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Laura Blum

Laura is a festival correspondent covering films and the festival circuit for She also publishes on Thalo



Director Nicholas Hytner Rolls with "The Lady in the Van"

Who is the lady in The Lady in the Van and how'd she get there? Nicholas Hytner's newest film puzzles out this enigma till the end, but one thing's settled early on: she's most unladylike. The title also tells us so. Ladies come in manors, not vans. From here the dualities only compound in what fans of testy British humor laced with poignant pangs will surely find a enchantment. It all begins with a motor revving in the pitch black and then boom! -- a shriek and a th...

"Theeb": Naji Abu Nowar's Beduin Western

What the title hero of Theeb does for his beduin tribe, avenging a dishonor, the Arab world has dreamed of doing ever since modernity and colonial intrigue took a shot at its integrity a century ago. Naji Abu Nowar's stunning debut film unfolds on the Arabian Peninsula during this epochal transition. It's October of 1916, two months into World War I, four months into the Great Arab Revolt and five months into the secret dealmaking between Britain and France that would carve up the ...

Costume Designer Odile Dicks-Mireaux Spruces Up "Brooklyn"

Brooklyn, a period drama starring Saoirse Ronan as an Irish immigrant to America, is about love, loss and what Ronan wore. Costume designer Odile Dicks-Mireaux spoke with me about creating wardrobe for the film's Trans-Atlantic cast: Brooklyn was a selection of the New York Film Festival and opens theatrically on November 4. ...

Laurie Anderson's "Heart of a Dog" Has Heart and Soul

For more than four decades, Laurie Anderson has been telling us stories about her soul. In the avant-gardists's entrancing new movie Heart of a Dog, she expresses the spirit of her deceased rat terrior as well. Lolabelle, as Anderson told me in 2010, was her "best friend." So it's not surprising that the documentary is dedicated to that companionate canine's loving memory. More about that here:

The Look of "Truth": A Conversation with Director James Vanderbilt

In my chat with filmmaker James Vanderbilt, we delved more into what his movie Truth got right about its visuals than about the world of journalism. Read here: ...

Cinematographer Alwin H. Küchler on "Steve Jobs"

In addition to his award-winning skills as a cinematographer, Alwin H. Küchler, BSC, is an articulate interpreter of his craft. He spoke with me about shooting Steve Jobs, the Centerpiece of the 53rd New York Film Festival: ...

New York Film Festival's "Experimenter": How Production Design Tells the Stanley Milgram Story

  Michael Almereyda's Experimeter follows the stirrings of social psychologist Stanley Milgram, beginning with his "obedience experiments" at Yale. To get a bead on the film's visual strategy, read on:       ...

"Wolf Totem": Jean-Jacques Annaud on Running with Wolves

We often hear that directing animals and children is hell on a filmmaker. So why is Jean-Jacques Annaud nostalgic about the 200 horses, 1,000 sheep, 35 wolves and smattering of young humans he worked with for his new picture Wolf Totem? Maybe his fascination with wolves has something to do with it. As the title indicates, they're the real stars of this gorgeous 3-D spectacle.  Drawn from Jiang Rong's semi-autobiographical novel, Wolf Totem tells the epic saga of a young Beijing s...

"The Second Mother"

Anna Muyleart's drama "The Second Mother" delivers the latest closeup of class and work relations in Brazil. See it this Labor Day or whenever. Here's why it shouldn't be missed: ...

"Life Is Sacred": A Human Rights Watch Film Festival Premiere

When's the last time a film about a mayor got your pulse racing? For attendees of the recent Human Rights Watch Film Festival at the Film Society of Lincoln Center, the answer must be Life Is Sacred, Andreas Dalsgaard's portrait of Antanas Mockus. And before that, it was surely Dalsgaard's 2009 documentary Cities on Speed: Bogota Change. That too centered on heady, twinkle-eyed Mockus. The two-time mayor of Bogota is perhaps best summed up by the caped persona he playfully assumed...

"Palio": Horse Racing under the Tuscan Sun

Unicorn. Goose. Shell. Tower. If you haven't been to Siena, Italy, if you aren't up on the city's 17 districts, these four are a colorful start. All of Siena's ancient neighborhoods play a role in the local horse race called the Palio and in Cosima Spender's documentary of the same name.  Palio premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival this past April, and the twice-yearly race is around the bend: first comes Palio della Madonna di Provenzano on July 2, fo...

Paz Fábrega's Costa Rican "Viaje"

  This Independence Day weekend, celebrate "Viaje" -- an indie gem that festival audiences loved, but distributors snubbed. If you don't need romantic comedy to end with a kiss, Viaje is a film for you. The new feature from Costa Rican director Paz Fábrega is full of small moments that unfold not to achieve a payoff but for their inherent allure. Taken together with the raw, natural performances and attention to character and mood, there are good reasons to say the ...

Director Andrew Morgan Shows "The True Cost" of Fashion

So, what are you wearing? For anyone who has ever flirted using this line, the new documentary The True Cost  will explain how to get a really hot conversation going. As we see, the question aroused global citizens are asking is, Baby, what did it take to make what you're wearing? Directed by Andrew Morgan (After the End, Here for Now), the film pulls the panties off the fashion industry, exposing its disastrous human and environment impact around the world. Unsurprisingly, the p...

