It’s not easy to find yourself back in the balmy heat of Baltimore (no matter how much you love the city), after 5 days of the most beautiful weather imaginable, in one of the most beautiful locales imaginable. Add to that, the opportunity to watch great movies with some of the greatest cinematic talents living today, and you’ve got one splendid working vacation.
So it was with my 5 day excursion to the very tippy-top of Cape Cod and the wonderful and welcoming Provincetown, Massachusettes with its annual Provincetown International Film Festival (PIFF). This was my second year attending the amiable and well-run festival at land’s end and it was a doozy of a year, featuring a bevy of unbelievable cinematic talent including Harmony Korine, Todd Haynes, Mary Harron, legendary cinematographer Ed Lachman. Baltimore’s own John Waters also plays a central role in the festivities, much as he does for MFF. Among his many duties within the fest, Mr. Waters shares the same film that he presented to MFF audiences with the P-Town crowd. For the PIFF screening of Ulrich Seidl’s PARADISE: FAITH, Mr. Waters was joined by legendary Director of Photography, Ed Lachman. Lachman shot the entire PARADISE trilogy and in addition to this recent work with Seidl, has worked with the likes of Werner Herzog, Wim Wenders, Godard, and Larry Clark, to name but a few. Waters and Lachman gave a rousing post-screening Q&A which I had the good fortune to record and can be seen here:
Lachman was in attendance to receive PIFF’s Career Achievement Award, which was presented in a special conversation/ceremony with film critic B. Ruby Rich. That same event saw John Waters in conversation with cinema wunderkind, Harmony Korine (SPRING BREAKERS, GUMMO), who was presented with PIFF’s Filmmaker On The Edge Award. The conversation between Waters and Korine was a lively and entertaining one, which covered Korine’s filmmaking career and some of his more notorious acts in front of the camera and in his personal life. More about the conversation from The Film Society at Lincoln Center’s Eugene Hernandez here.
While both of the conversations were highly informative and great fun, the real reason to go to any film festival is to watch films, and PIFF 2013 offered up an interesting selection of greats from the festival circuit. Giving me a chance to catch up on some of the titles I’ve been eager to see from Sundance and some things I missed at SXSW back in March. The highlights of my viewing (in no particular order) were as follows:
HARRY DEAN STANTON: PARTLY FICTION, a fascinating and artful portrait of the legendary actor, which eschews a by-the-numbers recounting of his career for a more poetic and philosophical character study, a soul-penetrating look at the man behind some of the most memorable performances in cinema history. Stanton is a fascinating and charming subject from the outset, but his openness allows the filmmaker to dig deeper, discovering a discontented loner where most would expect to find a man who has lived all of his dreams. Stanton’s true passion is music (a career he has never realized) and the film is suffused with his melancholy singing, revealing as much about the man as any of the interviews do. Well worth a look to fans and non-fans alike.
AIN’T THEM BODIES SAINTS by MFF alum and host of MFF 2013’s Opening Night Shorts Program, David Lowery, is every bit the beautifully crafted and fantastically acted work I expected from such a talented filmmaker. Favorable comparisons to BADLANDS and BONNIE AND CLYDE are apt but this film has a feel all its own and it leaves an indelible mark on the viewer. I’m still mauling over many fantastic sequences days later and there’s no sign that those scenes will stop popping into my mind anytime soon. Unfortunately, the film’s trip to Cannes precluded us from screening it within MFF 2013 but it will be a treat for Baltimore audiences when it hits screens here in the coming months. Casey Affleck, Rooney Mara and Ben Foster all give fantastic heartfelt performances and the cinematography by Bradford Young (who won the prestigious Sundance Cinematography Award for both this film and MFF 2013 Closing Night film MOTHER OF GEORGE) is quite simply breathtaking.
As part of the honors bestowed upon Ed Lachman, the festival screened several works on which, he served as Director of Photography. Susan Seidleman’s 1985 film, DESPERATELY SEEKING SUSAN (starring then-newcomer Madonna and Rosanna Arquette) was one of the chosen films and initially I thought a ho-hum choice. But alas, after seeing the film’s visual splendor on the big screen and hearing Lachman talk about the choices he made in filming the work, I was forced to reconsider my near-lifelong blasé feelings towards it. It stands as a vibrant portrait of mid-80s New York City, with wonderful location photography and a who’s-who cast of Lower Eastside stalwarts of the time, including a pre-stardom John Turturro, character actor Will Patton (MFF 2011 alum), punk rock icon Richard Hell, as well as noted musicians John Lurie, and Arto Lindsay. It’s a fun movie and a smarter movie than most have given it credit for being. Below- Ed Lachman during the Q&A for DESPERATELY SEEKING SUSAN. CONTINENTAL by Malcolm Ingram is a fun and informative look at the culture surrounding the iconic Continental Bath House in late 60s/early 70s New York and its charismatic founder Steve Ostrow’s transformation from work-a-day business and family man, to gay culture icon and gay rights activist. The Continental Baths became one of THE places to go in 70s NYC and the night club therein launched the careers of mega-stars the likes of Bette Midler and Barry Manilow. A must-see for anyone interested in the history of gay culture in the U.S.
GIDEON’S ARMY is the feature directorial debut of Dawn Porter and wow is it a powerful one! Porter follows a group of young public defenders in their quest to give the disenfranchised and poverty stricken a chance in a complex legal system all too often stacked against them. Porter’s expertly crafted film shows the ups and downs faced by this idealistic group of young lawyers as they face struggles of their own in the form of unjustly low pay, overwhelming caseloads and the emotional tolls of working with clients whose very lives and freedom depend on your performance. Wisemanesque in both the level of emotional wallop it packs and its finely crafted and largely observational style, Porter’s film is one that leaves you overwhelmed, both with outrage, at a system that disproportionately incarcerates minorities and the impoverished, and with gratitude for the work that these public defenders do, not for money, but because they are driven to give a fair shake to those who are so often chewed up and spit out by a flawed justice system.
In addition to catching a number of other screenings, I also had the pleasure of acting as guest host for a few, introducing the film and then hosting the Q&A afterwards. And, even with all of this movie-related activity, I still had time to enjoy all of the delicious food, wonderful nightlife and pristine beaches that P-Town has to offer. I can’t wait to report back from PIFF 2014!