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

TCFF 2019 Documentary Spotlight – ‘Seeing Is Believing: Women Direct’ + Interview with director Cady McClain

On its 10th anniversary, more than 60% of Twin Cities Film Fest’s 2019 program are driven by female filmmakers. It’s something I’m happy about of course, but I wish the general statistics about women in Hollywood is something to cheer about. As of right now, according to Women And Hollywood stats, women only make up for a mere 4% of directors.

So naturally I’m intrigued by documentaries that highlight women filmmakers. I featured the doc Be Natural about Alice Guy-Blaché (the Mother of Cinema). This time I had the privilege of chatting with Cady McClain, the director of Seeing Is Believing: Women Direct.

It’s a documentary film which emphasizes the opportunity for women to use their voice through media to change the social and political landscape and achieve full equality. Focusing on inspiring and uplifting young female storytellers through the mentorship and leadership of four diverse directors, Seeing is Believing: Women Direct opens the conversation up to ask “What is the broader role of storytelling in our society and how can women use filmed media as a unique opportunity to catalyze progress?”

The best documentaries are entertaining, insightful and fascinating. Well, this is one of those documentaries and then some. I love that there are clips from their projects along with the filmmakers’ interviews. I also adore the the stunning animation by Chilean artist Xaviera López that supports the themes of the doc.

I learned that Cady McClain is planning of turning this doc into a podcast series with female filmmakers and I really hope that would happen!


Check out the trailer:

Q&A with Director, Producer, Editor Cady McClain

1. What triggered you to make this film as your first feature? I read that it had started off as a 28 minute short, then an 58-minute version before this one (84 min) doc feature?

I actually started out with the idea of doing a feature. But there were two other women who wanted to make a similar feature and we each have our own vision. We all wanted to support each other but also wanted to have our own journey of going about it, which is kind of crazy but that’s how it turned out. So I didn’t want to compete by making another feature, so I thought I’ll make a series. So the short was supposed to be the first episode, the pilot. So I sent it to Soho Film Festival and they called me and said, ‘you should make it into a feature because they think it would be really competitive in their feature doc category.’

When a film festival called you, it was the encouragement I needed. I mean I never made a documentary before, I’ve never trained in documentary, but at least the short helped me understand what documentaries are. Plus I could build it from there, and the 84-minute film ended up winning the Audience Award at Soho International Film Festival which was amazing.

Then we also had a distributor come around who said, this isn’t long enough for iTunes (because it was under an hour). Now I have a little more understanding of how to make the doc feature I had wanted to make in the first place. So I went back and added more women [filmmakers] that I had wanted to but I hadn’t figured out how to fit them in. It’s like weaving a giant quilt to form a certain pattern, and you’re making the patterns as you go along.

2. Out of the filmmakers that were interviewed, I particularly love Lesli Linka Glatter, Li Lu and Sarah Gavron… I love their stories and the way they tell their stories. So how did you choose your subjects?



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A lot of it was happenstance. It was who I knew and who people I knew knew… you know, how certain people connect me to certain people. Suffragette [movie] happened while I was making this film, one of my friends who was a member of the DGA invited me to that screening and I was so blown away by it that I wrote to her agent. She said she was too busy touring for this film, but if you fly to London she’ll make time. So I flew to London to interview Sarah Gavron. I was also so inspired by the careers of the people I interviewed.

One was Joanna Kearns (best known for Growing Pains), who was an established actor before she became a director. Some people said it might be easier the fact that we started off as actors, but it’s still very hard to make that transition and to earn your place [as director]. And also with Lesli Linka Glatter, there is a lot of happenstance that comes in any one’s career. As she said in the film, if she hadn’t met that one man in the coffee shop in Japan, she wouldn’t have gone into directing. I learned that no career is a straight line. It’s helpful for me because intrinsically, you don’t just go to film school and then have a film career. It’s a lot to do with the people you’re in school with, the connections you made there, what’s being made now, what are you inspired to make, how you craft your forward movement, etc. Nothing is guaranteed And if you didn’t go to film school and want to be a director, you really have to look around you, what resources are available to you, who are the people you know and what stories you’re inspired to tell. You really have to work with the circle you have around you instead of thinking it’s out there or you’d have to come to LA and expect things to happen.

