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“Why do farmers farm, given their economic adversities on top of the many frustrations and difficulties normal to farming? And always the answer is: ‘Love. They must do it for love.’”
Wendell Berry
Bringing it to the Table: On Farming and Food

The Biggest Little Farm is an extraordinary film. The documentary directed by John Chester works on many levels but I encourage you to see it a movie theater for cinematography alone.

The photo I’ve had at the top of this blog for the past 11 years is a farm I shot in Iowa while in route to a short film where I was the director of photography. It’s an old barn and silo and one I’ve thought about replacing often, but for some reason I never have.

From 2003 to 2013 I lived in Cedar Falls, Iowa which is surrounded by farms. Soon after I arrived there I had the opportunity to see pigs being born while working on a production at a farm.  Farms are just flat out fascinating to me.

And Chester has tapped into something that will take me a while to process. Perhaps I write about it in more detail after I see it again and learn more about the production. For today, I’ll just relay that it’s an extraordinary film that you should see.

Scott W. Smith  

 

 

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“In the early ’80s Miami was not the place to be.”
Photographer Gary Monroe

Last week I watched the documentary The Last Resort on Netflix and I found it fascinating.  The focus of the documentary is on photographers Andy Sweet and Gary Monroe as Miami Beach transitions from a Jewish retirement haven, to home for Haitian and Cuba immigrants, to the trendy place it is known for today.

One of the reasons The Last Resort interested me is because I was in Miami in the early eighties. After I saw the doc I tracked down a photo I’d taken while I was in film school at the University of Miami that was my version of capturing that era for a photography class. This photo isn’t as good as the work Sweet and Monroe were doing, but hey, I was just 20 years old. (If I recall correctly, this shot was taken at the Hialeah Park Race Track in 1981 or 1982.)

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P.S. The video below on Gary Monroe was produced by Eric Breitenbach of Daytona State College. A talented photographer, filmmaker, and teacher who I met many years ago when I bought one of his photos to put on a set of a project I was directing.

Scott W. Smith

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“***** (5-Stars!) A miracle. Amazing Grace doesn’t have a plot—just a voice touched by God. (An) indispensable gift. Aretha… in all her thrilling glory.”
– Peter Travers, ROLLING STONE

Sometimes these things just line up in the right order. In yesterday’s post I mentioned playing the Judy Collins version of “Amazing Grace” in the hour before my mom took her last breath at the end of a long life. A few minutes ago I learned that the documentary Amazing Grace featuring Aretha Franklin begins playing today at the Enzian Theatre in Maitland, Florida—less than three miles away from where my mother died.

Looking forward to seeing this over the weekend.

Scott W. Smith 

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Unless you’ve been stuck under a avalanche in Colorado the past few days you can’t have missed that Captain Marvel starring Brie Larson opens tonight. Here’s what the IMDB slash page looks as I type this post. But you may have missed that movie has Iowa roots.

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Captain Marvel co-directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck (who also co-wrote the film with Geneva Robertson-Dworet) shot their first narrative indie film Sugar (2008) in Davenport, Iowa. Actually, in the same Quad City area along the Mississippi River that A Quiet Place screenwriters Scott Beck and Bryan Woods first started making films together as youngsters.

And the last feature Boden and Fleck made before Captain Marvel  (Mississippi Grind) actually starts out in Iowa. Though I think for budgetary reasons the entire film (except for insert shots) was shot in Louisiana. No news yet if Captain Marvel makes a stop in Iowa.

Mississippi Grind, starring Ben Mendelsohn and Ryan Reynolds, is one of the best acted films that people never saw. It had a limited release in 2015, but is hopefully finding its lost audience now that it’s on Netflix. But the $130,000 box take (less than Captain Marvel probably spent on orange juice for the crew) made Boden and Fleck question the future of their careers.

Here’s a lightly edited excerpt from an interview that Boden and Fleck did in 2016 on The Moment with Brian Koppelman podcast.

Brian Koppelman: I do sense from you a little discouragement on the state of independent film. I look at your career and I think they’ve been able to make all these movies exactly the way that they’ve wanted to. It’s incredible. It’s the kind of thing that later someone looks back and thinks they’re living a french new wave kind of existence. Of course, living it is hard. You’re making exactly  the movies you want to make with no creative compromises. Yet I can see your frustration—are you frustrated by it?

