Filmfest: a focus on the family | AspenTimes.com

Filmfest: a focus on the family

Stewart Oksenhorn

Richard Gere and Flora Cross star in Bee Season, showing at Aspen Filmfest 2005. (Contributed photo)

Aspen Filmfest 2005 will illuminate the most familiar and the most foreign when it opens next week. Tickets for Filmfest, which will present programs in Aspen, Carbondale and Glenwood Springs, go on sale today.On the familiar side is family. A notable number of films, from the major American feature “Bee Season” to the French romantic comedy “Happily Ever After,” focus on the family unit. Giving the festival its foreign flavor, Filmfest has cast its net wider than ever, to present productions from Africa, Israel, South America and three films from Asia.”The thing I notice, for American filmmakers, there seems to be a real fascination with family – how family is defined, how families fall apart and come together,” said Laura Thielen, executive director of Aspen Filmfest. “There’s a surprise and discovery in what you find out about your family.”Among the biggest surprises is that experienced by Bree, the character Aspen product and recent Emmy winner Felicity Huffman plays in “Transamerica.” The first feature by writer-director Duncan Tucker has Huffman as a preoperative transsexual who takes an unexpected road trip with an unexpected fellow traveler – the son she unknowingly fathered years before. Huffman and her husband, William H. Macy, executive producer of “Transamerica,” are expected to attend.

In “Bee Season,” Richard Gere and Juliette Binoche play a couple distracting themselves from family fragmentation and mental illness by focusing on their daughter’s spelling bee competition. “The Squid and the Whale” stars Jeff Daniels and Laura Linney as a couple splitting up in 1980s Brooklyn. The film draws from the life of Noah Baumbach, who earned both writing and directing honors at the Sundance Film Festival. Foreign filmmakers likewise train their eyes on the family unit. In “Ushpizin,” an Orthodox Jewish couple in Jerusalem has their lives upended by a visit from a pair of reprobates. The French film “Happily Ever After” is a comedic but complex examination of marital infidelity, using an ensemble cast to look at the causes and realities of sexual wandering.A pair of documentaries, while not about blood relations, are about groups of people who are practically like family. “Ballets Russes,” the story of two dance companies that introduced European-style ballet to America, is told through the reminiscences of a group of dancers who grew up and traveled the world together. “Shakespeare Behind Bars” is about a group of prisoners rehearsing a production of “The Tempest” behind the walls of the Luther Luckett Correctional Complex in Kentucky.”There’s that spirit of community that runs through “Ballets Russes” and “Shakespeare Behind Bars,” Thielen said, “these communities of people coming together.”

Thielen added that the film billed as a Sneak Preview, whose title remains undisclosed, likewise revolves around the theme of family.Three films explore real life in various corners of Asia. “The Overture” is a fictionalized biopic of Luang Pradit Phairao, a prominent musician in early 20th century Thailand. “The Black Road” gives journalist-turned-filmmaker William Neeson’s insider view of the struggle for independence of the Indonesian province Aceh. And “What Remains of Us” documents the reactions of Tibetans to a message by their exiled leader, the Dalai Lama. (Because of the sensitive subject, audience members are advised not to bring backpacks, handbags, cell phones or cameras to the screening; they will be subject to a security check.)In “Moolaadé,” Senegalese filmmaker Ousmane Sembene tells the story of a woman who tries to shelter four girls from harmful tribal rituals and the effects her efforts have on the village. “Machuca” is a coming-of-age film that views the 1973 fall of Chile’s socialist Allende regime through the eyes of two 11-year-old classmates.Two other American features to be screened are “Capote,” starring Philip Seymour Hoffman as Truman Capote during the writer’s years of research for the true-crime book, “In Cold Blood”; and “The Matador,” starring Pierce Brosnan as a hit man going through a midlife crisis.Filmfest’s Fun For All segment features “Duma,” based on the true story of an African boy bonding with a cheetah.

Away from the screen, Filmfest will honor director, actor and producer Rob Reiner with the Independent by Nature Award. The event, on Sept. 30, will feature a reel of clips from Reiner’s films and an interview conducted by Kathy Bates, who earned an Academy Award for her performance in the Reiner-directed thriller “Misery.” Aspenite Bob Rafelson, director of “Five Easy Pieces” and “Mountains of the Moon,” will present the class “Bob Rafelson: Confessions of a Filmmaker.”Tickets for all Aspen Filmfest 2005 events are on sale at the Wheeler Opera House beginning today. Tickets for downvalley presentations only are available at Sounds Easy in Carbondale and the Book Train in Glenwood Springs.For full program information, go to http://www.aspenfilm.org or see the Aspen Times’ Film link in the Around Aspen section on this website.Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is stewart@aspentimes.com