“Fiercely intelligent” is the phrase used by a recent acquaintance, whose husband worked on “Shadow Dancer,” to describe the film’s director James Marsh. It’s a spot-on assessment that I couldn’t agree with more. The Oscar-winning filmmaker behind “Man On Wire” – who I last interviewed for Global Comment in 2011 about his follow-up doc “Project Nim” – is an artist drawn to exploring the complexities and puzzles in life, rather than to providing grand conclusions or even any solutions. Such is the case with Marsh’s latest narrative feature, a nail-biting, Belfast-set thriller (starring the dynamite duo of Andrea Riseborough and Clive Owen) about a single mom forced to choose between going to jail for her involvement in an IRA bomb plot, or turning government informant and spying on her hardliner family. I spoke with the British-born, Denmark-based director prior to the flick’s NYC theatrical release on May 31st. (“Shadow Dancer” will also be available on iTunes and On Demand everywhere else.)
Academy Award Best Foreign Language Film nominee “Kon-Tiki” is a fictionalized account of the Norwegian experimental ethnographer (and subsequent Oscar Award winner) Thor Heyerdahl’s trans-Pacific journey in a balsa raft over 65 years ago. It’s also a Scandinavian box office sensation and the first Norwegian film to nab nominations from both Oscar and the Golden Globes. I spoke with the film’s co-directors, slated to helm a major Hollywood movie next, about their own trip from Norway to L.A.’s wild west.
Iepe Rubingh is a Berlin-based, Dutch performance/visual artist whose last foray into filmmaking involved designing a large-scale installation for Tom Tykwer’s cinematic love triangle “3”. (Tykwer, along with the Wachowski siblings, is also one of the forces behind the long-awaited adaptation of David Mitchell’s “Cloud Atlas,” premiering at the Toronto International Film Festival later this month.)
And like a character left on the cutting room floor of “Run Lola Run,” Rubingh himself happens to be the founder of the World Chess Boxing Organization, a real fight club that sprang from fiction – in this case from the French graphic novel “Froid Équateur” by Enki Bilal. In what might be the ultimate gladiator showdown, chess boxing alternates four-minute chess rounds with three-minute rounds of boxing – with only one-minute breaks in between – until a winner is declared via checkmate, knockout or a decision by the judges after eleven rounds. Since its debut in 2003 the WCBO has expanded internationally and now includes branches from Siberia to LA. I caught up with the current light heavyweight champ Iepe “The Joker” at the bustling café of De Balie, a massive cultural center in the heart of Amsterdam.
Recently racking up awards from the Berlin Film Festival to Toronto’s Hot Docs, Katherine Fairfax Wright and Malika Zouhali-Worrall’s “Call Me Kuchu,” which follows a group of Ugandan LGBTI activists in Kampala (led by the recently murdered David Kato, the kuchus’ – Ugandan slang for queers – answer to Martin Luther King, Jr.), is one of those rare docs that manages to enlighten, uplift and enrage in equal doses. It’s a sweeping portrait not just of the heroic gays and lesbians who often literally put themselves in the line of fire each and every day just to demand basic human rights, but also of a disturbingly self-righteous Ugandan society, which bans homosexuality and openly advocates for the death penalty for HIV-positive men. I got a chance to speak with the film’s own fearless co-directors as they were preparing for “Call Me Kuchu” to close the Human Rights Watch Film Festival at NYC’s Film Society of Lincoln Center Walter Reade Theater on June 28th.
The word “punk,” like the word “independent,” has been so oversold and misused it’s practically meaningless. So when a film bills itself as “the saga of the last true punk rock band in the world” you have to sigh and wonder whether it’s just more marketing hype. Fortunately, there’s not one false note in “The Punk Syndrome,” co-directors Jukka Kärkkäinen & J-P Passi’s thrilling portrait of Pertti Kurikka’s Name Day, a socially minded and politically incorrect quartet of kick-ass musicians – who just so happen to be mentally disabled, and the real rebellious deal. Prior to the film’s Hot Docs premiere I spoke with Finnish director Passi about redefining “normalcy” and upending preconceived notions, and got the scoop on shooting in arts-supportive Scandinavia.
The International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam is the Cannes of nonfiction filmmaking, so just nabbing an invitation anoints a doc amongst the best of the best. Don Argott and Demian Fenton’s “Last Days Here” not only screened the prestigious event this past November, but beat out a handful of other stellar flicks to win the IDFA PLAY Competition for Music Documentary. None of which came as a surprise to this critic who’s been following the two since their riveting doc “The Art of the Steal” – about the dirty battle over the Barnes Foundation’s 25 billion dollars in art – rocked my world back in 2009. Now the Philadelphia homeboys have trained their lens on another Pennsylvania subject, Pentagram lead singer Bobby Liebling, a hard rock legend and hardcore addict who, as one of Liebling’s friends puts it, sold his soul a long time ago – and is now fighting like hell to get it back, one piece at a time. I spoke with the gung ho co-directors prior to the film’s NYC opening on March 2nd.
As the world’s largest doc fest the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam is jam-packed with nonfiction gems from around the globe. Yet one of my most delightful and surprising finds at the 24th edition this past November was a small film from the heart of the host city itself. “Meet the Fokkens” is a nuanced portrait and loving celebration of 70-year-old twins Martine and Louise Fokken, two vivacious ladies of the night who’ve been selling sex in Amsterdam’s infamous red light district since 1961 (though Louise, suffering from arthritis, is now retired). Prior to the latest “Meet the Fokkens” screening at February’s Berlinale, I spoke with the doc’s Dutch co-directors, who gave me the scoop on many-splendored things, including Martine’s green fingers, corruption in the red light district, and the history of older professionals in the oldest profession in the world.
Who knew Ibsen had a canine following in Holland? I thought as I stood in line at the Stadsschouwburg Amsterdam directly behind a woman carrying a small dog in her purse. I was there to see Toneelgroep Amsterdam’s performance of “Hedda Gabler,” helmed by the company’s artistic director Ivo van Hove and starring the luminous Halina Reijn, one of seven productions being presented with English surtitles on Thursday evenings. (Nevertheless, from the sound of things it seemed the tiny pooch and I were the only ones in the Stadsschouwburg unable to speak Dutch.)
Russian Film Week NYC, which took place from October 28th through November 4th in the (historically Ukrainian) East Village, opened, appropriately enough, with Slava Ross’s “Siberia, Monamour,” a feature of Chekhovian proportions. Ross’s bleak drama is grounded in the characters of a grandfather and his young grandson, unfortunate denizens of the Siberian village of Monamour, a no-man’s land where feral dogs run wild like a pack of Cujos, ruling the forest that surrounds and entraps the pair. As the two vainly await the return of the child’s father, other lost males – from a morally bankrupt soldier, to a cuckolded father, to a conniving thief – drift in and out of their lives, in turn finding their own subplots.
Dutch director Matthijs van Heijningen, Jr. may not be a household name, though the shape-shifting alien of his first feature, the big-budget “The Thing,” a prequel to John Carpenter’s cult classic of the same title, is. Starring Joel Edgerton (last seen in Gavin O’Connor’s “Warrior”) the movie also marks the filmmaker’s first foray into Hollywood. Prior to the film’s release in Holland I spoke with the engaging studio newbie about everything from making art from commercials, to taking inspiration from Polanski, to why the next big thing might not be emerging from his homeland anytime soon.