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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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Tour "The Grand Budapest Hotel" with Production Designer Adam Stockhausen

With each new Wes Anderson film, audiences get not only a highly stylized world, but also a chance to wonder how he concocted it. Now The Grand Budapest Hotel, which is playing in New York and Los Angeles, is the object of such head cocking. Set in Eastern Europe from the pre-war years through the Communist 60s, the film traces the decline of a legendary spa hotel. Of its fragrant and fastidious concierge Gustave (Ralph Fiennes), the narrator says, "His world had vanished long befor...

Bob Shaw's Lairs for "The Wolf of Wall Street"

The history of money is strewn with hoaxes and the anti-heroes who rise and fall by them. Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street sends up an especially bracing example based on the bestselling memoir of Jordan Belfort, played with Oscar-nominated flair by Leonardo DiCaprio. To convey the debauched life and times of this high-rolling shyster who conned unsuspecting investors into forking over $100 million plus in the late '80s and '90s, the filmtakes us deep into the lairs ...

Patricia Norris Bares Her Costume Design for "12 Years a Slave"

Patricia Norris knows a thing or two about costume design. A half a century in the business will do that. And now the 82 year old is poised to learn something else: whether she'll finally take home an Academy Award after being nominated six times. The work currently under consideration is for Steve McQueen's 12 Years A Slave, based on the true story of Solomon Northup, a free black man kidnapped into slavery for more than a decade. To stitch together what went into designing costumes f...

Director Haim Tabakman Examines "Eyes Wide Open"

The tent protests that swept Israel during summer 2011 momentarily made unlikely bedfellows out of secular and ultra-religious activists confronting similar social issues. Gay rights were no such matchmaker, however, as seen in July 2011's Gay Pride Parade in Jerusalem and the sizeable counter-protest it spawned in that city's ultra-Orthodox Mea Sharim neighborhood. (The previous year the black-frocked Deputy Mayor brandished cardboard donkeys to condemn the “besti...

Matthew McConaughey Fleshes Out "Dallas Buyers Club"

If you saw Matthew McConaughey claim Best Actor honors at the 2014 Golden Globe Awards, you know the story behind his latest movie Dallas Buyers Club. "For 20 years it was an underdog, turned down 86 times," he twanged. "We got the right people together five years ago, stuck to it, put some skin in the game and here it is."As hotted up as Texas, he swaggered on, "Really glad it got passed on so many times or it wouldn't have come to me." McConaughey went ...

"By Summer's End": A Conversation with Director Noa Aharoni

The Israeli family drama By Summer's End is bathed in warm sun tones of yesteryear. Yet for all its nostalgia, the film was conceived as an unsentimental critique of the past. Writer/ director Noa Aharoni calls out the country's male-centric traditions and laments the sins of the fathers visited upon the children. Set on a rural moshava in 1978, the film opens as a young mother, Michal (Michal Varshai), struggles to handle her willful daughter, seven-year-old Maya (Bar Minali). Ma...

Alfonso Cuaròn Explores "Gravity"

On a recent wintry night, the 13th snow storm of the season froze the Film Society of Lincoln Center's plans to host Alfonso Cuarón in a conversation about his new film Gravity. The acclaimed Mexican director, whose lift-off to New York was aborted, was instead astral-projected by video Skype. Cuarón is perhaps best known to American audiences for his screen adaptation of the children's book A Little Princess; his Mexican road comedy Y Tu Mamá También; ...

The ZigZag Kid: Interview with Director Vincent Bal

Ever wonder what it'd be like to mix coming-of-age drama, romance and comedy with action adventure, fantasy, detective mystery and tragedy -- and top it off with musical numbers and a road trip? Add caper flourishes and you have The ZigZag Kid. Belgian director Vincent Bal's genre-defying screen adaptation of Israeli author David Grossman's beloved novel is a triumph of contradictions, as is its young hero, Nono Feierberg. Nono idealizes his dad, Holland's top police detec...

