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  • September 9, 2009

    Best Movies by Farr: The African-American Experience

    by John Farr

    John Farr recommends films that explore the African-American experience.

    Nothing but a Man (1964)


    In this landmark independent film by Michael Roemer, Duff (Ivan Dixon), a struggling black railroad worker meets Josie (Abbey Lincoln), a shy, refined preacher’s daughter. They fall in love, but soon Josie must adjust to Duff’s frustration as he faces discrimination in a repetitive, dead-end job. How they surmount these obstacles and stay together shines a penetrating light on the black experience of the time.


    A lean film of unusual grace and power, thanks to a perceptive script and solid characterizations. Both Dixon and jazz singer Lincoln give heartfelt portrayals as Duff and Josie, and look for the late, great Julius Harris playing Duff’s drunk, delinquent father. “Nothing” is an inspiring work of cinema that helped fuel the Civil Rights era, and still speaks volumes today.

    Killer of Sheep (1977)


    Living hand to mouth in the Watts section of Los Angeles, Stan (Henry Gayle Sanders) toils at a slaughterhouse, where the dispiriting and mind-numbing routine of dispatching livestock leaves him emotionally remote from his wife (Kaycee Moore) and young son. Under these circumstances, life’s pleasures come in small and unexpected ways.


    Burnett’s tender, affecting film, a landmark in American independent cinema, hasn’t much of a plot, content instead to observe the melancholic daily existence of an impoverished African-American neighborhood. But its neorealist aesthetic, lugubrious pace, and minimal storyline are the ingredients for a surprisingly moving film that depicts ghetto life with lasting beauty and an authentic sense of humanity. Both touching and heartbreaking, with a sweet jazz score setting a mood of inner yearning, “Killer of Sheep”, hidden away too long, should be at the top of your must-see list.

    4 Little Girls (1997)


    Spike Lee’s documentary re-visits a shocking crime which shook the nation in 1963, when a Baptist church in Birmingham, Alabama was blown up, killing four African-American girls. Film combines reminiscences of the girls’ families and friends with observations on the times and the event’s broader significance within the Civil Rights movement.


    An invaluable piece of film-making, as Lee revisits an atrocity we should never forget. The overwhelming sense of personal loss is palpable and heart-rending. It’s also striking how the tragedy accelerated the progress of civil rights by thrusting the race issue onto the world stage. Ultimately, these four promising, innocent girls are seen as martyrs to the age-old struggle for racial equality. A touching, insightful film from Lee.

    Visit Best Movies by Farr for more great DVD recommendations.

  • September 9, 2009

    Best Movies by Farr: Legendary Lancaster

    by John Farr

    John Farr lists his picks for legendary Burt Lancaster films.

    Brute Force (1947)


    Tough, unsmiling inmate Joe Collins (Burt Lancaster) has spent much of his long prison term butting heads with sadistic, power-hungry Captain Munsey (Hume Cronyn). Sentenced to a merciless work detail in the subterranean drain pipe after one of Munsey’s stool pigeons is killed in a machine-shop accident, Collins determines to hatch a breakout plan with his cellmates.


    Made just prior to “Naked City,” Dassin’s gritty prison melodrama puts a twist on the archetypal bust-out scheme by revisiting, in flashback, the pre-penitentiary lives of Collins – ably played by an intense young Lancaster – and his crew, colorfully brought to life by character actors Whit Bissell, Howard Duff, and John Hoyt. In a fine performance, Charles Bickford appears as the prison’s gruff de facto leader and newspaper editor who throws in his lot with Collins. The other ace in Dassin’s deck is Cronyn, playing a corrupt, savage prison guard bent on bringing “discipline” to his inmates, while nursing a megalomaniacal ambition to replace the wimpy Warden. Aside from the ominous noir visuals, Dassin explores issues endemic to prison life and wraps them up in an ugly finale meant to evoke a Nazi bloodbath.

    The Train (1964)


    Cold-blooded Colonel Von Waldheim (Paul Scofield) wants to remove a a cache of priceless art from France by train in the waning days of the Nazi occupation. With the help of some gallant friends in the Resistance, railroad worker Paul Labiche (Burt Lancaster) takes on the dangerous task of derailing this mission.


