Jul 2, 2024

Internet Archive Rediscovers My Work in its "Way Back Machine"

 In the spirit of the "Way Back Machine" here is a photo taken
at MoMA in 2013 after my interview with production designer 
Dante Ferretti and his wife set decorator Francesca Lo Schiavo. 
One of the vagaries of writing for online outlets is that a writer's work can disappear if the magazine or newspaper is sold to another company, or if the outlet decides the work is outdated. That is why hundreds of my reviews, features and blog posts, written as a contributing writer for Film Journal International, are no longer on the Internet. I am delighted to report that five of my interviews found their way into the Internet Archive's "Way Back Machine." If you are a film buff, you know that Internet Archive is the best site for free movies. (These are films with no copyright restrictions, and includes the John Ford masterpiece Stagecoach, 1939.)
I am lucky to have some of my work preserved on databases such as Jstor and The Film Index, as my interview with Ferretti and Lo Schiavo is, and many of my other features and reviews, but often my "small film" coverage, usually about art house fare, especially documentaries, are not available.  The loss of of reviews and features written contemporaneously with the film's release are irreplaceable because the writer more accurately contextualizes the movie, identifying its relevance in that historical moment, rather than reviews written retrospectively that view the film quite differently and sometimes inaccurately. 
While audiences may discover new meanings in the films of the past, it is the critic's job to judge the writer's and the director's original intent so that the historical record is complete. I hope you will read the following reviews and features on Internet Archive, not solely because it revives my work but because it will encourage the website to continue this wonderful practice that, again, preserves the historical record. I have been writing about film for nearly 30 years, and remain one of few critics with an M.A. in cinema studies. 

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Jun 19, 2024

Miracles and Wonders: Alice Rohrwacher on the Mysteries of "La Chimera"

My interview with Italian filmmaker Alice Rohrwacher for La Chimera (2023) appears in the current issue of Cineaste, a print magazine devoted entirely to film. The writer-director is one of the most original voices in world cinema, and her latest movie is about the leader of a group of grave robbers. Arthur (Josh O'Connor) lives in Italy and was once a scientist, but since the death of his wife, he has lost his way. Arthur's peculiar talent for finding buried antiquities provides some income but the trade of the items he finds is illegal. He subsists mostly on his dreams of his late wife and a fleeting romance with Italia (Carol Duarte) until he and his band uncover objects of inestimable value. Rohrwacher is a thoughtful subject and speaks eloquently in the interview about the cinema and her way of work. 

Apr 24, 2024

My Interview with Giuseppe Tornatore for "Ennio"


                                                        The Italian composer Ennio Morricone.

Giuseppe Tornatore and the iconic composer Ennio Morricone have been friends since their initial collaboration on Cinema Paradiso (1990). Morricone went on to write music for all of the writer-director's films. Tornatore's comprehensive documentary, "Ennio," that had a recent U.S. theatrical release in New York City, is now streaming. My interview with the filmmaker was published in Ambassador Magazine (https://www.niaf.org/niaf_magazine/ambassador-magazine-vol-35-no-3/), but it's easier to read here: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1i5EvSsR4mq7qsUcltB5GiKH66OsYjIrk/view?usp=sharing

Feb 20, 2024

Alice Rohrwacher's "La Chimera" Gets U.S. Theatrical Release


 The (mostly) Italian band of grave robbers in "La Chimera."
Italian filmmaker Alice Rohrwacher's latest film that had its American premier at The New York Film Festival last year will open in the U.S. on March 29th. The film is mentioned in my "Italian Slate" article in Ambassador Magazine: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1bZp1gTdqkmPrMxh6EcJMyUm_au7l3Tzc/view?usp=sharing

Oct 7, 2023

This is the Season


                                            Cameroonian Writer-Director Rosine Mbakam

 Every August and September, film critics are either in Toronto or New York City (or both) for the busiest and most important season for movies. The Toronto Film Festival is the largest in the world by attendance, and while The New York Film Festival is much more intimate, it has grown into an equally prestigious venue for filmmakers. This year the press corps seemed much larger, and for the first time different films were screening at the same time at the festival. 

