TCFF 2015: It’s a Wrap!! Reviews of ‘The 33’ & ‘Thank You For Playing’ doc, highlights and winners of Twin Cities Film Fest top awards


Woot woot!! Can’t believe the 11-day Twin Cities Film Fest has wrapped last night. I was far too beat to do any kind of blogging when I got home from the final night Mixer aka after party around Midnight. Thank goodness we’ve got an extra hour of sleep thanks to Daylight Savings Time, talk about perfect timing! :D

Well, I still have a few reviews in the pipeline that have yet to be published (a collection of short films and indie drama Krisha review will be up tomorrow). Just because the film fest is done, doesn’t mean the TCFF-related posts are over. I got to meet a few filmmakers throughout the night whom I haven’t got around to interviewing and exchanged business cards, so more filmmaker interviews are coming in the next few weeks! I’ll also be working on my Top 10 list from TCFF 2015 (some of which also won the top awards last night).

Well, TCFF ended on a high note once again. The final day started off with one of the great educational panels (a free event!) with cinematographers and DPs working in the industry, including Checco Varese who shot last night’s gala film The 33. Lots of interesting discussions about some technical stuff, and they answered my question about the whole dialog of film vs digital filmmaking.


THE 33

The last two films both deal with heart-wrenching subject matters but done in such an inspiring and uplifting way. The 33 chronicled the event that gripped the international community when 33 Chilean miners were buried under 100-year-old gold and copper mine and trapped for 69 days!

Director Patricia Riggen did a phenomenal job telling a compelling story of human resilience and the courage of both the miners and their families above ground who refused to give up. Great ensemble cast featuring Antonio Banderas, Juliette Binoche, Rodrigo Santoro, Gabriel Byrne and Lou Diamond Philips. It was exquisitely shot by Checco Varese, which was shot on location in two different mines in Bolivia, Colombia. It certainly looked authentic as the environment of the set made the actors felt as if they were real miners for a while. In fact, the 33 miners were consulted for the film and the final shots showed the real miners who are still as close as brothers to this day. There were moments that might’ve felt too ‘Hollywoodized’ but overall the film didn’t feel emotionally manipulated. The genuinely stirring score came from the late James Horner, which the film paid tribute in the end.


During the Q&A afterwards, Mr. Varese shared that the mountain would shift during filming inside the mine, just like in the film! He also shared that he’s actually married to the director. What a team, hope they’ll collaborate on a film again in the future!

Thank You For Playing documentary

ThankYouForPlayingPosterRemember I said this year the film fest opened AND ended with a documentary? Well it couldn’t have ended on a better film than Thank You For Playing. The synopsis alone should tell you it’ll be a tear-jerker, but it’s not a sad story, in fact it’s an uplifting one that should inspire everyone going through a tough time in their lives. Critics have called this film one of the most important film about video game ever made and it certainly lived up to that.

The story chronicled the Green family, as Ryan and Amy deal with their son Joel who’s diagnosed with a terminal cancer. When Joel was one year old, he was told he only had a few months to live but he ended up living for another three years. Ryan is a video game designer and he embarked on creating a most unusual and poetic video game to honor Joel’s life. He captured the motion and voice of his son, including his infectious laughter, in the game and took us through the heart-rending journey in making that game. Most video games deal with a lot of deaths, that is people getting shot or chopped to pieces violently. But never has a game dealt with death the way That Dragon Cancer game does it, tackling the issue of death head on in such a personal, affecting and encouraging way. Its website called it A Journey Of Hope In The Shadow Of Death and that could’ve easily been the tagline for this doc as well.


I LOVE that their Christian faith is ever present in the documentary (as well as in the game itself), as they continue to be thankful to God despite their difficult situation. It also showed the church community coming alongside them and helped them through it all, as Amy Green later shared during the Q&A was a huge part of their lives. It certainly altered my feelings about video games, which I tend to see in a negative light given my late brother’s addiction to it. But every form of art can be used for bad or good and in this case, the Green family gave a moving testimony of the empathetic power of the art of video game and how they process their grief through technology. Kudos to filmmakers David Osit and Malika Zouhali-Worrall for crafting such a beautiful and reflective film honoring the memory of Joel Green. It deservedly won Best Documentary at TCFF last night (see more winners below).

P.S. Stay tuned for my interview with filmmaker David Osit in the next few weeks!

TCFF Favorite Moments in pictures…

“Room,” “Brooklyn” and “Too Late” Win Top Awards at 2015 Twin Cities Film Fest

Post by TCFF executive director Jatin Setia

Concluding a star-studded showcase that featured more than 100 films over 11 nights, the largest-ever Twin Cities Film Fest unveiled its 2015 award winners Saturday night at a ceremony held in downtown St. Louis Park.

Top awards went to the critically-acclaimed mother-son drama Room, which just last month earned standing ovations at the Toronto International Film Festival, Brooklyn, the sweeping, much buzzed-about period immigrant drama starring Saoirse Ronan, and Too Late, the daring independent noir thriller starring Minnesota native John Hawkes who appeared in person to receive the festival’s Northstar Award.

“You look at daring stories like Room and these are the kinds of journeys and characters that stick with you for a lifetime,” said Twin Cities Film Fest Executive Director Jatin Setia. “Leaps of faith like that are why film festivals are so essential – the chance to discover great films before the rest of the world sees them, the chance to champion independent projects that deserve extra attention and the chance to talk about the art and the craft with the very artists who are making the next great movie.”

Awards were handed out in nine categories Saturday night. Each category also officially recognized three standout honorable mentions. “Room,” directed by Lenny Abrahamson, took home the trophy for best feature film; Thank You For Playing, the festival’s official closing night documentary directed by David Osit and Malika Zouhali-Worrall, won best documentary; and Skunk, a short film by Annie Silverstein, won the 2015 award for best short.

Minnesota audiences who attended the festival were invited to cast ballots for the 2015 audience award. John Crowley’s “Brooklyn” took home the feature film trophy (honorable mentions included : “The Dust Storm,” directed by Ryan Lacen & Anthony Baldino; “The Polar Bear Club,” directed by Brett Wayne Price; and “Shut In,” directed by Adam Schindler). Sarah Smith’s “D.Asian” took the top audience prize for short films (honorable mentions included Adam Burke’s “Boardroom,” Matthew G. Anderson’s “The Caper” and Bruce Southerland’s “The Last Vanish”)

“This year’s ballots were noteworthy, because they recognized projects both big and small, and celebrated such a wide and eclectic range of tones and topics,” said Steve Snyder, the festival’s artistic director. “I think the diversity of the voting this year reflected the wider diversity of the Twin Cities filmgoing —and filmmaking — communities. And maybe in that regard it shouldn’t be surprising at all. Year in and year out, we hear from filmmakers and studios alike that it’s the sophistication of Minnesota movie audiences that make them want to debut and premiere here. We know good movies when we see them, we know how to celebrate art that deserves recognition, and I think filmmakers across the country know that.”

As always, the festival culminated with two “Indie Vision” awards, recognizing standout independent productions released over the last year that broke new creative ground. The 2015 Indie Vision Breakthrough Film Award went to the Dennis Hauck thriller Too Late, in recognition of its immersive storytelling techniques. (The film was composed of five unbroken and carefully choreographed 20-minute “acts”) The 2015 Indie Vision Breakthrough Performance Award went to Rosa Salazar, actress in the notable Charles Hood’s romance Night Owls, in recognition of a raw, brilliant and pitch-perfect character arc and a performance that required hitting notes across the emotional spectrum.

Here’s the full slate of 2015 award winners, as well as honorable mentions:

Best Feature Film

“Room,” directed by Lenny Abrahamson.

Honorable Mentions:
“It’s Already Tomorrow in Hong Kong,” directed by Emily Ting; “Brooklyn,” directed by John Crowley; and “The Quiet Hour,” directed by Stephanie Joalland.

