Named the Outstanding Narrative Feature at the 2017 Sacramento Film Festival, Michael Clayton’s debut, The Dunning Man, begins with a rather strange shot of an American flag flying in the foreground as a plane heads toward the Chrysler Building, disappears behind it, then emerges on the other side. It’s impossible not to think about 9/11, but fortunately the rest of the film is a quirky little black comedy about the travails of poor Connor Ryan (James Carpinello), a man who hightails it out of New York, leaving his job and his rich girlfriend, and heads to Atlantic City, where he owns several apartments he’s leasing to tenants who don’t exactly pay him on time, if at all. “I hate thinking that the best I got coming for me is being Mr. Roper,” he tells his well-connected Uncle Bishop (Tom Kemp). But Connor doesn’t like accepting help from anyone, even when he’s trapped in some questionable situations. He’s kind of a schmegegge, a luckless loser who can’t catch a break. He’s rented one of his lo-rise condos to Gillian (Karen Howell), who lives with a pair of killer Chechen “warriors in the spirit of the wolf,” Ferdinand (Scott Oakley) and Ramos (Matthew Rimmer), who are members of a group that likes to have sex as furries. Meanwhile, he develops a friendship with his other tenant, Alice (Dawn-Lyen Gardner), a single mother with a violent boyfriend. Living above Alice is party animal Stryker Jones (Nicoye Banks), a rapper with a hit album who is lying relatively low as he struggles to make his follow-up record. Connor just wants a normal life, but he can’t stay out of trouble, refusing to sacrifice his principles even when his very existence is at stake.
The Dunning Man is based on the title short story in a highly acclaimed 2014 collection by Kevin Fortuna, who cowrote the screenplay with Clayton and serves as producer. (“Dunning” refers to the payment of a debt as well as a dull, gray-brown color and a son.) The film, which occasionally goes too far over the top, challenging credulity, belongs to Carpinello, who has starred in such Broadway musicals as Saturday Night Fever, Xanadu, and Rock of Ages, such off-Broadway shows as Incident at Vichy, and such television series as The Good Wife and The Mob Doctor. He has an innate charm as Connor, goofy and likable even when he does really stupid things. Cinematographer Petr Cikhart, who shoots The Amazing Race, keeps his camera moving as Connor faces disaster after disaster. Throughout the film, Clayton includes archival footage of Atlantic City’s illustrious, and not so illustrious, past, evoking Connor’s dreams and failures. “I do enjoy my life,” he declares at one point, but it sure doesn’t look like it. The heavily Irish soundtrack is outstanding, featuring music by Spider Stacy and the Pogues, the Ryan Brothers, and Brent Butler. And where else can you hear discussion of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Need? The Dunning Man is screening June 16 at 7:45 at Village East as part of the Soho International Film Festival and will be followed by a Q&A with the filmmakers and members of the cast. The eighth annual festival continues through June 22 with such other films as Sloan Copeland’s Life Hack, Paul Jarrett’s Crazy Famous, Jill Salvino’s Between the Shades, and Marcia Kimton’s Bardo Blues.
