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Sundance Institute at BAM (May 31st - June 10th, 2007)

Banished- Directed by Marco Williams.

This intriguing and informative film documents the consequences of three communities that banished African Americans from their homes back in 1901. In both a moral and ethical sense, those whose property were taken from their family because of racism in the early 20th Century ought to get it back or at least to get some monetary compensation. Director Marco Williams comes across the legal term of “adverse possession” which means that the property belongs to the owner who has lived there for a long period of time even if he/she has stolen it. It’s quite intriguing and moving when an African American tries to dig up an unmarked grave to find evidence of his great-grandfather’s remains. Within that town and others, Williams finds racism when he meets the townspeople who have no shame admitting that they chose to live there because it’s an all-white town. Screens on June 9th, 3:45 PM. Entertainment Value: High. Spiritual Value: High. Released by Hiptruth Productions. Opens October 10th, 2007 at the Film Forum.

Chasing Ghosts- Directed by Lincoln Ruchti.

This film documents the world’s best arcade players since the arcade boom in 1981. Anyone who has even played Pac-Man or any other classic game will be able to relate to the excitement that the players clearly exhibit. They seem like geeks and many of them barely have time to sleep, but they actually have a life outside of the arcade world—i.e. one moonlights as an accountant. When they became World Champions of arcade in the 1980’s, they appeared on the cover of Time Magazine, which helped them to become celebrities. Director Lincoln Ruchti does a great job of humanizing the arcade geeks just like Spellbound humanized the spelling bee geeks which makes them kinda cool. He also includes nifty CGI animation of some of the arcade games and explores the interesting evolution of the arcade culture, especially when new technologies allowed for people to play the game at home in a PlayStation, which will never be the same as an arcade. Screens on June 7th, 8:45 PM and June 9th, Midnight. Entertainment Value: High. Spiritual Value: Moderate. No distributor, yet.


-Directed by Tom DiCillo.

Toby (Michael Pitt), a young homeless man, befriends Les (Steve Buscemi), a paparazzo, while becoming romantically involved with pop star, K’Harma (Allison Lohman). Not surprisingly, Les wants to use Toby to snap some photos of K’Harma, which threatens their relationship as well as Les’ romance with K’Harma. Gina Gershon plays a seductive casting agent who helps Toby become famous as well. The script by writer/director Tom DiCillo has some hilarious scenes and witty dialogue along with plenty of biting satire regarding the celebrity world, such as a sexy music video with K’Harma in a wet t-shirt. What makes this Delirious truly engaging, though, is that Steve Buscemi and Michael Pitt play off of each other quite well in their respective roles. Their friendship seems quite believable, lively and even oddly moving. This film will remind you that celebrities are just as human and fallible as anyone non-famous. Be sure to think twice before snapping a photo of a celebrity, especially without their consent. Screens on June 2nd, 8:45 PM and June 10th, 9 PM. Entertainment Value: High. Spiritual Value: High. Released by Peace Arch Entertainment. Opens August 15th, 2007 at the Angelika Film Center.

The Great World of Sound- Directed by Craig Zobel.

Martin (Pat Healey) and Clarence (Kene Holliday) work as record producers for a production company that sends them out together to the Midwest to audition aspiring musicians. Pat Healey and Kene Holliday play off of each other quite well and both have impeccable comic timing and charm, especially Kene. Most importantly, co-writer/director Craig Zobel has written a witty, smart and hilarious script which only briefly looses its pizzazz in the middle of the second act. At once a satire of the record industry and as well as the show “American Idol”, this indie gem is refreshing from start to finish. Entertainment Value: Very High. Spiritual Value: Moderate. Screens June 2nd, 3:15 PM and June 5th, 9:40 PM. Released by Magnolia Pictures. Opens September 14th, 2007 at the Angelika Film Center and Lincoln Plaza Cinemas.

Joe Strummer: The Future is Unwritten- Directed by Julien Temple.

