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Sometimes cinema submits us into consent with images that tell us how to be, act or feel. The power of the Seventh Art can be wielded to create propaganda or to push boundaries. It is this power that makes it at once democratic, alluring and — in the best cases — disruptive. The past few days attending Miami Dade College’s 33rd Miami International Film Festival have, for the most part, brought fresh air into Miami by packing aesthetics that disrupt the normative dullness that Hollywood usually brings.

Some we have previewed, as Hans Morgenstern has written about in the Miami New Times (see the end of this post for links, as well as our last post: Mapplethorpe: Look at the Pictures filmmakers talk about interview subjects and plans for next work: Trump). But a standout among the films that we previewed is a locally directed, produced and written film called Hearts of Palm (tickets: 2016.miamifilmfestival.com/films/hearts-of-palm), which premiered Wednesday night. It was a highlight to have an auteur revealing her vulnerability, as she deconstructs the idea of a relationship and what it means when love is disrupted. Do two people manifest love in each other or is it an independent force that comes and goes? Writer/director Monica Peña (full disclosure: she’s a friend we’ve covered in the past: Storytelling through collaboration – Director Monica Peña discusses filmmaking and upcoming Speaking in Cinema panel) leaves it up to the audience to decide. Here, there’s no suspended disbelief; filmmaking is shown in Hearts of Palm as an artifice itself, an excuse to communicate ideas that in itself is an idea.

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Peña was also among the locally produced short documentary filmmakers on local artists in an omnibus program called “I’ve Never Not Been From Miami,” which screened Monday (the image above is from the Q&A after). Peña (second from left) once again gave us remarkable work, examining the creative process with Hearts of Palm collaborator Lucila Garcia De Onrubia … It was a standout among the shorts that played on the giant screen at the Olympia Theater. There were beautiful tributes to dancers Ana Mendez, Pioneer Winter and Rosie Herrera by filmmakers Keisha  Rae  Witherspoon, Tabatha  Mudra and Jonathan  David  Kane, respectively. A couple of filmmakers explored their subjects with a sense of humor, like Tina Francisco’s Bob Ross Parody featuring concert illustrator Brian Butler and Andrew Hevia’s briskly paced story about actor/writer/director Edson Jean. A fellow called Swampdog captured Aholsniffsglue’s wacky persona as well as collectors’ and fans’ feverish interest in his work. Other artists explored with more gravity and insight included Agustina Woodgate, Cara  Despain  and Farley Aguilar by Joey Daoud, Kenny  Riches and Kareem Tabsch, respectively. While we’re dropping all these names we love, shouts are due out to some of the musicians who contributed to the soundtracks on some of the films, including Richard Vergez, Emile Milgram and Oly.

Among red carpets and sartorial flair, another stand out film was Eye in the Sky, which brought modern warfare ethics front and center. Now, this is not a topic that occupies much time in the airwaves or space in headlines, nor is it a topic that is openly discussed in many of the glossier Miami events, yet the film festival gave us the opportunity to pause and reflect on how it is that the use of drones may be negatively impacting the humanity of those very people who are on the frontlines of particular brand of combat. Director Gavin Hood is no stranger to Hollywood, yet his take on warfare through Eye in the Sky is a thoughtful and measured and does not dictate nor pontificate in a specific direction but makes the audience aware of the many gray areas that can animate policy and how the lines between elected officials and the army are not always as clear-cut as they seem on paper.

Gavin Hood in conversation with Festival director Jaie Laplante photo by Carlos Llana

It should be noted that Hood’s introduction to the film was quite epic in that he decided to finally speak at length about X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Here’s just one quote from the night regarding the superhero flick, which wasn’t necessarily loved by fans nor critics, that contains a key nugget of advice for filmmakers. “It’s not the film I’m most proud of,” he said of the 2009 movie, “and I think that the advice that I would give to any young filmmaker is to be aware of this: I now do not start a movie until the script, which you would think is obvious, is absolutely clearly done, and I know that that’s the film I want to make, and it seems like such unnecessary advice, but that’s what happens.”

It was just part of a much longer answer to festival director of programming Jaie Laplante’s question of what it was like for him to turn from an Oscar-winning Foreign Language film (2005’s Tsotsi) to Hollywood. After Hood finished his rant, Laplante said, “I have to say I wasn’t expecting that kind of an answer.”

“Neither did I,” replied Hood, who was said to have asked for a stiff drink after the night’s opening conversation. Eye In the Sky did not have a repeat screening at the fest. However, it opened today in commercial theaters to very good reviews).