The 2017 Human Rights Watch Film Festival comes to a close June 18 with the New York premiere of Brian Knappenberger’s Nobody Speak: Trials of the Free Press, a deeply troubling Netflix original that looks into the growing battle between billionaires and the fourth estate, between a person’s right to privacy and freedom of the press. Knappenberger begins by exploring the landmark Bollea v. Gawker case, in which Hulk Hogan, whose real name is Terry Gene Bollea, sued online media outlet Gawker for posting nine seconds of a tape depicting Bollea having sex with Heather Clem, the wife of his then-best friend, Todd Alan Clem, better known as radio personality Bubba the Love Sponge. The jury awarded Bollea $140 million, bankrupting Gawker, but Knappenberger reveals that the case was about a lot more than invasion of privacy — it was really about control of the media by the extremely wealthy. And Hogan/Bollea is not that wealthy. “Don’t be fooled into thinking that just because this case is so sleazy and rests on sex that it’s not important; this is one of the most important First Amendment cases in American history,” says Leslie Savan, who blogs on politics and the media for The Nation. “We’re talking about the very notion of truth,” she later adds. Knappenberger speaks extensively with Gawker cofounder Nick Denton, who defends what the company did as well as its overall journalistic ethics, covering stories that others wouldn’t; Knappenberger also meets with Gawker cofounder Elizabeth Spiers; former editor in chief A. J. Daulerio, who posted the Hogan story and sees himself as a patsy; former deputy editor James Wright; Hogan lawyers David Houston and Charles Harder; and former Gawker executive editor John Cook, who is boldly outspoken about Gawker’s purpose. “I wanted to write true things about bad people, and that’s what Gawker gave us all the freedom to do,” he says. First Amendment lawyer Floyd Abrams notes, “The reason to save Gawker was not because Gawker is worth saving. The reason to save it is that we don’t pick and choose what sort of publications are permissible, because once we do, it empowers the government to limit speech in a way that ought to be impermissible.” Among the other talking heads offering compelling insight are Politico media writer Peter Sterne, associate professor of journalism Jay Rosen, Buzzfeed business reporter Will Alden, NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik, and former New York Times columnist David Carr. The story takes a strange turn when it is discovered that there were potential improprieties involving Judge Pamela Campbell and that the lawsuit is being funded by billionaire venture capitalist Peter Thiel, who was outed by Gawker in 2007 and is now exacting a dangerous kind of revenge.
Knappenberger then shifts to Las Vegas, where the well-respected Las Vegas Review-Journal is sold to a mystery buyer. A stalwart group of reporters, including Mike Hengel, Jennifer Robison, and John L. Smith, risk their careers in discovering that it’s right-wing casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, who is unhappy about negative articles written about him. “Some stories are worth losing your job over,” Robison says. The lengths to which Thiel, who later spoke at the 2016 Republican National Convention and served on Donald Trump’s transition team, and Adelson, a major player in the political arena, go in order to try to silence the press are absolutely terrifying. Knappenberger (The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz, We Are Legion: The Story of the Hacktivists) concludes with a look at Trump himself, who regularly attacks the media, calling them liars that spread fake news, threatening violence against them, and promising that “we’re going to open up libel laws and we’re going to have people sue you like you’ve never got sued before.” Although some of the narrative shifts are a bit clumsy and the film gets too high and mighty at the end, Knappenberger’s point is clear, that the media is under attack from a small group of thin-skinned billionaires who believe they are more powerful than the truth and have made the press their avowed enemy. Nobody Speak: Trials of the Free Press is screening June 18 at 7:00 at IFC Center and will be followed by a panel discussion with Knappenberger and Human Rights Watch communications director Emma Daly, moderated by Masha Gessen. The film will be available on Netflix beginning June 23.
June 16-25, free - $625
Showing one’s pride is more than just using a rainbow flag emoji on Facebook. You can wave the flag much higher by attending any of these special pride events, the first Pride Week held under President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence; as always, the ticketed events are selling out fast, so you better act quickly if you want to shake it up at some pretty crazy parties.
