Whaddayaknow… it’s the last day of 2016. It’s been a tumultuous year to say the least… definitely a hectic one for obituary writers. I know many people have said that 2016 is cursed because so many famous people died. Well I certainly don’t believe that. Yes, many of those celebs passed away too soon, and some might think it’s the most death we’ve had in the year, but no, I don’t think any particular year is ever cursed. Still, I am saddened by the death of those who’ve made an impact on me… the likes of Alan Rickman, Prince, Charmian Carr, Alan Thicke, Carrie Fisher, and George Michael 😦
I guess I’m an optimist as I’d rather not dwell on the negatives and try to see the good side of things. There are things I’m thankful for, some I’ve mentioned here… I don’t know how much longer I’d keep on blogging but as of right now, I’m still thankful for being a part of the film blogging community and the fun & privileges it’s afforded me.
Speaking of which, it’s as good a time as any to thank my fellow bloggers who’ve commented on my blog for their support…
Can’t wait to see BBC’s SS-GB and Free Fire next year!! …
Now, I thought it’d be fun if this year I ask my blog contributors to do a brief recap of some of their favorites. I can’t thank them enough for being a part of my wee blog, so check out what they have to say…
I’m so grateful to have the opportunity to write for this blog. It’s been fun having an excuse to write (outside of my mostly-neglected personal blog), I’ve gotten to see movies I might not have chosen to go to otherwise, and it’s provided multiple cheap date nights. It’s also given me a few of my favorite movies for the year, from major blockbusters to indie films from up-and-coming talent.
Ouija 2: Origin of Evil. As a lot of my readers know, I love horror, and while I wasn’t expecting to enjoy this one at all (because the first one was super boring), I was so pleasantly surprised when it turned out to actually be really good. It was legitimately scary, which hasn’t been the case with a lot of horror movies released over the past few years, and it was well-done overall, from the acting to the cinematography. Its score on Rotten Tomatoes was incredible, especially for a horror movie sequel, and it was well-earned.
The Eyes of My Mother. Keeping with the horror theme, this Twin Cities Film Fest submission was excellent. It was stylistic and unnerving and I could not believe that this was writer/director Nicolas Pesce’s first film, especially at the ridiculously young age of twenty-six. After such a strong beginning, I can’t wait to see more in what will hopefully be a long, illustrious career.
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Yes, I had issues with this movie. The writing could have been much better, especially from such a normally talented individual. But as a die-hard Harry Potter fan, I was still so happy to hear the first few notes of Hedwig’s Theme played over the WB logo, and getting to see all of these incredible creatures I’d been imagining since childhood so beautifully rendered on the big screen was so satisfying.
As for my favorite discovery, it’s definitely Nicolas Pesce, the writer/director of Eyes of my Mother. I was amazed that this was his debut as a filmmaker and especially blown away by how young he was to have such an incredible first movie. Considering how much I loved Eyes of My Mother, I can only imagine what else he’ll come up with as his (hopefully illustrious) career progresses.
Vince shared his top 5 films he saw in 2016:
Cleo from 5-7 (1962): I’m still mourning the absence of the Criterion Collection from HULU. This was one of the last I saw from Criterion that made me ask myself, “Why hadn’t I seen this before?” More engaging than the usual French new wave and a lot less pretentious in my opinion. A great intro to the work of Agnes Varda.
Arrival (2016): I was very impressed with this low-key gem. As a devout fan of Amy Adams (minus her forgettable Lois Lane roles) this did not disappoint. Already looking forward to Villeneuve’s Bladerunner sequel.
Kubo and the Two Strings (2016): I wrote a review of this earlier this year for Flixchatter and it gave me some hope for the state of animation for the coming year. Good story, some creative risk-taking and beautiful design are standards to live up to.
Storm in a Teacup (1937): One of the few classics remaining in HULU, this one stars Vivien Leigh (who is gorgeous as usual) and a young Rex Harrison in an everyman role as an idealistic journalist meddling in small town politics. No Henry Higgins here but this light comedy has some things to offer in film world full of melodrama and skepticism.
Sing (2016):I screened this with my two young boys (courtesy of Flixchatter) and even though it is full of the usual song and dance populating most average animated films these days, they managed to do it right this time without the annoying shadow of American Idol or the Voice. Not too heavy but quite entertaining. My boys loved it. (Full review to follow)
2016 was kind of a disappointing year for me when it comes to entertainment. I love seeing big summer blockbuster films at the cinemas but for the first time in many years, I’ve skipped quite a few of them this past summer. With the exceptions of Captain America: Civil War, Jason Bourne and Star Trek: Beyond, I didn’t bother with other big summer releases. Thankfully those three big summer films were very entertaining to me. I hope next summer; Hollywood will release quality summer blockbusters instead of just lame sequels. I’m glad I saw a couple of smaller films at the theater that were quite good, Hell or High Water and Don’t Breathe came out of nowhere and were very successful with both critics and audiences.
While the summer season was forgettable to me, the fall/winter movies were much better. I really enjoyed Arrival, Hacksaw Ridge, Sullyand Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. I have yet to see my most anticipated movie of the year, Martin Scorsese’s Silence, I hope it won’t be a disappointment like this year has been so far.
