Sunday, December 7, 2008

Shorts on Shorts

Short film programs always have their ups and their downs and sometimes, frankly, the ups aren't quite high enough to make up for the downs. It takes talent to make a short film not feel like a commercial or a music video. Which is why, when I say I'm glad I went to three programs of shorts--Alternative Escapes, You Never Know, and Persian Portraits--it's not a backhanded compliment but a sincere one. Shorts programs, good or bad, are always a strange experience anyway since, though created completely separately at every stage, they begin to inform one another. They stack on top of each other to make something stranger and bigger. I know that's not the point and their directors probably hate this idea, but it's what I see. The tension and anxiety I associate with a train in one short overtakes me when I see a completely innocent train in a new film. Maybe these are just the wanderings of a tired, image saturated mind; I've also mistaken several filmic conversations, meals, and awkward moments for episodes in my own, I can't believe I ate that chicken drummy! Oh, I didn't. Yes, on this the last day of the marathon, things are getting nutty. I'll try and sort through the madness and dish out some highlights of these shorts programs:

This year's Alternative Escapes, a collection of shorts from around the world, includes the charming Hold On by Damien Roussineau, which manages to be funny and dramatic in its few minutes without feeling overwrought and has an inspired lead performance. Skeletons in the Closet by Ulrik Frieberg takes on the task of making a 12 minute joke and succeeds. The wacky, the zany Vanity Insanity by Yakov Levi will definitely wake you up if you happened to have dozed off. The timing and humor in this short is the stuff of hip-irony masters like Tim and Eric Awesome Show Great Job and Flight of the Conchords but, quite refreshingly, seems to have no idea. Above all, it's not afraid to GO THERE...and by THERE I mean having wild whip-creamy sex with a giant mirror.

You Never Know, a program of shorts by primarily female directors, proved equally entertaining. In Dirty Girl, Jennifer Clary gives us an account of breast cancer that will make you laugh and wince at the same time. A surgeon repeatedly slices into a patient and we travel inside the body to a cancer-ridden, claymation world. It's awesome. These little clay bastards have teeth! And, for anyone who's had something internal go totally haywire, these stealth monsters munching away on organs feels like a very familiar concept put to the perfect visual. Bill Block's The Drummer is endlessly endearing. A guy who looks like the sweetest of basset hounds turns 40 and finally gets a drumming gig which turns out for the best, making the audience very, very happy. I loved David Grainger's George and Karl because it bit off a small bite and did it incredibly well. This tasty bite includes our homeless protagonists sleeping under matching semi-trucks, except the semis are painted on a wall behind them--a great illusion. Our beloved George and Karl also trade a bite of a sandwich for a swig of whiskey...for a pair of dentures. It's good. Havdalah, Alyson Silverman's film, comes through in a big way as well--nothing like telling your husband to eff-off by learning how to ride a bike. Finally, Laura Newman's loony movie Sexy Clown Bitch took me on a ride I won't soon forget. Though, I have to say, the best part of the film was after it had ended when a film festival worker from the back of the theater asked if Laura Newman could please report to the theater lobby. This prompted the entire audience to go, "ooooohhhhhhhhh," in that perfect grade-school way. This, in turn, prompted Laura Newman who was running down the isle to yell, "What!?!, Too Bitchy?!?! Too Sexy!?!?". Since this is the only time I'll probably get to say it, I'll conclude by saying Sexy Clown Bitch is right up my alley.

Persian Portraits was short but sweet. Slap by Ehsan Amani provided another one joke wonder of a film that left the audience howling and clapping. On the Railroad by Mohammad Sufi builds enough anxiety in 10 minutes to last an entire film festival...Just please stop almost getting hit by trains! And, lastly, Peyman Nahan Ghodrati's Cold Dream follows an Iranian tradition of simple tragedies unfolding slowly and quietly. One of my favorite things about this style of New Iranian Cinema is its ability to make you root for a little boy finding his shoes or a woman to get to her friend's house as if it were an epic Hollywood battle between good and evil. Cold Dream reaches these heights with a simple wheel stuck in the snow debacle.

Che: Guerrilla

Predictably, I'm behind in my reportage and, predictably, I don't have much time to catch up. But in this one precious hour, I must finally scratch this pesky brain-itch left by the second half of Steven Soderbergh's Che.

In the piece I wrote about Che: Argentine, I described the inability of the first half of this epic to stand alone and, in Soderbergh's language, the strong 'response' necessary from Guerrilla to fully answer The Argentine's 'call'. Well, answer it did. For as much as The Argentine is a perfect climb, Guerrilla is a terrifying plummet and, as I had imagined (with the help of Amy Taubin and Steven Soderbergh's words), the two films only make sense when read together. Indeed, they have a perfect inverse relationship, such that adding these films in the straightforward math problem they suggest, leaves one at an impenetrable zero. I have mixed feelings about this. I would have been brought even deeper if our gallant Che of The Argentine had been a bit conflicted about ANYTHING or at least faced a few more obstacles and, similarly, I would have sunk even further under the weight of Guerrilla if Che ever swerved from his march toward death. That being said, the mathematical problem at hand is a fascinating one, producing a symmetry that I'd like to analyze until my brain swells. I want to watch the movies on two screens side by side and then I want to write volumes and then I want to draw it and then paint it. For now, I'll just write some notes.

