The third episode of my White City Cinema Radio Hour podcast is now online. It features a Google-chat between me and New York City-based filmmaker Elizabeth Van Meter whose excellent documentary Thao’s Library recently won the Audience Choice award at Geena Davis’s inaugural Bentonville Film Festival. Thao’s Library, Van Meter’s first feature film, will open across the U.S. at AMC theaters today. Incredibly, Van Meter is also an old high-school classmate of mine; we studied theater together at the North Carolina School of the Arts during our senior year of 1992-1993. This interview marks the first time we’ve spoken in over 22 years! I think it’s a fun listen. I also throw out some recommendations of films to see at the Chicago International Children’s Film Festival where I recently served on the Animated Shorts jury. You can listen to the episode here.
I also have two short capsule reviews of films playing at the Chicago International Film Festival in today’s Cine-File: the Iranian drama Nahid and the American indie Stinking Heaven. Because Cine-File’s listings for this week will not appear on their website (and will be sent out via e-mail only), I’m reproducing them in their entirety below:
Ida Panahandeh’s NAHID (New Iranian)
AMC River East – Sunday, 7:30pm and Monday, 8:30pm
This impressive first feature by the young female Iranian director Ida Panahandeh recalls Asghar Farhadi’s A SEPARATION in the way that it examines, in a completely naturalistic way, the intersection of a unique legal quagmire with the intimate emotions of the principal characters affected by it. Specifically, the title character (the terrific Sareh Bayat) is a divorced single mother and hardworking admin assistant who, under Iranian law, will lose custody of her son if she ever decides to remarry, throwing a wrench into her new romance with nice-guy widower Masoud (Pejman Bazeghi). Panahandeh shows with great lucidity and in a completely non-didactic way how Iranian law favors the husband in a custody battle through the depiction of Nahid’s former husband (Navid Mohammad Zadeh), a deadbeat dad and former junkie with a gambling problem who hopes to reconcile with his ex-wife. It was a major coup for the Chicago International Film Festival to snag the U.S. premiere of this incisive Cannes prizewinner, which does not yet have distribution and may not return to local cinema screens.
Nathan Silver’s STINKING HEAVEN (New American)
AMC River East – Saturday, 9pm and Monday, 8:45pm
Films tagged with the “mumblecore” label have often come in for criticism for their structural formlessness and aesthetic blandness. What a treat it is then to see this largely improvised black-comedy/drama by prolific director Nathan Silver, who vividly recreates life in a New Jersey “sober living commune” circa 1990. Shot on lo-fi Betacam video, to reflect the consumer-grade visual style of the era, this remarkable microbudget sleeper also boasts convincing pre-internet-era production design as well as a fine ensemble cast of brave actors (headed by indie stalwarts Keith Poulson and Tallie Medel) whose characters videotape themselves re-enacting past traumatic events as a dubious form of self-therapy. The result is an atmosphere of almost unbearable intensity where, as in the work of Jacques Rivette, “real life” and performance mingle, giving the distinct impression that the potent onscreen drama must have reflected the off-screen drama of how the film was made.