Friday, May 11, 2018

“It’s Kind of Heartbreaking Sometimes to See Actors Try So Hard”: Leon Vitali on the Acting Profession and His Stanley Kubrick Doc, Filmworker

Filmworker, the title of Tony Zierra’s Cannes 2017-premiering portrait of Leon Vitali, is a term coined by the subject himself, probably still best known for his portrayal of Lord Bullingdon in Barry Lyndon. But the former British TV star, who set aside his rising career to spend three decades as Stanley Kubrick’s behind the scenes right-hand man (and more), seems to have never fallen out of love with the acting craft.

Indeed, chatting with Kubrick’s actors’ coach/location scout/sound engineer/marketer — and current film restorer — one gets the sense that every role Kubrick tasked Vitali with was just that, a new “role.” Filmmaker spoke by phone with Vitali about his life as an actor outside the spotlight a week before Filmworker’s US premiere (at Metrograph in NYC on May 11th and Nuart in LA on May 18th, with a national rollout to follow).

To read the rest of my long and winding interview visit Filmmaker magazine.

Doc Star of the Month: Leon Vitali, Tony Zierra's ‘Filmworker'

Leon Vitali has spent his entire working life devoted to a single cause: the cinematic vision of Stanley Kubrick. After landing the role of Lord Bullingdon in Barry Lyndon, the well-known British TV star stepped out of the spotlight to become what he terms a "filmworker," doing whatever was necessary to ensure Kubrick’s next masterwork would come to fruition. From casting (he found Danny Lloyd for The Shining), coaching actors and scouting locations in pre-production, to color-correcting and sound-engineering in post, to marketing and promotion, and now restoration, there was no job too big or too small for Vitali to tackle. (Once, he even set up surveillance cameras to keep an eye on Kubrick's beloved dying cat.)

And now, through a combination of unvarnished interviews and archival footage, documentarian Tony Zierra has created a thorough portrait of this beyond-the-call-of-duty man, while also exposing the blood, sweat, tears and creative exhilaration that make up a life behind the scenes.

Documentary had the honor of speaking with the unconventional Vitali a week prior to the US release of Zierra's Filmworker (May 11 at NYC’s Metrograph, May 18 at LA's Nuart, and with a national rollout to follow, through Kino Lorber).

To read my interview visit Documentary magazine.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Hot Docs 2018: The Silver Anniversary Edition

The 25th anniversary edition of the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival (April 26-May 6) marked my very first visit to North America’s largest nonfiction fest (and also to its host city of Toronto, for that matter). Since I’ve covered IDFA, the world’s largest doc fest, numerous times, I just assumed Hot Docs would be similar in setup and vibe. On the contrary, I was pleasantly surprised to find there are several key elements that make this Toronto mainstay its own exciting, one-of-a-kind event.

To read all about it visit Filmmaker magazine.

Saturday, May 5, 2018

“It’s about the Barriers to Justice that Exist when you are Poor and Up Against a Foreign Superpower”: PJ Raval on Call Her Ganda

Fresh off its Tribeca world premiere, and currently wrapping up at Hot Docs (till Sunday, May 6th), Call Her Ganda, an alumnus of Spotlight on Documentaries at IFP Week, is the latest feature from 25 New Faces of Independent Film alum PJ Raval. The thought-provoking doc follows the heartbreaking and utterly thorny story of Jennifer Laude, much beloved by a doting mother (who called her by her nickname “Ganda,” which means “Beauty”), sisters, and her German fiancĂ©. After a night out with girlfriends back in 2014, the 26-year-old ended up being murdered by US marine Scott Pemberton, who left her naked body in a hotel room bathroom, her head in the toilet. That Jennifer had the bad luck of being a member of an oft-ostracized community — in this case trans sex workers — in a country (the Philippines) that allows for the US military to be exempt from its local laws, is what makes her tragic death also so very complicated.

What makes Call Her Ganda so powerful is that Raval smartly widens the lens to tell Jennifer’s tale through the afterlife of her death, an event that brought together three real-life wonder women — a grieving mother who refuses to let her daughter be shamed, a tenacious, trans American journalist with roots in the Philippines, and a cisgender female lawyer determined to put a check on US imperialism.

Filmmaker caught up with Raval during Hot Docs to discuss what happens when human rights activism collides with American impunity in a country now run by a brutal, anti-Western, strongman.

To read my interview visit Filmmaker magazine.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

“Do Not Be Daunted by the Magnitude of the Challenge in Front of You”: Assia Boundaoui on Her Surveillance Doc, The Feeling of Being Watched

An Algerian-American raised in Bridgeview, Illinois, just south of Chicago, journalist and filmmaker Assia Boundaoui grew up being watched. The FBI has been aggressively spying on her predominantly Arab-American community at least as far back as the ’90s, despite the fact that the law enforcement organization uncovered very little lawbreaking in the process.

And now Boundaoui has turned the tables — or rather the lens — on the Federal Bureau with her debut feature, The Feeling of Being Watched (an alumnus of Spotlight on Documentaries at IFP Week). The film’s a nonfiction journey that takes Boundaoui from dogged FOIA requests to a survey of our long history of racial and religious profiling — ultimately ending in, what she terms, a strategy for “citizen under-sight.”

Filmmaker caught up with the festival-hopping director during the film’s international premiere at Hot Docs (right on the heels of its Tribeca world premiere).

To read my interview visit Filmmaker magazine.

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Monday, April 30, 2018

Ukraine-Based Docudays Offers a Robust Slate of Human Rights Docs

The 15th Docudays UA International Human Rights Documentary Film Festival (March 23-30) presented 62 films from 36 countries, and brought together over 200 participants to the architecturally eclectic city of Kiev. This was my first trip to Ukraine, and I'll admit, I wasn't expecting a country that had just had a revolution four years prior, and was currently embroiled in a no-end-in-sight war on its border, would prove to be such an inspiring environment to watch and talk docs.

Yet after a heady five days of soaking in the surrounding sights, and the festival's engaging panels and strong selection of films, all doubt in my mind disappeared.

To read about the rest of my nonfiction flick trip visit Documentary magazine.