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  • September 16, 2009

    Best Movies by Farr: Latino Cinema

    by John Farr

    John Farr recommends three classic films about Latinos in America.

    El Norte (1983)


    When the Guatemalan army murders their father, impoverished Quiche Indian siblings Enrique (David Villalpando) and Rosa (Zadie Silvia Gutierrez) decide to make a dangerous trek north through Mexico, hoping to find a better life in Los Angeles as undocumented immigrants. Some help and others prey on the teens, on both sides of the border, exploiting their constant fear of being deported and returned to the misery of peasant life.


    Bringing into focus both the plight of illegal U.S. immigrants and the persecution of Indian peasants in Central American nations, Nava’s “El Norte” is an eloquent, honest, and sobering testimony about the simple quest for freedom that defines us all. Nava spares nothing in depicting the trials of his cross-border hopefuls: Enrique and Rosa are beset by an unscrupulous smuggler, bullish cops and border agents, noxious employers, and even insensitive Chicanos. Brutal and harrowing, “El Norte” scrutinizes the hard lives and shattered hopes of undocumented workers with gritty, suspenseful realism.

    Bread and Roses (2000)


    L.A. organizer Sam Shapiro (Adrien Brody) wants to unionize a local janitorial service, largely comprised of illegal immigrants. Without rights, these workers are regularly abused and mistreated for substandard wages. Mexican-American worker Maya (Pilar Padilla) becomes a key supporter, risking her own position, much to the consternation of sister and fellow employee Rosa (Elpidia Carrillo), who must support a disabled husband and can’t afford to lose her job. With so much on the line, will the workers prevail?


    The conflict between principle and practical reality is deftly explored by British director Loach in this affecting drama set in present-day Southern California, and features earthy performances by Brody and formidable newcomer Padilla. An intense, authentic depiction of our most vulnerable workers’ struggle for a decent life, the film underscores the importance of taking a stand, however daunting. Shedding light on the desperate lives of people largely ignored in contemporary times, “Roses” is a tense, moving story about those still seeking – and being denied – the American Dream.

    Raising Victor Vargas (2002)


    On Manhattan’s Lower East Side, an upright, god-fearing Dominican lady (Altagracia Guzman) struggles to bring up her three grandchildren. The eldest, sixteen year old Victor (Victor Rasuk), is her biggest worry. A self-styled ladies’ man, the inexperienced Victor sets his cap for “Juicy Judy” Gonzalez (Judy Marte), a local beauty who seems way beyond him in wordliness. As Victor enters into the pitfalls and raptures of first love, Grandma imagines Victor indulging in a world of sin, which threatens to corrupt his younger brother Nino (Silvestre Rasuk), the apple of her eye. Will Victor manage to steer this tricky course so that he gets the girl, while keeping his fiery Grandma under control?


    This winning coming-of-age romance disarms the viewer with its authenticity and depth of feeling. Director Sollett coaxes incredibly natural performances from his young cast of unknowns, and builds a story that avoids the usual grim stereotypes about urban ethnic life. Though somewhat misguided, we know Grandma’s heart is in the right place; amidst all the conflicts that arise, an undercurrent of love remains. Both Rasuk and Marte do fabulous work, and their budding romance is believably and touchingly rendered. A wonderfully wise and human film.

    Visit Best Movies by Farr for more great DVD recommendations.

  • September 14, 2009

    A Scouting Life: Bayou Bound

    by Sam Hutchins

    D.I.'s restaurant

    D.I.'s restaurant

    A few weeks earlier I had sat in my office and worked out an itinerary.  Not a particularly easy task as our goals were so unclear.  Kar Wai had attempted to explain what he wanted us to find for him without success.  Truth be told, he clearly was still working story ideas out for himself.  He knew that he wanted to make a road movie; he knew that he wanted to follow Norah Jones as she travelled cross-country.  Beyond that he was looking for our assistance.  I was happy to provide it.

    My original plan was set up to see as many different parts of the country in as short a time as possible.  I set up a complicated itinerary that had us starting in LA and heading east.  Every three days or so we would dump our rental truck at an airport, fly to a different region of the country, and start another leg of the trip.  I thought it was the smart way to go about it.  Darius and Stephane had braced me the other night and expressed their unwillingness to continue on the route I had laid out.  I had mixed emotions but didn’t fight too hard.  Though I had spent weeks arranging the ideal routes through America they had a foolproof counter-argument.  Simply, we had a great truck and were well-settled into it.  They were right, too.  The Armada was holding up well and we had all staked out our space.  Everyone’s IPod, cigarettes, sunglasses and camera had their established nook; starting over would have caused innumerable arguments.  Distance grants perspective, of course, but at the time not having to fight about which cup holder was mine was more than enough reason to keep driving.

