Posts in Interviews

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.

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

McKenzie Chinn, Chicago filmmaker talks about her newest film “Olympia”

August 16th, 2018 Posted by Interviews, News 0 thoughts on “McKenzie Chinn, Chicago filmmaker talks about her newest film “Olympia””

Chicago area commercial actress and filmmaker McKenzie Chinn, creates an undeniably compelling story with her first feature film “Olympia” from Cow Lamp Films. Chinn’s tale, inspired by her own question of what it means to make the transition into true adulthood, takes us on a journey of self-discovery with the main character of Olympia who is dealing with a dying mother, a loving and committed boyfriend, and making momentous decisions. Chinn’s vividly centered artistry shines through her layered characters, integrating graphic art and insightful humor as we are drawn into the character and struggle of Olympia.  We laugh as we identify with her and feel the pain of walking in her shoes while she makes her own unique journey through life. 

I had a chance to sit down and talk with Chinn, a vibrant young woman from Baltimore who moved to the Windy City in 2008 to attend DePaul University’s School of Theater to study acting. She lit up the small coffee shop as her energy and smile were wonderfully infectious. We openly discussed her background, the genesis of “Olympia,” and what it means to be not just female in the world of filmmaking, but also a woman of color. By the end of the interview, Chinn seemed wise beyond her years and from my perspective, she is now standing firmly in the land of adulthood.

Pamela Powell (PP): Tell me about the musical group you perform with.

McKenzie Chinn (MC): We fuse lyrical narrative hip hop styles of poetry with music and sound and perform that…We tend to write a lot about identity … We spend a lot of time talking about what it means to be a black person in the world today, what it means to be a woman in the world today, and what it’s like to be a part of our generation. I’m really interested in … the power of our own personal narratives and also how powerful it is when you see your narrative reflected outside of you. So when you see your narrative in the media, when you see someone who’s similar to you in a film or on TV, it’s validating in a way that’s really critical.

PP: Do you think things are truly changing quickly thanks to the #MeToo movement or do you think things began changing prior to that?

MC: I think a little bit of both. I think the way that we get to tell our stories is changing very rapidly and the ways in which we get to tell them differently, that has been precipitated by the #MeToo movement. For instance, in the early [2000’s], we had “Sex in the City” which was fun and great and spoke to a lot of people, but that show was very limited in its scope; limited in how we got to think of ourselves as women in the world. Now we have shows like “Broad City” and platforms like “2 Dope Queens” [and] I feel like we are getting to encompass more of ourselves, we’re able to be more faceted and more nuanced and way less apologetic about how we present. I think the attitude about it is deal with it. That’s not my problem any more, that’s your problem. It’s incredibly empowering. I think [these shows] really changed how women get to talk about themselves and how we get to encompass our fuller selves.

PP: When did you first start telling stories?

MC: I’ve always been a story teller ever since I can remember. One of the things I loved doing when other kids would play outside, I would just be writing little stories. One of the first stories I ever wrote, I’ll never forget it, … was about a unicorn that got kidnapped. And my sister did the illustrations.

PP: Do you still have the book?

MC: No. I wish I still did. I can still see my sister’s illustrations and we took it very seriously. For the longest time, I thought I was going to be a writer. I was going to study journalism, but then got pulled in the direction of theater which I found incredibly exciting and intoxicating. Then I went to graduate school and that was incredibly consuming. So writing as just an activity that got back-burnered in a really major way. But when I finished school in 2011, I finished unemployed [and] we were still recovering from the recession. I have all this time and all this expressive energy and so I started writing [again].

PP: That brings us to your film “Olympia.”

MC: I got a fellowship that funded a large part of OLYMPIA. It’s called the Annenberg Artist Fellowship and a component … of that fellowship is having an artist mentor and [Tarell Alvin MCCraney- “Moonlight” ] was my artist mentor. It’s so exciting to be in a moment where people get to encompass fuller selves, not just stereotypes and not just best friends, but to actually have a voice and have a story in an arc … regardless of where they come from… 

PP: That’s amazing that this was your first project and it was through DePaul!

