High Museum of Art: Films

Five Questions for Felicia Feaster by Linda Dubler
October 13, 2009, 11:00 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

This new series will introduce readers to some of the people who keep Atlanta’s film community such a lively, smart, entertaining, and vibrant.  Not all will be professional film writers or filmmakers, but all with have something new to bring to our way of thinking about the movies.

Felicia Feaster is an Atlanta based writer who specializes in film and art criticism. Her witty, insightful, wonderfully written reviews have appeared in Creative Loafing, Playboy, Film Quarterly, and other publications. She currently works as a senior editor at The Atlantan magazine.


Is there a movie that changed your life?

FF: I took a film course when I was an undergrad at the University of Florida and the instructor showed several Eisenstein films.  I was especially captivated by Battleship Potemkin.  Eisenstein’s films were incredibly kinetic, visually astounding, but also conceptually remarkable because of the social and political agenda the director was able to weave into them in both form and content. After seeing them, I discovered that people studied film in the same way that they studied literature (I had been an English major previously). I ended up combining my fascination with this regional cinema with my interest in Eastern Europe and wrote my thesis on Polish cinema (which involved a trip to Poland). I met my husband during a summer internship at a New York film distributor that released silent and classic films (including several of Eisenstein’s). I eventually studied film in graduate school at Emory, briefly contemplated going into academia and later began to write about film for Creative Loafing, Film Quarterly, Playboy and other venues before landing at my present job as a senior editor at The Atlantan where I still try to write about film as often as I can.  So you could say Eisenstein changed my life.

What’s the first film you remember seeing?

FF: I went to a lot of children’s matinees and remember quite vividly the strange, mildly unsettling experience of watching Ray Harryhausen films like The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad and the dinosaur/Raquel Welch movie  One Million Years B.C. The combination of monsters and fighting with really sexy women, was just jolting and made a huge impression on me. I remember the rhythm of those films as being very odd too: the dinosaurs or the Cyclops with that stop motion animation moving in such a bizarre, halting way.  It was a sort of premature introduction to some adult moviemakers’ fixations –sex and fantasy and violence — and as much as I enjoyed the films, they also left me feeling slightly uneasy.

Cavewoman/tempress Raquel Welch

Cavewoman/tempress Raquel Welch

Most underrated director of the past decade?

FF: There are quite a few really strong female directors who have made amazing films that haven’t always caught on, often because they are fairly subtle in their treatment of relationships and because small films just get lost in the shuffle. I love Lisa Cholodenko’s High Art and Laurel Canyon, which deal with women discovering something hidden and rebellious within themselves. She has a new one coming out in 2010, The Kids Are Alright. I think Rebecca Miller (playwright Arthur Miller’s daughter, Daniel Day-Lewis’s wife and an accomplished writer and director) made an exceptionally smart film in 2005 callede The Ballad of Jack and Rose that few people have even heard of. What I love about her work is the radical but ordinary fact that when women write and direct they deal respectfully and complexly with female characters, bringing authenticity and heart to women’s lives.  Also underrated: Catherine Hardwicke and Nicole Holofcener.

Favorite reviewers/critics/blogs/movie resources?

FF: I’m drawn more to the alternative press where critics are allowed to have their own voices, and to really bring all the relevant factors—class, race, politics, culture, gender—to bear on their reviews. They are just saltier, more interesting, with better taste in movies. In general, film criticism today seems remarkably bland and uninspiring and these hold-outs keep it relevant. The smarter critics don’t see film as occurring in a vacuum, but as part of the cultural discourse. I am a huge fan of two Village Voice critics,  J. Hoberman  and  Ella Taylor, (formerly of L.A. Weekly). I often don’t agree, but I enjoy reading David Denby at the New Yorker. Manohla Dargis adds a necessary dose of sass to the New York Times; she came from the alternative press, so she just has an idiosyncratic take on things.  Jezebel.com isn’t strictly a film site, but I appreciate their snarky views on culture, as well as the film criticism and general anarchical spirit of The Onion. Overall, there is a great deal of boring, joy-sucking piety in film reviewing and a great dearth of attitude and passion. It’s too bad, because film is an incredibly populist, accessible art form that almost everyone is interested in.

Five movies that Films at the High audience members should see this year?

Bright Star, which just opened in Atlanta is Jane Campion’s (The Piano) latest, a gorgeous, tragic romance (in the best, non-drippy sense of the word) of the love affair between the sickly Romantic poet John Keats and his neighbor Fanny Brawne. You can find my review here.

Bright Stars Fanny Brawne (Abbie Cornish) and John Keats (Ben Whishaw)

Bright Star's Fanny Brawne (Abbie Cornish) and John Keats (Ben Whishaw)

I think the Austrian director Michael Haneke is one of the most important filmmakers of our time and I would recommend his devastating, profound films Code Unknown and Caché as good introductions.  His films show how deeply war, media violence, racism and economic disparity collude to create the fractured, alienating, unstable world we live in. I am very excited about his new film, The White Ribbon, which opens later this year.

An overlooked film from 2008 that’s quite engaging is the documentary Surfwise. It  radically challenges our ideas of family, child-rearing and success by exploring the life of an incredibly accomplished California doctor who dropped out of the rat race in the Seventies to become a surfer, raising his nine children in a very small camper while touring America.

It’s rare to see filmmakers treat the subject of marginal women and girls with sensitivity and respect, so I’m looking forward to seeing Precious which opens November 6 in Atlanta. I think film is a powerful, rich art form that connects us to the point of view of others and in its best moments engages and enlarges our humanity; Precious appears to be the kind of film which does that.

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