Ladrones, written and directed by Brendan Kelleher Rose

Ladrones is the story of high school boys on a summer day in Brooklyn. Brian and Julian have nothing to do and nowhere to be. What choices will they make and with what consequences? What is their future in this changing borough?

IndependentFilmNow recently sat down with writer/director Brendan Rose to discuss his new short film, Ladrones (a word that means “thieves” in Spanish). Excerpts from that interview follow.

Mike Fishman for IndependentFilmNow (MF): Where did the idea for Ladrones come from?

Brendan Rose (BR): I’ve always been attracted to dramas that tell stories which, in some way, depict the inequalities inherent in our social structures. I’m also drawn to stories about teenagers that capture their imperfect attempts at self-definition, their contradictions, their authenticity. Ladrones aims to do a bit of all this. The specific story in this film is built around a sequence in which high school boys from a gentrifying Brooklyn neighborhood have a confrontation with a recent arrival to the borough, a privileged white guy, a hipster, if you will, at Brighton Beach on a summer day. The other scenes in the film complement this beach-confrontation sequence and seek to further develop the characters and the circumstances of the high school boys.

The spark for this story was personal. I was born and raised in Evanston, Illinois and grew up just a few blocks from the border with Chicago. I was back home and I went with a friend to Foster Beach on the North Side of Chicago, a beach I spent a lot of time at in my late teenage and early adulthood years, and one that I dream of all winter. My buddy and I jumped in the water. When we emerged, no more than five minutes later, a woman sunbathing nearby got my attention and let me know that I should check my bag as she had seen some boys rummaging through my backpack. Sure enough, the money in my wallet was gone (though the wallet and its other contents remained). The woman then pointed down the beach, about one-hundred yards, and indicated that the boys who robbed me were surprisingly still on the beach. I strolled over to them and we had a discussion. Initially the boys were coy and professed their innocence. They mentioned having been on the dog beach down the way, a fact which I figured to be untrue. One boy seemed like the instigator, the other to be more playing along. Eventually, after I reluctantly indicated that my next step would be to go to the lifeguards or the cops with the witness, the boys relented and offered me back my money. We parted on seemingly amicable terms, shaking hands. The boys promised to not steal again, though I have no idea to what degree they were sincere. Hopefully, something resonated.

Anyway, as I reflected on this situation, something about it struck me as a potential dramatic story. As the days passed and as I wrote down some recollections of what transpired, laying the groundwork for a screenplay, what I kept thinking about was the question of how these boys would have viewed me. They both seemed to be from a nearby North Side neighborhood. And while the presumed instigator, like me, was white, he and his buddy (who was of Latin American descent, I believe) may have perceived themselves to be of a different social class than me, an assumption that was likely correct. In short, I was the yuppy-hipster guy; they were the local kids from a humble neighborhood. Well, this is how I started to perceive the dynamic for the story, at least, and this is how the screenplay took off. Obviously, there’s plenty of conjecture here, given how little of these two boys I really knew, but stories of this kind inspired by ‘real events’ are typically more like archaeological analysis – you take limited information and then try to extrapolate (or in this case, create) a richer picture.

I initially wrote a draft that hewed quite closely to how things transpired for me at Foster Beach – i.e., an adult male (Joel) emerges from the water and is told by a sunbather that his money has been stolen, and so on. As I showed the draft to a few trusted confidants, it became clear that the story as written was missing a dimension. To complicate the picture, the sunbather character was dropped in a subsequent draft and Joel instead picks out the boys as the likely robbers and approaches them. This adds the question (or fact) of Joel as a racial-ethnic profiler, a dynamic relevant to our fractious times and to the implicit racism still at play even in otherwise liberal circles, of which I presume Joel to be a member.

MF: How did you cast the film?

BR: I was lucky to work with an exceptional cast with Ladrones. There are five characters in this film – Joel (the adult on the beach) played by Chris Rubio; Brian and Julian (the two lead high school boys who have the confrontation with Joel) played by Robert Ruiz and Carlos Portillo, respectively; Robert (a friend of Brian and Julian who figures prominently in the film’s first scene) played by David Vino; and Woman on the Boardwalk (integral to a short but memorable scene highlighting Brian’s swagger and proto-womanizing tendencies) played by Fatimah Ali.

The film’s producer, Mark Castillo, and I knew we needed to find great actors to make this film work, so we put out a wide casting call, utilizing traditional venues such as Breakdown Services, but also canvasing a number of high schools and theater non-profit organizations. Chris Rubio (Joel), Carlos Portillo (Julian) and David Vino (Robert) all came through the casting call and really impressed in their auditions. Robert Ruiz was recommended by one of Mark’s former professors and had a stellar audition. He came in reading for Julian but was clearly a better fit for Brian. I had worked with Fatimah a couple times years prior and she kindly agreed to come on for the one-scene part. She helped improvise exactly what happened in that scene and added the pitch-perfect line – “Not happening” – as a rebuke to Brian’s solicitations. I should add that we secured the SAG low-budget short film waiver to allow union actors to participate.

