By Iris Lin and Matt Willemain
Dozens of new indie, art, foreign feature and short films were screened on campus during the Fifteenth Annual Stony Brook Film Festival at the Staller Center for the Arts, over the course of ten days at the end of July.
A summer tradition, the film festival brings a little cosmopolitan culture deep into the suburban Long Island landscape—the films complement the center’s live production of music, dance, theatre and other performances. Providing both early looks at movies which will be available to broad American audiences, as well as more esoteric offerings that filmgoers might otherwise miss entirely, the film festival regularly stands out against a backdrop of limited activity on campus over the summer.
This year, the festival again provided a varied group of interesting movies, several of which are reviewed below.
The Staller Center does a fairly good job of walking a tightrope—serving two masters in the form of the undergraduate-predominated university community as well as a very different off-campus local community. Serving as a location for world class cultural offerings a performing arts enthusiast might expect to find in New York City, the center is supported by patrons from across Long Island. At the same time, it is integrated into the Stony Brook campus.
One of the conflicts this tension creates is the potential for students to be priced out of Staller Center offerings. Director Alan Inkles remains passionate about finding ways to enable some student access, however. The Staller Center is currently promoting efforts such as the “First on Us” program (incoming freshman were provided a pass for any one program in the Staller’s lineup) and discounted last minute rush tickets.
The Film Festival won’t return until next July, but the Staller Center’s Fall lineup includes prominent string quartet-in-residence the Emerson String Quartet, jazz performances, American Idol Katherine McPhee, a family acrobatics show and a live reproduction of song and dance from Bollywood cinema. These live shows are joined by a dozen films and simultaneous broadcasts of the Metropolitan Opera. Full listings are available at stallercenter.com.
Bride Flight opens on the familiar, weather-beaten face of Rutger Haur (Batman Begins, Blade Runner) as elderly Dutch vineyardist Frank. Making the rounds of his gorgeous, expansive New Zealand operation, Frank is allowed the satisfaction of tasting a perfect vintage before he is dispatched by natural causes. With his death and funeral a narrative framing device, Bride Flights soars backwards in time to tell the story of a younger Frank and the three women in his life.
The principles meet one another on “the last great air-race” from London to New Zealand in 1953. For the most part, they are fleeing the destructive forces—a tremendous flood in the Netherlands (naïf Ada, as played by Karina Smulders and Pleuni Touw), World War II (the charming Frank, played by Haur and Waldemar Torenstra, the Dutch James Franco) and the Holocaust (flippant Esther, played by Anna Drivjer and Willeke van Ammelrooy). Only the privileged Marjorie (Elise Schaap and Petra Laseur) has avoided the troubles of the times.
The air-race serves simply as a romanticized introduction, as the film quickly delves into the maximally melodramatic lives the characters live through as young immigrants in New Zealand. Set against a backdrop of spectacular New Zealand landscapes, our four central figures struggle with the pasts they have fled and with the everyday dissatisfactions and startling turns of fortune of their present lives. Reunited years later on the occasion of Frank’s death, the women of the film are given a stark opportunity to reflect.
Daniel (Unax Ugalde) has what it takes to become a master chef; passion, dedication, diligence and ingenuity. Bon Appetit, directed by David Pinillos, follows Daniel’s experiences as he begins working at a high-class restaurant in Zurich, Switzerland. However, this movie is not so much about cooking and food as it is about friendships and the drama of romantic entanglements. Although, there is a neat scene where Daniel is put on the spot and has to create and cook a dish using only noodles, eggs, oranges, and some mint.
At the restaurant Daniel meets fellow co-workers Hanna (Nora Tschirner) and Hugo (Giulio Berruti) and they quickly become best pals in and out of the kitchen, going clubbing and making short road trips. However, the relationship between Daniel and Hanna is the main focus of the film. Daniel is drawn to Hanna from the moment he first sees her. During their initial conversation, they seem to have fundamentally different views on love, but despite that, both Daniel and Hanna instantly click and the attraction between the two is very apparent.
Unfortunately things are not clean and simple, Daniel has a girlfriend back home in Spain and Hanna is involved with the owner of the restaurant, Thomas (Herbert Knaup), who is already married. Bon Appetit is not your typical romantic movie, however, it is also about people learning more about themselves and their desires in life. In some ways it is more representative of what would happen in real life, especially in regards to the ending of the film. Usually in romantic movies when one person declares their love for another, the other person responds in kind with, “I love you too.”
It was an enjoyable movie, although we did not think it presented anything particularly new or exciting in the romance genre. We did like how the film ended though, it showed how even though things don’t happen as you imagined and anticipated with the person you love, that doesn’t mean it’s a bad ending. Life can be a crazy mess, but still turn out alright.
“I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked, / dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix, / angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night…” those are the first couple lines of the poem “Howl” written by Alan Ginsberg.
Howl, the film directed by Rob Epstein, is about said poem and the 1957 obscenity trial regarding its publication. A majority of the film feels like a documentary due to the recreation of courtroom scenes from the trial and interview scenes with Ginsberg (James Franco). The interview segments were one of our favorite aspects of the film. Franco does an amazing job. He incorporates little nuances in gesticulation, posture, and pausing that makes you think it really is Ginsberg answering the questions, instead of an actor reciting lines. The courtroom scenes serve to move the plot forward and comment on the battle between appropriate society sanctioned behavior and the freedom to express oneself and expand humanity’s horizons.
The film also includes scenes where Franco reads aloud excerpts from the poem in front of crowded room full of artsy-looking beatniks—although sometimes the audience sees animation corresponding to the verses being read instead. At first, we did not like the animation, it did not seem to fit and in a way it narrows the creativity of the poem because it is only able to offer one visual representation. However, it is understandable that the screen wouldn’t just be left blank and it allows the audience to contemplate the relation between the visual art and the ideas present in the poem.
Franco’s reading of “Howl” is an essential part of the film. There is a significant difference between reading a poem to yourself silently and hearing a poem read out loud. You are able to feel the rhythm of syllables flowing one after another, you can hear the dynamics as certain phrases and words are emphasized in contrast to pauses and breaths taken. We often underappreciate poetry, but after watching this film, we have a greater respect for all forms of poetry and realize poems are meant to be expressed vocally. Just hearing “Howl” made watching this film worth it.