N.J. Film Festival

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This article by Angelina Sciolla was prepared for the January 22, 2003 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

At the Movies

"I make film to pass the time." — Jean-Luc Godard

It is no surprise such deliberate banality would come

from the lips of the existentialist filmmaker and father of the French

New Wave cinema, Jean-Luc Godard. One would assume he recognizes the

irony of such a statement, because for more than 40 years audiences

worldwide have enjoyed "passing time" by watching his films.

The New Jersey Film Festival launches its spring season on Friday,

January 24, with a 2001 Godard film. The festival features as its

centerpiece a Godard retrospective, promising a select menu of films

spanning his long and fascinating career. To some who have lost track

of Godard and his doings, he is a master relegated to film school

fodder — a relic from the ’60s whose didactic theories and radical

politics lost their cinematic bite in the bourgeois post-Cold War

era.

Yet for others, he is one of the most important filmmakers of the

last 50 years. New Jersey Film Festival executive director Al Nigrin

thinks so. "Godard changed the roadmap of moviemaking," says

Nigrin in an interview from his Rutgers campus office. "I became

a filmmaker because of him."

As demonstrated in his films, Godard appears to both disdain and exploit

pop (i.e. American) culture for its reductive influences. His films

are literate, stylish, and character-driven with simple plots. But

while he has remained in the shadows for some time, the 73-year-old

Godard reestablished his creative viability when he emerged from a

directorial hiatus in 2001 with "In Praise of Love," a critical

smash that captured a Palm D’Or nomination at the 2001 Cannes Film

Festival and introduced him to the latest generation of cinephiles.

Musing over Godard’s long career, Nigrin feels this latest film may

be Godard’s swan song. "Sensing that," he explains, "I

wanted to take this opportunity to celebrate Godard’s remarkable work."

Exploring themes of love, longing, and politics, "In Praise of

Love" is reminiscent of Godard’s early work, with the first act

shot in shimmering black and white amidst Parisian locations familiar

to Godard fans. He is also sure to include a dig at his cultural nemesis

— the United States — with characteristic French aplomb. "Americans

have no memory of their own," says one of the characters. "That’s

why they have to steal others."

The festival’s retrospective also includes Godard films featuring

his wife, actress Anna Karina. "My Life To Live" (1962) offers

the conventional plot of a young girl who leaves her small town with

dreams of becoming an actress, only to drift into a life of prostitution.

Godard rescues the story from cliche with a striking and effective

lack of sentimentality.

Also on the program is "Alphaville" (1962). This quirky, futuristic

gangster film-noir features Karina as the daughter of a missing professor

whose claim to fame is the Alpha 60, an omniscient computer that monitors

the comings and goings of a group of mysterious hotel guests.

A later, notorious work, "Hail Mary," is Godard’s

re-telling of the Virgin birth, set in modern-day France. The film

stirred controversy when it was released in 1985 and is replete with

Godard’s deconstructive and challenging storytelling style. It’s worth

a look just to discover what all the fuss was about and to see how

Godard breaks taboos without being entirely irreverent toward the

integrity of the original Gospel story.

With 50 screenings over 42 days, the New Jersey Film Festival offers

other edifying movie options as well. Highlights include the new "Satin

Rouge," a sensuous Tunisian melodrama about a widowed seamstress

who, while checking up on her daughter’s romance with a cabaret musician,

becomes drawn to an exotic inner circle of nightclub belly dancers.

Ultimately she ends up trading her dowdy shifts for veils and finger

cymbals and strikes up a hot romance with a sexy drummer. This film

is sure to add fuel to the burgeoning belly dance craze and clearly

shows that a sumptuous and mysterious Middle-Eastern culture still

thrives despite all the attention heaped upon the co-existent puritanical

fundamentalism.

On the topic of unwanted attention, "The Trials of Henry Kissinger,"

an indicting documentary based on the book by journalist Christopher

Hitchens, connects the world’s most famous diplomat and champion of

Realpolitik to some pretty heinous acts, including the assassination

of Chilean president Salvador Allende on September 11, 1973. The film

also suggests Kissinger was a mercenary careerist who saw the Vietnam

War as a means to advance through the White House ranks. While not

entirely convincing on every argument, it is a film worth seeing in

order to measure the far-reaching tentacles of international power

play.

