Tag Archive | "film"

Diana Vreeland Ruled the Fashion World by Changing It

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Diana Vreeland in the New York City she shared with her husband Thomas. Mrs. Vreeland had Billy Baldwin decorate the apartment exclusively in red. She said, "I want this place to look like a garden, but a garden in hell." Photo courtesy Guild Hall.

Diana Vreeland in the New York City she shared with her husband Thomas. Mrs. Vreeland had Billy Baldwin decorate the apartment exclusively in red. She said, “I want this place to look like a garden, but a garden in hell.” Photo by Horst P. Horst.

By Tessa Raebeck

For half a century, Diana Vreeland, the longtime editor of Vogue magazine, was at the helm of the fashion world. She played a major role in transforming the industry from commonplace, conforming trends that rotated by the decade into iconic statements that helped celebrities blossom, recognized international contributions and enabled women to wear—and show—their personality.

“The fashion world changes all the time. You can even see the approaching revolution in clothes; you can see and feel everything in clothes,” Mrs. Vreeland, who died in 1989, once said.

In “Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel,” a 2011 documentary being screened at Guild Hall in East Hampton on Monday, July 21, Mrs. Vreeland’s life and career is celebrated through a fitting selection of celebrity interviews, groundbreaking images and her trademark outlandish statements.

“She was about ideas and about the magic of fashion,” art critic John Richardson says in the film.

Diana Vreeland's office at Vogue. Photograph by James Karales.

Diana Vreeland’s office at Vogue. Photograph by James Karales.

The documentary was directed and produced by Mrs. Vreeland’s granddaughter-in-law Lisa Immordino Vreeland, Bent-Jorgen Perlmutt and Frédéric Tcheng. It was honored as an official selection at both the Venice International Film Festival and the Telluride Film Festival.

“I wanted to understand Mrs. Vreeland’s relevance,” first-time director Ms. Immordino Vreeland wrote in an email July 12. “As someone who worked in fashion for many years, I always knew about her, but only knew about her extroverted personality. What I discovered was a woman that had such depth and used fashion to communicate a philosophical message.”

Often called the “Empress of Fashion,” Mrs. Vreeland ruled the fashion world during some of its most transformative decades—which were transformative in large part due to her contributions. Her work coincided with the civil rights and women’s rights movements; she launched Twiggy, advised Jackie Onassis on her signature style and featured in Vogue the first portrait ever taken of Mick Jagger.

“Mrs. Vreeland really brought us into a modern period and knew that fashion and the world were on their way to something much more global,” fashion designer Anna Sui says in the film.

“Diana was just so far ahead,” writer Bob Colacello adds. “I mean, it wasn’t just about fashion; it was about art, it was about music and it was about society—it was all woven together.”

“She would say, you’re not supposed to give people what they want; you’re supposed to give them what they don’t know they want yet,” he added.

After moving to New York City in 1936 to follow her husband Thomas’s banking career, Mrs. Vreeland began working as a columnist for Harper’s Bazaar, a job she was asked to take on after the editor Carmel Snow noticed her style.

She stayed at the magazine until 1962, and then went on to join Vogue, where she was editor-in-chief until 1971. Following her stint leading the world’s premiere fashion magazine, Mrs. Vreeland was a consultant to the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. She died in New York City in 1989 of a heart attack.

“There is no one in fashion who is like Mrs. Vreeland or anyone historically who can come close to her,” Ms. Immordino Vreeland said. “Her success in the world of fashion was the ability to give a message to people to seek for an inner meaning in life, not to accept the status quo and to push themselves to dream about the impossible. She encouraged curiosity and wanted people to be driven to passion. There are many very famous and iconic names in fashion, but none who continue to inspire people like Mrs. Vreeland.”

The film uses transcription from tapes George Plimpton recorded of his conversations with Mrs. Vreeland when they were preparing her autobiography as narration.

Mrs. Vreeland had a skill in finding the special and unique qualities in people and, rather than hiding them in the name of societal obedience, celebrating and emphasizing those distinctions.

“She saw things in people before they saw it themselves,” fashion designer Diana Von Furstenberg says in the film.

“She celebrated Barbara Streisand’s nose. She would push their faults, make it the most beautiful thing about them,” added Joel Schumacher, a director, screenwriter and producer known for films like “The Phantom of the Opera” and “St. Elmo’s Fire.”

Mrs. Vreeland spent time at the Factory and Studio 54, rubbing elbows with Warren Beatty, Jack Nicholson and Cher.

“All these people invented themselves,” Mrs. Vreeland says in the film. “Naturally, as the editor, I was there to help them along.”

