Posts in Interviews

“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

Weighing in on “42 Grams” An interview with Jack C. Newell

January 12th, 2018 Posted by Interviews 0 thoughts on “Weighing in on “42 Grams” An interview with Jack C. Newell”

Curiosity is the main ingredient in Jack C. Newell’s newest film “42 Grams,” a documentary about a chef, Jake Bickelhaupt, his wife Alexa, and the impact of a high-stakes restaurant life. Newell, the Program Director at The Harold Ramis Film School at The Second City and also a commercial director, met with me recently to discuss the film, the subjects, and how this labor of love came to be.

Newell’s curiosity, as he said, “…was rewarded in the biggest ways possible” as “42 Grams” hit the film festival circuit and is now currently available on digital platforms such as iTunes. But Newell cautions that  this isn’t your typical food documentary, defining the it as “…really funny at moments, and really, really sad…you learn something, but you also feel something. It’s complex.”

Complexity in the most satisfying ingredient in “42 Grams” and that word accurately describes this culinary tale. Newell’s keen insight and willingness to share his thoughts about the process were, dare I say, icing on the cake when it comes to savoring the many complicated and delicious layers of this film.

Food is a common theme in Newell’s cinematic endeavors. His first feature film, “Close Quarters,” featured two young baristas and his second feature, “Open Tables” “…was an exploration of food, but from the diners’ point of view. Food is almost incidental…” And now, Newell found Bickelhaupt, a self-trained chef with one of the most impressive resumes you’ve ever seen. Working under Charlie Trotter and creating dishes at the world-renowned Alinea and Schwa in Chicago, this underground chef turned 2-Star Michelin restaurant purveyor is now the focus of a uniquely emotional, delicious, and sometimes volatile story.

Finding Jake seemed serendipitous as Newell and his then-girlfriend Rebecca attended a fundraiser at the  Steppenwolf Theater in 2013. One of the silent auction items was dinner at an underground restaurant called Sous Rising. Newell, a foodie who takes pride in his knowledge of the Chicago restaurant scene, couldn’t believe his luck. The couple “won” the item and were blown away by the food served in this this intimate Uptown neighborhood apartment. “It’s the best food I’ve ever had. Easily. Each course is better than the one before it…” Newell then approached Bickelhaupt after the meal, connected over their common roots of Wisconsin and said, “‘Could I follow you?’ and he said ‘yes.’ So three weeks later I just showed up with my camera and just started filming them do the underground restaurant thing.”

The entire project simmered in the pot for about 3 years. Newell shared that after “…a year and 9 months of solid filming [there was] no solid narrative arc being apparent.” Did he panic? The answer is a resounding “no.” He reiterated his curious nature. “Curiosity isn’t a business plan and no one can make a career on it…but that’s what makes it so special.” He continued, “…[Bickelhaupt’s] wife (Alexa) presenting the food that he’s making…that was a very intimate dynamic that you almost never get at restaurants. It’s like family.”

Capturing that intimacy and finding that narrative arc was no easy task.  Newell confided that after 2 years into filming, becoming a fly on the wall, he encountered a reticence to stay involved by both Jake and Alexa. “I thought I had lost my access…every single question I would ask, they’d give me the same answer. I was running out of steam.” Newell was afraid that might be the end of the road, but his instinct pushed him forward, allowing the couple to view a rough cut of the film.  This was the turning point. Jake left the room at the end of the showing, overwhelmed by emotion as he witnessed some of his outbursts and character flaws. Alexa then told Newell, “‘You’re not done yet. You have way more to film. We have to tell you about our marriage. We have to tell you about our parents’” Newell said, “In showing them [the rough cut] it opened up a whole other avenue…I had actually taken it easy on Jake because I was a little worried about showing it to him.” The full story could now be told making this a more complicated and delectable film.

Emotions ran high in this intense documentary as we became connected with Jake and Alexa. We saw the good and the bad, the real people in front of the camera lens. They weren’t perfect—they were real. And then, Newell happened to capture one of the most dramatic scenes that gave him that needed narrative arc. That particular scene brought me to  tears and Newell shared that he too cries “…every time I see it which is crazy because once you see your movie enough times you get really desensitized to it, but not that part! And then, the very, very end, I cry at that part too!” Newell felt that the film is just like a great meal. “…you’re super satisfied…It’s emotional and true. That’s exactly what the [restaurant] life is. There’s always darkness [and] sacrifice.”  

Newell, a “jack of all trades,” has found that his ability to wear a variety of hats, from actor and editor to director and producer, making him a better filmmaker. Newell described making “42 Grams” as “…a perfect machine. It works on every single level.” And I couldn’t agree more—it’s the appetizer, the palate cleanser, the entree and dessert of movies.   This experience, according to Newell, has given him more confidence in his story-telling abilities and has learned a very valuable lesson: “Tell the story you want to tell. Don’t tell the story you think people want you to tell.” He has done just that with “42 Grams” and I’m confident we will see that in his upcoming documentary “How to Build a School in Haiti,” and a narrative film with the working title “Monuments.”

While you can see “42 Grams” on VOD, Chicagoans have the amazing opportunity to see it in the newly renovated Gene Siskel Film Center  , meet Jack C. Newel,l and ask questions after the film on Jan. 27 and 28 and on Jan. 31 and Feb. 1.  For tickets to this cinematically beautiful and creative delight, go to http://www.siskelfilmcenter.org/42grams

“Keep Talking” At the Gene Siskel Film Center

January 7th, 2018 Posted by Interviews, News 0 thoughts on ““Keep Talking” At the Gene Siskel Film Center”

The multiple award-winning documentary KEEP TALKING is Chicagoan Karen Lynn Weinberg’s newest documentary film depicting the efforts of four Alaskan Native women fighting to save the endangered language Alutiiq. Less than 40 fluent speakers remain, placing a heavy burden on them to keep not only the language alive, but the culture and history that is an integral part of it as well. Within the film, we begin to understand the important role indigenous language plays in those seeking a sense of identity and the necessary bonds between the Alutiiq people.

I had an opportunity to talk with Weinberg about her informative and emotional film and how it has impacted her, the Alutiiq community, and other cultures around the world. Her insight and passion will at once inspire you to see the film and see the world in a different and more compassionate way.

The Indiana University graduate found her first passion for langauage in literature, particularly Shakespeare as his writing “…allowed me to personally experience the power of language to elevate and transform.” Weinberg also studied French, Spanish, and Italian, and even when she became a published author and documentary film editor, she found time to tutor English to adults when she could.

Weinberg’s teaching skills crossed over into film editing and Weinberg was invited by the Native Village of Afognak to Kodiak, Alaska to teach a one-week course. Her entire class was comprised of Kodiak Alutiiq as the group wanted to learn the necessary software to preserve their native language and their culture. Weinberg shared, “I was hooked and wanted to know more…At the time, I had wanted to try my hand at producing/directing a documentary, so I went Kari (a language activist) a proposal to take to their Elders, and they granted me see funding and permission to come film their first-ever Dig Afognak camp geared towards immersion.”

Weinberg felt her own background weighing on her as an outsider to this community. She was an outsider and says, “I mean, how many times have Indigenous people been misrepresented in the white media? I felt an enormous responsibility to get it right.” Working with the community, conducting feedback sessions, and finding translators to interpret hours of footage allowed Weinberg to immerse herself, gain the necessary funding, and most importantly, get it right.