Ladrones is a film made by its actors. Each member of this five-person cast was a joy to work with and brought great understanding and sensitivity to their role, and all five actors made the characters their own, which is what you hope for as a director.

MF: What were some of the challenges of shooting at Brighton Beach? Did anything go wrong or unexpectedly right? I love the cutaways to people on the beach, were they planned or did they present themselves?

BR: Shooting on Brighton Beach was quite the adventure, I suppose as predicted. Prior to the shoot, I was really worked up about potential continuity issues – i.e., with all the background beachgoers coming and going as the camera rolled. As we commenced shooting, it became obvious that this would be the last thing we could worry about because there was no real way to control our set. People were going to lay their blankets and strip down to their bathing suits wherever they pleased, film shoot be damned. True New Yorkers! And, in truth, the action in the background of our shots really adds to the feel of this sequence for me.

The real concerns included the following: (1) Our two long days on the beach coincided with an East Coast ‘heat dome’ in which temperatures soared upwards of 94 or 95 degrees as the sun blistered all day; (2) We staged pricey equipment under an overhang that also became a gathering point for publicly intoxicated individuals who were eventually arrested for reasons unrelated to our film; (3) We had to haul equipment over the sand of a very wide beach; (4) We needed to keep everyone hydrated and well-rested on such scorching days; (5) It was imperative that we devised an artful way to shoot Joel spending time in the water without compromising our equipment insurance (something which would have happened had the camera entered the water!).

One of my favorite aspects of the film is the atmospheric series of cut-away images on the beach captured by maestro cinematographer Pedro J. Padilla. As we scouted Brighton Beach, Pedro and I talked a lot about the local architecture of the surrounding neighborhood and I think we were able to incorporate this environmental presence into the final edit. In addition, Pedro took every free moment during the shoot to pick off lovely b-roll of passersby, swimmers, and sunbathers. A few memorable beachgoers (and seagulls!) make it into the film and really help develop the midweek, dog-days-of-summer vibe.

MF: It seems likely that Brian was the instigator when he and Julian stole the money but Julian is the one who asks Joel where he’s from. Earlier we saw a shot of an airplane overhead when Brian, Julian and Robert were drinking beer on a roof, which could suggest a yearning for something more, something better than their particular life in New York City, especially as Robert talks about his family having to sell their home and move out of Brooklyn, possibly even to Long Island. What would you say are Brian’s and Julian’s view of Joel when they find out he is not a native New Yorker? Resentment? Jealousy? A little of both?

BR: This question is at the heart of the film. I’m glad you noticed the shot of the airplane, a cut-away shot that occurs about halfway through the film’s first scene set on the rooftop of Brian’s building. That shot was initially just a plug to avoid a continuity issue between two sections of the scene. It was a suggestion made by our excellent, perceptive film editor, Ulysses Adams. It felt too much out of left field for me as I first experienced this choice, too jarring in terms of the established grammar of the film. But, as Ulysses and I continued to discuss this option, it became clear that Ulysses’s instincts were spot-on: The inclusion of the airplane shot underscores the yearning these boys may feel, even if not fully realized, for other places, other lives, other options. It adds a sort of objective correlative. None of these three boys is poor. They range from working class to middle class, which is part of the film’s point: One doesn’t need to suffer from poverty to be forced out of a neighborhood in contemporary New York City (which has become the case with Robert’s family, as he tells it).

This brings us to Joel. The way I conceived it, Brian and Julian probably assume from early on in their interaction that Joel is not a local, that he’s a transplant, and this becomes the motivation for Julian’s question in the first place. It’s a check-mate move to play: Joel may have gotten his money back, and he may have lectured the boys a bit about their behavior, but the one thing this guy’s never going to be is a born-and-raised New Yorker. And that’s a card young people like Brian and Julian can always play – as every transplant has, at heart, at least some modicum of envy about not growing up here in New York City. And so there’s a fierce pride among a lot of teenagers who have spent their entire lives in the city, as it can be a hard-won heritage.

But yes, despite all this – i.e., the born-and-raised status that Brian and Julian possess which Joel does not – these boys certainly resent Joel at some level. They’re jealous of his options in life, of his ability to move from ‘outside Cleveland’ and invent himself as he likes in Ditmas Park, in their home borough of Brooklyn. And they resent that folks like Joel with college degrees (who happen to mainly be white and often at least upper-middle class) can move to the city, afford the high rents, and pay to enjoy all the expensive new amenities in the neighborhoods. Whether resentment is a productive feeling is a different question, but it’s certainly an understandable feeling for young people like Brian and Julian. Maybe in the future, when they’re older, Brian and Julian will have similar life options – to move cities, to change careers, to enjoy daily macchiatos at the nearby cafe – but that’s only if they play their cards really well, as their margin for error is far slimmer than it would be for the Joels of the world. And, more to the point, at this moment, at this stage in their lives, none of that really seems feasible to them anyway.

