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French Filmmaker Agnès Varda To Receive WGA West’s 2019 Jean Renoir Award

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Influential French filmmaker Agnès Varda, whose innovative, unconventional films La Pointe Courte, Cleo from 5 to 7, and Le Bonheur helped define France’s New Wave cinema, has been named the recipient of the Writers Guild of America West’s 2019 Jean Renoir Award for International Screenwriting Achievement, which recognizes an international writer who has advanced the literature of motion pictures and made outstanding contributions to the profession of screenwriter.

 

Varda will be honored at the WGAW’s 2019 Writers Guild Awards L.A. show on Sunday, February 17.

“The Jean Renoir Award was made for Agnès Varda. She is one of our industry’s pioneers, a revolutionary artist who paved the roads of filmmaking. Her films are relentlessly curious, complex and challenging, and her body of work continues to influence modern filmmakers and resonate with modern audiences. The Board of Directors is thrilled to give her this honor,” said WGAW President David A. Goodman.

Varda’s prolific, groundbreaking body of work has been defined by a documentary realism, a feminist sensibility, and a focus on social commentary, all charged by her own signature experimental style, including her then-innovative use of on-location shooting, non-professional actors, and other techniques.

Born in 1928 in Belgium, Varda changed her named from Arlette to Agnès at age 18. She initially studied art history before making the transition to photography. After embarking on a career as a photographer, shooting typical subjects such as families and weddings, she soon emerged as one of the leading voices of Left Bank cinema and the French New Wave, or Nouvelle Vague, while maintaining a life-long, symbiotic interrelationship between photo and cinematic forms. As she once remarked, “I take photographs or I make films, or I put the films in the photos, or photos in the films,” as one medium informed the other and vice versa.

After Jean Vilar hired her as the official photographer of France’s Théâtre National Populaire, where she worked for a decade from 1951-61, she traveled throughout Europe earning a reputation as an in-demand photo-journalist with a sharp eye.

In fact, her early photography would inspire her subsequent narrative films and documentaries she wrote and directed, beginning with her seminal debut, 1955’s La Pointe Courte. Without filmmaking experience or even attending film school, Varda prepped her creative vision by photographing every element that she intended to film, carefully framed photos which served as models for shots in the film in terms of content and composition, tone and meaning. Describing her filmmaking style as cinécriture (i.e., cinematic writing or writing on film), Varda wielded her camera like a pen, as her newly created term merged “cinema” and “writing” in French.

While the French New Wave was divided into two subgroups – the Cahiers du Cinema and Left Bank cinema – due to her literary influences and because her work predates the movement, Varda’s films belong to Rive Gauche (Left Bank) cinema, viewed as the more experimental of the two schools. Varda and other Left Bank filmmakers developed a style of filmmaking that integrated documentary techniques with the avant-garde, often collaborating with each other.

Her first film, 1955’s La Pointe Courte, intertwining two stories – one macro, with sequences focusing on daily life in a small French fishing village, and the other micro, centering on couple working through their relationship – is widely considered the first film of the Nouvelle Vague movement, and one of the many she would create that focused on ordinary people, their issues, their lives, their faces. Fellow French filmmaker Francois Truffaut hailed it as “an experimental work, ambitious, honest, and intelligent.”

After La Pointe Courte, she shot a series of documentary shorts before following-up with her next feature film, 1962’s Cleo from 5 to 7, once again employing a mix of documentary and narrative techniques, this time tracking a popular singer during two real-time hours as she waits for the results of a recent biopsy. Rejecting the typical objectification of women seen in most movies of the era, Varda imbues Cleo with her own singular vision, unable to be constructed through the gaze of others around her. This challenging film was followed by 1965’s slightly more traditionally structured drama Le Bonheur, which lyrically depicts ordinary life as simultaneously mundane and poetic, and subsequently 1966’s The Creatures.

While living and working in Paris, Varda met her husband, French director-screenwriter Jacques Demy, known for his own sumptuous musicals The Umbrellas of Cherbourg and The Young Girls of Rochefort. The couple married in 1960 and remained together until Demy’s untimely death in 1990 at age 59.

Varda has been considered a feminist filmmaker due to her frequent inclusion of female protagonists, as well as her development of a distinct female cinematic voice – as French film critic Delphine Benezet calls Varda “au feminin singulier,” a woman of singularity and of the utmost importance in film history, all the while embracing her own femininity on her own terms. In 1975 she founded her own production company, Cine-Tamaris.