Television shows have been quite good the last few years and with the popularity of Netflix original shows, I thought both DareDevil and Luke Cage were some of the best shows on TV this year. Another show on Netflix that I can’t get enough of is House of Cards, season 4 was an improvement because I was very disappointed with how season 3 turned out.
Blog Plans for 2017:
Well, I made a pledge to watch 52 FILMS By Women, part of WomenInFilm.org but I’m about 10 films short, and that includes rewatches of films by women, i.e. Belle, Bride & Prejudice and You’ve Got Mail. So I definitely plan to watch more films written and/or directed by women in the new year and beyond!
I don’t know if I’ll participate in Blind Spot series again this year, but I might take part in Wandering Through The Shelves’ Thursday Movie Picks more often to give me a break from reviewing films. I also want to do more Music Break posts next year.
Well that’s FlixChatter’s year-end recap folks! Here’s to a more joyful, blessed & prosperous NEW YEAR… cinematically and otherwise.
One of my favorite parts about blogging for TCFF is meeting various indie filmmakers. I’m glad I got to meet Jon Weinberg over coffee one rainy evening, and it’s one of the most enjoyable interviews I’ve done in my seven years covering the film fest!
Scott thinks he might be dying. Not at all an uncommon thought for Scott, but today the lump he believes he found “down there” might actually be real. Today also happens to be the day of his friend Kens funeral. Funeral Day is a darkly funny movie about a man who skips his friends funeral in an attempt to start living his own life to the fullest.
Funeral Day is a dark comedy that could double as a male health PSA. My blog contributor Sarah reviewed the film here, and while I agree it’s a bit on the raunchy side, the writing is fun and zippy. Definitely one of the strongest feature film debuts that premiered at TCFF, so I hope Jon would continue making movies in the future.
Collaboration with Testicular Cancer Society
The filmmaker raised awareness for testicular cancer in collaboration with the Testicular Cancer Society. During the post-production stage, Jon sent a tweet that caught the attention of Testicular Cancer Society founder, Mike Craycraft, a testicular cancer survivor who waited seven months after feeling his lump before having it checked. In the film, after feeling a lump on his testicle, the main character refuses to go to a doctor, “which is not uncommon in men,” explained Craycraft.
Both the society and the producers of the film hope that by engaging in co-promotion, more men (and the women in their lives) will become aware of testicular cancer and be proactive in the diagnosis and care process.
A full cast of experienced and recognizable talent include: Tyler Labine (Deadbeat, The Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Tucker and Dale Vs. Evil), Tygh Runyan (The upcoming Versailles, Stargate Universe), Suzy Nakamura (Dr. Ken, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Horrible Bosses 2), Dominic Rains (Best Actor award winner at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival for his role in Burn Country, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, The Loner) and many more.
Funeral Day is written by Kris Elgstrand, an award winning screenwriter, whose most recent film, Songs She Wrote About People She Knows, premiered at the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival.
Quick bio about Jon Weinberg:
Funeral Day is the debut feature film of director Jon Weinberg, a Minnesota native who grew up in St. Louis Park. Weinberg received a degree in theatre from the University of British Columbia, and later continued his training at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art (LAMDA) before moving to Los Angeles in 2006. He has appeared on film, TV, stage as well as audio. His directing work includes several stage productions, commercials, and an award winning short film. Weinberg is also the author of the award winning photography and poetry bookA Calm Position (In Due Time Press). He is currently producing an upcoming web series with Ethan and Dominic Rains.
Q: So that was interesting how you ended up partnering with the Testicular Cancer Society. Tell me a little bit about that.
Post [crowd]funding campaign on Seed & Spark, during that time I tweeted out. Just to get some people’s attention, I tweeted it out to the Testicular Cancer Society. They seemed like they had a little bit of a sense of humor with, you know, dealing with the disease, at least what I gather from their tweets and their website. And actually it caught the founders’ attention. It was Mike Craycraft and he tweeted back and then he said, I want to talk to you.
It was just like that. It’s very now, you know, that really wouldn’t have happened five years ago with the whole social media thing. And so, we connected and he basically said that, from seeing the site and reading the synopsis and stuff that he had a similar experience in it. I remember thinking at first like ‘I hope not because the guy goes through a lot of crazy shit in this movie.’ Then he starts to tell me how a number of years ago he found a lump. And for whatever reason he just thought ‘I have cancer, I don’t want to deal with it. I don’t want to go to the doctor. And he threw himself a going away party. He didn’t tell anyone why and didn’t go to a doctor and sort of went on an adventure thinking ‘Ok I’m going to die anyway…’ But eventually he said ‘Wait, what am I doing? This is silly.’ And he waited unfortunately a while [to get tested], but fortunately not too long because he’s still alive now. But he did have cancer and they had to remove one of his testicles.
Now he’s fine, but from this experience, it motivated him to get other people more aware of it with this wonderful organization. It doesn’t just raise awareness but they’re also advocates for patients and stuff. Anyway, so we partner with him which has been great and I’m learning a lot. And our mission is to work together. He wants to be able to screen the film, maybe at some college campuses, to educate and just facilitate conversation. So yeah, this collaboration is obviously a win win. I get to be a part of something great, that has a great cause.
Q: How was your collaboration writer Kris Elgstrand?
