TCFF Reviews – ‘Legends of the Road’ doc + various short films in Comedy, Thriller, Global Perspective & Documentary short blocks

We have passed the halfway mark! What a hectic, whirlwind week it has been. I spoke to TCFF Managing Director Bill Cooper the other day and he said something about all the staff having ‘festival brain’ and that’s definitely how I feel. I’ve watched so many films it’s kind of a blur!

Thankfully I have awesome guest bloggers to help me out… such as Sarah Johnson who’s helped me with reviews of the short films, as well as the Legends of the Road documentary. Being a huge baseball fan, that’s the one Sarah couldn’t wait to see!

So here are her reviews:

Full disclosure: I am a big baseball fan and love the game’s history so am not the most unbiased person to review “Legends of the Road” and therefore I will not be giving it a rating. However, as soon as I saw this movie on the schedule I knew I wanted to see it. As a reviewer often has to see and objectively review movies that may not be appealing to them personally, I felt the opposite could also be true.

The film itself is well done, directed and edited by award-winning documentarian Gary Thomsen, who also happens to be a former Seattle teacher. It tells the extraordinary story of Thomsen’s students from Chief Sealth High School in Washington and their classroom project: to uncover the history of barnstorming, a baseball phenomenon from the early 20th century where all black teams traveled throughout the country playing in money tournaments against local white town teams for a cut of the gate. The project then culminated in a summer long re-creation of this era with a 5,100 mile, 71 day trip done on bicycle while playing 33 games along the way.

These ballplayers (some may have heard of the most famous ones including Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson because they also played in the more well known Negro Leagues) helped dispel the notion of white supremacy, not just on the field, but in society, leading Martin Luther King to say that “they laid down the first plank in the civil rights movement.” This is where the film really shines – the story is about much more than baseball. Former Negro Leaguer Buck O’Neil, who came to national prominence with his vivid descriptions of black baseball in Ken Burns’s PBS documentary “Baseball,” is also one of the stars of this film. “This is about the history of our country,” O’Neil says at one point.

One of the other large aspects to the film is another thing that is not new: adults underestimating what kids can accomplish and bureaucrats not in classrooms dictating how students should be taught. “This is not part of the curriculum, nor is it part of anything I’ve seen in vocational education. I don’t understand why you want to do this,” June Rimmer, the chief academic officer for Seattle Public Schools, said. I’d like to check back with the students involved in this project in 20 years and hear their memories on their breadth of work that was “not part of the curriculum.”

For this project, students conducted all of the research, honed public speaking skills to make presentations to companies in the hopes of securing sponsors for the trip, managed logistics of food, lodging and game preparation…as well as shot footage to be used in the documentary. There were two distinct groups of students involved with the trip – those on the logistics and production side and the baseball players who rode bicycles from town to town (often covering more than 100 miles per day) and then played in games throughout the trip. “It was incredibly challenging logistically,” Thomsen says at one point. Gee, you think? At one point I began to wonder if young people could have been the only ones to pull this off – the movie doesn’t mention anything about how (if at all) the bike riders went about training for this adventure. Perhaps that’s something you don’t need to worry about when you’re in high school – oh, to be young again.

The film is very comprehensive in covering all aspects of the project, from the origination of the idea to the celebration at the Negro Leagues Museum in Kansas City at the end of the trip. Just because I’m a fan of baseball history, the one thing that left me wanting more was the end product of all of the research – where did all of that information end up? I’m assuming it was sent to the Baseball Hall of Fame but even a mention of this at the end of the film would have helped. Baseball fans will certainly appreciate “Legends of the Road” but other audiences should also enjoy this addition to our nation’s ongoing conversation on race and education.

Bob Kendrick, the president of the Negro Leagues Museum in Kansas City, being interviewed by TCFF host Amanda Day

SHORT FILMS reviews

Humbug

“Humbug,” the short film highlighting those with no holiday spirit, will appeal to those who greet that time of the year with dread. As I am one of those people, I appreciated the premise of this seven minute piece. When Scarlet (Jessee Foudray) crushes a gingerbread cookie offered by her peppy neighbor Betty (Milly Sanders, also the writer), Betty decides to embark on a series of steps worthy of a horror film to change her mind. “We’ll have to do this the hard way,” Betty calmly tells Scarlet.

The scenario is well played by both actresses and the mix of over-the-top Christmas imagery and ghastly bodily functions will satisfy those who have had enough December cheer to last a lifetime. The ending was a little too convenient for me but overall this short film is an entertaining one.

Girl Meets Roach

I have reviewed full length and short films for the Twin Cities Film Fest for several years and sometimes I come across a piece of work that I’m not sure if it was meant to be reviewed. Such is the case with “Girl Meets Roach,” the 17 minute short film by brother and sister team Alison Zatta (Writer and Lead Actress) and Christopher Zatta (Director). In his bio, Christopher writes that he formed King Fish Productions as a platform to write and direct independent material.

I can only hope that they are using “Girl Meets Roach” as practice to hone their skills. The premise and execution of this story are entirely cliché – girl gets dumped by her boyfriend, we cut to obligatory scenes of her listening to old messages while moping around her house, the best friend comes over, the jilted girlfriend plans revenge…it just goes on. I appreciate the role of film festivals to support new work by independent artists and hope “Girl Meets Roach” was merely a practice turn to get experience in this field.

Afterword

Describing “Afterword,” Director and Co-Writer Boris Seewald explains it as “A film about loneliness, self-discovery and one person’s pursuit of glory. It examines not only the wider journey of appreciation, but also the need to be heard by those who love and loved you, and the need to be heard by yourself.” Lofty goals for a ten minute short film.

What follows is a woman (Marama Corlett) bringing you into her world of philosophical ramblings on…well, pretty much anything. (One line in this film is “if you are a bird, watch where you poop.” I am not making this up.) The only highlight is the performance by Corlett – with her pageboy haircut, red beret and piercing stare she admirably draws you into her stream of consciousness. The rest of it still has me baffled.

Tagati

“Tagati” Director Bill Haley is upfront about his short film being a sort of trailer for a feature film based on the concept presented at the Twin Cities Film Fest. “The Sopranos” in a roadside diner is how I thought of the opening scene, as Aja (LaTonya Grant) meets with a hitman named only as Badass (Mark Simms) to do away with her husband.

