13.January.2012: You know its Sundance season when the lawsuits start rolling in: the Orlando Sentinel reported yesterday that Florida time-share executive David Siegel is suing the festival for defamatory statements made in the festival’s publicity for opening night feature The Queen of Versailles. The offending phrase describes the film as a “rags-to-riches-to-rags story,” which Siegel argues harms his business reputation.
Moving on to more serious legal matters, the New York Times reports that Iran’s Culture Ministry has formally dissolved the House of Cinema, the government’s latest strike against independent filmmaking. From the article: “Founded 20 years ago, the House of Cinema has more than 5,000 members and is the parent group for a range of motion picture guilds in Iran. It has acted to protect their financial interests and creative rights, so the breakup of the organization, if not reversed, could fracture and silence Iran’s last remaining autonomous outlet of visual artistic expression.” The news comes as Iran’s Academy Award entry, A Separation, continues to garner positive reviews. Michael Sicinski explicitly broaches the film’s political context in his review for Cinema Scope:
“…In order to be selected as Iran’s submission for the Oscars, A Separation had to garner a recommendation from the nine-member Farabi Cinema Foundation, a para-governmental arts-and-culture administration. Anyone concerned about the nefarious double-dealings of the MPAA should check out the language on the Farabi website which, remember, reflects the Islamist apparatchiks at their most benign. Farabi describes itself as having saved Iranian cinema from the ‘mystic cinema’ of ‘the first decade of the 80s’ [sic], when ‘the dominating aspects of the films produced by Andrei Tarkovsky and Sergei Paradjanov’ as well as ‘leftist revisionists’ essentially crippled the glorious cinema of Iran. (Where Is the Friend’s Home? ; The Cyclist ; The Tenants ; Canary Yellow . I think we all remember those dark days!)…It’s virtually a truism that censors are too stupid for words. That’s precisely what makes them dangerous.”
The questions of what a dissident cinema might look like invariably trails back to Jean-Luc Godard, whose Film Socialisme is one of Fandor’s four featured films this week. The other three are Beaufort, Joseph Cedar’s tight-coiled dramatization of an Israeli platoon in Lebanon; All About Women, a comic turn from Hong Kong action master Tsui Hark (whose Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame factored into many 2011 top tens); and the Georges Méliès’ perennial, A Trip to Moon, now wowing a new generation of filmgoers thanks to its prominent place in Martin Scorsese’s Hugo.
Lastly, something to read over the weekend: John Seabrook files an entertaining profile of YouTube executive Robert Kyncl and the website’s changing business model. Specifically, Seabrook wonders whether the company’s new focus on filtering content through channels is at odds with the freeform appeal of its earlier incarnations:
“A number of people I had spoken to about the channel initiative were having trouble defining what exactly it is. Is Kyncl building a Web-based Comcast or Time Warner? Some believe that to be the case, but Jim Louderback, the C.E.O. of Revision3, an Internet video network, told me, ‘I don’t think he’s building a cable-TV competitor. I think he’s building the flip side of the cable business—a bundle of premium content that viewers just can’t live without.’…Is YouTube attempting to seize the means of production from Hollywood? James McQuivey, an analyst with Forrester Research, thinks so. ‘They’re saying, Fine, you don’t want to sell us your content, you want to tie everything up in distribution deals—fine, we’re going to make our own deals. Not just U.S. deals but global-rights deals, because YouTube is the largest video platform on the globe, and we’re going to sign Madonna and Amy Poehler, and guess what, this train is leaving the station, get on it or not.’”