Posted by Joy Bennett
Festival Director Rich Rossi and actress Lindsay Thomas at New York International Film Festival --
LA Edition, September, 20, 2013, Los Angeles, CA, photo by Joy Bennett
As I mentioned in my post of September 19, 2013 (scroll down), I recently was fortunate enough to attend the New York International Film Festival -- LA Edition at Raleigh Studios in Los Angeles, CA. This is one of the largest independent film festivals, and started in 1993. It's known as the "voice of independent filmmaking." I arrived on Friday, September 20th in time to participate in the Red Carpet. The congenial Director of the Festival, Rich Rossi (pictured above interviewing my friend and actress Lindsay Thomas) was kind enough to interview me. Good practice having things switched up and being the interviewee for once! Mr. Rossi kept the evening moving along nicely, and several interesting films were screened (capsule reviews appear below). It all happened at the beautiful and exciting Raleigh Studios, a wonderful and upscale location for a film festival.
I met several wonderful filmmakers, actors, and industry executives; and generally had terrific time. Afterwards several of us went out to the historic Canter's Deli on Fairfax, and I enjoyed their rugula as usual, yum!
I couldn't see all of the films screened at the festival, but did my best to see as many as possible, some notable ones are reviewed below.
HOUSE CLEANING Directed by Julia Camara. A very short, hysterical film about a nude house cleaner for hire. One of the funniest shorts I've ever seen, and believe me I've seen more than my share. Right on target. Keep your eye on Ms. Camara for future work, I expect good things from her!
A WASTED NIGHT Directed by Filippo Capuzzi Lapietra. A Brazilian short that is diverting and amusing, a fresh take on the usual date night movie.
A TICKET TO HOLLYWOOD: EUROPEANS IN LOS ANGELES, 1926-56, PROLOGUE Directed by Antonello Villani. My friend Mr. Villani originally informed me about the film festival, and I was thrilled to see his work. This film is an artistic, beautifully photographed documentary about Hollywood's early years. Mr. Villani's Italian sense of design and beauty comes through nicely. The film explores the architecture of Los Angeles, influences of Europe, and other factors that made our town the fascinating place it is today.
The next night, Saturday, September 21st, was the closing night of the film festival. I arrived early enough to catch some of the fascinating seminars given by the owner of the film festival, Stuart Alson. Mr. Alson is among other things a film distributor and generously gave his expertise to the filmmakers and others on how best to market a film and find an audience, both here in the United States and worldwide. It's a great public service that he provides, and very much appreciated by those in attendance.
Then it was time for more movies, briefly reviewed below.
THURSDAY'S SPEAKER Directed by Gary Hebert. This feature-length film is a funny and sad story of a twelve step speaker who himself is badly in need of an intervention. Deftly directed by Mr. Hebert, who keeps the story moving along through laughs and tears.
CHEZ UPSHAW Directed by Bruce Mason. Familiar face Illeana Douglas anchors this amusing dark comedy about a bed and breakfast where you check in, but never check out. Funny and original, very nicely done. Ms. Douglas can handle drama, comedy, anything, and is spectacular in just about anything she does.
FEMME Directed by Emmanuel Itier. Sharon Stone appears along with many other women in this inspiring and lovely feature length documentary about how women and female energy will heal the world. Although it has a singular point of view, the interviews and research behind the film is very uplifting and beautifully presented. The original music by such notable musicians as Annie Lennox, Yoko Ono and Rickie Lee Jones enhances the beauty of its message. A movie of the heart, reminiscent of a calming spiritual retreat.
During the film festival, I was able to corner Stuart Alson, the fascinating owner of the film festival, and ask him a few questions about the festival and filmmaking in general. The interview appears below, edited for clarity.
Mr. Alson said he started the festival in 1993 as a way to distribute and publicize a film he made in 1993 and had difficulty distributing. He decided to start his own company distributing films and running film festivals, thus giving other filmmakers a much needed opportunity to have their films find an audience. He enjoys being in charge and putting on festivals when and where he wants. In the past they have had film festivals in several cities in any given year, but now they primarily focus on Los Angeles and New York City. He lives in Los Angeles and Las Vegas, and also publishes Independent Film Quarterly magazine. (This guy is amazing, does he ever sleep?)
His main focus however is film distribution through his company ITN DIstribution. He said the film festival is in itself not a money-making venture. They hire Raleigh Studios, etc., which must not be inexpensive. When they started in 1993, the festival would accept nearly all films submitted, but now they can be much more selective. The acceptance rate now is between 30 and 40 percent.
The independent filmmaking industry is lucky to have people like Mr. Alson who go above and beyond to provide this service to help educate, screen, and distribute the films so many independent filmmakers struggle to produce.