Yes, Kris is a writer based out of Vancouver who wrote the screenplay. We’ve worked together. He had originally written it for himself, but he put it on hold while he was working on the project. And then I got into it, and I had decided I wanted to make a feature. I was reading different scripts and I remembered that script because he had sent it to me. I basically said to him, ‘Hey can I do it?’ And he said ‘Yeah, let’s make that happen.’ So I took it from him and then I grabbed another couple of producers and then we started putting it together.
Q: So I’m curious, I know you wanted to make it. But what made you decide that you want to also star in it?
Yeah. So originally, I was looking for something to act and that I could also produce that I cared about. So that was, originally I wasn’t intending to necessarily direct. I had directed a short and a few other things. But this would be a first feature so I wasn’t intending to be just like ‘oh I’ll just direct myself.’ But as I started prepping for it, it sort of made sense that I was going to be the co-directing it with someone. So I just started directing it and certainly it was important to me to make sure I had one of the producers… you know, we have a full crew. It was a small film but we did have a 22-person crew. We did have a big truck and you know, we went by the rules, we had permits and all that. But on set it was very important to me to have someone at the monitor all the time, because I was in it. So you know one of the producers, Ron Buttler, help co-directed me up there on set. So I always had people I trusted around me, which you should always have. We had a really great team. And, we were able to, not with everyone, but we were able to do some rehearsals beforehand that made it a little bit more comfortable because we had a very quick shoot.
Q: Tell me a bit about the filming process? How many days it took you to shoot this?
13 days. It was a very quick shoot, you know. We shot the whole thing in like 13 days. We had some pick-ups but it was quick. We shot everything on location in L.A. We had a great cinematographer named Jeffrey Cunningham who just fantastic and everyone worked really hard. Kris [the writer] couldn’t make it out to the set but he was very hands on beforehand. We had a script supervisor and there were even times where we had to rewrite a little section or two, we could always call Kris, so we’re able to always be in contact. He’s great, he’s the kind of writer that writes for the actor. I mean it’s very dialogue-heavy kind of film, he writes a very talky kind of dialogue. A lot of people asked me if some of it was improv but no, he wrote a lot of it in the script.
Q: I have to ask you about casting. Tyler Labine, I saw his film at a film fest a couple of years ago. It’s called Best Man Down now, but at the time it was called Lumpy.
Yes, and he’s a great, great guy.
Q: And then Dominic Rains, too, who’ll also be here for the premiere for three of his films. I know he’s originally from Iran, but he plays an American in this movie, correct?
Yes, he’s from Iran. He moved to England but he actually then grew up in Texas. So he speaks with an American accent in this movie and he’s fantastic with accents.
In fact in [Dominic’s film] Burn Country, he has an Afghan accent and in The Loner he also has an accent. I’m just going to talk about how much I love him. He’s a wonderful guy and an amazing actor. So in my film, he’s playing you know, like you said before, sort of a jerk and he’s funny, he’s really funny. It’s such a different role from the two other films he’s screening here in TCFF. As you already know, he plays an Afghan fixer in Burn Country and in The Loner he plays an Iranian gangster.
Q: So about your casting process. Did you have to audition the actors then, or did you just talk directly with them?
I was very fortunate. I’ve been in L.A. for a while so I had worked with various people and had made friends with various people. It was important to us to get the right cast. So of course we wanted people with some names, but we cared about putting the right actors in the right roles. We did have auditions but we were also able to deal directly with actors. Meaning it was either my friends or producers’ friends or friends of friends, and so we were able to get the script directly to actors, sort of bypassing the agent or the manager.
So we did hold auditions and you know, we’re very fortunate that they would even want to come out. So I’ve known Dom [Dominic Rains] for a while, we were in a play together ten years ago and Tyler and I knew each other from Vancouver. But of course they still need to want to do the productions. So some did come in to do the audition, and some we just knew they were right [for the role]. But we were very fortunate to sort of have these actors read it and say ‘oh yes I’m interested in doing it.’ And yes once that happened, we dealt with their managers, agents and all that, but we were also able to sort of just go directly to them. But yeah, for a number of the parts, we also did hold auditions. We’ve been very lucky with our cast.
Q: There’s always that chicken and egg question. You either have to cast everything all ready to attract the investors, or do you have to have the funding first in order to attract the cast. How was it for you in making this film?
I knew I had the energy and I’d be able to do enough to make a small movie. This is my first film, you know, I’ve never formed an LLC before and all that. So we did that. So I had friends that we’d been talking about making movies you know, and then finally, ‘OK here’s something to make.’ So we came together and we formed a company. Then you know, you literally just reach out to those you know first. Literally parents, friends, uncles, aunts, and then friends, and even friends of friends. So for the most part, most of the production budget came from the people we knew. You know, people who want to support you. I mean hopefully we can make them their money back of course, because you want them to trust you for later.
So it’s a certainly a process and you know, we’ve created an investor packet and we reached out to people, people we think might be interested. And some who do, it might not be the right time for them, so there’s a lot of ‘nos’ and you have to wear a business man hat. That was all new to me but you do it, because when you want to make something you’ve got to do it. So we thought, as long as we can get sort of enough to make the movie, if we need more money, it was my idea that we could raise a little bit more money through crowdfunding later after we have already made the film.
So once we felt we had enough that we feel we’re not going backwards, we started setting dates and trying to hire our crew, which was another process. It’s a small movie but still, y’know, it was still a SAG contract and all that kind of stuff.
Q: Were there any particular snafus during production that you wouldn’t mind sharing about?