MC: This was my first foray into filmmaking. I think I only take really big steps. [laughs] Like Burnham, one of the architects of Chicago said ‘Make no small plans,’ and I think that’s just a part of my DNA as an artist. It never even occurred to me to make a short. It was a huge learning curve, but I was smart enough to surround myself with people who I knew had much more experience and could help the vision come to life.

PP: Tell me about writing “Olympia.”

MC: I wrote OLYMPIA shortly after turning 30 which felt like a major milestone in a way that I wasn’t expecting. I feel like folks in my generation, the millennial generation, that we don’t have the same milestones that our parents had to move us into adulthood. You know, my parents’ generation, sometime in their twenties, maybe their thirties, they got married, started a career that they would have for thirty or forty years, got a house,  [and] had children.  These are very recognizable mile markers that confer adulthood. I felt like by the time people in my generation got to those same points, the rule book had completely changed… The economy has changed and what we’re able to do has changed. If those things that were mile markers aren’t really the same anymore then what does it mean to be an adult? I found myself turning 30 and feeling like, ‘Oh my gosh, I don’t feel like I’ve accomplished what I should have by this age and I should have a much better handle on life. I should have a 401k and all these things I really have not done much thinking about.’ … Olympia is trying to figure out her career. She’s in this relationship that has gone really well but that she doesn’t necessarily feel like she owed anything to in terms of like putting anything into stone and her mother is ill. All of these things are coming to a head. It’s forcing her to make a solid choice and go in a specific direction. I think there are variables, but she’s just never had to choose or has felt like it was important to choose until now.

PP: In the film, Olympia is very connected with her mother who is dying. Can you explore this topic a little further from a personal standpoint?

MC: While this story is not autobiographical, I definitely pull from my own sense of what’s important and what resonates for me. One of my most cherished relationships is with my mom and fortunately she’s still with me. I think it would be so incredibly disorienting to me to not have that figure in my life… I remember feeling like that for me would be the breaking point. You have to make a choice now because you don’t have this thing you can lean on, you don’t have an escape hatch. It’s you now. For me that’s adulthood.

PP: I loved the Chicago drone shots and graphic art!

MC: The Drone shots were Greg Dixon. He was dead set on having those kind of shots. The animation was his idea [too]. It’s collaborative…lifts it to a level that you never imagined. It changed the whole tenor and tone.
PP: Tell me about your cast.

MC: As a person of color, it was just very important to me that the story be … around other people of color. That was very intentional. I think so many times when you’re a person of color in media, you get asked to lean into a stereotype or the tired type of idea like a maid.  Or how many times have I auditioned to be a slave? I’m just over it. It felt really good to write and perform in a story that, yes, I’m fully black, all the time … I’m just a person living my life. You don’t have to divorce those things. They can both be true. And that every single thing doesn’t have to revolve around oppression and marginalization.

PP: To be honest, I didn’t even realize that everyone was a person of color in the film.
 
MC: Isn’t that great that we’re in that place now? I think so many times we see movies where the cast is mostly black or people of color and people write it off as a black movie. No, actually it’s just a movie. It’s really so heartwarming to hear you say that!

Check back to find out where you can see this film!

ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK: An interview with the stars

August 1st, 2018 Posted by Interviews 0 thoughts on “ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK: An interview with the stars”

(From the Wednesday, August 1 edition of The Daily Journal)
The sixth season of “Orange Is the New Black” is available on Netflix, and it’s going to be a season of transformational changes.

The series, dating back to its premiere in 2013, is based upon Piper Kerman’s life and memoir, “Orange Is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison,” and now has gone well past Kerman’s experiences, transforming itself into one of the most realistic stories of prison while addressing previously unexplored subjects such as lesbian relationships, prison reform and transgender people.

