Theater of the Week: The Bijou in Iowa City, Iowa
BORN:1972 AFFILIATION: Student-run non-profit at The University of Iowa SPECIAL SKILLS: The only independent art house for who-knows-how-many miles around shows many different formats (see below), and is entirely student run, which is super cool. DCP ?: Yes, but can also show 35mm, 16mm and even 8mm (bring those home movies) FIRST ZEITGEIST MOVIE: Umbrellas of Cherbourg, 2003 PRICE OF...
Have a Crushed Nun with the Quays →
MoMA has a Quay Brothers inspired cocktail! Created by the Quay Brothers themselves, the drink, named for this scandalous 18th century portrait, mixes “absinthe, fresh blueberry syrup infused with Strega (an herbal liqueur similar to Chartreuse), sparkling rosé and Angostura bitters,” according to Ehren Ashkenazi, bar director at The Modern—a job title that brings surges of jealousy. ...
Now on DVD & digital: THE SALT OF LIFE
Spice up your life with this warm and witty Italian hit, available on DVD and digital (including Netflix and iTunes) today — get it here!
DON'T MISS OUR AMAZING QUAY BROTHERS PHOTO CONTEST →
Follow the link for full description, rules, and prizes!
Quay Brothers at MoMA
Stop-motion animation auteurs the Quay Brothers will be at the Modern Museum of Art on August 9th, 2012 (a Thursday) to introduce their film Institute Benjamenta as part of MoMA’s retrospective on the twin brothers (On Deciphering the Pharmacist’s Prescription for Lip-Reading Puppets). They still look mostly like they do in the above photo, but you should see for yourself in person...
Theater of the Week: Pittsburgh Filmmakers in...
BORN: 1971 AFFILIATION: Pittsburgh Filmmakers is a 501(c)(3) non-profit arts organization. SPECIAL SKILLS: the Regent Square Theater’s Sunday Night Classics series (a great way to conclude the weekend), Film Kitchen at Melwood (a monthly program of locally made films and videos, now in it’s 13th year) and hi-end 16mm projection (yes, it still exists). DCP ? : Currently...
Theater of the Week: The Magic Lantern in Spokane,...
(image and additional info from http://classyeats.blogspot.com/2010/01/magic-lantern-spokane.html) (RE)BORN: 2009 SPECIAL SKILLS: $3 bottomless popcorn. There is nothing else to be said. Perfection achieved. Owner Joe Davis discovered the Magic Lantern in the nick of time - after showing a short at the theater in 2008, he discovered that the Lantern was to be no more. Instead of mourning...
A Chat with Yung Chang
Director Yung Chang is no stranger to Zeitgeist’s offices – the Chinese Canadian filmmaker has been a familiar face here at Z since he won multiple awards for his 2007 documentary Up the Yangtze. Back now for the release of his latest, China Heavyweight (also a documentary), Chang and I sat down for a chat about boxing, filmmaking, and a famous feud involving a certain mopey Canadian. +++ I read...
Theater of the Week: The Ruth Sokolof Theater in...
BORN: July 27, 2007 AFFILIATION: Operated by Film Streams, a non-profit organization dedicated to furthering the concept of film as art and encouraging educated discussion of cinema. Oscar-winner Alexander Payne is a board member and frequent collaborator. SPECIAL SKILLS: The theater offers a monthly Free Student Night (first Monday of every month), and their concession stand offers wine,...
Our Neighborhood: Survival of Serena
Not far from us (until September 26) is this beautiful piece by NYC-based sculptor Carole Feuerman - a slightly modified version of a sculpture she showed at the Venice Bienniale in 2007. From the artist’s website: “Originally, I was going to name the sculpture Serena, after La Serenissima, an island of the city of Venice. However, I decided to title it Survival of Serena,due...
Theater of the Week: The Plimoth, in Plymouth,...
BORN: September 2007 AFFILIATION: Operated by Plimoth Plantation, a national, not-for-profit, bi-cultural, living history museum in Plymouth, MA. Films are shown in the Plantation’s Visitor Center’s 220 seat Linn Theater. SPECIAL SKILLS: Beer and wine on Saturday nights, fresh organic popcorn with real butter(!), showcasing of Native American films DCP ?: Digital projection (but not...
