The Minneapolis-St. Paul International Film Festival
Filmmaker Kevin Schreck says time was running out to document the history of The Thief and the Cobbler from key participants
courtesy of Kevin Schreck
When Minnesota-born and -raised filmmaker Kevin Schreck began making The Persistence of Vision, his documentary debut, he knew it was unlikely that the main subject of his film, legendary animator Richard Williams, would talk to him.
In the two decades since Williams's magnum opus, the animated feature The Thief and the Cobbler, had been pulled out of his hands, finished by an outside company, and released to the sound of crickets, the filmmaker hadn't spoken about the project to anyone.
Still, Schreck was in London filming interviews, and he reached out to the animator one more time.
"Intellectually, I knew he would say no. But when he did, it was the first time that it hit me emotionally. I felt like a parasite," Schreck says. "I said to my line producer that we should stop the project. She told me that I knew he would say no, and [his story] was worth telling — an amazing lost chapter not just in animation but in filmmaking."
The striking documentary traces the decades-long journey Williams took while making his animated film. Schreck uses a mixture of archival footage from the studio, interviews with animators and others involved in the long process, and scenes from The Thief and the Cobbler to craft a portrait of a complex and driven artist who was among the last old-school animators.
The Persistence of Vision will be shown at the Minneapolis St. Paul International Film Festival on Friday, April 19, along with a selection of Minnesota-made animated shorts. Schreck, who now lives in Brooklyn, will be in town for a Q&A with the audience following the screening.
The filmmaker learned about The Thief and the Cobbler while in college. "A friend sent me a link to this lost masterpiece of animation, and it caught my attention," he says.
That link led to the "recobbled" fan edition of the film, which used a variety of sources to present the film in its intended form. It's stunning work, loaded with dazzling animation, largely silent main characters, and a visual aesthetic far from the Hollywood norm.
"The approach of it was very refreshing," Schreck says. "It was not a trendy animated movie with songs and pop-culture references. The art of animation itself was the focal point. It looked interesting and sounded interesting. I couldn't help but learn more about it. The more I learned about what happened behind the scenes, the more I became intrigued."
Williams began making The Thief and the Cobbler in the 1960s and continued to work on it for nearly 30 years, while building up his own animation studio. Along the way, he created plenty of commercial work, film title sequences, and several high-profile short films (including the Academy Award-winning A Christmas Carol).
The seeming break came when Williams's studio did the animation for Who Framed Roger Rabbit, released in 1988. It raised Williams's profile in Hollywood, allowing him to get a deal to complete The Thief and the Cobbler. However, his studio's slow and methodical approach ran afoul of the budget. When Warner Bros. pulled out, the incomplete film was taken away from the studio by the completion bond company and given to another producer to finish. While the finished piece retains much of Williams's work, it also includes dialogue for previously mute characters, several banal songs, and an animation style that does little to match the original vision.
"I thought it would make a great story for a documentary but thought it would be years down the road. I couldn't help but research it, and as I got in touch with people, I thought, 'Why don't I make this project?'" Schreck says.
The clock was also ticking to tell the story. The history of Williams's film stretches back half a century, and the surviving key players are aging. "Memories fade and people pass away. Time was running out," Schreck says.
Schreck was able to track down plenty of potential interview subjects, and he found the funding for a two-week shoot in London. Not only was he able to get a picture of what working on The Thief and the Cobbler and in Williams's studio was like, Schreck also found a treasure trove of material.
"There were about two hours of animation that had been transferred from tapes and were buried in archives. No one had seem them in two decades, and some of them dated from the '60s, the early days of the project," Schreck says.
All those pieces gave Schreck a full portrait of Williams, as an artist, a boss, and a colleague. The film includes plenty of footage from The Thief and the Cobbler — adhering to fair-use copyright laws throughout — along with moments from other animated shorts and from documentaries and other filmed events that show the studio in action.
"One thing that everyone had in common was that being at Richard Williams's studio was the most formative and informative jobs in their career. I think it was an animators' boot camp in a way," Schreck says.
In fact, while Williams has retired from animation, he still teaches. He also published a seminal instruction guide, The Animator's Survival Kit, in 2002.
"Animation is such a young art form, and he is one of the last living legends of animation," Schreck says. "I love animation and filmmaking, but what has held my interest for the last six years — and what has held people's attention — is this fascinating person."
The film has received a slow rollout at film festivals over the past year. Schreck, who now works for a documentary film company in New York City, is thrilled that it is now being screened in his home state.
"Every step of the way has been surreal," Schreck says. "I really love this kind of homecoming. I love being and working in New York, but it is a huge honor to have this play in my hometown."
THE PERSISTENCE OF VISION screens Friday, April 19, at 6:30 p.m. at St. Anthony Main Theatre.
Tuesday, April 16, at 4:30 p.m.
Sunday, April 21, at 9:35 p.m.
