Posts in Interviews

“The Brink”-Director Alison Klayman’s gives insight to her new documentary

April 6th, 2019 Posted by Interviews, Review 0 thoughts on ““The Brink”-Director Alison Klayman’s gives insight to her new documentary”

Never in recent memory has there been such a volatile time in politics than today and one man has added his own fuel to the fire—Steve Bannon. Director Alison Klayman has opened the doors into this man’s life with her new film “The Brink,” giving viewers a glimpse into the behind-the-scenes action and the inner workings of politics like never seen before.

TRAILER TO THE BRINK

Klayman, responsible for documentary works of art such as “Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry” and “The 100 Years Show,” recently spoke with me about her journey, both literally and figuratively, as she captured Bannon from all angles shedding light onto a subject previously existing in the shadows.

The concept of this film came from Marie Therese Guirgis with whom Klayman had collaborated for “The 100 Years Show.” Guirgis had worked closely with Bannon at Wellspring Media for three years and Klayman described that they had a good working relationship. She reported that the two had fallen out of touch “…until he burst on the scene of the Trump campaign…and she got back in touch with him, frankly to send him angry letters saying that she was really disappointed in him…”. These letters continued throughout Trump’s election and Bannon’s time in the White House, but the tipping point came after the Muslim Travel Ban and Guirgis “let him have it.” She shared, “ I witnessed the way she talks to him. She’s really not holding back.” But soon after, Guirgis realized that perhaps this candid relationship could be brought to a greater use which is was the spark for “The Brink.”

Approached by Guirgis to participate in this vérité style of film, Bannon initially declined, but eventually welcomed the proposal. Klayman, before accepting the director’s position, wanted to meet Bannon. Maria introduced the two, and before Bannon agreed, Guirgis “was in full form,” Klayman chuckled, worried that he wouldn’t agree under these circumstances. And this was just the beginning of peering through the Lookingglass, a term Klayman said that was used as an first working title of the film.

Klayman and Bannon traveled together around the country and the world for 13 months as she captured more than 100 hours of footage which were then distilled into the film we see today. While we see glimpses of Klayman’s personal viewpoint, the filmmaker expressed that she took great care in her editing process to create fairness in the film. “I felt like the strength of the movie would come from a fair treatment of the subject and the material. That didn’t mean that I came in as a neutral member of society. I think that would be a lie.” She continued, “This film has a filmmaker. Here are the clues to how the filmmaker sees this story.” She added, “ Documentary film is not just the facts ma’am kind of a thing, but I thought it needed to be fair in the sense that I was there to make a story out of what I actually found, not what I wanted to find or what I expected to find.” Klayman punctuated the fact that she was profoundly careful in her editing, saying, “If I found a person who was charming people and had charisma, I can’t cut that out. I can’t take a scene and edit it manipulatively, that will discredit the whole piece.”

Klayman had remarkable access to meetings, dinners, and casual moments with politicians and far right leaders from around the world. While she sometimes was limited in what she filmed, stating that she was occasionally “invited to leave,” indicating the private conversations were off limits for public knowledge, she was particularly proud of being able to film the meeting with global extremist leaders in London. She gave Bannon credit in calling him a “great advocate” as he would encourage others to be a part of the film.

In addition to the leaders, Klayman captured Bannon’s interviews with renowned and respected journalists, many who had heated conversations with Trump’s right hand man. In her down time, oftentimes waiting with the journalists for their time with Bannon, she explained her position to them as an independent filmmaker. Met with initial skepticism, which Klayman understood, most welcomed her filming and were excited to see the final product as journalists “don’t get the time or the space to write that kind of piece.”

The intimate and candid moments Klayman captured were not only eye-opening, but mind-boggling. From conversations with John Thornton, the former president of Goldman-Sachs to private meetings with Lena Epstein and John James, Congressional and Senate candidates in Michigan in 2018, Klayman was proud of the fact that these particular scenes “…raised a lot of questions I don’t have answers to.” However, she feels confident that the hypocrisy, false information, and “…the fact that a lot of Bannon’s messaging when it comes to helping people, the little guy, being revolutionary, with a different view of economics, that, to me, if anything, that shows that that’s false.” She deduced that he is not a threat to the super rich and that both he and Trump want the same thing. “I think that was really important to show.”

