Jason Schwartzman, Lili Taylor, Avi Nash in ‘There There’ at Tribeca
In his Tribeca Spotlight Narrative feature There There, Andrew Bujalski’s quirky, comedic take on love and coupling dynamically shifts through five vignettes. The World Premiere which screened at Tribeca Film Festival with a Q and A afterward is satiric and sharp. The stories thread irregularly from couple to situation. Interestingly, writer director Bujalski’s pointed dialogue twists on a dime to different scenarios and couples. He examines love, nascent relationships and disrupting influences.
We willingly go along for the ride because of the excellent acting and unusual cinematography. In fact much about the feature remains particular because of how Bujalski shot There There. As he stated in the Q and A after the Tribeca screening, the actors were miles away from each other in their homes during COVID-19. Thus, Bujalski and his team worked prodigious sets ups and heavily story boarded to accomplish remote filming.
Starring powerhouses known for delivering unique performances, Bujalski selects Jason Schwartzman, Lili Taylor, Lennie James, Molly Gordon and Avi Nash to spin encounters of want and confrontation. Subtly, he focuses on frontal shots of the actors who are in solo framed shots. They dialogue with those offscreen. Thus, when Lili Taylor discusses her previous evening’s intimacy with Lennie James, we never see the couple physically together. Yet, the beauty of Bujalski’s work seamlessly reveals through the dialogue, the amazing night for the “couple.” However, where will these two proceed if Taylor wants to move slowly toward the love dynamic and James wants to race ahead?
Bridged by a musical riff performed by the versatile Jon Natchez in the shadowy light from a window, the next scene shows Taylor and her friend an AA counselor. As the friend and counselor listens and reacts to Taylor’s impressions of the night with James, the mood changes. The scene sparks a different type of intimacy, one of a confidante who listens and one who digs deep to gain enlightenment. Uncertainty ends the encounter and Natchez’s music riff segues into a confrontation between teacher and parent.
The mom, played by Taylor’s counselor in the previous scene becomes abusive to Molly Gordon’s exasperated teacher. Apparently, the counselor’s son has been engaged in porn on his phone in class. How and why he sneaks the phone in without discovery is moot. Instead, the blame game moves forward and both Gordon and the parent verbally upbraid each other. Unsatisfactorily, the encounter ends strangely with nothing resolved. Ironically, two individuals who allegedly “have it together” based on their roles, reveal themselves to be flawed and self-hating. Reflecting the culture’s craziness, both negotiate with each other as adversaries instead of collaborators. They accomplish little to confront and help the son.
Natchez’s musical bridge moves the scene between two friends who violate the dictum that friends shouldn’t go into business together. Schwartzman and Nash tie into the previous scene. In this ironic construct Schwartzman’s lawyer advises Nash to curtail his apparently illegal money-making online activity. As they wrangle about the illegality and Nash’s exposure to liability, the debate flares. The fun parts of the scene involve Schwartzman in his kitchen puttering and Nash impressively doing upside down calisthenics on rings suspended from his ceiling. Again, this couple resolves nothing except to declare their brotherly love for each other. Apparently, their professional relationship and Nash’s exposure take a backseat to their closeness. But Nash’s character doesn’t accept Schwartzman’s legal advice anyway, so why not?
However, for the lawyer Schwartzmans portrays, the guilt becomes overwhelming. Visited by the ghost of his relative, portrayed by Roy Nathanson, Schwartzman has a humorous “come to Jesus” moment. We gather that he can’t bear up against his sleazy and unethical practice and behavior. Finally, resolution comes in this scenario as Schwartzman vows to change. Schwartzman’s ironic mirror image of ourselves in our best and worst moments of guilt, remorse, revelation and desire to change floats away. Sincerity seems key. However, we have no way of knowing whether his heart to heart with the ghost prompts him to correct or worsen. Uncertainty reigns.
In the last vignette after a Natchez, interlude James and Gordon meet up at James’ well appointed restaurant. As he attempts to save her from Nash’s intrusion into Gordon’s space, they chat. Gordon’s “drunk” convinces James to oust her. However, she manipulates him to stay and they settle into edgy repartee which ends in sexual suggestion then like a ghost floats away as Gordon leaves. Like all encounters, the results remain open ended, low-high risk on a tension wire of possibilities unrealized until the next encounter. Unfortunately, the film ended, but our imaginations took up the possibilities.
In the Q and A Bujalski acknowledged his film’s weird strangeness. Certainly episodic the narrative threads linked. However, no follow through chronicled any particular character. Instead, we sense that the individuals might pass each other in the street or meet at any moment. Life’s serendipitous moments, unusual and unique carry enjoyment and risk, as visited in the first, third and fifth vignettes. Compelling in and strikingly different, Bujalski’s There There is all the more fascinating considering its cinematography and great effort necessary to shoot during the pandemic.
For tickets and times go to the Tribeca Film Festival website: https://tribecafilm.com/films/there-there-2022 or check streaming services.
Jon Hamm in ‘Corner Office,’ at Tribeca FF
In Corner Office, John Ham shines in his portrayal of Orson, employee of The Authority a monolithic global conglomerate. Director Joachim Back’s opening shots reveal The Authority’s headquarters to be a structural monstrosity so immense it towers into the clouds, rendering its upper floors invisible in obvious symbolism. Screenwriter Ted Kupper adapted Corner Office from Jonas Karlsson’s ironic, existential novel The Room. A Tribeca Film Festival Spotlight Narrative film, Back’s sardonic comedy features Hamm’s deadpan delivery and ironic voice over narration with success.
Importantly, the director creates the atmosphere and surreal tenor of the film using flat lighting and dull color schemes to evoke the austere look and feel of a lifeless office environment. Also, he uses unusual camera angels implying relationships of menace, inferiority or absence. For example, at times he shoots Andrew, their boss in an upward angle as Andrew looks down on his underlings. These he alternates when Hamm’s Orson is in his element of peace, power and personal authority which begins after Back sets up Orson’s nemesis, The Authority and those who promote it. The cubicle desks set off the see-through glass office where, Andrew (Christopher Heyerdahl) sits, observes and manages with eerie calm. The function, mission and purpose of The Authority remain opaque. However, its symbolism becomes apparent as Hamm’s Orson eventually challenges its ethos with his unique particularity.