“Keep Talking” is powerful, but the one aspect that really is quite emotional is Sadie’s story. She’s a struggling teen who seems to transform her personality and hope for her future when she is among her people, learning her native tongue, and embracing her roots and traditions. Finding and focusing on Sadie gives the viewer a true understanding of the need to not lose our culture. Weinberg shared that she and the film’s cinematographer, Nara Garber, were immediately drawn to her. “As I got to know her, I understood that she was in a tough place emotionally, much as I was at her age. At the same time, the language and Alutiiq dancing was a clear, bright spot in her life.” Weinberg continued, “While we absolutely had more people we were filming with and I wish all the storylines could have fit into this film, it was Sadie’s coming of age story that most clearly illustrated the power of culture to help and heal.”

The film’s impact upon the viewer is tremendous as it exhibits the historical tragedies that continue to effect the culture in negative ways. A reconnection to their beginnings seems to have a healing effect. Weinberg has found from viewers that “…language revitalization work helps to heal historical trauma.” She continued, “In a bigger sense, I hope that the film contributes to discussions of the need for governmental bodies to provide lasting support to programs like language revitalization: this support is sorely needed to help to heal some of the damage done by assimilationist policies practiced by the United States, Canada and countless other countries formed with colonization at their core.”

Weinberg passionately expressed that, “Making this film has me firmly convinced that modern society desperately needs a push towards interpersonal connection and communication, including strengthening people’s sense of identity with an awareness of their own ancestry and heritage.” Perhaps in looking forward, we all need to look backward and see where we began and hold on to our roots, cherish our elders’ and their knowledge, and learn about our ancestry, no matter where we began. It is obvious in “Keep Talking” that this Alutiiq culture is on a more positive path…one that would benefit us all in understanding one another and even ourselves.

In closing, I asked Weinberg what was her favorite word or expression. Her answer brings me to happy tears. She said, “Since I can’t spell or say my favorite word (which means ‘they always tease me’), I will leave you with ‘Tang’rciqamken’- I will see you later. It’s a substitute for goodbye. I love that there is no word for goodbye.” The film screened at the Gene Siskel Film Center on Friday, Jan. 5th for its grand re-opening and will screen again on Jan. 11. For more information about tickets, go to www.siskelfilmcenter.org/keeptalking

For more information about the film go to www.keeptalkingthefilm.com

 

Michael Stuhlbarg talks about his remarkable role in “Call Me By Your Name”

December 15th, 2017 Posted by Interviews, Review 0 thoughts on “Michael Stuhlbarg talks about his remarkable role in “Call Me By Your Name””

“Call Me By Your Name” seemed a sure-fire Oscar contender when I saw it months ago. Beginning the festival circuit at Sundance Film Festival back in January, the film received rave reviews. Now, almost one year later, the film is winning major film critic awards including Best Film and Best Director from the LA Film Critics Circle and numerous acting awards and nominations for its stars Timothee Chalamet, Armie Hammer, and Michael Stuhlbarg.

The film is an daringly bold and honest coming of age film about a 17 year-old boy, Elio (Chalamet) who is trying to find his identity back in the 1980’s. His family summers in Italy as his father is a professor of history, researching during this time period. When Oliver (Armie Hammer), the new college research assistant arrives, Elio’s sexual emotions are awakened and with a new-found flurry of thoughts, feelings and desires, he finds himself confused and struggling with his first love.

The cinematically stunning film boldly addresses the powerfully intense emotions that occur in a young boy and how his family perceives his situation from the outside. I had the honor of sitting down and talking with Michael Stuhlbarg who portrays Elio’s father, Mr. Perlman, to discuss his career path, his own father’s influence upon his role, and how he hopes viewers will see this film.

Pamela Powell (PP): Your theater, television, and film credits are simply remarkable and you seem to have found a springboard recently to make a recognizable name for yourself with this film, “The Post,” and “The Shape of Water.” Can you tell me about your path?

Michael Stuhlbarg (MS): The drive to do this kind of work with my life, I don’t really thoroughly understand where it comes from. I’ve been doing it since I was 11 years old. non prof until 1989… I’ve always loved storytelling, I’ve loved making people laugh and think and feel. And I stand on the shoulders of giants, really, whether it’s been my father or professors or teachers I’ve had who gave me confidence or encouraged me or taught me something that was important. We all are on the shoulders of others who took an interest in us. Saw something in us perhaps a passion or a love or a talent and made us feel like we could perform miracles, otherwise we wouldn’t be here… certainly wouldn’t be here without the people who influenced me in my life. And with each opportunity you’re given, you hope that you gain a little more confidence about what you’re capable of, with each job, it’s like starting all over again, honestly. I never know what tools are going to be necessary for a new job and there’s always a great sense of insecurity and anxiety about will I be able to fulfill what’s being asked of me… So you just have to trust your collaborators, you trust your director, and they also have tremendous influence on you as well.

PP: This particular role of Elio’s father is one of compassion and understanding like I’ve never seen in a film. Tell me about preparing for this role, learning Italian and Greek history.

MS: In this case, I’m a Greek scholar who has an interest in history and art history…I met with a couple classics professors, talked to them about what it’s like to stand in front of a room and talk about encouraging students to know their latin and about coming off like you could speak italian. I took some [Italian] lessons in NY before I left. My tutor was from the South of Italy and then I learned that when I arrived [in Northern Italy] that the dialect and the meanings of some things are different than they are down south!

I loved what Luka said during the rehearsal process… He wanted this whole experience for the audience to be one of light, one of love, one of buoyancy. That idyllic summer that we may have been lucky enough to have had in our youth where we fell in love for the first time or we met someone we adored or we experienced something that just maybe encouraged us to take a particular path in our lives.

These are all great challenges and I think it’s a really good thing when you’re terrified at the beginning process. In some ways it puts a fire under you to do the best work that you can because you don’t want to be the one who doesn’t fulfill what the script is providing. Basically, you don’t want to screw up. So there’s always a fire there to always do the best I can. I guess you’re given a script, you mine it for what you’re responsible for and you do your best to learn all that you can so that you don’t have to think about it on the day that you’re shooting it. You just let it go, you let it fly.

PP: And it most certainly did fly! That final speech was extraordinarily moving. Was your relationship with your father an influence upon your performance?

There was a significant pause in Stuhlbarg’s response as I could see that perhaps this was a very emotional topic for him. As he took a deep breath, his eyes closed, he turned and looked at me and with a strong yet sombre voice said:

MS: My father was a wonderful man. He had a gravity about him and a wonderful sense of humor and he often said to me let’s solve the problems of the world. So I had an amazing example for a father in my life and I thought about him often, of course, in the making of the film. I think had the circumstances of my life had been similar to what Elio was going through, I imagined he would have been as compassionate and as open and as loving as Professor Perlman is to Elio. I feel like the luckiest kid in the world to have had such an example of wonderful parents, mother and father, to have encouraged me and have been open to anything that came into my life. So I feel like it rested and lived in a very natural part of who I am. I feel their blood in my blood and i feel like I had the kind of empathy that Professor Perlman has that I was blessed to have in my life.

PP: Thank you for answering that with such honesty and candor. I hadn’t realized your father had passed away…What do you hope viewers will take away from this film?