What is the ultimate goal of the film? Klayman hopes that the role of the media in upcoming elections is discussed; “…not whether to cover these people, but how.” She added, “As we have more elections coming up in the EU in 2020, it’s crucial to have a more thoughtful discussion…questions about who is funding these far right movements and how do we keep them honest about what they’re really fighting for and what they’re really doing. To me, those are the things that transcend and are still vitally important. And frankly, the cast of characters you see in the film are all also not going away…so who knows what’s going to come next.”

Bannon, as a courtesy, was shown the finished film prior to its premiere at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival. His response was guarded which Klayman interpreted as his way of waiting to see what the press thought of the film. “I think that’s what matters most to him.”

Education and knowledge are power and this powerful documentary, “The Brink, seen as a fly on the wall, allows you to ask and sometimes answer your own questions that will no doubt be relevant in the next news cycle, global election, and the 2020 campaign.

Grandmas get a new chance at love in new AARP web series

March 29th, 2019 Posted by Interviews, News 0 thoughts on “Grandmas get a new chance at love in new AARP web series”

Reality television finds a new twist with the digital series “Date My Grandma” now streaming on AARP’s YouTube channel. This adorable, positive and often-times funny reality dating show “celebrates love, family and companionship.”

The six episodes, now available to view, can be seen at datemygram.com.

I recently spoke with Vice President and Executive Producer of AARP Studios Jeffrey Eagle, who shared the behind-the-scenes stories and his hopes for this show and more to come. (Edited for space and clarity.)

Pamela Powell (PP): How did you come up with this concept?

Jeffrey Eagle (JE): We’re always trying to look at ways to celebrate people and their lives in whatever life transition they’re in, but a keen focus on 50-plus [population]. AARP, in trying to speak to its 38 million members in terms of what they’re interested in, have long talked about companionship, relationships, social isolation, and we just thought what an interesting way to tap into a topic like dating. As we talk multiculturally, but also multigenerationally, how fun would it be to involve grandchildren?
To read the interview in its entirety as published in the March 28, 2019 edition of The Daily Journal, go to THE DAILY JOURNAL

An interview with Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre, writer and director of “The Mustang”

March 22nd, 2019 Posted by Interviews, Review 0 thoughts on “An interview with Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre, writer and director of “The Mustang””

The following is an excerpt from FF2 Media:

Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre creates “The Mustang,” a revelatory film about a hopeless, isolated incarcerated man (Mattias Shoenaerts) who enters into a horse training rehabilitation program. Gorgeously shot, this evocative and soulful film delves into our penal system as it draws parallel lines between all creatures. Premiering at Sundance Film Festival, “The Mustang” is now playing in theaters. I had the opportunity to talk with Clermont-Tonnerre about the making of this film, working with Mattias Shoenaerts and Bruce Dern, and her hopes for the impact of this film.
To read the interview in its entirety as published in FF2 Media, March 21, 2019, go to FF2 Media

4/4 Stars

Director Rebecca Stern talks about “Well Groomed”

March 11th, 2019 Posted by Interviews, Review 0 thoughts on “Director Rebecca Stern talks about “Well Groomed””

Rebecca Stern’s production pedigree includes serious and timely documentaries such as “The Bomb” and “Netizens,” but now seated in the director’s chair, she turns over a new leaf to develop a vibrant film about creative dog grooming with “Well Groomed” premiering at the 2019 SXSW Film Festival. On the surface, the film is wonderful fluff (pun intended), but scratching just beneath the exterior, we find a story of women expressing their artistic skills, supporting one another, and developing friendships through this fiercely competitive sport.

I recently connected with Stern to discuss the making of “Well Groomed,” and as we discussed her background in production, she readily admitted that she “…never had an intent to become a producer…I always thought that I’d become a lawyer. Both my parents were lawyers and I’ve always had an affinity for language and I enjoy arguing…” A law degree was not in the cards for this Pasadena, CA native. She chuckled, agreeing with Greta Gerwig’s description of the town in “Ladybird,” and shared that while she had a family dog, a Lab Pitt Bull mix, she also had a lot of cats. In fact, these were feral cats. “I’m one of those rare people that go on both sides of the dog versus cat argument.” She continued to reminisce about her childhood, recalling she and her father spending time together gathering and adopting out feral kittens found nearby. But much to her mother’s chagrin, several of the kittens found a home with Stern and said, “That’s the way I grew up. Surrounded by animals and they were always a part of the family.”