In keeping with Jonas Karlsson’s concepts and overall thesis, Back takes to task the overweening domination of the anti-creative, drudgery producing Philistines of the corporate world. Indeed, the higher ups of multi-global conglomerate boards oppress their plebeians with mediocrity in a status quo which destroys humanity to increase the bottom line. With the banality of evil, such non inspiring workplaces siphon off creativity, originality, genius, identity and vision. Indeed, Back’s creation of the nullifying atmosphere that reduces Orson and his colleagues to drones, characterizes the loathsome world of corporate and governmental bureaucracies everywhere.
When Orson arrives at his new position with his box of desk supplies, Beck foreshadows his alienation and isolation. Visually, the director includes an aerial shot of Orson getting out of his car in a snowstorm, a lone figure against white in a massive parking lot of hundreds of employees’ cars.
Quickly, Orson adjusts to his open office cubicle. However, he has no divider between himself and his colleague Rakesh, who displeases him like the rest of the uncaring, numbed workers. Throughout, Orson narrates his impressions and thoughts to us, while remaining quiet, non communicative, removed.
Cleverly casting Hamm against his Mad Men type, Beck transposes Karlsson’s Orson into a nebbishy-looking, seemingly wish-washy invisible. Yet, Orson’s astute, inner critic circumspectly analyzes his colleagues’ mediocrity with humorous wit and darkly comedic self-satisfaction. Structuring his routine into 55 minute slots to achieve maximum performance, he even holds off on bathroom breaks. He tells us withholding his pee builds character.
Interestingly, Orson’s analytical inner critic remains defensive. And his arrogant attitude puts off unmotivated desk partner Rakesh (Danny Pudi) whom he chides for piling up his folders that threaten to mess up Orson’s organized, OCD desk. Thus, Back subtly, humorously intimates Orson’s character strives to distinguish himself as superior to the others. He rejects the hive mentality; fit in, shut up, don’t make waves, don’t excel, speak quietly, just get by. Safely, Orson confides in us, as he hypocritically plays the game. However, he determines himself to be a person to be reckoned with in time, in an opaque and funny statement.
As Orson, Hamm’s delivery and attitude remain reserved, understated and ironically humorous. For example he notes his “peers” defer to dominant Carol (Allison Riley). Yet her child’s incorrect perspective in a crayon drawing shows her biased weakness at not correcting the silly drawing. Though Orson channels low-key, his inner perceptions revealed by Hamm’s voice over narration with Back’s visuals of his clueless peers indicate Orson’s maverick brilliance and talent.
When Andrew scolds Orson for not obeying the sign “Think About the Floor,” to cover his snow laden boots with booties, Orson recoils, humiliated. And it is then walking to the men’s room that he discovers a secret room along the corridor nearby. Making sure no one watches him, he goes inside and finds a traditional, warm, wood paneled office with luxurious appointments, seating, soft lighting and pleasant anti-corporate, anti-worker bee, anti-bureaucratic esthetic.
Magically, this lovely warm, traditional office befitting a CEO works wonders for Orson’s soul. The secret room that Back enhances with muted, lyrical music each time Orson enters transforms him physically into the gorgeous, stunning Hamm. He drips with confidence and power. Evolved confidence presents the finest version of himself.
Problematically, when colleagues and Andrew question what he’s doing, Orson refers them to the secret room. They insist upon no corner office . And Back verifies this as colleagues gather to watch Orson stand in front of a wall and stare. Frightening us, we wonder what gives? Back tricks us to want to believe the room exists because of how Orson morphs when he relaxes in its “magic.” Profoundly, the contrast between institutionalization and humanity so pronounced by Back in his sets, atmosphere, cinematography, silences, room music stuns. Ironically, we gladly accept Orson’s reality. Yet, if the others don’t see it, we accept Orson’s crazy. Which truth abides?
We experience cognitive dissonance and a disconnect. Can both be true if we lift our understanding to the metaphoric level that some people see and experience things which help them tap into the best of themselves? Or is Orson just off his rocker and in intentional rebellion against the Philistines? If that is the case, he does have a point, but carries it too far and sets himself up for attack and betrayal.
After he visits the company psychiatrist and she determines his wellness, Andrew presents the condition of his employment. To remain he must not stand by the wall and stare into it. He must agree no room exists. Unquestionably, Orson experiences the “rooms” beauty and becomes his evolved self in it. Why can’t they see the room or its possibilities?
Adhering to Andrew’s rules, Orson works even more furiously arriving earlier and leaving later. He sneaks into the magical office where he creates his finest most precise work. When Andrew discovers Orson created the assignments and not other employees, he lauds him and his colleagues congratulate him. Perhaps, he even saved the division from the threatened restructuring. His valuation by Andrew indeed made him a person of reckoning. Subsequently, this confidence prompts him to attempt a relationship with the company’s beautiful, friendly receptionist (Sarah Gadon), whom he squires to “the corner office” where he kisses her.
After this turning point, the conflict explodes between Orson’s inner knowledge, vision and genius and the corporation’s flalining function and structure, represented by Andrew, his colleagues and the EVP (Executive Vice President) in one of the cloud shrouded floors above. You’ll have to see the film or read Karlsson’s novel to understand whether a resolution breaks open or uncertainty continues.
Back’s symbolism and metaphors of the commercialism which breeds institutionalization and bureaucratic nihilism that destroys smashes through each scene of the film. Superb, ironic performances by Hamm, Pudi, Heyerdahl and the entire office cast elucidate the profound themes. The indictment of the Philistines of corporate empires to cast aside their employee’s opportunities for genius and innovation manifests with power in this surreal tale.
