Cinema Camp 2016

Movie previews, Movie reviews

Hello!

On my blog, I usually post movie reviews with a few sightseeing or more personal diary-like entries about my experiences doing various kinds of stuff. Well, today, I’m combining these two types of posts and writing about my weekend, which was spent at a Cinema Conference/Camp.

This particular cinematic event was held for the 7th time and was organized by non-governmental arts organization Meno Avilys. I had a chance to spend almost 4 days in the company of various Lithuanian and foreign filmmakers and film-lovers. The topic of the conference was The Eye of The Cinema, so we focused a lot on cinematography and camera work.

The conference was held at a newly refurbished and renovated Gelgaudiskis Manor and its surrounding areas – this is where the ‘camping’ portion of the weekend comes into the picture. The majority of the participants lived and slept in tents, with the exception of the organizers and specials guests, who stayed at a makeshift hostel. The catering services were established in a school cafeteria, so the whole conference had a ‘children’s camping trip’ kinda aura. However, this aura was also mixed with the feeling of bohemia. It was a strange and long weekend.

I’ll now go through each of the days of the conference and will elaborate on the various lectures and screening I attended.

I and a few of my friends, which are also cinephiles and/or film students, arrived at a camp on Thursday evening (Day 1). After registering and settling in, we had a chance to listen to the opening lecture by the Lithuanian Film Theoretic Lukas Brasiskis on the topic of the Eye of the Cinema. I really enjoyed his presentation and agreed with the idea that the Cinematic Eye can both transform reality and help a person look into it. Afterward, we watched Dziga Vertov’s experimental film Cinema Eye from 1924. We ended the night with philosopher’s Nerijus Milerius piece on the eye and its place in the Snuff Cinema.

Day 2 started with a few workshops, where the aspiring camera operators could learn the tricks of the craft from Lithuanian cameramen Eitvydas Doskus and Vilius Maciulskis. After lunch, the director’s Audrius Stonys lecture on the ethics of documental films took place. Then, another Lithuanian director Deimantas Narkevicius showcased some of his earliest works and held a Q and A session. The day was closed with meet and greet with Polish camera operator Adam Sikora and we also watched a film he has worked on with the director Jerzy SkolimowskiEssential Killing. During the night/late evening, a Russian Rock band Megapolis performed a visual and musical homage to the Soviet films that were never made due to heavy censorship called From the Life of the Planets. I loved the idea of this performance, just wish it wasn’t held so late in the evening.

Day 3 finally saw some female professionals sharing their ideas. The Researcher of Cinema and its Visuals Natalija Arlauskaite gave a lecture on Censorship, while the art critic Agne Narusyte discussed Performative Symbols in Cinema and Photography. The third day of the event also had three of my favorite lectures/screening of the whole camp. First, the American Film Theoretic Gabriel Paletz gave a lecture on Citizen Kane and Movie Climaxes, then the great French cinematographer Agnes Godard held a Q and A gathering and we also watched a movie she made with Claire Denis – Beau Travail. Lastly, we rounded up the night with an In Memoriam assembly for Abbas Kiarostami and enjoyed his brilliant work by watching The Wind Will Carry Us, which I had a chance to study at university.

On the last day of the camp/conference (Day 4), the focus was shifted more to the new technologies and modern ways of looking at cinema. The Lithuanian artist/programmer Bartosh Polonski told the participants about virtual reality and the opportunities that the current technologies create. Before lunch, the Lithuanian director Mantas Kvedaravicius held a test screening of his documental feature Mariupolis. The cinematic weekend was closed with an open discussion/panel with various operators: the aforementioned Eitvydas Doskus and Vilius Maciulskis, who were joined by Mindaugas Survila and Vytautas Katkus.

Overall, I had a really pleasant time at this event. My background in film is tiny, so I always take every opportunity to learn about the field from the professionals who work in it. I also tend to focus a lot on mainstream films, so it was really nice to be exposed to more experimental and indie features. It was also delightful to learn more about the cinema of my own country, as I do usually watch foreign films, especially those made in the English language. I arrived on Thursday with an open heart and an even opener mind and did not regret a thing. While I might need a break from indie and experimental films , I’m certain that I will be coming back to them more often than I did before.

Thanks for reading!

Photos from the event and the location it was held in:

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Movie review: Midnight Special

Movie reviews

Hi!

