Friday, May 27, 2011
Seattle International Film Festival
Saturday, June 4th at 9:30pm
Sunday, June 5th at 11am
Friday, June 10th at 9pm
Berkshire International Film Festival
Friday, June 3rd at 6:45pm
Sunday, June 5th at 1:30pm
Provincetown International Film Festival
Thursday, June 16th at 2pm
Sunday June 19th at 11:30am
BAM cinemaFEST (Brooklyn Academy of Music)
Screening date/time: Friday, June 17th at 6:50pm
LA Film Fest (LAFF)
This screening is free! You just have to make sure to come early enough to get a seat.
Regal Cinemas LA Live 10
Screening date/time: Sunday, June 19th at 6:45pm
Nantucket Film Festival
Friday, June 24th at 12:30pm
Saturday, June 25th at 5pm
Wednesday, May 25, 2011
Indigenous Say It on Film
By Neena Bhandari
SYDNEY, May 25, 2011 (IPS) - From the Australian bush to Alaska’s Arctic wilderness, indigenous peoples’ stories and perspectives take centre stage at the Message Sticks Film Festival, the only annual event of its kind in Australia.
Message Sticks opened at the Sydney Opera House on May 13 and tours nationally until Aug. 24, through remote Aboriginal communities in the towns of Broome, Townsville, Cairns, Alice Springs and Yirrkala, besides screening to mainstream audiences in state and territory capitals.
"The festival has grown in terms of audience and the quality of works," said Australian indigenous film and documentary director Rachel Perkins.
"The pool of indigenous filmmakers has also grown with more access to targeted programmes for skills development. This, coupled with the means of production becoming more economically viable, has meant that there is more content to draw from," Perkins, who has been the festival curator for the past 12 years, told IPS.
A decade ago it was difficult to get an audience for an indigenous film, but interest in contemporary stories on native peoples has grown substantially.
In the 1970s, there were no feature films with an indigenous Australian in a key creative role. But the first decade of the 2000s has seen native filmmakers contribute to nine features and 16 TV dramas, according to Screen Australia’s The Black List, which catalogues the work of 257 Aboriginal Australians on a total of 674 screen productions.
The Sydney Opera House started Message Sticks in 2000 to commemorate "Sorry Day", a tribute to the so-called Stolen Generations—tens of thousands of indigenous children forcibly taken from their families between 1900 and 1970 under the Government Assimilation Policies to "breed out" Aborigine blood and supposedly provide them with a better life.
Although Message Sticks began in this context, Perkins said, it is now a niche festival showing the best indigenous films from around the world.
A standout film at this year’s event has been "On the Ice" by Andrew Okpeaha MacLean. It won the Crystal Bear and Best First Feature at Berlin, and demonstrates a filmmaker working at the top of his craft with an appreciation for storytelling, but strongly grounded in the indigenous and very contemporary world of filmmaking.
MacLean, who grew up in Barrow Village in Alaska’s Inuit (Eskimo) nation, said "My film is set in the aftermath of a murder and explores themes of morality. Even if one escapes, there is no real way of getting away from the crime, which ripples out into the community and impacts people on the periphery. In our village of about 4,000 people, everybody knows everyone so crime in the village, unlike in a big city, is not anonymous or impersonal."
The film is an extension of a short film MacLean, an Iñupiaq, made in 2008 called "Sikumi", which won the Sundance Film Festival Jury Prize on Short Filmmaking that year.
While technology is making it easier for indigenous films to reach out to a global audience, MacLean, who has a Masters degree from the New York University film school, said, "For small independent films with no great stars, there is no government funding and it is difficult to raise funds. It took three years from script to screen."
The festival opened in Sydney and Melbourne with Australian indigenous writer and director Beck Cole’s debut feature "Here I Am," which tells the story of a young woman’s difficult journey reconnecting with her mother and daughter after being released from prison.
Karen, the central character in the film, faces the difficult truth that shame is a powerful force, and sometimes the most important person to forgive is oneself. "It was my desire to tell a story about a family of women trying to mend itself and to give audiences an opportunity to enter a world they otherwise might not know about," Cole told IPS.
Aboriginal adults, who comprise around two percent of Australia’s total adult population, make up over 25 percent of prisoners, and Cole is hoping her film would help many of these adults forgive themselves and reconnect with family and society.
According to the 2006 census, Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait islanders comprise only 2.5 per cent or 517,000 of the country's 22 million population. They have been one of the most marginalised populations in the developed world.
But their identity is evolving, said Perkins. "In the most positive sense, it is defined by having a consciousness about the original culture of Australia and an identification and connection with that heritage, whilst also embracing the experience of living in a contemporary Australian society."
Actress, writer and director Pauline Whyman, who hosts the festival tour, told IPS, "Message Sticks films often have the effect of drawing you into the sheer diversity of the story telling and the breadth of talent the filmmakers share that brings excellence in filmmaking to the world."
