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GE and Cinelan Announce Short Film Challenge at Tribeca Film Fest

GE and Cinelan, a video publishing company co-founded by Morgan Spurlock and Karol Martesko-Fenster, presented a special preview last night at 92YTribeca in Manhattan. The event was held to announce the opening of submissions for the Focus Forward $200,000 Filmmaker Challenge, and featured the world premiere of four new short films. Focus Forward’s “Short Films, Big Ideas” initiative is a series of three-minute nonfiction films centered around the idea of people or organizations whose innovative efforts in medicine, engineering and other fields of knowledge have had a significant positive impact on humanity.

Illustrating this theme were nine short films presented in the 30-minute program following a cocktail reception in 92YTribeca’s main room. Five of these were 2012 Sundance Film Festival Selections, including the extraordinary opening film, Jeremiah Zagar’s Heart Stop Beating, about the work of two doctors who managed to save a dying man by replacing his heart with a turbine engine of their own design. It was a bold choice to open the program with a film that features open heart surgery footage, but the mood was lightened by Jessica Yu’s Meet Mr. Toilet, a humorous look at the efforts of Jack “Mr. Toilet” Sim to bring proper sanitation to the large portions of the world still lacking it.

Following these first two films were a pair of world premieres: first, Nelson George’s All Hail the Beat, an all-too-brief look at the history of the Roland TR-808 drum machine, whose sounds are still in use today by artists from Kanye West to Daft Punk, despite the fact that it hasn’t actually been manufactured since 1984. Next came Katy Chevigny’s The Honor Code, the most emotionally moving film of the evening, and the only one that focuses on innovation in human thought, as opposed to technological invention. Honor Code uses stylish animation to illustrate the ideas of philosopher Kwame Anthony Appiah and his efforts to end the deplorable practice of “honor killing.”

The other two world premieres were sandwiched between two more Sundance selections: Jessica Edwards and Gary Hustwit’s The Landfill, which documents a small New York landfill where trash is refined into electrical energy, and David W. Leitner’s Newtown Creek Digester Eggs: The Art of Human Waste, which examines the unusually beautiful Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. The latter was the least satisfying film of the evening, mostly because it felt too rushed, with too much information crammed into its brief running time. On the other hand, the final film of the program, Phil Cox’s Hilary’s Straws, has a much more leisurely pace in its look at the innovative navigational tool that allowed a quadriplegic woman to sail across the world alone.

The final two world premieres were Steven Cantor’s The Bionic Eye, about research being done to artificially restore sight to patients suffering from degenerative blindness, and Michele Ohayon’s Solar Roadways, a very exciting look at the effort to produce solar-paneled roads and parking lots in order to cleanly and cheaply power nearby communities, as well as electric vehicles. Hopefully, the world premiere films will be available online soon; I would especially like to see The Honor Code and Solar Roadways again. In the meantime, the others are streaming on Focus Forward’s website, and if you have an idea that fits the theme, you can create your own film for the $200,000 Filmmaker Challenge, which you can read more about here.

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More midweek movie news — it bleeds so, alas, it leads

* It’s probably just the aftermath of a quiet holiday week or two, but there’s been an awful lot of movie news I haven’t mentioned this week. Tonight, however, all of the usual casting tidbits and what not are being overshadowed by an extremely dramatic new development in the murder or Ronnie Chasen. Chasen, you’ll recall, was the highly respected and well-liked industry publicist who was shot five times in her car with hollow point bullets in a murder that seemed senseless, yet not random. Tonight, the big news if you turn on any local news station out here is that police went to serve a search warrant, one of a few, on a “person of interest” in the case but before they could talk to the man, he committed suicide with a handgun. Not surprisingly, Nikki Finke has the latest on what has to be the strangest and saddest Hollywood story of the year.

* Speaking of Finke, she claimed another “toldja” tonight. Channing Tatum will be Jonah Hill‘s costar in the upcoming comedy rendering of “21 Jump Street” written by Hill and Michael Bacall.

* A ballet comedy with Chloe Moretz, Kristen Bell and Jackie Earle Haley? Works for me. Moretz makes a lot of sense here. As we discussed when I interviewed her last summer, she has a background in ballet. She was also fairly gaga over the portions of “The Black Swan” she’d been able to see.

* A sweet tribute to the late Leslie Nielsen by David Zucker.

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* Anne Thompson has a rundown of the selections for this year’s Sundance Film Festival, which is just about six or seven weeks away already, if you can believe it.

