FlixChatter Review: WANDER DARKLY (2020)

The story of Wander Darkly centers on new parents Adrienne (Sienna Miller) and Matteo (Diego Luna), who are suddenly forced to deal with a traumatic incident amidst their troubled relationship. In fact, the characters are in right in the middle of an argument when an accident happens. It wouldn’t be a spoiler to say that the film deals heavily with themes of death and existence, as it’s been revealed the trailer and the promos.

It’s never clear though if the characters walk among the living or the dead, particularly in regards to Adrienne. Is she dead or isn’t she? The film weaves in and out of ‘cinematic consciousness’ if you will, as you’re not quite sure what’s real and what’s in the character’s head. Adrienne is seemingly stuck in purgatory as she sees her physical body in the hospital gurney. But then Matteo ‘joins’ her and he’s hellbent in convincing her she is still alive.

The film shows various montages of the couple revisiting memories of their past. Again, I don’t know if these are memories or actual flashback of their lives together, from the time the first met, that is their ‘honeymoon’ state even though they’re not married. In fact, the fact that they’re not married is one of the point of constant argument and it’s clear Adrienne is quite resentful of the fact that Matteo never proposed.

Miller and Luna have a wonderful chemistry and the two talented actors gave their all to their respective roles. They are believable as mis-matched couple who struggle to make things work, taking us on their emotional roller-coaster. Though the couple seems in love, but they constantly bicker and at times their arguments get pretty heated as they lash out at each other. There’s a certain distrust between them that’s played out in a pretty realistic way, given how chummy Matteo is with a sexy female ‘friend’ of his. Matteo is not exactly portrayed like a Don Juan type, but he doesn’t exactly assures his girlfriend and mother of his child of his fidelity.

Glad to see Luna portray a non-stereotypical Mexican man (at least not the kind that’s often portrayed in Hollywood) and this is the first time I see him in a dramatic role. I also appreciate that the filmmakers honor his heritage, as there are scenes during the Day of the Dead, which is a Mexican holiday. I haven’t seen Miller in too many dramatic leading roles either, but she’s quite convincing here in a deeply-emotional performance. You could say Adrienne is the heart and soul of the movie and her heartbreak is quite heart-wrenching. Adrienne becomes almost lifeless at times, perhaps the filmmaker’s trying to illustrate that she’s been ‘dead inside’ the whole time, I’m not sure. The bit of her watching a zombie movie is a bit on the nose, but it’s one of those rare droll moments in this film.

I read that writer/director Tara Miele had suffered a car crash that became the inspiration for the film. Interestingly, and perhaps that’s how these talents end up working together, Luna’s mother died when he was only two in a car accident, so this story is clearly a personal one for the two of them. The car crash itself, and the moment leading up to it is quite nightmarish to watch, even though you knew it’s going to happen.

This is pretty heavy movie told in a non-linear way from start to finish, which made the relatively brisk 1.5 hour running time feels much longer. We spend practically the entire film with just two characters who aren’t exactly likable, filled with constant bickering between them, as well as the resentments towards Adrienne’s mother (Beth Grant). Now, I don’t mind slower movies, and I think the non-conventional storytelling style gives this movie an edge. I just wish there’s a bit of levity or sense of humor to give us a break from the constant dread and somber tones. It doesn’t help that the cinematography also looks too dark at times. I guess it’s possible that the filmmakers are trying purposely making things feel disoriented as that’s how the characters are feeling, but it doesn’t exactly make it a pleasant viewing.

At times the film felt experimental, which is fine in and of itself but it doesn’t always work well here. The visual transitions between the two worlds Adrienne is seemingly trapped in gets confusing at times, which adds to the frustration. There’s also one particular scene towards the end that feels like an unnecessary jump scare, which feels at odds with the rest of the film.

That said, I always appreciate seeing a film about love, especially a character-driven one that’s poignant and heartfelt. I commend Miele for taking such a harrowing personal experience of her car crash into an art form. I’m not familiar with her work, but this is her fourth feature film and she’s also done directing work for TV series (Hawaii Five-O, Arrow). She’s definitely a talented filmmaker who can bring out fantastic performances out of her cast. I’d love to see more of her work in the future.

