After its screening at the Sundance film festival in January 1995 and its release later that summer, Todd Haynes’ Safe elicited much commentary by critics and film scholars on the film’s cinematographic techniques (few close-ups, many long takes) that distance spectators from the plight of the protagonist, Carol White, as she struggles with the increasingly horrifying symptoms of environmental illness, and thus render difficult, if not altogether impossible, sympathetic identification with her.
A long-view interview with filmmaker Billy Woodberry conducted by screenwriter and scholar Josslyn Luckett gives the filmmaker his due and reflects on his prolific career as an independent filmmaker. The unfolding of Billy Woodberry’s career—both his own new work and the recent critical revaluations of his classic work, such as the naming of Bless Their Little Hearts (1983) to the National Film Registry in 2013—makes words like “rebellion” or “revival” only marginally useful. Any research into the full range of his film work, including his multiple roles as film actor, film narrator, video installation artist, and film history and production professor at California Institute of the Arts (CalArts) since 1989, reveals a Woodberry who might be more properly termed an underground “renaissance” man than a rebel.
Jonathan Demme’s death has moved the film world. Jonathan Demme was a founding member of a cinematic generation. He started out with Roger Corman, then left Hollywood to go back East and hung his shingle in New York city at the exact moment when the independent film movement began. Never an intellectual or theorist of his own work, he could be scorned as cinema-lite, yet the eulogies piling up reveal how universally beloved he was. FQ has always paid attention to Demme. Here are two articles from the FQ archives to mark his passing.
Robert Townsend and Keenen Ivory Wayans are true pioneers and godfathers of American Independent Cinema. The New York Times’ critic Janet Maslin called their film Hollywood Shuffle “exuberant satire,” and accurately noted its “reality-minded humor.” That’s a remarkable achievement considering that the film is remembered not only for its breakthrough critique of the entertainment industry’s stereotyping of African Americans, but also for its free-wheeling sketch comedy structure that feels fresh and original while also bringing to mind The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (Norman Z. McLeod, 1947), the films of Preston Sturges, and the early work of Woody Allen. The film was made in twelve days over the course of two years for $100,000, much of it put on credit cards. It grossed $5 million in its initial release and was honored at the 1987 Deauville Festival and again in 1988 at the Spirit Awards. It is as funny a work as it is serious, and as serious as it is funny.
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The uncomfortable thing about the Tribeca Film Festival (April 21-May 2, 2010) is that nobody knows exactly what it is for. This may be a problem that it will never solve. It is not prestigious enough to woo any really good stuff away from Cannes, and in any case Venice and Berlin are always vigilant about picking up that festival’s scraps.
The typical challenge of any film festival report is to create a fictional narrative out of thin air, or a meaningful proposition out of chaos. And this becomes even harder in an era when layoffs of various film reviewers have coincided with a continuing erasure of any clear line separating criticism from advertising in most mainstream venues.