    Prior to this trip I spent nearly a year working in New Orleans and have that city dialed up as well as anyone.  I took weekend trips out west into Cajun country; I was wired in for a hundred mile radius.  I was the next thing to a local.  Still you know what I didn’t know?  Louisiana borders Texas.  Wow, embarrassing, I know.  Thing is, western Louisiana goes pretty far west.  I had no occasion to explore it when I was based in New Orleans.  I had no reason to study the maps as my itinerary had us ending in Dallas and flying to Denver to spend some time in the high desert.  Once our plans were discarded, however, it was the three of us and a map and due east of us was Louisiana.  So we rolled on, putting miles behind us as quickly as possible.

    The landscape changes pretty dramatically as you cross from Texas into Louisiana.  As you move east the foliage becomes increasingly full and lush.  The last of the desert falls off behind you and starts feeling more like low country.  The Gulf of Mexico and its swamplands and estuaries factor into the equation.  Humanity is less and less apparent as you move away from Houston but are still far away from approaching a city of any size.  More than anything it felt as though we were transitioning from the southwest to the south.  I was glad of it.  I felt optimistic about our chance to find someplace worth scouting.  The back roads snaked through the edge of the swamps, punctuated by the occasional paper mill and not much else.

    I had run through my rolodex the day before, calling everyone I knew in the area looking for leads.  One of my contacts came through and called me with information about a place called D.I.’s.  Apparently D.I. was a crawfish farmer who ran a restaurant out of his ancient weathered barn in the middle of the swamp.  Everything about it sounded great.  Supposedly it was the real thing, not a tourist trap of any sort.  I loved the idea of it, feeling it provided a vastly different milieu from anything else we had seen.  Better yet, the directions my friend PJ gave me indicated that it was just off Gator road. Exciting.

    We pushed hard through the swamps, feeling better and better about where we were headed.  Travelling with people in such close quarters everything becomes infectious, more so when you are hungry to find something good.  Every clue we saw led us in the right direction.

    “Look at that old farmhouse!”

    “These trees look great with the Spanish moss; we can do driving shots here!”

    “Maybe we can shoot something with her in the swamps!”

    By the time we actually crossed Gator Road we were like kids on Christmas morning.  We turned a corner and there it was, D.I.’s authentic Cajun Restaurant.  It sat almost perfectly amidst the landscape, set off on its own in the midst of vast fields carved out of the low swamp.  One problem, however.  Instead of the old weathered barn we were expecting we were looking at a large, recently built aluminum sided monstrosity.  The place was a perfect example of recent, cheap construction.  One would be hard pressed to find something uglier or less interesting to film.  A subsequent conversation with D.I. himself revealed this gem:

    “Oh, no, you would have hated the old place.  Beat up, ramshackle barn.  Needed a paint job.  Nothing but an open kitchen and a bunch of old picnic tables.  My nice new place is so much better for your movie.”

    Stephane at D.I.'s

    Stephane at D.I.'s

    In other words, exactly what we were looking for.  To compound matters, we got stuck taking the extended tour.  D.I. and his wife were as nice as you could hope for but I was disappointed and eager to get back to our search of Cajun Country.  After laboring through en extended family history and being pressured into buying a CD of his grandson, Briggs the Wee Cajun accordion player, we were back on the road.

    “What ees the plan for tonight?” Stephane wanted to know.

    “We should spend as much time as possible scouring this area and wind up in Lafayette for the night.”

    Lafayette was close by, and I figured staying there would give us plenty of local scouting time.  D.I.’s might not have been the right place but I was sure we would find an old gas station or general store just around the next curve in the road, or the one after that.

    “Lafayette?  Non, we must go to New Orleans.  We need a nice night out for a change.” Darius piped in.

    “But we’re hours away.  Driving there means we have to quit scouting here and head east.  That’ll take us right out of this area.”

    Once again I was outvoted.  It’s not often I’ll argue against a night on the town in New Orleans, but I really wanted to scour western Louisiana for locations.  Once the decision was made, however, I bought into it fully.  I let Stephane take the wheel and push us eastward while I got on the phone and planned a night of recreation in one of my favorite cities.


    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.

  • 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.

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