By George T. Marshall, RIIFF Executive
(December 2005) Well, I survived 11
days riding a bicycle in the Andalusia section of Southern
Spain. I will confess to cheating a bit: riding in the
van rather than biking the 50-70 plus miles daily. It
was actually a great way to see all the beautiful countryside,
and take great photographs. I’ve never been one
to favor masochism and besides I had nothing to prove
to anyone: after all this, was a vacation. All told,
I did over 100 out of 200 miles. Considering I had only
a few months training, I was proud of my performance.
More importantly, I did no major physical damage and
came out in one piece, feeling a bit more toned and
What was a nice benefit in doing this type of trip was
being able to spend time in some smaller towns and villages
and seeing just how wide spread film culture truly has
become. Festivals were happening all over the country:
from Barcelona with it’s “Fantasy Festival”
to Seville, Madrid and Carmona. It was a pleasure to
see many films being screened that had played at RIIFF
during the summer and the genuine respect shown to the
filmmakers and festival organizers. It opened my eyes
to what a wealth of riches we actually have in the US,
yet so often take for granted.
Back home by mid-month, I was amused to learn the Disney
Studios will be shooting a live action version of “Underdog”
in the Ocean State. The brain is still having difficulty
wrapping itself around the concept. My ill-spent youth
was spent watching such mind-popcorn, including “Rocky
and Bullwinkle,” “Beany and Cecil”
and of course so many others I dare not admit to in
OK, at the risk of sounding a snob, how
will this new version even come close to capturing the
silly charm of the original with the voice of Wally
Cox as Underdog or Don Adam as Tennessee Tuxedo and
Larry Storch as Phineas J. Whoopie?
TREKKING TO WILLIAMSTOWN
Every year one of my favorite escapes is heading to
the annual Williamstown Film Festival. It’s such
a quaint area, the college is exceptional and the people
warm and friendly. Executive Director, Steve Lawson
has done an amazing job at crafting a user-friendly
event and has parlayed his contacts from years as a
Dramaturge at the Williamstown Theatre Festival to the
signature event is the closing Gala at the Clark Art
Museum. It usually draws a full house and by having
notable celebrities, Lawson has been able to guarantee
This year actress Patricia Clarkson graced the stage
where a retrospective of her work was screened, followed
by a rollicking Q&A a la “Inside the Actor’s
Studio.” It was a class act that ended with a
champagne and chocolate reception in the Clark’s
I think Clarkson was a brilliant choice for the closing
event. Not yet a household name, she has a staggering
body of work that will set her on a celebrity trajectory.
Yet, she is still accessible, real and from what I saw
that evening, grounded.
Born and raised in New Orleans, Clarkson began acting
in school plays in her early teens. After studying speech
at Louisiana State University for two years, she transferred
to Fordham University in New York, where she graduated
summa cum laude with a degree in theatre arts.
She earned her MFA at the prestigious
Yale School of Drama, where she appeared in “Electra,”
“Pacific Overtures,” “Pericles,”
“La Ronde,” “The Lower Depths”
and “The Misanthrope.”
She made her professional acting debut on the New York
stage. Her theatre credits include “Eastern Standard”
(on and off- Broadway), “Maidens Prayer”
(for which she received Outer Critics Circle and Drama
Desk Award nominations), “Raised in Captivity,”
“Oliver Oliver,” “The House of Blue
Leaves” and “Three Days of Rain.”
Her regional credits include performances at the Williamstown
Theatre Festival, South Coast Repertory and Yale Repertory.
Clarkson made her film debut opposite Kevin Costner
in Brian De Palma’s “The Untouchables.”
Her other film credits include “Welcome to Collinwood,”
“The Pledge,” “The Green Mile,”
“Everybody’s All-American,” “The
Dead Pool,” “Rocket Gibraltar,” “Tune
In Tomorrow,” “Joe Gould’s Secret”
and “Wendigo.” Her performance as Greta
in Lisa Cholodenko’s “High Art” earned
her a nomination for an IFP Independent Spirit Award.
She received an Academy nomination for “Pieces
of April” (United Artists). Other acclaimed films
include “The Station Agent” (Miramax), “All
The Real Girls” (Sony Pictures Classics), and
“The Safety of Objects” (IFC Films).
Last year she generated Oscar® buzz for her supporting
role as Eleanor Fine in Todd Haynes’s “Far
From Heaven.” Clarkson also won the New York Film
Critics Circle and National Society of Film Critics
best supporting actress awards for that role and was
nominated for a Chicago Film Critics Award.