In 1984, Varda delivered one of her mid-career masterpieces, the bleak, uncompromising Vagabond, a docu-style drama exploring the mysterious, if inevitable death of a young female drifter. Employing non-linear techniques, interviews and flashbacks, the film is divided into 47 episodes, each told from a different person’s point of view, and earned her the Venice Film Festival’s Golden Lion.

Shortly after her husband’s death, Varda created the film Jacquot de Nantes (1991), a loving tribute to her late husband which recreates his early life – a portrait of the artist as a young man, if you will – incorporating documentary elements by including poignant footage of the real-life dying Demy. In 1995, she also created another tribute to her late husband, The World of Jacques Demy.

Notable for its decidedly fragmentary, free-form approach, 2000’s The Gleaners and I is a documentary chronicling all types of “gleaners,” whether harvesters who live in the French countryside or artists who scour the dumpsters in Paris to create art utilizing recycled materials.

In 2009, Varda created her own kind of cinematic memoir with the acclaimed documentary feature, The Beaches Agnès, which explores her colorful past via memories, photographs, film clips, reenactments, home movies, contemporary interviews, and her own commentary as she narrates the story of her life, or at least how she remembers it. The masterful, layered film earned her a Cesar Award, France’s national film award.

Most recently, Varda co-directed the acclaimed documentary, Faces Places (2017), with artist JR, traveling through rural France and creating portraits of those people they come across along the way. The film earned the pair a 2018 Oscar nomination for Best Documentary Feature, making Varda the oldest person ever to be nominated for a competitive Oscar (only a few days older than fellow Oscar nominee, Call Me By Your Name screenwriter James  Ivory), as well as garnered France’s Lumiere Award.

Beyond her numerous, acclaimed documentary short films she continued to create throughout her career, Varda’s additional notable films include 1976’s Daguerréotypes, featuring portraits of locals who occupy the small shops along Paris’ Rue Daguerre, where the filmmaker lived for many years, 1977’s One Sings, the Other Doesn’t, involving the intertwined lives of two women in 1970’s France set against the progress of the women’s movement, a key personal interest to Varda, 1981’s Documenteur, 1988’s Le petit amour (starring Jane Birkin, Varda’s son Mathieu Demy, and Charlotte Gainsbourg) and its thematic companion piece, Jane B. for Agnès B., an “imagined biopic” of singer-actress and fashion icon Birkin, 1995’s cinema-centric comedy One Hundred and One Nights, and 2004’s Cinevardaphoto, a triptych of short films exploring the power and vitality of the photograph. On the small screen, 2011’s Agnès Varda: From Here to There is an absorbing, five-part doc miniseries which chronicles the filmmaker’s travels around the world, meeting friends, artists, and filmmakers along the way to create an expansive view of the global contemporary art scene.

Even at age 90, Varda is not yet done creating: her upcoming documentary film, Varda to Agnès, selected to premiere at the Berlinale Festival and due out later in 2019, explores her experience as writer-director, illuminating personal insight into her form of “cine-writing,” as she travels from Paris to Los Angeles to Beijing.

In spite of her rather unorthodox style, or more likely because of it, Varda has earned numerous accolades over the course of her decades-long career: In 2001, she received an honorary César Award. In 2002, she received the French Academy’s René Clair Award. In 2007, she was appointed a Grand Officer of the National Order of Merit of France – and later promoted to Grand Cross in 2013. In 2009, she was made Commandeur de la Légion d’honneur – and was promoted to Grand Officer in 2017. In 2013, she received a FIFA Award for her work in film preservation and restoration. In 2014, she received the European Film Academy’s Lifetime Achievement Award – and in 2015, she was the first woman to receive an honorary Palme d’or (Golden Palm), the highest prize awarded at the Cannes Film Festival. In 2017, Varda received an Academy Honorary Award for her contributions to cinema, making her the first female filmmaker to receive AMPAS’ special award.

In 2003, Varda launched her third career as a visual artist. Her installations have been shown at the Venice Art Biennale and Lyon Biennale of Contemporary Art, SMAK in Ghent, Art 41 Basel, the Fondation Cartier pour l’Art Contemporain, Paul Valéry Museum in Sète, CAFA in Beijing, and Nathalie Obadia Gallery in Paris. In 2013, LACMA hosted Varda’s first U.S. art exhibition, entitled Agnès Varda in Californialand, featuring sculptural installations, photos, and short films, all inspired by the time she spent in Los Angeles during the ’60s, as well as the Blum & Poe gallery in 2017 in New York.

