Review by Mike Fishman
In CAPTAIN HAGEN'S BED & BREAKFAST, which I caught this past weekend at the New York Indie Film Festival, writer/director Rafael Friedan accomplishes the considerable feat of creating a truly laugh out-loud comedy that also offers a few poignant moments. Shot over a little more than two weeks in Sag Harbor, Long Island, in a rambling house whose nooks and crannies practically make it a supporting character, the story follows a disparate group of four couples spending what they expect to be an uneventful weekend at a B&B run by Captain Hagen (William Beckwith, Scent of a Woman), an eccentric retired German sailor who enjoys doling out free advice. That this all doesn’t devolve into ridiculousness or a dull attempt at farce is due largely to Friedan’s writing, whose witty dialogue often gives surprising lift to situations that might otherwise feel cliché. Yes, various guests sleep with various guests but often in unexpected pairings, such as the sultry Kate (Bri Oglu) who takes the virginity of the Captain’s hyperactive and very naïve son, Felix (Dino Petrera). Later, when at last sad-sack Jared (Tyler Bellmon), who pines for long-time friend Kate who loves him “like a brother” ends up in bed with the knock-out Sandra (Jessamine Kelley) who just broke off her engagement to the frustrated Preston (Andrew J. Cornelius, Just Eat It), the scene feels right and satisfying, thanks to Friedan’s bold decision to film with the actors in the nude and daylight streaming in through the windows. It’s a hot and sexy scene but its realistic manner gives it a refreshing frankness.
Similarly, two scenes that could have easily gone awry are presented with a simplicity that gives them an unexpected resonance: the Captain emptying an urn of his dead wife’s ashes into the bay, finally attempting to free himself of hanging on to the past, and a scene involving a long-married couple with children (Rhonda Ayers and Lynn Berg) who admit to each other that when they made love (after several attempts at finding themselves no longer connecting sexually) they were each thinking of other people. That Friedan doesn’t belabor this mutual confession allows the humor to become affecting.
It’s often small moments that make a film linger for days after seeing it and two such moments worth mentioning are especially memorable for one being dramatic and the other comedic. After the Captain has disposed of his dead wife’s ashes, he moves a framed photo of her from its prominent place on a mantelpiece to a side table; he is ready to emerge from the shadow of her memory but not abandon her presence in his daily life. In another scene, goofy surfer dude Darren (Zach Wegner) barges in on Sandra and Preston in bed; an exasperated Preston orders him out of the room and Darren leaves, but then pops back in to wish Preston a good night. It’s a completely frivolous joke, fitting for the flighty Darren, but one of many moments throughout the film where Friedan admirably gives a funny situation a little extra room to breath and become funnier than expected. The film itself is a great example of independent filmmaking where limited resources are creatively mined; kudos to cast member Chris Wandell (who plays Rico, Darren’s studly fellow surfer-dude) who also handled production and costume design, crucial elements for a film set mostly in the single location of the house.
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Roddy Bogawa’s fascinating documentary, TAKEN BY STORM brings us into the world of Storm Thorgerson, co-founder of Hipgnosis, the company responsible for the unique and often-startling designs of dozens of classic vinyl album covers from the late 1960’s to the 2000’s including such iconic album designs as Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon” and Led Zeppelin’s “Presence.” In showing Mr. Thorgerson at work, Mr. Bogawa takes us into an earlier era of artistry, where physical crafting and painstaking staging of photographs were relied on as opposed to the technical shortcuts of today’s computer-generated ease. When Mr. Thorgerson set out to create the cover of Pink Floyd’s “A Momentary Lapse of Reason,” depicting dozens of hospital beds lined up in the English countryside, dozens of hospital beds it was despite the obstacles one would expect to find in arranging such a photograph including the inevitable English rain.
So, too, has filmmaker Roddy Bogawa continued to work often with 16mm film, preferring to get his hands dirty rather than clicking on a mouse. Excerpts from a conversation with Roddy Bogawa about TAKEN BY STORM and his approach to film are below. TAKEN BY STORM premiered at South By Southwest in 2011 and screened at the Museum of Modern Art in 2013 as part of Roddy Bogawa: If Films Could Smell, a mid-career retrospective.
Mike Fishman for IndependentFilmNow (IFN): You’ve worked a lot with 16mm film, which has a tactile nature to it as compared to digital video. Was part of what drew you to this particular subject the tactile feel of film and your interest and teenage memories of album covers, which often opened up to reveal more design elements?
Roddy Bogawa: Absolutely! I learned how to make films doing black and white photography and then super-8 (which was like trying to work with curly pasta!) and then finally 16mm film. I’ve done almost all my work in 16mm film because I love the image, the grain of the film, and the physicality of working with it – threading a film camera magazine, loading and unloading it, even having to take it to a lab to get processed. My last three feature films were all cut in 16mm on a Steenbeck six-plate editing machine which means you work with tape splicers, grease pencils, sharpie pens, and boxes and boxes of film and sound rolls. My memories of learning to work in film have to do with all of this…the editing room as an absolute mess. There used to be notes and pictures taped all over the walls, you could smoke while working, old burrito wrappers on the floor. It was a studio! Now with computer-based editing systems (and I don’t say ‘non-linear’ because cutting on a film flatbed is non-linear editing), you’ve got none of this. You sit in an air-conditioned room, calling in a sushi lunch, and staring blankly at a computer screen for hours. There’s precisely NO physicality to this other than the click of a mouse. Not only is this terrifyingly boring to me but I have a belief that the fact that with film editing you would have to move around, pull the film, look at your cutting marks, find your log sheets to locate a shot, thread and re-thread reels, creates moments when your eyes are forced to look elsewhere and your brain drifts into another space where you get ideas about editing and relationships of shots and concepts.
The act of editing should really be the physical act of articulating your thoughts, but computer-based editing pushes you to be lazy because you can always undo your last edit with a key command. Even if you are quick with a tape splicer, an edit would take a certain amount of time and thus you would think about why you were making a cut before you would do it. This for me is a huge geological shift in editing that came far too quickly. I’m not a technophobe in a cave but I do think tools affect creativity and these particular tools aren’t predisposed for thinking. It’s the same with writing. How quickly has the method of how we write changed with first the word processor and then the computer? At this moment, I’m answering your questions while typing on a laptop and editing and re-writing at the same time as punching the keys rather than trying to write out a draft and then going back and doing a re-write. I try as much as possible to not do this with writing and also editing on a computer system but it’s fighting a landslide of bad habits formed by technology.
It’s a good correlation to pose vinyl records against this parallel shift and I do think it’s possibly one of the reasons that opened the door between Storm and I. Not that we were anti-technological curmudgeons but that we intuitively felt this shift and recognized the larger social function that was getting lost in the shuffle. Vinyl records were not just physical objects but also the source of information in the pre-internet days. This is where you would read about who was the producer and engineer, what musicians played on the LP and also of course, who designed the cover and packaging. Hipgnosis was a name that popped up on many records that I had as a teenager and I was fascinated by the fact that sometimes the “company” or whatever I fantasized it was, was spelled strangely and also occasionally mis-spelled as “Hipnosis.” This was also where you studied pictures of the band to model your clothes or hair style on and when I got into Punk music, where I thought about politics, albeit naïve at the time.
Storm and Po’s covers (Aubrey “Po” Powell was the other founding member of Hipgnosis) were always never easy to pin down and did in fact have many visual puns, hidden meanings, etc. embedded in the design. This was not simply clever packaging but rather taking the notion of packaging to an entirely new realm of meaning. Storm continued this throughout his career up through StormStudios and realized that what he called his “job” was not simply to market the band but instead to create what he called a visual parallel to the music. Thus, the majority of his covers are artistic pieces in and of themselves. In a funny way, I also think this freed up the musicians in certain ways – not locking the image from a cover of one of their records to a particular look or time period thereby dating it.
