Trial by Fire
The film plods at points, trudging along, and there are a few misguided narrative "devices" tacked on, but still, "Trial by Fire" bristles with anger.
"Valerie Weiss on 'A Light Beneath Their Feet'": The director chats with me at Indie Outlook about her wonderful film, scheduled to screen December 3rd and 4th at the Whistler Film Festival in Canada.
“Since I started out as an actor, I have a good feel for what their process is. I also just love people, and I enjoy the experience of figuring out how to communicate with them, because everyone is so different. Taryn [Manning]’s process is almost the polar opposite of Madison [Davenport]’s process. Unlike in science, there are no concrete answers when it comes to direction, and there should be no judgment in how you get a performance from somebody. When we filmed the hospital scene, which is such an important and emotional moment in the film, I had been away from my two little girls for seven weeks. Something heartbreaking had happened to one of my girls, and she was missing me. I remember pulling Taryn and Madison really close and telling them this story, and I just started crying. They started crying too, and then we shot the scene. I asked them afterwards if it was okay for me to share that story, and if I was transgressing on their process, and they were like, ‘No, thank you for that.’ That’s what I love about actors. There aren’t a lot of social conventions that you can’t at some point find a reason to break. So much of our time in society requires us to put up filters and barriers because we’re nervous that we’re going to be penalized for being honest about who we are. That’s not natural, and it’s nice to let that go when you’re working.”
"I worked in a video store for 25 years. Here's what I learned as my industry died.": A great essay by Dennis Perkins at Vox.
“1. Video stores are about investment. The enemy of video stores was convenience. The victim of convenience is conscious choice. We watch Netflix like we used to watch television on a slow Sunday night, everything blending together as we flip aimlessly through the channels. At first the choice is overwhelming: all of these options and nothing but the questionable ‘You Might Like’ cue to guide us — we stare at the screen like idiots, paralyzed. But then when we make a choice, if we make a choice, it feels unimportant. Another option is only a click away. If you're actually in a video store, the stakes are different. You're engaged. You're on a mission to find a movie — the right movie. You had to get out of bed, get dressed, and go to a store. You had to think about what you want, why this movie looks good and not that one, perhaps even seeking guidance or advice. Whether it's from nostalgia, advertising, packaging, reputation, recommendation, or sheer whim, a movie chosen from the shelves attaches you to your choice. Before the film even starts playing, you've begun a relationship with it. You're curious. Whether you've chosen well or poorly, you've made a choice, and you're in it for the duration. With online streaming, we don't decide — we settle. And when we aren't grabbed immediately, we move on. That means folks are less likely to engage with a film on a deep level; worse, it means people stop taking chances on challenging films. Unlike that DVD they paid for and brought home, a movie on Netflix will be watched only so long as it falls within the viewer's comfort zone. As that comfort zone expands, the desire to look outside of it contracts.”
"Stephen Cone ('Henry Gamble's Birthday Party') Talks His Favorite Thanksgiving Movie, 'Home for the Holidays'": The acclaimed filmmaker champions Jodie Foster's undervalued gem at The Talkhouse.
“‘Home for the Holidays’ tells the story of recently fired art restorer and single mom Claudia Larson (Holly Hunter) and her trek home to visit her eccentric, slightly bonkers family over Thanksgiving. These days, I identify with Claudia more than any other character in the film (at 35, I’m a year younger than Hunter was when she shot the film), but at that point Robert Downey Jr.’s Tommy, Claudia’s brother, was my way in. As a South Carolina teenager slowly coming into his own queer identity, I had few options in terms of onscreen LGBT representation. The aforementioned ‘Philadelphia’? MTV’s ‘The Real World’? Was that it? Amidst the paucity of queer youth representation, the shock of encountering Downey Jr.’s gay Tommy in a deceptively light family dramedy that didn’t revolve around his existence was particularly revelatory. ‘Philadelphia’ had been About Homosexuality, ‘Home for the Holidays’ simply made room for it, providing a more directly relatable experience for someone just waking to sexual possibility. It’s interesting, too (and especially so for a ’90s teen), how playful and teasingly mysterious the film is in terms of sexual identity, leaving unanswered until the halfway mark the identity of Leo Fish (!), Tommy’s new friend played by Dylan McDermott, and later eavesdropping on the masculine phone interplay between Downey Jr. and his partner (‘I miss you, man.’). And then there’s the surprising cross-generational make-out session in the opening scene between Claudia and her boss, played by Austin Pendleton. (Little did this 15-year-old know he’d direct Pendleton one day!) All stunningly eye-opening for a Southern teenage film buff looking to expand his horizons.”
