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Thursday, January 9th, 2014

I’ve moved my website to wheelerwinstondixon.com – follow me there!

Take a look at the image above, and you’ll see how it works.

The new website is much cleaner, has more information, and works more smoothly.

At the top left, there’s an “about” tab, where you can also download my complete cv as a pdf; next to that there are two tabs covering the 32 books that I’ve written, with the covers on display as clickable links that go directly to information on each title; next to that is a tab that goes to some 30 online articles of mine that are available out of the nearly 100 that I have written over the years; then comes a link to the Frame by Frame videos that I’ve made, with a clickable link to a carousel playlist that starts automatically and takes you through more than 70 titles; then a tab for this blog; then a tab for my film work — I have a show coming up in New York this Spring, 2014 — and finally a contact page, where you can e-mail me if you wish to.

This is where you will find me from now on; the old website is dead, so let’s move on into the future.

Three UNL Film Studies Students Head To Cannes

Tuesday, December 17th, 2013

Three UNL Film Studies students are heading to Cannes for internships this Spring.

As this news story by Haley Dover notes, “Three UNL Film Studies majors have been selected to be student interns at the 2014 Cannes International Film Festival in France this spring. One student also will screen one of her short films during the event. Aliza Brugger, Collin Baker and Emily Frandsen will serve as student interns at the film festival, which runs May 11-26. The program provides experience to students interested in film, culinary arts and hospitality/event management. The trio will join UNL theatre major Taylar Morrissey, who also was selected as a Cannes intern.

‘This is really a wonderful way for our students to get some hands-on experience in the film industry,’ said Kelly Payne, undergraduate advisor in UNL’s Department of English.’The program pulls in a lot of students who are interested in directing, producing, writing screen plays and so on.’ Following two days of orientation, Cannes interns are given service jobs in the American Pavilion – a membership-based communications and hospitality center for journalists, publicists, celebrities, filmmakers and motion picture executives working at the festival.

‘I expect to do the normal intern routine of serving food, getting water, and so on, but I’m looking forward to meeting people who are actually in the film industry – directors, writers, actors (who) can give me insights on how I can get a job later after graduating,’ said Baker, a senior. This is the second year that Mike Bremer, the director of student programs with the American Pavilion, has sought out UNL students for the internship program.

‘When Kelly Payne was first contacted by Mike last October, we immediately told our students in Film Studies about the program,’ said Wheeler Winston Dixon, Ryan Professor of Film Studies and coordinator of UNL’s program. This is the first year that the Film Studies program has had students participating in Cannes. In addition to her duties with the Pavilion, Brugger, a junior at UNL, will be showing one of her short films.

‘This is a killer opportunity considering that some of the people who may view it could have a significant impact on my career,’ Brugger said. ‘I have one film already completed, but by the film festival I should have two or three from which I can choose.’ The Emerging Filmmaker Showcase at Cannes includes 10 short films selected by a panel of industry judges and shown in The American Pavilion. Winning films are promoted through social media, news releases and throughout the festival.

This will be the second year in France for Frandsen. The public relations and film studies double major was an intern at the 2013 festival as just a PR major. This year, she said she will have more of an opportunity to work closely with The Roundtable Series – a chance for students to have small group discussions with noted personalities from both the creative and business side of the film industry, Payne said. Past participants in the Roundtable Series have included Tim Roth, Jude Law and Michael Moore.

Last year, Frandsen attended the screening of Alexander Payne’s film Nebraska, which is now in U.S. theaters — a watershed moment that brought together her Nebraska background and Frandsen’s love of film, Kelly Payne said. “This is a life-changing experience and hopefully our students will be able to come back and report on all of the meetings they had, films they could see and be inspired by the electric energy that happens at a film festival of Cannes stature,” she said.

I’m always glad when our excellent students are recognized; thanks to Kelly Payne above all, who really made this happen.

Lost Peter Sellers Films Found — Amazing!!

Friday, December 13th, 2013

Nancy Tartaglione reports in Deadline Hollywood that two lost Peter Sellers films have been found.

As Tartaglione writes, “in a discovery that would make Inspector Clouseau proud, two long-lost short films starring Peter Sellers have been found in Southend, England and will be screened next year at a local film festival. Those will be the first public showings of Dearth Of A Salesman and Insomnia Is Good For You in over 50 years. The 30-minute movies were made in 1957, seven years before Sellers would make an Oscar-nominated turn in Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove Or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb.

