The virtual edition of the great Beloit International Film Festival is now live. That means that Wisconsin and Illinois residents have between now and February 28 to stream ROY’S WORLD: BARRY GIFFORD’S CHICAGO, a documentary produced by yours truly, directed by Rob Christopher and narrated by Willem Dafoe, Matt Dillon and Lili Taylor. I was last at BIFF with RENDEZVOUS IN CHICAGO in 2019 and it is one of my favorite regional film fests. Please visit the BIFF website for info regarding tickets for a film rental and the Zoom Q&A!
Tag Archives: Barry Gifford
ROY’S WORLD, the documentary film I produced about the childhood of the great writer Barry Gifford (WILD AT HEART) in Chicago during the mid-20th century, will have its World Premiere at the Glasgow Film Festival at the end of this month. I will be in attendance for a Q&A following both festival screenings (on 2/28 and 2/29) along with the film’s director, Rob Christopher. Any UK friends interested in attending either screening, please check out our film’s page on the #GFF20 website here.
American friends: Penguin/Random House books will be publishing a new collection of Barry’s “Roy” stories (1973-2000) as a tie-in to our documentary this September. It is available to pre-order now here.
Over the past few years I have been quietly helping my friend, the uber-talented filmmaker Rob Christopher (PAUSE OF THE CLOCK), produce the documentary ROY’S WORLD: BARRY GIFFORD’S CHICAGO. It is the only film I have produced that I didn’t also direct and, because my contributions have not been of the creative variety (my role was strictly limited to helping Rob overcome the various financial and logistical hurdles that every independent filmmaker faces), I can honestly say that I think it is a masterpiece. My sole reasons for agreeing to work on the film were 1) I am a great admirer of Barry Gifford (WILD AT HEART) as a writer and 2) I knew that Rob would be creating a true work of cinema, one whose aesthetic value would demand that it be seen on a large screen in order to be appreciated, in stark contrast to most of the works of “talking heads”-video journalism that pass for documentaries these days. When Rob first explained the concept of ROY’S WORLD to me, I instantly grasped that, like Dziga Vertov’s MAN WITH THE MOVIE CAMERA, he was crafting a non-fiction film that would have multiple structures in place simultaneously and that the result would work on about five different levels.
Now that I have finally seen it, I can confirm it is possible to enjoy the movie on its most basic level: as a fascinating and detailed portrait of a vanished Chicago from the era immediately after World War II through the early years of Richard J. Daley’s political machine. But dig a little deeper and it’s possible to see that it also functions as an overarching depiction of one boy’s coming-of-age story during that time; an illustration of a series of separate stories brilliantly performed by a trio of well-known actors (Willem Dafoe, Matt Dillon and Lili Taylor); an essay on how a writer uses the circumstances of his upbringing as the raw material for creating narrative fiction; and an experimental work that combines archival footage with animated sequences, and audio of actors’ voices and excerpts from an interview with Barry with an original score by master vibraphonist Jason Adesiewicz, to create a rich tapestry of image and sound. It is, in the truest sense, a “jazz movie,” one whose contrapuntal rhythms and ironic juxtapositions I hope will charm and haunt you as profoundly as they have me.
News of the World Premiere of ROY’S WORLD will be announced soon. In the meantime, you can watch the trailer below:
It is my great pleasure to announce I’ll be introducing a FREE screening of my friend Rob Christopher‘s fascinating 2015 meta-film Pause of the Clock at Transistor Chicago this Sunday, December 10. The screening will be followed by a Q&A with Rob that I will be moderating. You can hear an archival conversation of Rob and I discussing the film on Episode 14 of my (now-defunct) White City Cinema Radio Hour podcast from 2016 here. You can learn more about the screening, including the venue address and showtime, on Transistor Chicago’s website here. The official synopsis of Pause of the Clock is below:
The year is 1995. Two college roommates, Dylan and Rob, are making a movie called Crueler Than Truth with a group of their friends in Colorado and Chicago. During the shoot Dylan stumbles upon Rob’s diary and secretly begins to read it. His unsettling discoveries about who Rob really is, combined with his own hidden attraction towards him, gradually mesh with the “film within the film” to create a fragmented reality. Filmed in 16mm in 1995-1996, and recently completed after a successful Kickstarter campaign, Pause of the Clock is a living time capsule 20 years in the making.
Also, this seems like a good occasion for a reminder that I am co-producing Rob’s latest film venture, a documentary about the great Chicago-born-and-bred writer Barry Gifford titled Roy’s World: Barry Gifford & Chicago. The film will be released in late 2018. For the latest news on this exciting project, please follow the official Twitter feed of our film here.