Best Documentary

“Thank You For Playing,” directed by David Osit and Malika Zouhali-Worrall.

Honorable Mentions:
“Man Vs. Snake: The Long and Twisted Tale of Nibbler, directed by Tim Kinzy and Andrew Seklir; “A New High,” directed by Samuel Miron and Stephen Scott Scarpulla; and “Out in the Cold,” directed by J.D. O’Brien.

Best Short Film

“Skunk,” directed by Annie Silverstein.

Honorable Mentions:
“D.Asian,” directed by Sarah Smith; “Even the Walls,” directed by Sarah Kuck and Saman Maydani; and “Myrna the Monster,” directed by Ian Samuels.

Audience Award, Feature Film

“Brooklyn,” directed by John Crowley.

Honorable Mentions:
“The Dust Storm,” directed by Ryan Lacen & Anthony Baldino; “The Polar Bear Club,” directed by Brett Wayne Price; “Shut In,” directed by Adam Schindler.

Audience Award, Short Film

“D.Asian,” directed by Sarah Smith.

Honorable Mentions:
“Boardroom,” directed by Adam Burke; “The Caper,” directed by Matthew G. Anderson; and “The Last Vanish,” directed by Bruce Southerland

Indie Vision, Breakthrough Film

Winner: “Too Late,” directed by Dennis Hauck.

Honorable Mentions:
“Anomalisa,” directed by Duke Johnson and Charlie Kaufman; “Thugs: The Musical,” directed by Greg Bro; and “Out in the Cold,” directed by J.D. O’Brien

Indie Vision, Breakthrough Performance

Winner: Rosa Salazar, “Night Owls.”

Honorable Mentions:
Brie Larson, “Room;” Saoirse Ronan, “Brooklyn;” Nathan Tymoshuk, “Snail Mail” and “The Writer.”

2015 Changemaker Award:

Dr. Heather Huseby, executive director of YouthLink.

2015 Northstar Award for Excellence:

John Hawkes.


Shout out to all TCFF volunteers for making the film fest possible! THANK YOU to all who’ve volunteered this year, you all rock!!

Well that’s my recap of 2015 Twin Cities film fest. Hope you enjoyed the coverage so far, stay tuned for some additional reviews and more filmmaker interviews!

Spotlight on indie horror ‘In the Dark’ + interview with director David Spaltro


A skeptical grad student and a paranormal specialist investigate a potentially haunted home and the troubled woman inside whose affliction may be beyond the capacity of either of them to diagnosis.

In The Dark was an attempted shot of energy and breath of fresh air in a popular, but overcrowded genre marketplace, combining both the appeal of the thrills and chills that is a staple of the horror genre, as well as a strong, original story, headed by a female cast of some of NYC’s most talented actresses. A lovingly bloody valentine to the inspirational works of Stephen King, John Carpenter, and 1973’s The Exorcist; the film’s strikingly haunting visual images from cinematographer Gus Sacks is complemented by over 50 minutes of original music by award winning composer Fritz Myers of Platitude Music (IFC’s “White Reindeer”, “Sushi Girl”, Best Soundtrack, 2012’s Toronto After Dark Film Festival).


Most FC readers know I don’t watch horror films, but here are some excerpts of reviews of In The Dark:

“Right from the opening scene that will chill you to your core, ‘…In the Dark’ is a deft use of suspense and darkness… it successfully dissolves any comparisons to The Exorcist and becomes something original… compelling performances and a story that really hooks!” – Ain’t It Cool News

“Nightmarish and filled with an atmosphere of dread… a movie that boasts a good story and strong cast.” – TwitchFilm

“…the all-female lead cast is phenomenal, and it’s great to see ladies in a horror movie not used as sex bait or the tired Final Girl trope.” – Horror Film Central

“***…stands tall above other indie horrors of its ilk, largely due to Spaltro’s background in dramatic storytelling…rare to see cinematography of this standard in a low-budget horror… A chilling movie.” – Flickering Myth

Check out the trailer:


I had met writer/director David Spaltro three years ago when he had his Midwest premier of his drama Things I Don’t Understand at TCFF. So it’s nice to see him return to Minnesota and premiere his new film, this time a psychological horror In the Dark. I love that David’s films are always filled with intriguing female characters, and this new one actually has a mostly female ensemble! So check out my Q&A with David about making the film, the casting process and some of the horror/thriller filmmakers who’ve inspired him.


Q: This is your first foray into writing and directing a horror feature, what makes you decide to tackle this genre?

A: It was sort of just fortuitous timing, really. I had been in development on a third feature film Wake Up in New York, and slated to go into production in Spring 2014, but that Winter hit a financing snag that sort of put the breaks on it at the time. I was a little burned out after all that work, and not sure if I should take a break and go back to trying to get that back up again, or look at a different project, when I was contacted to meet with an investor who wanted to make their own feature, a horror film, and needed a script. I took the meeting, thinking it was just to write a film, and ended up being offered the reigns to direct it as well, after pitching a few story ideas and what was possible.

It was a mad dash to complete the script, but literally 14 months after that meeting, I was able to hand the investor a completely finished horror feature. I had no real intentions of delving into the genre, at least at that point, but I was starving creatively to try something different, and saw it as a good chance to grow and learn as a storyteller, and add something different to the character drama/comedies I was known for, while hopefully still retaining my particular voice. It was a unique, very rare instance where someone says they have a particular budget, offering a writer-director the freedom to play with that canvas, as long as it’s within the confines clearly of a horror genre film and something they can use commercially.


Q: What’s the inspiration behind the story of possession? Is ‘In The Dark’ more of a slasher or body horror flick or more of a psychological thriller?

I wasn’t sure what I was going to tackle with the genre, and what i found after researching a lot of my favorite horror in literature and films, was the ones that really, REALLY worked had at the center a core story or dramatic artic with fleshed out characters you cared for, and then the genre tropes were used to heighten that story and tell it better. I came across a really strange medical paper written by a psychologist that was very bland and technical in it’s structure and the way it described the maladies, the way you would read in a medical encylopedia or about any rare disease… this one just happened to be about demnonic possession. I found that odd mix of real science and things beyond science to be really interesting and kind of used that as the seed moving forward, and of course wanting to tell a story with strong female leads.


David directing Lynn Justinger & Fiona Horrigan

Q: The film deals with the issue of mental illness, how did the research process go before you start writing the script?

I used my own personal experiences with people through my life, and definitely read some articles and books. I feel like whether it’s mental illness or (if you believe) in true demonic possession, there’s something really terrifying to us about being alive and being out of control of ourselves, body and soul. I can’t imagine what it would be like to deal with that, and also be the people in the world of someone dealing with that. More than any ghost, monster, or slasher the loss of self and shattering is something pretty terrifying to me.


Q: What made you decide to have a female ensemble cast for your first horror feature? Would you elaborate about the casting process? 

I had pretty much written for the role for all four leads in the film. Grace Folsom, of course, is just phenomenal. She’s my favorite actress i’ve worked with in how she just gets my material and the way she powerfully elevates everything and everyone in a scene with her. She’s a gift. Lynn Justinger I met and worked with briefly on “Things I Don’t Understand” and have been dying to collaborate with–we’re still developing a few projects together, and this seemed like a great chance to work with her and also do something so completely different then she was used to, and she just crushed it. We recently screened in her hometown in Buffalo and picked up the audience award.


Grace Folsom + Lynn Justinger

Fiona Horrigan and Catherine Cobb Ryan I met in two separate workshops, and was bowled over by their work and also their desire to work with me, so it gave me a great chance to work with four strong ladies of different ages and backgrounds. That’s osmething that I think will always be important to me—not that every project and every character will have to be female moving forward, but making sure whatever the story and arc, the female characters are well rounded and fleshed out and serve the story. No eye candy or explotiation allowed.