Have you seen WANDER DARKLY? Well, what did you think?

Netflix’s The Old Guard (2020)

I’ve been excited for this film since its trailer dropped last May… luckily, unlike theatrical releases that’s getting delayed indefinitely [even those as huge as Chris Nolan’s TENET], a Netflix release is a guarantee.

The Old Guard centers on a covert team of immortal mercenaries who’ve been living for centuries. First, we meet the group’s leader, Andromache of Scythia or Andy for short, played with her usual graceful-yet-badass self by Charlize Theron. She’s channeling her Mad Max: Fury Road‘s Furiosa here in her taciturn yet caring nature. Soon she’s reunited with three other members of the group, Booker (Matthias Schoenaerts), Joe (Marwan Kenzari) and Nicky (Luca Marinelli).

They get hired by former CIA operative Copley (Chiwetel Ejiofor) to rescue kidnapped children in South Suddan. Given that this tight-knit group’s been fighting to protect the mortal world for centuries, this sort of mission is definitely right in their wheelhouse. As it turns out, it wasn’t as much a mission as it is a trap which expose not only who they are, but what they’re capable of. While on the run, the group discovers through visions/dreams that there’s another immortal warrior out there in the world, and Andy promptly sets out to find her.

I particularly like the interaction between Theron and Kiki Layne (who was terrific in If Beale Street Could Talk) as US Marine Nile Freeman, who’s not exactly easy to convince to join the group. Nile has her own mind and naturally has a ton of questions about her own identity/ability and about this new group she’s being recruited into. There are plenty of fight scenes in this flick, but the one on the plane between Andy and Nile are pretty exciting to watch, which also serves to tell the story as Nile discovers just how powerful she is.

I like that The Old Guard isn’t so much an origin story… Greg Rucka, the author of the graphic novel who also penned the script, doesn’t reveal every backstory of the characters. In fact, Andy’s been living–and dying over and over again–for so long she could barely remember how old she is. There are moments when the characters reveal how they met. Andy and Booker met during the Crusades, while Joe and Nicky were one time enemies who actually [tried to] kill each other before they became lovers. It’s a fantastical, mythical story involving people with superhuman abilities, yet still feels grounded somehow.

The direction by Gina Prince-Bythewood (Love & Basketball, Beyond the Lights) is thrilling but not bombastic. I mean, she’s not afraid to shoot some bloody, brutal fight scenes where Theron gets to hack multiple guys with her Medieval battle axe in a dance-like motion. But she also peppers the film with some quiet, introspective moments as the characters ponder on their immortality and how it’s not as easy as we mere mortals think it is. The nomadic lifestyle, the endless loss of loved ones they constantly have to say good bye to as they go on living… these are themes that are explored well here. Films dealing with characters living forever have addressed this before, but yet here it feels really personal and organic. The scene between Booker and Nile is quite heartfelt, with Schoenaerts giving his all, is a testament to how committed all the actors were in their roles. Joe’s declaration of love to Nicky is perhaps a first for a LGBT character in a superhero film of this scale.

Relative newcomer Kiki Layne, who hasn’t done a big action flick before, is quite believable here in her role. Nile is the one with the conscience, as she struggles to kill people the way the group’s done effortlessly for hundreds of years. It’s consistent with her faith in God that she’s shared briefly on the plane with Andy… even when it’s time for her to save the day, i.e. the scene of her in the elevator before the big showdown, she doesn’t lose her humanity despite her super-heroic ability.

Now, the film isn’t flawless however. While the immortal superheroes have intriguing character arc, their nemesis Merrick is your typical greedy pharma exec with a Mark Zuckerberg complex (complete w/ his hoodie-wearing wardrobe). I’ve never seen Harry Melling before but I think he’s miscast as he looks about as threatening as a meerkat. Chiwetel Ejiofor‘s Copley is morally ambivalent, he’s a man driven by a tragic past which leads to a misguided ‘solution.’ I’ve always liked seeing him in films, though he doesn’t get to do very much here.