3. How has your background as an actress help you as a director?



I feel like I could help comfort the actors, even when they push back. Some actors could get very insecure and some deal with their insecurity by becoming very tough. I learn not to take it personally, and just read it as total insecurity as that’s all it is. They need me to be the one in control, to be the strong one. If I’m not the strong one then they get afraid and nervous, ‘oh she’s not in control.’ So they need to know that ‘I’ve got it. You can be nervous and I’m holding the line here for you and I’ve got your back. Everything’s gonna be fine.’

4. Seeing the grim statistics about women in film, what do you think, from your perspective as a female filmmaker yourself, needs to be done in the industry level?

I think there is a comfort factor for the guys. When they work together there is a code of behavior, I don’t know if I would call it a pack mentality, but there’s an unspoken code of behavior. They call it the ‘Boys Club’ for a reason, it’s like in an athletic club you know, if you think about it like that, there is a code of behavior that’s been long held that they’re comfortable with. So when you introduce a randomness, which is the female into that space, they’d have to get into a learning curve. So is this a friendly person, is she going to judge us for our code? What’s their take?? So as a female leader, I feel like I have to be kind about that, and not be like ‘I’m coming in to blow your game away.’ The way I’d do it is to say, ‘I’m coming in to make your show great, to respect the work that you’ve done thus far and respect your set up here, but now I’ll bring in my intelligence, my talent and ability to the story.’ It does take a certain kind of crafting in that conversation, so we can move from a gender conversation but more about ‘let’s talk about the work.’

5. I’m glad you included Alice Guy-Blaché in your film. I watched her doc Be Natural last year and I felt so guilty that I hadn’t heard of her. So who’s been your fave female filmmakers, or those who have helped path the way for you as a filmmaker?



I saw the film ORLANDO, directed by Sally Potter and I was so blown away by it. It’s such a huge production and it’s a stunning story about gender… a person, a being, moving through bodies, through time… yet there is something so inherently similar no matter whether she was a male or female.

Tilda Swinton in ORLANDO

There was a glimmer of me ‘Could I do that? Is that possible?’ I was trained intensely by my mother that no, it isn’t something I could do. ‘She [Sally Potter] was British, it’s different over there.’ That old argument… You see, my mom was, you know the 1950s mentality, where if you’re going against the patriarchy if you will, the consequences would not be small. You’d have to have a lot of resilience to buck the status quo. I don’t think she felt she had that external or internal support, she was fighting different battles. She wants us to be safe, you know, she wants us to be happy, to survive. Unfortunately, her understanding of the world of what is possible is so limited. I think for her, standing up for what’s right is more satisfying for her.

What’s next for you? I saw you’re in the process of directing two dramatic features (Paint Made Flesh and Journey to Now)?



I’m afraid I can’t say anything about the projects I’m working on, but yes I’m definitely excited to be working on a narrative feature. Storytelling is what I’m about. Although I enjoyed making a documentary, I don’t want to be branded that I’m only doing certain type of things. I like to jump from medium to medium, I’m glad that these films found me and it resonated in our conversations. It worked out, they like me and then I got attached, so now we’re in long conversations of developing something into being. It all came about in a happenstance way, someone I met while making the doc recommended me for one, and someone else I met through the the process of finding more women directors recommended me as a female director, ‘hey think about Cady McClain.’ I think people who saw the documentary thought ‘oh she could tell a good story.’


Follow the film journey online:


Thanks Cady McClain for chatting with FlixChatter!


TCFF screening time:
 Tuesday, October 22nd 4:15PM

TCFF 2019 Film Spotlight: ‘International Falls’ – Review + Interview with writer/director Amber McGinnis

INTERNATIONAL FALLS

Synopsis: A woman stuck in a small, snowbound border town has dreams of doing comedy when she meets a washed up, burned out comedian with dreams of doing anything else.


International Falls is hard to fit in a genre. Dee (Rachael Harris) is born, raised, and settled in International Falls. Tim (Rob Huebel) is a traveling comedian who has a two-day stop in Dee’s little middle of nowhere Minnesota town. Both characters have reached a breaking point in their lives, and their meeting briefly gives them a human connection they both have been desperately missing. The two bond over their brokenness and by the time the credits roll both characters have made a huge decision.

Counterintuitive as it may sound, International Falls is a coming of age film. Sure, its protagonists are well into their forties, if not past that, but both are wrestling with decisions that will dramatically shape their futures. As Ernest Hemingway taught us in The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber, not all of us grow up on schedule, sometimes we have to grow up more than once, and more often than not there is collateral damage to that growth. 