MF: Did their getting caught by Joel mean anything to them? Where are they headed, future-wise, when they get off the train back home?

BR: Julian never wanted to steal from Joel. He just sort of went along with Brian’s urge to do so. For Julian, this moment may serve as a catalyst for reflection. If anything, getting caught by Joel hopefully reminds Julian that their buddy Robert avoided the entire thing because he had his act together and had a summer job. That’s probably something Julian’s parents had wanted him to secure weeks earlier. (In fact, Julian’s employment status was more of a theme in a previous, baggier version of the script.) An interaction like this hopefully reminds Julian to, in the future, resist Brian’s impulses a bit more, as he’ll end up equally implicated (if not more so), when any trouble is caused. On a more fundamental level, Julian probably considers that he’s a bit more of a thinker than Brian, that he may have more opportunities in life if he applies himself. He’s certainly the more thoughtful of the two, and, as we’ve conceived them, the more book-smart, as well. After getting caught by Joel, I’m not so sure that Julian makes it to Ahmed’s party later that night (a party which Robert had alluded to in the first scene of the film). Instead, he maybe stays at home and spins a few records or reads a novel.

Brian’s future is cloudy, to use a bad cliché. He’s neither as conventionally studious nor as bright as Julian, but neither is he a complete delinquent. He’s somewhere in between a guy with a college-bound future and a teenager who could end up with low-grade legal trouble. He does enough to get by at school, but he makes sure to cause as much trouble as he can along the way and is certainly the class-clown type. Given how we’ve conceived Brian, I’m really not sure how much self-reflection will go on here. Does he take anything Joel says to heart? Or is it all a joke to him? It’s tough to say. If anything, I’m sure he recognizes an emotional change in tone from Julian after the altercation. Julian gets quieter and more serious and more reflective, and maybe this, if anything, causes Brian to pause and think and examine his choices. But to what extent he learns from such reflection, and applies what he learns going forward, is anyone’s guess. My hunch is that he’s at Ahmed’s party later that night throwing beer cans off the roof at guys strolling on the street below who remind him of Joel.

Overall, I like the idea of films that leave an audience with a question, or a series of questions, as this allows the viewer to take an active role in shaping the story and crafting a personal response to it. With any luck, we were able to do that here.

For other filmmaker interviews please click HERE.

Posted in Filmmaker Profiles

Paa Joe and The Lion, directed by Benjamin Wigley

Paa Joe & The Lion Trailer from Benjamin Wigley on Vimeo.

Review written by Mike Fishman

We are all of us going to die at some point. If we are lucky and have the foresight, we can determine and dictate how our funerals will be conducted and in what state our bodies laid to rest (or scattered to the winds, placed in an urn, donated to medical science, etc.). For those choosing to be buried, there is the obvious question of the casket. While most people planning to be buried have already picked out or inherited their final resting spot, a far lesser number of individuals flip through the dreaded catalog at their neighborhood undertaker to select the ideal casket, leaving that depressing bit of business to their surviving loved ones. For those with money and resources, some very fine caskets can be selected, indeed even customized based on a personality trait or a particular obsession. In Benjamin Wigley’s extraordinary documentary Paa Joe and The Lion (which screened at the Margaret Mead Film Festival in 2017) we get to see a number of so-called “fantasy” coffins, created by Paa Joe, a carpenter in Ghana, who has been carving unique caskets for some 40 years, with examples of his handiwork displayed in museums around the world including the British Museum.

When we first meet Paa Joe (Joseph Ashong), he is working on his latest creation, a wooden coffin in the form of a woman’s body, perhaps destined to be a mermaid. A lively montage highlights a handful of his creations, coffins in the forms of chili peppers, cars, fish, even a soda bottle. As Paa Joe amusingly points out, film director Wigley might choose a coffin in the shape of a camera while Paa Joe may ultimately decide on a hammer. For some, fantasy coffins allow for a moment, albeit brief, to be identified with something that defined them in life, before they and the casket are lowered into the ground. For others, the shapes may speak of an ideal: the freedom of a bird, for example.

The director displays a sure hand as he guides viewers through a portrait of this unusual carpenter, giving a good sense of Paa Joe’s surroundings and daily routine of what appears to be dedicated and joyful toil. The film follows Paa Joe as he and son/apprentice Jacob travel to the UK after receiving a commission from the Arts Council in England for a month long residency, where the father and son carpenters set about creating Paa Joe’s final masterwork, a coffin in the shape of a great lion. The work is done in an outdoor shed so that the process can be observed by passersby, a handful of whom reflect on what kind of fantasy coffin they might choose while others hold to the tradition of an unremarkable casket.