Most of us attend dozens of screenings, but because critics are also interviewing filmmakers and/or reviewing films on deadline during the festival, it's almost impossible to see all the films we want to see. I am a film columnist for Ambassador, a D.C.-based magazine and have been for over 20 years, but I am also a freelance critic, and film festival press credentials mean a great deal to me and to others who are not on the staff of newspapers and magazines. 

For me, it is a season I look forward to each year. TIFF is terrific, but there is a special quality to the New York Film Festival. It's my hometown, and each year I catch up with NYFF regulars, former college professors, other film critics, and writers who are not necessarily professionals, but whose viewpoints I always want to hear because they are fans, or because they have specialized knowledge. I have one friend who knows everything about Asian films, and another whose encyclopedic memory allows him to immediately name several films that resemble a new movie we have screened. This year, waiting on line (yes, critics and industry do have to wait on line) I met a playwright who had a Broadway debut this year.

It's New York, and you never know who you will meet in the ladies room. Many years ago, it was Nicole Kidman. She is as beautiful as she looks onscreen. 

Here is a link to my interview with Rosine Mbakam, a Cameroonian filmmaker whose "Mambar Pierrette" screens this weekend: https://www.allarts.org/2023/10/mambar-pierrette/

Jul 14, 2023

Umberto Eco: A Library of the World

 Courtesy of Cinema Guild

My interview with filmmaker Davide Ferrario for this documentary appears in All Arts, WNET's online magazine: https://www.allarts.org/2023/07/umberto-eco-a-library-of-the-world-documentary/ If you are a New Yorker, you can see it at Film Forum, one of the city's premier art house cinemas. It will stream in the near future. 

Apr 26, 2023

Filmmaker Interview: Lisa Cortés


Little Richard performing in a mirror-embellished outfit of his own design. (Photo Courtesy of Magnolia Pictures)

My interview with Ms. Cortés will surprise you: A former music executive, she speaks about her commitment to "colonizing" music documentaries. Read here: https://www.allarts.org/2023/04/little-richard-i-am-everything-lisa-cortes/

Feb 21, 2023

A Wonderful Sophomore Feature from Carla Simón


                                     Carla Simón, Catalan Filmmaker. (Photo Credit: Xavier Torres-Bacchetta)

My filmmaker interview for Alcarràs just published on All Arts: https://www.allarts.org/2023/02/carla-simon-alcarras/ Like Ms.Simón's debut feature, Summer 1993, Alcarràs is set in Catalonia, the region of Spain where she was born and raised. In the interview, she speaks about her preoccupation with families, and touches upon the social and political issues that are reshaping the rural area depicted in the film.  

Dec 17, 2022

All That Breathes

I hope you will read my interview with filmmaker Shaunak Sen for one of the best films of 2022, "All That Breathes": https://www.allarts.org/2022/12/shaunak-sen-documentary-all-that-breathes/ It recounts the story of two brothers who rescue Black Kites, the raptors endemic to their hometown in Delhi, India.

Dec 3, 2022

Exact Editions Interviewed Me

This blog for librarians and publishers interviewed me this fall about my career as a film critic and feature writer. Here is the link: https://blog.exacteditions.com/meet-the-contributor-maria-garcia-cineaste/

My Filmmaker Interview for "The Janes"


My interview with documentary filmmakers Tia Lessin and Emma Pildes for The Janes appeared in the Fall 2022 issue of Cineaste. The documentary recounts the story of the eponymous radical feminist group that provided free abortions before the passage of Roe v. Wade. Below is a brief excerpt from the feature:

Cineaste: All of the Janes and your other subjects appear in informal settings, even the
police officer who arrested the Janes, and Mike, the abortionist. You filmed a lot of the Janes
at home, and screening the film I felt like I was sitting in on a living room conversation.
Would you comment on your stylistic choices?

