A sneak peek into the 8th annual Twin Cities Film Fest schedule

Can’t believe it’s just a little over a month away until the fun film festivities begins here in the Twin Cities! If you follow me on Facebook, then you’d already know that this year’s film fest is an extra special for yours truly… yep, I’m still in a daze that Hearts Want is actually premiering at TCFF in October!! If you told me around the same time last year that I would have my own film playing at TCFF in 2017 I’d say that you are nuts. Our film will be playing in one of several short blocks at the fest, I will update this post as soon as I know the exact schedule.

Well, if you haven’t seen the teaser yet, well here you go…


This year’s fundraising gala’s theme is A Year of Spectacular Women… which is as timely as ever and it’s also a play on this year’s Opening Night film, A Year of Spectacular Men, a directorial debut of Minnesota native Lea Thompson and stars her daughters Zoey Deutch and Madelyn Deutch. The upcoming drama-comedy will make its world premiere at TCFF on Oct. 18 with both Lea Thompson and Zoey Deutch in attendance.

We don’t have a trailer yet but here’s a clip from the film:

The official 2017 Centerpiece film will be the inspirational documentary Purple Dreams, which follows lives of inner-city, at-risk students who succeed at their passion while embracing the transformative power of their arts education. The true-life adventure screens Oct. 23.

TCFF will continue its tradition of honoring a Social Cause this year by putting a spotlight on ‘Addiction.’ To highlight addiction TCFF will screen three documentaries (Chasing the Dragon, Addicted to Porn and Screenagers) and a drama called Tatertot and Patton which showcases alcohol addiction.

Some of Fall’s most-anticipated films are also amongst the lineup…

Acclaimed director Sean Baker’s The Florida Project starring Willem Dafoe:

Dramedy Last Flag Flying starring Bryan Cranston, Steve Carrell and Laurence Fishburne:

WWII drama The Darkest Hour, starring Gary Oldman as Prime Minister Winston Churchill.

It’s a year of debuts it seems. Motion capture virtuoso Andy Serkis’ directorial debut Breathe, starring Andrew Garfield as a young man struck down with polio looks like a heart-warming tearjerker.

Those are just the studio films. There are plenty of indie features to be excited about…

The Bachelors stars J.K. Simmons dealing with an early death of his wife with his teenage son.

A grizzled, rugged looking Matt Bomer stars in Walking Out, where he plays an estranged father who faces a brutal encounter in the heart of Montana wilderness with his teenage son.

Little Pink House stars Catherine Keener and Jeanne Tripplehorn about a working-class neighborhood struggling to save their homes from political and corporate interests bent on seizing the land and handing it over to Pfizer Corporation.

I gotta give a shout out to Minnesota-made indie feature Twin Cities, produced by the filmmaker who directed my short film, Jason P. Schumacher. Hearts Want‘s lead actor Peter Christian Hansen also has a supporting role in the film. Directed by David Ash, its prequel 2021 actually premiered at TCFF in 2015.

The festival will close with writer and director Colette Burson’s Permanent, a film centering on a story of a hairstyle gone incredibly wrong and a young girl’s fight to fit in while encountering bullies at a new school. Burson will be in attendance for the red carpet and hosting a Q&A following the film.


Tickets will open up to members and pass holders on September 29th, with general public access the following week. To find out how to become a TCFF Member and for a full list of films playing at this year’s festival please visit TCFF official site »



Hope to see you at TCFF next month!
Which of these films are you most looking forward to?

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Guest Coverage & Reviews of Frozen River Film Festival 2017

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The Twin Cities might be more well-known for their arts and culture scene than other parts of Minnesota, but there are plenty of small towns that have so much to offer as well-Winona, for example. Okay, I might be a little biased, as it is home to my beloved alma mater (Winona State University), but it still deserves recognition. The cozy college town, nestled in the gorgeous bluffs of Southeast Minnesota, has a flourishing community of art, music, theatre, and film which can be enjoyed year-round, including Midwest Music Fest, the Great River Shakespeare Festival, and one of my favorites: Frozen River Film Festival. This five-day-long event showcases a variety of documentaries that educate and inspire audiences of all ages.

This year, FRFF showcased 81 different films, all of which went through an extensive selection process. According to Crystal, the festival’s executive director, the films are chosen by a committee of 12 individuals. “Each film is watched at least three times and ranked according to content, subject matter, narrative structure and audience engagement,” Crystal explains. “Once the top ranking films are analyzed, we look at the variety of subjects, important and relevant issues and decide which ones to program.”

My friend Alisha and I have volunteered at the festival for the past few years. In exchange for a few hours of tearing tickets and helping guests find seats, we get a free pass to any of the other movies for the rest of the week. It’s a fun excuse for us to visit our college home, get our coffee and cocktail fixes at our favorite local spots (looking at you, Blue Heron and Ed’s No Name Bar), and check out a variety of educational, entertaining, and inspirational documentaries.

Below are the ones we saw this year, and I highly recommend you watch them if you get a chance.

Sacred-Thomas Lennon

The first film we saw was a collaborative effort of 40 film teams all over the world. There was no narrative, which could have made the movie feel disorganized, but the editing and handful of interviews throughout actually made it a very effective choice. The film included a great range of cultures and beliefs, and it was interesting to see how, despite the differences in rituals and practices, they are used for the same purposes: as a source of strength in difficult times, as guidance in being a good person, as a way of connecting with the community. With a subject that is often so divisive, it’s so uplifting to see a project that highlights the similarities instead.

50 Feet from Syria – Skye Fitzgerald

This documentary left me shaken, but it was also one of the most important; it’s definitely relevant considering the debates over Syrian refugees. The documentary follows a doctor from the U.S. who travels to a hospital in Turkey, literally fifty feet from the Syrian border, to help injured refugees. It’s gut-wrenching, hearing about government snipers singling out defenseless children and pregnant mothers, about markets being bombed when people are just trying to get food for their families, about how healthcare workers in the country are banned from helping those who oppose the government. The hospital the documentary takes place in is the only one in Turkey approved to help Syrian refugees. It’s certainly an eye-opening film that I hope will gain more attention soon.

A Way Forward – Isaac and Jacob Seigel-Boettner

While this was the shortest film we saw (only about six minutes long), it was still impactful. Three women in rural Kenya explain how difficult it is for them to get to school, often having to risk their safety just to make it there. An organization called World Bicycle Relief provides bikes for the school to give girls, not only providing transportation, but a feeling of empowerment and courage for the students. In addition to benefiting the students, the organization also supports the local economy; the bikes are built in Kenya, and their next goal is to build an infrastructure to support them. It’s a great film for students here to watch in order for them to understand what they take for granted, because the women in the documentary are so willing to overcome serious hurdles in order to get an education: as one, Dianah, explains, “The challenges may be many, and the blessings bigger.”