Mr. Wigley cuts between Paa Joe in England and back home in Ghana, highlighting a period of time just after his elderly mother dies and he is focused on making her coffin. As Paa Joe explains, his mother was a devout Christian who would have wanted a simple coffin and so he sets about creating a traditional casket, but one clearly carved with great care and attention to detail and with a sumptuous interior lining. Thus Paa Joe sends off his mother in a relatively modest style she would have approved of and made possible by the skills her son learned at her own urging, Paa Joe expressing heartfelt appreciation for his mother having pushed him as a young man to learn a trade. And throughout the film we see Paa Joe wielding that skill, working the wood with his bare hands, practically breathing in the sawdust and exhaling it back out, as if using his very being to give shape to unique creations that will mean so much to people far removed from his own reality. There is irony, of course, in a carpenter from Ghana creating exquisite works of art for wealthy patrons to purchase and be buried in, but the film does not swell on such issues. It offers instead a humorous, entertaining and insightful portrait of the man as artist while leading viewers inevitably to considerations of mortality.

Visit the website to find out about watching the film online at: http://www.paajoeandthelion.co.uk

Photos courtesy of Benjamin Wigley.

Posted in Film Reviews, etc.

Tango on the Balcony, written and directed by Minos Papas

Tango on the Balcony from Minos Papas on Vimeo.

Review written by Mike Fishman

There have been a number of feature films dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder well before the term was coined, but in Tango on the Balcony, writer/director Minos Papas admirably creates a compelling portrait of a soldier dealing with the debilitating after effects of a wartime experience in a mere 19 minutes. Across that brief time, we watch as Johnny (Aristotle Stamat), a sniper who served in Iraq, wrestles with his demons or rather a very particular demon in the form of Abdullah, a teenage boy Johnny shot dead. Abdullah (Giuseppe Bausilio) is given very real form as an apparition who appears in Johnny’s disheveled apartment (with its notably lonely twin size bed) and the two of them perform a (second) dance of back and forth discussion as Johnny tries to work out in his mind whether the boy was an innocent bystander or a young terrorist. Their first dance? The tango on the balcony, the five seconds or so it took Johnny to hone in and take out with one bullet a suspicious boy on a cell phone standing on a balcony hundreds of yards away. As Abdullah’s ghost rightly tells him, Johnny will never know if the boy was guilty or innocent or even how old he was. What Johnny does know, what he is painfully aware of every second of every day, what eats at him even as he tries to sleep, is that he took the life of a boy, one who seems increasingly likely to have been innocent.

It would hardly be possible to give a full portrait of an individual in such a short running time and indeed we get little in the way of Johnny’s background or relationships. What we do get is a brief snippet of time from the war in Iraq: the moments leading up to and the climactic moment when he took that shot, seen through video-cam footage shot from the soldier’s point-of-view. As Johnny watches the scene over and over, his finger hovers over the delete button but each time he’s unable to delete the file, instead lashing out at the footage and himself by hurling the computer against the wall. Thus do we get a full picture of his current life, a life in turmoil, through past and present moments, the moment of execution and the moments that follow as Johnny struggles through everyday life, fighting paranoia on the New York City streets, feeling suspicion at the Middle Eastern man selling coffee from a food truck and who gives him a free coffee one morning, thanking him for his service.

The irony of the man thanking the ex-soldier for his service is etched on Johnny’s face as he pauses in the street, coffee in hand, the city swirling around him. The intended honor of serving in the military, the now-ingrained suspicion of anyone from the Middle East, the “service” he performed with a bullet from hundreds of yards away. Papas adds a further ironic touch as we see in the foreground a sign for a shop offering Tango Lessons, the lettering necessarily backwards from the viewer’s point of view. How can Johnny (his very name conjuring up Dalton Trumbo’s classic anti-war novel “Johnny Got His Gun”) get back to a normal life in a world that is unaware of his struggles and colored in primary colors, not the blacks and whites and sometimes grays of war? Such is the question we are left to ponder in the remarkable Tango on the Balcony.

For more information about Tango on the Balcony please visit: tangoonthebalcony.com

Watch the film now on Kanopy: https://www.kanopystreaming.com/product/tango-balcony

Posted in Film Reviews, etc.

“The Snowman” and “The Snowman & the Snowdog,” reviewed by Sahiba K., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, Age 15

Film review courtesy of KIDS FIRST!

For more reviews from KIDS FIRST! visit their website at: http://www.kidsfirst.org

Posted in Film Reviews, etc.

Inside You, written and directed by Heather Fink

Inside You screened at the first Kew Gardens Festival of Cinema in August, 2017. Mike Fishman sat down to talk with writer/director Heather Fink about her film.

Mike Fishman for IndependentFilmNow (IFN): Where did the idea originally come from to make a switch comedy?

Heather Fink: I had written 2 other feature scripts before Inside You and was still seeking to get my 1st feature made. I thought my script Heart Break covered a topic too commonly covered by female filmmakers. My next script, http 404 a comedy about a digital/internet apocalypse, required too big a budget and I was unsuccessful in getting funding for the film. I decided I needed to write a script that was more affordable and simple to shoot, that still portrayed my voice, carried my feminist agenda of writing strong female protagonists, writing on gender, AND still be fun. The body switch provides all of that – a really fun callback to the 80s movies I loved and grew up with, plus it mainly revolves around story and the performance of 2 characters making it much more achievable to shoot.

