The Camo Wall of Silence

Dan Krauss, NYC, 7/24/14

Dan Krauss, NYC, 7/24/14

Arguably war could be described as a society’s collective sociopathy, realized by its military. In director Dan Krauss’ powerful documentary, “The Kill Team,” one of the very young soldiers, an eager participant in atrocities committed by his platoon in Afghanistan, Corporal Jeremy Morlock says, “It was impossible not to surrender to the insanity.”

With extraordinary access (and boundless empathy), Krauss tells two parallel stories–about the horrific violence against civilians and the subsequent trials–focusing on Specialist Adam Winfield, who enlisted in the Infantry in 2009 and “was proud to wear the uniform.” But was unaware that his service would bring him to a place where his conscience and will to survive would do battle.

In November 2009, after the platoon’s sergeant lost his leg to an IED, Staff Sergeant Calvin Gibbs (rumored to have faked “good shoots” against Iraqis and to possess a necklace of souvenir human fingers) replaced him.  Gibbs quickly sensed his soldiers’ frustration, anger, fear and boredom.  They had expected “climbing mountains and firefights everyday, not visiting old dudes” (mullahs) and resented doing work like building wells.  Private First Class Justin Stoner says the war was “not the way everyone hyped it and that’s probably why things happened.”

Aware that platoon members led by Gibbs had killed noncombatants and placed drop weapons, proudly becoming “made men,” Winfield messaged his father (a former Marine) who unsuccessfully tried to contact the military and politicians.

Krauss says, “You learn quickly that if you want to get out of there alive, you must be part of the group.  To step out of the group, to be an individual, is dangerous, as Adam learned.”  On May 2, 2010, having perceived Winfield as a threat, Gibbs involved him in an attack and Winfield knowing that the sergeant would kill him if he intervened chose to save his own life rather than to defend an Afghan civilian, Mullah Allah Dad.

Weeks later Winfield was flown back to Fort Lewis (Washington state) and charged with “the kill team,”  Gibbs, Morlock, and Private Class Andrew Holmes.  Winfield eventually accepted a plea deal carrying a charge of “involuntary manslaughter for failing to prevent his fellow soldiers from committing murder” and was sentenced to three years with a bad conduct discharge.

Although other members of the 5th Stryker Brigade knew about “the kill team,” it was an investigation into a beating suffered by Stoner (“snitches get stitches”) after he reported hashish use that led to the discovery of the atrocities.  Credited as a whistleblower (and honorably discharged) he adamantly brushes off the label and says that he’d rather be seen as just a member of the platoon and expressing the odd morality of war, questions, “We’re trained to kill so why are you pissed when we do it?”

“The Kill Team” will open for a one-week run on Friday, July 27 at the Film Society of Lincoln Center‘s Elinor Bunim Munroe Film Center with a Q&A with Dan Krauss at 7:15 pm screening on Friday, July 25 (moderated by Mark Boal) and Saturday, July 26.

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Dogs’ Days

Leo and Ryder hit the beach, bay side and ocean side.

Leo, Fisher Beach, Truro, MA

Leo (summer blonde), Fisher Beach, Truro, MA

Leo and Ryder, Fisher Beach, Truro, MA

Leo and Ryder, Fisher Beach, Truro, MA

Leo and Ryder, Bolston Beach, Truro, MA

Leo and Ryder (of Arabia), Ballston Beach, Truro, MA

Ryder, Fisher Beach, Truro, MA

Ryder, Fisher Beach, Truro, MA

Leo, Fisher Beach, Truro, MA

Leo, Fisher Beach, Truro, MA

Ryder and Leo (dogs in the dunes), Fisher Beach, Truro, MA

Ryder and Leo (dogs in the dunes), Fisher Beach, Truro, MA

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12 Years Before Our Very Eyes

Richard Linklater

Richard Linklater

Richard Linklater has said that the true subject of film is time, “If cinema was a painting, time would be the paint itself.”*

In Linklater’s wondrous epic, “Boyhood,” shot for three days each year for 12 years, the movie magic is real as Mason (Ellar Coltrane), a cherubic six-year-old grows into a watchful young artist and college freshman eager to grab his future.