Q: Lastly, what’s been some horror filmmakers and horror/thriller films that’s inspired you?

I was a really big fan of “It Follows” by David Robert Mitchell and “Babadook” by Jennifer Kent that kind of gave me the confidence to go in the slow burn true horror style.I sort of rekindled my love for the horror genre, and definitely dove into a lot of old favourites, as well as viewing a lot of films from different periods and international locations. The ones that always stuck out for me, and that I most drew from were the early films of George Romero, Wes Craven, and of course John Carpenter who’s really sort of the spiritual Godfather of this film. A personal favourite of mine that I think is most an inspiration from his catalog was Prince of Darkness which is really about science confronting faith and superstition with just a lot of dread and character work. It’s really surreal, too. Also, the works of Stephen King and how a lot of his stories don’t even become horrific until about 1/3 of the way in, he very slowly draws you into a very enjoyable story with rich characters that you care about, and then when he starts unleashing Hell and darkness on them and the reader, you’re just terrified and disturbed because you totally forgot what you were getting into.


I wanted that same kind of mood, atmosphere, and dread in the film. Also early seasons of the X-Files, their camerawork and mood, was something I wanted to reference. In a lot of ways, Lynn is my Scully and this is my attempt at an X-Files episode. Of course, everything lives in the shadow of The Exorcist, so I tried to steer away from too much in that realm, as anything that comes after is just some form of knockoff. It’s untouchable in its ability to not just generate fear, but emotion from an audience. You’re exhausted and moved after watching it, even today.

Glad seeing you again David, and nice meeting you
Kayla & Fiona!


What are your thoughts of In The Dark? 

TCFF 2015 Indies Reviews: Touched With Fire + All the Time in the World + Band of Robbers

With just one day left in Twin Cities Film Fest, and I’m still playing catch up on reviewing the films I’ve seen so far! There’s still a few reviews I haven’t got around to, believe it or not. But I think I’ve done double the amount of posts I had last year, and definitely the most in my six years covering TCFF!


Touched With Fire


This film seems to be made as a love letter to the artists and creative people with bipolar disorder. The opening scenes introduced us to Carla and Marco in their manic state and how they ended up in the psychiatric hospital. Though they didn’t get off on the right foot initially, the two ended up bonding over a series of sleepless nights, and it’s inevitable they fall in love.

Touched With Fire is based on a book by clinical psychologist Kay Redfield JamisonTouched with Fire: Manic-Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament, which is her exploration of how bipolar disorder can run in artistic or high-achieving families. Jamison herself suffered from bipolar and was put into lithium medication. She had a cameo in the film sharing about her illness to the characters.

The film follow the journey of the two protagonists in the hospital, being separated by force and transitioning into living in the outside world. Naturally, their families have objections about the two starting a relationship, let alone living together. They think they’re a bad influence to each other, especially since one of them refuse to take their medication. I think it’s a moving portrait of a love story between two people suffering from manic depressive illness. The film is beautifully-shot and peppered with humor throughout. Kudos to writer/director Paul Dalio that depite the subject matter, the film never descend into sullen or depressing territory. Ultimately the two have to choose between sanity and love, and the bittersweet finale that tugs my heartstrings.


I have to admit I didn’t think of Katie Holmes when I saw the role of Carla, but to her credit she did a terrific job in the role. I was equally impressed with Luke Kirby as I don’t remember seeing him in anything before. The two didn’t have the strongest chemistry together, but the direction somehow made it work to sell that they share such extreme passion. I also think the actors portray their characters’ bipolar condition with such sensitivity and credibility.

There are some slow moments and perhaps the film could’ve been tightly edited, but overall it’s wonderfully-acted and the script is quite engaging. This is another compelling directorial debut from Paul Dalio. Fans of many artists that the film is dedicated to, especially Vincent Van Gogh, will especially appreciate this film. I was surprised how many famous artists are listed before the end credits.


All the Time in the World


All the Time in the World,” having its world premiere at the Twin Cities Film Fest, is a locally-produced film. One of the goals of this film festival is to give local artists a voice. In that vein, this film succeeds. Unfortunately, as a movie it does not. Produced at Crown College in St. Bonifacius, it was written and directed by Nickolaus Swedlund and stars Drew Zoromski as Drew and Katie Thies as Katie. Perhaps the lack of creativity with the character’s names should have been my first clue.
The movie focuses on Drew, a college senior lost after a serious knee injury ends his football career followed closely by his girlfriend breaking up with him. (“Well, that’s cold,” I remember thinking about the girlfriend.) It starts slowly with endless scenes of Drew and Katie studying in the library and walking through fields having inane conversations. (“I don’t even like good macaroni and cheese…” is one of the most, or should I say, least memorable lines.)
And then it gets even slower, showing Drew and his buddies hanging out and driving around. “I hear you talking but it’s just…noise,” Drew says at one point to his friends. Well said, Drew. I think most people can remember being in college and having that giant question hanging over them. (“Do something with your life,” one of Drew’s professors implores.)
I get that college is often more abstract in the academic world, and in that way this movie works. But for the most part, people’s everyday lives just aren’t that interesting.  Zoromski does an admirable job with what he has to work with in this film and he definitely gets a lot of experience giving the camera long, pensive looks. In the director’s notes Swedlund writes that “film is also about the process not the product.” Gosh I hope so.


Band of Robbers


Band of Robbers promises to give moviegoers a chance to hang out with Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn as adults. Will it be a show like “Wicked,” which adds a surprising layer of depth to an already well-known story and provides a fresh take on a classic tale, or will it ruin some of Mark Twain’s most iconic literary characters? I’m happy to say the film that recently had its world premiere at the Los Angeles Film Festival is definitely the former.

This absurdly funny crime caper stars Kyle Gallner as Huck Finn and Adam Nee as Tom Sawyer and was written and directed by brothers Aaron and Adam Nee. We pick up the story with the characters on opposite sides of the law: Huck Finn has recently been released from prison, while Tom Sawyer is on the police force…but now that Huck is free, Tom hatches a new plan for mayhem and mischief involving a hidden treasure.

The story is well-written, with numerous plot twists to keep the audience guessing, and the pacing of the film is superb – during the 95-minute film I never felt as though the plot was dragging. Fans of the books will also appreciate some of the subtle references – for example, in one scene Huck is laying on the grass smoking what looks like a corn cob pipe.


But what really makes this movie shine is the deadpan delivery of the film’s shenanigans – Adam Nee is so mischievously endearing as Tom Sawyer you can’t help but root for him – and it makes me wonder if the Nee brothers watched a lot of the “Naked Gun” movies growing up. One thing to note about “Band of Robbers” though is that it is not a movie for kids as there is a fair amount of violence and foul language. As Tom Sawyer says in the middle of the movie, “This is typical classic pirate bull****.”


Here’s what’s coming up on the final day of TCFF! 

What do you think about either one of these films?


TCFF 2015: Review of ‘The Adderall Diaries’ + interview with writer/director Pamela Romanowsky


It’s safe to assume that James Franco loves literary adaptations. The Adderall Diaries is based on a memoir of the same name by Stephen Elliot. Franco played Stephen, a writer who seems to be at the height of his career. His agent constantly calls him about various book deals and options. There’s even a new romance in the air, as he met a pretty reporter from the Times (Amber Heard) during a high-profile murder trial. Yet he’s still haunted by the ghost of his traumatic past, especially his *monster* dad who through a series of flashbacks seems like a beligerent and abusive father Neil who made his childhood a living hell. During a reading of his memoir, Neil suddenly turned up and confronted his son just as Stephen was reading from his memoir that he was deceased.