“Vreeland inspired them, she had a very strong impact on them,” Calvin Klein says in the documentary.

Angelica Huston adds of her friend, “She made it okay for women to be outlandish and extraordinary.”

“Mrs. Vreeland, in a very unique manner, used fashion to dictate a way of life,” wrote Mrs. Immordino Vreeland. “For her, what was paramount in life was the freedom to ‘dare’ and she wanted everyone to do that. For her, the “outlandish and extraordinary” was an expression of the ability to be free and brave enough to do what you dream about doing.”

“Mrs. Vreeland believed in the celebration of life and in taking on everything,” the director added. “She felt that the impossible was possible to conquer if you had the belief in yourself and you had the possibility to dream; that was her motivation…She used fashion to tell a story of being unique, of standing out and of believing in oneself.”

In Mrs. Vreeland’s own words: “There’s only one really good life and that’s the life that you know you want and you make it yourself.”

The film will be screened at Guild Hall, 158 Main Street in East Hampton, on Monday, July 21, at 7 p.m. A panel discussion with filmmaker Lisa Immordino Vreeland and China Machado will follow. For more information or tickets ($15; $13 for members), call (631) 324-4050 or visit guildhall.org.

 

Pierson Middle School Student Calls on Classmates to Stick Up for Others in Anti-Bullying Film

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By Tessa Raebeck 

Bullying has come to the forefront of the national dialogue in recent years, but it’s always been a constant among seventh graders.

“We really wanted to take a stand against bullying,” said Olivia Corish, a seventh grader at Pierson Middle School, whose latest short film, “A Cry for Help,” has made waves as a statement against both being a bully and being a bystander.

Through the film, which was shot entirely on her iPhone and edited using Final Cut Pro, Olivia called on her classmates to be “upstanders,” or someone who “steps in and says you’ve gotta stop,” she said Tuesday.

In the film, shot at Pierson, a young girl played by Anna Schiavoni, Olivia’s best friend and go-to lead actor, traverses the school day as best she can, but is frequently intercepted by a herd of bullies as she navigates the halls.

Playing the “victim,” Anna’s character struggles when she has a sign saying “Loser” taped to her back, is not picked for a sports team in gym class and is first forgotten and later ridiculed when another girl is passing out invitations to her party. As she tries to get through the day, the victim is laughed at, pushed or completely isolated. Even taking a sip of water is dangerous, as a passerby shoves her head into the fountain.

Shot in black and white, the YouTube film is reminiscent of the silent films of the 1920s. There is no dialogue, only sad music, “I’m in Here” by Sia Furler and Sam Dixon.

In one scene, the victim is putting on lip gloss in the bathroom at Pierson as one of the bullies looks on. A dialogue frame pops onto the screen with words said by the bully, “Why are you wearing lip gloss? It’s not going to make you look any prettier.”

The decision to keep the film silent was in part logistical, as play practice was going on at Pierson while the film was shot, and audio “can be really hard,” Olivia said, but it was also symbolic.

“We also thought that our video shouldn’t be dominated by words. It’s kind of the small things that hurt,” Olivia said. “It’s the silent things—like maybe someone just bumping into you or laughing behind your back—and we thought that that really didn’t need any words to describe it.”

The turning point in the film comes when the lip gloss bully is confronted by the “hero,” played by Gabriella Knab, who serves as the story’s upstander.

The inspiration for the hero upstander came from a tolerance and anti-bullying conference Olivia and other Pierson students attended at the Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center in Glen Cove.

Every year, the center invites student leaders from across Long Island to participate in the half-day conference, at which they hear from a keynote speaker, then break into small groups to exchange ideas and action plans of how to combat bullying and prejudice in their schools.

“We try to be [upstanders],” Anna said Tuesday.

“As much as possible,” added Olivia.

“A Cry for Help” premiered May 10 at the inaugural Young Filmmakers’ Festival at the Hayground School in Bridgehampton. In the weeks since, it has received 135 views on YouTube and has been widely shared by Sag Harbor parents on Facebook.

Anna and Olivia, however, are more concerned with the tangible response to the film’s message they have seen in school.

“They have really loved it,” Olivia said of her classmates. “I think it really inspired a lot of them to take a stand against the small bullying that happens.”

Anna said she too has been inspired by her role as the victim in the film.

After a school year of watching a certain bully in her class pick on another student, stealing his food and being generally unpleasant, she decided to step in. Anna asked the victim whether he enjoys having his food stolen, to which he replied no (perhaps unsurprisingly).

