Notes From The Cinema

explorations through the world of film

Tag: documentary

Windsor Makes Me Feel At Home

As I stood with my hand clenching the stanchion inside the London tube after an early evening of salted peanuts and cosmopolitans, the supportive friend across from me said:

“Let’s face it, I thought this was a bad idea from the start!”

We were discussing how I could spin the story of my impending failure, that after vowing – publicly! – to watch 365 films this year, having now only clocked a mere 103, I was staring defeat squarely in the face.

“But I did finish 4 short films in the last 4 months!” I said, building my defense, brick by lonely brick.

My supportive friend made a (bad) joke about moral fibre.

My anxiety worsened. It was mid-throat level now. I should not have abandoned my home projector for a Hollywood-inspired evening in The Criterion in Piccadilly Circus.

But then there was that moment that can only come while in the depths of true despair. I realised that if I were to get extremely technical, all was not lost. I remembered just then that the date of my first blog post about this cinematic adventure was 29 March 2014.

Which meant there were still 4 more months to recover my dream!

I’ll still have to carefully negotiate the eternal tension between watching life and living it, but it’s been an insightful if not bumpy process so far.

In this last batch of films I have learned that:

My tolerance for Hollywood romantic comedies is now at near zero. Even when in the mood for a “light” film on a trans-Atlantic flight these still cannot hold my attention. A film with a vomit scene will generally not be good. And finally, when I see the Windsor font come on screen at the beginning of a Woody Allen film, I feel incredibly nostalgic, and at home.

Without further ado, my latest adventures on screen:

84.) Moon directed by Duncan Jones

85.) Zero Theorem by Terry Gilliam

86.) Funny People directed by Judd Apatow

87.) Finding Vivian Maier directed by John Maloof and Charles Siskel

88.) The Other Woman directed by Nick Cassavetes

89.) Like Father, Like Son directed by Hirokazu Koreeda

90.) Magic In The Moonlight directed by Woody Allen

91.) Casa Grande by Fellipe Barbosa

92.) Laura by Fellipe Barbosa

93.) Love Is All You Need by Susanne Bier

94.) A Late Quartet directed by Yaron Zilberman

95.) The Notorious Bettie Page by Mary Harron

96.) Manhattan by Woody Allen

97.) 2001 Space Odyssey by Stanley Kubrick

98.) Bobby Fischer Against The World directed by Liz Garbus

99.) Guilty Pleasures directed by Julie Moggan

100.) Corridor 8 directed by Boris Despodov

101.) Thanks For Sharing directed by Stuart Blumberg

102.) We Steal Secrets directed by Alex Gibney

103.) Dallas Buyer’s Club directed by Jean-Marc Vallée

The New Anxiety Dream

Last night I dreamt I was attending a film festival and running from screen to screen, voraciously watching films. This is how the night manifests my new anxiety, because let’s face it, the first quarter of the year is nearly over and I’ve only watched 35 of my 365-films-this-year goal. If the Sheff Doc Fest and possibly two trans-atlantic Virgin flights were not in my near future, I’d seriously be worried.

One of the reasons I set this belated 2014 goal for myself was that I wanted to see if I could really be this type of person – the one who watches on average a film a day. I’ve met a few in my life already who were accomplishing this feat, and had been for years, but to me it always seemed quite a challenge to clear one’s desk, settle one’s mind, and to truly believe that yes, watching films really IS work and therefore more than a good use of one’s time!

I’ve also been learning more about myself in this process, namely that I break every rule I set. Having first said I’d blog every 25 films I now decided that blogging every 10 is better. Not only does it keep up the momentum but it also keeps the posts (hopefully) more readable.

There were more than a few distractions this past month – a trip to Copenhagen where I presented my film Seduction at a conference on psychoanalysis, a filming reconnaissance trip to Latina, Italy and perhaps more unsettling, hearing: “I’m sorry, today is not the day, Ms. Horvath” at the conclusion of my first attempt at a British driving license (I’ll only reveal why I failed when I manage to pass!). Those words seemed to bounce around my head for quite a few days despite my best attempts at silencing them with Hitchcock’s 39 Steps in the cinema.

So here’s what I’ve watched since my last post:

26. Come As You Are (Hasta La Vista) (Belgian) directed by Geoffrey Enthoven – this was perhaps the most moving of this batch of films. A story of a road trip of three Flemish young men with physical disabilities.

