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February 20, 2013


Relative newcomers Adam Pesapane (PES), Minkyu Lee and Timothy Reckart go up against seasoned veterans Matt Groening and Disney Studios in this year's Animated Shorts. All of the Animated Shorts rely on visual artistry and eschew dialogue.

Stop-motion animator Adam Pesapane (PES) took almost three years to concoct the foodie fantasy, Fresh Guacamole. A cook's hands take a machete to a grenade, slice it open, hack into the pool ball "pit" to remove it, and scoop the avocado flesh into a bowl... And so it goes from there... A clever bagatelle. Coming in at under two minutes it is the shortest film ever nominated for an Oscar. Known for his use of everyday objects and stop-motion animation to create original material, PES cites as an influence the Czech surrealist animator Jan Švankmajer.

Watch it here at
Hugh Hart talks to PES for


Another three-year labor of love, Minkyu Lee's old-fashioned cell animation short, Adam and Dog, takes us back to Creation when a feisty little dog must muster all of his determination to demonstrate to a somewhat distracted Adam that he IS and deserves to be man's best friend. Lushly realized landscapes evoke an Eden of natural majesty. Lee was responsible for every aspect of the film, laboring on it during free time while working a day job at Disney on Winnie the Pooh and Wreck-It Ralph.

Dan Sarto interviews Minkyu Lee for Animation World Network.

Minkyu Lee

Minkyu Lee

All images courtesy of Minkyu Lee.

Timothy Reckart's stop-motion Head Over Heels gives new meaning to the observation that a couple has "grown apart." In fact, after many years of marriage, Walter lives on the floor and Madge lives on the ceiling. When Walter tries to rekindle the romance, they must find a way to reconcile what is up and what is down.

Ramin Zahed of Animation Magazine talks to Timothy Reckart about the making of Head Over Heels.

Timothy Reckart and Fodhla Cronin O'Reilly

Maggie Simpson stars in The Longest Daycare directed by David Silverman. This is not the first time the Matt Groening franchise has satirized No Child Left Behind. The Simpsons took a swipe in a 2009 episode titled "How the Test Was Won." Maggie's first day in the Ayn Rand School for Tots finds her plunked into a machine that sorts her out of the Gifted section and into Nothing Special.

David Silverman

GQ's Oliver Franklin says John Kahrs's Paperman "might be the best rom-com you see this year." A 1940s company man encounters a woman on a commuter train into the city, then promptly loses her. Pushing paper at work, he happens to see her through the high rise window across the way and shoots her a paper airplane -- that misses. Six minutes and countless paper airplanes later...

Watch it at
Christina Radish of talks to John Kahrs about making Paperman.

John Kahrs

John Kahrs

PS... Here's Salon's Andrew O'Hehir's round-up of the 2012 short film nominees, "Is the golden age of short films upon us?"

February 19, 2013


Inocente has been homeless for most of her fifteen years. In spite of that, and her status as an undocumented immigrant, she has relentlessly followed her driving ambition to become an artist. Sean and Andrea Fine follow her day to day in Inocente, and through her first exhibition coordinated by San Diego's A Reason to Survive (ARTS) founder Matt D'Arrigo. Another documentary that yet again proves the redemptive power of art.

Katherine Relth of interviews the filmmakers.

Sean Fine and Andrea Nix Fine

Sari Gilman visited her grandmother at Kings Point for 20 years. Out of that experience came Kings Point, her documentary that follows six of its residents over the course of eight years. Speaking with Ben Crandell of, Gilman says, “There are people who are experiencing all the same joys and challenges that we all do. Ultimately, looking for human connection.” Essentially isolated from the rest of the world in the seniors-only condominium, the residents of Kings Point give the lie to the rosy promise of retirement villages.'s editorial staff interviews Sari Gilman.