“He was like, ‘No, not really, but I think it’s just one of those things that you let happen,’” she recalled. “And I’m like, ‘No. You’re not supposed to let that happen.’”

During the class period in which his food is traditionally stolen, the day Anna spoke up, the boy instead reportedly said to his bully, “Actually, I think I want to eat my food today.”

As of Tuesday, the bully was no longer asking him for food.

“And now it stops, like in my film,” Olivia said of her friend’s story. “Just like that.”

 

FILM URL: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=An_ZDfsr_pg

It’s More Than “Just a Sigh” for Bonnell and Devos

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Jérôme Bonnell and Emmanuelle Devos in the “Just a Sigh” film poster. Photo by Nobu Hosoki.

By Danny Peary

Just a Sigh fits my category Movies That Should Play in Sag Harbor.  For now Jérôme Bonnell’s (Le Chignon d’Olga, Les yeux clairs) critically-acclaimed quirky French romance is playing at arthouses in Manhattan.  Emmanuelle Devos is magnifique as usual as Alix, a stage actress who takes time off from doing Ibsen in Calais to audition in Paris for a tiny, silly part in a movie.  Unable to withdraw money from the bank or to reach her boyfriend back home by phone, the aggravated and somewhat irrational actress finds solace with the handsome married professor (Gabriel Byrne) she meets on a train and tracks down at his friend’s memorial. They are attracted to each other, but will they risk getting closer and even committing to each other before she must return to Calais later that night?  I respectfully didn’t ask Bonnell and Devos about the ending when we did the following interview.

Danny Peary,: Jérôme, have you seen Brief Encounter, the 1945 British drama with Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard? It’s also about a chance meeting by a man and woman in a railway station, and their passionate romantic interlude. Their relationship goes on for a longer time than Alix and the professor’s one-day affair, but was David Lean’s film an influence on you?

Jérôme Bonnell: I am familiar with Brief Encounter, of course, but I’ve seen it only a couple of times and don’t know it by heart.  Of course there are similarities with the train station and all that, but that movie is a lot more hinged on ideas of morality, lies, guilt, and culpability.  I didn’t want to explore those issues in my movie.

DP: What does your title mean to you?

JB: It comes from Casablanca–lyrics in “As Time Goes By.” It’s very far from the French title, Le temps de l’aventure, which means Adventure Time but is impossible to translate. In English it doesn’t mean the same thing at all. There are several meanings in French to the words time and adventure.  Adventure is about love and time is about…
Emmanuelle Divos: …the right time to do something.  Like the right time to live and the right time to love.  It can be the right era or the right age.
DP: So are you saying it’s the right time in their lives for Alix and the stranger—the professor played by Gabriel Byrne–to meet?
JB: Yes, that can be one of several interpretations.
DP: I think they both need to meet each other at that exact time in their lives.  I think that’s key to the movie.

JB: Oh, yes.
ED: I love coincidences because I don’t believe in coincidences.
DP: Do you think it is coincidence, fate, destiny or happenstance that they meet?
ED: I feel that the people we’re supposed to meet we do meet; and we meet the people we need to meet at the right time.  We meet them when we need to make a change in our lives, maybe in the way we think.  As actors we meet the directors we deserve or the directors that help us push what we can do in our art.
DP: They first meet on the train to Paris when he asks her directions to a church.  It seems like he is trying to pick her up. But in fact, he really does need directions to the church to go to a memorial, and a couple of scenes later, she goes there to find him. She makes sure they connect.  That’s not destiny, that’s Alix actually forcing the issue.
JB: Just because a character makes a decision doesn’t mean there’s no destiny. People make decisions all the time and there’s no premeditation there, things just happen.
DP: Alix at times seems totally irrational and her behavior is completely surprising and even shocking.  When she pursues him, it seems like the most irrational thing she could possibly do.  But with hindsight, after seeing the entire movie, I would say her decision to go after him is the one rational, good decision she makes.
JB: I do like that interpretation a lot–the act that seems the craziest ends up being the most rational and the one that makes the most sense. I haven’t thought of that before but I do like that.
DP: Emmanuelle, do you think it is a positive choice on her part to pursue him?
ED: Yes, this is a decision that she’ll be able to rely on for the rest of her life.  Even though she comes off as a little bit irrational and all over the place, this decision is like a building block for her. It’s like hard cement, a strong base for all the events that will happen to her in the future.
DP: What do you think the professor sees in her? Why does he respond so much?
JB: It’s hard to put into words what love at first sight, le coup de foudre, is.  I think it’s really impossible to define because the mere definition of it would make it smaller.   Maybe it’s something on the order of a revelation, when at the same time something is revealed to us, we reveal something inside us.