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That day we also caught the exquisite Sunset Song by British director Terence Davies, a beautiful film about permanent impermanence shown through family, love and war during turn-of-the-20th-century Scotland. Though the Scottish brogue of some of the actors wasn’t always easy to understand for our American ears, Davies commits himself gloriously to a language that breaks through his indelible imagery. You have a chance to see it one more time at the Miami International Film Festival on Sunday (tickets: 2016.miamifilmfestival.com/films/sunset-song). It stands as one of Hans’ favorites at the festival so far, one he would dare use the “m” word for (yes: masterpiece).

Sunday we had a day off and Monday was the “I’ve Never Not Been From Miami” event, which ended with a party on the Olympia’s stage with a DJ who played music by David Byrne and Brian Eno as well as film soundtrack highlights from The Forbidden Planet. On Tuesday we saw the French-Canadian film Ville-Marie. Like Eye in the Sky, it was part of the festival’s “Marquee Series,” and the only of the four screenings that took place at the Olympia Theater. Preceded by a red carpet with the film’s star Monica Bellucci and Director/writer Guy Édoin, the film was informed by the female perspective. In a Q&A with the director before the film started, Bellucci embraced her age and status as a mother as being key to her performance. The movie’s story follows a mother who decides to bare her life on camera and finally reveal the heavy weight of her past to her son. The story was a powerful one, and from the conversation that took place on stage between Édoin and Bellucci, it was also a personal one that carried the weight of Bellucci’s own experience.

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Last Friday’s opening night seems so long ago now, but it bears mentioning, as it too was a high-profile affair at the Olympia. It also featured an appearance by a huge star, the singularly named Raphael of Spanish music. We previewed it last year (Miami International Film Festival hints at Spanish heavy line-up for 2016). It did what opening night films should: get the film fest audience excited for the week’s celebration of cinema, premieres, parties and seminars. The film’s humor was distinctly Spanish with references that Spaniards would appreciate more than any other Latins. Director Alex de la Iglesia gets away with skewering the country and its popular culture that also features a glimpse of the filmmaker’s nasty side (in a good way). We hear the film is coming to the Coral Gables Art Cinema and O Cinema. Click the theater names for screening details.

Jumping forward to just last night, we caught two more movies in Little Havana’s Tower Theater. Paulina, a rather grim yet intelligently constructed film from Argentina’s Santiago Mitre. It explores the strength of a liberal minded woman who is gang raped and finds a way toward forgiveness. Actress Dolores Fonzi introduced the film and prepared the audience for what they were about to see. She called the role incredibly challenging and asked the audience not judge her character. It plays again this Saturday (tickets: 2016.miamifilmfestival.com/films/paulina).

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Afterward, The Forbidden Shore made for a nice palate cleanser. A hyper-active survey of Cuba’s rich and vital music scene, it also gives one hope that creativity can thrive on the authoritarian island. It’s an incredibly polished work by documentary filmmaker Ron Chapman, the director of Who the F**k is Arthur Fogel and The Poet of Havana. It might seem glossy (the still image at the lead of this article comes from the film), but it still gets to the core of music in Cuba: an irrefutable passion. It also has a second screening this Saturday (tickets: 2016.miamifilmfestival.com/films/the-forbidden-shore).

Really, we can’t both agree that we have seen a stinker in the lot of movies we have caught so far. If none of these appeal to you, go out there and explore and take a chance, just as we are doing (barring a few assignments).

One of the reasons for this single (though comprehensive) post of our experience (so far) at the festival is because Hans was hired by several publications to cover screenings and talent participating at the festival. Below are links to all the other coverage he has accomplished, including some work in national publications:

Indiewire:

‘Eye in the Sky’ Director Gavin Hood Talks About the Mistakes of ‘X-Men Origins: Wolverine’

Why Monica Bellucci Thinks Hollywood is Finally Coming Around on Great Female Roles

Filmmaker Magazine:

Film as a “Spiritual Memory”: Writer/Director Monica Peña on Her Miami International Film Festival Premiere, Hearts of Palm

Miami New Times:

MIFF 2016 review: Mapplethorpe: Look at the Pictures Takes Audiences on a Journey Behind the Lens

MIFF 2016: Mountains May Depart Delves Into a Futuristic China Where Love Is as Complex as Ever

We will offer a wrap up to the rest of the films we catch this weekend, which includes several on Saturday and Sunday. Now we are off to catch Weiner, which also shows again tomorrow (tickets: 2016.miamifilmfestival.com/films/weiner). Let us know what you might be planning to watch at the festival in the comments below.

Hans and Ana Morgenstern

Except for the photos from “I’ve Never Not Been From Miami” and the Monica Bellucci conversation, all images were provided by the Miami International Film Festival. The festival also provided tickets to all screenings.

(Copyright 2016 by Ana and Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

filmgateThere is a local movement slowly brewing in Miami, one that holds a promise to create a strong film scene. The film community in South Florida has been growing, from incredible cinema art houses to more offerings throughout the year at galleries, museums and even a film program at Art Basel. Indeed, Miami is shaping up to be a welcoming space for film lovers, enriched by organizations like FilmGate Miami, which is not only a welcomed addition to the Miami film scene, but it also puts forth an innovative take on what a film festival should be.

