I saw Angelina Jolie present her movie, FIRST THEY KILLED MY FATHER, two nights ago. It is a straight-up great movie that deserves to be seen in the theater (although it premiered on Netflix.) It starts out a little clunky with a montage about Cambodia during the Vietnam war set to "Sympathy for the Devil" (eye roll), but as soon as it gets into the story of Loung Ung, whose memoir about her family's struggles under the Khmer Rouge is the source material for this movie, it becomes a beautiful and moving thing to behold. The actors are mostly first-timers, and the key characters are children, so there's an unvarnished vitality and immediacy to the performances that I loved. It's the story of a horrible ordeal, and yet the movie is never ponderous or preachy. It just tells the story with simplicity and grace. Every now and then, Jolie betrays a Mel Gibsonesque penchant for depicting suffering in graphic, lingering detail that might work against the storytelling (because you have to back out of the experience just to get through it.) But only occasionally. There's a surprising amount of aesthetic pleasure to be had from this film, even though the experiences the characters endure are intensely sad and painful and infuriating. Part of that pleasure comes from the lively performance of the young lead actress in concert with camerawork that places us deeply into her point of view. Sometimes her hands come from either side of the camera as if we're literally looking out of her eyes, but it doesn't feel gimmicky. It makes us children along with her, and surprisingly makes it easier to understand how a child might be more resilient under harsh conditions than an adult, who understands fully what is at stake and what has been lost. The camera is frequently at child's-eye height, the way Ozu's camera was kept at the height of a kneeling adult, and it changes how we experience everything. Jolie has earned her Cambodian street cred gradually, through 14 years of work and outreach in the country. That knowledge and commitment shows in the work. It's a lively, sad, brutal, visually gorgeous, inspiring film. #firsttheykilledmyfather #angelinajolie
Angie Jolie was so gracious and generous at the Directors Guild tonight. Her film First They Killed My Father is so well done, a must see! pic.twitter.com/dnGwa1AFa7— Jerri Sher (@LiveLifeTV) September 23, 2017
DGA, Friday, Sept. 23
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Oscar Announces Changes for Foreign-Film Voting: Now Simpler! (Sort Of.)
As promised, new Academy president John Bailey, a long-time and passionate voter on the foreign language committee, has pushed through some long-awaited changes in the voting rules. It’s meant to be simpler; here’s how the new system works.
By the October 2 deadline, the Academy expects some 90 foreign entries. These will be divided into multiple lists (the number is TBD; last year, there were four); committee participants (volunteers from all 17 Academy branches) are each assigned a list. They are required to watch all of the films on their assigned list at one of two screening rooms in L.A. They can see as many films on other lists as they like, and will receive full credit for each movie they screen. (Previously, a committee member had to watch a given percentage of films to qualify for voting.)
The Academy acknowledges that many questions about the actual breakdown of lists and votes remain to be determined.
Publicists and distribution and marketing executives who are affiliated with any given contender are now welcome to vote. This is a positive change, because so many of the people with the most knowledge of the foreign-film world are the ones involved in releasing and promoting these Oscar contenders. Now the likes of Fredell Pogodin and Nancy Willen, to name a few, can also vote.
Some things haven’t changed: Screenings are still in Los Angeles only. (Broadening the pool on a global basis via the internet is still far down the pike.) But in the second phase, after the shortlist of nine is chosen, there may be changes in how a wider group of committee members see the films in order to pick the final five. (On the documentary side, streaming is already happening.) I’m curious to see how that plays out.