IFN: It’s fascinating how the images on album covers become intertwined with the music, such as the prism on “Dark Side of the Moon” or “The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway” where the cover directly supports the actual story of the album and the story Peter Gabriel wrote that appears on the inside cover. Do you think the packaging of music will ever move back to something larger or different that will somehow incorporate that experience or we inevitably moving towards only downloadable files?
Bogawa: I really doubt that album covers will shift back to that kind of interplay with the music and in that way, Storm was a true pioneer and genius. He, of course, was not the only one working like this and there is a handful of other designers I quite admire but I have to say Storm was one of a kind for his dogged dedication to exploring imagery in relation to music. That the “Dark Side of the Moon” cover developed from the iconic prism and refracted light graphic to images of pyramids and triangles and such, symbolizing ambition and madness, is emblematic of how Storm’s imagery was expansive in meaning.
The other cover you mention, “The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway” really is kind of a perfect match to some of what I think was Storm’s strategy in numerous designs. I told him once that one of the overarching interpretations I got from looking hard at the bulk of his design work was that they resembled film stills or still images from a scene caught mid-action which was what always made me curious about what had just happened prior to the image or what was just about to happen. He grinned at me and that was the moment he told me he had studied filmmaking at the Royal College of Art. In fact, Po, his partner, also studied filmmaking at college and after Hipgnosis folded went on to direct numerous music related projects and documentaries as well as commercials. “The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway” by Genesis and “Deloused in the Comatorium” by The Mars Volta decades later are both concept albums that are visually evocative so these are cases where the music is moving more into his terrain of expertise. And most of all in something like “The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway,” Storm got to do more than one picture for the album! He must have loved that.
While making the film over three years and spending a lot of time with Storm I decided the medium that might have worked best for him was one that got abandoned pretty quickly – the CDRom. In the architecture of a CDRom, he could have had multiple entries and exits to the imagery. It was really the epitome of a rhyzomatic form and Storm’s mind worked in those associative methodologies. I don’t think you can have the same type of pathways of information in an ebook or website with hidden buttons, etc.
In terms of the move from vinyl to CD to mp3, it’s terribly sad, not just for the music industry as it suffers financially but also how we all have lost a real social element that was in my mind very significant. The notion of sitting your friends down after dinner and spinning a record or loaning an LP to someone is completely lost with digital files and how music is now “shared.” We’ve given up what was a bonding tribal ritual for supposed convenience and consumption and moved from music unifying groups of people to the “I-Pod” and “I-phone.” Me. Me. Me. It’s the same with physical photo albums. My grandparents’ photo albums still exist and are on the shelf to pick up and look at, pictures that are 75 years old, but will the same hold true for all those hundreds of thousands of digital photos we’ve got on our hard drives? Unfortunately, I think not.
IFN: This may be an impossible question to answer but taking an album like “Dark Side of the Moon,” how much do you think the cover added to the mystique of the album? Do you think the album might have had a different reception if the cover had featured, say, a simple shot of the band on it? And by that I mean not an interesting shot like on Pink Floyd’s “UmmaGumma,” but just a plain still image of the band?
Bogawa: Pink Floyd, by the time they hit “Dark Side of the Moon,” had really abandoned the idea of an image of a band as its identifiable symbol so the graphic of the prism fit perfectly to this arc, and then certainly after the success of the record, it solidified this feeling. Their concerts had already taken on a larger than life aspect with the light show, quadraphonic sound, inflatable balloons and an octopus, so they were moving towards another type of spectacle in their live shows. Maybe it was the advent of “prog rock” that also influenced this shift, that the bands didn’t jump about much as they had to play rather complex riffs and runs, or their desire for people to listen to them live as if visiting a play or theater setting rather than a typical rock concert but any type of portrait is literally gone from the covers after “Piper at the Gates of Dawn” and “UmmaGumma.”
It’s hard to reconcile just why the prism is so perfect for the music contained in the record, or is it that it’s been ingrained in our collective consciousness to the point that we simply can’t separate the two? My memory is that it seemed very futuristic and I always thought of the prism as the monolith from Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, hence the black background of outer space, which was also re-enforced by the infra-red images of the pyramids in green looking like Mars. Our inability to immediately decode the prism in relation to the music is testament to its lasting impression in a way and it clearly looks absolutely fantastic on a t-shirt! I can’t say for sure if the reception of the album would have been different with an image of the band on the cover but I do think it would have tagged the lyrics about the music industry and madness too close to the band if there had been this type of design. With this reduced graphic, people can interpret the content more freely and associate some of the songs to Syd Barrett or the snippets of dialogue about violence and death from anyone, even the listener (Editor’s note: see also Storm Thorgerson’s design for Pink Floyd’s follow-up album to “Dark Side of the Moon,” “Wish You Were Here”). The cover also feels out of time and I do think this is one reason that the album has found its place over and over again with new generations of music lovers.
For more information on Roddy Bogawa and TAKEN BY STORM please visit: http://www.roddybogawa.com.
IN WINTER screened in 2017 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.
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 Losswhich 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?
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?
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 film's website: http://inwinterfilm.com
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 LADRONES (Spanish for “thieves”).
Mike Fishman for IndependentFilmNow (IFN): Where did the idea for Ladrones come from?
Brendan Rose: 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.
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.
IFN: How did you cast the film?
Rose: 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.
IFN: 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?
Rose: 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.
IFN: 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?
Rose: 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.
IFN: Did their getting caught by Joel mean anything to them? Where are they headed, future-wise, when they get off the train back home?
Rose: 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.
Filmmaker Brendan Rose (LADRONES, see review above) offers his picks of the best films for years 2016 and 2015.
2016 Best Film List - Brendan Rose
Well, the Academy has spoken (after a shambolic mix-up) and, I’m happy to report, the news is heartening: With MOONLIGHT emerging as the winner, the Oscar for Best Picture has actually gone to the top Anglo-American film of the year for only the second time in my life (along with Steve McQueen’s TWELVE YEARS A SLAVE in 2014). And I was born a while ago, which means that dozens of mediocre films have been honored with this prestigious award over the past few decades.
Aside from Barry Jenkins’s new classic, 2016 was, overall, a deep and powerful year in the movies. There were a series of memorable offerings across genres, in sci-fi, horror, coming-of-age, and even a spry musical of note (yes, LA LA LAND). But for me, the year was marked by a series of impressive auteurist dramas by some of world cinema’s still early-career innovators: Jenkins, Ade, Mendonça Filho, Hansen-Løve, Lanthimos, Larraín, Guadagnino. And the most outstanding of all this year, just a hint above Jenkins, would be the Colombian wunderkind Ciro Guerra, whose films are simply astonishing. I look forward to more features from all of these ambitious and talented filmmakers.
As with any year, there are promising films I have yet to see. With apologies to I, DANIEL BLAKE, 13TH, CERTAIN WOMEN, UNDER THE SHADOW, AMERICAN HONEY, HELL OR HIGH WATER, and many others, I present to you the 2016 list:
TOP TEN (in order):
EMBRACE OF THE SERPENT* (Ciro Guerra): This hypnotic and disturbing film, which details contact between European travelers and indigenous Amazonian communities in the first half of the 20th Century, is a sui generis masterpiece by one of the world’s most promising and inventive directors. There are shades of Heart of Darkness here, but with a stronger perspective afforded the local community than is evident in most works derivative of Conrad’s novella.