When we left Che in Argentine, he was just settling into victory in Cuba and when we catch up with him in Guerrilla, he's making plans and getting ready to start the fight in Bolivia. The interim we miss is an active one: Castro's regime took some brutal steps to consolidate power and Che was very much a part of this; further, Che tried to export the revolution to the Congo and failed catastrophically. However political or controversial this ellipsis is, the toll of these years shows up in Benicio Del Toro's bedraggled face, in his gait, and in his tired eyes. The Bolivian color pallet is most often gray and bleak compared to the vibrancy of the Cuban and New York settings in Argentine. Guerrilla's camera abandons the artful (semi-distracting) close ups and fragmentation of the New York sequences and the hyper-sleek look of the Cuban battles in favor of hand-held camera whose first language is anxiety. This camera finds details that sum up the journey: a white wet horse in the blue night, Che's beard and hair grown wild, a bloody towel, dried up leaves shaking with the wind. With Alberto Iglesias' score echoing through the mountains, these elements compose a death march on the level of Werner Herzog's haunting Aguirre, Wrath of God (1977). The Andean scenery is only the outer ether of these films' kindred spirits. Both Herzog and Soderbergh's men realize their fate and continue on their march, knowing that the futility of the thing might hit them if they stop. They watch things, minds, and bodies deteriorate as they climb through the mountains and force their minds into strange positions in order to carry on. Herzog's journey eventually moves so internal, goes so mental, that landscape becomes a reflection of the men's insanity. While Soderbergh doesn't go this far--he keeps us witness to the death march instead of putting us right in the center of its psychosis--he does slowly turn his movie into a horror film. This idea about war-film and horror-film is debatable (debate with me!) but there are a few scenes that speak the language of horror quite clearly. Most notably, when a camera follows at a distance behind three soldiers walking up a hill so that, while our three heroes appear oblivious, the audience and the camera seem to know something terrible is coming up the other side of that hill; and also, when a certain line of men assembles (and you'll know it when you see it) causing such terror to descend, such a feeling of being trapped that is exactly the same stuff of the They're-Calling-From-Inside-The-House realization.
All of that stuff up there in that paragraph, it builds a color, tone, and noise that's Argentine's opposite, but it doesn't get at the exact kind of symmetry I'm out to describe. Because within this tableau, Soderbergh has taken a fine edged knife to carve out moments and images in Guerrilla that are direct quotations of Argentine, just flipped. Of the most obvious, in Argentine Che makes protestations at allowing a 16 and a 14 year old to fight for the revolution but, met with the same situation in Guerrilla, Che simply states, "At 16, a man already knows what he wants." End of discussion. He gives the same speeches to similarly assembled men, asking them to decide now if they don't have it in them and if they want to leave. In Cuba, this feels inspirational (weeding out the garbage! hurrah hurrah!) and even gets funny. In Bolivia, it feels like a trap, like everyone wants to desert but for some reason they won't...or can't. In Cuba, Che's comments about perseverance come off as inspirational while in Bolivia they just seem criminal. The squabbles between Cuban soldiers are set up as jokes for the audience to take a breather from the action but in Bolivia they are fatal. While the Cuban revolutionaries help peasants along the way, giving them food and medical care, the Bolivian peasants get caught in the crossfire and are used and abused by both the Bolivian army and, due to their desperation and disorder, the revolutionaries. The times when Che and his men do help the peasants in Bolivia, we're shown a close-up of a grotesquely infected child's eye whereas the mantra in Cuba seems to be a happy "more meat and less work!". The deaths in Cuba felt somewhat expendable, even if sometimes they made Che very sad, but the deaths in Bolivia feel like portents. Che was constantly pushing his willing and energized Cuban comrades toward education of all sorts, but in Bolivia one man seems to speak for all when he says, "We are too old to learn, when the wheel rolls down hill, let it go." Che's asthma in Cuba was proof of his heroics but in Bolivia it brings us to one of the most startling and tragic moments in the film. Argentine marks time only when switching between periods, but in Guerrilla, we watch the days tick by--at day 340, I found my jaw quite literally dropped. I should stop. But you get the idea.

The call of the Argentine is answered in Guerrilla. They belong only together. I have yet to navigate my affection for these films. Are they great? But until I have another 4 hours to spare, Che will stick with me as a formally and structurally entertaining film. I will also probably continue to wish Benicio Del Toro would walk through the door and look in my eyes and say, "What makes a revolutionary?...Love. Love."

Friday, December 5, 2008

SELFLESS Makers the Pander Brothers Sign Graphic Novels at TRUE BELIEVERS COMICS Tomorrow Afternoon

The Pander Bros discuss their new film SELFLESS

SELFLESS screened to a full house yesterday, and prompted a lively Q&A after the show. Tomorrow, Saturday, SELFLESS screens at 9:15pm at the Santa Fe Film Center, 1616 St. Michael's Drive. We hope you'll join us then for the final screening of SELFLESS at the Santa Fe Film Festival.

The brothers will be guests for an in-store signing of their graphic novels at TRUE BELIEVERS COMICS, Saturday, Dec 6th from 12pm to 3pm. 801 Cerrillos Rd., STE B, Santa Fe, NM (505) 922-8783

While still in their teens, the Pander Bros. helped forge the independent comics revolution with their high-style artwork that pushed the boundaries of the medium on such breakout series as GRENDEL: Devil’s Legacy and Triple X. The legendary artists behind 65 books to date, their portfolio includes three graphic novels, ten series, and 15 stand-alone issues for such major publishers as Marvel, DC Comics and Dark Horse. They’ve also served as the creators and writers of Batman: City of Light and Batman: Apocalypse Girl, and most recently their new graphic novel, ACCELERATE, published by Image Comics.

The Panders Bros.’ work in film includes 15 music videos (seven of them for Palm Pictures); the concept for Gus Van Sant’s “Runaway” video for Deee-Lite; the award-winning cult classic, “The Operation”; the feature-length documentary, “Painted Life”; and a series of shorts.

The sons of prominent Northwest painter Henk Pander, who emigrated to the U.S. from the Netherlands in the 1960s, and a mother who received her masters degree in fine arts, the brothers were encouraged to explore their creativity from the time they could hold a crayon. As kids, they were back-stage regulars at Portland’s landmark Storefront Theater, where their father designed installations and stage sets. By their preteens, Arnold was consumed with drawing ‘superheroes’ and Jacob, though equally gifted with a pen and brush, was already plotting out his first movie, inspired by such late night TV serials as “Flash Gordon.”