The title of this Senegalese production refers to the type of oversized dinghy used by refugees from various African countries to sail illegally up the Atlantic to Spain. Director Moussa Touré presents a harrowing, believable picture of what can befall these perilous voyages, which have, in the past 10 years, killed almost half of those brave enough to take them. Baye Laye (Souleymane Seye Ndiaye), an experienced navigator from a seaside village, is reluctantly recruited by his brother and 28 other people to steer a motorized pirogue to Spain. Over seven days, the men (and one woman stowaway) are challenged by torrential storms, motor breakdowns, other survivors of stranded pirogues, thirst, hunger, and, inevitably, one another. They also must come to terms with their cultural and language differences, as well as the suspicious "travel agent" who is crammed in the boat with them. It's a very good movie that is only marred by a rushed, choppy conclusion. —John Ervin
Caesar Must Die
Saturday, April 20, at 7:15 p.m.
Sunday, April 28, at 6:45 p.m.
There's something enthrallingly old-fashioned about Caesar Must Die, an artistically ambitious spin on Shakespeare that harkens back to the various European New Waves of the '60s and '70s. That's appropriate, given that directors Paolo and Vittorio Taviani have been making movies together for five decades. Those years of experience show, as their confident handling of the film's simple concept — Roman prison inmates stage a production of Julius Caesar — yields a surprisingly complex exploration of art and identity. By casting a scripted, documentary-style film with real-life convicts, the Tavianis grant themselves license to play with our conception of reality. Shakespearean drama bleeds into the prisoners' personal conflicts. Actors find it difficult to step out of their roles once they've returned to their cells. Inmates pause their line readings to marvel at the play's parallels to modern-day Roman life. And behind it all, the drama of Brutus and Caesar unfolds in a stirring testament to the timeless power of Shakespeare. —Ira Brooker
Papadopoulos and Sons
Thursday, April 25, at 4:30 p.m.
Sunday, April 28, at 9:30 p.m.
British comedy has a way of being smarter, darker, sadder, and ultimately funnier than our own domestic products. Marcus Markou's first feature proves this, even if it is to a limited degree, drawing out the natural charisma of his characters with a witty script. Harry Papadopoulos, played by the impeccable Stephen Dillane, is a self-made man who lives a lavish life with his three kids thanks to his successful packaged Greek food business. On the eve of breaking ground on his next big investment, Papadopoulos Plaza, the market tanks and Harry loses everything. Wrestling with his pride and acquired status as a stuffed shirt, Harry has little choice but to partner with his estranged unorthodox older brother, Spiros, to resurrect their hole-in-the-wall fish-and-chips shop where he got his start. There is a fair amount of schmaltz to be had in Papadopoulos and Sons, mostly in the form of Harry discovering what is important and redefining his personal idea of success. But all is forgiven with this film's simple charms, which will have you dancing the kalamatiano right out of the theater. —Kathie Smith
The Virgin, the Copts and Me
Wednesday, April 24, at 4 p.m.
Thursday, April 25, at 4 p.m.
An old videotape of a miraculous sighting paves the way for self-discovery in Namir Abdel Messeeh's compelling documentary. After viewing an old video recording of a religious service in his Egyptian hometown in which his mother claims to have seen an image of the Virgin Mary, Messeeh thinks he may have the right subject for a film. He travels to Egypt to chronicle tales of miraculous sightings in the Coptic community. But as real-life issues clash against the Egyptian minority, Messeeh's producers suggest he change the tone of the film. Messeeh does change the film's focus — to his own family, not a wide-ranging religious struggle. And when his producers lose their interest, it is Messeeh's own mother who saves the day. Her journey from reluctance and shame of her impoverished roots to enlightenment is touching, and her often contentious relationship with her son forms the backbone of the film. Messeeh's film explores a tight-knit community with refreshing intimacy, and the characters we find there are effortlessly charming and human. It may not be the film its financers were expecting, full of strife and hardships. Instead, it's a warm and affecting look into one man's family and the joys they share. —Andrew Newman
Monday, April 15, at 9:10 p.m.
Thursday, April 18, at 4:30 p.m.
A charming, involving first feature, Clandestine Childhood muscles its familiar coming-of-age material into something more vibrant and urgent than the usual. Through sharp editing and director Benjamín Ávila's moment-making brio, this '70s period piece charts a young boy's attempts to carve out something like a childhood despite being the son of wanted revolutionaries in the Argentina of General Jorge Rafael Videla, whose brutal government "disappeared" millions just like them. The film is obliged, then, to counterpoint its scenes of pubescent flowering, all delicate and affecting, with those of police-state paranoia: adults overheard in fierce consultations, a cold panic settling in when sirens sound in the street. So when Juan, the young lead played with wounded boyishness by Teo Gutiérrez Romero, is greeted by his teacher and schoolmates with a cheery "Happy birthday," he's even more mixed up about the attention than most kids would be. After all, he's pretending to be named Ernesto, and he has never looked at Ernesto's fake documents closely enough to know his birthdate. His family's enemy-of-the-state reality intrudes again and again on his growing up, most affectingly when the intensity of the first bleeds into the second, inspiring Juan to push too hard with a crush that he might not have time to let play out. Also commendable: Ávila's cutting to harsh, garish illustrations the few times the film gets violent. This fresh technique has an impact de rigueur movie mayhem has lost. —Alan Scherstuhl
Saturday, April 13, at 8 p.m.
Sunday, April 21, at 9 p.m.