It’s thought that Sellers used the recovered pictures as show reels while segueing from radio to movies. According to the BBC, they were originally found in a London dumpster in 1996 by a building manager who took them home and stocked them away without realizing what the 21 film cans contained. During a recent clear-out of his house, Robert Farrow rediscovered them and learned of the Sellers movies.

Stephen Podgorney of Southend-based Dimwittie Films tells me he is now researching the films which are being digitally restored. ‘It’s a big task as so little is known.’ However, it is believed that Dearth Of A Salesman features Judith Wyler, the daughter of director William Wyler, and both films were co-written by Oscar-winner Mordecai Richler. The Southend Film Festival will host the screenings on May 1st.”

So you see — an early Christmas present! Thanks, Nancy!!

To Save and Project: The 11th MoMA International Festival of Film Preservation – October 9–November 12, 2013

Saturday, October 19th, 2013

Here’s an opportunity you can’t afford to miss.

Once again, The Museum of Modern Art is running a stunning series of films, saved and restored from archives around the world, in film format, as part of their ongoing annual series To Save and Project, MoMA’s international festival of film preservation, which celebrates its 11th year with gloriously preserved masterworks and rediscoveries of world cinema. Virtually all of the films in the festival are having their New York premieres, and some are shown in versions never before seen in the United States.

As the program notes indicate, “this year’s edition features a Carte Blanche selection by filmmaker Alexander Payne (Nebraska, The Descendants, Election). Other guests include Belgian filmmaker Chantal Akerman, who introduces Hotel Monterey (1972) and News from Home (1977), her beautiful New York films of the 1970s; and Filipino sensation Lav Diaz, who presents the full-length version of his 2001 crime drama Batang West Side. An evening with the great American writer E. L. Doctorow, a special presentation of Le Conversazioni literary festival, includes a screening and a conversation moderated by its artistic director, Antonio Monda.

A sidebar dedicated to the Royal Film Archive of Belgium, includes classics of Belgian cinema as well as a fascinating rediscovery: the first American anti-fascist film, Hitler’s Reign of Terror (1934). To Save and Project also features Jacques Barratier’s gorgeous French-Tunisian drama Goha (1958); Rowland V. Lee’s demented pre-Code puppet romance I Am Suzanne! (1934); and one of the most anticipated films in the festival, the world premiere of Karl Brown’s Stark Love (1927), with a new musical arrangement performed live by the NYU Cinemusica Viva Players, conducted by Gillian B. Anderson. The festival also includes gems of film noir; the premiere of rarely screened Andy Warhol film shorts, followed by a panel discussion with Warhol collaborators and scholars; a Modern Mondays premiere of Bruce Conner’s Crossroads (1976); and a theatrical run of Mikko Niskanen’s Eight Deadly Shots (1972), together with Peter Von Bagh’s The Story of Mikko Niskanen (2010).

What distinguishes To Save and Project among the world’s film preservation festivals is that nearly all the titles are presented on celluloid, respecting their original format of 35mm or 16mm. This festival, then, is a celebration of the vital work of archives around the world, including MoMA’s Department of Film, as well as Hollywood and international studios, distributors, and independent filmmakers, to save our cinema heritage.”

Organized by Joshua Siegel, Associate Curator, Department of Film, this is an event not to be missed. Click here, or on the image above, to get a complete schedule of all the screenings for this remarkable event.

Gwendolyn Audrey Foster on Post Tenebras Lux

Monday, July 8th, 2013

Gwendolyn Audrey Foster has a new essay out on Post Telebras Lux in Film International

As Foster points out, “I’m always attracted to films that cause an uproar, critical polarization, outrage, anger, dismissal, and confusion. Thus I was drawn to the Mexican film Post Tenebras Lux when I read about the decidedly mixed critical reaction it received at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. It was loudly booed, some critics were openly hostile and dismissive towards it, and yet Carlos Reygadas, who directed the film, was awarded the Best Director Award at the same festival. Audiences at Cannes, though, have a history of booing films that are later hailed as masterworks. BAMcinétmatek recently ran a series of films that most agree are masterpieces, but were initially rejected and “booed” at Cannes. Films such as Buñuel’s El (This Strange Passion, 1953), Antonioni’s L’eclisse (Eclipse, 1962), Dreyer’s Gertrud (1964), Scorsese’s Taxi Driver (1976), Bresson’s L’argent (1983) and Cronenberg’s Crash (1996) are among the list of films that were initially met with loud jeering, harsh criticism, and general incomprehension.

