MY 5 PICKS FOR MILL VALLEY FILM FESTIVAL OCT 8-18, 2015

MVFF38

MVFF38

The 38th Mill Valley Film Festival (MVFF)  is currently underway and runs from Oct 8-18, 2015. This year’s festival seems to highlight the gender gap and features quite a few films where women play a central role. The films with strong female characters include I Smile Back, Room, Suffragette, Miss You Already, Light Beneath Her Feet and Code: Debugging The Gender Gap among others. For ticket and information check out MVFF’s website.

The opening night films were Tom Hooper’s The Danish Girl and Tom McCarthy’s Spotlight. I have an interview with McCarthy coming up.

I watched a few of the films, and will be watching some more in the coming week. This list is by no means an exhaustive one and precludes quite a few good films that I have not had a chance to see. For example, Jacques Audiard’s Dheepan is not in this list. Now, this is a film that I missed watching and plan to watch it later this month.

So, here are my 5 picks from the 38th Mill Valley Film Festival in a random order.

McCarthy’s Spotlight looks at the massive cover-up of the sexual abuse by the Catholic church in Boston. In 2003 the Boston Globe published a series of investigative reports on how the church for decades had skillfully covered up the sexual abuse of children by the Catholic priests. This important local story took years to uncover even though there were people in the know and were aware of the abuse. Why then did it take so long to report the story? The film stars Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, Lieve Schreiber and others.

Director Lenny Abrahamson’s Room is an engrossing tale of a mother and son locked up in a room for years. And then suddenly they are rescued from their confinement and set free. The challenge that the duo struggle is how to adjust to their new way of life in a free world? You will have to see the film to find out how mother and son were imprisioned in a room for so many years. Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay give a strong and convincing performance in the film.

Iranian filmmaker Jaffer Panahi’s Taxi is an evocative and subtle film that shows you what life is like in Teheran. Banned from making films Panahi  stars and directs this film that addresses lot of questions like woman’s rights, creative freedom and films. It is the bit about films that is very interesting and poignant and highlights how people find away to get to see the films and TV shows that are banned. Ironically that includes Panahi himself.

The next two films on my list are Sarah Gavron’s Suffragette and Cary Fukunaga’s Beasts of No Nation, which I will be watching later this week.

Suffragette is about how a group of ordinary women in England fought for their right to vote nearly 75 years ago. The film stars Carey Mulligan, Hannah Bonham Carter, Brendan Gleeson and Meryl Streep.

Cary Fukunaga’s new film Beasts of No Nation is based on Uzodinma Iweala’s book by the same name. Fukunaga wrote and directed the film that is set in an unnamed war-torn African country. This is a story of how a young boy becomes a boy soldier under a mercenary commandant.  Idris Elba plays the mercenary commandant and Abraham Attah makes his debut as the boy soldier. Netflix acquired the distribution rights for the film, and it will release it online and in theatres on October 16, 2015.

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COEN BROTHERS NEW FILM “HAIL CAESARE”

Get ready to watch Coen brothers new film Hail Caesare. No, not this year, but early next year around Superbowl 50 and the Oscar season. That is right, the film releases on Feb 5, 2016 . They just released the first trailer of Haile Caesare and that has already generated a lot of buzz for the filmmakers.

For about 10 years Joel and Ethan Coen wanted to make  Hail Caesare, a picture about a Hollywood fixer. It was only in November 2014 the Coen brothers finally started filming their picture in Los Angeles.

The picture revolves around  Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin), a Hollywood fixer and the kidnapping of a a leading actor played by George Clooney. A handsome ransom needs to be paid before Clooney is released. Does the plot sounds a bit familiar and like one of their previous pictures? Maybe. The similarity probably ends right there. This comedy is set in Hollywood and takes you back to a whole different era of the film industry and its glamorous life style.

Hail Caesare stars Josh Brolin, George Clooney, Scarlett Johansson, Ralph Fiennes, Tilda Swanson, Channing Tatum and Frances McDormand. Cinematography is by Roger Deakins. Music is by Carter Burwell. Joel and Ethan Coen wrote, directed and edited the film.

VIDEO: SRI ROBOTICS RICH MALONEY ON SUPERFLEX EXOSUIT

Imagine attaching a one pound device to your leg and instanly adding strength to your joints and reducing fatigue?  Imagine adding 200 pounds of pull from that one pound device. That is exactly what SRI Robotics has done with SuperFlex, a technology platform of light weight component technologies.

SRI Robotics’ Dr. Rich Maloney explains how this one pound device works. Think of it like an exomuscle or an extra muscle attached to the calf of your leg that adds strength. The initial goal was to reduce fatigue to soldiers, but they now want to extend it to older people with knee and joint problems or children with  muscular dystrophy explains Dr.Maloney.

