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DID YOU READ

New Directors/New Films Never Fails to Please

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By Andrea Meyer

IFC News

Another New Directors/New Films has come and gone. At the annual festival hosted by the Film Society of Lincoln Center and the Museum of Modern Art, 25 up-and-coming feature film directors from around the globe screened their darlings for New York, and now they’ve packed up their press notes and party clothes and returned to Denmark, Australia, Mexico, the Philippines, Iran, Russia… Or in some cases they’ve gone back to whatever other United State then came from or to a studio in Brooklyn, where they’ll begin dreaming up the next flick. Any common themes or trends to be found there this year? Not really. The only generalizations that can be made about the films is that they’re eclectic, and, by and large, very, very good. Lucky for those New Yorkers not lucky enough to catch them at the festival, many were picked up for distribution and will appear on theaters in the upcoming year.

“Half Nelson” (directed by Ryan Fleck): One of the more talked-about films stars Ryan Gosling, the guy with the best face and possibly the strongest acting chops of his generation, in a heartbreaking performance as a passionate, committed high school teacher and coach who on his own time is battling a major crack habit. When one of his students, Drey (the astounding Shareeka Epps), catches him wasted in a school bathroom stall, an unlikely friendship is born. While director Fleck leads audiences on a seemingly familiar path toward lessons learned and expected redemption, every stumble feels painfully real, every gentle moment is earned. Opens in August.

“October 17, 1961” (Alain Tasma): Most Americans have a cursory knowledge of the French-Algerian conflict at best. This thoroughly disturbing docu-drama explores the ways in which the violence crept onto French soil in the 60s, as Algerian residents were targeted for humiliation and violence at the hands of Parisian policemen and Algerian activists retaliated with attacks on the police. Expertly building tension, the film interweaves several stories — of good cops afraid for their lives, viciously racist cops driven to perverse acts arguably sanctioned by the government, French officials trying to play tough in uncharted political territory and innocent civilians afraid to walk the streets — and culminates in a demonstration (also referred to in last year’s “Caché”) that led peaceful protestors to a horrific and inevitable tragedy that history has largely obscured.

“Look Both Ways” (Sarah Watt): Is it a predictable rom-com or a deeply moving philosophical treatise on death and its sneaky habit of biting people on the ass when they least expect it? Actually, it’s both. Australian animator Watt makes her live action feature debut with a bittersweet story about a man and a woman who are both obsessed with death but nonetheless prefer to spend whatever days, weeks and years they have left with another warm body in their bed. Meryl (Justine Clarke), a cranky painter on the way home from her father’s funeral, imagines her own death constantly (in scenes that animate her artwork), while Nick (William McInnes), a newspaper photographer, has just learned that he has cancer. When Meryl witnesses an actual accident, the pair meets and cautiously explores romantic possibilities. Thought provoking, a bit gooey and stylistically experimental at the same time. Opens on April 14.

“Quinceañera” (Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland): In the Mexican-American community in L.A.’s Echo Park, Magdalena’s (Emily Rios) dreams of the perfect 15th birthday celebration are interrupted when she becomes pregnant — even though she’s never had sex. Meanwhile, her gay cousin Carlos (Jesse Garcia) has been ousted from his father’s house. The two shameful exiles shack up together at the home of their aging uncle, a modern-day saint. While the film, winner of the Sundance Grand Prize and Audience Award, at times becomes saccharine, at others infuriating, overall the film offers a textured and enormously likeable window into a community many of us cruise by on the freeway without much attention. Opens in August.

“John & Jane Toll-Free” (Ashim Ahluwalia): This surprising doc points a camera at an unlikely subject: the men and women who field customer service questions and try to sell you better, cheaper phone service from an overseas call center in India. This diverse group has taken on American names and learned to sleep by day and work by night to perform the jobs that have been outsourced to them. The film opens our eyes to the many ways that Glen, Naomi and Nikki have happily sacrificed their own culture for an imposed belief system that worships money, individual success, consumerism and all things American. The film will be broadcast on HBO/Cinemax in 2007.

“In Bed” (Matías Bize): With his camera glued to the same pretty pair for the length of his film, the Chilean director dissects a one-night love affair, taking its participants from sweaty sex with a stranger to flighty conversations loaded with pop-psychology and pop-cultural references, to goofy pillow fights, to something deeper. Secrets are revealed, emotions touched, future prospects explored, dismissed, explored again, and more meaningful love is made. This playful experiment that could have been slight and predictable is actually entertaining, at times touching, and — amazingly for 85 minutes of footage of the same two people in the same cheesy motel room — never boring.

