CARLA FORTE PHOTO by ALEXEY TARANThis month, The Miami Beach Cinematheque will hold its seventh installment of its Knight Foundation sponsored discussion series called Speaking In Cinema. Usually, the bi-monthly event features a local film critic, an out-of-town film critic and a guest filmmaker (this writer was one of the first guest critics). This time they are bringing together three Miami-based filmmakers for a very special installment of the series, and this is the first in what will be a series of interviews with the three filmmakers, who are all showing films in a retrospective series leading up to their talk. Meet Carla Forte.

Not too long ago, this writer reviewed the Hungarian film White God (White God takes the easy route to schlock over allegory– a film review). The most impressive thing about the movie was how the filmmakers wrangled 200 dogs and sent them marauding through the streets of Budapest. There was another film shown a few months earlier at the Miami International Film Festival that had a similar scene, Forte’s documentary The Holders. In it she explores the fate of many animals left at animal shelters (it’s often not pretty). Forte makes no apologies for the film’s bias toward animal rights. Writing via email, she says, “We need people in shelters who believe in not killing and who can confront the problem with compassion and respect.”

At the end of her film she presents the viewers with a solution that volunteers in Costa Rica have devised: a free range, no-kill shelter. It’s like a Shangri-La for dogs, where hundreds of abandoned dogs run free, receive health care and die natural deaths. The images of something like 700 dogs running down hills and jumping through creeks are stunning. “My friend Carla Lopez, a vegan activist, told me about this amazing place called Territorio de Zaguates,” explains Forte, “which shelters more than 700 hundreds stray dogs in Costa Rica. [Producer] Alexey Taran and I decided to travel to that place and expose this amazing reality happening in the mountains in a Latin American country.”

The place is so impressive, Forte has found a way to incorporate in her upcoming feature film, Ann. “It’s a feature film that narrates the story of Ruben, a man who has decided to abandon his tormented life by taking refuge within his own imagination,” she explains about the still in-progress movie. “His transgender wife Ann, in the face of a deteriorating relationship, attempts to understand Ruben’s idealized world.”

Forte says the film is still in its early stages. “We are launching an indigogo campaign to raise money,” she says. “We’ll be shooting the Feature Film in early 2016 in Miami and Costa Rica.”

Meanwhile, besides The Holders, the Miami Beach Cinematheque will also show an early short by Forte called “Interrupta,” which has been shown at several Latin American festivals as well as in Milan and Berlin. In it you will see her dancing in the shower. Besides being a director, she is also a quite talented modern dancer and choreographer. Dance often figures into her film work. As a choreographer, Forte puts a lot of thought in what dance means in a narrative, cinematic context. “‘Interrupta’ is about impermanence, emotional attachments, family. The characters in the art video are: my dad, my mom and my brother. We live in a world where every day people and things are influencing us and interrupting us. I am writing these lines while I am hearing my dogs barking and my neighbor cutting the grass. We have an everyday routine but suddenly something happens that we did not expect, good or bad, important or not, but it happened.”

There’s another abstract idea in the film, she adds. “I think people know some day we will die, but I think people do not realize that it can happen at any moment.”

When asked what inspires her as a filmmaker, Forte provided a rather poetic answer:

The desire to tell what I think inspires me. Is a path for expression.
Animals, people, the world inspire me. Is a path of exchange.
Silence, water, dance inspire me. Is a path of life.
Love and sadness inspire me. Is a path of feeling.
My family, my friends my dogs inspire me. Is a path of teaching.
Life inspires me. The big path.

Hans Morgenstern

The Miami Beach Cineamtheque begins showing the films by these local filmmakers starting this Friday, Oct. 16. For a detailed schedule, follow this link. It culminates in a discussion with the filmmakers, also including directors Jillian Mayer, Monica Peña, and Filmmaker Magazine Editor in Chief Scott Macaulay. This profile series continues tomorrow with a piece on Jillian Mayer (Jillian Mayer on inspiration from the medium of film and upcoming projects, from a talk show about pets to Kaiju) and then Monica Peña (read her profile here).

