The first time I came to the New Hampshire Film Festival was back in 2005 with James Tauber and Todd Poudrier, where our first film project, Alibi Phone Network, made its debut.
It's been a while since I've had the time to come for a couple of days and really enjoy the festival. Really looking forward to the program this year,
Some solid efforts in the short film block that we made it to today. Overall I'd say that production values and acting have improved considerably since the last short film block I sat through at NHFF. The quality of the content and writing in these films are somewhat better for the most part, at least compared to what I recall having seen in the past. A couple stood out, but nothing blew me away. This is where a lot of younger filmmakers experiment and hone their skills, so it's difficult to be too harsh.
I've been a fan of Jason Reitman since Thank you for Smoking. His new film, based on the book of the same name, Men Women & Children had an almost John Hughes feel to it in terms of the issues that it dealt with, but it went much deeper. It not only cast a light on the modern problems that high school kids face with love, sex, and relationships, but it also rather brilliantly wove in the complex dynamic that parents deal with regarding love, sex and relationships. It showed how everyone is impacted; unlike the films of Hughes which often glossed over parents and portrayed them superficially as indifferent, distant and the primary source of his teenage characters angst. Hughes films are brilliant in their own right and I'm sure comparisons of this type were never intended with this film, but given the subject matter, I think they're inevitable to some extent.
The ensemble cast was incredible, and I was surprised to see Adam Sandler turn in what can only be described as a terrific, spot on performance of a father dealing with midlife marital issues.
The bottom line is that this was a story that I think a lot of people will relate to. For me, it was probably the best film of this sort, i.e. dealing with family coming of age issues that I've seen since American Beauty.
Another great musical documentary Take Me To The River has been released this year.
Compared to Muscle Shoals, a film about the legendary sound created in southern Alabama in the 1960 and 70s that made the festival circuit last year, it didn't feel quite as structurally taught. However, the film told a great story nonetheless of the Memphis soul music scene as it developed from the late 40s through to the 1980s. The film brings old Memphis legends together with more modern artists such as Snoop Dogg to tell the history through music, inerviews, and the story of the rise and fall of legendary Stax record empire and all of the amazing artists that it produced.
Anyone interested in soul music legends such as Bobby Bland or Issac Hayes or anyone just wanting to learn more about the history of American music will surely enjoy this film.
If you enjoy stories about rebels trying to do things outside of the system, you'll enjoy Misfire. Misfire tells the story of a production company that was founded in the 1990's called The Shooting Gallery. In a time where independent films and filmmakers were a hot commodity, the sale of TSG's first major effort Sling Blade for ten million dollars to Miramax propelled the company to star status overnight. But what started out as a company motivated by its founder's passion and love of film turns into something quite a bit different and even darker.
Documentaries are going to be talky, and this film is no exception although it almost feels a bit too talky at times. However the story that it tells more than makes up for that. If you're a filmmaker or just love hearing about how and why businesses fail, there's something here that you'll enjoy.
Michelle McLaren directed some of my favorite episodes from Breaking Bad and has also worked on Game of Thrones as well as The Walking Dead. She held an interactive session at NHFF on Saturday where she would show clips from various episodes of all three that she'd directed and answer questions about them.
Time was running short and she was only able to show and field questions on two clips from Breaking Bad and two from Game of Thrones. I wasn't entirely sure what to expect, but it was very interesting to hear her talk about the process.
For Breaking Bad, the tight budgets apparently were always presenting challenges, something I'd heard before. The talent of the writing staff I think really saved them and probably made the series better having to work around as many constraints as they had. Seven days of director prep before an episode of Breaking Bad was an interesting revelation, along with the fact that they would have one director shooting while the next was prepping, so there was something shooting every week.
One episode that she'd directed, 4 Days Out, was intended to be what was referred to by the producers as a "bottle episode" or an episode that takes place in a single location with minimal cast. For fans of the show, this was the episode where Jesse and Walt go on an epic four day cook in the desert and can't start the van due to a series of stooge-like screw ups by Jesse. The interesting thing is that while the episode appears to take place in one location, it's actually 3; the desert, a backlot and a sound stage where the interiors for the RV are shot. That was pretty surprising to me because while I suspected the interiors might have been shot in a studio, the episode was edited so seamlessly, that it really does feel like it was shot entirely in the desert.
When she talked about Game of Thrones, there appeared to be a lot less concern over budget as she'd mentioned they were shooting in locations like Morocco and having quite a bit more time to plan, pre-visualize and shoot effects sequences.
Getting an insight from a producer/director on what are arguably three of the hottest shows on TV was a great bonus at the festival this year and a sure sign that it's maturing in a way that I've always hoped that it would.