MS: I hope they just go along for the ride…and also that they will perhaps see an example in what I get to say of a beautiful sort of view into the difficult balancing act that is parenting which is compassion and love and trust, but also providing a sense of a rock from which a child could feel grounded in the world. I think in this instance, in the speech you mention, Professor Perlman gets to offer aspects of perhaps his own experience in a round about way to Elio that he hopes will allow his son to find some comfort in the pain that he is feeling. So perhaps the audience sill take away a relationship of compassion and of absolute love and the advice or the words that are offered are coming from a place of experience and generosity and for him not to push away the pain that he is feeling because and how wonderful it is that he’s feeling what he’s feeling because those feelings are rare.

“Call Me By Your Name” opens in theaters in Chicago December 15 and will expand nationally in the weeks to follow.

Razvan Stoica shares his thoughts about “Strad Style”

November 20th, 2017 Posted by Interviews 0 thoughts on “Razvan Stoica shares his thoughts about “Strad Style””

The world-renowned classical violinist, Razvan Stoica, is one of the focal points in the new documentary “Strad Style” now available on digital platforms.  Stoica commissioned Daniel Houck, a backward Ohioan with no training to create a replica of a famous Italian-made violin from the 1700’s.  Unbenownst to Stoica, Houck had more hurdles to overcome to make this violin than a track runner in the Olympics.  The film premiered in Park City, Utah at the 2017 Slamdance Film Festival.  Stoica had not seen the film until the premiere and while the end result is shocking to the viewer, it was even more surprising to Stoica.  He recently shared with me his thoughts.

Reel Honest Reviews (RHR):  I’m guessing that you were unaware of Daniel’s background.

Razvan Stoica (RS):  Yes, I was absolutely unaware of what was going on.  [The] first time I saw it [was] at the screening of the Slamdance Film Festival.  I must admit I was shocked…Stefan (the director) was watching my reactions because he never told me what was going on.  I really lived the movie from [the] outside.

RHR:  Can you describe your feelings after seeing the film?

RS:  I guess that the message I received was, if you believe in yourself, everything is possible.  It gave me hope and made me happy to be a part of this.  And to know it’s reality and that sometimes wonders can happen…

RHR:  That’s a wonderful message!  Do you think you would have pulled back from asking him to make this [violin] for you had you have known what was actually happening behind the scenes?

RS:  Not at all…something dragged me to trust him and even if I would do it again and knowing what could happen, I would trust him 100% because I felt it.

RHR:  Your faith in him is inspirational!  Thank you so much!

To learn more about Razvan Stoica, visit his website and perhaps if you’re lucky, you can attend one of his concerts and see him perform with Houck’s beautiful creation! Go to razvanstoica.com

 

 

Nadia Jordan’s ‘For the Love of George’ wins at CCFF

November 18th, 2017 Posted by Interviews 0 thoughts on “Nadia Jordan’s ‘For the Love of George’ wins at CCFF”

The 2017 Chicago Comedy Film Festival has come to a close until next year. The festival featured Chicago-made shorts which were featured at The Harold Ramis Film School, a part of The Second City, followed by two nights of shorts and narrative features screening in the Rogers Park neighborhood of Chicago. The casual and welcoming atmosphere set the right tone to not only see hilarious new movies, but to hang out with the filmmakers and talent.

CCFF founder Jessica Hardy, began the festival seven years ago and from its inception, has given an award to a top female filmmaker. Hardy explained in a previous interview with FF2 Media, “…because comedy, in the past, has been dominated by masculine voices. We’ve made it part of our objective to accept a fair amount of female producers, writers, and directors…” This year, the winner of this prestigious title as well as the Audience Choice Award went to Nadia Jordan for For the Love of George.

The film is about Poppy (Jordan) who finds out her hubby has been cheating on her. On a whim, she hops a flight to L.A. from England in search of her perfect man — George Clooney. She just knows that if George meets her, they will live happily ever after. Staying with her best friend, Justin (Rex Lee), Poppy’s obsession gets the better of her as she spirals out of control. For the Love of George is as hilarious as it is endearing.

To read the review in its entirety, go to FF2media.com

Brent Kado, Changing the Chicago film scene

November 9th, 2017 Posted by Interviews 0 thoughts on “Brent Kado, Changing the Chicago film scene”

Chicago’s film scene is evolving thanks to the independent endeavors of  Brent Kado and his wife Jessica Hardy. Together, they have curated the Chicago Comedy Film Festival (CCFF) for the past 7 years, and more recently the Chicago Independent Film Festival (CHIFF) which will celebrate its third year in 2018. Kado sat down to talk about his recent film, “A Short History of Drugs in the Valley,” and the inspiration behind it.

Kado’s relaxed demeanor is at once calming as we sat down to talk.  The Indiana native and adjunct professor at Columbia College described the area just south of his hometown of Goshen, Indiana, which is the setting for “A Short History of Drugs in the Valley.” Kado chuckled, “It’s the most conservative county in Indiana which is kind of saying a lot! …it has this really repressive vibe…[and] it’s one of the worst areas for meth.” The film’s topic tackles the evils of drugs linked with crime and the consequences.

While Kado described Goshen and the college nestled there as liberal, the area south is a factory worker’s town and the script seemed to be a natural outcome of the problems there.  Kado shared, “If you say something about the meth problem, people say, yeah, but at least it’s not Chicago…it’s a lot of racist stuff too because white people are acting like that. If it was black people or Hispanics, it would be a problem.” He added almost as a parenthetical note, “There aren’t black people or Hispanics there.” He continued, “…this crime and situation that people [are] covering up…guys that have no business being criminals get swept up into something just because they’re there. Police officers that don’t really have any clue as to what’s going on…” It sounded much like a walk back in time when, as Kado said, “…people still listen to the radio, read the newspaper. So if you’re a newspaper columnist, you have some sort of power as a journalist…”

Kado actually had two separate scripts written before creating “A Short History of Drugs in the Valley.” The first, he said, “…was about a guy that was just doing a small town TV show and I made it radio…and then I combined it with another script that I had that was the actual criminal element…” Combining the two scripts and anchoring the film with the popular radio show interviews gives the film its beginning and its climax.

Finding the right actor to play the radio show host was key, but Kado had no difficulty casting this role. Unfortunately, the actor who played Dr. Dick Diamond, Jerry Sailor, passed away in a tragic car accident. Kado described the interview with him, a friend of his wife’s family, knowing ahead of time he would probably get the role, but wanted to meet face to face first. “He could have had his own radios show. (Laughing) He probably did have his own radio show! …He did one of those things that you hear about a Hollywood actor doing. He came to the meeting as the character…and I was like, ok, you sold me.” Kado continued, “…he was finally in his 50’s and back at grad school for theater, just trying to do what he loved to do. If there ever was a film around, he would get involved.”

Kado is no newcomer to the film industry and as he looked back on his career, he shared that he has grown as a director. He finds that he now lets “…the actors have control of the scene…trusting that they can deliver which goes into good casting.” As an independent filmmaker, Kado knows that micromanaging isn’t the way to get the best product. “Most of the actors I work with have a really strong improv background which [allows] you to trust them to get into the character and just go into the scene.”

All three of his feature narrative films have been done with improvisors as the cast. Kado quickly stated that he is not an improv actor although he tried that once, and joked,  “It was a terrible experience….for me and my audience.”

Be sure to see Kado’s “A Short History of Drugs in the Valley” now available to see for free on AMAZON PRIME.  The style, story, and music in this film punctuates the background of the fictional tale based upon key points of reality.

