Day 4 Review – TCFF 2015 Gala Screening: Brooklyn

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Three of my most highly-anticipated films at TCFF premiered on Saturday. Two of them are studio features, Youth & Brooklyn and one is a small indie drama The Dust Storm, which I have reviewed here along with my interview w/ one of the director and cast members.

It was quite a whirlwind day starting with the Future of Film panel at 1pm with Rob Nelson from National Society of Film Critics, Ryland Aldrich from Twitchfilm.com and Emma Griffiths, Emma Griffiths PR. It’s great getting insights from film experts on the changing landscape of film promotion/distribution and various film trends. I also got to meet director Samuel Hathaway before his red carpet (check out my interview w/ him on The Old, Old Story), as well as David Spaltro whom I met a couple of years ago at TCFF. Great to see him back in town for his psychological horror film In The Dark (review & interview post coming next week!)


So here’s one of the reviews from Day 4:

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Brooklyn

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I’ve been waiting to see this film since it premiered at Sundance and so imagine how thrilled I was when I saw it on TCFF lineup!! I’ve been a fan of Irish thespian Saoirse Ronan since Atonement, Hanna and How I Live Now, which also premiered at TCFF two years ago. Suffice to say her casting was the main draw for me to see this and she did NOT disappoint.

As an immigrant myself, naturally the story of a young Irish immigrant moving to the United States resonated with me. Of course our circumstances are very different, but I identify with the feeling of homesickness and the challenges of navigating a whole new environment. Brooklyn is set in the 1950s. It opens with Eilis Lacey, the youngest of two Irish sisters living in a small town in County Wexford, Ireland. She’s offered a chance to move to New York City by a priest, for a chance of a new life. Her older sister Rose strongly supports that idea, even if that means she’d have to be the only one looking after their mother.

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The journey on the boat is quite excruciating for Eilis, but somewhere along the way she always ended up finding a friend to help her through it. The same way when she arrived in Brooklyn to stay in a Mrs. Kehoe’s Catholic boarding house along with four other girls. I LOVE Julie Walters here, she’s definitely the comic relief with her comments like ‘no talking about the Lord’s complexion at dinner!’ or ‘giddyness is the eighth deadly sins!’ She’s strict but not without a sense of humor. The always reliable Jim Broadbent provides an excellent supporting turn as the compassionate priest Father Flood who arranged for Eilis’ immigration.

Homesickness is like most sicknesses. It will make you feel wretched, then will move on to somebody else…

I love the quote above from Father Flood to Eilis, and sure enough, soon Eilis’ able to overcome her homesickness as soon as she finds romance with an Italian boy Tony (Emory Cohen) who’s handsome and effortlessly charming. There’s a James Dean-esque vibe in his performance and perhaps that’s intentional. Soon he invites Eilis home to meet his very Italian family. I love the cultural aspects of the film, showcasing the different lives of American immigrants from different countries. There are amusing scenes such as when Eilis’ fellow boarding house friends teach her how NOT to splash spaghetti all over her blouse during dinner, and Iarla O’Lionaird as Tony’s smart-aleck-y 8-year-old brother Frankie was definitely a scene stealer!

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Life doesn’t always go according to plan however, and Eilis’ life changed abruptly that compels her to return back to Ireland. Life if full of tough choices, and that’s what happens with Eilis when she finds herself back in her home town. Suddenly there’s a decent life waiting for her in Ireland that she didn’t find before she moved to Brooklyn. A tentative romance also develops with a friend from her high school Jim (Domhnall Gleeson) that complicates matters. There’s nothing like two romantic prospects on both sides of the Atlantic that would get any girl torn, but there’s also more to it than that.
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I love how the seemingly-simple story of an immigrant girl can be so deeply poignant and moving. I remember liking John Crowley‘s British indie Boy A with Andrew Garfield, and he’s certainly has a way for capturing the anguish and torment of young people. The same with screenwriter Nick Hornby who penned About A Boy in crafting a heartfelt character-driven piece.

It’s definitely Saoirse Ronan‘s best work amongst her already illustrious career. At twenty, she’s the right age to portray Eilis, and she infused such gravitas into her role. She’s able to convey internal battle within her with just her eyes or a subtle smile, as there’s a great deal of economy of dialog in this film but everything has a purpose. Visually, the set design of 50s Brooklyn and Ireland are believable, captured beautifully by cinematographer Yves Bélanger. But to me, it’s the story that I will remember most of all. Lest Hollywood forget, well-written story is the greatest special effects of all.

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Have you seen BROOKLYN? Well, what did you think?

Spotlight on FINDING NOAH doc & interview with director Brent Baum

This year’s Twin Cities Film Fest could very well be a Documentary Film Fest given how many of them are screening in 2015. I’m glad this one is one of them as not only is the subject matter close to my heart, but it’s an insightful and beautifully-shot film.

A group of intrepid explorers go on a journey of discovery and excitement as they climb and live atop Mt. Ararat’s 17,000 ft. summit in Eastern Turkey to conduct a scientific expedition to determine the final resting place of Noah’s Ark. 

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Shot in never-before filmed locations and in the harshest of conditions, this unprecedented feature-length documentary shows just how far men are willing to go to discover the truth. Narrated by Academy Award nominee Gary Sinise, FINDING NOAH is more than a quest for answers, it is a testament of the human spirit, where belief and the need for exploration transcend risk and limitation.