27. Cutie & The Boxer (still on BBC iPlayer), directed by Zachary Heinzerling – I was pulled in by the film’s trailer which was so good while the film felt a little flat in comparison (

28. Nymphomaniac Parts I & II by Lars Von Trier

29. Of Time & City by Terence Davies

30. Tiny Furniture by Lena Davis – The DVD included some of Lena’s earlier shorts. She’s so good even when she’s bad. (Is this unconditional love?)

31. The 39 Steps by Alfred Hitchcock

32. The Five Obstructions by Lars Von Trier with Jørgen Leth – happily watched this at Stansted airport while waiting for my flight to Copenhagen.

33. The Matrix by the Wachowski Brothers

34. Kung-Fu Master! (Le Petit Amour) Directed by Agnès Varda, 1988 – really not the best Varda, but great seeing Birkin and Gainsbourg together

35. I Know Where I’m Going (still on BBC iPlayer) by Powell and Pressburger




We Iranians Like Life: Jafar Panahi’s ‘This Is Not A Film’

When talking to friends and colleagues about our favourite films of 2011 the Iranian film A Separation is almost always mentioned. I saw the film with a friend who was seeing it for the second time – it’s that good! –  and afterwards we talked (argued?) about what we thought the film was really about.

But a few months later I was blown away by yet another Iranian film – this time Jafar Panahi’s documentary This is Not A Film. For its premiere at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival the film was smuggled out of Iran on a USB stick baked inside of a cake that was then shipped to Paris. I caught This Is Not A Film at the Frontline Club in Paddington on the first evening after the end of Daylight Savings Time and as I tried to find my bearings in a 15:45 dusk I noticed I wasn’t the only one carrying a coffee into the screening room.

Perhaps it was the reality of winter drawing in, or the subject of the film (the filmmaker Jafar Panahi in late December 2010 was sentenced to a six-year prison term plus a 20 year ban on making, directing or writing a film, talking to the Iranian or foreign media and leaving the country) but I was unsure if I would actually like This is Not A Film. Because of Panahi’s case I was there because I thought this was a film I ought to see, not necessarily enjoy.

But I was completely surprised. The emotional arc of this 75-minute film shot entirely in Panahi’s apartment in Tehran is astounding. We watch Panahi bounce between hopefulness and despair, the fluctuations in his mood laid bare so we can begin to understand the impact this sentence and the waiting for it to begin is having on his psyche. At times it felt like I was witnessing the compressed stages of grieving.

Yet artists are always at work so naturally Panahi finds a way around the fine print of his situation by inviting a friend over to ‘direct’ This Is Not A Film. When Panahi instinctively calls ‘cut’ in one scene, his filmmaker friend scolds: ‘You are not directing. It’s directing. Directing is an offence!’.

What adds another layer to This Is Not A Film is the way the outside world wheedles its way inside Panahi’s apartment and the humour that ensues – first there’s the arrival of his friend, then later a food delivery, later still a neighbour who tries to convince Panahi to babysit her dog Micky while she enjoys the New Year’s fireworks, and finally Panahi is disturbed by a young man collecting the rubbish who warns Panahi, after he follows the young man to the ground floor, that he had better stay inside.

When the credits roll there are cleverly no names but Jafar Panahi dedicates the film to all Iranian filmmakers.

At The Frontline Club the film was presented by a friend of Panahi’s who told us that Panahi was aware of and grateful for the screening in London and that at the moment Panahi was simply waiting for the knock at his door. She also said that his friends, family (not to mention members of the film community around the world) are continuing to fight Panahi’s case and that they would not give up because in spite of it all, We Iranians like life.

This Is Not A Film is being distributed now in the US and the UK by Palisades Tartan who you can contact to find out where and when you can see this film and spread the word about the situation of Jafar Panahi:

For more information about Jafar Panahi or This Is Not A Film have a look at the links below:


The Pirate Tapes

With the news of recent kidnappings along the Kenyan-Somali border I had high hopes for The Pirate Tapes (Directed by Matvei Zhivov, Roger Singh, Andrew Moniz, Rock Baijnauth). The synopsis of the documentary said we would follow Somali-Canadian Mohamed Ashareh as he infiltrated a pirate gang. This was the type of documentary that took us deep into an unbelievable world, brought us dangerously close to current affairs. I was ready for the film to be strictly observational and difficult to watch in every sense (lots of undercover footage filmed at night).

