Indie Focus: Adventuring with 'The Lost City of Z,' 'A Woman, A Part' and Locarno in Los Angeles

Hello! I’m Mark Olsen, and welcome to another edition of your regular field guide to a world of Only Good Movies. The L.A. Times’ Festival of Books is April 22 and 23, and it is not only a great way to interface with publishers and booksellers but also features a wide variety of guests. The Times’ editor and publisher Davan Maharaj will be in conversation with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Mary McNamara will be talking to Sherry Lansing and Stephen Galloway. Sarah Rodman will be in conversation with actor Stephen Tobolowsky, while Lorraine Ali will be talking to actor Bryan Cranston.

And I will be moderating a talk with Tippi Hedren for her new book “Tippi: A Memoir.” And you know that the “Roar” years will be a topic of conversation.

McNamara will also be moderating a talk with author Margaret Atwood and show runner Bruce Miller for the upcoming TV adaption of Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale.” The Times’ Meredith Blake recently talked to the series’ star Elisabeth Moss.

The LAT Events team has had its hands full with the Festival of Books, but we will get back to work on our screenings and Q&As soon enough. (Movies never stop!) Keep on the lookout for future events at events.latimes.com.

‘The Lost City of Z’

Among the most exciting films released so far this year, James Gray’s “The Lost City of Z” examines the fate of Percy Fawcett, the early 20th-Century adventurer who disappeared while looking for ruins of an undiscovered civilization in the jungles of the Amazon. The film stars Charlie Hunnam as Fawcett, with supporting turns by Sienna Miller, Robert Pattinson and Tom Holland, and manages to be at once grounded and mystical, with a restless, seeking quality all its own.

Reviewing the film for the Times, Justin Chang wrote “’The Lost City of Z’ is the kind of picture whose classicism, a term often confused with conventionality, feels increasingly like a radical statement of intent. Fawcett’s journeys into the Amazon, each one drawing him a little further into his heart of darkness, provide the film with a steady rhythm and a clean three-act structure, but its hauntingly lyrical final scenes deliver the very opposite of closure. The movie may, in the end, frustrate your desire for straight-up thrills and clear answers, but its irresolution is masterful — sincere, generous and entirely appropriate to the deeply searching story it has to tell.”

The Times’ Steve Zeitchik interviewed Hunnam at the West Hollywood deli Greenblatt’s, where the actor said “For me, Fawcett represents the search for meaning we all have — that terrible and wonderful and ordained quest. He wasn’t finding any answers in society; he found life wholly unsatisfying. So it was this voice asking questions: ‘What are we doing, and what is this desperate dark hole and how do I fill it?’ Most of us fill it with total nonsense — with consumerism. And he thought this quest would help quiet that voice.”

In her review for the New York Times, Manohla Dargis noted the sense of adventure and discovery within the movie itself with, “Mr. Gray opens this world gloriously. As a director, he has an old-fashioned belief in cinematic beauty, in the charm and necessity of the perfectly lighted and framed face, the hauntingly darkened room, the grittily coarsened street. He’s a sensualist, and in ‘The Lost City of Z’ he turns the Amazon into a ravishment for the senses.”

At Vox, Alissa Wilkinson added, “it feels like a movie from an earlier era. That’s not surprising, given that it’s written and directed by James Gray (“The Immigrant”), who normally trains his classical sensibility on small, intimate stories. This is a different sort of movie: a stately, elegant epic paced like an elegy.”

I’ll be publishing my own conversation with Gray soon. To the question of why make movies at all, he responded with passion and precision, saying, “It’s the perfect combination. It’s like dreams, a movie is like a dream. So that’s beautiful. Why shouldn’t I be committed to something so magnificent?”

‘A Woman, A Part’

The filmmaker Elisabeth Subrin has long worked in the avant-garde/experimental space and makes her narrative feature debut with “A Woman, A Part.” Subrin’s new film concerns a television actress, played by Maggie Siff from TV’s “Billions” and “Mad Men,” who attempts to get back to her roots by reconnecting with friends from the New York theater world played by John Ortiz and Cara Seymour. The film creates the same high-wire tension between its on-screen and off-screen worlds as recent films like “Clouds of Sils Maria” or “Kate Plays Christine.”

In her review for the Times, Katie Walsh called the film “an astute character study that is analytical but never unemotional… Siff is wonderful, but Ortiz and Seymour nearly steal the movie out from under her. For Subrin, it’s not just a promising entry into the world of narrative filmmaking but already a fine achievement.”

At the New York Times, Jeannette Catsoulis called the film a “sophisticated take on female friendship and professional frustration.”

For the Village Voice, Kristen Yoonsoo Kim added “Siff gives a modest but poignant performance that rings true for women of a certain age and career.”

For NY Magazine, Anna Silman wrote about the movie last summer, where Siff told her, “It’s one of my goals as an actress to keep trying to find projects that are helmed by women. Not just because of how I feel about it politically but because of how I feel about it as an actor inside of it. It just feels really different and it feels really good. And it should be 50 percent of my experiences working, instead of one in 10.”

Subrin posts to the lively tumblr site Who Cares About Actresses, including part of this manifesto: “Actresses matter profoundly. It is a political act when they (and we) question the patriarchal Hollywood (i.e. global) media machine, when they (and we) fight for and choose roles that offer the world a broader and more diverse understanding of what it means to be a woman, and when they (and we) have the courage to present alternative images of women to the world.”

‘Locarno In Los Angeles’

Spearheaded by local critic/programmers Jordan Cronk and Robert Koehler, the inaugural Locarno in Los Angeles festival will bring a selection of films from last year’s Locarno Film Festival in Switzerland to audiences in L.A. The program is being presented as a collaboration between the local Acropolis Cinema, the Locarno Festival and the Swiss Consulate General of Los Angeles.

Among the titles which will be screening are opening selection Matías Piñeiro’s “Hermia & Helena,” Theo Anthony’s “Rat Film,” Dane Komljen’s “All the Cities of the North,” Yuri Ancarani’s “The Challenge,” Angela Schanelec’s “The Dreamed Path,” Eduardo Williams’ “The Human Surge,” Milagros Mumenthaler’s “The Idea of a Lake” and closing selection Radu Jude “Scarred Hearts.”

I will be part of a panel on Saturday afternoon entitled “How to Get Art Cinema in Front of Los Angeles Audiences” along with exhibitor Gregory Laemmle, distributor David Schultz, critic Michael Nordine and programmer KJ Relth. It’s a topic I have a lot of questions about myself and should make for a lively, engaged discussion.

Email me if you have questions, comments or suggestions, and follow me on Twitter@IndieFocus.

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