Many of us may remember that expression we used at the end of our games of Hide and Seek – “Olly, Olly, Oxenfree!” The longing to return to juvenile games and stories is a theme in “Oxenfree,” the feature film that had its world premiere at the Twin Cities Film Fest last night. I had the pleasure of being in attendance with the director (Dan Glaser) and actors Steven Molony (Aaron), Paul Vonasek (Roy) and Timothy Lane (Benjamin). Undoubtedly there were many family and friends in attendance as the cast and crew received loud applause when the ending credits rolled.
Oxenfree tells the story of three estranged foster brothers who return to the family cabin to rediscover the ruins of their childhood kingdom “Oxenfree.” Shot in the Fargo/Moorhead area, I appreciated the beautiful fall scenery throughout the movie. As it only features three actors (aside from a brief appearance of Kelli Breslin as Katie, Aaron’s girlfriend), the strength of this movie really comes from the actors’ camaraderie. It’s obvious these young men enjoy working together and their affinity for each other makes their characters more believable.
The one quibble I had with the film was that it didn’t seem to be able to decide whether it was a comedy or a drama so at times it seemed stuck in a muddling middle. (Even the actors at times looked confused about how to play a scene.) After Roy reclaims his “throne” (an old toilet) in the middle of the forest, he takes a cell phone call from his wife. And then moments of levity like this diverge into a medical drama concerning one of the other brothers. The production value of this movie was there, it just seemed like the script needed a little more work.
Am I saying I didn’t enjoy the film? I am not. One of the strengths of a film fest is to see movies at many different levels of development. During the post show Q&A, Timothy Lane (Benjamin) talked about how this was the first film he has acted in and discussed the technical side of learning to act on camera. Paul Vonasek also shared how they came up with part of the plot – “We didn’t really look alike but we wanted to do a movie together so that’s how we came up with the idea of being foster brothers.” Oxenfree isn’t going to change your life but was it an enjoyable way to spend a cold and rainy evening? Yes.
‘The Eyes Of My Mother’ Review
Writing and directing a film that is both beautiful and horrifying isn’t easy- especially on the first try, and especially at the young age of 26 (which makes me, at 28, feel like a total underachiever). But newcomer Nicolas Pesce has managed it with his already critically-acclaimed movie, The Eyes of my Mother. While it has its flaws, it is an incredible debut, and it’s a promising start to what will hopefully be an illustrious career for Pesce.
The Eyes of my Mother is about Francisca (Kika Magalhaes), a young woman who tragically loses her mother an early age, and, through the trauma and following isolation, develops an unnerving hobby. I won’t say much more, for fear of spoiling the plot, but I will say that Francisca’s mother used to be a surgeon, and the two of them would practice dissections on cows, so the girl knows how to use a knife. I’ll let your imagination fill in the rest from there.
The movie begins on a tense note, and is able to hold that suspense throughout most of the film, thanks to both Pesce’s skillful directing and the cast’s strong acting. There is very little background music, which creates an unnerving atmosphere. There are frequent shots from the first-person perspective and just over the actors’ shoulders, obscuring their faces, creating both an air of uncertainty and an opportunity for the actors to demonstrate their acting abilities by relying solely on their line delivery. Shooting the film in black and white was an excellent choice as well; it enhanced the shadowy scenery, and the starkness made the tone even more unsettling.
That’s not to say the movie is without flaws. It’s a relatively short film, clocking in at only an hour and sixteen minutes, which doesn’t allow much time for character development- and in a movie where so much of the film centers around one character, it was especially needed. The short runtime also meant certain plot points weren’t properly explained. Ambiguity in horror movies can be a powerful tool, but too much can confuse the audience and take them out of the experience.
While The Eyes of my Mother isn’t a perfect movie, it is still a stunning first film from a promising young talent, and I look forward to seeing more from him.
TWIN CITIES FILM FEST ANNOUNCES AWARDS FINALISTS!
’Moonlight,’ ‘Blood Stripe’ and ‘Iron Will’ lead 2016 awards contenders…
many finalists are set to screen during TCFF’s closing weekend!
Check out the full list of finalists here
Check out some of the studio features
playing in the final days of TCFF!
Stay tuned for more TCFF reviews and talent interviews!
Those who read my blog regularly knows I have such feeble nerves that I can’t handle most horror movies. But I’m always up for supporting indie films, especially Minnesota-made films! So when I got the chance to interview the filmmakers behind Lake Runs Red, I jumped at it. It’s a home-invasion horror + psychological thriller produced & filmed in the state, specifically in Atkins, which is about 2 hours north of the Twin Cities.
Two college girlfriends go to their parent’s secluded northern Minnesota lake cabin to prepare for final exams. An uninvited visitor stops by. He isn’t there to study.
Director: Jason Riesgraf
Writers: J. Dan Moores and Jason Riesgraf
Cast: Kaci Wegleitner, Lauren Morris, C.J. DeVaan
Runtime: 66 min
Check out the trailer:
Q: First of all thank you Jason and Jeff Fuller for chatting with me about your film. Talk about that title. I love that it has the word ‘lake’ in the title, the fact that we’re in the land of 10000 Lakes. So how did you come up with that?
Jason: Yeah it was a very difficult process to come up with it. When I started writing it was actually called Panic, and that was kind of the title. And then that ended up sticking for a while. And then we did we kind of did with Jeff, our marketing director. We kind of did some you know some Google searches and realized that that wouldn’t be the best way to hit a target audience. So we kind of we kind of left it at that for a little bit and as we left it, we spent a while coming up with what would signify this film… you know, lake is an obvious choice. You know in Northern Minnesota, everybody knows that… and then you know it’s because it’s a horror movie, we kind of played some with some words and then we came up with Lake Runs Red.
Jeff: Yes, in fact I spent about nine hours researching and coming up with those titles. We have this gigantic list, but yeah, this one works well in our favor. We love it.
Q: Indeed it’s a great title, I love it too. So what inspired you to this story?
Jason: The biggest inspiration, I mean the [sub] genre of the film is actually home invasion, and home invasion to me is my biggest fear. Home is where he feels safe home is where you feel comfort, and when somebody invades that it’s not a fun feeling. And so I kind of played out my own fears and wrote it you know, from my perspective of what a home invasion would feel like. And coincidentally enough we actually, my wife and I had our house broken into while we were filming. So it kind of you know, I actually lived that what that fear is. And I’m hoping that that’s what the audience sees when they see it in the picture.