I sat down with three of the stars, Kate Mulgrew (Galina “Red” Reznikov), Taylor Schilling (Piper Chapman) and Dascha Polanco (Dayanara Diaz), to discuss their thoughts and experiences throughout the last 5 years.

Let’s take a look back to the beginning of the show, of which you were all a part. Taylor, tell me about developing your character of Piper.

Schilling: It’s been really beautiful. Piper Kerman, who the book is based on, was at the beginning of the show [and] we spent a great deal of time together. … I just talked to Piper and did prison research, because when Piper went in, she had no idea about prison … but as the second season rolled around, I did go to the women’s camp at Rikers (Island prison) a couple times with Piper.

In playing each of your roles, how have your characters changed or developed, and what part of yourself do you bring to these women?

Mulgrew: It’s been my personal philosophy, in television especially, … when you’re cast in a big role for a television series, they’re looking at your personality. … So the case of Galina Reznikov, strength, forbearance, fortitude, toughness and edge, all the things I could immediately bring to bear on the audition in front of that camera is what won me the role.

And then with the disintegration of the character or … the reduction of the character, there have been added complexities and nuances I’ve loved playing because in that reduction is the humanity of the character, threatened, and I have loved that probably more than the beginning.

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

Chicago filmmaker McKenzie Chinn discusses her new film “Olympia”

July 18th, 2018 Posted by Interviews 0 thoughts on “Chicago filmmaker McKenzie Chinn discusses her new film “Olympia””

Chicago area commercial actress and filmmaker McKenzie Chinn, creates an undeniably compelling story with her first feature film “Olympia” from Cow Lamp Films. Chinn’s tale, inspired by her own question of what it means to make the transition into true adulthood, takes us on a journey of self-discovery with the main character of Olympia who is dealing with a dying mother, a loving and committed boyfriend, and making momentous decisions. Chinn’s vividly centered artistry shines through her layered characters, integrating graphic art and insightful humor as we are drawn into the character and struggle of Olympia.  We laugh as we identify with her and feel the pain of walking in her shoes while she makes her own unique journey through life. 