Amber McGinnis (writer/director) excels at directing emotionally fraught and comedically awkward scenes alike. She has a unique ability to make space for her actors to really dig deep into the non-verbals of their characters, which both Harris and Huebel put to good use.

Tonally, International Falls is almost romantic, but neither character is available. Their sweet moments are almost always intruded upon by their families.  It’s a funny movie, but only in very short bursts. And the dramatic tension is broken every single time Dee’s husband Gary (Matthew Glave), who is every inch the caricature of a  Minnesota native, steps on screen.

This leads me to my biggest, pettiest quibble about this movie. The accents were bad and unnecessary. Unless you’re trying to make a comedy (which International Falls is definitely not) the accents just get in the way. Do some people talk like that here? Sure, a couple. But they are few and far between and most of them are living in retirement homes at this point.

My only other quibble is that all of the standup writing is bad. For Tim, that’s kind of a given. He tells us a million times that he is bad and we are supposed to believe him. But (very mild spoiler alert) when we get to see Dee do her standup routine, it is also quite bad. Worse than that (she is a newbie after all, we can forgive her a little), her standup has a completely different tone that her character does. It doesn’t feel like the kind of standup that she would write.

Overall this is a great movie. It relishes in the frigid Minnesota landscape, pays homage to a couple of our favorite eyesores (hello Smokey the Bear dressed up as a lumberjack holding ice skates), and subtly pokes fun at the Minnesota nice stereotype. I have a feeling that non-Minnesotans are going to like it better than those of us who live here (seriously those accents are grating), but it’s a nice reminder that the puberty isn’t the only chance that humans have to turn into adults.

– Review by Holly Peterson

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Interview by Ruth Maramis
with Amber McGinnis

1. How did you get into filmmaking and how do you choose your projects.

This is my first feature and it’s been one of the most fulfilling, exciting, and hardest things I’ve ever done. I’m a trained theatre director, so I’m used to doing more long form storytelling in that medium, but up until this project I had only done shorts and industrials with film. I was ready to take the next step and make a feature but I had a hard time finding traction and funding. So in the spirit of true indie filmmaking I decided to stop waiting on someone else to give me an opportunity and set out to make one for myself. That meant partnering with our amazing writer Thomas Ward to develop the script, starting my own production company, and learning the nuance of producing a film alongside my co-producer Nick Dunlevy. It hasn’t been a perfect process. It’s been long and grueling but I have learned SO MUCH! And I am so proud of how we persevered. There were so many times when it felt like it wasn’t going to happen. Luckily I am a very stubborn Southern gal so when we hit obstacles I just dug in that much harder.

BTS photo at Voyageurs National Park

2. I read that this film is based on a 2-people play, which I find so intriguing. How was the process of adapting a play and what are the challenges of doing so?

Thomas really deserves all of the credit for the brilliant writing and adapting of this script. The two person play is basically a more stream-lined version of the same story. It all takes place in one night and in one location. So developing the screenplay was really about breaking open the possibilities that existed for the story visually: adding more locations and characters and time, while maintaining all of the heart and soul of the original story. One of the biggest changes that I love is that the town of International Falls now feels like another character in the film. We had the generous support of the Chamber of Commerce in International Falls and I think it really shows. Also the screenplay focuses more on Dee’s story and journey which excited me as a female filmmaker.

3. I also read that you were pregnant when you made this film? How was that experience, especially as the film deals with a protagonist dealing with a broken marriage?

I tell ya, giving birth to a feature film and a baby in the same year is no small task. We were still in the process of finishing the sound/color when I went into labor, and my husband has this insane picture of me sending emails from the hospital between contractions haha. “Hard” doesn’t even begin to describe it. But it was so WORTH IT. Our protagonist is on a journey in the film towards authenticity- for her it means confronting some really ugly truths in her life so she can fully be herself and chase her dream. I’ve been on a similar journey over the last few years. But once you set your mind to doing that, it doesn’t matter how hard or exhausting it is. Because being true to who we are will always, ALWAYS be less hard than faking it and living inauthentically.

4. Looks like you filmed it in Minnesota, was that in International Falls? Were you set on filming in the Winter months, which I’d imagine also possess an inherent challenge to tackle.