Their first 8mm film, “War is Hell,” was directed by Jacob at age 12, and starred Arnold, 10, as an ambushed soldier. (To his teacher’s horror, Jacob poked holes through the film stock to create the illusion of gun fire flashes.) Their first 16mm film, “Time Gate,” two years later, found Arnold stranded in an apocalyptic future. Their first pen-and-paper collaboration, around the same time, was the comic strip, Gamma World, which ran in their high school newspaper. Their first after-school jobs were in the Future Dreams comic book store (Arnold) and at a local art house theater (Jacob).

Indeed, it was as a result of Arnold leaving one his drawings behind at Future Dreams, when he quit the job, that their first big break came only a year out of high school. Popular comic book author Matt Wagner spotted it and had Comico sign them to create the covers and inside illustrations for his GRENDEL: Devil’s Legacy series. Overnight, they went from “selling Christmas cards out of our shoulder bags” to being able to afford a trip to the family homeland when it was over. The 12-issue series set a new sales record for an independent comic book (on a par with Marvel and DC Comics), merited nominations for the coveted Eisner and Manning Awards, and scored the industry’s top fans-choice award for the duo.

While working on the 4-issue mini-series, Ginger Fox, for Comico, the brothers spent much of the next two years in Amsterdam, developing their own monumental work, Triple X, published by Dark Horse Comics in the mid-1990s.

The futuristic 7-issue series and its 1997 graphic novel were hailed by critics on both sides of the Atlantic. Among them, Huh Magazine in the U.K. called Triple X “a global comic book piece de resistance…It reads like an illustrated James Bond novel…The brothers’ previous work inspired a bunch of well-deserved acclaim, but nothing quite matches the cinematic scope utilized throughout XXX. This ain’t your typical comic. It actively engages the reader in the story, making it something of an interactive comic adventure.” Spin magazine labeled it “a wild agitpop thriller,” and Anodyne declared: “When it was all said and done, Triple X challenged people’s perceptions of what comics could be.”

Among other notable projects, the Pander Bros. created the groundbreaking “Secret Broadcast” comic book/companion audio CD tribute to renegade radio. Designed to function as a soundtrack to its published counterpart, the album featured tracks from such artists as reggae-rapper Jamal-Ski, DJ and musician Zeb, hip hop electronica artist Supersoul, and producer/songwriter Mark Pistel. With the Dark Horse mini-series, Exquisite Corpse, the first comic book designed to be read in any order, they were thrust into the middle of an international controversy, when it was banned in several countries.

After studying 16mm filmmaking at the Northwest Film & Video Center and serving as an apprentice editor on the 35mm feature, “Shadow Play,” Jacob launched his professional career in the 1990s with a series of shorts infused with rebellious humor. Among them, “The Spirit of 76” featured painter and sculptor Tom Cramer, whose volatile and unpredictable interview style keeps the viewer on constant edge as the artist probes the meaning and American zeitgeist of the early 1990s ; “Media Hijack” was a 20-minute visual narrative blending repurchased media images and sound; and “The Other Side of the Tracks” chronicled a day in the life of three heroin addicts.

In 1992, Jacob was hired by Frontier Records to shoot his first music video, “Light in You,” for Dharma Bums, which received extensive play on MTV. Among the others, the brothers conceived, directed and produced Hitting Birth’s “Drive On,” the winner of the Oregon Cascade Award, and the half-hour concept film, “Suck it and See,” for Palm Pictures, which featured such international electronic artists as Howie B., Fantastic Plastic Machine, Spacer, and DJ Miku.

In 2002, Jacob’s “Painted Life” provided a riveting look into the creative process behind his father’s internationally-celebrated work in still lifes. Filmed over a period of seven years and funded in part by a grant from the Oregon Arts Commission, the feature-length documentary became an official selection of the Northwest Film Festival and was screened at Seattle’s prestigious Fry Art Museum.

Long fixtures on Portland’s cultural scene, the brothers co-founded the landmark FUSE Gallery during the 1990s. Patterned loosely on Andy Warhol’s Factory, the non-profit collective of art studios was a showcase for eclectic, artist-driven dance, theater, and alternative music and film events. Among them, Gus Van Sant premiered his short film, “God Bless America,” written by and starring William S. Burroughs.

As fine artists, they also frequently exhibit at one of the city’s leading venues, the Mark Woolley Gallery. Jacob has also shown in New York – when a collaborative media installation he produced with noted experimental filmmaker Steve Doughton, featuring music by acclaimed electronica artist Aphex Twin, was mounted at the Mary Ann Boesky Gallery in Soho.

Kassim the Dream

Kassim the Dream comes to SFFF as part of the American Film Institute Project 20/20. A documentary, the film tells the story of Kassim "The Dream" Ouma, his past as a child-soldier in Uganda, his success story as a professional boxer in the United States, and his trip back to Africa. You can imagine the clichés a story like this could throw up and the sensationalist and exploitive tack a filmmaker could take, but I can assure you, you can't imagine the graceful balance of humor and sincere emotion with which filmmaker Kief Davidson succeeds in this project.

The film is well made. It knows when to pause and it knows when to party. It stays really funny, really serious, really adorable, and really sad without ever crossing into excess, an accomplishment that evidences the hard work and smart decision-making behind this film. Shifting from eloquent footage symbolic of Kassim's past, to professional boxing matches, to Kassim and his family, to interviews with boxing experts and Kassim's closest friends, to Kassim's return to Uganda, Davidson's work manages a number of different aesthetic and emotional demands quite seamlessly and maintains the spirit of the film. This spirit, as Davidson himself acknowledged in a post-screening Q&A, is Kassim's. And really, this is where the heart of the film lovingly rests. Kassim is magnetic. Through much of the film, he smiles a smile that made me sure I was right there with him laughing at his kids' Cuteness (that's a capital 'C') and sharing in his joy. He's a professional boxer and an ex-child-soldier, two worlds that--in obviously quite different ways--breed violence and one-track minds, yet Kassim persists in his complicated existence: he tears up at a devastating loss in the ring; he winces and squirms as his hair is tugged and braided; he believes in the choices he has made; he opens himself up to the emotional reality of his past and present with a courage and commitment I can't begin to describe here.

