Coming soon! The film issue of Buffalo Spree and ‘Buffalo ’66’ at the North Park

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I had the honor of guest-editing the April 2015 “film issue” of Buffalo Spree, and to tie in with the issue, Spree is presenting a special screening of Vincent Gallo’s dark masterpiece “Buffalo ’66” at the North Park Theatre on April 2.

I helped put the screening together, so I cannot wait. I also cannot wait for everyone to see the film issue … More to come on this soon! In the meantime, click here for more info on the screening.

Now playing at the North Park: “Aftermath”

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The controversial Polish drama “Aftermath” opened today at the North Park. While not without its flaws, it is certainly a fascinating film. Here is my three-star review from the Buffalo News.

The Polish drama “Aftermath” comes bearing the label “inspired by true events,” and with press notes stating that “Polish nationals have accused the film of being anti-Polish propaganda as well as a distortion of a sensitive piece of Polish history, leading the film to be banned in some Polish cinemas.”

It is not hard to see why director Wladyslaw Pasikowski’s film has inspired so much debate. (The Hollywood Reporter called it the “most controversial film in the country’s history.”) Its subject – the fate of Jews living in World War II Poland – would make waves anywhere “Aftermath” is shown.

Does the film warrant such intense opinion? Undoubtedly. It tells an involving story, to be sure, albeit in grim, one-note fashion. It is more effective as a history lesson than as drama.

Still, this is a worthy production, and an often gripping study of the lasting effects of the July 1941 Jedwabne pogrom, which saw the murders of more than 300 Polish Jews.

Maciej Stuhr and Ireneusz Czop star as brothers Józef and Franciszek “Franek” Kalina, sons of a poor farmer in central Poland whose lives went in different directions. Franek left home for the United States and severed ties with his family. Only when his brother’s wife arrives in the States is he forced to return home.

The community Franek returns to is fractured and strange. Józef is a paranoid outcast, shunned by the glowering villagers for reasons that soon become chillingly clear.

Józef discovered that a village road was actually paved with the tombstones of long-deceased Jews, and this was not the only spot in which these tombstones could be found. The local church was another.

He took it upon himself to “rescue” the tombstones, moving them to his farm and learning to read the names engraved upon them. The anti-Semites in the community are displeased, as the unearthed headstones betray a startling, devastating truth.

As Franek discovers, 26 Jewish families were executed in the village during World War II, and their land was stolen by many still living in the town, as well as the brothers’ late father. Soon, other disturbing details are unearthed, bringing to light atrocities long forgotten.

This is powerful stuff, and director Pasikowski deserves credit for illuminating this sad history under the guise of a “thriller.” Yet this is also a bit jarring, as an overwrought score, over-the-top acting and vaguely inappropriate thriller tropes often undermine the proceedings. (An unintentionally humorous “chase” involving a tractor just seems silly.)

Still, the revelations are effectively unveiled, the acting from Stuhr and Czop appropriately intense, and the mood nicely dour. It makes for a grim bit of cinema, and that is as it should be.

“Aftermath” also succeeds in piquing the interest of audiences in taking a closer look at a time period many of us do not know well. Perhaps the general details are stored in our memory banks, but is the Jedwabne pogrom common knowledge?

Probably not. And that’s why “Aftermath” is an essential film. As the great Andrzej Wajda (the Polish master behind “A Generation,” “Danton” and “Man of Iron”) said about the film, “Some say it’s best to forget about this, but artists, Polish cinema, we’re here to remind people.”

As a study of a nation’s past and present identity, then, and of the past deeds of some its people, “Aftermath” is certainly effective. It is disturbing, and very grim, but so is the time in history the film seeks to highlight.

The North Park’s triumphant return

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This Friday is an important day in recent Buffalo film history — that’s no exaggeration — as Hertel Avenue’s glorious North Park Theatre reopens. Here is a nice Buffalo News story on the theater.

The first film at the renovated theater is the French Film Girl on a Bicycle, followed one week later by Better Living Through Chemistry, then Catherine Deneuve in On My Way (March 21), and then Berlin film-fest winner Child’s Pose (March 28).

This unique, eclectic lineup gives us a good idea what to expect, I think, and as a devoted local cinemagoer, I could not be more excited.

I will report back once I get a chance to visit. I cannot wait.

(Photo from Buffalo Rising)

Breaking: A local filmmaking team gains national recognition, and the North Park’s return is almost ready

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There are often very cool film-related things happening in Buffalo, at places like Squeaky Wheel and Hallwalls, and beyond. Here are two to keep an eye on:

 

“Almost Perfect” garners a Best Film nod

Buffalo Rising has the story of a team of local filmmakers nominated for the 2013 National Film Challenge’s Best Film:

“[The worldwide competition] has nominated a local filmmaking team as one of the eighteen films to be eligible for audience voting — a designation that puts the makers one step closer to the winner of Best Film and other juried awards. Buffalo’s Team Reciprocity entered ‘Almost Perfect’ to be represented, which is now eligible to be voted upon as audience favorite. That means that you are now in the driver’s seat… it’s time to vote for your favorite entry.”

Check out the video here. It’s a blast. Bravo!

 

The reborn North Park is coming soon

You will read plenty here and elsewhere about the resurrection of Buffalo’s North Park Theater over the next few months. It’s fantastic news, and we can all help: a fundraiser will be held on December 27; see the North Park site for updates.

I spent many fine evenings at the North Park, and drove by it daily when I lived off of Hertel Avenue. This could be one of 2014’s greatest local film stories.