Friday, November 23, 2007

Fernando Fernán-Gómez Dead at 86

Fernando Fernán-Gómez (2005)

28 August 1921 (Lima, Peru) - - 21 November 2007 (Madrid, Spain)

"For Fernando"
Stars above Iberia, twinkling in the skies;
One bright star fell in the night, tears flow from our eyes.
~ ~ Mimi, 21/11/07
Fernando Fernán-Gómez made over 200 appearances in Spanish television series and films, directed 25 films and wrote about 10 plays in a career spanning nearly six decades. He also wrote poetry and music.

Among the films he appeared in are Fernando Trueba's BELLE EPOQUE, which was ony the second movie from Spain to win the Oscar® for best foreign film (1993), and in which he portrayed Manolo, farmer father of four voluptuous daughters (Penélope Cruz, Miriam Díaz Aroca, Mary Carmen Ramírez, Maribel Verdú). In the third Spanish movie to win the same award (2000), he was the father of voluptuous Penélope Cruz in Pedro Almodóvar's ALL ABOUT MY MOTHER (Todo sobre mi madre).

Among his other memorable roles are the bee-obsessed father Fernando in Víctor Erice's 1973 beloved SPIRIT OF THE BEHIVE (El Espíritu de la colmena); the bird-song obsessed Fernando in THE LOVE OF CAPTAIN BRANDO (El Amor del capitán Brando, Jaime de Armiñán, 1974); the overly religious mystic wolf Fernando in Carlos Saura's ANA AND THE WOLVES (Ana y los lobos); and the older disillusioned wolf Fernando, who has substituted trying to fly an airplane for mysticism in Saura's 1979 black comedy MAMA TURNS 100 (Mamá cumple cien años).

His honors include six Goyas from the Spanish Film Academy, Spain's top film award, and the 1995 Price of Asturias Prize for the Arts. MORE . . .

Monday, November 19, 2007

Oscar® Feature Docs Short List

Originally, 70 documentary features qualified for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences'® Best Documentary Feature Film in this year's Oscar race. Under the rules, all were screened by the committees, and 15 films have advanced to the next step - - choosing five for nomination.

Here's the short list with a little extra (Docs with dirctor(s), USA productions and in color, unless noted):

AUTISM: THE MUSICAL - Tricia Regan (Music and autistic children).

BODY OF WAR - Phil Donahue and Ellen Spiro (Wounded vets).

FOR THE BIBLE TELLS ME SO - Daniel G. Karslake (Homosexuality and religion intersect).

LAKE OF FIRE - Tony Kaye (Abortion, B&W).

NANKING - Bill Guttentag and Dan Sturman (1938 "Rape of Nanking, China, by Japanese").

NO END IN SIGHT - Charles Ferguson (Iraq - Special Jury Prize, Sundance IFF).

OPERATION HOMECOMING: WRITING THE WARTIME EXPERIENCE - Richard Robbins (Troops in Iraq & Afghanistan - Special Jury Award Florida FF; nominated for IDA* award).

PLEASE VOTE FOR ME - Weijun Chen, South Africa (Election, elementary class style).

THE PRICE OF SUGAR - Bill Haney, USA / D.R. (Exploitation of workers in Dominican Republic - Audience Award, SXSW FF).

A PROMISE TO THE DEAD: THE EXILE JOURNEY OF ARIEL DORFMAN - Peter Raymont, Canada (Memories of exile, longing and democracy in Argentina through the words of author /activist Dorfman).

THE RAPE OF EUROPA - Richard Berge, Bonni Cohen and Nicole Newnham (Chronicles struggle to keep Nazis from destroying centuries of western culture - Audience Award, RiverRun IFF).

SICKO - Michael Moore (Comparing U.S. health system to others - nominated for IDA* award).

TAXI TO THE DARK SIDE - Alex Gibney (Torture in Afghanistan, Gitmo, and Iraq - Best Doc, Chicago IFF; nominated for IDA* award).

WAR/DANCE - Sean Fine and Andrea Nix Fine (Children in displacement camp compete in Uganda music festival despite war - Directing Award, Sundance IFF; Audience Award, Wisconsin FF; nominated for IDA* award).

WHITE LIGHT/BLACK RAIN - Steven Okazaki (Bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the horror they brought to children).

*International Documentary Association Finalist. Gala is 8 December 2007. Also, see my Awards Page.