IFN: You managed to find a new twist on the switch comedy genre by having the two people involved not only know each other but be a couple in a relationship, allowing you to explore sexuality in a more straightforward way than we’ve seen before. Where did that come from? Was it something you had thought about before deciding to write a switch comedy or did it come out of the process of writing the screenplay?

Heather Fink: I’ve had penis envy my whole life. A curiosity about what it must be like to be a man. The stories we are told are always through a man’s eyes so I think it’s natural to want to know what it’s like. Peeing standing up seems like an amazing freedom. I find often that others reactions to my femininity to be so far removed from actually being a woman in a woman’s body. I know other women feel this way too. Like ok my boobs or butt are such a big deal to others, I could care less about them. So in a way I feel a detachment from my body, but society makes quite a big deal about it. I also don’t feel I’ve seen this movie before. I did my research and watched every body switching comedy I could get my hands on. There was only one I found that had a dating couple switch, a 90s movie from Australia, but I found it was so overwrought with gender stereotypes which is the opposite of the story I want to tell.

IFN: Another twist in the comedy is that the characters aren’t your typical male/female stereotypes. Stephanie is a tomboy who has great mechanical skills while Ryan seems to have less interest in sex and desperately wants to marry Stephanie. How did you weave that subtle messaging into your comedy?

Heather Fink: I’m glad you noticed! It was important to me, the feminist I am, to not be a hypocrite and portray their gender differences in a stereotypical way. It’s also quite true to my personal experience. I feel I’m both feminine and quite a rugged fix-things-yourself woman whose personal tastes and instincts are beyond how female characters are often portrayed. I feel there’s many women like me. As for the male lead character, my last boyfriend when I was writing the script was both masculine but at the same time cared way more about his clothes. We were always shopping for clothes and I hated it! He worked in sales and wore nice outfits, but I work on set and do heavy labor paying the bills as a union sound person/boom operator. These things are true to life, and people are more complex than how we typically see ourselves depicted in film and television.

As for the marriage thing – it’s one of the most important things I wanted to explore in the movie. I think we live in a wedding obsessed society but are extremely negative on marriage. It’s always “ugh my wife” or “the old ball n chain” – marriage is legitimately scary I think as a woman. To lose being a sexy and fun girlfriend and become a nagging burden. However the male character just loves his girlfriend and feels rejected that she doesn’t want to end up with him. I think both of these attitudes really exist amongst both men and women and are not as gender specific as stereotypes lead us to believe. We depict these differences in many ways; wardrobe, dialogue, and what’s expressed around the characters by others in the film.

IFN: You hadn’t planned on acting in the film. How did you come to star in the film as the main character? What were some of the challenges you then faced directing yourself (while giving a laugh-out-loud, clearly committed performance)?

Heather Fink: That’s right! I had cast 2 actors from LA and flew them out and put them up in NYC and then the day before shooting the lead actress had an emergency and we lost the whole shoot and retooled to shoot several months later. As I looked to re-cast the film, I had a hard time getting someone who could really nail the part who would also work for 3 weeks for scale, and do all the crazy embarrassing things in the script. Agents were not keen on some of the dirty sex jokes in the script, nor did they fully understand how their client would act in the opposite gender. I felt acting in the film would help get the movie made, and I felt that my performance in the film was a service to my dream of directing this movie and getting it made one way or the other. So, for me, being my own leading lady was all part of doing what it takes.

I don’t love acting like I did when I was younger, but I could enjoy it if it’s something interesting. I love directing – however I really hate doing both at the same time. I want to give my all to directing, and if I’m acting I want to give my all to the part. It’s simply not possible when distracted by the needs of serving the other role. You can’t fully dive into a part when you’re aware of everything else going on and paying attention to the performance of your co-star. And you are certainly pulled from the needs of the set when you are stuck in a makeup chair. I remember that we didn’t have enough time to film one of the biggest scenes in the movie, so while standing in for lighting and camera, I had the script in hand and was slashing away lines in order to make the scene shootable in the time we had. Thank you so much that you enjoyed the performance! At the end of the day I’m so glad it worked for you or anyone who enjoys the movie.

IFN: What do you think it is about switch comedies that one seems to get made every 5 years or so? Is it just the comedy of the situation or something deeper like wish fulfillment that propels interest in the idea of body swapping?

Heather Fink: I think it’s a great genre that is entirely about empathy for another viewpoint so I hope it stays alive! I’d actually love to make this movie again with a bigger budget :)

IFN: Inside You screened on August 6 at the Kew Gardens Festival of Cinema. What’s next for the film?

