GOOD

Thora Birch on film

Thora Birch on film festivals and the indie spirit.


As any movie buff can attest, the major festivals still set the tone for industry-wide interest. The movies we "in the biz" end up buzzing about when the award season rolls around are the ones that won either the Audience Award or Jury Prize-or at least a standing ovation. Meanwhile, many in the film community can be heard complaining that these same festivals have lost their indie spirit. "Sundance is too formulaic in scope and it's commercialized," they say. "And Toronto has become star-obsessed."Arguably good points, if not overly generalized. Whenever I hear people talk about the lost spirit of major film festivals, I can't help but reflect on the reality: Indie for indie's sake doesn't always work. Sometimes it requires embracing a film that doesn't resonate with an audience larger than might fit in the VIP room of a New York club. How many times have I asked myself, "Whatever happened to the movie that won the Palme d'Or at Cannes-what was it called again?" (In 2006 it was Ken Loach's The Wind That Shakes the Barley; a few years earlier it was Gus Van Sant's Elephant. Remember that one? No?) Some festivals were created simply to showcase movies that might not make money, but the current purpose of most major fests is to serve as a mechanism for studios to find saleable films. Little Miss Sunshine, an archetypal example of an indie smash, first made noise at Sundance last January. It went on to bank a killing at the box office.Indie or not, I'll agree there has been a return to form at festivals. There was a moment when the hot film festivals were less focused on showcasing fresh cinema than they were on acting as a glorified mini-mall of future would-be fashion and technology trends. More recently, it seems, film festivals have all become really serious, really quickly-most likely in response to the avalanche of bad news the past five years has bestowed upon us. Now, the major acclaim seems to be going to highly topical features with Newsday-worthy resonance: The Last King of Scotland, United 93, and Catch a Fire are festival successes that could never be described as "easy crowd pleasers." It's almost as though the heavy subject matter forced directors to screen at a few choice festivals beforehand to "gain audience awareness." Therein lies the paradox3 of the festival circuit.Thankfully, though, there are still a number of festivals young enough to be exuberant, where the film-going public-not just industry insiders, stars and critics-fills not only the seats but the screens as well. To attend these festivals, you just have to be willing to travel off the map-sometimes way off.Two of the most interesting indie movies I've seen this year were screened at the Jackson Hole Film Festival. This Wyoming festival doesn't stray from the set-in-a-beautiful-location-with-many-outdoorsy-diversions formula: the locale is truly peaceful, even for visitors who aren't stocked up on sunblock4 and weatherized hiking boots. That, and there's also a program of great films you're sure to have missed otherwise. On the roster this year was the refreshing, hard-to-find little gem Aurora Borealis-from James C.E. Burke-about mundane people living in a mundane town. Despite its sedate plot, the film is blissfully memorable and unapologetically heartwarming. Another standout was Red State, a choppy, downright awkward documentary from first-time director Michael Shea, about his struggle to reconcile how his own countrymen could ever have been persuaded to vote for the current administration. While the piece is a real conversation starter, I highly doubt it will ever land distribution of any sort, not even by Red-State-hating cable networks like HBO.But beyond the fests that only seem to indulge in the red-carpet rigamarole, there is a long list of festivals comparable to the one in Jackson Hole: Aspen, Telluride, Savannah, Rhode Island-and those are just in the U.S. The international choices are seductive as well, not to mention the many specialty fests (family films, horror, documentaries, digital, and shorts, to name a few). Outside of film-school classrooms and the internet, there is no real home for smaller genres. I was recently a judge at the Los Angeles Shorts Fest, and while their programs were intriguing, it was actually the audience that took the cake because it's at these smaller festivals where you can get a feel for what's on people's minds. Most of the work is by laptop filmmakers, who tackle the art as a replacement for hobbies, but with the obsessive passion of a collector. These writer/director/creators, who are almost always around, are very open and fun to talk to. They're also usually upfront about their process and so pleased to be exhibiting their work to anyone, anywhere, that they come off as endearingly excited, which is infectious. For those who rarely encounter genuine ebullience within the film community, the experience can be akin to getting a pep talk from a cheery Ghost of Future Film.
Articles
Julian Meehan

Young leaders from around the world are gathering at the United Nations Headquarters in New York Saturday to address arguably the most urgent issue of our time. The Youth Climate Summit comes on the heels of an international strike spearheaded by Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old climate activist from Sweden, who arrived in New York via emissions-free sailboat earlier this month.

Translated from Swedish, "berg" means "mountain," so it may feel fated that a young woman with Viking blood in her veins and summit in her name would be at the helm. But let's go out on a limb and presume Thunberg, in keeping with most activists, would chafe at the notion of pre-ordained "destiny," and rightly so. Destiny is passive — it happens to you. It's also egomaniacal. Change, on the other hand, is active; you have to fight. And it is humble. "We need to get angry and understand what is at stake," Thunberg declared. "And then we need to transform that anger into action."

This new generation of activists' most pernicious enemy is denial. The people in charge — complacent politicians and corporation heads who grossly benefit from maintaining the status quo — are buffered from real-life consequences of climate change. But millions of people don't share that privilege. For them, climate change isn't an abstract concept, but a daily state of emergency, whether it comes in the form of "prolonged drought in sub-Saharan Africa…devastating tropical storms sweeping across Southeast Asia, the Caribbean and the Pacific…[or] heatwaves and wildfires," as Amnesty International reportsare all too real problems people are facing on a regular basis.

RELATED: Greta Thunberg urges people to turn to nature to combat climate change

Keep Reading Show less
The Planet

Millions of people in over 150 countries across the globe marched for lawmakers and corporations to take action to help stop climate change on Friday, September 20.

The Climate Strikes were organized by children around the world as an extension of the of the "Fridays for Future" campaign. Students have been walking out of classrooms on Fridays to speak out about political inaction surrounding the climate crisis.

"We need to act right now to stop burning fossil fuels and ensure a rapid energy revolution with equity, reparations and climate justice at its heart," organizers say.

There's no doubt the visual images from the marches send a powerful message to those on the ground but especially those watching from around the world. GOOD's own Gabriel Reilich was on the scene for the largest of the Climate Strikes. Here are 18 of the best signs from the Climate Strike march in New York City.

Keep Reading Show less

September 20th marks the beginning of a pivotal push for the future of our planet. The Global Climate Strike will set the stage for the United Nations Climate Action Summit, where more than 60 nations are expected to build upon their commitment to 2015's Paris Agreement for combating climate change.

Millions of people are expected to take part in an estimated 4,000 events across 130 countries.

Keep Reading Show less
The Planet
via Apple

When the iPhone 11 debuted on September 10, it was met with less enthusiasm than the usual iPhone release. A lot of techies are holding off purchasing the latest gadget until Apple releases a phone with 5G technology.

Major US phone carriers have yet to build out the infrastructure necessary to provide a consistent 5G experience, so Apple didn't feel it necessary to integrate the technology into its latest iPhone.

A dramatic new feature on the iPhone 11 Pro is its three camera lenses. The three lenses give users the the original wide, plus ultrawide and telephoto options.

Keep Reading Show less
Health
via I love butter / Flickr

We often dismiss our dreams as nonsensical dispatches from the mind while we're deep asleep. But recent research proves that our dreams can definitely affect our waking lives.

People often dream about their significant others and studies show it actually affects how we behave towads them the next day.

"A lot of people don't pay attention to their dreams and are unaware of the impact they have on their state of mind," said Dylan Selterman, psychology lecturer at the University of Maryland, says according to The Huffington Post. "Now we have evidence that there is this association."

Keep Reading Show less
Health