by Walter Chaw About three hours into the six-hour drive to Telluride, I feel something unknot. It's somewhere between my shoulder blades. My head clears. I find myself stopping more this year than I have in years past. I pull off onto more scenic overlooks. I push my teeth into the journey.
December 19, 2004|A man who needs little introduction in American cinema, Morgan Freeman is taller in person than you'd expect (slimmer, too) and gracious to the point of delaying his lunch so that we could finish our conversation. In town to receive a lifetime achievement award at the 27th Starz Denver International Film Festival, Mr. Freeman granted interviews with no specific movie to hump, his long-awaited reunion with director Clint Eastwood, Million Dollar Baby, still flying low on the radar at that point. He was there sans agenda, in other words, a rare place to find an interview subject and an invitation--a daunting one--to go over some ground that has already been trampled flat. The challenge of chatting with someone as well-known as Mr. Freeman is always going to be finding something new to discuss: even if you come up with a fresh question, after all, like anyone polished in the apple of the public eye, the super-famous and the oft-dissected have developed a skill for reverting to stock answers and widely-published responses. (As the saying goes, they answer the question they wish they were asked.) It's not affectedness, exactly--it's training. And after a while, that training becomes as helpless a reflex as blinking.
December 5, 2004|"It's just orange juice, no vodka," I said, pointing to my little plastic cup emblazoned with the brand name of a certain Russian beverage that, this autumn morning, was also a sponsor for the ten-day 27th Starz Denver International Film Festival. "Would've been all right with me," Kevin Bacon assured. Spectral in frame and bearing, Mr. Bacon is in town to receive the John Cassavetes Award--an honour that would seem questionable but for the actor's recent output: unfailingly maverick, skirting with dangerous. Handsome in a feral sort of way, he's best known for his iconic turns in guilty Gen-X pleasures like Footloose, Flatliners, Diner, and, at the top of the heap, Tremors, and yet a closer look at Mr. Bacon's career reveals his tendency towards the dark in the middle of the tunnel as a thing a long time in the making. His is a gallery of rogues and misfits stretching from a bit part in JFK (which the actor cites as a breakthrough for his career) to psychopath performances in films like Criminal Law, The River Wild, and Murder in the First. Between his work in last year's criminally dismissed In the Cut and now The Woodsman, a cautious ode to a recovering pederast, it's possible that Bacon will finally stop being a prisoner of his good-guy, middle-American hero image.
October 24, 2004|Wearing a baseball cap and red jacket, Bill Pullman seems like any other sturdy middle-aged guy. He does, that is, until he talks. Like his screen persona, Mr. Pullman chews over his words with careful, delighted concentration--his speech is laced with just a hint of savoury, not the least because of his affection for "hmmm" as a lead-in to his laconic delivery. There's something about this vital sense of Mr. Pullman always being in the process of discovery (of evolving, if you will) that I suspect draws directors as creepily revolutionary as David Lynch, Wim Wenders, Wes Craven, and Thomas Vinterberg into his orbit. Mr. Pullman fights battles with himself in his performances, a sense of tension that's made palpable when he's matched with artists similarly engaged in refereeing the wrestling match between the intimate and the profane. In town for an experimental theatre project with which he's involved at the National Theater Conservatory, Mr. Pullman was joined for a few days at the 27th Starz Denver International Film Festival by Curtiss Clayton, who directed him in the filmed re-telling of Verdi's Rigoletto, Rick.
October 17, 2004|Taller than you'd think and luminescent on a drizzly autumn day in Denver, Kyra Sedgwick has a smile that lights up a room, even this cavernous warehouse space rented out for the 27th Starz Denver International Film Festival in LoDo. Best known for playing prettier versions of the down-to-earth romantic interests in which Amy Madigan used to specialize, Ms. Sedgwick is approachable and engaged in person, holding a cup of hot tea between her hands for warmth as she talks about the importance of hope in her films, even as her work of late has tended towards a darker hue. This is no doubt the influence of her husband Kevin Bacon's recent forays into the territory of the haunted, spotlighted by the fact that the couple have three collaborative projects out or in the works. Their latest, The Woodsman, finds Ms. Sedgwick cast opposite Mr. Bacon as the girlfriend of a recently-released child molester, a character reminiscent in her sexual liberation of the one she played in Personal Velocity. Ms. Sedgwick has never struck me as the type looking for fame--there is a quality to her work that suggests something as indefinable and inadequate as "carefree." It wasn't that much of a surprise for me to learn that Carole Lombard is one of her idols.
June 22, 2003|Aspen's NXT lounge and nightclub has, off its main floor, a series of smaller rooms and bars decorated in various shades of dirty opulence. Serving as the base of operations for the 12th Aspen Shortsfest, there I met dark complected Scott McGehee and silver-haired David Siegel--co-hyphenates behind icy technical pictures Suture and The Deep End--in a 20' x 30', glass-walled room sporting three over-stuffed love seats and little padded ottomans with Corinthian flares that I'm sure have a name and work well as a tape-recorder stand. After a brief, bonding conversation about the sorry state of modern film criticism (fed by the sorry state of modern major-daily entertainment editors) and the lack of a critical tradition in the United States in comparison to Europe, we moved on to Suture.
