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Thumbnails 5/22/17

Thumbnails is a roundup of brief excerpts to introduce you to articles from other websites that we found interesting and exciting. We provide links to the original sources for you to read in their entirety.—Chaz Ebert


"Bobbi Jene Smith on 'Bobbi Jene'": At Indie Outlook, I chat with the phenomenal dancer about the new documentary exploring her life, directed by Elvira Lind. It won the Best Documentary prize at Tribeca, and I hailed it as "one of the year's best films" at Hot Docs.

“[Indie Outlook:] ‘What has your experience of teaching been like?’ [Smith:] ‘Being able to teach has been one of the largest gifts I have ever been given. I’m so grateful for the chance to teach and for the people who have supported me in being able to do it. It helps so much to connect with people who are younger than you. Their excitement keeps you young too, and that’s so important as a dancer, since you’re always using your body. Spreading that fire helps to keep it alive, and my students and I keep the fire burning together. It’s been a huge opportunity for me to try and show women how powerful they can be and how fragile at the same time, and how those two things don’t have to cancel each other out. In a dance form where you are taught to become smaller and smaller, it’s my goal to allow people to bust out and become extremely wide and vast and wild. That’s all I want to do.’ […] [Indie Outlook:] ‘I loved your conversation in the film with Laura Dern, who I’ve always considered a pillar of female strength.’ [Smith:] ‘Me too! I was so excited to meet her and our meeting was by chance. It was so interesting to talk with her about the similarities between acting and dancing—where she feels held back or where she finds more freedom. At what point does she have to put the container on and how do women deal with that? How do you be strong and vulnerable at the same time in a particular role? You may feel the need to expose but also withhold, while at the same time remaining clear. How do you stay true inside all of those contradictions?’”


"Festival influences through distribution and beyond": An excellent report on this year's Bentonville Film Festival penned by Melissa Gute of the Northwest Arkansas Democrat Gazette.

“Women seem to feel like they need to be overqualified for a job, whereas men don't seem to have that same pressure, [filmmaker Jennifer] Deaton said. She's seen it in herself and in women colleagues.She said the work of Davis' institute is important because it works to promote strong female and minority characters as role models for children. ‘There's a confidence level in men that we need to be better about as women. Hopefully we can socialize them to be more confident,’ she said of girls.The gender disparity also prevents boys from investing in female protagonists like girls do with male protagonists simply because there is more of them on screen, Deaton said. What children see in the media can affect the way genders view their roles as adults, she said. Director Valerie Weiss said she doesn't feel a bias when working on a project, but sees it in the larger Hollywood ecosystem. ‘I’ve only had positive experiences and felt supported by the men in my crew,’ she said of being on set. ‘But when you look at how fast men advance when they've done comparable or less comparable work verses women, it's obvious that there's something going on, even if it's unconscious bias. It's really powerful.’Weiss' film ‘The Archer’ will screen at this year's festival. The coming-of-age feminist film follows a competitive high school archer who's sent to a prison-like reform camp for girls, but escapes with a friend she meets there.Women are able to tell stories of female characters more authentically and completely, Weiss said. ‘We do see things differently, and we do let you in to the emotional life of the character in a different way than men do,’ she said. ‘It's really important that people see that.’”


"45 Years After 'Pink Flamingos,' John Waters Says the Midnight Movie is 'Dead'": But what about "The Room"? Vanity Fair's Donald Liebenson investigates.

“Today, few midnight movies meet the standard as defined by [former theater owner Ben] Barenholtz. The one most commonly cited by exhibitors is ‘The Room,’ written and directed by and starring Tommy Wiseau. ‘The Room’—which even inspired a recent SXSW hit about its origins, directed by and starring James Franco has attained Golden Turkey status as a film that is so bad, it’s good. And as with ‘Rocky Horror,’ the audience is part of the show, heckling the movie or perhaps throwing plastic spoons at the screen (don’t ask).’In certain cities, it’s still a staple,’ said Mark Valen, West Coast buyer for Landmark Theatres; he also programs the Nuart Theatre. ‘Whenever we get Tommy Wiseau to come to one of our theaters, it’s a madhouse; we sell out. But that’s a separate animal, like ‘The Rocky Horror Picture Show.’ You have to see it with an audience. If you watch it alone at home, you’re like, ‘What?’’ Really, though, there may be no one-size-fits-all definition for the term. Barenholtz also says that the challenge of programming movies at midnight is resisting the urge to categorize and pigeonhole: ‘Every midnight film has a different audience. The audience for ‘El Topo’ is not the same as the audience for ‘The Harder They Come’ or ‘Eraserhead.’”