"Or Die Trying" producer Sarah Hawkins talks about women in film: collaboration, not competition

October 26th, 2017 Posted by Interviews, News 0 thoughts on “"Or Die Trying" producer Sarah Hawkins talks about women in film: collaboration, not competition”

Award-winning actress Sarah Hawkins is branching out quickly to the executive producer role of a new web series, “Or Die Trying” and creating her own production company, Dadley Productions, with fellow director, also her father, Bradley Hawkins. She’s on fire right now, paving a new path not only for herself, but for other young women in Hollywood and beyond.

“Roller Coaster,” her first film which happens to be a silent one, is filled with more heartfelt emotion in every action than most other dramatic or comedic short films. Based on her own humorous situations as she attempts to “make it” in Hollywood, she auditions and tries to live life on a shoestring. It’s a compelling short film which she and her father created and was the springboard for her next endeavors, “Or Die Trying” and “Filling In.”

Hawkins is shooting for the stars and I had a chance to talk with the talented and ambitious actress/producer recently about being female in this male-dominated world and the making of “Or Die Trying.”

Pamela Powell (PP): You’ve gone from award-winning actress to the lead and executive producer of “Or Die Trying.” Tell me about how you navigated this path.

Sarah Hawkins (SH): I love being on screen, but guiding a project from inception to final product is incredibly fulfilling. I’ve worked for a female-driven production company called Busted Buggy Entertainment, and recently produced a comedy-fantasy proof-of-concept called “Filling In.” It’s exciting to see [ODT] finally out in the world. It was also a fun way to put the acting hat on again as my character “Ellie Hansen.”

PP: Women in the film industry is a hot topic right now, thankfully. How do you see your role in helping to improve where women currently are and what can others do to help?

SH: As women working in the film industry ourselves, we were desperate to change the conversation on this topic as, more often than not, it focuses on depressing statistics and systemic misogyny. We knew our show wasn’t going to fix a patriarchal society like Hollywood; however, by committing to hire a team of at least 85% women, our audience was not only contributing to a female-driven narrative on screen, they were contributing to giving women in the industry a practical leg-up off screen. [And] who better to tell the story of millennial women in film than women in film? We made the decision early on to hire a predominantly female crew.

PP: Women supporting other women…there must be great strength with that!

SH: The simple switch in mentality from being competitive to being collaborative is what makes the women-in-film community so strong. When one woman succeeds in this business, we all do. We received so much support from brands, businesses, and badass women (and men!) who genuinely wanted to move the needle on gender equality. It was overwhelmingly encouraging to witness, and that much more exciting to be a part of.

PP: I’m sure you must have encountered hurdles in completing ODT which was funded through a campaign through Seed & Spark.

SH: Lack of time and money are always obstacles, but I think what is unique about OR DIE TRYING in this capacity is that we shot close to 70 pages within five and a half days, producing the entire series with a budget a little over 13k. It’s definitely not something I’d recommend, but looking back, I think it was a pretty excellent feat that we were able to get it all in.

PP: Do you feel like your show reflects the reality of women in your age group in the film industry?

SH: Absolutely. I have to give props to Myah Hollis, the series creator, writer (and my producing partner). She nails the highs and lows of the industry, and the work/life balance struggle [we] millennials go through exceptionally well. “Success” is an ambiguous term that can mean many different things to many different people. Who you become in the process of balancing your personal and professional lives while trying to achieve “success” AND being a woman on top of that makes for a hotbed of issues [that] I know a lot of our peers grapple with every day.

PP: What have you learned and what are your words of advice after creating this series?

SH: I think the biggest take away was a lesson in faith…the entire process was a little over two years. [And] leave nothing on the table, work fiercely and fervently, and don’t dare [to] give up on the end goal just because things don’t come easy.

Hawkins and her team’s series can be found on YouTube with a season 2 already in development. It certainly looks like Hawkins’ aim was a bulls eye in shooting for those stars.

Everybody Digital

October 10th, 2017 Posted by Interviews 0 thoughts on “Everybody Digital”

Allen Maldonado has created a new app called Everybody Digital which gives not only a home to short films, but a new life to them!  Listen to Allen talk with Pamela Powell from Fete Lifestyle Magazine about his new app!

It’s Not Yet Dark

October 10th, 2017 Posted by Interviews 0 thoughts on “It’s Not Yet Dark”

Director Frankie Fenton, producers Lesley McKimm and Kathryn Kennedy, and Ruth Fitzmaurice joined me to talk about the award winning documentary film “It’s Not Yet Dark” from the 2017 Sundance Film Festival.

Killing Ground

October 10th, 2017 Posted by Interviews 0 thoughts on “Killing Ground”

Damien Power, Maya Stange, and Aaron Glenane discussed the creation of KILLING GROUND during the 2017 Sundance Film Festival

Pop Aye

October 10th, 2017 Posted by Interviews 0 thoughts on “Pop Aye”

The Sundance opening night film POP AYE has met rave reviews.  I had the opportunity to sit down with the writer and director Kirsten Tan and one of the producers of the film to talk about the making of this beautiful film.

Suck It Up

October 10th, 2017 Posted by Interviews 0 thoughts on “Suck It Up”

Director Jordan Canning spoke with fellow journalist Tom Haraldsen and I about making the Slamdance hit film SUCK IT UP

To The Moon and Back

October 10th, 2017 Posted by Interviews 0 thoughts on “To The Moon and Back”

Susan Morgan Cooper and Miles Harrington talk with Pamela Powell about the documentary film TO THE MOON AND BACK

Unbroken Glass

October 10th, 2017 Posted by Interviews 0 thoughts on “Unbroken Glass”

Documentary filmmaker Dinesh Sabu talks with Reel Honest Reviews’ Pamela Powell about making this personal film, “Unbroken Glass.”

A United Kingdom

October 10th, 2017 Posted by Interviews 0 thoughts on “A United Kingdom”

David Oyelowo sits down with Pamela Powell to talk about his new film A UNITED KINGDOM

Dave Made A Maze Interview

October 10th, 2017 Posted by Interviews 0 thoughts on “Dave Made A Maze Interview”

Writer/director Bill Watterson and actors Nick Thune and Meera Rohit Kumbhani joined Pamela Powell of Reel Honest Reviews to talk about their new Slamdance Film DAVE MADE A MAZE.

An interview with Chad Friedrichs, "The Experimental City" Part of the Spotlight: Architecture at the Chicago International Film Festival

October 8th, 2017 Posted by Interviews 0 thoughts on “An interview with Chad Friedrichs, "The Experimental City" Part of the Spotlight: Architecture at the Chicago International Film Festival”

The documentary film, “The Experimental City” by Chad Friedrichs, will be a part of the 53rd Chicago International Film Festival taking place in Chicago from October 12-26 at the AMC River East.  The film, a part of the Spotlight: Architecture program, is a bold, innovative, and entertaining discovery of an almost lost and forgotten story of Athelstan Spilhaus.  Spilhaus lead a team of scientists attempting to develop MXC, the Minnesota Experimental City in the 1960’s and 1970’s.  This endeavor, targeting the results of climate change actually garnered state funding and political support, but just as quickly as it was considered, it fizzled out and was buried…until now.  Friedrichs unlocks the treasure of information and provides audiences with the opportunity to know Spilhaus as well as to ponder the era and the outcome.

Friedrichs talked with me about his discovery of Spilhaus and the arduous journey in making this wonderfully entertaining and enlightening film.