Needless to say, Stephen’s life went on a downward spiral as the book deals quickly dried up. He descended into self-destructive behavior with substance abuse (with Adderall tablets being his drug of choice) and BDSM sessions with prostitutes, all the while his daddy-issues overwhelmed him to the point that he alieniated everyone close to him. It’s hard to tell fact from fiction in a blur of drug-induced haze Stephen constantly puts himself under. Therein lies the crux of the story: what is really fact and what is a product of his imagination? The film asks the question of what it means to tell the truth, and how we often choose to see things our own way. In the case of Stephen, all his life he incessantly sees himself as the *victim.*


There are a lot going on in this film, but the father/son relationship is central to the story. There’s a facet of crime drama in the murder trial subplot, but it’s always seen through Stephen’s eyes and how those events bring out elements from his own past. I don’t always get what is going on in a particular scene, but the film’s pace and script remains engaging and some of the cryptic moments intrigue instead of frustrate me. Perhaps the fact that writer/diretor Pamela Romanowsky studied behavioral psychology at Macalester College in MN made her the right person to adapt this book.

The performances are ace all around. James Franco delivered a convincing performance as someone who’s totally lost and full of anger. Stephen isn’t exactly a likable character, yet there’s a layered vulnerability and real angst that made me sympathize with him. The always reliable Ed Harris is phenomenal here as Stephen’s estranged dad, the scenes between the two of them are the most intense and emotional parts of the film. The rest of the supporting cast, Amber Heard, Cynthia Nixon, Jim Parrack and Christian Slater are solid as well.


This is a confident directorial debut from Romanowsky. There are quite a few flashback scenes in the film and at times they serve as scenes from the character’s memories. So it’s crucial that the transition isn’t jarring or become too hard to follow. I never felt lost watching the story and that’s a testament to a deft direction. Not only did the story translate well cinematically, she also brought out excellent performances from her actors.

I’m thrilled that Pamela’s next project will be writing and directing Chuck Palahniuk‘s novel Rant: The Oral Biography of Buster Casey. Based on this article, the novel is set in a dystopian future and involves people competing in a secret game of demolition derby, all while the world becomes an even worse place as time passes. James Franco is set to play the title role once again, it definitely sounds intriguing and I can’t wait to see what Pamela will do with that project.

TCFF Screening Time(s): 
10/29/2015  (7:10 PM)
10/31/2015  (3:00 PM)

I had the privilege of chatting with director Pamela Romanowsky about making the film, working with James Franco & Ed Harris, and the challenges being a female filmmaker in Hollywood.


Q: How did you come on board this project?

I read The Adderall Diaries for the first time as a casual reader. It was in the window at my neighborhood bookstore in Brooklyn (which is where James signs books in the opening scene of the film), and I finished it in a couple days. It really stuck with me, in particular his insights and admissions about how we edit our memories to fit a personal narrative. Some months later in Detroit, James and I were working together on The Color of Time, a multi-director adaptation of CK Williams’ brilliant poetry collection TAR. My vignette is an adaptation of the poem “Tar” and it’s also about how memory affects our experience of the present. James asked me if I would be interested in adapting a book he’d optioned called The Adderall Diaries. Of course I jumped at the opportunity.

Q: What was the challenges of adapting a novel/memoir into a screenplay?

AdderallDiaries_novelIt’s a different set of challenges for each project. In this case, it was figuring out how to translate the book’s foundational themes and ideas into cinematic language. The form and style of the book is very different from a movie- It’s about moments and impressions more than it is a traditional story with a plot and character arcs. The quote that opens the movie is one I had pinned up on my writing board, which I think is the beating heart and central idea of the book.

Stephen says, “We understand the world by how we retrieve memories. Re-order information into stories to justify how we feel.” I’m deeply moved by that thought, both the truthfulness of it and his willingness to expose it in himself. We all know memory is an emotionally charged and unreliable thing, and that’s easy to point out as a concept, even easier to point out in another person who has a different version of our story, but few of us have the balls to point to it in ourselves.

The central conflict in the movie is that Stephen and his father Neil have organized the facts of what happened between them into very different stories. Each man has cast himself as the victim, and so he needs the other to admit some culpability so he can be right. In the movie, it takes all these other satellite characters orbiting Stephen (his girlfriend, his best friend, his muse and his editor) to get into conflict with him at the same time, before it finally clicks that if everyone edits their memory to validate an emotional position, he’s doing it, too.

It took me two years to get from first draft to the first day on set, and I was re-writing the whole way. The biggest leaps and best insights came out of the work I did with the Sundance Institute, where I was a fellow at the screenwriting, directing and sound/music labs. My experiences there changed not only how I approached this project, but how I approach my job and my voice as a writer and director in general. Michelle Satter, founding director of the feature film program, and Robert Redford, who needs no introduction, were two of my most helpful and primary advocates throughout, reading scripts, watching cuts, and opening doors.

Q: Which do you enjoy most, writing or directing?

Directing. I didn’t know what the job meant until I was in it, and I feel really lucky to have stumbled upon my dream job. It’s the intersection of all of my interests, joys and skills, and it’s never ever the same thing twice. It keeps me constantly on my toes and learning, working with brilliant people. It’s about adjusting, trying to zero in on the thing you want from different approaches (I always think of a GPS saying “re-calculating” over and over again). I love the great leap of faith into intimacy everyone has to take, especially between actors and directors. You expose a lot of yourself working scenes out, whether you talk about it overtly or not. How do you lie? How do you flirt or chase respect? How do you experience regret or sex or losing your temper or ignoring the elephant in the room? It’s all in there, and you get to know and respect each other in really deep ways.

There’s deep beauty and satisfaction in writing, too, but for me it’s much less pleasurable than directing.


Q: You had worked with James Franco before when you did ‘The Color of Time’ while at NYU. How did the rest of the cast come on board this project?

I met James in grad school at NYU where we both did the MFA film program. He’s always felt like a kindred spirit and we became friends right away, but we hadn’t worked together until The Color of Time. We got to bond in a deeper way as collaborators on that film and even more so on Adderall, and he’s become one of my closest and most treasured friends. He’s magnetic and inspiring, and works harder and more passionately than anyone.

Ed Harris was my mentor at the Sundance Director’s lab, which felt like some kind of crazy hand-of-god fate, because I’d written the part for him without ever knowing I’d get the chance to meet him or tell him so. He was advising me the day I shot the workshop version of Stephen and Neil’s climactic scene (with the fantastic actors Luke Kirby and Dennis Boutsikaris), and at one point Ed asked if he could jump in to offer a suggestion. He hugged Luke and then tossed him over the hood of a car, and I just stood there breathlessly, seeing the character I’d imagined for so long come vividly to life. Ed is electric and that’s so exciting to be around.

Jim Parrack (Roger) is one of James’ oldest friends in real life. Their rapport, in all its competitive, loving, intense glory, is very real. My favorite scene to shoot with them was the boxing scene, because they’re trained boxers and they both learned with the great Macka Foley, who was on set, too. That day was all-in and so intense.

Amber Heard (Lana), Christian Slater (Hans), Cynthia Nixon (Jen) and Timothee Chalamet (Teenage Stephen) all came through my friend Danie Streisand, a phenomenal talent agent who I call the secret casting director of this movie. She cared about and got the project like nobody else, and with each of those actors, it was the most obvious match in the world from the moment I got to meet with them. Each actor brings something different to set, and it’s fascinating to watch how those energies intersect and change each other.


Q: Tell me what it’s like working with Franco and Ed Harris, both of whom are committed and versatile actors working today.

Joan Darling, my acting teacher at the Sundance labs, says that a great actor is like a high speed train- even the smallest adjustment at the beginning of a scene will take you in a very different direction by the end. James and Ed are certainly high-speed trains, and it was an absolute honor and joy to work with them. They’re game to experiment, they commit entirely, they’re emotionally rigorous and they’re fiercely allergic to bullshit. Watching how they communicated and reacted to each other within the scenes was stunning. It’s worth noting that Ed and James are both directors as well- They’re smart and generous people by nature, but I think they were particularly attuned to and patient with what I needed technically and camera-wise because they’re clocking my coverage and know to advocate for that last setup we don’t really have time for but will need in the editing room. And they’re both veterans. What they’ve seen on set and in the industry, as actors and directors, is precious insight for a young director to have.