Q: Is this from the perspective of the invader or the invadee, if there’s such a word, I mean the people who were invaded?
Jason: Well, it’s not really from anybody’s perspective. It follows two college seniors and what happens after these traumatic events happen to them at the cabin.
Jeff: But the invader is one of the main characters.
Jason: So yeah, we have one main villain and then we have two college seniors.
Q: The reason I’m asking is the recent box office home-invasion horror/thriller Don’t Breathe starring Stephen Lang was from the perspective of the invaders.
Jason: Yes I saw and it was worked very well. So yeah you can kind of use that spin on it if you want to. Except that this is in a cabin, so ours is a lot more secluded.
Q: Which in a way is scarier I think. I was just telling someone earlier, I’m actually not a big horror fan. I don’t have nerves of steel like most people, I get scared very easily. I also get really a headache if I watch those found-footage type movies. So what’s the filming style of this one?
Jason: We had very minimal very minimal tripod, we only used tripod where it was appropriate. We we don’t have the found-footage, shaky cam, we do run on a steady cam. So the steady cam we use was weighted, but it still showed kind of traumatic camera shots.
Q: So you wouldn’t categorize this film as a found-footage film then?
Jason: No, no, I won’t categorize it as that at all. It’s not like Blair With where the shots are very shaky. You know my plan going into this is I don’t want to make people sick by the camera. It can take too much focus out of the story. You have to be wired for that kind of stuff.
Q: Ok, make sense. Now my question for you Jeff. You wore multiple hats here, you were the producer, art director, camera department and editor. What’s that experience for you?
Jeff: It’s been an amazing experience. You know I’m so glad to do this with one of my best friends Jason. And he was nice enough to bring me on this film. It’s a funny story, like when we started this it was like ‘Oh, so we’re really doing this! Let’s go for it!’ I think it’s probably the best experience to wear these different hats, from editor to producer to all that, you get such a ingratiated role into the whole process. It’s just been absolutely tremendous.
Q: Now, question for both of you. What’s your most memorable experience from making this, whether good or bad moments from filming?
Jason: Well, probably the most memorable is when we were actually at a production meeting and my house was burglarized. I mean that’s life imitating art you know. That was probably the most traumatic for me, and most unique experience that we had while filming.
Jeff: Oh, relive that experience when you drive home from the shoot one night and you got stopped…
Jason: That’s a great one too yeah. We actually we’re wrapping up from a quick little couple pickup shots up in Northern Minnesota. Getting up there you actually take a lot of very secluded roads, which if anyone knows northward it’s always the case. You know you take a left here and you go out the gravel road for 14 miles and that’s kind of it. And it turns out for some reason that night, it was I think it was maybe mid August, beginning August. My alternator went on my car and I was stranded on a the world’s most disgusting road, literally next to a barn for three hours waiting for a tow truck. I’m by myself and I had no cell service to look anything up. So all I had was my dying battery because I had no battery left in my car enough to call my wife and tell her you’ve got to give me a tow truck and I’m in the middle of nowhere and trying to explain to them where I am. I mean if it’s going to happen to anyone, it’s going to happen to me.
Q: Oh my, well I’m glad to see you are okay! Now, last question… I was on your Twitter and you have a huge following on social media (12.3K followers). Is that a big part of your marketing and how did you build that huge following prior to the film opening?
Jason: I knew more about the physical parts of making a film. Marketing I didn’t know much about it. When I talked to Jeff about how we’re going to market this film, it’s like I don’t know. Then he said, I tell you what, I’ll take care of your marketing for you. I think within a year we were already have like 6 or 7000 followers. And I don’t know how he did it or what he does, but he handles most of that. I don’t watch him do it because that’s not really my thing.
Q: I feel like Twitter is sort of the water cooler, the internet water cooler, so it’s good to have that presence for your film.
Jason: I’d say Twitter is our biggest success, by far.
Jeff: Yeah, I would say that social media has been the cornerstone of our marketing right there. It’s kind of the greatest equalizer on the Internet which Twitter was smarter our number one just because you can have conversations with the fans directly. Correct. We’ve had so many friends and some of the particular fans who still to this day constantly ask us hey how’s the movie going and stuff.
Jason: We’ve been on YouTube channels doing interviews me and some of the cast and crew, my co-writer and some of the cast and crew we’ve been on. We were featured on some humongous horror websites, Modern Horror, Movie Pilot, etc. So that was all Jeff, he took what we talked about marketing with a grain of salt and he took it as far as he could with it.
Q: So are you both horror fans yourself?
Jason: I am. I’ve been since my first four movies and really when I was nine or so, Nightmare On Elm Street, it has been in my blood. I mean there’s nothing really that I can’t handle. I mean there’s some stuff that makes me squirm, which is what I love. So Jeff, I actually brought him, so the last one he ever saw was when he saw with me and he couldn’t really handle it.
Q: What is it?
Jason: It was Hostel. After he saw that he kind of like you know what, I’m done watching horror movies with you. Yeah, you have to take that on your own.
Q: Oh slasher flick is a whole other genre entirely that I avoid.
Jason: Ours is more psychological thriller. It’s the home invasion aspect, about not knowing really what’s going on in our head.
THANK YOU Jason and Jeff for chatting with me about Lake Runs Red!
Check out some behind-the-scenes photos of the film:
What’s in store for Day 10 of TCFF!
Stay tuned for more TCFF reviews and interviews…
and the finalists of TCFF Awards!
When I saw the trailer for this indie film, I was immediately intrigued! Firstly, I LOVE Parker Posey AND James Frain, and the premise sounds ripe for an offbeat comedy.
When a couple sets out to build their dream house, they enlist the services of an uncompromising modernist architect, who proceeds to build HIS dream house instead of theirs. Parker Posey and Eric McCormack played the affluent suburban couple Drew and Colin and James Frain plays the title role, Miles Moss.
Billed as a comedy, it’s not quite a slapstick in style but more about amusing situations and dialog. I love Parker Posey and she’s her usual fun, quirky self here. The story does have some darker moments, especially towards the end. If you’re watching this movie as you’re thinking about building a home, it’d certainly make you more cautious about hiring your next architect ;) I think the funniest moment is when the couple AND their builder Conway (John Carroll Lynch) saw the model of their house for the first time at Miles’ office. Their expressions, especially Conway’s, is hilarious!
