Monday, November 16, 2009

More Than Your Money’s Worth: Tatia Rosenthal Talks "$9.99"

On Thursday, November 12, Bryn Mawr Film Institute hosted the Philadelphia Jewish Film Festival’s screening of the innovative stop-motion animated feature $9.99. Based on the short stories of and co-written by famed Israeli author Etgar Keret, the surreal, existentialist drama “offers slightly less than $10 worth about the meaning of life.” The screening was followed by a Q&A with director and co-writer Tatia Rosenthal, as well as a special look at one of the puppets used in the film. Keep reading for highlights from the Q&A with Tatia.

Filmmaker Tatia Rosenthal signs BMFI's guest book

$9.99 is filmmaker Tatia Rosenthal’s feature debut. Born in Tel Aviv, Rosenthal is now based in New York where she graduated from the NYU Tisch School of Arts with a BFA in Film & Television in 1998. Her first short stop-motion animation Crazy Glue (1998) was also based on an Etgar Keret story. While working as an animator for Nickelodeon and Scholastic, she directed A Buck’s Worth (2005), an interpretation of the opening scene of $9.99 that premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. Rosenthal has received the $100,000 Richard Vague Production Fund Award and the 2002 Maryland Producers’ Club Award, and was a Fellow of both the Sundance Writers and Directors Labs in 2001.

Highlights from the Q&A with Tatia Rosenthal:

What was it like to work with Etgar Keret?
It was great. I brought a book of short stories by Etgar Keret with me on the way to film school in New York. I finished it all on the flight, and I said then, “I must work with him.”

How did you finance the film?
We wrote the screenplay together in 1999, but it took seven years to finance. Producers said, “Make it for under $1 million or don’t make it at all,” so we didn’t make it at all for seven years. It eventually got financed because a producer wanted to make the first Australian-Israeli co-production. The final budget was $3.5 million and it took six months for him to get it financed.

How do you work with the puppets and simulate things like water and fire?
They are silicon puppets with metallic skeletons called armatures, so they’re poseable. Everything was on a 1/6 scale, so the puppets were 11”. There were about three or five puppets created for each character. Their clothes are sewn separately and can be changed. It took two years to produce the film with five animators working at any one time, nine total. We shot it with consumer grade still cameras downloaded straight to computers. The water droplets are KY Jelly—there’s nothing better to simulate water in stop-motion animation—but the bodies of water and the fire were computer generated later.

Top: Tatia Rosenthal shows off a puppet used in her stop-motion film $9.99.
Bottom: The same character (on the left, in a different outfit) in a shot from the finished film.

Why do stop-motion animation?
I’ve always liked it. I love the textures. You don’t get that the same way with computer animation, although that is changing. Now, the more money you have for your production, the more that computer animation can look like stop-motion animation, and vice-versa. I never got into hand-drawn animation; I'm not that great of an artist.

What do you think the film means?
I think that Etgar is a very ambivalent writer, but I think that there’s a real emotional basis to these stories. You may not have one solution to the meaning of life, but as long as you get up in the morning and there’s someone who loves you, you’re doing okay.

Which character do you empathize with the most?
It’s funny, Etgar says that when a director makes a film, it’s about where they are in life. When I was making the short, he said I was about “if I don’t get the money I’m going to shoot myself.” [laughs] It’s not the plot [of $9.99] but the multi-organism nature of it that fit where I was. It is a bit melancholy—I was homesick, making the film in Australia far from the people that I loved. So maybe it’s not as funny as it could have been. But there’s hope in it, too.

In $9.99, the live-at-home slacker Dave buys a book for the low price of $9.99 that offers him the meaning of life, and he wants to spread the knowledge. However, his family and neighbors—including his father, a retiree with a live-in guardian angel, fighting fiancés, a debt-ridden magician, a fetishistic supermodel, and a little boy with a dream—are too absorbed in their own lives and quests for happiness to listen. Their intertwined stories are voiced by Oscar-winner Geoffrey Rush, Anthony LaPaglia, and a cast of talented Australian actors. The exquisite naturalistic animation took nine animators from around the world forty weeks to complete, working at the rate of four or five seconds of completed footage per animator per day.

The Philadelphia Jewish Film Festival, presented by the Gershman Y, is the second longest running, critically-acclaimed series of its kind in the United States. The  complete schedule is available online at

Find more information about $9.99, Tatia Rosenthal, and the process of creating stop-motion animation at

Friday, November 13, 2009

Kelly beats Astaire? You decide!

Yesterday Philadelphia Inquirer film reviewer Carrie Rickey mentioned BMFI's own Director of Education, Andrew J. Douglas, Ph.D., in her blog, Flickgrrl.

On November 18, Andrew will debate Drexel professor Paula Marantz Cohen about the merits of Gene Kelly over Fred Astaire. But why wait? Enjoy Andrew and Carrie's cases for Kelly and Astaire below.
Here's an excerpt of Carrie's argument for Astaire:
Fred Astaire defies gravity; Gene Kelly is earthbound. Astaire is spirit; Kelly flesh. Astaire is the embodiment of grace, Kelly of athleticism. For Astaire, dance is the vertical expression of horizontal feelings for another; for Kelly, it is the expression of self. Astaire made dancing look easy; Kelly made it look like a workout. Astaire begot Michael Jackson; Kelly begot Patrick Swayze.
Flickgrrl stands firmly in the Astaire camp, while noting the paradox that though Astaire is the best screen dancer ever, Kelly's Singin' in the Rain is the best dance musical. Though she admires Kelly -- especially in An American in Paris, Singin', The Pirate and On the Town -- she cannot say that she likes him. Because however superb Kelly's choreography and artistry, his aggressive muscularity suggests that he thought there was something sissy about a man dancing.
And here's Andrew's rejoinder:
As usual, Carrie’s description of the two performers and her case for Astaire were eloquent and accurate, but I must take issue with two facets of her assessment, the first being the notion that Kelly gets docked because his physique implied he thought dancing was for sissies. If his physique was any kind of message at all, I think it's far more likely that Kelly thought that many American men of the mid-twentieth century thought dancing was less than masculine, and to give them pause long enough to take in one of his numbers (or better yet a whole musical), he emphasized his--and the art form's--athleticism. Think of him as a "big-tent" dancer.
I also object to the comparison to Patrick Swayze. While Swayze was a beloved actor and had far more dance talent than he displayed in Dirty Dancing (let alone in Ghost or Roadhouse), his skills, influence, and cinematic impact paled in comparison to Kelly's. I think a more appropriate heir to Kelly's place in the cinematic firmament is Jackie Chan. While he's an action star rather than a dancer, there is often impressive choreography, grace, and athleticism to his "numbers", he directs many (if not all) of his "performances", he (like Kelly) is involved in various aspects of the production of his films, and he's had a tremendous impact on the practitioners and audiences of his chosen form.

And I know what you're thinking: "Andrew, have you ever seen The Tuxedo?" That's a fair point, but over the course of a decades-long career, everyone is bound to have a few missteps. After all, Gene Kelly had Xanadu and Fred Astaire had The Amazing Dobermans. In any case, I suspect we won't be able to definitively settle this, but it sure is fun to debate.
The live debate takes place at International House (3701 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia) next Thursday, November 18 at 7:00pm as part of an evening celebrating the vanguard dancers sponsored by the Institute of Contemporary Art. Following the debate, screenings of Top Hat and An American in Paris will prove that no matter who's side you favor, both stars are winners.
Whose side do you favor?

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Yoo-Hoo, Aviva Kempner!

On Sunday, November 8, Bryn Mawr Film Institute welcomed Aviva Kempner, director of the acclaimed new documentary Yoo-Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg. A reception and Q&A with Aviva followed the 1:00 pm screening of her film, which explores the career of Jewish broadcasting maven Gertrude Berg whose radio and television shows The Goldbergs pioneered situation comedy. Many thanks to the event’s co-sponsors, the former Philadelphia Weekend Film Festival’s Lonnie Levin, Marsha Beck, and Pam Schneider. Keep reading for highlights from the Q&A.

Filmmaker Akiva Kempner (second from left) with Murray Levin, Lonnie Levin, David Beck, Marsha Dorman, and BMFI President Juliet Goodfriend (seated)
Aviva Kempner previously garnered rave reviews for her work as the writer, director and producer of The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg, a film about the Jewish slugger who fought anti-Semitism in the 1930’s and 40’s. The 1998 film was awarded top honors by the National Society of Film Critics, the National Board of Review, the New York Film Critics Circle, and the Broadcast Film Critics Association. Greenberg received a George Peabody Award and was nominated for an Emmy. Akiva also produced and co-wrote Partisans of Vilna, a 1986 documentary on Jewish resistance against the Nazis, and was the executive producer of the 1989 Grammy-nominated record, Partisans of Vilna: The Songs of World War II Jewish Resistance. She also writes film criticism and feature articles for numerous publications, including The Boston Globe and The Washington Post.

Akiva received the 1996 Guggenheim Fellowship, the 2000 DC Mayor’s Art Award, the 2001 Women of Vision award from D.C.’s Women in Film and Video chapter, and the 2001 Media Arts award from the National Foundation for Jewish Culture. She recently received the 2009 San Francisco Jewish Film Festival’s Freedom of Expression Award for her significant contribution to creating positive images of Jewish heroes in film and her work as a Jewish film curator.

Akiva Kempner signs Bryn Mawr Film Institute's guest book at the reception

Highlights from the Q&A with Aviva Kempner:

How did you get into filmmaking?
I went to law school and did well but I was never good on standardized tests. My mother hates it when I say this, but I flunked the bar twice, so I became a filmmaker. My mother passed as a Polish-Catholic in Germany and her parents were killed in Auschwitz. My father was one of the American forces, a Lithuanian who had moved to Pittsburgh, and I was born in Berlin. My filmmaking is my way of working out being a child of survivors, and the need to make films about under-known Jewish heroes.