Canadian director Xavier Dolan's 2012 film may be a love story, but it's anything but typical. After picking up the annual Queer Palm at the Cannes Film Festival, it has garnered acclaim as a poignant drama about one man's journey to live his life as the woman he was meant to be. What gives this film such lift is the relationship between Laurence (Melvil Poupad) and Fred (Suzanne Clément) as they navigate the transition, reveling in such firsts as wearing a dress on the job and then realizing that a personal celebration of identity does not always lead to broader acceptance — whether at work, in the streets, or even among family. The film takes a brash approach, with Clément giving her character a fantastic depth. She is a loving partner to Laurence, but she recognizes there's a personal toll, one that troubles her normally outgoing spirit. And Poupad embodies all the inner turmoil that comes from such a transformation. He is true to his characters' every sensibility — and for this reason Laurence Anyways is a film that rings with authenticity. This is the memorable story of a journey that for many comes with great rewards and great costs. —Caroline Palmer
We Women Warriors
Sunday, April 21, at noon
Monday, April 22, at 6:55 p.m.
Weaving provides a metaphor for the inextricable bond between Colombia's indigenous people and their land and culture — and between single mothers widowed by regional conflict — in Nicole Karsin's assured documentary. The story concerns three female activists working to help their countrymen and traditions survive amid ceaseless war between guerrilla rebels and government forces. Although hailing from different parts of Colombia, Doris, Ludis, and Flor Ilva face their homeland's bloodbaths by assuming tribal leadership posts. Each advocates the peaceful expulsion from their villages of armed gangs, whose violence is funded by a cocaine trade that, through its use of coca leaves, is predicated on exploitation of the environment. The director's cinematography can be rough and ungainly, but it provides sterling glimpses of both family intimacy and its larger social context — in which caring for children and protecting the land are equated as analogous endeavors — as well as of bombing and intimidation by thuggish insurgents and paramilitary groups. Meanwhile, through Ludis's young son, Albeiro, heartbreakingly weeping to the camera over his father's murder and later confessing his desire to avenge that crime by joining the rebels, Karsin's intimate film captures a stinging sense of civil war's true cost. —Nick Schager
Tuesday, April 16, at 5 p.m.
Friday, April 19, 2:15 p.m.
For a good part of its run time, Eden looks like the long-overdue American feature film that will handle the sex slave trade with the seriousness it deserves. Playing a bit like a less exploitive counterpoint to Michael Ritchie's grimy '70s classic Prime Cut, Megan Griffiths's drama follows a teenage girl (Jamie Chung) kidnapped from a bar and imprisoned in a desert gulag that provides underage prostitutes to a domestic and international clientele. Eden is at its strongest when it depicts the grim day-to-day of the girls' existence, a grind that forces Chung to morph quickly from horrified victim to numb survivor to vicious opportunist. The film sags as its final third takes an inevitable turn toward action-movie heroics, but at least Chung's steely lead performance puts a more human face on the issue than an ass-kicking Liam Neeson rescuing damsels in distress. —Ira Brooker
Sunday, April 21, at 12:30 p.m.
Friday, April 26, at 5 p.m.
Love him or hate him, Ed Koch was New York in the 1980s, and Koch's bio account of his mayoral tenure offers almost equal measures of celebration and censure. Director Neil Barsky's film never shies away from Koch's controversies, exploring his third term's devastating corruption scandal and giving voice to critics who viewed him as, among other things, a racist (thanks to his closing of Harlem's Sydenham Hospital), a hypocritical homophobe (courtesy of persistent rumors of his gayness and his administration's slow response to the AIDS crisis), and an opportunist. Still, Koch also finds time to flirt with hagiography. In copious archival clips and contemporary footage with family, campaigning for others, and having the Queensboro Bridge named after him, Koch is presented as a no-nonsense loudmouth whose love of New York was matched only by his love of attention. The film has to skim — less a failing of Barsky's than a testament to Koch's involvement in so many pressing social and economic issues, including his landmark housing-reform work and his response to the murder of Yusef Hawkins. Still, if unlikely to change anyone's mind about its subject, the film is an effective primer on a voluble and charismatic mayor who embodied the spirit of the city he loved. —Nick Schager
Monday, April 22, at 9:30 p.m.
Friday, April 26, at 1 p.m.
Broken is utterly depressing — but like many such films, utterly compelling. Eloise Lawrence (in an incredible performance) stars as Skunk, a diabetic 11-year-old girl whose home, which she shares with her father, brother, and housekeeper, lies within a circle not unlike one of those nine Dante made famous. Things are sparked by the physical brutality of neighbor Mr. Oswald (Rory Kinnear), a widowed father of three girls, two of whom victimize Skunk at school and the third of whom falsely accuses men of impregnating her. One of her victims — and a punching bag for her monstrous father — is a demented adult man (Robert Emms) who lives with his parents and on whom Skunk takes pity. Relief from the tumult is found in a nearby junkyard, where Skunk goes wandering with her brother and boyfriend. Of course, she inevitably has to go back to that circle each night. Director Rufus Norris and screenwriter Mark O'Rowe have crafted a tight and moving coming-of-age story that even finds some humor amid all the pain. Tim Roth, as Skunk's sympathetic father, and Cillian Murphy, as one of her teachers, not only bring star familiarity but also some sense of normalcy in an otherwise abnormal world. —John Ervin
In the Fog
Wednesday, April 17, at 6:45 p.m.
