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Note: The sequence of images in this feature was updated Jan. 8, 2013. 

American Special forces, guns trained and at the ready, stand outside a fortified compound on foreign soil. Cast in midnight shadow, the well-armed and night-vision-equipped troops communicate with hand motions and brief radio exchanges.

What follows is a stunningly efficient raid — carefully choreographed — with the requisite shouted commands, sporadic gunfire, and the low-hummed whirr of helicopter blades. Through it all, photographer Jonathan Olley was there.

But these bullets and bombs were mere props. The soldiers: actors instead. The drama: cinematic climate written and directed by the movie industry’s best. But in the world of Hollywood, Jonathan Olley’s photographs are almost too real.

Many Americans have likely seen Olley’s work, even if they don’t know the photographer by name. With his images plastered on the sides of bus stop vestibules or subway station walls, on billboards, print advertisements and even the cover of Newsweek, Jonathon Olley is the stills photographer for this year’s Oscar-hopeful Zero Dark Thirty.

The film, from Academy Award-winning director Kathryn Bigelow, traces the hunt for Osama bin Laden through the career of one female American intelligence officer, played by Jessica Chastain. While the film has received criticism —from politicians and the military, not to mention historians who challenge the film portrayal of events— the virulence of the critiques may fairly reflect how realistic the movie is presented.

“What we were attempting is almost a journalistic approach to film,” Bigelow told the The New Yorker in an interview about the movie last December. Who better to photograph a movie about a war, than a photojournalist who had seen one up close.

As a 27-year-old photographer, Jonathan Olley traveled to Sarajavo, a city under siege as Yugoslavia slowly broke apart. Packed and ready to leave on February 5, 1994, Olley was footsteps from the city’s main market when a violent explosion rocked his career forever.

Jonathan Olley

Jonathan Olley

Markale market masacre during the Siege of Sarajevo, which killed 68 and wounded 200. 1994.

The mortar, responsible for the deaths of 68 people and the wounding of 200, left a near-dazed Olley reeling amidst the chaos of the scene.

“I made some photographs of the place in a haphazard and panicky way” he remembers. “At that point, I got grabbed by some men and had a gun put in my mouth.”

Jonathan Olley

Jonathan Olley

British Army's 19th Field Ambulance high on the mountain plain of Bosnia-Herzegovina protect a wounded soldier from the downwash of a Royal Navy Sea King. Sipovo, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Former Yugoslavia. 1996.

For Olley, those moments served as “catalyst” in his professional career, illustrating how photographers could become part of the stories they covered, and could even create conflict while trying only to bear witness.

“That day made me think about what my position in all of this was,” he said. “In the end, the risks” — by this he means for himself and the people he photographed— “were not worth the news agenda of the day.”

More than a decade after that fateful event, Olley was introduced to Hollywood director Paul Greengrass, who hired him as photographer for the film Green Zone, a movie about the fruitless search for nuclear weapons in a post-Saddam Hussein Iraq.

Jonathan Olley

Jonathan Olley

Iraqi tank destroyed by depleted-Uranium tipped weapon. Al-Amarah, Maysan, Iraq. 2004.

Today, with three films under his belt, Olley says his commercial photography work on Green Zone, The Hurt Locker and now Zero Dark Thirty, requires the same skill and attention to detail as covering any war.

“You don’t really get a lot of access and you have to find your position in the maelstrom of activity.” Olley told TIME in an interview from his home in London. “Like conflict photography, shooting film stills is about being in a place where no one really wants you to be and making it work.”

Because still photographers are “non-essential” for the production process, he said — the photographs are used primarily to promote the movie when complete — the stills photographer is often the first victim of ornery directors, aggressive producers, or mercurial actors. If filming is going poorly, or the timing just isn’t right, photographers can be asked — politely or otherwise — to leave.

Jonathan Olley

Jonathan Olley

Zimbabwean de-miners in full protective clothing in Al-Zubai-Dat, Iran on the Iraqi border.