The 80th Academy Awards nominations will be announced on Tuesday, 22 January 2008, at 5:30 a.m. PT, in the Academy’s Samuel Goldwyn Theater, Wilshire Boulvard, Beverly Hills, CA. The awards gala is 24 February 2008.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Filmmakers Question BFLF Oscar® Rules

It seems as though there is more unrest about the rules concerning the Academy Awards® than I thought. In the previous post, "Animators Decry Animation Rules," I reported and commented on some problems concerning this year's Best Animated Feature category, which many contribute to the rules for the category.

Last month I mentioned some issues, and suggested some possible considerations for changes regarding the Best Foreign Language Film (BFLF) category in my post, "Proposed Rule Change for Foreign Movies," Friday, 12 October 2007. This month, some producers and directors have suggested that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences'® rules in the BFLF category are causing dismay for those in the industry, especially those working abroad, where mutinational productions are becoming more common each year, and many foreign directors want to work in English as well as their native tongue.

Director Ang Lee in Beverly Hills, 2007

First up is Ang Lee's LUST, CAUTION (Se, jie, 2007) the official entry from Taiwan. Because none of the principal cast and principal department heads (cinematographer, production designer, and sound mixer) were from Taiwan, the Academy ruled the movie was in violation of Rule 14 and disqualified it. Apparently, the Taiwanese government was given only a few hours notice to substitute another movie.

Devastated by the loss of their award-winning director (CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON, Wo hu cang long, Tiawan, 2000; and EAT DRINK MAN WOMAN, Yin shi nan nu, Tiawan, 1994), the officials in Taiwan substituted ISLAND ETUDE (Lian xi qu, 2006) directed by Huai-en Chen, or Chen Huai-En. Chen has mainly worked as a cinematographer. ISLAND ETUDE is his first directorial effort.

Lee, born in Taiwan and educated in the U.S., won a Best Picture Oscar®, and numerous other awards for BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN (USA, 2005), plus many awards for SENSE AND SENIBILITY, 1995, and THE ICE STORM, 1997, English being the principal language spoken in all.

Another strong picture,THE BAND'S VISIT (Bikur Ha-Tizmoret, Eran Kolirin, director, 2007) officially submitted by Israel, was turned down because there is too much English in the picture. Again see my post of 12 October about the problem of "language" in foreign movies.

Israel substituted BEAUFORT, Joseph Cedar, 2007, the latter's story line being much less interesting than a brass band comprised of members of the Egyptian police force head to Israel to play at the inaugural ceremony of an Arab arts center only to find themselves lost in a foreign city.

THE DIVING BELL and the BUTTERFLY (Le Scaphandre et le papillon, France / USA , 2007), Julian Schnabel's French movie, which won him the directing prize at Cannes and critical acclaim at other festivals, was not submitted by France. They chose to submit the animated PERSEPOLIS, also in French with French crew and actors, Catherine Deneuve among them. Under the Academy's rules a country may submit only one entry, and the country has the right to make that choice. That is, provided the movie follows the rules of submission established by the Academy.

PERSEPOLIS is based on Iranian author Marjane Satrapi's graphic novel. Satrapi also co-wrote the screenplay and co-directed the movie with Frenchman Vincent Paronnaud. It is a poignant coming-of-age story of a precocious and outspoken young Iranian girl that begins during the Islamic Revolution. Deneuve plays the mother, and that alone certifies it as genuinely French. Plus, doesn't every Iranian girl have a French mother as beautiful and Deneuve?

Julian Schnabel, director of DIVING BELL, was an art-world star in the early 1980s. A native of Brooklyn, he still draws and paints, but his other medium now is film. He made his first movie, BASQUIAT (Build a Fort, Set it on Fire, USA) in 1996, about the art world with which he is very familiar.

His second movie, BEFORE NIGHT FALLS in 2000, about the homosexual Cuban writer Reinaldo Arenas, established him as a director, and gained an Oscar nomination for the star, Javier Bardem. All of Schnabel's five children appear in the movie. His current wife is Spanish actress Olatz Lopez Garmendia. She has appeared in all of his movies, and executive produced BEFORE NIGHT FALLS.