I had a chance to sit down and talk with Chinn, a vibrant young woman from Baltimore who moved to the Windy City in 2008 to attend DePaul University’s School of Theater to study acting. She lit up the small coffee shop as her energy and smile were wonderfully infectious. We openly discussed her background, the genesis of “Olympia,” and what it means to be not just female in the world of filmmaking, but also a woman of color. By the end of the interview, Chinn seemed wise beyond her years and from my perspective, she is now standing firmly in the land of adulthood.
Pamela Powell (PP): Tell me about the musical group you perform with.
McKenzie Chinn (MC): We fuse lyrical narrative hip hop styles of poetry with music and sound and perform that…We tend to write a lot about identity … We spend a lot of time talking about what it means to be a black person in the world today, what it means to be a woman in the world today, and what it’s like to be a part of our generation. I’m really interested in … the power of our own personal narratives and also how powerful it is when you see your narrative reflected outside of you. So when you see your narrative in the media, when you see someone who’s similar to you in a film or on TV, it’s validating in a way that’s really critical.
PP: Do you think things are truly changing quickly thanks to the #MeToo movement or do you think things began changing prior to that?
MC: I think a little bit of both. I think the way that we get to tell our stories is changing very rapidly and the ways in which we get to tell them differently, that has been precipitated by the #MeToo movement. For instance, in the early [2000’s], we had “Sex in the City” which was fun and great and spoke to a lot of people, but that show was very limited in its scope; limited in how we got to think of ourselves as women in the world. Now we have shows like “Broad City” and platforms like “2 Dope Queens” [and] I feel like we are getting to encompass more of ourselves, we’re able to be more faceted and more nuanced and way less apologetic about how we present. I think the attitude about it is deal with it. That’s not my problem any more, that’s your problem. It’s incredibly empowering. I think [these shows] really changed how women get to talk about themselves and how we get to encompass our fuller selves.
PP: When did you first start telling stories?
MC: I’ve always been a story teller ever since I can remember. One of the things I loved doing when other kids would play outside, I would just be writing little stories. One of the first stories I ever wrote, I’ll never forget it, … was about a unicorn that got kidnapped. And my sister did the illustrations.
PP: Do you still have the book?
MC: No. I wish I still did. I can still see my sister’s illustrations and we took it very seriously. For the longest time, I thought I was going to be a writer. I was going to study journalism, but then got pulled in the direction of theater which I found incredibly exciting and intoxicating. Then I went to graduate school and that was incredibly consuming. So writing as just an activity that got back-burnered in a really major way. But when I finished school in 2011, I finished unemployed [and] we were still recovering from the recession. I have all this time and all this expressive energy and so I started writing [again].
PP: That brings us to your film “Olympia.”
MC: I got a fellowship that funded a large part of OLYMPIA. It’s called the Annenberg Artist Fellowship and a component … of that fellowship is having an artist mentor and [Tarell Alvin MCCraney- “Moonlight” ] was my artist mentor. It’s so exciting to be in a moment where people get to encompass fuller selves, not just stereotypes and not just best friends, but to actually have a voice and have a story in an arc … regardless of where they come from… 
PP: That’s amazing that this was your first project and it was through DePaul!
MC: This was my first foray into filmmaking. I think I only take really big steps. [laughs] Like Burnham, one of the architects of Chicago said ‘Make no small plans,’ and I think that’s just a part of my DNA as an artist. It never even occurred to me to make a short. It was a huge learning curve, but I was smart enough to surround myself with people who I knew had much more experience and could help the vision come to life.
PP: Tell me about writing “Olympia.”
MC: I wrote OLYMPIA shortly after turning 30 which felt like a major milestone in a way that I wasn’t expecting. I feel like folks in my generation, the millennial generation, that we don’t have the same milestones that our parents had to move us into adulthood. You know, my parents’ generation, sometime in their twenties, maybe their thirties, they got married, started a career that they would have for thirty or forty years, got a house,  [and] had children.  These are very recognizable mile markers that confer adulthood. I felt like by the time people in my generation got to those same points, the rule book had completely changed… The economy has changed and what we’re able to do has changed. If those things that were mile markers aren’t really the same anymore then what does it mean to be an adult? I found myself turning 30 and feeling like, ‘Oh my gosh, I don’t feel like I’ve accomplished what I should have by this age and I should have a much better handle on life. I should have a 401k and all these things I really have not done much thinking about.’ … Olympia is trying to figure out her career. She’s in this relationship that has gone really well but that she doesn’t necessarily feel like she owed anything to in terms of like putting anything into stone and her mother is ill. All of these things are coming to a head. It’s forcing her to make a solid choice and go in a specific direction. I think there are variables, but she’s just never had to choose or has felt like it was important to choose until now.
PP: In the film, Olympia is very connected with her mother who is dying. Can you explore this topic a little further from a personal standpoint?
MC: While this story is not autobiographical, I definitely pull from my own sense of what’s important and what resonates for me. One of my most cherished relationships is with my mom and fortunately she’s still with me. I think it would be so incredibly disorienting to me to not have that figure in my life… I remember feeling like that for me would be the breaking point. You have to make a choice now because you don’t have this thing you can lean on, you don’t have an escape hatch. It’s you now. For me that’s adulthood.
PP: I loved the Chicago drone shots and graphic art!
MC: The Drone shots were Greg Dixon. He was dead set on having those kind of shots. The animation was his idea [too]. It’s collaborative…lifts it to a level that you never imagined. It changed the whole tenor and tone.
PP: Tell me about your cast.
MC: As a person of color, it was just very important to me that the story be … around other people of color. That was very intentional. I think so many times when you’re a person of color in media, you get asked to lean into a stereotype or the tired type of idea like a maid.  Or how many times have I auditioned to be a slave? I’m just over it. It felt really good to write and perform in a story that, yes, I’m fully black, all the time … I’m just a person living my life. You don’t have to divorce those things. They can both be true. And that every single thing doesn’t have to revolve around oppression and marginalization.
PP: To be honest, I didn’t even realize that everyone was a person of color in the film. 
MC: Isn’t that great that we’re in that place now? I think so many times we see movies where the cast is mostly black or people of color and people write it off as a black movie. No, actually it’s just a movie. It’s really so heartwarming to hear you say that!
Check back to find out where you can see this film!