After a cursory glance at reviews, I fully expected an almost incomprehensible, dull, self-indulgent, inscrutable and difficult, if not impossible film. I figured I could always leave early if it was downright awful, but I had a sneaking suspicion that it might be quite the opposite, and my suspicions were more than confirmed. I am so thrilled that I was fortunate to see such a dazzling and beautiful film projected on the big screen. Where others found an overly “demanding” and “difficult” film, I felt Post Tenebras Lux was anything but “difficult.” I experienced the film as an exhilarating and sublime poetic examination of patriarchy and class wound into a liberating and absorbing dream-like narrative deliciously open to interpretation and openly imaginative.

Post Tenebras Lux is purposefully rendered precisely in the realm described in Buñuel’s words, “somewhere between chance and mystery.” Like Luis Buñuel, Carlos Reygadas values highly both freedom and imagination, and I find it very disturbing that so many critics, those whom should champion films that embrace the dream state between chance and mystery, reject the film as too difficult. Carlos Reygadas actively gives the gift of freedom of interpretation to the audience, but, unfortunately, many critics seem to reject that free space of imagination that Buñuel valued so highly. Ironically, ‘Post Tenebras Lux’ translates from Latin into ‘Light After Darkness.’ Perhaps if critics would return to the film for a second viewing, they may be lucky enough to experience that revealing glow and step out of the darkness into light.”

You can read Foster’s entire essay by clicking here, or on the image above.

3-D Festival at the Egyptian Theatre, Los Angeles

Thursday, May 23rd, 2013

The largest festival of 3-D films in the world is coming to Los Angeles; click here, or on the image above, for more information.

As the press release for the event notes, “the World 3-D Film Expo will return to the Egyptian Theatre, September 6-15, 2013. The ten-day festival will pay tribute to the 60th anniversary of what many film historians regard as the ‘Golden Age’ of 3-D, and will include screenings of the John Wayne western Hondo, the Vincent Price horror film House of Wax, Cole Porter’s musical Kiss Me Kate, the sci-fi thriller It Came From Outer Space, and later 3-D films, such as 1983’s Jaws 3-D. Lesser-known titles, such as The French Line with Jane Russell and Second Chance with Robert Mitchum, will also be included.

The Expo is partnering with digital 3-D projection sponsor RealD to present a number of screenings in RealD 3-D including Alfred Hitchcock’s Dial M for Murder and Jack Arnold’s sci-fi/horror classic Creature from the Black Lagoon. Stefan Droessler, 3-D historian and head of the Munich Film Museum, will present an in-depth overview of ‘European 3-D Filmmaking 1935-1953,’ including long-lost footage from the 1936 Berlin Olympics.

The festival will also be home to several premieres including the Los Angeles Premiere of the 1946 Russian 3-D adaptation of Robinson Crusoe. September 14th will mark the World Premiere of the stereoscopic version of the 1954 Korean War drama, Dragonfly Squadron. The film was only released in a flat version during its initial release, and has never been seen by audiences in 3-D. Newly-restored 35 mm prints of shorts ‘Rocky Marciano, Champion vs. Jersey Joe Walcott, Challenger’ and ‘College Capers’ will be screened in 3-D for the first time in 60 years. Most programs being presented at the festival will be shown in archival double-system 35 mm. prints, many of them the last known copies.”

The 3-D footage of the 1936 Berlin Olympics is a real find; if you’re going to be in Los Angeles, go!

Charles Ives: Total Immersion

Wednesday, May 15th, 2013

This was a once-in-a-lifetime event; all four Charles Ives symphonies in a single night.

On the last night of a very hectic New York research trip, I was lucky enough to attend the Charles Ives “Total Immersion” concert, featuring Leonard Slatkin conducting the Detroit Symphony Orchestra at Carnegie Hall, in a marathon evening which tackled nothing less than the performance of all four of Charles Ives’ symphonies, a taxing assignment for any orchestral group, but particular in the case of the justly famous Fourth Symphony, which is so complex that it requires two conductors, a huge orchestra, and a complete choral group to bring the work to life.

As you can see in the video above, the Fourth combines so many musical themes and such a wide array of instrumentation that any presentation of the work is daunting; it also comes with the considerable difficulty of containing, in several of its movements, two time signatures running simultaneously at two different tempos, which is why the second conductor is so necessary. I was staying in a hotel right around the corner from Carnegie Hall, and noticed a poster for the evening when I first arrived, at the astounding price of only $25 a ticket for any seat in the house.

Obtaining two tickets in the dress circle early Monday morning the week of the concert, I wondered all week long whether or not I would have the stamina to last through the entire evening, which started at 7:30 and didn’t conclude until nearly 11PM, especially since I had to get up the next morning at 5AM to catch a flight home. At the last minute, I decided that whatever the hardship in lack of sleep, this was an evening not to be missed, and I am deeply, deeply happy that I made that decision.