Heather Fink: In September I’m taking the movie on a cross country screening tour at comedy theatres, cinemas, and arts centers along the way! The next screening is September 5th in NYC at the UCB East Theatre at 10:30pm. After that it’s Pittsburgh, Detroit, Chicago, Omaha, Boulder, Las Vegas, and Los Angeles. (Details still being worked out for some of those cities). I’m currently also working with a digital distributor to get the movie up on one of your favorite streaming platforms, so hopefully it will be easy for everyone to see it soon. All dates and screening info will be updated at www.InsideYouMovie.com

Posted in Filmmaker Profiles

Dark Meridian, written directed by Rankin Hickman

It has been said, “An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind.” Suspenseful and engaging, Rankin Hickman’s film, Dark Meridian creeps up on you and keeps you in its grip for the entire journey. Set in New Orleans, the world is one of crime and not so neatly defined roles, because even criminals have rules and “codes of honor.” This criminal world is predictably karmic but not as clearly polarized as it may seem. One can easily be led to believe most things are black or white without the benefit of all the necessary details. We first see a man who has been injured dragging himself across the floor. This man is Detective Spencer Solano (James Moses Black) a crooked cop connected to Tevi Merek’s family (Dave Davis) and the underbelly of the crime world. Tevi and his father’s henchmen have been working towards finding the murderer of Tevi’s brother and his brother’s wife and daughters. We are switched back and forth and in flashbacks placed exactly where the filmmaker wants us. The journey is focused mainly on Tevi, Det. Solano and the alleged murderer Patrick (Billy Slaughter). Patrick’s encounter with a homeless woman, Dot (Deneen Tyler) foreshadows what we come to learn of Patrick. the others and resulting events. Dot may seem crazy but she is streetwise, observant and not to be messed with.

A great supporting cast and cinematography add immensely to the mood, the seedier side of New Orleans and the French Quarter playing as important a role as the characters. Gritty and sublime, it allows the viewer to marinate in the performances. Even though there is plenty of violence, the movie was not a constant assault of the senses. There were notes and influences of directors Martin Scorsese, Brian De Palma, David Fincher and Michael Mann, while remaining thoroughly fresh and original. There are quieter moments, but still the constant undercurrent of tension, the feeling that you have a moment to catch your breath at the top of the roller coaster before the big drop. The pace slows and quickens, but never lags. Just when you think you know, you don’t. I went for the ride and didn’t regret it.

Review by Shirley Rodriguez

Dark Meridian screened at the Kew Gardens Film Festival on August 9, 2017.

Visit the IMDB page: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt5846628/

Posted in Film Reviews, etc.

IFN interviews In Winter co-writer/co-director Alexander Gutterman

InWinterTrailer from Alexander P Gutterman on Vimeo.

A small team of US midwest filmmakers offered its first effort, In Winter, to NYC film fans on Thursday the 10th of August at 3:30 P.M. as part of the inaugural running of the Kew Gardens Festival of Cinema.

The film finds its center in the character ANNIKA (Nora Targonski O’Brien), a young woman in constrained circumstances, caring for an aging and senile GRANDFATHER (Dale R. Botten) who is haunted by memories of war. Its setting is a small northern town in the dead of winter. When MARK (Charles Hubbell), a wealthy married man stops in her town to visit affluent friends on his way to the Coast, an intense emotional and sexual entanglement develops between him and ANNIKA, whose powerful emotional depth hides beneath the stoic exterior of the small town underclass.

Under the chaste but passionate eye of local pastor FATHER JIM (John Cromwell), in the milieu of Annika’s world of small town bars and Mark’s background of jaded old money, the affair unfolds. Below the blanket of the bleak frigid sky, ANNIKA opens to possibilities previously inconceivable, while MARK is slowly swallowed by the merciless cold and solitude of the setting and the affair.

IndependentFilmNow interviewed Alexander Gutterman, co-writer and co-director of feature film In Winter (with Aboubacar M. Camara) by e-mail. Excerprts from their interview follow.

Mike Fishman for IndependentFilmNow (IFN): Where did the idea for the story and its Minnesota setting come from?

Alexander Gutterman: The original inspiration for In Winter came from a powerful and painful experience I had over a series of months with a young woman from Vermont. This was around 2006 or so. This intense sexual and emotional entanglement was deeply gratifying but also deeply traumatizing, and at some point after it ended, I wrote and began to develop a short film called Loss which I was planning to shoot in Vermont with some colleagues. After moving to MN to be near my children, the original concept and core emotional tone of Loss developed organically into the In Winter script, informed by the severe cold, bleak emptiness, and post-Us-Steel depressed majestic industry of the Duluth region and the peoples and atmosphere of Northern MN.

IFN: You co-wrote and co-directed In Winter with Aboubacar Camara. How did that process unfold? Did you work remotely by e-mailing back and forth drafts of the screenplay? Did you each work on certain aspects or sections of the story? How did you work out the daily directing of the film?