“Some actors are a little bit like racehorses: great to watch, but tough to deal with,” he jokes. In spite of the tensions, though, Olley is quick to add that many of Hollywood’s best actors — from Matt Damon to Jennifer Chastain — understand the importance of a film’s still photography and that working with these professionals at their best is “a privilege.”

Yet, as journalistic as his commercial images might look, and as close to reality as some Hollywood films have become, Olley views his film work as a means to other personal and professional ends.

“To me it’s like any other job,” said Olley, whose latest project, large format photography looking at the legacy of empire in Ireland, has received interest from the Tate Modern museum in London.

Despite the challenges of photographing the silver screen, Olley’s film experiences have been his most professionally forgiving, he said.

With scenes getting multiple takes — professional “second chances”— he has more opportunities to capture the valuable, powerful moments. However, for Olley — so nearly killed while covering conflict — there is comfort in the security of a Hollywood set.

Jonathan Olley

Jonathan Olley

Victim of shell splinters from a Serbian mortar-round. Jewish Community Centre, Central Sarajevo. 1994.

“At least in this business, you don’t die when you get it wrong,” he said.

Jonathan Olley is a photographer based in London.

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History of Film

In something of an homage to the Genealogy of Pop & Rock Music by Reebee Garofalo, designer Larry Gormley visualized 100 years of film.

This graphic chronicles the history of feature films from the origins in the 1910s until the present day. More than 2000 of the most important feature-length films are mapped into 20 genres spanning 100 years. Films selected to be included have: won important awards such as the best picture Academy Award; achieved critical acclaim according to recognized film critics; are considered to be key genre films by experts; and/or attained box office success.

Available in print for 34 bones.

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Academy Award-winning visual effects supervisor Rob Legato has been involved in many Hollywood classics and blockbusters over the last two decades, including: Apollo 13, Titanic, Armageddon, Cast Away, Harry Potter, Bad Boys 2, The Aviator, The Departed, Avatar, and Hugo. Over the summer, Legato gave a TED talk entitled “The Art of Creating Awe” about how visual effects are used to recreate reality or sometimes even “trump the real thing”.

In the TED Talk, Legato shows us behind the scenes footage of how the movie magic was created, how he tries to recreate the idealized memory of a moment and not necessarily the reality of a moment We learn about the reaction from a NASA consultant who worked on Apollo 13 and legendary astronaut Buzz Aldrin. We see how he seamlessly blended real footage of the Titanic with shots of miniature models, and how our brain is tricked into believing that its all real. And lastly, Legato shows how set size limitations on Martin Scorsese’s Hugo resulted in some creative choices: Moving the floor to create the illusion that the train was moving and combining a five different sets and a multitude of shots into the long “steadicam” shot from the beginning of the film.

In the wake of excitement over NASA’s mars rover Curiosity I recently revisited Apollo 13, and was amazed at how well the visual effects held up for a movie released 17 years ago. And after watching Legato’s TED Talk, I’m pretty sure most people watching the film today probably don’t even notice the visual effects. Watch Legato’s TED Talk embedded after the jump.

Thanks to FirstShowing for alerting me to this video.

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This past weekend, inspired by a great review in The New York Times, I went to see the animated movie "Chico and Rita". A full length feature set against the Cuban music scene of the late 1940s and 50s, the film is a love story not only of its two protagonists but also to Havana, Cuban jazz, and creative film-making.

Directed by Fernando Trueba, the filmmaker responsible for the cult Cuban jazz documentary “Calle 54”, and designed by Javier Mariscal, a Spanish graphic artist and designer, the film is so true to life that at first you wonder why it wasn’t simply made as live action. An early car chase scene is so realistically done you actually find yourself flinching, but the quirky hand-drawn animation quickly wins you over.