Tuesday, April 23, at 4:30 p.m.
While we mainly remember the battlefields from World War II, the conflict stretched into every corner of Europe. In an isolated hunk of the Soviet Union, the battle rages on quietly throughout In the Fog, Sergei Loznitsa's meditative exploration of the far-reaching terror wrought by the war. A local resident, Sushenya (Vladimir Svirskiy), finds himself caught between the occupying forces and the local resistance after he is jailed and then freed following an attempt to sabotage the local railway. Though always an upstanding local, Sushenya is suspected of collaboration, and two of the partisans are sent to execute him. The attempt fails when the occupying forces, many of them locals who have gone to the side of the Nazis, arrive. For the balance of the film, we see the trio attempt to survive in the deep woods, while flashing back to what actually happened at the police station. Employing a steady pace and a string of subtle performances from the cast, In the Fog reminds us that the breakdown of order is often just a step away, and it is hard to predict which side anyone will come down on when that moment comes. —Ed Huyck
The Color of the Chameleon
Saturday, April 20, at 9:45 p.m.
Wednesday, April 24, at 9:15 p.m.
The chameleon is Batko, a strange young man living in Bulgaria at the tail end of communist rule in Emil Hristow's dense, dark comedy. A liar by nature, he fits in well with the secretive society and relishes the chance to become a spy on the intellectuals of the late 1980s. He is so enamored of the lies, in fact, that after being dismissed from the secret service, Batko branches out on his own, creating a mysterious Ministry of Sex. And then it starts to get weird. Playing with spy motifs, scenes from Casablanca, and an ever-present sense of paranoia, The Color of the Chameleon is best in its first half. As communism falls and the intellectuals who once spied for our man become leaders of the new regime, his plots take on a different purpose. It becomes a mess by the end, but the film is engaging throughout. —Ed Huyck
Tuesday, April 16, at 9:45 p.m.
Saturday, April 20, at 11 a.m.
Director Karen Shakhnazarov explores the very nature of war in this mystical World War II film. In the final push to Berlin, the Soviet tank lines are being destroyed by a mysterious tank, nicknamed the "White Tiger," which seems to arrive and disappear at will. The Soviets craft their own experimental tank and put their own mystery in charge — an enigmatic tank gunner named Ivan who recovered from being burned over 90 percent of his body. He has no memories of his past life, no one to identify or claim him. All Ivan knows is how to run a tank — and how to find the elusive White Tiger. Everyone else thinks he's mad — Ivan will sit on the battlefield and pray to the tank god, after all — but he is the only one who seems able to match wits with the mysterious German tank. The mystical side never becomes hokey, and the realities of tank combat are clearly brought to life. Aleksey Vertkov is a bit of a blank slate as Ivan, but the character is supposed to be a cipher. —Ed Huyck
Bells of Happiness
Friday, April 12, at 2:15 p.m.
Thursday, April 25, at 6 p.m.
The lure and glamor of stardom is on full display in Jana Bucka and Marek Sulik's documentary Bells of Happiness. Mariena and Roman are two cousins living in a small Roma community in eastern Slovakia. She is preparing to give birth; he spends days sifting through the junkyard. They are united by their love for singers Karel Gott and Dara Rollins; they scour magazines looking for stories and gather the family around the television to watch them sing. Inspired to reach out, the cousins begin recording video messages to their idols. They even record a cover of Gott and Rollins's song "Bells of Happiness" and film a makeshift music video spotlighting their community. They would rather express their adoration than dwell on their daily hardships, which makes the glimpses into their struggles all the more affecting. Bucka and Sulik deftly balance video messages and behind-the-scenes footage of the music video with financial challenges and struggles with the neighbors. Idolizing celebrities is hardly new ground for audiences anywhere, but this is a lot more sincere than the adorations of Beliebers or Twihards. Their love becomes a goal, a meeting to strive for. For Mariena and Roman, the music and glamour is their escape from daily life. And in that, their story is universal. —Andrew Newman
Tuesday, April 23, at 5:15 p.m.
Sunday, April 28, at 3:45 p.m.
This 2012 Finnish film from director Katja Gauriloff traces the international processing effort behind creating a can of ravioli. It's fascinating and horrific. Eight countries are involved — Brazil (metal), Denmark (pork), Portugal (tomatoes), Poland (beef), France (eggs and factory production), Ukraine (wheat), Italy (olive oil), and Romania (pork) — before the product ends up in one of Finland's grocery stores. Gauriloff interweaves her documentation with the personal stories of workers in each location, and while individual experiences differ, each holds in common hopes and missed opportunities. Gauriloff allows the lens to linger on the worn faces of her subjects and observes them over the course of a day on the job. This is an intentionally jarring film. Specifically, austere spaces with workers clothed in white are splattered with the blood of the animals slaughtered with mechanical efficiency. It's difficult to watch the streamlining of death, and not all viewers will be able to witness these scenes. But as a commentary on the impact of globalization on food sources, Canned Dreams is quite masterful. Gauriloff's perspective is necessary and bold. Expect loss of appetite by the time the credits roll. —Caroline Palmer
Eddie: The Sleeping Cannibal
Friday, April 12, at 11:30 p.m.
