Posts in Film Festivals

“Care To Laugh” An Interview with Director Julie Getz

December 5th, 2018 Posted by Film Festivals, Interviews 0 thoughts on ““Care To Laugh” An Interview with Director Julie Getz”

(This article is from FF2 Media which is temporarily unavailable.)

“Care To Laugh” has been creating laughter through the love of caregiving across the country at film festivals as it gathers not just awards but the praise of everyone who sees it. As it continues to DOC NYC, the AARP Studios film is using this medium to tell personal stories that touch us all. In “Care to Laugh,” comic Jesus Trejo balances his life each and every day as he cares for his elderly parents and perfects his art as a comedian in Los Angeles. It’s a difficult balancing act, but it’s one that Trejo knows is helping his parents age gracefully, acknowledging that while a few sacrifices are made on the professional front, it’s only right to give back to his parents who sacrificed for him. Director Julie Getz partners with Executive Producer of AARP Studios Jeffrey Eagle to tell Trejo’s inspiring story filled with relatable humor and love.

I had the opportunity to sit down with Getz, Eagle, and Trejo recently in Chicago as the film also screened as the opening night film of the Chicago Comedy Film Festival. Their admiration for one another and their hopes for this film and more from AARP comes shining through with hope and positivity.

Pamela Powell (PP): Julie, I understand this is your first feature film that you’ve directed. Tell me about your background and working with AARP.

Julie Getz (JG): My experience in the TV and film business is that I was a documentary producer for about 16 years for outlets like Discovery Channel, National Geographic, PBS, a lot of the big Washington, D.C. outlets there About 2 years ago, I took a job at AARP studios with Jeffrey Eagle, we used to work together, back in the day, and I’m the Director of Development for AARP Studios. I focus on TV and film and podcasts. When we met him (Jesus) and we decided as a group that this was something we were going to pursue, Jeffrey entrusted me and the team to direct this film!

PP: With documentary filmmaking, I’m assuming you didn’t know how the story was going to turn out.

JG: What we knew when we first met Jesus is that he had an incredible story that we knew we wanted to share with the world and we knew we had some bits and pieces of information, right? It was decided that, let’s follow him. It just naturally unfolded as things came up in his life. As documentary filmmakers you want to be flies on the wall and we don’t want to intrude too much. You want to just let it happen and then just document his day to day activities and his relationship with his family. … It’s his story as his journey unfolds.

PP: What was one of the most surprising elements in filming this story?

JG: Just how incredible of a human being Jesus Trejo is and we felt so special and honored to be a part of this. Here he is juggling all these responsibilities and again, you see in the film, you can tell he’s got grit. He’s tenacious. He puts his foot on the accelerator and he doesn’t let up. He goes full throttle…for the love of his parents, for his career, and he knows that the stakes are high. Just to be a part of that and to tell his story in a way of how he did it, how it came across in the film …and then capturing those funny, light moments as well. I think we had that balance when we were putting all the pieces together, when you come back and look at all the footage, how do we tell this story, when to take a deep dive in, when to come out. I feel like how it all unfolded is the best way. … and hopefully it resonates with people.

PP: What do you hope people will take away from the film and what have you seen so far after screenings?

JG: With any project that I do, from a filmmaker’s perspective, is that I always want people to learn something, something they didn’t know before. … And for this film, that they walk away and learned something … and they know where to go, what to do. … AARP, they’ve got the resources, the caregiving guide, and again, the groups, so people don’t feel like they’re alone.

…After the films, we walk out of the theater, people are coming up to us, they’re sharing their stories of how they just recently lost their parents or how they were caregivers for their parents and they didn’t know that AARP was in the caregiving business or that we’re actively involved in caregiving. That’s just to us a huge opportunity, being out there, letting people know where to go, what to do that you’re not alone, giving people direction to find a support system. Again, the whole point of this film is for people to walk away and be inspired and be engaged. If you’re not a caregiver, you eventually will be one day or you will be taken care of. If you know someone right now, pick up the phone and call them and help them out.

Of course, at the conclusion of our interview, I began to share my own caregiving tales, relating to Trejo’s road trip as I crashed through a toll gate in Ohio only to look in the rear view mirror to see my mother who had dementia, laughing out loud at what happened. As Trejo said, this film and its topic is the “universal truth,” one which we all know and understand.

“Care to Laugh” will play at the DOC NYC Film Festival on Wednesday, Nov. 14 and Thursday, Nov. 15. For ticket information, go to DOCNYC

“Care to Laugh” An Interview

November 23rd, 2018 Posted by Film Festivals, Interviews 0 thoughts on ““Care to Laugh” An Interview”

“Care to Laugh,” a documentary from AARP Studios, addresses the issues behind caregiving while making us laugh. The laughter (and tears) are thanks to the comic genius and candor of the film’s subject, Jesus Trejo. The film recently screened as part of both the Chicago Comedy Film Festival and DOC NYC and while in Chicago, I had the pleasure of sitting down with Trejo, director Julie Getz, and Vice President and Executive Producer of AARP Studios Jeffrey Eagle. Their excitement about the film and the future of sharing experiences relating to aging using film as the medium was infectious. Enjoy their insights and be sure to put this film on your list to see when it’s released in 2019.

Pamela Powell (PP): Jesus, what was your initial thought when you were approached about doing this documentary?

Jesus Trejo (JT): I was very flattered to know that they wanted to consider me to be the subject of a documentary film. I know they had done a project before with Don Rickles, but this was the first documentary feature length that AARP was doing. It came about because I met the awesome people at AARP, Jeffrey Eagle, Julie Getz and the crew … at an event that happened at the Hollywood Improv that AARP put on for caregivers and the headliner was Jim Breuer and I opened for that show. That’s when we got to know each other and they knew about my story. And then sometime later they wanted to have a similar event in NY and they reached out and I couldn’t do it. That was when I was at a fork in the road with comedy and caregiving and they found out more of the story and they thought this was a story worth telling.

PP: What was your parents’ reaction to doing this?

JT: It was definitely difficult for my parents. We definitely took some days before we got back to AARP because … explain to your immigrant parents that there are going to be cameras on us for a year. Wait. What? It’s hard to digest. Pretend like they’re not there. And my dad was like, ‘They are there. I can see them.’ … It was difficult for my parents. It was difficult for me. … It was difficult but fun.

PP: Jeffrey, I had no idea that AARP was making feature films.

Jeffrey Eagle (JE): AARP has had studios in the Washington, D.C. for about 10 years … We did this event at the Hollywood Improv back in December of 2016 and AARP, as you know, is the largest non-profit organization in America- 38 million members- [and] caregiving is a focus. … It’s often seen as an end of life story as opposed to just a life story… when we started digging into the research … caregivers want two things. They want time and they want to laugh. Time and laughter. So we thought why don’t we have something that gives caregivers time. Well, that would be a night out. And what could we do that would make them laugh? How about a comedy show? And oh, by the way, who’s telling the jokes? Wouldn’t it be great if the comics were caregivers? Jim Breuer’s a caregiver. Jesus is a caregiver. Caregiving has ups and downs. There’s intense love of family and love of craft and hard knocks of rejection and hard knocks of health. The film is able to be in those places and dip in and dip up and take the valleys and the peaks with laughter and light. And that’s what I think we’ve done. AARP studios, we are about making these big issues, fraud, and caregiving and health and financial matters, personal and that’s what we’ve done with this film. … We want to do more stories like this.

PP: Julie, what was most surprising to you, as a director, in making this film?

Julie Getz (JG): Just how incredible of a human being Jesus Trejo is … Here he is juggling all these responsibilities and again, you see in the film, you can tell he’s got grit. He’s tenacious. He puts his foot on the accelerator and he doesn’t let up. He goes full throttle. … capturing those moments that can often be hard and sad and challenging and then capturing those funny, light moments as well. I think we had that balance when we were putting all the pieces together…

PP: Jesus, what do you hope people will take away from this film?

JT: After seeing it a couple times, I’m reminded of this quote that Galileo said, “The only constant thing in life is change.” And seeing that that was a picture of a moment in time, things change and we just have to accept change. Change doesn’t necessarily have to be a negative or a positive thing. It’s just change. … And looking back I almost think of what was happening in that moment and it’s like oh man, that was heavy, but then it wasn’t half as heavy as what I dealt with last month or the previous month or now. It just puts things into perspective …

PP: We Baby Boomers are aging and taking care of their parents and our children will be in the same boat in the next 20 years. I see other studios also addressing the issue of aging as Elizabeth Chomko’s film did in “What They Had.”

JE: … Blythe Danner and Hilary Swank are on the cover of our magazine right now. … November is National Caregiving Month. … The power of film is limitless, as you know, because this is your world as much as it is ours, but I think it’s just the way people are engaging with media with stories. We’re visual story tellers. We’re trying to bring these issues to life [and] finding characters that feel real. … As I said, this wonderful, magical documentary came out of a simple question “What do caregivers want? Time and Laughter.

PP: Julie, what do you hope viewers gain from watching “Care to Laugh?”

JG: With any project that I do, from a filmmaker’s perspective, is that I always want people to learn something, something they didn’t know before…to be almost shocked. And for this film, that they walk away … they know where to go, what to do. And that’s why AARP, they’ve got the resources, the caregiving guide, and again, the groups so people don’t feel like they’re alone.

PP: Jesus, any other thoughts you’d like to share?

JT: Family’s first. Everything else will always be there. Family, you get one shot at it. Make sure they’re taken care of. Like comedy, comedy will always be there. I did and I’m doing the right thing. I’m helping them age gracefully.

PP: How are your parents doing now?

JT: They’re hanging in there. Some days are bettter than others, but over all I’m just happy to have a second chance with both of them. Things are going well.

Eagle shared statistics with me that are remarkable, reminding me that while I have had aging parents and continue to help my father-in-law as he ages, we aren’t alone in this boat. According to Eagle, there are 40 million unpaid family caregivers which probably affects you or someone you know. AARP, through the medium of film, helps us all relate and understand, but even more importantly, it’s a resource of information and support.

To learn more about this film, go to “Care to Laugh.”