Also noteworthy are "Fidel," a substantive documentary about

the enduring Cuban dictator, and the silent classic "Potemkin"

of 1925, a stunning and shattering epic that ranks with D.W. Griffith’s

"Birth of a Nation." The Soviet government commissioned filmmaker

Sergei Eisenstein to create a film montage of revolutionary actions

taken in 1905, the year of the first (and unsuccessful) Russian revolution.

Instead, Eisenstein decided to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the

failure by focusing on a single event — the mutiny by the crew

of the Battleship Potemkin and the resulting massacre of civilians.

This picture has been universally anointed as one of the greatest

works in film history. The festival offers the signal opportunity

to see it once again on the big screen.

Other interesting choices include the area premiere of "Dracula:

Pages from a Virgin’s Diary," a feminist take on the classic vampire

tale directed by rising star Guy Madden, and "Butterfly,"

a documentary about Oregon environmental activist Julia Butterfly

Hill.

Finally, the festival will present the 15th annual United States Super

8 Film and Digital Video Festival — the longest running, nationally

recognized, and juried 8mm film festival in North America. Over 150

filmmakers from the U.S. and Canada will compete for cash and prizes.

Adding more fun to this smorgasbord of fresh indie films is the fact

that the audience gets to help pick the winners.

— Angelina Sciolla

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N.J. Film Festival

New Jersey Film Festival screenings are Fridays through

Sunday in Scott Hall, Room 123, Rutgers College Avenue campus, near

the corner of College Avenue and Hamilton Street. Thursday screenings

are in Loree Hall 024, Douglass College campus, near the corner of

Nichol Avenue and George Street; with selected free events at Borders

Books, East Brunswick. Admission $6; all programs begin at 7 p.m.

Information 732-932-8482 or www.njfilmfest.com

In Praise of Love. Film festival season opens with Jean-Luc

Godard’s newest film, Friday to Sunday, January 24 to 26 at 7 p.m.

Butterfly. Doug Wolens’ 2001 documentary film about environmental

activist Julia Butterfly Hill, Thursday, January 30 at Loree Hall;

January 31 to February 2 at Scott Hall 123.

My Life To Live. Jean-Luc Godard 1962 classic, Thursday,

February 6. Satin Rouge. From Tunisian director Raja Amari (2002),

Friday to Sunday, February 7 to 9. L’Atalante. Restored version

of the 1934 French surrealist classic by Jean Vigo,Thursday, February

13. Dracula: Pages From A Virgin’s Diary, Guy Maddin’s new feature

is a stylized dance melodrama in black and white (and red), February

14 to 16.

U.S. Super 8 Film & Digital Video Festival, Friday to

Sunday, February 21 to 23. Alphaville. Jean-Luc Godard’s 1966

classic. $6., Thursday, February 27. Derrida, documentary on

the father of "deconstruction," Jacques Derrida (2002). Friday

to Sunday, February 28 to March 2.

Potemkin. The towering 1925 silent classic, directed by

Sergei M. Eisenstein, Thursday, March 6. Bowling for Columbine,

Michael Moore’s 2002 documentary feature on American gun culture,

Friday to Sunday, March 7 to 9. The Trials Of Henry Kissinger,

directed by Alex Gibnet and Eugene Jarecki (2002); double bill with

"Fidel" by Estela Bravo, March 28 to 30.

Divine Horsemen. Maya Deren’s rarely seen 1985 documentary

about the Voodoun religion of Haiti, Thursday, April 3. Morvern

Callar . Black comedy directed by Lynne Ramsay (2002), Friday to

Sunday, April 4 to 6. Hail Mary. Jean-Luc Godard’s controversial

1985 feature that translates the story of the virgin birth into a

modern story, Thursday, April 10.

How I Killed My Father, a haunting French drama by Anne

Fontaine (2002), Friday to Sunday, April 11 to 13. ABC Africa.

Documentary about the ravages of AIDS and civil war in Uganda by Iran’s

most celebrated filmmaker, Abbas Kiarostami, April 18 to 20.


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