I recently sat down with Executive Director Diliana Alexander, who along with Jose Jacho, have brought this organization to life from an idea. “We started doing the immersive film festival collaboratively,” she says. “I convinced Jose that the interactive element would be interesting for everyone. He brought a democratic element to the process.”

The organization came out of a process of doing, like Indie Film Club Miami, the previous iteration of the organization, which programmed workshops for filmmakers after seeing the need for that during local film festivals. Alexander and Jacho have an inventive and collaborative approach to most of their programs. The organization, which was only recently formalized, came out of a series of programmatic activities that started at a grassroots level and centered on a passion for storytelling and the craft of making films.

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FilmGate’s interactive film festival, now heading into its third year, was one of the first programs of the organization. It attracts aspiring filmmakers not just from South Florida but from around the globe. It is “hard to describe,” according to Alexander. It exists in an experimental space where the organization has found its footing, opening the creative process to audiences and adding lots of technological advances in the process. “I looked around in Miami and saw that no one was really doing this,” says Alexander of the immersive interactive transmedia experience that is FilmGate Miami’s annual festival.

The interactive/multimedia storytelling approach, which is more widespread in Canada, where Alexander grew up, has been in use through several productions by the National Film Board of Canada. But it is one of the concepts that Alexander and Jacho wanted for Miami. An exciting aspect of the interactive narrative in multi-platform storytelling is the audience’s ability to participate in the creative process, which could be a nightmare for a curator, but not so for FilmGate. “The audience wants to be a co-creator,” says Alexander, “they want to be more interactive. You can get them to really interact and create interesting stories that live on longer than traditional films.”

Depending on the particular project, people can be part of the process via social media or other forms of participation like choose-your-own-adventure, for example. The festival is also very aware of the environment, which affects people in all walks of life. “I felt that if we were going to start a festival,” says Jacho of his experience with the festival, “it should have an eye on environmental issues and social causes. As it turns out one of the most engaging stories being told through interactive means have been documentaries.”

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Before you conjure up images of strange, incomprehensible art-house films or overly serious documentaries, the list of local short films is much wider and diverse than a niche of friends. Recent showings of NOLA – short for “Not Going to Move to L.A.” — have included filmmakers from the Keys, Orlando, Northern Florida and our own Miami. Their approach is inclusive, every NOLA we at IndieEthos have attended feels like a backyard party, complete with a juried competition of films showcased (full disclosure: both of us have had a turn), an audience competition that includes fuzzy balls to throw at filmmakers (yes, fuzzy balls, that is not a typo), and a live band after the local films’ showcase.

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FilmGate is like the hip, younger new kid on the film scene, experimenting with interactive storytelling and bringing StoryCode to Miami — originally the program started in New York City. The idea behind StoryCode is “to connect the tech community to the film-making community to make sure that ideas conceived by filmmakers can be done within specific technical guidelines,” explains Alexander.

With growing investments in Miami making it a sort of tropical Silicon Valley, the idea of engaging with this growing sector is a timely one. It is also the engine behind some of the creatives at FilmGate. “The most exciting and fulfilling part of FilmGate is getting storytellers to re-imagine their stories using new media,” says Jacho. All these projects have something in common. They are the core of what makes FilmGate stand out in South Florida, marrying technological advances with traditional storytelling and in doing so bringing a fresh outlook to the film scene.

One of the latest initiatives by FilmGate is the Percolator, a multidisciplinary gathering of creatives around coffee with the goal of creating and collaborating in storytelling. Alexander’s voice brightens up when she talks about what a good day at FilmGate is like. “When I know that everything is possible, and that we can completely conceive something that never existed, it makes me excited for the day,” she declares. That is the ethos of the organization, which has an approachable style but is serious about making a space to connect filmmakers. I must confess, it is the community-building aspect that I appreciate the most about FilmGate; being a resident of the Miami tropics for over 10 years and counting myself a cinephile for most of my life, I have dreamt of catching indies not only during those two glorious weeks in March when the Miami International Film Festival is in full swing but throughout the year.

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Ana Morgenstern

Related links:

For details on “Not Gonna Move to L.A.”
http://www.film-gate.org/news/marchnola

Interactive Tech Playground
http://www.film-gate.org/techplayground

Last year’s FilmGate Interactive Festival
http://www.film-gate.org/filmgate2015

Submissions are open for FilmGate Interactive 2016
http://www.film-gate.org/news/2015/5/20/submit-your-project-to-filmgate-2016

(Copyright 2015 by Ana Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

Mitch Kaplan of Books and Books, Jaie Laplante of MIFF and Chef Allen SusserIn its 33rd iteration, Miami Dade College’s Miami International Film Festival is putting artistic talent at the forefront of all its competitions. Festival Director, Jaie Laplante announced changes to three of its competitions: the Knight Competition, the Lexus Ibero-American film competition as well as the short films selection. The announcement came Monday afternoon, over lunch by Chef Allen Susser on the outdoor patio of the Cafe at Books & Books, outside the Adrienne Arsht Center in Downtown Miami, and Independent Ethos was invited at the table.

