Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Philip Seymour Hoffman and The Beginning of a New Year

To your right, you will see the incredible new poster for my film Jake the Cinephile by the endlessly talented Benjamin Dewey. Ben designed the beautiful posters for With Love, Marty and The Wheels, as well, and I was thrilled to have him design this new poster. 

Jake the Cinephile had its film festival premiere on Sunday, March 9th at the Beacon Film Festival (Freeze Frame) in Beacon, New York. I was so honored to screen the film in the Beacon, where we shot all of the movie theater scenes for the film. I travelled up to Beacon for the screening, where I was thrilled to see posters for the festival in many of the store windows along Main Street. Outside the Beacon Theater, they had pictures posted for each film (which you can see in the picture below).

The film screened on its own (rather than part of a short film program), and I was very excited to participate in a Q&A onstage after the screening. I had the opportunity to spend some time in Beacon after the screening, as well, which was great fun.

The festival received some wonderful publicity, including a large story in the Poughkeepsie Journal, where Jake the Cinephile not only received a mention, but the newspaper also featured a picture from the film (see a picture of the article below). The film and I were also mentioned in the Philipstown newspaper in an article about the fourth annual Beacon Film Festival and our film shoot in the Beacon.

If you're in New York City on Wednesday, April 16th, Jake the Cinephile is screening at 8:00 PM as an Official Selection of NewFilmmakers New York's Short Film Program at Anthology Film Archives! It will be very exciting to screen the film at Anthology, which is an incredible screening space. Check out our film's profile on NewFilmmakers New York's website here

On September 23rd, I was honored to screen Jake the Cinephile at Rutgers University for one of its largest audiences yet, as part of a special screening for Professor John Belton's film class. Professor Belton, a brilliant film writer, has been such a champion of this film, and I was thrilled that he not only invited me to screen the movie in his class, but that his entire afternoon lecture was dedicated to screening the film and a Q&A with the class afterward. More than any other screening, I was really amazed by how the movie was received by the students here. It's been fun screening this particular movie (there was even an unofficial sequel made in Yemane Demissie's summer Sight and Sound: Film class - where I screened the movie for the class - that ended up in the Tisch School of the Arts Sight and Sound showcase).

Thanks to our Executive Producer Steve White, we also now have our poster on the Jake the Cinephile IMDB page.

Richie Donnelly, one of my late father's best friends and another Executive Producer of Jake the Cinephile, passed away in December. One of the kindest people I've met, Richie was a loving and supportive presence in my life with his wife Susan Morris. From telling me stories about my father to coming to my plays in high school, Richie's support and love means more to me than I can ever say. I know my dad is overjoyed to see his old friend. Richie's memorial page and obituary can be found here, although how can these brief paragraphs ever begin to capture the beauty of someone like this?

It's been a terrible few months for losing genius talents. Peter O'Toole, one of the finest actors in cinema, brought an intimacy and emotional complexity to a four-hour epic with David Lean's Lawrence of Arabia (1962). Lawrence is unlike any other screen protagonist I can remember, and this was just the first leading role for an actor who would give so many more genius performances. Roger Ebert's 2002 interview with O'Toole is worth checking out. 

Harold Ramis was a master, giving us some of the funniest movies of all time, including Groundhog Day (1993), National Lampoon's Vacation (1983), Caddyshack (1980), Ghostbusters (1984) and Analyze This (1999). I hope his dark thriller The Ice Harvest (2005) is rediscovered. And his performances - from Stripes (1981) to Knocked Up (2007) to Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story (2007) - are golden.

The great Lou Reed, Marcia Wallace, Pete Seeger and James Rebhorn (who wrote his own very moving obituary) are among the many other wonderful artists who have passed away in recent months.

I've wanted to write a tribute for some time to one of the greatest actors the world has ever known, but the thought of articulating all of my love and appreciation for this man into one neat article seems impossible. So, I will continue to write about the work of Philip Seymour Hoffman in future posts, as he has changed the world of film and theatre so tremendously that it's impossible to write about great works in either medium without mentioning at least one of his performances.

Not only was Hoffman the finest actor of his generation, he was also an incredibly gracious person. I'll never forget meeting him and congratulating him the week after he won his Oscar for Capote in March of 2006 (this was at the ninetieth birthday party of Horton Foote). His work onstage in the Broadway revival of Death of a Salesman was the most powerful stage performance I've ever seen, and his openness with the Tisch Dean's Scholars when he talked to us last April was inspiring. He was the master. 

I was honored to be have been interviewed for an article on Mr. Hoffman's extraordinary legacy for Newsday, who also published a picture of our Dean's Scholars group with Mr. Hoffman (along with the article itself) in amNewYork. There have been a number of lovely tributes to Mr. Hoffman, including this moving montage of his work on Vimeo, a wonderful tribute by film critic Michael Phillips, a tribute from his Almost Famous director Cameron Crowe, memories from the staff at RogerEbert.com (Ebert always said that he wanted Hoffman to play him in a movie) and even a cartoon from The New Yorker that brings a tear to my eye.

