Oaxaca Film Festival

At its 10th edition, the Oaxaca Film Festival in Mexico has grown into an exciting event for movie lovers and filmmakers.
During the opening ceremony, held at the Macedonio Alcalá Theater, filled to the rafters with participant and public, festival director Ramiz Adeeb Azar thanked recently deceased artist Francisco Toledo for hosting the first screenings at his cineclub El Pochote (named after the sacred Mayan tree of Life), he credited the growth of the festival to the talented filmmakers that come to Oaxaca year after year to share their art.

Opening ceremony. Macedonio Alcala Theater

Four current feature films from around the world are presented every night of the seven days festival at the Cinepolis multiplex, which is crowded with local moviegoers lining up for its 14 screens. After each festival presentation the filmmakers engage with the audience in Question and Answers, conducted in English and Spanish.
I was particularly moved by two documentaries set in rural villages near the city of Oaxaca.
When I Shut My Eyes (Cuando sierro los ojos) tells the story of an indigenous woman, mother of two little girls, accused of having murdered her brother-in-law with a machete as he was attempting to rape her. In reality it was her husband who killed his brother, but the wife spent nine years in jail before being released, because no translator was provided for her to explain to the judge what happened. A similar miscarriage of justice was inflicted on a man who was beaten up by local policemen until he confessed to a murder he did not commit. Marcelino is still serving a 30 year sentence. Mexican co-director Michelle Ibaven explains that these two cases were chosen to represent 8,000 indigenous people held in jail without a proper trial because of lack of translators from their native languages, in this case Mazatec and Mixtec. Adela and her husband German are present after the screening and answer questions through translators.

Banda, directed by Carlos Armella, is about the creation of a youth brass band, “Luz del Rosario,” founded by a dedicated music teacher, where the young musicians improve their skills to such an extent to be invited to participate in the Jalisco Jazz festival in Guadalajara. The 14-year-old trumpet player Brandon, now 19, is visibly moved after the screening, having seen this documentary for the first time at the festival.
Among the numerous fiction features that I screened at the festival, I was most impressed by The Short History of the Long Road, written and directed by Ani Simon-Kennedy, who grew up in Paris and currently lives in New York, and credits Agnès Varda, Mira Nair and Julie Taymor as her inspiration. It has a similar theme as last year’s Leave No Trace by Debra Granik starring Ben Foster and Thomasin McKenzie. A teenage girl (pop star Sabrina Carpenter) has been traveling around the US with her father since she was born, living in an old van, and this nomadic kind of life is all she knows. When she finds herself alone and the van breaks down in Arizona, she is helped by a Latino immigrant mechanic (Danny Trejo). The director explains how she wanted to explore grief and was fascinated by the lifestyle of van dwellers.
As Executive director Ana Echeniche illustrates, what makes the Oaxaca film festival unique is its focus on connecting emerging filmmakers with film and television industry professionals, such as HBO, Turner, Viacom, and UTA, United Talent Agencies, by setting up pitch sessions and roundtables. There are seminars on subjects such as “Are film festivals still relevant in the current marketplace?” with panels of experts such as Larry Laboe, director of NFMLA (NewFilmmakers Los Angeles) offering valuable information to directors and screenwriters and answering their questions. Hundreds of short films are screened at 13 locations, followed by Q&As with their creators. Numerous social events, fueled by Mezcal and beer, allow festival participants from 40 countries to meet and exchange ideas.
As journalists of the Hollywood Foreign Press, it’s vital for our growth to spread the word about the goals of our association at various domestic and international film festivals, learn about other cultures through documentaries about local issues, meet emerging filmmakers and encourage them to submit their films for Golden Globe consideration.

Click here to read article as published on Golden Globes website, and here for Spanish translation.


Pesaro Film Festival

by Elisa Leonelli. June 25, 2019

At its 55th edition, the Pesaro Film Festival (Mostra Internazionale del Nuovo Cinema), founded in 1965 by Lino Miccichè, is the second longest running festival in Italy, after Venice, which started in 1932 as part of the Biennale. From the beginning and to this day its main goal is to present the first or second works of new filmmakers from all over the world, in order to promote growth and evolution in the art of cinema. As co-founder Bruno Torri stated, this formula was later imitated by festivals such as Torino, founded in 1982 by Gianni Rondolino, and, I would add, Bari Fest started in 2010 by Felice Laudadio.

Pesaro Film Festival © Elisa Leonelli 2019

I have a special affection for this festival, because my first professional job as film critic in 1970 was to help organize Pesaro from their offices in Rome, as part of a team composed by Adriano Aprà, Enzo Ungari, Franco Ferrini, creators of the magazine Cinema e Film (1966-1970).  We examined each of the 21 movies presented at the 6th edition, frame by frame at large flatbed moviolas, for notebooks called Quaderni di documentazione. Click here for history of the festival.