Daughters of the Forest – Samantha Grant

Another strong documentary about female empowerment, Daughters of the Forest profiles the Centro Educativo Mbaracayú, a boarding high school for girls in a Paraguayan forest reserve, where they teach girls how to support their rural communities without destroying the forest, as well as give girls an opportunity to learn about and explore career options they might not have otherwise imagined for themselves. In a society with a teen pregnancy rate of 30%, where young girls are seldom asked what they want to be where they grow up, this school teaches girls they can be anything they set their minds to, even in roles that are not traditionally female. The documentary was filmed over a span of five years, showing the girls’ journeys as well as where they are now.

Life, Animated – Roger Ross Williams

This film was one of the Oscar nominees this year, and for good reason. Life, Animated tells the story of Owen, a young man with autism who is about to take his first steps toward independent living. Since childhood, Owen has been able to make sense of the world through Disney animated movies, and the documentary intercuts moments in Owen’s life with related Disney clips as well as roughly sketched animations of Owen as a young boy, which adds a beautifully creative touch to this particular style of filmmaking. Life, Animated is an informative, uplifting movie that brought tears to my eyes more than once; I never thought Gilbert Gottfried (the voice of Iago in Aladdin) making a surprise appearance would be considered heartwarming, but once you find out the significance of the character to Owen and his development, the grating-voiced actor’s cameo really packs an emotional punch.


My biggest regret is that I was only in Winona for the weekend and was only able to see a handful of films. There were so many others that sounded amazing, and next year I might have to take a little more time off work so I can enjoy more of the festival.

FRFF isn’t just a tourist draw, but an advantage for Winona locals as well. “Individuals who may otherwise not be documentary or independent film fans will come out to this event to catch up on the latest films,” Crystal explains. “Many films don’t come to our local theater. For instance, Life, Animated, which plays on Sunday 2/19, is up for an Oscar in February. Our local theater will never play some of the less-known films that people can catch at the festival.”

Whether you’re a city dweller or a Winona native, Frozen River Film Festival is worth checking out.

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Indie Film Spotlight: ‘The Babymoon’ + Interview with writer/director Bailey Kobe & lead actress Julie McNiven

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The Babymoon was one of the terrific indie films playing at Twin Cities Film Fest last year. I had missed seeing it on the big screen, but the lovely Kate Sloate over at Double Entente Films was kind enough to send me a screener link.

Well, the film has just been released on Valentine’s Day, so it’s now available on iTunes Digital, Amazon Digital, Cable VOD. Distributed through Gravitas Ventures. There’s also a planned DVD Release on March 14th!

In the adventure-comedy The Babymoon, a husband in a fragile relationship tries to impress his pregnant wife with a luxurious and romantic babymoon vacation to the most beautiful and exotic country imaginable, which places the couple in the middle of a poorly-planned political revolution!

Featured Cast
This star studded and well known cast brings a multitude of talent and relatable emotion to the big screen.

The Babymoon features Shaun Sipos (Vampire Diaries, Melrose Place), Julie McNiven (Mad Men, Supernatural), Jessica Camacho (Sleepy Hollow, Dexter), Michael Steger (90210), Mark DeCarlo (Curb Your Enthusiasm, Seinfeld, Jimmy Neutron), Phillip Garcia (Telenovela, Fuller House), and Kelly Perine (Drew Carey, The Parent ‘Hood).

About the director
Double Entente Films is an international production company with offices is Paris and Los Angeles, specializing in luxury and high tech clients, with a select slate of feature films in the action and comedy genres. Innovative Los Angeles-based writer and director Bailey Kobe (Caterpillar’s Kimono featuring Ben Savage and Joey Kern) first partnered with dynamic French Producer Frédéric Imbert as classmates at The University of Southern California’s renowned Peter Stark Cinema Program. Kobe is a graduate from the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts elite Peter Stark Program. He is well known for his commercial work with brands Louis Vuitton, Dior, Mini Cooper, BMW, GQ, and videos for Kanye West, French Icon Johnny Hallyday, and Marc Lavoine.

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Interview with Bailey Kobe

A look behind the scenes of our film with cast members Phillip Garcia, Julie McNiven, Kelly Perine and writer/director Bailey Kobe
A look behind the scenes of our film with cast members Phillip Garcia, Julie McNiven, Kelly Perine and writer/director Bailey Kobe

Q: So how did the concept of the film come about? Did The Babymoon idea come from a personal experience for you?

Most of my career I have adapted novels or plays, but Babymoons have been a hot concept since celebrity couples were announcing elaborate vacations, like Kanye West/ Kim Kardashian, and Prince William/ Kate Middleton, while pregnant.

I never expected to go on one until my wife informed me that we were expecting our first child. I was overjoyed at the news, but then to have this extra vacation to plan, at a time when we should be the most pragmatic, well, it sounded absurd. But after experiencing our trip together, I realized this is a trend that is growing for a reason. We ere able to get away from the daily grind and really talk – not just plan, but really get into the “why” of our plans, and it made us a stronger couple at a time when we needed be on the same page more than ever in our lives. And I wanted to share that.

Q: Would you speak a bit about the casting process? I know Julie was in your first film, but how about the others?

Shaun Sipos was the first person to walk into the casting office for Trace, and he became a high-water mark that no one else could match. Once we knew who our main couple was, we started looking at the rest of the cast, and it was surprising how many actors loved the characters in the script. Big turnouts that my casting directors Kendra Clark and Helen Geier had to manage and because we were an indie, I was lucky enough that when I begged the best actor for each role to be in it, they said yes!

The fruits of which are stunning, if you follow our main cast, you will see that most are now a regular on major TV shows or are finalists when big film castings come up. The same with my first film. Not that I have a magic touch, but I should start promoting myself to actors as the good luck charm to book a major TV series!

Julie McNiven & Shaun Shipos
Julie McNiven & Shaun Sipos

Q: It seems that you as well as other cast members were expecting when you did the film. So I presume Julie was really really pregnant in the movie?