Varda has two children: a daughter, Rosalie Varda-Demy, who manages the family company and produced Faces Places, and a son, actor-writer-director Mathieu Demy (Americano), who has appeared in several of his mother’s films.

Named after the influential French filmmaker, the WGAW’s Jean Renoir Award for Screenwriting Achievement honors international screenwriters working outside the U.S. and in other languages. Previous Jean Renoir Award honorees include Italian screenwriters Suso D’Amico (2009) and Tonino Guerra (2011), Japanese filmmakers Akira Kurosawa, Shinobu Hashimoto, Ryûzô Kikushima, and Hideo Oguni (2013), Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar (2015), and Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami (2017).

Photo credit: ciné-tamaris

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Scrubs Reunion: The Band Gets Back Together

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Fans of the beloved medical comedy series Scrubs were recently treated to a thrilling surprise when John C. McGinley, who portrayed the iconic Dr. Perry Cox, dropped a photo on Twitter hinting at a potential reunion project. The image, showing McGinley alongside his former co-stars, sparked a wave of excitement and speculation among fans who have been longing for more adventures with the beloved Sacred Heart Hospital staff.

While details about the reunion project are still scarce, the mere possibility of seeing the gang back together again has sent waves of nostalgia through fans who fondly remember the show’s original run from 2001 to 2010. Scrubs was not just a sitcom; it was a heartfelt exploration of friendship, love, and the chaotic world of medicine, all wrapped up in a quirky and often hilarious package.

At the heart of the show was the bromance between JD (played by Zach Braff) and Turk (played by Donald Faison), whose antics and deep bond served as the emotional anchor for the series. Their dynamic, along with the sage wisdom (and relentless sarcasm) of Dr. Cox, provided viewers with memorable moments that have stood the test of time.

As we eagerly await more news about the Scrubs reunion project, one thing is for sure: it’s time to dust off those old DVDs, rewatch our favorite episodes, and get ready to welcome back our favorite gang of doctors, nurses, and janitors for what promises to be a memorable reunion.

But Scrubs was more than just its main characters. The supporting cast, including the eccentric Janitor (played by Neil Flynn), the neurotic Elliot (played by Sarah Chalke), and the wise-cracking nurse Carla (played by Judy Reyes), each brought their own unique flavor to the show, creating a rich tapestry of characters that fans grew to love.

While the photo shared by McGinley has fueled speculation about what the reunion project might entail, whether it’s a one-off special, a new season, or something else entirely, one thing is certain: fans are eagerly awaiting any opportunity to dive back into the world of Sacred Heart Hospital.

In an age where reboots and revivals are commonplace, Scrubs stands out as a series that has the potential to recapture the magic that made it a fan favorite in the first place. With its blend of humor, heart, and unforgettable characters, a reunion project has the opportunity to not only satisfy longtime fans but also introduce a new generation to the joys of life at Sacred Heart.

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WonderCon 2024:Day One

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Dune Part Two: The Lisan Al Gaib comes for you!

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Welcome back to our struggle for control of the known universe already in progress, the continuation of the journey of Paul Atreides from exile to Emperor, Dune Part Two

So when we last left our intrepid if dubious heroes, House Atreides had been betrayed and virtually destroyed, by a combination of House Harkonnens surprise attacks and the added treachery of Emperor Shaddam and his Sardaukar. Paul Atreides (Timothee Chalamet), the last surviving heir (so far) of House Atreides and his mother Jessica, have taken refuge on the desert planet of Arrakis amongst the indigenous Fremen, and as far as most are aware, the other remnants of House Atreides are dead as well. And here is where we catch up with everyone, as the struggle for Atreides emergence and dominance begins in earnest! 

The Emperor’s daughter Princess Irulan (Florence Pugh) is known for her many skills, but her copious note-taking and writings on the large events shaping her world come to the forefront as she takes counsel with her father amidst games of chance on their homeworld. Her life is one of luxury and privilege but alas, Irulan is a trained Bene Gesserit and is well aware that in all likelihood, she will be used as a pawn in the marriage games empires have to go through. Bet she never imagined it could be to a House everyone swore had been utterly destroyed. 

