The fest, which played over 134 films, revealed on Monday its award winners in the best narrative feature and best documentary feature categories this morning.
The Hiff Award for Best Narrative Feature, presented by the Wall Street Journal, was given to “Rams.” Directed by Grimur Hákonarson, “Rams” is the official Oscar selection for Iceland. The Hiff Award for Best Documentary Feature, sponsored by ID Films, was presented to “Missing People.”
Best Narrative Short Film was awarded to Jorn Threlfall’s “Over,” while Best Documentary Short Film went to “Last Day of Freedom,” from Dee Hibbert-Jones and Nomi Talisman.
Honorable Mentions were awarded to Ciro Guerra’s “Embrace of the Serpent
Grimur Hakonarson’s “Rams,” which was named the winner of the Un Certain Regard sidebar at the Cannes International Film Festival earlier this year, is Iceland’s first official selection for consideration by the Academy Awards. The film centers on sheep-farming brothers who reconcile when the family’s flock is threatened.
David Shapiro’s “Missing People,” meanwhile, chronicles a Manhattan art gallery director’s simultaneous attempts to contact the family of a New Orleans artist she admires, and to find answers to an unsolved murder in her own past.
Honorable mention awards went to Ciro Guerra’s narrative feature “Embrace of the Serpent,” about an Amazonian shaman working with two scientists to find a healing plant, and to Ilinca Calugareanu’s documentary “Chuck Norris vs. Communism,” about Hollywood’s
In “Truth,” Redford plays Rather and Blanchett appears as CBS News producer Mary Mapes, on whose memoir the film is based. Topher Grace, Elisabeth Moss and Dennis Quaid also are among the cast of the movie, which premieres at the Toronto International Film Festival ahead of its Oct. 8 screening at Hiff. The Sony Pictures Classics movie is due for theatrical release Oct. 16.
The festival also announced the ten films that make up the competition slates, with five titles apiece set for the narrative and documentary categories. The 2015 edition of Hiff, the 23rd annual outing for the fest, runs Oct. 8-12.
The full list of Hiff’s 2015 competition films follows.
Topher Grace and Elisabeth Moss round out the key cast on the drama, based on journalist Mary Mapes’ account of the CBS report into former President George W Bush’s dereliction of duty while serving in the National Guard during the Vietnam War.
The government attempted to discredit the 2004 report, which led to the ruining of Rather’s career and the firing of Mapes.
Spc has positioned Truth for a potential awards run and will release it in theatres on October 16. The world premiere is set for Toronto in the Special Presentations strand.
This year’s Narrative Competition feature films include Matt Sobel’s Take Me To The River, Ciro Guerra’s Cannes Directors’ Fortnight winner Embrace Of The Serpent, Avishai Sivan’s Tikkun, Grímur Hákonarson’s Rams and Diastème’s French Blood.
However, what happens when your main subject has a subject of her own whom she is trying to do research on? Furthermore, what if her subject is also a documentarian in a way? Is the filmmaker making a documentary about someone documenting someone else who was also documenting people in his world? It’s meta, but that’s exactly what David Shapiro’s latest work “Missing People” is about.
Shapiro’s initial subject is art collector and gallerist Martina Batan, who in turn has dedicated her life to find and preserve the work of Roy Ferdinand, a painter from a crime-ridden neighborhood in New Orleans whose work depicted the murder scenes, violence, rape, and drug dealing that were around him. But how can these two stories be connected beyond the curatorial and in a more emotional manner?
The answer is in Martina’s tragic past and how Roy’s life and work resonate with her pain despite being from world’s that don’t seem to have an intersection. Shapiro starts following one story that eventually takes two paths: one for Martina to reopen an old wound, and another for Roy’s life to become visible via his sister’s memories of him.
“Missing People” is a work of humanistic complexities that delivers even more truth that its premise could have predicted. The film premiered at this year’s Los Angeles Film Festival where we had a chance to speak with Shapiro.
Aguilar: There are two subjects in "Missing People, " and they are connected in a way that's not evident at first. How did you find the first of them, Martina Batan, who is the link to the other subject, the artist?
David Shapiro: I first found her, or rather she might have found me that’s a better way to put it, at an art opening. She is a collector and a big gallerist in New York, and she had seen my other films “Keep the River on Your Right in 2001 and “Fishing Heaven” in 2009, which were both at Laff. She had seen my work, she liked them, and she was telling me a little bit about the art that she had been collecting. She knows how to tell a story. She told me little pieces of information, which were very compelling and piqued my interest. Then she said, “I’d love to show you the work. Would you take a look at it?” I didn’t really know her but I said “Ok.”