I first became aware of Mr. Hoffman and his incredible range as an actor in 2002, around the time I became a more adventurous theatrical moviegoer. That fall alone, I was amazed by his extraordinary performances in Paul Thomas Anderson's Punch-Drunk Love, Spike Lee's 25th Hour and Brett Ratner's Red Dragon. The following spring, after reading Roger Ebert's rave four-star review of Owning Mahowny (2003), my mom and I sought out the wonderful independent film at the Regal Westgate in Austin (back when Austin multiplexes screened independent films). In the film, Hoffman plays a compulsive gambler, and in any other actor's filmography, this would be their greatest performance. For Hoffman, it's one of many buried treasures that I hope people will continue to discover when delving into his rich filmography.

By that time, I had started watching his brilliant performances in earlier films that were changing my life and still remain among my favorite movies, including Cameron Crowe's Almost Famous (2000) and Paul Thomas Anderson's Magnolia (1999) and Boogie Nights (1997) - not to mention coming to appreciate his hilarious turn in Joel and Ethan Coen's The Big Lebowski (1998), which I had first watched with my dad (who was a Lebowski fan before it was popular, for what it's worth), even more than when I first saw the movie. 

I was overjoyed when he won the Best Actor Oscar for his monumental performance in Bennett Miller's Capote (2005). It was clear, more than ever, that Hoffman was the finest working actor, on par with De Niro, Pacino, Nicholson and Penn and never anything short of brilliant in every single role. In the next few years, audiences were treated to the best of both worlds - Hoffman gave towering leading performances in contemporary masterpieces such as Sidney Lumet's Before the Devil Knows You're Dead (2007), Tamara Jenkins' The Savages (2007), Charlie Kaufman's Synecdoche, New York (2008) and John Patrick Shanley's Doubt (2008), while still remaining the finest character actor alive in Mike Nichols' Charlie Wilson's War (2007), Bennett Miller's Moneyball (2011), George Clooney's The Ides of March (2011) and J.J. Abrams' Mission: Impossible III (2006). 

And then there were his stage performances. I was lucky enough to see Mr. Hoffman onstage twice - in 2009's Othello at NYU's Skirball Center for the Performing Arts, and in Mike Nichols' production of Death of a Salesman on Broadway in 2012. Death of a Salesman left me devastated in a way no live theatre production has in my life. When I met Mr. Hoffman for the second time less than a year ago with the Tisch Dean's Scholars, I was near the end of my own thesis film shoot, and I asked him about the communication and notes shared between actor and director while shooting a film. We were so fortunate to spend time with a genius who has forever changed cinema and theatre.

I haven't mentioned so many of his other wonderful performances - in Cold Mountain (2003), Flawless (1998), Pirate Radio (2009), The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013) and, in perhaps his greatest screen role, Paul Thomas Anderson's The Master (2012). Many of the best films of the last twenty years were anchored by Mr. Hoffman's genius, and watching his performances on film and stage influenced me in no small part as an aspiring actor, too. His characters felt so vulnerable and authentic, and losing him feels like a great personal loss to so many people. I don't know how to comprehend a world without Mr. Hoffman. 

Since the heralded premiere of her film Afternoon of a Faun: Tanaquil Le Clercq at the 51st New York Film Festival in October, I have had the privilege of continuing to work as an assistant for Emmy-winning director Nancy Buirski. Her new film, on which I worked as a researcher and production assistant, had three incredible screenings at the New York FIlm Festival.

The distributor Kino Lorber picked up Afternoon of a Faun for distribution shortly after the end of NYFF, and earlier the year, I was fortunate to attend several meetings at the Kino Lorber offices to discuss the release of the film. Here is the official trailer for the movie, which opened on February 5th at the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center at the Film Society of Lincoln Center.

In October, we screened Afternoon of a Faun with UNICEF on World Polio Day (October 24th) at the United Nations. Following the screening, Nancy spoke on a panel dealing with Polio in the 21st Century with David Oshinsky, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Polio: An American Story; Peter Crowley, Global Polio Team Leader; and journalist and U.N. correspondent Irwin Arieff.

Over the holiday break, I discovered that my grandmother, Lucille Kyser, attended the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo in St. Louis in 1945, 1946 and 1947, which included ballets choreographed by George Balanchine and danced by Alexandra Danilova and Maria Tallchief. Nancy and I were thrilled to share pictures from the original programs to our Facebook followers (as my grandmother still has the programs in her collection after all these years).