Meanwhile, on Arrakis, Paul is trying to integrate himself into the Fremen way of life, which is admittedly far different from the life he led back on the Atreides homeworld of Caladan. (If nothing else, Caladan has vast oceans.) The Fremen are fiercely independent, gloriously strong fighters, survivors who dare to ride and revere the giant sandworms that inhabit their planet that they call Shai-Hulud, and rightfully distrustful of outsiders. After all, the previous stewardship of Arrakis belonged to House Harkonnen, known for their cruelty and glee at hunting Fremen and torturing their victims, sometimes for weeks at a time. But Paul won his and Jessicas way into the Fremen by fair combat against Jamis, and if nothing else, the Fremen are firm in their beliefs of the old ways. 

Or rather, the elder Fremen are, most particularly the famed Fedaykin fighter and Naib (leader) of Sietch Tabr Stilgar (Javier Bardem) is adamant in his unshakable belief that Paul is the foretold Lisan Al Gaib, the Voice from the Outer World, that will lead the Fremen to peace and paradise. Stilgar’s steadfast belief in Paul’s potential only grows, and he manages with just that to convince a great many of the other Fremen elders. The younger generation of Fremen however, of which Paul’s beloved Chani (Zendaya) is a part, generally scoff at the legends of otherworldly prophets and Arrakis as a fabled green, wet heaven. In the beginning, Paul himself swears he doesn’t want to be the Messiah, only a Fremen fighter amongst the rest of them, hundreds of years of the Missionaria Protectiva, the Bene Gesserit practice of spreading useful religious propaganda as seeds on various planets, is working double-time against him. It doesn’t help that Paul’s mother Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson) is expounding on that myth as much as she possibly can. 

And why would she do that? Survival yes, but also, Jessica is a thoroughly trained Bene Gesserit and knows of plans within plans within plans. Jessica also has many secrets of her own, and one very important one happens to be that she’s pregnant with Paul’s sister. The Bene Gesserit bodily control may be something out of legend, but even Jessica, possibly Reverend Mother Mohiam’s best and most fractious student, will have trouble with the trial the Fremen are insisting she go through to become truly one of them. The Reverend Mother equivalent of Sietch Tabr, known as their Sayyadina, is old and dying, and the Fremen have to have a Reverend Mother. Jessica tells Paul this much and explains that each culture is different in their trial to become a Reverend Mother, so she honestly doesn’t know what to expect. The reality happens to be worse than she could’ve imagined – Jessica must drink the Water of Life, a deadly poison that comes from Shai-Hulud (sort of), and come out the other side of it. And Jessica manages to do it, barely, with almost all of the consequences going to the poor fetus in her womb, the girl that will grow to become Alia Atreides, an insane legend in her own right. But for now, the unnamed fetus is awake and aware and full of the memories of generations of Bene Gesserit women that came before her – before she was even born

Paul participates in razzia raids amongst the Fremen as they work to take out the spice mining operations of the Harkonnens, immerses himself in the vastly different desert culture of his chosen people, and perhaps most importantly, his romance with his beloved Chani only grows stronger. After declaring his desire to join the fierce fighter elites amongst the Fremen known as Fedaykin, Paul is told by Stilgar that he must summon and ride one of the giant sandworms, the embodiment of Shai-Hulud where the Fremen get their terrible tooth Crysknives from. And after much sendup, in a glorious scene of blinding sand and huge monstrous killer worm-riding, Paul is triumphant and riding atop the sacred creature, his Maker hooks set properly to control the great beast, waving at great distance to his fellow Fremen as Chani looks on in bemusement. 

But that’s all external, and inside Paul is beginning to become divided on what he wants to do. As Jessica pushes the Protectiva hard amongst the women and priestesses of the Fremen, she is also pushing her son to become much larger than he ever wanted to be, if nothing else a conqueror can take revenge for the destruction of House Atreides and the death of her beloved Duke Leto. Paul may have earned his place amongst the Fremen and been given new names – Usul, meaning the strength of the base of the pillar, as his private name within the Sietch; and Muad’Dib, from the small mouse survivor of the desert, well versed in desert ways, called ‘Instructor-of-Boys’ in Fremen legend, as his open-use name – but now everyone wants Paul to be something greater, and potentially more destructive, than what he currently is. It only gets worse when Paul begins to suffer prophetic dreams, and visions when he’s awake, prodding him further to his destiny as an epic conqueror of worlds. Nothing can be done for it, Paul convinces himself that he must take the Water of Life himself, to awaken the sleeping prophet inside himself, and allow him to hopefully See a path through the future. 