MOONLIGHT (Barry Jenkins): Jenkins’s second feature, based on Tarell Alvin McCraney’s play, is a magnificent piece of pure cinema, with its exceptional photography and pacing, but also a film anchored in textured, subjective storytelling, overwhelming with its aching pain, its deep tenderness. There are scenes of such beauty and sentiment (e.g., young Chiron being taught to swim by mentor Juan) that the scope and impact of this film continue to grow in my mind.
PATERSON (Jim Jarmusch): Jarmusch, now thirteen features in, is the most consistently stellar American film director of the past three decades. In this ode to verse, Jarmusch trains his camera on the basement poet-cum-bus driver played by Adam Driver, revealing his protagonist’s meditative daily rhythms as well as the post-industrial grace of rugged and worn Paterson, New Jersey. This sublime film’s only flaw: an underwritten part for Golshifteh Farahani as Driver’s partner.
AQUARIUS (Kleber Mendonça Filho): Sônia Braga captivates as a single, middle-age music critic who stands up to rapacious real-estate interests in Recife, Brazil by refusing to move out of her apartment, the last inhabited unit in a beachside building pegged for demolition and redevelopment. Mendonça Filho’s keen eye for social critique gives this complex character study a broader agenda.
TONI ERDMANN (Maren Ade): This jaunty, off-beat father-daughter comedic drama from one of Germany’s finest directors keeps the audience on its toes (what a housewarming party!) while likewise skewering the sheltered English-speaking business-consultant class who traipse about Bucharest, Romania like a nouveau white-collar capitalist-colonialist clique. Remember: Never leave home without your spare teeth!
THE MEASURE OF A MAN (Stéphane Brizé): Speaking of capitalism and its discontents, Brizé’s timely parable captures the pitiless professional drift of Thierry, a sacked factory worker in France, played with sensitivity by Vincent Lindon. This is the tale of one of the have-nots in this dog-eat-dog neoliberal economy; Thierry’s ‘rebound’ job as a security guard at a supermarket is both dispiriting and all-too symbolic.
MANCHESTER BY THE SEA (Kenneth Lonergan): Lonergan, one of the most important dramatists of his generation, constructs a quietly devastating film out of material that could, in the wrong hands, play as overwrought melodrama. Instead, buoyed by expert performances, he delivers an indelible piece of cinema, the sorrow and heartbreak of which remain palpable and resonant months later.
THINGS TO COME (Mia Hansen-Løve): Top-class French actress Isabelle Huppert was nominated for the Best Actress Oscar for the underwhelming ELLE, but her standout performance—and one of the few very best this year— was certainly in Things to Come, Hansen-Løve’s rich story of Huppert’s Nathalie, a philosopher who seeks new ways to imbue her life with purpose and meaning after a series of life-shocks.
MY GOLDEN DAYS (Arnaud Desplechin): This Proustian film of early love mesmerizes with its abundance of sharp, novelistic detail, its blending of the intellectual and the pop, its cross-decades expanse, its stinging wistfulness.
ARRIVAL (Denis Villeneuve): Few mainstream sci-fi flicks have delivered the goods like ARRIVAL. The assured Amy Adams paces this clever, taut film depicting a contact moment between humans and extraterrestrial life. Adams’s linguist-driven diplomacy and time-bending insight prevent carnage. One fault: the poorly-realized Jeremy Renner physicist character.
NEXT BEST FILM: THE WITCH (Robert Eggers): This bleak, eerie horror film is set on a Puritan homestead in 17th Century New England where a tangled, foreboding, and unknown forest beckons these new arrivals.
BEST DOCUMENTARY: I AM NOT YOUR NEGRO (Raoul Peck): One of the top films of the year. Peck’s tour-de-force is a sophisticated examination of racism in America via Baldwin’s own words from an unfinished manuscript.
HONORABLE MENTION (in alphabetical order): A BIGGER SPLASH (Luca Guadagnino); EDGE OF SEVENTEEN (Kelly Fremon Craig); FENCES (Denzel Washington); JACKIE (Pablo Larraín); LA LA LAND (Damien Chazelle); THE LOBSTER (Yorgos Lanthimos); SING STREET (John Carney).
*EMBRACE OF THE SERPENT was up for the Best Foreign Language Academy Award for 2015, but it did not premiere in New York until 2016, making it eligible for this list. Similarly, this year’s Foreign Language winner, Asghar Farhadi’s THE SALESMAN, which opened in New York in 2017, will be eligible for next year’s list.
2015 Best Film List - Brendan Rose
I am happy to report that 2015 was another vibrant, inspiring year for cinema. While the year’s film landscape may be dominated by the fairly stellar return of the galactic juggernaut better known as the STAR WARS franchise, the idiosyncratic, singular visions of a score of filmmakers would better represent the year’s achievements. From Mali to Mexico City to the South Side of Chicago, important films were made outside the Hollywood system and at a remove from genre conventions.
As we approach Oscar night, it should be noted that the nominees for the Academy Awards once again highlight how lacking in true diversity the industry remains. Whether it relates to which artists receive award nominations or, perhaps more important, which artists are supported in creating work, Hollywood remains a (straight) white boys’ club, one desperately in need of a greater variety of voices and perspectives.
As with any year, there were promising films I simply have not gotten to yet. To name a few: BROOKLYN, CREED, IN JACKSON HEIGHTS, SON OF SAUL, and TAXI, are 2015 movies I still look forward to viewing.
Without further ado, here is the 2015 film list:
TOP TEN (in order):
TIMBUKTU (ABDERRAHMANE SISSAKO): Sissako’s masterpiece looks at this famed multicultural city of learning and trade as it suffers during an occupation by fundamentalist invaders. The movie’s patchwork of incisive stories and its quietly poetic style demand a world of tolerance, humility, and forceful humanism.
THE ASSASSIN (Hou Hsiao-Hsien): Hou’s plot may at times confound, but this wuxia-inspired martial-arts flick set in medieval China brims with cinematic lyricism via textured, potent visuals and expert, tone-setting sound design. A consistently powerful lead performance by Shu Qi paces this elliptical, mesmerizing, dream of a film.
CAROL (Todd Haynes): Haynes’s astounds with this flawless, finely orchestrated love story of two women in a world (1950s New York City) not ready to accept who they are. The grainy, expressive Super 16mm cinematography of DP Edward Lachman reminds us that celluloid is far from dead.
THE REVENANT (Alejandro González Iñárritu): This is no perfect film — the third act feels too much like a Liam Neeson revenge vehicle — but it is undoubtedly a work of art, an epic-scale canvas detailing early 19th Century fur trappers and foreign armies overtaking the west, thereby destroying the cultures of indigenous America Indians and despoiling the natural environment.
MUSTANG (Deniz Gamze Ergüven): A well-crafted debut feature that serves up a classic tale of societal and generational conflict in provincial Turkey. Ergüven sustains the sort of originality of perspective and freshness of voice often lacking in such early-career films.
TANGERINE (Sean S. Baker): Baker’s exuberant, zany comedy about transgender prostitutes in Los Angeles functions as American independent films more often could — with non-traditional casting, crafty filmmaking, a nitty-gritty sense of its world, and, deep down, a big, generous heart.
EX MACHINA (Alex Garland): An expertly performed, dexterously executed sci-fi thriller set in the hermetically sealed, middle-of-nowhere palace/laboratory of a billionaire software CEO/mad scientist. Hitchcock meets Philip K Dick.
CHI-RAQ (Spike Lee): Lee’s re-imaging of Lysistrata to violence-plagued Chicago is at times overly campy and caricatured, but the film is likewise bold and humorous, inventive and necessary. Where are the other filmmakers confronting the scourge of gun violence?
