Early Cartoon Masterpieces Screen in New York City

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences continues its five-part series on animation with The History of Silent and Early Sound New York Animation on Tuesday, May 19, at The Academy Theater on East 59th Street in Manhattan. Historian and collector Tommy Stathes, a specialist in early animation, hosts the program, which features cartoons from as early as 1900. The evening’s final film, 1928′s Steamboat Willie, introduced Mickey Mouse to the world. Movies like J. Stuart Blackton’s Humorous Phases of Funny Faces (1906) were made in New York City because that’s where the motion picture industry was concentrated. A vaudeville performer, Blackton would go on to head Brooklyn’s Vitagraph Studios, one of the most successful of the early production … More

Tribeca Docs Fight for Justice

The Fourteenth Tribeca Film Festival ended April 26 after handing out awards for both narrative and documentary films.  Winning for Best Documentary Feature was Democrats, a step-by-step account of politicians in Zimbabwe trying to draft a constitution from Danish director Camilla Nielsson.  The audience award went to TransFatty Lives, Patrick O’Brien’s firsthand look at his struggles with ALS.   Other noteworthy documentaries included the intensely bizarre family study The Wolfpack, opening June 12 from Magnolia Pictures; Uncertain, set in a Texas border town and winner of the Albert Maysles New Documentary Director Award for Ewan McNicol and Anna Sandilands; and Gored, discussed in depth here by FJI writer Rebecca Pahle. Tribeca also spotlighted strong examples of advocacy journalism, efforts by … More

Celebrating Animation from Its Beginnings

For the next five weeks the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will be spotlighting animation in a series that stretches from the form’s early beginnings to one of this summer’s most eagerly awaited releases. An Animation Showcase: From Celluloid to CGI will take viewers from trick films made at the turn of the twentieth century by J. Stuart Blackton to a sneak-peek screening of Inside Out. “This celebration of animation is really just the beginning of what I hope will be an ongoing series on filmmaking crafts,” according to Patrick Harrison, the Academy’s Director of New York Programs and Membership. “The Academy gives out awards in 24 categories of filmmaking. We have an opportunity to educate both the … More

Patrick Osborne talks about ‘Feast’

One of five animated shorts nominated for an Academy Award, Feast is the first film directed by Patrick Osborne. An animator who has worked on Disney features like Bolt and Tangled, Osborne received approval for Feast on the basis of a pitch he gave to the shorts program at Walt Disney Animation Studio. Last week Osborne was in New York City to promote Feast. We talked at a midtown Manhattan Disney office. The bulk of the interview appears on the Film Journal website. Osborne is soft-spoken and very articulate, and given the chance he’s also pretty funny. I’ve included some extra material here. On first seeing the finished Feast I wasn’t too like “crazy theater experience person” before this, but … More

NY Times to Selma Filmmakers: Wait Your Turn

Media attention has shifted from Selma to American Sniper, largely because the former movie is struggling at the box office while the latter is breaking records. Selma and its director Ava DuVernay are still drawing attention, but not really for the movie itself. Opinions about the veracity of Selma have subsided into asides about Oscars snubs and DuVernay’s future plans. Scott Mendelson’s recent piece for Forbes — Why I’m Glad ‘Selma’ Director’s Next Film Is Not A Marvel Movie — is typical.  Mendelson writes about DuVernay’s Hurricane Katrina project with actor and producer David Oyelowo; cites two other pieces on the director; and weighs in on whether or not she should direct a Marvel superhero movie. In a sense the … More

‘Sniper’ Backlash

Selma is under attack for refusing to accept the status quo—that President Lyndon Johnson did all he could to advance a civil rights platform.  By depicting Johnson as preoccupied with other issues, even recalcitrant about black demonstrations, director Ava DuVernay has been criticized by everyone from Joseph Califano to Maureen Dowd. The impact has been real, both on the movie’s box office and on its Oscar nominations.  Selma is being punished for being too liberal. American Sniper, on the other hand, is drawing flak for being too conservative.  Originally scheduled for release in 2015, Warner Bros. pulled up its opening day to qualify for this year’s Oscars, a move that resulted in six nominations. Initial industry reviews for Sniper were … More

Decoding ‘Selma’ and ‘American Sniper’

  Obscuring the current Oscar race are trumped-up political controversies regarding Selma and American Sniper, proving that censorship and political correctness cut both ways. First detractors claimed that Selma did not portray President Lyndon Baines Johnson correctly, neglecting his role in the passage of civil rights legislation.  In a Washington Post op-ed, former Johnson aide Joseph Califano went so far as to accuse Selma director Ava DuVernay of “taking dramatic, trumped-up license” by showing Johnson “at odds with Martin Luther King, Jr.” Through poor writing, Califano implied that Johnson was responsible for the march in Selma, and bizarrely insisted that the “movie should be ruled out this Christmas and during the ensuing awards season.” Op-ed writers around the country jumped … More

Film Deadlines Approach

Two recent blog postings take impassioned stands on the film vs. digital debate. Kyle Westphal’s excellent roundup 2013 in Review: Whose Film Is It, Anyway? considers the consequences to artists and viewers when film is no longer available. Don’t Worry About the End of Film, argues Richard Brody in his New Yorker blog, The Front Row. Both writers agree that the era of theatrical projection of 35mm features has passed. (It was hard to ignore recent news articles announcing that Paramount has stopped distributing film prints.) But they reach different conclusions about what this means for moviegoers. Westphal points out that 35mm projection was supposed to continue in art houses, museums, and other niche theaters, but finds that digital has … More

Wong Kar Wai on Using Film for The Grandmaster

Hong Kong director Wong Kar Wai’s The Grandmaster comes out Friday, August 23rd.  It’s Wong’s first new film since My Blueberry Nights in 2007, and his first set in Asia since 2004′s 2046.  Starring Tony Leung Chiu-Wai, The Grandmaster is about Ip Man, a revered martial artist who helped popularize wing chun in Hong Kong. Wong worked for six years on The Grandmaster, and ended up shooting for almost three years.  In an interview in Manhattan, he explained why he made The Grandmaster on Fuji film: We decided to shoot on it on film, because three years ago a lot of people were still shooting on film. But at the end of production I realized we are almost the only … More

Film/Digital Countdown: Summer Blockbusters

As more bad news swirls around Kodak, there’s still time to point out that film remains an important medium for motion pictures. Six of last year’s nine Best Picture nominees, for example, were shot on film. But in this industry, as in all others, money talks, and digital has been judged cheaper than celluloid. Studios and exhibitors are dismantling the businesses that make and show film, replacing them with technologies whose flaws and drawbacks may not be immediately apparent. The digital juggernaut gains momentum every day, whether it’s new streaming deals that send hundreds of film titles to limbo or Adobe abandoning software sales for a cloud-based subscription model. Speaking of money, May marks the start of Hollywood’s blockbuster season, … More