Q: Given that the gender disparity in Hollywood is such a hot topic these days, would you comment a bit about your own experience as a female filmmaker working on your feature debut?

I’m glad that gender disparity in Hollywood is a hot topic. It should be. Four percent of the top one hundred box office films are directed by women. FOUR. Many years, that number has been lower, and the numbers are similar for people of color and other minorities. How can an industry that represents and creates culture not be affected and made toxic by that obvious, shameful degree of discrimination?

The thing is, the difference between my experience as a first time indie filmmaker and a women embarking on a career in Hollywood will be very different. I’m here talking to you, so obviously I’m one of the women who made a debut feature. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but not because I’m a woman. I had the support and respect of everyone I worked with.

After this, my experience will likely change. Women who make good indie first features don’t get asked to make big studio movies like Spiderman or Jurassic Park. But men do get to take that massive leap. The same number of women and men attend prestigious film schools and write good, vetted screenplays. The first hurdle comes with financing and thus making that first feature. Only 25% of American directors at Sundance are women, skewed heavily toward documentaries. But 25% is a hell of a lot more than 4%. The real obstacle for female directors isn’t making the first indie feature, it’s the opportunity to launch from there into Hollywood. And that’s a very old and carefully guarded obstacle to move. I’m still gonna do my damndest to get there, obviously.

I’m one of the Sundance Institute’s Female Filmmaker Initiative fellows this year, and I’m eager to point to Sundance’s rigorous research and their initiatives for change, because it provides a much clearer and more detailed picture than I can. 

Thanks again Pamela for chatting w/ me last night
prior to the screening. Totally made my day!


What are your thoughts of The Adderall Diaries? 

TCFF 2015 Short Film Reviews Part I – ‘Land Of 10,000 Stories’ Shorts Block + Documentary Short ‘Even The Walls’


Great things do come in small packages! Every year Twin Cities Film Fest screens a plethora of great short films, grouped together in a themed shorts block. Today, we have some of the film reviews from the Land of 10,000 Stories shorts block, and one documentary short Even the Walls that is part of this year’s social cause of homelessness. Thanks Sarah J. for these reviews!


These are all part of the
Land Of 10,000 Stories Shorts Block

Between Friends 


After watching The Detectives of Noir Town and remarking how some things are just funny when puppets are involved, I decided I was sensing a theme for this year’s Twin Cities Film Fest. Between Friends, the short film created by members of the St. Cloud State University community and written and directed by John Scott, the executive director of the St. Cloud Film Fest, was shot entirely in Minnesota. As if to prove their connection to the north star state, the film’s stars are Linda Gustafson (Ida), Gunther Gullickson (Edwin) and Darlene Johnson (Rose). I am not making this up.

Gustafson and Johnson star as two elderly tenants of a run down apartment building constantly harassed by their landlord. “He is such a bully!” one of them exclaims early in the 11 minute movie. Will they take matter into their own hands? Watching two old ladies hatching a plot to kill will bring a smile to your face, whether you live in Minnesota or not. “Oh, think of the mess…” says one of them when they consider getting a gun. “Hmm, and I’ve seen enough ‘Matlock’ to know they can trace poison…” Like The Detectives of Noir Town, there is just something humorous and endearing when it comes out of the mouths of women with ‘Fargo’ accents that could be your grandmother.

The Whitefish Yacht Club


Yes, it’s silly. But it should play well in Minnesota – what would you do if you found a severed foot on your boat? “The Whitefish Yacht Club,” a new short film directed by John Gigrich, stars Alyssa Rae (Kelly Whitefish) and Carley Johnson (Britney Whitefish) as the Whitefish sisters, Bryan Porter (the aptly named Derik Plem – you’ll find out why during the show) as the hapless dock boy and Sondra Glynn (Ella Beauguns) as the friend with a plan.

Although the script can be overly dramatic (at one point, a wide eyed Britney turns to Kelly and remarks that “If any of our enemies find out about this they will surely destroy us all!”) it’s clear the actors had fun making this six-minute ode to one of Minnesota’s favorite pastimes. I did chuckle at a couple of the references – about half way through Derik shouts, “You go get us some Guggenheim scissors!” What the heck are Guggenheim scissors? But maybe a more important question is, does it matter? If the actors and creator set out to take the audience on a quick trip through a zany story they succeeded.

Snail Mail


Who gets a personal letter from someone overseas? Yeah, me neither. “Snail Mail,” the delightful, albeit, very short film from Director/Writer Josh Mruz, highlights one guy’s wait for a letter from a girl he met on a train.

The few scenes are well done – in one, Jordan (Nathan Tymoshuk), fills up his garbage can with paper trying to find the perfect words to respond to a letter from England. In another, junk mail flies as he searches for that one piece of real mail. Twin Cities audiences will also appreciate the panoramas of the metro area as he waits for a reply.



First things first – Ostara is the Wiccan spring equinox celebration. It’s a fitting title for the new short film by Director/Writer Katherine Gorringe, a St. Paul native and recent graduate of Stanford University’s documentary film MFA program. In “Ostara,” we meet Jan, who is having a rebirth of sorts as she is released from prison after 20 years and strives to reconnect with her adult daughter. She also struggles with carrying on her spiritual traditions after being separated from fellow Wiccans – “The first thing we did coming together was asking for positive energy and grabbed hands. It gave me strength,” she shares.

This 11-minute film works because it provides us with just a glimpse into her life at a moment in time, while being sprinkled with facts to help you understand her background. (Jan was in prison after killing her abusive partner and states that 98% of the women in jail with her were molested, raped or in domestic violence situations.) It ends with you wanting to check in with her in a year or so and find out how it is going, which is always a good sign for a moviegoer.

Even The Walls

What makes a neighborhood? Even the Walls, a short documentary written and directed by Sarah Kuck and Saman Maydani, features residents of Yesler Terrace, a public housing neighborhood in Seattle, as its residents grapple with the oncoming forces of gentrification. With a bevy of financial resources flowing into this Pacific Northwest city, the area is in the eye of the bulldozer to become a mixed income development with 5,000 residences, a million square feet of technical and medical space and 16 acres of open space.

The filmmakers do a good job in taking a global issue and making it local – throughout the film you meet residents who have lived at Yesler Terrace for more than 50 years. They explore the idea of recognizing what a community creates even if it has no market value. At 27 minutes, it’s somewhat longer than other short films at the Twin Cities Film Fest, but shorter than a feature film. There were points where residents were shown doing mundane tasks that caused the story to drag. (In one scene, filmmakers show someone brushing their hair for what felt like an eternity. Yes, people brush their hair at their house…I get it.)


Before the world premiere in Seattle earlier this year, Kuck said, “Many people feel gentrification is for the best, and have a difficult time connecting emotionally with why being financially forced to move would be difficult. We see this film as a tool for building empathy.” In that, they have succeeded.


Here’s what’s coming up next on TCFF! 

What do you think about either one of these short films?


Spotlight on indie drama A Year & Change + interview with director Stephen Suettinger


I always love stories of redemption and I think a smaller film can often tell such stories in a more sincere, heartfelt way. A Year and Change is a slice-of-life film of a divorcee named Owen who after a failed marriage is a bit lost and drifting aimlessly through life. After falling off the roof at a New Year’s Eve house party, Owen decides that it’s time to make some wholesale changes in his life. In the course of one year, he tries to regain control of his life and in the process he finds new love again. Romance is a big part of the film but it’s not everything this film is about, it’s more about a man’s journey of overcoming the hurdles in his life that keeps him from making the most of his life.

