On the red carpet with Le Week-end. Photo by Lesli Klainberg.
A beautiful Sunday afternoon didn't seem to hinder the masses at the first full weekend of the 51st New York Film Festival. Packed crowds turned up at Alice Tully for afternoon screenings of Claude Lanzmann's The Last of the Unjust and Roger Michell's Le Week-end, with Michell making a quick “drive-by” appearance on stage with his actors Jim Broadbent, Lindsay Duncan and Jeff Goldblum before making a quick exit for the airport, while his cast stuck around for a lively Q&A.
Sunday morning started out with Lav Diaz's Norte, The End of History at the Walter Reade Theater, while the last full day of NYFF Convergence was underway in the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center. Sunday night, James Franco's Child Of God had its debut. Monday's round-up includes comments from the stage after Saturday night's glitzy premiere of Inside Llewyn Davis.
Child Of God by James Franco
Sean Penn wanted to make this movie 10 years ago but he couldn't raise the money, explained Tim Blake Nelson, who was to have directed the project. Directed by James Franco, the drama centers on a dispossessed, violent man who's life is a disastrous attempt to exist outside the social order. Deprived of parents and homes and with few other ties, Ballard descends literally and figuratively to the level of a cave dweller as he falls deeper into crime and degradation. Nelson, who has a small role in the film, professed a deep appreciation for the author of the novel upon which the film is based, Cormac McCarthy.
Nelson said he was impressed that Franco and his collaborators didn't wait for Hollywood financing, they just did it themselves. Franco reached into his own pocket to fund the film, Nelson said. Franco was originally going to play the lead role himself, he noted. He later approached Sam Rockwell about the part, which eventually went with relative newcomer Scott Haze. [Eugene Hernandez]
Le Week-end by Roger Michell
Le Week-end director Roger Michell made a quick appearance on stage at Alice Tully Hall after the U.S. debut screening of his latest film, about a British couple who return to Paris many years after their honeymoon hoping to rejuvenate their marriage. Michell received a warm round of applause, saying he had to dash off to the airport to attend the Zurich Film Festival, but stars Jim Broadbent, Lindsay Duncan and Jeff Goldblum stayed on stage for a lively Q&A. “We've done this before,” Broadbent joked, referring to their onscreen marriage. “We did it once for HBO and we went from there really. It's all in the script. [Hanif Kureishi] is a clever writer.”
The film follows the couple as they traverse Paris, living beyond their means and confronting years of a marriage that has seen the couple grow separately. “What is so attractive about the script is that it's so clearly true about relationships,” observed Broadbent. “It's so very true. I could relate to some of Lindsay's lines in the script as well as my lines. Having been married for 30 years, more or less, I can understand their relationship.” Lindsay Duncan's character appears bored in the marriage and yearns for excitement she feels has been elusive. “I'm still married… There is a lot of truth in this script,” she said. “It makes it relatively easy to act because you believe in it… It is a glimpse into intimacy. It's a lot more shocking than sexual intimacy, but a glimpse into emotional intimacy. A lot more to see than just bodies.” [Brian Brooks]
Backstage, Film Society's Kent Jones with filmmakers Claude Lanzmann and Frederick Wiseman. Photo by Lesli Klainberg
The Last of the Unjust by Claude Lanzmann
Shoah director Claude Lanzmann gave a lengthy and often hilarious chat after the U.S. premiere of his latest, The Last of the Unjust, Sunday at Alice Tully Hall. Unjust comes three decades after Shoah, a nine and a half-hour documentary on the Holocaust in which he interviewed survivors, witnesses and ex-Nazis, which gave a horrifying portrait of the Nazi genocide. Now 87, his new film centers on Benjamin Murmelstein, the last Jewish elder of Theresienstadt. Initially meant for Shoah, the once despised figure explains his actions and discusses his paradoxical role in history. “It's not an extreme pleasure to work on this,” Lanzmann said Sunday. “I was not afraid of work. I did work on Shoah. But I knew if I had to work on this for several years, it would be difficult. But I did it and I hope that I will succeed to rehabilitate this man. I think he's fantastic, highly intelligent and highly honest… He's very important.”
In the discussion, Lanzmann explained the difference between the two movies, at times through an interpreter, but more often than not, he ran the Q&A in English. “The general tone of Shoah was epic, but this is not epic. It's meant as a reflection on the past.” [Brian Brooks]
Norte, The End of History by Lav Diaz
The idea for Norte, The End of History came from another woman who had an idea about a prisoner and how his wife stops visiting him in jail. So every Christmas he makes a Christmas lantern until he has a lot of them and she finally comes back to visit. Set in the northern Philippine province of Luzon, Norte depicts a horrific double murder by a law school dropout. A gentle family man, however, takes the fall and receives a life sentence, leaving behind his wife and two kids.
