Shorts in season at festival
Rhode Island screenings could have Academy Award implications
Actress Jennifer Aniston has moved to the other side of the camera: Her directorial debut (actually co-directorial; she shares credit with writer Andrea Buchanan) is a short called "Room 10," starring Robin Wright Penn as a nurse whose marriage is falling apart. The film apparently focuses less on the "why" and more on the "how to get past it," and in this case it comes from caring for a patient played by Kris Kristofferson.
The 18-minute film plays Tuesday at 7 p.m. as part of the opening-night festivities of the 11th annual Rhode Island International Film Festival. In a region rich with film fests, the RIIFF stands out as a go-to event. One reason is that it's among just 61 festivals internationally that are "qualifying" venues for short films for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences -- meaning that if a short plays there, it's eligible for an Oscar nomination. That status gives it good access to strong shorts. (Two nominees for last year's Academy Awards, Roger Allers's "The Little Matchgirl" and Leslie Iwerks's "Recycled Life," played the festival.)
The opening night bill also includes actress Bryce Dallas Howard's "Orchids," about one woman's experience answering a personal ad, and costarring Alfred Molina; and former child actor Joseph Mazzello's Sept. 11 family drama "Matters of Life and Death," with David Strathairn and Rachael Leigh Cook.
The opening gala starts with a cocktail reception at 5 p.m. (dress code: "red carpet casual") before the shorts program at 7 p.m. and party at 9, with separate tickets available for each. It's being held in style: The evening takes place at the swank Providence Performing Arts Center, which boasts a 3,300-seat theater with a 50-foot screen.
In all, 321 films are on the schedule. Many, many are shorts, but among the features on tap are the world premiere of director Mary McGuckian's "Intervention," a comedy about therapy and rehabilitation starring Jennifer Tilly, Andie MacDowell, Ian Hart, and Rupert Graves (Wednesday at 9:15 p.m.).
Also scheduled are "Suffering Man's Charity," starring (and directed by) Alan Cumming as a man who takes credit for a book he didn't write, and featuring David Boreanaz, Anne Heche, and Carrie Fisher (Wednesday at 9:30 p.m.); Edward Delany's "The Times Were Never So Bad: The Life of Andre Dubus," a close look at the short story author whose works were turned into the movies "In the Bedroom" and "We Don't Live Here Anymore" (Saturday at 2 p.m.); and Boston filmmaker Claire Andrade-Watkins's "Some Kind of Funny Porto Rican? A Cape Verdean American Story" (Thursday at 1 p.m.).
The RIIFF runs from Tuesday through next Sunday at venues across the state. Find schedule and other information online at film-festival.org, or call 401-861-4445.
HFA PROGRAMMER MOVING ON: Ted Barron, who from his post at the Harvard Film Archive has been one of the most important film programmers for the Boston community for the past five years, is leaving the archive.
"I have decided to step down so I can return to work on my long-delayed dissertation project," Barron said by e-mail. "I have been pursuing a PhD through the Program in Visual Studies at University of California-Irvine for the past several years and decided that in order to finish I would need to put aside my commitments to the HFA."
Barron started at the Archive as a film programmer in 2002, was promoted to an interim position as managing director in 2005, and was named senior programmer in 2007, shortly after new director Haden Guest signed on.
"I would like to think that I was able to provide consistency and stability during a period that many perceived to be an uncertain time for the HFA (namely, the administrative transition from the Department of Visual and Environmental Studies to Harvard College Libraries)," Barron wrote. "I am very pleased that I am leaving the HFA at a time when the entire institution is thriving in ways that it never has in the past."
Some of his favorite retrospectives, he said, have been the programs on the works of directors Andy Warhol, Yasujiro Ozu, Busby Berkeley, and Emile de Antonio. Barron's biggest accomplishment, he added, might have been the HFA's yearlong series on war, particularly the Vietnam War series. "It didn't draw the biggest crowds but those who came were deeply affected by the films we screened," he wrote.
Barron will continue to teach part-time in the Film and Television Program at Boston University.
AN EVENING ON DOCUMENTARY: The Filmmakers Collaborative is presenting "An Evening With Les Blank" on Wednesday at 7 p.m. The event will feature clips of three of Blank's documentaries -- "The Blues Accordin' to Lightnin' Hopkins," "Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe," and his new one, "A Portrait of Ricky Leacock" -- as well as conversation with Blank. It's being hosted by Glorianna Davenport, director of the Media Fabrics Group at the MIT Media Laboratory. It takes place at the Bartos Theater at 20 Ames St., Cambridge. Early-bird tickets can be purchased online at filmmakers collab.org.
NICK DRAKE DOC: "A Skin Too Few: The Days of Nick Drake" was made in 2000 but is rolling into Boston now. The 48-minute documentary about the English singer-songwriter who released just a handful of lush and wistful records before dying young, is "less a chronicle of the singer-songwriter's all-too-short life and times than a poetic musing on his music," according to a review by writer/rocker John Petkovic in the Cleveland Plain Dealer.
Drake died in 1974 at age 26, and according to his sister, actress Gabrielle Drake, who appears in the film, he was shy and introverted. Petkovic notes that Drake "was ignored in his lifetime" and that "his inability to connect musically not only fueled his isolation, it also prevented him from performing live. As such, there are no clips of him playing, making videos, even doing interviews."
Dutch director Jeroen Berkvens instead couples Drake's music with shots of English landscape for much of the film. The timing coincides with "Family Tree," a 28-song collection of Drake's demo tracks that was released last month.
"A Skin Too Few" plays on Wednesday at 6 p.m., Thursday at 8 p.m., and Saturday at 4 p.m. at the Museum of Fine Arts. Musician Damon Krukowski of the folk-rock group Damon & Naomi will introduce the Wednesday show. Details are at 617-267-9300 and mfa.org/film.
SCREENINGS OF NOTE: "The Big Lebowski" on Monday at 7 p.m. at the Coolidge Corner Theatre, as the opening film of the Big Screen Classics Series. Other films coming up: "West Side Story" (Aug. 13), "Casablanca" (Aug. 20), "Some Like It Hot" (Aug. 27), and, closing the series on Sept. 3, "Lawrence of Arabia" (617-734-2500 and coolidge.org) . . . François Truffaut's "400 Blows" on Saturday at 11 a.m. at the Brattle Theatre, followed by a discussion, for free, as part of the Elements of Cinema series (617-876-6837 and brattlefilm.org).
Leslie Brokaw can be reached at email@example.com.