I decided to attend this festival 50 years later, to represent the Hollywood Foreign Press and fulfill one of the missions of our association, “to promote cultural exchange between HFPA members and entertainment professionals of other nations.” It was enriching for me to speak with young women filmmakers such as Anxos Fazáns, Andrea Jaurrieta, Diana Toucedo, and view their first films, A estación violenta (A Wild Season), Ana de día (Anna by Day), Trinta lumes (Thirty Souls), encourage them to submit their work for Golden Globe consideration. 

Centro Arti Visive © Elisa Leonelli 2019

As curator of the HFPA Archives since 2011, it was interesting to hear a presentation by Cristian Della Chiara and Gianmarco Torri about the creation of the Pesaro Film Festival Historical Archives, covering the first 50 years, after the documentation, publications, photographs and videos were moved from their Rome offices to Centro Arti Visive (Center for Visual Arts) in Pesaro, and were catalogued by archivist Arianna Zaffini.

I had dinner conversations with my long-time friend Adriano Aprà, who served as festival director from 1990 to 1998, and this year is presenting his new book, Fuorinorma. La via neosperimentale del cinema italiano (Outside of the Norm. The Neo-experimental Track of Italian Cinema), and a documentary on his life as a film critic, Adriano Aprà Autoritratto (Self-Portrait) directed by Pasquale Misuraca.

A book by Pedro Armocida, Ieri oggi e domani, il cinema di genere in Italia (Yesterday, today and Tomorrow, Genre Cinema in Italy) accompanies a retrospective of Italian horror-thrillers, spaghetti westerns, police dramas, illustrated by three graphic panels in the festival poster designed by Roberto Recchioni. This series includes Sergio Leone’s Per un pugno di dollari (For a Fistful of Dollars, 1964), restored by Martin Scorsese’s Film Foundation with funds donated by HFPA.

Pesaro Film Festival Cinema (c) Elisa Leonelli

On opening night, Saturday June 15, Bruno Torri reevaluated the body of work of director Franco Zeffirelli, who had passed away that day.  Creative director Pedro Armocida presented Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, on its 50th anniversary, as a buddy movie western that was not liked by the critics but loved by the public. I am familiar with every scene of this film, having devoted a chapter to it in my book Robert Redford and the American West.  It was a pleasure to see it again on the big screen in Pesaro’s main square, Piazza del Popolo, with a large audience of local citizens and

The ancient city of Pesaro on the Adriatic coast, founded by the Romans in 184 BC as Pisaurum, was chosen by Bruno Torri as the site of the festival because of the cooperation offered by its socialist Minister of Culture.  The city’s unwavering support for the festival continues to this day.  The festival locations are all in the medieval center with cobblestone streets, churches and palazzi.  By the beach stands the Villino Ruggeri, a jewel of Art Deco architecture built in 1907 in the Liberty floral style, across from the turn-of-the century Hotel Vittoria. A new Museo Rossini just opened in Pesaro, birthplace of opera composer Gioachino Rossini, an exceptional example on how to present musical history for a modern audience.

Closing night, Saturday June 22, includes an homage to Bernardo Bertolucci (who passed away on November 26, 2018), encompassing all of his films that were presented at the Pesaro Film Festival.

Click here for the edited version as published on the Golden Globes website

CinemaCon 2019 embraces diversity

By Elisa Leonelli. April 6, 2019

A parade of actors and directors of different colors, genders and ethnicities took the stage at this year’s CinemaCon (April 1 to 4 at Caesar’s Colosseum in Las Vegas) to add variety and glamor to the speeches of movie studios executives promoting their upcoming releases to theater owners.

Diane Keaton (Photo by Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images for CinemaCon)

Diane Keaton, introducing Poms (STX), a comedy about a cheerleader’s group in a retirement home, playfully lifted her billowy black skirt over white boots to prove how her skinny legs prevented her from cheerleading in high school.

Helen Mirren, acting with Ian McKellen in The Good Liar (STX) directed by Bill Condon, said, “There’s nothing like sitting in the cinema. The lights go down. That incredible moment of relaxation and anticipation, because you know you’re going to be entertained for two hours.”

Bill Condon, Helen Mirren (Photo by Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images for CinemaCon)

Chadwick Boseman, king of the African country of Wakanda in Black Panther, who plays a NYPD detective in 21 Bridges (STX), said he chose this script because “It took me back to my theater days when you had the fast-paced language of David Mamet.” As a producer on the film, Boseman cast as his antagonist Stephan James of If Beale Street Could Talk.