Theater of the Week: Miami Beach Cinematheque
BORN: First in 2003, then in its current location in 2011. AFFILIATION: The Miami Beach Film Society owns and operates the Cinematheque SPECIAL SKILLS: Where to begin? First of all, LOOK HOW BEAUTIFUL THIS THEATER IS. Secondly, your popcorn is made by The Raleigh Hotel and can be covered in dark chocolate, white chocolate, or white truffle oil. DCP ?: High def digital — “High...
China Heavyweight opens at the IFC Center July 6 →
We’ll see you there! yungfilms: Mark your calendars! Our US release of China Heavyweight starts JULY 6 at the IFC CENTER in NYC!
Theater of the Week: The Showroom Cinema of Asbury...
BORN: Opened in 2009 by Nancy Sabino and Mike Sodano AFFILIATION: Works with the Asbury Park Film Initiative and the local arts organization ArtsCAP, and together they have created AP IndieFest, as well as The AP in 3 Contest for “homegrown” filmmakers. SPECIAL SKILLS: Popcorn hand delivered to your seat! Plus local vegan ginger cookies and personal introductions before each...
Our Neighborhood: Posteritati
One of our nearest and dearest neighbors, Posteritati is always on our minds (because we’re lusting after their latest acquisitions). And we’re not the only ones - The Village Voice, NYT Style Magazine, and Vanity Fair (among others) have covered this amazing SoHo treasure. Full disclosure: Posteritati is the exclusive carrier of Zeitgeist Films posters, including that Sam Smith Elena...
Theater of the Week: The Belcourt Theatre
AFFILIATION: Independently owned and operated, thanks in part to the support of Belcourt Theatre Inc. (formerly Belcourt YES!), a not-for-profit organization that helped to reopen the theater (see thorough history lesson below). SPECIAL SKILLS: 16mm outdoor showings (against the side of the theater), special posters designed by Sam Smith (see more on that below) DCP ? : Aside from...
Theater of the Week: Fine Arts Theatre
AFFILIATION: Not associated with any film societies or the like, but The Fine Arts does play host to the Asheville Jewish Film Festival and QFest, a LGBT festival. SPECIAL SKILLS: Affordable concessions in the lobby ($2 Sno Caps?!) and a wide selection of local beers to enjoy with your favorite art house film. Also they have this incredible list of every film they’ve ever played....
SEE “ELENA” IN ITS OPENING WEEKEND* AT FILM FORUM...
By now you may have seen our fabulous poster for ELENA and read about the signed, limited edition screenprint by designer Sam Smith. We are offering two of these screenprints signed by director Andrey Zvyagintsev for two lucky winners of our Film Forum raffle. If you see ELENA at Film Forum in its opening weekend (*Wednesday 16th through Sunday 20th May), save your ticket stub and we will enter...
Theater of the Week: BAMcinématek
Quick Stats: BORN: America’s oldest performing arts center was first founded in Brooklyn Heights in 1861. The original building burned down in 1903, and the current location in Fort Greene opened in 1908. BAM Rose Cinemas opened in November of ‘98, and our beloved BAMcinématek came to be in July of 1999. AFFILIATION: These fall under the larger umbrella of BAM = Brooklyn Academy...
Our Neighborhood: 1909 Police HQ
We stumbled upon this blog post about the 1909 NYPD Headquarters recently, and it reminded us how often we take New York for granted. We’ve lived across the street from this historic (and beautiful) building for quite some time, and never gave it more than a passing thought until we read Daytonian in Manhattan’s blog post about the history of 240 Centre St, now known as the Police...
Here’s a glimpse into the process of printing Sam Smith’s beautiful Elena poster. Available for purchase here!
Theater of the Week: The Crest Theatre
Quick Stats: BORN: As The Empress, a vaudeville house in 1913, then became The Hippodrome, a movie theater in the 20s, before being gutted and reopened on October 6,1949. AFFILIATION: Works with Pacific Film Resources to book films, as well as local artists to present special film series such as Verge at the Crest, showing films about art like BILL CUNNINGHAM NEW YORK, which raises money for...
Director Jennifer Baichwal and author Margaret Atwood visited New York’s beloved Film Forum to answer audience questions (and a few from programmer/publicist Mike Maggiore) after a screening of their new film “Payback”. We had the fortune of being there to capture the wit and wisdom of these two grand women, which we now pass on to you! We’re pretty sure you owe us.
Interview with Jennifer Baichwal
R: Did you always know that you wanted to go into documentary film?