Yes, even though we filmed on location in International Falls in March we were still battling sub zero temperatures. We filmed on a frozen ice lake at Voyageurs National Park for 3 days and every day the park ranger had to come out and measure the thickness of the ice to make sure it was safe for us take all of our trucks out to the tiny island that served as our main shooting location. We had to put hand warmers on the camera batteries to keep them from shutting off. But our Twin Cities based crew was so amazing. They never complained about the cold or the long hours or the grueling work. It was such an awesome group of people, I am forever indebted to them.

Rob Huebel and Rachael Harris on set

5. The casting looks great for this film, would you talk a bit about the casting process?

The cast IS amazing! Everyday I feel so lucky that we got such an all star cast. We had an incredible casting director, Matthew Lessall who brought the core ensemble together. He had a keen eye for actors who could do comedy but were also not afraid of the dark and dramatic. Our lead Rachael Harris was also a great advocate for us as we rounded out the cast with some of the supporting roles. It was truly a team effort.

*All BTS photos are courtesy of Amber McGinnis


Thank you for chatting with me, Amber!


TCFF screening times of International Falls:
Saturday October 19th 7:25PM

2019 TWIN CITIES FILM FEST features WOMEN series + ENVIRONMENTAL SUSTAINABILITY films

It’s one of the most wonderful time of the year!! For film fans like me, for the past 10 years TCFF has brought so much joy and excitement since its inception in 2009! I still can’t believe it’s been ten years since it all began, I guess time flies when you’re having fun, and I’m so honored and privileged to have been a tiny part of it from the start.

There are many things to love about TCFF, as I have blogged about here, and one of them is that they champion issues important to me. TCFF 2019 marks its 10th anniversary with a special focus on both female filmmakers and films that advance this year’s social justice cause: environmental sustainability.

Celebrating Women at the 2019 TCFF!

About Women. For Women. By Women.

Check out the HER series category on TCFF website… more than 60 percent of 2019 program are driven by female filmmakers. There are documentaries exploring the world of plus size models (A Perfect 14) and the rise of female artists against the backdrop of the global electronic music festival scene (Amplify Her), a thriller about three women seek justice from the internet (Netizens), there’s something for everyone highlighting female storytelling.

All of these are so intriguing to me … I love films that gives me new insights and take me to a place (physically and metaphorically) I’ve never been before.

AMPLIFY HER looks especially intriguing to me as it combines animation and film, and it explores real female musicians in a genre I’m not familiar with: electronic dance music. The film explores how these artists navigate the challenges of the music world and find their own unique voices.

 

Of course as a newbie filmmaker, I definitely want to see Seeing is Believing: Women Direct, where four diverse women share the story of how they became directors, what motivates them, how they lead, and how they overcome obstacles to create the most optimal working environment and work that makes a difference.


Speaking of female filmmakers, I’m happy to announce that the historical drama short I helped produce last year, MASTER SERVANT, will be part of the 2019 lineup!

Master Servant tells the story of an ambitious, young railroad executive comes face to face with his own moral decay in his blind pursuit of wealth and status among the Social Elite.

Thanks to my friend and colleague Julie Koehnen, the writer/director of Master Servant, for inviting me to be a part of the journey in bringing the short film to life. We shot the film at the historic James J. Hill house in St. Paul, which is fitting given the story was inspired by true events of the Gilded Age and the Industrial Revolution. It’s such an honor to have its premiere at TCFF once again, just like my previous short Hearts Want back in 2017. Check out a clip from the film:


One of TCFF 2019’s spotlight films is also by a female filmmaker, Alma Har’el, who’ll be attending the screening on Monday, Oct. 21st. From a screenplay by Shia LaBeouf, based on his own experiences, award-winning filmmaker Har’el (Bombay Beach, LoveTrue) brings to life a young actor’s stormy childhood and early adult years as he struggles to reconcile with his father and deal with his mental health. Fictionalizing his ascent to stardom, and subsequent crash-landing into rehab and recovery, Har’el casts Noah Jupe (A Quiet Place) and Lucas Hedges (Boy Erased, Manchester by the Sea) as Otis Lort, navigating different stages in a frenetic career. LaBeouf takes on the therapeutic challenge of playing a version of his own father, an ex-rodeo clown and a felon.