The music, combining Cuban jazz standards with new compositions by the great pianist and composer, Bebo Valdes, sticks with you long after the film is over – as does the sultry sexiness of the animated Rita – who gives Jessica Rabbit a run for her money (while displaying the full frontal nudity which is really the only reason the movie would not be child-appropriate).

While the film moves as far afield as New York and Las Vegas, the other star is the exquisitely rendered and vibrantly colored Havana. The filmmakers spent several months shooting on location in Havana, and their attention to detail produces a feeling that is both realistic and seductive. I can’t wait to visit Cuba.

While foremost a love story, the film doesn’t sugar-coat the place and time. Chico and Rita, both black Cubans, have to deal with discrimination and exploitation as they work their way up the commercial ladder and without giving anything anyway, their story is bittersweet.

Most surprising of all, though, “Chico & Rita,” has been nominated for an Academy Award as best animated feature – usually the sole province of family oriented fare. In a film year generally acknowledged as one of the most lackluster, it will be interesting to see if “The Artist” and “Chico and Rita” show that breaking out of the box sometimes gets you to the Oscar stage.

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Point Break was released in theaters on July 12th 1991, twenty years ago today. The action film was directed by Kathryn Bigelow, the future Academy Award winning director of The Hurt Locker who was at the time married to James Cameron. Keanu Reeves starred as Johnny Utah, an FBI agent who goes undercover to catch a gang of bank robbing surfers (led by Patrick Swayze). Here are five quick facts that you probably didn’t know about the movie:

  • The word “fuck” is spoken 105 times.
  • The movie was almost titled “Johnny Utah” after Keanu’s character name.
  • Elizabeth Berkley (Saved By The Bell, Showgirls) had a small role in the movie as “Macrame Girl”, but her scene was cut out.
  • Johnny Depp, Matthew Broderick and Charlie Sheen were among the other actors who supposedly auditioned for the role of Johnny Utah.
  • Johnny tells Bodhi to meet him at “Patrick’s Roadhouse”, an inside joke to the movie Swayze made a couple years prior – Road House.

Leave your memories of the film after the jump. We’ve also embedded a making of documentary.

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Trailers are an under-appreciated art form insofar that many times they’re seen as vehicles for showing footage, explaining films away, or showing their hand about what moviegoers can expect. Foreign, domestic, independent, big budget: I celebrate all levels of trailers and hopefully this column will satisfactorily give you a baseline of what beta wave I’m operating on, because what better way to hone your skills as a thoughtful moviegoer than by deconstructing these little pieces of advertising? Some of the best authors will tell you that writing a short story is a lot harder than writing a long one, that you have to weigh every sentence. What better medium to see how this theory plays itself out beyond that than with movie trailers?

The Guard Trailer

I don’t know if it got any better for me in 2008 with regard to unexpected gems than In Bruges.

Brendan Gleeson has a certain style, a comedic delivery that is at the same time smart, sly, and quite dry. A trifecta of brilliance that more than enough helped make that a movie worth watching more than once. Here, then, is a trailer that teases the kind of wit that simply makes Gleeson compelling as a comedic performer. Guided by director/writer John Michael McDonagh, brother of Martin so you hope these two kids had a chat or two about what was in that secret sauce called Bruges, who really only has the award winning Ned Kelly from 2003 under his belt, I found myself laughing at a lot of the beats here. As dour and jaded as I am, I consider that a win and deserving of high praise.

It’s not so much of Gleeson’s antics within the trailer proper here, although him scratching his nuts and acting like a boob in the face of a seriousness obviously showcases what they’re going after in this film, but it is his affability which is so refreshing. His talent, his strength, comes by being an everyman who is slightly askew and it comes through. He’s seems genuinely harmless but to see him cavorting with women of the night as he ultimately comes off as a bit of an idiot seems perfectly natural and it fits him well.