Above all, this is one of the most viscerally and joyfully engaging movies I've seen in a while. Kassim's love for life is too beautiful and the tragedy beneath everything is too overwhelming for this film not to make an impact. There was a moment in this film, after Kassim has faced head-on the terror of his past and the Uganda he left behind, where Kassim gives a glance and a strained sigh that showed me grief complete and brought me very near a feared edge. I imagine anyone could find a moment of that magnitude in this film.

Las Meninas: A Poetry from "Mirror" in Mirrors

Yesterday was wild fun. My afternoon started with Las Meninas, a film that hails from Ukraine and, more specifically, from the mind of painter Igor Podolchak and cinematographer Svetlana Makarenko. It's a disturbing poem that communicates a world of immense claustrophobia, darkness, anxiety, and hyper-aurality inspired, it seems, by both Andrei Tarkovsky's Mirror and 18th-century still-life painting. While I can't speak much on behalf of the latter--except for the film's fascination with food on plates, grapes and other fruit in bowls, table-settings and especially silverware, clothing, fabrics, and the stylized lounging of women--I can comment on a few of the ways this film evokes Tarkovsky's vision in Mirror.

For one, Las Meninas takes in interest in how sound and images constitute one another. The sound of a fork scratching a plate is pushed to unbearable heights; voices and words layer and repeat; falling sugar cubes hit the ground with the sound of shattering glass; the sounds of opening a cabinet or closing a door are just amiss from their corresponding visual component. Through such an active and unpredictable auditory world, Podolchak not only gives us the chance to examine the relationship between sound and image but also meditates on the idea of silence and how it breaks.

This film also moves like Mirror in its constant linking of ideas and people through very physical substances and elements--water, urine, hair, metals, grapes--and more abstract threads--words, camera angles, colors. Further, these people live in a house of mirrors, windows, and other framing devices. They are perpetually not only themselves, but their reflection, the reflection of their reflections, reflections of objects in the house, and of each other. The most enjoyable part of this film for me was the commitment of the camera to interact with these mirror images in ever more clever ways. For about 10 minutes, all of the action takes place in a mirror on a far wall. We see people move in and out of this frame but the large and luxurious room around it remains inanimate. After a time, we begin to see only this mirror; even though it is reduced to about 1/16th of the "real" cinema screen, it holds the moving images and so we start to conceive of it as the movie. We fall into this illusion of these mirror images so deeply that it's a bit startling when the outer world of the "real life" room begins to interact with the mirror/mini-cinema screen. These moments (of which there are many) when the house of mirrors, or the clever drift or zoom of the camera, or a play with light and darkness create insightful illusions are spectacular, but the film never reaches the dramatic heights and beauty that make something like Mirror so utterly mind-blowing (see video below). But, I realize that's like saying this review doesn't quite hit the mark André Bazin, or Pauline Kael, or J. Hoberman would have.

My only real complaint with Las Meninas was its rather grotesque treatment of the female body. The film renders all sexuality rather disgusting, a choice which adds to the effective and well-crafted discomfort of a lot of this film, but the men seem to at least be in charge of their grotesque behavior whereas the women are subject to A TON of skirt lifting and physical violation by male figures, including a difficult-to-stomach fetishization of the straps and girdles that keep them all locked up. Not to mention that many of the (crotch) shots put the viewer in a voyeuristic position, leaving me feeling not a little violated. One woman leaving the theater exclaimed, "I just kept crossing my legs!" So that's something to think about when watching this movie. But yes, go see this movie! And most especially do so if you're willing to abandon any taste for narrative in order to check out how Tarkovsky's ideas live on through Podolchak, Makarchak, and contemporary Ukrainian cinema.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Here comes Mo! SELFLESS Star MO GALLINI Arrives Today at Santa Fe Film Fest

Actor, Mo Gallini, awarded Best Supporting Actor at BendFilm for his roll in SELFLESS will be on hand at both screenings of SELFLESS at the Santa Fe Film Center, Thurs Dec 4th at 4:15pm, and Sat Dec 6th at 9:15pm.

Hollywood veteran character actor Mo Gallini co-stars in the Pander Bros.’ “Selfless” as Wesley Stone – a master at identity theft who destroys Dylan’s career as a rising star in the “green” architecture movement after a random encounter in an airport lounge.

His expanding portfolio of unforgettable menacing villains includes supporting roles in the blockbusters – John Singleton’s “2 Fast 2 Furious” and “End of Days” starring Arnold Schwarzenegger – as well as the David Lynch movie, “Mulholland Drive.” On television, Gallini has appeared as a recurring character on “24”; in guest-starring roles on such series as “NCIS: Naval Criminal Investigative Service” and “Shark”; and co-starring parts in the television movies, “Father Lefty” and “Babylon 5: A Call to Arms.”

The son of a Lebanese father and Cuban mother, he was born and raised in Miami, then spent two years at the University of Florida in Gainesville before following his family to Los Angeles.

Gallini just happened to fall into the profession. “I met a friend of my sister's who was an acting teacher and started taking classes to see what it was about. It was a very liberating experience!,” he reports. At the same time, Gallini began to observe how desperate so many people are in L.A. to become a star, “but aren’t willing to do what it takes – hone their craft.”