Pildes: For this documentary, that setting felt right because these women are testifying to
what the country looked like the last time women did not have a right to choose. These
are very intimate conversations and they are personal. They’re funny and warm, and
almost take a page from this “grassroots-ness” of the abortion counseling itself. The Janes
shared each other’s cars and each other’s homes for “The Front” or for “The Place,” the
locations where they met their clients and where the abortions were performed. It just felt
appropriate for these stories. That is the film Tia and I wanted to make. We did not use
experts in this documentary. We were doing first-person perspective. We knew that was
the “lightning in the bottle” of this particular story, the Janes being able to tell this tale
free of male experts and statistics. That is all implicit. We were doing this encapsulated,
historical story and it does not take much to connect the dots with what is happening
today. We wanted the feeling that we were having a conversation; we felt that was the
incredible power of their testimony.

Lessin: Emma uses the term “conversation.” Of course, we came prepared with questions,
but hopefully it is more like a conversation than an interview. The film takes its twists and
turns and there are surprises along the way. I have never used Errol Morris’s Interrotron
machine. I prefer that personal connection that was made harder because of COVID. Half
of the interviews were completed before COVID, but there were at least nine or ten that
we did after the vaccines, although still during the pandemic. We could not be as close to
the subjects as we would have wanted.

Cineaste: I was reminded of a moment during the interview with Mike, the abortionist,
when, referring to his skill, you said, “And you were good at it. He replied, “Yes, I was.” It
was conversational and intimate, and it gave him a chance to brag about the small part he
played. I suddenly understood his history and his personality.

Lessin: He was a complicated character. Mike was not apologizing. He felt good about
what he had done. Both Emma and I feel some affection for him even though were also
other feelings because he’s a tricky guy. He did good, but of course not for the reasons
that the Janes were doing it. We could have made a whole film about Mike. We had to be
judicious and efficient because the film was not about Mike, yet he was a very interesting
and colorful character.

Apr 24, 2022

"IN THE NEWS" Section

A still from Tony Kaye's "Lake of Fire"

As will happen in the digital universe, "In the News" (to the right of this column), disappeared recently, during a Google "upgrade" of the site. It is back to document the pivotal role that the cinema, particularly human rights filmmaking, plays in the recording of history. (This section generally contains a list of films I have reviewed in the past, or feature-length interviews I conducted with filmmakers.) Sadly, this section is also a testament to how little social justice issues have improved in the U.S. This month, it addresses the fact that women are fighting yet again for a right granted to them by law, and by the human rights recognized in every democratic constitution. 

Tony Kaye's Lake of Fire is one of the most disturbing films ever made on the subject of anti-abortion extremism. Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady's 12th and Delaware, set in Port Fierce, Florida, documents the then burgeoning war against women that has come to define the state; in a brief interview with Grady, the filmmaker discusses the infiltration of far right religious groups into neighborhoods that host abortion clinics. Maisie Crow’s Jackson is an excellent portrait of the last abortion clinic in the state of Mississippi, a documentary that foresaw that state's present-day restrictions, among the most aggressive in the U.S.

Apr 14, 2022

Recent Writing Added

A still from Camilla Neilsson’s President. The talented filmmaker's previous documentary is Democrats (2014), about the drafting of Zimbabwe's constitution.

I began writing my third book last year, but my progress has been slow. Winter brought a personal loss, although today it is easier to push those memories aside. Few things heal as well as spring's blue skies and birdsong. 

I reviewed a terrific documentary, Camilla Neilsson’s President, in the current issue of Cineaste, a print-only publication. It is a topical look at the course of elections in formerly colonized countries, in this case in Zimbabwe. 

 Please go to the new link (under "Italia," on left side of this column) for my review of The Hand of God, Paolo Sorrentino's autobiographical film that streamed on Netflix. 

Dec 14, 2021

 Best Quest Films of 2021


 A still of Nelly and Marion, portrayed by Joséphine and Gabrielle Sanz, from Céline Sciamma's Petite Maman.

My criteria for choosing these movies is derived from my latest book Cinematic Quests for Identity: The Hero’s Encounter with the Beast (Rowman & Littlefield, 2015). An essential component of my theory about cinematic quests is that heroes do not have a “coming of age” or a “middle-age crisis”—these patriarchal ideas are derived from Western literary tradition and so reflect the experience of men. Cinematic heroes embark on quests many times in their lives in a courageous desire to live a conscious and meaningful existence. They do so at great peril because the quest requires a return to childhood wounds or profound losses; always there is the Beast of individuation, the equivocal figure in the life of the hero that can lead her to madness or to individuation.

