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Archive for the ‘festivals’ Category

Composer Ari Benjamin Meyers, left, attends the Berlinale with filmmakers Matt Sweetwood and Rick Minnich. Photo by Monika Mueller-Kroll for NPR


Check out this two-minute report by Monika Mueller-Kroll with discussion with directors Rick Minnich and Matt Sweetwood and composer Ari Benjamin Meyers on the occasion of the “Forgetting Dad” screening at the Berlin Film Festival, Feb. 2011. It was broadcast on National Public Radio NPR Berlin at 11:32 pm on Friday, 18 February and Monday and Tuesday, 21 + 22 February.

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What a pleasant surprise it was to find out that “Forgetting Dad” was invited to screen in a new section of the Berlin International Film Festival called “Lola@Berlinale.” Here you can see all the films on the shortlist for this year’s German Film Award, the German equivalent of the Academy Awards.

Matt Sweetwood outside the CinemaxX 1 before the "Forgetting Dad" screening


Justin in an early scene from "Forgetting Dad"

Justin in an early scene from "Forgetting Dad"


This was the first time in ages that the entire crew gathered together to take a bow and enjoy all the fine receptions we were invited to. It was surprising to see so many people in the audience come to see a film which is now over two years old, but who’s complaining? Judging from the Q & A that followed, where Matt, Ari and Rick did their thing, the film is still moving audiences in strange and mysterious ways.
Composer Ari, director of photography Axel, distributor Stephan, directors Rick and Matt, producer Olaf (front)

Composer Ari, director of photography Axel, distributor Stephan, directors Rick and Matt, producer Olaf (front)


Thanks to Heinz Badewitz for organizing the new Lola section and for his nice introduction. And thanks to all the other kind people at the Berlinale who made us feel welcome. It was a delight to receive some recognition on our own turf.

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Return to Kos

One of the many perks of being a documentary filmmaker is getting to travel around the world. Of all the festivals I went to with FORGETTING DAD over the past two years, the Ippokrates Health Film Festival on the gorgeous Greek island of Kos really stood out. (see last year’s post here) Run by the Greek dynamo Lucia Rikaki, who also runs the Eco Film Festival on Rhodes, the festival shows a wealth of films on health-related topics in the birthplace of Hippocrates and modern medicine.

Last year, FORGETTING DAD won the 2nd audience award, just behind THE ENGLISH SURGEON. This year, I got invited back to be in the jury of the medium-length section, and didn’t hesitate for a moment. It was a great pleasure sharing jury duties with Indian filmmaker/teacher/distributor Gargi Sen and Kos native Antonis Frouzakis, a notary and great lover of film and the arts, as well as a wonderful tour guide.

Gargi Sen


Antonis Frouzakis


The films were hit and miss (some uninspired TV docs, which is to be expected in the 40-60 minute category), but we were pleased to give out three prizes to films we all cherished: 1st prize to Michael Schaap’s THE ERECTIONMAN (a brilliant and hilarious film about dwindling masculinity and the global obsession with instant, unlimited virility), and 2nd prize divided among Pawel Lozinski’s CHEMO (a moving and beautifully shot observation of life in a cancer ward in Warsaw) and Juul Bovenberg’s A DEADLY DILEMMA (an intimate portrait of Dutch doctors and their terminally ill patients as they face difficult decisions about euthanasia).

Antonis was kind enough to take us for a midnight swim in the thermal baths a few kilometers outside of town. Floating in the warm water while looking up at the stars and listening to the bubbling sounds coming from below was wonderfully relaxing and a physical sensation I’d love to repeat more often. Antonis also took us on a drive around the island, where we took a dip in the Agean Sea near Kefalos and on the western side of the island. We also enjoyed a lovely sunset meal in the charming village of Zia on the slopes of Mount Dikeos. The views across the island and the Aegean were stunning and the food delicious.

Like last year, the festival organized a trip to the Asklipieion for a re-creation of the Hippocratic oath ceremony. The Asklipieion is the site of the world’s oldest known hospital, and is considered the birthplace of modern medicine. The ruins sure give off an inimitable vibe.

The festival is very well-organized, has a lovely and helpful staff, and shows every sign of securing an important niche in the festival scene. I might just have to make another health-related film and hope the festival will accept it so I can return to this island paradise.

By the way, that’s Henry Marsh, star of Geoffrey Smith’s THE ENGLISH SURGEON, speaking on stage. He was also invited back to Kos to be on the feature-length jury.

Henry Marsh

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Shanghai TV Festival

(For tons of photos from my trip to China, check out my Facebook page. I only accept friend requests from strangers if you write why you want to connect.)

