Inside Indie | Interview with Tom Surgal

Director of Free Jazz Documentary


"Jazz is the only indigenous American art form and I am trying to advocate for more focus on an integral phase of it."

Fire Music, a documentary screened at this year's New York Film Festival, explores the important role that jazz has played in American culture. Emerging in the 1950s and inspired by Abstract Expressionists and the Beats, Free Jazz has always played by its own rules. Jazz was considered to be angry — like the Punk movement would be twenty-five years later — and was often misunderstood. This film, featuring a variety of notable jazz artists, works to untangle the music from the genre's image.

We spoke with director Tom Surgal about what inspired the film, the process of assembling it, and more. Read on for an inside look into the documentary's production.

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Inside Indie | New York Film Festival, Week 2

The 'Best of the Fest' continues in our second breakdown

Before the best films hit the mainstream markets, they start off on the film festival circuit.

In Popdust's new column, Inside Indie, we are diving into the world of independent cinema to bring you the latest flicks coming out, in-depth reviews of some of our favorites, and exclusive interviews with the people behind them. Whether it is a foreign language film to impress your friends or a new director making his mark in drama, you will find it here.

We continue our column by taking a look at the second week of the 56th New York Film Festival. Here are the films you definitely cannot miss.

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Inside Indie | New York Film Festival, Week 1

What are the must-see films from the fest?

Before the best films hit the mainstream markets, they start off on the film festival circuit.

In Popdust's new column, Inside Indie, we are diving into the world of independent cinema to bring you the latest flicks coming out, in-depth reviews of some of our favorites, and exclusive interviews with the people behind them. Whether it is a foreign language film to impress your friends or a new director making his mark in drama, you will find it here.

We kick off the column with a recap of the best films from the first week of the 56th New York Film Festival. Take a peek inside what caught our eye.

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REVIEW | The view from "Wonder Wheel" isn't so grand at New York Film Festival

FILM | Woody Allen's latest brings up old concerns from his past with a star-filled cast in a vividly colored nostalgic romance

Irony can work in mysterious ways.

Woody Allen recently stated that there would be a "witch hunt" following the numerous allegations concerning Harvey Weinstein sexually harassing women in the entertainment industry, comments that were then followed by a cancelling of the film's red carpet at the 55th New York Film Festival after the head of Amazon Studios, Roy Price, has now resigned following similar allegations. Of course, this also brought into question Allen's own troubled past with women and relationships. None of this should affect watching the film, but indeed, it does.

Wonder Wheel tells the tale of Ginny (Kate Winslet), a clam shack waitress working on the Coney Island boardwalk during the 1950s who falls disenchanted with her entire existence. Her husband, Humpty (Jim Belushi), has a severe temper and a drinking problem and her son (newcomer Jack Gore) is a pyromaniac. She finds an escape in Mickey Rubin (Justin Timberlake), a much younger lifeguard on the beach whom Ginny quickly develops a relationship with that then turns into an all-out affair. The aspiring actress finds a renewed sense of being, but only until Humpty's daughter, Carolina (Juno Temple), reincarnates in their lives while on the run from her mobster husband and catches the eye of Mickey. The shake up threatens everything Ginny has finally found, but is it some sort of retribution for her past indiscretions?

As you might have noticed in the description, Wonder Wheel's cast is shiny and starlit, with Winslet doing a fantastic job in her role to further display her wide range of ability as an actor. Temple is equally fit in her casting. The strangest choice by far is Timberlake. In his recent films, Allen has taken a slight step out of the spotlight and chosen younger actors to play the awkward, over-think part. Jesse Eisenberg in last year's Cafe Society felt like a natural choice, but Timberlake as a philosophical graduate theatre student is less suiting (and not just because Timberlake is a far better musician than he is thespian).

It's a bit of a wonder — no pun intended — that the cast should be noteworthy at all given the circular, predictable nature of the script. Each character is given somewhat of a fatal flaw (that being literal in Carolina's case) that one would assume they eventually work to overcome. No such attempt is made by anyone...ever. Also much like Allen's more recent works, none of the characters find any happiness. That's not to say it's required in a story, but growth usually is in something the least bit dynamic.