The trailer is expertly paced as the blurbs from various publications about the film’s “brilliance” pepper the narrative in a way that not only shores up the flimsy nature of a movie that looks like it’s going to take everything in an exaggerated direction, it offers some assurance that there is a solid film here. The violence and mayhem doesn’t seem real as it does an opportunity for Gleeson to do his thing, the gun battle we’re shown doesn’t feel dangerous as it does comedic, but it works for me. This appears to be just the thing I could use after a high dose of testosterone at the box office this summer. [Twitch]

Tarantino: Disciple of Hong Kong Trailer

Well, someone just discovered iMovie.

I’m not sure exactly why there’s the need to saturate every inch of this thing with After Effects but the directorial team of Jac & Johan has made something that, at its core, appears to be something more than just your run of the mill biography.

No, what’s here has such an energy and looks dipped in pure excitement that after watching it a couple of times and getting over its obnoxiousness you can’t help but understand precisely what’s afoot in this trailer. This documentary looks like it’s trying to piece together a love letter that was written a long time ago. You can never understand an author’s true intentions but it’s obvious that the snippets we get of those who inspired Quentin Tarantino and those who worked with the man on his greatest works are truly insightful and will help shed light on the auteur who has never been very coy with his intentions and influences.

Before you know it this thing is done but I can’t think of another promo in recent memory that has pushed the pedal all the way down to the floor, left it there, and blazed a path from beginning to end in such an entertaining fashion. It’s a wind sprint, a 50-yard dash and I am left panting for more. I am thrilled  thinking of how i will hunt this down after it airs on French television but if ever there was a made-for-TV documentary that would be worth watching this would be the one. [Twitch]

The Wave Trailer

This is one of the issues with international releasing.

Again, I know, or rather I don’t know, that rights and distribution and legal claptrap all factor in why some movies can enjoy a grand run in their homeland, be released on home video, and only then make it to our theaters for consumption. For whatever reason, this film from Dennis Gansel comes almost a full year after I talked about the trailer for the film he actually made after this film had been finished. Two years finished, to be precise. While I don’t understand the peculiarities of how this happens, I at least know the bizarre methods at least one company employs when it comes to snatching up Asian films and letting them sit on a shelf for a great long while, this high concept movie appears to be something that could be critically divisive.

What I like most about this trailer is that through the use of ambient sound effects of a heartbeat, an ear-piercing buzzer straight out of Lost, a school bell, it ratchets up the already interesting premise of the whole film. I get that it’s pretty wild to think that a movie about a class somehow coalescing into a unified douche parade whereby they seem to exert control of a whole student body and even have it leak out into the community is pretty hard to swallow. However, the trailer makes you think that this could be one of those rare films that show teenagers behaving badly in a way that could be done with a good amount of excitement and insight.

By the time things get absolutely out of control, high praise to the trailer makers for easily making this foreign language film easy to understand and communicating the crux of the movie quite clearly, I can’t get a bead on what will ultimately happen. I’m pretty sure that one, if not a couple, of the students will end up dead and the way things end here, the teacher suddenly realizing what has happened, the percussion taking over, the quick edits, I don’t think there is any other way to look at this other than as a movie worth deeper inspection. It certainly has piqued my interest in knowing more when it does, eventually, get released in whatever format that the businesspeople finally deem appropriate and prudent. [Twitch]

If A Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front Trailer

I like supporting Marshall Curry’s work.

From his great Academy Award nominated documentary in 2005 about local politics, Street Fight, to the thoughtful doc Racing Dreams in 2009 the man has a way with taking small slices of life and making them interesting. Subjects you would have otherwise not have known about, that’s his wheelhouse. So, then, what makes his documentary about the Earth Liberation Font so interesting is that this trailer breaks everything down in mere seconds.