The Knight Competition will now be open to any feature film, including documentaries, that have been directed by a filmmaker who has been part of the festival’s official selection in the past; allowing any talented filmmaker (local or international) to take part in the competition. Previously, the Knight Competition was reserved for films only from Ibero-America. Now, it is open to films from anywhere in the world, including Miami filmmakers who have been a part of the Festival’s official selection in the 32 previous years.

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The second development, is in the Lexus Ibero-American film competition category, which was expanded to include all Latin American and U.S. Hispanic films, not only those that are opera primas. Filmmakers that create original works will now have more chances to compete for the $10,000 juried award. Finally, the shorts program will have more entries this year, as eligibility will include those films that have been previously shown in other Florida locations or streamed online, which used to disqualify many other shorts. “We’re excited as programmers because we really get to choose from the best work, not just the best work that meets our criteria,” said Jaie Laplante, Miami International Film Festival’s executive director.

The festival announced its call changes and call for entries among some of Miami’s filmmakers, film lovers and industry colleagues. IMG_9666Laplante said, “It’s very exciting. It expands our international content. It also expands our relationship with our Miami and Florida filmmakers that we spent a lot of time nurturing and supporting, especially in the last five years.” The new rules also mean that the Film Festival will become more competitive, which for audiences can only mean more to choose from all around the world. The 33rd Miami Dade College Miami International Film Festival is already promising to be an exciting ride that will open the door to artistic merit above all other criteria.

The festival is now accepting submissions and will continue to do so until Sept.30. Filmmakers should direct their entries via IMDB’s Withoutabox’s Secure Online Screener System (link here). For submission rules and requirements you can visit the Festival’s webpage here. The festival will take place in Miami March 4-13, 2016. Stay tuned to hear the latest and follow them on Facebook and Twitter. The last festival featured one of my favorite movies this year, Voice Over by Cristián Jiménez (Miami Film Festival Day 2: Voice Over reveals gargantuan obstacles of familial communication with humor and subtlety). We are looking forward to discovering new gems next year!

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Ana Morgenstern

All photos by Rachel Lauren Bleemer. Mouse over the images to see the names of all these fabulous people.

(Copyright 2015 by Ana Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

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Miami is known the world over as a city full of surprises. As a freelance music writer here for more than 20 years, I have become accustomed to expect some mind-blowing realignment of my perspective of this city every year. The last surprise happened about a year ago, when I learned the photographer of some of my favorite ‘70s glam rock albums lived here (read that article here). Now comes Deep City: The Birth of the Miami Sound, a documentary that opens a portal to a ‘60s-era soul scene I never knew had existed in Miami.

Among those who also never knew about this distinctive music scene was the film’s co-director and writer Dennis Scholl. I dropped him an email to ask what inspired him to make this documentary. He wrote: “When a friend sent me the Número re-release of the Deep City catalog, knowing I loved soul music, l listened to it, and before I read the liner notes, I called him and said, ‘This is great, where is it from?’ My friend said, ‘Don’t you know? This is all from Miami.’ I was shocked.”

Eccentric Soul, Vol. 7: The Deep City Label is a diverse and amazing compilation beautifully preserved by the Chicago-based reissue label Número. It’s even available on vinyl. It features bombastic horn sections and swinging grooves that eccentric-soul-the-deep-city-label-2speak to the region’s Caribbean influence at an almost molecular level. There are also famous, gorgeous female voices by the likes of Helene Smith and Betty Wright, who went to levels of great notoriety in the early ‘70s with “Clean Up Woman” and was on the cutting edge of the disco scene.

Scholl could not believe the riches he found in the compilation. “I had lived here close to 50 years and never heard about it,” he says about the Deep City label. “The quality of music was so high that it sent me on this exploration of our soul scene that, as DJ Spam says in the film, had been virtually forgotten. The more I got into it, the more I felt a strong need to bring the work of these artists to the attention of our community, and thus began an almost four-year odyssey to make a documentary film about the birth of the Miami Sound.”

