Film Festivals Favorites – 2013

When at film festivals, I often don’t get a chance to watch a whole lot of films.  What I do get to watch mostly depends on what is available when the opportunity presents itself or what is playing at the theater I’m running.  I may not always see the movies that get a lot of the attention but I usually end up catching an interesting assortment of memorable films.   These are some of my favorites from this last film festival season.



Frances Ha is directed by Noah Baumbach (The Squid and the Whale, Margot at the Wedding) and stars Greta Gerwig as Frances, a twentysomething New Yorker whose dreams may not exactly be coming true but she gets by with an irresistible lightness of spirit.  In one way, it is yet another film about someone of that age group trying figure things out but Gerwig, who started out as a supporting actress in a series of mumblecore films and played opposite Ben Stiler in Baumbachs’ Greenberg, gives a charismatic and kinetic performance that makes the film.  It is not only her best performance yet but she co-wrote the screenplay as well.  The film is often reminiscent of some of Woody Allen at his best and it demonstrates just how influential of a filmmaker he really is.  It is shot in beautiful, high contrast black and white (again calling to mind Woody Allen).  Frances Ha is an endearing and funny film about growing up and finding your way and about friendship and hope.



Stories We Tell is a film from Sarah Polley (Away From Her, Take This Waltz) about her family and her background but also about storytelling and memory.  It is a documentary rich with multi-layered storytelling, but it is so well told and filled with artistically interesting filmmaking choices that it begins to feel much more like a work of narrative fiction.  It is compelling to watch as the story unravels layers of a mystery and reveals the dynamics of her family.  Polley is a mature and gifted filmmaker and she has managed to create and very unique, eloquent and memorable film.



Even at the age of 90, French New Wave legend, Alain Resnais continues to experiment and redefine cinematic language in his latest film.  In it, thirteen actors are summoned for the last will and testament of a stage director who asks them to evaluate a new production of a play, Eurydice, which they happen to all have acted in previously under his direction.  As the actors watch the video of the new production, they are moved to recite the dialogue and soon begin to step into the same roles they have played in the past. The actors in the film are played by some of the finest actors that Resnais has worked with throughout the years.  This delightful and intellectual film is meta on several different levels.  It is an artful and often amusing reflection on love and life, the past and death. This film is a jewel.  Should Alain Resnais not make another film, this would be a fitting swansong to a brilliant career.



Shira, a young woman in a very traditional Hassidic community in Tel Aviv, finds herself in a difficult position after her sister dies during childbirth and she soon begins to feel pressure to marry her sister’s husband.  This film draws the viewer into a very insular world, one at odds in many ways with modern culture, and provides insight that allows the comprehension of a situation that could seem foreign to many.  It is a subtle, warm and lush film.  The cinematography is beautiful as are the costumes.  It is filled with strong female characters and the performances are all perfect.  This is a gorgeous film.



This documentary provides and intimate and powerful look at the brutal Isreali/Palestinian conflict from the perspective of all surviving directors of the Shin Bet, Israel’s secretive intelligence and security service (their equivalent to the CIA).  It is a powerful and eye-opening examination of the conflict from the Six-Day War in 1967 to the present.  Some of it is startling and the storytelling is engrossing.



The legendary Memphis band, Big Star released three excellent and beautiful albums in the seventies – all now considered pop masterpieces – but mainstream success and recognition eluded them.  Following their demise, Big Star became one of rock music’s biggest cult bands and proved to be hugely influential to countless musical artists including REM, The Replacements, Jeff Buckley, Belle & Sebastian, The Bangles, Teenage Fanclub, The db’s, Beck, Cheap Trick, Steve Wynn, Robyn Hitchcock, Elliot Smith, Wilco, The Posies, Fountains of Wayne, Let’s Active, Matthew Sweet, etc. This documentary details the making of their three albums and creates a portrait of these talented musicians with in-depth interviews and largest amount of footage of the band – some of it never-before-seen – that has even been compiled.



The Sichuan Earthquake of 2008 was a devastating natural disaster that left over 69,000 people dead.  This documentary follows a small group of people affected by the earthquake as they try to piece their lives together and provides a glimpse into the hearts and minds of these rural Chinese people.  This intimate and deliberately paced film is a portrait of hope and the struggle to find meaning after serious devastation. A very moving and often heartbreaking film.




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