 

And here are four more films by female directors to check out:

 


Changemaker Films at the 2019 TCFF!

This year’s social justice cause is absolutely important and oh-so-timely: environmental sustainability. There’s a variety of films that promise to entertain and inspire us to care about the earth we live in… Food Coop tells the story of a historic coop supermarket that booms in the middle of an economic crisis, and Salvage explores a city dump in Yellowknife, Canada, while Juice: How Electricity Explains The World highlights how darkness kills human potential and electricity nourishes it.

There’s always something new to learn about our mother earth, and with climate change being one of the most important issue of our lifetime, these films will sure have some teachable moments in an entertaining way.

Youth Unstoppable certainly brings to mind 16-year-old Swedish climate change warrior Greta Thurnberg. It proves that one is never too young to fight for something one believes in. Its director, Slater Jewell-Kemker, can also be described as a climate change warrior herself. She was just 15 when she began documenting the untold stories of youth on the front lines of climate change.

Now, Sustainable Nation tells the story of three innovators who are taking valuable lessons learned from Israel’s water shortage to the rest of the world. Humans have lived without electricity before, but nobody in the world could ever live without water. We live in an increasingly thirsty planet where water is getting more and more scarce, so I’m definitely intrigued by this film.


Download 2019 TCFF Schedule Grid


TICKETS ARE NOW ON SALE!

To buy tickets, learn more about TCFF, events, or to donate, visit twincitiesfilmfest.org

Ticket prices are $13 for General Admission & $20 for Spotlight Films. Festival Passes can also be purchased as follows: Silver Pass – $55 (5 pack of non-Gala tickets); Gold Pass – $90 (10 pack of non-Gala tickets); Platinum Pass – $130 (12 pack of non-Gala tickets + 2 Gala tickets); Spotlight Pass – $100 (6 tickets to any Spotlight Film).

The passes are such an incredible deal!! Get it soon so you can order your tickets right away. Trust me, it’s SO worth it!!

PLUS… All tickets guarantee admission to that evening’s afterparty in the TCFF Lounge located onsite at The Shops at West End.


Stay tuned for an awesome list of studio and indie films playing at TCFF!

FlixChatter Review: LATE NIGHT (2019)

I watched Dame Emma Thompson on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert where she described this movie as a science-fiction given that her character is a late-night talk show host. Ba da bing! She definitely has a point there, a jab at the establishment she delivered rather stealthily the only way she could.

Thompson’s character, Katherine Newbury, is the only woman ever to have a long-running program on late night in a male-dominated field, just like real life. However, the award-winning late-night talk show host has been losing her mojo. In fact, her ratings is declining so much that her network threatens to replace her with a younger, more hip male host. Portrayed as a sarcastic British icon who’s notoriously principled and detached, she’s also, as her producer points out, has a reputation as a ‘woman who hates women.’ All her writers, which Katherine herself barely even knew, are all white males. Along comes Molly Patel (Mindy Kaling), a former quality control expert from a Pennsylvania chemical plan, who’s swiftly hired to fulfill the gender diversity quota.

It’s amazing how timely this film is right now, so much so that you can’t help but cringe at some of the humorous bits. Not cringing because the jokes were bad, but because they feel so true. There’s a scene when Molly came in to an office full of guys who refuse to even give her a chair to sit on that she had to sit on trash bin. Not to mention the blatant male chauvinistic remarks and how they constantly made her feel that she doesn’t belong. I find myself astonished at how Molly seems impervious to those remarks and how she’s able to deflect those harassments. But of course in real life, it’s the kind of thing many people of color have to deal with and I for one, can definitely relate to her.

The fact that Katherine and Molly are from very different backgrounds and have led extremely different lives are played to great effect here. Naturally, culture clashes is always a potent subject for comedies, and in the right hands, they can be poignant, eye-opening as well as hilarious. Thompson is a legend on and off screen and I can’t imagine a more perfect actor for the part (apparently Kaling wrote this character specifically for her). Katherine is quite a difficult person to like at first, but then again, it’s not like she gives a hoot if you actually like her or not (so long as you watch her show), yet she made you care about her journey. Molly on the other hand, is someone you utterly sympathize with from the start, but soon you realize she doesn’t want/need your pity. She doesn’t need a savior, thank you very much. A message that’s delivered brilliantly in the ‘white savior’ bit in Katherine’s show where she basically forces herself to ‘save’ people of color in various circumstances such as hailing a cab. It’s delivered with glee but the message is utterly powerful.