I don’t think the film paints architects in a bad light, it’s more about an overly-ambitious man who happens to be an architect, not necessarily a commentary about the profession. I do think it made for an interesting commentary about a privileged suburban life set in a gloriously scenic Seattle, WA area. It’s another film that practically doubles as a tourism video of the region it’s filmed in. True to its title, it also features some very interesting architecture, including the house their building. But I think the most impressive architectural style is Miles’ architecture studio, it’s so strange but beautiful at the same time.
Check out my Q&A below with filmmaker Jonathan Parker whose work include Bartleby, The Californians, and (Untitled).
1. I read in an article in Conversations.org that you had an interesting path to becoming a filmmaker from being a musician for years, and that you grew up in an artistic family. Would you share a bit about that and what inspires you to be a filmmaker?
I was playing in a band in the 80s and we made a couple of self-directed music videos that did better than the band was doing. I felt I needed to put the pictures with the music so I shifted from songwriting to screenwriting. Yes, I come from an artistic family. My mom is an artist and my dad was a musician, among other things. My mother founded the Museum of Craft and Folk Art in San Francisco, which closed a couple of years ago after a 30-year run.
2. The Architect isn’t the first film you did that deals with the world of art and design (i.e. (Untitled)). How did you (and or your collaborator Catherine DiNapoli) come across the idea for this film?
I had the idea of an architect who considers himself a visionary genius, without any evidence of that, and without any thought of serving a client. The story deals with the art vs. commerce theme that I’ve used in all my films, in some fashion. Meanwhile, Catherine, my-co-writer, was suffering through a relationship that had the same dynamic as Parker’s and Eric’s characters, so we used that.
3. There are quite a lot of architectural jargons and quotes from famous architects. Did you consult many real architects for this movie?
Yes, we consulted a few architects and I did a lot of research.
4. I really like the trio of cast. Both Parker Posey and Eric McCormack are such great comedians and I’m a big fan of James Frain’s work as an excellent character actor. Would you talk about the casting process, especially how you come to cast Frain as the architect?
Both Eric McCormack and James Frain came to our attention from the casting director. Parker and I have a mutual friend, who helped facilitate our meeting. I agree the three of them had great chemistry together.
5. The scenery around Seattle Washington is absolutely stunning. How did you end up choosing that particular area for your film?
We came to Washington for the tax credit and also received a grant from Snohomish County, where most of the film was shot. When we got there, I was struck by the physical beauty of the area and decided to feature it.
6. I have to ask how Lars Ulrich is one of the associate producers, did you know him from your days as a musician?
Lars reached out to me after he saw (UNTITLED) and we’ve been friends ever since. We both live in Marin County. He was helping me produce another movie before THE ARCHITECT, which we put on hold and are now working on again.
7. Lastly, have you shown the film to some architects? I’m curious as to their reactions to the title character Miles Moss.
Many architects have seen the film. Most really like it. Some feel I’ve set the profession back fifty years. Thankful to have that power! I could have created a more realistic architect character who is congenial, responsive and service oriented, but it may not have been very funny.
Check out some of the Minnesota-connected films playing this year
We’ll have another interview post coming soon!
Stay tuned for my Q&A with the director and producer of MN-made horror film Lake Runs Red!
There’s no shortage of great documentaries at TCFF! Today we’ve got a trio of reviews, thanks to FC contributor Sarah Johnson, my awesome reviewing partner during the film fest. Check out her bio page here, she’s a MN-based freelance writer who also writes for City Pages.
‘In Search Of America’ Review
Haven’t gotten enough of the presidential campaign over the past year? Throughout In Search of America, Marc Kornblatt, a former elementary school teacher from Wisconsin, crisscrosses the United States asking people from all walks of life about the issues of the day.
In one scene, Jonathan Katz, a professor of physics at Washington University, says, “Unless someone is a criminal or a terrorist, we should welcome immigrants.” In another scene, Heather Creighton from Toomsuba, Mississippi says, “I try to avoid politics and express what I believe in, which is the good Lord above.” As the camera pans out, you can see she is sitting under a Confederate flag. “It’s not a bad flag…I don’t know why everyone thinks it is?” She wonders.
So this documentary definitely has a point of view but the more I watched it and listened to the people being interviewed the more I felt like it was not about what political party you belong to or where you live, it was just a very human portrait of people struggling along in this country as best they can. “My father was in the military so I grew up overseas,” said Joanne VanDeusen. “I wish every American could have the opportunity to travel outside of the United States and meet the real people of the world.”
A quote from Edith Neimark, a diminutive white haired lady from South Brunswick, New Jersey, summed up the angst of many Americans when she gave her opinion on the bloodshed around the world. “Kill someone because you don’t like them? What’s that going to solve? But how do you stop it? I have no idea.” “As we say in the Badger State,” Kornblatt opines near the end of the movie, “Forward.” What other choice do we have?
‘Beyond The Thrill’ Review
Mixed with creative camera work and a frank discussion about what draws them to such a risky endeavor, “Beyond the Thrill” is an intriguing look at the world of competitive skydiving. Director Jason Schumacher (some Twin Cities Film Fest regulars may remember him from winning the Short Film Audience Award for his Sad Clown in 2014) finds some beautiful scenery as a backdrop to showcase a four person team at terminal velocity.
“That feeling in your stomach after you jump…I was kind of afraid of it but I loved it,” says one skydiver. “You could be a doctor or you could be a garbageman…it doesn’t mean much at the drop zone,” says another. Schumacher does a good job highlighting some of the work the team does (in one scene they are rolling around on skateboards to practice their routines) and also interviews United States Parachute Association Regional Judge Jon Goswitz on how each team gains or loses points for completed formations.
It doesn’t shy away from the inherent danger either: in one scene, Andy Junghans, wearing a Skydive Twin Cities hat, tells the story of a fellow skydiver who didn’t react quickly enough when his chute got tangled up while in the air. “When other divers reached him, they saw that his femurs were shoved up into his rib cage and he was gurgling blood…he stayed like that for about five minutes until he died.”
While it would have been interesting to learn more about what these people do in their “day jobs” or how their family and friends feel about their hobby, Schumacher ably brings us into this intense world of adrenaline.