The preview is one that just wastes no time in establishing who we’re dealing with, why it is we’re here, and, as the Sundance logo slides across the screen, what kind of pedigree it has. In fact, what makes this a solid trailer isn’t so much that it does all the things right about explaining why you should see this film, rather, it seems to employ the same techniques that made Street Fight such a great documentary: it presents both sides. It’s such an easy thing to explain why you would want two sides explaining their case but when you have obviously tilted reporting, as you would in a doc like Super Size Me, it’s just refreshing to take two opposing sides and let them have at it. This trailer lets both those who are committing mayhem and destruction in the name of something they believe in and those who are on the side of enforcing this country’s laws have their ideas known. It doesn’t condemn either party for their actions, we get insights into both camps on this issue, all the while serving it in a well-edited trailer that never lags and does not relent until it’s over.

This was, without question, the greatest surprise of the week in terms of movies that I wouldn’t have ever given a second thought to until I saw the accompanying trailer. Now, I just have to see how it ends.

Dancing Dreams Trailer

Stick with me on this one.

I talked about Pina some weeks ago. That trailer has stuck with me like a warm bowl of oatmeal and when I heard about this film’s existence, that it was about forty teenagers trying to put on internationally celebrated dance choreographer Pina Bausch’s most celebrated dance productions (just read a glowing review from a recent revival), and that these teens were about as green as a blade of grass when it came to dancing, I was expecting a train wreck. What I see here, though, could not be more affirming as a movie worth your time and attention. It just feels real in a way that seems genuine, honest, and lots of fun. While I have never seen any other work by directors Rainer Hoffmann and Anne Linsel this looks incredibly inviting.

It’s easy to simply dismiss this documentary as fluff and a snooze fest if ever there was one because I was on the verge of picking up and moving on myself until about the twenty second mark, but it does reward your patience. After seeing a man and woman slink and slide across a stage as they prepare for some kind of dance production we finally are let in on that the performers we’re watching are teens, teens who have no idea what they’re doing on the dance floor.

Things move fast here and we’re not really able to focus on anyone in particular but to see the moments when youth collides with the heady subject matter that most art deals with it’s downright fun to see the result of this atom smashing experiment. There is loads of laughing, lots of people flubbing things up, small girls crying their eyes out, but you just know as the applause rains down on these kids at the end of this thing everything will turn out OK. Of course you want things to end well but it’s all the goodness in the middle of this trailer that tells me this just has to be a documentary that not only deals with art but with kids who are simply trying to grow up. Like I said, affirming.

If you’re so inclined just watch this extend-o trailer from some months ago. It’s just as insightful as this preview.

Note bene: If you have any suggestions of trailers to possibly be included in this column, even have a trailer of your own to pitch, please let me know by sending me a note at Christopher_Stipp@yahoo.com

In case you missed them, here are the other trailers we covered at /Film this week:

  • The Whistleblower Trailer - This might be an important film but the trailer isn’t doing the story any favors. Listless and vanilla.
  • 50/50 Trailer - I’m not sure about this. The trailer appears to be delivering a black comedy of sorts but I’m not convinced that this can go the distance as Seth Rogan is essentially being Seth Rogan.
  • I Don’t Know How She Does It Trailer - I don’t know how she does it either but I just don’t care.
  • Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark Trailer - Thanks to Insidious I now believe in the power of well executed scaring if it can be done right. This well may be exactly what I’m hoping it is.
  • The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo Trailer - I didn’t realize this could be the most exciting film I’m looking forward to all fall until I saw this. Amazing.
  • One Day Trailer - Putting glasses on an actress and mussing her hair does not constitute an “ugly duckling” makeover. I’m simply annoyed by the suggestion.
  • Luke Cage Teaser Trailer - Umm…I’m not sure? Some of the bits look fun but as far as unsolicited resumes go, this is a bit jarring and not very exciting.
  • Spy Kids: All The Time In The World Trailer - If I was ten and I was writing this column I would say this looks like the movie of the year. However, I’m not and this looks like it’s well out of my demo. Pass.
  • 1911 Trailer - Not much to go off in this trailer. The score is nice, though. I need more than close ups of a grown man trying not to cry.
  • General Orders No. 9 Trailer - Haunting, indeed. This is a trailer that makes you stop what you’re doing as it just washes over you. Count me in.
  • The Wholly Family Trailer - I love it. It’s not weird for weird sake as it genuinely feels like something is being said. I don’t know what that is but I appreciate what’s happening here.
  • The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo Green Band Trailer - What a thrilling prospect of a movie. The musical choice is spot on and the editing is more than enough to whet your appetite in hot anticipation. It’s been a while since we’ve had a movie like this so I hope it can deliver on what it’s promising.
  • Horrible Bosses Trailer #2 - I really like this trailer. A lot. I am hoping for a sweeping, dramatic explosion but I would be satisfied if it was just plain good.
  • Ninja Kids!!! Trailer – I had such a virulently bad reaction to the first film that I can’t see anything new of note in this trailer to make me think this will be any different.
  • Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels Of A Tribe Called Quest Trailer - I would buy this film’s soundtrack if nothing else. This could be the quintessential musical documentary of the year.
  • Ninja Kids!!! Trailer – I very well could see myself partaking in a viewing of this movie with my kids. Looks like something they could really lose their minds to.
  • Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes Trailer #2 – I still think there’s a good movie here. Whether it’s worth a full price admission is still iffy.