Design Is One: Lella & Massimo Vignelli

Last year I had the guilty pleasure of interviewing my friends Kathy Brew and Roberto Guerra about their latest documentary, Design Is One: Lella & Massimo Vignelli. The film, which played to critical acclaim at Manhattan's IFC Film Center, explores the Italian-born couple's partnership that has distinguished them among the world's most influential designers. On January 10, 2014, Guerra lost his six-month battle with pancreatic cancer. Brew had noted dur...

The Act of Killing

Even if The Act of Killing doesn't slay the 86th Oscars in the Best Documentary Feature category, it will still stand as one of 2013's most compelling and creative films. Director Joshua Oppenheimer came to the subject while making a documentary about efforts to unionize in Indonesia, where many workers had lost loved ones to the mid-60s purge targeting such "subversives" as union members. When Oppenheimer dared to speak with the killers, he was astonished to discover their exu...

"The Girls in the Band" Honors Music's Unsung Heroines

How many female jazz musicians can you name? Judy Chaikin's documentary The Girls in the Band can help. By the time the credits roll, you will have met three generations of distaff players, composers, arrangers and conductors reaching back to the 1920s. Names like saxophonists Roz Cron and Peggy Gilbert, trumpeters Clora Bryant and Billie Rogers and drummer Viola Smith will roll off the tongue as readily as those of Thelonious Monk and Dizzy Gillespie.   To unders...

"Lee Daniels' 'The Butler" Serves Up a History Lesson

Not since Joseph interpreted a dream of Pharaoh's shaqahhas a butler been mythologized like the hero of Lee Daniels' The Butler. Cecil Gaines (Forest Whitaker), who worked for eight presidents from 1957 to 1986, takes his cue from the the true story of White House butler Eugene Allen. Yet this epic drama has its own master to serve, and both Daniels and screenwriter Danny Strong pledge allegiance to educating viewers about history rather than to dramatizing one man's bio. At t...

Sebastian Junger Salutes the Life and Time of Tim Hetherington

Watching Which Way Is the Front Line from Here? The Life and Time of Tim Hetherington is safer than covering combat, but the HBO documentary by author, journalist and filmmaker Sebastian Junger (The Perfect Storm) is not danger-free. It contains images of maimed bodies that may haunt you on a dark night.  But it also reminds you why you must miss the empathic British war photographer/filmmaker terribly. On April 20, 2011, scant  weeks after his and Junger’s chronicle of Am...

Morgan Neville Muses on "20 Feet from Stardom"

January 16th is rapidly approaching, and with it, the 86th Academy Award nominations. On the documentary feature short list are such box office and critical standouts as Blackfish, Stories We Tell and The Act of Killing. So too is Morgan Neville's tuneful 20 Feet From Stardom, which is pulling its share of the smart money. Here's what Neville had to say about his frontrunning contender: http://www.thalo.com/articles/view/751/20_feet_from_stardom_filmmaker_neville_morgan   ...

"American Hustle": Shop Talk with Production Designer Judy Becker

When David O. Russell wanted to recreate New York of the late 70s and early 80s for his new film American Hustle, he knew what to do: call Judy Becker. The Manhattan-based production designer had collaborated with him on The Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook, bagging an Art Directors Guild Award nomination for the former. Other credits on her CV include Brokeback Mountain and I'm Not There; and her work on HBO's Girls earned her an Art Directors ...

2 or 3 Things Spike Jonze Knows About "Her"

With his latest film, writer and director Spike Jonze gives science fiction fans a reason to celebrate. Yet Her, a gizmo-fueled meditation on love, loneliness and technology, is emotionally perceptive and slyly funny enough to beguile even hard core sci fi detractors.  Not that Jonze's prior poppings down worm holes have lacked insight into the human heart. However wild things were with Being John Malkovich, Adaptation and Where the Wild Things Are, Jonze has always been up for ti...

