film April 13, 2012 By Marina Zogbi
Whit Stillman (director) on set Photo by Kerry Brown, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

Whit Stillman (director) on set
Photo by Kerry Brown, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

stillmanheader2 Whit Stillman
Filmmaker Whit Stillman’s small, idiosyncratic body of work is highly regarded, even venerated, by a discerning group of moviegoers. Arch, witty dialogue; cheerful but flawed characters; and a touch of social commentary mingle easily in his ensemble dramedies. It’s impossible to mistake a Whit Stillman film for anyone else’s.

His first feature, Metropolitan (1990), about a set of young, upper class New Yorkers, was full of razor-sharp dialogue and savage wit, yet it rang true emotionally and was embraced by many from less privileged backgrounds. Barcelona (1994), starring Taylor Nichols and beloved Stillman favorite Chris Eigeman, was a similar comedy of manners, but set abroad with considerably raised dramatic stakes. The relatively big-budget The Last Days of Disco (1998), starring Chloë Sevigny and Kate Beckinsale, along with Eigeman, may have been a box office disappointment, but it too boasted sharp dialogue, excellent performances, and engrossingly imperfect characters – the Stillman trifecta.

Which brings us (14 years later) to Damsels in Distress, a more lighthearted film, though set in a somewhat familiar milieu – an insular East Coast college campus – and featuring typically self-important yet fragile characters. Actress of the moment Greta Gerwig stars as Violet, ringleader of a group of girls who are figuring out their love lives while trying to save their fellow students from depression, bad odors and general low standards, mainly through dancing. Though Taylor Nichols has a small role as a teacher, Eigeman is noticeably absent.

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film October 17, 2011 By Marina Zogbi

ah 2 Alma Har’el   Bombay Beachfiller29 Alma Har’el   Bombay Beachah title Alma Har’el   Bombay Beach
In her captivating debut documentary Bombay Beach, Alma Har’el has managed to combine seemingly disparate elements into a unique vision that’s not quite like anything else in the genre. Using interviews, dance sequences, evocative music and the unusual and beautifully shot landscape, Har’el introduces us to denizens of southern California’s Bombay Beach, a rundown desert community situated on the Salton Sea. This unlikely body of water, formed when the Colorado River flooded the desert in the early 20th century, was once a glamorous resort destination. Its decline is emblematic of the now-tarnished American Dream, but Har’el finds beauty in both the desolate setting and her struggling subjects.
     Bombay Beach looks into the lives of three main characters: Red, a weathered but upbeat octogenarian who makes a living selling bootleg cigarettes; CeeJay, an NFL-aspiring teen who escaped the violence of inner L.A. for the relative calm of the desert; and Benny, a gifted, hyperactive 7-year-old whose devoted parents were once jailed for weapons possession. Woven into their stories are casually performed dances, inspired by each subject’s circumstances. Adding to the film’s dreamy ambience are Bob Dylan songs and music by Beirut’s Zach Condon, with whom Har’el has collaborated on several music videos. Bombay Beach was named Best Documentary Feature at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival.

PLANET spoke to Har’el a few days before her film opened in New York.

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film September 27, 2011 By Marina Zogbi

117 Jeff Nichols Take Sheltertitle57 Jeff Nichols Take Shelter
When Jeff Nichols’ Shotgun Stories was released in early 2008, critics and civilians alike embraced the young filmmaker’s tense, tragic tale of a feud between two sets of half-brothers. Heading the solid, mostly unknown cast was Michael Shannon, who’d previously given an awesomely unhinged performance in William Friedkin’s psychological thriller ‘Bug.’
     Nichols’ current film, Take Shelter, which opens this Friday, also stars Shannon, this time as Curtis, a husband and father whose nightmarish visions of an apocalyptic storm leave both character and audience questioning his sanity. The visually and emotionally intense film won the Critics’ Prize at Cannes and was a Grand Jury Prize nominee at Sundance.
     Take Shelter has a lot in common with Nichols’ debut – spare dialogue, heartland setting, strong family theme, and a solid cast (Jessica Chastain plays Curtis’ wife). But just as Shannon has gained visibility since his scene-stealing (and Oscar-nominated) turn as a troubled neighbor in Sam Mendes’ Revolutionary Road, Nichols himself has become sought after. His next movie, Mud, about two teens who find a fugitive on the Mississippi River, stars Matthew McConaughey and Reese Witherspoon.

PLANET spoke with Nichols during pre-production for Mud, currently being shot in his home state of Arkansas.

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film September 14, 2011 By Marina Zogbi
Caba Family Portrait by Dana Lixenberg

Caba Family Portrait by Dana Lixenberg

y title Pamela Yatesfiller29 Pamela Yates
“Sometimes a story told long ago will come back and speak to you in the present.” So begins Pamela Yates’ narration of her new documentary, Granito: How to Nail a Dictator. The line refers to her acclaimed 1983 film, When the Mountains Tremble, which uncovered the genocide of indigenous (Maya) people in Guatemala. In addition to introducing the world to Rigoberta Menchú, a young Maya exile who served as the film’s storyteller and who would go on to win the Nobel Peace Prize and run for president of Guatemala, the earlier film included footage that eventually became evidence against the military dictatorship responsible for the killings.
Filmed 20-odd years after When the Mountains Tremble won the Special Jury Award at the Sundance Festival, Granito: How to Nail a Dictator is the story of the efforts to bring General Ríos Montt and his cronies to justice. In 2003 Yates was approached by lawyers orchestrating the genocide case initiated by Menchú. Their quest for more evidence prompted Yates to exhume unused footage from her previous film. She found herself reliving that earlier time when, as a young filmmaker, she gained the trust of both Guatemalan Army generals and young indigenous guerillas, as well as survivors of the killings. Granito features several of these characters then and now, and follows the genocide case’s progress as it reaches the Spanish Criminal Court. The film is both important historical document and history-making in itself.

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