Controversy has also erupted over the seeming similarities the film has to Allen's life, particularly an older adult seeking out a relationship with a younger one. Sparks flew back when Allen began a relationship with and later married the adopted daughter of his longtime partner, Mia Farrow. Is this a way for Allen to repent for the wrong choices he made, by making his character suffer heartbreak and loss? If it is, then it should have a been man, and it should have been made clear why poor Ginny has so little in her life if all she did was cheat on an ex-husband. No one is happy in Wonder Wheel, but some of them could be, if Allen had given them a little more space and a bit more roundness.

The best thing one can say about Wonder Wheel is the same sort of sentiment that was attributed to women in the 1950s period in which the film is set: it's real pretty to look at, but there isn't a heck load of substance. That likely was not true for majority of the women it was used about at the time. However, it holds steady for this film. If you want to see bright colors and feel a sense of sadness about a time period you never lived in anyway, consider purchasing a ticket. Otherwise, there are much better options to screen from the rest of the New York Film Festival.

Wonder Wheel will be released in theaters December 1, 2017.

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REVIEW | Todd Haynes works hard to make you "Wonderstruck"

FILM | Supported by a phenomenal young cast, Haynes explores the importance of language and the meaning of family

What do a young girl growing up in New Jersey in the 1920s and a young man living in rural Minnesota during the 1970s have in common?

Director Todd Haynes (known for 2015's Carol among other melodramatic-styled works) explores such a relationship in his latest, Wonderstruck, which first debuted this summer at the Cannes Film Festival. The story is based on the 2011 novel by Brian Selznick. Selznick had written the screenplay for the film which made its way into Haynes's hands. When the two conversed on the topic for the first time in 2015, Haynes shared in a press Q&A, they realized they had many similar creative influences such as Oscar Wilde and David Bowie. In the final product, it's abundantly clear that their styles blend well into what one could consider Haynes's first family-friend film.

Wonderstruck tells two parallel narratives set fifty years apart, following children on separate journeys in search of themselves. In 1927, Rose (portrayed by newcomer Millicent Simmonds) runs away from the constraints of her oppressive father to find her idol, the silent film actress Lillian Mayhew (Julianne Moore). In 1977, Ben (Oakes Fegley) has recently experienced the death of his beloved mother and is willing to do anything to discover the story of who his father his. Both children find themselves traveling to New York City, but that isn't all they have in common. They're also both deaf.

What unfolds is a heartwarming tale that moves past the boundaries of language to tell a story understandable to all. Much of the film is without dialogue, and numerous sections are also acted using American Sign Language (ASL). But nothing is left untranslatable. The combination of cinematography and musical score — both taking advantage of the time periods in which the narratives are set — often tell the stories for you, as the children experience their first nervous steps in Manhattan and navigate their way through the tumultuous streets, eventually finding their way to the mind boggling halls of The Museum of Natural History. Like most of Haynes's film, Wonderstruck is so beautiful it almost doesn't matter whether or not the plot is successful.

However, Wonderstruck is, indeed, quite touching, as it shows audiences two characters who are seeking out family in order to find themselves. It's rare that you find something so pretty that is also stimulating tears from the audience, but that was indeed the audience's reaction during the film's climax when all is revealed in order to seamlessly weave the narrative together for the characters. In the last few years, Haynes has tried to move people with stories of struggles, but even Carol did not do what Wonderstruck has appeared to accomplish. As Haynes said in a press conference, the story shows us that we are more similar than we are different, and sometimes it's easier to tear down our boundaries than it is to worry about how they were built up.

Moore is beautiful in her dual roles in this film, further depicting to audiences that she can conquer any role handed to her. Michelle Williams, playing the young Ben's mother, Elaine, has a brief part, but she also finds her way seamlessly in this magical world. Really, to exist in the universes created by Haynes you need an element of something spectacular to you. All of the actors behind Wonderstruck have this, for lack of a better word, wonder about them.