You’ll laugh and you’ll ache, but you must see it. Go to the Tribeca platform to stream it at home: https://tribecafilm.com/films/corner-office-2022
‘Poser’ Tribeca Film Festival 2021
The inherent charm of Lennon (Sylvia Mix) the protagonist in Poser, in its World Premiere at Tribeca Film Festival 2021 is that she embodies what average talents reflect, the yearning to go past fandom, the need to be a part of something larger than herself; to be somebody, to belong. And if that means reporting on artists, to receive a smidgen of their glory, it is enough. On the other hand obsessions take root in stoking the need to crawl into the celebrity’s skin. This is especially so if one lacks the ability, confidence or ambition to work very hard to achieve what artists of all stripes have: talent and/or the work ethic to achieve the skill to stumble into talent and originality.
Such is the stuff that Poser is made of. Written by Noah Dixon and directed by Dixon and Ori Segev, Poser explores and provides a cross section of the soul of an individual who circles burgeoning artists. Oftentimes, like Lennon Gates (a coolly deep and therefore opaque Sylvia Mix) they are seekers and searchers who have not yet defined themselves but who yearn to ride the coattails of the celebrated and connected artist. And one way to achieve any connection with the talented is to report on them and therefore convince oneself of the illusion of being a part, yet remaining so apart, they never honestly connect because they are posing as celebrity, but are only a wannabe.
Emotionally a cypher, Lennon Gates, a dishwasher and hotel worker by day and music groupie by night, insinuates herself into the art and music scene in Columbus, Ohio. Persistent in first digitally recording via her phone then transferring the recordings to tapes, she collects experiences and teaches herself to interview for her own podcast in a DIY fashion. Her subjects are the musicians and artists who are beginning to “make their bones,” in the business.
As she meets these singers and bands who identify their own music with hysterical abandon as they take themselves seriously, Lennon does too. She keenly watches and provides an audience and the publicity, however, smallish it is. She, too, is “making her bones,” as a quasi reporter who is not quite a hanger on, though Dixon satirizes reporters who never are the talent, but who ride the coattails of celebrities so some of the glam rubs off.
Being in the right place at the right time after hanging on and around the Columbus, Ohio’s underground music scene, Lennon has a breakthrough. She endears herself to the charismatic, energetic and fun-loving Bobbi Kitten (the real Bobbi Kitten) and becomes a member of Kitten’s crew for partying and enjoying their youth and drugs. That Lennon perceives her relationship with the talented Kitten means she has arrived is reflected in a turning point which is symbolic and foreshadows the abrupt ending.
For company Gates keeps a goldfish. The irony is superb, for the “pet” requires nothing deeply emotional from her caretaker except a shake of food and clean water. Apparently, even those simple tasks are too onerous for Lennon. When we see her flush the goldfish down the toilet bowl to join the sewage of Columbus, this signals her transformation to come. She plays guitar and sings for Kitten who encourages her. Influenced by her relationship with Kitten and her posse, Lennon attempts to come into her own, except she has little to recommend herself. However, riding Kitten’s magnanimous, compelling and sterling coattails, Lennon believes her own delusion that she, too, can be a singer, performer and entertainer like Kitten.
Noah Dixon’s intriguing script and the spot-on cast, especially Kitten and the superb Mix and other performers who city natives will recognize provide a thrilling and compelling expose of the dangers of fandom, the need to be worshiped and admired, and the absolute consummation of music and art in the souls of entertainers, performers and wannabes of the burgeoning next generation that is happening. Segev’s and Dixon’s direction is anointed. The music from the Columbus “scene” to the ancillary moodiness and suspense riffs that overtake the warmth of the various groups also is spot-on and memorable.
From music to editing, to cinematography and acting, Poser delivers from beginning to ending. For a first time out, every “i” is dotted and every “t” crossed. Poser is one to see. It’s screening at Tribeca Film Festival until 23rd of June. Click HERE for details.
‘Ottolenghi and the Cakes of Versailles’ Tribeca Film Festival Review
As COVID-19 has prompted the Metropolitan Musuem to close its doors to its thousands of visitors on a slow day and stream daily content, we have a chance to look back at another time. It is a throwback to the past splendors of the Met and its 2018 Versailles exhibit captured in a Tribeca Film Festival offering. Ottolenghi and the Cakes of Versailles, streamed online for press, fans and supporters. Tribeca Film Festival curtailed many of its events. However, they screened films in the midst of a global pandemic, the likes of which is perhaps worse than the French Revolution that felled the last of the French Kings (Louis XVI) and left the Palace of Versailles a shell of itself until later restoration.
Though I am a neophyte foodie, I had never heard of world renowned chef Yotam Ottolenghi (cookbooks include Jerusalem, Plenty). Nor had I the time to visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York during its “Visitors to Versailles” exhibit: https://www.metmuseum.org/exhibitions/listings/2018/visitors-to-versailles.
The Metropolitan Museum enjoys featuring live events which bring important works to life. They attempt to ground them in the present by combining exhibits with other contemporary forms of expression. “Visitors to Versailles” was one such glorious presentation taking place in the Summer of 2018.
Though I missed attending the Versailles exhibit and particularly “The Feast of Versailles,” presented by Ottolenghi and his pastry chef collaborators, “all’s well that end’s well.” Laura Gabbert the documentarian known for city of Gold, No Impact Man and Sunset Story decided to do a quick and dirty film about Yotam Ottolenghi’s commission to create the “Feast of Versailles” giving us an inside look behind the scenes at how the “feast” portion of the exhibit came into being.
From start to finish, Gabbert chronicles the philosopher-foodie Ottolenghi at his home and his restaurant. We witness clips of him with restaurant colleagues tasting and refining desserts. We immediately get a sense of Ottolenghi’s expertise, congeniality and collaborative skills to perfect dishes to will please his clientele.
The filmmaker features brief interview clips o Ottolenghi describing how he works and how he responded to the Met’s commission of his culinary artistry. Then she the chronicles the chef’s visit to New York City from his home base in London and reviews meetings with Met Museum experts who assist him in his research of the culture, opulence and luxury of Versailles as the seat of world culture for over 100 years during the reign of the Sun Kings. Importantly, the Met experts discuss the types of foods that the king and his patrons enjoyed, gleaned from the records and from oil paintings of that time.