Henry Golding, acting with Emilia Clarke in Last Christmas (Universal), a romantic comedy directed by Paul Feig from a script by Emma Thompson, described the films as “a love letter to the city of London.” He was back on stage with costar Charlie Hunnam for the gangster movie The Gentlemen (STX) directed by Guy Ritchie. As the Malaysian actor was named Male Star of Tomorrow on Awards night, the so-called “sizzle” reel of scenes from Crazy Rich Asians and A Simple Favor, calls him “crazy charming, crazy talented.” He thanks his directors, John Chu, Paul Feig, and theater owners, “We share a passion for movies going back to the oldest form of storytelling, when we sat in the dark looking at the star listening to stories.”

Henry Golding, Paul Feig (Photo by Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images for CinemaCon)

Emma Thompson, a celebrated TV talk show host in Late Nite (Amazon) directed by Nisha Ganatra from a script by Mindy Kaling, remembers the first time she went to the theater, to see the animated classic Fantasia, as a spiritual experience. Creator and star of the TV series The Mindy Project, Kaling, whose parents are from India, plays a diversity hire in Late Nite‘s all-male writing room, and the slowly building friendship between the two women from vastly different backgrounds is the heart of this comedy.

Tiffany Haddish, on stage with fellow comedian Melissa McCarthy to promote the crime drama The Kitchen (Universal) by Andrea Berloff, the acclaimed screenwriter in her directorial debut, jokes, “There are so many layers to women, we’re like onions! We make you cry, we make you laugh, we are delicious, and we can kill you!” The plot, reminiscent of Widows by Steve McQueen, is about the wives of top New York gangsters who continue to operate the family business while their husbands are in jail.

Daniel Kaluuya, star of Queen & Slim (Universal) directed by Melina Matsoukas from a script by Lena Waithe, talked about the importance of under-represented voices in movies. Waithe, the gay actress of color creator of TV series The Chi, called her film “protest art.”

Octavia Spencer (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for CinemaCon)

Octavia Spencer presented the horror movie Ma (Universal), where she plays the scary lead, with director Tate Taylor of The Help.  Receiving the Spotlight award, she was more emotional than when she won a Golden Globe and an Oscar as a producer of Best Movie Green Book. She confesses that she was so poor growing up that it was a luxury to go to the movie theater.

Actress Olivia Wilde, receiving the Breakthrough Director of the year for Booksmart (Annapurna), says: “The only thing better than being an actor is being a director, and to be able to achieve these dreams I’ve had since I was a kid.” The two young stars of the film, playing best friends in high school, Kaitlyn Dever and Beanie Feldstein, share the Female Star of Tomorrow award. Feldstein says: “I was inspired by seen women be funny together on the big screen in Bridesmaids.”

Charlize Theron, Seth Rogen (Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for CinemaCon)

Seth Rogen (Jewish) plays a journalist hired as speech writer for Charlize Theron (South African), a Secretary of State running for President in 2020, in Long Shot (Lionsgate).  Upon winning the Comedy Stars award,they joked to NATO (National Association of Theater Owners) members, “Honestly we’re surprised Trump hasn’t tried to disband you yet. Maybe you should change your name…”

Another political joke at CinemaCon came from Arnold Schwarzenegger, an immigrant from Austria, former Republican governor of California, when presenting Terminator: Dark Fate (Paramount) with Linda Hamilton, “Terminate climate change.”

Jamie Lee Curtis, daughter of Janet Leigh and Tony Curtis, promoting the murder mystery Knives Out (Lionsgate) written and directed by Rian Johnson, hugged her young costar Ana de Armas, born in Cuba, as if she were her daughter Annie. As recipient of the Vanguard award, Curtis said that you cannot take away the big screen if you want to preserve the magic of movies, “I truly believe we are in this dance together.”