Maybe we are all just at that time in our lives, but Julie and I met and had this idea to do the film together while we were both expecting so that both sides of the camera would have a unique attention to emotional detail that we had never seen before. Not only did that create interesting work, but I think we inspired some cast members, because immediately after filming, two cast members, Michael Steger (90210) and Elmer Tollinchi Ruiz (genius polymath who just did a TED talk), had their first children.

And yes, Julie is actually pregnant during some of the filming. We of course, did the stunts and any of the more adventurous sequences months later after baby bonding time.

Q: How was filming in Puerto Rico? What was the biggest challenge in filming all those jungle scenes?

Puerto Rico is absolutely stunning visually, but we wondered if we could find a great crew down there. Thanks to the Puerto Rico Film Commission, we were able to make initial contact with crew who have worked on major shows like Pirates of the Caribbean! And once you have a good crew that understands the challenges of heat, constant rain, dangers of the jungle, etc. you can move forward with confidence!

El Conquistador Resort, Puerto Rico
El Conquistador Resort, Puerto Rico

Q: What was the inspiration behind the political revolution and kidnapping plot?

The political revolution is meant to be simply an externalization of the turmoil in a relationship in the middle of a big life transition. Two sides have strong ideas about how things should go, and without levelheaded discussion it can turn fast!

The kidnapping plot is actually based on real stories I heard while hiking in the Amazon on a 5 day trek into the jungle to see the ruins of a lost city of gold. No joke. Called the Ciudad Perdida. I noticed some heavily armed guards along the way, and my guide regaled me with stories of how they would kidnap groups from time to time and march them around the jungle so they could never be caught. A constant camping trip that would last for months!

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Q: There seems to be a familial/parenting theme in your first two features. Coincidence or intentional?

You are right. Great observation. In the first, parenting was a metaphor for the economy. Remember we were in one of the worst recessions in history, but here we are just a short time later, ready to reduce regulation all over again. Will that father remember the consequences of his choices in the past.

And vice-versa, in The Babymoon, the revolution is a metaphor for parenting.

Q: Lastly, who are some of your favorite comedy filmmakers who’ve inspired you?

There is the usual litany of well known writer-directors, but I am particularly inspired by a lot of the TV directors who are finding long term homes on shows right now. I love Pamela Fryman (How I Met Your Mother, The McCarthys), Steven Tsuchida (Inside Amy Shumer, Jim Gaffigan Show), and Hiro Murai (Atlanta).

And of course working under a great like Anthony Russo (Community, Captain America:Civil War, Avengers: Infinity War) was completely revelatory for me.


Interview with Julie McNiven

Julie (with Shaun) in The Babymoon
Julie (with Shaun) in The Babymoon

Q: How did your experience as a mother contribute to your connection with Hanna? Do you think that the role was more or less challenging because of it?

I loved being pregnant. I didn’t have any fear or doubt about anything! I think it was the hormones. I felt blissful the entire time! Well, except when it got hard to sleep, but mostly it was amazing. Hanna on the other hand entered her pregnancy with feelings of doubt in her relationship and her ability to be a mother. Sadly, she wasn’t receiving the happy hormones that I had. Perhaps the only sort of anxiety I had was ‘when will I be able to get back to work and how will that work with Tasman being dependent on me.’ I booked my first job 10 weeks postpartum and shot ‘Babymoon’ at 6 months postpartum. Fortunately, I have a very supportive husband who brought my son to set for nursings or bottle fed him while I worked.

Q: Hanna went through a very challenging transition into parenthood with Trace. How do you think new parents can relate to and learn from this?

i imagine it’s very common to have hanna’s feelings of doubt, fear and stubbornness to think she can do it all by herself….which I’m sure she could have but, what she learned was to allow others in. To be a part of the community and help each other through everything. We could all do it by ourselves, but we would be doing ourselves and our children a disservice.

3. We’ve heard you were pregnant in the jungle. You’re amazing! What was that like?

Well, it was amazing because I loved being pregnant and I love the jungle!!

4. We’ve been hearing a lot from mothers on set who are doing a kick-ass job of being a new mom and an actress. Do you think that the industry is changing to be more accepting? What do you think Hollywood can do to improve this process for new moms?

I think it really depends on who you work with. Obviously, with Bailey it was great! He had a full understanding of what I needed…like 20 minute every 4 hours to pump in a Jeep in the jungle….or whatever 🙂

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Thanks so much Kate and Bailey!
It was lovely meeting you at TCFF last October,
hope one day our paths would cross again!

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Indie Film Spotlight: ‘Funeral Day’ + Interview with director/lead actor Jon Weinberg

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One of my favorite parts about blogging for TCFF is meeting various indie filmmakers. I’m glad I got to meet Jon Weinberg over coffee one rainy evening, and it’s one of the most enjoyable interviews I’ve done in my seven years covering the film fest!

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Scott thinks he might be dying. Not at all an uncommon thought for Scott, but today the lump he believes he found “down there” might actually be real. Today also happens to be the day of his friend Ken’s funeral. ­ Funeral Day is a darkly funny movie about a man who skips his friend’s funeral in an attempt to start living his own life to the fullest.

Funeral Day is a dark comedy that could double as a male health PSA. My blog contributor Sarah reviewed the film here, and while I agree it’s a bit on the raunchy side, the writing is fun and zippy. Definitely one of the strongest feature film debuts that premiered at TCFF, so I hope Jon would continue making movies in the future.

Collaboration with Testicular Cancer Society

testicularcancersocietyThe filmmaker raised awareness for testicular cancer in collaboration with the Testicular Cancer Society. During the post-production stage, Jon sent a tweet that caught the attention of Testicular Cancer Society founder, Mike Craycraft, a testicular cancer survivor who waited seven months after feeling his lump before having it checked. In the film, after feeling a lump on his testicle, the main character refuses to go to a doctor, “which is not uncommon in men,” explained Craycraft.

Both the society and the producers of the film hope that by engaging in co-promotion, more men (and the women in their lives) will become aware of testicular cancer and be proactive in the diagnosis and care process.

A full cast of experienced and recognizable talent include: Tyler Labine (Deadbeat, The Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Tucker and Dale Vs. Evil), Tygh Runyan (The upcoming Versailles, Stargate Universe), Suzy Nakamura (Dr. Ken, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Horrible Bosses 2), Dominic Rains (Best Actor award winner at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival for his role in Burn Country, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, The Loner) and many more.

Funeral Day is written by Kris Elgstrand, an award winning screenwriter, whose most recent film, Songs She Wrote About People She Knows, premiered at the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival.