Clarkson has recently finished production several independent
dramas: Geoge Clooney’s “Good Night and
Good Luck,” now in theatres; Craig Lucas’
“The Dying Gaul” and the thriller “The
Woods” (UA). In 2002 Clarkson won an Emmy for
her guest-starring appearance as quirky Aunt Sarah on
HBO’s acclaimed drama “Six Feet Under.”
(And that’s a reference for those who aren’t
movie, but TV people.)
A NEW DOCUMENTARY OF NOTE
Now that RIIFF is heading into its 10th year, things
are getting a tad easier in not just running the festival,
but in outreach to the filmmaker community. At this
writing, entries for 2006 are up by 45%. During 2005,
we received over 1,500 entries from throughout the world:
61 countries to be exact. What’s coming in early—they
began arriving in early September—are amazing
and in many cases, exceptional. As for early, RIIFF
takes place in August of 2006—so that’s
a while off.
One gem that hails from Denmark so struck our selection
review board that a decision was made to present a unique
“first look” of the film for the general
public in early December; that’s nine months prior
to the Festival. Our screening will be used to raise
funds for our community outreach programs, which are
multi-tiered and take place throughout the state of
This year’s beneficiary is the annual
Christmas-in-Newport event in Newport, Rhode Island.
"KAREN BLIXEN: OUT OF THIS WORLD"
to Kevin Thomas of the Los Angeles Times “Marcus
Mandal and Anna von Lowzow's "Karen Blixen: Out
of This World" is an illuminating, poignant documentary.”
It is the true story of the incredible life of Danish
author Karen Blixen / Isak Dinesen - a story just as
dramatic as her own fantastic tales.
Blixen was an extraordinary woman, an unstoppable female,
a vain eccentric, and a very sensitive human being,
whose life was characterized by great ups as well as
great downs. She was a major contradiction. In her life,
Karen Blixen conquered artistically, but lost in love;
she never had any children, lived in financial turmoil,
and suffered from depressions.
During the documentary the viewers are taken on a journey
through the life of Blixen, told by people close to
the author. The author herself contributes through old
footage from numerous television shows.
Among those taking part are Karen Blixen’s 102-year
old sister-in-law and her 85-year old houseboy, Tumbo,
who for the first 10 years of his life lived with her
on the farm in Africa. Others taking part are Meryl
Streep and American author Judith Thurman.
With special permission from the family of Blixen, the
directors have been given unique access to photos and
letters from their private archives, many of which have
never been made public before. To complement the rich
imagery of this film, additional footage and historical-reenactments
have been shot on location in Denmark and Kenya –
all done with great attention to detail and with much
emphasis on authenticity. For instance Blixen’s
personal typewriter was renovated for the films reenactments,
and all the shooting has taken place in Blixen’s
original surroundings. During the production the Danish
film-crew was given permission, as the first ever, to
shoot inside the African farm.
Anna von Lowzow and Marcus Mandal, directors of the
award-winning international documentary series “A
Royal Family” (2003), have created “Karen
Blixen - Out of This World”.
(www.aroyalfamily.com ) Director of photography
Jan Weincke has worked with directors like Arthur Penn
and Bille August. Editor Thomas Krag had edited films
for directors like Lars von Trier.
Music was an important element in the life of Karen
Blixen. And the music for this film – apart from
the theme – consists exclusively of the original
lacquer discs Karen Blixen collected throughout her
life. The theme has been written exclusively for the
film by English composer Mike Woolmans and recorded
by the Danish Radio Sinfonietta.
Impressive credentials for a documentary and one that
hails from a country not known for such work.
I was able to conduct a brief interview recently with
one of the film’s co-directors, Marcus Mandal,
about how the film was produced. A credentialed professional,
Mandal attended the University of Copenhagen (1975-1978)
with a degree in Contemporary studies. He also attended
Denmark’s College of Journalism (1981-1985). He
was Director of educational youth programs for Denmark’s
Radio TV (1985-1987); a News reporter for Kanal 2 TV
(1987-1996); and is the Director of the international
documentaries “A Royal Family” and “Karen
Blixen – Out of This World” for Nordisk
Film TV (1996-).
Here’s my interview:
GTM: What motivated you to produce this documentary
in the first place?