August: Osage County

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The play-turned-movie August: Osage County follows one family's moral and emotional smack-down in the American Heartland. No one wins, though a shrink could clean up handily. The Westons of Oklahoma sure could use some counseling. And judging by the actors' comments at the film's New York press conference, they too may have some lingering traumas to be worked out from the ordeal of performing this Gothic melodrama.  Meryl Streep, who played the splenetic matriarch, and Ju...

Arto Halonen Gives Blood for "A Patriotic Man"

"History repeats itself, "the first as tragedy, then as farce." Finnish director Arto Halonen apparently drew on Marx's famed maxim when he made his 2012 documentary about doping in cross-country skiing, When Heroes Lie, and followed it up with this year's black comedy on the same topic, A Patriotic Man (Isänmaallinen mies). How fitting that these two films also explore individuals as vehicles of collectives -- and how this ideal can zigzag off-piste. A Patrioti...

"Cutie and the Boxer": Wham! Pow! Boom!

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  Just as Japan seeks to amend its pacifist constitution, along comes a film that shows it had a belligerent force after all, until 1969. That's when avant-garde artist Ushio Shinohara hit the New York art scene with his "box paintings" using aggression he'd soon extend -- emotionally -- to his future wife. Two decades his junior, Noriko was an art student whose career would derail as she became his de facto assistant, handmaid...

"Blackfish": The Wailing Whale

  The saddest scene in movie history isn't Mammy lamenting what's gone in Gone With the Wind or even the choice Sophie is forced to make in Sophie's Choice. It's the agonized bellow that killer whale Kasata lets rip when her calf, Takara, is taken to entertain SeaWorld crowds an ocean away, as featured in Blackfish. Gabriela Cowpwerthwaite’s documentary unfolds a damning exposé of the multi-billion dollar sea-park industry and the con...

"Tim's Vermeer" Probes a 350-year-old Secret

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  As with most great notions, the spark behind the new art documentary Tim's Vermeer began in the bathtub. That's where a Texan inventor of broadcasting and computer graphics technology had a eureka moment about the Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer. Could the 17th-century master have used an optic device to achieve his photorealistic works? Flash forward to a fateful dinner the Texan had with his buddy, magician and entertainer Penn Jillette. Between bites he mentione...

"The Missing Picture" Fills in the Blanks

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  One way of thinking about Cambodian director Rithy Panh is that he is his country's Claude Lanzmann. Panh's films explore the 1970s Khmer Rouge genocide, which he witnessed first-hand as a young teen before fleeing to Thailand and then his adoptive France. His 12th and newest feature, The Missing Picture, took the Un Certain Regard prize at this year's Cannes Film Festival. It stars clay figurines reenacting Panh and his family’s ordeal, blended with previous...

"Blue Jasmine" Blossoms with Cate Blanchett

The first utterances you hear in Woody Allen's latest picture, Blue Jasmine, come from a manic First Class passenger who blabs on and on about herself. That passenger is title  character Jasmine, whose marriage to Madoff avatar Hal (Alec Baldwin) is now as finished as her 1% coffers, and who's going nowhere fast. She's also played by Cate Blanchett, which helps explain why we not only put up with her snobbish affectations, we can't g...

The Coen Brothers Get "Inside Llewyn Davis"

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  It's 1961, and folk singer Llewyn Davis is down and out in Greenwich Village. Performing at the Gaslight Café and crashing on friends' sofas, he's feeling what it is to be without a home, like a complete unknown, like a... Llewyn -- who looms just before that other musician with the Welsh moniker arrives on the scene -- endures an odyssey of reckonings that links Inside Llewyn Davis to O Brother, Where Art Thou? i...

The Coen Brothers Get "Inside Llewyn Davis"

user
  It's 1961, and folk singer Llewyn Davis is down and out in Greenwich Village. Performing at the Gaslight Café and crashing on friends' sofas, he's feeling what it is to be without a home, like a complete unknown, like a... Llewyn -- who looms just before that other musician with the Welsh moniker arrives on the scene -- endures an odyssey of reckonings that links Inside Llewyn Davis to O Brother, Where Art Thou? i...
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