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Documentary filmmakers Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady have previously demonstrated their ability to present controversial issues and people in an even-handed way. Their 2006 film, Jesus Camp, which documented a Pentacostal summer camp for children, was praised for the way it revealed the indoctrination of children by the religious right. But that film’s subjects actually stated that they had no problems with they way they were depicted, a testament to Grady and Ewing’s efforts towards verisimilitude.

The pair had a new film at Sundance this year called 12th & Delaware, which chronicles the people who work at an abortion clinic in Florida and the local religious members that try to thwart them (the title refers to a street corner where the abortion clinic and a church clinic are located opposite each other). The footage that Ewing and Grady were able to get is remarkable, and while they successfully capture the fervor on both sides of 12th & Delaware, it’s the footage of the clients that is truly stunning, as they were able to film people in the process of making one of the most potentially important decisions of their lives. As with their previous films, 12th & Delaware is illuminating and infuriating in equal parts, but always a movie that feels both well-made and fair.

After the break, my interview with Grady and Ewing, in which we talk about how they made 12th & Delaware, the reception of Jesus Camp, and their exciting next project.

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Sundance Interview: Daniel Grou, Director of 7 Days

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The annual success of the Saw films has proven that there’s a huge market out there for torture-porn films, or films whose primary function is to allow viewers to revel in the physical destruction of the human body. But what would happen if you took a torture-porn film, made it using classical filmmaking techniques, populated it with talented actors, used a well-written script, and injected a healthy dose of moral ambiguity into it for good measure? You might get a movie like Daniel Grou’s 7 Days.

7 Days (originally “Les Sept Jours Du Talion”) tells the story of Bruno, a man whose daughter is raped and murdered. Torn apart by grief and burning with rage, Bruno seeks out his daughter’s killer, captures him, and proceeds to torture him over the course of a week, using increasingly brutal methods. The film is graphic and intense, using torture not only as an end in and of itself, but as a way to ask the audience whether or not torture/revenge can ever serve a productive or meaningful purpose. As Bruno’s punishment escalates, he begins to realize the implications of his actions.

I’d recommend 7 Days to anyone who likes movies that are challenging to watch and thought-provoking in nature. It’s a torture-porn film with a brain. Better yet, 7 Days is part of the Sundance Selects program, meaning you can watch the movie on video-on-demand right now. I spoke with director Daniel Grou (AKA Podz) about the process of making 7 Days and about the role of films featuring torture. Hit the jump for the interview.

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johnwells

When I hear the name John Wells, I think of paramedics hurriedly rushing onto the scene of an accident, arriving just in time to barely save someone’s life. I fondly recall verbose walk-and-talks in the halls of the Bartlett White House. And I remember following the romantic lives of skilled doctors in a Chicago E.R. In short, this man is partly responsible for some of the most thought-provoking, thrilling television ever produced.

Wells directed a movie called The Company Men that premiered at Sundance this year. With an all-star cast featuring Ben Affleck, Chris Cooper, and Tommy Lee Jones, The Company Men follows the lives of three men as their company is torn apart amidst a recession. The film is a personal portrait of job loss, and while its scope is relatively small, the talent of the performances is not. Affleck, Cooper, and Lee Jones all manage to cpature the pain and humiliation of economic struggle with pathos and humor. The stories feel personal and subtle, even to a fault; few things particularly “dramatic” happen during the movie, and while the film can occasionally feel aimless, its depiction of joblessness also feels deeply rooted within vagaries of our reality. Thus, while there were no helicopter crashes or gun-shot wounds in The Company Men, Wells proves that as a director, he can smoothly make the transition to film (a medium he’s already very familiar with as a producer) and tell a story with nuance and skill. You can click here to hear a couple more thoughts about the film or watch the film’s trailer.

After the break, I chat with John Wells about what inspired him to make The Company Men, true stories of job loss, and whether or not The Company Men is really an independent film.

