News to Me: Paul Schrader, Guillermo del Toro, and Sky Hopinka
małni – towards the ocean, towards the shore (Sky Hopinka, 2020)
1. With the Academy Awards looming, a whole host of guilds, festivals, associations, and critics’ circles have thrown out their picks for the best films of the year. 1917 is looking like a clear favorite at this stage, with the DGA, PGA, and BAFTAs all awarding the film top honors. The London Film Critics’ Circle awarded Parasite and Bong Joon-ho the best film/director combo (with The Souvenir thankfully winning Best British/Irish Film—not even nominated at last night’s BAFTAs). The Cesar awards have announced their nominations, with Roman Polanski’s An Officer and a Spy leading the pack. Ladj Ly’s Les Misérables will be its major competition, with Portrait of a Lady on Fire not far behind and Atlantics left wildly underappreciated. And lastly, on the festival front, Zheng Lu Xinyuan’s The Cloud in Her Room took home IFFR’s Tiger Award, and Sundance spread the love with a number of Special Jury Prizes (Josephine Decker for “Auteur Filmmaking,” Eliza Hittman for “Neo-Realism”).
2. Another big announcement at the Sundance award ceremony was the naming of its new Director, with Tabitha Jackson succeeding John Cooper after his 11 years at the helm. Jackson had previously been the Director of Sundance’s Documentary Film Program since 2013. ICYMI: all our Sundance coverage is available here, with no less than six informal panels recapping the day-by-day (featuring Ashley Clark, Ela Bittencourt, and Eric Hynes, among others). One highlight: Amy Taubin’s interview with Time director Garrett Bradley, who notes that there’s “a problem that exists when you make films like this, when the filmmaker is expected to do an impact campaign. But that is not for me to lead . . . I hope that this film can set a new precedent not only for filmmakers but for subjects to have agency in their own story.”
3. Another Sundance highlight: Sky Hopinka recently debuted his first feature-length film, maɬni – towards the ocean, towards the shore. For Artforum, Hopinka explained his filmmaking style to FC regular Jordan Cronk: “Nonfiction feels more natural to me than working with something scripted. I knew early on that I didn’t want to learn a whole new way to make films, and instead wanted to see how well my short film-making practice scaled up to a longer form.” Maɬni is spoken largely in the near-extinct Chinuk Wawa language, and unpacks the Chinookan origin-of-death myth through the lives of two Pacific Northwest natives, Sweetwater Sahme and Jordan Mercier. Listen to the Film Comment Podcast for more on the film.
4. As the festival circuit marches on, the Berlinale has at last announced its competition line-up. Christian Petzold’s Undine, which we reported on back in July last year, sees the director re-team with Transit stars Paula Beer and Franz Rogowski. Another recurring partnership to pique your interest: Hong Song-soo and Kim Min-hee are back in step for The Woman Who Ran (for a thorough history of their creative love affair, check out this piece from Kristen Yoonsoo Kim). More noteworthy names: Tsai Ming-Liang, Phillipe Garrel, and Rithy Panh, with Kelly Reichert’s First Cow making its first showing since NYFF, and the aforementioned Eliza Hittman’s Never, Rarely, Sometimes, Always riding strong reviews from Sundance. And finally, Abel Ferrara’s collaboration with Willem Defoe, Siberia, fermenting in the production lab for almost half a decade, will at last become a reality.
5. In the realm of exciting new film announcements: Guillermo del Toro has begun principal photography on his next film, Nightmare Alley, which stars Bradley Cooper, Cate Blanchett, Willem Defoe, Rooney Mara, and Toni Collette. Cooper plays “an ambitious young carny” who hooks up with Blanchett’s “dangerous” psychiatrist. J. Hoberman labelled the 1947 original a “wannabe Kane” in his piece from 2000, writing that the film is “neither a great movie nor even a classic noir but it has a great ambition to be faring and, once seen, is not easily forgotten.” (If you want to make up your own mind, the film is available here.)
6. Spike Lee has yet another new film in the works, adding to a list of coming attractions that includes Vietnam war film Da 5 Bloods and Shakespeare spin-off Prince of Cats. The filmmaker, recently appointed as head of the Cannes competition jury, is set to adapt David Byrne’s American Utopia—an album turned Broadway show that NME claimed “may just be the best live show of all time.” Upon the album’s release in 2018, Margaret Barton-Fumo sat down with the multi-talented Byrne to discuss his 1986 film True Stories. (Though we spoke with him in 1986, too.)
7. Returning to 1917 for a moment, Adam Nayman writes on “the trouble with war movies” for The Ringer, quoting Francois Truffaut: “Every film about war ends up being pro-war.” Nayman uses this quote as a launching point to recap the war-movie canon, looking at La Grande Illusion, Fear and Desire, Paths of Glory, Saving Private Ryan, The Thin Red Line, and many more (as well as some film criticism history: Jacques Rivette and his contempt for Kapo). As for 1917 itself, Nayman labels it “the cinematic equivalent of a run-on sentence, one that says very little that we haven’t heard before. When the camera finally comes to rest, it’s meant to be impressive that the last shot echoes the first, but it’s more a matter of redundancy than symmetry.”
8. “In my films, I’ll sort of combine two worlds that seem to have nothing to do with each other. In the new one, it’s the world series of poker and Abu Ghraib.” Paul Schrader recently sat down with Metrograph’s Austin Dale to discuss his forthcoming film, The Card Counter, and how he plans to end his career. Schrader also mentions his time at UCLA, where “I wrote my brother every two weeks . . . And I told him all about coming to LA, being with Pauline Kael, and all about every movie I saw. It was a real interesting look into a time and a place.” If that does indeed sound real interesting to you, we published a 120-page collection of that correspondence, “Letters to Len,” back in 2018.
9. More great reading over at Bookforum this week, with A.S. Hamrah reflecting on the supposed end of Hollywood. Reviewing Sam Wasson’s latest, The Big Goodbye: Chinatown and the Last Years of Hollywood, the n+1 critic chides Wasson for his “less inventive kind of nostalgia,” comparing the book to Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood: “Tarantino, by making his film an imaginative rewrite of history, proved that there are ways to reinvent Hollywood filmmaking that go beyond its end, that don’t write the current cinema out of existence. He imagines a world where filmmaking continues to move forward, even when looking back at the past.” (And as a bonus: Audrey Wollen writes on Anne Carson’s new play, Norma Jeane Baker of Troy, which parallels the lives of Marilyn Monroe and Helen of Troy—“A woman’s way of dying is the apex of her meaningfulness.”)
10. The five major studios have re-upped their 2015 deal with Kodak to maintain the production of film celluloid. Between 2005 and 2015, Kodak’s film sales plummeted by 96 percent, with the company emerging from bankruptcy protection in 2013. They then launched their “Film Worthy” campaign—“a way of celebrating those stories and the artists committed to film, and our commitment to not only preserving the medium, but helping it thrive”—and agreed to the purchase of an undisclosed amount of film from Disney, Fox, Paramount, Sony, NBC Universal, and Warner Bros. (How long ‘til we can just say, “Disney”?) The initial deal was apparently meant to last just two years, but “the latest pacts,” according to THR, “are believed to span a longer period.”
We leave you this week with a short documentary from the Taipei Fine Arts Museum, Apichatpong Weerasethakul: The Serenity of Madness.