"The Farewell Party" Enters Laughing

You've got to hand it to Sharon Maymon and Tal Granit. Any filmmakers willing to have a laugh with euthanasia should be lauded for their nerve, and in The Farewell Party, which they jointly wrote and directed, the case is made for the right to jest with dignity. Still, there is much in the film that will gall opponents of mercy killing. The casting of iconic comedians offers a powerful assist in delivering bleak themes, especially for devotees of Israeli entertainment who read the marquee...

Filmmaker Melissa Donovan Finds Hope in Ethiopia and "Zemene"

By its title alone, Zemene, Melissa Donovan's captivating documentary says there's something special about its name character. There is. Right away when we meet this Ethiopian 10 year old, her spark and lucidity pull us in. Zemenwork (Zemene) Tiget has an acute spinal curvature called kyphosis. Accompanied by her Uncle Menormelkam, she has come to city of Gondar seeking medical treatment that can keep her from death's door. No such luck -- yet. We discover Zemene at the s...

Probing "TransFatty Lives" with Producer Doug Pray

  TransFatty Lives has its next incarnation in Hawaii. Having recently nabbed an audience award at the Tribeca Film Festival, the documentary by and about Patrick O'Brien will now get a "sneak peek screening for tastemakers" at the mini-film fest of the Pacific Rim International Conference on Disability and Diversity.*  O'Brien's intimate tale begins in Manhattan, where the eponymous DJ and director of short films including Paraplegic DJ and Born Again Po...

"Peggy Guggenheim -- Art Addict": Interview with Lisa Immordino Vreeland

Christie's and its much-ballyhooed billion dollar week affirm that art addiction is on the rise. Peggy Guggenheim would approve. For a glimpse of the famed collector's habit, there's Lisa Immordino Vreeland's documentary Peggy Guggenheim — Art Addict. A few weeks back, when it premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival, I spoke with Immordino Vreeland. The following link will draw up our chat:

DP Robbie Ryan's Take on Shooting "Slow West"

For Slow West, debut director John Maclean tapped veteran cinematographer Robbie Ryan to make it a visual bonanza. I caught up with Ryan several weeks ago, when the film was screening at the Tribeca Film Festival. Click below for his insights:   ...

"Lambert & Stamp": The How of The Who

  Lambert & Stamp, about the two enterprising Brits who managed The Who, may sound like just another music biz recap of "My Generation." But it's considerably more than that. The debut documentary by James D. Cooper probes the unlikely symbiosis between Kit Lambert, the Oxford-educated son of a classical composer, and Chris Stamp, the East Londoner son of a tug-boat captain, and how this odd couple launched one of rock's foundational bands. Skillfully set between t...

Simon Curtis Illuminates "Woman in Gold"

Woman in Gold, like The Wizard of Oz, is the story of a niece on a quest to regain family property after a storming. It has good and evil conjurers and even a straw man. Yet, contrary to the Kansas reverie, Simon Curtis's new film begins in a fairyland and flashes forward and backward among cloudier realms. First comes Vienna, Austria. It's 1907 and artist Gustav Klimt (Moritz Bleibtreu) is feverishly gilding the masterwork referenced in the film's title, Portrait of Adele Blo...

New York Indian Film Festival 2015 to Serve Up "Margarita, with A Straw" on Opening Night

  With a title like Margarita, with a Straw and a festive screening on Cinco de Mayo eve, you'd think this foreign import would be part of a Mexican muestra. But Margarita is the opening night selection of the 15th annual New York Indian Film festival, which runs May 4 - 9. Directed by Shonali Bose, the film stars Kalki Koechlin as a spirited coed with cerebral palsy who pursues a bachelor's degree and sundry bachelorette gratifications at New York University. Bose&rsq...

New Directors/New Films: "The Kindergarten Teacher" Examines the Lives of the Poets

  Where does poetic inspiration come from? Nadav Lapid's new film The Kindergarten Teacher wants to know. But something heavier is on its mind: the liabilities of that lyrical muse. We live in vulgar times, as is made plain from the opening shot of a TV talk show, and it's no milieu for a bard. Especially not one of the tricycle set. Such is the concern of titular teacher Nira (Sarit Larry), for her pupil Yoav (Avi Shnaidman). At the tender age of 5, he has yet to conquer h...

Rendez-Vous with "My Friend Victoria"

An ideal literary diet includes solid screen adaptations -- stories you can watch with the added spicings of another's imagination. Provided, of course, that the film serves up enough narrative textures to deliver satisfaction. Happily, this is the case with My Friend Victoria (Mon amie Victoria), Jean-Paul Civeyrac's engrossing take on the Doris Lessing story entitled Victoria and the Staveneys. It's la crème de la crème of the 20th Rendez-Vous with French Cinema cr...

Filmmaker Robert Kenner Deals with "Merchants of Doubt"

What do "merchants of doubt" do? The question arises now that Robert Kenner has come out with Merchants of Doubt. Like his Oscar-nominated documentary, Food, Inc., this engrossing new exposé once again sounds a caveat emptor for American consumers, only this time the beef is purveyers of spin and the threats they pose to Earth's survival. It's hard to say who is more outrageous, the individuals who peddle skepticism about climate change or the industries that adv...

Composer Mark Eliyahu Muses on "The Ballad of the Weeping Spring"

Where does The Ballad of the Weeping Spring take place? The question hovers over Benny Toraty's Wild East fable, which may unfold in yesteryear's Levant, or perhaps just in fantasyland. Either way, music forms its center. So it's only fitting that Mark Eliyahu's soulful, nostalgic composing uses the "maqam" system of musical modes: "maqam" means "place" in Arabic. In the Eastern classical tradition, modal scales are used to influence one's spi...


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