The world of late-night TV feels really believable. Now, I don’t know how it actually works behind the scenes with the writers, etc. but it felt like the filmmakers spent a great deal researching it to present something that felt true. Director Nisha Ganatra keeps the flow at the right pace while balancing the funny bits with genuine emotional moments. The parts between Katherine and her husband Walter is deeply moving. John Lithgow‘s performance elevates him far above the token supportive husband role. Hugh Dancy is quite convincing as the pretty boy home-wrecker, while Reid Scott and Max Casella have some memorable scenes as two of Katherine’s writers.

Kaling and Thompson plays on the the ‘odd couple’ type that you don’t often see on screen. What an intriguing and powerful new dynamic duo who actually displays character resilience and inner strength that’s truly inspiring. It’s also refreshing to see a ‘coming of age’ story about a woman in her 60s for a change. As in real life, it’s never too late to reinvent oneself and it takes courage to admit one’s mistake and own up to it. I also appreciate the ending that offers a subtle nod to the burgeoning relationship between Molly and Scott’s character, without pandering to the fact that the leading lady wouldn’t be complete without a man in her life. We need more movies like Late Night, it proves just how satisfying AND enjoyable a movie can be when women get to be in charge of their own narrative.


Have you seen LATE NIGHT? Let me know what you think!

 

Guest Review: LITTLE (2019)

Directed By: Tina Gordon
Written By: Tina Gordon and Tracy Oliver
Runtime: 1 hour 49 minutes

Jordan Sanders (Regina Hall) is the quintessential boss bitch. She is rich, powerful, and micromanages every detail of her life – all the way down to how many centimeters away from her bed her slippers are placed every night. She rules her company with the same iron fist, decimating carbs and fun whenever they try to wriggle their way into the office. A little girl, apparently unimpressed by boss bitchiness as a life philosophy, magics Sanders back into her teenage self (teenage Sanders is played by the iridescent Marsai Martin). Sanders is trapped in her teenage body until she can learn the important lesson that will restore her back to the life that she built for herself.

Like most comedies these days, Little suffers due to the perfection of its own trailer, but it is still a solid movie. Some of the best jokes lose their punch because timing was tighter in the trailer (which is a flaw that extends past general comedic timing – several scenes drag in pacing) and there are some very cute scenes that just do not belong in the movie. In one such scene, Issa Rae (who plays Jordan Sanders’ assistant April Williams) and Marsai Martin slay a duet in a fancy restaurant. It is incredibly fun to watch, but makes no contextual sense, so it completely took me out of the movie.

Overall Tracy Oliver and Tina Gordon Chism created a beautiful thing in Little. The writing is light, funny, and still packs an emotional punch every now and then. The women characters are powerful, creative, and both excel in a tech field. The romantic interests of both Jordan and April are sexy, supportive, self-sufficient, and eager to prove their worth to the women in their lives. These are characters that are clearly built to give something for girls to aspire to, rather than the usual two-dimensional characters that often populate children’s movies or rom-coms.

One of my favorite things about Little is the visual storytelling. April wears fun, bright clothing, and Jordan is completely chic as a grown up and a fashion explosion as a child. The contrast between April and Jordan is non-verbally expressed time and time again through clothing, make-up, and even their homes. We learn almost everything that we need to know about each character when we initially see April in her small, colorful studio apartment while she’s talking on the phone to Jordan, dressed in silks pajamas and roaming the halls of her swanky condo.

However fun it may be, Little ultimately tries to do too much. Jordan is supposed to learn how to tone down her aggression, April is trying to grow a backbone, and Jordan’s new pre-tween friends are also supposed to learn an important life lesson somewhere in the midst of all the action. Viewers miss the fun of it all, as the movie makes sure to check off each step of the hero’s journey for all five characters.

When April meets the child version of Sanders, she jokes that this kind of thing does not happen to people of color. Personally, I look forward to the day when that joke makes no sense. Eventually there will be enough fantastical movies like this that have burst free from their historically caucasian box and our entertainment as a whole will be better for it.

