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Jump Cut

The Monthly Column on Film and Media Arts
for the New England Entertainment Digest

By George T. Marshall, RIIFF Executive Director/CEO

 


(December 2005) Well, I survived 11 days riding a bicycle in the Andalusia section of Southern Spain. I will confess to cheating a bit: riding in the van rather than biking the 50-70 plus miles daily. It was actually a great way to see all the beautiful countryside, and take great photographs. I’ve never been one to favor masochism and besides I had nothing to prove to anyone: after all this, was a vacation. All told, I did over 100 out of 200 miles. Considering I had only a few months training, I was proud of my performance. More importantly, I did no major physical damage and came out in one piece, feeling a bit more toned and fit.


What was a nice benefit in doing this type of trip was being able to spend time in some smaller towns and villages and seeing just how wide spread film culture truly has become. Festivals were happening all over the country: from Barcelona with it’s “Fantasy Festival” to Seville, Madrid and Carmona. It was a pleasure to see many films being screened that had played at RIIFF during the summer and the genuine respect shown to the filmmakers and festival organizers. It opened my eyes to what a wealth of riches we actually have in the US, yet so often take for granted.


Back home by mid-month, I was amused to learn the Disney Studios will be shooting a live action version of “Underdog” in the Ocean State. The brain is still having difficulty wrapping itself around the concept. My ill-spent youth was spent watching such mind-popcorn, including “Rocky and Bullwinkle,” “Beany and Cecil” and of course so many others I dare not admit to in this column.

 

OK, at the risk of sounding a snob, how will this new version even come close to capturing the silly charm of the original with the voice of Wally Cox as Underdog or Don Adam as Tennessee Tuxedo and Larry Storch as Phineas J. Whoopie?


TREKKING TO WILLIAMSTOWN
Every year one of my favorite escapes is heading to the annual Williamstown Film Festival. It’s such a quaint area, the college is exceptional and the people warm and friendly. Executive Director, Steve Lawson has done an amazing job at crafting a user-friendly event and has parlayed his contacts from years as a Dramaturge at the Williamstown Theatre Festival to the fest’s advantage.


Lawson’s signature event is the closing Gala at the Clark Art Museum. It usually draws a full house and by having notable celebrities, Lawson has been able to guarantee a success.


This year actress Patricia Clarkson graced the stage where a retrospective of her work was screened, followed by a rollicking Q&A a la “Inside the Actor’s Studio.” It was a class act that ended with a champagne and chocolate reception in the Clark’s lobby.


I think Clarkson was a brilliant choice for the closing event. Not yet a household name, she has a staggering body of work that will set her on a celebrity trajectory. Yet, she is still accessible, real and from what I saw that evening, grounded.


Born and raised in New Orleans, Clarkson began acting in school plays in her early teens. After studying speech at Louisiana State University for two years, she transferred to Fordham University in New York, where she graduated summa cum laude with a degree in theatre arts.

 

She earned her MFA at the prestigious Yale School of Drama, where she appeared in “Electra,” “Pacific Overtures,” “Pericles,” “La Ronde,” “The Lower Depths” and “The Misanthrope.”


She made her professional acting debut on the New York stage. Her theatre credits include “Eastern Standard” (on and off- Broadway), “Maidens Prayer” (for which she received Outer Critics Circle and Drama Desk Award nominations), “Raised in Captivity,” “Oliver Oliver,” “The House of Blue Leaves” and “Three Days of Rain.” Her regional credits include performances at the Williamstown Theatre Festival, South Coast Repertory and Yale Repertory.


Clarkson made her film debut opposite Kevin Costner in Brian De Palma’s “The Untouchables.” Her other film credits include “Welcome to Collinwood,” “The Pledge,” “The Green Mile,” “Everybody’s All-American,” “The Dead Pool,” “Rocket Gibraltar,” “Tune In Tomorrow,” “Joe Gould’s Secret” and “Wendigo.” Her performance as Greta in Lisa Cholodenko’s “High Art” earned her a nomination for an IFP Independent Spirit Award. She received an Academy nomination for “Pieces of April” (United Artists). Other acclaimed films include “The Station Agent” (Miramax), “All The Real Girls” (Sony Pictures Classics), and “The Safety of Objects” (IFC Films).