“Iron Island” (Mohammad Rasoulof): On an enormous, abandoned oil tanker off the coast of Iran, a community has been established, with a fragile economy, a semi-functional government headed by Captain Nemat (Ali Nasirian) — an old man with a cell phone who acts as if he’s got it all under control — and a host of problems from insufficient medical care to inappropriate love affairs. When a company lays claim to the ship just as it becomes increasingly clear that the vessel is sinking, other plans must be made. The film plays like an enigmatic fable with Biblical undertones and an intriguing tug-of-war between optimism and hopelessness. Opened on March 31.

“13 Tzameti” (Gela Babluani): It’s hard to believe that this taut, outrageously tense thriller was made by a 26-year-old first-time filmmaker. The Georgian-born, Paris-based Babluani tells the story of Sébastian (played by his intensely beautiful brother Georges), an immigrant fixing the roof of an aging drug addict who suddenly dies, leaving a hotel reservation and train ticket leading to a mysterious get-rich-quick scheme. Without any financial prospects, Sébastian snags the goods, figuring he’ll follow directions to the pot of gold he expects to find at the end of the rainbow. What he finds is a house in the woods that might as well be hell. Opens in August.

“Twelve and Holding” (Michael Cuesta): Following his acclaimed debut “L.I.E.,” Cuesta again enters the realm of adolescence and again digs into the disturbing conflicts and urges that lie beneath the giggling, picnics and bike rides in the woods. After young Rudy Carges (Conor Donovan) is accidentally killed by the neighborhood bullies, his quieter twin brother Jacob plots revenge. His friend Malee (Zoë Weizenbaum) develops a crush on her therapist mom’s patient. And the third in the trio, overweight Leonard (Jesse Camacho) goes on a health kick after losing his sense of taste in the accident and tries to convince his whole fat family to diet with him. It is painfully obvious that these kids’ journeys, fueled by hormones and emotions they are too young to handle, are sorting through the muck on their own. Their parents are too self-absorbed to have a clue. Opens on May 19.

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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.

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Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…

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IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.

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IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).

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IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.

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IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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Reality? Check.

Baroness For Life

Baroness von Sketch Show is available for immediate consumption.

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Baroness von Sketch Show is snowballing as people have taken note of its subtle and not-so-subtle skewering of everyday life. The New York Times, W Magazine, and Vogue have heaped on the praise, but IFC had a few more probing questions…

IFC: To varying degrees, your sketches are simply scripted examples of things that actually happen. What makes real life so messed up?

Aurora: Hubris, Ego and Selfish Desires and lack of empathy.

Carolyn: That we’re trapped together in the 3rd Dimension.

Jenn: 1. Other people 2. Other people’s problems 3. Probably something I did.

IFC: A lot of people I know have watched this show and realized, “Dear god, that’s me.” or “Dear god, that’s true.” Why do people have their blinders on?

Aurora: Because most people when you’re in the middle of a situation, you don’t have the perspective to step back and see yourself because you’re caught up in the moment. That’s the job of comedians is to step back and have a self-awareness about these things, not only saying “You’re doing this,” but also, “You’re not the only one doing this.” It’s a delicate balance of making people feel uncomfortable and comforting them at the same time.

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IFC: Unlike a lot of popular sketch comedy, your sketches often focus more on group dynamics vs iconic individual characters. Why do you think that is and why is it important?

Meredith: We consider the show to be more based around human dynamics, not so much characters. If anything we’re more attracted to the energy created by people interacting.

Jenn: So much of life is spent trying to work it out with other people, whether it’s at work, at home, trying to commute to work, or even on Facebook it’s pretty hard to escape the group.

IFC: Are there any comedians out there that you feel are just nailing it?

Aurora: I love Key and Peele. I know that their show is done and I’m in denial about it, but they are amazing because there were many times that I would imagine that Keegan Michael Key was in the scene while writing. If I could picture him saying it, I knew it would work. I also kind of have a crush on Jordan Peele and his performance in Big Mouth. Maya Rudolph also just makes everything amazing. Her puberty demon on Big Mouth is flawless. She did an ad for 7th generation tampons that my son, my husband and myself were singing around the house for weeks. If I could even get anything close to her career, I would be happy. I’m also back in love with Rick and Morty. I don’t know if I have a crush on Justin Roiland, I just really love Rick (maybe even more than Morty). I don’t have a crush on Jerry, the dad, but I have a crush on Chris Parnell because he’s so good at being Jerry.

Jenn: I LOVE ISSA RAE!

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IFC: If you could go back in time and cast yourselves in any sitcom, which would it be and how would it change?

Carolyn: I’d go back in time and cast us in The Partridge Family.  We’d make an excellent family band. We’d have a laugh, break into song and wear ruffled blouses with velvet jackets.  And of course travel to all our gigs on a Mondrian bus. I feel really confident about this choice.

Meredith: Electric Mayhem from The Muppet Show. It wouldn’t change, they were simply perfect, except… maybe a few more vaginas in the band.

Binge the entire first and second seasons of Baroness von Sketch Show now on IFC.com and the IFC app.

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