Friday, June 16
The Rally, Foley Square, free, 6:00 - 8:00 pm
Sunday, June 18
Pride Luminaries Brunch, with special guests, the Garden at David Burke, 23 Grand St., $60, 1:00 - 4:00 pm
Monday, June 19
OutCinema, screening of Cherry Pop (Assaad Yacoub, 2016) and open-bar after-party, with Bob the Drag Queen, Detox, and Tempest DuJour in person, SVA Theatre, 333 West 23rd St., $30, 7:30 pm
Tuesday, June 20
Family Movie Night: The Lion King (Roger Allers & Rob Minkoff, 1994), hosted by Miss Richfield 1981, Pier 45, Hudson River Park at Christopher St., free (reserved seating $50), 8:30 pm
Wednesday, June 21
Village Voice Pride Awards, hosted by Alan Cumming, Capitale, 130 Bowery, 6:00 pm
Friday, June 23
Moxie, with Mary Lambert and DJs Mary Mac and Susan Levine, Taj II Lounge, 48 West 21st St., $25-$48, 4:00 – 11:00 pm
Fantasy, with DJs Ralphi Rosario and Eddie Martinez and special secret performances, Highline Ballroom, 431 West 16th St., $39-$79, 11:00 pm - 5:00 am
Friday, June 23
Sunday, June 25
Pride Island, with Deborah Cox, DJ Lina, and Patti Labelle on Friday, Tegan and Sara, Years & Years, Roisin Murphy, Gallant, Dimitri from Paris, and Occupy the Disco on Saturday, and DJ Scott Martin, DJ Cindel, Chus & Ceballos, and Nelly Furtado on Sunday, Pier 26, Hudson River Park at Laight St., $35-$180
Saturday, June 24
Youth Pride, with interactive games, activities, and live entertainment, free with advance registration, 14th St. Park, 12 noon – 6:00 pm
VIP Rooftop Party, with DJs Alex Acosta, GSP, and Hannah and secret acts all night long, Hudson Terrace, 621 West 46th St., $69-$85, 2:00 - 10:00 pm
Teaze (formerly known as Rapture on the River), exclusive party for women only, with DJs Taryn Manning and Tatiana, the DL, 95 Delancey St., $48-$80, 4:00 – 10:00 pm
Masterbeat: Game Show, Hammerstein Ballroom, 311 West 34th St., $120-$140, 10:00 pm – 6:00 am
Sunday, June 25
PrideFest, twenty-fourth annual street fair with music, food, merchandise, and live performances by LeAnn Rimes and many others, Hudson St. between Abingdon Sq. & West 14th St., free (special packages $10-$625), 11:00 am – 6:00 pm
The March, with grand marshals the American Civil Liberties Union, Brooke Guinan, Krishna Stone, and Geng Le, Lavender Line from 36th St. & Fifth Ave. to Christopher & Greenwich Sts., free, 12 noon
Femme Fatale, women’s rooftop party with DJs Nikki Lions, Mary Mac, and Tatiana, Hudson Terrace, 621 West 46th St., $25-$60, 4:00 - 10:00 pm
Manhattan Theatre Club at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre
261 West 47th St. between Broadway & Eighth Aves.
Tuesday - Sunday through July 2, $89-$179
Daniel Sullivan’s Broadway revival of Lillian Hellman’s 1939 drawing-room classic, The Little Foxes, is exquisitely rendered in every detail in this gorgeous Manhattan Theatre Club production, continuing through July 2 at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre. It’s an intricate tale of the business of family, and the family business, in the South in the spring of 1900, but it never feels old-fashioned or dated; instead it highlights the play’s freshness and relevance to today’s world. The conniving Hubbard clan — older brother Ben (Michael McKean), younger brother Oscar (Darren Goldstein), and sister Regina (portrayed alternately by Laura Linney and Cynthia Nixon) — are wining and dining Mr. Marshall (David Alford), a wealthy Chicago industrialist about to partner with Hubbard Sons in a cotton mill deal. “It’s very remarkable how you Southern aristocrats have kept together. Kept together and kept what belonged to you,” Mr. Marshall says. “You misunderstand, sir. Southern aristocrats have not kept together and have not kept what belonged to them,” Ben points out. “You don’t call this keeping what belongs to you?” Mr. Marshall asks, looking around the impressive room. “But we are not aristocrats. Our brother’s wife is the only one of us who belongs to the Southern aristocracy,” Ben explains, referring to Oscar’s wife, Birdie (alternately Nixon or Linney). In a classic new money/old money transaction, Oscar married the soft-spoken, timid Birdie for her bloodline and the family plantation, her beloved Lionnet. Once Lionnet and Birdie were both Hubbard property, he began beating and mistreating her, leading her to retreat into a haze of alcohol. Meanwhile, Oscar is grooming their bumbling, would-be-playboy son, Leo (Michael Benz), to join Hubbard Sons and to marry his first cousin, Alexandra (Francesca Carpanini), the teenage daughter of Regina and Horace (Richard Thomas). But to secure the deal with Mr. Marshall, Ben and Oscar need Horace, a seriously ill banker who has spent the past five months at Johns Hopkins, to contribute his share in the partnership; otherwise, they will have to bring in a stranger, something they are loathe to do. But Regina proves herself to be another shrewd Hubbard when she starts negotiating for her absent husband. Unable to execute the necessary partnership investment herself, Regina sends Alexandra to Maryland to bring back Horace, setting up an intense battle of wills over Union Pacific bonds owned by Horace, who just happens to be Leo’s boss at the bank. Watching everything unfold are the Hubbards’ servants, Addie (Caroline Stefanie Clay) and Cal (Charles Turner), who understand exactly what is going on as the post-Reconstruction South moves from its plantation slave agriculture economy to a mill-based industrial one — all the while keeping up its brutal foundation of labor exploitation. It all culminates in a spectacularly grand finale that is as wickedly funny as it is unpredictable.