* Speaking of Anne Thompson, she posted an early review of the Coen Brothers new version of “True Grit” tonight. She was very positive about the movie herself but seemed to feel  that younger viewers don’t “get” westerns because they happened a long time ago. (Does that mean they dislike all films taking place more than a hundred years in the past? I find that a sad thought.) She also said the response at the screening she went to was “mixed.”

Well, at least so far it’s not so mixed with the geek elements of the film blogosphere because Drew McWeeney, Harry Knowles (who, yes, tends to be excitably positive), and Eric Eisenberg of CinemaBlend posted flat-out raves. This fan of Westerns, who recently read the Charles Portis novel and is looking forward to reacquainting himself with the 1969 version really soon, is excited. Only blogo-blowhard Jeffrey Welles has labeled it a “misfire” in what I’ve read so far, and I can’t help but consider the source. At least he didn’t spend the review calling Jeff Bridges fat or something. It seems like every time I read Welles, he’s criticizing someone for being overweight.

* Left over from last night. Christopher Nolan makes sense and tells us to embrace the ambiguity. Actually, the deliberate little bit of doubt at the ending was one of the few things I liked unreservedly about “Inception” which, overall, was a big, cold, glittering disappointment for me.

* Michael Douglas is apparently doing well in the health department and, from a totally selfish point of view, the best part is that it really does look like the Soderbergh Liberace movie is going forward.

* Whedonesque reveals a non-story as Entertainment Weekly manufactures a dubious scoop on the Joss Whedon-less “Buffy” movie.

* I’m sure Peter Jackson knows exactly what he’s doing, but it blows me away that a big scale fantasy epic like “The Hobbit” is going to be shot with RED Epic digital cameras. I know I have huge retro tendencies, but somehow, I’d feel better if he were using those massive old 3-strip Technicolor cameras.

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Monday movie news: Sundance redux; the Oscar noms are coming, but the Razzies are already here…and more.

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*  Since I wasn’t there, there’s not much I personally can say about Robert Redford’s annual mega-event. Fortunately, lots of others were and their thoughts are worth taking a look at, starting with Manohla Dargis, chief film critic of the New York Times who finds plenty to recommend in this year’s entries. She also considers a DIY digital new New Wave.

Another good summary of the Sundance fest comes from Indiewire’s Eric Kohn while David Hudson rounds up more reaction. Meanwhile, Mike Fleming takes a look from a more dollars-and-cents perspective and finds no huge “indie bloodbath” at this festival, and a comment points me towards the second Dargis piece linked to above.

* Yesterday, I wrote that the winner of the DGA award for Best Documentary got a “boost,” in its Oscar chances. I qualified that statement a bit, but probably not enough. A.J. Schnack notes that, if one award can be said to predict another award, the DGA victory yesterday for “The Cove” actually might make it less likely to win the Oscar. Weird but, I think, true. Historically, the folks in the documentary side of the Academy seem to like to give the nod to films that have been relatively ignored. Of course, “ignored” and “good” are not the same thing.

* They’ll be announcing the Oscar nominations far earlier than I’m prepared to get up tomorrow morning, according to tradition just after 5:30 a.m. PST, just to make all you east coasters happy by 9 a.m. Of course, I’ll get to that tomorrow. In the meantime, Steve Pond of the L.A. Times has predictions for those of you who enjoy that sort of thing, and — far more entertainingly — you can get an early taste of the inevitable complaints about unfair snubbings from an ahead of the curve Dustin Rowles.

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* Speaking of being just a bit ahead of things, the Razzies, dishonoring the lamest in Hollywood films, have made their nominations known and, as MTV’s Terri Schwartz points out, “The Twilight Saga: New Moon,” has the opportunity to get some payback from critical and other detractors for all those fan-based awards it nabbed. In a somewhat older demo, Tom O’Neil of The Envelope points out that Sandra Bullock has a decent shot at winning both a Razzie and an Oscar in the lead actress categories. That would be a first time achievement, for lack of a better word.

* Anne Thompson writes that a biopic about the great George Gershwin starring could be the next Steven Spielberg directorial effort and that nouveau Spock Zachary Quinto could possibly be its star. Speaking of Gershwin, the movie inspired by his music and named after one of his best known suites, “An American in Paris,” is the second film covered in “We’ll Always Have Paris,” Bullz-Eye’s salute to films based in Paris which, of course, I had very little to do with.

