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Laura Blum


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

 


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Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem

If your protagonist has to keep pressing her case in a dingy courtroom for five years, the world of your movie can get pretty claustrophobic. It's an acceptable risk of Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem, which unfolds within court chambers and a waiting room till virtually the last frame. How else to show what the titular character (Ronit Elkabetz) goes through to obtain a divorce in Israel's Orthodox Chief Rabbinate? Directors Ronit and Shlomi Elkabetz give viewers an authentic tast...

"Timbuktu": Mauritania's Oscar-nommed Jihadist Tale

  Don't go see Timbuktu expecting revival of Kismet. Abderrahmane Sissako's latest film offers a somewhat more subdued portrait of Mali's spiritual and intellectual capital, one where music is banned. So are soccer, cigarettes, laughter and unveiled women, among other prohibitions being slapped on local citizens in 2012, as mujahideen spread their brand of Sharia to the West African nation's northern tier. We first meet these zealots barreling across the desert in a pick...

Director Gabe Polsky Talks Hockey Documentary "Red Army"

  Gabe Polsky's Red Army is a winning addition to the scorecard of sports-themed films -- like Moneyball and Foxcatcher -- for people who don't give a whit about sports. With dramatic flair and insightful heft, the documentary digs into Soviet social history through the prism of its triumphant national ice hockey team from the height of the Cold War to the unravelling of the USSR. The star of that team and of Polsky's film, Viacheslav "Slava" Fetisov, became the yo...

Oscar-nominated Cinematographer Dick Pope on "Mr. Turner"

  Dick Pope's name may have been crapped up as he was nominated for an Academy Award, but there's nothing crappy about the reason for that nomination: his lensing of Mr. Turner. Click below for my discussion with the cinematographer about his visuals for Mike Leigh's biopic on J.M.W. Turner:   http://www.thalo.com/articles/view/995/cinematographer_dick_pope_throws_light_on_mr       ...

Oscar-nominated Editor Tom Cross on "Whiplash"

Tom Cross surely has a sore neck since hearing the news: his work on Damien Chazelle's Whiplash has earned the picture one of its five Oscar bids -- in his case for "Best Film Editing." It's the Los Angeles-based editor's first Academy nomination. Back in the fall I spoke with Cross about cutting the scrappy music-themed indie. Here's the full story: http://www.thalo.com/articles/view/997/film_editor_tom_cross_brings_on_whiplash ...

"Citizenfour" Reveals Edward Snowden

Is Edward Snowden getting his vitamin D? Laura Poitras's new documentary Citizenfour shines bright light on the former National Security Agency contractor -- who did more than his own share of elucidating -- but still, we worry. As the images of a dark tunnel hint, things can get pretty bleak for whistleblowers. Much of the film spans eight days in 2013 when the NSA defector is holed up in Hong Kong's Mira hotel. Composed and hyper-articulate at 29, Snowden briefs then-Guardian column...

Festival do Rio 2014 Sways to Documentary "Samba & Jazz": Interview with Jefferson Mello

The documentary Samba & Jazz is a vibey affair. Stressing harmonies between Rio de Janeiro and New Orleans, Jefferson Mello's tale of two rhythms is also a tale of two cities. It's their shared pulse that makes American jazz and Brazilian samba close "brothers of blackness," despite differences in instruments, culture and geography. And both family representatives trace their roots to Africa. Beginning in Rio -- which is also where the film played for Festival do Rio aud...

Blue Sky Studios Cinematographer Renato Falcão Talks Animation at RioMarket

  If you're among the global moviegoers who helped bring 3-D adventure comedies Rio and Rio 2 nearly a billion dollars at the box office, you've beheld some of the latest CGI magic coming out of Blue Sky Studios. Both of these animated works feature the input of wizzy cinematographer Renato Falcão, who joined the Greenwich, Connecticut hit factory in 2009. Other Blue Sky titles he has collaborated on include Ice Age: Continental Drift, Epic and the imagery to date for Pean...