DP: Emmanuelle, I think Alix is very complex. When reading the script for the first time, did you understand her right away, maybe because you’re playing an actress?  Or did you not understand her until the end when something important about her is revealed?
ED: Before I shoot a movie, I think about it and work on it beforehand.  But then when I’m actually on the set, there are new things popping up every day about who I’m playing.  It’s like when you have a relationship with someone and they surprise you with new things about them, day after day. Until you are on the set, and there’s fire on the set, you don’t know what can come out of your character. I think we’re there to capture an instant, a moment, without having been able to see it before.  It would be really sad if we could have foreseen it.
DP: There’s a line where the professor says, “I’m not very good with pain,” and she says, “Me, neither.” But she’s an actress, and I think her whole life is full of pain and embarrassment.  And, Jérôme, you don’t make it any easier on her.  You set up all these obstacles to her having a pain-and embarrassment-free day.  She has no money, she has no phone, and when she tries to call her boyfriend from pay phones, she gets his voicemail or a band walks by and the drumbeat is deafening. She also has a difficult audition conducted by a numbskull who gives her ridiculous instructions.  Then there’s a visit with her sister and they get into it, literally. And when she wants to be intimate with the professor, his friend keeps turning up. At such times, I thought you might be making a comedy and I’m thinking, is this the life of a French woman, or just an actress, or a woman who’s having a terrible day? What were you trying to do?
JB: I sprinkled all over the film all these obstacles.  They were meant to be a humoristic device but they also were meant to say something about the times we live in. At the same time, they became the tools that allow her to find her freedom. When I was writing the script, and I came up with the idea of making her an actor, everything suddenly started to make sense. There was a new logic that revealed itself to me. I can’t even describe it more specifically. But I can say that it is actually possible to talk in depth about this film without talking about what it is to make a movie and to film somebody. Here I had two actors who revealed themselves to each other and at the same time, things about themselves were revealed through the other. When I filmed Emmanuelle I revealed things about her, and she helped me reveal things about myself.
DP: Alix’s audition is a great scene. What I found interesting, Emmanuelle, is that you’re playing an actress who is taking the emotions that have built during her aggravating day to help her play a woman who is having just as awful a day. Getting locked out of an apartment when naked is something that might very well have happened to Alix during her day!
ED: Alix goes through a lot of obstacles, and she too is kicked out and her clothes are stripped from her on many levels.

DP: In most current American films, there is a build up to the couple having sex, but we rarely see them having sex. So, Jérôme, talk about your decision to show them when they’re actually in bed.
JB: I didn’t really ask myself what I was going to show in the sex scene, I focused on what I was going to hide.  I showed some things but there were many others that I didn’t show. We show them in bed but never see them actually having sex. I tried to film that scene as if I was not watching them.  That’s ambiguous because I’m filming, so I’m obviously watching.
DP: You begin the film in Calais, so did you decide to set the rest of the film in Paris strictly because of its romantic nature?
JB: It’s in Paris because the noise, bubbly nature, and liveliness of the city serve as a counterpoint to the intimacy between the two characters. I like that a love story like this takes place in such a big city, and Alix, who is from Paris, feels like a stranger in her own hometown. I’m from Paris and I liked the idea of filming in my hometown as if I were watching it with a foreigner’s eye. I am a Parisian yet this is the first film I’ve filmed in Paris.

DP: Finally, Emmanuelle, how fulfilling was it to play Alix at this point in your career?
ED: It was very fulfilling.  There are a thousand reasons, but maybe the most important is that I was filmed with such attention, care and love.  And as Jérôme said earlier, by doing this film we revealed parts of each other to each other.  There was such intimacy and, at the same time, modesty and elegance.  That is so rare.

Documentary by Sag Harbor’s Kenny Mann at Bay Street Theatre

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Members of Kenny Mann's family with Kenyans. Photo courtesy of Kenny Mann.

Members of Kenny Mann’s family with Kenyans. Photo courtesy of Kenny Mann.

By Tessa Raebeck

Thursday night at 7 p.m. at Bay Street Theatre, Sag Harbor’s Kenny Mann will screen her documentary film, “Beautiful Tree, Severed Roots,” an exploration of identity based on her family’s experience living as Jewish immigrants in Kenya.

In 1942, Ms. Mann’s parents arrived in Kenya as Jewish refugees from Poland and Romania and stayed during the Mau Mau rebellion of the 1950’s and witnessing Kenya gain independence in 1963. The film deals with the issues of identity on personal, national and universal levels.