Quick bio about Jon Weinberg:

Funeral Day is the debut feature film of director Jon Weinberg, a Minnesota native who grew up in St. Louis Park. Weinberg received a degree in theatre from the University of British Columbia, and later continued his training at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art (LAMDA) before moving to Los Angeles in 2006. He has appeared on film, TV, stage as well as audio. His directing work includes several stage productions, commercials, and an award winning short film. Weinberg is also the author of the award winning photography and poetry bookA Calm Position (In Due Time Press). He is currently producing an upcoming web series with Ethan and Dominic Rains.


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Q: So that was interesting how you ended up partnering with the Testicular Cancer Society. Tell me a little bit about that.

Post [crowd]funding campaign on Seed & Spark, during that time I tweeted out. Just to get some people’s attention, I tweeted it out to the Testicular Cancer Society. They seemed like they had a little bit of a sense of humor with, you know, dealing with the disease, at least what I gather from their tweets and their website. And actually it caught the founders’ attention. It was Mike Craycraft and he tweeted back and then he said, I want to talk to you.

It was just like that. It’s very now, you know, that really wouldn’t have happened five years ago with the whole social media thing. And so, we connected and he basically said that, from seeing the site and reading the synopsis and stuff that he had a similar experience in it. I remember thinking at first like ‘I hope not because the guy goes through a lot of crazy shit in this movie.’ Then he starts to tell me how a number of years ago he found a lump. And for whatever reason he just thought ‘I have cancer, I don’t want to deal with it. I don’t want to go to the doctor. And he threw himself a going away party. He didn’t tell anyone why and didn’t go to a doctor and sort of went on an adventure thinking ‘Ok I’m going to die anyway…’ But eventually he said ‘Wait, what am I doing? This is silly.’ And he waited unfortunately a while [to get tested], but fortunately not too long because he’s still alive now. But he did have cancer and they had to remove one of his testicles.

Now he’s fine, but from this experience, it motivated him to get other people more aware of it with this wonderful organization. It doesn’t just raise awareness but they’re also advocates for patients and stuff. Anyway, so we partner with him which has been great and I’m learning a lot. And our mission is to work together. He wants to be able to screen the film, maybe at some college campuses, to educate and just facilitate conversation. So yeah, this collaboration is obviously a win win. I get to be a part of something great, that has a great cause.

Q: How was your collaboration writer Kris Elgstrand? 

Yes, Kris is a writer based out of Vancouver who wrote the screenplay. We’ve worked together. He had originally written it for himself, but he put it on hold while he was working on the project. And then I got into it, and I had decided I wanted to make a feature. I was reading different scripts and I remembered that script because he had sent it to me. I basically said to him, ‘Hey can I do it?’ And he said ‘Yeah, let’s make that happen.’ So I took it from him and then I grabbed another couple of producers and then we started putting it together.

Q: So I’m curious, I know you wanted to make it. But what made you decide that you want to also star in it?

Yeah. So originally, I was looking for something to act and that I could also produce that I cared about. So that was, originally I wasn’t intending to necessarily direct. I had directed a short and a few other things. But this would be a first feature so I wasn’t intending to be just like ‘oh I’ll just direct myself.’ But as I started prepping for it, it sort of made sense that I was going to be the co-directing it with someone. So I just started directing it and certainly it was important to me to make sure I had one of the producers… you know, we have a full crew. It was a small film but we did have a 22-person crew. We did have a big truck and you know, we went by the rules, we had permits and all that. But on set it was very important to me to have someone at the monitor all the time, because I was in it. So you know one of the producers, Ron Buttler, help co-directed me up there on set. So I always had people I trusted around me, which you should always have. We had a really great team. And, we were able to, not with everyone, but we were able to do some rehearsals beforehand that made it a little bit more comfortable because we had a very quick shoot.

Scott (Jon Weinberg) & Clare (Sarah Adina)
Scott (Jon Weinberg) & Clare (Sarah Adina)

Q: Tell me a bit about the filming process? How many days it took you to shoot this?

13 days. It was a very quick shoot, you know. We shot the whole thing in like 13 days. We had some pick-ups but it was quick. We shot everything on location in L.A. We had a great cinematographer named Jeffrey Cunningham who just fantastic and everyone worked really hard. Kris [the writer] couldn’t make it out to the set but he was very hands on beforehand. We had a script supervisor and there were even times where we had to rewrite a little section or two, we could always call Kris, so we’re able to always be in contact. He’s great, he’s the kind of writer that writes for the actor. I mean it’s very dialogue-heavy kind of film, he writes a very talky kind of dialogue. A lot of people asked me if some of it was improv but no, he wrote a lot of it in the script.

Q: I have to ask you about casting. Tyler Labine, I saw his film at a film fest a couple of years ago. It’s called Best Man Down now, but at the time it was called Lumpy.

Yes, and he’s a great, great guy.

Tyler Labine as Chuck
Tyler Labine as Chuck

Q: And then Dominic Rains, too, who’ll also be here for the premiere for three of his films. I know he’s originally from Iran, but he plays an American in this movie, correct? 

Yes, he’s from Iran. He moved to England but he actually then grew up in Texas. So he speaks with an American accent in this movie and he’s fantastic with accents.

In fact in [Dominic’s film] Burn Country, he has an Afghan accent and in The Loner he also has an accent. I’m just going to talk about how much I love him. He’s a wonderful guy and an amazing actor. So in my film, he’s playing you know, like you said before, sort of a jerk and he’s funny, he’s really funny. It’s such a different role from the two other films he’s screening here in TCFF. As you already know, he plays an Afghan fixer in Burn Country and in The Loner he plays an Iranian gangster.

Q: So about your casting process. Did you have to audition the actors then, or did you just talk directly with them?

I was very fortunate. I’ve been in L.A. for a while so I had worked with various people and had made friends with various people. It was important to us to get the right cast. So of course we wanted people with some names, but we cared about putting the right actors in the right roles. We did have auditions but we were also able to deal directly with actors. Meaning it was either my friends or producers’ friends or friends of friends, and so we were able to get the script directly to actors, sort of bypassing the agent or the manager.

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Jon Weinberg & Dominic Rains

So we did hold auditions and you know, we’re very fortunate that they would even want to come out. So I’ve known Dom [Dominic Rains] for a while, we were in a play together ten years ago and Tyler and I knew each other from Vancouver. But of course they still need to want to do the productions. So some did come in to do the audition, and some we just knew they were right [for the role]. But we were very fortunate to sort of have these actors read it and say ‘oh yes I’m interested in doing it.’ And yes once that happened, we dealt with their managers, agents and all that, but we were also able to sort of just go directly to them. But yeah, for a number of the parts, we also did hold auditions. We’ve been very lucky with our cast.