Why Molly?
Thirty years ago, I decided to make a film about Jews fighting Nazis and it turned out to be about the Partisans of Vilna, the Jewish resistance in the Vilna ghetto. As I was getting ready for the Partisans opening, I heard that Hank Greenberg had died, on September 4, 1986. For my dad, as an immigrant Jew, baseball was the way that you became American. I’m happy with that movie [The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg] because it counters the stereotype of the Jewish “nebbish”. When I was at the Jewish Museum in New York I saw an exhibit called Jews Entertaining America where they recreated the Goldberg’s living room and I said, ‘That’s next’.

Why don’t more people know about Gertrude Berg today?
Well, Shout Factory is releasing a DVD of Goldberg shows, but she is not known because the show was never syndicated, in part because it was shot in Kinetoscope, but also because of her co-star [Philip Loeb] being blacklisted. Also, I have a ‘pioneer theory’ that the first ones are not noted until there’s a New York Times obit or they’re awarded a Nobel Prize.

What’s your process as a documentary filmmaker?
For every film I’ve made there’s an hour longer film. With Molly, there was really a strong 2-1/2 hour version, but you can only do about 90 minutes. First I go for the best stories, interview the best people, and I overshoot. Then I research for the best [archival] footage and stills; I only think as a director. Then I still have to turn around at the end and think like a producer and pay for the incredible footage.

How did you film Molly?
My previous work was all shot on 16mm and edited on a Steenbeck before Molly; now I’ve given in. I shot Molly in high-end HD and used Final Cut Pro [to edit].

What are some of the things that didn’t make it into the final film?
I had to cut stories about Anne Bancroft and Steve McQueen appearing first on The Goldbergs and twenty more minutes of Eli Mintz stories [about the actor who portrayed Uncle David].
I’ll tell you one now about Philip Loeb [who played Mr. Goldberg]. He was a jokester. Zero Mostel and his wife Kate were his closest friends. One night Kate called Philip saying, “Come over tonight for dinner, come as you are.” The Mostels lived in a building where the elevator went straight to their floor. When the doors opened, there was Philip, naked, wearing just a tie. No one says a word about it all night until Philip’s about to leave. Then Zero says, “Your fly is down.”

Do you know how your documentaries will end when you begin?
I’ve been very lucky with my third acts. With The Partisans of Vilna, I knew that some survived. But I didn’t know that when Hank was unfairly traded to Pittsburgh in 1947 he was the most welcoming to Jackie Robinson, because he knew what it felt like [to be discriminated against]. When I started Molly, I didn’t know about the blacklisting of Philip Loeb. With that dramatic third act, there’s a much richer movie.

How did you get to interview Ruth Bader Ginsberg for Molly?
I saw her at an embassy party and went over and introduced myself... After we finished filming her interview at the Supreme Court, I sent an email to all of the people I went to law school with saying, ‘Aviva finally made it to the lawyer’s lounge of the Supreme Court, but she did it her way!’

What’s the international response to Molly been like so far?
The film plays best to us Americans who remember her, but it does have universal appeal. So far it’s playing in Canada—Toronto right now, and the reviews were good—but not as many Canadians grew up with her. I’m waiting to hear from the Berlin Film Festival. I try to show all my films there... Molly will show in Israel this summer.

What’s your hope for this film?
Well, I spent last night talking to Alan Ball [Six Feet Under, American Beauty], and I told him that the one thing I hope to get out of this film is that someone make a dramatic film about [blacklisted actor] Philip Loeb. He was never a communist, just a dedicated Union activist. He unfairly lost his livelihood for his union beliefs.

What’s next for you?
I’ve co-written a script with a Native American screenwriter. It is not about an underdog Jewish hero; it is about an underdog Native American hero, but it is still tribal. For me, there are two more documentaries I really want to make. The first is about the “Rosenwald schools”, started by Julius Rosenwald, a part-leader of Sears, Roebuck who worked with Booker T. Washington and built over 5,000 schools in the Deep South to promote the education of African-Americans in the first half of the twentieth century, before Civil Rights. The second project is about union leader Samuel Gompers, first President of the AFL [American Federation of Labor].

Gertrude Berg as Molly Goldberg, the first woman of television
(Courtesy of the Goldberg Family Estate)

Gertrude Berg began her media career as the creator, principal writer, and star of The Goldbergs, a popular radio show about a Jewish family living in New York City. The radio program premiered a week after the stock market crash in 1929 and remained a favorite for its seventeen years on the air. Following World War II, Berg took the opportunity to reinvent the show for the exciting new medium of television, and, in 1949, The Goldbergs became television’s first character-driven domestic sitcom. Combining social commentary, family values, and lots of humor, Berg won the hearts of America and blazed a trail for women in the entertainment industry. The Oprah of her day, she published a cookbook, created a clothing line for housewives, and wrote an advice column called Mama Talks. Her television show was even made into a Paramount Pictures movie called Molly, with Berg as screenwriter and producer. In 1950 she received the first ever Best Actress Emmy, and in 1959 she won a Tony for Best Actress in A Majority of One.

Akiva’s documentary explores this fascinating and powerful woman’s journey by using archive footage and interviews with luminaries including Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, actor Ed Asner, producers Norman Lear (All in the Family) and Gary David Goldberg (Family Ties), and NPR correspondent Susan Stamberg.

Find more information about Yoo-Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg, Aviva Kempner, and Gertrude Berg at

Friday, October 23, 2009

Filmmakers' Perspective on ANAMORPH

Although they lived just six blocks from each other outside of Philadelphia—and watched movies at the Bryn Mawr Theater—it wasn’t until they both enrolled in an 8mm film production workshop at the University of Southern California that writer/director Henry S. Miller met co-writer Tom Phelan. On Wednesday, October 21, they returned to their old stomping grounds for a screening of Anamorph, their first feature film collaboration, at Bryn Mawr Film Institute. Keep reading for highlights from the post-film Q&A with Henry and Tom.

Locally-raised filmmakers Henry S. Miller and Tom Phelan
pose with their mothers at BMFI's screening of

Willem Dafoe stars in Anamorph as Stan, a guilt-ridden New York City detective. When a new serial killer starts to emulate the notorious “Uncle Eddie”, who Stan caught and killed five years before, Stan is enlisted again to help on the case. The serial killer seems to design the crime scenes for Stan, leaving him hidden clues through the positioning of the victims’ bodies, which are all displayed using Renaissance artistic devices. Each crime scene becomes a gruesome lesson in scale and perspective, incorporating a camera obscura, a viewing grid, a pantograph, and anamorphosis, a style of painting that manipulates the laws of perspective to create two competing images on a single canvas. As Stan races against time to piece together the clues in order to prevent the next murder, he realizes that catching the killer might be his own undoing. Scott Speedman (Underworld, TV's Felicity) and Clea Duvall co-star in this R-rated suspense thriller, released by IFCFilms.

Filmmaker Q&A Highlights:

Q: How did you get involved in film?
Henry S. Miller: After college I was helping out at Tuff Gong in Jamaica, Bob Marley’s record label,  in Jamaica and they needed someone to help on a music video for a day. I knew then that that's what I wanted to do.
Tom Phelan: I wrote a paper on Werner Herzog's Nosferatu for a Vampire Film and Literature course [at UPenn], and the professor, Nina Auerbach, recommended that I study film. Before that I'd been set to study Renaissance literature; I hadn't even known there was such a thing as Critical Studies [in Film] before then. It's great that I met Henry in L.A. and teamed up with him, because he is one of the few people I trust in the film industry. We were lucky enough to be able to work together long distance while I was in L.A. and he was in New York, before I moved back to the East Coast.

Q: How did you come up with Anamorph? What does the film mean to you?
We started out wanting to write a noir film, but it mutated when we added the crime scenes. We started to think about anamorphosis and how that works in the art world, how the viewer's perspective changes the meaning of what you're seeing. Stan has one narrative of his life, but someone else, the killer, has a completely different take on him. The serial killer is a sort of cipher; he triggers Stan's shift in perspective, forcing him to see himself through someone else's eyes.
HM: We were looking to do a genre movie for our first film together because we thought we could sell it better. The most successful Hitchcock thrillers are based on concepts that work on multiple levels—thematically, visually, psychologically—and that's what we wanted to do too. In our film, the protagonist has basically "framed" what he did in the past, until the serial killer comes along and breaks that frame.

Q: How did you get Willem Dafoe involved in the film?
HM: It took a while. When we wrote the script we had Willem in mind as the ultimate Stan, but with your first film, you don't usually get your first choice actor. A New York casting director, Billy Hopkins, who does films with a lot of people, saw my previous film at the Tribeca Film Festival and told me "with your next film, I'd love to read the script," and we got him involved in Anamorph. He sent the script to Willem, but we didn't realize he was on his honeymoon, so it took three months to hear back. But it was actually something totally different that got him. When our producer went to board a plane, she was on board with Willem. They talked about the script, and he believes in cosmic energy, so he thought that, after meeting her like that, he should at least read the script. But when Tom and I went to meet with him for the first time, it poured rain outside, and that was a bad omen. The meeting didn't go well; he said he wasn't sure he wanted to work with first-time directors on a project as ambitious as Anamorph with a limited budget, which makes sense. However, he was willing to consider it and we started meeting at his house about the script. But even with months of meetings, he still didn't commit to doing the film. Finally, after about three months of working together, he just said yes.