As Ottolenghi visits Versailles, Gabbart includes panoramic views of the glorious gardens and various salons and rooms including the “hall of mirrors” which she films as Ottolenghi comments. This section perhaps could have been added to; there is never enough photography of the incredible palace. However, film clips include the drawings, renderings and other works capturing the style of the palace dating back three hundred-fifty years.
From his readings, his discussions with the experts and his Versailles visit, Ottolenghi decides to review online a myriad of pastry chefs to assess whom he might best collaborate with who will convey his vision. It’s an important selection process. They will help him elucidate the ethos of Versailles though a contemporary lens. After visiting their websites and scrutinizing their “wares” online, he hones in on five visionary dessert chefs: Dinara Kasko, Janice Wong, Bompas & Parr, Ghaya Oliveira, and Dominique Ansel. All of these chefs are as diverse from each other as is the east from the west.
Ottolenghi’s research of French history and epicurean tradition, meetings, planning and contacts which have taken months are everything. Then Gabbert slows down her time frame and follows the pressure on the five chefs as they arrive at the Met to set up their displays and work their magic two days before the culinary event the “Feast of Versailles.”
These unique and renowned pastry chefs (creator of the “Cronut” Dominique Ansel, among others) have been guided with a light hand by Ottolenghi who has envisioned the evening as an emulation of French decadence that manifests spinning reflections into our own age. Months before the event, each pâtissier works to create a unique dessert inspired by the conceptualization of Versailles’ over-the-top dramatic grandeur. Chocolate sun kings to elaborate jellies, tarts to swans and topiaries — Gabbert reveals the artistry of the dessert chef and the challenges they confront fashioning their presentations in a formidable setting like the Met which is not outfitted as a culinary institute, indeed, far from it.
As the tension rises, the worst possible scenarios occur. The electrical circuit doesn’t work and it is a trial for the electricians to come up with a solution so that the “tornado” effect delivered by the special machine will spin with gusto. In another instance, the cake batter is not the right consistency because the ingredients in the US are different. The pastry chef tries numerous times with the help of an American expert who insists another ingredient should be added. The director wisely leaves the chef unmoored from her art, questioning how to correct the batter. Will she find a solution the day of the Feast?
Importantly, the “Feast” is a living paean to the court of the monarchy which daily was a staged scene that gave audience to artists, writers, reporters, foreign tourists and subjects who witnessed the rich splendor of the King’s residence, his dominance over his officials and his power as head of state. French cuisine then and now had a great impact on French society which continues into our modern day with cultivars like Julia Child, Eric Ripert, Dominique Ansel and more. One cannot examine a cookbook and not see French words used for process and product: i.e. saute, flambe, mousse, omelet, etc.
One theme that Gabbert explores is this idea that there is little privacy in the world of the Sun Kings who exposed themselves, perhaps too much, for it led to their downfall in the extremes of poverty and wealth. Today, Social Media is used to eliminate our privacy, but the uber wealthy manage to stay away from the public spotlight, where the Sun Kings sought it. The reputed richest in the world are not necessarily so; old wealth that dominates for centuries is unknown and uninvestigated, for good reason.
Another theme that the director alludes to briefly, which should have been elucidated at length, is the idea of excess, crass opulence and decadence. The director includes one shot of Donald Trump’s gold room and makes the analogy that such excess caves in on itself as did the French Monarchy. On a superficial level the “equivalence” seems to make sense. She needed to extrapolate about the parallels and reveal that past their superficiality, there is no parallel. The Sun Kings were far from frivolous and unlearned. Their culture developed over a century and the accoutrements they surrounded themselves with were priceless. The same does not abide for the dim comparative currently in the White House and the occupants’ crass nouveau riche sensibilities.
What may abide in this romp through Versailles and the lovely feast of extravagant and clever desserts is the theme that the draining wealth and riches it takes to sustain the luxurious materialism chokes off everything. Eventually, the debts pile up and the enemies threaten. Soon the borrowing becomes so great one is entailed with quid pro quos, not a way to remain autonomous. And then the revolution comes when there is not enough food to go around. The film is an interesting view of the days of glory during a time when new elites strive for similitude but fall so short, they don’t recognize their foibles and pretensions.
But Gabbert manages to tie the times vaguely together with the elaborate desserts and concepts of the grand master of the “Feast of Versailles,” Ottolenghi. And she infers gently that the sustainability of such excess is as mortal as its keepers. We recognize the fragility of excess more than ever in this COVID-19 global pandemic.
Tribeca Film Festival Review and Article on ‘American Factory’
American Factory by Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert screened in its New York premiere at Tribeca Film Festival. The documentary is an alarming view of the foreign factory which may presage the downhill slide for American workers as the trend of foreign investment continues. Factories in China and Russia operate differently. And when such investment comes to the U.S., standards of accountability are not what Americans are used to. Foreign ownership dictates process and operation.
The film presents the anatomy of a GM plant closing December 2008 and its rise from the ashes in the form of a refurbished plant bought by Chinese investors. The idea to invest in the U.S. was to establish profitability. For Americans the hope was that the jobs created would bring greenery back to a state which was choking from the massive rust storms its closed industries had caused.
The devastation in industry as a result of the mortgage debacle and Second Great Depression under the Bush Administration was legion throughout the U.S. and globally. Thus, when news of the GM plant’s restoration by Chairman Cao came, there was cause for jubilation. After the dust of the launch settled, expectations shifted and the hard realities revealed themselves.
The filmmakers lay no blame and avoid a political stance. Any reference to politics is my own perspective. The filmmakers present all sides and attempt to be as objective as possible. Because of that attitude they had total access to the factory floor. Using the techniques of cinema verite and acute editing, we see interviews of workers expressing feelings and opinions. In light of the history of the American factory and unions which the film touches upon, what is now happening with foreign investment coming here and opening factories is not the boon politicians would make it out to be. Based upon what the filmmakers discovered and relate through their interviews and portraits of workers at home and on the factory floor, “the handwriting is on the wall.”