Click here for edited version published on Golden Globes website

Bernardo Bertolucci

Bernardo Bertolucci (c) HFPA 1979

In Memoriam by Elisa Leonelli
Italian film director Bernardo Bertolucci (born in Parma, Italy, March 16, 1941, died November 26, 2018 at age 77) was inspired by the experimental cinema of Jean-Luc Godard and Pier Paolo Pasolini, who served as mentor on his first film, La commare secca (The Grim Reaper, 1962). He directed Prima della rivoluzione (Before the Revolution, 1964), Strategia del ragno (The Spider’s Stratagem, 1969), Il conformista (The Conformist, 1970) based on an Alberto Moravia novel, starring Jean-Luis Trintignant. “I’m not a historian, I’m a storyteller, my movies are always about the destiny of one individual character and the destiny of the country. So you have history, which is the background, Italy in the 1903s, and then you go on the close up of a person, which is fiction.”
He created a scandal with the sexually explicit The Last Tango in Paris (1972), starring a middle-aged Marlon Brando. “In my memory Marlon is a mountain of magic. I had a crush on him, because I had never had in front of my camera somebody as powerful, as fatally tragic. I felt in a very instinctual way that maybe he was playing a last American character of Arthur Miller or Ernest Hemingway living in Paris 30 or 40 years after they did.”
Bertolucci’s lengthy masterpiece, Novecento (1900, 1975) starring Robert De Niro and Gerard Depardieu, is a Marxist history of Italy from the beginning of the 20th century until 1945. “I am talking about two young people, the landowner and the peasant, De Niro’s mirror image is Depardieu. I’ve often done movies about characters who are doubles, I must be a bit schizophrenic. Bob is Italian-American, so maybe he knew about Southern Italy, like many Italians in New York, but he had never heard about Northern Italy, so he was a bit anxious and asked for many explanations before a shot. Depardieu was very instinctive, he didn’t need any words from me, he just needed me to kick him in the behind to get on stage.”
Bertolucci directed Luna (1979) with Jill Clayburg and La tragedia di un uomo ridicolo (Tragedy of a Ridiculous Man, 1981) with Ugo Tognazzi. “A director must be a general, but also a spy and a witness, an orchestra conductor and a psychoanalyst, a radiologist and an actor.”
The Last Emperor (1987), with John Lone as the Chinese emperor, is an epic film that earned 2 Golden Globes and 9 Academy Awards. “I had such a love story with China. When I went there the first time ,I was completely ignorant, and every day I was discovering a new universe, a completely unknown planet, because in 1984 China was still quite close and distant. My attitude was very modestly to go and learn, like going to school, because it’s a 4,000 years culture and we don’t know anything about it. For two years we traveled back and forth with my writer five times, meeting as many people as possible, who were witnesses to this story in some way, and also people in general, intellectuals, politicians, artists. But three years are not enough to understand a country like China, the more you know, the more the mystery becomes big, which is very strange.”
The Sheltering Sky (1990) with Debra Winger and John Malkovich is about the end of a marriage. “The wonderful book by Paul Bowles is very literary, there are pages and pages of thoughts, interior monologues, and I wanted to dive into the hell of a love story using the body language of the two actors more than the words, the sensuality of this couple, and also use the landscape of the Sahara desert not as a pure background, but as part of what happens between them.”
Little Buddha (1993) concluded the director’s Oriental Trilogy by presenting the story of Prince Siddharta (Keanu Reeves), who achieved enlightenment to become the Buddha in ancient India. “After the fall of the Berlin wall, many of my ideals had fallen with it. It was right to dissolve the Soviet Union, too many people were suffering, but I was afraid this marked an end to my utopian dreams. I then realized that Buddhism was in continuity, not contradiction, with my previous beliefs, because it’s a philosophy more than a religion. Man, not God, was at the center of the universe for Buddha, as for Marx and Freud, which is what I’ve always believed.”
Bertolucci then directed a movie set in Siena, Italy, Io ballo da sola (Stealing Beauty, 1996) with Liv Tyler, and The Dreamers (I sognatori, 2003) set in Paris during the May 1968 demonstrations. “I had made films that were national, in fact almost regional, but then I moved on to another phase; you can’t always be repetitive and I love surprises. I still think that The Last Emperor is a typical example of Italian cinema, because it’s absolutely melodramatic, like Giacomo Puccini’s opera Turandot. I made Sheltering Sky in Morocco and Little Buddha in Buthan and Nepal.”
Bertolucci’s last film, Io e Te (Me and You, 2012), was a chamber piece with only two actors in a room, due to the limitation that Bertolucci was confined to a wheelchair following back surgery. When HFPA journalists last spoke with him in Rome in 2012, his political savvy was evident. “We are in a strange, delicate and confused political moment, where traditional parties are completely rejected by Italian citizens, so there are other people coming out from a non political background, like Beppe Grillo, a comedian from Genova, who has an enormous following. 20 years of Berlusconi-owned television in my country have flattened many brains, sort of anesthetized people, so it will take some time to correct the damage.”
The Bari Film festival honored Bertolucci in 2018 with the Federico Fellini Award for Cinematic Excellence, a Masterclass, and the world premiere of a restoration of Last Tango in Paris. He said, “I chose Marlon Brando after the refusals of Jean-Luis Trintignant, who was shy and didn’t want to act naked, of Jean-Paul Belmondo, who considered the film pornographic, of Alain Delon, who would only agree if I made him a producer, for me an unacceptable conflict of interest.”

Bernardo Bertolucci (c) HFPA 1988

Click here for edited version published in the HFPA website.
Click here for article in Cultural Weekly.