Oh yeah. We had many snafus and I’m told that’s normal. Though of course when it happened to you it felt sometimes like, ‘oh that’s it. I quit’ you know, those moments. One of the things that was frustrating was we lost two actors on day two. It was supposed to be like two days before we start shooting and they were actors we were very excited about. And coincidentally they play partners, like husband or wife or whatever. I can’t remember exactly, but one of them got a big part in a big NBC show or something like that, so what can you do. And they were actually needed for just two days out of the 13-day shoot. So you know, we talked to their agents and because our shooting was so tight, we couldn’t rearrange and they happened to have to shoot their projects at the same time. So all of a sudden it was literally like, a little bit of panic. So this was like day two and we had a 12-hour day literally after 12 hours we’re all stressed out. So we get together, the producers and everyone, we sent out e-mails, we talked to everyone on our crew if they know anyone that fits this [role] description and literally, the day after, after a 12-hour day we held auditions in my apartment. It was crazy. It was like, work all day and at night we held audition.
Well, we were so lucky. We’ve got Kristin Carey [who was in the Scandal series recently] who’s just fabulous and funny. And also Jed Reese, who we recently seen in Deadpool [as the recruiter]. He’s just this great actor and he’s also in Galaxy Quest if you remember that great film, he was one of the aliens. He’s so funny in this. So they came on with very little notice but really, they’re both phenomenal, I can’t say enough about them. So that was one of the big snafu that ended up working out much better for us.
Another thing was the location. We lost a location that was very important to us. We got a location so that was hell, and we were supposed to be there for three days. It was so bad because of various reasons. It was a condo and there were issues that even though we paid for and all those things, the owner even after a contract didn’t want us there and all the stuff, and she was watching every moment of it. So we were like, ok, so we had to rewrote some of the scenes so we didn’t have to shoot it at that location. So things like that happen.
Q: How about the location, you shot this film entirely in L.A.?
The story was actually written for Vancouver. But we ended up shooting it in L.A. I think it’s interesting because L.A. is, as they say, sort of a character in the film. The main character Scott, he doesn’t have a car and he runs from place to place, which is crazy in L.A. And so we thought it was really fun. And also you get to see little parts of L.A. and in Vancouver it has a similar feel in some ways. I mean there’s more transportation and stuff like that there, but it was sort of written in that same way. The character, even though it wasn’t said in the movie, but maybe he doesn’t really trust cars and stuff. I think it added more to the story that he’s running in L.A. Yeah, I think the way it was originally written in ways that you could move from city to city without sacrificing the story.
Q: I thought Dominic’s character you know, being a realtor with his fancy car, his Maserati, it made sense in L.A.
It’s funny. I think some of those little bits were actually changed once we Kris knew we were shooting it in L.A.
Q: What’s the most memorable moment for you as an actor AND director filming this?
Yeah it was fun. I mean what we’re doing was certainly difficult, but like I said we had a good team. I had someone who was always at the monitor during the shoot. Because we were doing it so quickly you know, you could only watch playback so often right you can only we watched the tapes. Sometimes we just didn’t have time, so it was a huge help to have Ron Butler there. Honestly, as an actor, it was a fantastic experience working with the cast. I got to work with Tyler and I got to work with Jed and Dominic. Oh I didn’t mention Suzy Nakamura who’s on Dr. Ken on TV right now. She’s wonderful. I mean I just got to work with all these people you know, with Tygh Runyan [who’s starring on the Versailles series] and of course Kristin. So as an actor, that was the highlight to work with them. As a director, having some control over the actual product is pretty great. From the beginning of the shoot and being in the editing room.
Also working with the composer. We’ve got a great composer, Ariel Blumenthal, based out of L.A. Music is very important to me, so to actually having a composer for the whole film is amazing. As for ambient sound, or the practical music, so if there was like a song at a diner or something, I had musician friends who were wonderful and generous. They gave me their songs to use in the movie. So I think as a director and just being able to be a part of the whole thing is really something.
Q: So what’s next for you? Do you want to keep doing features?
Well I think it’s egregious to say I want to do it all. But definitely make more features. Acting certainly, but I want to be directing more, maybe with myself a little less in it, so I’m looking for the next feature to work on. And in the meantime I’m working actually with Dominic and his brother Ethan Rains. They’re awesome. So Ethan has has created a Web Series and so Dom, he and I are producing it. We have some writers for that, so we’re working on that but then hopefully, you know, we’ve been talking about creating another movie together also.
Q: So if people ask me, where can they see your movie?
So we just started our festival run. We premiered in a festival in Austin and you know, it was cool we were nominated for something and I won Best Director. And then TCFF is our second film festival. Then in November we’re going to Reading Film Festival in Pennsylvania, the EyeCatcher film festival in Oklahoma and then Key West Film Festival which I’m very excited about, I hear is just wonderful. Hopefully we will find a distributor, I mean you want to find the best situation that you can to get it out into the world. Less and less films are hitting theaters but still it’d be great if it could somewhere. But you know, you have so much you know from Hulu, Netflix to Amazon and all that.
Q: Nowadays a theatrical release doesn’t seem that important anymore because I think more people are watching stuff at home, right?