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Trailers this week include the Kevin McDonald/Ridley Scott viral project Life in a Day, Academy Award nominee Incendies, the directorial debut from Philip Seymour Hoffman Jack Goes Boating, and hard-hitting shocker Red, White and Blue…

Life in a Day Released 17th June
Directed by Kevin McDonald

Incendies - Released 24th June
Directed by Denis Villeneuve

Jack Goes Boating - Released 8th July
Directed by Philip Seymour Hoffman

Red,White and Blue - Released September 2011
Directed by Simon Rumley


Previous Trailer Tuesdays.

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A saber-toothed cat’s skull, one of a number of dinosaur remains (among other things) auctioned off at the I. M. Chait gallery on March 24. (Daniella Zalcman for The Wall Street Journal)


The funeral of Nassau County Police Officer Geoffrey J. Breitkopf, one of two police officers killed in line-of-duty incidents that happened about nine hours and 40 miles apart. (Ken Maldonado for The Wall Street Journal)


Rye Playland, one of few amusement parks in the U.S. owned by a municipality, has been bleeding money. Now Westchester County officials are looking for developers to modernize the park. (Nick Brandreth for The Wall Street Journal)


The Third Annual Blossom Ball celebrated by the Endometriosis Foundation of America at New York Public Library. (Astrid Stawiarz for The Wall Street Journal)


New York Police Officers at the funeral of Police Officer Alain Schaberger, the second police officer killed in the line of duty last week. ( Joel Cairo for The Wall Street Journal )


The American Folk Art Museum’s ‘Infinite Variety: Three Centuries of Red and White Quilts’ show opened on March 25 at the Park Avenue Armory. (Natalie Keyssar for The Wall Street Journal)


The grilled marinated octopus at Tre Otto. (Ramsay de Give for The Wall Street Journal)


Famed Spanish Chef Ferran Adria and Author Lisa Abend ate an American-style breakfast at Old John’s Luncheonette. (Natalie Keyssar for The Wall Street Journal)


Random items in the practice space used by the band The Feelies in the basement of lead singer Glenn Mercer’s home in Haledon, N.J. (Nick Brandreth for The Wall Street Journal)


A horse gambler leaned on the railing of the main lobby at the Aqueduct Racetrack in Jamaica, Queens, following a race. (Philip Montgomery for The Wall Street Journal)


Rula Jebreal and Julian Schnabel in the dining area of the Palazzo Chupi building in Manhattan. Schnabel’s new film opened on March 25. (Natalie Keyssar for The Wall Street Journal)


Charred remains of a large bus on Ninth Ave near 39th Street after an apparent engine fire on March 21. (Rob Bennett for The Wall Street Journal)


GreeNYC’s mascot ‘Birdie’ awaits the arrival of media and dignitaries to an event celebrating the 10th anniversary of the Fresh Kills Landfill closure on March 22. (Rob Bennett for The Wall Street Journal)