“Most Likely to Murder” An interview with writer/director Dan Gregor and star Adam Pally

April 29th, 2018 Posted by Interviews, Weekly DVD, Weekly VOD 0 thoughts on ““Most Likely to Murder” An interview with writer/director Dan Gregor and star Adam Pally”

Dan Gregor co-writes with Doug Mand and directs this thrilling murder mystery comedy starring Adam Pally (“The Mindy Project”), Rachel Bloom (“Crazy Ex-Girlfriend”) and Vincent Kartheiser (“Mad Men”).   Billy (Pally) goes home one last time before his parents move and is confronted with the memories and actions of his past.  Never having really grown up, he attempts to pick up where he left off ten years ago, but then finds himself in a world where he thinks a boy he picked on in school has murdered his mother.  The film is brilliantly funny yet somehow manages to delve into a rather poignant topic toward the end without ever losing the pace and sense of being a comedy.  I had the pleasure of talking with both Gregor and Pally about making this film.  You’ll be shocked by the genesis of the film, the candid childhood memories shared,  as well as the extortion that took place!

Pamela Powell (PP):  Before we talk about the film, Dan can you tell me about your background and the differences between writing for television and for movies?

Dan Gregor (DG):  I started writing TV at ‘How I Met Your Mother’ …  In some ways, a story is a story.  It’s about setting a problem and the rising action to fix it and the resolution… In that regard, going to movies has always felt very organic; it’s a similar muscle.  Obviously the big difference is trying to find something that really ends the sentence that gives real closure to the ideas … My writing partner Doug Mand and myself, whenever we’re breaking a story, we won’t even start writing a script until we know that we have an ending that gives it a really exciting conclusion.  Having something that feels like a third act that people are going to be engaged with, we always feel like [that’s] lacking in mainstream comedies.  You might like the first 45 minutes, but after that it’s like let’s wrap this up because I know where it’s going.  That’s the biggest difference in going into movie writing is that the third act is genuinely engaging and exciting and hopefully a little unexpected

PP:  I loved the movie!  You had me engaged the entire time and the ending was totally unexpected.  With as many movies as I see each year, that’s a tough thing to do!

DG:  Thank you.  That’s the highest praise I could get.

Adam Pally (AP):  Yes, truly the highest praise. 

DG:  I didn’t get a lot of praise from my parents growing up.  (Laughs)

PP: So how did you come up with the premise of this film?

DG:  The real beginning of the movie happened because  when I was 13 I had scrambled “Skinemax” porn in my bedroom and I would stay up all night. I would basically wait till I thought there was  a sex scene going on and then I would sprint on my tippee toes quietly to the family room that had the actual cable box and I would throw in a VHS tape and try to record the sex scene.  But I was always too late so I had this  really weird tape of the last 5 seconds of sex scenes.  (Laughs)  It’s this very weird montage.  And eventually I grew out of this phase of my life and I had the tape hidden in the back of my closet.  As an adult, I went back to my parents’ house and I stumbled across it and I was like,  ‘Oh, my God!  I can’t believe this thing still exists!’ and I was sort of desperate to watch it again, but I literally couldn’t find a VHS player.  As much as it’s ridiculous, that sort of emotion of having this piece of nostalgia that you are desperate to hold on to, but you can’t. [That] was the emotional starting place of movie.  Doug, my writing partner and I have always been obsessed with ‘coming home for the holiday’ movies in general, but also very specifically Thanksgiving weekend and the night before Thanksgiving where everyone’s back in their home town and you’re going to a local bar and you’re getting drunk and reliving past memories.  That sort of feeling that you desperately want to be in the past but you never can be again.  That was the genesis of … the movie.  Once we knew we wanted to do that, we then challenged ourselves to find a way to tell that in a [more] engaging way than white guy comes home and realizes he’s old. 

