A still from You’ve Been Trumped, a documentary playing the first night of the Environmental Film Festival. Photograph courtesy of Montrose Pictures.
Consistently the biggest festival to hit DC in terms of the number of films and venues involved, this year the Environmental Film Festival celebrates its 20th anniversary with an even bigger slate than usual: a whopping 180 films screening at more than 60 area venues over the next few weeks. The festival doesn’t officially get underway until next week, but things kick off tonight with a launch party featuring live music and a silent auction. With so many films, it may be a daunting task to figure out what to see, but it’s also safe to say there’s probably something in the mix to appeal to just about everyone, with narrative features, documentaries, shorts, and animated films all offering environmental themes from dozens of different approaches.
Tonight’s launch party is at the Warner Building Atrium, and the festival begins Tuesday with screenings at a number of area venues, continuing through March 25. Check the schedule for a complete rundown and to purchase tickets.
It’s a good week for film festival lovers in Washington. The AFI has a collection of 13 films screening between tonight and Tuesday as part of its annual series of (mostly) new films from Africa, co-presented with TransAfrica and afrikafé. This year is the eighth for the festival, and it kicks off with a documentary about singer Miriam Makeba, followed by Lucky, a South African film about a young boy who must leave his small Zulu village for life in the big city after the death of his mother. The rest of the festival has narrative films and documentaries almost entirely from the past couple of years, from Ghana, Liberia, and Morocco, as well as one classic, Lionel Rogosin’s 1959 film about Apartheid, Come Back Africa.
The 2009 Uruguayan horror film The Silent House premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in 2010, earning praise for the technical skill used by the directors to create a movie that gave the appearance of having been filmed in a single take. Any well-received foreign horror film will inevitably get a US remake, and directors Chris Kentis and Laura Lau (creators of the 2003 stranded-at-sea thriller Open Water) managed some impressive turnaround time, having their own take on the material ready in time for the 2011 Sundance Film Festival less than a year later.
Kentis and Lau make some minor tweaks to the original’s plot, but the framework remains the same: A young woman is trapped in a boarded-up old house, and an unseen attacker, who’s already dispatched her father, is now after her. On the surface, it’s standard scary movie fare: lots of things going bump in the night, the potential for danger to jump out of the shadows at any moment, and an enclosed space with no escape route. What sets the film apart is an actor of the caliber of Elizabeth Olsen, who delivered one of last year’s best performances in Martha Marcy May Marlene (which premiered at the same Sundance festival), and the single-take structure, meant to add a layer of intimacy and immediacy that should only heighten the scares.
The last of the festivals getting started this week is a co-presentation from the Freer, the AFI, and the Korea Foundation that has a dozen films screening between now and June at both the Freer and the AFI. As a companion to the films, the Freer will also be presenting video art from Korea as part of the Moving Perspectives exhibition series. The films are split into three sections, one of which is on new Korean films in general and begins this weekend with Foxy Festival, a raunchy comedy that takes a funny look at the sexual habits of the residents of one community. The three films of the “Seoul’s desire” section concentrate on romance, while the final two form “A weekend with Na Hong-Jin,” a pair of action flicks from one of the country’s leading action directors.
Edgar Rice Burroughs is best known for creating Tarzan, but the first hero he created on the page was John Carter, a civil war veteran who, while prospecting in Arizona, suddenly finds himself transported to the surface of Mars. In Burroughs’s story, based on scientific speculation that existed when he wrote the novel more than a century ago, Mars is a dying world that was once covered in oceans, now reduced to a dusty world of warring species fighting for control of the last remaining water on the planet. Director Andrew Stanton—the second Pixar animation director to make the jump to live-action filmmaking this year after Brad Bird made his debut with Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol—brings all the digital wizardry of his animation work to the depiction of the creatures that inhabit the planet. The film doesn’t always work; the pulpy adventure story sometimes takes itself a little too seriously, and Taylor Kitsch doesn’t have much heroic presence. But when Stanton lets it exist as a rollicking, eye-popping adventure, it can be great fun.
DVD Pick of the Week: Senna
One of the best documentaries of last year, director Asif Kapadia’s film about the career of Formula One racing legend Ayrton Senna seems like it ought to be a niche film with limited appeal beyond those who already have an interest in auto racing. Nothing could be further from the truth. Kapadia eschews traditional documentary form and dispenses with interviews, voiceover, and lengthy background biography, instead constructing the entire film out of archival footage taken from throughout Senna’s storied career. He and his editors stitch together racing videos, home movies, and news broadcasts to create a compelling drama about one man’s drive to succeed and the conflicts he met with in the form of his chief rival, Alain Prost, as well as the behind-the-scenes politics of Formula One racing. Senna is a racing movie that’ll appeal to those with no interest in racing, a sports movie for even those without much interest in sport.
You can read my full review at NPR.
Special Features: A commentary with the director, writer, and producer, an hour of interviews, and some Ayrton Senna home movies.
View the trailer.