Yes I think it’s not as important in sharing your film. Of course I’m still an old school in that I believe in the shared experience of watching a movie at the theater. So I love going to the movies. I love the big screen. I love when you know, my movie is a comedy right, so I love watching people laugh watching it. But of course there’s is something so wonderful about the time now when you can make something and still put it out of the Internet or wherever that can be seen across the world.
Q: Last but not least. Who are your inspirations in terms of filmmakers?
I’m a big fan of Paul Thomas Anderson. He’s he’s wonderful and I think during or before I was making this film, I watched Punch-Drunk Love a lot. Not to compare myself to that but you know, I love that the film is based in reality but slightly heightened and strange. I thought Adam Sandler was great in it. And of course I love the Coen Brothers and you know, the fact that they’re also from St. Louis Park 😉
So yeah, certainly I’m inspired by those kinds of films. But I also like great dramas, like Moonlight which is fantastic. Barry Jenkins, I met him briefly during his film premiere at Telluride and I heard him talking about it. It’s a beautiful film, it’s heavy but in a beautiful way. Another film I saw this year which had just enough comedy to keep it light even though it is heavy is Manchester by the Sea.
Towards the end of our interview, we also talked about how great Captain Fantastic was, and Viggo Mortensen’s performance. I teased Jon that hopefully he could cast him in his next film. ‘One day, one day,’ he replied. We also talked about how great Brooklyn was with Saoirse Ronan. We ended up chatting much longer than planned at Caribou across the street from Showplace ICON Theatre and really we could go on for hours talking about movies!
THANK YOU SO MUCH Jon for taking the time to chat with me!
Hope you enjoyed the interview! Hope you’ll check out Funeral Day when it arrives in theaters near you and/or VOD.
The 2016 TCFF has concluded Saturday night with a festive closing night party.
I saw four films Saturday night. Starting with two great documentaries Actors Of Sound and Free Cece, followed by two powerful emotional dramas, Lion and Moonlight.
I had been crying so much watching Lion, a wonderful depiction of an incredible true story, and Moonlight was an even more emotional experience. It was a well-written, well-acted and simply powerful film about Black sexuality, featuring the kind of deep emotional intimacy I haven’t seen in many films, regardless of race and gender.
I also enjoyed the short film that preceded Actors of Sound called Boom Up!, it was hilarious! I won’t have the reviews of the films I saw in last two days of TCFF until later in November, but let’s just say I recommend all the four films I saw on closing night!
Concluding a star-studded showcase that featured more than 100 films spanned over 11 days, this is perhaps the largest-ever Twin Cities Film Fest ever with over 130 films, including shorts and documentaries! Top awards went to the critically-acclaimed coming of age drama Moonlight, which had been hailed by critics as the best film of the year and will hopefully gain more traction until the Oscars next year. Just like Room and Brooklyn last year, TCFF continues tradition in screening critical darlings that went on to win accolades at the Oscars.
Here are the winners from Twin Cities Film Fest 2016:
Best Short Film: Lend a Hand For Love, directed by John and Amy Thompson
Audience Award – Short:Waabooz, directed by Molly Katagiri
Best Documentary:I Do? directed by Joe Brandmeier
Audience Award – Documentary:Iron Will, directed by Sergio Valenzuela
Indie Vision — Breakthrough Non-Fiction Film:They Call Us Monsters, directed by Ben Lear
Indie Vision — Breakthrough Feature Film: No Light and No Land Anywhere, directed by Amber Sealey
Indie Vision — Breakthrough Performance: Kate Nowlin (Blood Stripe)
Best Feature Film: Moonlight, directed by Barry Jenkins
Audience Award – Feature Film: Blood Stripe
I’m so thrilled for Remy Auberjonois and Kate Nowlin who won the Audience Award in the Feature Film category. As you know from my review of Blood Stripe, I was so impressed with this film. It’s so well-written, well-directed AND phenomenally-acted by Kate Nowlin, who deservedly also won Best Breakthrough Performance this weekend. I certainly think Kate’s performance is Oscar worthy!
Another well-deserved award, that is the TCFF North Star Award goes to the massively talented indie actor Dominic Rains. You may not know who he is yet folks, but mark my words, you will! He’s already won Best Actor in a U.S. Narrative Feature Film at Tribeca Film Festival earlier this year for his performance in Burn Country (originally named The Fixer), which also screened at TCFF, along with two others, Funeral Day and The Loner.
I have seen two of the three films he’s in and was really impressed by his strong screen presence and versatility as his role in the thriller/drama Burn Country (as a former Afghan journalist) and the comedy Funeral Day (as a rather obnoxious American realtor) couldn’t be more different from each other, but yet he pulls off both roles effortlessly. Stay tuned for my in-depth interview with Dominic on his career, as well as with Funeral Day‘s director Jon Weinberg!
As I’ve mentioned in this post, I’m glad to see quite a few female filmmakers as well as female-driven films represented at TCFF! One of the finalists for Breakthrough Feature Film that I was really impressed with was Claire In Motion, which was directed by a pair of female filmmakers, featuring a terrific performance by Betsy Brandt.
It was already close to 11pm by the time I came out of the Moonlight screening, TCFF’s final film, but I couldn’t miss the award ceremony at TCFF lounge. I was only there for an hour or so and I had a blast hanging out with my friends, Kirsten Gregerson and Emmylou Barden.