The filmmakers behind “Patrimonio” at DOC NYC

November 16th, 2018 Posted by Film Festivals, Interviews, Review 0 thoughts on “The filmmakers behind “Patrimonio” at DOC NYC”

Each and every year at DOC NYC Film Festival, the films are extraordinary, providing insight and knowledge about topics, many of which were previously unknown. This year, we have a classic David versus Goliath tale in Baja Sur Mexico thanks to the dedicated talent and determination of filmmakers Sarah Teale and Lisa F. Jackson with their film “Patrimonio.” The film takes us on a journey located in a quaint Mexican seaside village, Todos Santos, where American investors attempted to not only create a vacation paradise, but also destroy a way of life for local residents. This David versus Goliath story is filled with surprise twists and turns as we peel away the layers of political corruption spurned by greed. With devastating environmental consequences, the town, initially set into division, bands together, reminding us all of the power of persistence, knowledge, and belief in doing what’s right for the right reasons. It’s one of the most inspiring and gripping tales of how sometimes money can’t buy everything.

I had the pleasure of talking with the filmmakers to learn more about the making of this uplifting documentary. Their candid responses gives viewers even more appreciation for their relentlessness in depicting the situation, their own personalities, as well as this how this beautiful film and story came to be.

***** Warning: Spoiler Alerts Ahead, but all very happy ones! *****

Pamela Powell (PP): How did the two of you first become connected?

Sarah Teale (ST): Lisa and I both make documentaries for HBO and knew about each other for years but in 2011 I invited Lisa to visit us at our farm in upstate New York. I was starting a cooperative for grass fed beef farmers and Lisa started filming the farmers and edited them into short films for the new co-op’s web site. We then realized that this was a much larger undertaking and their stories said a lot about the state of our food systems today. So Lisa kept filming. The result was the documentary Grazers: A Cooperative Story, which also screened at DOC NYC.

Lisa F. Jackson (LFJ): Also, I had just finished three docs in a row about rape and sexual violence and I jumped at the chance to spend time in the Adirondacks with Sarah and her cows.

PP: How did you first hear about Tres Santos and then decide to document the citizens fight to regain control?

ST: My husband has owned a house in Todos Santos for 35 years and I have been going there for years. In 2015 he noticed a huge foundation wall being erected on the fishermen’s beach and we heard about plans for a massive mega development starting on the fishermen’s beach. We also heard that the fishermen were fine with this but we decided to go and ask them and that started a three year odyssey in which the fishermen led an ultimately successful fight to stop the development.

LFJ: Sarah and I were looking for another project to work on together and she invited me to visit Todos Santos in the winter of 2015 with an eye towards researching a film about the Sea of Cortez, but the real film was closer to home. That day on the beach we met fisherman Rosario Salvatierra and his rage and passion was contagious: we knew we had our main character and the beginning of a story.

PP: Your film is refreshingly unusual in that we truly have a happy ending in a documentary about human rights. This “David vs. Goliath” scenario could have gone either way. As you watched the events unfold, as I’m sure this is true with many documentaries, is your story line constantly changing as you’re editing it in your mind?

ST: We had no idea where this story was going and mostly dreaded that the outcome would be as it had been in Cabo San Lucas. Cabo is just an hour south of Todos Santos and the developers have totally taken over the community. As with any cinema verité film you take off after a story and hope that it will pan out. Lisa and I grew up in the HBO stable of filmmakers where Sheila Nevins allowed you the time and the space to follow a story until there is a logical end so that is what we did. We are both rather stubborn.

LFJ: There were many times over those years when it indeed looked like the fishermen – and their supporters – would be crushed by the devious and unscrupulous developers – but I just stuck with the fishermen, knowing that they were not going down without an epic fight.

PP: Tell me more about gaining access to the citizens in this community.

ST: I think at first the fishermen were just grateful that someone had come to ask them their opinion. After that they were grateful that we just stuck around. Lisa speaks perfect Spanish and soon picked up their particular accent and prodigious swear words and after a while they more or less forgot that she was there. Todos Santanians are on the whole very open and trusting and I think they just trusted us to tell their story.

LFJ: We told the fishermen straight up that we wanted to follow their fight and I just kept showing up, both at the beach and at their homes. Total immersion was the only way to get the intimate footage that Patrimonio required: long days on the boat with Rosario, long nights shooting the blockade, endless meetings and rallies and vigils and never knowing if the next day would bring an intimidating lawsuit or a devastating high tide, a new baby or the death of a patriarch. I felt in a way that the fishermen were cheered by the camera, that it was validating their resistance and that we were all in it together.

PP: What was one of the most surprising hurdles you encountered and how did you tackle it?

ST: Lisa was sued along with five other people. It is mentioned in the film but we left out her name. On several occasions the police arrived at our house to serve her papers. This could have meant serious jail time and a massive fine and was not something to take lightly even though it was based on nothing. John Moreno kept on top of the paperwork and filing the right counter arguments and Lisa registered with the US Consulate but the only way to tackle such hurdles from a personal point of view is to carry on and try not to be intimated. Not easy.

LFJ: John’s jail time was hairy for everybody but the four of us who – along with John – had been sued by the company and threatened with arrest couldn’t help but wonder if we were next. Mexico is not a safe place for journalists and keeping my focus in the face of that was tough at times. One hurdle we couldn’t overcome was the developers’ adamant refusals to be interviewed, but their despicable acts began to pile up and in the end that told us all we needed to know about them. Another hurdle was the heavy logistical load of living in New York City while shooting a film 3,000 miles away, a problem I solved two years ago by selling the apartment where I’d lived for 30 years and moving to Todos Santos!

PP: When John was arrested and detained for months, can you share with me what was your thought process about the film and your ability to continue?

ST: At the beginning we did not think that John’s jail time would last too long but it was shock to everyone when he was denied bail. But it was in fact a gift for the film and a gift for the fight. Everyone in town was horrified and the developers revealed who they really were and how the were connected both politically and to the judiciary. John’s arrest united the community in the fight and gave our film a focus and ultimately a rather joyous ending.

LFJ: John and his family are friends of mine, and his arrest sickened all of us: in Mexico activists are routinely “disappeared” and things could have gone very badly. But after a moment of stunned paralysis the fishermen – and the town – just ramped up the fight and those responsible for having him arrested knew that we were all watching. Not continuing was not an option.

PP: I’m sure that as a documentary filmmaker, it’s hard to stay removed from the situation at hand, especially when you’re witnessing injustices. As documentarians, can you share with me some of the more difficult moments in this particular film, to stay removed?

ST: We asked ourselves that question a lot throughout this film but sometime there is simply right and wrong and we knew which side right was. The developers could have done the right thing at any time but with every step they made things worse and hoped that their aggression, their money and their political connections would win, as it usually does in Mexico and the United States. But the people of Todos Santos are very independent minded and fierce that they wouldn’t give up so we didn’t either.

PP: What is the message you hope viewers and even other “Davids” (vs. “Goliaths”) to take away from your film?

ST: We feel that the fishermen’s fight and the tactics used by John Moreno offer a blueprint for other communities and other fights. The fishermen stood up for their legal and human rights and kept that mission front and center at all times. They appealed to universal values and backed it up with law and they used every available outlet to get their information and their truth out there – marches, brochures, meetings, social media and ultimately lawsuits.

LFJ: The fight against Tres Santos was a rolling snowball and I think the film shows how the fishermen’s concern about their beach became a cumulative and collective outrage against this threat to the town’s very existence. It only becomes a David v Goliath story when the underdog decides to pick up a rock and put it in their slingshot and the audacity that the fishermen showed in speaking truth to power was that rock. It’s a simple story, but a universal one.

PP: What is it about making documentaries that appeals most to you as a creative filmmaker?

ST: Nothing beats real life for good stories. Nothing. It is scary but I also love that you never know what is going to happen and when. As with life, you just have to roll with it and hope. I have always loved documentaries and always will and was inspired by the generation before us who essentially invented the form.

LFJ: I have been involved in documentary filmmaking ever since I left MIT film school in 1971 and my career has been one where every project has been an immersion in a different reality, and the challenge and thrill of that hooked me immediately. My mentor, Ricky Leacock, was one of the fathers of cinema verite and his great advice to me was “get closer”. It’s been my great privilege to have spent over 40 years with that as my job description.

PP: And finally, as female filmmakers, how do you see, if at all, the environment changing for women in this industry?

ST: Lisa and I were lucky enough to work for a very powerful and dedicated woman at HBO. Sheila Nevins has done more to promote documentaries than anyone ever and she always supported women but more than that she supported good filmmakers wherever she found them and good stories. That was all that mattered to her ultimately and that was both very freeing and very challenging – she wouldn’t commission you just because it was you but only if you could deliver a good film. There are more opportunities these days for women and that is a very good thing but they still have to deliver and that will always be the ultimate challenge.

LFJ: Women are more technically hands-on than ever before and fearless about picking up a camera and just doing it. Documentary filmmaking has always seemed more egalitarian than the world of Hollywood fiction and it’s thrilling to see so many women taking up the challenge of telling the female-focused stories that we’ve been missing, and they’re seeing the effect that those stories can have. In the 70’s when I was starting out I didn’t have any female role models but I now see many women mentoring other women and that makes me sanguine about how far we’ve come and where we’re headed.

It is with absolute gratitude that I give to both Teale and Jackson for not being intimidated and to deliver such a cinematically courageous and inspiring film. If you missed “Patrimonio” in NYC, you’ll be able to see it on DVD and VOD in March, 2019 via First Run Features.

Michael Glover Smith finds balance in artistry and entertainment in his 3rd feature film “Rendezvous in Chicago”

October 18th, 2018 Posted by Film Festivals, Review 0 thoughts on “Michael Glover Smith finds balance in artistry and entertainment in his 3rd feature film “Rendezvous in Chicago””

Writer and director Michael Glover Smith creates his third feature film “Rendezvous in Chicago.” Set in the Windy City, Smith continues to tackle various aspects of complicated relationships in three separate vignettes. While the short stories feature three different sets of couples, all at various stages of their relationships, the stories are interconnected by not only location, but by looking either into a crystal ball or the rearview mirror of life. Life and relationships are on a continuum, and Smith finds uniquely intriguing couples to portray this as he strikes a balance between artistry and entertainment.

Smith’s first story begins with Paul (Kevin Wehby) and Delaney (Clare Cooney) who first meet in a bar. This isn’t an ordinary bar scene, however. Delaney is almost hiding in the back of the bar with no one around her, buried in her computer and intent on completing her dissertation. Paul happens into the empty bar to finish his work, only to catch a glimpse of this focused woman. There’s something that pulls him to her as he tries desperately to engage her, but she’s wise beyond her years. The two swap barbs, but then there’s a connection like a strike of lightning thanks to 19th century Russian literature. It’s serendipitous, but Delaney’s too smart to let Paul take the lead. Where she leads him is wonderfully surprising and at times comedic, but always, this woman is “wearing the pants” in the beginning of this relationship.

