After time off for good behavior, Indie Roundup returns with an opinionated look at recent news.
Awards. The Cinema Eye Honors seek to recognize "the breadth of the [documentary] genre." Their second annual awards were handed out on Sunday, with James Marsh's superb Man on Wire deservedly taking home prizes for Nonfiction Feature Filmmaking, Production, and Editing. Ari Folman's Waltz with Bashir received awards in the International Feature, Direction, and Graphic Design and Animation categories. Yung Chang's Up the Yangtze won the Audience Choice Award and Debut Feature Film honors, while Werner Herzog's Encounters at the End of the World was recognized for Peter Zellner's cinematography. More information on the films is available at the official site of the Cinema Eye Honors.
Deals. IFC Films acquired Alexis Dos Santos' Unmade Beds and plans to make it available via their IFC in Theaters or IFC Festival Direct on demand offerings later this year, according to indieWIRE. Dos Santos previously made Glue, which drove me nuts with its motion-sickness handheld camera work, but his work has won critical acclaim and may, come to think of it, play better on television rather than on a big screen. Heresy, I know. Unmade Beds is described as "an exuberant, warmly romantic film about youth culture."
Adam Wingard's Pop Skull, "a sonic fury of abstracted imagery bathed in menacing splashes of light and sound," has been picked up by Halo-8 Entertainment and will received a limited theatrical release before hitting DVD in July. The description comes courtesy of my friend Collin Armstrong at Twitch. The film follows an Alabama drug addict battling personal demons and, oh yeah, murderous ghosts in his house. We've embedded the trailer below (if you dare).
After the jump: A fashion doc, a film critic, and Gen Art.
Box Office. A fashion designer continues to lead them all. Matt Tyrnauer's Valentino: The Last Emperor scored the highest per-screen average for the second weekend in a row, even though it dipped from $21,762 to $15,553, according to Box Office Mojo. Also performing nicely (per-screen averages noted): drama Goodbye Solo ($12,681), drama Sin Nombre ($11,695) and doc American Swing ($10,174). In its third week of release, Sunshine Cleaning expanded to 167 screens ($7,629).
Festivals (LA Style). Veteran film critic Robert Koehler gets to put his money where his mouth is. He's been named the new Director of Programming for AFI Fest in Los Angeles, and now will have an opportunity to put into practice what he wrote recently in Cinema Scope: "The essence of interesting, vital festival programming is an intelligent argument for a certain kind of cinema -- this kind, not that kind. Programming, if it matters, must stake a claim and declare its position. Putting aside the procedural realities that seep into even the 'purest' of programming regimens, all programming, like criticism, is ideological, whether or not the programmer is cognizant of it, and many North American programmers, just like North American critics -- and they are fairly unique in this regard -- are willfully or lazily unaware of this."
In context, Koehler was slamming the New Frontier section at Sundance for its "profound marginality" and "unevenness," but it should be interesting to see what Koehler can accomplish at AFI Fest. On the surface, it's an odd move; Rose Kuo was hired in the summer of 2007 as Artistic Director to "oversee the programming direction and overall artistic direction" of the festival. At the time, Shaz Bennett was promoted to the position of Associate Director of Programming, and Lane Kneedler moved up to the Senior Programmer post. Both the 2007 and 2008 editions of the festival were well-received. Even critic Scott Foundas of the LA Weekly, who had been scathingly scornful of AFI Fest in the past, raved: "The almost overnight turnaround at AFI has largely been the achievement of one woman, Rose Kuo ... it's Kuo, more than any single other force within the AFI organization, who has been willing to gamble on the intelligence and eclectic tastes of Los Angeles moviegoers."
But AFI has been hit by economic factors like everyone else. In January, Bennett, a longtime proponent of talented local filmmakers and more daring international voices, lost her job, and there's been talk that the festival will be scaling down for its next edition in the fall. (Full disclosure: I worked in the programming office at AFI Fest in 2003 and 2004, though no one I worked with is still there.) It seems notable to me that AFI Fest would lay off someone who'd done a good job at the festival for many years, ostensibly for economic reasons, and then hire someone else a few months later to do (evidently) the same job. A surreptitious way to lower payroll? Is Kuo already ready to move on and hand off the artistic direction to Koehler?
I have nothing but respect for Koehler. He's a gifted, hard-working writer, and his reviews are always a pleasure to read, even when they've torn apart something I admired or enjoyed. When I lived in Los Angeles, he was the only critic I saw who would see as many films as humanly possible each day at festivals. Yet his hiring leads to other questions. Will AFI Fest give up on the splashy, star-filled gala presentations that help garner mainstream press notice, which are seemingly essential for a festival that takes place in Hollywood? Will Koehler steer the program toward even more challenging fare, and trust that an audience will follow? Will the fest's partnership with the American Film Market be affected?
The next edition of AFI Fest is slated for October 30 to November 7.
Festivals (NY Style). Crossing time and space, the Gen Art Film Festival kicks off in New York tonight with the local premiere of Derick Martini's Lymelife, starring Alec Baldwin, Kieran Culkin, Rory Culkin, Jill Hennessy, Timothy Hutton, Cynthia Nixon, and Emma Roberts. It will be preceded by the excellent short film Trece años by the very talented Topaz Adizes, which I saw at AFI Dallas the other night. It's the rare short that leaves you wanting more.
The festival continues through April 7, with one short, one feature, and one party each night, which sounds pretty balanced to me. Check out the fest's official site for ticket availability and more information about the films.