At one point, Gallini began to wonder if he had what it takes to make acting a viable career. “Once I said yes, I dove right in and started to really believe that I could work in this towns.” His first professional acting job came in the feature film, “Rudy,” when director David Anspaugh cast Gallini and a friend as Notre Dame football players. And, soon after, he was playing a tough guy on the hit television series, “Seinfeld.”

A watershed moment, Gallini recalls, took place on the set of “End of Days.” “On my last day, I was going to have a fight scene with Arnold Schwarzenegger. On one of the takes, we were rolling around fighting on the floor and both getting into it – really throwing each other around. When they called ‘cut,’ I got up from the ground and had this déjà vu moment of being back in my high school weight room 15 years earlier, facing a poster of Arnold on the wall. And here I was fighting him! How cool!”

As “Selfless” pushes Gallini’s take on his familiar heavy archetype, another recent role allowed him to explore other facets of his talent. Gallini was cast as a coach who mentors a troubled kid in the independent feature, “Fuel.” "It was a very, very different role for me, after years of playing the Bad Guy!” he says with a laugh.

Kicking It All Off: Soderbergh's Che

Well, consider this thing up and running. Last night SFFF '08 kicked off with Steven Soderbergh's Che: The Argentine, the first half of his epic on Ernesto Che Guevara, that mythic giant in which filmmakers, authors, historians, and trend-setters continue to see endless intrigue, beauty, and profitability. I can't say I'm opposed; Che's life, vision, and transfixing gaze is the stuff film thrives upon: I mean, Right?
As such, any new work on Che begs certain questions about its contribution to or detraction from myth-making and, more broadly, its engagement with history. I have to see the second half (Che: Guerilla, which tells of Che's attempt to export the fundamentals of the Cuban Revolution to Bolivia and screens tonight in Santa Fe, same time same place) to think through these historical/cinematic questions. I will say, however, that Part 1 does nothing to challenge Che's star-status. In Benicio Del Toro, Che is shown to be a revolutionary, a soldier, a teacher, a doctor, a den-mother, an intellectual, a beauty, a gentleman, a disciplinarian, a symbol, a star, a snarky dude, and a man of unquestionable moral dignity. If reading that list was annoying, I only did it to conjure up what I was feeling in The Argentine's least subtle moments. Soderbergh does a convincing job showing the day-to-day of these revolutionaries out there in the jungle, mustering enough faith and will-power in their moment-by-moment existence to ultimately make something HUGE happen, but at times, this quiet climb to power is broken by moments that can only be described as cute. I know, I feel weird about that too. I need both hands and a few toes to count the number of times Che scolds one of his soldiers for smoking something goofy instead of doing some math homework, or taking the enemy's convertible in victory, or calling each other names. He rolls his eyes at his kids' silliness and we all feel in good, strong hands. But, Che is so terribly good, it hurts. Sure, we see him change into the iconic images pop culture's taken hold of. We see him donning beret and smoking cigars with his comrades and soaking up the victory, but even in the moments when you most expect the saintly Che persona to fall and crash--or at least crack! splinter! show any sign of weakness!--he more fiercely maintains it. "Can I get my stuff and go home, Che?" a soldier asks, "No, the war is over, but the revolution is just beginning," he says, with the tenor of his voice and the glint in his eye pointing us back to all of his previous noble encounters with the sick, the tired, and the dejected.
Papa-Bear, Den-Mother Che
There is quite literally, however, a piece missing to these observations, namely the second half of the movie. In her 2002 Filmmaker and her 2008 Film Comment article, Amy Taubin argues that the "structuring principle underlying [Soderbergh's] films is contradiction, not in the Marxist political sense but as an aesthetic according to which an object is defined by what it is not. Contradiction determines the shape not only of Soderbergh's individual films but also the relationship of one to another. The sexy, extroverted Out of Sight (1998) and the melancholy, introspective The Limey (1999), for example, are more dazzling as a pop art couple than either is on its own. What Soderbergh terms the call and response relation between The Argentine and Guerilla is intrinsic to their form and meaning." Without even seeing Part 2, I'm willing to bet I'd rather think of Che as one movie rather than two, for the 'call' of The Argentine is much too lean and weak without a response, one that hopefully Guerilla will provide. Standing alone, The Argentine is a story of climb and advance, climb and advance, etc, etc, etc, without any counterpoint. Of course we know the Revolution happens, of course we know our winners are going to win, but Soderbergh doesn't employ the strange sort of suspense commonly used in stories with obvious endings--Titanic or, perhaps better articulated, the recent Milk. And so, I don't really know what to do with the narrative of The Argentine. In a way, so much happens but nothing happens at all: Castro and Che decide to go for it, their success builds, and then they win. Since they do just win, this movie does not venture into the stunning, narrative-bending circles of something like Zodiac, but it is, quite strangely, an action-film with a serious affinity for monotony. And even when the obvious does come, it's clear that's not really what we've been working toward the whole time. The rather exciting routine of The Argentine calls, indeed screams out, for its other half.

All of that being said, I was pretty much entertained the whole time, an entertainment factor which, for me, was about 80% fascination and astonishment with the formal qualities of this film. Firstly, though the "plot" is excessively straightforward, it's told in a highly elliptical way and at times has the sensibility of an amped-up Terrance Malick film in its will to unpredictably cut from or linger on images. (Malick wrote the initial version of the script and his influence flits and flutters throughout the film). It jumps from era to era, giving sometimes incongruent moments to make up a whole. To make matters more beautiful, scenes depicting Che at the UN in New York are shot in a black and white 16mm that will knock your socks off. I reached out to touch its texture and taste its richness, thinking the energy that film produced could not possibly be kept on the screen. The jungle scenes, on the other hand, are shot with a new digital camera prototype called The Red One, a camera that Taubin describes as "capable of delivering scope-dimension images with the lush, satiny beauty of 35mm" and I have never seen a camera that moved so quickly but captured so much so clearly and colorfully. The contrast and collaboration between these two delicacies is divine and I'd see it again (on the big screen, gotta see this one on the big screen!) just for pleasure it wrought on my eye-balls.

