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The Film Society of Lincoln Center is celebrating the 30th anniversary of pioneering film distributor First Run Features and its founder, Seymour Wishman, with the series Keeping the Independent Flame: 30 Years of First Run Features starting on Wednesday, August 26 through Friday, September 4, 2009. Filmmakers appearing include Oren Rudavsky, Menachem Daum (A Life Apart), John Scagliotti, Greta Schiller, Andrea Weiss (Before Stonewall), Radley Metzger (The Cat and the Canary), Farhad Zamani (Googoosh: Iran's Daughter), Godfrey Cheshire (Moving Midway), and Manny Kirchheimer (We Were So Beloved).
Everyone is familiar with film production and exhibition. This series explores the mysterious middle component, film distribution. For 30 years, First Run Features has been at the forefront of companies that take the risk of distributing previously unreleased films. It takes remarkable courage to distribute cutting-edge and sometimes controversial works that they believe should and must be seen. This salute to First Run Features offers a retrospective to many of the films in their catalogue that have premiered in Film Society programs.
Keeping the Independent Flame opens on Wednesday, August 26 with Yoav Shamir's Defamation (also showing on Thu Aug 27). The winner for Best Documentary at this year's Tribeca Film Festival, it explores the rise of contemporary anti-Semitism through the eyes of Shamir, an Israeli who grew up surrounded by Jews. Shamir's investigation leads him from Abraham Foxman, president of the Anti-Defamation League, to his grandmother, Israeli peace activist Uri Avinery, and controversial American professor Norman Finkelstein, author of The Holocaust Industry, each of whom offers his and her own takes on what this trend suggests. An important work on a timely subject, Defamation is subjective documentary at its best.
The extraordinary resurgence of New Wave co-founder Claude Chabrol began with his witty 2000 psychological thriller, Merci pour le chocolat (Aug 28 at 2:30pm & 7pm). The amazing Isabelle Huppert (two-time winner for Best Actress at Cannes, winner at Berlin, three time winner at Venice including a special lifetime achievement award), headlines Chabrol's cast as Mika, a Swiss chocolate company exec, who is married to suave concert pianist Andre (Jacques Dutronc). Chabrol weaves a delicate web of intrigue and suspicion until there is simply no way out for any of his protagonists. Lou Lumenick of the New York Post called it "As irresistible as a piece of dark chocolate...Huppert gives such a mesmerizingly deadpan performance."
Ross McElwee's 1986 docu-masterpiece, Sherman's March (Thu Aug 27 & Sat Aug 29), winner of the 1987 Grand Jury Prize at Sundance, is the Citizen Kane of the first-person documentary movement. A precursor to Michael Moore and Morgan Spurlock, the film follows McElwee, a North Carolina native who returns home to explore the lingering effects of Sherman's march on the contemporary South. He'd also like to get a girlfriend. His wonderful, self-critical sense of humor inspires an equally wonderful portrait of America coming to terms with the lack of certainty and engagement in the future.
Another highlight of the series is The Embalmer by Matteo Garrone (Gomorrah, 2008 New York Film Festival). A 2003 New Directors/New Films selection, this taut atmospheric thriller unravels the strange and complicated newly found friendship between Valerio (Valerio Manzillo) and taxidermist/embalmer Peppino (Ernesto Mahieux). Critic Roger Ebert described it as "masterful at concealing its true nature and surprising us with the turns of the story."
49 Up, Michael Apted's 2005 installment of the famed and groundbreaking series which captures its participants every seven years, is a victorious summation and capstone, as the original group copes with middle age and the meaning of their lives, while challenging their chronicler/tormenter about the price they pay for being put under such public scrutiny. Roger Ebert describes the Up series as "one of the great imaginative leaps in film."
Also included in the series is Suzan Pitt's World, a gorgeous collection of three outstanding animated shorts from 1979 to 2006 (Sun Aug 30 & Sep 2) by Pitt. With Asparagus (USA, 1979; 20m), she burst onto the international scene with playful, erotic imagery for the midnight movie crowd. Joy Street (USA, 1995; 24m) is a paean to the delights of spending time in an altered state. Finally, El doctor (USA/Mexico, 2006; 23m) is, according to Pitt, a film about "the institution of miracles in Mexico," as seen in the interaction between a perennially tipsy Mexican doctor and one of his young patients.
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