J: I did not know that, and in fact, I first started reading Margaret Atwood in grade… eight [laughs], and I had a literature teacher named Miss Defortune who gave me all these Margaret Atwood books to read and… when I was going to the festival with her, to Sundance, I was sitting beside her on the plane thinking “I just can’t imagine the trajectory of, you know, reading this person’s books in grade eight and then here I am, what, thirty-two years later, sitting on a plane beside her, having made a film from one of her books. Anyway, I did not know I wanted to be a filmmaker. I was studying philosophy and comparative religion at university. I did a master’s, and I was sort of on my way to becoming a teacher, or having an academic life of some kind, doing research. I wrote my thesis and I was very demoralized by how narrow the academic medium is. You can argue that it’s elite – it’s so specialized that very few people have access to it. And I thought, “Do I really want to spend the rest of my life in this narrow place?” I kind of thought, “Wouldn’t it be interesting to think about these same questions in a more lateral medium, a more creative medium?” And I just decided to make a documentary about personal identity, and I got a few grants from different organizations to do it. I had no idea what I was doing – NO idea. I made horrendous mistakes, like editing on VHS tapes with no timecode, with two VHS players – can you imagine? But I made this film about women [Looking You in the Back of the Head] and personal identity and that’s how it started. And that was a small thing. But as soon as I started doing it, I thought, “Oh god, I’ve really found the thing I want to do.” And then the big project that came after that – that little film was sort of my school – was the film about Paul Bowles [Let it Come Down: The Life of Paul Bowles], that’s here at Zeitgeist. That took about ten years to make. So that’s how it started.
R: Do you think your research background has helped you as a filmmaker?
J: I really do. I think that all the things that I was interested in then, I’m still interested in now. You know, research is a HUGE component of our films in general because we don’t – I don’t write a script, because I just think it’s ridiculous to write a script about reality. You can’t make reality conform to your predetermined idea of what should happen. Documentary really is about being in the moment and figuring out what’s going on and reacting to what’s going on. But you have to have a huge background of research to be able to be comfortable in that moment. You need to know what is happening around you, in a way. And awareness comes from, I think, for me, research. So I spend, often a year researching a film. Shelby Lee Adams [The True Meaning of Pictures] was a year. Payback took a year to figure out whether it could even be made into a film. So it’s a huge component to our work. But also the questions that I’m asking of the ideas that we’re exploring are very much the same ideas that I was thinking about then. They’re all very open-ended. It’s more creating a space to think about something than giving an answer to a question.
R: In Payback, and even in Manufactured Landscapes, as well – I saw in the special features of that that some people had said that you weren’t so critical of this devastation to the planet, but you make it easy for the audience to come to that themselves without feeling that it’s been imposed upon them.
J: Or they’re being preached at.
J: You know, many documentaries, maybe the majority of documentaries, are linear arguments. They have a thesis and the film is intended to advance that thesis in some way. I feel like I’m drawn to subjects that are not so black and white, because I really don’t think that things are black and white. I don’t think that it is that easy to come to a conclusion. I think there’s always contextual information that changes what you think about something, and I think I’m drawn to subjects that also do that, so Burtynsky’s work is very much – his photographs are completely ambiguous because they’re beautiful, but they’re about garbage, waste and destruction. You know, you’re caught in this very strange experience when you’re looking at them, and that is their power. That’s what leads you to think about them more. And in the case of Payback, you know, that whole book was a riff on “What is debt? What really is debt?” You know? And if you unpeel all the layers of what we normally associate with debt, it comes down to some very basic observations about human interaction. Money is a symbol of exchange. In essence, money is meaningless. It has meaning because we have given it meaning. So when you think about all the ways that we interact with each other every day and other species and the planet in general – it’s always kind of give and take, which is creating tiny little imbalances, or huge imbalances in the case of the Gulf oil spill, all the time. The question is, “How do you get that back into balance?” And sometimes you can’t. So that, to me… I’m drawn to open-ended inquiries.
R: You talk [in Payback] about the debt to the planet. Has making your movies changed the way you live or think about sustainability?