Slatkin and the Detroit Symphony were in top form, and the packed house knew it from the first downbeat; here was an ensemble that brought Ives’ often difficult music to life, and an amazing opportunity to track Ives’ development as a composer from the rather traditional First Symphony — which nevertheless boasts a spectacular First Movement (breaking concert hall protocol, the audience interrupted the orchestra after the movement was complete for a lengthy round of enthusiastic applause, rather than waiting for the entire piece to conclude). The Second was darker and more experimental, while the Third — which astoundingly won the Pulitzer Prize — was the briefest and least impressive, and then came, as one of my seatmates put it, “the main event.”

The Ives Fourth has been one of my favorite pieces of music since I can remember — indeed, I scored an entire film of mine, The DC 5 Memorial Film (1969) to the Fourth Movement in its entirety — and Skatkin’s interpretation of this intense, difficult, and ultimately transcendent piece of music was absolutely faultless. I was very pleased when I read James R. Oestreich’s review in The New York Times to find that he, too, was impressed by the evening; as he wrote, “the high point came on Friday evening with Detroit’s audacious presentation of an ‘Ives Immersion’: all four of Charles Ives’s numbered symphonies in chronological order.

Obvious in retrospect (though not likely to be repeated often, given its strenuous demands on performers and listeners alike), the program made for an extraordinary journey, from the relatively conventional sensibility of a prodigious student composer in the First Symphony to the unfettered one of an indomitable master in the Fourth . . .

Taken together, the four symphonies could almost be read as individual movements of a gigantic whole, so natural and compelling was the flow. After that First Symphony — first movement, as it were — the Second came as a sort of scherzo, gamboling through old folk and hymn tunes, with ‘Columbia, the Gem of the Ocean’ as anchor. The Third Symphony, relatively restrained and more focused in its borrowing, seemed a calming slow movement before the all-out radicalization of the Fourth.

Mr. Slatkin preceded his performance of the Fourth Symphony with a brief, brilliant demonstration of the work’s complexities. He had the orchestra play a four-measure mashup of tunes and rhythms from the second movement, then had the various sections play individual layers. And what should appear but ‘Turkey in the Straw’ in the violins, scarcely to be heard behind the blaring trumpets and under the accumulated weight of other instruments when everything was put back together. In similar fashion, Mr. Slatkin showed why a second conductor (Teddy Abrams) was needed in parts of the second and fourth movements, dismantling, then remantling the conflicting meters.”

All in all, a brilliant evening, and another, much needed reminder of how essential the arts are in today’s society.

Post Tenebras Lux (Light After Darkness)

Sunday, May 12th, 2013

I just got back from a research trip in New York City, where I saw a brilliant film.

I saw Post Tenebras Lux at Film Forum, and was absolutely mesmerized by the film. As Film Forum’s official notes for the film explain, “Post Tenebras Lux (‘light after darkness’) is a new autobiographical feature from acclaimed director Carlos Reygadas, winner of the Best Director prize at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. Ostensibly the story of an upscale, urban family whose move to the Mexican countryside results in domestic crises and class friction, it’s a stunningly photographed, impressionistic psychological portrait of a family and their place within the sublime, unforgiving natural world.

Reygadas conjures a host of unforgettable, ominous images: a haunting sequence at dusk as Reygadas’s real-life daughter wanders a muddy field as farm animals loudly circle and thunder and lightning threaten; a glowing-red demon gliding through the rooms of a home; a husband and wife visiting a swingers’ bathhouse with rooms named after famous philosophers. By turns entrancing and mystifying, Post Tenebras Lux palpably explores the primal conflicts of the human condition.”

When the film was screened at Cannes, there was a near riot, and many of the audience members walked out in protest, but for the life of me, I can’t figure why. The film’s narrative is at once straightforward and filled with magical realism, as in the scene, pictured above, in which a glowing red demon silently enters a middle class house, toolbox in hand, intent on wreaking havoc in his wake. Indeed, I’ve seldom seen a film that was more accessible, and at the same time more mysterious, lingering in the memory long after the final images have faded from the screen.

Click here to read an interview with the director, Carlos Reygadas.