I’ve never seen any film of Bryan Greenberg before and suddenly I saw two of his films where he played the lead. He’s definitely got the gentle charisma as a leading man, but I love the authentic way he portrays the role of Owen. A lot of actors might have the charisma, but not necessarily the sincere vulnerability that make a certain character sympathetic and relatable. The bittersweet romantic drama is a solid directorial debut from Stephen Suettinger. I like how he tells Owen’s story in an understated way and nary of grating over-sentimentality.  The film also deals with dark subjects but without resorting to being overly gloom and doom.


The film has a terrific supporting cast: Claire Van Der Boom, T.R. Knight, Jamie Chung, Jamie Hector and Marshall Allman. Interesting that he’s shared some scenes with Jamie again whom he co-starred in It’s Another Tomorrow in Hong Kong. The script is engaging and the pacing is just right, plus it’s got a pretty cool soundtrack that fits the tone and mood of the story.

I’m glad to hear that the public will be able to see this soon! Vision Films will release the film across North America on DVD and VOD this Thanksgiving November 24th 2015.

Check out the trailer:


TCFF Screening Time(s): 
10/27/2015 (8:15 PM)

I had the privilege of chatting with director Stephen Suettinger about making the film, so thanks so much Steve for the wonderful and entertaining insights!


Q. How did you come to collaborate with Emily Ting? Did you work together before this project?

A couple of years ago, Emily produced one of Jim Beggarly’s scripts called ‘The Kitchen’ which also happened to star Bryan Greenberg. So when Bryan attached to AYAC, I went straight to Emily to see if she’d be interested in coming on board to produce. Thankfully she joined the project or else we may never have gotten the movie made!

Q. I’m always interested in films about second chances in life or starting over, how did you and/or Jim Beggarly come up with the story? I think this is the first time I come across a film with a vending machine owner as the protagonist.

Jim sent me the original script back in 2006. Yes, it took 9 years (!) to finally get it to the screen. To put that in perspective, I’ve had 4 kids since I first read the original draft of Jim’s script which used to be called ‘Dear Jen.’ After reading it back then, I fell in love with the characters. They reminded me of people I knew growing up in Maryland (Jim also grew up here). I was a big fan of Owen being a vending machine owner because there’s this natural paradox of him being in a position to help people (even if just to satisfy their hunger) and yet it’s this very solitary kind of job. He’s often alone, even within a crowd of people.


Bryan with T.R. Knight

I knew I loved the characters, but I didn’t find my way ‘in’ to the story until after my Mom passed away in 2011. They say that when a parent dies, you take one step into the grave with them. Luckily I have a supportive family that made sure that I didn’t spiral into depression. AYAC’s lead character Owen, I realized, didn’t have that kind of support system. So after the many tragedies that he’s lived through (the loss of his parents, the dissolution of his marriage), he’s just kind of ‘stuck’. It became clear to me that AYAC should be a story about Owen surrounding himself with a surrogate family. So that’s the direction that we ultimately took with the story.

Q. You’ve worked as an AD as well as in Special Effects (for Avatar, wow!!), how did you get into the film industry?

My first job in the industry was as an Editor’s PA on the movie ‘Contact.’ I helped set up the editing bays and a screening room in Washington DC when the crew came here to shoot on location. One of the perks of the job was that I got to watch dailies with the director (Robert Zemeckis), the actors, the DP, the editors, and the Producers. It was my first time ‘seeing behind the curtain’ of a movie, and I was instantly hooked. From there I worked as a PA on a bunch of movies that came through the DC/Baltimore area before working as a Production Coordinator for the Discovery Channel.

I directed my first short called ‘Writing Wrongs’ and it was a great experience – but I learned quickly that I didn’t know some of the basic fundamentals of filmmaking. So I went back to grad school at USC’s School of the Cinematic Arts and tried to learn a bit about every discipline involved in the craft of filmmaking. Upon graduating, I reached out to my friends from ‘Contact’ and got a job on Robert Zemeckis’s new motion capture movie ‘Beowulf.’ My job was basically to take Bob Z’s notes and to help out the script supervisor. From there, I moved onto ‘Avatar’ where I was taking James Cameron’s notes and was also on the 3D implementation team for a couple of years. But my dream was always to direct this little script that a playwright from NYC had sent me in 2006 – and after 3 weeks of shooting in December 2013, we finally got it in the can. And now here we are.


Q. How did you come to cast Bryan Greenberg? Would you share about the casting process?

At the premiere of ‘The Kitchen,’ my understanding is that Bryan asked Jim what else he was working on. Jim called me and asked if he could give the script to Bryan. I’ve long been a fan of Bryan’s work so of course I said “please do!” Bryan read it on the plane back to LA, and loved it. I flew out to meet with him shortly after that and we hit it off. He happened to be friends with some of the people I had in mind for the other roles, so it worked out perfectly. Bryan is such a wonderful guy that people really wanted to work with him, so once he came on board, casting moved forward quickly.

Q. You shot your film on location in Montgomery County, MD, which was your hometown. I saw that you shot it during Autumn, my favorite season. What’s been the best moments as well as challenges of making your first feature?

It’s hard to shoot a movie that takes place over an entire year on a very limited budget and a three week production schedule. In order to make Maryland look like any season (but pre-dominantly Fall/Winter since the bulk of the movie takes place in these months), we knew that we’d either have to shoot in December or March. To be honest, we got incredibly lucky with the weather. There’s a saying in Maryland that if you don’t like the weather, wait 10 minutes. There were days when it snowed 6+ inches, which was perfect for the winter scenes, and there were days where it was 60 degrees outside which was perfect for the Spring/Summer scenes. Incredibly, the weather cooperated with us for the most part. Of course there were several occasions where I had to re-write a scene to take place indoors when it was supposed to be an exterior scene, on the night before shooting it – but that happens all the time with low budget independent film-making.


We went to great lengths to shoot during the hiatuses of the big shows that film in Maryland (House of Cards and Veep) so that we could hire some of their crewmembers. We’re very fortunate to have experienced industry professionals as well as vendors (rental houses, post facilities, sound facilities, etc) in the area who are always willing to lend a hand to local filmmakers.

Since I knew we’d be shooting in Maryland, I tailored the script to take place in some of the locations that I knew and loved. But that can be both a blessing and a curse. One of the biggest lessons I learned along the way is that I should try very hard not to shoot in my own house (displacing my family of 5 – including 3 young kids at the time), my in-law’s house, my father’s house, my sister’s house, etc… They were very supportive and we wouldn’t have been able to make the movie without their generosity, but filming in your loved one’s houses brings a whole other set of worries to the table.

Autumn is my favorite season too! It was one of the things I missed most about the East coast while living in LA.

Thanks again Emily and Stephen for chatting w/ me yesterday!


What are your thoughts of A Year and Change? 

TCFF 2015 Day 6 Recap + Reviews: Anomalisa and Too Late


We’ve passed the halfway point of TCFF already, with just four more days to go in the 11-day cinematic festivities. There are still a whole bunch of great films coming in the next few days!

The highlights of the past few days are definitely meeting the talents and filmmakers attending the film fest!


Director Dennis Hauck, John Hawkes & Jatin Setia

It’s especially gratifying to see Alexandria, MN native John Hawkes being honored with a North Star Award for Excellence after the screening of his film Too Late (review below). TCFF will screen other Hawkes films, including Winter’s Bone and Me and You and Everyone We Know“It’s our version of the lifetime achievement award,” TCFF executive director Jatin Setia said of the North Star Award for Excellence. “It’s a brilliant, brilliant body of work thus far in his career.” Amen to that. I had hoped he’d be nominated for his performance in The Sessions, which also screened at TCFF in 2012.