Cooney is comfortably confident in her portrayal of Delaney while Wehby gives us a familiar performance of an overly self-assured young man who eventually has the tables turned. He beautifully and ever so slowly peels away the layers of his superficial persona to surprisingly reveal a male with deep emotional potential and appreciation of the woman he just met. The pacing and genuine interaction between Cooney and Wehby is refreshingly fun, creating a longing for knowing what happens next with these two individuals.

Smith then introduces us to a couple, Rob (Matthew Sherbach) and Andy (Rashaad Hall), who are madly in love, looking into becoming committed to one another officially. The tenuous excitement is palpable as they discuss unimportant topics of conversation such as dog vs. cat people, but what lies beneath is so much more important. There’s a surprise waiting as Rob has been keeping this a secret for awhile. Their sweet connection to one another immediately connects you to them, pulling you into their situation and anxiously anticipating the outcome.

While the first vignette allows you to recall the spark of interest and even lust or excitement in a relationship and the second creates the beauty of true love, the third story, starring Nina Ganet, is explosive, typifying the end of a relationship. As the first two stories are more traditional in story-telling style, the third is more experimental, pushing the envelope of emotion. Julie (Ganet) walks in on a cheating significant other and we, the audience become her sounding board as the dust begins to settle. This raw pain is exquisitely performed and we feel that we are her best friend, allowing her to bare her soul on this difficult day.

In all three of Smith’s feature films, he concentrates on various aspects of relationships, delving deeply into the stages. (There’s even a fun connection in the first vignette to “Mercury in Retrograde!”) In “Rendezvous in Chicago,” these stages are quite ordinary, however, there is nothing ordinary about these stories. We can all relate to each and every aspect as we recall our first meeting with a potential love-interest, or reminisce about taking that next step in a relationship or even breaking up, but where Smith pushes the envelope is with the strength of the women in the first and third story. Delaney is intelligent and witty, but not every guy is deserving of her. She hammers this home in subtle ways, thanks to the adroit writing skills of Smith and credit to her skillful delivery. Ganet finds power in her emotionally wrenching reaction to her character’s cheating significant other. She’s honest with herself and the viewer, and Smith’s direction creates an unusual relationship between the camera or viewer and Julie. Ganet is simply extraordinary.

Smith also deftly and rather slyly creates a traditional relationship in a gay couple, Rob who is white and Andy who is Black. Smith is able to subtly punctuate the fact that love is the same no matter what your gender, your orientation, or your race. There is a simple beauty in this overtly complex situation.

“Rendezvous in Chicago” finds strength and harmony in three seemingly disconnected stories set in Chicago. With the Second City as a backdrop and even character of the stories, there is so much more that connects these couples at the beginning, middle, and end of their relationships than Chicago. It’s the continuum of life and love that we all experience. Smith blurs the lines of traditional thoughts and storytelling techniques to create a throught-provoking and intriguing montage of love.

TIFF 2018: It’s a wrap!

September 14th, 2018 Posted by Film Festivals, Interviews 0 thoughts on “TIFF 2018: It’s a wrap!”

Films seem to come in a myriad number of flavors and styles. Where better to sample all of these tastes than at the Toronto International Film Festival? This year’s TIFF proved to be one of the most competitive and entertaining festivals with more Oscar buzz-worthy films than ever before.

With hundreds of feature films from all over the world, there were plenty to please every film palate. Some of these films continue to gain critical acclaim and audience appreciation from other festivals, such as “The Kindergarten Teacher” and “Colette,” while others are shooting quickly to the top, such as “First Man” and “Widows.”

Seeing more than 25 films at this year’s fest, I’ve compiled my “Best of the Fest” list to share with you. Many of these films will be released in the coming months, just in time for Oscar consideration.

To read all about the best of the fest, go to the Friday, Sept. 14th edition of The Daily Journal:
https://www.daily-journal.com/life/entertainment/pam-powell-s-best-of-the-fest/article_511327a4-b6c0-11e8-aca7-bbfdd8d6900c.html

Filmmaker Michal Aviad talks about her empowering and realistic TIFF film “Working Woman”

September 5th, 2018 Posted by Film Festivals, Interviews 0 thoughts on “Filmmaker Michal Aviad talks about her empowering and realistic TIFF film “Working Woman””

Michal Aviad’s newest film, “Working Woman,” has its international premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) on Tuesday, Sept. 11. The film depicts the story of Orna (Liron Ben Shlush), a happily married woman who is financially struggling to make ends meet as she attempts to balance motherhood and career. With an opportunity to support the family and her husband’s opening of a new restaurant, Orna becomes a sales sensation for the real estate mogul Benny (Menashe Noy). The price she pays is higher than anticipated, combatting the advances of her boss while attempting to keep her job. This riveting and realistic portrayal of women in the work place is as disturbing and eye-opening as it is empowering. With extraordinary performances and an intuitively thought-provoking script co-written by Aviad, Sharon Azulay Eyal, and Michal Vinik, Aviad directs her cast to bring to light a subject matter that is timely and relevant while allowing others to more accurately understand a woman’s perspective and challenges in life.

I had a chance to talk with Aviad about her inspiration in developing such an intricately real story as well as her own empowering actions in life. Her strength both behind the camera and in the film industry elicits a sense of camaraderie and motivation to make a difference in our own communities right now.

WARNING: SPOILER ALERT AHEAD!

Pamela Powell (PP): You’ve been in this industry long enough to see the tides begin to turn.  Looking back on your career, was any of this story inspired by your own life or observations?

Michal Aviad (MA):I worked ten years as a waitress, and since the late 1980’s as a filmmaker and film teacher. I’ve experienced many things at work and in life – from humiliating sexual comments to sexual abuse. Struggling to work as a woman filmmaker was and still often is accompanied by degrading behavior towards me as a woman. On the other hand, luckily, as an Independent Film Director, I don’t have bosses. In addition, I have been working with feminist colleagues for many years to bring issues of female equality into the national consciousness. For example, in our industry, two years ago, with The Israeli Forum of Women in Cinema & TV, I took part in writing a treaty which calls everyone to report sexual harassment at work and detail the actions that will be taken against harassers.

PP: Studying both literature and philosophy, how do these combine to help in creating such articulate and deep characters like Orna and her husband?

MA: The education I received in the Humanities helps me to understand the world. It also opened me to reading feminist philosophy and theory, as well as film theory. All those have shaped my values and outlook on society and cinema. In addition, for many years I’ve been making documentaries, which brought me to communities and women who belong to different classes and ethnicities than my own. Meeting people through work gave me the opportunity to deepen my thoughts and feelings about the ways gender issues manifest themselves.

In WORKING WOMAN, I wanted to understand how and why working relations between men and women, so often go wrong. I know women like Orna: talented and ambitious young mothers, who have to work full time to survive, but also strive for success at their jobs. I knew I wanted to tell a story about such a woman. Also, while writing I wanted to shape Orna and her husband as a loving couple, since I wanted my heroine to reject her boss’s advances because she is simply in love with another man, her husband. I wanted to make Ofer, Orna’s husband, lovable and sexy, and what is sexier for women (I wish men realized this) than a caring father? We were writing a story in which I wanted to find out how sexual harassment at work affects not only the victim’s soul, but also her relations with her entire environment. I wanted to find out why Orna and many women do not tell even loved ones about the struggle they go through.

PP: This film’s story will most certainly, and unfortunately, resonate with a majority of women in the workplace.  With such an empowering end, what do you hope others will take away from it?

MA: I am glad you see the end as empowering, since Orna, like most women and unlike the #MeToo heroines, does not go public. According to an Israeli law against sexual harassment created in 1998, Orna doesn’t stand a chance of proving her case at court. In reality, women who go through sexual harassment at work, more often than not, lose everything: their job, promised money, their hopes to advance and the ability to find a similar job. But Orna is not just a helpless victim, she goes out to fight for what she can get.

I wanted to put a magnifying glass on the much convoluted issue of sexual harassment at the work place. I wish viewers, women and men, will come out of the film with an understanding how and why it happens and how complicated it can be at times. I hope that audiences identify with Orna and what she is going through, and hope they see the blind spots the protagonists and we all have. By understanding how common and deeply engrained sexual abuse is in our culture, we can fundamentally change women-men relationships and build a society in which, rather than power, treating the other as equal humans, guides our lives together.


PP: Tell me how you worked with Liron (Orna) whose performance was subtle yet complex and exuded intelligence and strength. (Photo courtesy Matt Johnstone Publicity)

MA: First of all, Liron is an extremely intelligent and talented actress.
During auditions, most of the young actresses who auditioned for the part knew about sexual harassment from personal experience. But when Liron auditioned, I felt that she knew Orna. Liron was 20 weeks pregnant at the time, but I felt she was my heroine, so we waited for her to give birth and recover. While filming, Liron was breast-feeding, which was an additional feminist angle to the set. In the months prior to filming, Liron and I researched Orna together. We met with women who sell real estate, we toured the neighborhood where I wanted Orna and Ofer to live, and we talked for days. We slowly shaped every step of Orna’s journey. We knew her strengths and flaws. In each scene we knew how she acts and reacts. During production, Liron, who appears in each shot in the film, knew Orna as well as me, and sometimes better. She became my main partner on the set.

PP: The hotel scene literally stopped me from breathing as I hesitantly watched the details unfold. Can you tell me about the research about sexual harassment and assault that you did to portray such realistic responses? 

MA: My previous narrative feature film, INVISIBLE (2011), is about the trauma of two women who were raped many years earlier by the same serial rapist. My personal experience and years of reading testimonies on the subject, helped me grasp the complex reactions of victims of sexual abuse. Shaping the assault scene at the hotel, stems also from watching films, the majority of which were made by men. I was trying to veer away from creating a scene that can sexually stimulate viewers. Rape and harassment scenes in cinema are traditionally directed to combine the greatest ticket sales formula: sex and violence on the screen. I do not want to be part in that tradition. I wanted to show a horrific scene that didn’t involve nudity and blood.

PP: Benny’s character is slowly unveiled allowing the viewer to understand Orna’s response to stay in her job.  Tell me about collaborating with Menashe (Benny) to get such a strong and realistic portrayal of this character.

