The Burning Questions – Kief Davidson (KASSIM THE DREAM)

Posted in Uncategorized by johnwildman on March 18, 2009

You have never met someone quite like Kassim “The Dream” Ouma. Yes, oftentimes that seems to be what documentaries are for – to introduce you to someone “you’ve never met”. However, Kief Davidson’a KASSIM THE DREAM goes the distance to fulfill that obligation and well beyond. Ouma’s buoyant, incorrigible personality could sustain a dozen films (and television shows, for that matter). However, after Davidson allows you to be charmed by his subject’s ever-present smile and impenetrable good will, he deftly lowers the boom on the realities of Ouma’s past as a child soldier – never for a moment shying away from the atrocities that he committed in Uganda – another lifetime ago. There is compartmentalizing one’s life and then there trying to keep your past in a safe deposit box somewhere. As we take a small part of this journey with Ouma, it becomes very clear that his opponents in the boxing ring are mere stand-ins for a host of demons he’ll be fighting the rest of his life.


1 Why were you drawn to tell Kassim Ouma’s story?

My first encounter with Ugandan boxer Kassim Ouma was in the summer of 2005, just prior to his World Championship title defense against Roman Karmazin. Kassim greeted me with a brash, confident smile – “Hey dude, you the director? You Jewish, right? I’m black Irish”. This was the upbeat, good-natured side I’d read about in numerous articles on the former child soldier. But how could a man, kidnapped at the age of six and forced to a life of senseless tribal killing, be so good-humored? How did he overcome his turbulent past and become the Junior Middleweight Champion of the World? These were questions that I wanted to answer.

2 How did you manage to get the access (and ability to film) to the Ugandan military?
Getting access to the Ugandan military was a complicated challenge. For months prior to the shoot, the top Army Commander continually refused my telephone requests to film with military troops. When we arrived in Uganda, I went to the Army barracks and convinced him that it was imperative to film with the military because Kassim would not have become a World Champion boxer without the discipline and training of the army. I also dropped the name of our Executive Producer – Forest Whitaker – as often as possible. Thanks to his recent role as Idi Amin, he is well-regarded in the country. Desperate times call for drastic measures I guess. The next thing I knew, I had full access to a military base and a division of armed troops.

3 What unique challenges were there to documenting the boxing side of Kassim’s life?
We were forced to shoot A LOT of footage. During training camp you never quite knew when Kassim would say something hilarious or insightful, so we had to let our cameras roll. It made for a very challenging edit as we had over 200 hours of footage.

4  One of the charms of Kassim is that he doesn’t seem to possess an inner editor. Was there anything that made it into the film he later regretted?
What I admire about Kassim is his honesty. He tells it like it as and really could care less about what people think. Sometimes it gets him in trouble because he doesn’t think ahead. For instance: I show him drinking and smoking weed in the film. When he viewed the film for the first time – he was very upset. He now has accepted it and understands why it was important to show.

5 Throughout the course of filming, how did you find your opinion of Kassim change or grow?

I tried to never “have an opinion” about Kassim. He is a complex person and it is impossible to comprehend what he went through. I do consider Kassim and his manager Tom good friends. We have a wonderfully dysfunctional relationship.

6 What recent documentaries have made an impact on you?

I saw WALTZ WITH BASHIR at AFI FEST. I thought it was quite powerful.

7 What should a documentary director never forget until it’s too late?

Clean underwear and deodorant when shooting in a remote location.

8 What is the next subject you will be turning your camera towards?
The Amazon.

9 Popcorn or candy?
Arclight caramel corn.

KASSIM THE DREAM screens Sunday, March 29 at 12:00PM @ NorthPark 2 and Monday, March 30 at 4:00PM @ NorthPark 3

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AFI DALLAS Announces Robert Towne and 10 Official Selections

Posted in Uncategorized by johnwildman on February 16, 2009

2009 AFI DALLAS International Film Festival

Presented by NorthPark Center, Founding Sponsor Victory Park
Announces

Robert Towne to Receive AFI DALLAS Star Award

Ten Titles in Official Selections

Dallas, TX, February 16, 2009—AFI DALLAS 2009 International Film Festival Presented by NorthPark Center, Founding Sponsor Victory Park announces that Academy Award® winner Robert Towne will be presented with the prestigious AFI DALLAS Star Award in recognition of his career as a filmmaker and screenwriter on the occasion of the 35th anniversary of the cinema classic, CHINATOWN.

