All posts by Adam Schartoff

Theatrical Review: Trouble The Water

The following review originally ran as part of our coverage of this year’s New Directors/New Films festival on April 28th, 2008.
Trouble the Water
Directors: Tia Lessin, Carl Deal
Executive Producers: Danny Glover, Joslyn Barnes, Todd Olson, David Alcaro
Producers: Tia Lessin, Carl Deal
Cinematography: PJ Raval, Nadia Hallgren, Kimberly Roberts
Editor: T. Woody Richman (additional editing by Mary Lampson)
Music: Davidge/Del Naja, Black Kold Madina
U.S., 2007, 94 minutes
Trouble the Water is simply the best Katrina documentary I’ve seen to date. No disrespect to Spike Lee (When The Levees Broke) or the other noble works that have come out since the disaster (Axe in the Attic and Katrina Diary to name just two) but this movie hits every note just right. Lessin and Deal went down to New Orleans just five days after Katrina hit with no clear idea of what they were going to find. To their good fortune -and ours– they happened to meet Kimberly Roberts and her husband, Scott, a recently homeless couple at the Superdome. Prior to Katrina, the two had been living a very difficult existence in the impoverished Ninth Ward by selling drugs, something they touch upon in a one of the film’s more moving moments. The disaster, as tragic as it was, ended up affording them the opportunity to learn more about themselves than they would have otherwise; one lesson being that they were living miserable lives and were grateful to make a change.
Adding to that life-changing revelation is the fact that Kimberly, who had gotten hold of a video camera not long before the hurricane hit, ended up filming portions of her experience. Those clips, are both horrific and funny and much of it ended up incorporated into Trouble the Water. Hearing Kimberly’s remarks over her often manic camera work is another of the film’s amazing aspects. Her anxiety is palpable as the water rises inch by inch, engulfing their home. Though her regional dialect is at times hard to understand, the spiritual change she goes through over the ensuing days and weeks is very clear. As she and Scott confront the enormity of their situation, rather than lie down and give up, they rise above their circumstances.
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ND/NF 08: Three Films Reviewed

I was a bit disappointed that I didn’t make it to more of the New Director’s/New Films series which ended its 37th season on April 6th and all three of the films I saw were all worthy of distribution. They include Trouble The Water, a Katrina documentary co-directed by Tia Lessin and Carl Deal; XXY, Argentine director Lucía Puenzo’s narrative film about a couple’s struggle raising their hermaphrodite teenager; and Slingshot Hip Hop, a documentary about the Palestinian rap music scene in Israel, directed by newcomer Jackie Reem Salloum.
Trouble the Water
Directors: Tia Lessin, Carl Deal
Executive Producers: Danny Glover, Joslyn Barnes, Todd Olson, David Alcaro
Producers: Tia Lessin, Carl Deal
Cinematography: PJ Raval, Nadia Hallgren, Kimberly Roberts
Editor: T. Woody Richman (additional editing by Mary Lampson)
Music: Davidge/Del Naja, Black Kold Madina
U.S., 2007, 94 minutes
Trouble the Water is simply the best Katrina documentary I’ve seen to date. No disrespect to Spike Lee (When The Levees Broke) or the other noble works that have come out since the disaster (Axe in the Attic and Katrina Diary to name just two) but this movie hits every note just right. Lessin and Deal went down to New Orleans just five days after Katrina hit with no clear idea of what they were going to find. To their good fortune -and ours– they happened to meet Kimberly Roberts and her husband, Scott, a recently homeless couple at the Superdome. Prior to Katrina, the two had been living a very difficult existence in the impoverished Ninth Ward by selling drugs, something they touch upon in a one of the film’s more moving moments. The disaster, as tragic as it was, ended up affording them the opportunity to learn more about themselves than they would have otherwise; one lesson being that they were living miserable lives and were grateful to make a change.
Adding to that life-changing revelation is the fact that Kimberly, who had gotten hold of a video camera not long before the hurricane hit, ended up filming portions of her experience. Those clips, are both horrific and funny and much of it ended up incorporated into Trouble the Water. Hearing Kimberly’s remarks over her often manic camera work is another of the film’s amazing aspects. Her anxiety is palpable as the water rises inch by inch, engulfing their home. Though her regional dialect is at times hard to understand, the spiritual change she goes through over the ensuing days and weeks is very clear. As she and Scott confront the enormity of their situation, rather than lie down and give up, they rise above their circumstances.
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Continue reading ND/NF 08: Three Films Reviewed