‘The Unrelenting Charlie Davies’ Review
Given what he has gone through in his life, The Unrelenting Charlie Davies, the 17-minute short film directed by Bryan Reisberg that premiered earlier this year on ESPN2, feels like a missed opportunity. It features Charlie Davies, once called “the most promising striker in American soccer,” and his recovery from a horrific car accident that nearly took his life.
Davies was a popular athlete who went on from Boston College to play for the US national team. In 2009, he got into a car with two women he didn’t know well and was injured when the driver smashed into a metal guardrail. With a shattered femur and a fractured skull, one of his friends said “he looked like he was dead.” The movie seems to skip ahead to his first game after the accident where he, despite having a right leg 1 ½ inches shorter than his left, scored two goals.
It would have been interesting to learn more about the aftermath and psychology of the accident: What was it like to survive that? To what do you attribute your ability to go through that and come back to play soccer at a high level? What has changed in your life as a result of the accident? It was well done (I’m not a soccer fan but I enjoyed his biography) but it just felt like the filmmakers could have dug a lot deeper.
What’s in store for Day 8 & 9!
Stay tuned for more TCFF reviews and interviews!
I love road movies and Miles Between Us is an engaging mix of road trip + inspirational family drama. It’s a Minnesota-made production, and most of the scenes shot around the Twin Cities, so it’s cool to see a sold-out screening of it on Sunday. It also has a Minnesota crew, including one of TCFF staff members Briana Rose Lee who was the assistant director and wardrobe person!
The fact that I didn’t grow up without a father, this film certainly resonated with me quite a bit. Interesting too that the father, Scott Dauer, is a film producer, just like my late dad was who was a screenwriter. The relationship of father and daughter (played by Dariush Moslemi and Anna Stranz, respectively) is pretty compelling, starting out testy but they slowly bond as they spend more time with each other.
The dialog feels natural, peppered with comic moments as well as profound spiritual conversations that is organic to the story. I enjoyed the performances from both leads. There’s humor and touching moments, which makes the road trip far from boring. The only part that I find a bit awkward is the scenes between the daughter and a film star her dad’s pursuing for his film. Overall though, it’s a well-crafted and well-acted Minnesota-made indie drama that should appeal to teens, families and the faithful communities. Props to writer/producer Scott Peterson and director Andrew Hunt, it’s a lovely little story of pain, hope, healing, and redemption.
Five questions with Miles Between Us‘ lead actor Dariush Moslemi:
Q: Ok so my first question is how did this project first come together for you. It sounds like you’ve met producer Scott Peterson before?
Right. So I worked with Scott and Diane Peterson who are the producers of IIFilms several years ago, and my wife was actually good friends with Diane through my wife’s mother’s work. Long story short. And anyway they’re wrapping up getting ready for their pre-production on the first film The Current, and they were still looking for one particular role a man playing in his mid thirties and I played a father and I was in my mid and on his father and so I really thought that I could do this but my brother is a professional actor in L.A. And so I said I’d pass that on to him, so I did. My brother had to pass it, he had other work going on. Then I told my wife, I said for some reason I really want to just audition for this list. Call it a bucket list or whatever. So I called up Scott. I tracked down his phone number because he didn’t give it to me and I said that Look, I don’t mean to bug you but I like to audition for this. He’s like ‘You know you don’t have the experience, on and on.’ And I said ‘Just give me five minutes, I’ll come to you.’
So I drove an hour into his home and audition for that role. And within five hours, he called me and said I had it if I wanted it, which was a supporting lead role on The Current. And so that’s how I met the Petersons officially in the film world. And I worked with them on that project and then I’ve done a feature film in between. And then Scott and Diane let me know they were doing Miles Between Us. And so at that point I expressed my interest, I said I’d like to audition for it. They brought in Andy, Andrew Hunt as the director. And he was the one who really put me through the paces. So Scott and Diane were pretty much set, they liked me for the role but Andrew wasn’t sure, which is ok. You know he was still getting all his options and had me audition and audition and audition. I mean tons of callbacks, it took months and eventually I got the job. So that’s how I came to be the lead in this movie.
Q: So what attracted you to the script? Did you connect to the story in some ways?
Well, it was fun to play a lead role [laughs] It’s also nerve wracking because if this thing doesn’t do good we kind of knows what it is but it’s the opposite of everything that I have I’ve done it before I’m playing a character who left his family a long time ago. And in the real world I have five kids with my wife. I met my wife. She had already had four children before we got married and we had another baby together so it’s really kind of the antithesis of who I am, you know. And so it was a lot of fun to dive into kind of a darker character somebody who is not so good and has made some pretty selfish choices in life. Not saying I’m perfect in real life but it was just fun to dive into this because on screen I’ve never played that character before, and it was really intriguing to play something comedic, something fun, but at the same time narcissistic and and just kind of just really self-absorbed. But also the growth in the change through the film of going away from that. The ‘growing up’ into this different person, but it’s not so dramatic of a shift…I’m still me being that character, just a little bit different. A little bit a change that’s not so dramatic that it’s not believable. I like that, very much. It was just a realistic ‘Ok this kind of changed me.’ I really enjoyed playing that character.
Q: Speaking of that, I kind of like spiritual aspect that seems organic to the story. It’s not that they set out to make a certain story with a particular message. Is that something that is deliberate from the beginning?
I would say yes. And I mean Scott and Diane have a beautiful faith and their vision for what they want their films to do is enormous. And it was really great to play it in such a way that it wasn’t force feeding the audience. It’s almost like you get some films don’t trust the audience to get it. And Anna Stranz (who played Scott’s daughter) and I had a great opportunity to still work with Andy, to still work with Scott, and to take some of our lines and alter them just to make slightly just to make sure that it’s really like a true conversation, not something somebody told us to say. And and that is I think what I hope comes across as I see in the film. But our intention was for it to come across as ‘Yes, it’s a faith-based film. Yes, it does speak about this area [of faith and spirituality], however anybody could watch it and won’t be insulted by it. At the same time there’s truth in it. There’s there’s aspects about it that are along those lines, they’re there, but they’re not forced down your throat, but it’s not beating around the bush, either. It’s not a Lifetime film, you know, it really is what it is. Our whole goal we set out as actors, Anna and I myself, and Anna who played Gaby my daughter did an unbelievable job at this being it’s her first time in film. She did such a fantastic job and we were able to play off each other because I’m the one who’s playing the non Christian father who doesn’t care, he doesn’t want to know. Anna’s playing the daughter who’s going to Christian school. And so the debate is between her and I. I think it’s relatable to anybody. Yes. I think you can relate to it. It’s just that really you’re like I’ve had this conversation before and it’s okay to discuss these things.