I don’t know how long the party went on but clearly everyone had a great time! I’m glad I got a chance to congratulate Kate Nowlin for her award, my interview with her and her husband/collaborator Remy Auberjonois are certainly one of the highlights of covering TCFF, not just this year but of all seven years I’ve been with the film fest! Just before I left for the night, I even got a chance to chat with Remy about the enigmatic ending of Blood Stripe. Once you see it, I think you’ll know what I mean!
Thanks to my darling hubby for taking pictures of the closing party festivities! Check out his Instagram for his awesome travel photography (and I’m not just saying that ’cause I’m his wife) 🙂
… Congrat Jatin, Bill, Dani, Steve and Naomi for another great year!
It was so gratifying to be a part of TCFF once again… watching, discussing & celebrating indie films and the art of filmmaking.
I haven’t had even an hour to blog all day today as I was watching films, interviewing talents and socializing at the mixer at the beautiful festival lounge at the Shoppes at West End. My head is still spinning as I’m writing this… my body is exhausted but my spirits are high from the exhilaration of meeting so many great people. My day started with an a delightful interview with actor Dominic Rains, and got to meet Jon Weinberg (the director and star of Funeral Day) whom I had interviewed the night before. Then in the afternoon I got to meet the director of The Babymoon Bailey Kobe, as well as Kate Sloate who’s in the film’s producing team. I will post more pictures in my wrap post!
I stopped by TCFF lounge for a couple of hours, which was even busier as the night went on. For sure the closing night party tomorrow will be a blast, and I sure wouldn’t want to miss the Award Ceremony!
Speaking of award, Twin Cities Film Fest has announced the TCFF award finalists a few days ago here. I’m so thrilled for so many of these indie filmmakers, whether it’s shorts, features or documentaries, that their hard work are being recognized. For many of them, their indie films are their sweat, blood and tears… as most of these films are made with shoestring budgets. This is why I LOVE covering TCFF, as I get to see more indie films than I otherwise would in a given month! As I meet filmmakers and talents, it’s apparent to see that the limited budget/resources just made them more innovative and creative! This is why I will always support indie films and indie filmmakers!!
2016 TCFF FINALISTS
Best Feature Film:
“Blood Stripe,” directed by Remy Auberjonois
“Burn Country,” directed by Ian Olds
“First Girl I Loved,” directed by Kerem Sanga
“Lion,” directed by Garth Davis
“Moonlight,” directed by Barry Jenkins.
“Denial,” directed by Derek Hallquist
“The Eagle Huntress,” directed by Otto Bell
“Free CeCe!” directed by Jacqueline Gares
“I Do?” directed by Joe Brandmeier
“IRON WILL: Veteran’s Battle with PTSD,” directed by Sergio Valenzuela.
Best Short Film:
“Duffy’s Jacket,” directed by Brian Hoesing
“I Want You Inside Me,” directed by Alice Shindelar
“Lend a Hand For Love,” directed by John and Amy Thompson
“The Story,” directed by Cameron Digwall and Carolyn Pender
“Twinsburg,” directed by Joe Garrity.
Indie Vision — Breakthrough Feature Film:
“Claire in Motion,” directed by Annie J. Howell and Lisa Robinson
“The Eyes of My Mother,” directed by Nicolas Pesce
“Girl Flu,” directed by Dorie Barton
“June Falling Down,” directed by Rebecca Weaver
“No Light and No Land Anywhere,” directed by Amber Sealey
Indie Vision — Breakthrough Non-Fiction Film:
“In Pursuit of Silence,” directed by Patrick Shen
“IRON WILL: Veteran’s Battle with PTSD,” directed by Sergio Valenzuela
“Prison Dogs,” directed by Geeta Gandbhir and Perri Peltz
“Tarkovsky: Time Within Time,” directed by PJ Letofsky
“They Call Us Monters,” directed by Ben Lear
Indie Vision — Breakthrough Performance:
“Blood Stripe,” Breakthrough: Actress Kate Nowlin
“Donald Cried,” Breakthrough: Actor Kris Avedisian
“First Girl I Loved,” Breakthrough: Director Kerem Sanga
“Hunky Dory,” Breakthrough: Actor Tomas Pais
“The Other Kids,” Breakthrough: Director Chris Brown
“Lend a Hand For Love,” Breakthrough: Directors John and Amy Thompson
“Moonlight,” Breakthrough: Writer Barry Jenkins.
Lifetime Achievement Award: Lea Thompson
I’m so glad I got to chat with Lea when she was in town last month for TCFF gala. I also got to interview Jim Hemphill whose wonderfully-crafted drama The Trouble With The Truth was screened at one of TCFF’s Insider Series!
In addition to the staff and audience awards, the 2016 event is also bestowing two North Star Awardsto visiting actors Tim Guinee (in town to celebrate the 10th anniversary of “Sweet Land”) and Dominic Rains (starring in three TCFF films now touring the festival circuit — the James Franco-Melissa Leo mystery “Burn Country” screening Saturday night, the neo-noir thriller “The Loner” screening Friday, and the dark comedy “Funeral Day” showing Saturday morning).
Now, I haven’t seen all of the films nominated, as there are only so many hours in a day and I still had to work at my full time job the first week of TCFF. But of the ones I have seen, I definitely agree with most of the choices! I’m especially thrilled to see SO may female filmmakers and talents being represented AND recognized. I think people who read my blog and connected w/ me on Twitter know that I’m not only a big champion of indie films, but also women in film! It’s clear that indie films are the place for women and diverse talents thrive… so I’m glad I got to see many of them thanks to TCFF!