Q: Stan's an interesting character--an alcoholic, OCD detective with a past and a passion for antique chairs. How'd you come up with him?
TP: Most of the character's flaws come from his extreme alienation. He could have helped Sandy [his friend, played by Clea Duvall], but by excluding himself from her life, he repeats a past mistake.   
HS: The OCD mixed with alcoholism is interesting because one is about being in control and the other is not. Willem wanted to show both by keeping it neat, using discrete little bottles.

TP: OCD is about repeating and compartmentalizing and little rituals to control yourself and the world around you, but you can never control enough. Stan tries to control himself, but can't compartmentalize his past, so he falls harder when it comes back to haunt him.
HS: The chairs [that he collects] are a double metaphor. For Stan they are about containing his memories, and the killer uses them to hint at the Pope's throne [inspired by Francis Bacon's distorted paintings of the Pope, featured in the film].

Q: Who composed the great musical score?

HM: Well, the first composer had a breakdown, so we had to bring in a new team, a German [Reinhold Heil] and Australian [Johnny Klimek], who did the music for Run Lola Run, which had this great techno-driven musical pulse. They believe in the old film style that movies should have musical themes, so they came up with six repeating themes for Anamorph. One of the things we kept in mind was how the score in Taxi Driver uses a percussive beat to drive the film, because it's a mood piece, there's not much story; we kind of used the beat the same way.

Q: The crime scenes often had only one or two detectives at them, not like what we are used to seeing in procedural shows. Why?
In New York they only have one central crime lab, in Queens, and I did some research there. TV shows like NCIS already get the techniques they use to solve crimes pretty right. We'd already decided that we wanted to make a French policier set in New York, so we weren't trying to outdo the details of procedurals.  

TP: We were more focused on trying to create an atmosphere and mood.
HM: If you ever get a chance to go the crime lab, they keep all of the crime evidence--the gun that killed John Lennon, the Son of Sam stuff--all on display. I never thought objects held evil before I went there.

Q: Where'd you get the idea for some of the artistic references, like Francis Bacon's obsession with the Pope?
HM: The first time I saw Bacon's paintings of the Pope, I was visiting my uncle in Italy, and there was a museum with Bacon's Pope right around the corner from his apartment. It was terrifying. Later a professor in college had the same picture in his office! So that stuck with me. Then after school I worked as a security guard at the Met [Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York], so I was basically surrounded by paintings for two years.

Q: What were some of the things that you had to cut?
HM: We had to cut two scenes before shooting because we were low-budget. Then afterwards we had to cut some scenes--of Stan alone in the museum that showed his alienation--because of pacing. This was the first film I worked on that had enough footage that there was actually the possibility of taking the film in different direction, so it was a tough adjustment; you lose a lot that you care about. The editor though was a classmate of ours, Geraud Brisson, a very competent Frenchman from Lyon who brought a lot to the film--he's been the first assistant to a lot of award-winning editors, paying his dues.

Q: What's next for you?
HM: We're casting two scripts now. One is The Beautiful Cigar Girl, a speculative mystery based on the life of Edgar Allan Poe co-written with Tom Phelan, Stephen Jeffreys (The Libertine), and Steven Katz (Shadow of the Vampire). We also have a project being workshoped right now [at the LAByrinth Theater] called Masoch that will probably be made into a film, about masochism's namesake and his muse... so that's a family film. [Laughs]. I also have begun a partnership with Massimo Carlotto, an acclaimed Italian crime author writing in the Mediterranean Noir movement, which is really exciting.
TP: I co-wrote the Poe project with Henry and am currently working on a script called Byzantium, a science fiction thriller that deals with personality uploading.

Henry S. Miller previously directed I Remember You Now..., a short starring Blondie’s Debbie Harry (who also has a cameo in Anamorph), and wrote and directed the feature comedy Late Watch, which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2004. Anamorph, Henry S. Miller’s second feature film, premiered at Camerimage in Europe. A graduate of The Shipley School, Henry has an MFA from the University of Southern California in Film Production.

Before settling in Manhattan, co-writer Tom Phelan studied English Renaissance Drama at the University of Pennsylvania and Film Theory at the University of Southern California. An alumnus of Malvern Preparatory School and Waldron Mercy Academy, Phelan grew up in Philadelphia and its suburbs.

Thanks for a wonderful evening, Henry and Tom. We hope to have you back for your next feature film!

BMFI's Juliet Goodfriend honored by Governor Rendell and First Lady!

On Wednesday, October 21, Governor Edward G. Rendell and First Lady Judge Marjorie O. Rendell recognized the accomplishments of Bryn Mawr Film Institute President Juliet Goodfriend, honoring her as one of the Distinguished Daughters of Pennsylvania.

The Hon. Marjorie O. Rendell (left) smiles as Happy Fernandez introduces honoree Juliet Goodfriend.

The Distinguished Daughters of Pennsylvania awards began in 1949 as a way to recognize influential women for their leadership, distinguished service, and contributions to the state through their professional and/or volunteer service. To date, 450 women have received the award and recognition, including Grace Kelly, Pearl S. Buck, Mamie Eisenhower, singer Marilyn Horne, and philanthropists Dorrance H. Hamilton and Marguerite Brooks Lenfest.

Before breathing new life into the historic Bryn Mawr Theater, Juliet Goodfriend founded Strategic Marketing Corporation, a global custom marketing research and consulting firm to the pharmaceutical industry. Following her retirement as President of SMC, Juliet founded Bryn Mawr Film Institute, which serves over 6,000 members and provides a year-round program of art house movies and film courses for students of all ages. Her experience inspired her to help create NELI, the nonprofit executive leadership program at Bryn Mawr College. Juliet continues to address national audiences and undergraduates around the country as a Woodrow Wilson Visiting Fellow.

To be selected as a Distinguished Daughter, women must be nominated by organizations within the state for accomplishments of statewide or national importance. Medals and citations are presented to honorees at the Governor’s Residence in Harrisburg.

“This year’s Distinguished Daughters of Pennsylvania have done extraordinary work in many different capacities,” said Governor Rendell. “Their contributions to Pennsylvania and the nation have benefited everything from academics to athletics, the arts to the military, as well as businesses and communities. I am grateful for the work that these women have done on our behalf to strengthen our state and the quality of life for so many residents.”

“It is a privilege to honor the dedication and commitment of these extraordinary women of Pennsylvania,” said Judge Rendell. “Their legacy of leadership is making a difference across the state.”

In addition to Juliet Goodfriend, this year the Govenor also honored Judith R. Shapiro, Rosemont; Judith Joy Ross, Bethlehem; Eva Tansky Blum, Toi Derricotte and Jacqueline C. Morby, all of Pittsburgh; C. Vivian Stringer, Princeton, NJ; and Veronica Zasadni Froman, San Diego, CA.
Congratulations, Juliet, from all of us at Bryn Mawr Film Institute!

Monday, September 28, 2009


On Wednesday, September 23, Bryn Mawr Film Institute welcomed filmmaker Tony Zierra, producer Elizabeth Yoffe, and actor Chad Lindberg (October Sky, The Fast and the Furious) for a special screening of the hot new documentary, MY BIG BREAK. Zierra's fascinating film, ten years in the making, captures the struggles of his four actor roommates as they try to make it in Hollywood and what happens when three of them miraculously achieve their Hollywood dreams.

(L to R) Filmmaker Tony Zierra, Producer Elizabeth Yoffe, and actor Chad Lindberg sign BMFI's guest book before the screening

In 1996, filmmaker Tony Zierra found himself with no budget, stars, or crew. So he filmed the only thing he could—the daily struggles of his four actor roommates. Unexpectedly, three of them—Wes Bentley (American Beauty, Ghost Rider), Brad Rowe (Billy’s Hollywood Screen Kiss), and Chad Lindberg—get their big breaks as Zierra's camera rolls. As the three become famous, the fourth actor, Greg Fawcett--pushing thirty and with no work in sight--gets increasingly desperate. My Big Break uniquely captures on camera both the good and bad that comes when someone achieves their dreams.

The initial cut of the film—then titled Carving Out Our Name—made waves at the 2001 Toronto International Film Festival, and overnight Zierra became the toast of Hollywood. However, that version of the film was never released because some thought that it would negatively impact the careers of the rising young actors involved. Frustrated, Zierra destroyed the film and disappeared from Hollywood for five years. Now, Zierra has reemerged with this brand-new cut, culled from over 200 hours of raw footage, which also includes a 2008 follow-up on the roommates’ careers.

The audience was full of questions at the Q&A following the screening.


Q: What was it like, having three rising stars living in one house?
Chad Lindberg: Between the three [working] actors, there was no ego in the house. We were all happy for the others when they got parts.

Elizabeth Yoffe: You’ve got to understand, the house was this crazy place; when the guys started to make it, everyone wanted to hang out there, party there, crash there. It was just incredible, the astronomical odds of three actors making it in one house. And it's not like the house looked like anything special, but people thought it was. I was always kind of on the fringe of the group, but I remember a friend asked me one time if I could get her into a party there because she thought that something might rub off on her, some of the good luck.

Tony Zierra: And we didn't want to leave. Wes had a hotel room [after he was famous], but he was crashing there all the time.

CL: Yeah, I moved out, but I was back every day. The house just kind of glowed. There was a lot of love there.

Q: What are the relationships with the roommates like now?
TZ: The movie has two sets of credits, one for Carving Out Our Name and one for this version. All three actors were listed as producers on Carving; Chad has been supportive the whole time, and he's here, but the others are not. 
The great thing about this movie is it is not about these guys; I use them to tell the reality of what happens. One day I hope that we're all here and can do the Q&A together.

Q: Tony, what did you do to support yourself when you weren't filming?
TZ: Besides the occasional garage sale, I was working in a dub house. It was strange--I would get the tapes of American Beauty and I would know that Wes [Bentley, who played Ricky Fitts] was there at home. That was interesting.