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winterbottomwhitecross

Directors Michael Winterbottom and Mat Whitecross are premiering a new documentary at Sundance 2010 called The Shock Doctrine, based on the best-selling book by author Naomi Klein. The film posits that governments have used periods of crisis, or “shock,” in order to foist Milton Friedman’s free-market ideologies onto the people, often to negative consequences (e.g. poverty, an expanding class gap, etc.). It’s an interesting way to view world history, and if you’re not yet familiar with Klein or her theories, I think you’ll find it fascinating (although people not terribly interested in history may find it a bit dry). Winterbottom and Whitecross previously collaborated on the excellent film, The Road to Guantanamo, documenting the imprisonment and torture of three Guantanamo detainees. And, as I’ve previously mentioned, Winterbottom is one of the most interesting filmmakers around.

Almost as interesting as the film is its distribution method. The Shock Doctrine is one of the films available on video on demand right now via the Sundance Selects  program. In this interview, I talk with Winterbottom and Whitecross about the film’s release strategy, the difficulties of using archival footage, and the lessons of The Shock Doctrine. I also manage to sneak in a few questions about Winterbottom’s controversial new film, The Killer Inside Me.

You can download this interview (right-click and “Save As”) or play it right now in your browser:

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markduplass

One of my favorite films this year at Sundance was the Duplass Brothers’ film Cyrus (see our review here). While its storyline doesn’t do much to transcend the tropes of a standard romantic comedy/dramedy, the Duplass brothers make their characters seem so alive and authentic that you can’t help but feel like you’re watching something completely unique.

As an actor, co-writer and a co-director, Mark Duplass has proven himself adapt at capturing adult situations and conversations onto film, along with a healthy dosed of humor. After the jump, see/hear my interview with Duplass, in which he discusses the tough road to Sundance and why the term “mumblecore” needs to die.
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pattillman

In My Kid Could Paint That, director Amir Bar-Lev followed around the family of child prodigy Maria Olmstead, documenting her rise to fame and its subsequent painful backlash. But Bar-Lev’s film ended up becoming less a document of Olmstead’s life, and more about Bar-Lev’s own struggle to come to terms with the concept of truth and the role of journalism.

In The Tillman Story, Bar-Lev fixes his gaze on an almost equally contentious public figure: Pat Tillman. Tillman was famously offered a multi-million dollar NFL contract, only to give it up in order to serve in the military. When Tillman was shot and killed in the line of duty, the U.S. military spun the incident as a story of a brave soldier killed while fighting off Taliban forces. Later, it was revealed that Tillman was killed by friendly fire, and that the military had lied in its initial report about Tillman’s death. What went into these lies, and what actually happened to Pat Tillman? These are the questions that Bar-Lev examines in his film.

After the jump, a few thoughts about the film and my interview with director Amir Bar-Lev, in which he talks about the  of documentary filmmaking and the importance of holding government accountable.
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futuristThe /Filmcast Interview is a series of conversations with actors, directors, and other key figures from the entertainment industry. In this episode, David Chen speaks with writer Rebecca Keegan about the struggles and triumphs of James Cameron, the future of 3-D, and the success of Avatar. Rebecca Keegan’s newest book, The Futurist: The Life and Films of James Cameron, is out on bookshelves now.

Have any questions, comments, or suggestions? Want to be interviewed on the /Filmcast? Feel free to e-mail us at slashfilmcast@gmail.com. You can also call and leave a voicemail at (781) 583-1993.

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crazyheartThe /Filmcast Interview is a series of conversations with actors, directors, and other key figures from the entertainment industry. In this episode, David Chen speaks with Crazy Heart director Scott Cooper about the challenges of being a first-time director, how he achieved the film’s amazing sound design, and Jeff Bridges’ remarkable physical transformation. Crazy Heart is out in limited release today.

Have any questions, comments, or suggestions? Want to be interviewed on the /Filmcast? Feel free to e-mail us at slashfilmcast@gmail.com. You can also call and leave a voicemail at (781) 583-1993.

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