4, 2012 - 0 Comments
I’ve been a devotee of the Whistler Film Festival for most of the past decade. Cannes and TIFF are both essential and vast, but these festivals unfold on such an industrial scale that they’re no longer, well, festive. For a film critic on the assembly line of world cinema, they’re more work than fun. Whistler, which wrapped its 12th edition this past weekend, has always been the festival I most look forward to. It doesn’t hurt that skiing is part of the program—unlike Sundance, the WFF encourages it, and with its Celebrity Ski Challenge, the mountain becomes part of the program. But Whistler’s five-day extravaganza also brings together filmmakers, media and industry folk with unparalleled energy and intimacy.
As a guest of the festival, I wore two hats this year, as a journalist and a member of the documentary jury. And it was evident to me and everyone I talked to that this was the year Whistler raised its game. Continue…
By Brian D. Johnson - Monday, January 23, 2012 at 7:25 PM - 0 Comments
Bingham Ray, one of the most beloved champions of American independent cinema has died. Ray, co-founder of October Films and lately executive-director of the San Francisco Film Society, suffered a stroke Friday while attending the Sundance Film Festival. He died today in hospital surrounded by family. He was 57.
While Harvey Weinstein is the only indie mogul to become famous, we’ve seen less celebrated U.S. distribution executives driven by a passion for the art, men like Tom Bernard and Michael Barker of Sony Classics. Bingham Ray was one of them. I met him when I was researching my history of the Toronto International Film Festival, Brave Films Wild Nights: 25 Years of Festival Fever (2000). He was a generous interview, a joy to talk to, and bracingly candid. Here’s a passage from the book about a legendary bidding war between Bingham and Harvey Weinstein for Robert Duvall’s The Apostle at the 1997 edition of TIFF:
“. . . By midnight Miramax and October were slugging it out. Harvey Weinstein was in New York, bargaining by phone—he had watched The Apostle at a simultaneous private screening that night. Bingham Ray, October’s buyer, had left the Toronto premiere after forty-five minutes to make his bid. He was desperate to get the film. Octdober had just been bought by Universal that summer and was itching to take on Miramax. ‘We were dealing with the studio’s money, the house money,’ Ray explains, ‘and we wanted to stir it up to send a signal. There are all kinds of reasons to buy movies. The right reasons are because you love them and there’s an audience for them and you can build long-lasting relationships with the people who made them. Then there’s just trying to get on the map in a big, sexy way. October wasn’t bought by Universal to be a nice high-end art-house company. They wanted a vehicle to really compete with Miramax. I think that’s folly. Harvey had become a serious mogul. At October we were just getting our feet wet.’ Continue…
By Brian D. Johnson - Friday, November 4, 2011 at 3:49 PM - 2 Comments
It’s rare that you see a romance without the obligatory comedy. Unless it’s a flat-out tearjerker. Even edgy indie filmmakers don’t usually let the rom-com ratio drop much lower than 60/40. And the lack of cute comedy is just one of the things that’s so refreshing about Like Crazy. It’s not a rom-com. It’s a romantic drama that unfolds uncannily like life itself, without the forced punctuation of ironic beats and witty aperçus that even the most authentic indie filmmakers feel obliged to sew into the lining of their scripts. That’s partly because Like Crazy—which won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance—had no scripted dialogue. The actors improvised. And the result is a pure, unaffected romance, a tale of two lovers who struggle to remain true to each other after they are separated by cruel circumstance.
U.S. actor Anton Yelchin (Star Wars) and Britain’s Felicity Jones (The Tempest, Page 8) star as Jacob and Anna, who meet as college students in California and become long-distance lovers, living continents apart after Anna violates the term of her U.S. student visa. Homeland security thwarts romantic security. She’s a writer; he designs furniture. Temporarily separated, they pursue their careers in L.A. and London, while trying to remain faithful. What goes on between Yelchin and Jones is so tender, intimate and real that it’s hard to believe we get to watch. And no, I’m not talking about sex—there’s nothing explicit on display—just emotion.
“Every scene in Like Crazy was treated like a sex scene,” says U.S. director Drake Doremus (Douchebag), “even though there are no typical sex scenes. But the feeling was always that we’d closed the door and everything inside was safe and intimate, yet also wide open.” The director adds that he was trying to make a film in the style of the French New Wave, and drew inspiration from Alfonso Cuaron’s Y Tu Mama Tambien and Lars Von Trier’s Breaking The Waves. With its thin narrative, Like Crazy doesn’t measure up to those films, but you can see the influence. The actors’ improv performances don’t feel like performances. Yet this is not the wise-assed improv of actors trying to be smart or funny. Yelchin and Jones engage in a sincere, seamless give-and-take that makes you sit up and think (a) that’s exactly how people behave in a relationship and (b) it’s hard to remember seeing an American film with so little business cluttering up the dialogue. Continue…