A Bit of History
When the Dayton, Ohio GM plant closed in 2008 filmmakers recorded what was a tragedy for blue collar workers. Dayton, the home of the Wright Brothers, had a prodigious history of industry and innovation. At one point it boasted the most patents per capita than any other city in the US. It was the second largest automotive manufacturing city after Detroit at a prosperous time before the Regan administration. Before the Regan years the wealthy were taxed proportionately with the other classes. The corporate tax rate was triple what it is now. The unions protected/advocated for workers and petitioned the government (OSHA) to safeguard their health and well being when there were violations. CEO salaries were not as exponentially wacked in comparison to their workers’ salaries. Workers faced low inflation: by comparison to today, there was little national debt. A single parent wage-earner was able to support a family of four and put kids through college in middle America and the South. Additionally, the medical industrial complex was not profit based.
None of this was socialism! The wealthy were taxed their proportionate fair share. It was good, old-fashioned American citizens paying to support one another’s prosperity, from the wealthy to the poor based on the graduated income tax. The extremes between rich and poor were not galactic. Banks were regulated repositories of citizen funds; they could not invest.
Ronald Regan and a conservative Republican administration exponentially increased corporate socialism otherwise known as corporate welfare. Everything changed in the nation’s economy and social/economic progress among the classes to benefit the wealthiest and slight the poor and middle class (upper middle, middle, lower middle). Republicans increasingly targeted programs for every-day Americans and pushed for more tax breaks for the wealthy. Unions were broken up. Globalism was used as the excuse, but in effect, the 60/40% power balance upended between unions and corporate higher ups to 80/20. Corporates took advantage. Greed blossomed, inequities grew. Corporations closed factories in the U.S. and went overseas, not happy to make a profit, but happier to make a mega profit to pay a hefty CEO salary and benefits to someone more interested in the bottom line than making product. Banking structure continued to change. Banks consolidated, made investments, funded derivatives, subprime mortgages and became “too big to fail.
Surreptitiously, Regan and others that followed had the laws changed to effect this, all to benefit corporates and the wealthy. There was continued downsizing, outsourcing, lower corporate tax rates, higher middle class tax rates, and lower taxes for the wealthy. Factories went overseas and Americans and farmers went bankrupt as the American Dream evaporated. With the mortgage debacle in 2008, it was the apotheosis of the death of the American Dream. Plant closures bankrupted and retrograded the lives of thousands of blue-collar workers in a chain reaction effect on other businesses.
After filmmakers covered the GM plant closing, they did an update of the area. Founder, chairman and CEO of Fuyao Glass Industry Group in a symbolic gesture acquired the old GM factory to establish an American headquarters of multinational Fuyao Glass. For the promise of hiring American workers and having it launched by American officials, he received enormous tax credits from the Ohio Tax Credit Authority. These breaks have increased under the Trump Tax Reform Act, which gives millions of dollars in tax welfare to corporations and billionaires, while making the other, poorer economic classes pay for it in a now swelling $23 trillion dollar deficit, something once considered anathema by conservative Republican tea partyists, now embraced and lauded by Mitch McConnell Republicans.
Documentarians filmed the plant launch and operations of Fuyao Glass which, to Chairman Cao’s consternation, was not immediately profitable as it would have been in China. It was losing money on top of the $500 million invested to open the plant.
Interestingly, Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert examine a cross-section of Chinese and American workers and managers to gauge the cultural differences, language barriers and work approaches. They interview Chairman Cao (a communist party leader hooked in high up to the party through his family). The Chinese workers, used to long hours and little pay are happy. American workers are upset.
The differences between the two cultures are staggering and problematic when the pressure of financial losses increases. Chinese workers, used to 10-14 hour days, find the 8 hour day unrealistic for profitability. US safety regulations established by OSHA are not understood and often ignored imperiling workers. For example Wong He, lead Furnace Engineer in OEM Tempering at Fuyao Glass America in an area where temperatures exceed 1200 F, a 20-plus-year employee of Fuyo, has burn marks all over his arms gotten in China. China’s safety regulations are not like ours. American workers file grievances, something that Chairman Cao doesn’t understand.
The Chinese and American workers try to become friends; there are humorous clips of Americans bringing Chinese workers for barbecue and for entertainment, showing them how to use guns for target practice. The Chinese workers who are away from their families and room together in tiny apartments are shocked that some Americans have to work two jobs (FGA pays $14.00 per hr.) to make ends meet. Clearly, American standards of living are not what Chinese hear about. Filmmakers interviews who lost homes, went bankrupt and live in one room in a relative’s house with few belongings. Thus, FGA seemed a dream come true. There are caveats.
In the past the former jobs at GM paid $28.00 an hour and the inflation rates and cost of living were lower. With their lower salary and higher costs, inflation and the shrinking purchasing power of the dollar, the FGA workers cannot afford to pay for their own education to retool or pay for their children’s college. Some are happy to have a job. But it is longer hours (they are not paid for training) with unsafe working conditions. The Chinese workers are younger and are used to long work hours under stressful conditions. Chinese workers come from a militaristic/communistic approach to company loyalty. They obey all commands without question, even if it means sacrificing their safety. Americans if have been used to a long tradition since unionization of asking “why?” Chairman Cao and the Chinese officials see this approach as disloyalty. They should just obey orders.
As the financial pressures increase, the Chinese attempt to show American company officials how FGA should be operated; they even pay for their visit to China to understand how plants are run. The hand of the Communist Party is all over the company in China; there are songs, banquets and entertainment to praise Fuyo Glass and the Chairman for his goodness. The sessions appear like brainwashing PR advertisements which inculcate the workers to be loyal, obedient employees for the good of the company/communist party. The visit to mainland China is an eye-opener.
Though American managers who visited China attempt to rein in their American workers when they return home, the historical, socio-cultural and economic disparities get in the way. Everything explodes when American workers at FGA attempt to unionize with the help of the U.A.W. Chairman Cao will not brook this assault on his company. He hires American lawyers and lobbyists to thwart unionization and mount an attack campaign against the union so workers will vote it down. The firm he hires, the Labor Relations Institute is paid over one-million for its assistance to provide everything that Chairman Cao and Chinese managers (Chairman Cao brings over new managers to tackle what the American managers can’t) need for the union vote to fail.