This lively and informative documentary about Joe Strummer, leader of the punk rock band The Clash, will mainly appeal to his avid fans. From his childhood to his hippie days in the 1970s to the rise and fall of the band he formed, The Clash, you’ll get a detailed look at what his life was like until his death in 2002. Footage and audio clips of Strummer himself show you how smart and charismatic as well as stubborn he was, especially regarding some of his political and social ideas which were quite revolutionary. Julien Temple, who also directed The Filth and the Fury and befriended Strummer for many years, adds some visual style with a fast, energetic pace. His choice to interview friends and fans—and even Johnny Depp and John Cusack—in front of a bonfire adds to the intimate mood. Not only is Julien Temple lucky to have access to all of these interviews, recordings and footage, but also lucky to have assembled it in such a well-rounded and compelling way which pays an adequate tribute to a legendary musician. Keep in mind that it does have a running time of 123 minutes, but it rarely drags. Entertainment Value: High. Spiritual Value: Moderate. Released by IFC Films. Opens November 2nd, 2007.

Manda Bala

- Directed by Jason Kohn.

A very disturbing documentary about the corruption of politics and kidnappings in Brazil. Director Jason Kohn takes risks to interview a wide variety of subjects, from politicians to kidnapping victims and a kidnapper as well. That he connects it all to the activities going on at a frog farm is quite fascinating. Many scenes, especially a gruesome one showing a plastic surgeon at work and a kidnapper cutting of someone’s ear, feel more disturbing and terrifying than scenes in the recent horror film Hostel: Part II. Ultimately, Manda Bala raises important and provocative issues about the sociopolitical status quo in Brazil. It deserved to win the Best Documentary Feature Award at the 2006 Sundance Film Festival. Screens on June 6th, 9:40 PM and June 9th, 6:30 PM. Entertainment Value: High. Spiritual Value: High. Released by City Lights Pictures. Opens August 17th, 2007 at the Angelika Film Center.

On the Road with Judas- Directed by JJ Lask.

Judas (Aaron Ruell) goes on a crime spree stealing computers from college campuses while romancing Serra (Eleanor Hutchins). In a documentary-style, an author named JJ Lask (Keith Corrigan) appears on a talk show to discuss his book On the Road with Judas about Judas’ crime spree and love life. Then, there’s a reenactment of the scenes from the book with Eddie Kaye Thomas playing Judas and Amanda Loncar as Serra. As wildly inventive as all of this sounds, it’s actually more confusing and headache-inducing because writer/director JJ Lask often jumps back and forth between the talk show, the scenes with the real Judas and Serra interacting, and the reenactments with the actors playing them. The result makes the drama and romance contrived and underwhelming. Screens on June 8th, Midnight and June 10th, 3 PM. Entertainment Value: Low. Spiritual Value: Low. No distributor, yet.

Rocket Science

-Directed by Jeffrey Blitz.

Hal Hefner (Reece Thompson), a teenage boy who stutters, joins his high school debate team while being infatuated with another debater, the fast-talking Ginny (Anna Kendrick), who happens to be his neighbor. From the director of Spellbound comes this warm, off-beat and wise coming-of-age story. While it’s difficult not to be reminded of Rushmore, Thumbsucker, and Napoleon Dynamite, there’s also some of the biting satire of high school life found in Election. Admittedly, the plot does become slightly convoluted and unfocused toward the end, but writer/director Jeffrey Blitz at least manages to create interesting, memorable and complex characters, especially the oddly charming and likable protagonist, Hal Hefner. Screens on June 1st, Midnight and June 8th, 6:00 PM. Entertainment Value: High. Spiritual Value: Moderate. Released by Picturehouse / HBO Films. Opens August 10th, 2007.

Son of Rambow*Opening Night Film*- Directed by Garth Jennings.