Normally, I would suggest waiting to see a movie like Little once it is available on your favorite streaming service. It is a perfect movie to watch at home on a rainy afternoon when you’re free to pause and replay at your leisure. But. I also want Hollywood to know that Americans are here for this kind of movie. Is Little a perfect movie? Hell no. But it has a sweet ending, it is full of great jokes, and you will fall in love with Marsai Martin if you have not already.

So do us all a favor and go see this imperfect little gem in a theater. The future of American cinema thanks you.


Have you seen ‘LITTLE’? Well, what did you think? 

Documentary Spotlight – ‘Be Natural: The Untold Story of Alice Guy-Blaché’ + Interview with writer/director Pamela B. Green

One of the perks of covering film festivals is discovering cinematic gems that I otherwise would not have come across. This is one of those sparkling gems I got to see at MSPIFF this year. Not only is this film speaks of a topic that is near and dear to my heart as a female film critic/screenwriter/filmmaker, Be Natural: The Untold Story of Alice Guy-Blaché is eye-opening, inspiring, captivating and absolutely delightful to watch!

Pamela B. Green’s energetic film about pioneer filmmaker Alice Guy-Blaché is both a tribute and a detective story, tracing the circumstances by which this extraordinary artist faded from memory and the path toward her reclamation.


‘Be Natural’ Review

Directed by: Pamela B. Green
Written by: Pamela B. Green, Joan Simon

Have you ever heard of Georges Méliès? The Lumière Brothers? Thomas Edison? Most likely your answer would be yes. But how about Alice Guy-Blaché? If you say ‘Alice who?’ then you’re not alone.

PORTRAIT OF FILMMAKER ALICE GUY-BLACHÉ IN 1912*

I remember feeling really guilty that I didn’t know who Alice Guy was, I mean I consider myself well-versed in cinema history. Or so I thought. But then the opening of this film asked that very question, ‘Have you ever heard of Alice Guy-Blaché?’ to a number of filmmakers working in the industry (i.e. Catherine Hardwicke, Jon M. Chu, Peter Farrelly) and many of them had never heard of her.

FILMMAKER ALICE GUY-BLACHÉ (WITH HAT) ON SET OF THE LIFE OF CHRIST IN FONTAINEBLEAU, FRANCE, IN 1906

By the time Jodie Foster’s voice came on as the narrator, I was glued to the screen, captivated and deeply curious to hear more about this untold story of Alice Guy, the forgotten ‘Mother of Cinema’ who’s seemingly been absent from cinema history through generations. Pamela B. Green has poured her passion and admiration for Alice Guy-Blaché and it shows. She utilized her background in motion design (she’s the founder/owner of Pic Agency in Los Angeles) in her storytelling style. I love that the film goes beyond showing talking heads and an immense wealth of archival photos/footage, but it’s also a thrilling detective story. The animation/motion graphics helped convey the filmmaker and team’s journey in finding the right people to tell Alice Guy’s journey, including her daughter Simone Blaché.

FILMMAKER ALICE GUY-BLACHÉ (CENTER) DIRECTING A PHONOSCÈNE FOR GAUMONT**

It’s immensely inspiring to see a woman behind the camera in the late 1800s. Alice Guy is shown in various photos directing actors on set. By her own account, she made the first narrative films ever in 1896! However, despite having made over 1,000 films, it’s heartbreaking that Alice had to fight to get credit for her work. It’s also astounding that even a hundred years later, there’s still a huge disparity for women behind the camera. I’m SO glad I finally learned about Alice Guy-Blaché and her crucial place in the cinema history. This film is so overdue, yet it couldn’t have come at a more perfect time. As more people are championing gender parity in cinema, this film would likely inspire to keep up the good fight.

I can’t recommend this film enough to anyone who loves cinema, whether you’re a casual movie-watcher or involved in filmmaking at any capacity. Check out where this film is playing next on their official website.

* Photo courtesy of Be Natural Productions
** Photo courtesy of Anthony Slide


Check out the trailer:


Quick Bio on Pamela B. Green

Originally from New York, Pamela B. Green lived most of her life in Europe and Israel and as a result, is fluent in English, French, Italian, and Hebrew. In 2005, she founded PIC, an entertainment and motion design boutique based in Los Angeles, California. Green’s work ranges from feature film main titles, motion graphics, creative directing, directing and producing music videos and commercials. She is known in the industry for creating titles sequences and story sequences using her knowledge of graphic design, animation, editorial, and archival rare stock footage research.