Whether in front of or behind the camera, it always perks me up to see women storytellers, creating and/or portraying multi-dimensional, fully fleshed-out female characters and bringing their stories to life. One of my all time favorite performances is Kate Nowlin in Blood Stripe, and having chatted with her in person, she is an inspiration both on and off screen!
Both Prison Dogs and The Eagle Huntress have become two of my all time favorite documentaries! I can’t review the latter until mid November where it’s released here in Minnesota, but I can’t recommend it enough. I guarantee you’d fall in love with 13-year-old Aisholpan who defied the odds to become a champion eagle huntress!
It’s always a blast hanging out with friends and new people you meet at TCFF lounge. But tonight is especially awesome as I got to hang out with two ladies from Minnesota Women in Film and Television (MN WIFT), Joanne Liebeler and Deborah Fiscus. I love their positive energy and warm personality, it’s always encouraging and inspiring to be around such wonderful people!
I feel so blessed to have met to these smart, accomplished, yet warm & lovely ladies, so thank you to my pal Kirsten Gregerson for introducing us! I’m definitely going to join the organization and learn from local women who work in film, television, and new media in Minnesota.
Well, tomorrow is the last day of TCFF already! It’s a jam-packed closing day with three gala screenings: LION, Moonlight AND Burn Country, with its star Dominic Rains attending!
I’ll be seeing FOUR movies tomorrow, starting with the documentary on foley artists, Actors Of Sound at 10:15AM, which ends with the closing film Moonlight at 8:30PM! I’m writing this past midnight and in dire need of sleep, but I’m excited for what’s in store for me tomorrow!
I know the next 10 days is going to be a whirlwind! Day 3 of Twin Cities Film Fest has pretty much come and gone. Thanks to Sarah Johnson, my awesome reviewing partner during TCFF, for contributing to the reviews of various indie and short films. Check out her bio page here, she’s a MN-based freelance writer who also writes for City Pages.
‘Funeral Day’ Review
“I am probably going to punch you in the face,” one of his friends says to Scott (Jon Weinberg) early in “Funeral Day.” Most of us have a slightly neurotic friend that we love anyway. In his feature film directorial debut, Weinberg also tackles the lead role as a hypochondriac who finds a mysterious lump on his testicle the day of his friend’s funeral and decides to skip it in order to start living his life to the fullest.
We meet a cast of characters – the jilted ex-girlfriend (Rahnuma Panthaky), the sleazy real estate agent (Dominic Rains, who has my favorite line of the movie – “I work for a living, do you think I have time for friends?”) and the Zach Galifianakis-type Chuck (Tyler Labine) – in Scott’s search for meaning.
While the cast is strong, I found the script at times (written by Kris Elgstrand) to be a little too raunchy, in that it almost took away from what would otherwise be an unexpectedly light way to look at dark topics such as illness and morality. Unquestionably what saves the movie for me is the winsome charm of Weinberg in his portrayal of a nuanced character.
‘In Pursuit Of Silence’ Review
Even before watching the trailer, I was immediately intrigued by the idea of In Pursuit of Silence. Billed as a meditative film about our relationship with silence and the impact of noise on our lives, it does exactly what it says on the tin. I truly believe silence is a lost art, as we’ve become increasingly absorbed by the bustling world around us and become more desensitized by it. I love documentaries like this that really make you pause and think about the world around you.
Directed by Patrick Shen, the film itself uses sound… and silence, in a unique way. There are plenty of scenes where the only sound is comes from nature, be it the rustling trees or grass in a field, sound of water streams, or the wind in a vast, expansive space. It features several talking heads of experts in the field, some are actually on the field measuring the decibel level of certain environments. It’s amazing how loud certain cities have become that it far exceeds what the normal human hearing should withstand. The extended exposure of such loud sounds will no doubt cause hearing loss, yet most of us don’t realize it. I think people pay more attention to air pollution than sound pollution, but the latter can be just as damaging to our health.
It also takes to to various parts of the world… Japan, India, London, New York, as well as Minneapolis. The film features Orfield Laboratories in Minneapolis, which lab is 99.99 percent soundproof and thus considered one of the quietest places in the world. I love how the film contrast the quiet serenity of a traditional tea ceremony in Kyoto with the deafening sound of the loudest city on the planet that is Mumbai during the thundering festival season.
In his director statement on the film’s website, Shen said that he …’hope that the film challenges audiences to slow down and on some level make the world new again for them.’ I think the film accomplishes that and it truly serves as a respite for me as I’m going through the busiest time of the year covering for TCFF. I’m definitely glad I watched this and I think every citizen of the world should!
Get the TCFF App!
The TCFF app is such a lifesaver for me. Instead of futzing with paper that’s easily lost, download the app so you have easy access the film schedule at your fingertips! It’s got all the info for the daily educational events as well as film schedule, which is immensely helpful!
What’s in store for Day 4 & 5!
Stay tuned for more TCFF reviews and my interview with the filmmaker of Word of Honour: Reclaiming Mandela’s Promise documentary!
Word of Honour: Reclaiming Mandela’s PromiseScreening: Sunday, October 23 | 3:45 pm.