Filmmakers catch all of these interactions on camera and edit cogently so we understand the events with voice over explanations by workers. Surveillance of union representatives at FGA is taken. The right of the worker to voice complaint is discouraged; union reps who work at the plant are the equivalent of traitors. The vote fails; FGA has no union. There are promises made to lift the employee wages. Eventually, with no profitability, American management is fired; union reps are fired and anyone who gives “what for” or doesn’t work at the level required of their Chinese counterparts is put on notice. Retribution for asserting the right to speak out will occur, thus workers fear filing grievances with OSHA. At the end of the film’s shooting in December of 2017, a Fuyao employee was accidentally crushed to death. Additionally, to avoid conflicts in the future, the plant is being increasingly automated. Regardless, workers will be out of jobs, even if they prove loyalty.
Is there any way of knowing what injuries are occurring or what violations are happening in a corporation in the US, a foreign run company, which follows Chinese policies and practices? Only whistleblowers could reveal this; but they need their jobs and would be fired if the the identity of the whistleblower was revealed. The law of profitability is supreme, under a system of loyalty to the Chairman and the company which expects its workers to meet its own standards, not American standards.
Since the film the number of OSHA complaints against the company is down-exactly why is not known. The company has been profitable in 2018; but one of the stipulations for tax incentives of $15 million is that the company fulfill its promise to hire 800 employees, generate an annual payroll of $32.5 million and stay at their current facility for at least 18 years. Filmmakers also discovered that in March of 2018 a Fuyao employee was accidentally killed while working. Fifteen years ago in plants across the nation, to avoid citations, OSHA standards were being followed and the press would have publicly shamed the company.
Chairman Cao is spending $16 million to build a new processing center in South Carolina. It’s a new day. Foreign investment is here. It’s been a long time coming. Those in the “know” needed to prime the nation for such a situation with sub prime loans, so workers could go bankrupt, corporations could make more money overseas, the unions could be broken and those pesky regulations could be obviated. All of this happened and happens so that corporations pay little for a desperate, broken-down, poor, workforce, and foreign companies find the US an attractive place to invest, helped by politicians looking to make a little spare change for their states and themselves. But as automation takes over jobs, much of the need to oversee human production will be moot.
How do we handle the coming foreign factories that are populating our American landscape, offering jobs at what cost to Americans?
The situation has exponentially worsened under Trump. Workers are expendable and invisible; the rule of law and regulations are a thing of the past. No one is watching except Chairman Cao, and other foreign corporate chairmen and Trump. They are watching their bottom line at the expense of workers and the American people. But don’t believe what I’ve written here. See the film for yourself. Corporate socialism has everything to do with what is happening to the “American” Factory. Equitable economic, democratic practices and tax structure had everything to do with why the U.S. was thriving up until Regan. Only the .001% are increasing their wealth exponentially. The reset of the nation is treading water or drowning in rust. Automation will exacerbate these problems.
The film is truly a siren call to citizens in the South and in the Rust Belt who are debilitated and hurting economically, despite promises by Trump. Fox News reports which ADVERTISE for the next election, a “booming economy” (yes for billionaires and Wall Street) are great sources of brainwashing to convince Americans that the shrinking purchasing power of the dollar is not happening and their existing paycheck to paycheck is a good thing. Just don’t get sick. The film posits what is happening and I’ve suggested this is no coincidence if you look at the larger picture. The economy is global. Corporations are not bound by nation-states,’ laws. They are free; their CEOS make incredible salaries; workers can’t afford a night out on the town if they have children. And under Citizen’s United, corporations are people; they can donate any amount they like to their preferred political candidates to perpetuate corporate welfare.
An example of foreign investment that is happening as I write this concerns Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska who is bringing money and jobs to Mitch McConnell’s state of Kentucky after Trump lifted heavy sanctions applied by Obama. against Russia for the Crimean invasion. Oleg Deripaska,Putin’s close friend, is building an aluminium factory in Kentucky. Deripaska has a history of looting, money laundering, corruption, silencing whistleblowers (one woman who shot her mouth off that Deripaska knew about Russian meddling with the U.S. election has been jailed in Russia). Deripaska/Putin have covered up corruption that is the basis of his oligarchic empire which he is making global with the help of Trump and McConnell.
If Deripaska is given carte blanche treatment to “stimulate jobs,” for McConnell’s Kentucky, his company will not ipso facto be subject to former American factory standards, especially if Trump and Mitch McConnell (who has turned a blind eye to Russian meddling in the 2016 election, the Mueller Report’s findings of potential conspiracy and definite obstruction of justice) are in power. If the company pollutes and run roughshod over American workers? Only an aware public and vigilant government can stop any abuse by a company that is processing one of the most toxic substances on this planet, a poison connected to Alzheimer’s and other debilities.
Under Trump, the skies are the limit with foreign investment and foreign companies coming to the US to “create jobs.” There are no regulations worth keeping to improve the profitability of corporations. US tax payers will be subsidizing these corporations and individual states will be subsidizing tax breaks; certainly Mitch McConnell and the Kentucky state tax commission will be offering Oleg Deripaska tax breaks as a condition of hiring American workers. One wonders what else McConnell and others from Kentucky will be offering to “bring jobs” to one of the poorest states in the Union?
If we learn anything from American Factory, we will note that unless guarantees are made with workers, foreign investment will not improve American citizens’ plight and the economy in states that are hurting. Coupled with workers’ inability to easily retool and get an education (they cannot afford it because of bank strangleholds on student loans and interest rates) their options are so limited they are forced to work in such foreign industries for lower pay and questionable safety conditions. The vicious cycle will continue and the divide between rich and poor, the coastal cities and the red States will exponentially worsen. We must ask who does this foreign investment help?
This is a film worth seeing and thinking about. The point is to keep on learning. Ignorance is not a luxury we can afford.