This year, there are five outstanding films, four of which are appropriate for adults and children, and some, like Slalom and Little Girl, that are quite topical. All feature a female quest for identity, and with the exception of Little Girl, a documentary, are directed, or written and directed, by women. The order for these entries is random, and does not reflect any effort at ranking.

Petite Maman (subtitled, appropriate for young audiences and adults)

One of the most striking qualities of cinematic quests for identity is the suspension of time. All heroes, even very young protagonists, are compelled, through a current crisis, to revisit a profound loss or an unhealed wound. It is for the purpose of healing that the hero embarks on the path to individuation. For children, as for nine year-old Nelly in Petite Maman, the quest is sometimes an origin story. Céline Sciamma’s sublime film opens shortly after the death of Nelly’s grandmother. Nelly's mother Marion is distraught and rather distant; because of Nelly’s hyper-awareness of her mother’s moods, it appears at the start of the film that the role of mother and daughter are reversed. 

In the manner of fairy tales, Sciamma makes that manifest. In probing her mother’s grief, and her own loss, Nelly returns to Marion’s past that hints at a difficult mother-daughter relationship. This of course leads, as all fairy tales do, to a jaunt into the woods, in this case to the forest of Marion's childhood. There Nelly finds a kindred spirit. Like Cocteau’s La Belle et La Bête, and akin to the work of Miyazaki Hayao, who Sciamma credits as an inspiration, Petite Maman is a terrific movie for the girl in all of us, with outstanding performances by twin sisters Joséphine and Gabrielle Sanz.  

Perhaps one of the most underrated of American actresses, Robin Wright’s breakthrough performance in State of Grace (1990) should have made her a Hollywood star, and while she went on to a dozen credible performances, mostly in forgettable roles, it is in Land, at age 55, that she again realizes her potential. Wright’s debut feature as a director is about Edee (Wright), a deeply troubled, middle-aged woman who buys a cabin, sight unseen, on a plot of mountain-top wilderness.

Rather improbably, she immediately sells the equally expensive SUV that got her there. The screenplay never recovers from that blunder that suggests Edee is hellbent on suicide, a narrative dead-end. The source of Edee’s wish for isolation is also withheld far too long, and while viewers will guess that she has suffered a profound loss, it is actually an outsized ego that led her to winter in that cabin, sans electricity and running water. Arrogance is rarely an attribute of female heroes in cinematic quests, but Wright’s performance makes it believable. The Beast of Edee’s individuation, the character that propels the hero to destruction or redemption, is Miguel (Demián Bichir), a fellow hermit. He confronts Edee with her penchant for self-absorption that has long kept her from appreciating the beauty that surrounds her.

Slalom (appropriate for adolescents and adults)

Sep 25, 2021

59th New York Film Festival


For the press, the New York Film Festival began on September 20th. It opened to the public this weekend. My first festival review, the "Currents" documentary Prism, was just posted on Awards Watch. (The link is on the left, under "Recent and Selected Film Reviews.") Like all journalists who attend festivals, I find it stressful to balance the films I want to screen, and carving out time to write and file assignments. The upsides this year are the in-person screenings, and catching up with colleagues, after a year of watching movies on a computer screen. 

The image above is a still from one of my favorite films at this year's festival, Michelangelo Frammartino's il Buco or The Hole (https://www.filmlinc.org/nyff2021/films/il-buco/). It is ostensibly about the exploration of underground caves. One of my friends and a fellow critic once said that watching the Italian filmmaker's work, one could walk away from the screen, hard boil an egg, and go back to it, knowing you have not missed anything. Maybe Frammartino's work is slow but it is also exacting and subtle. He is a master at composition, too. This one is about the upper world where time moves on, people die and cows calf, and the underworld that has not changed since the beginning of time. The film is scheduled for theatrical release in 2022.