It’s a peek into a stylish film noir thriller complete with pulsating music and expert direction. Trailers are supposed to get audiences interested and excited to see the full length movie – this piece certainly succeeded.

Marieke

“It’s not just a piece of cheese.” While there have been negative consequences about the advent of the internet and social media, one of the fun things has been the ability for people skilled in a particular niche to connect with others who share their passion. Such is the case in “Marieke,” the seven minute short film by Director/Editor Thomas Johnson, who profiles acclaimed Dutch gouda cheesemaker Marieke Penterman from Thorp, Wisconsin.

I am not a cheese connoisseur but I can relate to one’s appreciation for the finer aspects of a certain hobby or profession. (I am a big baseball fan and could spend all day talking about it.) Penterman cheerfully takes you into her cheese adventures, explaining how her cows have personality and the process that goes into hand painting a skin around the yellowish rounds to preserve it but still let it breathe. “Marieke” was a refreshing look into her world.

Science Olympiad

High school was a long time ago for me so watching films like “Science Olympiad” give me hope for the next generation. It not only features teenage students, it was also made by a teenage student, 17 year old Elise Tsai from the Twin Cities. She focuses on an extra curricular activity in which teams of 15 students compete in 23 events involving science, technology and engineering. The film focuses on Mounds View High School (a suburb of Minneapolis) and their incredibly successful team – winner of 11 state championships and five consecutive top ten finishes in the nation.

“You have to spend a lot of time looking up parts, trying them out and if it doesn’t work you have to try it again,” one student says. Seems like the work you need to put into anything in life to succeed. (Indeed, at the end of the film it notes that one of the participants is going to be studying Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at Johns Hopkins University.) Although their creations are fascinating, the kids are really the stars of the show and their positive energy and enthusiasm is infectious. As one student says, “at its core, it’s just fun.”

Double talk

What a delight this film was on a familiar but rarely highlighted craft! In “Double Talk,” director Jessica Bernstein-Wax features the work of Spanish actor Joan Pera, who has worked as an onscreen dubber for famous actors, most notably Woody Allen. Often denigrated as the ugly stepchild in the film industry, it’s clear Pera takes pride in his craft, especially in the scenes with his son who also works in the same line of work.

He and his son enjoy a friendly rivalry when the father is called in to dub some of his son’s work. “There’s always room for improvement,” the son says, critiquing the job his father did. “In my case it’s hard,” the father replies. I don’t speak Spanish (or Catalan, the regional dialect also featured) but, having seen many Woody Allen films, it’s amazing how Pera replicates Allen’s voice intonation and mannerisms. Bernstein-Wax’s first film has been well received, garnering the Jury Award for Best Short Documentary at the Sonoma International Film Festival earlier this year. I can see why.

The Courtesy of Angels

Created by a French filmmaker, Valerie Theodore, “The Courtesy of Angels” has taken a universal story around the world. It tells the story of Louise (Delphine Theodore), a young caretaking assistant, and her interactions with an amnesic old man, Mr. Vadim (Andre Oumansky). This short film is in French with English subtitles.

The theme of interconnectedness among generations is global and I found myself drawn to one of the movie’s main lines – “well being is the courtesy of angels.” Theodore ably highlights the fragility of life and good health, something that translates in any language.

Tourvall II: Into the darkness

I’ve said before in doing reviews on short films that sometimes I’m amazed how filmmakers are able to create a fully developed plot in under ten minutes. At only seven minutes, at first I felt that Writer/Director Sean Skinner’s “Tourvall II: Into the Darkness” was taking too long to get to the point. After watching the entire piece, I came to the conclusion that there isn’t a point. But to the film’s credit, that didn’t make it any less entertaining.

We see Sven Skarnestad (Mick Karch) visiting former pro wrestler Tourvall “The Terrible” Johannsen (Joe Berglove) on his deathbed and reliving some of his past glory. The film aptly spoofs the crazy world of professional wrestling and the interjection of Jorge Gundersen (Edward Linder), an eager convalescent home employee, was an unexpected and amusing touch. (As Sven is sitting bedside, Jorge hands him a brochure and says, “Please take a moment to fill out the survey. We would love to your Yelp review. We’re also on the Twitter: #notjustaplacetodie.”) Silliness for sure, but what’s wrong with that?


Hearts Want’s premiere

Hearts Want‘s main TCFF premiere is today, Thursday 10/26 at 5pm (with red carpet interview at 4:30). There are a few tickets left for tonight, but act fast before they’re gone. Click on the banner below to get tickets.


Coming up tomorrow…

Two Minnesota-connected films are playing back-to-back tomorrow night… Twin Cities is actually produced by the director of Hearts Want, Jason P. Schumacher!

Stay tuned for interviews with writer/director of Twin Cities David Ash and one of the main actors of Ruin Me, Alex Galick.


The daily TCFF coverage continues… 


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TCFF Indie Film Spotlight: Laura Gets A Cat + Interview with writer/director/star Michael Ferrell

Thanks to FC blog staff Laura Schaubschlager for conducting the interview with writer/director Michael Ferrell. I figure since her name is Laura and she has a cat, it’d be fun for her to watch the film and ask the interview questions 🙂

Laura Gets A Cat is a fun, relatable movie that makes some creative choices with the ‘young person trying to find direction and purpose’ storyline.

Laura is a talented yet unsuccessful writer in her early 30’s living in New York City. She has a boyfriend who provides little excitement. Her two best friends who seem to have achieved all their hopes and dreams, if only to spite her. Good thing she lives mostly inside her head, daydreaming about all the wonderful things happening in her imaginary life. After she starts an affair with Ian, the performance artist and local barista, real life proves too complicated. She packs up a suitcase and moves to a small beach town in North Carolina. Even as she gets involved with some guy who lives on a mattress in his buddy’s garage, she hopes that Ian will bolt from his life in New York and chase her down. Through this series of troubled relationships and disconnected friendships, Laura learns that peace of mind is not necessarily found by chasing it.

 

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Q: How much of this movie, if any, is inspired by real-life experiences?

