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Hope and Despair at the Human Rights Watch Festival

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By Andrea Meyer

IFC News

Everybody’s doc-crazy these days. On the heels of popular nonfiction crowd-pleasers like “Fahrenheit 9/11,” “Super Size Me” and “March of the Penguins,” it’s become clear that documentaries aren’t just for lefty film geeks in Birkenstocks anymore. If that weren’t enough to start a movement, we find ourselves in a highly politicized climate in which everybody’s fired up — about Darfur, global warming, the price of gas, immigration, drilling in the Arctic, Iraq, Iran, bad behavior in the White House…just to name a few of the issues keeping folks up at night.

While many audience members are beginning to appreciate quality documentaries — and their serious, issue-oriented narrative counterparts — for the smart, informative and engrossing entertainment they can be, many have watched these films for decades. Human Rights Watch is an organization dedicated to protecting human rights through the investigation of human rights violations, advocacy and building awareness around the world. With the Film Society of Lincoln Center, the organization is hosting the 17th annual Human Rights Watch International Film Festival at the Walter Reade Theater from June 8-22. With that kind of pedigree, the festival invites the hardest hitting and most artistically accomplished narrative and documentary films that dare to tackle the issues concerning the world today.

The festival opened on June 8 with a benefit screening of Zach Niles and Banker White’s “The Refugee All Stars” about a band created by six Sierra Leonean musicians living in a refugee camp in the Republic of Guinea after being forced to flee their country’s brutal civil war. Infused as much with heartache as it is with music, the film explores the ways that art can bring a sense of hope and purpose even in the most dismal circumstances.

The films in the festival span the world, exposing injustice, devastation and the hope that seems to always endure. Lucian Muntean and Natasa Stankovic’s “Punam” introduces us to a nine-year-old Nepalese girl who takes care of her two younger siblings while her father works ceaselessly to earn enough money to send his children to school. Another nine-year-old girl is the focus of Barbara Attie and Janet Goldwater’s “Rosita,” about a poor Costa Rican family fighting for the right for their daughter, who became pregnant after she was raped, to get an abortion, and finding themselves the focus of a battle involving two governments and the Catholic Church. Spanish director Manel Mayol’s “Switch Off” tells the story of the Pehuenche-Mapuche people who have lived in Chile’s Ralco valley for centuries, until Spain’s hydroelectric company built a dam in 2004, flooding the valley and forcing the people from their homes.

All the films in the festival cover compelling territory, but other standouts include Anthony Giacchino’s “The Camden 28,” about a group of Vietnam protesters who in 1971 broke into draft offices to destroy government records and save men from having to fight, and “Iraq in Fragments,” James Longley’s award-winning triad of stories about ordinary people finding ways to survive in various corners of the war-torn country. Narrative highlights include Adrian Shergold’s “Pierrepoint,” based on the true story of England’s celebrity hangman who hung over 600 people between 1934 and 1956, and director Michael Winterbottom’s latest (co-directed with Mat Whitecross), “The Road to Guantanamo,” another true story about four Muslims who were arrested in Afghanistan and held for two years without formal charges at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The film won the Silver Bear for Best Director at the 2006 Berlin Film Festival.

If all these films seem a bit depressing, the message of “The Refugee All Stars” can be helpful: That the human spirit soars even from the darkest depths, a motto that extends to some of the other films represented here. Avner Faingulernt and Macabit Abramzon’s “Men on the Edge — Fishermen’s Diary” is about a beach on the Gaza/Israel border where Palestinian and Israeli men fished together from 1999 to 2003. Roy Westler’s “Shadya” follows a Muslim girl from a small village in Israel who in spite of family and social pressures becomes a World Champion in karate. And Simone Aaberg Kaern and Magnus Bejmar’s “Smiling in a War Zone” tells Aaberg Kaern’s story. She is a pilot who against all odds — and breaking the laws of several nations — travels 6000 kilometers from Denmark to Afghanistan in a rinky-dink plane to meet and inspire Farial, a girl she read about who dreams of becoming a pilot.

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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…


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.


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).


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.


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.


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.



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 and the IFC app.

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G.I. Jeez

Stomach Bugs and Prom Dates

E.Coli High is in your gut and on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Brothers-in-law Kevin Barker and Ben Miller have just made the mother of all Comedy Crib series, in the sense that their Comedy Crib series is a big deal and features a hot mom. Animated, funny, and full of horrible bacteria, the series juxtaposes timeless teen dilemmas and gut-busting GI infections to create a bite-sized narrative that’s both sketchy and captivating. The two sat down, possibly in the same house, to answer some questions for us about the series. Let’s dig in….


IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

BEN: Hi ummm uhh hi ok well its like umm (gets really nervous and blows it)…

KB: It’s like the Super Bowl meets the Oscars.

IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

BEN: Oh wow, she’s really cute isn’t she? I’d definitely blow that too.

KB: It’s a cartoon that is happening inside your stomach RIGHT NOW, that’s why you feel like you need to throw up.

IFC: What was the genesis of E.Coli High?

KB: I had the idea for years, and when Ben (my brother-in-law, who is a special needs teacher in Philly) began drawing hilarious comics, I recruited him to design characters, animate the series, and do some writing. I’m glad I did, because Ben rules!

BEN: Kevin told me about it in a park and I was like yeah that’s a pretty good idea, but I was just being nice. I thought it was dumb at the time.


IFC: What makes going to proms and dating moms such timeless and oddly-relatable subject matter?

BEN: Since the dawn of time everyone has had at least one friend with a hot mom. It is physically impossible to not at least make a comment about that hot mom.

KB: Who among us hasn’t dated their friend’s mom and levitated tables at a prom?

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

BEN: There’s a lot of content now. I don’t think anyone will even notice, but it’d be cool if they did.

KB: A show about talking food poisoning bacteria is basically the same as just watching the news these days TBH.

Watch E.Coli High below and discover more NYTVF selections from years past on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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