It was hard to turn down the offer of a free trip to Shanghai, even though I felt a bit like I was leaving my baby behind in Germany only days after the theatrical launch. But after all the excitement of my first trip to China last December, I couldn’t say no.

This time around, FORGETTING DAD didn’t win the main prize (I found out later that it was disqualified from the competition for being two months ‘too old’), but it was still a lot of fun being there.

As it turns out, FORGETTING DAD was playing in the Magnolia International Documentary Awards section of the Shanghai TV Festival, which is somehow organized by the same people who put on the Shanghai International Film Festival one week later. It was all rather confusing, but at least the documentaries, unlike the TV series and TV movies also showing in the festival, were given public screenings.

My escort Sandra

Here's my escort Sandra meeting me at the Shanghai Airport in Pudong


The first surprise upon arriving in Shanghai was that I was given an escort, who was under strict orders to keep an eye on me. She was a nice student named Sandra, who spoke broken English, and was very nervous. Before I’d even gathered my bearings, she was eager to know where I wanted to go when, so she could book the car service, which had to be arranged a day in advance. It was too much organization for me. As soon as I hooked up with some other filmmakers, we all joined forces to liberate ourselves from our escorts in order to explore the city on our own.

As the other documentary filmmakers and I experienced first-hand, and as we were told by the festival organizers, it was a huge deal to be showing documentaries in movie theaters in China. Such screenings are unheard of, largely because documentaries are considered strictly a television genre in China. Most are historical and very formulaic. One viewer after my screening, which was in a multiplex on the top floor of a luxurious shopping center, expressed her amazement at seeing a ‘real movie.’ I’ve heard that one before in one form or another. People are often surprised at the cinematic imagery, orchestral score, and narrative drive of FORGETTING DAD, and sometimes feel like they’ve walked into a narrative feature.

The questions were nothing out of the ordinary. I was, however, touched by a woman who came with her mother. She approached me afterwards to tell me how her mother had some questions for me. The mother never said a word, and I’m assuming the daughter translated what I said afterwards. Basically she wanted to know why I wanted to make a film about my own family, and why I felt the need to share our story with complete strangers. When I hear this, I sometimes don’t know whether the person asking the question is aghast at my presumptuousness at assuming someone might care about the fate of my family, or impressed by what some call my ‘courage’ in telling such a story.

Later in the week, I had the honor of being one of only two filmmakers selected for an extensive interview at Shanghai Television Station SMG. The delightful moderator, who introduced herself as ‘Bella,’ interviewed me for about an hour. The interview will be cut together with excerpts of FORGETTING DAD into a 45-minute portrait, which will be broadcast in a few weeks. (Watch Part I and Part II) It was all kind of surreal how she looked me straight in the eyes and popped one dead serious question after another in Mandarin, and I didn’t have a clue what she was saying. So I just nodded politely, and waited for the translation. Even after a year and a half of giving interviews and answering the same questions over and over again, it’s still sometimes difficult to fight back emotions, especially when the conversation drifts toward my brother Justin. ‘Bella’ was very interested in hearing more about him and his ongoing struggles with heroin, intermittent homelessness, and all the fallout of having to grow up too fast with a father who was more interested in being his play buddy than an adult role model.

Here I am with 'Bella' from Shanghai TV after she grilled me for an hour.

Although I spent an entire week in Shanghai, I never really felt like I got my bearings. The city is big and loud and crazy, and I found it much more difficult to find little charming spots to retreat into for some peace and quiet. I found those places in Hong Kong, Beijing and Macau last December, but didn’t have as much luck here. But I did spend half a day wandering around the Expo, which has some fabulous-looking pavilions. The lines were outrageously long, and I managed to see only the ground floor of the Chinese one from the inside.

I also got to ride the MagLev (Transrapid) to the airport. At peak times of day it travels at speeds of up to 430 km/h (267 mph). But when I was on board, it went ‘only’ 300 km/h (186 mph). Still, it was pretty impressive. It took two minutes to get up to full speed. Then we cruised for four minutes before decelerating for the next two minutes. Such a short ride. It would be fun to try it out over a longer stretch if another one gets built somewhere.

Spent some time at a couple of great bars along the Bund, and wandered among the skyscrapers in Pudong. It felt like I’d stepped into all these photos I’ve seen of the Pearl TV Tower and the Huangpu River.

On my 42nd birthday, I traveled to nearby Hangzhou to see the legendary ‘West Lake’. Unfortunately, it started to rain. So my Israeli filmmaker friends Noa and Rani and I hopped in a motorized rickshaw and cruised along the lake. It definitely looks like a nice place to return to in better weather someday.