Speaking of Ejiofor, I read an article earlier this week where he’s quoted as saying that he’s ‘…envious of Charlize Theron’s ability to tell narrative through physicality’ I have to say that it truly a gift not many actors possesses, but the South African native certainly does and she uses it well! There’s a scene in the beginning where the camera followed Andy simply walking in the streets, through a corridor, etc. All we see is the back of her head but yet we’re transfixed by her graceful yet confident style.

The big showdown at the end is kind of a mixed bag. I think the fight scenes are good, albeit with the use of contemporary songs doesn’t always work well. I didn’t completely hate it, but I wish they’d just stick to a dynamic score instead. The finale is left open-ended for a sequel, which involves a pretty important character shown in one of the longer backstory of the lead. I’m actually down to see more of this action fantasy, especially if they can retain the same director and cast. Hopefully they’d improve the music choices the next time around and find a more formidable foe worthy of these bad-ass immortal warriors.

Given that other female-directed/female-led action flicks like Wonder Woman and Black Widow are delayed this year, The Old Guard fills the void quite nicely. It’s got a heart as big as the big action pieces, and I’m sure glad to see a group of bad-ass superheroes with such a diverse cast.


Have you seen The Old Guard? Well, what did you think?

Trailer Spotlight: Netflix’s The Old Guard (2020)

Happy Thursday!! It’s rather gloomy here where I live, so it’s nice to see something that gets the juices flowing. Definitely something to look forward to July 10 as that’s the date it’ll drop on Netflix, yay!

A covert team of immortal mercenaries are suddenly exposed and must now fight to keep their identity a secret just as an unexpected new member is discovered.

I’m not always excited for Netflix Original Movies, I mean I haven’t seen Chris Hemsworth’s Extraction, and probably never will. But there’s SO much going for it here that makes me yell ‘yeah!!’ even as I’m watching the trailer 😀

I do love Charlize Theron in action movies. She’s great as Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road and also in Atomic Blonde, she looks believable here too as Andy (is that a nickname??) the leader of immortal mercenaries who’ve been fighting to protect the mortal world for centuries. As if they weren’t bad-ass enough by the looks of it, they’re also very hard to kill! Dayum, I certainly don’t want to be on their wrong side!

I LOVE the director too, Gina Prince-Bythewood (Love & Basketball, Beyond the Lights), glad to see her doing an action genre! It’s apparently based on a 5-part graphic novel of the same name by Greg Rucka. Now, as for the rest of the cast, we’ve got Kiki Layne who’s lovely in If Beale Street Could Talk, and three of my fave Euro actors who are all verrry easy on the eyes: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Matthias Schoenaerts and Marwan Kenzari.

I’m intrigued by the concept that they’re immortals. Who are The Old Guard and why they sent ancient warrior Andy to recruit the team? How do they get the immortal ability? Why are they protecting the mortals? And why they seemingly always in hiding/on the run? There’s a quick blurb about the group could potentially be weaponized, and looks like Ejiofor is their enemy here, it’s not clear exactly who his character is. One thing for sure, looks like even he’s shaking in his boots when the Old Guard are near!

Well, based on the trailer, I really can’t wait to see this!


What do you think of this trailer?

Trailers Spotlight: Radioactive + Mr. Jones

Hello everyone! I know the mood is grim as the world is grappling with the Coronavirus outbreak. As disappointing as seeing films we’re anticipating getting canceled, when put into perspective, it’s a small inconvenience for us filmgoers… though of course my heart goes out to filmmakers/festival organizers/artists and  businesses affected by this pandemic.

But hey, they can’t stop me from still being excited about films that would get to our screens eventually… and both of these are based on real historical figures AND directed by female filmmakers.

RADIOACTIVE

The first film I’m highlighting here is actually pretty timely and relevant given Marie Curie’s instrumental discovery in cancer treatment.

A story of the scientific and romantic passions of Marie Sklodowska-Curie (Polish scientist) and Pierre Curie, and the reverberation of their discoveries throughout the 20th century.

