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Interview: Belarusian Filmmaker Darya Zhuk on Her First Feature Film

Darya Zhuk

"I was trying to create a character that I myself would identify with." A film from Belarus titled Crystal Swan premiered at the Karlovy Vary Film Festival this year, the feature directorial debut of a talented filmmaker named Darya Zhuk. Darya grew up in Minsk, Belarus, but left at age 16 to study in the US. After graduating college and years of working in various jobs, she decided to go and study directing at Columbia University and has finally completed her first feature film - Crystal Swan, about a young Belarusian woman named Velya who is trying to get a visa to travel to the USA. The film premiered to positive reviews and is still searching for an American distributor, but I wanted to bring extra attention to this filmmaker and her film. Here is my interview with Darya Zhuk, discussing the challenges and joys of making her first feature.

KVIFF Ruminations: A World of Choices in Making & Watching Films

Karlovy Vary Film Festival

"We are our choices." -Jean-Paul Sartre. Life is all about choices. The choices we make, or that we don't make, in small decisions, in big decisions. Everything is about these choices and every choice we make, even subconsciously, leads us down one path or another. We can't go back, but we can continue to be aware and learn what influences us to make decisions. This is an endless philosophical discussion with no conclusion, but the concept of "choices" has been on my mind a lot at film festivals - ever since a discussion I had with my friend & fellow critic Pamela Jahn at the Cannes Film Festival. Then it continued while I was at the Karlovy Vary Film Festival in the Czech Republic. I chose to go to this festival because I enjoy it, and I really want to catch up with and see more films. I'm very happy I went to this festival, and strangely enough even though a number of my friends were also there we never ended up at the same screenings. This isn't uncommon at film festivals, but it did make me think more about the choices we make - especially at fests.

KVIFF 2018: 'The Fireflies Are Gone' is Fresh Coming-of-Age Cinema

The Fireflies Are Gone

Every year we get a big batch of new coming-of-age films, but only a few of them really stand out. This is one of the very best of the coming-of-age films from 2018, a lovely dramatic feature Quebec. The Fireflies Are Gone, originally titled La disparition des lucioles in French, is the third feature film made by filmmaker Sébastien Pilote, and it's wonderful. It doesn't reinvent the wheel or anything, but it is a very fresh, funny, heartwarming take on today's youth growing up without a desire to conform to their parents' desires for a perfect career-focused life. This is one of those particularly outstanding indie films that is so enjoyable and exciting that it put a spring in my step. The moment it finishes up, I was grinning ear-to-ear and suddenly happy about the world and just wanted to get out and dance. I really love when films have this kind of effect.

 Posted July 6 in Karlovy Vary, Review | Comments

KVIFF 2018: Skateboarding vs Communism in Superb 'King Skate' Doc

King Skate Documentary Review

"Stick close to the concrete. Jam through the space. Keep it moving." Skateboarding is not just a sport, its a means of expression, a way to liberate yourself and be truly free. To ride where you're not supposed to ride, to act the way you want to act, without anyone telling you how to be or what to do. There have been many skateboarding documentaries over the years previously, but this new one is a superb look at the early days of skateboarding in the country formerly known as Czechoslovakia. King Skate is a Czech documentary made by Simon Safránek, his first feature film, and it's packed with a mesmerizing selection of archival footage looking back at how skating became immensely popular in the 1970s & 1980s in this closed-off country. As expected, there's a rad punk soundtrack to compliment all the footage making it an intoxicating experience.

KVIFF 2018: Tverdovskiy's 'Jumpman' is a Compelling Tale of Dignity

Jumpman Review

"There are those who jump, and those who make others jump." This line from the film is the one line that sums up the entire story and why it's being told, and it's a meaningful statement, one that should resonate with every single person no matter where they're from. Jumpman is a Russian drama about a boy who is born with a rare disease that prevents him from feeling any pain - though everything else functions as usual. It's the latest film made by Russian filmmaker Ivan I. Tverdovskiy (Corrections Class, Zoology) and it's an intimate, indie drama made with an intense focus on the main character, a compelling tale of dignity and integrity and humanity. It's an impressive, captivating film that I really enjoyed, even though it's cynical and depressing, there's hope found in the heart of this young boy. The filmmaking pulls us deep into that story.

 Posted July 4 in Karlovy Vary, Review | Comments

KVIFF 2018: Tomáš Bojar's 'Breaking News' Doc is an Ode to Journalists

Breaking News

In a time where journalists are under attack and a free press is becoming more and more important all over the world, this documentary film is a wonderfully uplifting look at the integrity and diligence of journalists who work so hard every single day to report the news. Breaking News, also originally titled Mimořádná zpráva in Czech, is a new documentary from Czechia made by documentary filmmaker Tomáš Bojar. The footage takes us inside the offices of two news organizations in Prague - covering one major political event in 2017. It's a very simple, straightforward doc film that trains the cameras on the various people working to report the news and lets the viewers bask in their tenacity and commitment to objective reporting. It's utterly fascinating and inspiring, and the kind of vital film that we should be showing to younger audiences.