“Boyhood,” unlike any other film, examines both the hard-won and inevitable changes that affect Mason, his divorced mother (Patricia Arquette), older sister Samantha (Linklater’s daughter Lorelei–the only cast member the director was entirely confident would be available each year) and his father (Ethan Hawke).  The routines and rhythms of daily life, specific to this family yet universal, feel honest, and have their own beauty.

“Boyhood” will have a sneak preview on Thursday, July 10 in New York at the IFC Center and the BAM Harvey Theater (giant, gorgeous screen) and open on Friday, July 11, adding Lincoln Plaza Cinema and in Los Angeles.  There will be Q&As and intros with Linklater and Coltrane on July 10, 11 and 12 .  Click on the theaters’ links for more info.

To read Sean Axmaker’s fascinating interview with Linklater for Fandor’s Keyframe, click here.

*(For me, the true subject of photography is light.)

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“Hedwig,” From SqueezeBox! to Broadway: How Far the Culture Has Traveled

“Hedwig” (the film): Katie Roumel, producer; John Cameron Mitchell, director, writer and actor; Christine Vachon, producer; and Stephen Trask, writer and composer

John Cameron Mitchell’s “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” started life in a drag club, as a 30-minute version of what would become the famous musical, a tryout about as far off-Broadway as it gets.  It was 1994 and Mitchell had been discussing his ideas for a show with his friend and soon-to-be collaborator, Stephen Trask, composer and musician, whose gigs included leading the house band at SqueezeBox! and who arranged for Mitchell to first incarnate Hedwig, the “internationally ignored songstress,” on the club’s stage.

In 1998 the show opened at The Jane Street Theatre, a strange place on the West Side Highway in the meatpacking district when the area was known for hanging carcasses, hookers and transsexuals, rather than today’s high-end boutiques, restaurants and the Standard Hotel.  “Hedwig” rapidly found its adoring audience.  And the film followed in 2001, with Mitchell directing and reprising his role as the East German transsexual girl rocker, betrayed by Tommy Gnossis, the boyfriend who stole her songs.

Twenty years after SqueezeBox!, Mitchell and Trask’s show is on Broadway, Hedwig incarnated by Neil Patrick Harris (who won the 2014 Tony for Best Actor in a Musical), bringing its ideas about love, gender identity, types of performance and rock and roll to a big, world audience, which seems as ready as not.

“Hedwig and the Angry Inch” will screen on Monday, July 7th, 8:00 pm, part of  Queer/Art/Film’s “Summer of Drag” series at the IFC Center.  The film was chosen by guest presenters, the queens of Brooklyn’s Bushwig festival, including founders Simon Leahy and Matty Beats.  The screening will be followed by a Q&A and an after-party at Julius, New York’s oldest gay bar.

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Bong Joon Ho

Bong Joon Ho

Ignore that everyone in Bong Joon Ho’s “Snowpiercer” seems dubbed and that the story is a conventional take on its subject–the oppressed rising up against the powerful.  It’s the wildly inventive, eye-popping visuals–gorgeous sets, FX, clever costuming–that make the film a must-see.

In an apocalyptic miscalculation, an attempt to reverse climate change turns the dial 180° and the earth is plunged into a second ice age forcing the small band of survivors to live on a sealed train, endless circling the frozen planet.

The poor, who boarded with no possessions and less status, live in near monochrome in the windowless caboose/slum, and are severely cramped, malnourished (subsisting on “protein blocks”), cold and dirty.  The wealthy live in splendor, all their needs serviced in the elegant (albeit narrow) train cars–sushi bar, disco, swimming pools, sauna, beauty salon, food cars (greenhouse, aquarium and abattoir), hospital, tailor and a school for their children.  And all is powered by the lead car, “the eternal engine,” run by its creator and the train’s absolute authority, Wilford (Ed Harris), whose quarters are sumptuous.

But seventeen years after the boarding, a young hero, Curtis (Chris Evans), rises and leads a rebellion to liberate the inhabitants of the tail section, pushing forward to ferociously battle security forces commanded by Mason (Tilda Swinton sporting an array of prostheses, a wig and oversized 80s glasses) in an attempt to capture the engine.