I’m immediately sold on this based on the two leads, Rosamund Pike and Sam Riley (who’s so criminally underrated!) as Marie and Pierre Curie. I love the role choices Pike continues to do, she’s definitely got the chops to play brave, headstrong, intelligent women in male-dominated fields. She was terrific in A Private War, interestingly it’s also based on a real life war photographer that’s also named Marie, Marie Colvin to be exact. I’m so glad to see Sam Riley in a prominent role (it breaks my heart to see him wasted as a silly raven in those Maleficent movies!!).

Per IMDb, this film is based on the graphic novel Radioactive: Marie & Pierre Curie: A Tale of Love and Fallout by Lauren Redniss. It’s Iranian director Marjane Satrapi‘s first film based on a graphic novel that she didn’t write herself. Two of her films Persepolis and Chicken with Plums are both based on her own graphic novels. That fact alone made this film all the more intriguing!

I don’t know much about Marie Curie’s life aside from her legacy in science and being the first female scientist to win a Noble Prize in Physics (albeit a shared prize with her husband), and later in 1911 she won another Nobel Prize in Chemistry. I can’t wait to see this one and hopefully it’ll arrive in Amazon Prime soon as Amazon Studios has bought the distribution rights.


MR. JONES

Here’s another based-on-a-true-story about a topic I’m not familiar with. Though there are numerous films about WWII and the Holocaust, I don’t think I’ve seen a film about the Holodomor genocide, a man-made famine in Soviet Ukraine in 1932- 1933 that killed millions of Ukrainians (per Wiki).

Agnieszka Holland’s thriller, set on the eve of WWII, sees Hitler’s rise to power and Stalin’s Soviet propaganda machine pushing their “utopia” to the Western world. Meanwhile an ambitious young journalist, Gareth Jones (James Norton) travels to Moscow to uncover the truth behind the propaganda, but then gets a tip that could expose an international conspiracy, one that could cost him and his informant their lives. Jones goes on a life-or-death journey to uncover the truth behind the façade that would later inspire George Orwell’s seminal book Animal Farm.

 

 

I’m not familiar with Polish director Agnieszka Holland but she has quite an extensive resume in film and TV, including acclaimed series such as House of Cards, The Killing, etc. I’m particularly intrigued by the fact that its screenwriter, Andrea Chalupa, has been inspired by her own grandfather who’s from eastern Ukraine to write about Stalin’s genocidal famine (per Guardian‘s rave review). So there’s definitely something deeply personal in the part of the filmmakers.

I’ve been a longtime admirer of British actor James Norton for some time, I’m glad to see him in the lead role! He’s a terrific actor and looks pretty convincing as an idealistic journalist. Nice to Vanessa Kirby in a prominent role here as well. As a big fan of journalism movies, especially those based on real-life events, I’m definitely looking forward to seeing this.


What do you think of these two trailers?

Portrait of A Lady on Fire (2019)

Written & Directed by: Céline Sciamma

Winner of last year’s queer palm at Cannes, Portrait of a Lady of Fire creates something new. By using the form of a period piece, Sciamma was able to create something contemporary. Set in the late 1700’s on a remote island, Marianne (Noèmie Merlant) is commissioned to paint a wedding portrait of Héloïse (Adèle Haenel).

While the age of Enlightenment is taking place, women remain tethered by convention whether in painting, servitude or marriage the women of this film find themselves propelled by outside/social forces. For a time, these women are seemingly protected, isolated from the mainland and patriarchal society before being forced to confront the reason their lives have come together in the first place. The women of this film learn to depend on each other, finding a sense of companionship and balance only to have it abruptly end.

Hailed as a post me-to0, LGBTQ and feminist masterpiece, Portrait of a Lady on Fire is a film most concerned with the artist and the idea of the gaze. This theory can be used a bridge between art as a medium and social theory, integrating politics and art history. While a gaze can be used to confer meaning upon a piece, the relationship of the viewer and the viewed are always in negotiation.

As best stated by [French historian and philosopher] Michel Foucault while studying the function of the gaze in the painting Las Meninas the “observer and the observed take part in a ceaseless exchange. No gaze is stable…subject and object, spectator and model reverse their roles into infinity.” This communication is the exploration of director Céline Sciamma. The relationship between the two main characters blurs until it is unclear who is looking at whom. Through the film, the gaze becomes their mode of interaction. Intimacy and attraction grow as they share in this collaborative act and the painting’s completion serves as tribute.