You can also read more about these filmmakers and their retrospective in an article in the Miami New Times by jumping over to the alternative weekly’s art and culture blog through the image below:

NT Arts

(Copyright 2015 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

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We are a bit past the halfway point, and the lists of what are so far the best movies of 2015 are already popping up. Here’s a good one by a friend on WordPress: Humanizing the Vacuum (and inspiration behind this post). If you prefer something more popular, take a look at these lists by the critics of Variety, though I would disagree that some films are worthy (White God and Me and Earl and the Dying Girl stand as some of this year’s worst films, in my view).

As for my list, for now, below are the top 10 contenders for this best films of 2015. There’s a hint to my preferences in their order, but it could change by Dec. 31. Note: many link to reviews on Independent Ethos, so click through the titles for deeper thoughts on these titles:

Some facts about these films:  Three of them premiered in my neighborhood at Miami Dade College’s Miami International Film Festival (Flowers, Theeb and Voice Over), and one premiered at the Miami Jewish Film Festival (Gett). A couple came out a year earlier but didn’t hit theaters in Miami until this year (Inherent Vice and Mr. Turner).

I never found the time to write reviews for two of these. Let me just say Girlhood is an amazing French film following a group of girls from the projects of Paris who have more in common with American girls that you would imagine. There’s a very universal need to physically connect, and it’s depicted with incredible grace in the film by French director Céline Sciamma.

Mr. Turner deserved more recognition at the end of last year. Watching it, you will not have to second guess why it was nominated for a cinematography Oscar. It should have won over Birdman. It’s less about flash yet incredibly transporting. It also deserves notice for its lead performance by Timothy Spall. You might as well throw in production design, and heck, even editing. I literally yelled “Oh my God!” and broke out laughing between cuts of Turner spitting on a painting and a close-up of a mountain. If you never experienced it on the big screen, woe unto thee. The second best thing you can do is purchase it on blu-ray (buy it here and you’ll be supporting the Independent Ethos).

To see some contenders that are trailing behind these films, check out my list on Letterboxd (that’s a hot link). If you don’t already follow me there, you should. There’s where you will get my most intimidate reactions to films I catch — in almost real time.

Do you have a list of favorite films of 2015? Let us know in the comment section.

Hans Morgenstern

(Copyright 2015 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

white-god-posterCoupled with several striking film stills taken from the best moments of the movie (just look at the poster), the concept sounds interesting:  In some alternate dimension of contemporary Hungary, owners of mixed-breed dogs are heavily taxed, making these dogs highly undesirable as pets. The kennels are full and the streets are overrun by these “mutts,” as they are derisively referred to by those who hate them. But what happens when these undesirable animals band together in a revolt against those who have abandoned them? With its atonal script and simplistic rationalization that defies genuine logic, White God devolves into melodrama and schlock, betraying any earnest intention for allegory.

I hate questioning a movie’s logic. I’ve always thought it unfair to judge a film against “real life,” especially a fantasy film like White God. But too often this movie features twists in the plot and tonal inconsistencies that challenge the viewer’s suspension of disbelief, which is so crucial to a viewer’s investment in cinema. In order to specify how this movie stumbles, I might reveal some spoilers, but it’s fair in order to understand why this film fails to deliver and may disappoint some with high expectations.

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White God‘s problems mostly stem from the clumsily written script by director Kornél Mundruczó and co-writers Viktória Petrányi and Kata Wéber. There are stretches in metaphors, from the film’s title to an early scene in a meat factory that shows the gruesome disembowelment of a cow’s carcass. There are also glaring plot holes that will lead many viewers to question simple details. The first of which has to be why a divorced mother would leave her daughter and the child’s mixed-breed dog with her ex-husband and fail to pay the dog’s taxes while she takes off on a three-month research trip. It’s conveniently overlooked plot points like this that appear too often throughout the film that will take the critical mind out of what should have been a better written film.