DIVING BELL is based on the best-selling memoir by Jean-Dominique Bauby (Mathieu Amalric), the former editor in chief of Elle magazine in France. In 1995, Mr. Bauby suffered a stroke that left him with a condition called locked-in syndrome, conscious but paralyzed, with only his left eye remaining functional. He painstakingly composed the memoir by blinking that eye to select letters on a chart.

The movie sounds very much like the award-winning MAR ADENTO (The Sea Inside, Spain, 2004), directed by Alejandro Amenába (right in picture above).
It is based on the true story of a Spanish sailor, Ramon Sampedro, who fought a 30-year campaign for his right to die with dignity after a diving accident left him paralyzed. MAR ADENTO garnered a Golden Globe as Best Foreign Film and a Globe nomination for its star Javier Bardem (left in picture above) as best actor. It swept Spain's Goya Awards, and won a Best Foreign Language Film Oscar in the U.S. For all awards click HERE. I'm sure this year's members of the Academy BFLF committees would recognize the similarities in the MAR ADENTO and DIVING BELL.

In an article for Reuters, "Filmmakers question Oscar's foreign movie rules," 9 October 2007, Stephen Galloway writes that the Afghan tale THE KITE RUNNER, " . . . would never had stood a chance [in the BFLF category because it] features English and Dari dialogue, [and] was made by a Swiss -American Director, Marc Forster with an international crew."

He notes Afghanistan has no submission this year, implying the reason is THE KITE RUNNER did not meet the rules for a BFLF submission, but THE KITE RUNNER is based on a book written by American-educated Afghani writer Khaled Hosseini, who also cowrote the screenplay. Although the main actors and some of the crew are from Afghanistan, it was filmed in China and California, by U.S. production companies (principally MacDonald / Parkes Productions) and is distributed by U.S. distributors (DreamWorks SKG and Paramount Vintage). There is more English spoken than the other foreign languages, and it is officially a U.S. production, not Afghani, and was not eligible for a BFLF submission from Afghanistan from the beginning.

Mr. Galloway also wrote, "In excluding movies like these, the Academy continues to court controversy with foreign-language rules that many deem in need of revision." Amen!

One reason revisions are needed could be that the designation "foreign-language film" is outmoded in our new world-wide economy in which the European Union has dissolved borders within the Union, and the English language is the official diplomatic language, transcending borders around the world. Again, I urge the members of the Board of Governors of the Academy to take a serious look at their rules, especially in the BFLF category, but I would prefer calling the category "Best Foreign Motion Picture".

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Animators Decry Academy Rules

It seems as though there is more unrest about the rules concerning the Academy Awards® than I thought. I mentioned some issues, and suggested some possible considerations for changes regarding the Best Foreign Language Film (BFLF) category in my post on this blog, "Proposed Rule Change for Foreign Movies," Friday, 12 October 2007.

This month, some animators complained that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences'® lack of a clear definition for animated movies, and not keeping pace with changing technology, causes problems. Some have asserted that lack of clarification in the rules muddle the Best Animated Feature category.
Over the years the Academy has tried to address the question, "What is animation?" The most recent revision to the rules pertaining to the Best Animated Feature (Rule Seven) states, "An animated feature film is defined as a motion picture of at least 70 minutes in running time, in which movement and characters’ performances are created using a frame-by-frame technique. In addition, a significant number of the major characters must be animated, and animation must figure in no less than 75 percent of the picture’s running time."

Techniques used to blend real actors on the screen with animated characters in Robert Zemeckis' 1988 pioneering WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT? have improved immensely as witnessed in this year's ENCHANTED. However that brings us to a statement in Rule Seven, ". . . animation must figure in no less than 75 percent of the picture’s running time."

Now, that is really splitting hairs. I'm with those who maintain that an animated feature should either be 100% animation, or it should not be considered an animated feature. There is a new category for hybrid automobiles. Perhaps, there should be a new category for mixed-media motion pictures. Just a thought as technology continues to expand in this century.

Most of the questions being raised involve the statement from the rule, ". . . in which movement and characters’ performances are created using a frame-by-frame technique." Years ago, stop-action claymation was included along with the stipulation of "drawn" frames. Then, animators were allowed to use computers to draw the blue prints for those drawings.

These changes lead to what is known today as a motion-capture process. Simplistically, actors act before a green screen and computers generate computer characters that can be further altered by computers to resemble anything the filmmaker wants. How much more vague can the Academy get than ". . . using a frame-by-frame technique?" All motion pictures use a frame-by-frame technique, but only animated pictures have previously produced each fame individually. No more.