On the Monday evening before the film opened in cinemas, there was a wonderful premiere of Afternoon of a Faun at the JCC in Manhattan, followed by a dessert and champagne reception at the home of Richard Lorber. 

On its opening weekend, Nancy was actually out-of-town for the film's International Premiere at the Berlin International Film Festival (also at Berlinale - Scorsese's New York Review of Books documentary). I assisted with the opening weekend Q&As at Lincoln Center, which included talkbacks with Jacques D'Amboise, Randy Bourscheidt and Arthur Mitchell. Among the many ecstatic reviews the film received, my favorites are the rave from RogerEbert.com and Owen Gleiberman's Grade A review in Entertainment Weekly (not to mention Stephen Holden's outstanding review in The New York Times and the San Francisco Chronicle's four-star review). And after two months in theaters, Afternoon of a Faun is still at 100% on Rotten Tomatoes.

On its opening weekend, Afternoon of a Faun topped the Specialty Box Office. "With perfect first positioning by the Film Society of Lincoln Center, Afternoon of a Faun certainly blasted off this weekend - we're all thrilled and getting ready to pirouette into national release in the coming weeks," Gary Palmucci of Kino Lorber said in this article from IndieWire. Since then, the movie has continued to do incredible business.

In early March, I had the incredible honor of serving as an Associate Producer on a two-day film shoot in which Nancy interviewed legendary dancer Jacques D'Amboise. We spent two days in a studio at the National Dance Institute in Harlem listening to Mr. D'Amboise's incredible stories - he is one of the most energetic storytellers around, and I was honored to be a part of this shoot.

In addition to getting its run extended for several weeks at the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center, Afternoon of a Faun also opened at Cinema Village on 12th Street later in February. The movie continues to expand across the country as the rave reviews keep coming in - please visit the film's website to check out its upcoming theatrical playdates. Not to overwhelm you with links, but here is Nancy's interview on NPR from February, and her brilliant piece from The Daily Beast on the film and Tanaquil Le Clercq's story. Coming up, Afternoon of a Faun is a Center Frame screening at the Full Frame Documentary FIlm Festival. The film will screen at 4:00 PM this Friday, with Nancy and Jacques D'Amboise speaking after the movie.

On Monday, February 24th, I was lucky enough to attend the Tribeca Film Institute's 20th Anniversary benefit screening of Robert De Niro's directorial debut A Bronx Tale (1993) at the Village East Cinema. After the screening, De Niro participated in an incredible Q&A with the audience. This wasn't the first time I had seen my lifelong hero in person, but as I sat in the second row of the Village East's large auditorium, it was the closest I had ever been to the man who, along with Martin Scorsese, has shaped my life in an extraordinary way.

De Niro had so many words of wisdom, including a response to a question about Method Acting that drew applause from the entire theater. In short, it was a wonderful opportunity to see my hero in person speaking about one of his finest films.

Earlier this year, I was thrilled to support Steve James' new documentary Life Itself, based on Roger Ebert's memoir, which raised money on IndieGoGo. The film was executive-produced by Martin Scorsese and, as a perk of contributing to the movie, I was able to watch it simultaneous to its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival. Life Itself moved me to tears - my heart swelled with love for Mr. Ebert, who changed my life, and I cannot wait to write more about the movie when it receives a theatrical release later this year.

In other recent screening news, my film The Wheels was selected as one of three student films to screen on Friday, March 28th at the NYU Student Film Showcase, presented by The Motion Picture Club at NYU and the Humanities Ambassadors. The event ran from 5:00 PM to 7:00 PM in NYU's Kimmel Center, and it was followed by a discussion of the films and answering questions about the making of these movies. As always, it was a joy to get to screen my work for others.

There's much more to cover in my next blog post, including my thoughts on this year's Academy Awards and awards season in general. Nothing will ever equal seeing The Wolf of Wall Street for the first time with Martin Scorsese laughing uproariously a few rows behind me, but I spent Christmas Day the way any self-respecting Scorsese fan would - taking the family to see this certifiably insane masterpiece again. DiCaprio blows the roof off the theater every time I've seen it, and Scorsese doesn't let anyone off the hook easily. The way the music shifts in the wedding scene alone is genius - from Sharon Jones singing Goldfinger live onstage to the creeping in of Six Mix a Lot's Baby Got Back to the hard cut to Bo Diddley's howlingly devilish Pretty Thing - well, I could go on (which reminds me - here's a dang good list of the year's best soundtracks). But I have to agree with Wesley Morris when he says "it's rare that a tracking shot brings a tear to [his] eye." As Scorsese would put it, the film is big and ferocious.

I'll end by writing that my Advanced Production class was treated to a wonderful dinner at the home of our professor Yemane Demissie in February (I've included some pictures from this evening throughout this post). It was a fantastic meal and a delight to spend time with our mentor as we all complete or near completion of our senior thesis films.

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