TCFF is less than a week away! Those who’ve been reading my blog for a while knows I’ve been covering TCFF since its inception seven years ago. It was only a 5-day festival and it was split between two different locations in Minneapolis. Well now TCFF has made its home at Kerasotes ShowPlace ICON Theatresin St. Louis Park, and this year TCFF will also feature a second screening series at the IFP Theater in St. Paul.
I’ve finalized the movies I’ll be watching during the 11-day film fest. I’m just thrilled that there’s quite an eclectic lineup we’ve got this year, practically there’s something from every genre. I’ve blogged about some of them on this lineup post, but below is the movies what I’m excited about.
Before we get to that though, here’s TCFF’s Preview Video highlighting some of the studio films showing this year …
… The perk of blogging for the film fest is that I could watch as many films as I could (yay!). Of course it’d still not be possible for me to see every single film, but I have my pal Sarah Johnson to help me review stuff again this year which allows me to do interviews and support indie filmmakers!
A female Marine veteran, battling unseen wounds from her recent service in Afghanistan, flees her suburban life in search of solace and escape in the North Woods.
I’m thrilled that I’ll be going to the 5:30pm screening of this film. I had been looking forward to this since my friend Kirsten Gregerson (who has a supporting role in the film) told me about it a year ago. As you know, I always champion female-driven films and Blood Stripe is co-written by its star Kate Nowlin, and the film won the U.S. Fiction Award from L.A. Film Festival. The film is filmed locally in MN at Lake Vermilion!
Stay tuned for my interview w/ the husband/wife team Remy Auberjonois and Kate Nowlin next week!
A contestant on a Bachelorette style reality show is thrown into turmoil when the sudden death of his father forces him to quit the series prematurely and reconnect with his estranged sister at the family cabin.
This sounds like an intriguing comedy drama, featuring a Glee reunion of sort w/ Matthew Morrison and Jane Lynch!
When a couple sets out to build their dream house, they enlist the services of an uncompromising modernist architect who proceeds to build HIS dream house, instead of theirs.
I have to say I was immediately intrigued by this when I saw James Frain in the cast! He’s a terrific character actor from Yorkshire UK who’s been in countless of TV shows and films, including the latest obsession of mine The White Queen as Lord Warwick. I also love the two great comedians Parker Posey and Eric McCormack, so I can’t wait to see this!
In the adventure-comedy The Babymoon, a husband in a fragile relationship tries to impress his pregnant wife with a luxurious and romantic babymoon vacation to the most beautiful and exotic country imaginable, which places the couple in the middle of a poorly-planned political revolution!
From its press release: This star studded and well-known cast brings a multitude of talent and relatable emotion to the big screen. The Babymoon features Shaun Sipos (Vampire Diaries, Melrose Place), Julie McNiven (Mad Men, Supernatural), JessicaCamacho (Sleepy Hollow, Dexter), MichaelSteger (90210), MarkDeCarlo (Curb Your Enthusiasm, Seinfeld, Jimmy Neutron),PhillipGarcia (Telenovela, Fuller House), and KellyPerine (Drew Carey, The Parent ‘Hood).
The premise sounds really intriguing too! Sounds like a perfect date night movie for anyone in the mood for some fun adventure at the movies.
As a former fixer for journalists in Afghanistan, Osman (Dominic Rains) finds asylum in a small California town. Promised a job as a crime reporter for the local paper, and a home with his best friends mother, the town sheriff (Melissa Leo), Osman is ready to settle in. But, when the job falls through, Osman finds himself restless and looking for action.
His attempts to get to know the area lead him to develop friendships with an elusive local actress, Sandra (Rachel Brosnahan), and a charming local troublemaker named Lindsay (James Franco). But, when a dead body turns up and Lindsay goes missing, Osman must face the possible evil lurking just beneath the surface and the depths of his new homes darkness.
One of my fave films at TCFF last year also featured James Franco: The Adderal Diaries. The premise of this one really intrigues me, and I’m looking forward to seeing Dominic Rains‘ performance, as he won Best Actor in US Narrative Feature (then called The Fixer) at Tribeca earlier this Spring (per Variety). Melissa Leo also has a supporting role here and she’s a terrific actress!
Director: LISA ROBINSON & ANNIE J. HOWELL Runtime: 84 min
When Claires (Breaking Bad‘s Betsy Brandt) search for her missing husband leads her to an alluring and manipulative graduate student, she uncovers a world of secrets that threatens to shatter her family.
Here’s another female-driven film (written & directed by a pair of female directors too!) I’m excited about. The film premiered at theSXSW Film Festival and recently Breaking Glass Pictures has acquired North American rights to the mystery drama. (per Indiewire)
Scott thinks he might be dying. Not at all an uncommon thought for Scott, but today the lump he believes he found “down there” might actually be real. Today also happens to be the day of his friend Kens funeral. Funeral Day is a darkly funny movie about a man who skips his friends funeral in an attempt to start living his own life to the fullest.
Now this sounds like a dark comedy that serves as a male health PSA! The filmmaker raises awareness in collaboration with the Testicular Cancer Society.
From its press release: A full cast of experienced and recognizable talent include: Tyler Labine (Deadbeat, The Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Tucker and Dale Vs. Evil), Tygh Runyan (The upcoming Versailles, Stargate Universe), Suzy Nakamura (Dr. Ken, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Horrible Bosses 2), