Les Blank, innovative documentary filmmaker, has died

Les Blank, whose much-praised documentaries covered topics as disparate as garlic, the blues, and shoe diets, has died.

Born in Florida in 1935, his first documentaries focused on musicians such as Dizzy Gillespie and Lightnin' Hopkins. Then he broadened his subjects to include food, women with gapped teeth, and the German director, Werner Herzog.

In the 1980s, Blank came to The University of Michigan for a showing of his sweetly weird Garlic Is as Good as Ten Mothers. To the delight (and digestive torture) of his audience, Blank had arranged to have garlic roasting in the back of the theater. Currently, this iconic Les Blank film is unavailable in DVD format, which is a shame. In 2004, the Library of Congress selected it for preservation in the United States’ National Film Registry for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”

Another famous Blank documentary made in 1980 is Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe, a 20-minute film of the famed director fulfilling a bet he lost to eat his footwear. Herzog wagered that director Errol Morris would never make a film. Morris collected on the bet with the release of his first documentary, The Gates of Heaven,1978, about a California pet cemetery. This odd meal can be seen in the DVD, Burden of Dreams, 1982, Blank's examination of Herzog's challenges in filming his award winning Fitzcarraldo, 1982.

Blank, who had been diagnosed with cancer less than a year ago, was 77.

Cinema Night Special: Discover Fresh Takes on Storytelling Through Animation, Plus Live Music

Friday, May 3 | 6:30-8:30 PM | Downtown Library: Multi-Purpose Room | Adults

This coming Friday, Cinema Night Special will present two vastly contrasting examples of storytelling through animation. The evening kicks off with a fanciful Oscar-winning short, The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore -- created in a "hybrid style of animation that harkens back to silent films and M-G-M Technicolor musicals."

The 80-minute, critically accritically-acclaimed Czech film "Alois Nebel," (Best Animated Film, 2012 European Film Awards) draws from vastly different inspiration —classic film noir. Rendered in mesmerizing black-and-white rotoscope, this darker film traces the haunted memories and mysterious visions of a troubled Czechoslovakian train dispatcher, haunted by events in the Second World War.

Between films, local band Cash Harrison & The Terrible Decisions will perform a live set, and fresh popcorn will be served.

Enjoy this special evening of film and music!

Roger Ebert, beloved Chicago movie critic, has died

Just one day after announcing he was taking a 'leave of presence' from his 46-year gig as movie critic for the Chicago Sun-Times and his 31-year career on TV reviewing films, Roger Ebert lost his long public battle with salivary and thyroid cancer.

His announcement yesterday said he would just review the movies HE wanted to see and leave the rest of the reviews to his trusted colleagues at the paper. When he lost part of his jaw and thus his ability to eat or speak, he used his good humor and courage to write about his experience fighting, and often triumphing, against, his devastating illness.

Ebert's long career resulted in a 1975 Pulitzer Prize, the first movie critic to receive this honor. The Webby Awards named him their 2010 Person of the Year. And Hollywood, which lived and died by Ebert's laser-beam ethical demand for excellence in all things film, honored him with his own Walk of Fame star in 2005.

Ebert's career took off in a new direction when he and Chicago Tribune movie critic, Gene Siskel, took their 'point/counterpoint' routine to television in 1975. Originally titled Coming Soon to a Theater Near You, PBS picked it up and renamed it Sneak Previews three years later. There were two more name-changes: In 1981, it morphed into At the Movies. Five years later, accompanied by their signature 'thumbs up, thumbs down' rating system, it settled on Siskel & Ebert & the Movies.

Sadly, Siskel died in 1999. He had had brain surgery for brain cancer but it was complications from another surgery that ended his life.

Despite his long fight with illness, Ebert wrote almost seventeen books on movies, the internet, his life (Life Itself: A Memoir, 2011), and yes, even a cookbook for rice cookers (The Pot and How to Use It: The Mystery and Romance of the Rice Cooker, 2010).

Ebert, who was 70, died today in Chicago.

Irish character actor, Milo O'Shea, has died

Milo O'Shea, an Irish character actor known for his bushy eyebrows and lovely brogue, has died.

Best known in this country for his roles in the campy science fiction film, Barbarella (1968), starring Jane Fonda and the 1982 courtroom thriller, The Verdict, starring Paul Newman, he also enjoyed considerable success in TV. His large body of work included appearances in The Golden Girl, Cheers, Frasier, and in the fifth season of The West Wing, as Chief Justice Roy Ashland.

He also did some stage work, notably performing in Neil Simon's The Sunshine Boys.

Mr. O'Shea, who was 86, died yesterday in Manhattan.

Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, award-winning screenwriter and novelist, has died

Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, Oscar-winning screenwriter and much-honored novelist, died today in Manhattan.

Ms. Jhabvala was born in Germany to Jewish parents who fled to England in 1939. In 1951, Ms. Jhabvala married an Indian architect. They lived in New Delhi for a quarter of century, an experience which informed much of her examination of the privileged lifestyle of the British upperclass in India.