“There is a true majesty at work in this artistic effort,” said archivist Jackie Marks of the film. “It is a long song to Africa as well as a faithful historic record of a time when the country was entering a modern progressive age. More than that, it s a reflection on her younger self; serving as a mirror held up to the young people of today who are forging their identities in a world that is at once fragmented and hyper-connected. The film is a testament to the filmmaker’s gifts and to her ability to look into her own heart and to question.”

“Beautiful Tree, Severed Roots” will screen Thursday, March 20 at 7 p.m. at Bay Street Theatre, 1 Bay Street in Sag Harbor. Tickets are $10, available at the door for cash only. A portion of the proceeds will be donated to Bay Street Theatre. To watch the film’s trailer and learn more, visit rafikiproductions.com. For more information, call Bay Street at 725-9500.

Six-Hour, Multimedia Experience Challenges Conventions of Performance Art at the Watermill Center

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Kenneth Collins, Alaina Ferris and John Sully of the New York City-based performance group Temporary Distortion. Photo by Scott Fetterman.

Kenneth Collins, Alaina Ferris and John Sully of the New York City-based performance group Temporary Distortion. Photo by Scott Fetterman.

By Tessa Raebeck

The same performance could be enjoyed for 15 minutes or six hours—the only necessity is that the audience member has an autonomous, unique experience.

In “My Voice Has An Echo In It,” a new durational performance by the New York City based group Temporary Distortion, the traditional boundaries of performance and art are challenged in a six-hour, installation-based performance with live music, text and video. Temporary Distortion will present its latest work at The Watermill Center on Saturday from 2 to 8 p.m.

The performance comes at the end of the group’s two-week residency at the center, where its members have been developing the project, creating a site-specific installation and adjusting the ever-evolving final product.

Founded in 2002 by Kenneth Collins, Temporary Distortion has shown in venues across the world, including in Australia, the Czech Republic and Japan. According to the group, its  multimedia art “explores the potential tensions found between practices in visual art, theater, cinema and music.” Most recently, its focus has been on long, durational, installation-based performance with live music. Saturday will mark the first time the ensemble will consecutively perform all six hours of the material for “My Voice Has An Echo In It.”

Although the piece will run six hours in its entirety—and performers Alaina Ferris, Scott Fetterman, John Sully and Mr. Collins will perform throughout it—audience members are encouraged to come and go as they please.

“The audience can interface with it for however long they want to,” TJ Witham of The Watermill Center explained. “The audience is 100 percent in control, you can come and sit for the entire six hours if you want or you can experience it, go away and come back.”

The center is hosting a tour at 2 p.m., so that visitors can see the piece has started, take a tour of the building, grounds and art collection, and then reengage with the piece after their tour.

During its residency in Water Mill, the group has installed a corridor on-site in the center’s dining room space, alongside pieces from the art collection. While the performers are inside the enclosed box playing music and reciting text, accompanied by screens flashing text, images and video, the audience will use headphones to hear the material.

At the group’s New York City studio, it has installed a 24-by-6-foot hallway, which completely encloses the performers in a freestanding, soundproof box. Spectators watch the performance through two-way mirrors, so the audience can see inside the box, but the performer can only see his or her reflection. Following this weekend’s premiere, Temporary Distortion is bringing the show on tour through the United States and to France, using similar installations that interact with each building it visits.

“So what they’re presenting on Saturday is almost, in essence, like a dress rehearsal for them,” said Mr. Witham, adding the content of Saturday’s performance is yet undetermined, as the group is “creating it as they go along.”

Unlike traditional performances, the audience at “My Voice Has an Echo in It” is discouraged from trying to follow a progressive storyline or piece together some sort of plot; the intent is for people to engage, disengage and reengage, to create their own experience from what the group provides.

“The fact that an audience member could come at 2 p.m. and stay all the way to 8 p.m. and just listen to the music and hear the performance in the entirety and then someone else could come at 7:30 and be there until 8 and still have their own experience; that is a completely unique performative experience,” said Mr. Witham.

“It has the feeling,” he continued, “it’s connected with both performance and gallery installation, performance art installation—it’s extending the boundaries of what we consider performance and that’s obviously 100 percent at the core of what we do at Watermill and the kind of art what we want to support.”

The Watermill Center is committed to showcasing artists who are “doing what no one else is doing,” in the words of the center’s, Robert Wilson, and Mr. Witham said Temporary Distortion was an obvious choice for the residency program’s selection committee.

Dedicated to pushing the boundaries of theater and performance art, Watermill founder Mr. Wilson is known for his durational work. One of his earliest pieces, “The Life and Times of Joseph Stalin,” was 12 hours long.