Currently what we see in the videa above  is a research prototype and they plan to spin off a company and commercialize it says Mahoney.

PODCAST: DAVIS GUGGENHEIM ON “HE NAMED ME MALALA”

Davis Guggenheim

Davis Guggenheim

Davis Guggenheim’s new documentary He Called Me Malala is a profile of Malala YousafzaiThe brave young Pakistani Nobel Peace Prize winner needs no introduction. She narrowly cheated death in October 2012 when she and her two friends were shot by the Taliban in Pakistan’s Swat valley. The girls were on their way to school when their vehicle was attacked. Before her accident Malala was an outspoken advocate for educating kids, especially girls and after the accident her resolve to stand up for children’s right to education has only strengthened. Malala chose not to remain silent, but to fight back. She believes education is a fundamental right. Today, Malala’s name and education for children are mentioned almost in the same breath.

Guggenheim remembers first hearing the story of Malala when she was shot in Pakistan, but did not know that one day he would end up making a documentary on her. He spent 18 months shadowing Malala and her family and traveled with her to Africa and other places. Malala lives in the UK with her family and she goes to school there. She and her family are not in a position to return to Pakistan.

We spoke with Guggenheim about the making of the film and what he learnt from making it. What kind of cultural landscape did Guggeneheim navigate while making the film? He feels lucky to have made this film and learn about the Muslim world, especially the Pashtun culture of Malala and her family. When you visit other cultures you learn so much and it opens up your mind he says. The news report we get from this part of the world is scary and violent and it is really not  that way he adds.

LISTEN: DAVIS GUGGENHEIM HE NAMED ME MALALA

He Named Me Malala highlights the close relationship between Malala and her father Ziauddin Yousafzai and the powerful influence he had in shaping her thoughts and her right to get an education. He started a school in Swat Valley and believed that his daughter had a right to speak her mind and get an education. His attitude was in direct contradiction to what the Taliban had to say about educating girls. Interestingly, he named his daughter after a 19th Afghan girl called Malala of Maiwand, who lost her life fighting against the British during the second Anglo-Afghan war.

Davis Guggenheim

Davis Guggenheim

We get to see Malala the teenager, who likes to boss over her younger brothers, loves watching cricket and hanging out with her family at the dinner table. We also see how Malala and her father work tirelessly to help young children get access to education in Africa and in other parts of the world. While the movie gives you a basic profile of Malala, you are left wanting to know more about Malala and how she juggles her time between studying and working as an activist. How does she do it? What is a typical day or a week in her life?  And I wishe I had heard more from Malala’s mother about her daughter’s crusade for educating children. Those were some of the questions that remain unanswered.

Guggenheim says the target audience for He Named Me Malala are his girls and other girls around the world. And that makes sense since the film provides an excellent and inspirational example of what it takes to stand up and get your voice heard. Malala is an inspiration.

He Called Me Malala releases Friday, Oct 9 in San Francisco Bay area.

 

  • Title: HE NAMED ME MALALA
  • Running Time: 87 minutes
  • Status: Release Oct 9, 2015
  • Country: USA
  • Genre: DOCUMENTARY

 

VIDEO: BANGALORE AS INDIA’S STARTUP HUB WITH PROF RISHIKESHA KRISHNAN

Bangalore is often referred as Silicon Valley of India. The city is studded with startups and has a huge pool of technical people. How and why did Bangalore became the startup hub of India? Why do startups from other parts of India move to Bangalore? What are the common characterstics between Silicon Valley and Bangalore?

To find the answers to these questions we spoke with Prof. Rishikesha Krishnan of the Indian Institute of Management (IIM) Bangalore. He is currently on leave from IIM Bangalore and is the director of IIM, Indore. Dr. Krishnan has written a book on India’s innovation culture called From Juggad To Systematic Innovation: The Challenge for India. You can listen to an extended audio interveiw with Prof. Krishnan on innovation and Indian economy.

Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins’ Fast, Simple And Clear Vision

Chuck Robbins, CEO, Cisco

Chuck Robbins, CEO, Cisco

Cisco’s CEO  Chuck Robbins is a man in a hurry to change things in the giant networking company. Faster and simpler solutions with an emphasis on analytics and security were the key points Robbins made during the global editors meeting on Oct 5, 2015. This is Robbins first public statement since he became the CEO of Cisco.