UNCOVERING SPILHAUS

I think outside certain sections of Minnesota, [the Experimental City] has been a largely forgotten subject. I came to it as I was searching for a topic along the lines of retro-futurism which is what people in the past used to think the future would look like…I came across some articles about Athelstan Spilhaus who is this scientist [and] academic…[and] this comic that he had written called Our New Age which of course is featured in the film…The very first ‘Our New Age’ that Spilhaus ever wrote in 1958 was about climate change.  He talked about [the fact] that we lived in a greenhouse and the carbon dioxide that is being emitted from our burning of fossil fuels is on the increase with the amount of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere thus creating warming. And the last panel of that ‘Our New Age’ is NYC under water.  The very first one that he ever wrote!   But it’s one thing to do a profile on an individual, it’s another thing to try and define something far greater.  I actually looked it up on Wikipedia (You never know what you’ll find there!)… it mentioned that he had been a part of this project called the Minnesota Experimental City.  I’m originally from Minnesota, so this was something that I kind of cued in on…and you go down a Wikipedia rabbit hole and you start reading about this very futuristic sounding city.  Now, of course the Wikipedia article doesn’t give you any where near the kind of depth that we eventually arrived at, but it gave me enough of an indication that  there might be something really cool here.    

AUDIO RECORDING DISCOVERY

When I began this project, like all projects, you have no idea what this thing is going to look like, but…once I read the story of the MXC…[I thought] I’ve got to make this story somehow.  And I didn’t even know that those archival recordings were out there.  Walter Van den Broeck…who was one of the leads on the project donated all of these recordings and all of his materials associated with the MXC to the Northwest Architectural archives at the University of Minnesota.  A quick internet search revealed that they had these boxes. We didn’t know what was in these boxes, but it did mention that there were some reel to reel audio recordings.  Those are the kind of things that can change a film…when I say recordings, probably 40 or 50 reel to reels, and it says Steering Committee meeting, July 1967…this is going to be Spilhaus and all the rest talking about it and sure enough it was.

That was the first find and then the second find was when we went down to Texas to interview Louise O’Connor, Spilhuas’ friend. She mentioned off-hand that she had these recordings when she compiling his biography…In her recordings with Spilhaus, [he was] drinking heavily during the recording… he could say whatever he wanted, he was liberated. That was fun to listen to! That really gives you a sense of this character… we had 200 hours of audio…We had way more audio that we ever knew what to do with.  It’s a wonderful problem to have, but it is a problem.

REINACTMENTS USING ARCHIVAL AUDIO

The people (shown seated from the neck down) who are reading the MPCA transcripts at the end of the film, they’re all family members.  Even through editing, that was always the question mark, were audiences going to accept it? The idea: I’ve seen a film called “The Arbor,” that has lip-syncing involved. I didn’t have either the chops or the budget to pull off something like that. Another obvious choice would to be to do comics, to do an animation, but for some reason I just wasn’t feeling that.  And I really wanted to make sure that those recordings didn’t feel abstract.

So when you’re exposed to all this archival footage, all these still images…it’s going to distance you away from that audio…it just doesn’t have that same kind of immersion  when you’re actually seeing people talk even if you know in the back of your mind that those people aren’t real.

It’s the documentarians burden I’ve struggled with all my career.  Sometimes you have fabulous material from one aspect of the film but then you have to find ways to fill in the other aspects of the film, in this case, the visuals. 

WHAT IF MXC WAS BUILT?  WOULD OUR WORLD BE BETTER?

It’s tempting to look at that.  Let me give you my point of view on that.  I always, from the very beginning, try to strike a balance.  I always want audiences to come out kind of  a 50-50 split. I want audiences to see virtues of both sides. The people from [Minnesota] absolutely had to do what they did.  I mean it’s crazy to think that the city would come in, and if you believe in where you live is a good place, that’s the last thing you want to do is have that taken away… It’s very possible that this could have ameliorated some issues that created climate change today.  It’s very possible that it may not have done anything and become a ghost town after 20-30 years.  It does show [that] Spilhaus very early on was aware.  He was on the fence.  They knew that some sort of change was going to be taking place, but throughout the 70’s they weren’t sure whether it was going to be the climate change that we know or things were going to get cooler because of particulates in the air from pollution and that would block sunlight and it would have gotten cooler.  So he was on the fence.  To cast Spilhaus as this totally prescient person about our predicament today, is to do an historical injustice to him.  He was operating on the best information he had at the time.

RELEVANCY TODAY

A lot of people expect relevance out of documentaries…[However], this film is a kind of time piece as well.  It captures the spirit of a toxic era, so I wanted to remain true to that era  I didn’t want to move it forward to the 21st century.  It was a story about the 1960’s and ’70’s…At the same time, I think it’s great that people find relevancy that makes your work fresh; it keeps it interesting. 

GOALS

Number one, I want people to be entertained. There’s a burden that’s placed on documentary filmmakers to have this larger social outcome from a film.  That is not my desire, nor is it my particular talent.  Mine is making the movie and then letting other people use it as a tool.   The reason I got into this is that I’m attracted to the story…if audience walks out of it and they’re happy and entertained or sad and entertained, that’s enough for me.

CHASING THE BLUES co-writer and director Scott Smith talks about making this Chicago gem

October 8th, 2017 Posted by Interviews 0 thoughts on “CHASING THE BLUES co-writer and director Scott Smith talks about making this Chicago gem”

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The 53rd Chicago International Film Festival, October 12th-26, has one of the most memorable line-ups in its history.  Unique to this festival, CIFF features “City & State” films showcasing “local characters and settings” and this year, there are 6 standout films in the category.  “Chasing the Blues,” starring Grant Rosenmeyer, Jon Lovitz, and Steve Guttenberg and co-written and directed by Scott Smith is just one of the truly wonderful films to see.

“Chasing the Blues” takes us into the life of Alan (Rosenmeyer) who is behind bars.  This soon-to-be released convict, previously a teacher in Chicago, has his story to tell as to how he ended up in this lowly state.  Lincoln Groome (Lovitz) visits Alan just before he’s released to dangle a carrot, hoping to entice Alan to look for the record album that landed him in prison 20 years ago.  The temptation is too much and Alan takes the bait.  We take that journey with him as he recounts to a random (and beautiful) fellow bus traveler the sordid and simply hilarious details of a mythical 1930‘s blues musician, a cursed rare record, and his rivalry with a fellow collector.film_chasing-the-blues_1200x800

WATCH THE TRAILER HERE

I had the opportunity to talk with Smith, currently a filmmaker as well as a creative director at Leo Burnett in Chicago about making this Windy City independent gem and  creating the mystery and intrigue of the fictional blues legend Jimmie Kane Baldwin.

Pamela Powell (PP):  Tell me about your background and how you got into filmmaking.

Scott Smith (SS):  Long ago, when my interest in filmmaking started to get more present in my life, I decided to shoot a couple of spec commercials for myself to see what it was like. I came up with these fake commercials for a fake yoga studio…targeted to men.  There are two guys who are calling a baseball game, but there’s a rain delay.  To show something, they went out to this yoga competition and they had to announce the [it].  It’s them trying to understand what’s going on.

PP:  That sounds hilarious!

SS:  It’s a 30 second thing and it was done with a couple friends that are improv actors.  Eventually, I wrote a short film about a guy who breaks all ten commandments (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0429172/?ref_=nm_flmg_dr_12) in a couple minutes!  That one was the one that really encouraged me and validated my interest and belief that I could have some sort of competence.  And that short allowed me to compete in the third series of Project Greenlight.  I was one of three director finalists in the third season…I didn’t win…[but] it boosted my confidence and my ability to do something semi-worthwhile.