So he, along with co-directors Marlon Johnson and Chad Tingle, made this documentary, which first premiered in South Florida at the Miami International Film Festival in 2014 and enjoyed a run at SXSW before airing on Miami’s public television station WLRN and won an Emmy. It’s a punchy, colorful examination of a time in Miami focused around the music released by the independent record label Deep City. The film features interviews with artists like the soulful songbird Helene Smith and legendary Helene_Smithguitarist/vocalist Willie “Little Beaver” Hale, who both recorded for the label. Then there’s label co-founder and songwriter Willie “Peewee” Clarke, who grew up in Overtown during the years of segregation in Miami. Also featured is Clarence Reid, who also recorded for the label, co-wrote many songs with Clarke and continues to perform in Miami as the notorious and original shock rapper Blowfly. Then there’s Arnold “Hoss” Albury who brought in fellow members of the Florida A&M University marching band and added big arrangements to the pop songs released by the label.

In the documentary, Clarke credits label co-founder Johnny Pearsall, who owned a record shop in Overtown, for coming up with the label’s name. He says it was because Miami was the deepest city in the South. In 1963, Deep City was the first black-owned record label in DEEP CITY JOHNNYS RECORDS MIAMIFlorida, notes Clarke in the documentary, and it spawned some slight hits in its time, which got lots of regional airplay but also some airtime on national TV shows like “Soul Train” and “American Bandstand.”

Deep City is a well-rounded film, featuring additional testimonials by Miami’s well-respected music historian Jeff Lemlich, Miami’s TK Records’ founder Henry Stone and, as Scholl noted earlier, Andrew Yeomanson, a.k.a. DJ Le Spam of Spam All Stars fame, among others. Yeomanson is real proud to be associated with this documentary. “The film provides the uninitiated with a snapshot of a crucial time in Miami’s musical development and the characters who made it happen,” he says about the documentary. “Most people in Miami had no idea that there was a soul scene here in the 1960s until recently.”

Miami will get a chance to get re-acquainted with the label on Sunday afternoon during a special screening at the Miami Beach Cinematheque, as part of FilmGate Interactive, a workshop-oriented film festival in its third year. I was invited by the festival to host a Q&A with Scholl and Clarke after the screening. Before the film, DJ Le Spam will be spinning ‘60s Miami soul records as people walk into the screening, so if you have tickets get there early.

Deep City: The Birth of the Miami Sound runs 56 minutes and will screen Sunday, Feb. 8 at 4 p.m. at the Miami Beach Cinematheque. The screening is nearly sold out. For tickets jump through this link. All images here are courtesy of the producer, WLRN, except the image of the vinyl of Eccentric Soul Vol. 7, which was provided by Número Records.

Hans Morgenstern

(Copyright 2015 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

stacks_image_236While many Israeli film exports are straightforward or dramatic movies, Zero Motivation offers a breath of fresh air with a funny yet critical look at the role of women in the military. In a series of stories featuring women serving in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), the film weaves different vignettes through an episodic narrative that at times is pure hilarity and at others shifts to insightful criticism with dark undertones. The film received an award from the 13th Annual Tribeca Film Festival for Best Narrative Feature and the Nora Ephron Prize, given to a female writer or director with a distinctive voice. Zero Motivation is the debut feature film from writer-director Talya Lavie who served in the IDF as a secretary on a base.

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In Zero Motivation, Lavie uses a critical inward-looking gaze at her own homeland with a focus on one of the strongest institutions of Israel: its military. Often touted as an achievement in gender equality, Lavie’s portrayal of the IDF is far from the international perception of the Israeli military as a model for gender equality. The machine, as presented by Lavie’s lens, is filled with the usual patriarchal practices you would expect in that setting: harassment, a lack of representation at the top and almost no engagement in combat. The film presents a group of women serving in the IDF — all of them quite different but all women — relegated to a highly bureaucratic human resources office characterized by a typical gendered division of labor. Not only does the office concern itself with having paper backups of leaves by soldiers, it also shreds papers and serves coffee and drinks to other officers.

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Early in the film we meet Daffi (Nelly Tagar), a young and naïve soldier who is also the “Non-Commissioned Officer in Charge of Paper and Shredding.” Her storyline involves her quest to be transferred to a Tel Aviv station. In Daffi’s mind, the mindless paper tasks would be the same at any station, but at least Tel Aviv offers the glamour of the big city. Daffi’s good friend Zohar (Dana Ivgy) is focused on even smaller goals, her one quest at the office is to beat a Minesweeper record on the office’s outdated computer. Zohar’s other main priority is to lose her virginity, which is one of the standout chapters of the film. Zohar finds a soldier who seems interested, only to quickly learn that even for the seemingly polite young man, being a soldier means being entitled over the women around him. These are well-drawn characters that speak to the overall disconnectedness between the institution and its female population.