This is one of the most anticipated screenings at TCFF and the theater is packed. The film has received unanimously positive reviews out of other major film festivals, and Charlie Kaufman is a beloved writer/director. I’m not terribly well-versed in his work however, having just seen Adaptation, but I’m definitely familiar with his work. I think it’s safe to say he is one of those writers with a distinct style that it’s more of an acquired taste. Anomalisa is his first stop-motion film and it’s definitely not an animated feature for kids. It deals with a rather heavy subject matter about a man crippled by the mundanity of his life.

As the film opens with the protagonist Michael Stone (voiced by David Thewlis) on a plane, I was immediately amazed by how good the stop-motion quality. Though the lines of the puppets’ faces are left in, the expressions are quite realistic and even the skin textures and hair are meticulously done. The eyes are especially interesting to look at, as they truly convey human emotion. Kudos to Kaufman and co-director Duke Johnson for crafting something that, despite not actually having real people in it, has a very human story about existensial crisis.


This is the only still image I can find of this film

Michael seems to be one of those people who have it all (as is the case in many Kaufman’s stories), he’s a successful customer service expert with a best-selling book ‘How Can I Help You Help Them?’ He’s in town in Cincinnati for a conference, and it’s apparent he’s very disillusioned with his soul-sucking corporate job. The film takes place mostly in a single night in an upscale but impersonal hotel that only aggravates Michael’s feeling of isolation. To illustrate the humdrum life seen through Michael’s eyes, everyone else he comes across (both men & women) have the same voice, voiced by Tom Noonan. That is until later on in the film when he meets a fretful customer service rep staying on his floor named Lisa (voiced by Jennifer Jason Leigh). She struggles with self esteem, always thinking that she’s not at all special, but Michael assures her she is unlike any other he’s ever met… anomalous Lisa, hence the film’s title.

To say that the film is bizarre is putting it mildly. But it’s to be expected from Kaufman, and there’s definitely surreal elements in the way the story unfold. It’s also hilarious in parts, most notably when Lisa sang a Cindy Lauper song for Michael. The sexual themes are prevalent right from the start, with Michael witnessing a guy in the next building masturbating and later we see a fully-realized sex scene. The scene is eerily realistic and not at all comedic, which is a technical feat considering it’s puppetry. I have to say it creeps me out a bit and I bet I’m not the only one squirming in my seat watching that.

I also find that though I can relate with the theme of isolation and loneliness, it was hard for me to get into the character who is downright unlikable and frankly, unrelatable. I remember a line from the documentary A New High that plays on TCFF’s opening night where a character said ‘Though life doesn’t always go my way, I choose joy’ and throughout the film I felt that life is about what we make of it and Michael chooses to dwell on the banality of his life.

Ultimately, Anomalisa is a film I appreciate and even admire, but not love. It just doesn’t connect with me emotionally, and I find the petulant manner of its hero aggravating. But on a technical level, the animation quality is top notch, given its relatively small budget (crowd-funded via Kickstarter), that is no small feat. It lives up to its title in that there is nothing else like it, a uniquely-told and crafted existensial drama that no doubt will get people talking for years to come. How profound this film really is however, is up to the viewer, but I think Kaufman’s fans will be pleased with this one.


Too Late


Good things come in small packages. Last night, Twin Cities Film Fest attendees were treated not only to a new indie film noir starring Minnesota native John Hawkes but also a post-show Q&A with the actor and writer/director Dennis Hauck. It’s always interesting to see actors in person after you see them on screen, and my usual reaction is how much smaller they are in person. But I digress.


Too Late, Hauck’s debut feature film, stars the Alexandria-born (and Oscar nominated) Hawkes as Mel Sampson, an L.A. private detective haunted by his past. In a recent Star Tribune article, the author said Hawkes has a history of playing bleak characters (“Winter’s Bone,” “The Sessions”) and this one is no different…but he plays them so well. The film begins and ends in a very “Pulp Fiction” type fashion (and then, as if to prove the connection, Robert Forster, star of Quentin Tarantino’s Jackie Brown, came on screen while I was thinking this) with a mix of the romanticism of Once thrown in the middle.


If you’re confused it’s okay because that’s not really the point. Not to say this movie doesn’t have a coherent plot (it’s one of those you want to watch again once you reach the end to get everything straight) but I found myself wondering what would happen next. Part of this is because the movie was shot with only five, single shot, uninterrupted scenes. (The film is about 100 minutes long so each “section” of the movie is about 20 minutes.) In the post-show Q&A Hauck talked about how the camera equipment was often too heavy for one person to handle for 20 minutes so there are slight jiggles in each scene where the camera was shifted from one camera person to another. Yes, in addition to the story, this movie is a treasure trove of unique filmmaking.


Taking the classic tapestry of old Hollywood from the beginning scene overlooking the city to the middle scene in a projection room at an old drive through, the cinematography of shooting this movie on 35mm film adds to its appeal. I also found it to be expertly cast – Hawkes injects his world weary character with a sweet, unassuming charm (in the post-show Q&A Haucks mentioned that he wrote the script with Hawkes in mind) and Crystal Reed (Dorothy) and Dichen Lachman (Jill) both avoid the “stripper with a heart of gold” mentality to give their characters a relatable depth.

The movie was very well received with the sold-out crowd spontaneously applauding as the credits rolled and I hope it gets wider release as it’s a worthy addition to any moviegoers list.


Here’s what’s coming up next on TCFF! 

What do you think about either one of these films?


Spotlight on ‘It’s Already Tomorrow in Hong Kong’ + interview with director Emily Ting


It’s Already Tomorrow in Hong Kong

Synopsis: Ruby and Josh spent an unforgettable night together in Hong Kong a year ago, and now their brief encounter is about to get a second chance. As effervescent as a perfect first date, this charming walk and talk romance takes full advantage of the chemistry of its leads, the playfulness of their exchanges, and the magical landscape that is Hong Kong at night.

TCFF Screening Time(s): 
10/26/2015  (8:30 PM)

Check out the trailer:


There is something about real-time romance drama that I find intriguing. Perhaps because it automatically made me think of the Before Sunrise trilogy. Now, this film is set over the course of two nights, but for the most part it takes place a year after the first night they met.


Ruby is a Chinese American toy designer from LA who visits Hong Kong for the first time on business. I think that’s so cool to see an unusual profession for the female lead, and the more I spend time with her, the more I like Ruby. As she was stranded trying to get to her friends’ party, she runs into Josh, an American expat who ends up escorting her to her destination. The more time they spend talking through the vibrant and colorful street of Hong Kong in the nighttime, they find themselves being more drawn to each other.

I feel that perhaps there was an instant attraction the moment they met, but it’s obvious there’s a connection. Jamie Chung and Bryan Greenberg are a couple in real life, so perhaps that helps make Ruby and Josh’s connection so palbable. There’s an effortless chemistry between the two, even though all they do is talk and having drinks in public. I’m familiar w/ Jamie but this is definitely her strongest performance I’ve seen from her. On the other hand, this is the first time I saw Bryan in a film and I definitely want to see more of his work.


The second time they find each other again, a year has passed and there have been changes in their lives. Ruby’s got a promotion and is now in a relationship. Josh has left his job in finance and now pursuing his dream to be a novelist, something Ruby suggested in their initial meeting. I LOVE great dialog in movies, and It’s Already Tomorrow in Hong Kong is full of them! I find myself nodding as I witness their conversation, and think about them long after the film’s done. Ruby asked Josh the difference between being an expat and an immigrant, for example, why he is considered an expat living in Hong Kong, whilst her Chinese parents making a new life in the United States is considered an immigrant. I also like how the film plays with stereotypes, as Josh can speak Chinese whilst Ruby can’t as she grew up in California, that sort of thing.