Sari Gilman and Jedd Wider

Sari Gilman and Jedd Wider

On the third Monday of every month, sisters Cynthia and Rachel open their Long Island Racine Salon de Beaute & Spa to women undergoing chemotherapy. Cynthia Wade's Mondays at Racine introduces us to several brave women battling breast cancer, but it closely chronicles two in particular: Cambria, a 36-year-old mother with Stage 3 breast cancer who, with her husband, is trying to adopt their foster child; and Linda, a 58-year old -- diagnosed 17 years ago and told she had five years to live -- whose marriage is finally falling apart. Though there is sadness, hardship, loneliness, isolation, and need in all of this year's Documentary Shorts, Mondays at Racine was the one that I wept through uncontrollably. The byline on the film's website asks, "When your life is at stake, why is losing your hair so hard?" 's editorial staff interviews Cynthia Wade.

Cynthia Wade and Robin Honan

Cynthia and Rachel flank their clients.

Rwanda has been beset by many scourges, among them, the shortage of penicillin to treat strep throat and its consequent plague, rheumatic heart disease. The disease destroys the heart's valves and dooms its victims to suffocating deaths. Kief Davidson's Open Heart follows eight Rwandan children, some of whom without treatment have a matter of months to live, as they travel far from their families to journey to the Salam Centre in Sudan for surgery. The film focuses as much on the struggles of Dr. Emmanuel Rusingiza, Rwanda's only public cardiologist, and Dr. Gino Strada, chief surgeon at the Salam Center, a free clinic founded on the ethos of "The Right to Be Cured," as it does on their young patients.'s editorial staff interviews Kief Davidson.

Kief Davidson and Cori Shepherd Stern

Kief Davidson and Cori Shepherd Stern

Angelique Tuyishimere, age 6

Marie, 17, with her doting father

Dr. Emmanuel Rusingiza

Dr. Gino Strada

In New York City, there are many jobless people who barely scrape together a subsistence living collecting cans and bottles from trash and recycling bins and redeeming them for money. Jon Alpert and Matthew O'Neill take us into the sub-culture of  "canners" in Redemption, a film about the resilience of the human spirit under the pressure of unimaginably trying circumstances. In an interview with Drew Taylor for Indiwire, Alpert explains, "We tried to pick a group that was representative of backgrounds and would ... represent ... different strata of ... people ... forced to go can collecting" -- from Chinese immigrants to a former award-winning computer technician to vets. There is turf competition among the canners, but camaraderie as well, as they redeem what the rest of us throw away, five cents at a time.


Despite their running times, all of the Live Action Shorts function in the same way that a well-crafted short story does, as a complete and satisfying narrative that touches on some truth of the human condition. Many first time actors appear, and prove again, like Quvenzhané Wallis and Dwight Henry in Beasts of the Southern Wild, that talent is everywhere. They give the lie to Hollywood's deification of American actors. The Oscar website does little by way of providing information about these films beyond the directors' names and where they were filmed. I've tried to do a bit of research to tell a little something more about them.

Shot in Paternoster just outside Cape Town, South Africa, and cast with Somali refugees, Bryan Buckley and Mino Jarjoura's Asad is the story of a boy's coming of age in war-torn Somalia, where the lure of piracy seems preferable to tuna fishing. The captivating boys who play Asad and Mohammed “had just come to South Africa from Somalia,” Buckley said in an interview. “They had never been to school; they didn’t have that opportunity in Somalia. When they came here, they were basically illiterate but they memorised the whole script, start to finish. They had never been in the water before, so they had to take swimming lessons too.” After filming, Buckley and his associate producer Matt Lefebvre managed to get the boys into a school. Since March, “They’ve gone from illiterate and unable to speak English to third grade," Buckley said.

Source: Kevin Likes whose clients include, among others, Al Jazeera English and F.I.L.M.
Bryan Buckley and Mino Jarjoura

Bryan Buckley and Mino Jarjoura

Another coming of age story is Sam French's Buzkashi Boys set in Afghanistan. Buzkashi is the national sport of Afghanistan in which the goal is to grab a headless carcass of a goat, from whichever rider has it in his possession, in a thunder of galloping horses. The game may continue for days.