Wednesday, April 24, at 10 p.m.
Carnage breeds creativity for Lars (Keep the Lights On's Thure Lindhardt), a former up-and-coming painter who finds himself back at the easel after relocating to teach at a remote, snowbound art school, where he befriends a mute flesh-eater. Eddie's (Dylan Scott Smith) nocturnal dining on animals and humans is the spark that reignites Lars's moribund career. Writer-director Boris Rodriguez's satire about artistic inspiration posits Eddie's carnivorous behavior as a catalyst for awakening the deep, dark urges lurking inside Lars, whose arrival in town is marked by his running over a deer and then (to end its misery, or so he says) bludgeoning it to death with a rock. Lars's new works earn money for the down-on-its-luck school, but the duo's twisted relationship — Lars cares for Eddie, while also bringing him to victims and covering up his crimes — is soon complicated by Lars's romance with a fellow teacher (Georgina Reilly) and the suspicions of a local cop (Paul Braunstein). But it's Stephen McHattie's greedy agent — and a final note in which Eddie becomes muse to another — that hammers home the film's depiction of the art world as fueled by rapacious, kill-or-be-killed bloodlust. —Nick Schager
Finnish Blood, Swedish Heart
Thursday, April 18, at 7:15 p.m.
Saturday, April 20, at 1 p.m.
Part road movie, part music video, this documentary dives headfirst into the very personal epigram of Finnish immigration into Sweden and emerges with a surprisingly unique distillation of a father-son relationship. Kai Latvalehto is a middle-aged member of Finnish rock group Aknestik, who has made a living on a certain amount of Finnish fist pumping. But having spent the majority of his youth in Sweden, he feels torn between the two cultures. Searching for his roots, or at least some answers to his restlessness, Kai sets out on a journey with his father to Gothenberg, Sweden. The film is shot with disarming intimacy, and director Mika Ronkainen supplements the action with songs that speak to the themes of the film, performed by bands in ambient roadside settings. The topics cultivated in Finnish Blood, Swedish Heart are most certainly specialized to a fault for international audiences, but the unflappable sincerity of this father-son road therapy is as universal as it gets. —Kathie Smith
Friday, April 26, at 2:45 p.m.
Sunday, April 28, at 9:20 p.m.
Electrick Children casts Julia Garner as a guileless teen who flees her parents' fundamentalist Christian sect and heads to Las Vegas because she believes God has impregnated her via a cassette tape of "Hanging on the Telephone." (Who knew the power in "power pop" was divine?) When you're dealing with that level of quirk, there's a fine line between charming and unbearable. Fortunately, director Rebecca Thomas keeps on the right side of that line, crafting an odd, amiable, teen-friendly story that recalls the adventurous spirit of the '90s indie film boom. Garner provides a sturdy anchor, capturing a difficult blend of boldness and naiveté that elevates the film's occasional slips into predictability and helps sell its magical realist flourishes. The beautifully shot landscapes of Utah and Nevada provide an appropriately ethereal backdrop to a story that's not afraid to ask its audience to take some leaps of faith. In a jaded era of entertainment, it's refreshing to see a film that believes in — even depends on — miracles. —Ira Brooker
Thursday, April 18, at 4:45 p.m.
Sunday, April 28, at 2:10 p.m.
It's a peculiar experience to watch inventive storytelling in service of a conventional story. Director Umut Dag's debut feature won't surprise viewers with its plot twists, at least not to the degree it wants to, but Dag unreels the narrative with enough creativity to make it worth sticking out. Kuma follows a naive young Turkish girl who marries into a close-knit Turkish-Austrian family, ostensibly as a replacement for the cancer-stricken matriarch. Although the familial and cultural clashes that unfold are largely the stuff of well-worn melodrama, strong acting from the mostly female cast helps the clichés go down more easily. Begüm Akkaya as the soft-spoken new bride and Nihal G. Koldas as the ailing mother are particular standouts, crafting a quiet, believable, cross-generational dialogue that's more engaging than most of Kuma's noisier plot points. There's a worthwhile story and a talented teller at work here, but somehow the two never quite come together. —Ira Brooker
Violeta Went to Heaven
Saturday, April 13, at 9:45 p.m.
Monday, April 15, at 9:20 p.m.
Violeta Went to Heaven is a strange but intriguing bio-pic of a strange but intriguing musician. The film follows the life and career of Violeta Parra, a Chilean folk singer and poet who enjoyed some modest international acclaim in the 1950s and '60s. It moves back and forth in time between several key periods, among them Parra's horrible childhood following her hard-drinking, teacher-guitarist father; her early adulthood as a street musician and traveling actor; and later on when she becomes a darling of the Communist Party in Chile and Europe. A TV interview on a Chilean chat show in the early '60s links the disparate pieces of her life. As portrayed by Francisca Gavilán, the adult Parra comes across as a determined activist and singer who is not intimidated by stifling religious conservatism and male chauvinism. But she also displays selfishness toward the three small children she and her husband attempt to raise on what little money they have (Communist folk singers never made rock-star salaries). Director Andrés Wood presents the puzzle that was Violeta's life in an effective, low-key way without falling into the heavy-handed theatrics of so many portraits of real-life figures. This feature is not for all tastes, but it's definitely worth seeing for those interested in an artist who was important to one part of the world, while remaining virtually unknown to the rest of it. —John Ervin
Children of Sarajevo
Tuesday, April 23, at 9:55 p.m.