Episode 14 of the White City Cinema Radio Hour sees me interviewing Chicago-based filmmaker (and Cine-File critic, and my pal!) Rob Christopher about his debut feature film, PAUSE OF THE CLOCK, ahead of its local premiere at the Gene Siskel Film Center on October 3. Christopher describes in detail how his intentions and methods evolved over the course of making this unique production, which was shot in 1995/1996 but not edited until 2015. The episode concludes with the two of us discussing our recent experience co-authoring questions for David Lynch for a Time Out article, as well as having a short rap about Christopher’s next film, a documentary about writer Barry Gifford. Listen here: http://www.transistorchicago.com/wccrh
Over the past 15 years, the European Union Film Festival has become an increasingly valuable lifeline to Chicago-area cinephiles. This unique festival, hosted each year by the Gene Siskel Film Center, offers a diverse selection of new movies from all 27 E.U. countries, virtually all of which are local premieres. It is the best and in many cases only chance Chicagoans will have to catch many of these films on the big screen before they head to their eventual resting place of DVD/blu-ray/online streaming. (Two of my very favorite films to receive Chicago premieres in 2011, The Strange Case of Angelica and Change Nothing, only played theatrically at the E.U. Film Festival and never returned for a regular week-long run anywhere locally at all.) So this year I decided to buy a festival pass and take in more screenings than ever before, which included taking my History of Cinema class from Harold Washington College on a field trip to one of the movies. Below is my report card for the fest with capsule reviews of all five of the films that I saw.
Aita (de Orbe, Spain, 2010)
Grade: A- / 8.6
A centuries-old decaying mansion is the metaphor-rich central location of this fascinating experimental film by Spanish director Jose Maria de Orbe. The house is the site of excavations, restorations, break-ins and a field trip for elementary school children. All the while, the elderly caretaker who lives on the premises engages a priest from the church next door in a series of philosophical conversations. Late at night, images of what looks badly decayed nitrate film are projected on the mansion’s interior walls, evoking the notion that this location is a repository for hundreds of years worth of fading, ghostly memories. A profound meditation on history, cinema, life and death, and a reminder in our digital age of the extreme beauty that can still only result from the marriage of 35mm film and natural light.
Sleeping Sickness (Köhler, Germany, 2011)
Grade: A- / 8.0
Ebbo Velten is a white German doctor appointed by the World Health Organization to combat the title disease in Cameroon. After a series of languidly paced, vaguely unsettling scenes, most of which subtly illustrate the doctor’s condescending attitude towards the locals, the film unexpectedly jumps forward three years in time and shifts its narrative focus to Alex Nzila, a French-born doctor of African descent, sent by the W.H.O. to prepare a report on Velten’s clinic. This powerful, naturalistic drama evokes Conrad’s Heart of Darkness in its portrait of a white man “gone native” but writer/director Ulrich Kohler’s disturbing tale of neocolonialism could have ultimately only been made in the 21st century; the way he masterfully pushes his story in elliptical, consistently surprising directions is likely to make viewers feel as profoundly disoriented as his characters.
The Phantom Father (Georgescu, Romania, 2011)
Grade: B+ / 7.8
The Siskel Center scored a major coup by hosting the U.S. premiere of this new Romanian film by first time feature director Lucian Georgescu based on a short story by American author Barry Gifford (Wild at Heart). The plot details the misadventures of an American professor who travels to Romania to find out information about his father’s mysterious heritage. Along the way he encounters love with a government bureaucrat in a refreshingly sweet, quirky and warm-hearted shaggy dog story that freely mixes the real with the fantastical. This uncommonly assured debut is about a million miles away from the social realism of the so-called “Romanian New Wave” and marks Georgescu as a definite talent to watch.
Madly in Love (Van Mieghem, Belgium, 2010)
Grade: B- / 6.5
Writer/director Hilde Van Mieghem is known as the “first lady of Flemish cinema” and, though I was unfamiliar with her work before my wife chose to see this film based on the Siskel Center’s catalog description, I’m now curious to fill in on what I’ve missed. Madly in Love is a contrived but also witty, visually inventive and very female-centric romantic comedy from Belgium about the love lives of four women: the beautiful, middle-aged actress Judith Miller, her two precocious children, Eva and Michelle, and their promiscuous aunt Barbara. The central idea informing each of the stories here is that true love is only possible after a lot of searching and mistake-making, a refreshing rejoinder to the more puritanical rom-coms coming out of Hollywood. This whimsical concoction features winning performances by an attractive cast and makes contemporary Antwerp look like a fun and quirky place to live.
Tuesday (Kornilios, Greece, 2010)
Grade: D / 4.2
Mike Leigh meets Robert Altman in this low-budget digitally-shot Greek indie, although the end result is much less interesting than that description probably makes it sound. Writer/director Nikos Kornilios supposedly based his screenplay on intensive improv workshops conducted with his actors, and it shows in the worst possible sense: the end result is a typical “web of life” plot mostly revolving around the romantic entanglements of young Athenians where it feels as if the actors had the burden of coming up with their own unmemorable dialogue. In this structurally messy scenario, there are just too many characters, none of whom we learn enough about, other than the fact that they’re having sex, or not having sex, and all crying way, way, way too much.