"Gordon Quinn Reflects on Five Decades of Changing Hearts and Minds": The co-founder of Kartemquin Films chats with Peter Kurie of the International Documentary Association.
“One of the things that's important in democracy is voice— a variety of voices. Kartemquin's earliest films were vérité, direct cinema. We thought if we held a mirror up to the world, like we did in ‘Home for Life,’ it would be enough to create social change. Well, it turns out we were wrong about that. Even though that film was quite successful, it was basically used by homes for the aged to improve how they treated their residents—as opposed to a film that started a national conversation about how we treat the elderly in general and where they fit in in our society.As we moved on through the '60s, we became more and more connected with the labor movement, with the Women's Liberation Union, both of which were very much represented within Kartemquin. We began to think about power relationships. If you look at our films like ‘The Last Pullman Car,’ ‘The Chicago Maternity Center Story,’ ‘Trick Bag’— these were sort of agitprop films, and they were very much focused on power relationships. The problem for ‘the movement,’ as we used to talk about it, and the problem for ‘movement filmmakers’ was always, How do you talk to people who aren't already sympathetic to your issue and to the kind of people portrayed in your film? After the fervor of the late '60s and '70s, the Kartemquin collective dissipated and we started thinking about new ways to engage with the democratic process. One of the things that a democracy needs is to find a way to create stories that can help different parts of a population understand each other, understand where people are coming from, what they're living with, that kind of thing.”
"'Mustang' is its director's message to Turkey about modern girls": Deniz Gamze Ergüven discusses her celebrated movie with Susan King of The L.A. Times.
“Born in Ankara, Ergüven, 37, moved to France when she was 6 months old. Though they briefly moved back to Turkey when she was 9, Paris has been her home. Every time she travels back to visit family in Turkey she's been disturbed at how things have changed. ‘Turkey is a very dynamic country,’ she said. ‘It was quite revolutionary. Turkey has had peaks of modernity. Women have been voting since 1930. The laws of the country protect women.’ In the last few years, though, Turkey has taken an extremely conservative turn. AKP, the country's ruling party, Ergüven said, ‘in the beginning represented themselves as a safe political bet. But since 2011, their rhetoric started to change. The question of women is always taking central part of their discord: What should [women] do? Have three children or four children? How should you give birth? They manage to whisper things in the ear of the entire society. After a while it's like a poison. It changes the shape and the path of society.’ The changes in Turkey were a driving force behind her desire to make ‘Mustang.’ ‘I had to articulate something and let these girls express their desires, hopes and dreams and take center stage,’ Ergüven said. Though "Mustang" is in Turkish, the drama is France's entry in the foreign-language film Oscar derby. And the country's choice to select her film is France's way of embracing the country's diversity, she believes. [The interview with Ergüven, as well as France's choice of ‘Mustang’ as its Oscar competition submission, took place before the terrorist shootings and bombings in Paris.] ‘It is who we are today,’ said Ergüven. ‘It is a very modern and radical choice.’”
"The Women of Hollywood Speak Out" to Maureen Dowd at The New York Times.
Our own Scout Tafoya presents "The 20 Greatest Films Directed by Women," as selected by critics at Fandor.
This message came to me from a reader named Peter Svensland. He and a fr...