To read more recommendations from Ray Carney of young filmmakers whose work is worth watching, consult the final twenty pages of the "Mailbag Letters and Replies" section of the site. The Mailbag may be accessed via the blue ticket icon in the left margin of every page, and once you have arrived at that section of the site, individual Mailbag pages may be accessed via the blue page numbers at the top and bottom of every Mailbag page.
New American Independent Cinema 2005-2006
Playing at the Harvard Film Archive, June 1 - June 25, 2006
Co-curated by Ray Carney, Professor of Film and American Studies at Boston University, and Ted Barron, Senior Programmer for the Harvard Flim Archive. Headnote and program notes written by Ted Barron and staff.
Over the past few months, the Harvard Film Archive has proudly hosted screenings by local directors Andrew Bujalski and Alex Karpovsky. These filmmakers represent a group of exciting voices that have invaded the national independent film scene and discovered innovative new means for distribution and promotion. This series presents a sampling of recent American independent film which has brought a new energy to the well-trod path of the film festival circuit. Many of these films explore the growing distance in interpersonal relationships as people are inundated with technological devices designed to facilitate communication. Others are contemplating the ever-tenuous boundary between fiction and nonfiction, in works which construct exhilarating new languages of cinema.
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Introduction to the series and the work of Mark and Jay Duplass by Ray Carney, Professor of Film and American Studies at Boston University.
Introduction and screening on June 1 (Thursday) 7 pm:
The Puffy Chair
directed by Jay Duplass
US 2005, color, 85 min.
with Mark Duplass, Kathryn Aselton, Rhett Wilkins
Josh is in a rut. Facing failure in New York, he decides to buy a La-Z-Boy on E-Bay like the one from his childhood home and drive it cross-country for his father’s birthday. Along for the ride are his girlfriend, who is eager to settle down, and his deadbeat brother, intent on making trouble. Tension builds as the trio plus a gigantic chair cram into a little van for a long ride. Nominated for two Independent Spirit Awards, this first feature by the Duplass brothers takes the road trip genre and reinterprets it for a new generation.
This is John
directed by Jay Duplass
US 2003, color, 8 min.
The recording of an answering message develops into a harrowing and hilarious process of self-discovery.
directed by Jay and Mark Duplass
US 2004, color, 11 min.
An innocent game of Scrabble leads to a truthful series of revelations for a young couple.
directed by Jay Duplass
US 2005, color, 15 min.
The ultimate self-help is tool is put to the test as a close knit group gathers to confront one of their friends about his duplicitous past.
Screening on June 3 (Saturday) 7 pm, June 5 (Monday) 9 pm:
directed by Joe Swanberg
US 2006, color, 81 min.
With Joe Swanberg, C. Mason Wells, Kevin Bewersdorf
A film about the ways modern technology isolates even as it seems to bring us together, LOL uses a non-professional cast of twenty-somethings to offer a realistic portrayal of how men and women relate (or don’t) in the twenty-first century. With their laptops and cell phones used like armor to deflect any real connection (while offering the illusion of communication), the three men in the film obsess about online relationships while ignoring the real women in their non-virtual lives. The second feature from Chicago-based Joe Swanberg, LOL borrows its title from the popular online abbreviation for “laughing out loud,” a way of indicating emotion without actually feeling any.
Screening on June 3 (Saturday) 8:30 pm, June 5 (Monday) 7 pm:
Funny Ha Ha
directed by Andrew Bujalski
US 2002, color, 85 min.
With Kate Dollenmayer, Christian Rudder, Andrew Bujalski
Featuring a cast and crew of Harvard grads, Andrew Bujalski’s debut feature provides an insightful look at contemporary relationships that falls outside the sugary optimism of Hollywood romance. Marnie is a 23-year-old office temp struggling to maintain her dignity and sense of humor—amidst mundane tasks at work for which she is clearly overqualified—and several ill-advised romantic situations. Bujalski moves his cadre of characters beyond the guarded wisecracking of so many young indies and pushes them toward a more vulnerable, and sometimes painful, truthfulness. Filmed in 2002 but released theatrically last year, Bujalski’s work was selected by New York Times critic A.O. Scott as one of the ten best films of 2005.
Screening on June 9 (Friday) 7 pm, June 13 (Tuesday) 8:30 pm:
I Am A Sex Addict
directed by Caveh Zahedi
US 2005, color, 98 min.
with Caveh Zahedi, Rebecca Lord, Emily Morse
One of the most controversial releases of the past year, Caveh Zahedi’s autobiographical film is a brutally frank examination of one man’s obsession with sex and its effects. Zahedi addresses the camera directly, explaining how his addiction to sex, and his obsessive honesty about it, has ruined his past relationships. Re-enactments and home movie footage complete the picture of a man on a quest for self-discovery at any cost. Funny and disarming, Zahedi revels in the inherent artifice of film, calling attention to the actors and fake sets, even while laying himself bare before the camera. The result is a genre-busting film about the nature of truth, reality and, oh yeah, sex.