Saturday, April 27, at 3 p.m.
The Bosnian war of the 1990s haunts Aida Begic's film, which centers on a young woman, Rahima, trying to make a life for herself and her younger brother, Nedim, in modern-day Sarajevo. As a Muslim woman, Rahima feels the not-so-hidden divisions that broke the country apart, while her brother is slipping away — skipping school and getting into fights with a local bully. Rahima tries to do the best she can for herself and her brother, but the pressure of everyday life is grinding her down. Begic's film pulls no punches as it watches the ongoing troubles of the characters, from Rahima's issues at the restaurant where she works long hours to Nedim's descent into petty thuggery. The film's spare direction, which employs many long, handheld shots, reduces the world to rundown buildings, foggy streets, and occasional glimpses of the high life of the ruling class. Still, even amid the misery, there are slight rays of hope — primarily ones that come from family and friends. —Ed Huyck
Thursday, April 18, at 5 p.m.
Sunday, April 21, at 5:10 p.m.
Jamie Meltzer's new documentary attempts to shed light on political-activist-turned-FBI-informant Brandon Darby, a subject who is likely to raise heated debate. The film chronicles Darby's journey from activist in post-Katrina New Orleans, where he played a major role in rebuilding stricken communities, to the 2008 Republican National Convention in St. Paul, where his involvement with the FBI led to the arrest of two protestors. The film starts straightforwardly enough: A prologue from Darby himself leads one to think this will be a vindication of sorts. But as Meltzer splices in words from Darby's former associates and lets the cameras roll on Darby himself, we become aware of the activist's manipulative personality. Darby tries to create a vision of himself — deeply passionate about his causes and doing the greater good — but the evidence points the other way. His former friends deride his ego and opportunism, and Darby does nothing to help himself. He sips from his FBI mug, proudly displays a thank-you note from two agents, and even plays himself in dramatic re-creations. But when it comes time to explain his reasons for helping the government he previously derided, he remains quiet. Meltzer admirably takes the middle ground by presenting both sides of the story as clearly as possible, though his subject's own testimony may be more harmful than helpful. In the end, Darby's attempt to clear his name may muddy the picture even more. —Andrew Newman
The Deflowering of Eva van End
Wednesday, April 24, at 9:35 p.m.
Saturday, April 27, at 9:20 p.m.
Michael ten Horn's 2012 film tells the story of a quirky Dutch family playing host to a German exchange student who is too perfect. Eva (Vivian Dierickx) goes mostly unnoticed at home, but her parents and brothers start to pay attention with the arrival of blond-haired and beatific Veit (Rafael Gareisen). Soon everyone is engaged in doing something personally unexpected and life-changing, whether it's questioning sexual preference, seeking out inner bliss, sending money abroad through a dubious charity scheme, standing up to a bully, or coming of age. Ten Horn clearly owes a debt to Todd Solondz, Wes Anderson, and Pedro Almodovar, not to mention Jared Hess of Napoleon Dynamite fame, all directors known for creating and delving into characters whose lives are anything but typical. Much of Deflowering succeeds because the family is so completely and entertainingly flummoxed by Veit's presence, but the film is inconsistent. Some of the attempts at humor fall flat, and an undercurrent of viciousness goes only partially explored. It's as if ten Horn figured he could get by on quirkiness alone, which is hardly ever the case in even the most dysfunctional of family units, let alone films about them. —Caroline Palmer
Multiple Visions (The Crazy Machine)
Friday, April 19, at 9:50 p.m.
Saturday, April 20, at 3:45 p.m.
Mexico's Gabriel Figueroa is among the most revered directors of photography in film history. The late cinematographer (1907-97) worked in the media of light and shadow, specifically black-and-white film, with unprecedented skill. In this 2012 effort, director Emilio Maillé celebrates Figueroa in ways the artist might have appreciated the most — through compelling selections from his work and passionate interviews with colleagues and acolytes, all transformed by the range of visual subtleties available to directors of photography, thanks in significant part to Figueroa, whose work included collaborations with auteur giants like Luis Buñuel. This is a gem of a documentary for film buffs, but it will also appeal to other creative spirits who value the hard work and eye for perfection that goes into producing beautiful and timeless onscreen imagery. Viewers will learn more about cinematography than they can imagine in this enlightening feature about one man's impact on an entire genre of filmmaking. —Caroline Palmer
Sunday, April 14, at 4:45 p.m.
Friday, April 19, at 4:20 p.m.