Q: There’s always that chicken and egg question. You either have to cast everything all ready to attract the investors, or do you have to have the funding first in order to attract the cast. How was it for you in making this film?

I knew I had the energy and I’d be able to do enough to make a small movie. This is my first film, you know, I’ve never formed an LLC before and all that. So we did that. So I had friends that we’d been talking about making movies you know, and then finally, ‘OK here’s something to make.’ So we came together and we formed a company. Then you know, you literally just reach out to those you know first. Literally parents, friends, uncles, aunts, and then friends, and even friends of friends. So for the most part, most of the production budget came from the people we knew. You know, people who want to support you. I mean hopefully we can make them their money back of course, because you want them to trust you for later.

So it’s a certainly a process and you know, we’ve created an investor packet and we reached out to people, people we think might be interested. And some who do, it might not be the right time for them, so there’s a lot of ‘nos’ and you have to wear a business man hat. That was all new to me but you do it, because when you want to make something you’ve got to do it. So we thought, as long as we can get sort of enough to make the movie, if we need more money, it was my idea that we could raise a little bit more money through crowdfunding later after we have already made the film.

So once we felt we had enough that we feel we’re not going backwards, we started setting dates and trying to hire our crew, which was another process. It’s a small movie but still, y’know, it was still a SAG contract and all that kind of stuff.

Q: Were there any particular snafus during production that you wouldn’t mind sharing about? 

Oh yeah. We had many snafus and I’m told that’s normal. Though of course when it happened to you it felt sometimes like, ‘oh that’s it. I quit’ you know, those moments. One of the things that was frustrating was we lost two actors on day two. It was supposed to be like two days before we start shooting and they were actors we were very excited about. And coincidentally they play partners, like husband or wife or whatever. I can’t remember exactly, but one of them got a big part in a big NBC show or something like that, so what can you do. And they were actually needed for just two days out of the 13-day shoot. So you know, we talked to their agents and because our shooting was so tight, we couldn’t rearrange and they happened to have to shoot their projects at the same time. So all of a sudden it was literally like, a little bit of panic. So this was like day two and we had a 12-hour day literally after 12 hours we’re all stressed out. So we get together, the producers and everyone, we sent out e-mails, we talked to everyone on our crew if they know anyone that fits this [role] description and literally, the day after, after a 12-hour day we held auditions in my apartment. It was crazy. It was like, work all day and at night we held audition.

Ron (Jedd Rees) & Katrin (Kristin Carey)
Ron (Jedd Rees) & Katrin (Kristin Carey)

Well, we were so lucky. We’ve got Kristin Carey [who was in the Scandal series recently] who’s just fabulous and funny. And also Jed Reese, who we recently seen in Deadpool [as the recruiter]. He’s just this great actor and he’s also in Galaxy Quest if you remember that great film, he was one of the aliens. He’s so funny in this. So they came on with very little notice but really, they’re both phenomenal, I can’t say enough about them. So that was one of the big snafu that ended up working out much better for us.

Another thing was the location. We lost a location that was very important to us. We got a location so that was hell, and we were supposed to be there for three days. It was so bad because of various reasons. It was a condo and there were issues that even though we paid for and all those things, the owner even after a contract didn’t want us there and all the stuff, and she was watching every moment of it. So we were like, ok, so we had to rewrote some of the scenes so we didn’t have to shoot it at that location. So things like that happen.

Q: How about the location, you shot this film entirely in L.A.?

The story was actually written for Vancouver. But we ended up shooting it in L.A. I think it’s interesting because L.A. is, as they say, sort of a character in the film. The main character Scott, he doesn’t have a car and he runs from place to place, which is crazy in L.A. And so we thought it was really fun. And also you get to see little parts of L.A. and in Vancouver it has a similar feel in some ways. I mean there’s more transportation and stuff like that there, but it was sort of written in that same way. The character, even though it wasn’t said in the movie, but maybe he doesn’t really trust cars and stuff. I think it added more to the story that he’s running in L.A. Yeah, I think the way it was originally written in ways that you could move from city to city without sacrificing the story.

Q: I thought Dominic’s character you know, being a realtor with his fancy car, his Maserati, it made sense in L.A.

It’s funny. I think some of those little bits were actually changed once we Kris knew we were shooting it in L.A.

Q: What’s the most memorable moment for you as an actor AND director filming this? 

Yeah it was fun. I mean what we’re doing was certainly difficult, but like I said we had a good team. I had someone who was always at the monitor during the shoot. Because we were doing it so quickly you know, you could only watch playback so often right you can only we watched the tapes. Sometimes we just didn’t have time, so it was a huge help to have Ron Butler there. Honestly, as an actor, it was a fantastic experience working with the cast. I got to work with Tyler and I got to work with Jed and Dominic. Oh I didn’t mention Suzy Nakamura who’s on Dr. Ken on TV right now. She’s wonderful. I mean I just got to work with all these people you know, with Tygh Runyan [who’s starring on the Versailles series] and of course Kristin. So as an actor, that was the highlight to work with them. As a director, having some control over the actual product is pretty great. From the beginning of the shoot and being in the editing room.

Suzy Nakamura as Wendy
Suzy Nakamura as Wendy

Also working with the composer. We’ve got a great composer, Ariel Blumenthal, based out of L.A. Music is very important to me, so to actually having a composer for the whole film is amazing. As for ambient sound, or the practical music, so if there was like a song at a diner or something, I had musician friends who were wonderful and generous. They gave me their songs to use in the movie. So I think as a director and just being able to be a part of the whole thing is really something.

Q: So what’s next for you? Do you want to keep doing features?

Well I think it’s egregious to say I want to do it all. But definitely make more features. Acting certainly, but I want to be directing more, maybe with myself a little less in it, so I’m looking for the next feature to work on. And in the meantime I’m working actually with Dominic and his brother Ethan Rains. They’re awesome. So Ethan has has created a Web Series and so Dom, he and I are producing it. We have some writers for that, so we’re working on that but then hopefully, you know, we’ve been talking about creating another movie together also.

Q: So if people ask me, where can they see your movie?