MA: … Menashe and I have worked for many years within the film and TV community in Israel and both of us personally know men who were accused and charged with sexual abuse. We agreed that Benny cannot be an evil caricature. We shaped a character that has lots of charm and generosity, a boss that appreciates Orna, his employee, and seeks to advance her, but is blind to his power and to the will of the woman he likes so much.

PP: To say that this is a timely tale is an understatement.  What are your thoughts about the timing and issues that apparently are not only happening in the U.S., but around the world?

MA: When #MeToo happened I was in the middle of shooting. The news was for me a breath of a new hope. Finally we are moving from the frustrated margins to the mainstream of the struggle against sexual abuse. But from the 200 hundred years history of the feminist movement, I know that achievements often meet powerful waves of oppression. In Israel, the variety of reactions to each new story about sexual abuse always include men who lament the death of flirting, warn against a plague of false accusations and protest against a return to puritan times. Fear and fantasy get mixed up. On the other hand, so far the women that came out in the #MeToo moment are famous, wealthy celebrities who make news. I would love nurses, chambermaids and secretaries to come out with their stories without paying a terrible price. I wish for WORKING WOMAN and for society that men as well as many women realize that we have to re-think the old values we grew up on and re-shape the society we live in. I feel optimistic, but the road is still long.

PP: You also capture the difficulties in balancing children, work, and home along with financial pressures associated with all of this.  

MA: Women struggle to prove that we can work as hard and as many hours as men do. In most Western societies, this is the only way women can obtain a career and sufficient income. But we, women, are also brought up to take primal responsibility for the home and children. Orna, in comparison with most women, is lucky to have a husband who takes some of the domestic workload off her shoulders. I hope that with the wake-up call to eradicate sexual abuse, we will change many other cultural “arrangements” between the sexes. I wish for a society where all adults work shorter days, and men join women in the joy and responsibility of caring for and raising children.

PP: In making this film, what was the most difficult aspect for you in bringing this to life?

MA: The very banal but still true answer is: funding. For four years we searched for funding. The competition for funding in Israel is fierce, but in addition, we received responses from funders in Israel and in Europe which ranged from: The script is not an interesting enough subject for a film, to not believing that Orna does not want sex with Benny, to suggesting to make the sexual abuse more brutal to create “real drama”.

It is with sincere gratitude that Aviad received the funding necessary to complete this timely story as its importance cannot be understated.

Be sure to see “Working Woman” at TIFF and walk in the shoes of a working woman, wife, and mother. For more information about this film, go to TIFF.net

TIFF 2018, An interview with filmmaker Thom Fitzgerald

August 26th, 2018 Posted by Film Festivals, News 0 thoughts on “TIFF 2018, An interview with filmmaker Thom Fitzgerald”

The 2018 Toronto International Film Festival is just around the corner with hundreds of features, short films and documentaries from around the world.

TIFF also has virtual reality experiences, conferences, presentations by legendary directors and even a few parties beginning Sept. 6 and running through Sept. 16.

This “festival of festivals” began in 1976 and has grown to be one of the premiere festivals in the world as both seasoned filmmakers and up-and-comers walk the red carpet and wait for the audience’s reactions to their creations.

Thom Firzgerald’s newest film, “Splinters,” will make its world debut at TIFF, and I had a chance to talk with the award-winning filmmaker about the film, inspired by the play of the same name by Lee-Anne Poole.

Set in a small farming community in Nova Scotia, Belle (Sophia Banzhaf) attempts to find peace with the loss of her father and to rectify and repair her relationship with her mother, who finds difficulty in accepting her sexual identity. It’s a beautiful and heartfelt drama, capturing the love of family and self as it explores the complexities of life.

Fitzgerald shared his thoughts about his characters and creating this timeless and relevant film.

To read the interview in its entirety go to
THE DAILY JOURNAL

“Pick of the Litter” Opens the 2018 Slamdance Film Festival

August 17th, 2018 Posted by Film Festivals, Review 0 thoughts on ““Pick of the Litter” Opens the 2018 Slamdance Film Festival”

Dana Nachman and Don Hardy, Jr. are teaming up once again to bring viewers a meaningfully beautiful and emotional story with the 2018 Slamdance opening night film, “Pick of the Litter.”  The pair are also responsible for this critic’s favorite documentaries of year’s past such as “Batkid Begins” and “The Human Experiment.”  Now, they take us on a journey in the lives of 5 labrador retriever puppies who were bred with the intention of becoming a guide dog for the blind.  We join these puppies from the moment of birth to their final destination, but only the best of the best can make it as a guide dog.  Will any of these 5 puppies, Phil, Primrose, Patriot, Poppet , or Potomac, make the cut?

“Pick of the Litter” is a thrillingly heartfelt story as we get to know the puppies, the loving people who train them in their homes for a short period of time, and two visually impaired people who are hopeful of receiving one of these dogs to help them lead more independent lives.  Tears of joy and tears of sorrow are a constant in this film, just like “Batkid Begins” proving that this Dynamic Duo has done it again. 

We meet the “P” litter as they are literally being born.  3 black labs and 2 yellow.  Your heart immediately melts even though at this stage they look more like fat gerbils than pudgy little puppies.  We know from the very beginning that these dogs were bred for one purpose…to lead the blind.  The process is a long and tricky one as we see them grow into those adorable fluffy fur balls filled with energy and they begin their training by being placed in a home.  This, as we will see, is a tough aspect of the process as the temporary owners get quite attached to their new buddy.  And then we find ourselves predicting which one we think has all the right stuff to make it as a guide dog, rooting for each of them, and being surprised as their personalities develop and they mature.

As the viewer, we get to know these little guys and gals, their home-trainers, and the hopeful future owners needing assistance.  With candid and open interviews with all involved, we are able to walk in each of their shoes, understanding what it takes to love, raise, and then let go of these smart and loving animals.  I fell in love with Phil when he was 5-weeks old.  I can’t imagine raising him and then letting him go, but it is for the greater good—a blind person gaining independence.

The film captures the process of raising and training a guide dog with such exquisite skill that we feel we are a part of the journey.    The camera work brings you down to the dogs’ level and the storyline brings you to the humanity of it.   By the end of the film, it’s like watching a race, seeing which dogs will cross the finish and become the winner of helping a disabled adult.  Those that don’t make it become “career changed,” but that’s not a bad thing.  Perhaps they will become a breeder dog, or maybe just a great companion for someone.  But in your heart, you want each of these dogs to go on and fulfill their destiny, but you know that not all of them have the potential to do this.  This is where your tears begin to stream, most of which are happy tears.

Nachman and Hardy tell a beautiful, educational, and heartfelt story that lifts you up, reminding you of the importance of helping one another and how dogs can be an integral part of our lives.

The film opens tonight, Friday, Jan. 19 at 7 pm at the Treasure Mountain Inn in Park City.  For more information about tickets, go to Slamdance.com.

Tribeca Film Festival 2018 is a wrap

April 27th, 2018 Posted by Film Festivals 0 thoughts on “Tribeca Film Festival 2018 is a wrap”

The 18th Annual Tribeca Film Festival is coming to a close and is one I consider to be the best in years in terms of quality, equality, variety, and special presentations.  With close to 100 feature films not to mention the seemingly myriad number of short films, I have the best of the fest.

TULLY:  Diablo Cody (Juno, Young Adult) writes this screenplay perhaps as she looks in the mirror, depicting life as a mother in one of the most raw and truthful films addressing the subject.  Charlize Theron stars as Marlo a mother of 2 and pregnant with her 3rd, whose wealthy brother offers to pay for a “night nanny.”  With 2 active and demanding youngsters, a newborn, and a “typical” husband, Marlo is exhausted and bites the bullet, taking her  brother up on his generous offer.  As  Tully (Mackenzie Davis) and Marlo begin to bond, life takes a wonderfully positive turn, but as the layers are peeled away we discover so much more.  It’s an eloquent and insightful film that humorously and dramatically portrays the thoughts, emotions, and harsh realities of what motherhood is like on a daily basis as we are reminded of our dreams, our past, and our futures.  Opens in theaters May 4.

 

 

 

STOCKHOLM:  The psychological term “Stockholm Syndrome” originated from this “absurd but true story” starring Ethan Hawke, Mark Strong, and Noomi Rapace.   The good-hearted bank robber, Lars (Hawke) hatches a hair-brained plan to get his best buddy Gunnar (Strong) out of the Swedish penitentiary, taking 3 hostages captive.  His plan unfolds in the most unpredictable, almost slap-stick silly way, making you fall in love with Lars as well.  It’s an incredibly entertaining and comedic slice of history suiting Hawke’s comedy skills to a “T” a skill we didn’t even know he had.

WOMAN WALKS AHEAD:  Written by Steven Knight (Locke Hundred Foot Journey) and directed by Susanna White, this story is also based upon an historical event.  Catherine Weldon (Jessica Chastain), a Brooklyn-based artist in the late 1800’s, travels to the Dakotas to paint Sitting Bull’s portrait.  Arriving in a hostile environment, she is unwelcome by the military, but with a determination not characteristically seen in women during this era, she perseveres.  The relationship she develops with Sitting Bull is heart-wrenchingly beautiful and the integrity she shows in fighting for Native American’s rights is inspiring.  Chastain is extraordinary, Sam Rockwell hones his skills as a dislikable misogyntist and racist, and Michael Greyeyes reincarnates a virtuous and complicated Sitting Bull.  The exceptional cinematography beckons you to see this on the big screen.  Opens in theaters June 29.

LOVE, GILDA:  The life of the beloved comedic performer from Saturday Night Live, Gilda Radner, is featured in Lisa D’Apolito’s documentary, “Love, Gilda.”  Using journals, audio recordings, found family footage, and photographs from her life, Radner’s history is brought to life.  We learn about her childhood, her struggle with her weight, her love interests, and what drove her to be such a star.  Interviews with those who knew her best and those she inspired, such as Chevy Chase, Maya Rudolph, Lorne Michaels, and Martin Short to name a few, keep her spirit alive and allow all of us to know her better.  D’Apolito creates a flawless portrayal of one of the most iconic performers in the 20th century. (Release date yet to be determined.)