Q: Yeah, it resonated with me as in the trailer there’s a conversation in the car where your character said something about that it’s too late. And she said, ‘You mean with you and mom or is it with God?’
Yes, it was kind of unexpected. I hope that it’s enough that it gets across, you know, because that’s what you want your audience to feel. You want them to think about and really walk away like ‘Oh yes I feel like I was in that conversation, I feel like it was in that car.’
Q: So was this filmed here in Minnesota? I wasn’t sure as there are parts in L.A. as well in the film.
Yes, it was all filmed in Minnesota. It was different parts of Minnesota but all within about an hour or two the Twin Cities. So in order to make it look like we’re going through different states we may have to go south through the cities or North East of the Cities or East or West or whatever. Yeah. And there was that part was just kind of fun. I live in Stillwater so you know a lot of it was still far enough away that I would stay in a hotel.
A lot of this 16 hour drive won’t come in and be like you know on the ball by any means. So it felt like I was far away, but in reality it was here all whole time. While certain they did the car scenes like Scott and his dad did a fun road trip themselves. They literally flew out to L.A. got the same picture car that we have for the film at leased it and then drove across all the way from L.A. from the South Carolina, which is the film, they drive from L.A. to South Carolina. It took them about a week or something like that.
THANK YOU Dariush for chatting with me about Miles Between Us!
We’re now on its halfway point of the 11-day film festivities! I’ve been watching plenty of documentaries back to back, and today we’ve got reviews of two excellent ones we highly recommend.
Our nation’s electrical grid and having a transgender family member. The two don’t seem to be related, do they? They will after you see Denial, the first feature film for director Derek Hallquist. The background for this movie and the story it turned into are as interesting as the film itself.
It starts out as a traditional documentary, with Hallquist’s father, David, the CEO of Vermont Electric Cooperative, attempting to educate his son on the shortcomings of our nation’s power grid and the threat of climate change. It’s a little wonky: “Okay, I lost you there,” the son says at one point.
During the shooting of the movie, a family secret is revealed: his father has come out to the family as transgender and wants to live as a woman named Christine. One of the things I admired about this film is that it doesn’t sugarcoat the struggles the family goes through. “We didn’t know how to handle it,” Derek says. While he comes out to his family, he struggles to fit his new identity into his work life. “He says he’s Dave at the co-op because he has a contract,” his wife says. “Well, we had a contract too.”
Change is hard. Both of these situations are transformative social and moral issues. “We don’t think very much about the amount of electricity we use until it smacks us in the face,” Dr. Courtney Warren, a social psychologist, says in the film. The same could be said for the process the Hallquist family is going through. Through the work of an earnest young filmmaker, he uses his own family’s situation to bring a new voice to something that affects everyone.
‘Prison Dogs’ Review
This is one of TCFF’s Changemaker Series’ films playing this year tackling the topic of PTSD, and it’s no doubt one of my favorite docs of the year. The bond of humans and animals are undisputed, but the bond between service dogs and their masters are pivotal. Prison Dogs explores a groundbreaking program that offers the gift of a second chance to prisoners in which they train puppies to be service dogs for veterans with PTSD.
The film is set in New York’s Fishkill Correctional Facility where the many inmates serve a long sentence for violent crimes such as murder and armed robbery. At the start of the film, a selected number of inmates get assigned a puppy to train, and the joy and excitement is palpable. For them this is a gift of redemption, it’s their chance to pay their debts to society in some ways. The show also shows Gloria Gilbert Stoga, the feisty dog expert who runs the Puppies Behind Bars program and her tough love approach to teach the inmates to train their puppies. It shows an amusing moments where these inmates are intimidated by her, who expects a 100% commitment and responsibilities from the inmates.
It’s one of the most moving, as well as entertaining documentaries that truly make you fully invested in the subjects’ journey. Whether it’s the inmates, the dog expert or the veterans who gets to keep the service dog in the end, I care about each and every one of them by the end. This is what an amazing storytelling is all about, so I applaud directors Geeta Gandbhir and Perri Peltz, who each have won Emmys and Peabody awards respectively. I’ve never heard of this life-altering program before but I’ve come to believe that it just could be the answer to making a prison a real place of rehabilitation.
Be sure to bring tissues when you see this one. The scenes between the inmates and their puppies tug your heartstrings, especially the ‘graduation’ scene where the puppies are now certified service dogs ready to go home with their new masters. The inmates kept a journal as they trained the dogs and it’s heart-wrenching to watch them say goodbye to their four-legged friends.
I can’t recommend this enough folks, run don’t walk to see this when it plays near you. It proves that despite the bleak subject matter, the film can be a joyful, inspiring and uplifting experience. It one of those documentaries I don’t even mind watching again!
PRISON DOGS is now available on @iTunes, Amazon Video and Google Play.
Get the TCFF App!
The TCFF app is such a lifesaver for me. Instead of futzing with paper that’s easily lost, download the app so you have easy access the film schedule at your fingertips! It’s got all the info for the daily educational events as well as film schedule, which is immensely helpful!
What’s in store for Day 6 & 7!
Stay tuned for more TCFF reviews and interviews!
I’m going to be honest: my expectations for this movie were not high. This mostly has to do with its predecessor, 2014’s Ouija (brought to you by Hasbro Studios: the same company responsible for next fall’s My Little Pony: The Movie – no, I’m not kidding). Not that Ouija was awful- it was just forgettable: another lukewarm “teenagers getting in over their heads with the supernatural” horror movie. I was also concerned that, because Ouija: Origin of Evil is a prequel to the 2014 film, I would know what to expect and therefore not find anything about it scary. However, after viewing it, I was pleasantly surprised (which I realize is a weird thing to say about a movie featuring the demonic possession of a child). It actually ended up being one my new favorite modern horror movies.
Ouija: Origin of Evil takes place fifty years before the first movie, in the house the original was set in, where recent widow Alice Zander (Elizabeth Reaser) holds fake séances, insisting she is not scamming her customers, but rather helping them find peace after losing loved ones. She is assisted by her two daughters: teenaged Paulina (Annalise Basso) and nine-year-old Doris (Lulu Wilson). Alice purchases a Ouija board to add to her act, and, while testing it out, unwittingly causes Doris to become susceptible to the house’s malevolent spirits and quickly possessed by one named Marcus (played by human chameleon and Guillermo del Toro darling Doug Jones). Alice and Paulina join forces with Father Tom (Henry Thomas), the head of the girls’ parochial school, to free Doris from the spirit’s clutches and rid the house of an evil that has resided there longer than the family has.