Q&A with filmmaker Pamela B. Green

As soon as I saw Be Natural film, I went on Twitter to share about the film and to thank Pamela for shining a light on such a cinematic pioneer & visionary who’s somehow forgotten/omitted from film history books. I then contacted Pamela via her official site and was thrilled that I got to chat with her over the phone last Wednesday. Check out my Q&A below on some insights into her filmmaking journey.

Q1: What inspired you to tell Alice Guy’s story and let the world know that she is the true #MotherOfCinema?

I saw a tv show about women pioneers in cinema which included her. The show mentioned Mary Pickford (who co-founded Pickford–Fairbanks Studio with Douglas Fairbanks) who’s also well-known as an actress. But the fact that Alice Guy had done so much and had her own studio, she stood out. I had never heard of her at that point, and the more people I asked, I realized that many people also had never heard of her. I did more research and talked to some people in the academics community who said ‘oh everyone knows about Alice’ which made me angry because that [statement] is not true. Only a small group of academics knew about her.

I kept asking people that I work with in Hollywood, those I do jobs for, studios, and nobody had heard of her. I decided to do something about it. At that point I wasn’t sure what it would be yet, but coincidentally I was working with Robert Redford on a couple of films. On a second film, I told him about Alice and he was shocked as well. He said ‘well what are you going to do about this?’ Then I said, well I think I should do a documentary because I don’t think there’s enough work has been done to really explore Alice besides the academic aspect, restoring her films, documenting what she had done, etc. but it wasn’t a full exploration of her.

FILM STILL OF BESSIE LOVE (CENTER) IN THE GREAT ADVENTURE (1918), DIRECTED BY ALICE GUY-BLACHÉ – Courtesy of The Museum of Modern Art

Q2: How long ago was this, that this journey started?

Oh a long time ago. In 2011 I was talking about this. Then we did a Kickstarter campaign in 2013 which was quite successful. Then the head of Geena Davis’ institute [SheJane.org] found out about it and then she talked to a big producers Geralyn White Dreyfous, Regina K. Scully, Jamie Wolf who came on board. They’re not part of Hollywood, but people who often fund social issues pertaining to women. Hugh Hefner and Jodie Foster also came on board as executive producers. They’re all visionaries who understood right away why I had to make this film. Instead of having to fight the system in Hollywood, I went the other way and they really helped me.

Q3: Did you face resistance from people who try to maintain the status quo of cinema history?

Yes. I get a lot of resistance from France, the Academics, professors. And Hollywood didn’t fund this movie. I mean they participated but Hollywood didn’t fund this movie. It’s completely donation-based. The ‘wallets’ just wasn’t available I guess, so I got funding from social media and these wonderful women. Barbara Bridges from the Denver Film Society is one, basically a lot of women behind the men who helped fund this movie, a lot of philanthropist women helped tell this story. The film is also distributed independently, outside of the studio system. But I see it as a positive thing, I was able to make the movie that I wanted to make, and marketed it the way I wanted to market it. There’s not many ‘fingers in the pot’ while I was making the film.

Q4: I love that the film also plays like a detective story, and the motion graphics helped convey that so wonderfully. Was that a conscious decision on your part to tell the story that way?

Yes, from the very beginning. I wanted to have Skype interviews, contact people around the world. Some people in the industry said to me ‘It wouldn’t be aesthetically correct. Why would you do that? It would look bad, what do you know about editing, etc.’ So I got a lot of resistance and people saying that I didn’t know what I was doing while making this film. So it’s similar to how Alice Guy was treated and had to deal with, that is having people second-guessing her as a filmmaker.

A still from the documentary

Q5: Where can people see Alice Guy’s extensive work? Is there plans to make her work readily available to the public?

Our film opened at Laemmle’s Monica Film Center on Friday, April 19. Then IFC Center in New York on April 26, then slowly we’re opening in multiple cities in the US and internationally [check out the film’s official site for schedule].

As far as Alice Guy’s films, there’s the Gaumont DVD collection [available on Amazon]. Kino Lorber Distribution company has some of her American films which they’ve released as part of the Pioneers: First Women Filmmakers disc [available on Amazon]. I’m also working on doing her American collections available for streaming. There are about 150 of her films in existence and we’re setting up a foundation that would hopefully support that venture.


Follow the film journey online:


Thanks so much Pamela B. Green for chatting with FlixChatter!