O.G.:  Written by Stephen Belber and directed by Madeleine Sackler, Jeffrey Wright (“Westworld”) stars in this thought-provoking and poignant film about Louis, a man incarcerated for murder, serving 24 of his 60 year sentence, soon to be released on parole.  The emotional angst and uncertainty push him to reach out to a new, young convict, attempting to pass the torch and his wisdom as he looks in the rear view mirror of his life.  The complexity of the structure of prison is revealed and impacts Louis’ future as he is placed between survival and his future.  Beautifully filmed, we are taken inside the closed quarters, feeling as if we are walking along side Louis.  And Wright’s skillful performance lets us inside the mind of an “original gangster,” perhaps even gaining understanding for the decisions he has made and continues to make.  Filmed in an actual prison in Indiana, few actors were used, creating a formidable and impactful scenario not to be missed.  (Release date yet to be determined.)

It was a difficult task to limit my list of the best films as every film I saw stood out.  Never before have I attended such a festival where no film was a disappointment.  Other films that could have easily made my top list include:  “Diane,” “The Seagull,” “Blue Night,” “All About Nina,” “Mary Shelley,” Back Roads,” “Red Roll Red,” “Egg,” “General Magic,” “Ghostbox Cowboy,” and “M.” Additionally, TFF was represented by 48% women-directed films, three of which were my top films and “Tully” was written by a female.  TFF 2018 is one for the records!

WHAT’S ON THE HOT LIST AT THIS YEAR’S TRIBECA FILM FESTIVAL

April 16th, 2018 Posted by Film Festivals 0 thoughts on “WHAT’S ON THE HOT LIST AT THIS YEAR’S TRIBECA FILM FESTIVAL”

Excerpt from the April 16th edition of Fete Lifestyle Magazine:

It’s show time for the annual Tribeca Film Festival taking place April 18-29 in New York City.  With 96 feature films, both narratives and documentaries, let’s see what’s top on the list this year. 

Go to Fete Lifestyle Magazine to see the entire list!

“Women Represent at the SXSW Film Festival”

March 16th, 2018 Posted by Film Festivals 0 thoughts on ““Women Represent at the SXSW Film Festival””

The SXSW Film Festival, now a quarter century old, will run from March 9-17 in Austin Texas.  The premier festival showcases festival favorites from Sundance, world premieres from around the country, and Texas shorts and Texas high school shorts.  The line up is always amazing and the distractions include an array of music events, comedy headliners, and of course, barbecue!  

As I perused this year’s SXSW Film Festival line up, I had an immediate rush of hope.  Hope that this festival could feasibly be the best in representing women!  The first category was “Narrative Features” listed in alphabetical order.  The first one, “Family” is written and directed by Laura Steinel.  The second, “First Match,” was written and directed by Olivia Newman.  I began to sit more erectly in the chair in front of my computer, scrolling a little more quickly as I read through the entire list.  Number 3, 4, and 5 on the list were also projects of female filmmakers!  In fact, 80% of the Narrative Feature films at this year’s SXSW Film Festival are by women!  

To read the article in its entirety, go to Fete Lifestyle Magazine

An Interview with Yeardley Smith at SXSW

March 14th, 2018 Posted by Film Festivals 0 thoughts on “An Interview with Yeardley Smith at SXSW”

Yeardley Smith is a woman of many talents, one of them is possessing the most recognizable voice in television history—the voice of Lisa Simpson.  Actress, podcaster, author, and producer also fill her lengthy list of accomplishments, but this talented woman whose success came quickly and early in life, hit a few road blocks along the way.  Smith took time away from her schedule (and noshing on delectable barbecue) in Austin where her film “All Square” premiered to talk about her career path, words of advice, and the future of women in Hollywood.

Here’s an excerpt from the interview:

PP:  What advice would you give your younger self?

YS:  Do not attach your value to your accomplishments…I didn’t realize I was doing it until I was 20 years into my career, that I had tied my identity and my value to  external things.  And of course you can’t fill up the inside from the outside.

PP:  And you do a one woman live stage show?

YS:  I did.  Do is the wrong tense.  Did.  I’ll never do it again.  Around that time that I thought, ok I better pull up my socks and do it myself.  Sadly, the NYT reviewed it like your mother would write.  Pretty much everyone else disliked it.  I think it was terribly misunderstood where people thought, you have everything.  I don’t know why I should feel sorry for you.  And I was like, Oh my God, you’ve missed the point!  That’s what I’m telling you, I have everything and how come it didn’t work.  How come all of that material wealth and all of these opportunities didn’t make me feel like whatever I felt was broken inside of me is now fixed.  The audiences really loved it, but because it was not well reviewed, we couldn’t fill the houses and it closed. 

The audio interview in its entirety here

 

“Son of Sofia” A hauntingly powerful story portraying a current day Oedipal conflict

March 12th, 2018 Posted by Film Festivals, Review 0 thoughts on ““Son of Sofia” A hauntingly powerful story portraying a current day Oedipal conflict”

“Son of Sophia” had its world premiere at the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival and is now a powerful part of the annual Chicago European Union Film Festival.  Written and directed by Elina Psykou and staring Victor Khomut as a young boy, wrestling with issues of betrayal, abandonment, and love as he leaves childhood behind.  This thought-provoking and psychologically deep film about a mother and her son creates an intriguingly insightful look at growing up in less than ideal circumstances.

Misha (Khomut), a quiet and reserved 11 year-old travels on his own from Russia to Athens to live with his mother, Sofia (Valery Tscheplanowa).  The two have been separated for years and their reunion shows the unfamiliarity but obligatory connection.  The living situation is just one of the many surprises for Misha as he learns that he and his mother will be living with an older gentleman, Mr. Nikos (Thanassis Papageorgiou).  This man, he will discover, is also his new stepfather.  It’s evident that Misha still needs his mother and isn’t ready for this new “father” in his life.  He is still a young boy at heart as we see him clinging to the comfort of fairy tales. Jarringly, he is then abruptly pulled into the world of an older boy with no parental influence.  The struggle is palpable as Misha grows up in this foreign land, not understanding the language and thrust into a surprising situation which push the envelope of emotional capabilities of any child.

“Son of Sophia” is a complexly layered story, delving into not just the growing pains of young Misha, but of the conflicting loyalty that Sofia now has.  She’s torn between the love of her son and the needs of her new husband as well as her financial dependency upon him. She is treated as less than a person, demands placed upon her, and commanding her son to do the same. This heartbreaking and internal  struggle is beautifully portrayed, demonstrating what many wives and mothers deal with on a daily basis.

“Son of Sofia” develops another story within the film as we see another viewpoint; that of Misha.  He longed to be only with his mother and finds Mr. Nikos to be a competitor.  It’s a classic representation of a boy with an Oedipus Complex, attempting to do away with his competition.  Misha’s new-found friend, Victor (Aremois Havalits) couldn’t be any worse of an influence, but with no parental involvement, Misha delves into inappropriate situations.  His ability to understand right from wrong seems to become less clear as do his skills in coping with losing his childhood.

Khomut is the lead actor, supporting the film completely with his nuanced performance.   Balancing on the edge of childhood’s imagination and the dark world of adults is intellectually difficult, but Khomut finds a way to do exactly this.  Tscheplanowa gives us a beautifully dramatic performance, creating a conflicted and apprehensive character.  She brings us a character who is not only real, but believable.  The interaction between the two is familiar and relatable while the cinematography gorgeously captures each and every mood and feeling.  The story-line does become disturbing, but it is required to do so in order to expertly bring the Oedipal Complex to its bitter-sweet conclusion.

“Son of Sofia” is remarkably haunting and dramatic as it captures the love between a mother and her son and his need to grow up.  Its complexities are revealed through deft direction and writing, allowing the cast to shine.

“All Square” A dark comedy at SXSW gives Michael Kelly a chance to shine in new ways

March 10th, 2018 Posted by Film Festivals, Review 0 thoughts on ““All Square” A dark comedy at SXSW gives Michael Kelly a chance to shine in new ways”

Remember when films took you away to a not so different place, yet one that let you escape your own life?  Movies that were filled with interesting characters, perhaps one that you could even identify with?  Or somehow, that imperfect character who was the focal point of the story allowed you to root for him even with all his flaws?  “All Square,” which premiered at the SXSW film festival, is just that movie.  It’s good old-fashioned storytelling complete with characters we love, identify with, and hope beyond hope that they make it across home plate.

Michael Kelly stars in “All Square,” the story of a small-town bookie, following in his not-so-successful father’s footsteps, after failing to be the town’s baseball prodigy oh-so-many years ago.  John (Kelly) is constantly behind the eight ball, attempting to collect on debts, having a heart when he shouldn’t and trying to be tough in all the wrong ways.  Caring for his elderly father, paying medical bills and for cigarettes (oh, the irony) John attempts to up the ante and score it big…in a youth baseball league gambling ring he has devised.  After a one-night stand with Debbie (Pamela Adion), a former flame, John connects with her son Brian, a pitcher with perhaps some skills yet to be mined.  John’s foresight is a bit lacking and his actions not getting any votes for stand in father of the year, his plan spirals out of control, with the fallout unpredictable—at least to John.

Kelly’s role as John, the lovable loser who never seems to learn a lesson, is certainly a departure from his typical roles as Doug Stamper in “House of Cards,” or numerous law enforcement agents.  He seems to comfortably slip into this role as blue collar worker with a heart as well his Carharts.  His comedic timing in this dark comedy allows him to show a different and very entertaining side of his skills which I hope we will see more of in the future. 

Partnering with a child actor who must have the skills to  lead Kelly’s character to develop is a tough act to find, but Sheps is a natural.  The love and antagonistic relationship the two develop give such depth to not only their characters, but to the overall story.  Sheps portrays “Brian” with touch of maturity while still maintaining his youthful innocence that John could only dream to have had at such a young age.  And Sheps never takes this role over-the-top as some films and actors might have done.  He always finds that level of reality to bring to the character, allowing the audience to somehow find compassion for both main characters.

The cast is exceptional as is the writing and succinct and deft direction by John Hyams. The storyline of “All Square” has a touch of drama and suspense as well as comedy, albeit most of it either ironic or pitch black.  With writing and characters that connect with the viewer, the film is sure to be an audience pleaser as it comes full circle.  Filming in Dundalk, MD, the understated suburb of Baltimore, the town’s personality shines through to accentuate the story and its message.  Adion, Josh Lucas, Harris Yulin, and a cameo from Yeardley Smith (interview coming soon) round out the talented cast of characters to create a story that is as engaging as it is entertaining.