The best way to explain it is: all of it. And none of it. It’s totally fiction. What’s most inspired by real life are the themes explored in the film. Laura and the people around her are in their 30’s mostly and dealing with the things that people in their 30’s are dealing with. There’s a thing I’ve heard often for writers; make it specific and truthful and it will be relatable. I strive for that. But still it’s all made-up make-believe.

Q: Why did you choose Wisconsin as Laura’s home state? How do you feel having a character who is a Midwestern transplant in NYC resonates with audiences?

Interesting that you picked up on that because it’s just mentioned in one line! Here’s the thought process when I’m making up something like that, my inner monologue as I remember it:

Hmmm, her childhood was probably somewhere specific. But not southern. Not California. Somewhere midwestern. But she threw off her accent a long time ago. She never quite fit in or felt at home. Somewhere she wanted to leave behind, but also somewhere that was encouraging, stimulating in some way. Maybe somewhere she took for granted. How about Wisconsin?

And there ya go, she was from Wisconsin. Also when I was younger I dated a couple girls from Wisconsin so maybe it was just that.

Dana Brooke as Laura

Q: The soundtrack for this film is excellent. What kind of work went into choosing which songs to include? What kind of music did you look for regarding creating a tone for the movie?

Thanks! The music we use in the film is entirely musicians that we know personally. We have my friend Melvyn Brown playing guitar and singing a song in the film. My friend Jeff Laughlin’s voice running throughout the film. David Mosey, who is friends with Chris Prine, our editor and co-producer. And Devin Sanchez, co-producer and actor, found the closing credits song from a friend in our neighborhood in Jersey City who heard the young woman playing on the subway platforms!

Even the background music in the various locations are all friends’ songs. So being able to collaborate with them and take their music around the country is a real honor for us.

Chris Prine is also the music supervisor. So the credit is his. He was also editor and music supervisor for our first film “Twenty Million People,” also featuring some great music. (Which you can watch online now: twentymillionpeople.com).

I think maybe the music fits the tone of the movie because it’s a lot of indie rock ballads. And if our film were a song, it would be an indie rock ballad. It’s probably just that simple.

And if it were a style of craft beer, I’d say it was a pale ale. Not too hoppy, but not super light either. I can think of these all day, this is fun.

Q: At the beginning of the film, Laura vents to her friend Heidi about how people seem to expect her to be more stable, exclaiming “I don’t even have a cat!” Why does having a cat represent stability or direction?

Well, it’s probably the first step for a lot of people, right? Being able to take care of a cat is like the bare minimum of adult responsibility. There’s also a line in the film that explicitly states that adulthood is NOT “steps on a ladder, like this, this, this, then this.” But if it were steps on a ladder, it might go:

Cat
Boyfriend/Girlfriend
Move in together
Dog
Marriage
Kids
House
Divorce
Just Kidding

Of course some people just don’t like pets. Or kids. Or houses. Or marriage. So there is no normal, and that’s definitely one of the themes of the film. But just because there is no normal doesn’t mean that when the time is right, one shouldn’t embrace these, or other, aspects of adulthood. Ah, the things people in their 30’s are thinking about.

Dana with writer/director/star Michael Ferrell

Q: In addition to writing and directing Laura Gets a Cat, you also co-star as Ian, the coffee shop manager with whom Laura has a relationship. Did you write the role specifically intending to portray it yourself, or did you consider casting someone else first?

It was the easiest role to cast! No, actually, it’s kind of hard to explain how I write for myself as an actor. But I’ll try anyway.

I always intended to play the role of “Ian” after I wrote the screenplay. But usually, if I’m writing something and think “This could be a part for me,” I’m not glued to that idea. I could keep writing and it evolves into, “Oh, actually this part would be better for my friend Josh,” or Ryan Gosling, or whomever.

Even after writing though, it doesn’t mean that the role is cast. Along with Devin and Chris, we have to make sure we’re objectively making the best decisions for the film. (Ryan Gosling is always the best decision).

But I grew up as an actor and have been acting in my own work for almost 20 years, so for me it seems natural. This will sound really pretentious but it’s how I express myself, artistically. I write and I act. A lot of my role models; Woody Allen, Ed Burns, Julie Delpy, Spike Lee, they write and they act in their movies. Not out of vanity or because they think no other actor could do it, but because that is how they tell stories, for whatever reason.


Laura Gets A Cat is playing at Twin Cities Film Fest on
Wednesday October 25th – 5:10 PM
If you haven’t got your tickets yet, get it
here


Thanks Michael for chatting with us!

TCFF 2017 Indie Film Spotlight: BUTTERFLY CAUGHT & interview w/ filmmakers/cast

One of the major perks of attending/covering film festivals is you get to see outstanding indie films long before you can see them on the big screen (that is if they even get distribution). That’s why I’m always on the lookout for films such as Butterfly Caught that I sure hope would get some kind of distribution after its film festival run.

Three aspiring actresses set out to break into the cut-throat world of acting in Los Angeles. Naomi is on the verge of stardom, Joe struggles to keep her head above water and Elsa is a fresh face on the scene. As each young woman is forced to face her deepest fears and insecurities, they all discover the lengths to which they will go to fight against failure. The promise of Hollywood is tempting, but what will they do when that promise is broken? How will they cope when pushed to their breaking points? Butterfly Caught offers a glimpse into the darker side of Hollywood’s bright facade, exposes the seduction of fame and captures the thirst for relevance in a city that cycles through talent and destroys ambitions.

My review:

This is a terrific debut from Manny Rodriguez Jr. based on his own script that draws inspiration from his and his wife’s Lisa (who’s one of the producers) own experience being in Hollywood.

The film started out with a monologue from an acting coach (great character actor Tony Plana) giving a sobering speech to his wide-eyed students, intercut with a an audition scene to a big studio film Blackbird. Naomi Baker (Alex Sgambati), Joe Jennings (Abigail Klien) and the new girl (Abigail Klien) are housemates, each trying to make their break through. The promise of success is tempting to be sure, but the taste of glitz and fame is even more seductive in Tinsel Town.

Alex Sgambati as Naomi

It’s a familiar story that’s made even more resonant and timely given the recent Weinstein scandal. But even without that in the media, I think the film would resonate to people who aren’t in the film biz because we’re all struggling to achieve something, and at times in that journey we are pushed to our breaking points. Even though I never dreamed of acting in Hollywood, I can relate to each of the characters.

