Before we turn to the festival lineup news coming out of Rotterdam, Berlin, Austin, and Park City, let’s focus for a moment on an event that begins today in New York. The Sopranos Film Festival is a brilliantly conceived celebration of the twentieth anniversary of the show’s premiere on HBO. In an interview with creator David Chase for the New York Times, Jeremy Egner explains how the series set “the table for what has become known as ‘prestige TV’” and “dramatically expanded the parameters of series television, enlacing its sometimes shockingly brutal mob tale with slapstick comedy, surrealist dream logic, and narrative invention.”
New York magazine television critic Matt Zoller Seitz was an early champion of the show when he was writing for the Newark Star Ledger, the paper that Tony Soprano picks up at the end of his driveway each morning. Seitz has coauthored a book with Alan Sepinwall, The Sopranos Sessions, an episode-by-episode guide through all six seasons, and has organized the festival that runs from today through Monday. The program will showcase a documentary on the show, pair episodes with thematically linked features and shorts, and feature live discussions with, among others, Chase and Steve Buscemi. As Seitz notes, The Sopranos is “probably as responsible as the original Twin Peaks for giving viewers permission to talk about TV in language that had previously been more often applied to movies, and discuss how the two art forms borrowed from each other, influence each other, and were in conversation with each other. This festival is a showcase for that dialogue.”
Chase originally conceived The Sopranos as a narrative feature starring Robert De Niro and Anne Bancroft; instead, the show made a star out of James Gandolfini, who passed away in 2013. Now Chase is putting together a prequel, The Many Saints of Newark, which will explore Tony Soprano’s childhood and the roots of the panic attacks that led him to psychiatrist Jennifer Melfi, endearingly played by Lorraine Bracco.
Rotterdam and Berlin
As of today, the International Film Festival Rotterdam has rolled out the bulk of its programming for the forty-eighth edition running from January 23 through February 3. Contenders for the Tiger Award are set, as are the eight films in the Big Screen Competition, which will open with Belgian director Anke Blondé’s feature debut, The Best of Dorien B., a dramatic comedy about a woman whose perfect life suddenly flies off the rails. The Bright Future program, which spotlights new filmmakers, and Limelight, a series of Dutch premieres, are both lined up, and IFFR has also invited the likes of Claire Denis (High Life), Jia Zhangke (Ash Is Purest White), and Khalik Allah (Black Mother) to discuss their work.
The Berlin International Film Festival will premiere six new restorations in its Classics program, including George Marshall’s Destry Rides Again (1939) with Marlene Dietrich and James Stewart, Edith Carlmar’s The Wayward Girl (1959) with Liv Ullmann, and Im Kwon-taek’s political parable Pursuit of Death (1980). And the lineup for Perspektive Deutsches Kino, the section introducing young German filmmakers, is also set. The Berlinale’s sixty-ninth edition runs from February 7 through 17.
Meantime, the independent Berlin Critics’ Week, now in its fifth year, has announced the title and guests for its opening conference on February 6, “Intensive Care Cinema: A Dose of Schlingensief, Please—Or, Why the World Cannot Be Saved with Polite Art.”
SXSW and Sundance
The twenty-sixth SXSW Film Festival will open on March 8 with the world premiere of Us, Jordan Peele’s second feature after Get Out. In Us, Lupita Nyong’o plays a woman on vacation with with her husband and children at her childhood home, where they’re confronted with shadowy doppelgängers of themselves.
Over the past few days, Sundance has been posting its “Meet the Artists” videos, in which filmmakers preview the work they’ll be bringing to Park City when the festival opens on January 24 and runs through February 4. And last month, Sundance added five titles to its 2019 lineup, two of them revivals that made history at the festival. Christopher Münch’s The Hours and Times (1991) stars Ian Hart as John Lennon and David Angus as Beatles manager Brian Epstein, and the film imagines what might have happened on a trip they took to Barcelona in 1963. Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez’s The Blair Witch Project (1999) didn’t invent the found-footage horror genre, but it did launch the craze. The other three films are world premieres, with Wounds, written and directed by Babak Anvari (Under the Shadow), and Patrick Brice’s Corporate Animals, starring Demi Moore, Ed Helms, and Jessica Williams, offering more scares, and Alex Lehmann’s Paddleton, with Mark Duplass, Ray Romano, and Christine Woods, promising a more subdued drama as it tells the story of how two friends cope when one of them is diagnosed with terminal cancer.
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