    John Frankenheimer’s pulse-pounding war film is lean and riveting, as Lancaster’s character works intrepidly to foil Von Waldheim’s exacting plans. Lancaster is restrained and no-nonsense as Labiche- thankfully he doesn’t even attempt a French accent, while Scofield is icy perfection as the ruthless Von Waldheim. This is one of my personal favorites from the sixties and ranks among the talented Frankenheimer’s best work.

    Local Hero (1983)


    A large Texas oil and gas company wants to purchase a small Scottish town and turn it into a refinery. The company sends along Mac (Peter Riegert), the proverbial smooth salesman, to negotiate with the locals. Any hopes of closing the deal quickly evaporate as Mac must adjust to the more leisurely rhythms of the town’s natives. To force matters to a head, Mr. Happer (Burt Lancaster) , the company’s remote, eccentric leader, ultimately flies in for a personal visit. But is oil the only thing on Happer’s mind?


    Bursting with unique personality and charm, “Hero” is a touching fable about finding magic in the everyday business of living. Riegert is spot-on as Mac, a man who thinks he understands his place in the world and then gets gradually transformed by a special time and place. The larger-than-life Lancaster is worth the wait, dominating the film’s later scenes as star-struck Happer. A movie with heart and spirit, that sneaks up on you.

    Visit Best Movies by Farr for more great DVD recommendations.

  • September 8, 2009

    Reel 13 + Rooftop Films

    Throughout the summer, Reel 13 is partnering with Rooftop Films, a non-profit organization that has been screening underground films in outdoor locations throughout New York City since 1997.

    Click here for your chance to win tickets to Rooftop’s September 12th event: BROOKLYN NONFICTION

    Our final event with Rooftop Films this summer is on Sept 12.  Join us for a screening of that week’s Reel 13 Shorts entries, curated by the Rooftop programming team. You can vote for your favorite at the event or right here.

    The winner will be broadcast on THIRTEEN the following Saturday night.


    The official Closing Weekend for Rooftop Films 2009 Summer Series. The sharpest short films fired from the roof.

    Without the other four boroughs, Brooklyn would be America’s fourth largest city. So many artists and filmmakers have gravitated toward the borough of Kings—including Rooftop itself—it could be argued that Brooklyn is New York’s cultural capital. And so for Rooftop Films 2009 Closing Weekend, we flash our local colors and parade our local pride.

    The short films in this program show Brooklyn some love, and defend Brooklyn against unwanted developments. These films flex the power of Brooklyn’s diversity, and boast of Brooklyn’s bizarre and bold attitude. We disclose the turmoil and the harmony in competing and coalescing races and cultures, and we expose the passion and principles of opposing flocks of birds and opinionated inanimate objects. Because in this part of town, everyone’s got a point of view. And from up here on the roof, the whole city’s gonna see it.

    Venue: On the roof of the Old American Can Factory

    232 3rd St. @ 3rd Ave. (Gowanus/ Park Slope, Brooklyn)

    F/G to Carroll St. or M/R to Union Ave.

    In the event of rain the show will be held indoors at the same location

    Doors open

    Sound Fix presents live music


    Reception in courtyard including free sangria courtesy of Carlo Rossi sangria

    $9-$25 at the door or online

    Presented in partnership with: Cinereach, New York magazine, & XØ Projects
    Radeberger Pilsner
    No refunds. In the event of rain, the show will be indoors at the same locations. Seating is first come, first served. Physical seats are limited. This means you may not get a chair. You are welcome to bring a blanket and picnic.

    Visit Rooftop Films online for more information and to purchase event tickets.

  • September 2, 2009

    Producer Ted Hope on the survival of indie film

    Earlier this summer, Reel 13 brought you a lecture by Ted Hope, the prolific indie producer behind 21 Grams, American Splendor, and In the Bedroom, among nearly 60 other pictures. Last week, the Filmmaker’s Alliance presented Ted with the 2009 Vision Award. Posted below is Ted’s acceptance speech, delivered at the Director’s Guild in Los Angeles on Wednesday, August 19, 2009. In it, Ted lays out his vision for how producers and filmmakers must engage with evolving technology, audiences, and distribution.

    Visit Ted Hope’s blog, Truly Free Film, for more about his thoughts on the future of independent film.