Héloïse’s journey goes from being an object/the muse to someone who observes the subject and thus becomes the Marianne’s collaborator. This is a really amazing technical performance by Adèle Haenel, which destroys the traditional idea of art as a horizontal relationship to a horizontal one of give and take, or as in painting, layers of alternation.

This film also challenges the assumption that we have progressed as a society as well as in art, or at least that progress happens in a linear fashion. Choosing to place the film in the time of the late 18th century, a time known for a huge rise in female artists who were later censored and removed from art history is a very intentional choice. It is the perfect time to place a critique on the backlash female filmmakers are currently facing. This goes back to the idea of the gaze and one’s in ability to control how one is perceived by others, specifically due to culture and society. As Michel Foucault states “insofar as I am the object of values which come to qualify me without my being able to act on this qualification or even to know it, I am enslaved.”

A truly beautiful and cerebral film that will give you an exciting and new perspective on art and love. It’s a hopeful as well as critical film that offers insight into ideas of identity and personhood.

– Review by Jessie Zumeta


Have you seen Portrait of a Lady On Fire? Well, what did you think? 

Trailer Spotlight: THE RHYTHM SECTION (2020)

Happy Tuesday, everyone!! I’ve been meaning to do a trailer post but somehow kept getting sidetracked. Now, since I’ll be seeing The Rhythm Section tonight, and am quite excited about it, I thought I’d post it today.

Stephanie Patrick veers down a path of self-destruction after a tragic plane crash kills her family. When Stephanie discovers it wasn’t an accident, she soon embarks on a bloody quest for revenge to punish those responsible.

I have a thing for international spy thrillers, I like the cast and the trailer looked promising. Based on a novel by Mark Burnell, who also wrote the screenplay, and produced by EON Productions, the film company known for producing the James Bond films. I’ve been a big fan of Blake Lively, I think she’s a charismatic and versatile actress. I’ve seen her in four films so far, The Town, Age of Adaline, The Shallows, A Simple Favor, and she’s good in all of them. We already know Lively can play a believable femme fatale, but here, perhaps she can display her prowess as an action heroine.

Jude Law‘s grown to be a reliable character actor over the years, and Sterling K. Brown is undeniably a fantastic actor. He’s amazing in WAVES, too bad somehow he’s overlooked this award season. Looks like he’s playing Lively’s love interest in this one based on a glimpse of the trailer? Oooh yeah!

I’m also excited the fact that it’s helmed by a female director, Reed Moreno. This is Moreno’s third film after Meadowland and I Think We’re Alone Now, where she did double duty as director and DP. In fact, you might have seen her outstanding work as a cinematographer in Frozen River, Kill Your Darlings, The Skeleton Twins. For her work directing the pilot for HBO’sThe Handmaid’s Tale, she won both the DGA and Emmy award for Outstanding Directing for a Drama Series. I haven’t seen her directing work yet, so I’m super excited to see this. This time she’s working with DP Sean Bobbitt who garnered many accolades for 12 Years Of Slave.

One worrisome part is the fact that the film’s release date was delayed at least twice. Per IMDb Trivia, it was originally scheduled for a February 22, 2019 release, before being delayed ten months, apparently because Lively got injured on set. Then it’s finally ready for release later this Friday, January 31. I’ll give this one the benefit of the doubt though, let’s hope this one wouldn’t be a typical January dud.


What are your thoughts of The Rhythm Section trailer?

TCFF 2019 MN Filmmaker Spotlight: Cynthia Uhrich on her short films ‘Oh My Stars’ + ‘Everyone Goes In The Lake’

Hello friends! Ruth here. If you’ve been reading the blog for a while you know that here on the blog we care about diversity in filmmaking, both in front AND behind the camera. So I love highlighting female filmmakers, both locally and internationally, and today we’ve got a veteran MN artist Cynthia Uhrich, founder of In The Moment Films, who constantly wear many, many hats: Writer, Director, Filmmaker, Casting Director, Producer and Educator.