I look forward to many more film festivals from Mr. Alson and Mr. Rossi's efforts, and would like to take this opportunity to thank them for their hospitality and service to independent film and filmmakers everywhere.
By the way, this film festival is open to the public, and as film festivals go, is very comfortable, at a gorgeous studio setting on a working movie lot, with plenty of parking, open seats available, and very friendly folks running it. Not always so at these things, trust me I know! Just remember to bring your own candy or snacks for the movie, as they don't have a snack bar in the screening rooms.
This festival does, however, have lovely parties that everyone is welcomed to attend. There you will bump into lots of filmmakers, actors, screenwriters, friends of the same, family members, and casting and industry executives and such. And I know you will feel good about supporting independent film and filmmakers. Who knows, you might just spot the next Sofia Coppola at the festival!
Be sure to go up and let your favorite filmmaker know if you like his or her work, it would likely mean the world to them! Filmmaking is one of the hardest endeavors on the planet, it's expensive, time-consuming, and fraught with challenges at every step of the way. Your support would be very much appreciated.
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September 25, 2013 | 8:46 am
Posted by Joy Bennett
General view of Unlikely Heroes Justice Ball, Los Angeles, CA September 24, 2013, photo by Joy Bennett
Last night I was invited to the Justice Ball at Boulevard3 on Sunset Boulevard to benefit the international anti-human trafficking organization Unlikely Heroes. This important organization rescues and restores child victims of sex slavery worldwide. I was thrilled to attend this glamorous ball, it was well-attended and in a lovely setting with fountains, fireplaces, and lots of gorgeous folks all dressed to impress. For the shot above, I jumped up on the seat of the stone surrounding the pool. Unfortunately, my glasses fell into the pool shortly thereafter! No worries, I fished them out, but when I asked for a napkin, I discovered it was a napkin free zone! I wiped my hands on my skirt, recovered, and kept going.
There are over 27 million people trapped in slavery worldwide, according to Unlikely Heroes founder Erica Greve. You can watch a very important video about Unlikely Heroes featuring Ms. Greve, President and Founder of Unlikely Heroes. This woman started the organization when she was working as a social worker in Oakland, California and realized there was no organizations to help these unfortunate victims of child sexual abuse. Here's the video: vimeo.com/48671489. For more information or to support this very worthy non-profit, visit www.unlikelyheroes.com.
September 24, 2013 | 3:17 am
Posted by Joy Bennett
Photo courtesy RITpress.com
Jack Garner was a chief national film critic for the hundred or so newspapers and outlets of Gannett Company for twenty years, and was the film critic of the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle for thirty years. I met Mr. Garner and knew him slightly when I was living in Rochester, New York, at a film festival we both covered many years ago. He has been an inspiration and model for how film criticism should be approached, and this book is also a fine and enjoyable synopsis of his long and rewarding career.
In a film critic, you want a reviewer who, above all, has good taste, intelligence, and a fine sensitivity. Mr. Garner has all three in spades. He set the bar very high for film criticism, and was, and still is, a role model for writing about cinema and all things related.
Mr. Garner discusses in his book such things as his basic concepts of film reviewing. “First, I tried to give every film a fair shake.” “Second, I think of myself as a shades of grey critic.” Every film has some redeeming quality, he writes, and most films are neither perfect nor completely dismal. “Third, I try not to give too much away.” Plot spoilers are the bane of a film reviewer’s existence. “Finally, I hate numbers or stars” or other such rating system.
Later on in the book, Mr. Garner discusses what is a critic? To sum up, he feels that a critic is both a journalist and historian, an advocate both for the consumer and for the arts. Simply put, a critic is someone who expresses opinions about the quality of a work, and backs up those opinions with examples and justifications.
A critic must address two basic questions, he writes. What is the artist trying to do, and how well he or she succeeds. The film should be considered in light of the quality of the acting, the execution and originality of ideas, and its form and technique.
But the most important element of any movie is “a film must have life” -- it must move you and stir emotional reactions in the viewer. “A good film demands a reaction.” I couldn’t agree more.
His book also includes such gems as favorite reviews he’s done over the years, lists of his favorite all time movies and actors and why, his memorable encounters with such icons as Woody Allen, Sophia Loren, Ray Charles, James Stewart, and many others, and his iconic and important essays on the art of cinema.
Intelligently organized, and very pleasant to read, this excellent book sets the standard for film criticism, and should be considered an essential part of any film lover’s library.