Alexander Gutterman: When I first met Bouba there was this sense that it was NECESSARY that we collaborate. We met with the In Winter team from 2010 or so on, in study sessions, script reads, brainstorms, casting, and exploratory shoots to develop our understanding of the project. We overlapped to a degree creatively, but once on set Bouba focused primarily on technical oversight of the camera and lighting team while I periodically guided shot set up with the DP and gave most of my attention to the performances. The story was mine, as was the screenplay, but Bouba was both responsible for the formatting of the screenplay and led the editing process. Bouba’s significant work in the editing room was substantive enough to generate a writing credit, as key choices of his made major structural alterations in the unfolding of the film when viewed structurally.

IFN: The direction is at times almost austere and reminiscent of certain European auteurs. In many shots, the camera remains fixed while a character moves in or out of the frame. In one scene, for example, set in a kitchen, the camera remains focused on one character (the grandfather) while Annika (his granddaughter and the film’s main character) moves about just off-screen making him lunch, her body eventually entering the frame but not her face, and holding on that shot. What was your intention with such specific use of the camera and framing?

Alexander Gutterman: A tremendous amount of energy and thought went into the film’s cinematography. At the meta level, we looked closely at Bergman, Ozu, and Kubrick, taking what we thought relevant to our piece from each of them. We also examined each major location from a theoretical and symbolic perspective, and designed a signature use of the camera for each of these locations which remained consistent throughout the work. For example, at the Lake House of the wealthy we lookd to Kubrick’s limpid, clear presentation, at the Church we looked to a chiaroscuro reminiscent of Bergman. We developed our own approach to the Grandfather’s house, where we strove to create a sense of voyeurism by making sure that each shot was occluded or partially blocked by a doorway, wall, or some other aspect of the structure. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, our motto for the construction of composition was “every shot a painting.” I worked with Joah Colby and Dan FItzpatrick and Bouba very closely on every single set up, looking for compelling composition, asymmetry, intrugueing depth exploration, and so forth.

With reference to the “kitchen shot” – we wanted to challenge the audience with a painful, lonely, silent and legthy experience where Annika’s frustration and anger is only knowable from the sounds of her opening cans and working with the microwave – in that same kitchen sequence, Annika’s status as an object (which she occupies in the lives of so many men) is explored through presenting only her elbows, hips, legs, buttocks and so forth. In this way her dehumanized situation receives symbolic visual expression.

Visit the films website: http://inwinterfilm.com

Posted in Filmmaker Profiles

Dark Meridian, written & directed by Rankin Hickman

Synopsis: A New Orleans detective gets caught up in a fight between two rival criminal factions while on a stake out. To survive the night, he must find a killer on the run and make things right before the killer reaches his other targets.

Dark Meridian will make its North American premiere on August 9th at the Kew Gardens Festival of Cinema.

Visit the film’s IMDB page: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt5846628/

Posted in Filmmaker Profiles

The Lost Idea, directed by Amartya Bhattacharyya

Who is in control of your life?
What is most important to you?
What is reality? Perception?
Is it easier to follow and be passive?
Are most problems self-imposed?

So many more questions to be asked, but so necessary if you wish to move forward. The idea is to keep moving and asking and learning. Humanity and its complexities are examined in Amartya Bhattacharyya’s at times surreal film, The Lost Idea.

Our first image is of a young woman in a field seemingly giving birth. She is the embodiment the idea and Idea (Amrita Choudhury) is her name. She is the muse chased by many looking to birth their personal dreams and creations.

Two men, one older and one younger who seem to be on very different wavelengths converge. The older man (Lazy Man played by Susant Misra) who is married, sits daily doing nothing but reading his newspaper and being nagged by his frustrated wife. His frame of reference is external from whatever the news feeds him. His wife complains he is useless, but she is suspicious, jealous and unsupportive of anything that may come between them. She does not like his laziness, but does not want him to succeed either. It is as if some part of her prefers the routine of him sitting around and her nagging him to actually accomplishing something and possibly leaving her behind. In a few of the Lazy Man’s news article “visions”, he sees a well dressed woman rambling on about celebrity headlines, young women protesting the mistreatment of women and a belligerent political protester speaking against the effects of industrialization, colonization and its perpetrators. The serious and important matters of humanity, dignity and a better life take a backseat and backpages to the fluff and nonsense.

The younger man (Swastik Choudhury), is a self-described poet who sends his poems via village messenger to his girlfriend in London. He lives in a romantic, dreamy state in which he fancies himself the great poet and is seen communicating with the girlfriend about his aspirations in dreamlike sequences. He assumes she is having them published and mailing compensation back to him. We see that he has entrusted and handed over his poems (dreams) to someone who cares nothing about them in the messenger. No one will give your creation the same care and priority that you can. Inspiration is personal and trying to live another person’s life, dream or ideology is like wearing shoes not your size. If you wait to be inspired, you will keep waiting. The key is to search inside yourself, not someone else’s idea which can feel inauthentic and empty.