"Diving In: Matt Connolly on 'Henry Gamble's Birthday Party'": A masterful essay on Stephen Cone's masterful film, published at Reverse Shot.   

“When considering what films and filmmakers offered a way forward in the aftermath of the 2016 presidential election, I kept thinking about Stephen Cone. Raised in South Carolina and currently residing in Chicago, Cone has directed a range of shorts and features, though he’s perhaps best known for a pair of films that sketched warm and even-handed portraits of Christian teenagers navigating the tides of faith and desire. ‘The Wise Kids’ (2011) followed a trio of high school seniors, linked by their South Carolina Baptist church and charting divergent paths post-graduation. Four years later, ‘Henry Gamble’s Birthday Party’ explored similar intersections of religious belief and burgeoning queer sexuality in its chronicling of the 24 hours surrounding the eponymous character’s birthday pool party at his parents’ suburban home. Cone’s sharp eye for detail and attitude of empathetic humanism toward a population oft-caricatured within independent film felt especially relevant in the post-election conversations surrounding the discontents between the ‘two Americas’ of religious rurality and secular urbanism. The more I spent time with Cone’s work generally and ‘Henry Gamble’s Birthday Party’ specifically, however, the more his films seemed to speak to the challenge of how to confront the president’s corrupt bargain within the LGBTQ community. ‘Henry Gamble’’s understanding of would-be dichotomous ideas—piety and secularism, straightness and queerness, tradition and progress—reveals the limits of understanding and the paucity of imagination and empathy in that bargain. The Trumpian stance assumes that one can simply shift the positions that LGBTQ people occupy while maintaining an essentially us-versus-them structure. Cone insists that most people live the ‘us’ and ‘them’ roles simultaneously. To exist in the world is not to choose one identity over another, but rather to do the constant work of interweaving them together in ways that are frequently difficult, sometimes painful, and occasionally revelatory.”


"Review: 'Certain Women,' starring Michelle Williams and Kristen Stewart": A splendid review of Kelly Reichardt's acclaimed drama from The Gate's Andrew Parker.

“‘Certain Women’ isn’t merely a case of a masterful filmmaker working with great material, but of a hyper-realistic filmmaker at the top of her game. Reichardt depicts reality with the soul of a poet or painter and the eyes and ears of a documentarian. Her depiction of rural Montana life isn’t full of perfectly arranged details, but numerous rough edges on the people and their surroundings. It’s not a hick community worthy of derision, and these aren’t tales of privileged people learning some sort of lesson. These are stripped back depictions of life at its rawest and most realistic. Each story takes cues from established, sometimes disreputable genre – a legal thriller, a marital drama, and a meet-cute – and reduces them via a slow simmer to their essence and to the best kind of cinema. ‘Certain Women’ is restrained, but it speaks grandly to our basest instincts, beliefs, cultural prejudices, and flaws. These are intimate, close character studies that anyone could see themselves in, for better and for worse. In Reichardt’s Montana, a thick fog of silence in the still mountain air is cut only by people speaking, passing train whistles, various forms of rustling, and feet treading noisily on frozen earth. All the light on display is naturally occurring, and both visually and metaphorically it never reaches everywhere the viewer hopes it would. ‘Certain Women’ gives off an otherworldly feeling, but it’s a world that’s assuredly ours. It’s far from theatrical, but ‘Certain Women’ is a resoundingly empathetic work of cinema, one whose vistas and percussive outbursts are best viewed in the quiet of a theatre.”

Image of the Day

Chris Cornell, the late Soundgarden and Audioslave frontman, is eulogized by Caryn Ganz and Christopher D. Shea at The New York Times.

Video of the Day

One of the best performances I've seen this year is delivered by Cristela Alonzo in "The Actor," a brilliantly acted installment of Sigal Avin's essential short film series, #ThatsHarrassment. 

Matt Fagerholm

Matt Fagerholm is the former Literary Editor at and is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association. 

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