“My Voice Has an Echo in It” will premiere Saturday, February 22, at the Watermill Center, 39 Water Mill Towd Road in Water Mill. The performance will run from 2 to 8 p.m. Reservations are free but required and can be made online here. For the 2 p.m. tour of the Watermill Center, reservations can be made here. For more information, visit The Watermill Center.

Alec Baldwin to Host “Vertigo” Screening at Guild Hall

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Courtesy of Guild Hall.

Courtesy of Guild Hall.

By Tessa Raebeck

Presented by the Hamptons International Film Festival in cooperation with Guild Hall, Alec Baldwin will host a special screening of Alfred Hitchcock’s masterpiece “Vertigo” Saturday, February 22 at 7:30 p.m. in the John Drew Theater at Guild Hall.

The timing is in honor of “Vertigo” usurping “Citizen Kane” for the top spot on the British Film Institute’s ranking of “The Top 50 Greatest Films of All Time,” released every ten years in its film journal, Sight & Sound.

With the most survey participants yet, the 2013 list was dictated by the votes of 846 critics, programmers, academics and film distributors. Since 1962, “Citizen Kane,” Orson Welles’ debut 1941 film that is widely recognized as one of – if not the – most influential films ever, has reigned supreme at the top of the list. This year, “Vertigo” seized the top spot with 191 votes, ending the 50-year reign of “Citizen Kane” by 34 votes.

The 45th film by suspense legend Alfred Hitchcock, “Vertigo” stars Jimmy Stewart and Kim Novak in a mysterious look at romance, paranoia and obsession set in San Francisco. Released in 1958, the twists, turns and recurrent Hitchcock themes continue to resonate with film critics and novice audiences alike 56 years later.

Alec Baldwin will present the film and host the evening. Tickets can be purchased online or at the box office at 158 Main Street in East Hampton. For more information, call 324.0806.

Feminist Filmmaker and the Modern Woman “In Montauk”

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Production still from "In Montauk." Courtesy of Kim Cummings.

Production still from “In Montauk.” Courtesy of Kim Cummings.

By Tessa Raebeck

Not known for its excitement, winter on the East End can be an ideal time for self-discovery and reflection; off-season Montauk thus provides the perfect setting for Julie Wagner, the soul-searching protagonist of Kim Cummings’ new independent drama/romance film, “In Montauk.”

“One of 2012’s indie highlights,” according to Richard Propes of The Independent Critic, the feminist film is set in Montauk in December. It stars Nina Kaczorowski as Julie Wagner, a young artist with a successful husband and a baby on the way, who has retreated to the end of Long Island in an attempt to combat the “growing feelings of uncertainty about the impending trajectories of her life,” according to the press release.

Writer/Director Kim Cummings.

Writer/Director Kim Cummings.

“It’s powerful and beautiful, tense in its emotions, and also draining (but in a good, ‘I just went on a personal journey and I’m spent’ way). In the end, the emotional effort is worth it,” Mark Bell of Film Threat says of the film, both written and directed by Ms. Cummings.

Through her production company, Siren’s Tale Productions, Ms. Cummings releases films in line with her goal “to present three-dimensional women and girls on film in nuanced storylines outside of the typical Hollywood roles of wives, girlfriends, mothers and other less flattering types.”

“In Montauk” portrays Julie Wagner grappling with how to fulfill her duty to her career, impending motherhood and marriage while still maintaining her individual identity. Through her struggle, Ms. Cummings offers an universal story of “confronting life’s imperfect choices in the hopes of coming to grips with one through which she can be true to herself.”

After a successful rollout on the festival circuit, picking up awards at the Toronto International Film Festival, the World Music & Independent Film Festival and more, “In Montauk” was released on DVD for the first time February 18. For more information, visit here.

Eighth Annual Black Film Festival Explores Roots

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Quvenzhané Wallis in Beasts of the Southern Wild which will screen at the Eighth Annual Black Film Festival this weekend. 

By Tessa Raebeck

On screen, he played the evil overseer who raped her character, the helpless slave. Off screen, they were dating.

“Imagine how hard it was,” said Tina Andrews, recalling her experience playing Aurelia in the hit 1977 mini-series “Roots.” Along with director John Erman, Andrews will discuss the groundbreaking television series at Southampton’s 8th Annual Black Film Festival Thursday.