Last year she generated Oscar® buzz for her supporting role as Eleanor Fine in Todd Haynes’s “Far From Heaven.” Clarkson also won the New York Film Critics Circle and National Society of Film Critics best supporting actress awards for that role and was nominated for a Chicago Film Critics Award.


Clarkson has recently finished production several independent dramas: Geoge Clooney’s “Good Night and Good Luck,” now in theatres; Craig Lucas’ “The Dying Gaul” and the thriller “The Woods” (UA). In 2002 Clarkson won an Emmy for her guest-starring appearance as quirky Aunt Sarah on HBO’s acclaimed drama “Six Feet Under.” (And that’s a reference for those who aren’t movie, but TV people.)


A NEW DOCUMENTARY OF NOTE
Now that RIIFF is heading into its 10th year, things are getting a tad easier in not just running the festival, but in outreach to the filmmaker community. At this writing, entries for 2006 are up by 45%. During 2005, we received over 1,500 entries from throughout the world: 61 countries to be exact. What’s coming in early—they began arriving in early September—are amazing and in many cases, exceptional. As for early, RIIFF takes place in August of 2006—so that’s a while off.


One gem that hails from Denmark so struck our selection review board that a decision was made to present a unique “first look” of the film for the general public in early December; that’s nine months prior to the Festival. Our screening will be used to raise funds for our community outreach programs, which are multi-tiered and take place throughout the state of Rhode Island.

 

This year’s beneficiary is the annual Christmas-in-Newport event in Newport, Rhode Island.


"KAREN BLIXEN: OUT OF THIS WORLD"

According to Kevin Thomas of the Los Angeles Times “Marcus Mandal and Anna von Lowzow's "Karen Blixen: Out of This World" is an illuminating, poignant documentary.” It is the true story of the incredible life of Danish author Karen Blixen / Isak Dinesen - a story just as dramatic as her own fantastic tales.


Blixen was an extraordinary woman, an unstoppable female, a vain eccentric, and a very sensitive human being, whose life was characterized by great ups as well as great downs. She was a major contradiction. In her life, Karen Blixen conquered artistically, but lost in love; she never had any children, lived in financial turmoil, and suffered from depressions.


During the documentary the viewers are taken on a journey through the life of Blixen, told by people close to the author. The author herself contributes through old footage from numerous television shows.


Among those taking part are Karen Blixen’s 102-year old sister-in-law and her 85-year old houseboy, Tumbo, who for the first 10 years of his life lived with her on the farm in Africa. Others taking part are Meryl Streep and American author Judith Thurman.


With special permission from the family of Blixen, the directors have been given unique access to photos and letters from their private archives, many of which have never been made public before. To complement the rich imagery of this film, additional footage and historical-reenactments have been shot on location in Denmark and Kenya – all done with great attention to detail and with much emphasis on authenticity. For instance Blixen’s personal typewriter was renovated for the films reenactments, and all the shooting has taken place in Blixen’s original surroundings. During the production the Danish film-crew was given permission, as the first ever, to shoot inside the African farm.


Anna von Lowzow and Marcus Mandal, directors of the award-winning international documentary series “A Royal Family” (2003), have created “Karen Blixen - Out of This World”.

(www.aroyalfamily.com ) Director of photography Jan Weincke has worked with directors like Arthur Penn and Bille August. Editor Thomas Krag had edited films for directors like Lars von Trier.


Music was an important element in the life of Karen Blixen. And the music for this film – apart from the theme – consists exclusively of the original lacquer discs Karen Blixen collected throughout her life. The theme has been written exclusively for the film by English composer Mike Woolmans and recorded by the Danish Radio Sinfonietta.


Impressive credentials for a documentary and one that hails from a country not known for such work.

]
I was able to conduct a brief interview recently with one of the film’s co-directors, Marcus Mandal, about how the film was produced. A credentialed professional, Mandal attended the University of Copenhagen (1975-1978) with a degree in Contemporary studies. He also attended Denmark’s College of Journalism (1981-1985). He was Director of educational youth programs for Denmark’s Radio TV (1985-1987); a News reporter for Kanal 2 TV (1987-1996); and is the Director of the international documentaries “A Royal Family” and “Karen Blixen – Out of This World” for Nordisk Film TV (1996-).


Here’s my interview:


GTM: What motivated you to produce this documentary in the first place?