THE END OF THE TOUR (James Ponsoldt): Jason Segel impresses as late writer David Foster Wallace, and Ponsoldt’s movie resurrects the art of conversation, embracing the power of its tête-à-tête, writer-on-writer bull sessions.
GÜEROS (Alonso Ruiz Palacios): The spirit of Godard is repurposed in Ruiz Palacios’s rollicking, clever coming-of-age picture set during a student protest in Mexico City, 1999. So many scenes stand out and remain with you, months later.
HONORABLE MENTION (in alphabetical order): THE BIG SHORT (Adam McKay); THE DIARY OF A TEENAGE GIRL (Marielle Heller); LOVE & MERCY (Bill Pohlad); SAND DOLLARS (Laura Amelia Guzmán & Israel Cárdenas); SPOTLIGHT (Tom McCarthy)
BEST GENRE FLICKS (not mentioned above): Creepy Thriller: GOODNIGHT MOMMY (Veronika Franz & Severin Fiala) Horror: IT FOLLOWS (David Robert Mitchell) Historical Drama: Bridge of Spies (Steven Spielberg) Sci-Fi: THE MARTIAN (Ridley Scott) Action-Adventure: EVEREST (Baltasar Kormákur) Action-Crime: BLACK MASS (Scott Cooper) Action-Geo-Political: SICARIO (Denis Villeneuve)
2014 Best Film List - Brendan Rose
As Voltaire wrote: “Le mieux est l’ennemi du bien.” The perfect is the enemy of the good. I take something similar away from the 2014 year in film: while the year was, I think, short on absolute masterpieces, 2014 constituted a varied, dynamic year in cinema, a year possessing a greater depth of high-quality offerings than almost any I remember. Just as Hollywood continued its obsession with war films and stodgy scientist-biopics (or combinations thereof), noteworthy auteurs took chances, creating idiosyncratic works of unique beauty, if not of hands-down perfection. Visually rigorous cinematography loomed large (WINTER SLEEP, LEVIATHAN, BIRDMAN, IDA, INHERENT VICE, amongst others) just as thoughtful romantic-relationship films impressed (LOVE IS STRANGE, TOP FIVE) and hipster vampires haunted our dreams (A GIRL WALKS HOME ALONE AT NIGHT, ONLY LOVERS LEFT ALIVE). But in the end, it was simple old solidarity which prevailed.
As with any year, there are some promising films I have not yet seen which may have easily found a place on this list. To name a few: MR. TURNER (Mike Leigh); MANAKAMANA (Stephanie Spray & Pacho Velez); STRAY DOGS (Tsai Ming-liang); CITIZENFOUR (Laura Poitras); FOXCATCHER (Bennett Miller).
Without further ado, here is the 2014 film list:
TWO DAYS, ONE NIGHT (Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne): Marion Cotillard paces this superb parable of the dog-eat-dog globalized economy as observed in rugged, industrial Belgium, with nearly every move by the brothers Dardenne coming off as pitch-perfect. Vive la solidarité!
WINTER SLEEP (Nuri Bilge Ceylan): This Palme d’Or winner may lack the mesmerizing mystery and poetry of Bilge Ceylan’s recent otherworldly effort, ONCE UPON A TIME IN ANATOLIA, but he astonishes here with this potent character study of a compromised, half-intellectual landowner in Cappadocia.
INHERENT VICE (Paul Thomas Anderson): Smoked up and dazed and confused, P.T. Anderson’s ode to Thomas Pynchon, shady crooks and corrupt cops, and early 70s Los Angeles druggie, beach and low-life cultures captivates with numerous stand-out scenes, consistently powerful imagery, and a pervasive moody, wistful tone.
GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL (Wes Anderson): Anderson, for the first time in years, insists on providing his finely cultivated cinematic menagerie with compelling stakes – in this case an interbellum Europe about to explode – and the result is a spry, sensitive work seeped in an undercurrent of sad, regret-soaked loss.
BOYHOOD (Richard Linklater): The annual installments of this twelve-year-in-the-making film ebb and flow in quality and interest, but the sum of these dozen vignettes is nothing short of outstanding in terms of the scope of Linklater’s accomplishment.
BIRDMAN (Alejandro González Iñárritu): This zany movie detailing a shambolic, doomed theatrical production helmed by a fallen action flick hero brims with punchy, unhinged energy. Its long tracking shots through tight backstage hallways and its tête-à-têtes in cramped dressing rooms dazzle.
IDA (Pawel Pawlikowski): A journey toward deeper self-identity leads a 1960s young Polish nun to learn of family secrets tangled in the tragic events of Europe’s recent past. Painterly camerawork, masterfully efficient writing.
LOVE IS STRANGE (Ira Sachs): A gem of a film, understated in its emotional intensity, precisely, subtly performed, and memorable for a poignant third-act ellipsis.
UNDER THE SKIN (Jonathan Glazer): A finely rendered, offbeat sci-fi thriller. Scarlett Johansson handles alien material perfectly as Glazer’s film becomes progressively more uncomfortable and bleak.
A GIRL WALKS HOME ALONE AT NIGHT (Ana Lily Amirpour): The most inventive American indie of the year is this Farsi-language, art-school-kid vampire movie, sardonic in tone, cleverly cultured, proudly singular in vision.
HONORABLE MENTION (in alphabetical order): LEVIATHAN (Andrey Zvyagintsev); ONLY LOVERS LEFT ALIVE (Jim Jarmusch); SELMA (Ava DuVernay); TOP FIVE (Chris Rock); WE ARE THE BEST! (Lukas Moodysson)
INSIDE YOU screened at the first Kew Gardens Festival of Cinema in August, 2017. Mike Fishman of IndependentFilmNow 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 two other feature scripts before INSIDE YOU and was still seeking to get my first 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 two 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?
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?
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)?
Fink: That’s right! I had cast two 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 three 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?
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?
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
EGGS AND SOLDIERS: Christian, a single Irish father, forgets to buy the tree on Christmas Eve. Ned the older son’s humanity is challenged as he risks everything to have his younger brother Marco experience a real Irish Christmas. The script for EGGS AND SOLDIERS was short listed for Sundance Institute | YouTube New Voices Lab. The film premiered in August 2016 at FLICKERS: Rhode Island International Film Festival.
IndependentFilmNow sat down with writer/director Imelda O’Reilly to discuss her short film EGGS AND SOLDIERS. The following are excepts of that interview.
Mike Fishman for IndependentFilmNow (IFN): Where did the story first come from about an Irish man living with his two sons from different mothers in New York City? Can you tell us about Christian’s backstory and his inner conflict as a man who has the potential for violence while at the same time we see him complain to a friend that his youngest son’s mother was hitting her son?
O’Reilly: The inspiration for EGGS AND SOLDIERS came from wanting to capture a silent explosion in the life of a teenage boy when finds himself in a moment of crisis where he has to make a difficult decision. Another inspiring image I had was of a teenage boy who couldn’t afford a tree on Christmas Eve. The third was stories I remember hearing as a child growing up in Ireland about people drinking too much at Christmas time causing family feuds to break out. The character of Christian is full of contradictions. I wanted to create a character that despite his flaws he still made the right moral decision when it came to being a father for his children. Christian has a violent rage that alternates with him playing the victim of his given circumstances and in rare moments he tries to be a loving father despite his failures. Yet his character also has this dark sense of humor. I also wanted to play around with the notion of an unreliable narrator, so when we hear Christian speak in the pub to his friend Mick the audience are unsure as to trust what he is saying about his younger son Marco’s mother. Christian is deeply wounded from his past and like a hungry wolf he searches the night for companionship or friends who will listen to his sob story. It is clear that Christian came from a broken home, and his deepest struggle is not to repeat the past and repeat the sins of his own father.