Screens on May 31st, 8 PM. In the 1980’s, Will (Bill Milner) and Carter (Will Poulter), two young kids obsessed with Rambo: First Blood, remake their own version of the movie, calling it Son of Rambow. Some of the British accents sound a bit too thick to comprehend without subtitles and abundance of quirky characters and bizarre situations feels a bit pretentious. Fortunately, what helps to make this engaging are the lively performances by each of the child actors, especially Will Poulter as Carter. Writer/director Garth Jennings has created a refreshingly wild and quirky comedy that has plenty of dry, off-beat humor—although it’s not for everyone’s tastes, though, unless you like Wes Anderson movies, which have the same overall tone and style of humor. Entertainment Value: Moderate. Spiritual Value: Moderate. Released by Paramount Vantage. Opens May 2nd, 2008.

Snow Angels- Directed by David Gordon Green.

Screens on June 1st, Midnight and June 2nd, 6 PM. As her marriage to Glenn (Sam Rockwell) gradually disintegrates, Annie (Kate Beckinsale) has an affair with Nate (Nicky Katt). Meanwhile, a shy teenager, Arthur (Michael Angarano), falls in love with Lily (Olivia Thirbly), a beautiful girl from his school. Based on the novel by Stewart O’Nan, this muddled drama has a convoluted plot that takes a while to become suspenseful. Kate Beckinsale and Sam Rockwell both gives strong, convincing performances as a married couple who have fallen out of love while raising their four-year-old daughter (Grace Hudson). The wintry setting in small town adds a deceptive quietness to the increasingly intense relationship between Annie and Glenn, who often resorts to drinking booze. Writer/director David Gordon Green jumps around too often between this main plot and a coming-of-age subplot involving Arthur, who happens to Annie’s co-worker and has a crush on her, although he flirts more with Lily, a sexy teenage girl impassioned with photography. If only Green had focused more on the main plot and extrapolated more character development from the novel, this would have been as emotionally resonating and engaging as The Ice Storm, which shares similar themes. Entertainment Value: Moderate. Spiritual Value: Low. Released by Warner Independent Pictures. Opens March 7th, 2008.

Sweet Mud- Directed by Dror Shaul.

Screens on June 4th, 9:40 PM and June 5th, 6:40 PM. In Hebrew and French with subtitles. During the 1970’s, 12-year-old Dvir (Tom Steinhof) lives in an Israeli kibbutz with his single mother, Miri (Roni Yudkevitch), who becomes emotionally unstable after her new lover from Switzerland, Stephan (Henri Garcin), gets banished from the kibbutz. With the exception of an unnecessary, shocking and disgusting initial scene that belongs in Borat, this drama feels quite absorbing and has some poignant moments along with some intense ones. Roni Yudkevitch gives a terrific, raw performance as Miri, who gradually loses her mind throughout the film. Writer/director Dror Shaul does a great job of establishing the strong bond between her and her youngest son, Dvir, whose Bar Mitzvah is coming up. It’s quite compelling to watch how both mother and son find their own ways to rebel against the kibbutz community that limits their freedom and individuality. In essence, they innately struggle to escape from this kind of mental “prison”. Entertainment Value: Moderate. Spiritual Value: High. No distributor, yet.

The Unforeseen- Directed by Laura Dunn.

Just like a good lawyer, director Laura Dunn proves the vitality of preserving Barton Springs in Austin, TX and nature in general while showing the battle between greedy real estate developers and environmentalists who care about preservation and think about developments’ deleterious effects on nature in the long run. The contrasting footage of the beauty and serenity of Barton Springs before all the development and its ugly, murky water post-development speaks volumes about the threat to the environment, and the ecosystem, concurrently. Dunn wisely includes balanced interviews with politicians, land developers as well as Robert Redford, who produced this film along with Terrence Malick. The Unforeseen joins An Inconvenient Truth, Manufactured Lanscapes and even The Gods Must Be Crazy as powerful, visually stunning films with important messages about the environment and the ongoing struggle between man and nature. Screens on June 10th, 6 PM. Entertainment Value: High. Spiritual Value: High. Released by Cinema Guild. Opens February 29th, 2008 at the Cinema Village.

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