J: Ethics was one of my areas of interest when I was studying. I’m really interested in what is a moral life, and what is a moral life that comes from some other source, like a religious source or believing in some kind of philosophy, and what is a moral life that doesn’t have a source like that. So I do think about those things all the time, but every one of our films has brought me to places that I never would normally go to, and immersed me in worlds that I would never normally be exposed to. And that’s a huge privilege of this work, but it also sort of creates these indelible experiences that my consciousness is changed from. Being in the factory floors of China for example, or the slag heaps where things go to, where we discard them, was a profoundly changing experience. I mean, we’ve always been ecologically-minded, but that was – that took it to a whole other level with me. I do think that when you witness something you’re responsible for but would never normally see – that’s what Burtynsky’s photographs do, that’s what you see in Payback in the tomato fields. I don’t think we meditate on where the tomato comes from very much and I know there’s more and more awareness about tracing food, but you know, we assent to an economic system that has a bottom, and this is what the bottom of that system looks like – these people who work in those fields. It’s untenable. It’s outrageous that people have not just those kind of living conditions and working conditions in general, but that on top of that there are actual cases of slavery in that world, where people are exploited even beyond the usual, in shocking ways. I think that that, once you realize that, you go “Oh my god! I’m implicated in this! And I didn’t even know about it!”
R: Even just by choosing to go to one store over another.
J: Yes, don’t go to Publix. Don’t go to Publix supermarkets because they refuse to sign the Fair Food Agreement. What [the Coalition of Immokalee Workers] has achieved is extraordinary, but there’s still so much to do there. I think that a change of consciousness does lead to a change in behavior because you can’t go back. It would take a real cynic to not care.
R: Yeah, to decide “There’s nothing I can do, so I’m not going to do anything.”
R: But that’s how so many people are, I think. Not that they don’t care, but that people feel that their choices don’t make that much of an impact.
J: Well I think when you’re given a choice, then you can make a difference. So you can make a choice to buy your tomatoes from somewhere that participates in the Fair Food Agreement. That’s not that hard.
R: But you have to be informed that you have that choice.
J: So you go online, on the website and find it out! Or go see the movie and find the [CIW] website at the end of the credits and find it out. We had this great Q&A with Raj Patel at Sundance, and someone said “What can I do? I’m just one person, I don’t know what I can do,” and [Patel] said “Don’t underestimate yourself! You can do a lot.” ¬Like, “hop to it” kind of thing, stop making excuses.
R: You were approached to make this film, right? It was commissioned?
J: It started with the National Film Board and this really wonderful producer there [Ravida Din]. To have a producer like that was an incredible experience because she was there whenever you needed her, even though we didn’t live in the same city, and endlessly supportive of all the sort of turmoil that I go through whenever I’m making a film. But she called and asked me. She got the rights to it because she’s a huge Margaret Atwood fan – in fact, she got the rights before she even read the book! And then she read the book, and phoned me, and I said “No. I’m sure these lectures are about money –” I hadn’t heard the lectures yet and I said “Here’s four people who I think would be way better at making this film than me, who are used to this kind of investigative essay-type film.” She said “I just want you to read it.” As soon as I read it and recognized that thing that I was saying before – that I’m drawn to a kind of open-ended, rich exploration of an idea – I was hooked. I thought, “How would I make this into a film?” I asked Ravida if I could have six or eight months to just try to write a treatment and think about it, and if at the end of that process I didn’t think I could do it or she didn’t think I could do it, then we’d just walk away from it. But if at the end of that process it seemed like there was something that would work, that could be intelligently translated into film – there has to be an intelligent translation, otherwise there’s no point in doing it.
R: You don’t wanna screw up Margaret Atwood.
J: Oh god, that too. The intimidation of that, for sure, but also just in general. Why make a film about something that is not inherently filmic, that doesn’t make sense in the language? And I think I came to the point of view thinking, “I can make this book into a film if I find real stories that exemplify in a visceral and emotional way, as well as an intellectual way, not an abstract way, some of the themes that she talks about in the book.” And that’s how it happened.
R: So, with Conrad Black – I can see how you found him. I know that you interviewed many inmates to find Paul Mohammed, and the BP thing makes sense too, but I don’t understand how you found the Albanian men.