So we just started our festival run. We premiered in a festival in Austin and you know, it was cool we were nominated for something and I won Best Director. And then TCFF is our second film festival. Then in November we’re going to Reading Film Festival in Pennsylvania, the EyeCatcher film festival in Oklahoma and then Key West Film Festival which I’m very excited about, I hear is just wonderful. Hopefully we will find a distributor, I mean you want to find the best situation that you can to get it out into the world. Less and less films are hitting theaters but still it’d be great if it could somewhere. But you know, you have so much you know from Hulu, Netflix to Amazon and all that.

On set at Elysian Park, L.A. — with Jeff Cunningham, Ronnie Butler Jr. and Michael Coulombe.
On set at Elysian Park, L.A. — with Jeff Cunningham, Ronnie Butler Jr. and Michael Coulombe.

Q: Nowadays a theatrical release doesn’t seem that important anymore because I think more people are watching stuff at home, right?

Yes I think it’s not as important in sharing your film. Of course I’m still an old school in that I believe in the shared experience of watching a movie at the theater. So I love going to the movies. I love the big screen. I love when you know, my movie is a comedy right, so I love watching people laugh watching it. But of course there’s is something so wonderful about the time now when you can make something and still put it out of the Internet or wherever that can be seen across the world.

Q: Last but not least. Who are your inspirations in terms of filmmakers?

I’m a big fan of Paul Thomas Anderson. He’s he’s wonderful and I think during or before I was making this film, I watched Punch-Drunk Love a lot. Not to compare myself to that but you know, I love that the film is based in reality but slightly heightened and strange. I thought Adam Sandler was great in it. And of course I love the Coen Brothers and you know, the fact that they’re also from St. Louis Park 😉

So yeah, certainly I’m inspired by those kinds of films. But I also like great dramas, like Moonlight which is fantastic. Barry Jenkins, I met him briefly during his film premiere at Telluride and I heard him talking about it. It’s a beautiful film, it’s heavy but in a beautiful way. Another film I saw this year which had just enough comedy to keep it light even though it is heavy is Manchester by the Sea.


Towards the end of our interview, we also talked about how great Captain Fantastic was, and Viggo Mortensen’s performance. I teased Jon that hopefully he could cast him in his next film. ‘One day, one day,’ he replied. We also talked about how great Brooklyn was with Saoirse Ronan. We ended up chatting much longer than planned at Caribou across the street from Showplace ICON Theatre and really we could go on for hours talking about movies!


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Jon & yours truly 🙂

THANK YOU SO MUCH Jon for taking the time to chat with me!


Hope you enjoyed the interview! Hope you’ll check out Funeral Day when it arrives in theaters near you and/or VOD.

It’s a wrap! ‘Moonlight’ and MN-made ‘Blood Stripe’ won TCFF 2016 top awards

It’s a wrap!!

tcfflogoThe 2016 TCFF has concluded Saturday night with a festive closing night party.

I saw four films Saturday night. Starting with two great documentaries Actors Of Sound and Free Cece, followed by two powerful emotional dramas, Lion and Moonlight.

I had been crying so much watching Lion, a wonderful depiction of an incredible true story, and Moonlight was an even more emotional experience. It was a well-written, well-acted and simply powerful film about Black sexuality, featuring the kind of deep emotional intimacy I haven’t seen in many films, regardless of race and gender.

I also enjoyed the short film that preceded Actors of Sound called Boom Up!, it was hilarious! I won’t have the reviews of the films I saw in last two days of TCFF until later in November, but let’s just say I recommend all the four films I saw on closing night!

Concluding a star-studded showcase that featured more than 100 films spanned over 11 days, this is perhaps the largest-ever Twin Cities Film Fest ever with over 130 films, including shorts and documentaries! Top awards went to the critically-acclaimed coming of age drama Moonlight, which had been hailed by critics as the best film of the year and will hopefully gain more traction until the Oscars next year. Just like Room and Brooklyn last year, TCFF continues tradition in screening critical darlings that went on to win accolades at the Oscars.

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Here are the winners from Twin Cities Film Fest 2016:

Best Short Film: Lend a Hand For Love, directed by John and Amy Thompson

Audience Award – Short: Waabooz, directed by Molly Katagiri

Best Documentary: I Do? directed by Joe Brandmeier

Audience Award – Documentary: Iron Will, directed by Sergio Valenzuela

Indie Vision — Breakthrough Non-Fiction Film: They Call Us Monsters, directed by Ben Lear

Indie Vision — Breakthrough Feature Film: No Light and No Land Anywhere, directed by Amber Sealey

Indie Vision — Breakthrough Performance: Kate Nowlin (Blood Stripe)

Best Feature Film: Moonlight, directed by Barry Jenkins

Audience Award – Feature Film: Blood Stripe

I’m so thrilled for Remy Auberjonois and Kate Nowlin who won the Audience Award in the Feature Film category. As you know from my review of Blood Stripe, I was so impressed with this film. It’s so well-written, well-directed AND phenomenally-acted by Kate Nowlin, who deservedly also won Best Breakthrough Performance this weekend. I certainly think Kate’s performance is Oscar worthy!

Kate & Remy receiving the award from TCFF exec director Jatin Setia
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Kate with TCFF artistic director Steve Snyder

Another well-deserved award, that is the TCFF North Star Award goes to the massively talented indie actor Dominic Rains. You may not know who he is yet folks, but mark my words, you will! He’s already won Best Actor in a U.S. Narrative Feature Film at Tribeca Film Festival earlier this year for his performance in Burn Country (originally named The Fixer), which also screened at TCFF, along with two others, Funeral Day and The Loner.

Dominic Rains with Steve + Jatin

I have seen two of the three films he’s in and was really impressed by his strong screen presence and versatility as his role in the thriller/drama Burn Country (as a former Afghan journalist) and the comedy Funeral Day (as a rather obnoxious American realtor) couldn’t be more different from each other, but yet he pulls off both roles effortlessly. Stay tuned for my in-depth interview with Dominic on his career, as well as with Funeral Day‘s director Jon Weinberg!

As I’ve mentioned in this post, I’m glad to see quite a few female filmmakers as well as female-driven films represented at TCFF! One of the finalists for Breakthrough Feature Film that I was really impressed with was Claire In Motion, which was directed by a pair of female filmmakers, featuring a terrific performance by Betsy Brandt.

It was already close to 11pm by the time I came out of the Moonlight screening, TCFF’s final film, but I couldn’t miss the award ceremony at TCFF lounge. I was only there for an hour or so and I had a blast hanging out with my friends, Kirsten Gregerson and Emmylou Barden.

me with Emmylou & Kirsten
me with Emmylou & Kirsten

I don’t know how long the party went on but clearly everyone had a great time! I’m glad I got a chance to congratulate Kate Nowlin for her award, my interview with her and her husband/collaborator Remy Auberjonois are certainly one of the highlights of covering TCFF, not just this year but of all seven years I’ve been with the film fest! Just before I left for the night, I even got a chance to chat with Remy about the enigmatic ending of Blood Stripe. Once you see it, I think you’ll know what I mean!