 “All Square” will screen again at the SXSW Film Festival on March 13 and 15.  For more information, go to SXSW FILM SCHEDULE

Watch for the upcoming interview with Yeardley Smith, Producer (voice of Lisa Simpson from “The Simpsons”)

The Best of Sundance 2018

January 27th, 2018 Posted by Film Festivals, Review 0 thoughts on “The Best of Sundance 2018”

The 2018 Sundance Film Festival is winding down and having been a part of the first 5 days, there was a different feel to it this year. The streets weren’t as crowded with pedestrians. The traffic was much less congested. And the lines to attend the films didn’t seem too terribly long. Perhaps the addition of “The Ray” theater and better traffic management explains this calmer, more quiet feeling. Or has attendance dropped precipitously from last year?. Only the final numbers not yet available will tell, but I can attest to the fact that the energy level certainly seemed less intense, overall.

For women in film, that was certainly not the case as numerous panel discussions, presentations, and a significant number of female-written and -directed films were available to festival goers. In addition, the Women’s March took place in town drawing locals, festival attendees, and celebrities. Coincidentally, 6 of the top 10 films of the fest, from my viewpoint, were either written and/or directed by women. Here are my festival favorites:

THE TALE
Jennifer Fox adapts her own life story to tell the tale of sexual abuse as a child. Starring Laura Dern as “Jennifer,” we meet her as an adult, rediscovering through an old English class story her mother found, the reality of what happened more than 30 years ago. Her perspective as an adult and revisiting those memories, sometimes clouded by time and stitched together with the aid of others during that fateful summer, allows Jennifer to confront her thoughts, current fears, and most importantly, herself. Ellen Bernstein portrays Jennifer’s mother, adding a realistic and often-times humorous touch to the movie. But what is most heart-wrenching and painful is the visually emotional manipulation of an adult with a child. The film cuts deeply with the precision accuracy of a surgeon into the mind and emotions of a strong yet damaged woman. It’s a painful journey that is at once genuine, allowing the viewer to begin to understand the depth of sexual abuse.

THE KINDERGARTEN TEACHER
Written and directed by Sara Colangelo, the film stars Maggie Gyllenhaal (Lisa), a kindergarten teacher, mother of two teens, and wife, just going through the motions. She’s struggling with her disappointment in life and the world in general until she finds Jimmy (Parker Sevak), a child prodigy in the art of poetry. Lisa becomes overly involved in this child’s life and skills, crossing moral boundaries for the sake of nurturing a lost appreciation of art. The tension is palpable and the suspense almost unbearable in this uniquely introspective look at society and values. Gyllenhaal’s performance is breathtaking and the final words uttered leave you speechless.

JULIET, NAKED
Tamara Jenkins and her team of writers adapt Nick Hornby’s novel “Juliet, Naked” about a rock legend who inadvertantly falls in love with his biggest fan’s significant other. Directed by Jesse Peretz, this rom-com stars Ethan Hawke (Tucker Crowe), Rose Byrne (Annie), and Chris O’Dowd (Duncan) creating a hilarious situation with dramatic overtones that is thoroughly entertaining. It’s a current day romance that never loses its sense of humor and never a dull moment. I haven’t laughed and been this engaged in a rom-com since “When Harry Met Sally.”

RBG
Who could have suspected that a film about Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg could be absolutely entertaining? Directors Julie Cohen and Betsy West weave together Justice Ginsburg’s youth, law school career, marriage, family, and legal experience, portraying all the ups and downs of each and we truly get to know this petite yet intellectually formidable woman. At the age of 83 years young, she is more popular than ever, inspiring young women to make a difference in this world. By the end of the film, after a few tears are shed along with many, many laughs, I learned about history and our judicial system. But most importantly, I know the woman that changed my life and every woman in America. Without her, we would still be ironing our husband’s shirts, never feeling valued as a viable person in the workplace.

THE CATCHER WAS A SPY
Paul Rudd takes on an usual role, portraying the real life Moe Berg, a catcher in the professional baseball league and an Office of Strategic Services (OSS) spy. This brilliantly gifted man, speaking more than a half-dozen languages fluently, lead a very secretive life. No one ever really knew this man, but because of his skills, bravery, and intellect, the entire course of WWII may have taken a different path. Rudd immediately creates a believable character, always keeping his emotions close to the vest, but giving viewers those subtle features allowing us to see inside. This film has all the right components to create an informative yet entertaining story.

COLETTE
Kiera Knightley finds a revolutionary role in portraying Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette, a young woman lacking a dowry in the countryside of France. The older and more sophisticated Willy (Dominic West), woos and marries her, taking her to the refined city of Paris. There, the two battle one another as their financial woes worsen. Her eloquent writing skills become their life-line, but she is not allowed the credit. On the surface, it sounds like a typical time-period story, but Colette pushes the day’s viewpoint on sexuality, fidelity, and gender acceptance. It’s an unexpected story filled with beautiful surprises that are relevant even in today’s world. Knightley and West are magical together, even when they are oil and vinegar. Beautiful imagery and costuming bring us into this world as we are captivated by this true story.

LEAVE NO TRACE
Writer and director Debra Granik (“Winter’s Bone”) adapts Peter Rock’s novel of the same name to give us a slow-burn film about a father and daughter living off the grid in the gorgeous mountains of Oregon. AS they are forced to leave their unique “home,” Will (Ben Foster), suffering from PTSD, plunges more deeply into his inner-demons, affecting his relationship with his astute daughter Tom (Thomasin McKenzie). This gorgeously shot film takes you deep inside the confines of society and one’s ability to cope in this world as it explores love, relationships, and mental health.

 

 

HEARTS BEAT LOUD
Brett Haley has done it again. He finds a voice that does not imitate his own reflection and creates a story and characters that we are all craving to hear. Frank Fisher (Nick Offerman) and Sam (Kiersey Clemons) are a father and daughter, struggling with the next stage of life. Frank’s failing record store and seeing that Sam is ready to move across the country for college is more than he is able to bear. Discovering his daughter’s amazing songwriting and performing skills during their “jam sesh,” Frank tries to create a band via Spotify which goes viral. It’s a balancing act as Frank pulls Sam back and Sam attempts to cut the apron strings. The film explores topics of young love and sexuality as well as father-daughter relationships using humor and poignancy. Did I mention the music is simply amazing? It is! Haley stated that he is truly proud of this film…and he should be!

COME SUNDAY
Pentecostal preacher Bishop Carlton Pearson (Chiwetel Ejiofor) has a come to Jesus moment as he hears the voice of God one night. Finding a new way to interpret the Bible, Pearson begins to preach a different story—one that his congregation and mentors find to be heresy. Based on the true story originally told by Ira Glass on WBEZ’s ‘This American Life,’ director Joshua Marston (“Maria Full of Grace,” “Complete Unknown”) brings us a human story with divine intervention. Ejiofor, Jason Segal, and Martin Sheen star in this revelatory story that may allow you to see Christianity in a new light.

THE OSLO DIARIES
Mor Loushy and Daniel Siven give us the untold account of two warring people, the Israelis and the Palestinians, and the representatives that secretly met in the hopes of establishing peace. This historical recounting of events in the 1990’s allow us to see the countrys’ attempts to negotiate as well as the conundrum of how to compromise and maintain the constituents’ support. Getting to know these men on a personal basis brings a level of humanity and understanding that we wouldn’t otherwise know.

Check out interview with Claire McCarthy (“Ophelia”), and Q&A responses with Brett Haley (“Hearts Beat Loud”), Julie Cohen and Betsy West (“RBG”) and Debra Granik (“Leave No Trace”) at www.reelhonestreviews.com

Honorable Mentions: OUR NEW PRESIDENT, THE LONG DUMB ROAD, WILDLIFE

“Ophelia” director Claire McCarthy talks contemporary take on Hamlet

January 26th, 2018 Posted by Film Festivals, Interviews 0 thoughts on ““Ophelia” director Claire McCarthy talks contemporary take on Hamlet”

From the January 26, 2018 publication of FF2 Media:

Director Claire McCarthy who earlier this month was named as one of 10 “directors to watch” in Variety Magazine, sat down to talk with me at the Sundance Film Festival just days before the world premiere of her film Ophelia.

Shakespeare is nothing new to McCarthy having had an immediate connection to the renowned author from her early high school days.  “There was something about the words of Shakespeare that are sublime and the themes that really kind of struck me…I did study Hamlet quite intimately…so I knew it from the perspective of its faithful original text.  Our version is taking the original text and turning it on its head.”

READ THE INTERVIEW ARTICLE IN ITS ENTIRETY AT FF2MEDIA 

Photo courtesy of Sundance Institute

“Our New President” Explores alternative filmmaking and “alternative facts” in politics

January 19th, 2018 Posted by Film Festivals, Review 0 thoughts on ““Our New President” Explores alternative filmmaking and “alternative facts” in politics”

Filmmaker Maxim Pozdorovkin has found a most unusual way of creating a documentary with “Our New President,” one of the opening night films at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.  Taking archival footage only, from YouTube’s Russia Today (RT) and NTV, the two national and only television stations, this revolutionary filmmaker brings us behind the curtain to experience the power of the media upon the Russian people.  Video clips from these shows and from uploaded content posted by Russian citizens, we are brought back to the 1990’s when Hillary Clinton visited Russia.  The story is murky after this point as RT found that Hillary was cursed after this time, invoking fainting spells and other medical conditions.  The ridiculousness of the stories purported and supported by the handpicked newscasters would ordinarily make you laugh if the consequences weren’t so dire.

The film continues along a time line to bring us to the past year’s election, defining Trump’s rise to power.  We witness the democracy of the newspaper in Russia become a spokesperson for the government, threatening those who dare to go against Putin.  From ordinary citizens to representatives living here in the U.S to high ranking Russian officials, we are privy to eye-opening footage that if nothing else, makes you wonder about the realities we have come to accept in our world.

“Our New President” gives us an interesting perspective from which to view Trump and Clinton as well as punctuating the need for democracy within our news organizations.  Without this, we could end up looking at our Chakra’s and our horoscopes to determine the next global decision.

Be sure to check out this cutting-edge style of documentary and then decide for yourself what’s true, what’s real, and what’s an alternative fact.  If that doesn’t work, Mercury is in retrograde right now, so hold off on any major decisions.