Two of her short films, Oh My Stars and Everyone Goes In The Lake are both Twin Cities Film Fest’s 2019 Official Selections! So read below on my conversation with Cynthia on her journey as a filmmaker and making the two films.

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You have been in the film business for a long time, and you have a BA in theatre. Would you tell me a bit about your journey from acting into filmmaking? 

Well, it’s been an interesting transition…pretty much facilitated by the fact that I fully grasped about 12 years ago that there were so few roles for women 40+. Since I love every aspect of the entertainment business, I decided that I needed to reinvent myself. I’d been acting since the 3rd grade when I wrote and directed my first play. I was a member of SAG and AFTRA for 26 years, and had worked in the Twin Cities, then Florida, then Los Angeles and then came back to the T.C. at 40. I did some acting when I got here and started teaching acting classes. But, I realized that I needed to shift gears so I started teaching a class called “I Got The Part: Now What?” which took actors through the process of preparing for a role–and I did 3 showcases of the actors work (on stage) for the public–both to help the actors have a chance to be seen, and to sharpen my own directing skills.

I then transitioned into creating acting classes that were for film prep and used those classes to teach actors what I knew about film acting and made a few shorts to expand my knowledge about directing for film. While I’d been on a lot of sets over the years–both as talent and in Hollywood also working crew as assistant coordinator on commercials and working as a production assistant–I needed to start to understand how to plan and direct films. So basically, I’m self-taught and I still rely very much on having a smart, knowledgeable crew around me to help with the things that I’m still figuring out. I looked around and noticed that so few women were in crew roles…so I applied with Springboard for the Arts and created my non-profit film production company, IN THE MOMENT FILMS. The mission is to create employment opportunities for women both in front of, and behind the camera. And to make films about women’s stories and to make socially significant films. As a non-profit, I am able to secure funding for projects and those contributions are tax-deductible for individuals–that’s helpful to incentivize individuals to contribute to film.

I first saw your film Robert in the Bedroom (that you wrote and directed), a heart-wrenching short about a woman dealing with memory loss. I’ve since seen two more short films that you directed. How do you choose your projects? 

I have known a few people with Alzheimer’s and started to notice that more and more individuals and families were grappling with this disease. When I started to research, I discovered the statistics for the future are frightening. The percentage of the population that will develop Alzheimer’s and Dementia is expected to grow exponentially…and is going to impact families enormously. Family members are often the caregivers. The financial burden will also be catastrophic to some families…let alone the emotional burden. My experience with a friend’s mother was so profound–it left a real mark on my heart. When I learned about people having to re-live a loss over and over because they weren’t able to recall that it had happened (such as the loss of a spouse) it broke my heart. I didn’t feel as though people were fully grasping just how devastating the illness was to families…and to the person experiencing memory loss. I felt it was a compelling topic to explore.

“Code Green” is based on a true story about a young woman’s (Kayla Coffland’s) battle with her eating disorder. She had been a long-time student and is extraordinarily talented and interesting. She shared a monologue with me that she had written about a specific period of time in her life and it struck a chord with me. I asked her if she’d be interested in making a short film about her illness–and she said “I was kind of hoping you’d ask me.” We had many, many conversations about her struggles and I wrote the screenplay based on those talks. It was a painful film to make. The cast and crew who were there know how much love and support was needed…emotionally one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. We captured really raw, naked truth from Kayla, who stars in the film. Not nearly enough people have seen it–it’s still on the festival circuit and I hope to screen it for the public early next year. Her story is important. I screened it to a group of teens and their parents–and the response to it was overwhelming. It really touched people. It is hard for me to watch. I love Kayla and I think she is incredibly talented and courageous. 

I love that your projects often feature women and actors of color. As a casting director, how important is diversity and inclusion in your projects?

