Just before hitting the bitter cold of Park City, Utah, we were in the moderate climate of the Palm Springs International Film Festival for two weeks. Intrepid reporter Alan Ng was there taking in a long list of foreign films. Oh, and he spoke with Steven Spielberg.
Let’s start with the first obvious difference between foreign films and films from the good ol’ U.S.A. In foreign films, everyone smokes and no one says anything about it. In U.S. film, everyone smokes pot and it’s always a major plot point. Oh, foreign films have subtitles, too.
The festival opened big with the festival’s Talking Pictures series screening of Wonder Woman followed by Q & A with director Patty Jenkins and its star, Gal Gadot (Film Threat News Item). Jenkins revealed how she drew inspiration from Richard Donner’s Superman as opposed to Zach Snyder’s Man of Steel. “Let’s clean all the clichés and all the cynicism,” Jenkins exclaimed.
The world premiere of Todd Berger’s Cover Versions (Film Threat Review) was next. It’s the story of the emerging band Starfoxy who’s members are under investigation for the death of three fans. The events of the deaths are told from the point of view of each band member. The film stars Disney Channel and Nickelodeon stars Katie Cassidy, Drake Bell, Jerry Trainer, and Debby Ryan. It’s actually a pretty good film.
Jack Black and Jenny Slate pulled up to the red carpet for a screening of The Polka King streaming now on Netflix. Pressed for time, we got to ask one question of Jack Black, but don’t worry we got three questions with Mr. Spielberg.
What is your experience with independent films?
Jack Black: Well, you know, my first movie was Bob Roberts with Tim Robbins, and that was a little indie that could. I had a great experience on that, and I go back and forth, but a lot of my best experiences have been the little indies that could because you gotta work a little harder, tighter schedule, and that brings out some raw energy that you don’t get when you’re sitting in a big, expensive trailer all day waiting to do your one minute of shooting a day on the big-budget films.
We’re in Palm Springs for the foreign films, which means we’re doing a lot of reading. Manuel Martín Cuenca’s The Motive (Film Threat Review) follows a frustrated writer, struggling to find inspiration from his own life. He manufactures inspiration by screwing around with his neighbors’ personal lives and then writing about them. Interesting plot, but a major distraction occurred when the film’s subtitles cross over the lead actor’s junk.
From director Christos Georgiou, Happy Birthday (Film Threat Review) mixes parenting and politics. At the height of Greece’s financial crisis, a family is torn apart because the father is lieutenant in Greece’s riot squad and despised by his anti-authoritarian daughter, waging war against police brutality. In a joint French/Greek production, Happy Birthday attempts to build a bridge between two generations at odds with one another.
Love After Love
Finally a movie, we don’t have to read. Russell Harbaugh’s Love After Love stars Andie MacDowell as a recent widow and Chris O’Dowd and James Adomian as her sons. Love After Love gives you a fly-on-the-wall perspective of how the death of the family patriarch affects family members. The film portrays real life in a real way. None of the characters are introspective about life or death and no one makes any profound declarations of enlightenment. It’s just real people coping with loss by not talking about it. It’s an art film.
Angels Wear White
From a country known for its misogynist policies against women, writer/director Vivian Qu slips one passed China’s censors to bring awareness about the issue of human trafficking and child sexual abuse . From the pages of Special Victims Unit, we see just how hard it is to find justice in a culture of authoritarian rule and political corruption.
Keep reading. We spoke with Steven Spielberg.
No Date, No Signature
From Iran, No Date, No Signature (Film Threat Review) is a study of morality and integrity. Amir Aghaee stars as surgeon Reza Farjam, who on a fateful night accidentally sideswipes a family of four heading home on a motorcycle. Yes, mom, dad, and two children riding on a single seat on a motorcycle. Following the accident, everyone appears to be fine, although the young son may have suffered a concussion. The next morning, Reza sees the family at the health clinic he works at and discovers the son had died overnight. The autopsy shows the boy died from a severe case of food poisoning, but Reza thinks the cause of death was the accident and must set the record straight at the cost of his career.
The Last Movie Star
From director, Adam Rifkin comes The Last Movie Star starring Modern Family’s Ariel Winter and screen legend Burt Reynolds. Written specifically for Burt, he plays Vic Edwards, a screen legend on par with a star like Burt Reynolds. The elderly Edwards gets word that he has been awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award from the International Nashville Film Festival. Rightfully suspicious of the dubious honor, he finds out that it’s a small-time festival held in a dive bar and run by very young fanboys. As Lil, Ariel Winter is hired to be Edward’s personal assistant and driver, where he enlists her in a late-life crisis adventure.
Did you know Filmthreat spoke with Steven Spielberg? He was there for his film The Post. The real story with The Post is the writer, Liz Hannah. The Post was her first screenplay. It pays tribute to her role model, Washington Post owner, Katherine Graham. With no agent, her script inconspicuously crossed the desk of super-producer Amy Pascal and viola, a star is born. Spielberg loved the script and insisted the film be made now at the height of the Trump war with the press. Armed with an important story, we spoke with screenwriter Liz Hannah.
Tell us about the genesis of your script.
Liz Hannah: I’d been working on it for about five years. I had been researching. I didn’t sit down to write the script until summer of 2016, but I had been researching it and thinking about it. 90% of writing is when you’re staring at a blank page and actually trying to write something, and that was basically what I’d been doing. It wasn’t until I read Ben Bradley’s book, where I discovered this moment when Katharine Graham found her voice. That for me was what was inspiring and connected me to her. She spent her entire life being told that she didn’t have a voice, being told she didn’t have an opinion, and then suddenly a dozen men were looking at her and saying, “You’re the one that matters.”
We spoke with Steven Spielberg
The Post was the fastest pre-production schedule for Spielberg and was shot while Ready, Player One was in post-production. But, we didn’t talk to Spielberg about that. I forgot, we spoke to Steven Spielberg.
Hello, Mr. Spielberg. A lot of your films are historically based as opposed to the fictional stuff that we’re all used to. What is it about history that draws you to filmmaking?
Steven Spielberg: I think the greatest stories come from history, meaning life writes better stories than I ever could. I could make up a lot of good yarns and a lot of good imaginative science fiction tales but for me ever since I was a student, history was my best subject. Matter of fact compared to math and foreign language it was the only thing I excelled in at school. I’ve always thought that I love biographies and I loved the big historical tectonic movement in the world that has created change and so history has been sort of not even a sidebar for me, it’s been sort of a main interest for me.
What about the Post? Why now in the context of your filmography?
There’s not a lot of difference between 1971 and 2017, the way the newspapers have been attacked. The way Nixon attacked the Washington Post, and primarily the New York Times, in trying to get Judge Gurfein to enjoin them and prevent the free press from being a free press. Attempting to prevent the printing of papers from being published, or further issues being published. Now, we see the same thing happening today with the press being marginalized, debunked and accused of being fake. I think there’s more assault today on the free press than there certainly was during the Nixon Era.
Is there any wisdom you can pass on to filmmakers today who have like less a million dollar budget?
I just say, continue telling stories from what you know, from what your heart believes. And when you get a big break and you make a big Hollywood movie don’t conform to their standards, keep your values alive and change Hollywood while you’re at it.