The boys are a street smart orphan beggar and the son of a poor though proud blacksmith whom he has befriended. The street kid is enamored of buzkashi and wishes to share his passion with the blacksmith's son. He has a dream of becoming a famous buzkashi rider, and tries to impress upon his friend the faith that he too must have dreams beyond blacksmithing. According to Emma Graham-Harrison's feature article in The Guardian, in a reversal of roles, the beggar is played by Jawanmard Paiz, the youngest in a family of Afghan actors, while the blacksmith's son is played by Fawad Mohammadi, a street urchin "the production team had known for years selling maps and trinkets to foreigners on Chicken Street, a row of stores that is the closest thing Kabul has to a tourist trap."
Sam French and Ariel Nasr

Sam French and Ariel Nasr

Afghan horsemen play the traditional buzkashi, in Kabul.

Buzkashi Boys

Shawn Christensen's Curfew is a perfectly realized little gem. It centers on the depressed man-child Richie, whose estranged sister calls him one night out of the blue needing someone to watch her nine-year-old daughter Sophia. Surprising even himself, and in spite of Sophia's resistance, Richie wins Sophia over. Richie takes Sophia to a bowling alley and, lightheaded for reasons I will not reveal, watches as a marvelous dance sequence unfolds with Sophia at its center.

Sheila O'Malley's review in Capitol New York is a spoiler, if you are so inclined.
Shawn Christensen

Trapped in a purgatorial limbo, fallen soldier Nathan Rijckx is nearing the quota of shadows he must collect for the Grim Reaper to buy back a second chance at life. In Flemish director Tom Van Avermaet's Death of a Shadow (Dood van een Schaduw), Rijckx captures the shadows at the precise moment of a person's death with a camera that looks like a creation by Henri Maillardet. Each individual's ultimate fate is decided by the intricately complex mechanical device that could have been the answer to Leonard Cohen's "Who By Fire"...

And who in her lonely slip, who by barbiturate,
Who in these realms of love, who by something blunt,
And who by avalanche, who by powder,
Who for his greed, who for his hunger,
And who shall I say is calling?

Rijckx is obsessed with a girl he met the moment before he died. Once among the living he is again an agent of free will and the one responsible for the consequences of his choices.

An interview with Tom Van Avermaet appeared in Indiwire.

Tom Van Avermaet and Ellen De Waele

I screened Amour the day before I saw Yan England's tribute to his grandfather, Henry, and the Documentary Shorts the day after, in a film season finale that seemed unusually preoccupied with age. An elderly concert pianist, the eponymous Henry, believes he has lost his wife Maria, not only the love of his life but a violinist with whom he has performed. A poignant portrayal of the confusion that attends the waning of memory.

Yan England talks to the Montreal Gazette about his grandfather, on whom his film is based.
Yan England

Yan England

February 4, 2013


I expected much more from Oliver Nakache and Eric Toledano's The Intouchables (2011, but not released in the U.S. until 2012). Another film based on a true story, it broke box office records in France. The wealthy Philippe (François Cluzet) is a quadriplegic who requires full time care and has gone through a steady stream of caregivers of various stripes. When ghetto ruffian Driss (exuberantly played by the handsome Omar Sy) barges into an interview out of turn, Philippe senses the bravado might be a good sign and hires him. After a couple of false starts, an abiding friendship begins to emerge. Unfortunately, despite sensitive performances and gentle humor, it relies too heavily on stereotypes. (A. O. Scott's NYT review)