The symbolic arrival of trees on the type of barge that once transported garbage to Fresh Kills Landfill in Staten Island, during the ceremony marking ten years since its closure and transformation into a park. (Rob Bennett for The Wall Street Journal)


Frank Mouris, in his animation studio in Chatham, N.Y. Frank and his wife Caroline are Academy Award-winning animators and also dog breeders. (Mark Ovaska for The Wall Street Journal)

As it struggles to close a $100 million budget gap, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority is exploring selling or leasing some of the three million square feet of office space it controls. Among the buildings on the table: the agency’s 20-story headquarters complex on Madison Avenue. (Rob Bennett for The Wall Street Journal)


A mix of wintery weather hit pedestrians on Chambers Street on March 23. (Rob Bennett for The Wall Street Journal)


Burkes Bar in Hoboken, N.J. (Natalie Keyssar for The Wall Street Journal)


Shirley Wood’s Yorkie, Stitch, rested in her bag at the dog-friendly Gardiner County Park in West Bayshore, N.Y., on March 18. (Joel Cairo for the Wall Street Journal )

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The Weinstein Co. has released a trailer for Julian Schnabel‘s Miral, starring Slumdog Millionaire actress Freida Pinto. The film covers five decades of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with Pinto playing a young woman who falls for a political activist (Omar Metwally, Munich) and becomes involved in the Palestine liberation movement. Watch the trailer after the jump.


[via TheMovieBox.Net]

Although this new trailer features slightly less violence and improper language, it otherwise looks pretty similar to the French-subtitled one we posted last summer — right down to the melancholy Tom Waits song that plays over the very end. Miral has since hit several film festivals, starting with Venice last year. It was originally scheduled to open in the U.S. last December, but has been rescheduled for a March 25, 2011 release date.

Disappointingly, early reviews for the film aren’t looking too good — Miral currently holds a worrying 20% on Rotten Tomatoes. (Granted, that’s out of only 15 reviews, but even the positive reviews seem less than enthusiastic.) The consensus seems to be that it’s well-intentioned, but not well-made. Given the breadth of the subject, I wonder if Jebreal’s book would’ve been better served as a miniseries.

Miral is based on a semi-autobiographical novel of the same title by Palestinian journalist Rula Jebreal. Schanbel became involved with the project when Jebreal sent him the book after the two met at a dinner in 2007. They began work on the film later that year, and became a couple during the course of the production. Schnabel has said in interviews that Miral has a personal significance to him: “Coming from my background, as an American Jewish person whose mother was president of Hadassah [the Women's Zionist Organization of America] in 1948, I figured I was a pretty good person to try to tell the story of the other side.”

Hiam Abbas (The Visitor) and Yasmine Al Masri (Caramel) also star in the film, as Miral’s teacher and a prisoner, respectively. Vanessa Redgrave and Willem Dafoe appear in small roles.

Official synopsis:

From Julian Schnabel, Academy Award© nominated director of The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, Before Night Falls and Basquiat, comes Miral, the story of four women whose lives intertwine in the starkly human search for justice, hope and reconciliation amid a world overshadowed by conflict, rage and war. The story begins in war-torn Jerusalem in 1948 when Hind Husseini (HIAM ABBASS, The Visitor, Amreeka) opens an orphanage for refugee children that quickly becomes home to 2000 orphans. One of the children is seventeen year old Miral (FRIEDA PINTO, Slumdog Millionaire) who arrived at the orphanage 10 years earlier, following her mother’s tragic death. On the cusp of the Intifada resistance, Miral is assigned to teach at a refugee camp where she falls for a fervent political activist, Hani (OMAR METWALLY, Munich, Rendition) and finds herself in a personal battle that mirrors the greater dilemma around her: to fight like those before her or follow Mama Hind’s defiant belief that education will pave a road to peace.

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