A magnet for big stars, The Little Foxes was first presented on Broadway in 1939, with Tallulah Bankhead as Regina and Frank Conroy as Horace. William Wyler’s Oscar-nominated 1941 film starred Bette Davis as Regina, Herbert Marshall as Horace, and Teresa Wright as Alexandra. It was previously revived on Broadway in 1967 by Mike Nichols (with Anne Bancroft, Richard A. Dysart, E. G. Marshall, and George C. Scott), in 1981 by Austin Pendleton (with Elizabeth Taylor, Maureen Stapleton, and Anthony Zerbe), and in 1997 by Jack O’Brien (with Stockard Channing, Frances Conroy, and Brian Murray). The cast for the 2017 revival is simply brilliant: McKean (All the Way, Superior Donuts) is devilishly regal as the cigar-smoking, full-bearded Ben; Goldstein (Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, Abigail’s Party) is deliciously devious as Oscar, the least well mannered of the siblings; and Thomas (Incident at Vichy, You Can’t Take It with You) is explosive as Regina’s ailing, henpecked husband who has some tricks up his sleeve. But the play’s real power lays in the roles of Regina and Birdie, two very different women, each with their own strengths and flaws, representative of both the past and the future of their gender. At Linney’s suggestion, she and Nixon alternate playing Regina and Birdie; I saw it with four-time Emmy winner, three-time Oscar nominee, and four-time Tony nominee Linney (Time Stands Still, Sight Unseen) as Regina and Tony, Grammy, and Emmy winner Nixon (Rabbit Hole, Wit) as Birdie. The two women are magical together, Linney strong and determined as the duplicitous, calculating Regina, who wants a better life for herself no matter how it impacts the others, while Nixon is delightful as the unassuming, fragile, abused Birdie, who knows more than she is letting on. Scott Pask’s set is divine, with lovely period furniture, a Hazelton Brothers piano, lush drapery, and a shadowy, ominous staircase in the back, while Jane Greenwood’s costumes are utterly transcendent, the men’s tuxes bold and impressive, the women’s dresses luxuriously elegant and revealing of their inner being. Tony winner Sullivan (Rabbit Hole, Proof) directs with impeccable attention to detail; nary the smallest matter is overlooked, and the pacing is wonderful, with two well-timed intermissions over two and a half hours. “I could wait until next week. But I can’t wait until next week,” Ben says at one point, referring to Horace’s delay in contributing his share of the investment, but he just as well could be talking to those who are still contemplating whether to see the show. “I could but I can’t. Could and can’t. Well, I must go now,” he concludes. The Little Foxes must go on July 2; don’t miss it.