AFI DALLAS also announces ten films that will screen at this year’s festival. Those films include an Academy Award nominee for Best Documentary Feature (Scott Hamilton Kennedy’s THE GARDEN); and the Jury and Audience winner for Best Documentary at last year’s AFI FEST as well as the SILVERDOCS Award (Kief Davidson’s KASSIM THE DREAM).

Adding to the list of films making their US premiere at AFI DALLAS, will be Topaz Adizes’s AMERICANA and Charles Binamé’s THE AMERICAN TRAP.

Adizes’s AMERICANA is a documentary following the experiences of two young men from a small town in Arizona as they prepare to join the military to fight in Iraq. That preparation involves travel abroad and encounters with people from other countries with varying views on what America means to them, as well as how their close-knit community handles their imminent deployment.

Also making its US premiere will be Binamé’s dramatic thriller, THE AMERICAN TRAP. Set in a world of global intrigue and corruption, the film stars Rémy Girard, Gérard Darmon and Colm Feore in a tension-filled story of a man attempting to uncover the truths behind the JFK assassination.

The first selection in the Environmental Visions Competition, UPSTREAM BATTLE was also announced. Ben Kempas’s documentary chronicles the battle between Native Americans and an energy corporation as they seek to protect the salmon they depend on for their survival. Their struggle may trigger the largest dam removal project in history. The film will vie for the Current Energy Filmmaker Award and the $10,000 unrestricted cash prize that comes with that award.

The first 2009 AFI DALLAS Star Award honoree announced, Towne will be presented with the Festival’s AFI DALLAS Star Awards (the award is designed from Steuben crystal, courtesy of Neiman Marcus) prior to a screening of CHINATOWN, for which he won an Academy Award for his original screenplay in 1974. Towne was also nominated in the same category for SHAMPOO (1975) and for his screenplay adaptations for THE LAST DETAIL (1973) and GREYSTROKE: THE LEGEND OF TARZAN, LORD OF THE APES (1984). The prolific writer’s credits include notable titles such as PERSONAL BEST (1982) which he also directed, TEQUILA SUNRISE (1988), DAYS OF THUNDER (1990), THE FIRM (1993), LOVE AFFAIR (1994), MISSION IMPOSSIBLE (1996), WITHOUT LIMITS (also written and directed – 1998), MISSION IMPOSSIBLE II (2000) and ASK THE DUST (2006). Following the screening of CHINATOWN, Towne will participate in a special Q&A moderated by TIME Magazine’s Richard Schickel.

“It is a thrill to honor an accomplished artist like Robert Towne,” said Michael Cain, AFI DALLAS Artistic Director. “This is someone that had a hand in creating some of the signature films of the 70s—one of the legendary fertile periods in American film history, not to mention the other major films within his body of work. And to have an opportunity to see a classic like CHINATOWN on the big screen and then have one of the architects of that film discuss it afterward? That’s a date you automatically mark on your calendar.”

The ten announced selections include:

AMERICANA (USA)
Director: Topaz Adizes
Documentary follows the experiences of two young men from a small town in Arizona as they complete their last semester of high school and enlist in the Army to join the fight in Iraq.

THE AMERICAN TRAP (Canada)
Director: Charles Binamé
Cast: Rémy Girard, Gérard Darmon, Colm Feore, Joe Cobden, Janet Lane
Thriller set in a world of global intrigue and corruption, as a man attempts to uncover the truths behind the JFK assassination.

EVANGELION 1.0 YOU ARE NOT ALONE (Japan)
Director: Hideaki Anno, Masayuki, Kazuya Tsurumaki
Film is the first in a four-part series adapted and re-imagined from the legendary NEON GENESIS EVANGELION anime series.

THE GARDEN (USA)
Director: Scott Hamilton Kennedy
Documentary traces the events that led to the creation of a 14-acre community garden in South Central Los Angeles and the struggle between the urban farmers, the City of Los Angeles and a powerful developer who sought to evict them and build warehouses on the property.

KASSIM THE DREAM (Uganda/USA)
Director: Kief Davidson
Documentary profiles Kassim ‘The Dream’ Ouma, who survived being a child soldier in Uganda to becoming a champion boxer.

LIKE DANDELION DUST (USA)
Director: Jon Gunn
Cast: Mira Sorvino, Barry Pepper, Cole Hauser
Drama pits a couple versus a parolee father who seeks to take custody of their six-year-old adopted son.