Festival do Rio 2014: Première Brasil Says Hi Hi Brazil

  Each September, as spring rains wash over Rio de Janeiro, the town bursts abloom with the Festival do Rio and its cinematic flourishings. South America's biggest international film festival, now in its 16th year, is poised to display nearly 350 works during its 15-day run beginning September 24. Of these, 69 works will screen in the Festival's homegrown section, Première Brasil. This centerpiece banner spans such categories as Competitive Fiction, Competitive Documentar...

Israel Horovitz Gets with "My Old Lady"

With 70 stage plays under his belt, Israel Horovitz is no stranger to the human condition. His debut effort in writing and directing a film, My Old Lady, shows that his dramatic flair isn't limited to theater. Adapted from his 2002 play of the same name, this three-character chamber piece unfolds in Paris, where many of Horovitz's plays have been produced and where he frequently cultivates his garden. The paradise around which My Old Lady's action is centered is at once found ...

"The Green Prince": A Conversation with Former Operative Mosab Hassan Yousef and Director Nadav Schirman

There are spies who come in from the cold and others who swap one kind of heat for another. One such fevered soul is Mosab Hassan Yousef, the son of Hamas honcho Sheikh Hassan Yousef who spied for Israel’s Shin Bet for more than a decade. Yousef's unlikely tale supplied the grist for his bestselling memoir Son of Hamas, and now it has inspired the documentary thriller The Green Prince. Directed by Nadav Schirman (The Champagne Spy, In the Darkroom), this stranger-than-fiction ac...

Jeff "The Giver" Bridges Remembers Robin Williams

Lois Lowry's science fiction novel The Giver, like the movie adaptation with Jeff Bridges in the title role, imagines a futuristic community bereft of memory and emotion. True to his character as the comrade charged with preserving human experience, Bridges mounted an impassioned remembrance of his fellow actor Robin Williams at the August 12th press conference for The Giver at New York's JW Marriott Essex House. The previous evening, Bridges had learned of the 63-year-old ac...

"Web Junkie" Gets a Fix on Internet Addiction

  A Chinese teen broods behind a barred window in a somber institution. Plainly there's something awry. "I'm in a lot of pain," the boy sobs from his dark bunk bed. What did you do?" he's asked. "I used the internet," goes his zombied response. Xi Wang wasn't expecting a three-month lockdown in military barracks: his father had tricked him into thinking the 16-year-old insomniac had a doctor's appointment. We learn that Wang, or "...

"Wish I Was Here": Zach Braff's Hothouse State

Wish I Was Here is Zach Braff's first movie since he came out with Garden State a decade ago. You might say the actor-turned-director-writer-producer has grown sentimental in his late 30s. With his new effort, Braff has been guileless -- or manipulative -- enough to wear his heart on his sleeve. He aligns himself with a branch of family comedy that admits bodily functions and ethnic flourishes as grist for laughs, yet readily veers into pathos.  Part sitcom, part indie drama...

Israel Film Center Festival: A Conversation with Fest Director Isaac Zablocki

Over the past week, cinephiles converged on the JCC in Manhattan for the annual Israel Film Center Festival featuring the "best of" recent Israeli and Jewish productions. Filmmakers and actors mill about this Upper West Side forum, but one personality rules the stars: Festival director Isaac Zablocki, who founded both the showcase and the Center and who serves as the JCC's film programs director. He is also the executive director of the Center's annual Other Israel Film Festi...

12th Brazilian Film Festival of New York

With its audience-friendly programming, Brazilian Film Festival heads back to New York June 1 - 7 bearing 13 features and 12 short films. Nine of this year's titles are recent works in competition, each reaching New York audiences for the first time. BRAFF NY's 12th run also coincides with the centenary of Vinícius de Moraes's birth. To fête the Bossa Nova great, the Festival is screening two films. The first, Carlos Diegues's 1999 drama Orfeu, sets the Greek lege...