Dark, brooding, and sensual, Alice Winocour's tempest of gender-driven psychoanalytic power structures in late 19th-century France is a good counterpoint to David Cronenberg's A Dangerous Method. Based on renowned neurologist Jean-Martin Charcot (Vincent Lindon) and one of his patients diagnosed with "hysteria," Augustine carefully scrutinizes the progressive doctor's good intentions against his objectified and eroticized cache of female subjects. Augustine (played by French singer Soko) is a 19-year-old servant whose untimely seizure in front of guests lands her in a clinic, where her symptoms make her the star case for a star physician. Dr. Charcot's ambition in his field churns Augustine's desire for a cure into something of a romance, bound to fail on an analytical basis. Winocour, who had a hand in the script for Ursula Meier's stunning 2008 film Home, opens her debut film with an apt visual metaphor showing a crab attempting to escape a boiling pot of water. The creature probably never had a chance. —Kathie Smith
Monday, April 15, at 9:30 p.m.
Saturday, April 27, at 5 p.m.
Cranked up on an impressive amount of style, Finland's entry for Best Foreign Language Oscar draws parallel narrative lines across generations and between misogynistic compulsions of Estonia's past and present. Young Zana escapes from indentured prostitution, finding refuge, at least temporarily, with a hermitic, ax-wielding woman named Aliide. Through a series of flashbacks and revelatory conversations, their familial connections float to the surface, as do their analogous exploitations: Zana at the hands of human traffickers and Aliide under the tyranny of occupying Stalinist forces during WWII. But Aliide holds a darker secret of callow jealousy and betrayal warped and perverted by the oppression of war. Purge feels born of a gritty mold made successful by Niels Arden Oplev's original The Girl With the Dragoon Tattoo while unnecessarily matching its depictions of savage sexual violence. Director Antti Jokinen is efficient in melding this multilayered story but unfortunately treads water between making a white-knuckled thriller and an engaging historical drama, lacking the emotional catch and release that goes along with such taut subject matter. —Kathie Smith
Friday, April 12, at 2 p.m.
Sunday, April 14, at 9:40 p.m.
The title implies either a story about a giant fish or the end of the world. Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Véréna Paravel's documentary on the fishing industry is a mixture of both. Set aboard a fishing boat off the coast of New Bedford, Massachusetts, the film drops the audience into the grinding, groaning gears and crashing waves of a late-night fishing expedition. The intensity doesn't let up during the daytime, as we get a clearer look at the workers and their labor. The filmmakers focus on the mundane, moment-to-moment existence, sometimes lingering for minutes on end on a seagull looking for dinner amid the fish guts or the sad-eyed pilot staring intently at the blustering sea. It's like an episode of The World's Suckiest Jobs, except there are no comments from the workers to break up the experience. Instead, it is a parade of cut-off fish heads and decks awash in blood to illustrate this water-borne abattoir. By the end, the relentless shots of fish guts on a waterlogged deck become too much, leaving the viewer more bored than engaged. —Ed Huyck
Friday, April 19, at 11:45 p.m.
Thursday, April 25, at 10 p.m.
The worm-ridden apple doesn't fall far from the gnarled Cronenberg tree. Brandon Cronenberg, son of horror auteur David, makes his debut with a film that could easily be mistaken for a work from his father. It's the kind of movie in which the revelation that people are eagerly dining on meat grown from the cells of celebrities is far from the most upsetting and horrifying moment. We go on a journey with Syd (Caled Landry Jones, Banshee in X-Men: First Class), a young employee of a clinic that doses clients in diseases culled from their favorite stars. He is also playing on the black market, hacking into the copyright-protected viruses and selling the cracked code for general consumption. Behind-the-scenes machinations catch up with Syd after he illegally doses himself with a brutal disease caught by Hannah Geist (Sarah Gadon). The lingering still shots bring to mind both the work of Cronenberg's father and of Stanley Kubrick. The stiff, disengaged acting also brings Kubrick to mind. Jones's intense, disease-addled performance stands out from the sharp corners and gray skies that dominate the film. —Ed Huyck
Everybody Has a Plan
Friday, April 19, at 4 p.m.
Sunday, April 21, at 9:25 p.m.
An identity crisis is at the heart of Everybody Has a Plan — but it's the film's. Even Viggo Mortensen's movingly enigmatic performance as identical twins can't help first-time Argentinean director Ana Piterbarg decide whether the film is an existential tone poem or a brutish thriller. Set mainly in the scarifying, swampy area of the Tigre Delta, the movie opens in nearby Buenos Aires, where Agustín (Mortensen) is a pediatrician in the process of shutting down his successful life. The source of his despair is never revealed, even to his wife (Soledad Villamil), though the torment behind his eyes is utterly convincing. His evil twin, Pedro, shows up, deathly ill, and in a scene as grisly as any on Breaking Bad, Agustín gets to disappear via a lookalike corpse. Returning to the Tigre, where he and his brother grew up, the tailored doctor puts on Pedro's scruffy shoes, adopts Pedro's crime-hiding identity of beekeeping, and hopes to fool the locals. But the subsequent action, filled with a confusing red herring-ish frenzy of betrayals, never rises to the level of noir. A couple of great closeups — "Pedro's" cunning look as he hides an untanned wedding ring finger, or the strangely frightening shots of the bees — serve to tease. At one point a narrative voice asks, "When the hive doesn't work, they say you have to change the queen. But what about us, the workers?" Like too much of the film, the query just hangs there. —Marsha McCreadie
La-Bas: A Criminal Education
Friday, April 19, at 6:45 p.m.