Started in 2006 by the newly formed African American Museum of the East End in order to get the organization’s name out there, the festival has grown from a one-day event to a four-day experience. This year’s line-up features live jazz, spoken word poetry and panel discussions, not to mention an array of diverse, thought-provoking films. The featured filmmakers range from renowned documentarian Ken Burns to Kareema Bee, a 2013 scholarship recipient at Stony Brook Southampton.

“Opening night, we generally have a screening and panel discussion on a really important topic that needs to be shared,” explained Brenda Simmons, a co-founder of the museum and festival organizer.

The festival begins Thursday with a screening of “Central Park Five,” a 2012 documentary by Ken Burns, Sarah Burns and David McMahon. The award-winning film covers the background, investigation and aftermath of the Central Park jogger case, a notorious crime that made waves in 1989 when five Latino and African American male teenagers were arrested for the rape of a white woman in Central Park. They were proven innocent when a convicted rapist and murderer confessed to the crime 13 years later. Following the screening, a panel discussion will include Yusef Salaam, one of the Central Park Five, and four experts in related fields.

On Friday, Charles Certain and Certain Moves, the museum’s “house band,” will perform “jazz, rock, funk and R&B with everything in between — all with a smooth jazz twist.”

Local up-and-coming jazz singer Sheree Elder will also perform Friday evening, along with guest poets who will present spoken word poetry in a café type setting.

“We like to promote people who are starting out, give them a chance,” said Simmons. “Especially local people.”

Another young artist the festival is excited to feature is Kareema Bee, the 2013 scholarship recipient for the 20/20/20 film program at Stony Brook Southampton. On Saturday, Bee will screen “Tug O War,” a short film she wrote, directed and edited.

Also on Saturday, the festival will feature “Beat the Drum,” a family film.

“You have to understand how to deal with diverse, controversial issues,” said Simmons. “It’s a great film for young people.”

Nominated for four Academy Awards, including a nomination for Quvenzhané Wallis, the youngest Best Actress nominee in history, “Beasts of the Southern Wild” will screen Saturday.

Closing out the day Saturday is “I Am Slave,” a film based on the actual experience of Mende Nazer, a Sudanese girl who was abducted at age 12 and sold into slavery.

“It’s a thriller, but it’s a powerful, powerful movie,” said Simmons.

Academy Award-winning director — and longtime East Hampton resident — Nigel Noble will present two films Sunday, “Voices of Sarafina!” and “Prison Terminal: The Last Days of Private Jack Hall.”

“It’s very serious, but it’s very light,” said Simmons of “Voices of Sarafina!” Noble’s  documentary based on the 1987 Broadway musical. “The singing and the dancing in this film is extraordinary.”

In its world premiere Sunday, “Prison Terminal: The Last Days of Private Jack Hall” is sure to move audiences. Drawn from footage shot over a six-month period in Iowa State Penitentiary, it is one of eight documentary short films that will compete in the 86th Academy Awards in 2014.

“I can’t even tell you how awesome it was to see that movie,” said Simmons. “It made me cry, it made me think; it is such a dynamic documentary.”

In addition to exciting newcomers, the festival will feature the Emmy award-winning second episode of the “Roots” first season. The Q&A with Erman and Andrews follows, during which Andrews will explain the emotional experience of playing a slave.

“We’re going to do it in a very interesting way,” said Andrews of the Q&A. “It’s going to be from both a black and white perspective…[It was] a very unique perspective for us because it conjured up the ghosts of all of our ancestors.”

Prior to “Roots,” the complete story of those ancestors, from being taken from Africa through the Middle Passage and onto plantations and being sold into slavery, was never told, said Andrews, who splits her time between Manhattan and the North Fork.

According to Andrews, the actors on the show — black and white — faced immense difficulty in coping with the emotions brought on by playing both the oppressed and the oppressors.

“Most of us who were black actors on that show who were playing slaves, we would drive up in our Mercedes and we had our homes in the hills and we had our fabulous lifestyle and then we had to go in and don these rags,” she recalled. “The actors who were playing plantation owners or slave owners, they had a hard time playing those characters, a hard time using those words.”

“It was one experience that I will never forget, it is why I am a writer today,” said Andrews, who wrote the critically acclaimed CBS mini-series, “Sally Hemings.” “It was just the hardest thing for these actors, to go from joking around with us, going out later and having a drink with us, then they’d have to put on these characters and play these roles to you — who they’re looking at and saying the ‘N word’ or beating you or stripping you naked — that’s a hard thing to ask an actor to do. The ancestors showed us who we had to be.”