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With her comic storytelling, Lavie skillfully reveals the contradictions in the system of mandatory conscription in the IDF for women, while the status of women within the organization remains systematically constrained. On the one hand, including women in the IDF is an important step towards equality, but the governance of the organization has relegated women to secretaries far removed from the realities of combat. In a poignant and clever montage, two of the characters walk around the station while in the background another female soldier posts reminders of all the historic military engagements of the IDF and their significance. The message and design of these posters is quite institutional and shows the distance between that reality and the contained environment in the military stations.

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We have no clear sense of why each of the characters made it to service but all have hopes and dreams that, however small or funny it might seem to the audience, are upended via their military service. Even the one woman in this institution who holds genuine aspirations to grow within the IDF fumbles her chances. Rama (Shani Klein), the female officer in charge of this group of misfits, cannot seem to access the “good old boys network,” as her group of slackers sabotage her in one instance after another.

All the stories in Zero Motivation speak to the uncomfortable relationship between Israel’s Western aspirations and its embedded traditional structure. While the film is critical with an undercurrent of dark humor, it does not settle any of the issues it raises. It will certainly be the opening for many conversations that will be plagued with more questions than answers.

Ana Morgenstern

Zero Motivation runs 100 minutes, is in Hebrew with English Subtitles and is unrated (there’s cursing, violence, nudity and sexual situations). The film will premiere in Miami at the Miami Jewish Film Festival where I have been asked to introduce it on Sunday, January 25 at 6 p.m. at O Cinema Miami Shores. It is being distributed by Zeitgesit Films to theaters and has begun a theaterical run that continues expanding. For other screening dates and times around the country visit the film’s official website here.

Update: Zero Motivation opens for a brief three-day run at the Bill Cosford Cinema at the University of Miami’s Coral Gables campus on Friday, Feb. 13.

(Copyright 2014 by Ana Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

O cinema grand opening

Miami’s O Cinema is once again expanding. After setting up a movie house in the artsy district of Wynwood in February of 2011, O Cinema opened another movie in Miami Shores in October of 2012. This Friday, it will take charge of a third movie house in the northern part of Miami Beach. It’s an old movie house built in 1968 and once owned by Wometco and later the Regal Group.

I sat down with O Cinema’s co-founder Kareem Tabsch, in one of the cinema house’s 304 seats, at the front of the theater. It’s a large space with a mezzanine and is fitting of the aspirations of one of several Miami-area indie art houses. Tabsch says the City of Miami Beach has long hoped to bring art and culture to an area that already has plenty of great restaurants and lies just blocks from the beach. “It’s part of a lot of things there,” Tabsch says. “They just redid the fountain up the street, on 71st, Normandy Circle, the band shell is being activated.”

Tabsch notes that when he and his business partner Vivian Marthell started O Cinema, they hoped to usher in a new era of film culture to the community. “Why we did it from the beginning, which is what we believe in, is that there are plenty of film lovers or people who want to see quality independent cinema in the city, but they don’t have the opportunity … There is a critical mass for film. o-cinema-miami-beach-opens-november-7All the arts in Miami have reached these new levels,” he says, referring to the art scene in Wynwood, the Adrienne Arsht Center, a massive theater and concert hall in Downtown Miami, and the New World Symphony in Miami Beach, among other new cultural destinations in the city that have popped up in the last decade or so. “But film was kinda held back in a sense, as far as critical mass. You had stuff going on in the ’70s and the early ’80s with Nat Chediak’s theaters in Coral Gables and the Fendelman Brothers in the Grove.”

He also brings up the ’90s, when Miami had the Alliance Theater in Miami Beach and the Absinthe House in Coral Gables, the owners of which later expanded to the Mercury in North Miami, in the early 2000s. The Mercury would only last a couple of years, and all those theaters soon shuttered. The only mainstay, as far as indie/art/world and retrospective cinema was concerned, was being programmed by the Miami Beach Cinematheque, which is now celebrating its 11th year in operation under founding director Dana Keith, who has been booking special screenings in Miami Beach since 1993. “I always give Dana at the Cinematheque props because he’s held it down for the longest,” says Tabsch.

Tabsch also notes that he has a great working relationship with Keith and neither see the new O, which is located more than 60 streets north of MBC, as competition. Tabsch brings it back to North Beach as opposed to South Beach, which has its own culture and scene. Tabsch says it’s all about giving the area its own indie cinema. He also notes that he is very aware of the demographics of the community, including the fact that there is a high concentration of Brazilian and Argentinian families in the area. “Going to the movies is something that should happen within your community,” he offers. “It’s a part of your life. It’s a part of your culture. You want to walk to your movie theater. You don’t want to drive 20 minutes away. For a very long time in Miami, all you could do was just drive. For the first time in 15 years we will be providing, 52 weeks a year, seven days a week, cultural programming in North Beach. You will be able to come and see an indie movie every day of the week, and I think that’s gonna be a huge part of the growth of the neighborhood.”

