“The Americans invaded a country without understanding what eight years of a war with Iran had meant, how that traumatized Iraq. They didn’t appreciate what they support for a decade of sanctions in Iraq had done to Iraq and the bitterness that it created and that it wiped out the middle class. They didn’t understand what Saddam represented in some ways to the Iraqi people as well. The 70s weren’t the awful times when Saddam came to power. The awful time was the 90s when the sanctions were eviscerating the country. That almost willful lack of understanding history has had a really unfortunate impact on what’s followed.”—Anthony Shadid on Fresh Air with Terry Gross, on understanding the history of the Middle East.
“Well, here’s the thing, I’m not beautiful. I mean, I’m a perfectly normal looking Jewish guy. My face has never been my fortune, nor has my body. I mean, truly. You know, which is why I developed conversation.”—David Rakoff on NPR’s “Fresh Air” (via forwhenifeellikesharing)
It seems appropriate to kick of NPR’s little experiment on Tumblr with this photo from a commentary we posted yesterday on NPR.org. Artist Julie Zickenfoose shares her story about the beauty of watching monarch butterflies emerging from their chrysalis at her wildlife sanctuary in Ohio….
“Seeing so many friends who were truly young and friends of friends — you know, I’m a gay guy, living in New York City during the ’80s and ’90s during the height of the pandemic — it was like living in wartime but a very specific kind of war … it [affected] a very limited sector of the population and there were other people beside you everywhere who were not fighting it, who were not even conscious of it. It was very strange to feel so in the trenches and to be going from hospital to hospital — more than one a day sometimes — to visit people who were dying. It did cross my mind that my fervent will to live — and it is fervent, and it is still in operation, and it is still, in fact, the area of my life of which I’m most optimistic, and I think that people really do tend to be hugely optimistic about their own chances of survival going from day to day — but it did cross my mind and it remains in my mind that all of the people that I know who did die, they didn’t die because they want to live less than I do. They didn’t die because their desire to continue existing was found wanting in ways that my own is somehow better. And that is tremendously instructive to me.”—David Rakoff in an interview on Fresh Air with Terry Gross, on seeing his young friends die from AIDS in the 1980s.
BAGHDAD — However loudly you protest, you still have to check your gun at the restaurant’s door. (Customers take valet tickets in return.) Guards in tight jeans and tighter shirts patrol the entrance, toting that ubiquitous paraphernalia of authority here: a walkie-talkie. Even cavalier guests cast leery glances down the road for a car that could be rigged with a bomb.
Antoine al-Hage, capitalism’s equivalent of a soldier of fortune, smiles at it all — the danger, the risk and, of course, the payoff of bringing nightlife to Iraq.
“Where there’s war,” he said, “there’s lots of money.”
Our guest tomorrow, David Rakoff, is a frequent contributor on This American Life. He’ll read from and talk about his new collection of essays, Half Empty. It starts with the power of negative thinking and ends with a recurrence of cancer.
“We had been warned that the neighborhood around the university could turn dodgy in a matter of footsteps, but there was a certain pride in having dipped one’s toe into its scary waters. Morningside Park, for example: Not since the age of medieval maps—wherein the world simply ends, beyond which all is monster-filled roil—has a region been so terrifyingly uncharted and freighted with peril as Morningside Park in the early eighties. To venture in was to die, plain and simple.”—David Rakoff on Columbia and Morningside Park in My First New York (via caseyj)
Ann Marie Baldonado: An Update on Distribution at the Toronto Film Festival
The Toronto Film Festival ended this weekend with the top award,The People’s Choice Award, going to The King’s Speech, the film about King George VI (father of Queen Elisabeth) and the speech therapist who helped him get rid of his stutter.
The awards at Toronto don’t mean as much as say the awards at Cannes or Sundance, but the winners of the audience award usually end up doing well at Oscar time.
Two years ago, Slumdog Millionaire was a clear crowd pleaser and audience award winner, and last year it was Precious. Coming out of the festival, The King’s Speech is a talked about favorite for a best film nomination, as well as acting awards for Colin Firth as the King and Geoffrey Rush as his trusted friend and advisor.
In other updates, a number of films I wrote about here have gotten distribution deals. In fact, industry insiders are calling this the most-active Toronto market in years. This weekend, Beginners, Mike Mills' second feature film, was picked up by Focus Films. No official word yet on when they will release the film in the US, but some speculate it will come out the middle of 2011.
Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions purchased the Will Ferrell film, Everything Must Go, as well as the Robert Redford directed historical drama, The Conspirator, and Lionsgate alone will be distributing Rabbit Hole, starring Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart.