Jess Jacobs as Joe

The three main actresses did a great job in the film, but so are the supporting actors Adam Ambruso, Jake Olson and Grant Liffmann. Casting is so crucial in any film, and they were all well cast. Kudos to the writer/director for making fully-realized characters, brought to life wonderfully by the strong ensemble cast. The struggle felt real and I was caught up in their journey.

Abigail Klien as Elsa

I also appreciate the fact that the film is tasteful in the way it depicts the dark side of pursuing fame, particularly in Hollywood, with all the seduction and temptations that come with that. It could’ve easily been exploitative in its depiction (in sexuality or violence) but I’m so glad it isn’t. I hope this film gets a decent distribution (maybe even theatrical release). It’s a captivating story that’s emotional as well as entertaining. This film certainly makes you pause and ponder, as well as inspire, those who’ve had artistic struggles in life (and really, who hasn’t?)

Q1. What’s the inspiration behind the story? Is it a personal experience or something that happens to someone close to you?

Q2. In light of the Weinstein scandal, your film becomes even more relevant and timely. Would you comment on this whole ordeal from your perspective as a filmmaker working in Hollywood?

Q3. Manny, you grew up under the studio system, but you’re now breaking free into the indie world. How has the studio background influence/help you in making this project?

Q4. You said in your press release that L.A. is full of talented people who never got their shot. So is your film sort of an homage to struggling/striving actors as well as a commentary about the frustration of the artistic process?

Q5. Tell me a bit about the significance of the title and the theme of metamorphosis as the film deals with personal growth of the characters.


One of the actors of the film, Jake Olson, who played Wil (Naomi’s teacher boyfriend) arrived from the airport just in the nick of time before our scheduled afternoon interview. I talked to him as well about how he got involved in the film and his own personal journey as an actor who moved from Minnesota to Los Angeles.


Check out the trailer below:


Thanks so much Lisa, Manny, Jake and Adam for chatting w/ me.
Stay tuned for my interview post w/ Adam Ambruso!

TCFF 2017 Day 4 – Two great film panels + Reviews of ‘Beauty Mark’ and MN-made drama ‘Cold November’

Saturday was a jam-packed day for me. I’m bummed that I missed the early Filmmaker Brunch as I wasn’t feeling well so I overslept (hey bloggers are humans too!), but my morning started with two great film panels, part of TCFF’s free Educational Programs!

The first panel was on Making, Distributing, Marketing & Watching: What’s the Impact of Digital? at 11:00am

Like many industries, the business of TV and Film distribution is certainly changing due to digital – whether you’re watching on your phone or tablet, dropping the cable package, making a web series or seeing a film online at the same time it’s in theaters…the landscape is shifting quickly.

I learned quite a few things from this very insightful panel… these are just small sampling:

  • Don’t create films in a vacuum
  • Make a beautiful film you believe in and passionate about, but also marketable
  • Marketing/PR is critical for film distribution even if your film is already on iTunes or some other platform, simply because most people don’t even know it’s there


The second panel is one I’ve been looking forward to as I’ve become a filmmaker myself this year…

Film Fatales in the Twin Cities

Members from the newest chapter of this global collective of female feature film directors discuss the power of collaboration in the fight for gender equality within the film industry. 

It’s so inspiring to learn from Lisa Blackstone, Melissa Butts, Norah Shapiro,Missy Whiteman, and moderator Melody Gilbert. Thank you for sharing your stories and experiences making films, and for inspiring aspiring filmmakers like me to keep on keeping on and not to give up on my dream of making my feature film one day!


Here’s my quick thoughts on the two films I saw on Day 4…

This is the kind of heart-wrenching films that’s hard to watch at times, but you’re glad you did. Inspired by true events, it’s a story of a poverty-stricken young mother forced to move out of her condemned house. Anchored by a harrowing, bravura performance by Auden Thornton, the film transports you into her painful reality of a life and forces you to wake up from your comfortable confines of your own.

The protagonist single mother Angie can’t seem to catch a break… taking care of her toddler son and alcoholic, overbearing mother with only sixty five dollars to her name. Slowly it’s revealed she has been abused as a child. As if that wasn’t tough enough, she realized he’s the only person with money she felt she could turn to.

Writer/director Harris Doran made you truly empathize with Angie despite some of her questionable decisions. It’s a truly gritty, upsetting and even haunting film that made you want to scream for the injustices the character suffers.

Spoiler alert (highlight to read) One thing I wish I didn’t see was the topless scene towards the end, given the topic against abuse and sexual objectification of women. Yes perhaps it’s a deliberate choice of the filmmaker, but I feel that there are SO many ways to show what the character does/show without actually showing it to the audience. It’d still be just as impactful IMHO because the character (and likely the actress playing her) has gone through so much in the film. That’s just my honest personal opinion anyways, others might feel differently about this.

In any case, it’s a well-made, phenomenally-acted piece that should be seen. I sure hope to see Aiden in more films as she’s definitely one of the best actresses I’ve seen in my years of covering TCFF.


It’s October, so Winter is definitely coming soon. No, I’m not looking forward to snow at all, especially during my commute. But watching this film makes me appreciate just how beautiful is the Minnesota Wintry landscape. The film centers on a midwestern matriarchy guiding 12-year-old Florence through the rite-of-passage of her first deer hunt.

Bijou Abas plays the young protagonist and this is her feature film debut. I learned that she was in an episode of In An Instant with Hearts Want’s lead actor Peter Hansen back in 2016. I thought she did a wonderful job giving a reserved but assured performance, where most of the time she has to communicate only with her facial expression.

I have to say being that I’m not into hunting at all (can’t even hurt a squirrel!), all I had to avert my eyes during all the deer skinning scenes. The scene of Florence all alone in the woods after she killed her first deer is also tough to watch for me. The rite-of-passage story is nicely-told, as well as the multi-generation familial connections. The story is supposedly told from Florence’s point of view, but I find the film’s lacking a sharp focus. Apart from her aunt Mia (Heidi Fellner), the supporting characters didn’t seem fully fleshed out. At 104 minutes, I also think the editing could’ve been much tighter.