KVIFF 2018: Ewa Bukowska's '53 Wars' is Intimate & Intense Hysteria

53 Wars Review

War is good for absolutely nothing, right? But what if your significant other is a war correspondent, whose job it is to go to these dangerous places and report the truth? That's what this film is about - 53 Wars, the feature directorial debut of Polish actress Ewa Bukowska. Bukowska adapts an autobiographical novel by Grażyna Jagielska, telling the story of a Polish woman (played by Magdalena Popławska) whose husband is a war correspondent, spending most of each year away on assignment. The story focuses on Anka, who slowly becomes more and more hysterical and paranoid, experiencing the weight of war herself through her own anxiety and concern over the safety of her husband. This film is a remarkably intense, mature, complex portrait of a woman who goes through hell out of a love for her husband and loses her mind in the process.

 Posted July 3 in Karlovy Vary, Review | Comments

KVIFF 2018: Ulrich Köhler's 'In My Room' is Brilliant Life Commentary

In My Room Review

There's nothing better than that feeling you get when you're watching a really great film, nay a phenomenal film, that is brilliant in so many ways. It's a deeply visceral feeling of joy and excitement and invigoration and enthusiasm. Ulrich Köhler's latest film In My Room premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in the Un Certain Regard category, but I only recently caught up with it at the Karlovy Vary Film Festival in Czechia. And it's brilliant. One of my favorite films of the year so far, for many different reasons. I'll try to get into a few of the reasons here, but it's hard to explain everything, because some of it is just an indescribable feeling – how it connects deep down within me, not only as stellar cinema but as commentary about relationships and humanity and life on this planet. And how intelligently it handles storytelling to inspire us with wisdom.

 Posted July 1 in Karlovy Vary, Review | Comments

Feed Me Cinema - Back for More Karlovy Vary Film Festival Goodness

Karlovy Vary Film Festival

I'm back! Back in the Karlovy Vary groove..! Kicking off this weekend is the 53rd Karlovy Vary Film Festival, a wonderful festival that takes place in a lovely little spa town (also known as Carlsbad) in Czechia - just a few hours drive west of Prague. This is my second year back to the festival, as I stopped by last year for my very first time. And I am so happy to be back. I think I'm falling in love with this festival! The town, the people, it's wonderful. There's an undeniable cinephile vibe, campsites for those who can't afford hotels, the venues are vintage cinemas or old theater halls converted into temporary cinemas. Best of all, Karlovy Vary has a stellar line-up and that's why I'm here - to catch up with and see lots of films over the next week.

Recap of My Experience at the Karlovy Vary Film Festival in Czechia

Karlovy Vary Film Festival

There are film festivals that take place in big cities, with screenings at huge performance venues, and lines that go down the block. Then there's festivals that take place in tiny towns, where dedicated cinephiles go to discover amazing films big and small. The Karlovy Vary Film Festival is one of these outstanding little festivals that takes place in a small spa town in the Czech Republic Czechia. This was my first year attending Karlovy Vary, which I had heard great things about from many colleagues for years, and it lives up to the hype. It's an excellent festival in a beautiful town nestled in the hills, and they show tons of stellar films. Coincidentally, I'd already seen many of their big centerpieces (A Ghost Story, Wind River, The Big Sick, Columbus) at other festivals but was still happy to stop by for a week of catching up with other great films.

KVIFF Review: 'The White World According to Daliborek' Doc is Daring

The White World According to Daliborek Review

Meet Dalibor. He's an industrial painter from the Czech Republic, still living with his mom even though he's almost 40 years old. Dalibor is a neo-Nazi, who doesn't believe that concentration camps were used to kill anyone. He spends his free time drinking with a friend, playing video games, and making weird YouTube videos with cheesy voice distortion and cheap video filters. The White World According to Daliborek is a documentary that follows Dalibor (he's called Daliborek in the English title) as he shows us around his world. While at first it seems like no one is challenging him, slowly but surely he is confronted by the truth. I've never come across anything like this documentary before, it's utterly fascinating and impressively calm.

KVIFF Review: 'Axolotl Overkill' is Youthful Berlin Craziness at its Best

Axolotl Overkill Review

What is like to grow up as a teen without any limits in modern Berlin? Axolotl Overkill shows us exactly what that life is like, and it's as wild and crazy and totally nonchalant as you might expect. Adapted from a book by Helene Hegemann, Axolotl Overkill follows 16-year-old Mifti around Berlin, as she goes to clubs and parties, drinking and smoking and doing drugs, sleeping wherever, and whenever, with whomever she wants. The film is written and directed by Helene Hegemann, adapting her own novel, and stars German native Jasna Fritzi Bauer as the carefree teen. As aimless as the film is, I couldn't help find it thoroughly engaging and impressively entertaining. Not all of it makes sense, but then again, neither does life anyway.

 Posted July 7 in Karlovy Vary, Review | Comments

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