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Newport Film Fest: June Film Tourism with Style

Important regional film festivals like Newport, now in its ninth edition, rarely show outstanding new film makers for the first time since those tend to enter first in national or international fests such as Sundance, Tribeca, Telluride the New York Film Festivals, Toronto or the Berlinale. Yet this apparent disadvantage is not troublesome since the audience views many remarkable productions which gained their cache already in national or other regional festivals. Thus the Newport program featured numerous films which received recognition elsewhere, such as Quincenera (Sundance), Jonestown (Seattle), 13 -Tzameti (Sundance), The Road to Guantanamo (Berlinale), The Treatment (Tribeca), Crossing Arizona (Sundance), and Black Sun (London Film Fest), to name but a few.

Apart from the attraction of pre-selected high quality productions, Newport excels with its location and a marvelous festival organization. This ensures Newport as an ideal destination for film tourism, a new comer in the growing culture leisure industry. As one of the oldest US American settlements Newport has retained its century old reputation as a luxurious yet liberal summer watering hole for well healed upscale denizens. This appealing context for consuming culture is evidenced by well preserved homes from the 18th century, temples and Christian churches located peacefully right next to each other allies, followed in the 19th century by cliff set mansions, sometimes similar to castles constructed by upper class families and their robber baron allies. Culture and history are transparent throughout the city as are upscale leasure endeavors ranging from yachting to golfing.. Thus, when coming first to the Newport International Film Festivasl fest one wonders what to describe, the city or the films. Upscale film tourism is a compromise conception, a notion that can be applied only to few locations like Newport. Though limited in venues, this small city of about 25,000 residents has only two theatres, yet its appealing Jane Pickens theatre, a former church, plays throughout the year demanding film fare, thus nourishing the taste among Newport residents for the festival.

Numerous productions revealed canny selection procedures for the 2006 fest. 13 (TZAMETI) by Gela Babluani, a spell binding gritty psychological thriller about gambling for death, set in France; THE TREATMENT (Oran Rudavsky) an unpretentious hilarious story about falling in love and turning the table on one’s psychoanalyst; LIVE FREE OR DIE (Gregg Kavett and Andy Robin) an originally scripted and superbly cast and played opus on the striving for criminal fame by several New Hampshire mini punks. My craving for hard hitting documentaries was met by two films. The film KZ (Rex Bloomstein), distributed by Film Transit International, covers the reaction and views of tourists visiting the concentration camp Mauthausen and its gas chamber and of their tour guides. More importantly we are privy to the perspectives of the guten Buerger der Stadt, the residents of Mauthausen who lived through the camp period, opinions ranging from Mauthausen being the best residential place of the world to the mental anguish of Mauthausen Germans with perpetual night mares. Rex Bloomstein’s approach transcends the plethora of concentration camp documentaries using archival footage. The second outstanding documentary THE OIL CRASH- A CRUDE AWAKIENING had for large segments a superb musical score by Philip Glass with a corresponding excellent pacing. It was produced and directed by the television journalist Basil Gelpke and the industrial film maker Ray McCormack and provides a superb documentation of the shaky ‘cheap energy ‘foundation of industrial and post industrial societies and those striving to get there, like China and India. Unlike the Newport fest’s documentary THIN (Lauren Greenfield) on eating disorders that provides an emotional and atmospheric view of a residential treatment facility, THE OIL CRASH has a detached but well reasoned economic and historical account of the causes for our energy crisis and the failing of policy making, in short it is reflexive film making at its best.

As a newcomer to the Newport festival, I thought it would be an ideal venue for a sidebar on the US American upper class given the context and history of the town and its upscale setting for festival celebrations. There was no formal sidebar yet on the last day of the festival TINA BARNEY by Jaci Judelson met my desire. This superbly filmed documentary follows Tina Barney who specializes in portraying members and families of the American and European upper class and whose mastery of composing and color fielding of photographic images complements the finesse of Jaci Judelson’s cinematography. It may be of interest that Jaci Judelson like Basil Gelpke and Ray McCormack has a commercial rather than an independent filmmaker’s background.

Claus Mueller, New York Correspondent
NIFF Photo by Joe Ruggeri
Actor Richard Burgi ("Desperate Housewives") and NIFF executive director Laurie B. Kirby stop and pose


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