Overall it’s a gorgeous film with a quiet grace. Filmed in Hibbing, Northern Minnesota, at times the film is so beautiful it could double as a Wintry skiing resort commercial. Kudos to writer/director Karl Jacobs (who also played uncle Craig) for creating a compelling MN family drama with a strong young woman that many girls can aspire to. At the Q&A afterwards, Bijou seemed really delighted to play the lead role and sounds like she, as well as everyone in the cast/crew, enjoyed making this, too!


What’s in store for Day 6

Boy, Monday is jam-packed with a ton of amazing films!! Four strong documentaries – ABU, Legends of the Road, Purple Dreams and She Started It. There’s also three feature films, Blue Balloons, Butterfly Caught and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.

I’ll post my interview for the indie drama Butterfly Caught later this week!

So, stay tuned to more daily TCFF coverage!


TCFF 2017 Day 3 – ‘Hearts Want’ first screening in the ‘Ties That Bind Us’ short block and ‘A Gray State’ documentary

Day 3 of the Twin Cities Film Fest is actually quite a momentous one for me… If you know me well or have been following my blog and/or Facebook you might’ve guessed why.

I took the day off Friday because I knew it’s be quite an emotional day for me, showing my artistic baby, my passion project I’ve been working on the past year to the public for the first time. We had a private screening to the cast/crew and our close friends, but to actually seen it on the big screen in an actual theater is another thing entirely.

The moment the first scene came on screen, accompanied by the score… I went a bit verklempt, naturally. There weren’t many people in the theatre, which is typical for an early afternoon screening, but I’m so grateful to my friends, coworkers and even fellow bloggers who did come out and saw it… you know who you are, your support means a lot to me guys!

Hearts Want’s leading man Peter Christian Hansen attended the Friday screening

The Ties That Bind Us short block itself is chock full of wonderful relationship-themed films. Kudos to our short programmer Josh Dahlman and Angela Andrist for the awesome film selections! Of course I’m biased as to which is my favorite (hey you’re always going to think your baby is the cutest, right?) but I was truly impressed with all the films within this block: All That Was Broken, Head Above Water, Hearts Want, Heath Takes a Trip, Deadbeat, Resolutions, and Sundogs.

I really love Heath Takes a Trip, which is about a famous writer who suffers a breakdown and goes on a road trip with a stranger. It grabbed me right from the get go (which is quite a feat since it played right after my own film). It was emotional, funny, beautifully-shot, with a dreamy-like quality that has its own twist. It reminds me a bit of M Night Shyamalan’s Signs at times perhaps because of the corn fields, but also because it made you think one thing but it turns out to be another. I love Arch Harmon in the lead, as well as Ted James (who’s also the writer/director) as the rather whimsical stranger.

Resolutions is an intriguing, brutally-honest slice-of-life story of two couples that takes place over one New Year’s eve. It starts out like a low key celebration but as the evening progresses, something is revealed that turns things upside down for one of the four characters. It’s a simple setup that packs an emotional punch with the right amount of smolder and tension. The acting is brilliant, especially Nadine Malouf as Frankie. It’s got a female director, Tamara Fisch, who I hope will continue to make more films in the future!


Honestly, I don’t think I could really properly review a film such as A Gray State. I didn’t know much about the events surrounding the death of David Crowley, an Iraq vet who’s a charismatic aspiring filmmaker. I was going to read this New Yorker article by Alec Wilkinson before we see this documentary, but I decided I’ll read it after. A few people sitting near me know the subject of the film so naturally it’s so emotional watching the film as I could hear sniffles all around. Since the filmmaker was based in Minnesota, I’ve seen some of the actors who appeared in the trailer of the feature film he wanted to make, called Gray State. In fact I took a photo with the main actor in that trailer, Danny August Mason, when his short film Windage played at TCFF a few years back.

I went into the film pretty much blind, and the way filmmaker Erik Nelson set up the film, he played up the conspiracy theory aspect. I think it’s best that you find that out for yourself why that is, which is rather obvious given the subject matter of making a film called Gray State. The film is set in a dystopian near-future where civil liberties are trampled by an unrestrained federal government.

Erik Nelson is no stranger to doing a film about a grim subject matter, as he directed Grizzly Man. The film’s executive produced by Werner Herzog whom he frequently collaborated with. At the Q&A, Erik revealed that he combed through Crowley’s archive of 13,000 photographs, hundreds of hours of home video, and exhaustive behind-the-scenes footage of David’s work in progress. It’s a heart-wrenching look at what looks like an ordinary family tackling an extraordinary project… but something along the way, something went horribly wrong. What actually happened and what people want to believe is at the core of the film and the lines between them are inherently blurry. It’s pretty riveting, unsettling and emotional film, one that will linger for a long time after you saw it.

Q&A with Erik Nelson – conducted by TCFF managing director Bill Cooper

Fun at Industry Night!

It was a warm Autumn night with temps in the 70s. Great to catch up with friends and some visiting filmmakers during TCFF’s Industry Night.

Stay tuned for my recap of a jam-packed Day 4 starting with two insightful film panels and two features, Beauty Mark and Cold November, back to back.


What’s in store for Day 5


So, stay tuned to more daily TCFF coverage!


TCFF 2017 Interview: VICTOR’S LAST CLASS’ Director/Producer Brendan Brandt

One of the many intriguing documentaries playing at this year’s TCFF is Victor’s Last Class, documentary about an acting teacher getting ready to end his life, and a student who attempts to change his mind.

Our blog staff Laura Schaubschlager talked to producer/filmmaker Brendan Brandt on the journey to making his film, where along the course of the project became more than just a filmmaker asking why, but became a close friend trying to change his new friend and mentor’s mind.

1. How did you discover Victor and his blog (and, subsequently, his announcement of ending his life)?

I’m an actor in Los Angeles. I was at a cast party after having just closed a play. The host of the party was a little upset, and when I asked why, he told me that his friend Victor was getting ready to kill himself in two weeks, and he didn’t know what to do.
I was fascinated with the story and asked if Victor would be willing to meet me. I just wanted to talk to him. Before we met, I read all his blogs and got a sense of who he was. At some point right before we met I got the idea to document his story in some way. So I pitched him the documentary idea sort of on the fly.