J: Well, revenge is a big part of paying back, right? I was trying to think about revenge culture and what it meant. There’s revenge culture and there’s honor culture, which is a little bit more complicated because it often involves deep troughs of discrimination that have been going on for a long time. It brings up a whole lot of other issues, like human trafficking, another issue where someone owns you, you owe somebody forever. Often human trafficking ends up in cases of prostitution, etc., and that brings up other issues that are morally repugnant, so I was trying to think of a story that dealt with revenge that you could see both sides of the story. And I came across this article in the New York Times by Daniel Bilefsky – a writer born in Montreal, but he is a correspondent for Eastern Europe, and he had done this story on a boy who had been trapped inside his house for eight years or something, and I thought that’s interesting. And we went to Albania and just spent time talking to different people in the mountains who were involved in feuds. Some were really complicated, some were not that complicated, and what really struck me about this story is that you could see both sides of the story. And the fact that the children were involved in it was tragic. The impact on their life is horrific.
R: I didn’t know who to believe!
J: I know. I still don’t really know. I go back and forth. I mean, I spent time with one of them and, well, obviously you shouldn’t shoot someone if you’re having a fight with them. Like, let’s just say that can be a ground rule. But, beyond that, it’s tough to know how to get out of that. It feels like an intractable situation.
R: Do you stay in contact with any of the people in the film?
J: Oh yeah. All of the people in the film. We asked BP many times for an interview and they wouldn’t give us one, which is interesting. But the water keeper there – we’re very good friends with the Lake Ontario water keeper, and we do pro bono work for them and are involved with them. They’re wonderful. I keep in touch with the mediator in Albania – they’re still fighting. I check on them from time to time. Paul Mohammed is getting out of jail soon, and so he – we’re sort of hoping that he turns over a new leaf in some way. And the Coalition, of course. Once you spend time with people, I mean they just sort of become part of your life in some way.
R: I read in the essay about Paul Bowles that you wished that you had spoken to him more right before he died.
J: Or just hung out with him. All of my time with him was so specific. It was a lot of time, but it was all toward the end, sort of getting it down before he died. By the time I went back to show it to him, he was already quite ill. Ideally I would have just hung around for a few months to kind of just be with him, and I couldn’t, but I wish I had.
R: It’s great that this movie’s coming out now, right off the heat of the Occupy movement and all these movements about student debt – at what point do you stop filming? Because, there has to be a point where you see things that could be relevant to your work, that would have been great to have in the film, that happened too late to be included.
J: It was all happening when we were editing the film, and you’re right, you could just keep going. I know people who are working on Occupy stuff now and it’s a vital story that needs to be told. It’s not over yet. It’s still in the air. We were just in Hong Kong, and there was an Occupy site down at the bottom of one of the banks, which was great. When I said that whole “being in the moment involves a great deal of research” – for me documentary is about having a plan but being able to abandon the plan at any moment. And if you have no plan, which would mean you kept filming forever, bascially – you could do that, you could film everything and you’d film it forever [laughs], so you do have to limit yourself. Having too much of a plan creates a rigidity that you don’t see what’s happening around you. There has to be a balance between the two.
Theater of the Week: Burns Court Cinema
At Zeitgeist, it’s not just about the quality of the films we show, but the fabulous places we’re able to play them. We are so fortunate to screen our films at some of America’s greatest art houses, and we want to show our love to these great local places keeping independent cinema alive and well across the country. Every week, we plan to highlight a theater we love playing with...
Atwood on "Payback" →
Ebert on "The Salt of Life" →
The Terrors of Adapting Atwood →
Director Jennifer Baichwal talks about the (lengthy) process of adapting Margaret Atwood’s Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth.
NY Mag's SXSW Fashion Slideshow →
It’s not Bill’s On the Street, but it’s nice to look at all the same!
Bill Cunningham in The Guardian →
Beautiful slideshow of some of Bill’s work on The Guardian site.
Happy Valentine's Day!
Love is in the air over here at Zeitgeist… and it’s made us uncharacteristically generous. Not only did we make TWO valentines for you to print out for that someone special - we also compiled a list of movies we think you’ll find ultra-romantic (in different ways). First, the cards. This one’s from Vision, because nothing says “I love you” like a vow of...
Essential Movie Tumblrs →
Flavorpill has put together a great list (link is in the title of this post, just click) of great film blogs, including some that we love to follow like The Final Image, and Movie Poster of the Day which is curated by our designer Adrian Curry! And if you like Movie Poster of the Day, we highly recommend its goofy cousin Movie Posters Separated at Birth, like the duo here.
AARP Declares BILL CUNNINGHAM NEW YORK One of Best...
AARP The Magazine named Bill Cunningham New York the best documentary for grownups of 2011. And Bill’s in good company (including Queen to Play as a runner up for best foreign film too)!