In the early 1960s, she was discovered by filmdom's producer/director power team, Ismail Merchant and James Ivory. They had read her 1963 novel, Householder (on order) and asked her to write the screenplay for the film (on order) by the same name which was released later that year.

Thus began a long successful partnership. The Merchant/Ivory/Jhabvala 22-film collaboration resulted in two Oscars for Ms. Jhabvala -- A Room with a View (1986) and Howards End (1993).

Ms. Jhabvala was also feted with many literary awards, as well. In 1975, she won the then-called Booker McConnell Prize for Fiction (now known as the Man Booker Prize) for Heat and Dust. In 1984, she was tapped for one of the much-coveted MacArthur Foundation fellowships.

Ms. Jhabvala's last novel, My Nine Lives was published in 2004. Her final book, a collection of short stories, A Lovesong for India came out two years ago. Her very last piece of published writing appeared in the March 25, 2013 edition of The New Yorker. It is a short story called The Judge's Will.

Ms. Jhabvala, who was85, died of an unspecified pulmonary ailment.

A Movie in the Making - Divergent

Veronica Roth says, "Okay, so you may have seen/heard rumors of this already, so it's not exactly new news, but it is Officially Official, which means that I can tell you my thoughts. KATE WINSLET has been cast as Jeanine Matthews! What can I say? When I found out, I was floored. I grew up watching Kate Winslet in movies, whether it was Titanic or Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind or The Reader, and she is an incredible actress, and I am sure that she will be extraordinary as Jeanine. I'm excited to see the complexity and depth she'll bring to the role."

The film is now in pre-production, and will be coming to theaters sometime in 2014. But you can read the book and it's sequel, Insurgent, now. Roth is in the process of writing the as-yet-untitled third book in the series, which will be published October 22, 2013.

Interview with filmmaker David Sherman

During the Ann Arbor Film Festival's 50th anniversary last year, filmmaker David Sherman spoke with us about his fourth AAFF entry, “Assassination in Dreamland." He also touches on Ann Arbor's connection with San Francisco area filmmakers and the importance of the creative discourse fostered by Festival communities. Check out additional interviews, posters, photographs, and information about this history of the Ann Arbor Film Festival at our Ann Arbor Film Festival Archive.

Pitch Perfect on DVD

I didn’t expect to enjoy Pitch Perfect, but I did. Beca is a freshman in college and she has no interest in college life. She’d rather be in the real world DJing and producing music. Her father is a professor at the school and makes a deal with her that if she is in college for a year and joins a club and hates it, she gets to drop out and he’ll pay her way to LA to make music.

Enter the Barden Bellas. The Bellas are an all girls a cappella group that take on their rival male singing group, and surprisingly, talented outsider Beca is able to add some life to their stale routines, which creates tension between her and the group's leader who isn't into changing up.

The film is quite funny with the singing cast offering many one liners. Watching the cast members create and perform the musical routines is pretty entertaining.

Film & Discussion: Unnatural Causes

Is inequality making us sick? It turns out there's more to our health than bad habits, healthcare or unlucky genes. The social conditions in which we're born, live, and work affect well-being and longevity. Two episodes from the documentary series Unnatural Causes will be screened at this event: Episode 2: 'When the Bough Breaks,' highlights how racial justice and civic engagement are instruments for improving health and birth outcomes, and Episode 7: 'Not Just a Paycheck,' shows how layoffs, unemployment, and job security have a negative effect on health.
Unnatural Causes is the acclaimed 2008 documentary series broadcast by PBS tackling the root causes of our alarming socio-economic and racial inequities in health.

A discussion after the film will be led by UM faculty and physicians, Terence Joiner, MD, and Matthew Davis, MD.

This event is co-sponsored by the University of Michigan Community Scholars Program.

March 26 | 6 - 8:30pm | Downtown Library 4th Floor Meeting Room | Grades 9 and Up |

Ann Arbor Film Festival: Films, Archives, DVDs

The Ann Arbor Film Festival is next week! I love this time of year. So many films to see in just a few days time. Have you been hawking over the schedule and taking notes of what you’d like to see? Be ready, as the fun begins gala-style on Tuesday, March 19 and runs through Sunday, March 24.

Established in 1963, The Ann Arbor Film Festival is the longest-running independent and experimental film festival in North America, and we are lucky to have it in our own backyard. The 51st annual festival is bringing some wonderful experimental films to the Michigan Theater, and a visit from Ken Burns is also on deck!

Fore more film fodder, be sure to check out the Ann Arbor Film Festival Archive, accessible online. You’ll have full access to old photos, flyers, articles, festival programs, and interviews from past festivals. Meanwhile, to view some of the films of past festivals, check out these collections available at AADL:

Time Pieces: 46th Ann Arbor Film Festival, DVD collection, Volume 1

Unexplored territories: 47th Ann Arbor Film Festival, DVD collection, Volume 2

48th Ann Arbor Film Festival, DVD collection, Volume 3

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