This year, Robert Zemeckis' BEOWULF uses the motion-capture technique as did last year's nominees MONSTER HOUSE and HAPPY FEET, the category winner. Child actors supplied the action for the first, and Savion Glover supplied the penguin's smooth moves from which the computers generated the penguins. The filmmakers use special cameras and computers to capture, alter, edit and transfer the action into frames.

Some animators complain that animated movies now look and move more like video games than movies, while others have openly stated that motion-capture is NOT animation. There is a jab at motion capture at the end of director Brad Bird's RATATOUILLE, just released on DVD. At the end of the film credits on the DVD, a cartoon businessman is pictured smiling proudly as text proclaims the movie was made with "100 percent genuine animation" and "no motion capture or any other performance shortcuts."

Actually, the producers of BEOWULF do not call it an animated motion picture. Actor Ray Winstone (Beowulf) maintains he was definitely acting and has the bruises to prove it.

No animated feature has ever won overall Best Picture. In 1938, the Academy created a special Academy Award for Walt Disney to acknowledge his SNOW WHITE and the SEVEN DWARFS. The separate Oscar® animation category was created in 2001, supposedly to give animated features more of a fighting chance for recognition in the competition. Unfortunately, what it has done is segregate them even more. Thus, animators still feel as though they are second-class citizens in the movie community when it comes to recognition for their work.

Ultimately it will be up to audiences to decide whether BEOWULF and ENCHANTED are animated features. Even the members of the Academy will nominate according to what their eyes perceive. Neither may not receive a nomination in the animation category. Then, all this will have been a tempest in a teapot. For now.

In case you are interested, the standard FPS for movies is 24, for television 30, and for video games 75. Over 75 FPS, the eye cannot see the frames and perceives the screen as blank.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Animated Features Submitted for Oscars®

Only 12 animated features were submitted for possible nomination for the upcoming Oscars. I had hopes that we might get five animated features nominated for the 80th Academy Awards® in February, but the rules state, "A maximum of three films can be nominated in a year in which the field of eligible entries numbers at least 8 but fewer than 16." Oh, well. Maybe next year.

Feature motion pictures submitted in the Animated Feature category may also qualify for Academy Awards in other categories, including Best Picture, provided they meet the requirements for those categories.

The 12 submitted features are:

TEKKON KINKREET (a Japanese fable from U.S.-born director Michael Arias) #
TMNT (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles) #

** Have not yet had their required Los Angeles qualifying run. The submitted features must fulfill the general release requirements and meet all of the category’s other qualifying rules before they can advance in the voting process.
# Available on DVD.
+ DVD releasing 13 November.
+ + DVD releasing December.

The 80th Academy Awards nominations will be announced on Tuesday, 22 January 2008, at 5:30 a.m. PT in the Academy’s Samuel Goldwyn Theater.

Academy Awards for outstanding motion picture achievements of 2007 will be presented on Sunday, 24 February 2008, at the Kodak Theatre at Hollywood & Highland Center®, and televised live by the ABC Television Network beginning at 5 p.m. PT.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Are Film Festivals Going to the Dogs?

Are film festivals going to the dogs? Nope. The dogs are going to the film festivals with a walk up the red carpet, a ceremony and trophies. The four-legged stars of the Oscar-winning film THE QUEEN are the winners of Britain's first-ever Fido Awards for canine cinematic excellence, presented at the Times BFI Film Festival 29 October. Why shouldn't the five corgis, who appeared with Helen Mirren get recognized? Read all about it on the Fido Awards Web site.

The Cannes festival started the whole thing in 2001 by instituting the Palm Dog Award, which consists of a black collar with "Palm Dog" stitched onto it. The winner that year was Otis, the canine lead in THE ANNIVERSARY PARTY, starring, written and directed by Jennifer Jason Leigh and Alan Cumming.

The co-winners this last May were Yuki, a cartoon dog from PERSEPOLIS (French-Iran, animation) and Keng and Peak, from the Thai movie MID ROAD GANG.

Last year's winner was Mops, a doll-sized dog featured in Sofia Coppola's MARIE ANTOINETTE. Was that a sly message to Sofia?

Read more about the Times BFI Film Festival on my Film Festival Page (link on right sidebar).