September 20, 2013 | 4:36 am
Posted by Joy Bennett
Opening Night of NYIFF - LA Edition, Sept. 18, 2013, photo by Joy Bennett
Wednesday night I was thrilled to attend the Red Carpet Opening Night Event of the New York International Film Festival - LA Edition. Friends invited me, and there I met lots of directors, filmmakers, actors, screenwriters, producers, and friends of the above, all celebrating the festival, which runs through September 21.
This is one of the largest independent film festivals, and started in 1993. It's known as the "voice of independent filmmaking." In past years the works of dozens of celebrities have been featured, including Andy Garcia, Selma Blair, Dominique Swain, Tony Danza and countless others. More information and tickets to the events are available here nyfilmvideo.com.
They were also handing out awards Wednesday night. I couldn't catch them all, it was a loud, fun, crowded scene, but I did snag a Mr. Bradd Hopkins, who is the winner of Best Screenplay for his project "Ludlow." A very nice fellow. Congratulations to Mr. Hopkins and all the other festival award winners!
I will return to the festival this Friday to see some festival films and attend the events, and will report back on it then.
I must say I am continually impressed with the ingenuity, gumption, and sheer inventiveness of independent film and filmmakers. I believe that the quality of independent films are often higher than the dribble that the big studios often put out, year in and year out. Tickets are still available to the festival, which is taking place at Raleigh Studios in Hollywood, in itself, a lovely and historic venue.
Note: I just added more photos from this event on my Flickr page, check them out here: flickr.com/joybennett.
September 10, 2013 | 1:36 am
Posted by Joy Bennett
The Annenberg Space for Photography in Los Angeles, CA photo by Joy Bennett
If you live in or visit Los Angeles, there is a breathtaking, exceptional museum for photography in Century City that I recently discovered: The Annenberg Space for Photography. I just visited there last week, and saw the outstanding exhibit on Helmut Newton which was amazing. Sadly, that exhibit is now closed, but the museum is preparing a new exhibit set to open on October 26th called "The Power of Photography: National Geographic 125 Years."
The Helmut Newton exhibit was one of the finest photographic exhibits I've ever experienced. His work was shown with depth, sensitivity, and power, and I learned a great deal that afternoon about this groundbreaking photographer and his work.
If you love photography as I do, it's worth your time to explore this wonderful museum, and best of all, it's completely free. You just have to pay for parking, and they validate, bringing the cost down to $3.50. They also have a library, a gift shop, and a wonderful lecture series available.
For more information about the museum, visit annenbergspaceforphotography.com. The museum is closed now but will reopen on October 26th with their new exhibit. You can see a preview of the upcoming exhibit on their website.
The museum was founded in 2009 by Wallis Annenberg, the billionaire heiress who has dedicated her life to philanthropy. "Wallis Annenberg is the Chairman of the Board, President and CEO of the Annenberg Foundation, one of the largest private foundations in the United States. Based in Los Angeles, Wallis is a visionary who strives to improve the well-being of people and communities throughout the world. She has spent much of her life focused on philanthropy and is dedicated to education; communications; arts and culture; medical research; animal welfare; social justice and environmental stewardship. " From the Annenberg Space for Photography website.
To find out more about Wallis Annenberg, the fascinating heiress who started the museum and has funded countless other philanthropic projects for the City of Los Angeles and elsewhere, you might enjoy reading this October 2009 Vanity Fair article: http://www.vanityfair.com/style/features/2009/10/wallis-annenberg200910. The world needs more individuals like Wallis Annenberg!
September 2, 2013 | 9:27 pm
Posted by Joy Bennett
The Butler film poster
Today we saw The Butler, directed by Lee Daniels (he also directed Precious, etc.). It was excellent. I've rarely been so emotionally affected by a film.
Forest Whitaker is the Butler, and does an outstanding job, aging through his many decades of service. The make-up and hair stylists did a terrific job with the effects of aging through the years, but it is Mr. Whitaker's skill himself that really carries the day. It's no surprise, this gifted actor received an Oscar for his portrayal of the dictator Idi Amin, and what range he has. His incarnation of the Butler is gentle, strong, disciplined and uncannily spot on. Jane Fonda is also excellent as Nancy Reagan.
Oprah herself is one of the main characters as the Butler's wife, and here she is as we've never seen her before: boozy, vulnerable, yearning for a husband who has been called away by the White House. What wife could compete with that? She also does a terrific job.
The film for me at least was often hard to watch, as the Civil Rights movement, Birmingham, the Freedom Fighters, and the formation of the Black Panther party were all unflinchingly portrayed. The assassinations of two of our finest, Dr. Martin Luther King and President John F. Kennedy also play strongly in this film. This era was one of our darkest hours as a country. Look just how far we have come in race relations; yet how far we still have to go as a nation, and a world. A difficult, emotionally soaring, outstanding film, just perfect for this Labor Day Weekend.