PP:  “Chasing the Blues” isn’t your first feature though.

SS:  It’s the first narrative feature.  The first feature was a documentary feature called “Being Bucky.”  “Chasing the Blues” was based on a short story that my friend wrote.  He and I wrote the screenplay…John Fromstein, the executive producer, was reading an anthology of short stories about Blues in Chicago and he read this one and said, “Oh, my God!  You have to read this.  It would be a really great short film.”  I read it and I looked at the author and said, I’m pretty sure I know Kevin Guilfoile.  The first thought I had was, yes, this would be a great film, but it would be a great feature.

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Smith shared that he and Kevin would take turns writing a scene and passing it back and forth, but then the project sat on a shelf for several years.  Then, 3 years ago, they picked it up again and began rewriting it as well as beginning the fundraising process.

PP:  You have a great cast.  Tell me about getting Lovitz and Guttenberg on board.

chasinglovitzSS:  Our first goal was to keep everything in Chicago.  When we weren’t finding what we needed, we expanded out…Steve Gutenburg came to us and was really interested in playing the lead…he wanted to be a part of the project and ended up being “Diamond Dan” and his agent is the same as Jon Lovitz’.  I started re-imagining the role before he actually came on—just the potential and the possibility of it.  We had a phone call.  He was totally into it.  He wanted to put on a southern accent [and] he signed on.

 

PP:  That’s great that you focused on keeping as much as possible in Chicago and it really has the flavor of our city.  What says “Chicago” most to you in this film?

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SS:  Record stores here in Chicago.  When we were shooting at Val’s (Records) in Oak Park, that was a really fun scene to shoot.  Just being in there, to me it really reflects the depth of music in Chicago.  Chicago has 15-20 record stores that are prominent and busy with a great knowledge.  Re-creating the studio scene, Cicero Studios, felt Chicago-y to me.  It gave it that historic blues feeling.  And approaching the three flats… the apartment and Mrs. Walker felt very uniquely Chicago to me.

 

PP:  Your actors who played Paul (Ron Connor) and Alan were polar opposites, but so wonderfully compatible in their roles!  They really seemed like they were having fun while they were antagonizing one another!

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SS:  The three of us rehearsed a bunch [and] luckily Ron Connor is from Chicago…we went through a lot of the scenes and pre-blocked [them].  They did bring a different energy to it and we capitalized on it.  They were really fun together and there was a lot we had to cut out!

PP:  There’s something special about filmmaking in Chicago, don’t you think?

SS:  One of the things John and I wanted to do is to really emphasize Chicago and really use a Chicago crew; support Chicago as much as we could.  There was a conscious effort to keep it here and use people from Chicago.  It’s like a family.  It’s all the same attitude:  let’s get it done [with] enthusiasm.

Energy, quick wit, and definitely enthusiasm can be found in “Chasing the Blues.”  Check out the trailer and the video that had me believing in the myth of Jimmie Kane Baldwin right here:  TRAILER   JIMMIE KANE BALDWIN VIMEO

TICKETS INFO AT CIFF

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.

 

Oscar-winning director van Diem is back: This time, he’s stirring up passion all over Europe

September 3rd, 2017 Posted by Film Festivals, Interviews 0 thoughts on “Oscar-winning director van Diem is back: This time, he’s stirring up passion all over Europe”

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The 2017 Toronto International Film Festival isn’t just for big names and big stars — it also finds and polishes the hidden gems of the film industry.

As TIFF begins next week, films from all over the world will be vying for the spotlight. In years past, several featured films have gone on to procure Oscar fame — and this year promises to have a similar outcome. One lesser-known film that I believe will shine is “Tulipani, Love Honour and a Bicycle,” a Dutch-Canadian-Italian romantic comedy directed by Academy Award-winner Mike van Diem.

I had the pleasure of talking with this talented writer and director about the tumultuous path this film and his life have taken after winning that little gold statue for his first feature film “Karakter” (1997).

To read the interview in its entirety as it was published in the Friday, Sept. 1, 2017 edition of The Daily Journal, go HERE

"The Unknown Girl" A realistic and visceral experience in guilt

August 28th, 2017 Posted by Film Festivals, Interviews 0 thoughts on “"The Unknown Girl" A realistic and visceral experience in guilt”

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Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, the brothers responsible for a myriad number of films, most recently the Academy Award nominated “Two Days, One Night” starring Marion Cotillard, have brought us yet another intriguingly disturbing study of personal psychology with “The Unknown Girl.”  As a young and quickly rising general practitioner, Jenny Davin (Adele Haenel) makes a fateful decision one evening at her clinic to not answer a frantic knock at the door by a young woman.  She is found dead the next morning.  Ridden with guilt, Jenny is consumed with finding out not only what happened to her, but to also give her an identity.  It becomes a crime-thriller, but never dismisses the feeling of possible causality for this woman’s death.

The Dardenne brothers, over the course of decades in creating deeply meaningful and relatable films, sat down to talk with me at the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival to discuss this film and working together.  Their light-hearted yet thoughtful demeanor immediately alerted me as to why these siblings can continue to create such beautiful works of art.  While I don’t speak French (there was an interpreter), the artistry in their communication style was wonderfully overpowering, communicating what mere words cannot.

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Reel Honest Reviews (RHR):  The psychology behind this film is intense and extraordinary, particularly as we, as humans, deal with remedying guilt.  What was the impetus for this film?

Luc Dardenne (LD):  The beginning of this film was not based on reality.  We were more interested in a situation where somebody is responsible for the death of somebody else but we don’t actually kill [that] person.  We imagined a doctor because the work of a doctor is to save lives…We took this story of a person feeling guilty for kind of killing somebody so she needs to find her name to in a way save her.

Jean-Pierre Dardenne (JPD):  We hope that Jenny’s obsession is shared by each of the [viewers].  When we made the film, the migrant crisis had already begun, so the young girl in the film dies near a river…it’s a metaphor for all those immigrants who died…and are without a name.  It is a necessity to give them a name.

RHR:  Why a female doctor instead of a male?

LD:  We never hesitated if it should be a man or a woman.  It was always a woman.  What we hesitated about was…having it be an older woman, but we couldn’t develop the film that we wanted to make [with an older woman].  We happened to meet Adele and we realized that she could be our doctor.  Her naiveté.  Her naiveté of her face.  We thought we could construct the film around her.

JPD:  The first time [we] met [Adele] was at an author’s society.  It was really her face that made [us] feel like we could film around that face…and the way she could communicate with the other characters.  She’s a French actress, but she’s not really well-known here in the Americas.  She was a child movie star [and completed] three or four movies before our movie.  Two years ago, she won the Cesar for best actress.

RHR:  Guilt is the driving force behind Jenny’s actions.  Can you tell me about this part of human psychology and how you incorporated it?

LD:  We thought that Jenny’s ability of being possessed by this dead girl, but didn’t want to show this possession by showing some kind of supernatural effects, but more by showing that she does the same gestures again and again.  [For example], she often shows on her phone the picture of the unknown girl.  She doesn’t stop that.  She doesn’t have a life anymore apart from this obsession.

RHR:  I’m not familiar with all of your films, but perhaps there are some stylistic similarities.  In this film, there is a sense of simplicity within the complexity of human actions.  The walls are stark white or orange.  There aren’t any extraneous or distracting information particularly when someone is talking.  You’re completely focused on their face and their words.