PP:  Adam, I’ve seen your two previous films, “Joshy” and “Band Aid,” two very different films from this one as are your characters.  Is there a commonality among these characters that you see as you play them?

AP:  Any character I play is a version of myself.  That’s the only way I know how to do something is to say, what part of me would be this person?  And then embrace that  and put a full spin on it.  I think they are three very different characters, but they’re all versions of myself.  I can see myself ending up like all three people with one right or left turn.  I think if I have any sort of process, it’s that. 

PP:  Some of Adam’s lines are remarkably memorable and offensively hilarious!  Dan, can you tell me about creating this?

DG:  I think that’s the fun part about writing.  By the time you’re seeing a movie, this, from concept to script, to revision to edit to improv, you’re seeing the 100th version of the movie … this movie was always written for Adam… and so even when we were writing the movie we were still checking with Adam…and also we’ve been working with Adam since we were 20 so we feel his voice pretty well.  And truly, Adam is one of the best improvisers in the world.  We have some spectacular lines in the movie that are completely improved from Adam.  

PP:  Adam, do you have a favorite line or improv situation?

AP:  The movie is written so well that it was fun to deliver the scripted lines.  You know what was really funny … is when I first curse in front of my parents.  I know that when you’re a kid, you see that other kid curse…

DG:  You go to that other kid’s house and go wait a minute, this kid is allowed to curse?  Not only in front of his parents, but at them? 

AP:  When you first see that in the movie, it gets a lot of laughs and I think that’s one of my favorite parts. 

DG:  And Adam gave it such a juvenile read, that is what I loved about it.  He’s such an angst-y teen about it.  My favorite Adam improve line, to brag about Adam, is toward the end of the movie, he’s talking about being a restroom attendant in Vegas and saying that he’s sorry that he keeps looking at people’s penises in the bathroom but it’s an accident and he can’t help but glance at a penis when it’s in front of you.

PP:  Are these characters based on any real life people from your past, Dan?

DG:  Every one is an amalgamation of people.  Every one is from my life or Doug’s life. In a very real way the character of Lowell is not a specific someone. [He] is based on the fact that when I was in middle school, I was a shitty kid.  I was not nice to people.  I went to this small private school and I was hot shit in this little school and I was not kind.  And then the next year, I went to this big public school and I instantly had the tables turned.  I was the nerd and I was getting picked on … And I had this realization that, oh, shit!  I was unkind to people and it fucking hurt.  That regret and that realization is the emotional cornerstone of the movie and the underlying ethos of the Lowell character.

PP:  Did you have any bumps in the road or was it smooth sailing?

AP:  We were extorted by the local town.

PP:  (Laughs)

DG:  Seriously … we moved to the actual suburbs where we shot the whole movie … this little town had a racket.  We found out afterwards where they let people sign up for film permits and then when it’s in the 11th hour they tripled the price.  Our amazing producer Petra Ahmann didn’t tell me what was going on because she didn’t want to mess in my head while I was filming and just snuck off to the local municipality courthouse.   Honestly, I have no idea what she did to spin them back.

AP:  Could have been a double extortion.

DG:  She somehow finagled them to let us get back to our original permit price, but the thing we did have to do is  we lost all of our night shoots.  So we had to change the entire closing sequence from a nighttime horror feel to a daytime horror feel.   I actually feel like it was a real gift because it gave that whole finale a much different look than maybe was the obvious choice.