* Speaking of matters Parisian AICN’s Capone talks with Pierre Morel, director of the upcoming “From Paris with Love” and, it looks like, the new version of “Dune.” Whatever else is true, the guy is a fan and that’s a good thing.

* “Avatar” did even better than thought yesterday, earning over $31 morning and breaking the all-time cash record for seventh weekends. It also broke $2 billion worldwide. <Yawn.>

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Late Friday movie news dump

It’s been a long four day week, and the hits just keep on coming.

* Even as A-listers are wrapping up George Clooney‘s Haiti telethon, the Sundance Film Festival is now underway in earnest and under new management, although boss Bob abides, naturally. Anne Thompson has a report from the front. Yesterday, she reported on the notable acquisition of the super-fest, director David Guggenheim’s “Waiting for Superman” — which is not about to whole “when will the next Superman movie come out?” thing or even superheroes at all. Sorry.

More Sundance news to come next week, no doubt. Watch this space.

* Movie City News has compiled the results of 225 Top 10 lists and come out with a top 30 of its own. At the top, “The Hurt Locker” far ahead of nearest competitors, “Up in the Air” and “Inglourious Basterds.” At the bottom of the “best of” lists, Lars von Trier’s horror drama “Antichrist,” the most controversial film in a career filled with controversy.

* Speaking of films at the bottom, the Wrap brings us Forbes’ annoyingly hard-to-read list of the biggest fiscal flops of the last five years in more easily digestible form. Topping the list is the recent adaptation of Robert Penn Warren’s “All the King’s Men” which went from Oscar hopeful to complete dud in nothing flat when it came out. There are two films I personally like on this list, “Grindhouse” and “Walk Hard.” Anybody else out there have a favorite on the flop list? In any case, I wonder about the accuracy of the list as it doesn’t include DVD figures.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Sundance and stuff

* The Sundance Film Festival, easily the second most influential film festival in the world, both for better and for worse, unveiled its 2010 schedule this morning. Anne Thompson takes a close look at the impact of Jim Cooper, who is now running the festival after the departure of Geoff Gilmour. At the one and only Sundance I attended back in 2005, I heard a number of catty, though possibly not inaccurate, remarks to the effect that Gilmour had gone a bit Hollywood in a somewhat James Lipton-esque way. Apparently, things are changing and change is often a good thing.

* Paul Thomas Anderson’s new film is supposedly not about Scientology and, therefore, Philip Seymour Hoffman will not be playing a variation on L. Ron Hubbard. Still, sounds cool. Boy, I wish I had time to check out Anderson’s last film and huge creative departure, “There Will Be Blood,” a second time right now. Jason Zingale’s review might have been short of adoring, but that one has really stayed with me. P.T. Anderson might not be the second coming of Orson Welles, but then, Welles wasn’t exactly the second coming of John Ford either.

* Roman Polanski isn’t going to be set free this week, but he is going to the Milky Way — the name of his digs in the swanky Swiss ski resort town of Gstaad.

* Rupert Everett, who made a bit of history a decade or so back as the first borderline A-list actor to be openly gay, has warned younger actors not to follow suit in new book promo interview in The Guardian. Personally, I’d advise gay performers to take his words with a gigantic grain of salt. Everett is a first rate actor I always enjoy watching but he has, to put it kindly, a big mouth and has said many really questionable things over the years while also saying some really smart things. Not being gay or a famous thespian, I’m perhaps not qualified to judge, but being out sure hasn’t hurt Neil Patrick Harris any lately. I guess the real test will be if the highly accomplished ex-Doogie is  ever allowed to play a more or less serious romantic lead opposite a female.

Nikki Finke has the thoughts of “coming-out PR guru” Howard Bragman:

There may well have been other reasons Rupert didn’t become the leading man he imagined himself going to be. But this isn’t about your bank account. This is about your soul.

* Bloody Disgusting has word that the remake of Alfred Hitchcock‘s “The Birds” is getting a change of directors and will be heading in a direction that will be, yes, more bloody and disgusting.

* In Michael Powell’s horror classic, “Peeping Tom,” a silent-film era cameraman is driven to become a serial killer by the bizarre, fear-inducing experiments performed on him as a child by his psychologist father. A linguist named d’Armond Speers might have been less cruel than the dad in the movie, but speaking only Klingon to his son for the first three years of his life seems like it’s taking some kind of risk. Fortunately, as passed along by Geoff Boucher, it appears the kid turned out normal, linguistically speaking, anyhow. That’s good. Still, I wonder what the word in Klingon is for “meshugeneh.”

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