“People make choices that are not good for them. The right choice is not always easy, but the answer is always clear,” Caren (Samia Akudo) tells her two boys (David Schallipp and Matthew Schallip) in Adam R. Brown and Kyle I. Kelley’s creepy Fluffernutter, one of seven flicks that make up “Mind F*ck Shorts,” which, depending on your sense and sensibility, might or might not be good for you. “Mind F*ck Shorts” is being shown June 14 at 7:00 at the seventh annual Lower East Side Film Festival, which runs through June 15 at Landmark Sunshine. The odd evening also includes Maya Margolina’s “Birdsong” video, focusing on a strange ecofeminist battle between Lake7 (Bunny Michael) and Lou (Nire), with guest appearances by various living creatures, and L.A. rapper Old Man Saxon’s video for “Sunday Saxon,” which displays a rather offbeat sense of humor. In Justin Ulloa and Jamie Dwyer’s animated Pizza Face, a vain waitress gets her comeuppance, while Morgan Miller’s animated There’s Too Many of These Crows takes Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds to a whole new level. Duck puppeteer Mike Crane (Clayton Farris) has a pretty rough birthday in Marcus C. W. Chan’s Everything’s Gonna Be OK, while in Zachary Fleming’s Staycation a sad man’s (Rob Malone) lonely vacation on Sullivan St. has a revealing mystery guest (Joanna Arnow).
This year’s jury consists of Sasheer Zamata of SNL, Jeremy Allen White of Shameless, documentarian Paola Mendoza, Webby Awards founder Tiffany Shlain, Stephen Schneider from Imaginary Mary and Broad City, cinematographer Sam Levy, Entoptic founder Andrew Lim, and P.O.V. creator and executive producer Marc Weiss. Started in 2013 by Roxy Hunt, Shannon Walker, Damon Cardasis, and Tony Castle, the Lower East Side Film Festival hosts a mix of shorts, full-length films, and special events; also on the 2017 schedule is the U.S. premiere of Evan Beloff’s Kosher Love, followed by a Q&A with the filmmakers (June 11, 6:00); the panel discussion “Writing the Documentary Screenplay” with David Riker, Sarah Burns, Jeremy Chilnick, and Nelson George, moderated by Michael Winship (June 13, 6:00); “Queer Shorts: Best of Newfest,” with a Q&A (June 13, 9:00); and the closing-night world premiere of Aaron Feldman’s Poop Talk, followed by a Q&A with executive producers Jason and Randy Sklar. Film festival season is upon us; among the other ongoing, upcoming, or just completed festivals are the Human Rights Watch Film Festival, the Brooklyn Film Festival, the Soho International Film Festival, and the Israel Center Film Festival, but we’re pretty sure that the Lower East Side Film Festival is the only one claiming it will f*ck with your mind.
“What power has gold to make men endure it all?” a title card asks in William Desmond Taylor’s 1928 silent film, The Trail of ’98, based on a novel by Robert Service. Both Taylor and Service were at one time residents of Dawson City, the town in the Yukon in Canada that was at the center of the Klondike Gold Rush in the late 1890s. In June 1978, while construction was just under way to build a new recreation center behind Diamond Tooth Gertie’s Gambling Hall in Dawson, Pentecostal minister and city alderman Frank Barrett uncovered a treasure trove of motion picture stock, hundreds of silent films that had been believed to have been lost forever. Writer, director, and editor Bill Morrison uses stunning archival footage from those films in his elegiac, beautiful documentary, Dawson City: Frozen Time, which brilliantly tells the story of greed, perseverance, and the growth of the entertainment industry in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. After gold was discovered in Dawson, the indigenous Hän people were relocated to Tr’ochëk and some hundred thousand prospectors stampeded in, the gold mining destroying the Hän’s fishing and hunting grounds. Morrison also follows the invention of film itself, celluloid stock that would end up causing many fires, including one every year in Dawson for nine years. Bookended by an original interview with Michael Gates, Parks Canada curator of collections, and his wife, Kathy Jones-Gates, director of the Dawson Museum, the film traces the boom-and-bust fortunes and misfortunes of Dawson, as gambling casinos, movie theaters, hotels, and restaurants are built, including the Arctic, a hotel and restaurant owned by Ernest Levin and Fred Trump, the president’s grandfather, that might have served as a brothel as well. The film is supplemented with photographs by Eric A. Hegg, a giant in the field who left behind glass plates when he ultimately departed Dawson. Among others making their way through Dawson at one time or another are newsboy Sid Grauman, who went on to build Grauman’s Chinese Theatre; New York Rangers founder Tex Rickard; comic superstar Fatty Arbuckle; and Daniel and Solomon Guggenheim, who dominated the mining there.