IFN: Color is obviously important to you. The palette of the film is muted favoring brown and grey until Ned, the older son, trades the gift he was going to give his girlfriend for a Christmas tree and things start to lift emotionally for Ned and we see Christmas lights, the tree seller sporting a red Santa cap, and even a red blanket draped over Christian, Ned’s father, asleep on a sofa at home. Can you tell us about your use of color and how that informs the viewer, on a conscious or subconscious level, about the emotional state of the characters?
O’Reilly: I wanted a gritty aesthetic for my film; Christian, the Dad, is scraping by a living ducking and diving social services, employment and also his apartment crisis. I wanted muted colors to show how their world is bleak, but also through the dialogue some humor is added intentionally which helps them pull through. The slow introduction of color as you artfully mention comes when Ned’s character manages to get a tree for the family toward the end of the film. By having the characters dress in muted colors helps give the film a visceral dimension to the characters making them more three dimensional as opposed to one dimensional. I am referencing the cinema of moral discontent and also the melodramatic tropes of realism. The internal world of the characters is communicated through the use of the camera as narrator.
IFN: Tell us about your choice of lenses and hand-held camera versus a mounted camera to give different scenes their urgency or a more observational feel.
O’Reilly: In filming EGGS AND SOLDIERS I wanted to be able to create two different visual styles for the film that would correspond to the two contrasting worlds that Ned, the main character, is caught between. I have a long working relationship with my cinematographer Joe Foley so we discussed at length the world of the characters. The film depicts Ned with an easy and amiable relationship with his younger brother Marco and also in a more contentious relationship with his father Christian. In order to have the audience have a better understanding of how Ned is feeling we used longer lenses with a more stable camera to portray the stability and ease with which Ned and Marco relate to each other.
I choreographed with the cinematographer longer panning shots of Ned as he moves along the street or Marco within the apartment to indicate the mostly pleasant and congenial world that they have created together. In contrast to that we used a handheld camera and wider lenses to show the less stable environment that is created when the father Christian is in the scene. At the beginning of the film when the three of them are riding in the car and then unpacking all the Christmas presents the camera is always moving following Christian’s sometimes erratic actions. This was done to illustrate the unease and instability that Christian’s personality is creating for his sons. They are not brought into their apartment and cared for, instead they are dropped off on the street corner and left-holding bags full of unwrapped presents and headed into an apartment with an empty refrigerator.
Later in the film I discussed with the cinematographer the choice of using a handheld camera during the confrontation scene between Christian and Ned. We used a shutter effect that was set to 45 degrees in order to give the scene a more jarring, disturbing feel. This ‘PRIVATE RYAN ‘ effect and the handheld camera help the audience feel more of Ned’s shock and terror at his father’s anger and violent outburst.
IFN: How long was the shot and how did you get the locations?
O’Reilly: The shoot was seven days. It was difficult enough to find the locations. However I decided to focus my locations around Inwood in Manhattan. Christian’s character is a super in a church but as he mentions briefly in the film he is being kicked out because the pastor is moving his daughter into his apartment. Again Christian’s character tends to play the victim. There is a Church on 181st on Bennet Avenue, which was a perfect location. At the time Northern Manhattan Arts Alliance had their offices there so I had to transform the space to look like an apartment where a family lived. I got a vanload of furniture through a connection that worked at Saturday Night Live, which was amazing. They gave us curtains, pictures and all the necessary pieces to build the set. Thank goodness for the New York community when it comes to indie filmmaking. The Christmas tree location was kindly given to us for free and they were very cordial in helping us make our film.
IFN: The film is set on Christmas Eve and unfolds over a few hours of time. How did you decide on the time frame and Christmas Eve?
O’Reilly: I wanted to use one central action to reveal character what Aristotle calls a “simple plot.” In JAWS the one central action is killing the shark and through this one central action the characters within the film are revealed. I wanted to depict a nuanced slice of life within a non-traditional family and this structure seemed to fit well for the film. I choose Christmas Eve because that is a time in Ireland when tension is high; there are a lot of expectations and usually a time when agro within the home or family feuds tend to break out. It seemed a good day to set the story of my film.
For more information visit: http://www.imeldaoreilly.com
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
How Women ‘Make it’ in Wall Street
In EQUITY (directed by Meera Menon), Anna Gaun plays Naomi Bishop – a lead advisor at a Private Equity (PE) firm that is handling a major Initial Public Offering (IPO) for a tech privacy company. The film shows the inner workings of Wall Street in a drastically different light. Written by Amy Fox, Alysia Reiner, and Sara Megan Thomas and directed by Meera Menon, one immediately understands that this new angle involves the question of women in Wall Street; something that remains an omission in most mainstream Hollywood films, if not all.
The plot centers round Naomi as she attempts to handle this major new deal and ‘make it rain’ in order to land a new promotion. Despite being the lead advisor for the firm, she is not promoted and her boss makes it explicit that top management doubt her. Naomi then sets out to make this deal the biggest Wall Street has ever seen. In the process Naomi displaces her frustration onto her young assistant Erin Manning (played by Sara Megan Thomas) who is also up for promotion and so has to hide the fact that she is pregnant in order to get it. She is caught dumping her alcoholic beverage in the bathroom sink and Naomi asks her how far along she is pregnant. Naomi tells Erin that she needs to suck it up, telling her not to upset their tech company client CEO ‘Ed’. A typical bro who dresses informally for his business meetings – reminiscent of Mark Zuckerberg’s lifestyle – Samuel Roukin as Ed plays the part assigned to him well, coming on hard to poor Erin who has to lightly nudge him when he forces himself on her whilst making out. Throughout the movie one cannot shake off that it is a reminder of Facebook’s own failed IPO. In fact, at one point in the movie as Naomi learns her Wall Street boyfriend – Michael Connor played by James Purefoy – is conspiring against her; she states that she is not going to be like Facebook, alluding to its failed IPO.
The irony of how Michael gets this insider trading information cannot be missed. As Naomi’s assistant, Erin is almost about to break because of all the pressure. She comes looking for her at Michael’s apartment but Naomi is not there. Michael starts to sweet talk her, getting the ball rolling and pouring her a drink. He uses Erin’s frustration of not getting a clear answer from Naomi about if she will get the promotion or not, and gets Erin to divulge the weaknesses of the tech company’s position, spilling the beans on a key weakness discovered during due diligence.
In the midst of this, Samantha, a lead investigator at the Security Exchanges Commission (SEC), investigates Michael Connor and learns he is seeing Naomi. She tries to muscle in on Naomi for information, an old classmate. As the plot thickens and revolves around these three women (Naomi, her assistant Erin, and the SEC investigator Samantha), one sees that in Wall Street it is not only a question of the top executive making it harder for the younger one, but that it carries a certain sting to it when it is done to a woman and displaced onto another much like how Naomi does that to Erin. What is new about EQUITY, isn’t that it brings women into the story of Wall Street. But that it shows that in this structure of money making, the injustices done to women are internalized such that these white women do it to other women just as much.