 

RHR’s Full List of Films at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival

January 15th, 2018 Posted by Film Festivals 0 thoughts on “RHR’s Full List of Films at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival”

Women filmmakers and giving them a little louder voice is certainly a part of my agenda while I’m covering the 2018 Sundance Film Festival, but there are plenty more films to add to my “must-see” list.  If you’re lucky enough to attend even one day of this prestigious festival, perhaps one of these recommendations will fit your schedule.

U. S. Dramatic Films:

Garrett Hedlund in BURDEN, photo courtesy of the Sundance Institute

BLAZE, BLINDSPOTTING, BURDEN, I THINK WE’RE ALONE NOW, LIZZIE, NANCY, SORRY TO BOTHER YOU, THE KINDERGARTEN TEACHER, THE MISEDUCATION OF CAMERON POST, THE TALE, and WILDLIFE

U. S. Documentary Films:

BISBEE ’17, DARK MONEY, HAL, ON HER SHOULDERS, and SEEING ALLRED

World Cinema Dramatic Films:

AND BREATHE NORMALLY, HOLIDAY, LOVELING, PITY, UN TRADUCTOR, and YARDIE

World Cinema Documentary Films:

OF FATHERS AND SONS, OUR NEW PRESIDENT, and THE OSLO DIARIES

Premieres:

BEIRUT, photo courtesy of the Sundance Institute

BEIRUT, COLETTE, COME SUNDAY, DAMSEL, DON’T WORRY HE WON’T GET FAR ON FOOT, HEARTS BEAT LOUD, JULIET NAKED, LEAVE NO TRACE, OPHELIA, PRIVATE LIFE, PUZZLE, THE CATCHER WAS A SPY, THE LONG DUMB ROAD and  WHAT THEY HAD

Documentary Premieres:

AKICITA: THE BATTLE OF STANDING ROCK, CHEF FLYNN, GENERATION WEALTH, JANE FONDA IN FIVE ACTS, KING IN THE WILDERNESS, RBG, and WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR

Spotlight:

FOXTROT, I AM NOT A WITCH, YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HERE and  THE RIDER (see interview in FF2 Media with director Chloe Zhao here)

Next:

306 HOLLYWOOD, CLARA’S GHOST, SEARCH, and WHITE RABBIT

Midnight:

ARIZONA, HEREDITARY, NEVER GOIN’ BACK, PIERCING, and SUMMER OF ’84

This isn’t even the end of the list!  There are promising short films in every category, Indie Episodic films, and virtual reality presentations also available during the festival.  Check back to RHR, FF2 Media, The Daily Journal, and Fete Lifestyle Magazine for full coverage of Sundance 2018!

 

Sundance: A Gamechanger for Women Making Films

January 15th, 2018 Posted by Film Festivals, News, Review 0 thoughts on “Sundance: A Gamechanger for Women Making Films”

The Sundance Film Festival, founded in 1981, opens on Jan. 18 in the quaint ski town of Park City, Utah.  The festival will run for 11 action-packed days giving filmmakers, artists, actors, and patrons a non-stop film-related extravaganza including screenings, panel discussions, interactive programming, and even music.  While locals may find it difficult to navigate the narrow mountain town streets on foot or by car, the town’s guests continue to find Sundance one of the premiere festivals in the world.  Why? and What makes this festival shine?

To read the rest of the article as it was published in the January 2018 edition of Fete Lifestyle Magazine, go to Fete Lifestyle Magazine

4th Annual Oakton Pop-Up Film Festival Nov. 28-Dec. 1

November 24th, 2017 Posted by Film Festivals 0 thoughts on “4th Annual Oakton Pop-Up Film Festival Nov. 28-Dec. 1”

The 4th annual Oakton Pop-Up Film Festival opens its doors to the community for free on Tuesday, November 28 through Friday, December 1 at Oakton Community College, Footlik Theatre, 1600 E. Golf Road in Des Plaines. 3 full-length feature films and 3 short films will be screened as a part of this festival, funded by the College Education Foundation. All of the films’ directors and several actors will be on-hand to participate in the question and answer sessions following the films.

The festival’s founder, Michael Glover Smith, an accomplished author, film critic, filmmaker, and professor of film at Oakton Community College, created this event in order to give not just students but the entire community access to seeing independent films on the big screen. The films chosen are found by attending festivals and contacting respected local filmmakers. Smith shared that there are no specific guidelines used in choosing films for the fest, but as he said, “The only common denominators are that I want the movies to be exciting, challenging and fun….and that will leave the audience buzzing.”

This year, the program includes Jennifer Reeder’s film “Signature Move” opening the festival on Tuesday, Nov. 28 at 2 pm. This rom-com tackles gender identification and relationships while digging deeply into family dynamics and pressures. On Wednesday, Nov. 29 at 12:30 pm, viewers will see Gabe Klinger’s “poetic and haunting ‘puzzle film,’” “Porto” starring Anton Yelchin in one of his final films before his untimely death.  Larry Knapp, “…a great film scholar and author” will be moderating a discussion with Klinger which, as Smith said, “…should make for a provocative Q&A.”

On Thursday, Nov. 30 at 2 pm, the third and final feature film, award-winning “Mercury In Retrograde” written and directed by Smith, will will be screened. This insightful and pensively beautiful drama has only been publicly shown once before, garnering praises of festival audiences and critics.  Smith is excited that five of the actors, Najarra Townsend, Alana Arenas, Jack C. Newell, Shane Simmons, and Kevin Wehby, will all be reunited to talk about the making of this “character-driven” film.  He hopes that viewers will be able to relate to the topic matter “…even if we go to some emotional places that might be dark and intense.”

And finally, on December 1 at 12:30 pm the shorts program entitled “Women in Danger” will be shown. When questioned about the title and the shorts, Smith said, “I noticed that some of the films seemed to address some of the same themes—that they seemed to be almost speaking to each other in a way.” Clare Cooney’s “Runner” which Matt Fagerholm from Indie-Outlook calls “…one of the best short films I’ve seen, not to mention a timely one” is about a woman who witnesses a violent incident while jogging in Chicago. Smith described Sadie Rogers’ “Chip V2”  as being “…about two sisters trying to survive in a post-alien attack wasteland, and “An Atramentous Mind” by Lonnie Edwards and Layne Marie Williams deals with police brutality and racism…” While they are all very different styles of films, Smith felt that they all had a common denominator of young women “…trying to navigate public spaces while fearing for their safety.” In addition, all of these films are either directed or co-directed by women.

Smith has seen the cinematic environment change over the years while embracing and highlighting the merits of independent films and filmmaking. The Oakton Pop-Up Film Festival is one such way to encourage others see the beauty and quality of independent films.  He said, “I’d like to see a real shift in the culture where the idea of young people going to see a microbudget indie on the big screen…will seem reasonable.” Check out the films and support independent filmmaking by attending the FREE Oakton Pop-Up Film Festival November 28- December 1. For more information, go to www.whitecitycinema.com

Founder Jessica Hardy preps Chicago Comedy Film Festival for seventh year

November 4th, 2017 Posted by Film Festivals 0 thoughts on “Founder Jessica Hardy preps Chicago Comedy Film Festival for seventh year”

Elkhart, Indiana native Jessica Hardy takes comedy seriously as the founder of the long-running and increasingly successful Chicago Comedy Film Festival (CCFF) since 2010. Taking place at the New 400 Cinema in the Rogers Park neighborhood of Chicago on November 9-11, the festival is one of the few comedy festivals in the country and will screen more than 50 short- and feature-films with Q&As with the filmmakers and talent after each showing. This competitive film festival is what Hardy hopes will be a platform for independent comedy filmmakers to launch their career and “…encourage [them] to go bigger and think bigger.”

To read the entire interview, go to

FF2MEDIA.COM

 

"The Gangster’s Daughter" to open the Asian Pop-Up Cinema Fall Festival

September 20th, 2017 Posted by Film Festivals, Review 0 thoughts on “"The Gangster’s Daughter" to open the Asian Pop-Up Cinema Fall Festival”

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On Wednesday, September 20th at 7 pm, the 5th season of the Asian Pop-Up Cinema Fall Festival opens with a charming, bitter-sweet thriller, “The Gangster’s Daughter.”  Directed by Mei-Juin Chen and starring Ally Chiu as Shaowu and Jack Kao as Kiego, the film brings to life a complicated father-daughter story.  Shaowu is a teen, living with her grandmother whengangstersdaughterdad her mother suddenly dies.  Shedding not a tear, a renewed interest in getting to know her father surfaces and the two, estranged for years, are reunited.  The life of a small-time gang leader isn’t exactly the perfect home to raise a teen daughter, but we can’t pick our family.  Shaowu struggles to fit in to her new home and school in Teipei, a drastic change from the remote area of Kinmen.  She longs to identify with her father, fully understanding exactly what he does for a living and using that information to help her fit in.  As any father would do, he sticks up for his daughter, but perhaps in ways most of us wouldn’t fathom.

The characters are wonderfully complex.   We truly get to know this mob boss, his own insecurities, and most importantly his love for his daughter.  Wanting her to be nothing like him, he attempts to guide her, but Shaowu admires him and wants to be his mirror image.  And Shaowu is a typical teen, looking for her identity, but this is complicated by her familial situations.  As they get to know one another, Kiego begins to understand that perhaps a life of crime isn’t in his future, especially when his boss begins to deal drugs.  Even he has a moral boundary that he will not cross.  Juggling his current situation while raising his daughter is profoundly difficult and the dangers are clearly evident.

Chiu is extraordinary in her role as tthegangstersdaughter-1600x900-c-defaulthe tough yet emotionally delicate and needy teen.  Kao personifies a dangerous and intimidating mob boss, but easily lets us see his sweet side just with his smile and a twinkle in his eye.  It is the two actors together that is wonderfully engaging.  They respond to one another with a deep love that only a father and daughter could have.  We grow to love and care about both of them as we watch their relationship develop.  There is something very special about a father and daughter that seems intangible, yet Chiu and Kao find a way to beautifully portray this.

Cinematically, the film is gorgeous.  Chen pays careful attention to every scene to bring us closer to the subjects, allowing us to feel the depth of emotion.  With precision editing, we are truly connected to these characters.  Chen orchestrates an engaging albeit unusual story with all of her filmmaking tools.  Telling a meaningful father-daughter story is no easy task and weaving into the story an element of violence heightens your every sense.