Tribeca Film Festival Review: ‘A Taste of Sky,’ Sparking the Vision of the New Nordic Cuisine in Bolivia
Have you ever eaten at the number one restaurant in the world? For a number of years NOMA received the honor. Chef René Redzepi who runs the new NOMA in Copenhagen is working his way up to first world status again, after having moved and lost the former prestige. Chef Claus Meyer worked with Redzepi in helping to put New Nordic Cuisine and Copenhagen, Denmark, not normally known for sensational food, on the superior gastronomy map to win the title of “Best Restaurant in the World” four times.
A Taste of Sky by Michael Y. Lei features Claus Meyer’s groundbreaking cooking school and fine-dining restaurant GUSTU and chronicles how and why Meyer decided to open the school in La Paz, Bolivia. The film presents two students from GUSTU who are among the best of the best for they have evolved from humble beginnings to become fine chefs who will most probably one day gain the title of helping to be a part of the restaurant team who will have achieved the title of “Best Restaurant in the World.”
Yei’s documentary is a beautifully shot film for foodies and a great way to become acquainted with those who dedicate their lives to superior gastronomy like Claus Meyer. Meyer is culinary entrepreneur, food activist, cookbook author, professor and TV host. Though others assisted in helping Meyer establish the New Nordic Cuisine philosophy (12 chefs in 2004 wrote the New Nordic Food Manifesto to begin the movement, based on Claus Meyer’s initiative, inspirational draft and coordination) Meyer’s genius originated the concept. Over the years after the establishment of NOMA as a working laboratory and kitchen to foster the ideas of the New Nordic Cuisine, the restaurant became globally renowned and the philosophy spawned other iterations. Restaurants materialized similar approaches.
New Nordic Cuisine seeks to foster local agriculture, honor the region’s agrarian traditions, encourage environmentally friendly production, and establish food with a uniquely Nordic identity among the world’s great cuisines. An activist who believes that gastronomy can improve lives and change xenophobic responses to disparate cultures, Meyer has worked on many projects over the years to realize his beliefs. One of these projects took him to La Paz, Bolivia where he opened GUSTU and proved that the concepts initiated in the philosophy of “New Nordic Cuisine” could be retrofitted to any area in the world which has a dynamic environment and varied cuisine.
Lei’s film cuts back and forth to his interview with Claus Meyer and his daughter, and two students trained at GUSTU: Kenzo, a hunter raised in the wild of the Bolivian Amazon and Maria Claudia, a native of the Andean altiplano. Both sacrificed to leave home and attempt to become familiar with another world entirely. Meyer’s hope to establish one of the poorest countries in the world, Bolivia, as a a fine dining destination, is a fascinating revelation and experiment in fostering cultural intersections, between cities and rural areas, between and among cultures, and families educated and not educated.
The filmmaker includes glorious shots of Kenzo’s Amazon rain forest as he delves into Kenzo’s background, familiarizes us with the terrain, visits Kenzo’s parent’s farm and home, interviews his parents and generally helps us get to know this amazing, forward-thinking young man with great ambition. Assimilating the concepts of the philosophy behind New Nordic Cuisine, Kenzo, who completed his training at GUSTU, has made it through a difficult program where his friend dropped out to pursue something else.
Kenzo is currently working as a chef at a fine dining restaurant far away from Bolivia. He hopes to return one day to establish his own restaurant creating dishes whose unique ingredients come from the rain forest, the place he knows best as he learned from his father what plants are edible, healthful and delicious. The cuisine he will create using the local ingredients promises to be incredible.
Lei gives a sensitive and caring portrait of Maria Claudia, revealing that her problems are the usual ones for women. She must launch out into a career, having left home and the ones she loves instead of getting married and bearing children. She is overthrowing centuries of gender folkways with her new beginnings. This has been emotionally painful for her. The power of Lei’s interviews with Maria Claudia are that he allows her to explore and express her feelings so we understand what she has given up for a dream that she herself must manifest.
Lei reveals that in their own way, seeking their dreams using gastronomy as the vehicle, Maria Claudia, Kenzo and Meyer have taken parallel paths, though they are completely different individuals from different countries and backgrounds. Yet, all were inspired by this dream of how food can change one’s life and world, expanding food culture to meld people together so they might appreciate each other.
In his interview with Meyer, Lei brings out the problems with establishing the New Nordic Cuisine philosophy as it might adapt to the cuisine and culture of La Paz, Bolivia. Lei includes interviews with Meyer’s critics who are eventually won over by what Meyer is doing. And Meyer discusses the idea that the obstacle of the perception of the “colonial” coming in to help the “little people” was something he had to overcome. During Lei’s interviews with Meyer, he allows the entrepreneur to discuss his childhood and personal life. From that we understand the forces that shaped Meyer to move in the direction of gastronomy in a world laboratory to change people’s lives for the better.
To his credit, once Meyer established the success of GUSTU and made sure the school was grounded and continuing without him, he gave it over to Bolivia. Meyer’s intellectual genius is in researching whether or not his hypothesis about food works anywhere in the world, in any setting in the world. Is food a vehicle to change lives and improve the lives of the most hurting, the most needy of individuals? In all of Meyer’s projects threads of this belief are present.
Credit goes to Lei’s vision and the perspective he captures in this sonorous, sensual, striking film. The title is ingenious in symbolizing not only the beauty of the sky in Bolivia and the skyward dreams that both Kenzo and Maria Claudia are reaching toward, as they fly up to meet them using their love of gastronomy to create their own unique dishes based upon their culture, background and training.
The film is seamless in its cinematography and editing. It should be seen especially if one is a foodie. Look for A Taste of Sky online.
Tribeca Film Festival Documentary World Premiere: ‘Our Time Machine’
‘Our Time Machine,’Maleonn working on bird sculpture. Courtesy Maleonn Studio.