Q: What are some of your favorite scenes in MY BIG BREAK?
TZ: I love Wes on the roof, talking when he was at the peak of his career; when Chad agreed to have the operation [plastic surgery] on camera. Also on the farm with Greg [Fawcett, when he breaks down].

Q: Chad, what was your acting training like?

CL: I started acting in high school, doing school plays, and I realized that that's what I was good at and wanted to do. Jim Caviezial (The Passion of the Christ) was also from my home town [Mt Vernon, Washington]. I saw him in a spread in the paper about being in Wyatt Earp, and I said, 'If he can do it, I can do it.' So I picked up a paper, made some calls, and got myself an agent in Seattle. I worked for a few years there before graduating, then moved to L.A., where I was fortunate enough to get work right away.

Q: [Spoiler] What changed your decision about plastic surgery, Chad?

CL: I always knew there was something I didn't like about the way I looked, growing up, but I could never put my finger on it. Going to Hollywood, they're very quick to point out what they don't like about you. I would go to my agent and aks her, 'Why aren't I getting these lead parts?' and she said, 'I gotta be honest with you, it's your chin.' So I took out a loan and was all ready to get plastic surgery [at age 22] but my friends talked me out of it at the last minute. It was the right decision. Doing that, I grew into myself and I really felt good about myself for the first time. I pushed down any dissatisfaction about my looks for like ten years, until one day I was home, playing a board game with my mother and sister, and it struck me again how dissatisfied I was about my chin. My family sat me down and told me I should get the surgery if it would make me feel better about myself. Their blessing made all the difference. So I called Tony and told him I was getting it and asked him if he wanted to film me. It's the reality of the business to change your looks--everyone does it, big stars included--and even though I did the surgery for me, but I just wanted to show it. I wanted to be truthful. We wanted to make this film as a teaching tool for actors and those interested in the business, not just a candy-coated version of Hollywood like Entourage, so it was really important to be honest.

Q: There’s a gap in the documentary from about 2001 to 2008. What did you do in between?

CL: Well, I was on my way to film The Rookie, and my agency decided to clean house and dropped me. My agent was out of town at the time, so she didn't even call me, my manager did. I got some work but things were rough and I moved back home for awhile with my parents, at age 30. It's tough, especially when you get recognized every day but can't pay your bills. But things have been good lately. I just finished filming a movie with Ed Harris, Once Fallen, which was incredible.

Q: What made you revisit the project, Tony?
TZ: The film is dedicated to Heath [Ledger], who was a friend. His death woke us up to the importance of getting this project done, so people could learn from it. It's a messy world in L.A., these guys are like commodities. Everything's given to you for free if you're on top, but the town will spit you out if you fall.

Q: Was it all worth it?
CL: For me, yeah, because acting is in my blood. I have that drive, since I was little. It's blood, sweat, and tears, and there have been many times where I said I'd had enough, but I love it still. I love those highs and even those lows are good sometimes too. I'll do it until I die. It's a very seductive town--very enchanting and very hellish. I call it "Hell-A", but I love to act and perform and it makes it all worth it.

TZ: It's hard for people who can't get parts or work, and it’s hard in a different way for the people who are famous. But we still love it. Even when you're out of work, the hope still comes--that one part, you pay your rent for a year.

CL: You can't give up. If it's in your heart you can't give up.

EY: It's important to realize that this was a movie about four guys. For women and young girls it’s that much harder. The pressures for looks and competition is that much worse. If you're going to L.A., be prepared, and don't take it personally.

Q: The release of Carving Out Our Name got blocked in 2001. What's the key to your exhibition strategy this time?

TZ: I learned my lesson. Last time we started in L.A. and were going to move East. This time I'm doing the exact opposite--we're working the East Coast now and about to premiere in London. So far no one in L.A. has seen it and that will be the last place it will be shown.

Find more information about MY BIG BREAK and watch a trailer online at

Monday, September 21, 2009

Toronto International Film Festival 2009 - Juliet Goodfriend's Notes

A failed tweeter, I submit in good, old-fashioned prose my comments about the 30 films I viewed in part or in their entirety. As has become the custom, they are grouped in approximate descending order of appeal to what I take to be our audience at BMFI. Remember, too, that I have previously submitted notes on the couple dozen films we saw at Cannes ’09, some of which were major hits here at Toronto.

Emerging themes from Toronto: Uncertainty, infidelity, intoxication, and apocalypse—any relationship you see among them is purely intentional. What I noticed most was that there was very little blood in “My Toronto”. So here goes:

Worth showing and seeing
(I only hope we can screen them. Some we will not be able to get, of course, due to the unruly, anti-competitive, and downright annoying practices of certain distributors, or due to timing problems. But we will try.)

A Serious Man (Coen Brothers, USA)
One of the very best in fest from every angle. Is this the Coen brothers writing Woody Allen? Manhattan Murder is surely an ancestor. The pathos of uncertainty, the pretension of religion, and the humor of apocalypse. I smile just thinking of this film, filled with unknown actors and sly ideas. Damn the distributor who won’t let us make them money showing it! See it at the Ritz, unless you hear otherwise from us.

The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus (Terry Gilliam, UK)
Heath Ledger’s last role and a showpiece for Christopher Plummer, this film demonstrates the glories of computer generated effects as it explores the “Devil’s Bargain”. I fell asleep a few times only to wake in the dream world of this delightful piece. No uncertainty about this fantasy world.

The Most Dangerous Man In America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers (Judith Ehrich & Rick Goldsmith, USA)
Even though, or maybe because, I lived through this time I found this re-telling riveting. If five Presidents lied how can we trust any? The protagonist looks old, but the story feels very up to date.

Ahead of Time (Bob Richman, USA)
How is it we did not know the wonderful story of this remarkable and charming woman, now in her late 90s and still smart as a whip. Ruth Gruber was the youngest Ph.D. from the University of Cologne and landed jobs as a journalist that took her to the Soviet Arctic and just about everywhere else on earth. I hope we can invite her to show this film!

The Invention of Lying (Ricky Gervais, Mathew Robinson, USA)
Lighthearted though it is, this film annoyingly confuses absence of super-ego and free-wheeling id with the inability to lie. You will laugh as I did at the situations this absence provokes. But it is so reminiscent of Jim Carrey and The Truman Show, etc. that it doesn’t seem as fresh as its creators would like.

Capitalism: A Love Story (Michael Moore, USA)
Talk about apocalypses—we are living one and it’s called capitalism. Is Moore overstating the evils of capitalism? I doubt it the way things are going. I cried in this one, so disturbing is it. See it starting Oct. 2 at BMFI—maybe you will just enjoy it and not cry. Maybe we should be screening Sicko again! Where is FDR when we need him?

The Art Of The Steal (Don Argott, USA)
This is the Barnes story written as the Rape of Philadelphia. After seeing it one yearns for hear the “other side”. Full of people we know (the first person on the screen is my friend since kindergarten!), this film needs to be screened at BMFI and followed by a panel discussion. But for now, hey, it changed my view of the Barnes’s move and made me question the means to the end and the end as well.

Lebanon (Samuel Maoz, Israel)
Imagine Das Boot and Hurt Locker then squeeze yourself into the inside of a tank that gets lost in a battle and you have the feeling this extraordinary film evokes. All of it takes place in a tank and it could be a tank in any battle on earth. You would still come away sure that war is hell and then you die! Filmmaking at its best.

Bad Lieutenant: Port Of Call New Orleans (Werner Herzog, USA)
He’s done a splendid feature with a dry and degenerating Nicolas Cage as a policeman gone bad. Herzog’s genius keeps right on working. Oddly enough he denies any relationship to the earlier film of the more or less same name. If you love police dramas this twisty, quirky one will have you laughing! One of the best of fest. Look for the talking alligators and iguanas.

The Time That Remains or “The Present Absentee” (Elia Suleiman)
This is a fascinating tour de force of cinema, though its slow and quiet pace makes viewing it a bit trying. Influences of Tati abound in his use of sound and in a few funny scenes. It depicts five or six decades of life for a Palestinian family (Suleiman’s) in Israel. That nothing changes is the point. Who is present and who absent is hard to tell. Israel’s inability to effectively govern the Palestinians is subtly but definitely part of the message.

Leaves of Grass (Tim Blake Nelson, USA)
Edward Norton plays two identical twins: one a philosophy professor and the other a brilliant marijuana grower. The teaching scenes demonstrate Tim’s love of classics and his liberal arts education. The other twin’s scenes take place in what is meant to be Tulsa, Tim’s hometown, and its depiction of the Jewish life in Tulsa is right out of his childhood there. Very smart and very funny till the last “act” where it falls into teenaged slapstick and stoops to an audience that would not have loved the first two acts! A problem. Nevertheless the first two acts and Norton’s and Nelson’s performances are worth the price of admission.

Almost, But Not Quite There, Definite Maybes
Shameless (Jan Hrebejk, Czech Republic)
As a husband realizes his wife’s nose is too big, we realize that their marriage has even bigger problems. This film captures domestic decline in a fairly charming manner.

Love and Other Impossible Pursuits (Don Roos, USA)
The story of how a blended family can go wrong. If Natalie Portman could be any more self absorbed and destructive I cannot imagine. No one to like in this film, other than the stepson.

Snowblind (Vikrum Jayanti, USA)
The Iditarod as seen through the eyes of a team accompanying a legally blind young woman. Her drive is spectacular, the movie not so, but if you never expect to get to Alaska on snow team, then see it for the wonderful photography.

Google Baby (Zippi Brand Frank, Israel)
A documentary demonstrating the global surrogacy industry, with eggs from the US, carried by impoverished, desparate Indian women, and passed on to would-be parents from almost anywhere. While it is shocking and interesting, it is not quite crisp enough. The entrepreneur running this business is more likeable than the gun-slinging egg donor whose lifestyle we hope is not in her genes. Do we need more babies who grow up to be rednecks?