Thirteen-year-old Lili (Zsófia Psotta) loves her sweet, big dog Hagen (played by Luke and Bodie), but her father Dániel (Sándor Zsótér) can’t stand him. A neighbor, conveniently standing on the stairs of their apartment building as Dániel brings Lili and the dog home, confronts the father about the dog. After the neighbor makes up a lie that the dog bit her, an inspector pays them a visit. Fed up with the inconvenience of Hagen, Dániel takes Lili and her pet for a drive, leaving Hagen far from their home. Hagen, alone, then becomes the focus of the film, and for a nice while one of the film’s most impressive aspects shines: the animals. Hagen befriends an adorable Jack Russell Terrier 7(Marlene) that takes the lead in protecting Hagen from a large pack of dogs and shows him how to survive on the streets. During a section of the film that relies upon the gestures of the animals and the film’s editing above words, Mundruczó establishes a heart-warming dynamic that’s thrilling to watch unfold. The dogs have wonderful character, and when the cameras roam with them, from either way above, revealing their impressive numbers, or down below in the streets of Budapest, viscerally connecting the viewer with their claws and huffing and puffing, the film stands at its strongest. But these moments are too fleeting and hardly add up to a movie. More often than not, it feels like the director is straining to hold together his concept, putting Hagen through the ringer when encountering cartoonish versions of human beings, even putting the pooch in the clutches of a dog fighter who trains him to kill, a skill that Hagen will inevitably twist against humanity.

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Even though the film is at its best in wide shots featuring the dogs running in a pack of well over a hundred canines, I could not help getting over the feeling that I have already seen it done more impressively. When White God premiered in Miami last month at the Miami International Film Festival, there was also a Miami-made documentary called The Holders, whose title refers to people who are all too eager to give up their pets to shelters because they have become inconvenient. At the end of the film, we meet animal lovers in Costa Rica who have gathered and healed up hundreds of strays, herding them in the countryside, as if they were sheep. There was something poetic about the extended, unstaged scenes of the massive pack of dogs rushing through streams and winding their way through trees, but it also resonated in ways that White God falls short. It’s something to see if you get a chance. The film has no distributor, but director Carla Forte says she is submitting the movie to festivals now, so if you want to stay posted about upcoming screenings, “like” the film’s Facebook page (Facebook/TheHolders).

Unlike The Holders‘ finale, White God falls most ruinously apart at the end. Any build up toward an allegorical statement is subverted by the film’s third act when the dogs go on the rampage that a flash-forward at the start of the movie has built up to. What should have been the film’s boldest, most evocative moment,4 deteriorates to simple horror movie schlock featuring cheap effects out of a low-budget ’80s horror movie and a very convenient path of revenge by Hagen. It’s hard to sympathize with the killing machine hell-bent on carving such a convenient path to avenge all who have wronged or tried to wrong him.

White God will insult the intelligence of any adult drawn to the film’s allegory. Every peripheral character who deserves their comeuppance gets their due in gory confrontations with the killer dogs, but so what? Since when is simple, gut-pummeling revenge an answer to any problem? Though Lili finds a way to halt the rampage in a manner that will translate to another heavy-handed metaphor, no one is left alive to learn anything. The dogs certainly are not rising above the mastering of the humans by killing them. The film’s logic is fine for children, but too bad it has to be so violent. Moreover, righteous revenge as blunt solution does nothing to solve the supposed problem of the downtrodden. These dogs simply become ISIS on four legs. Any endearment is lost and the heavy-handed finale falls disappointingly flat in its contrivance. Though, again, it ends in a striking image, it takes more than superficial stunts to make White God work.

Hans Morgenstern

White God runs 119 minutes, is in Hungarian with English subtitles and is not rated (there’s some serious violence against and by doggies). It opens at the Miami Beach Cinematheque in Miami-Dade County and the Cinema Paradiso – Hollywood in Broward County in our South Florida area. If you live elsewhere and are looking for screening details in your town, visit this page. Magnolia Pictures provided a DVD screener for the purpose of this review. It first premiered in Miami at the Miami International Film Festival.

(Copyright 2015 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)