Screening on June 9 (Friday) 9 pm, June 13 (Tuesday) 7 pm:
directed by Jim Finn
US 2006, color, 71 min.
with Dean DeMatteis, Jim Finn, Nandini Khaund
A completely fictitious, utterly hilarious telling of East Germany’s attempt to colonize the moons of Jupiter and Saturn in the 1970s, Jim Finn’s paean to Communism, space travel, and guinea pigs comes replete with carefully faked archival footage, under-choreographed dance routines in the “retro-socialist style,” and deadpan voiceovers espousing the party line. Nestled in between field hockey musical numbers and training montages is the romance between cosmonauts Seagull and Falcon, who send each other intergalactic love letters. Finn creates such a fully-realized, serious-seeming world, Interkosmos could almost be mistaken for found footage, were it not for the guinea pigs.
Screening on June 15 (Thursday) 7 pm, June 19 (Monday) 9 pm:
directed by Jem Cohen
US 2004, color, 99 min.
with Miho Nikaido, Mira Billotte
Shot over seven years, with strip malls and corporate parks from around the globe comprising the “superlandscape” of the film, Chain explores the homogenization of our culture, and how it shapes and informs the lives of two women in particular. One is researching theme parks for her company while the other lives and works illegally, on the fringes of a shopping mall. Taking the ubiquitous yet strangely invisible superstores that blanket America as his subject, Cohen crafts an alternative landscape of disposable landmarks and bleakly mundane attractions with the chilling realism of a true horror film.
Screening on June 15 (Thursday) 9 pm, June 17 (Saturday) 7 pm:
Me and You and Everyone We Know
directed by Miranda July
US 2005, color, 91 min.
with Miranda July, John Hawkes, Miles Thompson
The first feature from conceptual artist Miranda July, Me and You and Everyone We Know explores the hesitant stop-and-start relationship between July’s artist Christine and John Hawkes’s Richard, a recently separated shoe salesman. Orbiting around the periphery of their world are Richard’s two young sons, his co-worker, and the teenage girls whose sexual advances confuse and inspire them. As its title suggests, by the film’s end the tangentially related characters seem to have created a community of sorts, forming tentative bonds. July’s exquisite eye for detail and unique sensibility illuminate the faltering steps her characters take toward each other with delicate grace.
Screening on June 17 (Saturday) 9 pm, June 19 (Monday) 7 pm:
directed by Phil Morrison
US 2005, color, 106 min.
with Embeth Davidtz, Alessandro Nivola, Amy Adams
With beguiling sweetness, Phil Morrison’s leisurely tale of newlyweds George and Madeleine, on a trip to meet his family in North Carolina, moves to the rhythms and rituals of rural Southern life. While Madeleine courts an artist for her outsider art gallery and attempts to ingratiate herself with George’s unresponsive family, George disappears into his old habits, leaving Madeleine, who is woefully unequipped, to fend for herself at church socials and baby showers. Only Amy Adams, as the very-pregnant wife of George’s rageful brother, falls for Madeleine’s urbane style. She delivers her breakout performance with buoyant charm, anchoring the film in her radiant warmth.
Director in Person
Screening on June 23 (Friday) 7 pm:
directed by Kelly Reichardt
US 2005, color, 76 min.
With Daniel London, Will Oldham, Tanya Smith
Critically acclaimed when it premiered at Sundance this year, Kelly Reichardt’s film about two old friends trying to reconnect on a weekend camping trip is a melancholy exploration of loss, friendship and male alienation. Mark, settled down and about to become a father, and Kurt, an adventurous drifter with few ties, embark on a meditative journey through shifting landscapes and perspectives. By the time they reach their goal, they are ready to face the divergent decisions they have made. Reichardt’s lyrical film, based on a short story by Jonathan Raymond, pays minute attention to almost imperceptible shifts in tone and rhythm, creating an exquisitely nuanced portrait of modern male friendship.
Director in Person: Sunday, June 25
Screening on June 23 (Friday) 8:30 pm, June 25 (Sunday) 7 pm:
Quietly On By
directed by Frank V. Ross
US 2005, color, 87 min.
With Anthony J. Baker, Denise Blank, Debi Hulka
Filmed on digital video on a shoestring budget (a legend-making $755, according to reports), Frank V. Ross’s third feature explores the alienation and loneliness of twenty-somethings still living in their childhood homes. Aaron spends his days hanging around his mother’s suburban house, killing time with his equally self-absorbed friends and becoming increasingly obsessed with Sara, the uninterested object of his desire. With its naturalistic tone and overlapping dialogue, the film has earned comparisons to work by Cassavetes and Altman, but in taking on the confusion and isolation of his generation, Ross has much in common with his fellow New Independents Andrew Bujalski and Joe Swanberg.