One of the movie’s greatest strengths was that it featured a mother and her daughters rather than a handful of one-dimensional high schoolers. The family focus made the stakes feel higher and the consequences more heartbreaking, especially thanks to the chemistry between the actresses. The movie was also well-paced enough to establish a strong relationship between the characters and give them dimension early on. My one gripe on this subject is that Doris isn’t quite as well-developed as her mother and sister; perhaps it’s because she’s possessed during the majority of the movie and isn’t herself, but getting a better idea of what she was like as a normal little girl could have made the change we see in her after the possession more unsettling (think Reagan in The Exorcist). Overall, though, the family was well-written enough for the audience to actually care about their fate- not an easy feat for a movie genre that often skips character development in favor of jumping straight into the scares.
And man, were there plenty of scares in this movie. As I mentioned earlier, the first movie was pretty forgettable; there might have been a couple moments that made me jump, but I couldn’t give you any specifics, and I only watched it less than two weeks ago. The prequel, however, had plenty of memorable moments- moments that had me whispering “NOPE NOPE NOPE NOPE” and clutching my armrests in terror. Doris’s CGI’d, gape-mouthed face featured in the promotional material is truly chilling, and, surprisingly, isn’t any less eerie the more you see it. Even the more predictable parts were unnerving, just because they were built up so well. The writer and director, Mike Flanagan, is hardly a horror movie novice, and his experience in creating suspense and atmosphere shines here.
As of my writing this, Ouija: Origin of Evil has an 84% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. It’s an impressive score for a horror movie, especially for a follow-up to such an underwhelming one, and it’s well-earned. Who would have expected the studio responsible for bringing us the Jem and the Holograms movie was capable of producing something genuinely scary? I would highly recommend anyone who enjoys horror check this out.
Laura Schaubschlager is a Winona State University graduate with a B.A. in English, which is seldom put to use in my health insurance career (outside of cringing at the grammatical errors my superiors make in their emails). I’m an avid horror fan (movies, novels, video games- anything that makes me hesitate when I go to turn off the light at night), and I’m always looking for writing opportunities, although my current portfolio is made up of partially-completed short stories and an occasionally-updated blog: schaublahblah.wordpress.com.
Have you seen ‘Ouija: Origin Of Evil’? Well, what did you think?
One of my most anticipated TCFF documentaries is playing today and I can’t be more thrilled that I got a chance to connect with the filmmaker to talk about her film. I always love films that immerse me into a world that’s far away from where I live, and gives me a chance to learn a bit more about the struggles they are facing. A large spectrum of the South African population includes the indigenous, Asian, European, Indonesian, Phillipino, Indian of India, and many others. In the Western world, we mostly hear about the Black/White struggle in South Africa, but nothing about the minority ‘Coloured’ people, as they’re called in that region.
Kiersten Dunbar Chace (Producer, Director, Editor) founder of Chace Studios/Mondé World Films, is an award winning indie film producer/director and human rights activist/advocate who for the past 21 years has focused her lens on South Africa. In 2009, Chace produced her first feature length documentary film I’m Not Black, I’m Coloured – Identity Crisis at the Cape of Good Hope which explored the legacy of apartheid from the viewpoint of the Cape Coloured people. The film won an Audience Choice award at the Africa World Documentary Film Festival (Bermuda Int’l Film Festival) and was featured at several US, International Film Festivals and in over 60 major Universities. In September 2014, Chace’s film was one of two selected to present at the prestigious academic conference Migrating the Black Body: Visual Arts and the African Diaspora in Hanover Germany. Her role in the conference will be documented in the upcoming book by the same name.
Most recently, Kiersten was invited to be an observer at the United Nations in Geneva in September 2015 when a Shadow Report was presented/submitted to the Int’l Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination citing South Africa as being in violation of the UN CERD treaty/convention. The film was used as a supplemental neutral piece to help educate UN members on the history of the Coloured people of South Africa.
A documentary film that gives voice to a community questioning the future of their mixed-race/indigenous identity in the new South Africa. Blending poetry, landscape imagery, and rare archive footage with a collection of powerful, indigenous voices, Word of Honour is an introspective look into South Africa’s young democracy as well as a meditation on what may be looming on the horizon. (All South African cast and crew)
TCFF screening: Sunday | October 23 – 3:45pm
Runtime: 73 min
Q: What inspired you to become a documentary filmmaker?
My inspiration was South Africa. In 1995, I helped produce a US concert tour for the popular South African vocal group the Christian Explainers. During that tour, one of young women in the group, in a somewhat fearful confession, shared a secret with me “Kiersten, in my country I am not considered black, I am Coloured.” Like many Americans I was stunned by her use of the term Coloured, but she kindly requested that I maintain an open mind. That was not a difficult task, however, with that open mind I felt this so-called secret would have been a great opportunity to educate Americans about the absurdity and injustice of the apartheid system; beyond the black/white rhetoric perpetuated by Western media. It also saddened me that they had to endure and maintain this awkward situation of telling people they were black South Africans, when culturally and linguistically they were not. Their reasons were centered around the use of the term Coloured in America and they were also embracing and putting into motion Mandela’s promise that they were now part of the majority alongside black/Nguni South Africans. So over the course of the next two weeks Suzanne shared the rich culture and history of her people and I listened closely with great interest.
Soon after that 1995 concert tour, I was invited to South Africa to visit Suzanne and my other friends. It was on that trip that I began learning more about this community and culture and for the next 5 years I traveled across South Africa meeting various non-profits and developing new friendships. In 2000, I began organizing group cultural tours to South Africa including Open Arms of Minnesota’s first visit, which ultimately led to the development of an HIV/Aid’s nutrition program at the new JL Zwane Center in Gugulethu. No matter how hard I tried to explain the history and culture of coloured South Africans, Americans were always drawn into the exotic tribal cultures of Southern Africa which are the common images portrayed of the African continent in Western media. I learned quickly that Americans don’t want to travel to South Africa to be visually reminded of impoverished communities in their own backyard per se, and that is the image they see when looking at Coloured townships.
