Posts Tagged ‘history’

Apollo’s Girl

May 14, 2017


Exiles: Away From Home…

Stefan Zweig: Farewell to Europe
(Opens May 12 in NYC at Lincoln Plaza;
June 16 in LA at Laemmle Royal)

For a rich and deeply satisfying look back at Germany between the wars (this time through the eyes of one of its most celebrated exiles), see Maria Schrader’s Stefan Zweig: Farewell to Europe. This is a big, beautifully made film, powerful and affective. The screenplay (by Schrader and Jan Schomburg) gives all of Zweig’s complexities their due; his refusal to condemn Germany, his ambivalence about his fame, his need for both solitude and for friends and family in exile. Schrader has chosen a cool, objective approach to her subject, which frames the white heat of politics and culture threatening to burst into flame in every sequence, and hooks you from Scene One.

The cast is an Olympian match for the material: Josef Hader (as Zweig); Barbara Sukowa and Aenne Schwarz (as Zweig’s first and second wives, both of whom accompanied him abroad en famille), and a host of others (playing the many artists and politicians who were integral to Zweig’s circle) create an entirely believable moment when the world was turned upside down and changed forever. Schrader, famous for her role in Aimėe & Jaguar, applies all her acting smarts to her cast’s talents and draws a gorgeous film from DP Wolfgang Thaler and editor Hanzjőrg Weißrich.

Because the technical, aesthetic and dramatic elements are always in perfect balance, and the tensions between Zweig’s inner life and his public persona heighten the intensity of the portrait, it’s as close to total immersion as you can get without actually having been there. Surely you will be inspired to move on to Zweig’s novels and essays, which made him the most successful writer of his time and have continued to remain the basis of dozens of films right up to Wes Anderson’s Grand Budapest Hotel of 2014. (P.S.: Pay attention to the way the end of Zweig is shot. Fascinating choices!) Deservedly Austria’s nominee for Best Foreign Film.

(Opens May 12 in NYC at Cinema Village;
June 2 at O Cinema Miami Beach)

Full of turbulence and moving at warp speed, Elián will keep you breathless and on the edge of your seat right up to the end of the narrative: Elián Gonzalez was only a little boy when he was found alone, clinging to an inner tube, in the ocean between Havana and Miami. The boat on which he had traveled with his mother, her boyfriend and dozens of Cuban refugees had sunk, and his mother had drowned. Overnight, the beautiful child became a sensation—television crews and reporters swarmed the house where he lived with the Miami aunts, great-uncles and cousins who had claimed him. The media circus exploded into a cause célèbre for Miami’s Cuban exiles, always at the boiling point, and for the many public officials who joined the efforts (pro and con) to grant American citizenship to Elián and to prevent his return to Cuba, where his father (who had learned he was gone only after the boy and his mother had fled under cover of darkness) had immediately sought to reclaim his son.

Photo by Shaun Best REUTERS

Eventually, members of Congress and Janet Reno (then Attorney General) determined Elián should live in Cuba with his father. The fire and brimstone that accompanied every twist in the story were shocking in their ferocity. There were daily confrontations on the streets of Miami and Havana; instead of cooling with the passing of time, the violence escalated, with demonstrators, police, Federal agencies, religious institutions and—always—hordes of media pouring accelerant on the flames. The ugliness lasted six months, until Elian’s father flew to Andrews Air Force Base to join his son after Federal agents stormed the home in Miami where Elian, hiding in a closet, was literally snatched from the arms of the fisherman who had originally found him. The entire affair could not be forgotten; its after-effects impacted the presidential election of 2000, and US foreign policy for over a decade.

Benefitting from a wealth of footage (which spares us none of the competing opinions and shameful frenzy of the many participants), Elián is still remarkably even-handed. Not only in exposing the disturbing zealotry of the exiles in Miami (which caused the INS the Border Patrol to stage the armed rescue raid that terrified the little boy), but in Cuba as well. Through no fault of his own, Elián had became a pawn in the United States as a symbol of “democracy”, and then again in Cuba where, after his return, he was “adopted” by Castro as a symbol of Cuban ideals.