The north of the Philippines has a particular significance for director Lav Diaz, whose latest is a re-thinking of Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment. “He's a fascist. Norte is a direct reference to the birth of fascism in the country. It's where [former dictator Ferdinand] Marcos is from.” [Eugene Hernandez]
The Cosmonaut by Nicholas Alcala
Director Nicholas Alcala presented the New York premiere of The Cosmonaut, his sci fi feature film that is but one part of a vast, transmedia story world. Created in collaboration with a network of fans and artists from around the globe, Alcala stressed that this was but one piece of a vast narrative and invited the audience to explore the story via The Cosmonaut Experience which featured a curated selection of the short films created to support the project running in the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center's amphitheater. He engaged in an extended conversation with transmedia creator Mark Harris about the unique challenges presented by creating a work that exists equally on half a dozen platforms—as a feature, web shorts, web sites, a book, and live music event following the film. [Matt Bolish]
Grand Theft Auto V. Courtesy of Rockstar
Visit Los Santos and Blaine County: The World of Grand Theft Auto V
“It's more about Americana than American life,” began Dan Houser, talking about Grand Theft Auto V. The co-founder of the company said he sees the game as the media come to life in a large, media savvy, media saturated city that very closely resembles Los Angeles. The city in Grand Theft Auto V is called Los Santos and Houser and his collaborators said that they find it fun to parody the city through its doppelgänger, Los Santos.
The GTA creators talked about how their games have been influenced by movies, but noted that with a story that extends more that 60 hours, their influences are actually beyond cinema. “One of the things we are not taking from film is narrative structure,” Dan Houser explained. Speaking on the afternoon that the landmark series Breaking Bad would conclude, he said that he and his collaborators are looking more to long form television for their references. [Eugene Hernandez]
The Embalmer's Tale by Cory McAbee
The Convergence crowd had the chance to hear from Cory McAbee about his upcoming feature film The Embalmer's Tale. Envisioned as a vast, crowd sourced collaborative, McAbee plans to build his film with the help of… everyone (or at least everyone who wants to be a part of it)! After detailing his plans for managing the creative output of hundreds of would-be collaborators, the audience was officially inducted into “Captain Ahab's Motorcycle Club” (Lincoln Center chapter). McAbee performed music from the upcoming project live on stage, capping off one of the most engaging presentations of the weekend. [Matt Bolish]
Joanna Hogg's Exhibition
Exhibition by Joanna Hogg
Among the most profound aspects of Johanna Hogg's new film Exhibition is its sound. In fact, the term “sound design” doesn't do it justice, Film Society's Kent Jones said during the film's Q&A.
“I am obsessed with sound,” said Joanna Hogg. In the film, the married couple at the center of the story spend almost the entire movie inside their large, glass-enclosed, modern London home. The outside world creeps in via the sounds from the city. Hogg said that she used the real sounds from outside the house where they shot the movie. And then she added more to heighten the effect.
“I am just so interested in it,” she reiterated. “I recorded quite a few sounds myself… I do sort of collect sounds.” Jones commented that the everyday sounds in the film have almost a musical quality about them. “We were quite conscious of creating music with these sounds,” Hogg added. [Eugene Hernandez]
Particle Fever by Mark Levinson
Our Applied Science documentary section kicked off with a big bang at a packed screening of Mark Levinson's Particle Fever. The film focuses on the search for the elusive Higgs Boson subatomic particle, which the media has dubbed the “God particle,” and the obstacles that arose in 2011 when Switzerland's CERN institute attempted to bring the Large Hadron Collider online in order to test for its existence.
In a Q&A following the screening, Levinson commented on the tension inherent in the story: “It had so much dramatic potential. I was interested in telling a dramatic story, not just making a science documentary.” One audience member applauded the inclusion of several female scientists in the film, which Levinson said was not “by design” but the result of serendipity and which characters worked best for the film.
Producer and theoretical physicist David Kaplan commented on the overall aim of the project: “The natural instinct for physicists in to explain everything in great detail. But that wasn't our goal. Our goal was to create an experiential film. The experience of physicists is that, 99% of the time, we don't know what the hell is going on.” [Nicholas Kemp]
Inside Llewyn Davis cast on stage at Alice Tully Hall Saturday night. Photo by Tiffany Vazquez
Some final notes from the Coens' Inside Llewyn Davis, which premiered Saturday night:
The pre-Bob Dylan folk era forms the backdrop for Joel and Ethan Coen's anticipated Inside Llewyn Davis, which had its U.S. premiere at the New York Film Festival this weekend. Starring Oscar Isaac in the title role, the film proved wildly popular, with tickets selling out almost instantly. Still, some determined festival-goers turned up for rush tickets, more than 50 did make it inside for the premiere, which centers on a down and out folk musician. “It was interesting to us to make a movie about someone who wasn't successful but not because they weren't good,” said Joel Coen after the screening. “That was the central problem in terms of casting the film because we needed to convince the audience not only that he was a musician but that he was a good musician.”
Added Ethan Coen: “It's kind of a conflicted tortured relationship with success that was a hallmark of the scene and also of the 1960s… As far as we know it's the first movie to be certified Kosher…The idea from the beginning was a made-up character but real music from the period.” [Tiffany Vazquez]