JPD:  It’s not typical.  We gave a lot of importance to the dialogue because each character must speak and the quest is to give birth to speak the truth. So to talk in silence is very important in this film.  The abstraction of the setting [augments] that.

LD:  It’s our target.  When you see her face and the wall, the white wall, the viewer goes to her head.  It’s difficult to explain that, but we felt that and we tried.

RHR:  Yes, there’s not music overlaid, is there?

JPD:  It accentuates what’s happening in the film.

RHR:  I have to ask about working together as siblings.  I know what my brother and I are like.  What is it like for the two of you when you disagree?  I’m sure you have differences of opinions.

JPD:  No, never! [laughs]

LD:  It happens that we work together and that we speak a lot and we have the same intuition.

JPD:  I believe it’s because we happen to [have met] a theater director and to start working together.  He was like our spiritual father.

LD:  Maybe it’s better not to know!  [laughs]

We continued to discuss the differences in medical care and practices in Belgium versus the United States, all of us intrigued by the other’s situation.  I’d like to thank the interpreter for her skills in communicating my questions and relaying the brothers’ responses.  I’d also like to thank Jean-Pierre and Luc for their time and for their efforts in using English which were extraordinary.

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VEGAS BABY’s creator, Amanda Micheli, lends personal insight to the high stakes gamble of In Vitro Fertilization

June 20th, 2017 Posted by Interviews, Weekly VOD 0 thoughts on “VEGAS BABY’s creator, Amanda Micheli, lends personal insight to the high stakes gamble of In Vitro Fertilization”

 

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The stakes are high when it comes to the inability to have children and Amanda Micheli, Academy Awarding documentarian, explores the personal and financial toll it takes on a couple as they vie to win a chance at a round of IVF (In Vitro Fertilization).  It’s an emotionally raw journey as couples bare their souls and share personal stories of the need to complete their family…no matter the cost.

Watch the trailer here

micheli_colorheadshot-300x278Micheli spoke with me about her background and personal association with the project.  Her unique insight allows the film to unfold in an unbiased and informative way while still unveiling the emotional layers just under the surface.

Reel Honest Reviews (RHR):  Tell me how you first became interested in filmmaking.

Amanda Micheli (AM):  I started out in still photography.  In high school, I was the photo editor of my high school newspaper.  That’s where I cut my teeth and learned to navigate the somewhat terrifying world of high school .  But it was great because I was able to be the photojournalist and cut though a lot of cross sections of that culture.  I just really felt comfortable with a camera.  It gave me license and a purpose.

RHR:  You went to Harvard for film studies—I don’t usually associate Harvard with filmmakers.

AM:  I’ve always loved movies and have had that desire to lean that direction, but I wasn’t sure what it meant.  I never would have expected to go to Harvard for film, for undergrad.  It’s not a department that gets a lot of notoriety.  Most of the professors focus on documentary work. It’s a hidden jewel, a well-supported program that’s not really known and you’re able to make a movie as your undergraduate thesis.  So I dove in and made an hour long documentary as my undergrad thesis called “Just for the Ride.”

RHR:  Your film went on to win a Student Oscar, travel film festivals, and have distribution on PBS!

AM:  I don’t think I realized at the time how amazing that was!  I thought that was what happened when you made a film.  My sophomore effort was a lot harder when I woke up to the reality of what it costs to make a movie in the real world and how hard it is to get distribution.

RHR:  What drew you to the topic for your film “Vegas Baby?”

AM:  Unfortunately, I came to the subject matter through my own personal experience. My husband and I have been struggling with our own infertility story for about 5 years now.  When we first started [trying], I waited until later in life…we were both older when we got married and I would say woefully ignorant about our fertility. Then, unfortuantely, once we got a diagnosis that my husband had a low sperm count and nobody knew why,  everybody said we don’t have time to figure out why you just have to get moving because Amanda’s getting up there.  Then we found out that after our first failed IVF that my husband had testicular cancer so that kind of compounded everything for obvious reasons and derailed us because we were focused on health and his mortality…and that just intenisfied the experience to the “n”th degree.

We spent our savings on a round of IVF.  We were told that that was the only way we could have a biological child.  We wanted to give it a shot. We never thought we would be in that position. I think we had a lot of stereotypes and judgments around IVF ourselves.  We’re not THOSE kind of people.  I think when we stared trying, we were like if it works it works, and if it doesnt it doesn’t… all of sudden you have to get real and [think] what would I be willing to do to make this happen.  When it didn’t work and we were faced with the expense— over $20,000, getting our hopes up, and feeling invested and doing something outside our comfort zone, and just realizing that I was really uneducated about the odds of success [and] the costs— the emotional physical and financial cost of reproductive medicine.  As a filmmaker, I felt compelled to do something with that experience. It was actually when I was researching funding options for our second round of IVF … I came across an article in the New York Times about these clinics that were having raffles and contests for people who couldn’t afford treatment.  My first reaction was, this is insanity.  But when I sat and thought about it and what I had been through, I felt for these people and I felt like there was something to it.  If there was this many people who were willing to bare their souls on the internet for the hope, for the shred of a hope, to have a child, it felt like it was speaking something, it was like a zeitgeist.

RHR:  Your film addresses many issues about IVF.  What do you hope this film will accomplish?

AM:  I think for me there’s hope in starting the conversation around it and raising awareness about it and also education.  Hopefully the millenial generation is already more educated than I was.  I think I was specifically a post-feminist generation where my mom didn’t want me to feel pressured about having a family.  She wanted me to feel independent and free to pursue my dreams.   Even for people with medical diagnoses that aren’t age related, we have a lot to learn about this. Also just to raise awareness about the odds and the cost of what people are getting into…you have to go in with your eyes wide open and be your own advocate. And also… get really good mental health support.  That’s one of the things I really rallied about with the film is this is a medical problem, but it’s also a social problem and it’s also really a psychological problem.  It’s something that needs counseling to make an informed decision around and I don’t think that IVF doctors are necessarily the best person to advise you…

RHR:  Your film touches on many different adjacent topics using  a unique style.

AM:  There are so many layers to it and I hope that my film brings up questions that the audience can continue to think about and discuss…This isn’t pure “cinema verite,” but it certainly has an element to it…you’re observing as it’s unfolding.  You don’t have the filmmaker speaking, [but] you run the risk that people think you’re not being critical enough…It’s just a different approach where you’re asking the audience to think critically based on what you’re putting in front of them.

RHR:  The style also allows you to remain impartial, balanced.  Was that difficult to do given how personal of a topic this is to you?

AM:  It wasn’t hard to have a balanced point of view.  To me, that was critical to reaching our audience in the most authentic way.  People need to be educated, but it’s not for me to say how someone should choose this path or that path to build a family….[This] film uses the provocative premise of the contest as a way to make people look at the deeper issues beyond the topic.  What are the human desires and emotions that lead people to go to the lengths and move beyond the black and white, the good guy and the bad guy, who do we blame. I don’t think the world is that simple.

RHR:  Speaking of simple, it must not have been easy to gain access to the Dr. Sher’s infertility clinic to film.  Was it?