Jonathan Demme Introduces “Harold and Maude”

What could be better than watching Harold and Maude on the big screen? How about a funny and touching introduction by Jonathan Demme who reflected on his long term friendship with the film’s late director, Hal Ashby. At one point, taking an informal survey from the crowd, Demme asked who in the audience had never seen Harold and Maude before (a significant number) and who had never seen a Hal Ashby movie before (a relatively small number). Demme flashed a typically warm smile and warned the audience that they were in for quite a treat. Thanks to the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s Young Friends of Film series, we got the opportunity to see the 1971 cult classic starring Bud Cort, Ruth Gordon, Cyril Cusack, Vivian Pickles, and Tom Skerritt in a small but unforgettable role. Also intrinsic to the movie’s greatness, the amazing Cat Stevens soundtrack. By the way, Paste Magazine recently published the rumor that the soundtrack will be finally available for the first time; hard to believe but apparently true. Look for it soon.

Video: Alex Gibney On “Taxi To The Dark Side”

Friday marked the New York City premiere of Alex Gibney’s Oscar-nominated documentary, Taxi to the Dark Side, the rather grim story of a young Afghani goat herder and taxi driver named Dilawar who is mistakenly suspected of being a terrorist by our military intelligence. Brought into Bagram for interrogation, Dilawar is subsequently tortured and killed by his interrogators. The ThinkFilm release gets to the darker truths, namely that not only is the intelligence questionable in the first place but that the interrogators were, in fact, young soldiers utterly untrained and inexperienced in the ways of proper interrogation techniques.
Matters are made worse when the soldiers are encouraged by their superiors to go to any lengths to get their confessions. In addition to the now prosecuted soldiers, among the interview subjects are New York Times journalists, various academics, politicians, former military brass and, most notably, Gibney’s own father who died during post-production. Frank Gibney, himself a former interrogator during World War II, best expresses the sense of outrage with the Bush Administration and as images of Bush, Cheney, Rumsefeld and Gonzalez flash across the screen it’s hard not to squirm in your seat by your own sense of frustration. There doesn’t seem to be any level of success when it comes to the administration’s war on terrorism, itself an unforgivable reminder of those who perished on 9/11.
Gibney, who also directed the award-winning Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, recently met with journalists and described the challenges and rewards of making Taxi to the Dark Side. Here are a few of clips from that interview.
Clip #1: Gibney discusses his father Frank’s experiences as an interrogator during WW II:

Continue reading Video: Alex Gibney On “Taxi To The Dark Side”

Theatrical Review: Persepolis

5.jpgPersepolis (Reviewed at the 44th New York Film Festival)
Directed by Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud
Written by Vincent Paronnaud and Marjane Satrapi
Based on the Original Graphic Novels by Marjane Satrapi
Released by Sony Pictures Classics
The Film Society of Lincoln Center wisely chose Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud’s Persepolis to close its 45th Season. The French language animated film, mostly in black & white, opens in theaters in both NYC and LA today. The film feels at once nostalgic and freshly new. Even for those who don’t primarily identify themselves as political, the story, adapted from a series of autobiographical graphic novels of the same name, is a universal one; that of a young woman’s journey from innocence to maturity. It just so happens that the back drop of her story includes the Islamic Revolution in Iran and the country’s turn from a socially progressive society to one of fundamentalism and fear.
Marjane (the voice of Chirara Mastroianni, Marcello’s daughter), our young heroine, is growing up in Tehran during a most tumultuous time. When we are first introduced to her, she is your average precocious nine year old but it’s not long before she experiences the loss of her beloved uncle who is executed as a war criminal. By the time she is 14, her parents, concerned for her safety, send her off to boarding school in Vienna. The scenes that follow, where young Marjane is so homesick for her parents (the voices of Catherine Deneuve and Simon Akbarian) and her grandmother (France’s legendary actress Danielle Darrieux) are among the film’s most gripping, where for all intents and purposes, you forget you are watching a cartoon.
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Continue reading Theatrical Review: Persepolis