Since there will be no new releases for a few weeks in the country that I’m currently staying (no big foreign releases – the distributors are pushing a domestic film that I have zero interest in) , I have decided to review a few films that I missed at the beginning of 2016 – Zootopia, Hardcore Henry, and Midnight Special. In this post, I will be taking about the last one on that list.

IMDb summary: A father and son go on the run, pursued by the government and a cult drawn to the child’s special powers.

Midnight Special is an original sci-fi drama. It is not an adaptation, a reboot or a sequel/spin-off. Original movies are unheard of in today’s Hollywood and even a few original films that we do get are usually not that great. However, Midnight Special is an exception – on top of being an original property, the picture is also interesting, intelligent and provides interesting commentary on faith, the people’s need for something to believe in, and the cult mentality. Sadly, despite having a tiny budget, it still did not earn it back.

The film was written and directed by Jeff Nichols who has previously done films like Mud and Take Shelter. This was his first studio production but it still felt like an independent picture.

Writing: The Narrative

The film’s story was kinda vague. It raised more questions than it answered. It didn’t even seem that the filmmaker knew the answers to the questions they were asking, but that also meant that the viewer could be more engaged – when there is no right answer, everyone can participate and be both right and wrong. The fact that nothing was explained fully also gave the film a scary and intense feeling/aura.

The themes explored in the film were the religion (why do we believe or don’t believe? what is the thing that we believe in? what is the power of our belief/disbelief?), home (why do we need to belong somewhere? do we find or create our homes? can you feel at home if you are different?) and family (what is the importance of the father-son relationship? can parents ever let their children go?). The film also explored various ways how people deal with stuff they don’t understand – by worshiping it, dismissing it or seeing it as a threat – fearing the unknown. The film also kinda disproved the notion that seeing is believing, because, at the end of the film, a lot of people saw that other world, but chose to disregard the information that their eyes received. The religious cult ideas also reminded me a bit of True Detective Season 1, which I started watching today.

Writing : The Characters + Acting

  • Michael Shannon as Roy Tomlin. This is the third collaboration for Shannon and Nichols. I did enjoy the conflict inside Roy – which force is stronger – his love for his son or his belief in smth greater? While Shannon did a good job playing a loving father, from the outside, he did come across as quite an unlikeable character. I wonder if a more likable, charismatic actor would have been a better choice. Recently, Shannon had a cameo in BvS.
  • Joel Edgerton as Lucas. The character of Lucas was a bit strange. I always wondered whether he had an ulterior motive or was he just along for a ride. He ended up being just a really good friend. His transition into the believer was also interesting and hopeful. Edgerton was recently in Black Mass and his next film is also a Jeff Nichols’s picture Loving.

I also liked the juxtaposition of Lucas and Roy. One was rational, another believed in supernatural. One followed science (‘he’s sick’), the other – faith (‘he’s meant for smth else’).

  • Kirsten Dunst as Sarah Tomlin. She was okay. She didn’t do much but just reacted to the events happening around her.
  • Adam Driver as Paul Sevier. He was excellent in the film. I’m so happy that he is Kylo Ren. In Midnight Special, he showed even more of his acting abilities and I loved his character arc. He went from a disbeliever to a believer, from being lost and out of his element to being basically an expert. On top of being in Star Wars, Driver will also start in Scorcese’s Silence.
  • Scott Haze as Levi. He did a good job. He wasn’t as great as Jacob Tremblay in Room, but still much better than other child actors I’ve seen. He had a really difficult job – to portray a child that is also a god-like figure. His demure look and an innocent way of acting were really appropriate choices.

Directing

I really appreciated the film’s visuals. The cinematography (by Adam Stone) was simple but refined. The color palette – similar to Gone Girl’s – interesting: cool blue, black and white tones with yellowed and golden details, shadowy or bright with white lights shots. The ambient music (by David Wingo) was also really effective. The pace of the film was also great – Nichols managed to create a slow picture that explores various themes but never drags or becomes boring. The subtle camera movements to reveal something were also great (especially the shot of the meteors falling behind the boy’s head).

The CGI was also pretty neat. It didn’t always look good – the meteor shower looked kinda fake, however, the otherworldly architecture was spectacular. Both realistic and majestic. It was not only visually pleasing but visually interesting – I noticed a lot of circular and round shapes and bent lines. With this kind of a budget, the CGI definitely looked better than I expected.

In short, Midnight Special was an impressive sci-fi film that was overlooked by the majority of cinema goers. It explored engaging topics and asked questions in a simple yet visually pleasing and interesting way.

Rate: 4/5

Trailer: Midnight Special trailer

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