2. Why were you compelled to make this documentary? How did you hope to challenge Victor’s decision through filming this?

“Why was I compelled” initially is tough to answer. I’m not great at psycho-analyzing myself so there may be some subconscious stuff going on that I’m unaware of. If I was forced to guess I would say I had never truly experienced a death at that point in my life (other than losing a grandpa and grandma). I hadn’t lost a close friend or parent, so I think I was perhaps a little curious about it. That was at first. Then after I met Victor, I bonded with him in a very intense way, and I was compelled to “save” him. I had a mission, to talk someone out of killing themselves. I think that’s how I saw it after awhile.I hoped to do it by asking him some super smart questions. I was on a righteous mission! It sounds incredibly naive and a little arrogant to me now, but I really thought I could get into the philosophy and logic behind the decision and perhaps find a flaw or crack. I was convinced there was a chance to unlock some previously undiscovered angle, and when we fully looked at it, we could come to a different conclusion.

3. Last year, Jojo Moyes’s book Me Before You, which deals with the issue of assisted suicide and ending one’s life due to lifelong medical struggles, was adapted into a major motion picture. Have you read the book or seen the movie, and if so, how did you feel about the depiction of this situation after going through it yourself?

Oh man, I was not aware of that book or film. I will check it out when I’m ready to have a good cry.

4. Victor stated in the documentary that he didn’t believe ending one’s life has to just be due to physical pain (he gives the example of someone losing a wife and child in an accident and not being able to go on), but didn’t feel knowledgeable enough to say it would extend to mental illness.

What do you think? How do you feel it extends (or doesn’t) to mental illness? Where do you think the limit is?

Great question. Let me preface this with I don’t have a clear, concrete answer. One of the main lessons I got from this experience was that life is less ‘black and white’ and more ‘grey’. So you have to take it on a case by case basis. We can do a better job of seeking help for mental pain, and we can do a better job of treating mental illness. I didn’t like Victor’s car accident analogy in the moment. That seemed like an injury that, while horrific, would slowly, at least partially, heal with time, and deciding to die before giving it a chance to partially heal would be unwise. Maybe after 10 years, with no improvement in mental health, still devastated and unable to cope, I would be more willing to accept that.

All that being said, mental pain is often worse than physical pain, and ultimately an individual should be in charge of their own life. So, if a mental health expert could determine that someone who is suffering extreme mental pain and wants to die is not “crazy”, I would probably accept that. The main point would be to make sure they talk about it with experts and loved ones, and that we would get a chance to really explore that decision.

5. After going through all of this with Victor, what advice do you have for anyone who has a friend or family member considering ending their lives due to chronic pain or illness? You state toward the end of the film that while you understand his reasoning more, you still don’t agree with his decision; how do you come to terms with those conflicting feelings?

My advice would be to make sure you listen to the person. I’m very grateful I got to have this experience with Victor. And he was grateful I gave him that experience because we got to really investigate every facet of that decision. It was good for both of us, and I think it’s a healthy process to go through. Tell the truth, listen, question, and seek to understand. Not to be nit-picky, but I said: “I still don’t know that I agree”. I think that’s an important distinction. It goes back to my ‘things are grey’ point. I can’t say what he did was right or wrong. I don’t want to say that. But I do want people to look at it and think about it, and maybe make up their own mind.

When I made that comment toward the end of the film, I was hurting. I thought I made a pretty strong case to continue on. It was a little selfish of me to be honest. He was making my life better, and I didn’t want that to stop. It’s taken time and a lot of reflection, and the conflicting feelings are still there, but basically, at this point, I understand and accept. Wish it wasn’t the case, but I accept. Dealing with the conflicting feelings was interesting. As I spoke with his friends after the fact and heard their takes on it, I found myself swinging back and forth, and that continued for a while until I arrived at ‘there is no right answer. It just is.’


FILMMAKERS’ BIOS:

Brendan Brandt (Director/Producer), is a Los Angeles based actor who has been working professionally for the last twelve years in theater, film, and television. He’s appeared in prime-time dramas for CBS, sitcoms for ABC, Comedy Central, and CMT, and films that have been distributed by Netflix, Amazon, and Directv. In addition, he has been in over twenty commercials as a principal actor. His book “Waiting Tables, Dodging Bullets: An Actor’s Guide to Surviving Los Angeles” was published in 2010. Although he’s worked in the industry for twelve years, this is his first time directing a film.

Arielle Amsalem is an Emmy Award winning editor of feature length documentary films. After graduating from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts film program, where she apprenticed under the editor Sam Pollard, Arielle started her career working on Spike Lee’s award winning documentary “When the Levees Broke” (2006), a film about the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. She has since been the editor of many feature- length documentaries including the Edward Norton produced HBO documentary “By the People: The Election of Barack Obama” (2009) for which she won the Primetime Emmy for Picture Editing for Nonfiction Programming. She worked as a Producer on Jennifer Fox’s 6-part documentary series “Flying: Confessions of a Free Woman”, which premiered at Sundance and aired on the Sundance channel. Additionally, she has consulted on the production and distribution of many of the documentaries which she has edited.


What’s in store for Day 4

Today we are screening lots of movies, there is something for everyone!

Victors Last Class, Instructions for Living, Ice House, Coyote, Cold November, Chasing the Dragon: The Life of an Opiate Addict, Bill Nye: The Science Guy, Beyond the Trek, Beauty Mark, and two blocks of short films (Age of Innocence – coming of age stories, and True Life Inspired– documentaries).


Stay tuned for my Day 3 & 4 recap tomorrow

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TCFF 2017 Interviews: Lea Thompson, Madelyn + Zoey Deutch AND filmmakers/ musicians Jack & Kitty


There are SO many things going on during Twin Cities Film Fest! It’s fun to see filmmakers and talents coming to present their films and see them do the red carpet interviews! This year I’ve a couple of bloggers helping me out not just in reviewing stuff but also in doing interviews. That’s super helpful as I can’t be in two places at the same time (can someone invent something that enables us to do that?)