The children in this film were equally excited by its message and playing within the different time periods, discussing the films Haynes gave them to inspire their characters and the music they listened to, Simmonds, who is a deaf actress, has spoken about what it was like portraying someone who was not able to learn ASL in the way she was, and the focus on deaf people being able to gain understanding from their other senses and how things became heightened. It's an intelligent thought, but you wouldn't expect any less from one of the stars of what is bound to be another Oscar contender in this year's pool. Which wouldn't be a bad thing — there's something sort of beautiful in appreciating a body of work that only wants us to be able to communicate with one another better. God knows we need such guidance.

Wonderstruck will have a limited theatrical release in the United States on October 20.

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REVIEW | “Lover for a Day” questions the value of fidelity at NYFF

FILM | Philippe Garrel's latest continues to read women through Freudian glasses

The old saying goes it's better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all… but is it true?

In his third year presenting in the New York Film Festival main slate, French director and actor Philippe Garrel (known for his films Jealousy and In the Shadow of Women) meditates on the questions of love and infidelity with his latest project, Lover for a Day.

Jeanne (Esther Garrel, and indeed, the director's daughter, who is also in other NYFF main slate films this year), a university student in Paris, is left heartbroken and dismayed when her boyfriend breaks up with her. Seeing refuge, she returns home to her father, Gilles (Eric Caravaca), whom she finds involved in a relationship with one of his students, Ariane (newcomer Louise Chevillotte), who is her same age. What is being referred to as "an unusual triangular relationship" forms within the Parisian apartment as each character seeks out their definition of love.

Aesthetically, the film strikes gold. Shot in black and white, Cinematographer Renato Berta adds a dimension of tenderness to the characters even in scenes where we should feel no such thing for them. As the city of love, Paris is also given a soft supporting role in wide-shots of characters roaming the streets in quaint French outfits (mock turtlenecks, cuffed jeans, chic haircuts), large, old buildings surrounding them in something equally supportive and daunting as they look for fulfillment.


Plot-wise, the film is less revolutionary. Most students of screenwriting know that if something is true in the first act, it should be rendered false by the third in order to have a dramatic story arc. When we're first introduced to a sobbing Jeanne on the couch of Gilles and Ariane's quaint apartment – the couple still in a blissful lust for one another – we're set-up to not be surprised by the ultimate demise of one relationship and restoration of the other, which is exactly the course Lover for a Day takes. In between, Garrel and his large screenwriting team (Caroline Deruas; Arlette Langmann; and Jean-Claude Carrière) draw our attention to the way in which relationships crumble and the very intense effects they can have on us.

However, in doing this, Garrel boxes his characters into what can feel like stereotypical gender roles, especially his female leads. Jeanne is depicted as a complete wreck by the loss of her first love. She's unable to find anything else in her life to focus on, and when the pain becomes too much comes close to a suicide attempt. This is made all the more difficult to sympathize with when we finally hear from the boyfriend and understand that she leaves a mist a disagreement.


Ariane is given only slightly more room to breathe. She is both childishly smitten with her older, intelligent professor (admitting she is the one to have gone after him), but is also unsatisfied somehow, seeking out a new lover seemingly each day (realistically each week or so) to quench this sexual thirst. There are numerous scenes of Ariane passionate intertwined with a man, often times that she hardly knows while pressed up against the wall of a university building bathroom, and while she might write "Never Again" on the mirror in lipstick when she leaves them, we know she'll be back in the same situation again eventually.

The dismissiveness of Gilles to the actions of the women in his life is equally frustrating for it suggests, as Sigmund Freud always has, that there is something irrational to women that you simply can't understand and must accept. In further absurdity, it is implied that the friendship that ultimately forms between Ariane and Jeanne stems from the overcoming of jealousy these women feel in a struggle for the attention of Gilles.

It should be remarkably clear to all viewers that neither of these women need Gilles in their life, which is why they both ultimately leave his apartment. However, what remains fuzzy is how much they really require men and how badly the search for love messes with our minds. While you may not agree with all of the ideas Garrel is implying, they're certainly worthy of stimulating a conversation.

"Lover for a Day" will be screened publicly on Tuesday, October 10, accompanied by a Q&A with Garrel, and again on Wednesday, October 11, as part of the 55th New York Film Festival. Find out more here.

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