In the last few years the networking landscape has witnessed a lot of changes especially with the advent of software-defined networking startups and companies. Clearly, these changes are not lost on Robbins, who mentioned a niggling paranoia about the 6 starup guys working in a garage, who may end up disrupting the space.While he has no idea who and where these disruptors may exist, he is acutely aware of that threat. Robbins also mentioned that he started as an application developer and wrote code. Innovating and building new solutions within the company is one of his key priorities. They are deploying small teams to innovate and come up solution within a 11-month period he added.

There was barely any talk about Cisco’s  core networking hardware, instead Robbins’ focus was on software, security and analytics and the business opportunities presented by 50 billion connected devices by 2020. In this Internet of Things (IoT) world Cisco sees huge business opportunites. He stressed the importance of building a flexible and intelligent  network with “security everywhere,” and provide insight into the data though analytics.

One of the most interesting partnerships Robbins mentioned was with Fanuc America, where they are testing an IoT solution on the factory floor that use robots. They have deployed a pilot program with General Motor (GM), where they have connected 1,800 of Fanuc’s robots and helped save $38 million dollars for their client. Their new IoT solution helps digitize GM’s factories and improves the efficiency and reduces the maintenance cost of robots. It costs $16,000 per minute when a robot is down.

As mentioned earlier on the big opportunity Robbins sees is in the IoT business that will be “bigger than the first wave of the Internet.” Robbins wants to tap into these new opporunties with a fast, simple and clear vision. He is a man in a hurry to make Cisco a digital example of a B2B company. The company still has a lion’s share of the networking hardware market, but does face competition from other players in this field. He did mention that making things simple and clear will be a difficult journey, but he is clearly prepared to roll up his sleeves and steer the giant networking company down the digital highway.

Robbins became the CEO of Cisco in July, when John Chambers retired as the company’s CEO after a 20-year stint. Robbins is a17 year Cisco veteran and before becoming CEO was the Vice-President of Field Operations.

PODCAST: RAMIN BAHRANI ON 99 HOMES

Ramin Bahrani

Ramin Bahrani

Filmmaker Ramin Bahrani’s  99 Homes is a powerful film about the untold American story on the housing bubble. The film picks up where the news media left off on what happened to folks who were evicted from their homes during the great housing bubble of 2007-2009. There was non-stop news coverage about bad mortgages and loans and how that almost lead to a financial meltdown in the USA. That news was at the macro level. But, what happened at the micro level and to the families who lost their homes? That is the gap that Bahrani’s film addresses.

We caught up with Bahrani in San Francisco and spoke to him about the making of 99 Homes, and how he wrote the script and worked with Andrew Garfield and Michael Shannon. What his idea of a home after having made 99 Homes? Was Bahrani’s work in this film influenced by Jimmy Stewart and Gregory Peck? We wanted to know how he came up with the name of Rick Carver? We also spoke to him about Roger Ebert, the film critic, who was a huge source of influence on Bahrani. 99 Homes is dedicated to Ebert. This is Bahrani’s fifth film.

LISTEN TO RAMIN BAHRANI ON 99 HOMES

99 Homes is the story of Dennis Nash (Andrew Garfield), a construction worker, who is evicted from his home by real estate broker Rick Carver (Michael Shannon). Nash is given 2 minutes to pack up his belongings and leave his home. Nash, his mother Lynn Nash (Laura Dern) and son Connor Nash (Noah Lomax) move to a motel that consists of other evicted families from that area. Desperate to make ends meet and get back his lost home Nash makes a deal with the devil and ends up working for Carver. What is the cost that Nash incurs in getting back his home is what the rest of the film is about.Bahrani describes the film as a thriller given the Faustian structure of the plot. There are a couple of interesting twists in the plot that makes for an absoring watch. Garfiled, Shannon and Dern shine in their roles and all their performances are powerful. Shannon’s performance in the film deserves a special mention for his icy, cold and ruthless performance as a cut-throat real estate broker.

  • Title: 99 Homes
  • Running Time: 116 minutes
  • Status: Released Oct 2, 2015
  • Country: USA
  • Genre: DRAMA/THRILLER

 

FILM NOTES: JAFAR PANAHI’S TAXI AT MILL VALLEY FILM FESTIVAL

Jafar Panahi

Jafar Panahi

Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi’s latest film Taxi is part of this year’s line-up at Mill Valley Film Festival, Oct 8-18, 2015.

This brilliant film is shot without any fancy cameras, crew, actors or sets. The film stars Panahi as the protagonist, who takes you on a tour of Teheran in his taxi. From the confines of his taxi we are introduced to a whole range of subjects in Iran. Through a series of vignettes Panahi stiches a fluid narrative that look at women’s rights, the popularity of Hollywood and American TV shows to censorship in Iran. For some viewers the film may remind them of Abbas Kiarostami’s Ten, which is also shot within the confines of a car and that is what is common to both these films.