"More Than the Rainbow": Street Photographer Matt Weber Gets His Close-Up

There are eight million stories in the naked city, and street photographer Matt Weber has captured thousands of them. His own story is the focus of Dan Wechsler's engaging documentary More Than the Rainbow. Weber became smitten with street scenes sometime during his 12 years as a New York cab driver. In 1990 his then wife, Laurie Weber, convinced him to jettison the Medallion and chase his dream of becoming the Henri Cartier-Bresson of Gotham. "You're photographing things ...

Pawel Pawlikowski's Lofty "Ida"

"So you are a Jewish nun," says Wanda Gruz (Agata Kulesza) on sizing up her niece Anna (Agata Trzebuchowska) in Pawel Pawlikowski's luminous black-and-white drama Ida. The audience shares in Sister Anna's astoundment as she learns that her birth name was Ida Lebenstein. This cowled waif we first meet adorning and adoring a Christ figure, a Jew? Never in her 18 years of coming up in the convent did such a thought ever gefilte her fair head. But now, in wintry Poland of the ea...

Dance, Dior and Dupes: Three Art Docs at Tribeca

You'd be forgiven for griping that documentaries about art can be snoozy. Yet you'd be doing yourself a disservice to let such prejudice keep you from discovering recent works that do the subgenre proud. Try Ballet 422, Dior and I and Art and Craft, all intriguing examples that premiered at the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival. How else would you gain backstage access at the New York City Ballet? Hang out in a top French fashion studio? Or enter the fevered head of a...

Angus MacLachlan's "Goodbye to All That" Sets the Stage for Best Actor Award at Tribeca

  With Goodbye to All That, writer/actor Angus MacLachlan says hello to directing. Greeting him back is success. There have been handshakes all around since his leading man Paul Schneider took the medal for “Best Actor in a Narrative Feature” at the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival. It's almost embarrassing to point out that the theme of the film is our need to be known and appreciated. The main leave-taking in Goodbye is the breakup of Otto Wall's (Shneider...

Tribeca Film Festival: Jessica Yu's "Misconception"

At the Tribeca Film Festival premiere of overpopulation inquiry Misconception, a cranky viewer took filmmaker Jessica Yu to task on the grounds that her topic is urgent and she "handled it very lightly." One man's criticism is another man's tagline. Why not make a subject as bleak and obstruse as Earth's mounting human throngs entertaining and engaging? Who besides the old scold and his cronies would go see an academic lesson on film? Humanity's...

A Tribeca Film Festival Treat: "The Search for General Tso"

Spoiler alert: Ian Cheney's documentary The Search for General Tso ends with the audience desperately craving General Tso's Chicken. Luckily, the rest of the film is full of surprises. For one, who was this military man who lent his name to America's second favorite ethnic dish after pizza? To whet the palate for a feast of history, Cheney asks sundry Americans this very question. Answers range from the ridiculous to the ridiculous. Traveling to Shanghai, the filmmak...

Tribeca Film Festival: Johanna Hamilton Talks Political Thriller/Heist "1971"

  Nineteen-seventy-one was the year the American press lost its virginity. That June, Daniel Ellsberg leaked the Pentagon Papers. But a lesser-known WikiLeaks antecedent took place three months prior, as captured in Johanna Hamilton's riveting documentary 1971. On the evening of March 8, eight anti-war protesters broke into an FBI office in Media, Pennsylvania, and made off with every document they could lay their hands on. The heist went down on the evening of the sensational Muham...

"The German Doctor" Puts Argentina Under the Microscope

  If the clues to a crossword puzzle answer are: "Titular character of the drama The German Doctor set in 1960 Argentina," and you don't promptly put:   J     O     S     E     F     M     E     N     G    E    ...

Styling Jim Jarmusch's "Only Lovers Left Alive"

For Only Lovers Left Alive, Jim Jarmusch tapped production designer Marco Bittner Rosser. Here's what Bittner Rosser had to say about bringing to life this tale of the undead: http://www.thalo.com/articles/view/921/designing_jim_jarmuschs_only_lovers_left_alive ...
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