American-born Israeli director Joseph Cedar's Footnote is the bittersweet story of rivalry, in this case academic rivalry, between father and son. Both are Talmudic scholars and both teach at the same university. The father Eliezer is a rigorous philologist who has labored for decades with no recognition; his son Uriel, a highly respected professor who writes well-received academic papers. Brewing beneath it all is Eliezer's resentment. Early in his career he made a landmark textual discovery. It would have made his name had not a Professor Grossman stolen Eliezer's thunder. For years, all  Eliezer has had to hang his pride on is the eponymous footnote in which he is cited in a long-dead mentor’s book. The twist comes when Uriel is awarded a prestigious prize. The call is made and the happy news delivered to Professor Shkolnik -- but it's the wrong Professor Shkolnik. What follows involves the question of what Uriel will do. Will he inform his father of the mistake or will he keep quiet? Numerous opinions are offered, various possibilities imagined. All the while this wise little film navigates the eternal slings and arrows of generational dynamics. (A. O. Scott's NYT review/A NYT Critics pick)

I had heard nary a peep of the 2011 Chicken with Plums (Poulet aux prunes), written and directed by Vincent Paronnaud and native Iranian graphic novelist Marjane Satrapi. Set in Tehran in 1958, it tells the story of a virtuoso violinist, Nassar-Ali, who has lost his beloveds -- his instrument, his calling, his lover, his appetite for life -- and so takes to his bed to die. It is a grand story, a love letter to music, to the movies, to creativity -- a love letter to love. Dancing off the screen, Chicken with Plums employs almost as many visual, narrative techniques as are imaginable -- special effects, mind you, not CGI. It marvels at what moving pictures can do; Hollywood could not produce such a film today. The narrative unfolds like an old scrapbook from the top shelf of a closet or the bottom of a trunk -- remnants and memories consciously arranged and pasted together -- of a sadly forgotten life that once held promise. Smoke permeates the film, atmospherically and metaphorically. In a reverie on his days of study, Nasser-Ali recalls the lesson in which the master rebuked him for accomplished technique without mystery, the soul that must come through the instrument, a mastery Nasser-Ali achieves only upon the loss of his heart's true love. See this film. (A. O. Scott's review does not sufficiently swoon)

Is This What Purgatory Looks Like?

About mid-way through Leos Carax’s lush Holy Motors there is a musical interlude, starting with one accordion player, our protagonist Oscar in one of his many incarnations, followed by another and another and another until a veritable parade of musicians is pouring out of the woodwork with more accordions and other instruments. It is, in my movie mentor's words, a movie moment. That scene alone is worth the price of admission.

Anyone who is disturbed when denied a linear plot should stay far, far away. Anyone who definitively needs to know what a film "is about" should also keep a safe distance. If I were pressed to answer the latter I might venture that it is about the underbelly of our dreams as much as it is about the material world we have invented; about the precarious nature of meaningful relationships in a world where means of communication have, ironically, become increasingly ubiquitous; about a world of surveillance, voyeurism, violence, need, isolation, love, loss, death, ennui; the tyranny of money; the shifting sands of dream/what we call reality/artifice/what we call art; the thin line between man and beast, between sanity and insanity, the primeval dynamic between the sexes, the questionable nature of what we believe to be our identities; the ephemeral nature of beauty; the objectification of the body; the disintegration of the family; and ultimately, the need we have for each other in a hostile world. Early on Oscar asks, "Any appointments in the forest? No. Too bad. I miss the forest." Later he laments, "I miss the cameras. The days when the cameras weighed more than us. They got smaller and smaller. Now you can't even see them." (Manohla Dargis's review/A NYT Critics Pick)

Jacques Audiard's Rust and Bone, adapted from Canadian writer Craig Davidson's stories, is a beautiful existential tale where people in extremis have only each other and nothing more, where nature and circumstance are indifferent and arbitrary. A love story utterly devoid of romanticism, Rust and Bone explores the conditions required of unconditional love. We find Ali (Matthias Schoenaerts) and his young son Sam on the road and destitute. They are headed to Ali's sister and her husband who eke out a living, she as a cashier who feeds them with expired food from the grocery where she cashiers, he in his delivery truck seeking out jobs. Ali takes a job as a bouncer in a nightclub where he extracts Stephanie (Marion Cotillard), an orca trainer at a marine mammal park, from a brawl, takes her home to her boyfriend, and leaves his number. This all takes place in the first several minutes. The story that follows brings Stephanie and Ali together in an unblinking reverie on the meaning of love -- between a man and a woman, a father and a son, the human and the animal -- and ultimately of acceptance -- of one's self and others.