Taxi is an evocative film that is sure to bring memories for those who grew up in a society with strong censorship rules. Under such circumstances accessing the latest films,TV shows and music is not easy. For me, Panahi’s film evoked memories of growing up in India before MTV and the liberalization of Indian economy in the 1990s. It was a challenge to get new music or films. But, somehow people managed to access these forbidden artistic creations in ingenious ways.There are always clever work- arounds and underestimating people’s resolve to get to it is something Panahi’s film reminds us all over again.

Panahi is banned from making films or traveling out of Iran. And yet, his latest film highlights how people find work-arounds and Panahi’s film clearly underscores the failure of censorship. Panahi shot the film in less than 20 days using minimum of equipment. And he had no authorization from the Iranian government for filming this project. When Taxi won an award at this year’s Berlin Film Festival, Panahi was not able to travel to receive the award. Instead his niece, who stars in the film, went to receive the award on his behalf.

You can watch Taxi at #MVFF38 on Oct 13th and Oct 17th 2015.

 

FILM NOTES: THE BLACK PANTHERS: VANGUARD OF THE REVOLUTION

The Black Panthers

The Black Panthers

Filmmaker Stanley Nelson’s new documentary The Black Panthers: Vanguard Of The Revolution opened in the San Francisco Bay area on October 2, 21015. The film traces the complex history, influence and legacy of the The Black Panthers in America, and specifically in the African-American community.

The Panthers were founded in 1966 in Oakland by Huey Newton and Bobby Seale. Using archival footage and interviews with historians and members of the Panthers the film takes you back to a pivotal period in American history that took place right here in San Francisco Bay area. The party fought for the rights of the African-American people.

Police brutality in Oakland was the catalyst for the founding of the party and word about their method of fighting back spread quickly throughout the country. The Panthers went from a local group to a national organization and attracted the attention of local and national media. Many organization members were teenagers, who were drawn to the party and their fight against police brutality, equality and better housing. And the Panther’s rise to fame also attracted the attention of FBI’s Edgar Hoover, who launched a counter intelligence operation and infiltrated The Black Panthers. As a result of the operation the movement eventually petered away, but not before leaving  behind a strong stamp on the country and the African-American community.

The Black Panthers: Vanguard Of The Revolution is dense and packed with information and helps you understand why this protest movement started and how it gained traction within the African-American community. We find out more about their leaders including the colorful and controversial Elridge Cleaver, the minister for information for the party. We hear from Kathleen Cleaver, Elaine Brown and others.

Nelson takes you through the complex and chequered history of The Black Panthers including both the positive and negative aspects of the movement. The film took seven years to make and the timing of the release of the film coincides with a troubling time in our history on race relations and police brutality. Telling a tidy story about the Panthers is not an easy task, but Nelson succeeds in presenting a story that demands your total attention. You do come away with some questions like why was Seale not part of the film?

I have an interview coming up with Nelson, where we talk about the film and why Seale was not part of the film.

  • Title: THE BLACK PANTHERS: VANGUARD OF THE REVOLUTION
  • Running Time: 116 minutes
  • Status: Released Oct 2, 2015
  • Country: USA
  • Genre: DOCUMENTARY

Photo credit: Firelight Media

PODCAST: PROF RISHIKESHA KRISHNAN ON INDIAN ECONOMY, INNOVATION, MAKE IN INDIA & EDUCATION

Prof. Rishikesha Krishnan

Prof. Rishikesha Krishnan

Why is India not innovative on a sustained basis? How do you create a sustainable environment for innovation in India? What about logistics and infrastructure? When we think of innovation in India why do we think only of tech innovation and not other areas.? What are the skill gaps in India? How can Make in India help the Indian economy?  To find out the answers for these and other related question on Indian economy, education and the growing importance of Bangalorea as the hub of tech innovation we spoke with  Prof. Rishikesha Krishnan.

We also wanted to find out on what gets him excited about India? There is always that promise of  something of better happening tomorrow, and hoping that one of these days that promise is realized he says.

LISTEN TO THE INTERVIEW WITH PROF. RISHIKESHA KRISHNAN

 

Prof. Krishnan is the author of  From Jugaad to Systematic Innovation: The Challenge for India and co-author of  8 Steps to Innovation: Going from Jugaad to Excellence. He is currently Director of Indian Institute of Management (IIM), Indore and is  professor of Corporate Strategy & Policy at IIM Bangalore.

Prof. Krishnan studied at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Kanpur, Stanford University and IIM, Ahmedabad.

You can follow Prof. Krishnan on Twitter.

This interview was recorded during Prof. Krishnan’s visit to Silicon Valley.