Diversity in casting is SO important. I recall living in Los Angeles and I was dating a Hispanic man for a year named John Vargas. He was an actor, and shared the statistics with me. Being a Caucasian, it had never really occurred to me that there was an inequity in casting. So, it was the mid-90’s and he told me 20% of all roles were going to actors that were African-American, 7% to Latinos and only 2% to Asians. (Native Americans weren’t even in those stats!) He shared with me how he would ask his agents or casting people to ask directors to please consider a non-Caucasian for roles–because there wasn’t enough opportunity for him to audition. It was such a frustration for him–and he was a really hustling, talented guy. I never forgot that. So when I started casting…I made a point of asking directors or writers to consider seeing people of color. I also like to point out that certain roles don’t need to be cast as male…to open up more opportunities for women, too. But, at the end of the day, it always must be the best individual for the role, regardless of gender or race. That’s paramount.

The last two projects I’m focusing here, Oh My Stars and Everyone Goes In The Lake, were both written by someone else. How’s the filmmaking process different from directing something that you wrote yourself? 

Oh, it’s easier in some ways, and more challenging in others. Lorna is an amazing writer…prolific and so hard-working. She wrote two screenplays for us to choose from, both approaching the story from very different perspectives. One of the screenplays had far more of the protagonist (Violet) as the older woman on-screen reliving her past. Greg Winter (my cinematographer) and I both preferred the piece with more narration. It just felt more active to see more of the protagonist’s struggle as a young woman on the screen…and it felt more like a memory, using the narration as the thread weaving through the story. I also really liked the way 1979 served as book-ends to the film. We also used chocolate filters and pushed towards sepia in those 1930’s scenes because my vision was to really give those early years the feeling of memory–and the sepia just felt like the way to go. As the film goes on, the chocolate fades and as Violet’s life changes, more color comes into the pictures. These ideas were in my head from day one and Greg was onboard with the ideas.  It was fun to expand scenes visually, though, on bits of the dialogue in ways that I don’t think Lorna had expected. 

With “Everyone Goes in the Lake,” Rudy Pavich had written a funny screenplay (’cause he’s a funny man) that just needed a bit of fine-tuning so I recommended that we get my former MCTC colleague Jeremy Bandow’s eyes on it. Both Jeremy and I weighed in with notes and Rudy was open to making adjustments and that collaborating really helped me to hone my vision for that project. When it’s not my script: It’s much easier to just focus on the actors and to not stress about the dialogue and wonder constantly if it’s working. It’s one of the monkeys that’s off my back!

Oh My Stars was adapted from a novel by Lorna Landvik who also wrote the screenplay. Can you tell me how that project come about? 

I had been teaching a commercial class at the Sabbes JCC and met a woman named Jan who happened to be in a group that Lorna was a part of. Lorna had been sharing with the group that many of her books have been optioned for films (one as a vehicle for Ashley Judd) but that none had ever made it to the screen. Jan suggested Lorna and I meet…we did, she looked at some of my other projects, we met again and I (of course) ran out before our first meeting and bought and read 50% of the book so I could really talk to her about “Oh My Stars” and it worked out.

The trend now is to make “proof-of-concept” short films to pitch a longer feature. I suggested we do that–and build a platform via festivals and word-of-mouth and here we are! It was also important to me that our proof-of-concept was more than a “pitch” but also a stand-alone film…one that piqued the viewer’s interest and that made them want to see more. I think we succeeded in that. It’s the most amount of money I’ve ever had to raise for a film. Fundraising went on for a full year on that one. Both through GiveMN.org and we did special fundraising events. Lots of heavy lifting to get it finished. And more work now shepherding it through the Festival gauntlet.

Have you ever done a period drama before? What is your favorite genre to watch and to work on?

I had never done a period piece before…that element made pre-production terrifying. Truly daunting. I started 4 months ahead of filming to prepare…for a short film! I couldn’t sleep at night for all the thoughts of the details running through my head…it’s amazing what a motivator fear can be in the creative process! I wanted to get it right. I knew this was an extraordinary opportunity for me as an artist and I didn’t want to fail Lorna, the cast, or the crew. Lots of pressure. Then, things fell through in the 11th hour–specifically—two vintage vehicles. That was so disappointing and we had to scramble to re-write and conceptualize those scenes to accommodate for those missing elements.

On the set of ‘Oh My Stars’

I remember after I saw the film, the amount of voice over is perhaps the most extensively-used in any short (or even features) I’ve ever seen. How did you come to such an approach, was it something Lorna specifically wanted for the film?