So, onward and upward. I hope the Guerilla leaves me jaw-dropped and wimpering, I really do. But first, so many more movies. I'm outa time and hope to get back here on the blog soon. Until then, then.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

HINDMOST - Animated, Jazz, Sci-Fi short Film


DanO from New Mexico Digital here, grateful to again be part of the 2008 Santa Fe Film Festival (SFFF).  I love this festival.  

NM-Digital is pleased to be screening a short animated film called HINDMOST.
See the Official SFFF HINDMOST Homepage for a slideshow and a Behind the Scenes short.
HINDMOST screens with "State of Rock" by Anthony Arkin on Thursday 12/4/08 @ 9:15pm and Saturday 12/6/08 @ 9:30 pm at DeVargas Mall.  The official blrb [sic] :

HINDMOST is a short film about a band called HINDMOST currently on a galactic tour called: 'The One Song Tour'. The band lands their spaceship into a packed stadium, plays one song, then takes off.

Hindmost features brilliantly rendered animations by Jason Harris, and original jazz music written by Dan Otero (Guitar, Vocals) and featuring Colin Darby> (aka Darbstar) from Felonious Groove Foundation on Sax>,Upton Ethelbah from Daffodil and Primate on Bass and Miguel Velasquez from Primate on Drums. Hindmost was inspired by the great guitar jazz compositions of Joe Pass and the scifi masterpiece Ringworld, by Larry Niven

I was really pleased with all the animation and graphic design by Jason Harris.  He's quite a talented animator.  Look for his work on future NM-Digital projects.
Costume, make-up and camera-work was done by my son, Galileo Otero.  How cool is that? And that left all the compositing, audio engineering and acting to be done by Dan Otero (your humble narrator).

Special thanks to Jon, Jules and the entire SFFF crew who would scold me if I didn't remind you of past SFFF entries from New Mexico Digital, which include:
The Troll's Demise (2003);  Zen & the Asteroid (2005) starring Santa Fe's Christopher Norris and Wil Albarez (aka FireHazard); and the famous SFFF 2006 protest video Fairness for Androids and Trolls (F.F.A.A.T.), a mock protest of the 2 former movies.  Good times.
So that's the scoop.  Hope you can catch my movie.  I'll try to catch yours.

Peace \m/
Dan Otero

Graphic Novelists, the Pander Brothers, new feature SEFLESS - Thurs & Sat!

SELFLESS, the debut feature by the Pander Brothers is an existential thriller about a self-absorbed architect whose world collapses when his identity is stolen. Recently awarded Best Feature, Best Screenplay, Best Supporting Actor (Mo Gallini), and Best Editing at the BendFilm Festival, SELFLESS stars Joshua Rengert, Mo Gallini (2 Fast 2 Furious, Mr. & Mrs. Smith, End of Days, Mulholland Drive), October Moore, and Jen Hong.

Dylan Gray, a rising young star in the trendy 'green' architecture movement, is flying high from winning a prized high-rise commission when he unwittingly plants the seeds of his own destruction during a chance encounter with a deadly stranger. While waiting to board his plane home to Portland, Dylan sketches an unflattering caricature of fellow passenger Wesley Stone to impress an attractive flight attendant. As Dylan soon learns, the stranger he brazenly ridiculed is a master at stealing identities. And he's just made Dylan Gray his next target!

SELFLESS screens DEC 4TH @ 4:15 & DEC 6TH @ 9:15PM
1616 St. Michael’s Dr.

The Pander brothers and actor Mo Gallini
will be in attendance and have a Q& A at the SELFLESS screenings.

Visit the SELFLESS B-Side Page at:

"CREEPY!" - Todd Haynes, Director (Far From Heaven, I'm Not There, Safe)

"Stylish, smart and compelling." - The Oregonian

"Wholly engrossing... Chic direction and sheer balls." - Willamette Week

"A deftly woven narrative." - The Source Weekly


Tuesday, December 2, 2008

"The Sounds of The Underground" is a powerful documentary that exposes the unpredictable lives of subway performers in the grittiness of New York City’s underground- Grasping the essence of what it takes to be a subway musician and the psychological reality of performing on such a demanding and sometimes cruel stage.

This film takes you into the busking world where beauty is not what you see but only in what you hear and ultimately, finding out what it takes to pursue the artistic dream in the bowels of our beloved New York City.

Hello Santa Fe,

Congrats filmmakers on being part of this great festival. Aside from enjoying a diverse selection of films with other filmmakers, we are excited to be screening our documentary film which is scheduled to play on Friday at 3:15pm at the NM Film Museum along with a group of other great shorts:

We hope to meet most of you- either at our film, your film, or at the bar!

-Bryant Botero

FUEL at the Santa Fe Film Festival

FUEL will be screened opening night at the Santa Fe Film Festival! FUEL is a feature environmental documentrary that follows Director, Josh Tickell, as he unravels America's addiction to oil- from its historical origins to the political constructs that support it, to the alternatives that are available now and the steps we can take to change.

FUEL won the Audience Award for Best Documentary at last year's Sundance Film Festival and has been hailed by audiences and critics as one of the most important films of our time. It was also recently shortlisted for the Academy Awards which means it is one of 15 documentaries still in the running for nomination.

The screening will be held December 3, 2008 at 7:00PM at the Scottish Rite Temple, Santa Fe. Director, Josh Tickell, and Producer, Rebecca Harrell, will be attending and holding a Q&A Session after the screening.

Check the film's official website for more information at

Come celebrate with us the premier of a Santa Fe made short film this Saturday at 10am at the New Mexico Film Museum!