Morrison, whose previous films, including Decasia, The Miners’ Hymns, and The Great Flood, employ archival footage to often tell historical tales, uses thousands of clips in Dawson City: Frozen Time, from newsreels to such films as Temperance Town, The Half Breed, The End of the Rainbow, and The Frog. Footage from the found clips, identified as “Dawson City Film Find” on the screen, also delves into the evolving battle between workers and owners, the deportation of political radicals, and the Black Sox scandal, all of which Morrison relates to the upstart movie industry. The film is a tour de force of editing, as Morrison streams together scenes of actors going through doorways, kissing, or moving in vehicles, not just a torrent of random images, all set to Alex Somers’s haunting experimental score. (Somers’s brother, John, is the sound designer.) The film also sets a new personal high for Morrison, clocking in at 120 minutes, by far his longest work; all of his previous features are less than 80 minutes, but this latest one further establishes that Morrison’s mesmerizing but unusual visual approach is not time-sensitive. With Dawson City: Frozen Time, Morrison has created a magical ode to the history of film, to preservation, to pioneers, and to perseverance, told in his hypnotic, unique style. It opens at IFC Center on June 9, with Morrison and Alex Somers participating in a Q&A at the 6:00 shows on June 10 and 11, moderated by NYU Cinema Studies assistant professor Dan Streible.
WHEN THE MOUNTAINS TREMBLE (Pamela Yates, 1983)
GRANITO: HOW TO NAIL A DICTATOR (Pamela Yates, Peter Kinoy & Paco de Onís, 2011)
500 YEARS (Pamela Yates, 2017)
Film Society of Lincoln Center, Walter Reade Theater
165 West 65th St. at Amsterdam Ave.
Sunday, June 11, 1:30, 3:15, 5:15, $20
Festival runs through June 18
The 2017 Human Rights Watch Film Festival is paying tribute June 11 to Pamela Yates’s Guatemala trilogy with “The Resistance Saga,” with screenings of all three films, a Q&A with the filmmakers and Mayan activists, and a reception featuring a live performance by Mayan singer Sara Curruchich. The opening-night selection of the twenty-second Human Rights Watch Film Festival, Granito: How to Nail a Dictator is an illuminating, if at times overly self-referential, examination of the power of documentary filmmaking. In 1982, Pamela Yates and Newton Thomas Sigel made When the Mountains Tremble, which told the inside story of civilian massacres of the indigenous Maya people as government forces and guerrilla revolutionaries fought in the jungles of Guatemala; one of the film’s subjects, Rigoberta Menchú, became an international figure and went on to win the Nobel Peace Prize. “When I made that film, I had no idea I was filming in the middle of a genocide,” Yates says at the beginning of Granito, which Yates directed with Peter Kinoy and Paco de Onís. A quarter-century after When the Mountains Tremble, Yates was contacted by lawyer Almudena Bernabeu, who asked Yates to comb through her reels and reels of footage to find evidence of the Guatemalan genocide and help bring charges again dictator Ríos Montt, whom Yates had met with back in 1982. In researching the case, Yates speaks with Menchú, forensic archivist Kate Doyle, journalist liaison Naomi Roht-Arriaza, forensic anthropologist Fredy Peccerelli, Spanish national court judge Santiago Pedraz, victims’ rights leader and genocide survivor Antonio Caba Caba, and Gustavo Meoño, a founding member of the Guerrilla Army of the Poor, each of whom sheds light on the proceedings from various different angles, from digging up bones in mass graves to discussing redacted documents that reveal U.S. involvement in Guatemala. Several of them are risking their lives by both continuing to fight the government and appearing on camera. Yates has now completed the trilogy with 500 Years, her seventh film to be shown at the festival, documenting the Mayan resistance that has led to crucial court cases as racism and corruption are brought to light and the Mayan people seek to regain control of their society. “The Resistance Saga” begins in the Walter Reade Theater at 1:30 with When the Mountains Tremble, followed at 3:15 by Granito: How to Nail a Dictator and 5:15 by 500 Years; tickets for all three films, the Q&A, and the reception/concert are $20.