“Snowpiercer,” to date South Korea’s most expensive film ($40+ million) may hold its own against the American summer blockbusters made for many multiples of its budget, but it’s ultimately less interesting than Bong’s earlier films “The Host” (2006) and “Mother” (2009).  Stream them for genuine genre excitement.

“Snowpiercer” will open in select cities on Friday, June 27, including New York, at the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s Elinor Bunim Munroe Film Center (with a Q&A with Bong Joon Ho at the 6:15 pm screenings on Friday and Saturday), and Los Angeles and will expand on Wednesday and next Friday.

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So Many Films. So Make the Time.

BAMcinemaFest 2014 filmmakers

BAMcinemaFest 2014 Filmmakers

I live in lower Manhattan which hasn’t been a hip neighborhood in years (decades?). Brooklyn, as the wide world knows, is the epicenter of all that’s creative (and cool).

It’s possible that a little bit hipster cred might be rubbing off on me–this is my third year working with BAMcinématek on a wonderful project, photographing the amazing filmmakers participating in the annual not-to-be missed BAMcinemaFest.  Presenting premieres of “emerging voices in American independent cinema,” BAMcinémaFest (now in its sixth year) has been called “New York’s best independent film showcase” by The New Yorker.

This year the opening and closing night slots feature two directors whose names figure prominently in the origin story of American independent film, Richard Linklater (the New York premiere of his epic coming-of-age story, “Boyhood”) and Spike Lee (a 25th anniversary screening of his ground-breaking film, “Do the Right Thing”).

BAMcinemaFest will run through June 29.

BAMcinemaFest 2014 Filmmakers

BAMcinemaFest 2014 Filmmakers

Upper Grid: top row, left to right: Amanda Rose Wilder, Amir Bar-Lev, Zach Wigon; bottom row, left to right: Jeff Preiss, Sophia Takal and Lawrence Michael Levine, Desiree Akhavan.  All images © Robin Holland.

Lower Grid: top row, left to right: Josephine Decker, Tim Sutton, Kyle Molzan and Bingham Bryant; bottom row, left to right: Nick Singer, John Magary, Madeleine Olnek. All images © Robin Holland.

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On Display

Joanna Hogg, NYC, 6/19/20

Joanna Hogg, NYC, 6/19/14

In British filmmaker and screenwriter Joanna’s Hogg’s third feature, “Exhibition,” a middle-aged artist couple, D and H (Viv Albertine and Liam Gillick), live in an elegant modernist house in London–to which they’re possibly more attached than to each other.   She’s struggling with her work (he has a much bigger career), her decision not to have had children and fear of the future if they sell the house.

Another  middle-aged, childless woman, Anna (Kathryn Worth), dissatisfied with her life and marriage, travels to Tuscany alone to spend her summer holiday with old friends in a beautiful villa in the countryside near Siena.  In Hogg’s first feature, “Unrelated,” character-driven, as is all of her work, Anna find herself drawn to her friends’ teenage/young adult children, particularly Oakley (Tom Hiddleston).

And in Hogg’s “Archipelago,” a family vacationing on the spectacular island of Tresco off Sicily, falls into its usual patterns.  The son (Tom Hiddleston), discontented and in conflict with his mother (Kate Fahy) and sister (Lydia Leonard), is “at a crossroads in his life.”

Photographing someone is license to stare.  And the intimate framing, with a long lens, coming in close, seeing just from the top of the head to below the collarbone, is only experienced in real life when someone is about to kiss or punch someone.

And it’s often license to ask fascinating people about their work.  Having been amazed by all three of Joanna Hogg’s features, I’m eager to see her next film.  She said it’s about a young woman, a 19-year-old film student, who gets distracted from her work when she gets involved with a somewhat older boyfriend.

Asked about casting, Joanna said she planned to find someone new and that discovering young actors (she famously was the first to work with Tom Hiddleston–who appears in all three of her films) is one of her favorite aspects of filmmaking.

“Exhibition” opens today in New York for a two-week run at the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s Elinor Bunim Munroe Film Center.  Joanna Hogg will be in person for a Q&A at the 6:30 pm screening and an intro at the 9:30 pm screening on both Friday and Saturday. “Unrelated and “Archipelago” will both open at Film Society on Friday, June 27 for a one-week run.

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