In recent years, indigenous filmmakers have achieved both critical and commercial acclaim. "Filmmakers have developed their skills over time. We are seeing filmmakers graduate from short form works to narrative movies. This has meant we have a wider variety of dramatic works to choose from," Perkins told IPS. The other films that premiered at Message Sticks include Native American director Billy Luther’s "Grab," an intimate portrayal of Grab Day in the villages of the Laguna Pueblo tribe in New Mexico; Mexican director Carlos Pérez Rojas’s "And the River Flows On," about the conflict between the Mexican government and the indigenous communities threatened by the La Parota hydro-electric dam on the Papagayo River in Guerrero state; and Australian director Ivan Sen’s "Shifting Shelter 4" which follows the lives of four young Aboriginal teenagers dealing with the harsh realities of life and raising their own families.
Perkins said the government has committed to supporting indigenous cinema as a contribution to Australian culture. "The immediate challenge is that demand for quality indigenous content has increased, so we must now focus on identifying and supporting new indigenous talent to take up this opportunity," she said.
Click HERE for the article online.
Andrew and I had the great fortune to be invited to Australia for the Message Sticks Film Festival, hosted at the incredible Sydney Opera House.
We were able to send some time with many talented artists there including Rachel Perkins, Darren Dale, Jessica Beck, and Tammy Davis. All of them are pictured here, except Jess.
Andrew participated in a fantastic panel with Warwick Thorton (writer/director of the Camera d'Or winning film "Samson and Delilah"); Wesley Enoch (playwright, director, artistic director of Queensland Theater Company), Stephen Page (artistic director of the Bangarra Dance Theatre); Hetti Perkins (curator at Art Gallery NSW) and Rachel Perkins (Festival curator of Message Sticks Film Festival).
It was the best panel I've been too in a very long time. Rachel did an excellent job of mediating, leading the discussion with humor, warmth, and candor. It was refreshing to hear such a diverse group of people frankly discuss their experiences as Aboriginal artists in Australia in 2011, as well as the complex politics that go along with it. Andrew functioned as an outside voice that offered a useful comparison from a place with a very different, but not entirely dissimilar, history. I can't quite believe I'm saying this, but I didn't want the panel to end. If they put the video of it online I'll try to post it here.
While we were in Australia, a troubled man climbed the Harbour Bridge in protest over something involving his child's custody case. He made it to the top of the bridge, unfurled a huge banner that said "kids first!" and then stopped traffic for hours and hours because the bridge security there was worried he or someone else would get hurt if cars were allowed to pass by. Anyway, I don't know all the details, but the bridge was quite the topic of conversation. Picture it with a huge ON THE ICE banner instead. Maybe I should give that guy a call.
ON THE ICE is being co-presented by the Sydney Film Festival. We were there for the Sydney Film Festival launch at the Customs House and have a nice page in their program. It is an adventurous collaboration between the two festivals; our film marks their very first co-presentation. I hope it has blazed a trail for other partnerships in the future and we're looking forward to developing it further.
Our second screening in Australia was in a suburb of Sydney called Blacktown. We had a lively Q&A with a diverse audience of people from all over the world. Afterwords we had the great pleasure to meet a wonderful group of Sudanese artists who have settled in Blacktown after being sent there as refugees. Many of them have lived there for over 10 years and told us about their theater work in the community.
Our Blacktown screening started off our national screening tour of Australia. If you live in another area of Australia and would like to see our film please click HERE for more information.
The last thing I'll mention is the moving performance we saw by Ursula Yovich. She did a cabaret night of songs and personal stories that we loved. She's exceptionally talented--quite a diva, in the best sense. She did a beautiful rendition of Somewhere Over the Rainbow in the three languages of her life, Brada, Serbian and English. You can watch a video of her doing it in Melbourne at a different event HERE.
We're back in New York for a short time and then we're off to the Seattle International Film Festival on June 1st. Andrew and I will be mentors in Native Lens' Superfly filmmaking workshop for young people. More on that later.
Monday, May 2, 2011
Andrew Okpeaha MacLean Captures Life on the Ice
by Paulette Beete
Situated amidst miles of Arctic tundra and geographically isolated even from other parts of Alaska, the town of Barrow, the northernmost point in the United States, might seem an unlikely place to launch a film career. But that's exactly where filmmaker Andrew Okpeaha MacLean -- whose first feature-length film On the Ice was recently honored at the Berlin Film Festival -- first decided to step behind the camera.
An Iñupiaq Eskimo, MacLean grew up mostly in Barrow and Fairbanks. After earning an undergraduate theater degree at the University of Washington, he decided he wanted to improve his Iñupiaq language skills and headed back to Barrow where a cousin convinced him to start a theater company. "It was a theater dedicated to performing in the Iñupiaq language. We would write plays with the help of elders who spoke the language more fluently and then we'd perform them and have to learn the lines entirely in Iñupiaq," he explained.