Ten years’ post-apartheid, 2004, I organized another American tour group to South Africa. It was on that particular journey that I recognized how quickly the Coloured communities were deteriorating structurally and economically. Foreign investments and donations targeting disadvantaged communities were not filtering into Coloured townships due to their lack of knowledge and various government agencies bypassing Coloured townships. It was then that I knew I had to step up and educate the globe about this community and their existence. To accomplish this, I chose film as my instrument for change.
Knowing very little about the film industry, I went to Daniel Pierce Bergin in 2007, a senior producer at TPT/PBS in Minnesota and asked for his mentorship. His support of my project propelled my confidence greatly. He also connected me with a monthly event called Docuclub at IFP Minnesota where I met the talented Producer and Director Melody Gilbert, who gifted me and many other aspiring filmmakers in the Twin Cities with her years of documentary film knowledge. She gave me the tools and insight I needed to be a documentary filmmaker and in 2009, I release my first feature length film I’m Not Black, I’m Coloured: Identity Crisis at the Cape of Good Hope.
Q: How was your background as a humanitarian activist play a part in getting this film made?
After the completion of my first film I’m Not Black, I’m Coloured in 2009, I was surprised at its impact not only in South Africa but other mixed-race communities around the globe, academia and the United Nations. For example, in 2011, a Non-Profit organization in Johannesburg, South Africa used the film to petition the South Africa Broadcast Company to ask them to invest in Coloured television and radio programming. In 2014 I was invited to screen the film at a private academic conference in Hanover Germany ‘Migrating the Black Body: Visual Arts in the African Diaspora’ where 30 top professors gathered to present their academic research papers. Nearly half of the conference attendees were not aware this community even existed. I also learned that several universities over the years altered their curriculum to include this film. And in 2015, I was invited to participate as a human rights observer at the United Nations in Geneva where the film was used to educate UN rapporteurs. It is my goal to return to Switzerland again in March 2017 with the Advocates for Human Rights based in Minneapolis for additional UN training.
Through these experiences and the continual movement of my first film, I came to realize that my role as a human rights advocate was materializing before my eyes, unexpectedly. There is no doubt that these experiences along with the support of community leaders in South Africa gave me the confidence and motivation to produce Word of Honour. So yes, my human rights activism played a major role in this latest production.
Q: ‘Word of Honour’ is a sequel to your 2009 film… it is extremely rare to see a documentary sequel, would you speak about the differences between the two?
I’m Not Black, I’m Coloured: Identity Crisis at the Cape of Good Hope (filmed in 2007/2008) explored the legacy of apartheid from the viewpoint of the mixed-race/indigenous Cape Coloured/Khoisan people of South Africa, whose largest population resides in Cape Town (approximately 60% of the total population). After 10 years of witnessing the decline of this community and trying to teach Americans about a marginalized people who identified themselves by the term Coloured, I focused the film on history and identity.
The film also illuminated their diverse ancestry, how they suffered (180 years of slavery and a vast number of forced removals), and their contributions to South African society dating back to the mid 17th century to the dawn of democracy in 1994. So INBIC was historically driven and educational. That film won an audience award at the Africa World Documentary Film Festival in Bermuda, sits on the shelves of nearly 63 major universities around the globe.
My latest film, Word of Honour: Reclaiming Mandela’s Promise, focuses on the first 21 years of democracy – post 1994. It is less historical and more focused on the socio-economic struggles and the marginalization of this community due to discriminatory government policies. It features communities all across South Africa, not just Cape Town. In addition to the difference in storyline, the production value of Word of Honour is much greater and it is structured differently. More artistic yet the focus remains on the voice of the people.
You are correct. It is very rare to produce a documentary sequel. But as I mentioned before, my purpose for entering the film industry was for advocacy purposes, not awards, and as you will witness in this new production, clearly my work was not completed within South Africa. Especially after viewing Jimmy Manyi’s public statement in 2011 about Coloureds being ‘over concentrated’ and ‘should spread in the rest of the country if they want jobs’ my friends, community leaders and myself, became very concerned. Hence the making of Word of Honour. Since I already had a decent university presence with the first film I wanted to continue the dialogue around race, identity and human rights. With the two films together, we have created a more holistic perspective, identified and exposed the root of the problem, and documented a specific time in history that will last for generations.
Q: What motivated you to shine a light on the complexities in identity/ history of the people in South Africa?
There are a lot of misperceptions about South African history internationally and within South Africa. As recent as 2015, trial attorneys who were attempting to justify their client’s discriminatory practices, claimed that coloured South Africans did not suffer as much under apartheid and should not benefit from Affirmative Action policies. This depends on how you define apartheid. Many scholars will argue that the system of apartheid was implemented the moment the Dutch arrived in South Africa and formally legalized in 1948. But others will argue the opposite and define apartheid as only starting in 1948. So it was important for me to focus on history as it relates to their identity, how this community evolved, what they endured and as reflected in this new film their struggle to fit in the new South Africa.
Q: How many people did you end up interviewing for your film? (Vast area that is covers)
For 21 years, I have developed friendships with community leaders, business leaders and political activists all across South Africa. In our discussions, each person was very adamant in sharing their regions unique needs; that their struggles were very different from Cape Town (the largest population of Coloured’s in South Africa). Combine those strong regional or provincial sentiments alongside a lack of unity nationally amongst their leaders, I personally wanted to see if the socio-economic issues facing the coloured communities were different between the various provinces and townships. In the past, I had travelled across South Africa but with a very different purpose. So to observe the country from behind a camera lens with the intent to further educate the globe about this community, including South Africans, I wanted to see if I could capture the similarities versus the differences as well as affirm or nullify the psyche of disunity that seems to be embedded in national rhetoric amongst community leaders.
So our film journey included six of the nine provinces, thirteen cities, drove approximately 7000 km’s, interviewed 27 people and brought home close to 200 hours of footage. All but one of our production locations was pre-planned and budgeted. That one unplanned ‘spur of the moment’ location was Riemvasmaak, a tiny desert community near the Namibian/South African border where we literally knew nothing about this area historically or culturally, nor did we know a single soul who lived there. However, what we captured in 3 short hours (in the middle of the desert) ended up being one of my favorite scenes in the film and possibly one of the most important in terms of using an historical event as a reflection of what the future might be for this community if government policies continue on the path of racial quotas.