Emily Ting‘s done a lot of short films prior to her feature debut and I must say I’m impressed in the way she crafted the story. Everything flows nicely and in a natural way, the actors seem comfortable and fit the roles perfectly. But the strength of the film is in the dialog, which comes to life as the night wears on. The combination of the undeniable chemistry of the leads, set against the backdrop of the glittering lights of the city is rather intoxicating. I never thought of Hong Kong as romantic, but it certainly feels that way here.

The ending might frustrate some as it doesn’t tie things nicely in a big, red bow. But that’s the idea. The filmmaker is set on asking the question, ‘What happens when you meet the right person at the wrong time?’ Well, that question will certainly linger with you long after the end credits roll.


Interview with Emily Ting

Q: Before I jump into the questions specifically about Already Tomorrow in Hong Kong, I have some general questions about you as a filmmaker. There’s been much [welcomed] discussion about the blatant gender inequality in Hollywood, even FBI is now involved with an investigation into gender discrimination. What has been your experience as a female filmmaker, do you encounter much hardship in getting your projects into fruition?

I actually think this is a great time to be a female filmmaker right now, only because there is so much welcomed discussion about the issue.  But I do hope that someday being a female filmmaker would just be the norm and not the exception to the rule. As for my own projects, because they’re all independently financed and many of them self financed, being a woman didn’t really factor much into the equation. But it would be interesting to see what kind of opportunities I may get going forward. And that is why it’s important to support indie films because they provide a platform to voices that are often underrepresented in Hollywood. 


Filming w/ Bryan and Jamie

You’ve done several short films before this one, what made you decide to make the jump into feature film?

I think that most filmmakers dream of making a feature at some point in their career. But I do think that it’s important to learn the process and hone your skills on shorts before you jump into your first feature. Even with several shorts under my belt, I still felt extremely nervous tackling my first feature!

How’s the experience been in directing your first feature? Please tell me what your biggest challenge or most memorable moment making this film.

Making my first feature was both extremely satisfying and incredibly terrifying. And making that first feature in a foreign country only made it that much more challenging – from working with mostly a foreign crew to shooting most of the film in an uncontrolled environment. I think the biggest challenge for me was to overcome the hurdle of my own insecurities as a first time director. The majority of my set crew had more experience with their respective jobs than I did, which was a daunting but exciting feeling.  Sometimes, I would let that knowledge get inside my head, but I also learned to let go and really listen and trust my crew and cast. It gradually became a very collaborative process.

I love the premise of this film, where did you come up w/ the idea? Is it something personal to you or something that came about through someone you know?

I had lived in Hong Kong for 5 years as an expat prior to moving back to the US. As much as I found the city exciting and gorgeous, I never quite felt at home there. I found it quite hard to connect to people for some reason.  I’ve always wanted to make a film about two people connecting in this occasionally alienating city and build a love story around that. The idea sat with me for a long time until one night, I actually met a fellow expat, and we spent a night wandering around the city and talking together. I thought we were building a connection, but then, I found out later that he had a girlfriend. I felt like a fool for making this flirtation up in my head. So, I went home and wrote the screenplay that eventually became the film.


Shooting on the Mid Levels Escalators

Sounds like you shot the film on location in Hong Kong. I read that The Avenue of Stars is currently closed for revitalization, so that must be a relief you’ve captured it on your film. Tell us about the filming process, how long it took, the challenges, etc.

Yes, the Ave of the Stars is a major location in our film and I can’t believe that it’s being closed down for so long! And I am so happy that we were able to capture it on film for the time being. If we had gone into production now, we would’ve lost the most beautiful location in our film. Shooting in Hong Kong definitely came with a unique set of challenges. We shot at the start of Monsoon season and it would rain every single day. But some how we got really lucky and it would always stop raining when we would roll cameras. It was really easy and cheap to get permits, but we didn’t have the budget to close down any streets so my two actors were constantly just acting amongst the real crowds of Hong Kong.

The film is designed to have these really long walk and talk sequences that’s meant to all be done in a single take, but they were often ruined by people on the street waving to the cameras. And sometimes people were downright hostile, yelling at us to get off the street. We would either go and appease them or change location on the spot. But all those challenges were worth it because we now have a beautiful looking film set in the gorgeous city of Hong Kong, which totally sets us apart from so many other films out there. 


Lastly, how did the casting process go? Did Bryan Greenberg and/or Jamie Chung audition for the roles?

I got really lucky with the casting of my first film. I’ve always wanted Jamie for the role of Ruby. And I had a relationship with Bryan already, having produced two films with him. At the LA premiere of one of the films, I was telling him about this script I had written, and he mentioned that his girlfriend would be perfect for the role. And it turns out that he was dating Jamie at the time! Talk about serendipity! I sent the script to him and two weeks later, they signed on. Casting your first film really doesn’t get much easier than this!

Thanks for the interview Emily, it was lovely meeting you at TCFF!


Thoughts about the interview and/or the film?

Day 4 Review – TCFF 2015 Gala Screening: Youth



This is the first film from Paolo Sorrentino that I saw, as I missed his film The Great Beauty which won an Oscar foreign language winner in 2014. YOUTH is about about two longtime friends vacationing in the Swiss Alps, they’re in their 80s so you could say youth is behind them. Michael Caine plays Fred, an acclaimed composer and conductor, who brings along his daughter (Rachel Weisz) and best friend Mick (Harvey Keitel), a renowned filmmaker.  

Mick is struggling to finish the screenplay with a team of enthusiastic young writers in tow, hoping to make his last film that would perhaps mark his legacy. Fred on the other hand, has left music behind him. The opening scene shows a rather amusing scene of him with a representative of the Royal Family, practically begging Fred to conduct an orchestra for the Queen. 


The whole film is about these two men reflecting on their past in their own strange way. The point was whether each would find out that perhaps youth is really a state of mind, and that the most important experiences might still await them. The resort they’re staying at in the Alps made for some truly breathtaking shots. It could practically be a cinematic promotional brochure for real resort in the Swiss Alps area. The film also have some stunning shots in Rome and Venice.


This is a quintessentially European film, with nonchalant scenes of nudity all around, both young and old. I’ve never seen so many old naked people in a single film before, and honestly, that’s not exactly something I enjoy. I guess it’s probably not a big deal for European filmmakers, I just don’t feel it’s necessary at all. It’s not shocking to me, the full frontal nudity doesn’t serve much purpose. I have to say that there are quite a few bizarre moments on display. Some works, some feels gratuitous. One of the most amusing scenes was when Fred was conducting a bunch of cows in a dream sequence, and later towards the end Mick was haunted by the *ghosts* of all the actresses from his film.


I feel that Sorrentino is more of a visual director, as the imagery are definitely more memorable here than the narrative. I’m not saying there isn’t any emotional scenes, there are a few that come to mind, but the visuals are far more overpowering. The performances are good all around however. I’ve seen Caine in a lot of supporting roles where I feel he’s just phoning it in, so it’s nice to see him deliver a compelling performance and really got into his character. I’m not the biggest Keitel fan but he’s really good here as well.


Rachel Weisz offers a memorable supporting turn in a subplot about her being ditched by her husband. I find that I sympathize with her plight more than the two leading men, and her performance was quite heart-wrenching. There is a heartfelt father/daughter relationship between her and Caine, and there is a memorable conversation between the two of them when they’re both covered up in mud in a spa. Paul Dano proved once again he is one of the best working actors of his generation. He plays a famous actor who’s disillusioned with his career and some of his acting choices. Jane Fonda and Romanian model Madalina Ghenea both had a very memorable cameo, but for two very different reasons. You’ll see it when you see the film and that might serve as not-so-subtle message about youth and growing older.

Overall I was entertained by YOUTH and there are definitely some memorable visuals from start to finish. Whether this film will resonate with me in the long run remains to be seen however, as it didn’t move me as much as I had hoped.


Have you seen YOUTH? Well, let me know what you think!