Sunday, June 10, 2007

Notes from Breckenridge

Facing Sudan
screened this weekend at the 27th annual Breckenridge Festival of Film. The festival was hosted by film critic Jeffrey Lyons and showcased a variety of independent films. Facing Sudan screened twice and the response to the film was phenomenal. Several people commented on how they were moved by it. One theater-goer told me that he thought the film should be required viewing for every American.

After the first screening, I had the pleasure to meet Carl Tinstman and his wife Tinbet. Carl had worked for the UN for many years in South Sudan. After the screening, he invited me out to lunch. We were joined by members of the Denver Save Darfur Coalition: Ben, Mary and Mike. We had a great lunch and great conversation about Sudan and what needs to be done there. Thanks again, Carl, for the lunch.

I also had the pleasure of meeting Elaine Bennett. She spoke to the audience for a few minutes about her project of opening a safe-house near Khartoum for Sudanese “Lost Girls.” She and her husband are planning another trip to Sudan this fall to help these homeless girls in Sudan. For more information about her efforts, please visit Mothers Without Borders.

The nice thing about the festival was meeting fellow filmmakers. One filmmaker who I had the pleasure of meeting and spending time with was Jay Curlee. His film, Rocking the Boat: A Musical Conversation and Journey, focuses on Delbert McClinton and his annual cruise that showcases some of the best musicians in American independent music. The film not only has some amazing performances, but also some amusing and insightful stories from McClinton and others. The film is a celebration of art unbound by the constraints of a corporate dominated media world. For more information about the film and to view the trailer visit Jay’s website.

I had the opportunity to meet with other filmmakers as well and the experience---my first festival experience—was an overall rewarding one.

Some other highlights from the festival:

A Death at a Funeral. This was the opening night film. Directed by Frank Oz, Death at a Funeral, is a fast-paced farce about a dysfunctional funeral in England. Although full of clich├ęs, the film was truly hysterical; at one point, a scene involving fecal material literally had me in tears. The film opens nationwide on June 29. Check out the website for the film.

Last Stop for Paul. This was a truly amazing film which followed friends Charlie and Cliff on a trip across the world so that Cliff could spread the ashes of his recently deceased friend, Paul and attend the "Full Moon Party" in Thailand. Interestingly, the film was shot with one digital camera on the fly at various locations across the world. Director, writer and star Neil Mandt actually cast locals on the spot to play the various roles the often improvised scripted called for. As a result, Last Stop for Paul is a refreshingly natural and funny look at world travel. You can actually watch the entire film online in web episodes at the official site.

Dirt Nap. One of the weirdest and amusing animated shorts I have ever seen. In fact, I will have to view it several more times to catch all of the zaniness that filmmakers Kirk Reid and Mark Estep put into their 8 year long project. The film is a philosophical look at life and death by following recently deceased Norval as he descends into hell and meets God’s employees, including a crazy clown who works with Death and sports a Canadian accent. Einstein works in hell as well and is very angry with God because the Almighty had given his theory of relativity a resounding “F” grade. Einstein wants revenge. A truly original and funny short, Dirt Nap deserves a look. Even the tagline is funny: "Life sucks, and then you die. And then death sucks." Check out the website.

La Vie en Rose. This French film premiered at Breckenridge and chronicles the life---the sad and tragic life---of Edith Piaf. Told in a non-linear narrative, the film traces Piaf’s sad life from her birth to her death (although her actions in World War II are conspicuously absent). The film is engrossing and the performance by Marion Cotillard as Edith Piaf is truly one of the best female performances that I have ever seen in a motion picture. Her performance alone is worth the entrance fee as she literally becomes Edith Piaf. But don’t expect to leave the theater in an uplifting mood as En Vie La Rose is a depressing chronicle of a trainwreck that was Edith Piaf’s life. For more information about the film, visit the official site.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Facing Sudan at the Boston International Film Festival

Today, Facing Sudan screened at the Boston International Film Festival. Here's what the Boston Weekly Dig said about the film:
Bruce David Janu, a filmmaker and teacher in Illinois, was pulled into the genocidal mess in Sudan through Brian Burns, a custodian at the high school where Janu teaches. Burns’s enthusiasm for aid work in Africa was infectious enough to inspire Janu to film a full-length documentary about him and other ordinary people who have taken it upon themselves to help Sudanese refugees. It’s a departure for Janu, whose filmmaking until now has been limited to amusingly titled educational films like The Adventures of History Guy: Gothic Cathedrals. But his educational background has served him well—he’s meticulous about documenting the haunting horror of the refugees and rescuers alike. Hard will be the conscience that leaves the theater unpricked.