You can read more of my conversation with Tabsch and plans for the new theater in this week’s “Miami New Times,” out on newsstands now or on-line at the weekly paper’s art and culture blog Cultist. Jump through the banner below to access it:

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Hans Morgenstern

The opening night screening of Birdman is already sold out, but the film will play there until Nov. 13 (Update: due to technical issues the O Cinema premiere of Birdman was postponed. It now opens Friday, Nov. 21, and the cinema is honoring tickets from Nov. 7 for any Birdman screening at O Cinema Miami Beach). For screening details, visit here. Then, the theater will host The Theory of Everything (details). Read my review of Birdman here: ‘Birdman’ lampoons Hollywood with humorous, hyper-real, hero-hating satire. I loved that movie.

(Copyright 2014 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

CHILD OF GOD-Scott Haze - 2One of this year’s most startling films has to be Child of God. It took a while for this film critic to warm up to it while watching it. It’s harsh, spare but ultimately eye-opening. Once you tangle with its stark intentions: accepting the humanity of a man who commits reprehensible acts, this is truly a film that deserves respect (read my review: James Franco captures pathos of a necrophiliac psycho with ‘Child of God’). The film, based on the 1974 book by Cormac McCarthy and directed by the popular actor James Franco, challenges the audience on several levels. Viewers are not only expected to bring open minds but also a sense of empathy for a character most movies would portray as frightening or despicable. That demands the audience to travel to a dark place within themselves.

I spoke with the film’s star, actor/director Scott Hazevia phone ahead of his visit to the Miami Beach Cinematheque where he will sit down and talk with two film critics about Child of God for about an hour. “Variety” film critic Justin Chang and “Hudak On Hollywood” film critic Andres Solar will engage Haze during the Knight Foundationsponsored series “Speaking In Cinema.” The event will feature clips of the film and will be recorded on video to be archived for educational purposes.

Speaking from his car in Hollywood, California, Haze talks openly about the lengths of his preparation and the baggage that comes with being judged as part of a Franco-directed film. Much of our conversation has already been published in the “Miami New Times” art and culture blog “Cultist.” Read it by jumping through the logo to the blog below:

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We spoke for nearly a half hour, so there was a lot to our chat. Below you will find a modified Q&A featuring lots of the great material I could not fit into the “Cultist” story. It captures the gist of our 25-minute conversation without repeating anything from the “Miami New Times” story:

Hans Morgenstern: Have you ever been to Miami?

Scott Haze: I’ve been everywhere in the United States except for Miami, which is crazy.

Do you have any expectations?

My expectations are really probably very lame. Miami’s been such a backdrop for some of my favorite movies as a kid, so the expectations I have are that it’s a great city, it’s a fun city. There’s a lot of beautiful women. There’s a lot of parties.

I have a sense that you and Franco worked very closely on this film, which I think is one of the most humanizing portraits of a serial killer that I have seen.

You know, this project started as a passion project with James years ago. He knew that Sean Penn wanted to make the movie, and he’s a huge fan of Cormac McCarthy, so I guess it started as his desire to translate this project into a film. He does a lot of adaptations, but this was a dream project. This one and As I Lay Dying were the two movies that he wanted to make before he died.

What is the audience supposed to take away from this film?

I don’t know. I think that’s the cool thing about cinema. People are obviously not going to see The Wizard of Oz or Spiderman. You walk away with different things when you watch Child of God. I’ve talked to a lot of people who have walked away with many, many different things. A lot of people have connected to the feeling of looking at somebody who’s really alone and what it was liked in the 1950s in Tennessee. It could happen to somebody because back then they didn’t have Instagram, they didn’t have Twitter, they didn’t have Facebook, so Lester probably couldn’t have gone online and made friends, so it’s a different time. I think a lot of people have felt — if they look at being isolated and being alone for that amount of time — what it looks like. Some people are deeply moved by it, some people are rooting for Lester, some people cheer him on. Some people are horrified, but they want to see the story unfold, so they stick with it. It’s been really varied.

What did you do to get into this character’s head?

I did a lot of stuff. What I did was I realized I had to lose a lot of weight because I just played a Marine, had a shaved head. I was really built up, so I ended up losing tons of weight. I had a friend in Tennessee, and I went out there with an actress named Elissa Shay, and we did work on the script for about a month, and I filmed like a short documentary on the town and the community and what it was like interviewing a thousand people who were from that actual time frame and where Cormac set the novel. The novel is set in rural Tennessee. My friend actually happened to be the town historian of that city, so he took me on like this crazy tour of learning about caves, and everything Lester does in the novel I did. Half that stuff didn’t make the movie, which is just funny. I think of all that work I did, like scenes we shot where I make my own ax, which is in the novel, so I did everything that Cormac wrote in the novel … and then [my friend] had a cabin there, which was alone in the woods, and then I ended up living in isolation for well over a month in the cabin. Then I was in the caves for a little over a month. There was like this ongoing, evolving process of how this thing happened.