The problem with that plan, is that Bene Gesserit are almost exclusively all women, and only they are supposed to know how to transmute poisons internally, along with all sorts of other “witchcraft”. But Jessica has been training Paul in forbidden Bene Gesserit ways all his life, and as much as Paul might rail and even quail against it, there is no denying his incoming destiny, crushing any resistance he may have with all the force of a giant sandworm hunting a spice blow. And even when Paul has finally given in and taken the cursed substance almost mockingly called the Water of Life, it falls to another strong and prophetic in her right female in his life, his beloved Chani, to save him from himself. But even Chani can’t stop Paul’s destructive destiny as the conqueror of the known worlds, guilty of slaying millions upon millions of people in his quest for vengeance, thinly disguised as peace. 

Over on the Harkonnen homeworld of Geidi Prime, “Beast” Rabban (Dave Bautista) is disgusted and enraged at the continuing Fremen raids against the Harkonnens on Arrakis, and terrified of what his uncle the notoriously cruel Baron Harkonnen (Stellan Skarsgard), will do to him in response. The Baron’s nephew Feyd-Rautha (Austin Butler), heir apparent or na-Baron to House Harkonnen, demonstrates his blood-inborn savagery in a slaughter of the remnants of House Atreides gladiator-style, as his birthday celebration. Pleased with the spectacle, the Baron commands Feyd-Rautha to take control of the fight against this Fremen rebel known as Muad’dib, as Rabban is proving himself more and more useless. And any tool or toy that the Baron finds broken or unusable, is destroyed before being discarded. 

As the legend of Muad’dib grows off Arrakis and circulates among the Imperial worlds, the Emperor grinds his teeth in frustration and the Bene Gesserit, led by Reverend Mother Mohiam (Charlotte Rampling) as the Emperor’s Truthsayer, begin pushing forward their plots and machinations. Lady Margot Fenring (Lea Seydoux), a criminally underused character in this respect, demonstrates her willingness to be a pawn in Bene Gesserit machinations, but never forget, strong Bene Gesserit women have been breaking their own rules for generations. Just look at what Jessica did. 

As the raids and rebellion on Arrakis continue, both the Emperor and the Baron become more and more desperate, sending in mercenaries and smugglers in the hopes they might have more luck. And aboard one of those smuggler’s vessels happens to be an old hand at being a smuggler himself, the warrior troubadour with the scarred face given him by “Beast” Rabban himself, Gurney Halleck (Josh Brolin). Reunited with his beloved Duke’s only son, Gurney finds himself swept up in the legend of Muad’dib in the making along with everyone else, though at least from Gurney’s point of view, Paul is using the messianic angle to take revenge for House Atreides. 

Finally, in an act of what could be considered the ultimate in arrogance, Emperor Shaddam Corrino himself comes to Arrakis, along with Princess Irulan and many others of his Court, the Baron, and Feyd-Rautha in tow as well, to crush this upstart Muad’dib and his Fremen warriors. Sadly for all that the powerhouse actor Christopher Walken plays him, Emperor Shaddam Corrino is shown as a doddering old man, cowed in the face of Muad’dib’s overwhelming vitality and growing-ever-stronger legend. And there is where we will end the review, for the final confrontation between all key players in the Known Universe is full of spoilers and derivations from the original opus of Frank Herbert’s novel Dune

For those of you who stuck around long enough to get to the end, after all, Dune Part Two is almost three hours long itself, if you are fans of the original novel and the zany Lynchian masterpiece that was the first Dune film, you may be disappointed or even angered at the changes made to the story for the climactic end scenes. Director Villenuve has an eye for making grand epic scenes like Paul’s sandworm ride but can be a bit scattered when it comes to piecing the story together with all the key players needing to be involved in a way that can be understood by any layman. Dune in any form is a rich, vast universe of storytelling, and even an almost three-hour-long sequel simply can’t cover every last bit that’s in the novels. But if nothing else, the film is an overwhelming feast for the eyes and should bring a whole new legion of fans to the many worlds contained within Dune

If you want to dive further into the Dune-iverse, do yourself a favor and read the Dune prequel books written by Herbert Jr. and Kevin J. Anderson. Until then, dive into the sands of Arrakis along with Shai-Hulud and scream vengeance to the skies with Paul Muad’dib Atreides in Dune Part Two, in theaters now! 

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