Stern, like many of us, had never heard of creative dog grooming or the competitive sport of it. In fact, she joked, her childhood pup didn’t have a whole lot of grooming. “There was no grooming (pause) at all (pause) even though maybe there should have been!” After attending a Halloween dog parade in NYC, she began her research about the entire dog community, grooming, cultures, trends, and then she saw it on the internet—photos of wildly groomed and colorful canines and she had to know more. She had never seen anything like it, and as she said, “It’s pretty hard to have that reaction in this day and age!”

Stern actually began working on “Well Groomed” during her first job as assistant producer for “Cartel Land” directed by Matthew Heineman. As filming in Mexico City took Heineman away from their location in New York City for weeks at a time, Stern said, “I wanted an excuse to spend more time with dogs [and] it was a good way to marry an old passion which is of pets and animals and a new passion of documentary filmmaking.”

Stern was then connected to groomers on Facebook and attended a dog show in Pasadena. As she got to know several groomers and their dogs, she began filming more than 100 hours to create her 8-minute short. While this may seem excessive, Stern found that she had established a relationship with many of the groomers and when it was time to go back to set up production for the feature film, she knew exactly where to focus. In addition to the women she had already gotten to know in this arena, Stern wanted to additionally focus on someone who was just starting out in this field. She found a young artistic entrepreneur named Nicole from Ithaca, NY. With Adriane, Angela, and Cat, all seasoned groomers on the top of their creative game from various parts of the country, and now newcomer Nicole, Stern had the narrative arc to develop “characters” we care about and a story that is immediately engaging.

The women in the film couldn’t be any more different from one another, but they are all connected by their passion and artistry. Stern wanted to show, “How they were using this as a means to fulfill themselves in some way.” While all the women are fiercely competitive, wanting to win the Olympics of Creative Dog Grooming in Hershey, PA, they also support and help one another so they can all do their best. Stern said, “That’s so key.” She continued, “…they spend a lot of time supporting … and nurturing each other…” It’s this friendship and asking the question of what defines art that Stern found to be the goal of the film. While there are some critics of the skill, defining it as cruel to the animals, Stern said, “I never saw anything that I would think is bad for the dog. If anything, they’re incredibly well taken care of.” The film addresses this controversy using “…an archival montage of people asking the questions and their responses which I hope works well.”

I queried about working with kids and animals, two groups filmmakers always caution against and Stern laughed aloud and said, “I wish someone would have told me that adage!” Not every dog liked having a camera or crew there and Stern and her Director of Photography, Alexander W. Lewis had a zoom lens which enabled them to get the shots they needed without being too close to the dogs. “We had this one dog that loved to jump at anything that moved…so we had to film from the other side of the room,” she said with humor.

The final product is visually fun, educational, and affirming as you travel with these four women along their journey to not only compete at the highest level, but to see how their lives change. Stern found great fulfillment in making this film and shared that in her directing work, “I really wanted to find a way to bring more joy into my life and therefore into [viewers’] lives and to be able to smile with them.”

“Well Groomed” premiered at the SXSW Film Festival on Sunday, March 10 and will show on Monday, March 11 at 5 pm and Thursday, March 14 at 2:45 pm. For more information, go to SXSW Schedule

An Interview with writer and director Josephine Mackerras, SXSW Feature ALICE

March 10th, 2019 Posted by Film Festivals, Interviews, Review 0 thoughts on “An Interview with writer and director Josephine Mackerras, SXSW Feature ALICE”

(Published in FF2 Media, Sunday, March 10, 2019)

Award-winning writer and director Josephine Mackerras’ first feature film, “Alice,” premiered at the SXSW Film Festival recently. Living around the world, this NYU educated filmmaker delves deeply into how one woman, a wife and mother, reacts to her husband’s double life, leaving them in debt and on the brink of eviction. Filled with extraordinary performances from this ensemble cast, Mackerras turns the psychological tables on acceptance and understanding of one of the oldest trades known to women. Mackerras shared her insights on the making of “Alice” and the complexities of creating a story that questions the concepts of marriage, dependency and motherhood.
To read the interview in its entirety, go to FF2 Media