Haze in Child of God

Watching your performance, you really go all out. Was it a fun role to play or was it painful?

It’s both. It was really, really hard, but at the same time, I look back on it, and a lot of people said I was just kinda crazy at that time, but it was fun at the same time. I knew that this was a great role. As a kid growing up wanting to play these great roles, I knew that I was very fortunate. I knew that Sean Penn wanted to do this role, and he couldn’t get this movie made for 15 years. It was like an adventure, like the stuff you watch on the Discovery channel.

Speaking of physicality, why include the scene of you shitting in the woods?

Well, that’s just in the novel. It wasn’t like I said, “You know what, James? What we need to do right now is I need to shit.” I think it was more like it’s what Cormac wrote, and I think there’s like something really wild about showing the conditions he’s living in and his mental state. There’s a lot of things that that does that I think Cormac was thinking about when he wrote that into the book … basically when you see that, the audience should realize what they’re in for. At that moment, when you see something like that, you don’t go, oh, I’m going to see Spiderman now, and I think James is a filmmaker who doesn’t want to shy away from something that may be hard on the audience.”

You are director too. How does that help the performance?

I direct films, I direct theater and I’m a filmmaker myself … I get it. There’s a scene in the movie where I could walk through the cold water in 10 degree weather or I don’t. What it was is it was James and I teamed up to tell the story, and we both understood that we were both completely invested. I think that being a director helps me in so many ways. It helps me in my preparation. It helps me in understanding filmmaking. It helps me in understanding how to help other actors in the scene. A lot of what I did I think it helps in a lot of ways.

The critical reception has been divisive at best. What are critics not getting?

If you were to put Brad Pitt in the role of Lester Ballard would that make Child of God different? I don’t know. I read an article in “Vice” that asked, ‘What are people missing out on by not realizing that Child of God is important to cinema today?’ I think it’s just a testimony to where we’re at with entertainment. These are really important movies that examine situations in life and human behavior that tell a story and don’t involve a green screen and don’t involve a cape or a superhero. Not only that, it’s really tackling serious circumstances in a very honest way. It’s hard to watch if people consider it a horror movie, and it’s not a horror movie. It’s a character study. It’s easy for people to say, ‘this is shocking, this is so crazy,’ and I don’t think it is.

Child of God_09

I think you are definitely touching on the way I feel about it because I think the more you escape, the more you detach from humanity. This film makes you realize you have to have humanity to sympathize with such a character. There’s something more dehumanizing in these cartoon movies as opposed to a film like this which says, ‘Hey, wake up.’

I’m really glad you liked it, man. I really am because I’ve talked to people since the movie came out who are just awful to talk to, and they ask me some of the stupidest questions. Like the worst one is, Did you read the book? I’m like living in a cave to prepare for the movie and ‘I’m like, ‘Did you read the book? Yes, I read the book, a thousand times.’”

I think sometimes reviewers are biased due to the star persona of James Franco, but at least some people, like Jonathan Romney in “Film Comment” are writing intelligently about this movie.

The reason I think that this one was more well-received than a lot of his work, cause this movie played in competition at Venice last year and people like yourself who understand it love it, and they said this was his best movie, and I think it’s because of the story we’re telling that we were able to get away with things that you can’t get away with if you’re doing Ocean’s 11, like we had a camera on sticks in the middle of nowhere or going handheld. The fact that this movie is so rugged in the filmmaking style that he rolled with added itself sometimes to help it when it could have been disastrous. Your overall question is that there’s tons of people that just hate people, and they just want to take people down who are out there trying new or daring projects, so yeah, it’s huge, and I know that he knows it, and I know it, and anybody who roles with our crew know it if he’s named as our director that people are going to come in and hate, and I don’t think it’s fair to him. I think he’s doing something that’s not revolutionary but that they used to do in the theater back in New York. They had a group of actors that all just made movies together that were friends, and I think, as the years go on, people might step back and look at this differently with what he’s doing. Sure some of it is crazy, but most of it is not. Most of it is really daring, challenging projects that no one else thinks to do or doesn’t have the balls to do or doesn’t want to do, and he does it because he wants to do it, and then his close friends get it.

Hans Morgenstern

Child of God is showing exclusively now in South Florida at the Miami Beach Cinematheque through Sept. 28. On Wednesday, Sept. 24 at 7 p.m., actor Scott Haze will join “Variety” film critic Justin Chang and “Hudak On Hollywood” film critic Andres Solar for the Knight Foundation-sponsored series “Speaking In Cinema” to discuss this film. A meet-and-greet party at the Sagamore Hotel ends the night. Tickets for each screening and the event can be found by visiting mbcinema.com.

(Copyright 2014 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)
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