We set a date and I went to her place in Brooklyn where she keeps her work. I was startled. I just thought there would be a few, and there were hundreds of these drawings by this artist I’d never heard of named Roy Ferdinand. The work was very arresting. It was very violent, and very sexual. It was not what I was expecting. She told me a little bit more about him, not a lot, but enough to pique me interest even more. Right away I was interested in his work because I thought, “There is a documentary in this work about a time and place that’s now gone: Pre-Katrina New Orleans.”
But I was also really startled, confused, and interested in why she was collecting this work. Martina right away said, “I think Roy Ferdinand is a great American artist and I’m going to do everything I can to bring attention to his work.” It wasn’t that she was just collecting for money. I really had a sense that something else was going on. I knew there was something rumbling under the surface, so I said, “I’d like to make a film about Roy, but I’d also like to include you in the film.” I think she was surprised about that. In retrospect, she probably wanted me to make a film about Roy, but I knew there was some connection. That’s how it all started.
Aguilar: At what point did the storyline involving Martina’s brother come along as part of the greater narrative of the documentary?
David Shapiro: That was about a year later. I didn’t know her history. It took a while. It takes a while in life and especially in documentary filmmaking for subjects and filmmakers to trust one another. After about a year Martina told me that in fact her brother had been brutally murdered in 1978 and the case remained unsolved. Right then and there the light bulb went off for me and the whole crew. Sometimes you are ahead of people and sometimes people have blind spots. They can’t see the world and they can’t see what they do. Self-deception is part of survival. There were places where the film, Roy, and Martina were ahead of us, and there were places where we waited for them to catch up to what we suspected, which was that in Roy’s work she saw something about her brother.
Aguilar: Did such shcoking discovery change the angle of the film dramatically?
David Shapiro: Well I was very interested in this story. Right away I could see the double narrative. I knew that there would be some overlap, but I was very interested in how it would happen. That’s what I like to do, to make films where I learn from the work. Films where I learn about people and the world. I thought that it’d be very interesting. I knew right away, “Here are two people from different races, different classes, different time periods, and yet I’m sure there are some symmetries between them, some common denominators. I will let the film unfold and find those.” I wanted to use the double narrative to try and tell Roy’s story and to try to tell Martina’s story, but I thought the film would live and exist in the gap between the two stories and in how they had differences and symmetries.
Aguilar: Tell me about going to New Orleans to meet Roy’s family and sort of reconstructing his steps through Martina's research. It was a breakthrough for Martina and a strange experience for Roy's sisters.
David Shapiro: Yes, that was fascinating. I didn’t know him, but Martina was researching and in a way it was sort of a double investigation. She was investigating Roy, and I was investigating both of them. I think it was very remarkable when we met Faye and Michele, Roy’s sisters. At first they didn’t trust Martina and they were suspicious, and rightly so. “Who is this woman? Why is she interested in my brother? Why is she almost obsessed with my brother?“ For them it was their brother, but for Martina he was this great artist because she had never met the man. He represented something for her, but for the two sisters it was more like, “Hey, what are you doing? This is my brother.” That was very interesting and then, I would suggest that when finally Faye asks Martina, “What is going on? Why are you interesting in this work really? Stop talking about the art,” she comes to terms and wants to make peace with her tragic past. I think she gain some strength and momentum from meeting the two sisters to move forward and reopen the investigation.
Aguilar: It also feels like Roy’s sisters learn about their brother by looking at him from Martina’s perception. Then, Martina also finds out things about her own brother that change her perception of him. His life unfolds in a different way for her after this discoveries.
David Shapiro: That’s right. We all have a family and I think we all have a perception of our family that we like to keep and we all have our positive memories in a certain way. Then when life catches up to them, when you see a different perspective of them, or when you are a couple degrees over, you can see things differently and it shakes you to the foundation. Sometimes it’s good and sometimes it’s bad. It was fascinating to witness and to document that.
Aguilar: Each project must have its inherent challenges and problems, what was the most difficult thing about making this particular film about these two individuals?
David Shapiro: The hardest part was after Martina had a stroke and I was filming in the hospital. That was very difficult and painful. We had become friends over the course of four years. That’s a unique element of independent films, that you spend years making a work like this and you develop a relationship with the people involved. What happened was so tragic. I was filming her trying to remember. That meant just sitting there with the camera. There is a lot of silence in watching somebody trying to remember things. It was very painful and at a certain point I really asked her truthfully, “Do you want me to continue this? “ She was insistent that we do so.
