Director Todd Solondz (far right) talks with Greta Gerwig on the set of Wiener-Dog.
On Friday, July 1, I had the rare opportunity to speak by phone to Todd Solondz, the controversial creator of Welcome to the Dollhouse, Happiness, Palindromes and now Wiener-Dog, at his hotel in Germany. For a guy who grew up in New Jersey, he speaks with a strangely European accent. And for a guy as famous for his dark, depressive worldview as for his eight feature films, Solondz was thoughtful, generous with his time, funny and even warm.
My review of his new film appears July 6, online and in the paper. You can read my interview with this fascinating, one-of-a-kind filmmaker right now.
The scene: an urban community center. A young girl dances frenetically, her fists punching the air, her controlled movements channeling the churning emotions of adolescence. Suddenly she's out of control — writhing, seemingly seizing. Or perhaps she just stands quietly transfixed, as if glimpsing something beyond this world.
Variations on this scenario occur throughout The Fits, the directorial debut of Anna Rose Holmer. The offbeat coming-of-age film screened at the Venice International Film Festival and the Sundance Film Festival. This Thursday, you can see it in Vermont as a presentation of the Vermont International Film Foundation and Main Street Landing Performing Arts Center: May 26, 7 p.m., at Main Street Landing Film House in Burlington. $5-8, or free for VTIFF members.
And why should you see it? Because The Fits combines the energy of a dance film with the obliqueness and eerie atmosphere of an art film. I feel safe in saying I've never seen anything quite like it before.
From left: Lauren Miller, Seth Rogen and Ryan, John and Griffen Fox
Signs of April in the Queen City: The last traces of ice vanish along the waterfront. Hundreds of ice cream lovers line up for Ben & Jerry’s annual Free Cone Day at the company’s shop on the Marketplace. And, dependably as a swallow to Capistrano, the planet’s most famous stoner, the man Forbes ranks as the 26th highest paid actor in the world, comes to town to thank three students at the University of Vermont.
For the past three years, triplets Griffen, John and Ryan Fox have raised more money for HFC U — Hilarity for Charity’s national collegiate competition — than some 100 other student groups across the country. Their prize, as always, is a hang with Seth Rogen, who, along with his wife, Lauren Miller, created the nonprofit in 2012 as “a movement to inspire change and raise awareness of Alzheimer’s disease among the millennial generation.” Affiliated with the Alzheimer’s Association, it’s raised more than $5 million.
Saturday morning at Essex Cinemas, the couple held a press conference to talk about the cause, explain why they got involved, and lavish praise on the three brothers, who lost their grandfather to the illness in January 2014.
Michael Murphy and Cynthia Nixon in "Tanner on Tanner"
Burlington resident Allan Nicholls may be best known to movie lovers for his role as team captain Johnny Upton in the 1977 hockey comedy Slap Shot. Canadiens fans apparently still feel the same: When Nicholls, a Montréal native, attended a game earlier this year, the Centre Belle camera operator found Nicholls in the crowd and broadcast his image on the mega-screens. The crowd roundly cheered.
Nicholls’ career in film is better defined, however, by his decades-long collaboration with Robert Altman. He worked with the renowned director in a variety of capacities on some two dozen films. That makes him uniquely qualified to introduce a screening of Altman's incisive 2004 political mockumentary series “Tanner on Tanner.”
On Friday, April 1, the event kicks off a new monthly series called Alt: Cinema at White River Junction’s Main Street Museum. Its mission is to use film as a catalyst for community discussion.
A college film professor of mine once remarked that if Nazis had never existed, Hollywood would have had to invent them. He was an eccentric guy and his lectures were pretty obtuse, but I understood his point: Nazis are so evil that they have filled the all-important Bad Guy role in countless films.
And it’s not just Hollywood that loves to hate Nazis. Films of the Holocaust subgenre have an excellent track record with critics and prize givers. Just this past year, the Hungarian film Son of Saul, an intense drama set in a concentration camp, won the Oscar and the Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Film, as well as the Grand Prix at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival and other awards.
Signs are everywhere, so ubiquitous that we rarely give most of them a second glance. But on Wednesday night, nearly 100 people gathered at Burlington City Hall's Contois Auditorium to do just that.
The occasion: a screening of the 2013 documentary Sign Painters, directed by Faythe Levine and Sam Macon. The event was part of the Architecture + Design Film Series, co-hosted by Burlington City Arts and the University of Vermont's Department of Art and Art History. The partners present a monthly film regarding art, design or architecture.
Lynda Reeves McIntyre, an art professor at UVM and organizer of A + D, opened the night with a warm welcome, encouraging attendees to greet those seated around them. She suggested that the event was an opportunity to encourage community building, and that "the people who show up are usually pretty interesting."
The Sleepless in Burlington judges: From left: Mark Covino, Eva Sollberger, Colin Trevorrow
Lots of film festivals have "film slams" — competitions in which teams of bleary-eyed students struggle to write, direct and edit a short film in, say, 40 hours. Not so many festivals have film slams judged by the director of the year's biggest Hollywood blockbuster to date.
That happened yesterday at the Vermont International Film Festival. Colin Trevorrow, director of Jurassic World — and a Burlington resident — was one of three judges at the 2015 Sleepless in Burlington competition. The others were A Band Called Death codirector Mark Covino and "Stuck in Vermont" creator Eva Sollberger.
Also notable (because it's unusual at such events): This year, three of the four student teams had female directors.
For movie fans of a certain age, seeing Tom DiCillo's Living in Oblivion was a rite of passage. Released in 1995, it's a low-budget indie film that satirizes low-budget indie filmmaking, with Steve Buscemi as the director on the verge of a nervous breakdown, Dermot Mulroney as the prima donna cinematographer, Catherine Keener as the depressed lead actress and James LeGros as the narcissistic leading man.
And who could forget the first credited appearance of Peter Dinklage, as the actor who appears in the film-within-a-film's "Twin Peaks"-esque dream sequence and then critiques its clichés in a scathing rant: "I don't even have dreams with dwarves in them!"
Keener and LeGros in Living in Oblivion
Living in Oblivion is 20 years old this year, and DiCillo will celebrate the anniversary in Burlington as a guest of the Vermont International Film Foundation, whose annual festival runs from October 23 through November 1 at Main Street Landing Performing Arts Center in Burlington.
Still from "Ripples of War": Lt. Sue Nami prepares a soldier for time travel.
What did you do over summer vacation? The 12- to 18-year-olds who attended Burlington City Arts' Filmmaking Institute in August can say that they donned unicorn costumes, overdosed on cupcakes and "massacred" one another with squirt guns in two different realities, thanks to time travel.
Local filmmaker Michael Fisher, who taught the Institute with Kristen Watson, shared with us the class' final project: an eight-minute film called "Ripples of War," directed by Molly Gary. It stars Cal McCandless as "The General," Mae Mae Morrical as "Lt. Sue Nami" and Claire Delaney as "Sgt. Drippy."
Courtesy of Michael Fisher
The students show off their squirt-gun stances.
Defeated in battle after fueling up on over-sugared cupcakes, the young soldiers try to use time travel to reverse their fortunes. It doesn't go well, despite all the epic tracking shots and slow-mo deaths set to soaring choral music. Think The Thin Red Line meets Looper, with a healthy dose of the sillies.
Courtesy of Michael Fisher
BCA offers the Filmmaking Institute in partnership with Vermont Community Access Media. And the camp has been getting some notice. Last year's short film, "F.B.I. (Federal Bagel Investigation)," made by campers with Fisher and Watson, won a national Alliance for Community Media (ACM) Hometown Media Award. You can watch that cinematic crime caper here.