Thanks to my darling hubby for taking pictures of the closing party festivities! Check out his Instagram for his awesome travel photography (and I’m not just saying that ’cause I’m his wife) 🙂


Congrat Jatin, Bill, Dani, Steve and Naomi for another great year!
It was so gratifying to be a part of TCFF once again… watching, discussing & celebrating indie films and the art of filmmaking.


Musings on the TCFF 2016 Award finalists … championing indie films & women in film

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I haven’t had even an hour to blog all day today as I was watching films, interviewing talents and socializing at the mixer at the beautiful festival lounge at the Shoppes at West End. My head is still spinning as I’m writing this… my body is exhausted but my spirits are high from the exhilaration of meeting so many great people. My day started with an a delightful interview with actor Dominic Rains, and got to meet Jon Weinberg (the director and star of Funeral Day) whom I had interviewed the night before. Then in the afternoon I got to meet the director of The Babymoon Bailey Kobe, as well as Kate Sloate who’s in the film’s producing team. I will post more pictures in my wrap post!

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I stopped by TCFF lounge for a couple of hours, which was even busier as the night went on. For sure the closing night party tomorrow will be a blast, and I sure wouldn’t want to miss the Award Ceremony!

Speaking of award, Twin Cities Film Fest has announced the TCFF award finalists a few days ago here. I’m so thrilled for so many of these indie filmmakers, whether it’s shorts, features or documentaries, that their hard work are being recognized. For many of them, their indie films are their sweat, blood and tears… as most of these films are made with shoestring budgets. This is why I LOVE covering TCFF, as I get to see more indie films than I otherwise would in a given month! As I meet filmmakers and talents, it’s apparent to see that the limited budget/resources just made them more innovative and creative! This is why I will always support indie films and indie filmmakers!!

2016 TCFF FINALISTS

Best Feature Film:

  • “Blood Stripe,” directed by Remy Auberjonois
  • “Burn Country,” directed by Ian Olds
  • “First Girl I Loved,” directed by Kerem Sanga
  • “Lion,” directed by Garth Davis
  • “Moonlight,” directed by Barry Jenkins.

Best Documentary:

  • “Denial,” directed by Derek Hallquist
  • “The Eagle Huntress,” directed by Otto Bell
  • “Free CeCe!” directed by Jacqueline Gares
  • “I Do?” directed by Joe Brandmeier
  • “IRON WILL: Veteran’s Battle with PTSD,” directed by Sergio Valenzuela.

Best Short Film:

  • “Duffy’s Jacket,” directed by Brian Hoesing
  • “I Want You Inside Me,” directed by Alice Shindelar
  • “Lend a Hand For Love,” directed by John and Amy Thompson
  • “The Story,” directed by Cameron Digwall and Carolyn Pender
  • “Twinsburg,” directed by Joe Garrity.

Indie Vision — Breakthrough Feature Film:

  • “Claire in Motion,” directed by Annie J. Howell and Lisa Robinson
  • “The Eyes of My Mother,” directed by Nicolas Pesce
  • “Girl Flu,” directed by Dorie Barton
  • “June Falling Down,” directed by Rebecca Weaver
  • “No Light and No Land Anywhere,” directed by Amber Sealey

Indie Vision — Breakthrough Non-Fiction Film:

  • “In Pursuit of Silence,” directed by Patrick Shen
  • “IRON WILL: Veteran’s Battle with PTSD,” directed by Sergio Valenzuela
  • “Prison Dogs,” directed by Geeta Gandbhir and Perri Peltz
  • “Tarkovsky: Time Within Time,” directed by PJ Letofsky
  • “They Call Us Monters,” directed by Ben Lear

Indie Vision — Breakthrough Performance:

  • “Blood Stripe,” Breakthrough: Actress Kate Nowlin
  • “Donald Cried,” Breakthrough: Actor Kris Avedisian
  • “First Girl I Loved,” Breakthrough: Director Kerem Sanga
  • “Hunky Dory,” Breakthrough: Actor Tomas Pais
  • “The Other Kids,” Breakthrough: Director Chris Brown
  • “Lend a Hand For Love,” Breakthrough: Directors John and Amy Thompson
  • “Moonlight,” Breakthrough: Writer Barry Jenkins.

Lifetime Achievement Award: Lea Thompson

I’m so glad I got to chat with Lea when she was in town last month for TCFF gala. I also got to interview Jim Hemphill whose wonderfully-crafted drama The Trouble With The Truth was screened at one of TCFF’s Insider Series!

In addition to the staff and audience awards, the 2016 event is also bestowing two North Star Awards to visiting actors Tim Guinee (in town to celebrate the 10th anniversary of “Sweet Land”) and Dominic Rains (starring in three TCFF films now touring the festival circuit — the James Franco-Melissa Leo mystery “Burn Country” screening Saturday night, the neo-noir thriller “The Loner” screening Friday, and the dark comedy “Funeral Day” showing Saturday morning).


Now, I haven’t seen all of the films nominated, as there are only so many hours in a day and I still had to work at my full time job the first week of TCFF. But of the ones I have seen, I definitely agree with most of the choices! I’m especially thrilled to see SO may female filmmakers and talents being represented AND recognized. I think people who read my blog and connected w/ me on Twitter know that I’m not only a big champion of indie films, but also women in film! It’s clear that indie films are the place for women and diverse talents thrive… so I’m glad I got to see many of them thanks to TCFF!

Whether in front of or behind the camera, it always perks me up to see women storytellers, creating and/or portraying multi-dimensional, fully fleshed-out female characters and bringing their stories to life. One of my all time favorite performances is Kate Nowlin in Blood Stripeand having chatted with her in person, she is an inspiration both on and off screen!

Both Prison Dogs and The Eagle Huntress have become two of my all time favorite documentaries! I can’t review the latter until mid November where it’s released here in Minnesota, but I can’t recommend it enough. I guarantee you’d fall in love with 13-year-old Aisholpan who defied the odds to become a champion eagle huntress!

mnwiftIt’s always a blast hanging out with friends and new people you meet at TCFF lounge. But tonight is especially awesome as I got to hang out with two ladies from Minnesota Women in Film and Television (MN WIFT), Joanne Liebeler and Deborah Fiscus. I love their positive energy and warm personality, it’s always encouraging and inspiring to be around such wonderful people!