But when I arrived with a friend at the cinema 5 minutes after the film started I was surprised to find a nearly full house laughing. The Pirate Tapes seemed to fall into that category of social issue films that feel uncomfortable and inadequate being themselves. The filmmakers compensate by framing a serious issue with entertainment – in this case, self-deprecating narration, music, stylish fonts and graphics.

For me it didn’t work. Partly perhaps because I had unrealistic expectations but partly because there were two underdeveloped narrative strands to the film.  The ‘subjective’ one told of Mohamed’s mission to gain the trust of a pirate gang and the more ‘objective’ one was comprised of experts talking about the rise of piracy in Somali. Their view – as far as I could make out – was that it coincided with illegal fishing and toxic dumping. But I can’t be sure of understanding exactly what the filmmakers wanted me to because as soon as I settled down into a scene the filmmakers cut away to a new one.

I looked over at my friend.  He was asleep. In front of us a man began talking. His voice, though quiet, was uncontained. Heads turned around him and for a fleeting moment I felt enough frustration to tell him to stop. But I acknowledged the moment, let it pass, and felt relieved when he took the stage to speak as part of the post-film panel that I had said nothing.

Why didn’t the filmmakers stick to one strand? I had a sense that Mohamed’s role in the film, no doubt incredibly brave, failed for obvious reasons to yield enough visual material needed to tell his story. And so Mohamed’s strand was forced to focus on his almost comedic efforts to become trusted by the pirates and then after he was captured, on his efforts to find a way back to Canada alive.

No doubt there were striking images in the film – namely those showing the cavalier way in which guns were slung across bodies at all times of the day, in any social situation. And there were striking statistics too, contextualizing the amount of money pirates stood to earn compared to the wages of the average Somali. But despite this I left the cinema unsatisfied. As my friend said on the way out: Something was missing.

To read more about the film, and to watch a trailer as well as a short video on the history of piracy, visit the website:

My Reincarnation: Jennifer Fox’s New Documentary

‘I really wish I could see you,’ Jennifer Fox tells her audience more than once via Skype after the London premiere of her new film My Reincarnation [held at Rich Mix in Bethnal Green, Sunday 4th September 2011] She is smiling on the big screen in front of us, perhaps from her kitchen table in New York, and we are all watching, which is something Jennifer has allowed us to do before when she turned the camera on herself in her previous film Flying: Confessions of A Free Woman.

I read between the lines. It’s the filmmaker’s curiosity of her audience, her desire to gauge our reactions but also her desire to fully engage. This intense desire to connect that drives Jennifer’s work is what I love most about it. She smiles and waits for a question, a comment, for us to find our nerve. Some of us are still drying our eyes.

I can never watch footage of Tibet without bursting into tears,’ my friend had whispered into my ear during a particularly moving homecoming scene. I cannot say I felt this way before but somehow on this night I knew exactly what she meant.

Jennifer’s new film My Reincarnation actually began over twenty years ago when she picked up her camera and started filming the Tibetan spiritual master Chögyal Namkhai Norbu and his family. At the time Jennifer was working as his private secretary, a job that granted her tremendous access. By her own admission she had no idea what would become of the footage and she wondered when the material took shape whether it could have appeal beyond a Buddhist audience.  But she sensed to keep filming, year after year.

Even when filming stopped the road was not easy.  Like many filmmakers – including myself – Jennifer needed money to finish and so she started a campaign on the crowd-funding site Kickstarter.  It was a huge success and after raising over 150,000 USD she is currently one of the site’s record-holders.

When the London audience recovers and the questions and comments roll in they are overwhelmingly positive. During the Q&A session Jennifer draws a parallel between meditation and filmmaking as both requiring awareness. The audience is rewarded by her presence (mental, not physical) in the tiny moments throughout the film where another filmmaker may have turned off the camera already satisfied that they got what they were looking for.

After twenty years of filming what emerges is the story of Chögyal Namkhai Norbu and his Italian son Yeshi who at birth is recognized as the reincarnation of a well-known spiritual master. During the course of the film we witness not only Yeshi’s changing relationship to his father but also the evolution of Yeshi’s relationship to himself.

Once again Jennifer has traveled to another world – specifically to a Tibetan master’s family in Italy – and brought back a film for all of us. My Reincarnation is about the journey home.  Not necessarily to a geographic place, but to one’s self.

For more information about the film visit the website.

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