Rust and Bone put me in mind of Samuel Beckett's great play Waiting for Godot, particularly the passage in the second act where the pompous and exploitative master Pozzo of the first act has been reduced to a pathetic blind man dragged along by his slave Lucky. Gogo and Didi, the two tramps, contemplate what they should do in response to Pozzo's cries for help.

Estragon (Gogo): And suppose we gave him a good beating, the two of us.

Vladimir (Didi): You mean if we fell on him in his sleep?

Gogo: Yes.

Didi: That seems a good idea all right. But could we do it? Is he really asleep? (Pause.) No, the best would be to take advantage of Pozzo's calling for help—

Pozzo: Help!

Didi: To help him—

Gogo: We help him?

Didi: In anticipation of some tangible return. [Though Didi realizes there is no tangible return.]

Gogo: And suppose he—

Didi: Let us not waste our time in idle discourse! (Pause. Vehemently.) Let us do something, while we have the chance! It is not every day that we are needed. Not indeed that we personally are needed. Others would meet the case equally well, if not better. To all mankind they were addressed, those cries for help still ringing in our ears! But at this place, at this moment of time, all mankind is us, whether we like it or not. Let us make the most of it, before it is too late! Let us represent worthily for once the foul brood to which a cruel fate consigned us! What do you say? (Estragon says nothing.) .... What are we doing here, that is the question. And we are blessed in this, that we happen to know the answer. Yes, in this immense confusion one thing alone is clear. We are waiting for Godot to come—
.... Or for night to fall. (Pause.) We have kept our appointment and that's an end to that. We are not saints, but we have kept our appointment. How many people can boast as much?

Gogo: Billions.

This is Audiard's unvarnished point as much as it is Beckett's. In spite of everything, for millennia billions of people can boast as much. They have, in no anticipation of some tangible return, taken advantage of another's calling for help while they had the chance. "It is not every day that we are needed."
(A. O. Scott's NYT review/A NYT Critics' Pick)

François de la Rochefoucauld observed that "Peu de gens savent être vieux" -- "Few persons know how to be old." In his review of Michael Haneke's Amour for The New Yorker Teju Cole aptly cites a passage from Simone de Beauvoir’s The Coming of Age: "When we look at the image of our own future provided by the old we do not believe it: an absurd inner voice whispers that that will never happen to us—when that happens it will no longer be ourselves that it happens to.” An unflinching gaze at aging and the inevitability of decline, Amour confronts that in a tour de force on every level.

Jean-Louis Trintignant (A Man and a Woman, Z, The Conformist) and Emmanuelle Riva (Hiroshima mon amour, Three Colors: Blue) play Georges and Anne with such sangfroid that it is difficult to remind ourselves that we are watching actors. Georges and Anne have enjoyed a very long and loving marriage, and a comfortable, cultured life. Their conversations are sprinkled with thank yous, offers of apology, expressions of gratitude. As their situation becomes increasingly difficult, unsettling exchanges erupt (this is a Haneke film, after all) -- with hints that, as in any marriage, there have been earlier bouts of unease -- but these moments never cause us to doubt that this is anything less than a devoted couple.

Isabelle Huppert holds her own as Georges and Anne's self-absorbed daughter Eva. No doubt Eva's emotions are real and raw, but her all too rare visits give the lie to any deep desire to sacrifice the comforts of her life for her parents' care. Seeing Anne's deterioration, Eva excoriates Georges, "What happens now?" "What happens now is what has happened until now," Georges responds with more patience than Eva deserves. "Then it will go steadily downhill and it will be over."

"Old age" Antiphanes said, "is the sanctuary of ills: They all take refuge in it."

Manohla Dargis's NYT review/ A NYT Critics' Pick