RT: 43 minutes

Starring: Marya Beauvais, JD Garfield, Luce Rains, Fredrick Lopez, Alan Tafoya, Ginger Rex and Cletus Tafoya

Written and Directed by
Brent Bayless

click here for more info and a clip!


There's Something Miraculous Going On Here

Something incredible is happening in Santa Fe this week and I feel like not enough people know about it, or if they do know about it, they're not talking about it. If you're here, reading this blog, you know very well I'm talking about the 9th Annual Santa Fe Film Festival, a festival which, as I'm cruising a borrowed 5-speed around Santa Fe's adorable streets and thinking more about this year's line up, is beginning to look more like a miraculous cultural phenomenon than a run-of-the-mill film festival.

The miracle at work here boils down to being able to see Steven Soderbergh's Ché--a film epic in duration, formal ambition, and subject matter--next to something like Squeezebox, a documentary made by and about New York City's gay rock and rollers and the alternative space they created in reaction to Guiliani's Disneyfication of Times Square. Starting tomorrow, us lucky ones here in Santa Fe can see Doubt starring Meryl Streep and Phillip Seymore Hoffman and then walk a few blocks and see The Linguists, a 65 minute doc that travels on the shoulders of linguistic scientists through Russia, Serbia, India, and Bolivia to explore the devastating loss of the world's languages.

This is exceptional. The Santa Fe Film Festival embodies the type of attitude necessary for a much-needed revolution in the American film industry. This attitude goes something like this: This is high-budget art, this is low-budget art, this is conventional, this is radical, this is global, this is local, this will be duplicated millions of times, this will never be seen again--all of it worthy of a thoughtful eye, an attentive mind, and a sincere respect for the creative spirits that stand behind it. Well anyway, that's the vibe I'm picking up.

The festival hasn't always been able to brag of such range. Its history is short but its growth has been steady; Robert Benziker for Pasatiempo (the Arts and Culture section of the Santa Fe New Mexican newspaper) writes, "We don't need a flashback sequence to tell us that this festival has come a long way in the past nine years. In cinematic terms, it's gone from a quirky indie pic to a major blockbuster — a citywide celebration that's managed to retain its small-town charm."

What's more, this "small-town charm" has a lot to do with a taste for work off the mainstream, which makes perfect sense coming from a town where independent art galleries are more common than all the coffee houses, bars, and stoplights put together. (I mean, really. This place is crazy. I've been here for 20 hours and while I would have no idea where to find a cocktail or another wireless internet location, I know exactly where to find all the blown-glass, pottery, and wood carving a lady could ask for.) Benziker goes on to describe this Santa Fe taste, "Over the years, [festival director Jon Bowman] has tapped into what audiences in Santa Fe crave. Although he will program anything that is well-made, regardless of genre or content, Bowman mentioned that horror doesn't play well locally, while films with a multicultural subject matter or a Third World setting tend to pique Santa Feans' curiosity."

Well, thank you guys. This year's festival stands among very few others in this country that can bring in big names and maintain a strong list of independent films from a diverse array of cultures and mindsets. Among this year's categories of films: All Roads Film Project, Eye on the World, Independent Spirits, Mañana Film Series, New Mexico Film Expo, Southwest Showcase, New York Jewish Film Festival, Art Matters, and American Film Institute Project 20/20. While you might be able to read a certain multi-cultural tendency into these categories, there is also a notable amount of LGBT-focused/related films and seriously above average marks on the number of female filmmakers represented.

Finally, the engineers of the SFFF are clearly invested in a festival culture that, again, few other U.S. film festivals have mastered. Much like the annual Telluride Film Festival in Telluride Colorado, Santa Fe is working to cultivate an inclusive environment that is truly about celebrating film as oppose to capitalism and star/deal-making. Benziker writes, "While discussing why filmmakers would want to be a part of the Santa Fe Film Festival, [Festival Programmer, Stephen Rubin] mentioned that other festivals 'call themselves festivals but are really just film exhibitions. They don't have parties, they don't have receptions, they don't have panels, they don't have guests. And that's OK if that's what they want to be, but we don't want to be just that. We want to be a five-day memorable experience where everyone is treated well and everyone gets to meet everybody as much as possible.'"

Alright then. Party on, SFFF, and kudos for daring to be the way you are.

Please click HERE to read Robert Benziker's full article!

--Martha Polk
Guest Blogger

Anybody Want to See Andy Griffith Hit on Girls?

Play The Game

Thursday, December 4th, at 1:45pm
DeVargas Theaters

For more information go to

-The Producers of Play The Game

Monday, December 1, 2008


TAOS, a new American independent feature film directed by Seattle native Brandon Schmid, will screen at the Santa Fe Film Festival on December 4th at 3:30pm at the Scottish Rite Theater -- DO NOT MISS this one-time screening event in Santa Fe. TAOS tells the story of a young professional who recovers a lost sense of place and purpose when faced with the unexpected loss of his father and an accidental breakdown in the northern New Mexican desert. TAOS is a powerful personal journey about dealing with unexpected loss and the choices we face every day in finding balance for ourselves in relation to our families, our work and our personal interests. TAOS was written, directed and produced by Brandon Schmid through Taos Movie Productions LLC and Flying Spot Pictures. The film stars Rib Hillis, Lora Martinez-Cunningham, and Julie Dorris, with strong supporting roles performed by Rick Aragon, Robert Deane, Robert Lowell, Ed Zajac, Aubrey Manning, and Jen Taylor. Filmed on location in Taos, New Mexico and Seattle, Washington, the story for the film takes place primarily in Taos and the scenes shot on-location highlight the natural beauty of the region.

"I’m thrilled that TAOS will have the opportunity to screen at SFFF,” says Brandon Schmid, writer/director of TAOS. “Just as the story for the film came to me as an inspiration while snow camping in the Sangre de Christo mountains around Taos, so do the people and natural beauty of the area provide the inspiration for the main character’s transformation in the movie.”