Creation (Jon Amiel, UK)
If only it had been less about Darwin’s grief over his daughter’s death and more about the origin of the Origin of the Species, I’d have liked it more. The “war on god” theme may have interesting responses, but the movie descends into sappiness. Would that Toby Jones as Huxley had a bigger part.

The Men Who Stare At Goats (Grant Heslov, USA)
George Clooney, Jeff Bridges, and Kevin Spacey have more fun in their roles than I did watching it, though a satire on the US in Iraq is always some fun!

Up in the Air (Jason Reitman, USA)
George Clooney, always wonderful to watch, plays the consummate road warrior, at home in the airport. A simple moral: the value of family. Not quite BMFI fare, but good to watch on a plane!

Chloe (Atom Egoyan, France/Canada)
Liam Neeson and Julianne Moore almost make this movie a success, but not quite. It is uncertainty about infidelity (there are the themes), but overwrought.

Le Refuge (Francois Ozon, France)
To be honest, it was with some discussion that I figured out the movie was about motherhood—of all types: selfish, aloof, frantic, abandoning. Very slow and lovely. Well made, but not long-lasting. A lot of focus on the pregnant belly.

Accident (Pou-Soi Cheang, Hong Kong, China)
A fast moving and very smart film of a hit gang who make every murder look like an accident. The protagonist believes he and his mates are themselves targeted to die. You have to watch it carefully.

The Search (Pema Tsedan with Pierre Rissient, China)
The scenery of Western China or Tibet is beautiful and the arch of the slowly emerging love story carried me along. A filmmaker's long search fails to find the right local and classically trained actors to use in a movie of a famous myth about a king who gives away everything including his eyes. Is this about Tibet giving away everything to China? Could be.

Definitely Not Going to Screen at BMFI; Missable

The Road
(John Hillcoat, (USA)
If this were one hour shorter, or even 30 minutes shorter, I would have thought it a success. But this apocalypse takes too long to climax. Read the book.

Dorian Gray (Oliver Parker, UK)
How disappointing: great story reduced to drunken party scenes. Such high production values and Colin Firth don’t save it. And the music… ugh.

The Last Days of Emma Blank (Alex van Warmerdam, Netherlands)
So dreary a subject nothing could get me to stay through it.

The Hole (Joe Dante, USA)
3-D is made for showing holes with no ends, but I ended this one early.

Eccentricities of a Blond Hair Girl (Manoel di Oliveira, Portugal/Spain/France)
Though the director is now 102 years old, he manages to tell a short story of a young man who cannot escape one unfortunate predicament after another in trying to do good and marry his dream girl.

White Material (Claire Denis, France)
What happened to clarity, Claire? Enough hand held, out of focus pans to make anyone ill. And no one I spoke to had any idea of who was who! But as an atmosphere piece, OK. Now I know what it is like to be a white coffee plantation owner with an insane son and a couple husbands who feels she must continue and risks everyone’s safety from the marauders who are freeing the country from colonialism or something.

Thursday, September 17, 2009


Over 200 enthusiastic filmgoers enjoyed Violet Mendoza and Jake Willing's locally-produced feature NO BOUNDARIES at BMFI's screening on Tuesday, September 15. The filmmakers introduced the powerful romantic drama and joined cast and crew for a lively Q&A after the film.

Co-Director/DP Jake Willing and Writer/Co-Director Violet Mendoza

Shot in twenty-two locations throughout the Philadelphia area, as well as in the South American countryside, NO BOUNDARIES stars a talented local cast that includes Mark McGraw (Tug McGraw's son) and introduces newcomer Dani Garza. When a shy South American immigrant, Isabel Moreno (Garza), comes to Philadelphia to work and raise money for her family back home, she doesn’t expect to fall in love with an American immigration officer (McGraw). Danger threatens them both, and Isabel is forced to choose between her new love and her new life in America.

Cast and crew reunited at BMFI (from left to right): John D'Alonzo, producer Joyce Koh, Dexter Wuest, Victor Velez, Tatiana St. Phard, directors Violet Mendoza and Jake Willing, Tyrone Holt, Christopher J. Cabott, Esq., Dani Garza, and Garrett Ching.

Writer/co-director Violet Mendoza began to write NO BOUNDARIES in the summer of 2006. After working in television for over a decade, Mendoza spent the next five years managing video and film projects domestically and internationally. She now devotes her attentions to her own production company, Violet Pictures.

Jake Willing, NO BOUNDARIES' co-director and director of photography, is the president of EyeLight Pictures. He has worked behind the camera in both television and film, and has won national acclaim for his lensing of A&E’s Intervention, the Discovery Channel’s The Shadows of War and BET’s number one series premiere, American Gangster.

The husband-wife filmmaking team is looking forward to their next television and film creations, which they promise will always be filmed in the Philadelphia area to take advantage of all of the local talent!

For more information about NO BOUNDARIES, visit or become a fan of the film on Facebook.

If you liked NO BOUNDARIES, stay tuned for other filmmaker appearances at BMFI. On September 23 at 7:30pm, watch Tony Zierra's searing documentary MY BIG BREAK, which captures on film how four actor roommates cope when three become the toasts of Hollywood. Zierra, producer Elizabeth Yoffe, and profiled actor Chad Lindberg (October Sky, The Fast and the Furious) will introduce and discuss BMFI's screening.

Thursday, September 10, 2009


Bryn Mawr Film Institute kicked off its Fall Cinematheque series of weeknight screenings this Tuesday, September 8 with a special showing of Alexander Olch's new documentary THE WINDMILL MOVIE, about his mentor and film professor Richard P. Rogers. Olch, a fashion designer known for his high-end line of men's accessories, came down from New York to discuss his first feature film, which premiered at the New York Film Festival.

For twenty years independent filmmaker Richard P. Rogers tried to make a documentary about his own life and the privileged community in the Hamptons where he spent his summers as a youth. When he died from brain cancer in 2001, he left behind boxes and boxes of raw footage. The footage remained untouched until Roger’s widow, acclaimed photographer Susan Meiselas, asked his friend and former pupil Alexander Olch to complete her husband’s project. Rogers had been a mentor to Olch since they met at Harvard, where Olch was a student and Rogers a senior lecturer.

In THE WINDMILL MOVIE, Olch seamlessly blends reality and fiction to finish the film that Rogers could never quite pin down. The finished film combines together more than 300 hours of Rogers’ footage and information culled from his private journals with scripted narration by Olch and recreated scenes featuring professional actors. The finished work conveys both a filmmaker’s struggle to document his life and Roger’s thoughts on the greater meaning of privilege and the WASP culture into which he was born. Rogers’ friends and colleagues—including actors Wallace Shawn and Bob Balaban—also appear in the very personal film.

Highlights from the Q&A


Olch was in the process of making a documentary with Rogers when Rogers got ill, and all plans were put on hold. After Rogers passed away, Susan, Rogers' widow, asked Olch to come by and fix the Avid editor in their apartment. The project turned into an afternoon of looking at the footage still loaded in the machine, and Susan asked him to try and put together something from Rogers' tapes.

"Originally it was just me cutting together footage for their friends, but after a couple of weeks it seemed like there was more to the project than that. It took five years to find out what that was... As his student, I saw it as his last assignment."


"Robert Benton, the screenwriter of BONNIE AND CLYDE and a resident of Rogers' town in the Hamptons, gave me two pieces of advice. He said, 'Look, the most important film to make is the one about Dickie [Rogers], not Georgica [his summer home].' The second thing he said was: 'Sometimes the most important end of the pencil is the eraser.' That thought helped when cutting down 300 hours of footage to the essential story."


"As a student, I knew him [Rogers] to be the most charming and funny man I'd ever met. I took this project on faith that it would be easy to make a movie about this funny, charming man. But he didn't want his movie to be funny, and when people filming him captured that side of him, he would tell them to turn the camera off. So I was stuck with 300 hours of footage and my star is only in two hours of it and he's not that funny. I asked myself who his funniest friend was and brought in Wally [actor Wallace Shawn] to lighten the film up. We shot 40 hours of footage of him. But ultimately I realized that he [Rogers] was still so engaging it wasn't necessary."


"Working in his loft on his equipment, in a way I kind of became [Rogers], personally, kind of assumed the aura about him. When Noni's [Rogers' girlfriend] is talking to me and the camera, she's talking to me like she would have talked to him."


"I've known him longer through the footage than I did as a man alive and it's hard to tell what's invented and what is real. But that is part of the adventure."

If you missed THE WINDMILL MOVIE at BMFI, catch the broadcast premiere on HBO on Wednesday, October 28 at 8pm.

Keep an eye out for our other fabulous filmmaker appearances this fall! Next up we have NO BOUNDARIES, a locally-produced drama, which will be discussed by husband-wife filmmaking team Violet Mendoza and Jake Willing as well as members of the cast and crew on Tuesday, September 15 at 7:30pm.

Then catch Tony Zierra's fascinating documentary on the cost of making it in Hollywood, MY BIG BREAK, on Wednesday, September 23 at 7:30 pm, discussed by Zierra, producer Elizabeth Yoffe, and actor Chad Lindberg.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Summer Filmmaking Workshop at BMFI

Did you know that Bryn Mawr Film Institute has its own summer program for teenagers?

BMFI's Summer Filmmaking Workshop, now in its second year, is presented in conjunction with The Big Picture Alliance, a non-profit youth development media center that has been teaching filmmaking to Philadelphia-area teenagers since 1994. Twelve students collaborate on a short film over the course of the six-week intensive program, in which they learn about acting, writing, lighting, cinematography, editing, and teamwork under the guidance of professional media-makers. At the end of the program, their hard work will pay off; the SFW partipants will join their family, friends, and community for a special premiere of their film at Bryn Mawr Film Institute on Friday, August 7, at 4:00pm, followed by a reception in the upstairs Multimedia Room.