Marcus Mandal: We were very fascinated by the personal story of Karen Blixen. She couldn’t have written it better herself. So we wanted to make a film about her own life; not about her books. But of course we hope that people who see the film will be interested in finding out what kind of stories this special women wrote.


We decided to make it now, because in a few years there won’t be anybody (who knew her) a live to tell the story. E.g. her sister in law, Jonna Dinesen, is now 103 years old!


GTM: How long did it take you to plan, shoot and edit the work? What were the types of challenges you faced?


Marcus Mandal: About two years; and that also included raising the money which Anna and I also had to do ourselves.


The major challenge was not to make the film to boring as there exists no footage with Karen Blixen before she is about 50 years old. Luckily we found almost 1000 photo’s and worked with the brilliant Director of Photography, Jan Weincke, who was able to shoot the beautiful black and white recreations.


GTM: What did you learn about Karen Blixen that you didn't know before producing this work?


Marcus Mandal: For instance that she very much “copied” her father in the way she lived her life. He lived for 3 years alone among Indians in North America, he enjoyed the nature and hunting, - and he wrote books! Her life fell apart when he committed suicide when she was only 10 years old.


GTM: How were you able to gain the support of the people you interviewed for the film?


Marcus Mandal: They had seen our documentary series “A Royal Family” and I think they trusted us. And how did we convince 29 Kings, queens, princes and princesses that they should participate? That’s another story.


GTM: What was it like working with Meryl Streep?


Marcus Mandal: That was wonderful. We had been told that we should finish everything within half an hour. But she ended up staying for several hours. It was actually the first time in my life that I “directed” an actor.


GTM: Your work has gained a great deal of support from festivals; are you surprised?


Marcus Mandal: I’m very happy but not really surprised, because the documentary series “A Royal Family” (which I also made with Anna von Lowzow) was a big international success. It is not common in Denmark to make international documentaries, but we decided that it had to be possible. We raised a lot of money and made the six our series. Twenty nine royal family members take part in this series - it's a major family chronicle simultaneously providing a fascinating insight into European history: www.aroyalfamily.com.


It is now being broadcasted on television in 135 countries; e.g. at APT/PBS in US. And we won a lot of prizes, e.g. the Platinum Award and a Gold Special Jury Award at World Fest Houston.


GTM: Tell our readers a bit about yourself. When did you first become interested in film? What is your educational background?


Marcus Mandal: My education is as a journalist, but already at The Danish School of Journalism where I studied 20-25 years ago, I specialized in TV-production. So since 1985 I’ve been working with TV, both as a news anchor, as a news reporter, - and for the last 10 years as a documentary director.


Before that I’ve done other strange things such as: Studying political Science at the University of Copenhagen, and performing in the streets all over the world as a juggler (I was in Guinness Book of Records for having the world record in “Marathon snowball juggling”).


GTM: How did you land your first job in the industry?


Marcus Mandal: I was lucky that someone had heard about what I did at the Journalist School, and simply asked me (when I was still a student) if I would make a documentary for the opening night of a new TV-Station. I said yes!


GTM: What advice would you give to a young filmmaker attempting to break into the business on how to approach the so-called majors in receiving either support, distribution, or that proverbial career break?


Marcus Mandal: That’s hard for me to answer as I’ve never really been a young filmmaker. I just slowly more interested in making the documentaries more artistic. Also the way those things work are probably much different in Denmark.


GTM: What's next on your plate in terms of work?


Marcus Mandal: Right now I’m working on a TV-series about the history of the place where I work. It’s called Nordisk Film and next year it will turn 100 years old. Actually this is where Hollywood was before it became Hollywood. In the old days (with silent movies) Nordic film had offices all over the world and today we have the oldest still existing film studio in the world. Directors like Carl Th. Dreyer and Lars von Trier have made their first movies here: www.nordiskfilm.com

 

Marcus Mandal will be flying from Copenhagen to Rhode Island, December 1-3rd for screenings of his film.

About the Author:
George T. Marshall is the Producing Director of the Rhode Island-based Flickers Arts Collaborative, the creators of the annual Rhode Island International Film Festival for which he also serves as Executive Director. He teaches film and communications at Rhode Island College and speech communications and documentary film at Roger Williams University. He is a director, writer, producer of commercials and industrials for numerous business clients in the region and is currently completing the multi-media components for a museum exhibit saluting American veterans in Woonsocket, RI. He can be reached at <flicksart@aol.com>