Esther Eng, Pioneering Feminist Director

Tuesday, April 2nd, 2013

Wai Kim-Fong, Esther Eng and Beal Wong on the set of Eng’s film Heartache

Esther Eng, a pioneering feminist director, is the subject of a new documentary. As Elizabeth Kerr notes in a review of the documentary, Golden Gate Silver Light, which premiered at the Hong Kong International Film Festival, in The Hollywood Reporter, “Wei’s feature doc is clearly a labor of love — she also edited, produced, wrote, shot and narrated — and the workload often shows. The voice-over (difficult under dramatic circumstances) is academic and frequently stilted, the subtitles are riddled with inconsistencies and spelling errors, and Wei is given to hyperbole (there are many “masters” and “legends” referred to in the film). The HDV photography is functional and efficient and nothing more, and the film is heavy on stock footage and archival photos (though that is likely beyond Wei’s control). Despite the technical and cinematic shortcomings, festivals should provide Golden Gate Silver Light a healthy life on the strength of its subject, and the film could find a place on specialty cable and even in academic circles.

Wei begins her search for details on Eng’s life in the city of her birth, San Francisco, and follows her footsteps to Hollywood, then Hong Kong and finally back to the United States where she died in New York in 1970. Along the way Wei tracks down the bystander who found Eng’s personal journals and photos in a dumpster (which he donated to the Hong Kong Film Archive) and as many surviving family and co-workers — many former Cantonese opera stars fleeing the war in the 1930s — as she could to paint a rough sketch of the unconventional woman. The conversations with Eng’s now-elderly peers complement the material supplied by periodicals and Hollywood biographers and film critics (including The Hollywood Reporter critic Todd McCarthy). The fact that Wei found two with a semblance of knowledge of Eng speaks to just how unjustly she’s been disregarded.

One of Golden Gate’s strengths is its seamless ability to weave history, Sino-U.S. relations and social standards together to allow for inference and context. When the Chinese Exclusion Act kept Eng from pursuing her chosen career, she left for Hong Kong, where the same individualist streak made her a local celebrity, which stemmed as much from the success of the five films she made there to the exotic lesbianism no one seemed to care about. When she returned to the United States, she was a successful filmmaker — who cast Bruce Lee as an infant girl in one of her last films, Golden Gate Girl (1941).”

This is a fascinating look at a neglected artist; click here for another essay on Eng’s work from China Daily, by Frank Bren.

Ingmar Bergman Retrospective at Film Streams

Friday, February 1st, 2013

Film Streams in Omaha is running an retrospective on filmmaker Ingmar Bergman.

Bob Fischbach interviewed me for a piece on the Ingmar Bergman festival at Film Streams in Omaha that begins today. Bob’s piece in the Omaha World Herald notes that: “‘You can’t say you’ve got an understanding of film unless you see the films of Bergman,’ Dixon contends. ‘His films are riveting, they have great entertainment value and they’re absorbing experiences. From the beginning, he addressed the timeless questions of human existence: life, death, love, faith, hope. Meditations on what it is to be alive, to have friends and lovers, to face mortality.’

Ernst Ingmar Bergman was born in Uppsala, Sweden, in July 1918. His father was a Lutheran minister, later chaplain to the king of Sweden. He directed more than 60 films and documentaries, most of which he also wrote. Bergman also directed 170 stage plays, through which he developed a core company of actors for his films: Max von Sydow, Liv Ullman, Bibi Andersson, Ingrid Thulin, Anders Ek and Gunnar Björnstrand among them.

He was one of the first European filmmakers to break through in the United States. Three of his films won the foreign-language Oscar: The Virgin Spring (1960), Through a Glass Darkly (1961), and Fanny and Alexander (1983). Another, Cries and Whispers (1974), was nominated for best film.

Dixon said Bergman’s career began with a stroke of luck: being born in Sweden. Through its Svensk Filmindustri, the nation underwrites the first film of its best students from the national film school. ‘He never had to cater to anyone other than himself,’ Dixon said. ‘He created cinema as an art form because he didn’t worry about audience feedback or test screenings or producers.’ When Dick Cavett once asked Bergman what he’d do if a producer told him to change a script, Bergman replied that he’d tell the producer to go to hell. ‘That was a deeply inspirational model to filmmakers around the world, an art form undiluted,’ Dixon said.”

You can read the entire piece here; a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see the work of an undisputed master on the big screen. Don’t miss it.

About the Author

Wheeler Winston Dixon

Wheeler Winston Dixon, Ryan Professor of Film Studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, is an internationally recognized scholar and writer of film history, theory and criticism. He is the author of thirty books and more than 100 articles on film, and appears regularly in national media outlets discussing film and culture trends. Frame by Frame is a collection of his thoughts on a number of those topics. To contact Prof. Dixon for an interview, reach him at 402.472.6064 or wdixon1@unl.edu. Visit him at his website wheelerwinstondixon.com.

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