LYMELIFE (USA)
Director: Derick Martini
Cast: Alec Baldwin, Kieran Culkin, Rory Culkin, Jill Hennessy, Timothy Hutton, Cynthia Nixon, Emma Roberts
Drama set in Long Island during the late 1970s, follows the intertwining lives of two families focusing on the teenaged children and their attempts to cope with the times.

RUDO Y CURSI (Mexico)
Director: Carlos Cuarón
Cast: Diego Luna, Gael Garcia Bernal
Drama about the turmoil between two brothers who compete against each other in the world of professional soccer.

TYSON (USA)
Director: James Toback
Documentary takes an unvarnished view of the controversial former heavyweight champion boxer.

UPSTREAM BATTLE (USA)
Director: Ben Kempas
Documentary chronicles the battle between Native Americans and an energy corporation as they seek to protect the salmon they depend on for their survival.

AFI DALLAS 2009 will run March 26 – April 2, 2009. Passes go on sale February 6; tickets go on sale March 2. Passes and tickets will be made available via online (AFIDALLAS.com), phone (214.720.0663) and in person at the Box Office located at the AFI DALLAS locations at NorthPark Center and Victory Park.

About AFI DALLAS International Film Festival
The AFI DALLAS International Film Festival celebrates films and their impact on society, honors filmmakers and recognizes their achievements and contributions in enhancing the creative community, provides educational programs to students to develop better understanding of the role of film in today’s world, and promotes the City of Dallas and its commitment to the art of filmmaking. AFI DALLAS is a presentation of the nonprofit Dallas Film Society.

About NorthPark Center
As one of the premier shopping centers in the United States, NorthPark Center (www.northparkcenter.com) proudly offers shoppers the best of the best in every category represented, including the finest in luxury retail and exclusives in the Southwest. Offering an unparalleled selection of international designers set amid timeless modern architecture and a world-class art collection, NorthPark Center has established a new standard in the United States for innovative retail destinations.

NorthPark Center is owned, managed, operated and leased by husband and wife David J. Haemisegger and Nancy A. Nasher. After a $250 million expansion in 2006, NorthPark Center became the largest shopping center in North Texas and one of the top shopping destinations in the United States. NorthPark Center will continue to open more luxury boutiques, exclusive stores and dining options throughout 2009 and beyond, culminating in more than 235 stores and restaurants.

NorthPark Center is located at the intersection of North Central Expressway and Northwest Highway in the heart of Dallas. Stores are open from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., Monday through Saturday, and 12 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Sunday. Department store, theatre, restaurant and spa hours vary.

About Victory Park
Victory Park is Dallas’ most dynamic urban neighborhood—and one of the most significant and innovative urban developments in the United States. The neighborhood is a carefully crafted collection of upscale retail shops, distinctive dining, modern office space, dramatic residential units, the W Dallas Victory hotel and signature entertainment venues, including the American Airlines Center and House of Blues. Victory Park is a development of Hillwood, a Perot Company. For more information on Victory Park, visit http://www.victorypark.com.

Additional Sponsors
In addition to NorthPark Center and Victory Park, AFI DALLAS 2009 major sponsors include American Airlines, Bank of America, Barefoot Wine, Blockbuster, Brierley+Partners, CBS Radio, City of Dallas, Current Energy, The Dallas Morning News, D Magazine, DG FastChannel, Dallas Film Commission, DART, DCVB, e-Rewards Market Research, Entertainment Partners, El Creative, Faulkner Design Group, Jones Day, KERA, MPS Studios Dallas, Neiman Marcus, Post Asylum, Premiere Video, PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP, Pure Evil Music & Sound, Reel FX Entertainment, Screen International, Scott Yung LLP, Sony, The State of Texas, Studio Movie Grill, Target, Temerlin Consulting, Texas Film Commission, TM Advertising, 2929 Entertainment, Texas Association of Film Commissions, TXMPA, vitaminwater10, W Dallas Victory, WFAA, Whole Foods and WRR.

PRESS CONTACT FOR AFI DALLAS
John Wildman
Director, Press and Public Relations
AFI DALLAS Presented by NorthPark Center,
Founding Sponsor Victory Park
Tel: 323.600.3165
Tel: 214.720.0555
Fax: 214.720.0551
jwildman@AFIDALLAS.com

“If we believed what we were about was much more important than how well we played.”