Marcus Mandal: We were very fascinated by the personal
story of Karen Blixen. She couldn’t have written
it better herself. So we wanted to make a film about
her own life; not about her books. But of course we
hope that people who see the film will be interested
in finding out what kind of stories this special women
We decided to make it now, because in a few years there
won’t be anybody (who knew her) a live to tell
the story. E.g. her sister in law, Jonna Dinesen, is
now 103 years old!
GTM: How long did it take you to plan, shoot
and edit the work? What were the types of challenges
Marcus Mandal: About two years; and that also included
raising the money which Anna and I also had to do ourselves.
The major challenge was not to make the film to boring
as there exists no footage with Karen Blixen before
she is about 50 years old. Luckily we found almost 1000
photo’s and worked with the brilliant Director
of Photography, Jan Weincke, who was able to shoot the
beautiful black and white recreations.
GTM: What did you learn about Karen Blixen that
you didn't know before producing this work?
Marcus Mandal: For instance that she very much “copied”
her father in the way she lived her life. He lived for
3 years alone among Indians in North America, he enjoyed
the nature and hunting, - and he wrote books! Her life
fell apart when he committed suicide when she was only
10 years old.
GTM: How were you able to gain the support of
the people you interviewed for the film?
Marcus Mandal: They had seen our documentary series
“A Royal Family” and I think they trusted
us. And how did we convince 29 Kings, queens, princes
and princesses that they should participate? That’s
GTM: What was it like working with Meryl Streep?
Marcus Mandal: That was wonderful. We had been told
that we should finish everything within half an hour.
But she ended up staying for several hours. It was actually
the first time in my life that I “directed”
GTM: Your work has gained a great deal of support from
festivals; are you surprised?
Marcus Mandal: I’m very happy but not really surprised,
because the documentary series “A Royal Family”
(which I also made with Anna von Lowzow) was a big international
success. It is not common in Denmark to make international
documentaries, but we decided that it had to be possible.
We raised a lot of money and made the six our series.
Twenty nine royal family members take part in this series
- it's a major family chronicle simultaneously providing
a fascinating insight into European history: www.aroyalfamily.com.
It is now being broadcasted on television in 135 countries;
e.g. at APT/PBS in US. And we won a lot of prizes, e.g.
the Platinum Award and a Gold Special Jury Award at
World Fest Houston.
GTM: Tell our readers a bit about yourself. When did
you first become interested in film? What is your educational
Marcus Mandal: My education is as a journalist, but
already at The Danish School of Journalism where I studied
20-25 years ago, I specialized in TV-production. So
since 1985 I’ve been working with TV, both as
a news anchor, as a news reporter, - and for the last
10 years as a documentary director.
Before that I’ve done other strange things such
as: Studying political Science at the University of
Copenhagen, and performing in the streets all over the
world as a juggler (I was in Guinness Book of Records
for having the world record in “Marathon snowball
GTM: How did you land your first job in the
Marcus Mandal: I was lucky that someone had heard about
what I did at the Journalist School, and simply asked
me (when I was still a student) if I would make a documentary
for the opening night of a new TV-Station. I said yes!
GTM: What advice would you give to a young filmmaker
attempting to break into the business on how to approach
the so-called majors in receiving either support, distribution,
or that proverbial career break?
Marcus Mandal: That’s hard for me to answer as
I’ve never really been a young filmmaker. I just
slowly more interested in making the documentaries more
artistic. Also the way those things work are probably
much different in Denmark.
GTM: What's next on your plate in terms of work?
Marcus Mandal: Right now I’m working on a TV-series
about the history of the place where I work. It’s
called Nordisk Film and next year it will turn 100 years
old. Actually this is where Hollywood was before it
became Hollywood. In the old days (with silent movies)
Nordic film had offices all over the world and today
we have the oldest still existing film studio in the
world. Directors like Carl Th. Dreyer and Lars von Trier
have made their first movies here: www.nordiskfilm.com
Marcus Mandal will be flying from
Copenhagen to Rhode Island, December 1-3rd for screenings
of his film.
About the Author:
George T. Marshall is the Producing Director of the
Rhode Island-based Flickers Arts Collaborative, the
creators of the annual Rhode Island International Film
Festival for which he also serves as Executive Director.
He teaches film and communications at Rhode Island College
and speech communications and documentary film at Roger
Williams University. He is a director, writer, producer
of commercials and industrials for numerous business
clients in the region and is currently completing the
multi-media components for a museum exhibit saluting
American veterans in Woonsocket, RI. He can be reached