The Workshop unites a diverse mix of high school juniors and seniors from public and private schools in both Lower Merion and downtown Philadelphia. Instructor Chris Fusco, a Senior Teacher at Big Picture Alliance, praises the collaboration between the students "fantastic." He adds, "BPA has serviced both city youth and suburban youth since our inception, but we have not had many opportunities for these two populations to collaborate in a meaningful way. By spending seven hours a day together, four days a week, the students [in the Summer Filmmaking Workshop] are learning and growing together as digital media artists. They're different visions are being realized in a work that has different perspectives on the teenage experience. It is a really unique environment."

In the first few weeks of the program, participants practiced various acting and production techniques and collaborated on a script. Then they put their production knowledge into practice while filming their comedic short film on locations around the Main Line. Now entering their fifth week, the students are finishing filming and will soon begin post-production, when they will edit their film and design marketing materials to prepare for their big screen premiere.

The short comedy features Dobbins High School's Isa Walker as a sixteen-year-old boy named Lucas who works as a clown at birthday parties for little kids. At the beginning of the film he finds out that the birthday party he has been hired to work is for a classmate... the girl of his dreams. Keep an eye out for a link to the finished film when it's complete or come to the FREE premiere event on Friday, August 7 at 4:00pm.

BMFI looks forward to seeing what these creative young filmmakers do next.

Thursday, July 2, 2009


Last night, Bryn Mawr Film Institute welcomed more than 200 people to a sing-along screening of South Pacific. Attendees sang along with such Rodgers and Hammerstein favorites as "Some Enchanted Evening" and "Bali H'ai" as they watched the romance unfold between a young Navy nurse from Arkansas and a French plantation owner during World War II. Directed by Joshua Logan, the 1958 film version of the Broadway hit stars Mitzi Gaynor and Rossano Brazzi.

Those who came in costume received free popcorn! Some of our favorite costumes and props:

Ginny Duerr (left) holds an original playbill from the 1949 stage production, passed down from her parents, and wears her grandpa’s navy hat. She's joined by Betty Marmon (center) and her daughter Lizzy.

Alice Farber (left) (practicing "washing that man right out of her hair"), is joined by Sarah Sobel, who wears a vintage recording of the stage production around her neck. Both women were excited about BMFI's Sing Along: Alice, a former singer, said that she "knew every song in every musical before the 1970s," and Sarah has a soft spot for South Pacific - it was one of the first Broadway plays that she ever saw.

Billy Ornbuch and her husband Donald are ready for the islands... and South Pacific!
If you enjoyed our Sing Along South Pacific, find out more about our other special events this summer at And don't worry, if you missed South Pacific, there will be another sing-along screening this fall!

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

BMFI and Whole Foods celebrate FOOD, INC.

To celebrate BMFI's opening of the new documentary Food, Inc., Whole Foods Market hosted a dinner for thirty of Bryn Mawr Film Institute's members in BMFI's atrium on Friday, June 26 as a benefit for Bryn Mawr Film Institute. There was also a farmers market in the arcade featuring four local Whole Foods vendors, and after the 7:15 pm screening, there was a discussion with Whole Foods' Abe Heller about the slow food movement.

Thanks to Charlene Nolan, Ruth Harp, Whole Foods Market, and our wonderful members for their continuing support of BMFI!

Above: Ruth Harp of Whole Foods Market Wynnewood (left) and Charlene Nolan of Whole Foods Market Devon (right) with the Food, Inc. poster.

Above: Members enjoy the delicious buffet provided by Whole Foods Market.
Above: The local teenage entrepreneurs responsible for Hives for Lives gave out honey samples at BMFI's "farmers market". In four years, their organization has raised over $150,000 for cancer research through sales of its regionally local honey.
Above: Steve Hackman of One Village Coffee was also present. His local, family-owned company uses its proceeds to help communities around the world become more self-sustaining.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Wilma Stephenson discusses PRESSURE COOKER

Wilma Stephenson, the dedicated Philadelphia culinary arts teacher who stars in the winning documentary Pressure Cooker, made a special visit to BMFI last night for an audience Q&A at 7:15pm. She talked about teaching, what the kids in the film have been up to, and how the project got started.
Filmmaker Jennifer Grausman first approached Mrs. Stephenson about filmming Pressure Cooker on the lead of her father, who created a scholarship program that supports students going to culinary arts colleges. The filmmakers shot over 300 hours of footage in Mrs. Stephenson's classroom throughout the 2006-07 school year, eventually focusing mainly on three students determined to win the coveted scholarships. Two years later, all of the students featured are still in college and doing well.

In BMFI President Juliet Goodfriend's private chat with her, Mrs. Stephenson made the point that we need to be less judgmental of today’s youth who suffer from abjectly bad parenting and teaching. Ms. Goodfriend says, "Her classroom expectations inspire her students and are comparable to those which many of us experienced in our high schools eons ago. She has the same standards, but works with the most unpromising students (as well as those with high GPAs) and gets them on the right track."

Mrs. Stephenson has degrees in fields from Home Economics to Computer Science, Behavioral Psychology, and even a minor in Chemistry, and she has taught ALL those subjects in her forty years of teaching at Frankford High, a public school in Northeast Philadelphia.

Since beginning the Culinary Arts program in 1999, more than 53 of Mrs. Stephenson's students have received scholarships to four-year and culinary colleges, winning more than $3,000,000 in scholarships. Among her former students, she estimates that 90% go into the food or hospitality field! What a record!

Her commitment to her students goes way beyond what we see in the film. She takes them on college visits, buys them their freshmen supplies—even sheets and towels—and talks to them all the time (they all have her cell number). She has virtually no budget, but does what she feels needs to be done and has no worries about using her own funds to fill the gaps.

What a remarkable teacher! Thanks for coming, Mrs. Stephenson.

Pressure Cooker is currently playing at BMFI.
Check our website for showtimes:

See a trailer and find more information online at the film's offical site:


Friday, June 19, 2009

Opera, Film, and Beyond: BMFI Travels to Lucca, Tuscany

BMFI just completed its first-ever group trip. Under the able leadership of Kit Burns (President of Doorways, Ltd.) and Prof. Maurizio Giammarco, our group of a dozen cineasti touristi spent seven days exploring and tasting the best that Tuscany has to offer, and seven nights analyzing and discussing the life of Italy through its films.

We started with a focus on Puccini--after all we were in a villa in his home town, Lucca--and, following a morning trip to another magnificent villa where Portrait of a Lady (d: Jane Campion, 1996) had been filmed, we had the treat of seeing the not-yet-released film Puccini and the Girl with the co-directors Paolo Benvenuti and Paola Baroni introducing and discussing it. We also travelled to the lakeside home where most of the film takes place and where, no surprise, there was a marvelous restaurant (also in the film) which Kit got to open for us for a typical 2-1/2 hour lunch!

After that immersion, we started off each day to a new and wonderful location, such as the Cinqueterre (by a private yacht), the vineyard Vignamaggio, where Kenneth Branagh's Much Ado About Nothing (1993) was filmed, Florence, and the walled town of Lucca. The day trips were followed by a screening (accompanied by commentary from Maurizio, Prosecco and antipasto) of a portion of Marco Tullio Giordana's 2003 film The Best Of Youth in our villa’s third-floor screening room, and then more discussion over a superb dinner in the grand dining room.

We chose to use The Best Of Youth as the major film vehicle for this trip, since it provides rich insights into the recent history of Italy and is worthy of much formal film analysis as well. The reading material Maurizio gave us on the first day was a welcome introduction to Italian film-making and helped inform our nightly discussions.

Each of us brought something unique to the trip and took home something different. (Well, we all probably took home some extra pounds!) Even those new to film studies had fun. Indeed, the words of Ron Naples as we gathered for dinner the last night were point-on: “I’ve made a personal journey on this trip: from ‘movies’ to ‘film’!”

This trip underscored for many of us one of BMFI’s platform beliefs, that films grow in value and enjoyment when seen in a setting that encourages group discussion and when viewed with the help of a well-educated eye or guide.

So where should we plan to go in the future? Let us know!

~ Juliet Goodfriend, President

Monday, June 15, 2009

Impressions from the 62nd Cannes Film Festival by Juliet Goodfriend and Marc Moreau

The blue sea, white yachts, black-tied men with spike-heeled arm candy make this the festival of festivals. Yes, there are also the grunge-clothed industry professionals, and the bizarre groupies who stake out a square foot of territory on the median strip of La Croisette so they can oogle their favorite stars from padded step ladders (seriously). All of this and the parties and crowded sidewalks make the environment bubble like champagne. The sun soaked long lines for admittance can be deadly, but we escaped that punishment being in a wheelchair and with industry badges that put us at the head of the line. So we are thrilled to have been to Cannes, would recommend it to others, but may not bother to go again, since Toronto has the films and it’s a whole lot easier to get to, albeit not nearly as glamorous!
We avoided about-to-be released films and failed to see many that won prizes but managed to keep our date book filled with enough interesting movies that we were watching from 11 am to 1 am! The last 2 years at Toronto, the emerging themes were “Blood” and “Blood on the Floor” respectively. This year at Cannes we would say that “Parental Violence” was one thread among many films we viewed and another was “Homage to Movie-Makers”! And there was certainly enough porno-gore and explicit sex to satisfy the lustiest ghoul in the town.