I left Shanghai in a luxurious sleeping car with four beds (I was surrounded by women!), where we all had our own TVs. The ride was faster and smoother than any other train I’ve ever been on. When I arrived at the Beijing South Railway Station, I was completely blown away by the vastness of the place. It’s the largest railway station in Asia, and looks more like a monumental airport than a train station.

MORE TO FOLLOW …

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I thought we were merely going to the closing party at the Beijaio Shunde Industrial Design Park, but it turned out to be yet another award ceremony with even more pomp than the night before. Apparently Shunde is the wealthiest region in China and a big supporter of GZDOC. So in between a wild masked man racing about, some talented children performing Cantonese opera, an older musician playing music from famous Chinese films on every imaginable wind instrument, and some lovely dancers fleeting about, we got to go back up on stage to collect the awards once again. This time my son Jakob even had to go up to collect the prize for the American film “Playground” because there were no other US citizens around to do the job besides me, and I already had to make an appearance. Jake wasn’t exactly thrilled about the whole thing, but got up in the limelight for a minute or two.

Once again, I didn’t know what to make of it all. I’d been warned that surprises lurk around every corner in China, and boy is that true. This wasn’t the first award I’ve ever one, but it felt distinctly like a career highlight. I certainly couldn’t imagine being celebrated like this back in the US or Germany.

While I enjoyed the week at GZDOC, I was a bit sad about not getting to see a single film. Most of the screenings were held at cinemas throughout Guangzhou while the industry events all took place at the Chimelong Resort in Panyu – a Las Vegas-styled resort out in the suburbs. I did, however, get to meet quite a few filmmakers and have some good conversations with commissioning editors and other industry bigshots who are normally quite unapproachable at festivals back in the West. So maybe something will become of all this. If nothing else, I’ve had a fantastic trip to a country which defies description. I have a funny feeling this won’t be my last trip to China.

Many, many thanks to festival director Simon Ho and to all the friendly festival workers for making our stay in Guangzhou so pleasant!

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Tonight “Forgetting Dad” won the Jury Grand Prize of the International Competition at GZDOC – the Guangzhou International Documentary Film Festival in China. In the glitziest awards ceremony I’ve ever had the pleasure of partaking in, and the only one in an amusement park, I had the great pleasure of receiving the final and most important prize of the evening while television camera swooned about and flashes lit the sky. What a surreal experience to top off my first week in China! (Watch the video here)


The jury’s decision was unanimous. I was particularly touched by their statement, and how the Asian members were so supportive of the film. I guess it really does strike a universal chord. Here’s what they had to say:

“The film captures a private issue which seems to be restricted to a family. Dad lost his memory because of a car accident. The director takes a step-by-step way to tell a story which is closely related to everyone of us. Everyone has the right to choose their lifestyle. Respecting their choice is respecting ourselves. The film is warm and thought-provoking.”

I don’t think anyone has ever referred to the film as warm before, but as the jury members told me afterwards, they were touched by how I steadfastly refuse to denounce my father and how I go against the audience’s expectations by not confronting him on camera in the end. Clearly they didn’t have a problem with the film’s ambivalence and open end.

The entire week here at GZ DOC has been a blur that I’ll have to write more about once I’ve stopped spinning. But for now, thanks again to my family for all their openness in participating in the film, and thanks to my dedicated crew for their amazing artistic contributions and willingness to stick it out so long until we got the film just right.

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Director Rick Minnich on the red carpet at opening night of the Starz Denver Film FestivalWhen I arrived in Denver from Berlin yesterday afternoon, I didn’t realize I was going to stumble right into the opening ceremony of the film festival. But I stuck it out despite exhaustion, and was mightily impressed by how they sent me down the red carpet (which was actually blue) to a flurry of photographers and TV people who asked me a few questions. Unfortunately, I forgot my camera and couldn’t snap back at them.

The opening screening of “Precious” by Lee Daniels was very moving – not only that the film is incredibly powerful, but the whole presentation at the Eliie Caulkins Opera House in the presence of Daniels and his Denver-based husband and wife producers Gary and Sarah Siegel Magness, was well worth witnessing. I rarely make it over to US festivals, so it was an eye-opener to live through all the flashiness I normally see only on TV.

Gil Whiteley from the Denver Post gave FORGETTING DAD 7 out of 10 stars and called it a “fascinating film.” And my dear niece Jess wrote a really long and moving blog entry about the film and her relationship to her grandfather.

Our first screening is tonight at 9 p.m. at the Starz Film Center. Come one and all!

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