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Dystopian Visions

Dystopian Visions (photo)

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On our last day in Denmark, a few of us in the CPH:DOX American contingent stopped by Christiania, Copenhagen’s hippie paradise and self-proclaimed autonomous zone. In stark contrast to the cobblestones and slick Scandinavian design of the main city, Christiania is dirt paths and DIY housing, a neighborhood based around abandoned military barracks that were taken over by squatters in the early ’70s.

It was too early for much to be going on, but on the main drag the cannabis market that’s made the area a favorite for backpackers and a constant source of controversy was already open, with stalls displaying giant blocks of hash for sale, while a few nearby stands offered rasta wear. A dog trotted by, and a few dreadlocked Danes warmed their hands over a trashcan fire.

“Maybe it’s just me, but this all seems incredibly ‘Children of Men,'” I said.

Or maybe it was just that dystopia was on everyone’s mind, being a strong undercurrent in the Copenhagen International Documentary Film Festival program. These days, dark visions of the future and docs pretty much go hand in hand, since nonfiction film has become hopelessly entwined with social issues.

With one of the most progressive, boundary-pushing, eyebrow-raising lineups you’re going to find in a documentary festival, CPH:DOX actually actively strives to get away from the idea of docs as just journalism, or as just a means of galvanizing viewers toward activism — to promote, as the programmers stressed, “the documentary as cinema, and the documentary as art.” Which ultimately meant that doses of impending doom came not with a lecture, but with artful vision — these are, after all, unavoidably troubled times.

11172009_videocracy.jpgTake “Videocracy,” Erik Gandini’s brilliant jaw-dropper about the ties between Italian politics and Italian television that could hold its own with Matteo Garrone’s “Gomorrah” in a disturbing double feature depicting the country as careening towards “Blade Runner.” At its center is the elusive figure of Silvio Berlusconi, who’s both Italy’s Prime Minister and its major media mogul, and, in Gandini’s view, the man responsible for infecting the nation with a terminal fixation on boob tube celebrity.

That’s the kind of ambitious scope that usually defeats a project before it even begins, but “Videocracy” works astoundingly well because it’s styled as an essay, without the pretense of objectivity. Gandini narrates and makes a sort of stream-of-consciousness case for his conception of Italian today, luxuriating in a Lynchian score and hypnotic footage of glittering, never-quite-graspable talk and game shows, brightly lit sets, scantily clad dancing girls and applauding audiences — television as a sweeping sedative.

“Videocracy” hops between interview subjects, often favoring them with wordless still portraits in their chosen surroundings. There’s Rick Canelli, the singing martial artist who aspires to be a combination of Jean-Claude Van Damme and Ricky Martin, but who meanwhile is a factory worker who still lives with his mother. There’s Marella Giovannelli, the woman who lives next door to Berlusconi’s vacation villa on Sardinia, and who makes a living taking flattering photos of his party guests and making them available for purchase. There’s Lele Mora, the country’s most powerful agent, who never seems to leave his all-white house but who nevertheless manages to pull strings via cell phone — his ring tones are hymns to Mussolini, of whom he’s a proud fan.

11172009_videocracy2.jpgAnd then there’s Fabrizio Corona, the mesmerizing/repugnant head of a paparazzo ring that sells incriminating photos back to the celebrities in them. Others might call this extortion, which is what Corona gets indicted for, but when he gets out of jail, he reinvents himself as an opportunistic, nihilistic truth-teller and vaults into the realm of celebrity he used to despise, guesting on talk shows, launching a t-shirt line and making a series of paid nightclub appearances. In “Videocracy”‘s money shot (though not its literal one, in which Corona lies in bed, surrounded by a pile of cash), he showers and then preens, nude, in front of the mirror, suiting up and soaking himself in cologne, dead-eyed and directly out of “American Psycho.” An unmentioned attendant is there in the bathroom with him the whole time, but then again, so is a camera crew. As “Videocracy” makes clear, in this world, shame is for the weak.

A more tangible type of forbidding future is on view in “Cities on Speed,” four hour-long docs from Danish filmmakers, each set in a different megacity, that had their premiere at CPH:DOX. Bogotá, Cairo, Mumbai, Shanghai: all face serious urban stresses as their populations explode — well, presumably so, in the case of Bogotá, as that was the one I didn’t get to see. The best of three I did catch was “Mumbai Disconnected,” an examination of attempts to remedy traffic problems in India’s largest city.

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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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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….

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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.

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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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