“The Gangster’s Daughter” is an expertly crafted film with extraordinary performances from Chiu and Kao.  While it is stereotypically violent (it is a gangster movie), there are many other elements to give the story charm, wit, and love all in perfect balance.  For tickets, go to www.asianpopupcinema.org/tickets  Films will be shown at the AMC River East, 322 E. Illinois St., Chicago

TIFF 2017: The Best of the Fest from The Daily Journal

September 15th, 2017 Posted by Film Festivals 0 thoughts on “TIFF 2017: The Best of the Fest from The Daily Journal”

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The 42nd Toronto International Film Festival, which took place this week and finishes Sunday, attracted the brightest stars, featured the most talented filmmakers and rolled out the red carpet to feature 11 days of world and regional premieres and festival darlings.

Tens of thousands of patrons attended this festival, which screens hundreds of films from all over the world. The Daily Journal was a part of the action, discovering new films that will be in theaters very soon for you to see. Check out the best of the fest, and be the first to know what just might be the next Oscar-winning film.

TOP TIER

“Molly’s Game”

After a sport-ending injury, a former Olympic mogul skier inadvertently falls into a career of running a high-stakes gambling game. When Molly Bloom (Jessica Chastain) is accused of illegal operations and associations with the Russian mob, she must find a lawyer who is squeaky clean but willing to defend her. Opens: Nov. 22.

Molly

“Breathe”

BreatheAnother first-time director, Andy Serkis (who, incidentally, played Gollum in the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy), brings the true story of Robin and Diana Cavendish, disability advocates, to life. Devastated physically and emotionally from contracting polio, Robin wants nothing more than to die, but his wife won’t let him. Together and with the help of friends, they reinvent life for not just their family, but for all who are severely physically disabled. It’s a beautiful, uplifting and life-affirming film with outstanding and heartfelt performances. Opens: Oct. 13

“Brad’s Status”

Mike White (“Enlightened,” “Beatriz at Dinner” and “School of Rock”) writes and directs one of the most poignant relationship films in decades. Starring Ben Stiller and Austin Abrams as father and son, the two take a trek from California to Massachusetts to tour prestigious universities. Filled with daydreams of what could have or would have been, this exceptionally powerful and entertaining film is a raw and honest look into what we all think but would never admit.

A few other top picks to look for: “3 Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” “The Shape of Water,” “Victoria & Abdul” and “Mudbound.”

DSC03585 2To read the article in its entirety, go to daily-journal.com

TIFF’s "The Swan" is a graceful and poetic portrayal of childhood innocence lost

September 11th, 2017 Posted by Film Festivals, Review, Uncategorized 0 thoughts on “TIFF’s "The Swan" is a graceful and poetic portrayal of childhood innocence lost”

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Ása Helga Hjörleifsdóttir’s feature debut is adapted from Guðbergur Bergsson’s novel of the same name.  Set in a rural, desolate area of Iceland,  a troubled young Sól (Grima Valsdóttir) is sent to her aunt and uncle’s farm to live and learn how to be a good girl again after being caught “thieving.”  This brilliantly creative girl witnesses the realities of farm life, relationships, and nature, and discovers the beauty as well as the repugnant aspects of the world around her.  Told from a child’s point of view, visually and cognitively, “The Swan” is truly a rare beauty, that allows us to not only see, but feel the pains of growing up.

We meet Sól as she and her mother lovingly cuddle in her bed.  It’s a magical moment between the two as Sól’s dependence upon her mother is genuine and sweet.  It is also within this very scene that we hear the cutting words that this precious little girl is no longer thought to be a good girl.  The harshness of these words is stunning and from this point, the viewer is a part of Sól, feelGríma Valsdóttir in THE SWAN - Courtesy of m-appeal (4)ing what she feels, and completely understanding her thoughts and actions. Sól is shipped on a bus by herself to meet her relatives where everything and everyone is foreign to her.  Her keen observational skills accompanied by the accompanying narration of her poetic thoughts and stories, create a uniquely wonderful character.

Sól is quickly introduced to the cycle of nature, human and animal, as she helps deliver a calf and then later witnesses its slaughter.  The realization of survival and the choices we make spill over into her understanding of her college-aged cousin Asta, (Þuríður Blær Jóhannsdóttir) with whom she wants desperately to admire.   However, Asta’s selfishness and morality  make it difficult for Sól to connect for any length of time.  It is her unexpected relationship with the introspective and handsomeFarmhand Jon (Þorvaldur Davíð Kristjánsson) that allows Sól to understand what life is truly about.  There is a big brother feel to his interactions, but Sól teeters between little sister and having a crush on him.  He’s bitter and angry as he attempts to be a writer— the perfect person for Sól to look up to as she too loves to tell stories. Jon’s protective nature is at once evident, but his brutal honesty may be more than this little girl can handle.  This weakening grasp on childhood opens her eyes so she no longer is able to see the world through rose-colored glasses.  They are shattered into shards of reality, a point at which we all have gone through, but perhaps never in such a definitive way.Þuríður Blær Jóhannsdóttir in THE SWAN - Courtesy of m-appeal

“The Swan” is cinematically stunning as it captures the essence of Iceland as well as the graphic brutality of survival. While the beauty is evident, the situation at hand cuts deeply through the superficiality of life to reveal the underbelly of human nature and nature itself.  Grima Valsdóttir is stellar in the role of Sól.  This young girl’s understanding of her role and the ability tGríma Valsdóttir in THE SWAN - Courtesy of m-appeal (1)o express such complicated emotions and thoughts without uttering a word is nothing short of remarkable.  Þuríður Blær Jóhannsdóttir’s portrayal of the spoiled and conflicted young woman with a broken heart and sometimes heartless, is equally as powerful creating an amazing balance of personality with young Sól. Þorvaldur Davíð Kristjánsson gives a meaningfully captivating performance as he too is trying to understand life and relationships.

“The Swan” is gorgeously poetic and deeply meaningful creating one of the most powerful, haunting, and mesmerizing portrayals of transitioning between childhood innocence and young adulthood.  With stunning cinematography, deft direction, and poignant writing, the story sweeps you away, reminding us of the balance in life and the complexities of growing up.Gríma Valsdóttir in THE SWAN - Courtesy of m-appeal (3)

FESTIVAL SCREENINGS:
Sun 10 Sept 1:45PM Jackman Hall, Public Screening (World Premiere)
Tue 12 Sept 11:30AM TIFF Bell Lightbox Cinema 4, Public Screening
Wed 13 Sept 4:45PM Scotiabank 6, P&I Screening
Sun 17 Sept 12:30PM Jackman Hall, Public Screening

TULIPANI: LOVE, HONOUR AND A BICYCLE Blossoms with love and humor

September 11th, 2017 Posted by Film Festivals, Interviews 0 thoughts on “TULIPANI: LOVE, HONOUR AND A BICYCLE Blossoms with love and humor”

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Seeing the world through rose-colored glasses never looked as beautiful as it does in “Tulipani: Love, Honour and a Bicycle.”  Oscar-winning writer and director Mike van Diem makes a comeback with this sweet and whimsical love story starring Ksenia Solo, Gijs Naber, and Giancarlo Giannini.  van Diem came to the project as a “crisis manager” after the original director left suddenly due to health reasons.  (Read van Diem’s interview here)  After a re-write and a few casting changes, van Diem creates an engaging, comedic, and oftentimes bitter sweet tale.

Upon her mother’s death bed, Anna (Solo) travels to her homeland of Italy from Canada to learn about her unknown origins.  The “madonna” is met with open arms as she learns about her father and her real mother, all the while explaining to a police detective (with her singed buttocks) how she isn’t responsible for the death of a former mafia ring leader.  “Tulipani” expertly brings us back and forth between the here and now and the days of yesteryear, recreating this complicatedly funny and downright romantic story.

We meet Gauke (Naber) early in his life as he escapes the soggy Netherlands after the historic flood of 1953, on a bicycle with a basket full of tulip bulbs, vowing to find a new— and drier— place.  As luck would have it, at the same time, he meets and falls in love/lust with Ria (Anneke Sluiters) also vowing to find her when he is established in his new home.  Gauke with Olympic speed and ability on a bicycle, lands in Puglia, Italy and, not speaking the language, somehow  puts down his roots in Puglia, Italy.  Through the kindness of others, this tall, blonde man who doesn’t foreigner who has never eaten spaghetti (properly), develops friendships and a home.  Ria, with a babe in arms (remember, I said the word “lust” in the beginning) shows up and the two seem to have the perfect little family and life.  That is, until the mob interferes.  All hell rains down, creating havoc, but again, van writer/director Diem finely balances this open display of heartbreak and tragedy with the brilliant comedic effects using his current day character actors to their fullest potential.

There’s always a surprising lightness to this story given some of the events of their lives.  The pace of the story and tempo of his characters interactions allow the film to flow effortlessly.  Solo has a fine-tuned performance as she embodies the Canadian-Italian beauty counter-balanced by Michele Venitucci as the now-grown Vito.  Their connection is palpable as they stay at arms length during their ordeal of tripping down memory lane to tie up loose ends.  Young Vito, in flashbacks, simply steals the screen and every scene he’s in.  He’s adorable as he creates this boy who admires Gauke to no ends.  The connection between the adult Vito and the young boy is absolutely real.  We truly believe this is the grown Vito with his appearance, interactions, and mannerisms.  Naber couldn’t have been cast any better and given his Dutch heritage, he fits the role perfectly.  Giannini and Lidia Vitale who plays Vito’s mother, give this film the levity it needs, accentuating that not only Italians love a good story, we all do.  Giannini, gruff initially (read the interview to find out why!) portrays another level of character itching to surface.  His comedic timing is unconventional and refreshing, setting the stage for the rest of the cast to follow and have fun.  It is their interaction and reactions that remind us that stories and history are frequently blown out of proportion for the sake of that interesting and entertaining story.  Who would have thought that Giannini had the makings of a comic actor!

van Diem pays careful attention to every detail in this film including the ability to capture Italy and the historic flood in 1953 in the Netherlands.  Coordinating with the cinematographer with precision gives this film that overall lightness to a sometimes tragic story.  And it is with this ability that we not only love the characters, we are invested in them and their home country.  van Diem said, “If there’s one feeling you get from watching this film, it’s that we do love Italy and we do love Italians.”  Grazie Sr. van Diem e salute!

“Tulipano” is the ultimate immigrant comedic love story filled with lore, exaggeration, and passion.  van Diem’s touch with stellar performances create a technicolor dream story.

 

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