The subjects of Fear, Loneliness, Apathy, Envy, with the concepts of Good and Evil are expressed. How much do we question and do we follow blindly? The “mob mentality” no one dares veer from for fear of reprisals is detrimental to free thinking and contributions to make things better. One haunting vision is of a young woman wearing a red mask and a sackcloth dress with bloodstains. The film is set in India, where terrible acts towards women are not unique but well documented. This young woman represents the shame carried by the victim and guilt for being born a “weak” female. Any shame brought on families at times just by even talking to a boy or man regardless of how benign may be met with acid attacks or murder to “rectify” the situation.

As humans we are assaulted daily with what we “should” and “should not” be doing. Any deviation from the set norms of society are cause for derision and/or alienation. Even if results are detrimental, as long as the majority have decided on an approved action, common sense goes out the window. Humanity and compassion can be seen as weak because the goal is to crush, conquer and control. The town Mad Man (Choudhury Bikash Das) as labeled by his fellow residents, actually knows more than he is given credit for. But his fate is decided by the mob mentality and their disapproval and anger towards his actions of following his dream.

The movie is mostly set outdoors and lends itself to show the unpredictability and instability of life, humans are always looking to have power over. We love the feeling of control whether with our environments and/or purpose. There is a freedom and enlightenment to letting go and realizing the more we hold onto the less free we are. You make yourself a prisoner of your desires and obsessions instead of nurturing and letting it evolve naturally. Yes, an order is necessary in the world, but holding too tightly and squeezing the life out of something and perverting or destroying it is a tragedy. An interesting choice of music for a montage was The Prayer of Saint Francis: “Make Me A Channel of Your Peace”. I have sung that prayer many times and it is a message for everyone. The message of being a conduit for good, helping and having compassion towards each other.

The Lazy Man and The Poet compete for ownership of the Idea as if there is only one, not recognizing it is infinite. They ask a scary looking man representing Fate (played by Hrushikesh Bhoi) to be granted ownership of said Idea. He orders them to come back with proof expressed in a creation of their making, to see who deserves it. They each desperately try to find a way to top each other, but soon realize cooperation is a better solution. There is room for all expression, not that one is better than the other, which is subjective.

Children possess the ability to be in the moment and have that natural non-conformist attitude. It is after being continually indoctrinated that those innate feelings become clouded by doubt. In the end each of us must decide for ourselves the choices and the consequences for those choices. It makes you question plenty and that is something I enjoy. Life is never tied into a neat little package, but requires constant vigilance and evaluation. Even though the film might feel scattered, it actually flows and comes together. It has its heaviness and humor in balance and humanity throughout.

IMDb link – http://www.imdb.com/title/tt5926914/

Posted in Film Reviews, etc.

In Winter, written & directed by Alexander P. Gutterman & Aboubacar M. Camara

InWinterTrailer from Alexander P Gutterman on Vimeo.

In Winter will have its World Theatrical Premiere at Kew Gardens Festival of Cinema, Thursday August 10, 2017, 3:30 PM. The writer/director, editor/director, lead actor, and numerous other team members will be in attendance for this theatrical world premiere as part of the inaugural running of the Kew Gardens Festival of Cinema.

The film finds its center in the character ANNIKA (Nora Targonski O’Brien), a young woman in constrained circumstances, caring for an aging and senile GRANDFATHER (Dale R. Botten) who is haunted by memories of war. Its setting is a small northern town in the dead of winter. When MARK (Charles Hubbell), a wealthy married man stops in her town to visit affluent friends on his way to the Coast, an intense emotional and sexual entanglement develops between him and ANNIKA, whose powerful emotional depth hides beneath the stoic exterior of the small town underclass.

Under the chaste but passionate eye of local pastor FATHER JIM (John Cromwell), in the milieu of Annika’s world of small town bars and Mark’s background of jaded old money, the affair unfolds. Below the blanket of the bleak frigid sky, ANNIKA opens to possibilities previously inconceivable, while MARK is slowly swallowed by the merciless cold and solitude of the setting and the affair.

Directed by a Minnesota duo originally from NYC (Alexander P. Gutterman) and Africa (Aboubacar M. Camara), and shot in Northern MN during a bleak winter, the film emerges as a fresh voice reminiscent of the European minimalist art film tradition. In Winter breaks new ground in its approach to story, cinematography, editing, and sound. Formulaic work is eschewed in favour of a rich, poetic, and subtle unpredictability in movement from scene to scene, and a risky existential expose of human sexual, emotional, and spiritual vulnerability. All is underlaid by the subtle exploratory soundscape by Tom Hambleton of Undertone Music Inc. which masterfully interweaves the sounds of winter, the human voice, and electronics and tibetan meditation bowls into an evocative and delicate exploration of the audible soul of winter and solitude.

Visit the website: www.inwinterfilm.com

See the IMDB page: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt6749002/?ref_=nv_sr_

Like on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/In-Winter-120807251356169/

Posted in Filmmaker Profiles

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