While MacLean enjoyed his theater work, he wanted to find a way to reach people beyond the local community. "I [wanted] to do something on a larger scale and reach a wider audience, and films seemed a way to do that. I could be making things that were centered in Barrow or that really spoke to who I was and where I was from, and be able to reach out to people that were beyond the communities where I was living." Despite having no film experience, he was accepted to New York University on a scholarship, and a filmmaker was born.
All of MacLean's films to date have been set, at least in part, in Barrow and its surrounding landscape. As is true with all hard-to-reach places, the inhabitants of Alaska's North Slope remain a mystery to outsiders, and much of their characterization in popular culture is half-truth verging on caricature. MacLean's filmmaking is a reflection of his desire to let people know what being an Eskimo is really like. "We're in a kind of strange position that everybody in the world has heard of Eskimos. Most people have some kind of strange notions -- they rely on stereotypes they've heard….We're like a punch line or something. Nobody really knows us. I want to make art that is reflective of a more genuine aspect of our experience."
He added that there is an implicit political angle to his filmmaking. "In the Arctic right now, we've got this avalanche of information and narrative and stories that just piles into our lives from the dominant Western culture. Movies, television, Internet, Facebook, music…I want to start answering that back. I want to start making people listen to us for a change. I've seen a million movies about you guys, now here's a movie about us that you have to sit and watch."
MacLean said physical environment looms large as he develops his projects, which isn't surprising given the dramatic landscapes of his childhood. "I think that environment and place have been important in everything I've done as a filmmaker. The Arctic is a unique place, and it really has this feeling of being at the end of the world. I tend to try and exploit that or to use that in the films I make."
MacLean's use of landscape to heighten emotion is especially evident in his short film Sikumi (2008), which received numerous awards at North American film festivals and is the first film shot entirely in the Iñupiaq language. In the opening scenes, the viewer is confronted with white as far as the eye can see. Sky and land are virtually the same pale, icy shade, and the hunter and his sled dogs seem impossibly small against the vast blank canvas of the hunting ground. A friend of MacLean's characterized the atmosphere as akin to that of a classic Western, and indeed, despite the film's short length, the moral battle that plays out between the two main characters has the epic scope of a John Ford vehicle.
"I think part of being out there in this incredibly open, desolate landscape gives the feeling that the characters could get away with anything. We created a kind of moral ambiguity….You bring your morality with you and you can't escape it even in places like that," said MacLean.
That question of morality and how a person's moral code is affected by place and by culture compelled MacLean to make On the Ice (2011), which is in many ways an amplification of Sikumi. Like Sikumi, On the Ice also starts with a murder, but then follows the characters as they return to town and wrestle with the consequences of their actions. It is important to note that On the Ice is not just a continuation of or sequel to Sikumi: the characters are teens, the action is set in the 21st century, and the characters speak mostly in English. (In Sikumi, the characters are much older, and the setting is the mid-20th century.) This was an important shift for MacLean as it allowed him to explore how the younger generations of Iñupiaq live.
"I was interested in what young people are going through up there right now and where they're drawing their identity from," he noted. "They're caught up in this maelstrom of information and story and everything just getting poured into them from outside. But at the same time, they're very conscious of where they came from and who they are as Iñupiaq. So they're really drawing their identities from two very different places: from traditions that stretch back for hundreds and thousands of years, and then also from contemporary pop culture that reinvents itself every 15 minutes. That kind of violence [in the film] happens all over the world, but I wanted to make the response to it specific. I wanted to look at how these kids would respond to it as somebody who comes from this specific community, from this specific culture."
Although most news stories refer to MacLean as a Native filmmaker, it's a title he wears lightly. "Nobody wants to be ghettoized. Nobody wants to be stuck with a label that limits your possibilities. I look at myself as a Native filmmaker because I'm Native and because I'm a filmmaker and it just makes sense. It's something that I'm proud of." He added, "I think the only potential negative is when people…attribute any sort of success to a kind of affirmative action or this sort of cultural curiosity. Fortunately, we can answer with the films that we make and with how well they actually do and the audiences that they actually reach."
MacLean cautioned, however, that though his culture permeates his work, he doesn't consider himself a cultural preservationist. "I'm too young to be a tradition bearer; that's the job of the elders. The films I make are part of the conversation, but they're not there to preserve something. That would put them in the position of being more or less museum pieces."
Instead, his goal is to use film to be honest about the community of which he's a part -- culturally, historically, and environmentally. In fact, MacLean believes that honesty is the primary job of the artist. "The responsibility of the artist is to make work that's real and that's reflective of something that's true. You have to be true to your own vision of the voice you're trying to find. I've seen with other filmmakers…especially in Native communities, that people get defensive or people get upset with artists who bring a negative aspect of the culture to light. I remember when Chris Eyre made Skins and people were giving him crap because he was doing a film that referenced alcoholism in the Native community. But to me it seems obvious that that is part of what an artist is supposed to do, to provoke those sorts of things."