Saturday, April 20, at 3 p.m.
The main title translates as Down There, but it's the English subtitle that evokes the studied yet sinister tone of director Guido Lombardi's debut feature. Kader Alassane stars as Yssouf, a sketch artist from Africa who travels to Castel Volturno, a coastal town 18 miles from Naples, to live with his Uncle Moses (Moussa Mone). It turns out Uncle Moses is a well-established cocaine dealer in the area, and runs a small empire with help from the Camorra. Despite Yssouf's insistence that he is a devout Muslim, he shows little hesitation in taking part in Moses's operation. This includes cutting open a dead drug mule who has thousands of lire worth of cocaine left inside of her, as well as beating up the manager of the shelter who once kindly took Yssouf in before he made contact with his uncle. Lombardi directs his mostly African cast in a way that departs from most films about drugs and crime, but which is in keeping with Yssouf's subtly degenerate learning experience. Moussa Mone is especially good as the sharp-dressed, cane-wielding Uncle Moses, part of a large circle of fascinating characters that run the gamut from admirable to repellent. Yssouf manages to be both — an intriguingly enigmatic figure throughout this unique slice of life. —John Ervin
Wednesday, April 17, at 9:10 p.m.
Tuesday, April 23, at 9:45 p.m.
Given the current state of affairs in Syria, it's hard not to look at Ruba Nadda's Inescapable as almost quaint, a period piece reminiscent of a time in that country's history before all-out war replaced getting "disappeared" by one of the government's half-dozen secret police forces. It's the eve of the rebellion against Assad, and probably the furthest thing from Adib Abdel Kareem's (Alexander Siddig) mind is going back to the country he fled under mysterious circumstances 20 years before. Unfortunately, his daughter, Muna, has vanished on an unannounced trip to Damascus, wrenching Adib out of his Canadian idyll. Now he has to call up the ex-fiancée (Marisa Tomei) he hasn't talked to since the Clinton administration and confront his past, all while trying to find Muna. Those expecting Taken 3: The Damascus Protocol will be disappointed. Adib's espionage skills are a bit rusty, leaving him to rely extensively on Fatima (seriously, who runs out on Marisa Tomei?), former friend-colleague Sayid (Oded Fehr), and a Canadian consular official with a lousy poker face (Joshua Jackson). There's a lot going on here — love story, kidnapping mystery, political thriller — but Nadda never gets the ingredients to make it gel completely. Worse, Adib ends up relying as much on coincidence as he does his comrades — either that, or Damascus (played here by Johannesburg) is the smallest city of 1.7 million people ever. Inescapable isn't a terrible movie, but absent its ripped-from-the-headlines setting it's unremarkable. —Pete Vonder Haar
The Brass Teapot
Wednesday, April 17, at 9:40 p.m.
Saturday, April 20, at 9 p.m.
Even The Twilight Zone would have struggled with the cutesy conceit of The Brass Teapot, a greed-corrupts cautionary tale about a financially strapped married couple whose life is destroyed by a teapot that spews cash any time they hurt themselves or others. For broke John (Michael Angarano) and Alice (Juno Temple), the ancient kettle is the answer to their prayers, though the burns, broken limbs, and S&M whipping fun that accompany it soon give way to graver trouble, as the teapot shows greater interest in not just physical but emotional pain — a fact that John and Alice ignore even after being cautioned by a Chinese sage who knows the object's 2,000-year history. He's one of many stereotypes trotted out in director Ramaa Mosley's fable, which also serves up caricatured Hasidic Jews, rednecks, and even snobby Republicans in the form of a high school yuppie (Alexis Bledel) whom Alice tries to emulate. Wearing out its welcome long before its moralizing finale, the film — and its portrait of killing yourself to make a living — does manage to mine contemporary fears about the increasing worthlessness of a college degree. Not-so-subtly implying that avarice was the motivation behind the Holocaust, however, is a bad joke that should have been left untold. —Nick Schager
Fall and Winter
Friday, April 26, at 9:30 p.m.
Saturday, April 27, at 6:30 p.m.
There are features that would work better as shorts. Matt Anderson's feature about the various ways Earth is imperiled is so boring it might not even work as a short. Now, Anderson has amassed an impressive amount of found and freshly shot footage from around the world, and an equally impressive number of interview subjects from many walks of life. There are also stirring overviews of mountains, prairies, forests, and oceans, as well as less naturally appealing locales like salvage yards, skyscrapers, and oil rigs. But the result is 100 torturous minutes of conspiracy theories, spiritual musings, and civics lectures on global warming and other threats to our planet. These do not have to be dull subjects, An Inconvenient Truth and The Cove being two successful examples. The problem is Anderson's droning, lugubrious approach to the material, and his piling on of so many academics, environmentalists, farmers, fishermen, and other folks expounding on the late, great planet Earth. There is one interesting sequence: war correspondent Chris Hedges's comparison of celebrities to psychopaths, complemented by icky closeups of Mel Gibson and poor Britney Spears. —John Ervin
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you'll never miss City Pages' biggest stories.