Despite the heat of its subject, this film is told and made by experts who really know their stuff: Ross McDonnell and Tim Golden have, between them, filmed and written prize-winning material that is both intensely emotional and impeccably researched. As I discovered while digging through the internet, Golden published a piece in 1994 (it haunts me still) read article here about how the US destroyed the then-state-of-the-art Cuban health care system, several others about Elián Gonzalez, and a series on the abuses of Guantanamo.

There is no question that Elián will roil your heart and your mind as you are horrified by the brutality of the forces pulling at the traumatized six-year-old. The film also spends quality time with the grownup Elian, who seems to have weathered the storms of politics, just as he once weathered the shipwreck that left him without a mother and at the mercy of forces far beyond his control. Whatever your feelings about the issues, you will be shaken by this chapter of very recent history whose ending still remains to be written. Don’t miss it.


Apollo’s Girl

January 22, 2015


apollo and lyre




Miss Hill: Worth Waiting For…

Who doesn’t need good news in 2015? Especially when it’s about a film that has everything going for it: Its run begins on Friday, January 23 at the Quad Cinema, 34 West 13 Street, NYC (212) 255-2243. Bonus: the filmmaker will be there at 7pm on Friday and Saturday, and at 4:30pm on Saturday and Sunday. Even bigger bonus: the film has been extended another week (through February 5); don’t miss it!

posterMiss Hill: Making Dance Matter was a labor of love for Greg Vander Veer, whose own life and career have, like Miss Hill’s, taken some unexpected turns. With a passion for documentaries, this Vermont native’s fate was sealed by four years at Hendrix College in Little Rock, Arkansas. “This school was in the Princeton Review as a best buy – being the best college for the least amount of money. It was wonderful; very small, and they didn’t have a film department. So I studied history and joined their interdisciplinary program, where I went to Australia to study film. I didn’t have to learn a language (that kind of narrowed it down) and discovered the country’s amazing documentary industry. I liked the people, did well and wanted to live there. But as an American I wasn’t going to get any funding. So I came back and moved to New York.”

For a few years I was a pedicab driver until I was ready to start making films. I wrote to Al Maysles because I loved his movies. His generosity of spirit—he’s so giving! And I was lucky enough to become an intern and eventually to work for him.” But working with dance was accidental. Vander hill 6Veer’s first film (Keep Dancing, with Donald Saddler and Marge Champion) was launched at a party where someone told him about the legendary pair. Of course, one thing led to another as he became immersed in the dance world. And Miss Hill first came to life when Vander Veer met a board member of the Martha Hill Dance Fund at a bar. (This, people, is how things often happen.)

I didn’t know Martha Hill; I wasn’t that familiar with modern dance. But it was important for me to make a film that told a bigger story. I wanted to explore people’s emotions and options so that a general audience could understand them. Hill’s decision to give up dancing herself to enable other dancers must have been very hard–and the audience can feel it. And what happened with Balanchine is so typical of human nature; the competition, and he had all this stuff on his side.”

As with every film, the hardest part of making Miss Hill hill4was raising the money for it. Vander Veer credits the Martha Hill Dance Fund, with its enormous list of executive producers. All were volunteers, inspired by the sense of community Hill built in her lifetime. “A community that really changed the dance world,” he adds.

A third meeting (on CraigsList, when he was still working on Keep Dancing) is what gave Vander Veer the team he needed to turn ideas into movies. Editor Elisa Del Prato answered his ad and convinced him to work with her. “She’s really got a gift for rhythmic cutting…we sit in tandem, working together. She doesn’t like to do things in the normal way—arguing, fighting, disagreeing. We’re just there the whole time, editing the film. We complement each other. The music of the editing and the structure of the story are really independent of one another, but in perfect balance. Elisa doesn’t care about story that much—she didn’t research Martha Hill; I did. I’m there for the story. It’s a good balance, although it kept shifting throughout the process. As director, I had the final decision, but she was persuasive!”

With two films finished, the team is wrapping up a third, far from the subject of dance: shot on location in Ethiopia by Peter Buntaine, it entwines ecology with ancient history, mystery, and the natural world. It’s got science, and the impact of everyone in the forests—atheists, priests, flora, fauna—the conflicts of those who struggle to protect and those who destroy It will include music recorded in the field and an original score. We suspect it will push the envelope a bit. And Vander Veer admits there is also a new project on the horizon, which he will announce in a few weeks. Stay tuned…

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