Q: Would you share a bit about your collaboration with David Grant, a prominent figure in MN arts/film/writing?
I actually met David through a shared interest in genetic genealogy five or six years ago. I was the founder of the Cape Coloured DNA project at Family Tree DNA and we were introduced by a distant blood cousin from Arizona who also shared similar DNA with one of my former cast members in South Africa. Soon thereafter I learned of his gift for writing as well as his respected presence in the Twin Cities arts community. After one long breakfast meeting in South Minneapolis, I knew this was the person I needed to collaborate with.
With Word of Honour, I was taking a riskier more creative approach to my storytelling. I didn’t want this project to be cookie cutter journalistic type documentary film so I searched for someone who would take my artistic vision and goals and help build the storyline. With an arsenal of powerful poetry, rare Mandela footage, great interviews and beautiful landscape imagery I needed someone to help create a piece that made people think outside the box and engage the heart. Being a seasoned writer David understood all of these important elements and was instrumental in guiding me through some difficult storyline and structural decisions.
Q: Who have been some of the people who’ve inspired you, both in term of history/culture or cinema. Any documentarian whose work you admire?
I’m a great admirer of Andrei Tarkovsky’s films and books. He inspired me in my artistic direction, to not be afraid of taking risks and to be confident in your artistic expression. Not everyone will like your work but in the end you were staying true to the vision or your film. Another person who inspires me is Al Milgrom. A longtime friend and walking encyclopedia of film. Our long conversations and his passion for film inspired me greatly.
Q: While traveling around South Africa, what was your greatest take-away from this production in comparison to your other journeys 20 years ago?
There were actually several key take-away’s on this journey but the greatest would be discovering how many Coloured communities across South Africa endured forced removals. I knew of District Six, South End and Sophiatown but I was stunned how many others there were. Nearly every major city in South Africa, including small villages, has a history of forcibly removing Coloured communities.
On a more positive note, I was encouraged by the economic progress in the Eastern Cape province near Mandela’s Qunu home where I spent some time back in the early 2000’s. This was a pretty impoverished area back then but today that has changed. The energy there was uplifting. I just wish I could say the same thing about ‘one’ coloured township, sadly it does not exist.
Thank you Kiersten for taking the time for the interview!
For more info on the film, please visit Word Of Honour‘s official site.
‘First Girl I Loved’ Review
First Girl I Loved is a coming-of-age story for the social media generation. Mix this with a narrative about teenage sexuality and you have the new feature film written and directed by Kerem Sanga. It stars Dylan Gelula as Anne, the nerdy high school yearbook photographer, Brianna Hildebrand as Sasha, star of the softball team and the object of Anne’s desire, and Mateo Arias as Clifton, Anne’s best friend who secretly loves her.
This is a movie that whether you like it may depend on what mood you are in. On one hand, the lead characters in this movie are teenagers that act like teenagers (no deep psychological speeches here). On the other hand, there is a lot of giggling and nonsensical teenager speak that can get annoying.
The narrative at times can be confusing as it’s told in flashback from each character’s perspective. If this was intentional to help the audience understand how conflicted these young people are, it succeeded. Dylan Gelula in particular is a standout in this movie, as she aptly portrays the angst of the high school years. I feel like this movie will really strike a chord with some viewers but unfortunately I am not one of them.
‘My Scientology Movie’ Review
I was intrigued by this documentary when I learned of the unconventional method that documentarian Louis Theroux (apparently cousin of actor Justin Theroux) in approaching the controversial subject matter. Directed by John Dower, Louis traveled around Los Angeles to investigate what goes on behind the scenes of the elusive church of scientology. But instead of featuring expert ‘talking heads’ as most documentaries typically do, Louis instead chooses to re-enact some of the practices and speeches, based on recruitment/marketing videos from the church that he got from whistleblowers.
The style immediately reminds me of The Act of Killing documentary where filmmaker Joshua Oppenheimer exposed one of the most brutal genocide in history that took place in Indonesia with re-enactments of the murderous ‘act’ itself. The difference is, Joshua used the actual perpetrators of the event to re-enact them, whilst Louis hired unknown actors to play the roles of major figures of scientology, including the church leader David Miscavige and the movie star Tom Cruise, the most famous celebrity scientologist in the world.
The result isn’t quite as hauntingly profound as The Act Of Killing, but still it’s quite a revelatory as well as amusing documentary. There are moments that are downright hilarious, such as when people start showing up across the street from where Louis was filming with their own video camera. When they’re confronted, they refuse to say who they are, but there’s little doubt they’re likely sent by the church to investigate Louis’ crew. The church also blocked certain roads and claimed they owned the property, which at the end is proven that it was in fact a public road. These encounters are often hilarious, but that’s not to say there’s no serious nor intense moment in the film.
The exchange between Louis and Mark Rathbun, a former senior executive of the Church of Scientology who ‘blew’ from the church, is quite intense. There’s a certain unpredictability to Mark given that he was the inspector general of the church at one point. In fact, another whistleblower claimed that Mark had punched him during one of the most controversial practices. The scene where the actors re-enacted a brutal interrogation scene where Miscavige was berating some church members inside a room was quite intense, and I never know if at one point the actor playing Miscavige might snap and start hitting people.
Of course the church denies all the malpractices depicted in the film, including the infamous Hole that’s basically a prison for senior executives they deem as misbehaving. The whistleblowers were candid about the extreme abuse and human rights violation they suffered, to the point that they’d rather die than having to stay in the church. One of the most memorable moments was when Louis and his crew were watching a video of Tom Cruise talking passionately about scientology and they paused at a footage of him with a wild, fierce look on his eyes, as if he’s ready to strangle anyone to defend his religion. But I think its leader Miscavige is just as scary if not more as Cruise was, and he’s even more elusive.
As this is the first documentary on scientology I’ve seen so far, I don’t know if this is the definitive film on the subject. I’d think Alex Gibney’s Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief might give more insights into scientology, just based on Gibney’s previous work. Still, this one is worth a look, an entertaining doc that’d make an intriguing discussion afterwards.
Get the TCFF App!
The TCFF app is such a lifesaver for me. Instead of futzing with paper that’s easily lost, download the app so you have easy access the film schedule at your fingertips! It’s got all the info for the daily educational events as well as film schedule, which is immensely helpful!
What’s in store for Day 5 & 6!
Stay tuned for more TCFF reviews and talent interviews!