The 8th Annual Black Film Festival will be shown on November 7, 8, 9 and 10. For tickets and more information, call (631) 873-7362 or email info@aamee.org

Oliver Twist and the Art of Adaptation

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By Claire Walla

Everyone knows the story of Oliver Twist, the little orphan who takes to the streets of London and learns to live as a pick-pocket after being punished for asking, “please sir,” for more food.

But, not everyone knows the same version of the Dickensian tale.

The original novel was penned by Charles Dickens in 1838, and since then several adaptations of the original text have made it onto stage and screen. This notion — adaptation — will be the focal point of an event this weekend, Saturday, February 25, at Guild Hall in East Hampton.

After a 7:30 p.m. screening of the 1948 film version of “Oliver Twist” — it is, after all, the 200-year anniversary of the birth of London’s most feted chronicler of lowly street urchins and portly rich folk — actor Alec Baldwin will lead a Q&A with writer Jon Robin Baitz, during which another veritable Dickensian writer will come to the forefront of their discussion: David Lean, the man who adapted the book for the silver screen.

“[Adaptation] is particularly difficult with Dickens,” Baitz said in an interview this week.

A celebrated writer in his own right, Baitz’s play, “Other Desert Cities,” is currently running at the Lincoln Center Theatre in New York where it has received rave review. Baitz, who lives in Sag Harbor, knows a thing or two about adaptation, having rendered Henrik Ibsen’s “Hedda Gabler” for a theatre production in 1999 (which ran at Bay Street Theatre in Sag Harbor in 2000). Baitz has also adapted novels and plays for the screen, including an as yet unproduced version of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic “Tender is the Night,” as well as his own play “The Substance of Fire,” which was released theatrically in 1996.

“Oliver Twist,” like much of Dickens’ work, was originally written as a serial and published in monthly installments over time. Like all serials, Baitz explained, it relies on plot, and “Dickens is also great at digression.”

The resulting novel is a long-winded, sometimes meandering storyline, rich with details and diversions and peppered with more plot points than can possibly fit into a single, two-hour film. In that sense, Baitz continued, the art of adaptation comes down to one word: compression.

“You have to impose a sort of censorious logic on [film] adaptations,” he added, because in no other way can you reduce a several-hundred-page text to a tightly bound screenplay that accurately reflects the essence of the original story.

Compression is different from condensation, he cautioned. Rather than completely eliminating story elements, a skilled adaptation will reveal details in shorter, more subtle ways.

“’Oliver Twist’ is interesting because it is beautifully compressed,” Baitz said. Part of the film’s success, he speculated, is probably due to the fact that Lean worked as a film editor before becoming a writer. Even though “Oliver Twist” is a scant 105 minutes (or about 100 pages), compared to the almost-500-page novel, Baitz added, “it doesn’t lose the sense of the book.”

“I think people don’t understand how much craft there is to all this,” Baitz continued. “Movies are magic and alchemy. Knowing what to put where, and when… it’s all very difficult to pull off.”

Baitz added that the adaptation process for him is in fact very tactile.

“I sort of tear the book apart. Literally. I paste it up on a wall and put red pencil through different parts — that’s what I do with my plays,” said Baitz who is currently working on an adaptation of “Other Desert Cities.”

“Then, after the initial act of compression,” Baitz said, “I sort of create a wall with big empty spaces to fill.”

Compression is difficult, he added, because knowing what to put in where is just as important as knowing what to leave out.

“I think it becomes more difficult [to adapt a novel for film] when there’s a degree of psychological complexity that’s entirely internal,” he said..

Baitz pointed to his adaptation of “Tender is the Night,” for example. Not only were two different versions of the book published in England and the United States; but the story is weighted in emotion.

“It’s a book about madness, and dedication, and devotion, and self-sacrifice, and the cost of all those things,” Baitz continued.

To capture this on film, Baitz said he wrote a screenplay that “concentrates on what the engine of the story is.” In other words, he focused on plot and characters’ actions rather than thoughts.

The case was similar with his own play, “The Substance of Fire,” which Baitz also wrote the screenplay for.

“The play had left sort of vast areas of blank space where you [the viewer] were asked to supply your own narrative,” he explained. “I just made it a straight, conventional narrative [for the screenplay] and it worked very well.”

Again, Baitz was careful to make a distinction between compression and condensation, because adaptation — while reducing a narrative — does not necessarily cut the story to make it fit.

“Compression means that you keep the energy, what I call the temperature,” he explained. “It’s like, when you’re cooking a whole meal, knowing what to take out when. It’s all about synchronicity.”

Tickets for “Oliver Twist” and the discussion at Guild Hall (158 Main Street, East Hampton) are $17 ($15 for members) and can be purchased by calling 324-0806.