An Interview with Stephen Merchant, “Fighting With My Family”

February 20th, 2019 Posted by Interviews, News 0 thoughts on “An Interview with Stephen Merchant, “Fighting With My Family””

“Fighting With My Family,” based on a true story written and directed by Stephen Merchant (“The Office”), is a humorous yet meaningful film about a wrestling family, the Knights, whose lives and dreams change as young Paige (Florence Pugh), gets the opportunity to become the next WWE champion.

Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson not only has a great part in the film, he is to thank for giving Merchant this seed of an idea. While the movie premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, Merchant was also in Chicago, where I spoke with him at length about creating the film.

Questions and answers are edited for length and clarity.

Pamela Powell (PP): Congratulations on your Sundance premiere. First, tell me how you became aware of this story?

SM: It’s all because of The Rock. He was in the UK making “Fast and Furious 6.” He couldn’t sleep one night, and there it was… a documentary about this crazy family from Norwich, and because he’s from a wrestling world and a wrestling family, he related to it. I think somewhere along the line, he realized it had a ready-made, built-in Rocky underdog story that’s just waiting to become a movie. [He wanted someone with] British sensibility to write it because he knew it was a British family… so, he came to me.

PP: So, we can thank The Rock’s insomnia for this great story.

To read the interview in its entirety as it was published in The Daily Journal, Feb. 16, 2019, go to THE DAILY JOURNAL

Writer/Director Peter Hedges talks about making “Ben Is Back”

January 17th, 2019 Posted by Interviews, Review 0 thoughts on “Writer/Director Peter Hedges talks about making “Ben Is Back””

You can’t miss newspaper articles, books, and even movies which depict the harrowing experiences of drug abuse in our world today. This year, two standout films tell an emotionally raw story not just about addiction, but of a young adult’s attempts to regain his life. “Beautiful Boy” and “Ben Is Back” both create these stories, but with Peter Hedges film, “Ben Is Back,” starring his own son Lucas Hedges and Julia Roberts, he utilizes pieces of his own life as well as others’, to give us a sincere and poignant tale of a mother and son struggling for survival.

Peter Hedges was recently in Chicago for the Chicago International Film Festival where his film screened. I had the honor and pleasure of meeting this soft-spoken yet engaging, award winning writer and director to talk about making “Ben Is Back.”

Pamela Powell (PP): I understand that “Ben Is Back” is reflective of your own life in many ways.

Peter Hedges (PH): I grew up in a family that was decimated and then ultimately elevated because of addiction. My mom was an active alcoholic until I was 15 and then she left home when I was 7. I didn’t really know her full and majestic self —she was a remarkable woman—until she got sober when I was 15. The last 22 years of her life she devoted to helping other people and saved hundreds if not thousands of lives. …I saw from a family perspective what happens when a loved member of the family is engulfed by the disease of addiction. And so as I got older … I noticed that I was burying more and more friends and more and more people that I knew were at risk. A close family member nearly died and another family member did die and so I just wanted to create or tell a story that I felt could be a big part of a conversation that we need to have.

PP: You have a uniquely accurate way of creating a mother’s voice in your characters, especially with Julia Robert’s character of “Holly.” How do you do this?

PH: I had a remarkable mother and I’m married to a remarkable mother. My sister’s a remarkable mother. Most of my favorite actors are remarkable women of a certain age. Holly was not hard for [me to write]. … From the minute I started writing the mother in “Gilbert Grape” to the mother I wrote in “Pieces of April,” I like writing moms. I don’t know why, … nothing comes super easy for me, but they do. I think it’s my respect and awe and love for moms and mothers and women in my life. And my life has helped make that possible. … I was struck in reading Walt Whitman’s journals. When soldiers were dying in the war repeatedly, …. they never called out for their fathers. They never called out for their loved ones. They always called out for their mothers. I wanted to write a great love story. … I thought who would really go anywhere and will go everywhere for their child?