PP:  I have to ask the next obvious question.  What town?

DG:  I’m happy to burn them.  Eastchester, NY.  It’s just the horror of making a low budget movie is that your every dollar really can mess you up pretty bad. 

“Most Likely to Murder,” a thrillingly comedic film, is available on DVD and various digital platforms on May 1.  Check out the trailer here: MOST LIKELY TO MURDER 

 

 

EBERTFEST: A SIT DOWN WITH CHAZ

April 16th, 2018 Posted by Interviews 0 thoughts on “EBERTFEST: A SIT DOWN WITH CHAZ”

As published in this month’s edition of Fete Lifestyle Magazine, April 16, 2018

Ebertfest, the unique film festival created to give films overlooked by critics and audiences a second look, celebrates its 20th year on April 18-22 in the quaint college town of Champaign, Illinois. The festival, started by Roger Ebert and his wife, Chaz, continues even after Ebert’s death 5 years ago.

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

 

Ebertfest paving a new path of equality

April 10th, 2018 Posted by Interviews 0 thoughts on “Ebertfest paving a new path of equality”

(From FF2 Media, April 9, 2018)

Roger Ebert will forever remain in the hearts of film lovers and film critics alike. His unique personality accompanied by his insight into all things film created a new way for people to see and enjoy going to the movies. Ebertfest, now celebrating its 20th anniversary on April 18-22, in Champaign, Illinois was originally named the Ebert Overlooked Film Festival to pay “…homage to those films that he thought needed to be seen by bigger audiences…” said his wife Chaz in a recent interview.

It’s been five years since Ebert passed away, but Chaz and her team continue this festival with special events planned for the 20th anniversary celebration. I had a chance to sit down with Chaz to discuss the festival, but also to get to know this woman who continues to champion Ebert’s causes, his vision of what makes films important in life and her focus on women in the filmmaking industry.

To read the article published on April 9th in its entirety, please go to  FF2 Media.

“We’re Listening:” Founders of Cherry Picks Reviews to launch new site for female critics

April 5th, 2018 Posted by Interviews 0 thoughts on ““We’re Listening:” Founders of Cherry Picks Reviews to launch new site for female critics”

(As published in FF2 Media, Thursday, April 5, 2018.  To read the interview in its entirety, go to FF2Media)

Cherry Picks Reviews (CPR) is the much-anticipated upcoming critical site for all things women-in-media launching this fall! The gender equality issue has been making the headlines for the past couple of months, particularly in filmmaking. As a female film critic (over 50), Cherry Picks Reviews is a welcome change from the predominantly white male critical terrain which had been painting a skewed picture for film lovers.

Women comprise more than 50 percent of the population, yet less than four percent of the top 100 grossing films have been directed by women, according to Sundance.org. Times are changing, and Cherry Picks Reviews co-founders Miranda Bailey and Rebecca Odes talked to me about this “new voice in the critical conversation.”

Pamela Powell (PP): Why did you decide to create Cherry Picks Reviews?

Miranda Bailey (MB): Cherry Picks came about because of the lack of representation that was happening across the critical landscape in media itself, whether it was film or television, music or video games or any of the above. And now that we’re doing these aggregated sites and scoring systems that consumers are using [and] not having an equal opportunity playing field, it was really skewing the score…skewing the scores as to whether something was worth consumers’ money or not. We started Cherry Picks to specifically cherry pick out the female critical voice across media to shine a light on it to support it…and also just for women to know what other women think about something…whether or not they should spend their money on it. I think a lot of what is out there right now is from a very specific point of view that doesn’t represent all of the consumers…Men worry that [CPR] is perhaps skewed in some sexist way, but it’s really not. It’s about support, not segregation. It’s really no different than any other website that would be for females.

Go to FF2 Media for the complete interview.

“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.”

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