I feel so blessed to have met to these smart, accomplished, yet warm & lovely ladies, so thank you to my pal Kirsten Gregerson for introducing us! I’m definitely going to join the organization and learn from local women who work in film, television, and new media in Minnesota.

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with MN WIFT’s Joanne, Deborah and my pal Kirsten Gregerson

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Well, tomorrow is the last day of TCFF already! It’s a jam-packed closing day with three gala screenings: LION, Moonlight AND Burn Country, with its star Dominic Rains attending!

I’ll be seeing FOUR movies tomorrow, starting with the documentary on foley artists, Actors Of Sound at 10:15AM, which ends with the closing film Moonlight at 8:30PM! I’m writing this past midnight and in dire need of sleep, but I’m excited for what’s in store for me tomorrow!

 


TCFF 2016 Short Film Reviews: ‘The Clubhouse’ + ‘Hookin’ Up’ + ‘The Mermaid Story’ + ‘Twinsburg’

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Can’t believe we only have two more days of TCFF! It’s been quite a whirlwind couple of weeks for me, and I’ve been running pretty much on adrenaline! It’s been so awesome meeting new people, from filmmakers, talents, producers, etc., it’s been so exhilarating and inspiring! I’ll be sure to include pictures in my closing night post!

Today we’ve got some reviews of short films that played during TCFF. I think it’s great there are plenty of short films being screened at the film fest, which feature innovative stories that talented filmmakers capture within a short amount of time. Thanks again Sarah for all your great reviews!

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Club House

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“The Clubhouse,” a seven minute short film directed by and co-written by Dan Delano, tackles one of the vexing issues of a boy’s youth – what to do when a girl moves into the neighborhood and wants to join your game of Dungeons and Dragons? “Girls don’t have any battle strategies,” one boy says dismissively.

I’m always impressed when filmmakers can present a fully fleshed out story in such a short amount of time and this effort is no exception. What ensues is a fantastical “Game of Thrones” inspired thriller that allows the warrior princess to prove her mettle. As many might remember from their youth, she receives acceptance in the most unassuming of ways – an invitation to get ice cream. How does this all come together in seven minutes? Take a “short” break and find out for yourself.

Hookin’ Up

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In “Hookin’ Up,” Jessica (Katie Cunningham) and Peter (Timmy L’Heureux) attempt to have a “perfectly normal Tinder date.” I’m not sure if either have any personal experience with the popular dating app but they do a fine job tackling the awkward conversation that follows. “Oh you like to travel? How orig…too bad your haircut isn’t allowed out of the country,” Katie muses.

“In my last relationship we bought a printer together and when we broke up it was just awkward,” says Peter. The nine minute short film directed by Michael Busch is an unassuming ode to the sometimes bizarre world of relationships…and Scattergories.

The Mermaid Story

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“The Mermaid Story,” the 14 minute short film from Director James Snapko, would have fit in well at the Twin Cities Film Fest in previous years as one of the educational subjects the festival has tackled is the issue of bullying. Although short, this movie’s narrative proves what can happen when people are pushed too far and constantly told that they are stupid or not good enough.

The story centers on two brothers, Curt (Max Giles) and Ace (Chase Hammond), who own a bar in Northern Minnesota. (As the movie was shot on location in Outing, some might recognize local landmarks.) When Curt comes in after a day on the lake and tells of seeing a mermaid in the water, his bar tale is met with skepticism. “What an idiot,” they say.

Giles does a good job of conveying the hurt and anger someone can feel when they are dismissed indifferently. When his brother says angrily, “Okay, show me your water whore” a day on the lake turns into something much more sinister. This film is a good reminder that words do matter.


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Twinsburg

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I grew up with fraternal twin brothers, so I’m immediately intrigued by the premise of identical twin brothers reunited for the largest twins gathering at Twinsburg Ohio. It’s a semi-autobiographical tale from director Joe Garrity, who stars in the film with his real-life twin Phil Garrity. They both have a certain deadpan delivery that’s really a hoot to watch.

Joe plays Jerry, who’s still sentimental about his twin identity and thus more excited about attending the festival than his reluctant brother Paul. It’s amusing to see them riding a tandem bike in their matching costume-y suits, and participate in multiple festival competitions from talent show, most-alike contest to singleton hunt in the woods.

Filmed at the 2014 Twins Days Festival, it’s a quirky, funny yet bittersweet tale of coming to terms with how their childhood tradition no longer fits their changing adult lives. There’s a hint of romance with fellow twins who seem more comfortable doing things apart. Joe Garrity is certainly a talented filmmaker with comic talents, I’m curious to see what else he’d come up with in the future. 

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What’s in store for closing day!

Stay tuned for more TCFF reviews with Harold Mintz (of 1-800-Give-Us-Your-Kidney short), actor Dominic Rains (who’ll receive the TCFF North Star Award tomorrow night), and director Jon Weinberg (Funeral Day).

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Jon & Dominic in ‘Funeral Day’

FUNERAL DAY’s second screening:
Saturday, October 29 – 10:30am 

GetTicketsTCFF


TCFF 2016 Reviews: ‘Oxenfree’ + ‘The Eyes Of My Mother’

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‘Oxenfree’ Review

oxenfree 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.

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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.

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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.


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‘The Eyes Of My Mother’ Review

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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!


TCFF Indie Film Spotlight: ‘The Architect’ + Interview with writer/director Jonathan Parker

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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.

thearchitect

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!

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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.

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Check out my Q&A below with filmmaker Jonathan Parker whose work include Bartleby, The Californians, and (Untitled).

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Behind the scene – Production designer Trae King, producer Deborah Parker and director Jonathan Parker
Behind the scene – Production designer Trae King, producer Deborah Parker and director Jonathan Parker

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.

Drew, Colin and Miles at construction site
Drew, Colin and Miles at construction site

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.

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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.

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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!


TCFF 2016 Documentary Reviews: ‘In Search Of America’ + ‘Beyond The Thrill’ + ‘The Unrelenting Charlie Davies’

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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.

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‘In Search Of America’ Review

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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.

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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?

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‘Beyond The Thrill’ Review

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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.

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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.

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‘The Unrelenting Charlie Davies’ Review
(documentary short)

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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.

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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.

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What’s in store for Day 8 & 9!

Stay tuned for more TCFF reviews and interviews!