"Only in filmmaking do you have time limitation in certain stages of production, while you would never restrain a painter, or a musician, or a novelist from taking the time he needs…" At Berlinale in February, I had the honor of meeting and interviewing the very talented French filmmaker Mia Hansen-Løve. I first became a big fan of Mia Hansen-Løve after catching her film Father of My Children at the Cannes Film Festival in 2009, and I've followed her career closely ever since. I most recently loved her film Eden, we featured it recently on our 19 Best Movies You Didn't See list. Her latest film, Things to Come (also called L'avenir), stars Isabelle Huppert as a woman dealing with major changes in her life. After following her for so long it was a major moment in my own career to sit down and talk with her about making great films.
As an avid photographer myself, I truly love coming across a documentary that expands my mind about the artistic qualities and emotional power of excellent photography. Along with The Salt of the Earth (about legendary photographer Sebastião Salgado), the documentary Mapplethorpe: Look at the Pictures is the latest to leave me floored. This utterly inspiring and eye-opening doc examines the (entire) life of Robert Mapplethorpe, a controversial gay photographer whose work was banned from museums in the 90s because it was deemed too obscene. Boy were they wrong. Hearing him talk about his life and then seeing the photos he produced - I couldn't help repeating in my mind, "this guy is a true master of photography." Seriously.
What a year so far. I had an amazing time at Berlinale this year. Not because all of the films were amazing, but because I met incredible people in Germany. I even met a very nice guy who works in film distribution while riding the train from Berlin down to Prague on my way out, and we talked for hours about films and distribution in the Czech Republic (where he works). Over the last week, I've encountered and talked with so many wonderful people - discussing films and the world. This is what festivals are all about, bringing people together, encouraging discussion. And yes - there are films to see. Plenty of them. I saw a grand total of 16 feature films at the Berlin Film Festival this year - here's my final recap with thoughts on each one below.
As another film festival comes to an end, it's time to celebrate and commemorate with the announcement of the awards. The 66th Berlin Film Festival just ended (my own recap is coming soon), and the winners were announced at the Closing Ceremony, including the winner of the coveted Golden Bear for Best Film. That top prize was given to a film called Fire at Sea, a documentary from filmmaker Gianfranco Rosi about migrants crossing the Mediterranean and the refugee crisis affecting Europe and the Middle East. A very political choice, considering how important the issue is right now, but not unexpected. French filmmaker Mia Hansen-Løve won a Silver Bear for Best Director for the film Things to Come. See all winners below.
Do you think what Edward Snowden revealed about the surveillance state is terrifying? Wait until you see this documentary. What documentarian Alex Gibney uncovers in his new documentary Zero Days is incredibly frightening and extremely worrying. But that's his point - he wants to thrown open the doors to these top secret operations and allow the people of this planet to debate and discuss what's happening. Zero Days begins by examining the malware known as Stuxnet, a self-propagating virus that seems to have been written by the NSA specifically to attack centrifuges in Iran. But this is just the tip of the iceberg. From there it presents a case that we've entered the era of cyber warfare, but few people know about what's occurring.
It's not often that we see a film about editors, about the hard-working, dedicated people that hide behind-the-scenes and help writers produce their best work. Michael Grandage's Genius is a very touching story about two friends - writer/novelist Thomas Wolfe, and Charles Scribner's Sons editor Maxwell Perkins. Max first meets Tom when a massive manuscript is dropped on his desk. He reluctantly reads it, but finds it to be absolutely wonderful, bringing in the writer to work on cutting it down so they can sell it as a novel. This ends up becoming Wolfe's first book Look Homeward, Angel, and it was the beginning of a rewarding relationship between these two showing just how important an editor is to producing truly successful work.
This should've been so much better. The story is so good, but the filmmaking is just so bad, and it deserved better. Alone in Berlin is a film directed by Vincent Perez telling the story of Otto Quangel (in real life: Otto Hampel), a German living in Berlin during WWII that decided to write post cards with "free press" notes opposing Hitler and his regime. It was one of the most awkward screening experiences I've ever had - sitting in a theater full of German critics, in Berlin for the Berlin Film Festival, watching a film set in Berlin, but everyone in the film speaks English with German accents. One of the worst decisions they made. Even though I understand it's about getting this film to a wider audience, it just doesn't work, the performances are stilted, and everything seems off for the entire film. Which is unfortunate because I do love Otto's story.
I still can't believe I'm saying this. Lee Tamahori, director of Die Another Day (one of my least favorite Bond movies) and other junk like xXx: State of the Union, has actually made a rather wonderful film. I'll admit - I kinda loved it. Maybe because I really had no idea what to expect. The Patriarch, also known as Mahana, is a film about the Mahana family in New Zealand. It's set during the 1960s and focuses on one boy in the family named Simeon, played by Akuhata Keefe who is the only one, out of about 20 members, to ever challenge and speak out against the patriarch of the family, played by Temuera Morrison. It's an uplifting story about how things can change over generations, and it's just as fun to watch as it is inspiring.
Right from the start, this film is already moving. A father, his son and another protector are on the run. The young boy they're watching over seems to have some sort of special powers that even he doesn't understand. We never learn what exactly his powers are, or how he used them before they had to go on the run. Instead, the film focuses on this particular moment in time when they make sure to get him to where he needs to go. Jeff Nichols' Midnight Special is a solid sci-fi thriller with big ideas hidden within. It's not really a studio movie (produced by Warner Bros) as much as it is another stellar Jeff Nichols film with studio sensibilities.
Onward to Berlin! I'm off on my next adventure, just a few weeks after wrapping up my 10th year back to the Sundance Film Festival in Utah, I'm headed over to Germany to attend the Berlin Film Festival (also known as Berlinale). This is my third year back to Berlinale since first attending in 2014, and I've grown to love the festival (they have amazing food trucks!). Berlin is a great city, and the fest runs between Sundance and SXSW, meaning it's the perfect time to catch more great films. During Sundance this year, I wrote a passionate editorial about how much I love film festivals to explain why I keep flying all over the world to see films. Over oceans, over valleys, mountains, rivers, and towns of all sizes, all for the love of storytelling.
If you're drooling over the magnificent achievement that is Birdman, then you might want to pay attention to this forthcoming action thriller called Victoria coming out of Berlin. Sebastian Schipper directs the action thriller as a single, unbroken shot that lasts over two hours. The trailer just flat out tells you this little detail, and you'll see how impressive it is that Schipper and director of photography Sturla Brandth Grovlen were able to pull it off, especially with so many locations. And if you need any more convincing, respected director Darren Aronofsky said, "This film rocked my world," when he gave Grovelen the Outstanding Artistic Contribution Silver Bear for the production's impressive cinematography. Watch it!
As another film festival comes to an end, it's time to celebrate and commemorate with the announcement of the awards. The 65th Berlin Film Festival just ended (my own mini recap here), and the winners were announced at the Closing Ceremony, including the winner of the coveted Golden Bear for Best Film. That top prize was given to a film called Taxi, directed by and starring Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi, who drives around Iran in a taxi picking up various passengers. Everyone I talked to who saw it loved it, and so did the jury, lead by Darren Aronofsky. Another fest favorite, Chilean filmmaker Pablo Larraín's subversive and harrowing new film El Club, picked up the Silver Bear runner-up prize. View the list of winners below.