Check out the trailer:

I have to include one of the songs featured in the doc by Aussie Christian band For King & Country:

 


TCFF Screening Time(s): 
10/25/2015 (12:00 PM)
10/31/2015 (10:10 AM)


I had the privilege of chatting with director Brent Baum about the challenges of bringing this film to light, collaborating with Gary Sinise and For King and Country, and the origin & significance of the film title.

THANK YOU Mr. Baum for taking the time to share these wonderful and fascinating insights about your film.

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What inspired you to tackle this project? I’d love to know how the initial process was, how you came to find the arkeologists/explorers/experts etc featured in the film?

Like all people who grew up hearing the story of Noah in Sunday School, ​I had always been curious as to these stories surrounding the remains of Noah’s Ark. Don’t I read every few years how it has been already found?  Well, one day I got a random call from an acquaintance who ​was part of the excursion team…the Arkeologists as we like to refer to them. He mentioned that he was going and asked if we would like to buy the rights to film the expedition. My interest was certainly piqued. Wanting to go film this incredible journey was not the hard part, finding the funding to do so was the most difficult.

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Brent Baum (in baseball hat) on the set of Finding Noah

As you can imagine, sitting in front of a group of investors and asking for money to film the search for Noah’s Ark is not an easy thing.  But we were blessed with open minds who understood from the beginning, that this movie was not about finding a piece of wood, rather an opportunity to look into the hearts of those men who feel compelled (by science, faith, a sense of adventure or whatever their reason) to go and look for this immensely significant artifact.

What’s been the most challenging aspect of making this? The climb itself looked incredibly daunting, not to mention the fact that the Kurdish Rebel pose a threat to the explorers. Was there any filming delays due to unforeseen circumstances, be it weather or other political issues?

​Well, yes, first and foremost is the simple fact that we had no agreement with Mother Nature to play nice with our crew and timing. Climbing a peak the size of Ararat is a feat on its own, yet to live at 17,000 feet and work for 30 days is a whole other realm of physical and mental demands.

We were in the middle east for three months, 2.5 of which was in East Turkey on and about the mountain.  We had members of our team on the summit at varying times, the longest of which were up there for 30 consecutive days. The remainder of which was spent filming in Israel, Jordan and Armenia.

 The Kurds are the good guys… On one side of the hill they are fighting ISIS in Iraq and Syria, on the other side of the hill they are considered terrorists because of their decades long battle with Turkey for independence. Hence the uproar when the Turkish air forces would bomb Kurd positions on their way back from NATO sorties against ISIS in recent news.

For most of us, the Ararat experience is a metaphor for life and for faith. Mountains are put in front of us and we can chose to climb them or succumb. On Mt. Ararat I was honored to film those who chose to bravely climb them one step at a time exercising their faith with each dangerous step.

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The documentary addresses spiritual/faith aspects of the expedition as well as the science/archaeological aspects, was that a conscious decision on your (and/or the producers) part?

​Yes, from the very start of the film, ​we made a conscious decision to walk down the middle, to tell the science and the spiritual sides of this story.  I remember sitting in the production office and telling the crew over and over that in regard to this film, we had to operate more like a news room than a film production. There is just so much science and religion, historical sightings and myth, false claims and intrigue surrounding the story of the Ark; we had thousands of years of history to break down. So off we went to interview world experts on volcanoes, glaciers, wood preservation, satellite imagery, and the history of the region as well as leading scholars from Christianity, Judaism and Islam. Our first cut of the film was 4 hours in length.  There is just so much information and intrigue surround this story.

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I love the narration by Gary Sinise and the music by For King & Country. How did those collaborations come about?

​Gary and the 4K&C guys did such a wonderful job. We have been big supporters of Gary and the work his foundation does on behalf of veterans over the years.​ ​So when we were looking for a narrator and he just seemed like the best choice. He has a very distinct voice that we thought would lend to the thoughtfulness and tone of the film.​

With 4K&C it was a bit more round about. We had been searching for months for a song for the end credits of the film and could find nothing I was happy with. I was in a meeting with our lawyers discussing an entirely different film and they asked me if I would mind taking a call with one of their friends who was producing an independent movie that had a faith-based theme to it. So I spoke with the producer and he told me that he was working on a movie with the guys from the band 4K&C. When I got back to the office, I asked the staff to look up the band and their songs. We were just amazed at how uniquely the message of their music fit with the tone of our movie.  It is as if the lyrics were written for us. We immediately called the band and went to see them in concert…ever since we have all been big fans. We ended up putting three of their songs in the movie.

Lastly, what’s the significance of the title ‘Finding Noah’ which focuses more on the spiritual journey as much as the physical one in finding the Ark?

​Finding a title for the film was one of the most difficult parts of the production. We agonized over this.​ ​The Search for Noah’s Ark was such on over-used title in media over the years for movies and History Channel Unknown Mysteries type of shows.  It was just about so much more than the Ark. I found myself saying to people along the post production process something along the lines of: When you search for the Ark, you find a piece of wood; but when you search for and find the metaphorical Noah, you find something much deeper. In the Bible, Noah alone was chosen (because of his faith) to restart humanity in a world that had become corrupt and evil. And much like Noah, many of the men on this journey got a chance to start their lives again.


What are your thoughts of Finding Noah?