She was very adamant that the film be finished. Anything else would have diminished her agency. She is not a shrinking violet. She is a very strong and smart woman who does what she wants to do. At a certain point I started filming in the hospital with my cell phone because it just felt right. Sometimes form comes out of the material. I was just filming her about a foot away from her with the cell phone and it just felt like the way to go because it had that intimacy without the apparatus and the lights. Some of the final shots of the film were done on a cell phone as well.
Aguilar: As a documentary filmmaker you get intimate access to people’s lives, do you ever like you become part of the story, or do you try to keep an objective eye as much as possible?
David Shapiro: I don’t necessarily believe in the ideology of cinema verité. I think by the very fact that you have a camera there you are affecting the story and you are influencing it. I always expose the apparatus. I show how the film was made. I acknowledge the filmmaker and the filmmaking. Did I become part of this story? I suppose I was a little bit of a catalyst. But I don’t want to diminish Martina’s agency here, I think on some level people do things for a reason and I think she wanted to make this film on some level because she knew Jeff would come up. I didn’t know about Jeff at the beginning of the film, but she did and so I think she was sort of using the film to exhort herself to grapple with her past. In that sense I am part of the story, but I’m peripheral. I’m not the important of the story.
Aguilar: Do you hope that Roy’s art will become more prominent or well known through the exposure this film will bring and through Martina's efforts? Sadly I have to say I had never about him before.
David Shapiro: I didn’t know about his work either. I hope and trust that will happen. That was Martina’s intention all along. I really think she is committed and really believe that Roy Ferdinand is a great American artist, in her own words. She found great solace in his work and in the film you can see why. The thing that is interesting about the film and that I hope viewers will absorb is that you may think of his work in one way at the beginning of the film, but by the end I hope that is contextualizes and you’ll see it in a different light. I think Roy was a very sophisticated artist and really attendant to detail and the world in a very remarkable and smart way.
Aguilar: In a way he documented these voiceless and nameless people through his paintings. Would you say a painter can also be a documentarian through his or her work?
David Shapiro: That’s absolutely right. That was the very first thing that I thought when I walked into her studio in Brooklyn. That’s when my light bulb as a documentarian went off. I thought there was a documentary in the work itself, and then there is the person who made it, and there is Martina. I didn’t know about Martina’s brother who was murdered yet, but even in that embryonic moment I knew that there was a film here because the work is very remarkable and it really is a documentary in and of itself. Kind of like George Catlin and the paintings he did of Native Americans. Even though there is artistic license, in the detail there is a great emotional truth.
Aguilar: What themes or subjects are you pursuing these days for your next project?
David Shapiro: My next film is going to be called “Hofu” and it’s a film about a friendship spanning 40 years, fraud, and pizza.
Aguilar: That’s a great premise. How was your experience at this year's Laff where several of your films have premiered before?
David Shapiro: I’m a big fan of Laff, I’m an alumn you can say. My first film “Keep the River on Your Right” premiered here in 2001 and won the jury award, and went on to win an Independent Spirit Award. This festival has really supported my work and I think it’s a fantastic festival because it takes chances and supports and champions independent films. My second film “Fishing Heaven” also premiered here and then was bought by HBO and eventually was nominated for an Emmy. Now “Missing People” premiered here to great audiences. I’m very grateful and honored. I believe this festival truly supports independent film.
The festival also announced notable titles from Sundance and other festivals including Netflix’s “Manson Family Vacation,” thriller “Victoria,” “Diary of a Teenage Girl,” “Infinitely Polar Bear,” Russell Brand’s “Brand: A Second Coming” and “The Vanished Elephant.”
The festival, now in its 21st year, returns to downtown Los Angeles at the Regal Cinemas at L.A. Live. Lily Tomlin comedy “Grandma” was announced last month as the opening night film of this year’s festival on June 10.
The lineup includes 74 feature films, 60 short films and over 50 new media works representing 35 countries. New sections include the U.S. fiction and world fiction competitions and launch, as well as the previously announced Buzz, Nightfall and Zeitgeist programs.
Martina Batan was a Manhattan art school student in 1978 when her 14-year-old brother was found stabbed to death outside an apartment complex in their native Queens, having never returned home from a nearby diner the night before. The tragedy tore apart their surviving family (though
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