PP: Julia and Lucas have such a genuine connection. Tell me about their relationship and developing it to give such authentic performances.

PH: It’s a testament to both of them. They really like each other! … I mean what does one say about Julia Roberts? She’s the perfect actor to play Holly. She’s that mom. She loves her kids so much and she’ll do anything for them. What makes the movie so powerful to me is that Holly’s trying so hard to protect her child and Lucas is Ben is trying so hard to make up for his mistakes and I find that very moving that I’m going to beat this. And the fact that it’s that hard to beat is why the film’s important is because that’s what so many people are facing and some of us don’t realize how difficult it is. Someone that we sit next to at work, at school and they’re living everyday in this peril that Holly and Ben lives on this day.

PP: And what about working with your own son?

PH: He never called me dad. I mean one time he did. He came knocking on my door, he needed some money. (Laughs) But he stayed down the hall and I never went to his room. He came to my room a couple of times but I really tried to just keep the distance and give him his space.

PP: As a mother, I felt that I was Holly, walking in her shoes even though I, thankfully, have not gone through this experience directly. I had such compassion for her character.

PH: That’s the great danger of the time that we’re living in is that everything is “an other.” … when we lose our capacity to feel compassion for other people and we lose our ability or interest in understand other points of view, then we are descending toward more of a savage world, a cruel world. I think art at its best expands our capacity for compassion and maybe we’ll look a little differently at the people we’ve been writing off.

PP: Do you feel that this film is in some ways a healing process for you and your past?

PH: It is in some respects very much that. I think my mother and father who are no longer here in the physical sense and I know how much they would love this film and that makes me proud that that’s an extension of the work they were doing. And this is my attempt to be a part of something much bigger and more important. It’s definitely healing. It makes me want to keep moving in the direction of making urgent and necessary films.

PP: This topic touches so many lives directly, including my friend who lost her son. What have you seen so far of the impact of this film?

PH: The trailer came out and trailers always scare me and I was looking on the “Ben Is Back” Facebook page, and thousands of people are commenting about the trailer, but a number of [were] people saying, I don’t know if I can see this movie, I lived it, and then someone would say, this is a picture of my son that I lost and then there would be 14 comments from people all over the world saying I’m so sorry that that happened. He looked like such a great kid. … Somebody came up to me yesterday after the movie and said, I didn’t know what I put my mother through until I saw this movie and said, ‘I’m going to go call my mom.’ YES! … That’s the hard thing about the disease that you’re so caught up in it that you lose your capacity to understand that you’re hurting the people that you most love. When my mother got sober, she had to live with the fact that all the hurting she did when she was drinking. If she hadn’t have been drinking she would never have done those things. She would never have walked out on 4 children. She had to be drunk to do that. I understand there’s accountability … but they’re not themselves. And this friend of yours who lost her son, he wasn’t himself.

Film Rating 4/4 Stars

IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK: An interview with Barry Jenkins

December 25th, 2018 Posted by Interviews, Review 0 thoughts on “IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK: An interview with Barry Jenkins”

Barry Jenkins, Academy Award-winning director of the Best Picture Award in 2016 for “Moonlight,” is back in the writer’s and director’s chairs to give us a screen adaptation of James Baldwin’s book, “If Beale Street Could Talk.”

The film depicts Tish and Fonny, two young black people in love, “soul mates” as Jenkins describes them, who experience heartache when Fonny is falsely accused of rape.

It’s a gorgeous portrayal of first love and family, as well as a brutally realistic representation of racial perception and the injustices of the judicial system, all seen through the lens of a young woman.

The film opens Christmas Day, starring Stephan James as Fonny and Chicago’s very own KiKi Layne as Tish. Film critic Chuck Koplinski and I had the pleasure of sitting down with this soft-spoken and engaging writer and director to learn more about the making of this evocatively relevant and poignant film.

To read the review in its entirety, go to https://www.daily-journal.com/life/entertainment/q-a-with-filmmaker-barry-jenkins/article_a7536e8a-02e2-11e9-9fc8-73cca268e4c1.html

“Care To Laugh” An Interview with Director Julie Getz

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Care to Laugh” An Interview

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PP: How are your parents doing now?

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

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

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

The filmmakers behind “Patrimonio” at DOC NYC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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