This is perhaps the one dimension missing in Wall Street, how these white women choose to be victims but that others do not even have that option and for them trying to change Wall Street is a foregone conclusion. Rather than aiming to ask why equal opportunity hiring or affirmative action perpetuates Wall Street’s chauvinism, white women are content to being equally exploited with their male colleagues. In the name of equality white women on Wall Street conveniently forget why they are the only recipients of affirmative action policies, rather than other women who are not white. For them It is not so much about changing Wall Street to being less exploitative, or less patriarchal, but about having their place in it at the expense of non-white women. Having internalized the Wall Street hierarchy and its rules all things go, and when one is a woman it becomes markedly different and more painful for women to work inside, but that in the name of equal opportunity these women have an onus on them to ‘make it’, to demonstrate that it is an equal space, in the process accepting to hide their marriage, or that the magnanimous young hot-headed ‘bro’ may inappropriately come on to the poor assistant. Such is the ‘cost’ of doing business and ‘making it’. Naomi tries to ‘make it’ against all odds and in the process she tramples over other women and displaces what was done to her to others as part of a ritual. Samantha the SEC investigator who comes so close to unraveling the insider trading plot in the end fails and accepts a Wall Street job.
Samantha the SEC investigator who comes so close to unraveling the insider trading plot in the end fails and accepts a Wall Street job. When she is asked in her interview why she wants the job she gives a generic answer about wanting to spend more time with her family and her female partner, but seeing the interviewer’s surprise she changes her answer. She gives the same one the movie opens with, the answer Naomi gave. Women should not feel dirty that they want to make money, or that making money is a bad thing. It is OK to love money.
That is precisely the story of EQUITY, how in the name of making it one gives up their dreams and instead learns to love to make money, hurt others and do what was done to them to the next unsuspecting incoming young executive, even if they are a woman. In fact, especially if they are a woman so that they learn the ropes of Wall Street faster.
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.
DARK MERIDIAN screened at the Kew Gardens Film Festival on August 9, 2017.
Visit the IMDB page: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt5846628/
The 2016 Big Apple Film Festival came and went in a flurry of activity and kudos once again to founder and director Jonathan Marc Lipp for an ever-growing and impressive fest. I’ve been attending since 2010 and it’s been remarkable to watch this small festival blossom and expand during its annual one-week run.
The evening of short films I attended was literally standing room only and I was lucky to get a cozy aisle seat in the back of the beloved Village East Cinemas, although the screening did not take place in their historic Yiddish theater auditorium, which if you haven’t been to, as soon as you’re done reading this go buy a ticket to whatever film they’re showing there, it will be worth it just to gaze at the ornate decorations before the lights dim. As my schedule this year allowed me to only catch one program, I settled on a Saturday afternoon of seven narrative films, hoping that most if not all would be entertaining and of high quality, and I was not disappointed in the least. Each film, running from 4 minutes to 26 minutes, was carefully crafted and lovingly made and the program, ranging from serious drama to light-hreated comedy, made for a thoughtful, enjoyable journey with the audience responding often as one, a sad sigh here, a loud laugh there.
First up was Cara Consilvio‘s CIT, about two female teenage counsellors-in-training at a summer camp, close friends, one of whom is tasked with keeping the news of the other’s father’s death until her mother can arrive to break the news herself. It’s a touching mini portrait of a friendship between two girls on the cusp of adulthood and tragedy. Consilvio brings out the best in the two young actresses and creates moments in which their friendship is allowed to breathe through shared laughs, quiet reflection, and uncertainty. This was followed by the even more serious IMMUNITY, from director Alyn Darnay,set in 1942 Auschwitz where a young SS Officer faces his once beloved teacher, a Jew who now finds that her most prized pupil has become her tormentor. It’s a cat and mouse game between the two where the question is whether the young man is going to spare the middle-aged woman who has been separated from her family and who almost certainly have been gassed. Things lightened considerably with Kyle C. Mumford’s JAMIE AND JONATHAN, a comedy about a suicidal writer (an all-too-familair theme most writers should recognize) who gets a second chance at being the father he never was to his young son he has no relationship with when he is tasked with driving the boy to a funeral. On paper, this may not sound like a comedy, or perhaps only a dark comedy, but Mumford keeps things light and airy with the father and son shared afternoon and car ride interrupted humorously (the boy wetting his pants when his father won’t stop to let him use the bathroom, the the two bonding over making pancakes) until very close to the end when it’s revealed that the funeral is for the boy’s mother. That this doesn’t descend into mawkishness is testament to Mumford’s direction and writing.
Next up, my personal favorite of the program, Tom Cassese’s CONCURRENCE, whose logline reads: In the final moments before an apocalyptic catastrophe, six people come to terms with their impending doom. That the film runs only four minutes and succeeds beautifully in presenting a doomsday situation through the last actions of just six individuals with virtually no dialogue is proof that brilliant filmmaking can be realized with an extremely brief running time and extremely small budget if the heart, soul, writing and talent are in place. This was followed by Humberto Guzman’s BASED ON TRUE EVENTS, about a writer whose obsession with her story alienates her from her husband, and that gave the audience an unexpected twist. Speaking of twists, the next film, Christonikos Tsalikis’s I AM HERE is defined by its twist, centering on a young man who begins texting with a woman who lived in the house he just moved into and who may or may not be a ghost. The program ended on a decidedly comedic tone with Cinder Chou’s THE MAN WITH THE WESTERN HAT, an amusing romp about a woman in Brooklyn who has strange encounters with a mysterious handsome stranger/cowboy. It made for a bright tone to end the evening of short films that, in their own unique ways, ran the gamut of serious introspection to light-hearted comedy.
“Gorgeous” was my first thought when I viewed the trailer for the new film BLANCANIEVES, the Spanish reworking of The Brothers Grimm tale, Snow White. Written and directed by Pablo Berger, it is a black and white silent film in which the actors delivered their performances so beautifully, I barely acknowledged the title cards. I found it amusing that I was automatically lip-reading because I speak Spanish.
In works of art and films that I love, my one demand is that I have to FEEL and do so strongly. There is no lukewarm or tepid. NO. I’m not a fan of in-between. I must feel deeply and passionately. Snow White has been retold so many times that knowing the story, I felt not much more could be told or expressed. I was so wrong. From beginning to end, I was lost in this hypnotic version as never before.
I was immediately drawn to it because of the cultural and time era elements. I love silent films, the 1920’s setting and the Spanish culture, which is close to my heart. I loved the passionate Flamenco score punctuating every emotion both so beautifully and heartwrenchingly painful throughout. Not a lot of films stay with me, but this one did without question. THE ARTIST, 2011’s black and white 1920’s era silent gem, was another favorite of mine. I was pleasantly surprised to find that BLANCANIEVES takes elements of what I already loved about THE ARTIST even further. It is by no means a copy, but an additional and welcome homage to the art of silent film. The cinematography is entrancing, darker and more intense, it consistently keeps pulling you in until the end.
There was no question I needed to see this film, and afterwards I left with such strong emotions. It is at times morbid, dark and twisted with a sprinkling of deviance but it is always beautiful. The darkness and intensity was always present, but lifted and lowered with seamless timing, never feeling forced.
This version is set and opens in 1920’s Sevilla, Spain where we find Carmen de Triana (Inma Cuesta) and her husband Antonio Villalta (Daniel Giménez Cacho) the famous bullfighter. Carmen is pregnant and watching her husband in the ring where he is gored, which sets the story in motion. Moving forward, their daughter Carmencita (Sofía Oria), is now motherless and subsequently raised by her grandmother from birth. Her father re-marries a heartless, vain and sadistic woman who is bent on controlling every aspect of his life to her convenience. As a little girl Carmencita, has a difficult journey. She does not know her father until several years later when she is taken to live in his house, but he is hidden from her by her evil stepmother who despises Carmencita. This is where she sees the darker side of life, a stark contrast to her life with her loving grandmother, Doña Concha ( Ángela Molina).
