Carbon Arc Profile: Zack Miller

Welcome to all Carbon Arc audiences and blog readers while we’re on a short hiatus.

As part of my Writer-in-Residence stint, I wanted to introduce the Carbon Arc staff and volunteers to you. Here are the folks who program the films at our little independent cinema and help out every week.

We start with Zack Miller. He’s a cineaste and writer, whose work can be read here and here. You can follow him on Twitter here.

 
 

I threw seven questions at him, and he went to town:

What was the first movie you remember loving, and why?

Wow, I promised myself that I wouldn’t open by waxing philosophical, but you’re lobbing some really juicy bait. Naming your first cinematic love is kind of like naming your first romantic love, isn’t it? With each subsequent love, you find something new and your definition changes. I loved V for Vendetta when I saw it in theatres, but I can’t imagine it holding up now. Of course, I digress — hopefully not a sign of answers to come.

The film I often fall back on — my cinephile “tipping point”, as it were — is No Country for Old Men.

 
Javier Bardem in No Country for Old Men

Javier Bardem in No Country for Old Men

 

With it, I recall a distinct shift in my understanding of film. Before, they were the stuff of pure entertainment, but nothing this bleak could be mistaken for that. I can’t say that, after watching, I immediately recognized cinema as a transportive medium of images, emotions, and ideas… but I had gotten the bug. Movies were something more.

(My most recent love, for the record, is Mistress America.)

Are you a fan of genre, and if so, what kind of movies do you like?

Is Channing Tatum a genre? If so, that’s a serious contender.

 
Need we say more?

Need we say more?

 

I’m not sure if I particularly fall for genres as much as I succumb to high concept conceits, formal or narrative. That’s what draws me to filmmakers like Guy Maddin, Yorgos Lanthimos, and Rick Alverson. I suppose that puts a significant selection of black comedies in my crosshairs, if I was pressed for a genre.

I’m also really drawn to rigidly procedural dramas (from High and Low to The Martian) and films that value mood as much as plot (By the Sea and The Witch are two recent examples).

Who is your favourite filmmaker, and why?

Another question with an ever-changing stable of possible responses. Two artists that have consistently delivered for me are Kelly Reichardt and Paul Thomas Anderson. Old Joy, The Master, Meek’s Cutoff, Inherent Vice, Night Moves, Hard Eight — I could program a retrospective on those two by drawing titles out of a hat and every combination would be satisfying. I welcome readers to approach me often for alternative insights, offered free with any popcorn purchase.

Paul Thomas Anderson's Hard Eight

Paul Thomas Anderson's Hard Eight

I’ll also squeeze in a name drop for Lenny Abrahamson, whose last two (Frank and Room) have been home runs in my book, but whose back catalogue needs further inspection before making it into my hall of fame.

Is there a movie you adore that no one else seems to? If so, what is it you love about it?

I’ve got a late aughties double-feature starring John C. Reilly that I hold in higher regard than some stuffier cinephiles: Walk Hard and Step Brothers. They’re two of the greatest comedies of the decade, both in craft and in the amount that I laugh every time I watch them. Fortunately, I think the tide is finally turning, that they’ll end up as cult classics, and I’ll know I was right all along.

Is there a film festival you’ve always wanted to attend but haven’t? What’s the draw?

The draw? They’re entire festivals dedicated to film. You’d do better to ask a mouse about the appeal of cheese.

I’m an addict, through and through. As such, I find it impossible to answer this question with just one festival. As excerpted from my bucket list: TIFF, Cannes, Telluride, Berlin, and Venice — but I’m not one to turn down an invitation anywhere. The aforementioned all boast a certain prestige and each come equipped with a unique sense of “personality”, to say nothing of their alluring travel brochures.

What film in the past season of Carbon Arc surprised you the most, and how?

This is a slight cheat, since I saw François Ozon’s The New Girlfriend at a film festival in Belgium before we programmed it, but it surprised me on both viewings.

 
The New Girlfriend, directed by François Ozon

The New Girlfriend, directed by François Ozon

 

The first surprise, as I’m sure our audience will remember with varying amounts of displeasure, was that the trailer completely misfires in spinning the film as a psychological drama akin to Phoenix (another excellent candidate for this question) rather than a socially-conscious serio-comedy.

By the time of my second viewing at Carbon Arc, I was surprised once again because I had forgotten how tender and empathetic the film was in examining the complexities of dealing with grief and seeing echoes of a lost loved one in unexpected places.

What’s your favourite programming experience at Carbon Arc?

Having just joined the programming committee before the current series, my experiences are limited. What is lacking in breadth, though, has been well compensated in quality; I’ve been overjoyed with the audience reception of my selections so far, Heart of a Dog and Mustang.

Following the latter, I was approached in the hallway: “That’s the best film I’ve seen in 30 years. I’d never been [to Carbon Arc] before, but I’ll definitely be back.” I can’t ask for better than that.