Other films that were purchased include the new Kelly Reichart film, Meek’s Cutoff, starring Michelle Williams, Passion Play starring Mickey Rourke and Megan Fox, the films Peepworld, Beautiful Boy, and Dirty Girl, as well as 3 films that have gotten positive reviews that I unfortunately didn’t catch at the festival — Werner Herzog's new 3D documentary Caves of Forgotten Dreams, Submarine, and Incendies, which won The City of Toronto Award for Best Canadian Feature, and got a distribution deal from Sony Picture Classics.
With the Toronto International Film Festival drawing to a close, I wanted to catch up and fill you in on a few films that I caught during the festival that as of yet, don’t have a US distributor:
What would you do if your father came out of the closet at the age of 75?
Well, director/artist Mike Mills decided to use this question as the starting off point for his lovely 2nd feature film, Beginners, which premiered here in Toronto earlier this week. It’s the follow up to his debut Thumbsucker, which premiered in Toronto in 2005.
What makes the film so lovely, what makes it feel so authentic and dear, is the fact that it’s based on Mills’ own experience. His father came out in his 70s after the death of his wife, Mills’ mother. His dad ran an art museum; his mother worked on houses. Mills is an artist whose whimsical artwork have graced album covers and art gallery walls, just like the main character, Oliver, played beautifully by Ewan McGregor. And just like Mills, Oliver is dealing with the semi-recent death of both his parents, and how to grieve for them and continue on.
Although the splashier element of the plot is the bit about the old man (and his son) coming to terms with his sexuality, the film is really about the grieving process after a father’s death. We see Oliver cleaning out his family house and going through his parents books and clothes. And we see flashbacks of Oliver’s youth, where we see his parents interact (with the sense of a growing distance between them.)
While we mostly see Christopher Plummer's character after he has come out — happily learning the ropes of his new gay life — our encounters with Oliver’s mother are seen through the eyes of little boy Oliver; we see mother and son poking fun at high-faluting museum goers, or taking long car rides to nowhere.
It is clear that the whimsy and the sadness found in Oliver’s art and Mill’s art, by extension, can be traced back to his artistic, funny and odd mother (In a Q&A after a screening of Beginners, Mills revealed that the drawings from the film were done by both him and McGregor but anyone familiar with Mills’ work will notice his particular style.)
So the film ends up being a love story, about a departed father, a departed mother, and a new love, Anna, played by French actress, Mélanie Laurent (Inglourious Basterds). As a viewer you will fall in love with Anna, just as Oliver has.
But will these crazy kids, both of them unsure of what a real, true love and marriage are supposed to look like, be able to work it out? Hopefully, someone will pick up this film and you can see for yourself.
Fresh Air Producer Ann Marie Baldonado on Rabbit Hole
Will people want to go see a film about a couple dealing with the accidental death of their 4-year-old son? That question is probably on the minds of film distributors, deciding if Rabbit Hole is worth purchasing. The film premiered last Monday with stars Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart, and director John Cameron Mitchell (Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Shortbus) in attendance.
This may be Kidman’s best performance in years. Her pale, almost motionless face serves her well as a mom, so rattled by her grief that the only outward manifestations she can muster are perfect posture and the constant baking of pies and cakes. She waits around in her perfect house, but she doesn’t know what she is waiting for.
Meanwhile her husband, played by Eckhart, goes to work and plays squash — while still coming home every evening to watch a 20-second video of his son that is still on his iPhone.
It’s a tragedy no one wants to think about and one that seems unlikely that a parent can ever recover. But by never making us really see or experience the exact moment of tragedy, the film shows a bit of self restraint that I appreciated, especially in these ‘show everything in movies’ times (I did just see a guy cut off his own arm, after all.)
The film, based on a play that won Cynthia Nixon a Tony Award, was not as exploitatively heart wrenching as I thought it might be (another film about the death of a son at Toronto, Beautiful Boy starring Maria Bello and Michael Sheen, was more so.)
There were even surprising moment of laughter, some of them provided by supporting cast members Diane Wiest, who plays Kidman’s mom, and Sandra Oh, who plays a mom Kidman and Eckhart meet through a grieving parents support group.
A few critics have talked about this being a role that could get Kidman another Oscar nomination, but a distributor would have to buy the film and put it on a fast track to premiere in theaters before year’s end, in order for it to qualify for the next Oscar round.
Which brings me back to my first question: Would people want to see this movie? I am not sure I would want to go through the experience of watching a film like this, if I wasn’t doing it for you, dear listeners. And remember I kind of liked the film. We will see what answer those distributors come up with.
[Update: Rabbit Hole found a distributor. Lionsgate will release the film by year’s end, making it eligible for Oscar nominations.]
“Novelists think a lot about God … [because] we create whole worlds and we people them and then we tell the people what to do: we make them fall in love or fall out of windows. So there is that curiosity about God that I think all novelists have.”—Scott Spencer: Turning Orderly Lives Into Chaos