October 26, 2002|The writer-director of the nifty Interview with the Assassin, a Blair Witch construct involving suburban bogeys and the hypothetical existence of a gunman on the grassy knoll, Neil Burger arrived for our interview at Panzano restaurant in the suddenly chic downtown Denver. Tall, thin, dapper, Mr. Burger lives just six blocks from the World Trade Center site; over the course of our lunch, he recalled how large pieces of debris fell just feet from his home--and how an atrocity of that magnitude puts everything else into sharp perspective. We spoke about the massacre at Columbine High School near my house and compared notes on the funereal, vaguely psychotic atmosphere that followed our respective intimate tumults.
October 19, 2002|Stentorian in voice and a little dreamy in mien, Chen Kaige ("Tzen KI-guh"), one of the primary members of China's Fifth Generation of filmmakers, is a tribute guest at the 25th Denver International Film Festival. A group that included Zhang Yimou (a cameraman on Kaige's Yellow Earth prior to becoming a director), the Fifth Generation introduced more intimate stories told on a larger scale than the Chinese cinema that came before. It is a movement also marked by remarkably vivid colour schemes, interest in period pieces, and epic tableaux.
September 29, 2002|At once a startling exposé on the horror of Rwanda's 1994 genocide and a stirring portrait of heroism, Steven Silver's fantastic documentary The Last Just Man is a balanced, provocative film that demonstrates a steady hand at the rudder and an educator's philosophy at the helm. It is wrenching and difficult to consider one's own life from the same perspective once watched--thus it fulfills the noblest aspirations of the medium: to move, to inspire, to edify, all so professionally composed that it manages to disguise its mechanism. Finding the right balance between history and irony, outrage and careful consideration, is a devilishly tricky thing, and Mr. Silver carries it off with a surplus of apparent ease. I was honoured to chat with Mr. Silver on the telephone from Toronto this morning preparatory to the Colorado debut of The Last Just Man at the Argus Human Rights Festival.
October 26, 2003|For all the praise afforded it in recent years, Michael Mann's 1992 The Last of the Mohicans is still an undervalued film of big emotions, boasting of a macho sensibility more bracing than any number of post-modern ruminations on the cult of manhood. Above all its technical achievements and ecstatic scripting, it offers Magua, perhaps the most important modern depiction of any minority character and one that arguably, single-handedly, made the casting of the Native American as the impossibly noble Child of the Earth suddenly déclassé. Wes Studi is much of the reason for the success of Mohicans, his portrayal of Magua revealing depths that reverberate with me still, offering hope that Asians in American cinema might one day be as difficult to minimize as Native Americans have become. Tied in with that respect, however, is of course the reality that roles for Indians have become relatively scarce in recent years.
October 12, 2003|Talking with actors, especially young actors, is always an iffy proposition: the craft of acting is a difficult one to articulate, its choices obscure or instinctual, ideally, and in the case of a fresh talent, anecdotes are fewer and of less interest. So you find yourself, often, repeating the junket line: How'd you get started? What was it like working with X? Who are your influences? What's your next project? Questions, all, that only really need to be asked once in this day of fast, permanent information.
October 22, 2002|Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe--the team behind the Terry Gilliam documentaries The Hamster Factor and Other Tales of Twelve Monkeys and this year's excellent Lost in La Mancha--define a collaboration of complementary parts. Meeting the pair in a below-street level conference room at Denver's chichi Hotel Monaco, I was stricken by the realization that the two themselves resemble a Gilliam dyad (the duct repairmen of Brazil, perhaps)--they're an exercise in interesting, opposing body types. Gilliam, one can only conclude, is infectious.
September 30, 2002|While flipping through a magazine on a flight to Chicago in April 1997, Swiss director Christian Frei became acquainted with the work of photojournalist James Nachtwey, one of the most decorated artists in his field and the subject of Frei's remarkable documentary War Photographer, which debuts this week in Denver at the Argus Human Rights Festival. A fascinating, almost Lacanian separation of observer and observed indicates the piece, a film shot with a specially designed camera-mounted camera that provides an intimate point of view of the photographer at work. I had the pleasure of speaking with Mr. Frei this morning on the telephone to Switzerland as the director, fresh from a trip to Kabul researching his newest project, The Giant Buddhas, spends the next week and a half in his homeland.
October 24, 2001|Stricken with free-floating worry beneath a glowering sky, I was about fifteen minutes early for my interview with brothers Jacob and Josh Kornbluth at the swank Hotel Monaco in suddenly hip downtown Denver. I had spent most of the morning pounding espresso and dodging screaming fire trucks and ambulances chasing one another in a climate that made every peal of every siren an unpleasant reminder and a cause for concern. Walking up 17th Avenue, I was skittish and disquieted--hardly the appropriate frame of mind for a conversation with the writing/directing team responsible for the feather-light Haiku Tunnel, their debut feature, which is based on the office inferno monologues of older brother Josh. As it turns out, Josh, such a charming nebbish as the star of his own film, appeared as nervous as I, experiencing the very human anxiety of putting his work up for public scrutiny on an exhausting festival press junket.
October 17, 2001|Quick with a smile and a self-deprecating laugh, Patrick Stettner is not the dour cynic his films--the 14-minute Flux (starring Allison Janney) and his feature debut, the wicked The Business of Strangers--lead one to expect. I sat down to talk with the polite and effusive Mr. Stettner, who is utterly passionate about and eager to discuss independent cinema, among many other topics.