Saturday, May 29, 2010

An Absolute Must

By far the best of this year's Rendezvous with French Cinema was Stephane Brize's Mademoiselle Chambon. When it played the Walter Reade, it didn't have a distributor, but that has been fixed and the film opened Friday in New York at the Lincoln Plaza and the Cinema Village. I can honestly say that this is one film you really must see this summer. Here's what I said when it played the WRT:

Mademoiselle Chambon, by Stéphane Brizé, is even better, a warm and intelligent drama about a 40-something husband who becomes involved with his son's grade-school teacher. Vincent Lindon and Sandrine Kiberlain are charming as the mismatched couple, and Brizé handles the material with a minimum of melodrama so that the complexities of the emotions stand on their own. The result is quite a lovely and nuanced film and one that I hope will find a distributor pronto.
Skip the latest Bruckheimer rubbish and Sex and the Shitty 2. Go see this instead.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Panahi Released, For Now

Jafar Panahi was released on bail about a half-hour ago. Apparently, the turning point was his decision to go on a hunger strike. For more information, go here.

It is unclear what happens now, but for the moment, Panahi is out of prison.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Meanwhile, in Cannes

Nice to see Apichatpong Weerasethakul winning the Palme d'Or. I've been duly impressed by his previous work and am eger to see the new film. Plebs like me don't get to Cannes -- I'm too old to sleep on the beach and too happily married to find a starlet to shack up with -- but my friend and fellow Ira voter Michael Giltz has been covering the festival for several years, and his insights and interventions are always worthwhile. This time, he's been traipsing around the Riviera for the Huffington Post, and you can find his film-by-film report here.

The Latest Development in the Berlinger Case

Joe Berlinger has gotten some temporary breathing space in his legal battle with Chevron. For the details, go to the New York Times's arts blog here. It's not great news, but it's better than nothing.

Incidentally, for all you non-New Yorkers or New Yorkers with disturbingly short memories, the name of the Chevron attorney quoted at the end of the story should ring bells, alarm bells. Randy M. Mastro was Rudy Giuiliani's chief of staff and then his deputy mayor, and chair of the Charter Revision Commission. Draw your own conclusions.

Friday, May 21, 2010

A Quick Followup on the Berlinger Case

If you are interested in documentary film, you probably should be a member of the D-Word on-line community. I mention this because the discussion on the "Legal Corner" section of their forum pages has been very enlightening on this case. As Mark Barroso correctly notes, Judge Kaplan didn't deny that Berlinger was functioning as a journalist with a qualified version of the usual protectons. Rather, he said that "when comes to possessing evidence needed in civil action in a foreign court, it doesn't matter." Barroso goes on from there with several other useful explanations and concludes, quite rightly, that what we really need is a federal shield law protecting journalists and their sources. Go to The D-Word, register and check out his posting.

Where Was I?

I've been busy, that's where I've been. What's it to you?

Sorry. I thought you were a family member.

Joking aside, let me start by suggesting you catch Daddy Longlegs, of which I recently wrote this.

On a considerably more sober note, I'd like to draw your attention to the latest assault on documentary filmmakers by a genius on the federal courts. Or as the New York Times put it,

Judge Lewis A. Kaplan of United States District Court in New York granted a petition by Chevron seeking a subpoena for more than 600 hours of footage shot by Mr. Berlinger for “Crude.” The film chronicles the Ecuadorians who sued Texaco (now owned by Chevron) saying that the operations at its oil field at Lago Agrio contaminated their water. Chevron has said that Mr. Berlinger’s footage could be helpful to the company as it seeks to have the litigation dismissed and pursues arbitration related to the lawsuit. (Full story is here.)

In other words, protections normally afforded to journalists under the First Amendment do not apply to documentarians functioning as journalists, and the "rights" of Chevron, notorious human-rights violators (see this, this and this)and environmental despoilers, take precedent. If you've ever seen The Corporation, the excellent Canadian documentary film directed by Mark Achbar and Jennfer Abbott, then you will understand the strange notion in Anglo-American law that a corporation is a "person" with the rights attendant thereto. (If you haven't, you can watch it at your computer here, if you don't mind sitting at the computer for three hours.)

At any rate, although Chevron are hardly the only corporation that makes its money by working closely with vicious dictators and destroyng rainforests, coastlines and the atmosphere, they are among the more egregious sinners. This court case sets a truly deadly precedent. I'll just refer you to some folks who can speak to the issue more eloquently than I, here, here and here.

And if you are a filmmaker, film journalist or just someone who has a concern for the truth, sign onto the letter in support of Joe Berlinger, buy a copy of Crude, and add Chevron to the list of companies whose products you wouldn't touch with surgical gloves and mask.