Posted in Uncategorized by johnwildman on January 24, 2009

Back at Sundance – Day #5

Today turned out to be music day. Not by design, really, but by this point you almost change your movie watching plans hour by hour depending on what films have tickets you can still get your hands on, how much time you’ve got to make it to the theater, and how vociferously the woman sitting behind you on the tram just trashed what you were planning to see.

So, first up – Jeff Lipsky’s ONCE MORE WITH FEELING. I wasn’t originally planning on seeing this. But then I ran into Jeff and his producer Paul Jarrett at a party. Here’s the deal: a few years back, I was part of the PR team that repped Jeff’s great (and despite our efforts, I still feel under sung) relationship drama, FLANNEL PAJAMAS. So, I was hoping I’d see him while we were here at Sundance, but I also had missed the press screening of ONCE MORE WITH FEELING so I figured that wasn’t in the cards. Well, the weird thing about directors and producers is that a lot of the time they have tickets to their own movies.

The film stars Chazz Palminteri as a successful psychiatrist who rediscovers a lifelong dream of a singing career thanks to the siren song of karaoke. Meanwhile his eldest daughter, played by Drea de Matteo is a mother of two being driven to distraction thanks to neurotic thoughts about getting older and not feeling attractive. Oh, and naturally they’re part of a huge Italian family full of quirky characters and precocious personalities. Because they’re Italian and those are the rules. Don’t even pretend like you didn’t know that. And then, Palminteri’s character confuses his singing dream for something else with his karaoke muse (played by Linda Fiorentino). Again, I think it’s more than natural to cross the line with your karaoke muse. I mean, you’re trying to follow the lyrics on that little blue screen, there’s pressure to say, bring sexy back and it happens. And there are misunderstandings and hurt feelings and we all learn a little something about…karaoke.

To Lipsky’s credit, his characters are grown ups and likeable and while a lot of the elements in the film are by the numbers, those are issues I had with the script he was given. I think it will eventually be one of those films that will play forever on cable. You know, the kind that you flip by constantly – always at the same point in the movie.

The other beautiful thing about the screening is that it provided that perfect cliché Sundance moment during the Q&A where some old person complains about every other film at the festival ending in misery or bloodshed and then praises the filmmakers for making the only film they’ve seen that left them with a smile on their face.

Of course, it’s funny to me because I giggled out loud during GRACE and WHITE LIGHTNIN’. A lot.

Anyway, back to the music. And next up was Davis Guggenheim’s documentary, IT MIGHT GET LOUD. This film is like shooting rock n’ roll fans in a barrel. Basically, three generations of guitar heroes (Jimmy Page, the Edge and Jack White) are brought together to talk music, play music and maybe learn a little something about karaoke. I’m kidding – no karaoke. There is a lot of great stuff to be had: Cool moments like the Edge doing yoga while checking his blackberry, Jack White describing how he took the bed out of his bedroom growing up so he could fit in more music equipment, and Jimmy Page describing how far ahead Led Zepplin was as he recounts their legendary fourth album (which included “Black Dog,” “When the Levee Breaks,” and “Stairway to Heaven”) garnering a one paragraph review because no one knew what to do with it when it first came out.

The film excels in illustrating the mutual love affair all three have had with music and the electric guitar in particular as each contemplates and discusses how fate and their various musical influences led them to their respective successes. My favorite quote coming from the Edge when he says, “If we believed what we were about was much more important than how well we played.” However, I can only give a mild endorsement because the entire thing was so manufactured that at times I found myself wondering how necessary the film itself was.

I finished the day with a screening of JOHNNY MAD DOG. Jean-Stephane Sauvaire’s fictional look at a platoon of child soldiers fighting a civil war in a fictional African nation is intense, visceral and unrelenting. AFI DALLAS Head of Programming James Faust loved the movie and wanted a second opinion, so it won my personal last minute Sundance movie lottery. I haven’t talked to him yet, but he’s not going to be happy. Three words will describe perfectly what I feel is wrong with this film: CITY OF GOD. Fernando Meirelles’ film is one of my favorites and this one shares many of its themes, yet is very pale in comparison. Add to that mix the recent award winner from AFI FEST, Kief Davidson’s documentary KASSIM THE DREAM, and it’s also screwed because that film delivers the real thing and thanks to that film’s protagonist, we like and care about the real person who lived through those atrocities and made it out. Even with his hands bloodied, we gain some respect for what it must have took to survive and then make it out. JOHNNY MAD DOG just doesn’t have the stuff that either of those films had respectively.

Worse yet – no karaoke.