Anna Boden: I am frustrated by it, but I look back at all the movies that we’ve made and the experience of making them—it took a few years to make Mississippi Grind (our last film) and I was frustrated. I was going home to my husband every night as we were trying to get that movie off the ground [and] I was like I can’t do this—this is my least favorite part of filmmaking. And I was complaining to all my friends about it—maybe I should open a B&B in Hudson Valley. And then we got down to New Orleans and started prep and I felt so happy. I felt so exactly where I wanted to be, doing exactly what I wanted to be doing. So confident in what we were doing and the people we’d chosen to work with. And in those moments that it’s worth it. But then you finish and then you spend a year releasing it, and then nine people see it. And then you have to start raising money for your next project. And it’s in those lulls that you start wondering, “Is it really worth it?”

In that lull between releasing Mississippi Grind and beginning to work on Captain Marvel, Boden and Fleck directed three episodes of Koppelman’s Showtime series Billions in 2016 and 2017.

Scott W. Smith

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Netflix released Steven Soderbergh‘s new movie High Flying Bird today and I actually watched it this morning before work. One of the remarkable things about the film is it was shot on an Apple iPhone 8, with the FiLMiC pro app and Moondog Labs lenses.

It’ll take me some time to process the film, but it’s a little bit Jerry MaguireHoop Dreams meets Moneyball North Dallas Forty. Add a dash of Willie Morris’ book The Courting of Marcus Dupree, the Ken Burns documentary Baseball and Spike Lee themes and the movie—to borrow Marvin Gaye’s enduring song— asks the question “What’s Going On?”

What’s going on in the NBA? What’s going on in professional sports?

It would appear that the movie, written by Tarell Alvin McCraney, aims at ruffling feathers. We’ll see how that plays out. It’ll be interesting to see if LeBron James and other current NBA stars comment on the movie. It may even be more interesting what college basketball stars take away from the film, and what college economics professors have to add to the discussion.

But for now, let’s stick with Soderbergh’s role as a disruptor in the film business. He had a healthy enough budget ($1.5 million-ish) to shoot with Arri or RED high-end cameras but chose the iPhone partly because of how fast he could shoot with it. High Flying Bird was shot in 13 days with Soderbergh operating camera and directing, and a first cut was finished on a laptop with Adobe Premiere just hours after shooting wrapped.

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I watched High Flying Bird on an iPhone and it looked great. I’m not sure what it looks like on larger screens, but my guess is most watching won’t notice. But imagine what will happen in the near future when mobile phones have larger sensors to improve the image even more?

And even though technical people who only focus some problems inherent to shooting on an iPhone, may be missing the disruptive message of the movie matching the Soderbergh’s choice to shoot with an iPhone.

Scott W. Smith

 

 

 

 

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If you haven’t seen the documentary Searching for Sugar Man yet check it out on Netflix this weekend. The 2012 film won the Oscar and the BAFTA for Best Documentary, and the Sundance Special Jury Prize and the Audience Award for best international documentary.  Among winning many other awards the film’s writer/director/editor Malik Bendjelloul also won Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Documentary from the DGA.

For whatever reason, I missed it when it first came out and had the benefit of not knowing (or remembering) the backstory on the film. It made for a great movie-watching experience. So if you haven’t seen it, don’t even watch the trailer below or read anything else about it—just experience it.

Scott W. Smith

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John Carpenter had only shot and scored two semi-obscure features when the executive producer Irwin Yablans came to him with a proposal: make a low-budget movie about babysitters being murdered. ‘It was a horrible idea,’ Mr. Carpenter said in a recent telephone interview. “But I wanted to make more movies, so I said, ‘Great!’ . . . My job, plain and simple, was to scare the audience. It didn’t need to be anything more than that. The movie was a thrill ride.”
‘Halloween’ at 40 by Bruce Fretts/NY Times

That little $300,000 film that John Carpenter wrote and directed was released in 1978 and is still being talked about today.

And one of the people talking about it is the Jamie Lee Curtis; “It’s the greatest experience I’ve ever had professionally. It gave me everything in my creative life.” And that includes a chance to star in the latest version of Halloween. 

Scott W. Smith

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