TAOS is an impressive feature which represents the finest efforts by New Mexico filmmakers to produce an independent project of a high caliber and I love the film,” says Stephen Rubin, Program Director of the Santa Fe Film Festival.

For more info visit


~ Between The Folds @ SFFF 08 ~

Award-winning documentary "Between The Folds"
will screen in two engagements at the 9th Annual Santa Fe Film Festival on Saturday, December 6th, at 10AM and Sunday, December 7th, at 3PM in Tipton Hall at the College of Santa Fe. The film will play alongside 2008 documentary "Don't Know, We'll See" by filmmaker Lucy Massie Phenix, about the work and life of sculptor Karen Karnes.

World-renowned physicist and artist, Dr. Robert J. Lang, one of the film's featured subjects, will be at both screenings, along with the film's director, Vanessa Gould. They'll take questions from the audience and Dr. Lang will perform a live post-show folding demonstration!

"Between The Folds" uncovers the stories of 10 fine artists, intrepid mathematicians and theoretical scientists who have abandoned careers and scoffed at hard-earned graduate degrees - all to forge unconventional lives as modern-day paperfolders. As these eccentric characters converge on the unlikely medium of origami, they reinvent an ancient art, and demonstrate the innumerable ways that creativity and ingenuity come to bear as they struggle to understand and honor the world around them.

The film paints an arresting portrait of the mysterious artistic and scientific threads that bind these exceptional minds, bringing forth a fascinating mix of sensibilities towards art, expressiveness, interpretation, and meaning.

Grand Prize, Audience Award for Documentary, Rhode Island International Film Festival
Winner, Audience Award, New Hampshire Film Festival
Professional Competition Selection, Savannah Film Festival
The Hamptons International Film Festival (online documentary selection)
Temecula Film Festival
Santa Fe Film Festival

Those featured have been profiled in The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Boston Globe, TIME Magazine, The LA Times, The Guardian UK, Smithsonian, Wired, WGBH, WNYC, and CBS, and they include notable scientists Dr. Erik Demaine of MIT, a recent MacArthur "Genius" Award recipient, and former NASA physicist Dr. Robert J. Lang; as well as internationally renowned artists Michael LaFosse, Eric Joisel, Paul Jackson, Chris Palmer and Vincent Floderer.

Visit for more information.

We look forward to meeting everyone soon in Santa Fe!

Warm regards,

Vanessa Gould and the Green Fuse Films Team

Exhibition Tour from Rita Blitt, creator of the SFFF entry "Caught in Paint"

Join me for my exhibitions:
College of the Desert, Palm Desert , Ca. Jan. 20-Feb. 6
Marion Meyer Contemporary Art, Laguna Beach, Calif. Feb.5-March 28
Mt. San Antonio College, Walnut , Ca. March 12-April 9
Soka University, Laguna Beach, Ca. Sept- Jan 7
Lawrence Art Center, Lawrence, Kansas , Sept. 2010

Rita Blitt


EL TAXISTA--On a dark night, what seems to be a routine shift for taxi cab driver, Ricardo Villamontes (Luis Robledo-A Lonely Place For Dying, Havoc), turns out to be a night where questionable morality and loneliness collide. Norma (Jana Mitsoula-Tru Calling, Stargate: Atlantis), a beautiful, broken stranger enters the cab and the ensuing events change the course of their lives forever.

Nothing as it seems...our strangers soon discover the commonalities between them and the secrets they share.

Luis Robledo's 3-time award-winning debut, 'El Taxista', not only marks his first foray into directing, it is guerrilla filmmaking at its best. As writer, director, actor and editor of this film, Luis successfully packs all the punch of a theatrical feature into 15 minutes worth watching.

We are elated to be a part of this great festival & honored to have been nominated for the Best Short Film Award as well as the Wallflower Press Award to an Emerging Filmmaker!

Come check out our little short film that is causing a ripple!!!

EL TAXISTA will screen with FAREWELL DARKNESS, an award-winning feature that has also been tearing up the festivals:

Friday, Dec. 5th, 2008
1:45 PM - Santa Fe Film Center

Saturday, Dec. 6th, 2008
6:45 PM - Santa Fe Film Center

EL TAXISTA - Trailer:

Bryan Ross (producer), Marisilda Garcia (assoc. producer) and I will be there for the duration of the fest. I look forward to meeting my fellow filmmakers and all you film lovers!

A special shout out to Justin Evans, whose feature A Lonely Place For Dying will screen on Thursday, December 4th at the Scottish Rite Temple at 7pm. ALPFD has been nominated for the prestigious Heiniken Red Star Award for Best Film, among others. This is a movie I worked on as an actor, starring Ross Marquand and Michael Scovotti, featuring Hollywood heavyweights James Cromwell and Michael Wincott. NOT TO BE MISSED!!!

Congratulations to Justin, Erin, Catherine and all of the ALPFD team!

Best Wishes to all!!!

Luis Robledo

Winner, Festival Choice Award - Paso Robles Digital Film Festival 2008
Winner, Best Short Film - Indie Fest USA 2008
Winner, Judges' Award for Best Film - McAllen Art & Film Festival 2008
Nominated, Best Sound - Indie Fest USA 2008
Nominated, Best Short - Ft. Lauderdale Int'l Film Festival 2008
Nominated, Best Short - Santa Fe Film Festival 2008
Nominated, Wallflower Press Award to an Emerging Filmmaker - Santa Fe Film Festival 2008

Official Selections:
Santa Fe Film Festival 2008, Hollywood Film Festival 2008, Ft. Lauderdale Film Festival 2008, Lone Star Film Festival 2008, Cinesol Film Festival 2008, Radar Hamburg International Film Festival 2008 & NewFilmmakers LA 2008