This time for Carmencita is riddled with pain and torment, but she is ultimately able to re-connect briefly with the father she knew of, but never knew before. For a moment, their loving relationship blooms and transcends any pain and sadness outside of it. His spirit is renewed and she learns valuable lessons from him which will serve her later. Their brief time together gives her the strength and knowledge she will call upon when she needs it most. I feel the true heart of this story is her relationship with her father Antonio
Several years later “Carmencita” is now a young woman and referred to as Carmen. Due to tragic and horrific circumstances she finds herself alone. Carmen/Blancanieves (Macarena García) is found and befriended by a troupe of dwarves who perform in bullfighting arenas. Her connection to this is immediate and natural, and she comes into her own finding her calling in working with them. All the while, her stepmother Encarna played to evil and over the top perfection by Maribel Verdú, follows her career from afar with malicious intentions.
The dwarves are at times humorous, dark and conflicted, but also deliver touching performances as Carmen’s/Blancanieves caretakers. With them, she finds somewhere she belongs at a time she has no one else. Ultimately, we reach the conclusion we are familiar with, but it is delivered here in such an atypical beautifully sublime manner. I appreciated all of this film’s visual quirks and nuances which are jewels to be discovered. We are shown the spectrum of the beauty and ugliness of life. We also see that love, hope, determination and inner strength even at our lowest counts for much much more than we may think.
Some may see it as piggybacking on a trend/novelty (black and white, silent film, 1920’s) but this movie is strong all on its own. I just choose not to be that jaded. Absolutely gorgeous and haunting, the beauty of BLANCANIEVES was not lost on me.
Mike Fishman recently sat down with Alberto Caviglia to discuss the Italian filmmaker’s latest film, the comedy mockumentary PECORE EN ERBA, English title BURNING LOVE.
Mike Fishman for IndependentFilmNow (IFN): Where did the idea first come from to make a film about anti-Semitism? Has anti-Semitism been on the rise in Italy?
Alberto Caviglia (AC): The idea of BURNING LOVE arrived after quite a long time in which I was questioning myself and looking for a new way to talk about anti-Semitism. My research began because I started to feel that the common ways of telling stories about anti-Semitism were losing their impact because prejudice is so pervasive and because I think it is a very delicate theme with many taboos. I don’t know if anti-Semitism is rising in Italy, but I think it is evolving and we need to be careful and aware to recognize its different shapes.
IFN: Why did you decide to make a comedy, and at that, a mockumentary? Were there certain jokes or areas of humor that you decided not to explore during the writing or filming? Were there scenes or moments that you filmed that you decided to leave out of the finished film?
Caviglia: I think that using a satirical point of view, it was something that could make this film different because I wanted to use comedy as a weapon to face anti-Semitism instead of using it just for laughs. I didn’t want to have limits but at the same time I was aware that I had to be very careful using satire with such a delicate theme. I cut some scenes at the end of the shooting, but only because I wasn’t happy about how they come out or because I considered them superfluous, and never because they were “too much.”
IFN: What has the reaction been like? How have Jewish audience members in general reacted?
Caviglia: Reactions were really different, including in italy at the many screenings that I attended. I was happy to see people understood the main intent (and humor) of the film abroad, in France, Russia, Sweden, and also Germany where people seemed very struck by the film. Jewish audience members have felt the most direct emotional impact but I think they also mostly enjoyed the movie. They are so involved in the topic that it is almost impossible to have an impartial discussion about the film with them.
IFN: How did you fund the film? How long was the shoot? Were there particular challenges to making a mockumentary?
Caviglia: The shooting lasted about 5 weeks. It was very intense because I had about 340 scenes in the script. It was really hard to shoot all of them and in some cases I had to give up if I wanted to repeat different takes because otherwise I would never get through all my scenes. Post-production as well was a real challange in order to finish it in time for the Venice Film Festival. I edited it with my editor Gianni Vezzosi in less than one month and a half, working day and night…I think we needed at least one more month but we did a kind of miracle finishing it on time!
IFN: What is the status of the film? Has it been picked up for distribution and will it run in theaters? Do you have plans to stream it?
Caviglia: We don’t yet have any foreign distribution and I hope to find that. In the meantime, the movie is on iTunes and it is available on DVD (https://www.amazon.it/Pecore-Erba-DVD-Davide-Giordano/dp/B01FOSM33Y). It would be really nice to have it streaming as well. I will let you know.
The following is from an e-mail interview I did with legendary actor Burt Reynolds about the new documentary, THE BANDIT, an inside view of the friendship between Burt and stuntman extraordinaire and SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT director Hal Needham. Thanks to Todd Vittum for coordinating this exclusive interview.
Mike Fishman for IndependentFilmNow: How did you and Hal Needham meet? What led to you becoming such close lifelong friends?
Burt Reynolds: We met on the set of HAVE GUN WILL TRAVEL. He was doubling Dick Boone and was already in demand on many shows. I was on the studio lot and doing RIVERBOAT but my day was short so I would see what some of the other shows were doing. Later he doubled me on my show.
IndependentFilmNow: How did Hal come to direct SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT? Did he write it specifically for yout?
Burt Reynolds: He didn’t say that but I think he did. It was the studio that told him if you can get your roomie, we can do it.
IndependentFilmNow: What was the most challenging stunt you and Hal devised?
Burt Reynolds: The car canon in McQ – it was supposed to flip over twice – Hal used too much black powder and it flipped more than a dozen times.
IndependentFilmNow: Where did the idea for the film THE BANDIT come from? Was director Jesse Moss (THE OVERNIGHTERS, FULL BATTLE RATTLE, SPEEDO) involved from the start?
Burt Reynolds: He’s big in the documentary world – it was his idea from the start. I opened up my archives and did a few days of interviews and we just got along so well. He’s a good one.
IndependentFilmNow: What other screenings are coming up (Note: THE BANDIT screened in March 2016 to enthusiastic crowds at SXSW)?
Burt Reynolds: We’re showing the film at Nashville, San Francisco and a few other festivals.
Follow THE BANDIT.
Review by Mike Fishman
I saw this film at the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival and happy to see it is getting some well-deserved attention. The latest film written and directed by Adam Rifkin and starring Burt Reynolds as Vic Edwards, an octogenarian actor who travels to the International Nashville Film Festival to accept a Lifetime Achievement Award. The problem is, this is the (fictional) International Nashville Film Festival, not the much-admired and very real Nashville Film Festival and Edwards finds himself facing a mixed crowd of about 40 people (to their credit enthusiastic fans) in the backroom of a bar with a projector and a make-shift film screen. Some expected clichés are in evidence: the rundown motel room the festival booked for him; a drunken Edwards lashing out at at the festival staff; the protagonist in need of saving doing some saving himself; even a reconciliation with an old lover who has Alzheimer’s but who peers out clear-eyed from her cloudy mind at the right moments. But the quality of acting and the level of commitment from Burt Reynolds and co-star Ariel Winter as Lil, his reluctant, nose-ring wearing caretaker/chauffeur for the duration of the festival, bring to their roles make most scenes utterly believable and the film as a whole ultimately moving.
Rifkin (whose previous work ranges from the comedy Detroit Rock City to the gritty Night at the Golden Eagle) wrote the screenplay specifically for Reynolds. And one can see why the actor, reportedly looking for one last great role, would be game for boring deeply into the semi-autobiographical storyline. The film embraces the aging process with Reynolds, 81 years old himself, staring directly into the camera, and then humorously yet pointedly engaging his younger self in conversation in scenes from his actual films Smokey and the Bandit and Deliverance, generally to warn him about the quick passage of time. It makes for a fascinating unveiling of a fictional life reflected by the actor’s real life. Shot differently, the film could have been a mockumentary.
