I've been hesitant to write the final blog post in the festival because doing so would acknowledge that it's over. But all things must pass. And if you gotta go out, go out with a blowout: the closing night party concluded with a massive electricity blackout at the Lido and surrounding area. Since the party people had their own power supply, though, everybody kept on dancing in the (near) dark.
Earlier in the day, the news came in that the big festival winners were CAPTAIN ABU RAED, the first film from Jordan in 50 years; and FUGITIVE PIECES, the dramatic, nonlinear tale of a World War II survivor who has trouble shaking the past. Best narrative short went to Paul Hough's THE ANGEL. Complete winners list at the end of this post.
I'm not at all surprised by the Cap'n crunching his competition, but FUGITIVE PIECES is a surprise. It's respectable but dour, and doesn't really add much to its genre. It's basically your parents' idea of an art movie, the kind for people who don't see a lot of art movies.
I think I saw pretty much the best of the fest before even attending — few of the movies I actually watched in the theater made go, “Yeah, that was good, I wouldn't have minded paying to see it.” But on the last day I did see one that qualified, a Brazilian film called THE MILKY WAY (A VIA LACTEA). Much like another festival fave of mine, ABOUT CRYING, it's an experimentally structured movie about a couple coming apart. The movie begins with a fight between professional academic Heitor (Marco Ricca) and his younger lady love, actress Julia (I AM LEGEND's Alice Braga, looking much better here).
As Heitor deals with his feelings of jealousy and tries to find Julia to reconcile, the narrative jumps around in time to their first meaning, and other events in their life, including an encounter with a wounded dog that will come to be more significant than initially thought. If you've seen Marc Forster's STAY (and you probably haven't; few did) you might have an idea where this is going.
Interesting sound design on this — one of the rules you learn in film school is that you NEVER have dead silence on a film soundtrack (there should always be some kind of environmental ambience, room tone, or even a space filler like “arctic wind”), but I swear, this movie does have moments of absolute dead silence, like the speakers in the theater just cut out. Maybe they did? Nahh, I suspect the movie. It sorta works, except that if it really worked well I wouldn't be noticing and writing all these words about it.
As for the cinematography, there's a whole Steadicam sequence shot from a cat's point of view, which I think is a cinematic first.
Less effective as a film is SHALL WE GATHER AT THE RIVER (which is not the 1992 film listed on imdb). Every year at NBFF we get treated to a documentary made by someone who isn't a filmmaker, on a subject dear to that person's heart, and even if I try to separate my assessment of filmmaking versus topic, any negative words ten to be viewed by readers and fans as a personal attack.
But as I told the director of THE ART OF TRAVEL in a surprisingly cordial e-mail exchange, if I rated films based on the amount of hard work that goes into them, I'd never give a negative review, because I know how hard it is to make them. Audiences, however, don't care. They want an evaluation of the final product as compared to similar products. That said, if you are a filmmaker who truly loves what you do, bad reviews shouldn't stop you, whether they be written by me or anyone else.
So let me be clear: SHALL WE GATHER AT THE RIVER is a good piece of agitprop with a well-made argument. It is not, however, a very good film.
You don't see many movies made by politicians, and this arguably demonstrates why. Former Oklahom state representative Don McCorkell is the director and star here, and he's basically advocating for massive reform of factory farming.
I know I said I was a voracious carnivore, but I'm actually quite open to movies like this and books like FAST FOOD NATION changing my mind if they can. I wouldn't mind being scared into eating right. So I don;t object to the film's message at all.
What I object to is McCorkell putting himself front and center, with gratuitous costume changes and overdone hand gestures. To say the man is not a natural on camera is like saying Pamela Anderson is not flat-chested, and I mention Pam because when PETA makes movies like this, they understand the importance of having an attractive and camera-savvy pitch-person, be it Pammy or Alec Baldwin. McCorkell is so clearly reading off of cue cards that he even pauses in the wrong part of a sentence sometimes, as if he mistook a speck of dust for a comma.
He's also not great with metaphors. There's a lot of good information here, from the fact that most of the antibiotics in the U.S. are given to animals as a growth stimulant, to the fact that arsenic and phosphorous are in the feed (the latter to strengthen chicken bones), or that if we raised human babies as we do chickens, a 2-1/2 year-old toddler would weigh 349 pounds.
But presenting this info as a giant report card, with a lot of “F” grades? Lame, and annoying when it's frequently returned to. A little more imagination would have gone a long way. And when McCorkell kinda-sorta compares himself to Upton Sinclair at the end, I have to simply say, “Uhhh, no.”
McCorkell gets exactly one great shot in at the end, catching a horse turning its head as if it's turning to give you, the viewer, a dramatic stare — it's like that prairie dog video on Youtube. One good shot is a start.
As an educational video for the classroom, this is an acceptable piece of work. As an argument, it's strong. As a movie, it isn't well-made.
And that's a wrap on the coverage, folks. Now, as promised, the winners:
Best Film – Fugitive Pieces
Best Actor – Nadim Sawalha, Captain Abu Raed
Best Actress – Rana Sultan, Captain Abu Raed
Best Director – Jeremy Podeswa, Fugitive Pieces
Best Cinematographer – Gregory Middleton, Fugitive Pieces
Best Screenplay – Jeremy Podeswa, Fugitive Pieces
Best Documentary Film – Mardik: From Baghdad to Hollywood
Best Narrative Short Film – The Angel
Best Animated Short Film – Yoga Noga Reyoga
Best Short Documentary Film – Carissa
2008 NEWPORT BEACH FILM FESTIVAL HONORS
Outstanding Performance in Acting – Mark Webber, The Good Life
Outstanding Performance in Acting – Joe Mantegna, Elvis and Anabelle
Outstanding Performance in Acting – Lake Bell, Still Waters
Outstanding Performance in Acting – Shelly Cole, The Village Barbershop
Breakout Performance – Chris Klein, The Good Life (Breakout how? Election and American Pie didn't break him out enough?)
Breakout Performance – Blake Lively, Elvis and Anabelle
Outstanding Achievement in Filmmaking – Lie to Me
Outstanding Achievement in Filmmaking – Elvis and Anabelle
Outstanding Achievement in Filmmaking – The Art of Travel
Outstanding Achievement in Filmmaking – What We Do Is Secret
Outstanding Achievement in Directing – Richie Mehta, Amal
Humanitarian Vision Award – Camp Woz: The Admirable Lunacy of Philanthropy
Humanitarian Vision Award – For Tomorrow
Outstanding Achievement in Documentary – Hollywood Singing and Dancing
Outstanding Achievement in Documentary – Flow: For Love Of Water
Outstanding Achievement in Documentary – Trying To Get Good: The Jazz Odyssey of Jack Sheldon (Doug McIntyre gets bragging rights over fellow KABC host Larry Elder now; Elder's pro-gun doc “Michael N Me” hasn't gone anywhere)
Outstanding Achievement in Documentary – Beautiful Losers
Outstanding Achievement in Action Sports Filmmaking – Under The Sun
Outstanding Achievement in Family Filmmaking -The Adventures of Food Boy
Outstanding Achievement in Filmmaking Cinematography – Night
Outstanding Achievement in Short Documentary Filmmaking – On Great White Wings
Laszlo Kovacs Cinematography Award – Red Like the Sky
LYT Award: the Tracey Fragments. (This award exists only in my own mind)