In any case, thanks to FlixChatter’s blog contributor Andy Ellis, we’ve got an interview with Lea Thompson and Madelyn and Zoey Deutch, her two daughters and fellow collaborators in The Year of Spectacular Men. So the film is Lea’s directorial debut based on Madelyn’s script and the three starred in the film together.

Andy w/ Lea, Madelyn & Zoey on the red carpet

Take a listen to Andy’s interview below:

 


I first met filmmaker Jack Norton when his documentary Jug Band Hokum was playing at TCFF in 2015. I’ve seen Jack & Kitty at various events and film screenings since, but it’s so cool to see them back at TCFF, this time as musicians!

Copyright 2017 Brizo Media Group

 

Jack and Kitty are high school sweethearts that play Organic Vaudeville and Jug Band Folk for All Ages. They are an Emmy Award winning musical duo that also makes critically acclaimed films and television. Based in Minnesota, they love to perform concerts nationwide and play a variety of folk instruments including: banjo, guitar, ukulele, washboard, jug, kazoo, harmonica, whizbang, rumba box and much more. The Minneapolis Star Tribune hailed them as “one of the most entertaining groups in the midwest!”

I remember that when I talked to Jack a few years ago how much he admired filmmaker Sean Baker (who made his breakthrough with his film Tangerine, shot entirely on an iPhone). So I’m so thrilled that he ended up working with him on his new film The Florida Project, starring Willem Dafoe!

Take a listen below on how the collaboration got started… and also specifically about their music.

Check out their Facebook page for events in the area and around the country. Subscribe to their YouTube page too, while you’re at it.

Watch them share their incredibly inspiring story of how they went from homeless to having four songs in THE FLORIDA PROJECT.

Jack & Kitty are the loveliest, funnest people you’d ever be blessed to meet, so thank you guys for chatting with me!


Stay tuned for another interview post tomorrow with Victor’s Last Class’s filmmaker Brendan Brandt … thanks Laura Schaubschlager!


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TCFF 2017 Day 2 – ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ and silent MN-made b&w film ‘If Memory Serves’

WOW, Day 2 of the 11-day film fest has come and gone! I had to leave a bit early Thursday night for a prior commitment, but I did manage to see two films and also caught up w/ a friend & fellow film blogger Emmylou, who’s moved out to L.A. earlier this year.

Here’s my quick thoughts on the two films I saw on Day 2…


A Midsummer Night’s Dream is Shakespeare’s most popular stage work. In fact I just saw it recently at the Guthrie. I’m not a purist so I always enjoy seeing fresh interpretations of classic works, and setting it in modern-day Hollywood adds a layer of whimsy. Now, whether it works or not, I’d leave to Shakespeare enthusiasts, but I think this quirky adaptation is enjoyable even if it at times borders on the absurd.

Minnesota native Rachael Leigh Cook (who’ll be coming to TCFF at the second screening on closing night) plays Hermia who’s in love with Lysander (Hamish Linklater) and Lily Rabe plays Helena, who’s in love with Demetrius (Finn Wittrock). Interesting that before yesterday I didn’t know who Avan Jogia was, but I saw him two days in a row as he’s playing Puck here and he was in The Year of Spectacular Men. They retained most of the Shakespearean language, and as the film premise says… bold declarations, idiotic miscommunications and wandering amorous eyes feel right at home in the Hollywood setting where the studio honchos are practically royalty.

The film is more amusing than laugh-at-loud funny, though the literal interpretation of the character bottom (hard to get that actual butt head out of your mind!!). People who love Shakespeare AND Star Wars might get a kick out of this film. For me, it was a pretty enjoyable way to spend an afternoon, though it made me want to rewatch the dreamier 1999 version with Michelle Pfeiffer as a truly fetching fairy queen.


Now, THIS is the kind of movie I love to discover at film festivals! I don’t see very many silent b&w films, so seeing one that’s set in the Twin Cities by a MN-based filmmaker and crew is quite rare. I really love this one. I was quite swept away by its style, production design and the actors’ expressive faces. I even remember as I was watching, I looked around and wish more people had gone and seen this film.

Written and directed by MN filmmaker Andrew DeVary, If Memory Serves is a sweet, funny and sentimental tribute to the bygone era. A self-admitted Charlie Chaplin fan, he truly captured the simplicity and sweetness of the 1940s and there’s a poignant love story at the heart of it. The Cadet (Matthew Englund) and Mary (Morgan LeClaire) are two lovers who suffered a near-miss (I wouldn’t spoil how) and throughout the course of the film, we’re left wondering if and when their paths will ever cross again. DeVary created characters who are such delightful characters that it’s easy to root for them and want them to be together.

Photo courtesy of Andrew DeVary via Facebook

Most of the film is silent with only a couple of ‘talkie’ moments and during the Q&A, DeVary revealed the reason for that he likes the idea that ‘love allows communication to happen.’ I like the direction and pacing, which at an already swift 67 minutes never overstays your welcome. I also learned during Q&A that the film’s shot digitally in HD so it’s really to the editors’ credit that the film looked appropriately grainy and old school throughout, which adds to its inherent charm. Kudos to Simone LeClaire who’s the producer and production designer of the film. At a shoestring budget ($2300 bucks!) I thought the film looked believably set in the WWII period. I also adore the music by Twin Cities composer silent film composer Andy McCormick whose band Dreamland Faces often play live music for silent films.

I highly recommend this to classic film enthusiast, or even those looking for something off-the-beaten path. Given the subject matter dealing with love and memory, this is one film I’ll remember for a while and I hope it gets some kind of distribution so more people can see it! Check out the trailer below:


What’s in store for Day 3

Friday 10/20 is a very special day for me as at 12:30pm, my short film HEARTS WANT will be shown to the public for the first time… as part of the ‘Ties That Bind Us’ short block.

But there are also a ton of great films playing Friday…

Two great documentaries ABU and A Gray State (that I’ve blogged about here), and feature films 20 Weeks, Tater Tot & Patton, The Midnighter and Wilderness. See all of the films playing Friday here.

So, stay tuned to more daily TCFF coverage!


Highlights from TCFF 2017 Opening Night… BREATHE, THE FLORIDA PROJECT & THE YEAR OF SPECTACULAR MEN

It’s that time of the year again folks! Yep, it’s the time when I basically made Showplace ICON at the West End as my second home for the next eleven days. And for the eighth year in a row, Twin Cities Film Fest always opens up with a bang! This year we’ve got such a strong line up that there are not one, not two, but three strong films playing on opening night… Breathe, The Florida Project and The Year of Spectacular Men.