Along the way we are treated to snapshots of Reynolds in his prime: spraying a can of whipped cream down Johnny Carson’s pants; conducting interviews in his trademark winking, self-deprecating style; and even his infamous nude pose for Cosmopolitan magazine, which the director interestingly utilizes onscreen while Lil soaks in a huge bathtub. Happily, the film goes nowhere near a romantic entanglement between the two, saving the real relationship complexities for a reunion with Claudia, his first of five wives (!), played by Kathleen Nolan. Vic and Lil “rescue” his now wheel-chair bound ex-lover from her nursing home, hurriedly wheeling her out to freedom with the staff nearly chasing after them. They take her to the picturesque spot where Vic had proposed to her decades and a lifetime ago. If this particular sequence sounds predictable, it is to a degree, but Reynolds’ palpable regret and Nolan’s unadorned responses make for a truly poignant and affecting scene. That such a powerful moment can occur within such a familiar framework is part of the magic of movies and the film gains impressive momentum and succeeds beyond expectation at ruefully portraying a man nearing the end of his road, lamenting the passage of time.
I love being pleasantly surprised. I especially love a surprise when it involves creativity and passion. This was the case when I was invited to a screening of Sophia Takal’s film GREEN at the Museum of Modern Art. The focus of the film is the jealous nature of Genevieve, played by Kate Lyn Sheil, whose jealousy steadily begins to consume her. I attended the screening knowing very little of the film, but left wanting to know everything. It is one thing to leave a film only questioning the film and another thing to question yourself. GREEN is both, it grips you while you watch it and haunts you long afterward.
Genevieve and her fiancé Sebastian played by Lawrence Michael Levine, Takal’s fiance in real life, are a young couple who move from the city to the country. The move is Sebastian’s decision and it’s clear that he is the one calling the shots. The change of environment brings at first subtle changes and subsequently role reversals. It feels as if the introduction of nature brings out the primitive and not so prim and discreet behaviors witnessed in their city life. Genevieve and Sebastian meet a young local named Robin, played by Takal herself. Robin both wittingly and unwittingly shakes up the couple’s relationship. The presence of Robin as the imagined rival to Genevieve becomes integral to Genevieve’s awakening. Genevieve’s previous passive aggressive personality now has Robin as a catalyst to express what before was hidden. The effect of the film is strong even when it is being subtle; the simmering frustration of a look or seemingly simple scene that speaks volumes with its body language and symbolism.
The subject of jealousy has been visited many times before in other films, but Takal makes it personal, intimate and awkward. Those who do not or have ever felt jealousy on the level of Genevieve’s character, cannot know how painful it is. Personally, I can attest to the pain, and thus could easily empathize. I admire Ms. Takal’s bravery in addressing the issue of jealousy because she is taking something so personal and sharing it with us. For those outside looking in on a jealous woman’s behavior, it can be easy to label it as “crazy.” It may be simple to label what you cannot comprehend, but upon closer investigation there are many layers and subtleties. Full blame in this case placed entirely on the jealous woman is not the entire story. In our real lives it also deserves a respectful and compassionate understanding. I have always known jealousy to be a highly controversial topic from it’s minimal to full blown expression. Some people may defend it and some may be against it, but none of us have escaped feeling it. The motivations may vary greatly, but the emotion is universal. Jealousy does not “just appear” out of nowhere and it is important to know where it stems from. Jealousy is defined by being fearful of losing something or someone you value to a rival. It can be trivialized, hidden, shameful or denied among other things, but cannot be eliminated. It can take hold of you at your best moments and when you least expect it. Sometimes the object of your affection can benignly or purposely trigger it by doing or not doing something.
After the screening in a Q&A session with Ms. Takal that also included her fiancé Mr. Levine, she spoke candidly and at times humorously of her personal experience with jealousy. They both shared how they have worked through it and continue to, putting a welcome positive spin on it. GREEN causes you to examine how jealousy plays a role in your relationships. It will push your buttons without hitting you over the head. Jealousy may be uncomfortable and taboo to some, but Ms. Takal confronts it with courage in the face of uncertainty. She serves as a medium to uncover this powerful emotion in an effort to find freedom in its expression. We may not get every answer we are looking for, but sometimes just being able to ask the questions is what we need. Thank you, Ms. Takal.
Take Me Home (2011) is a terrific indie road trip/romantic comedy well worth seeking out as a satisfying example of how much can be done with a limited budget. The one issue that must be overcome is a moment of stretched credulity that, challengingly, the plot hinges upon. Claire (Amber Jaeger), having just caught her husband flirting with his secretary on a particularly rough day, hails a cab in Manhattan, impulsively tells the driver to “just drive,” and falls asleep, emotionally exhausted. Taxi driver Thom (writer/director Sam Jaegar), who’s been kicked out of his apartment, his not so wordly possessions crammed in the car’s trunk, is more than happy to oblige. So drive he does, until the wee hours of the morning when a not-quite horrified Claire wakes in the cab cruising along the highway outside Pittsburgh. If the film followed the rules of actual life, this is where Claire would get on her cell phone and call the police. Instead, after a brief mild freak-out, she decides to have him drive her all the way to California where her estranged father lies dying in a hospital; Claire is afraid of flying though she makes an attempt at it by having Thom drive her to the airport where she’s unable to force herself to buy a ticket.
Claire and Thom haggle over the price and she agrees to pay him five thousand dollars for the cross-country cab ride; the plot hinges upon this moment and it does stretch believability but it’s plot medicine that goes down easily thanks to the easy chemistry between the leads, a married couple in real life. Sam Jaegar, with his chiseled chin and long face, conveys a less-confident Aaron Eckhart while Amber Jaegar has a fierceness and striking beauty that would be at odds with her character’s frequent crying jags if not for her strong acting chops. Her annoyed looks at Thom are film gold that undoubtedly come from the comfort level this real-life couple bring to the screen. Both actors excel at utilizing their eyes and facial expressions to subtly convey emotion and annoyance with each other to humorous effect.
The film is full of road trip humor and a few tense scenes such as when Claire, herself dosing, wakes to find Thom asleep at the wheel on the highway in the middle of the night. She takes over driving though she does not have a driver’s license and they both wake in the car hours later, Claire herself having fallen asleep at the wheel, the car having drifted safely far off the road into the rural countryside and now out of gas. It’s at once a moment of humility for the angry Claire and an opportunity for the two to bond in a not-unexpected moment in the cold night when Thom shares his jacket with Claire to keep her warm. That’s a nice touch, Thom sharing his coat but not giving it entirely to Claire, speaking volumes about their wary relationship at that point.
Predictability is always a hurdle for rom-coms to overcome and Take Me Home hits a few typical road bumps such as Thom being a photographer who can’t get a break, taking photos along the way including of a reluctant Claire which we just know are going to show up meaningfully at the end, as they do in a coffee-table book of his work Thom somehow gets published. What’s remarkable about this film, at heart a romantic comedy with a healthy handful of tender moments, is how co-star/writer/director Sam Jaeger keeps it uncertain, up until the very end, as to whether these two frustrated and conflicted souls will come together. Along the way we get lots of feistiness and tension between the two, and a few moments that are both funny and touching, especially when accomplished supporting actors Lin Shaye, as Claire’s slightly loopy mother, and Victor Garber and Christine Rose as Thom’s uptight father and bizarrely cheerful mother, are introduced late in the film. By then, we’ve come to care about these two imperfect individuals and it’s enlightening to finally have some light shed on where they come from and how they got to where they are. It’s part of the journey of this road trip film, one well worth taking.
Visit the website to view the trailer and download Take Me Home digitally: http://www.takemehomemovie.com/