OUR TIME MACHINE
Directed by Yang Sun & S. Leo Chiang
Executive Produced by Jean Tsien, Sally Jo Fifer, & Nick Fraser
World Premiere – Documentary Competition – 2019 Tribeca Film Festival
Official Selection – 2019 Hot Docs Film Festival
Pre-Festival 2019 Tribeca Film Festival Screening:
Tuesday, April 16th at 6:00 PM at Tribeca Screening Room (375 Greenwich St.)
To RSVP – Email Vince Johnson at VJohnson@tcdm-associates.com
2019 Tribeca Film Festival Screenings:
Sunday, April 28th at 5:30 PM at Village East Cinema – World Premiere
Monday, April 29th at 4:00 PM at Village East Cinemas – Press/Industry Screening 1
Tuesday, April 30th at 7:00 PM at Regal Cinemas Battery Park
Wednesday, May 1st at 1:30 PM at Village East Cinemas – Press/Industry Screening 2
Friday, May 3rd at 7:00 PM at Regal Cinemas Battery Park
About the film OUR TIME MACHINE
43-year-old Maleonn is one of China’s most influential conceptual artists today. His father, Ma Ke, was the artistic director of the Shanghai Chinese Opera Theater. After being humiliated and forbidden from working for a decade during the Cultural Revolution, Ma Ke immersed himself in theater. The mysterious excitement of Ma Ke’s creative world inspired the young Maleonn, but his father’s absences stoked early feelings of resentment.
When Ma Ke is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, Maleonn pours everything into an ambitious new theater project: “Papa’s Time Machine,” a visually stunning time-travel adventure told with human-sized puppets. At the play’s heart are autobiographical scenes inspired by Maleonn’s memories with his father. He hopes this will bring the them together artistically and personally.
With enthusiasm both domestically and from abroad, the play shows signs of a promising future. But Ma Ke’s condition deteriorates. Maleonn is torn between the original goal to honor his father and the pressure towards commercial success. Ma Ke struggles to contribute to the play, and barely recognizes the play when it is completed.
Facing his father’s painful decline, Maleonn becomes more aware of life’s complexities. There are no effortless masterpieces or simple solutions. And there’s no traveling back in time to retrieve what has been lost. There, is however, the relationship that has developed with co-director Tianyi. He proposes to her, ready to become a partner and a father, and to carry on forward with a new outlook on his art and life.
About Filmmakers Yang Sun & S. Leo Chiang
Yang Sun is a documentary director and cameraman based in Beijing. He was on staff at China’s Central Newsreel and Documentary Film Studio, making documentaries for broadcasters including CCTV, Youku and the Travel Channel. He has directed several short and mid-length documentaries, including THE SECOND ALBUM, AKEN, BACKPACKERS FOR 10 YEARS, AFTER HE ROSE TO FAME, as well as the ten-part series TAKE ME TO TRAVEL. He worked as a director of photography on A CENTURY WITH NANJING, CENTURY MASTER, and SOUTH OF THE OCEAN. Sun Yang holds a Master’s degree from the School of Television and Film Art at the Communication University of China. OUR TIME MACHINE will be his first feature-length documentary.
S. Leo Chiang is a Taiwanese-American filmmaker based in San Francisco and Taipei. His documentary, MR. CAO GOES TO WASHINGTON, won the Inspiration Award at the 2012 Full Frame Documentary Festival. His previous film, Emmy® Award-nominated A VILLAGE CALLED VERSAILLES, picked up eight awards and aired on the American PBS series, Independent Lens. Leo’s work has received funding support from the Sundance Documentary Fund, the Tribeca Film Institute, and ITVS. He also collaborates with other documentarians as editor and a cameraman. Leo received a MFA in film production from University of Southern California. He is the co-founder of A-Doc, the Asian American Documentary Network, and a documentary branch member of the Academy of Motion Pictures and Sciences.
IN ATTENDANCE AT TRIBECA 2019: S. Leo Chiang (Director), Sun Yang (Director), Jean Tsien (Executive Producer), Bob Lee (Editor), Ma Liang (Subject)
YEAR 2019 | COUNTRY U.S.A., CHINA | RUN TIME 80 mins
Group photo of puppets and puppeteers in a gallery. Courtesy Maleonn Studio.
‘Our Time Machine,’ Close up of Son puppet. Courtesy Maleonn Studio.
Tribeca Film Festival Documentary Premiere: ‘Scheme Birds’
World Premiere Documentary
at the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival
Directed and Written by: Ellen Fiske, Ellinor Hallin
Produced by: Mario Adamson, Ruth Reid
As her childhood turns into motherhood, teenage troublemaker Gemma comes of age in her fading Scottish steel town. But in a place where “you either get knocked up or locked up,” innocent games can easily turn into serious crime.
***Limited Tickets Available***
Friday April 26th at 5:45PM at Village East Cinema 03
Saturday April 27th 11:30AM at Regal Battery Park 06
Wednesday May 1st at 5:00PM at Village East Cinema 02
Friday May 3rd at 8:00PM at Regal Battery Park 06 (no tickets available)
RT: 90 Minutes
TRIBECA FILM FESTIVAL at the Beacon Theater: The Line-up
Tribeca Film Festival NOTIFICATIONS
FILMS AT TRIBECA FF
THE SHORT HISTORY OF THE LONG ROAD
*World Premiere Screening at the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival in the U.S. Narrative Competition*
Written & Directed by: Ani Simon-Kennedy
Starring: Sabrina Carpenter, Steven Ogg, Maggie Siff, Danny Trejo
For teenage Nola, home is the open road with her self-reliant father and their trusty van, two nomads against the world. When Nola’s rootless existence is turned upside-down, she realizes that life as an outsider might not be her only choice.
Saturday, April 27th at 2:30 PM at Village East Cinema 07 (World Premiere)
Sunday, April 28th at 5:00 PM at Regal Battery Park 06
Wednesday, May 1st at 5:45 PM at Village East Cinema 03
Saturday, May 4th at 9:00 PM at Regal Battery Park
Purchase tickets by going to Tribeca Film Festival website. See the film guide at the top of the website page. TRIBECA WEBSITE: CLICK HERE
FRAMING JOHN DELOREAN