  • September 1, 2009

    A Scouting Life: Escape from Texas

    by Sam Hutchins

    On the road to Houston

    On the road to Houston

    We finally could see the light at the end of Texas when we got to Houston. Arrived late, checked into the Doubletree Hotel downtown and crashed hard. We must have been quite a sight as we were road-weary from a couple hard days blasting through dust, sagebrush and ignorance. We encountered what was becoming a running joke at the registration desk with Stephane’s name. The clerk kept referring to him as “Stephanie” and insisting that he had been expected to be a woman. It only got funnier as he became more frustrated and insisted on the correct pronunciation of his name. Watching Stephane argue about the pronunciation of his name in his thick French accent all across the South provided endless amusement for myself and Darius.

    Same old song and dance the next morning. I rose early, checked all three of us out, settled the room charges, brought the truck around, gassed it up and then sat and waited impatiently for my companions to materialize. I was desperate to get out of Texas but I sat there waiting. Eventually I pulled out a map and started to daydream. That’s a big part of what I love about scouting; I love maps, I love looking at them and imagining what they represent. I have well-developed instincts and a vivid imagination and scouting allows me to exercise both. Looking at the map of southeast Texas I saw lots of oceanfront land and places I knew to be rich in mineral resources. My mind ran to images of places much like Blade Runner just more industrial. I pictured nights full of vast oil fields, lonely roads snaking through brightly and colorfully lit landscapes. Constant rain and mist beneath towering metal derricks both onshore and off. I was probably far off from the reality but I imagined a lonely café hugging the roadside in such a place just waiting for us to find it.

    Darius & Stephane

    Darius & Stephane

    Of course reality intrudes. Stephane and Darius appeared and insisted we scout Houston proper. I fought to bail immediately and drive towards Galveston where my waking daydream led me but I lost the argument. The fact that Galveston was at the end of a long one-way road sealed the deal. I tried to BS them on that one but they knew me well enough to insist on seeing a map before agreeing to anything. Amazing how intimately you know someone after even a week in such close proximity. I’d gladly fib a little in service of what my gut told me was the right choice; they already knew that about me. It was set, then. We would explore Houston before driving east. I braced the concierge for assistance.

    “Excuse me, I’m looking for the ‘hip’ neighborhood.”


    Allow me to point out that we were in a relatively nice hotel and the concierge ought to be expected to have a decent working knowledge of the city.

    “You know, an interesting part of the city. Someplace where people walk around, go to cafes, antique stores, bookshops?”

    Blank stare.

    “Maybe by a university? Someplace with thrift stores? Older buildings? There must be a college district? Used bookstores? Record stores?”

    Blank stare. I was getting impatient and becoming the stereotypical New Yorker America loves to hate.

    “Where the hell do people go when they want to walk around and shop?”

    The concierge’s features brightened.

    “Oh, you mean the Galleria! It’s…”

    I cut him off at the pass.

    “Fuck that, no not the fucking galleria. Where’s the bus station?”

    I might as well have pissed on his shoes given the look on his face but I couldn’t care less. He then made a big show of acting superior to me. After all, I was either travelling by bus or at least consorting with those who would deign to do so.

    “I wouldn’t know, sir, but I assure you I can find out.”

    He opened a yellow pages and verrrrry slowly went about locating the information for me. What a stunning disconnect. We stood a foot apart but there were miles between us. Perhaps it was me. Surely it was. New Yorkers are obnoxious, right? I was being obnoxious, yes, I was. At the same time some under-educated, over-moussed douche is judging me for my interest in the bus station. I’m no runaway teenager or sad salesman, Jack. I’m looking for filmable locations for an international genius filmmaker, and I represent his vision. I’m the tip of the spear and you’re just flesh in my way.

    Clearly I needed to get the hell out of Texas. Fuck the bus station. I put the pedal on the floor and we were Louisiana-bound. No one tried to stop me.



    Sam Hutchins has been working in film production for twenty years. He started as overnight security on the set of “Working Girl” while attending film school at NYU. Since 1995 he has been a location manager for some of the top names in the business. He’ll be blogging from a unique insider’s perspective on the filmmaking process, as well as speaking to his colleagues in the production community to share their experiences with you.

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