AM:  I made the pone call and I thought for sure they would say no, especially because the New York Times article was very critical.  They just said, ‘Sure.  Come on down.’  I was flabbergasted.  I would never usually do this, but I said, ‘You’re not concerned about getting negative press?  I want to be clear that you know that I’m going to have full control over this film.’  And they said they had nothing to hide.  I thought they were very courageous.  I really credit them…And I think I really lucked out that they were willing to take that risk to let me in.  I can tell you we tried to film in a lot of other clinics…and we didn’t have that success at any other location.

RHR:  With your personal connection, did you have difficulty in becoming attached to the subjects of the film?

AM:  It’s always an issue when you’re making a film…and I think in this case, even though we had similar experiences, we had pretty different backgrounds.  I don’t think that means being detached or aloof, but for me, the primary thing was making the film and trying, of course, to see their experience as empathetically as I could, but also with the eye of an observer…

RHR:  What surprised you most about making this film?

AM:  It’s the toll this can take on a marriage…it’s already hard enough to have a relationship and when you’re having something that’s affecting your most intimate [part] with your partner, your self esteem, your confidence, your sexuality, it’s incredibly layered and complicated what that can do to a relationship.

RHR:  What have you learned from making this film that you hope others will as well?

AM:  I just don’t want anyone to take their fertility for granted nor do I want people to quickly pass judgment on people…I hope the film will open people’s eyes to seeing [infertility] in a slightly different way.

FOR MORE INFORMATION GO TO vegasbabyfilm.com

“Vegas Baby” is now available on iTunes, Google Play, Amazon, and Vudu.  On June 27th, see it on PBS World Channel and on Netflix,  July 4.

 

 

 

 

 

"The Hero" Creates real and dramatic power with Elliott leading the way

June 16th, 2017 Posted by Film Festivals, Interviews, Review, Weekly DVD 0 thoughts on “"The Hero" Creates real and dramatic power with Elliott leading the way”

heroposter

THE HERO

Written by Brett Haley and Marc Basch

Directed By Brett Haley

Starring:  Sam Elliott, Nick Offerman, and Laura Prepon

Brett Haley, the daring and brilliant man behind the curtain of “I’ll See You in My Dreams” is back in action with “The Hero,” starriSamElliottHerong the renowned actor Sam Elliott.  The film is a character study of Lee Hayden (Elliott), a man waning in his career as he ages and is diagnosed with cancer.  Lee  wrestles with the legacy he will leave behind and attempts to reconcile broken relationships.  It’s a self-reflective, heartfelt, and often-times humorous film showing us how we are connected as we witness Lee looking out over the horizon of life.

WATCH THE TRAILER HERE

Haley and Offerman spoke with me at the SXSW Film Festival a few months ago.  The inspiration for the  film is all Sam Elliott, Haley gushed.   After working with him  in “I’ll See You in My Dreams” he said, “I’m inspired by him not only as an actor, but as a human being.  He deserved his own movie where he was in every scene and it was about him and he got to show off what an amazing actor he really is.”  He and co-writer Marc Basch came up with Elliott’s character as something “…he could sink his teeth into…and a non-Western where he’s not on a horse.”

Elliott’s character of Lee is incredibly real with the most raw and believable emotions that are true to life.  “The Hero” reminds us that time zips past us as we have neglected aspects of life that are most dear.   Haley identified with “Lee” even though he admits he’s still quite young.  “We are always looking back on our lives and what it means to make a mark.  He ends up really thinking about his personal reheroemotoinlationships which, at the end of the day, are what really matters.”

“The Hero” allows us to see the world from Lee’s perspective—his hopes, his dreams and his failures—but most importantly it takes us inside his heart.  We feel the regret and the pain it has caused, but we also see the glimmer of love and life, never wanting to be extinguished, no matter how old the candles on the cake say we are.

Meeting and falling in love with a much younger woman, Charlotte (Laura Prepon), takes Lee on a fast-paced ride that he wasn’t quite prepared for.  Their relationship is simply beautiful as they both allow each other to see things differently.  Relationships are at the heart of this film and none is more painful than that of Lee and his adult daughter Lucy (Krysten Ritter).  As they bare their souls, the open wounds have obviously not healed, the resentment and remorse heartbreakingly shine theropreponhrough.  However, as in life, there is also humor in “The Hero.”  It’s more situational humor thanks to social media and Offerman’s character.  Haley added,  “He’s way more than Ron Swanson.  I wanted to give him something that he could do that was way outside of that box.  I didn’t have him do any woodworking or steak eating.  He plays a pot dealer and a very unique one!” Offerman and Elliott, on screen, are as comfortable with one another as two brothers as they live, reminisce, and support one another.

Elliott is simply extraordinary.  His small, yet vital roles in “Grandma,” and “I’ll See You In My Dreams” tipped us off as to this man’s true skills, but never have I seen such a passionate and powerful performance—certainly Oscar-worthy.  Offerman confided, “The ‘business’ would say to you, ‘Why don’t you have some younger, better looking people?’  And I would say to them, ‘There’s no one better looking than Sam Elliott.  People over 45 also have lives that we are interested in.”   Haley’s instinct to cast him as the lead truly allows this remarkable actor to show his depth of skill.  Elliott brings you directly to him, looking you in the eye, making you a part of the scene.  His emotions are palpable as you are connected with him and his situation.  We all have regrets in life, crossroads where we perhaps took a left turn instead of the right one and Elliott conveys this understanding with expert skill.

IMG_1346Offerman creates a  “unique” character with skill and charm.  There is no doubt that his character and Lee are long-time friends.  While he adds the comedic lift to the film, Offerman shows us he has the depth and understanding to give us this meaningful performance.  Prepon’s portrayal of “Charlotte” is equally as layered and complex, one that you don’t typically see for women her age.  Yes, she’s beautiful, but her character is also smart, well-read, creative, and wise beyond her years.  Seeing Katharine Ross, Elliott’s real-life wife, in this film as well as Ritter with her small but sublime performance as a dejected and hardened daughter gives “The Hero” the golden touch.

“The Hero” is a beautiful and sincere look at life, regrets, and the spark that flickers from within, wanting to continue to shine.  Haley has done it again.  He has created a film with heart about a character that is real and, get ready for this, is over 40.  In fact, he’s over 70.  My sincere gratitude goes to daring filmmakers like Haley who write films for older actors and then remind us of what’s truly important in life—our relationships.

To watch the interview at SXSW with Offerman and Haley check out YOUTUBE INTERVIEW

 

4/4 Stars

 

 

‘Wink’ director tests waters of short films

June 12th, 2017 Posted by Film Festivals, Interviews 0 thoughts on “‘Wink’ director tests waters of short films”

WINK still (lean on tub)

(Published in FF2 Media, June 12, 2017)

Now in its 20th year, the Los Angeles-based film festival, Dances With Films (DWF), lives up to its words of conception: a festival where ‘who you know’ doesn’t matter, but the quality of your work does. First-time writer and director of a narrative short film, German-born Monika Petrillo jumps into the filmmaking waters with Wink. Her film’s topic sounds a bit unusual—a frustrated and lonely suburban housewife and a goldfish—but Petrillo laughingly said, “How can you go wrong with a beautiful woman and a goldfish?”

The inspiration behind not only this film, but Petrillo’s decision to become a filmmaker was her godmother, Li Erben.  Erben’s late husband, Russian-born French film director Victor Vicas had written a story about a blonde, a winking goldfish and a bath.  After hearing that description, Petrillo could see the whole film. “I came home…and before I knew it, I had written the whole 12-page script.”

READ THE ENTIRE ARTICLE HERE IN FF2 MEDIA

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