I rate the following films as:
A = Try to get for BMFI if the Distributor cooperates
B = Interesting but probably not for BMFI
C = Neither interesting nor for BMFI
There were three terrific and appealing films, definitely A-plus material: Precious, Looking for Eric, and Broken Embraces. These may also have the best commercial promise. A-minus works included: A Brand New Life, Jaffa, Empty Chair, Father of my Children, Bright Star, Mother, Here and There, and Thirst (though Thirst may be a B). The B films were Dogtooth (which won the Un Certain Regard prize, designed to recognize young talent and to encourage innovative and audacious works, over Precious, for reasons not clear to us), Spring Fever; and Vincere. C ratings go to Clara, Mustafa, The Wolberg Family, and Freedom.
The write-ups below, from Marc Moreau, the Chair of the Philosophy Department of La Salle University, include “spoilers,” so read at your own risk.

Precious (Lee Daniels, director):
A fat and illiterate 16-year-old girl, Clareece (aka “Precious”) is sent to an alternative school in Harlem, where it is discovered that she is pregnant with her second child. The film shows Precious being physically abused by her mother and sexually abused by her father, her mother’s boyfriend and the father of Precious’s two children. Dependent on Precious for welfare checks, the mother also hates Precious for accepting the advances of the boyfriend. Imaginative fantasy sequences of Precious’s unrealistic reveries, along with abrupt transitions to her real life, are both comic and heartbreaking. Though the film faults the school system for advancing students who do no work, the film more directly targets parental neglect and abuse. The mother’s raw anger and physical violence towards Precious are vividly and powerfully depicted. While inviting us to sympathize with Precious, she and her mother arguably represent an earlier and a later stage of the same life course. The mother’s resentment of precious is linked to sexual rivalry, and there is some suggestion that the rivalry helps explain why the mother encourages Precious to obesity. This is a masterful movie which, on second viewing is every bit a wonderful as it was when first seen at Sundance.

Thirst (Chan-Wook Park, director):
A pious, disciplined, and well-intentioned Catholic priest volunteers to accept blood transfusions as part of an effort to develop a vaccine against a virulent virus, called “Emmanuelle.” Unbeknownst to him, the transfusion contains vampire blood, and as a consequence, he must drink human blood to survive, blood that he steals from the hospital he visits. Becoming erotically attracted to a friend’s wife, who reciprocates, the two descend deeper into evil – she being the leader in killing innocent victims. By slow degrees, the priest’s initially holy desire for God’s rod and lash is transformed into a sado-masochistic perversion. In the end, the priest brings the mayhem to an end by insuring that he and the adulterous wife will be exposed to, and dissolved into ashes by, the sun.