I saw Breathe and The Year of Spectacular Men practically back to back, but before I get to the films, I also got to interview talents (one of the major perks of a blogger’s life!), and even better if the talents are your friends!

I haven’t got a chance to transcribe the interview just yet (I got home around 11:30 and had to work the next day), but for sure it’ll be posted in the next few days. Congrats Jack & Kitty! How awesome that director Sean Baker himself picked the four songs they wrote to be in The Florida Project! Stay tuned on how that came about in the interview!

I wish I could be at two places at the same time! I was hoping I could do the red carpet interview w/ Lea Thompson and her two daughters, Madelyn and Zoey Deutch, but I was still in the theatre for Breathe. Thankfully, my guest blogger Andy Ellis was able to do it… so hopefully we’ll get the interview in the next few days.


Films based on a true story is a dime a dozen in Hollywood, but once in a while comes along one that truly tugs your heart strings. Breathe is Andy Serkis‘ directorial debut, who’s best known for his mo-cap work for Lord of the Rings and the ‘Apes’ films. Featuring two extremely talented performers, Andrew Garfield and Claire Foy, this film not only inspires but also sweeps you off your feet with its beauty. Beauty in terms of the visuals of the English countryside and Kenyan landscape, but also the beauty of the human heart.

Garfield portrays Robin, a man stricken by polio at the age of 28, which left him paralyzed. But with the help of his loyal wife Diana and his caring family and friends, Robin is able to not only survive but truly live. The film perhaps feels decidedly old school and unabashedly sentimental at times, but I was engrossed throughout by the performances. It’s not all gloom and doom despite the protagonist’s grim prognosis, thanks some bits of humor peppered throughout. I enjoyed Tom Hollander‘s performance as well playing Diana’s twin brothers.

I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see Garfield as another Oscar contender next year, it was such a genuinely moving performance given the confines of his physical limitations.


The Year of Spectacular Men

I remember chatting to Lea Thompson last year when she came to visit TCFF and how excited I was when she said she’s making her first film! Well here we are… it’s so cool that TCFF goers are the first ones to see this. It’s so new there’s not even a trailer yet!

Talk about #womeninfilm… not only did Lea directed this, it’s also a family project with her two daughters Madelyn and Zoey Deutch. Madelyn wrote, star and scored the film as well, and her husband Howard Deutch produced the film. The story is about a young girl struggling to navigate life after graduating from college. So it’s a Millennial movie, but the themes of ‘trying to find answers’ and ‘wanting real human connections’ are something we can all relate to no matter how old we are.

The script is brutally honest and not afraid to show the pain and absurdity of millennial dating life. The two sisters have an effortless chemistry together, and the the joy and pain of sisterhood is genuinely moving. I like the scene towards the end where the two sisters laid down on concrete in front of their apartment and yelled out things that have caused them pain. During the Q&A, Lea revealed that is her favorite scene to shoot.

Madelyn’s certainly a talented writer, and like their mother, both Madelyn and Zoey have good comic skills. It’s so inspiring to see a family come together and make art together, it’s fun seeing the three of them come up for Q&A after the film. What a great film to end a strong opening night… I love that TCFF continues to support and encourage women filmmakers!

Q&A following the screening

What’s in store for Day 2

Well I’ll be seeing A Midsummer Night’s Dream, starring another actress from Minnesota, Rachael Leigh Cook. It’s a Shakespeare adaptation set in modern-day Hollywood, where bold declarations, idiotic miscommunications and wandering amorous eyes feel right at home. That’ll be quite a contrast to the documentary A Human Flow which centers on the global refugee crisis – the greatest human displacement since World War II.

So, stay tuned to more daily TCFF coverage!


FlixChatter Review – Happy Death Day (2017)

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Directed By: Christopher Landon
Written By: Scott Lobdell
Cast: Jessica Rothe, Israel Broussard, Ruby Modine
Runtime: 1h 36min

After lucking out with the last two horror movies I’ve reviewed (Annabelle: Creation and IT) being fantastic, I figured I was due for a disappointing one, and Happy Death Day looked like it would fit the bill. The title sounds like a D-list 90’s horror movie you’d find on Amazon Prime, and the synopsis is basically teen horror Groundhog Day. My hopes for this film were not high.

In Happy Death Day, sorority girl Tree Gelbman (Jessica Rothe) re-lives the same day over and over, from waking up in fellow student Carter Davis (Israel Broussard)’s dorm room after a drunken night, to butting heads with frenemy Danielle (Rachel Matthews) and roommate Lori (Ruby Modine), to being murdered by a mysterious masked figure every night. Tree uses each repeat trying to discover the identity of her killer and survive their attack, hopefully escaping the loop.

Despite the trailers advertising this movie as straight horror, it’s actually more of a dark comedy. This made it more enjoyable, as it wasn’t just another teen slasher film. There’s a decent amount of physical comedy, and there’s some genuinely funny dialogue, especially from mean girl sorority president Danielle. While it’s not a typical horror movie, it has some good suspenseful moments and tense build-ups. Tree’s character arc is surprisingly well-done, incorporating her background into the story without the exposition being too clunky.

All of this isn’t enough to make this a great movie, however. The concept obviously isn’t original, and the one throwaway comment about its similarity to cult classic Groundhog Day they tack on at the very end doesn’t change the fact that the storyline is unoriginal and will be compared to the 90’s movie by most people who see it. While the identity of the murderer isn’t predictable, the reveal is forced and their reason for their actions is the product of clearly lazy writing. Lastly, the mask the killer wears throughout the movie is pretty ridiculous even by cheesy slasher movie standards. While I assume the oversized baby face mask is meant to be creepy and unsettling, it just looks goofy, and I cracked up every time I saw it on screen.

Despite its problems, Happy Death Day is a surprisingly fun movie, although if you’re looking for a more typical horror movie, you might want to skip it. If you catch it on TV or streaming, though, it’s worth a watch.

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Have you seen ‘Happy Death Day’? Well, what did you think?