Yes, that was the way she wrote one of the two scripts…and I thought it was a really interesting way to tell a story. I knew it was a bit risky—but it makes the film special, I think. To primarily see the emotions coming from young Violet, but the narration from older Violet works, and here’s why: distance (as in time) creates a bit of an emotional disconnect—so while Violet’s narration is somewhat “these are the facts” all of the emotion from when the original events occurred are living in the depiction of Violet as a young woman experiencing the events in the moment.

Now, as for Everyone Goes Into The Lake, is this the first comedic film you’ve worked on?

No, I wrote and directed a short called “M4W” that screened at the Bryant Lake Bowl as part of IFP’s Cinema Lounge (now “Film North”). I didn’t submit that one to festivals. I simply didn’t have the confidence in my work at that time. It has also screened on MNC6 now. I learned so much making that movie. I realized doing that one that I had much to learn—but again—I had amazing people around me to support me. These projects are never just “mine.” I’m always a little bothered when I read a director/producer/writer indicate in a posting “come to see MY film.” I try to always write or say “our film” because it is such a team effort. Every single person is working hard, tired, fighting the elements, working with small budgets, doing the absolute best they can in their positions—it’s kind of like going into a battle. As an introvert, I have to put on a special pair of pants when it comes to directing. I’m not entirely comfortable with being at the helm, but someone I suck it up and get it done. I always have a strong sense of what I want, but I’m working on having more ease about making a film. I want to enjoy it more and stress less.

On the set of ‘Everyone Goes Into The Lake’

The cinematography is beautiful, but I was really in awe by that cabin. How did you come to find that location, and how involved are you with the location scouting?

I am very hands-on with location scouting—mostly because I don’t have the budget to hire someone to do it! Charlotte Ariss was an incredible help on “Oh My Stars” really pointing me in the right direction and offering wonderful suggestions. I’m so grateful for her help. I have to see and feel a place before filming…places have energy and I need to walk the space myself to be able to block and visualize the pictures for a film.

The cabin in “Everyone Goes in the Lake” belongs to dear friends of mine (Dan and Marie Hilliard) I had been dating Marie’s brother for 3 years or so, and finally got up the courage to ask if we could film there…to my amazement she said “yes!”  It was able to sleep our entire cast & crew and has an incredible kitchen where my significant other at the time (Michael McColl) was able to cook up some incredible meals for the team. He also made some meals for “Oh My Stars.” We were all lucky to have someone on the team with such amazing culinary skills. I will forever be grateful to that family for their help with my projects.

Cynthia on set with her mostly-female crew

Lastly, just for fun, can you share an anecdote from filming either one of the TCFF shorts that you find particularly memorable?

On “Oh My Stars” we had rain off and on our final (4th) day of filming—all outdoor shots. It was the longest day of my life…by the time we got to our very last set-ups of the day (the bus crash) I was beyond exhausted. I will never forget driving in pitch-black to our location—a remote country road…and seeing the headlights from around 20 cars with all the cast and crew following me…I was so oddly moved by that…and so nervous that I would miss the turn-off in the dark and the mist. There were so many roads we shot on and I’d scouted them 3 times over and made maps and did everything possible to make sure we weren’t all driving out in the country, lost. I prayed the entire time I was driving. I almost cried when I saw the little graveyard that was on the corner—that was the marker I needed to see. So, it’s been a funky day and it feels like maybe the rain will clear…and we have all these extras who’ve been waiting on us all day due to the rain delays—and my gut tells me we’d better shoot the dialogue with the leads first…and then we’ll get all the sweet extra’s bits. So we shoot the dialogue—and I swear, the moment we got the take we wanted—the skies opened up and it was a torrential downpour. I miss those little vignettes we’d planned with some wonderful actors. For the sake of the film, I’m grateful I listened to my gut—but sad we had to sacrifice some background artists to the fickle movie Gods.


Check out this BTS video of Oh My Stars
(courtesy of IN THE MOMENT FILMS)


Thank you for chatting with me, Cynthia!


Everyone Goes In The Lake is screening as part of the Lost & Found shorts block
Tuesday, October 22nd 5:00PM