Of the film’s 3 acts – (1) the life of the holy man; (2) temptation and seduction of the holy man; (3) descent into the Inferno – the first two acts are powerful. The priest’s initial piety (in act 1) and his erotically charged seduction (in act 2) are both convincingly portrayed. In act 3, the film descends into an hour or so of black humor gore. Notwithstanding the priest’s final act of repentant self-destruction and the effort made to link the sado-masochism in act 3 to his initial desire for mortification of the flesh, the shift to black humor is bathetic: The black humor and the over-the-top blood and guts undermine the gravity of the early scenes depicting the priest as a holy human being. By the film’s end we can no long believe in those earlier scenes. Of some cultural interest is the treatment of the wife’s husband as a coddled mama’s boy.
Jaffa (Keren Yedaya, director; Israel/France):
Two lovers, a young Israeli Palestinian named Tawfik and the Jewish daughter of his Israeli boss, secretly plan to elope after discovering that she is pregnant; however, their plan is derailed when Tawfik unintentionally kills the boss’s son in a fateful fist fight. The Israeli boss owns a car repair shop where his son and daughter work and where Tawfik and his father also work as hired mechanics. The boss’s son resents the confidence his father places in Tawfik. Envious of Tawfik and alienated from his family, the Jewish son quarrels with his mother and eventually picks a fight with Tawfik and is killed.
The film focuses on the daughter’s responses to these events – her joy as she anticipates her wedding; her horror at her brother’s death; her grief on learning that Tawfik will spend time in prison for manslaughter; her anxieties over the future of the child she carries. After some wavering, she decides against abortion, and she tells her parents that she became pregnant with a Jewish man she will not identify; and to protect the child, she writes Tawfik to say she has aborted her pregnancy. Nine years later, Tawfik is released from prison, and when he tries to contact her, she finally decides to reunite with him, and in so doing she alienates her parents.
All the characters are closely observed, and the acting is superb. Tawfik, his father, the daughter, and her agonized father are sympathetically portrayed. Her father, the car repair shop owner, is a decent man who tries to play fair, but he is also under the influence of an impetuous and seductive wife whose passions (towards her son and towards her daughter) vacillate wildly.
The film is biblical in its exploration of tribal and filial loyalties. Politically, the film arguably favors intermarriage between Israeli Jews and Palestinians – perhaps as the only sustainable solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Mother (Joon-ho Bong, director; Korea):
A mother tries to clear the name of her feeble-minded son who has been accused of murder. The teenaged son seems harmless, but he can punch people when offended – a fact that gets him into trouble with the police twice. On the second occasion, when he is accused of murdering a girl, his mother decides to investigate the case herself; and when she finds a junk dealer who saw how her son did in fact kill the girl (by throwing a large rock down a dark alley – hence accidentally), the mother brutally kills the junk dealer and burns down his shack. A caricature of maternal protective care gone awry. Excessively protective maternal care of infantilized adult sons is a theme both of this film (the central theme here) and (as a secondary theme) in Thirst.
Empty Chair (Iran, 2008): Actor/directors make films that explore the role of fate in life and in connection with the Koran’s teachings. In the first film-within-the-film, a rural couple rent a room in a city hotel so as to be close to a hospital where the pregnant wife is to give birth. The couple’s newborn is blind, deaf, and likely to be retarded. The question is whether to remove the premature neonate from life-support in the NCIU. The couple consult a seer, who tells them that according to Sharia law one cannot play with fate and that every child is born for a reason. After the final cut of this first film-within-the-film, the female director and the lead male actor briefly discuss his performance. In the second film-within-the-film, whose lead role is performed by the female director of the first film-within-the-film, a woman accidently hits and kills a man with her car; and though she stops her car, she drives away without reporting the incident. (Movement into this second-film-within-the-film is seamless: I initially thought that we were following the female director on her commute home after filming, but as we eventually discover, she is in reality playing a role in the second film-within-the-film.) In this second film-within-the-film, the question of destiny again arises regarding the accident victim and the driver’s course. She finally goes to the victim’s wife to confess; but instead of responding with anger, the wife is delighted to have been freed of a brutal husband. Questions are raised about directors’ roles as creators and their all-powerful “cut,” and the accidents that take place after the final cut. Reminds me of Kieslowski’s Decalogue in its playful dialogue with sacred scripture.
Father of My Children (Mia Hansen-Løve, director; France/Germany): After 20 years of producing many films and giving opportunities to many talents, a French film producer finds that his company, Moon Films, is four million euros in debt and must enter receivership. As this financial collapse unfolds but before its inevitability fully sinks in on him, his weekdays at work and weekends with his family at home are sympathetically depicted. At work, he seems competent and decisive as he makes arrangements with suppliers, seeks additional investment dollars from bankers, appeases a finicky director, or shows interest in the work of a young script-writer. At home, he is a warm, attentive, and fun-loving father of three charming daughters – two under ten years old; the third, a young adult. As he takes delight in their achievements, their little garden or their miniature theatricals, he also helps them appreciate the history and beauty around them. For example, at St. Apollinaire, he helps them identify what they see, including the Hand of God the Father reaching down from heaven in the ceiling painting of the church’s apse. When his funds are cut, however, the human father commits suicide. The final third of the film shows us how his family and his co-workers deal with the man’s legacy and with his flaws. It becomes clear, for instance, that he had overextended his production company and that his financial hopes for the films under production were unrealistic. On discovering that he had been married before and that he had had a son by the earlier marriage, his eldest daughter is mystified by his secrecy. In its portrayal of a good but flawed human being, the film is remarkably well balanced and leaves us with a sense of life’s moral complexity.
Spring Fever (Lou Ye, director; China): The story of a young gay man who has disruptive affairs with men already partnered to women. As the film opens, his lover is a bookstore owner married to a teacher, who has her husband followed by a paid snoop. The teacher, who values propriety, is disgusted by her husband’s behavior and by his willingness to risk the good will of her family. In a violent confrontation with the gay protagonist at the travel agency where he works, she tells him never to see her husband again, and her command is obeyed. The gay protagonist returns to his former nightlife haunts, where he sometimes performs an act as a transvestite chanteuse. Forlorn, her husband commits suicide, and his wife attacks the gay protagonist, cutting him across in the neck. Meanwhile, the snoop, who has a girlfriend, has become attracted to the gay protagonist. The three of them try to make a go of it as a ménage-a-trois, but she leaves. (In a sub-plot, she works for an unappealing boss who runs a sweatshop making counterfeit designer clothes; his male appetites – he leers at her and eats like a pig – are in their crudity a foil to the tenderness of the gay lovers.) In the film’s final scene, the gay protagonist tries to become sexually aroused by a female dancer, but he seems to be failing. The film favorably compares the transgression of homoerotic love to other transgressions, e.g., the wife’s violence, the sweatshop boss’s illegal activity.
Clara (Helma Sanders-Brahms, director; Germany):
A German dramatization of the triangular relationship between Robert and Clara Schumann and Johannes Brahms. Treatment of the dramatic possibilities is flat and unimaginative. All three characters are hollow and the music-making is amateurish and anachronistic. Why make a historic film if you can't represent the period with a certain degree of verisimilitude?
Freedom (Tutte colpa di Giuda, “Let’s Blame Judas”; Davide Ferrario, director):
An Italian musical (performed by real prisoners and guards at the Turin prison) about producing a musical play in a prison, a play about the Passion of Christ. No one will play Judas, and no one believes in sacrifice. So the theme of the play becomes La Liberta. The film is lightweight and sentimental, but the film’s theme is intriguing: to recognize the need for sacrifice. The fictional female director of the play is merely a pretty face. A reference to Pasolini only puts viewers in mind of what he could have done with the theme.
Looking for Eric (Ken Loach, director; UK): A light comedy about Eric, a postman whose life is in a state of disorder – with two out-of-control stepsons and regrets about abandoning his first wife and daughter. With the help of an angel (in the person of Eric Cantona played by Cantona himself) and with the help of his co-workers, Eric the postman takes control of his life and is reunited with his first wife. Humorous treatment of the comradeship between Eric and his fellow postmen is fun to watch. Possibly the biggest potential hit we saw.
Broken Embraces (Los Abrazos Rotos; Pedro Almodovar, director; Spain):
A mystery that slowly reveals the betrayal by his female assistant, Judit, of a film writer/director, Mateo Blanco, aka Harry Caine. As Broken Embraces opens, Mateo, who is blind and calls himself Harry Caine, is working on a story with the help of Judit’s son. Mateo says that his next project will tell the story of a son who forgives his father. We are shown a TV news bulletin about the death of a corrupt magnate. The mystery opens when the magnate’s gay son visits Mateo with an idea of getting his help writing a film script in which a son takes revenge on his father. Mateo refuses, and after this visit, Mateo tells Judit’s son about how Mateo Blanco, the film director, died: Fourteen years ago, Mateo had made a film with Magdalena (Penelope Cruz), who was then the unhappy mistress of the corrupt magnate. (She had entered the relationship in exchange for expensive medical care her father needed.) Rendered jealous by her newfound independence, the magnate pushes her down a staircase, causing her to break a leg. After finishing the film, Mateo takes her away to a secret place, where they learn that the film has been released and given bad reviews. As Mateo and Lena are driving back from their retreat, a car runs into them, killing Lena and rendering Mateo blind. Blind since that day, Mateo never saw the released version of the film he made with Lena. After Mateo has told Judit’s son what he knows of the story, Judit then confesses what she knows, and the rest of the story unfolds. Angry with Lena’s flight, the magnate decided to take revenge by releasing Mateo’s film in a crippled form that used discarded cuts; and to produce this distorted version of Mateo’s work, the magnate solicited Judit’s help, which she gave out of jealousy. We now learn that her son is Mateo’s son. Judit also informs Mateo that she had secretly saved the good cuts. So Mateo re-edits the film, using the good cuts, and the resulting film – excerpts of which are shown – is wonderfully comedic.
Broken Embraces is not Almodovar at his best. The unfolding of its plot is awkwardly managed: After Mateo narrates what he knows, Judit narrates what she knows, and her revelatory confession is insufficiently motivated. The love between Lena and Mateo is flat and lacks the incandescence that would help us feel Mateo’s loss. Nonetheless, Mateo’s talk engagingly expresses Almodovar’s love of his art. What we learn is that the worst betrayal an artist can suffer is distortion of his work.
Mustafa (Can Dundar and Haci Mahmet Duranoglu, directors; Turkey):
A documentary (with historical film footage and tastefully done reenactments – from a distance) of Ataturk’s life. The documentary is not particularly interesting either in its form or in its insights about the man, though it is informative for Americans who know nothing of the man or of his reputation among Turks.
The Wolberg Family (Axelle Ropert, director; France):
A tear-jerker that is unpleasantly bitter. A Jewish family suffers under an overbearing father, Simon, who resents the “blond type,” corrects “Bohemian” traits in others, and creates a suffocating atmosphere for his wife, Marianne, and their daughter, Delphine. Marianne has had an affair with a blond man, and Simon confronts the man as well as Marianne’s vagabond brother. The discovery that Simon has a fatal case of lung cancer, together with his pathetic attempts to reconcile himself with his wife and daughter, is supposed to draw our sympathy. But his transformation and theirs are none of them credible. So unlikeably sanctimonious and intrusive is Simon that I experienced only relief at the prospect of his death.
Dogtooth (Kynodontas; Yorgos Lanthimos, director; Greece): A disturbing satire of a violently “protective” father who, with the complicity of his servile wife, keeps his teenaged children imprisoned at home – a boy and two girls. All the action (with one exception) takes place at only two locations: the home and the factory where the father works. The children play competitive games of endurance, often for small rewards from the father. All communication with the outside world is forbidden to the children. There is much dark comedy in the parents’ protective efforts: For example, words for instruments of communication are given domestic meanings – e.g. the children are taught that “telephone” denotes the salt shaker, and they so apply the word. A real telephone is kept hidden in the parents’ bedroom, and when the spying children see her talking on it, they say she is talking to herself. The parents domesticate the jet planes that occasionally fly overhead by presenting them as toys; and to make their story stick, the parents surreptitiously throw a toy plane into the backyard after a real plane has flown overhead. The children are told that wild cats beyond the fence surrounding their home will tear them apart if they leave home before their dogtooth falls out (as happened to an older brother). To support this story, the father tears his clothes on his way home from work one day and splatters red paint on his torn shirt. During a commemorative celebration of their history, the family listens to the voice of an ancestor – a recording of Frank Sinatra singing “Fly Me to the Moon.”
Sexuality in the home is perversely mechanical. Sex between the father and mother is highly ritualized: While a pornographic video plays on their TV set, they listen to popular American tunes of the 1950s through headsets, and the wife is passive. To satisfy the son’s sexual needs, the father hires a female security guard (who is driven blindfolded between their workplace and his home). After this guard lends one daughter a video of the movie Rocky (in exchange for licking of what the daughter calls the “keyboard”) the father discovers the treachery and beats his offending daughter on the head with the video tape casette taped to his hand, and then he goes to the guard’s home and viciously beats her on the head with her VCR player.
The parents then decide to have the eldest daughter service their son, and her distaste for the act is obvious. Parental possessiveness gets translated into gloomy incest. The scenes of copulation are all anti-erotic. The film ends as the eldest daughter knocks out her dogtooth with bloody blows to her mouth and hides herself in the trunk of her father’s car with the intention of making her escape. Next morning, the father drives to work as usual, and the final shot shows his car parked at work, its trunk lid closed.
What the social target of this satire is is a nice question. At one level, the film is a transparent critique of domineering fathers, and it can be read as a Kafkaeque allegory. But why this theme should engage a contemporary filmmaker puzzles me: At least from my American perspective, paternal neglect seems today a more pressing social problem than paternal tyranny. My ignorance of contemporary Greek culture can perhaps explain why I am at a loss to locate the moral outrage that motivates the film. I searched for a classical Greek myth to which the film might be attached, but my best guess – the story of Jason and Medea – does not work. The father’s industrial workplace suggests another angle of approach: Could the father represent the brutality modern industry exercises over modern family life?
A Brand New Life (Ounie Lecomte, director; Korea):
A little girl is abandoned to an orphanage by a father who has remarried and her sadness over the loss of her father makes her rebellious during he stay at the orphanage. She is treated with kindness by the nuns and by an older girl. The movie ends she is adopted. The lead child actress is charming, but the film has little to offer except to draw our sympathy for the suffering of a cute little girl.
Vincere (Marco Bellachio, director; Italy):
A biopic about Mussolini’s relationship with a mistress whom he had secretly married, who bore him a son, and whom he had committed to an insane asylum. The treatment is operatic (with music drawn from Verdi operas), and the cinematography (much of it in black and white) is monumental. In the way she is treated by a cad, the wife is treated as another Madame Butterfly.
Here and There (Darko Lungulov, director; USA/Croatia):
A languorous (slow?) romantic comedy that is pleasant enough due to its likeable characters. A depressed and unemployed 52-year-old saxophonist, Robert, is being evicted from his basement apartment in NYC. A solo Croatian mover, Branco, who moves Robert’s stuff to his sister’s home, offers to pay Robert $5,000.00 if he will go to Croatia to wed his own (Branco’s) fiancée and bring her to America. Out of desperation, Robert accepts the offer but insists that he must receive the money before he marries the girl. He flies to Belgrade, where he stays with Branco’s mother, from whom the arrangement is kept secret. Towards the warm and hospitable mother, Robert, who thinks his stay will end in a few days, is gruff and close-mouthed. Back in NYC, however, Branco gets into trouble with the law and cannot deliver the money. So Robert’s stay in Belgrade is extended, and he develops a romantic relationship with Branco’s mother. On learning that her son is in trouble and that his trouble is somehow connected with Robert, the mother distrusts Robert, who moves out without explaining the situation. Robert gets a NYC lawyer to help Branco. After the mother learns the truth, she gives Robert the $5,000.00 he wants. He then marries Branco’s fiancée and takes her to America. Robert also returns the money to Branco’s mother, along with a note promising to see her again.
The film is low key both in his humor and in its romance, and the lead actor who plays Robert does a good job playing a depressed and unresponsive man who warms up under the influence of a woman’s love. There are nice quiet moments – as when Robert watches the mother singing to the flowering plants she waters or as when he smells the clean shirt she has washed and pressed for him.
Bright Star (Jane Campion, director; UK/Australia):
An austere telling of the poignant and depicted-as-chaste love between John Keats and Fanny Braune, this film is all mis-en-scene and cinematography and not sufficient passion or life. But one could watch the huge fields full of blue or yellow flowers, the careful stitchery art, and be satisfied, all the while wishing his letters and poetry were being recited. While this film will be accepted into most art houses, it has not told the story as well as it could.
--Juliet Goodfriend and Marc Moreau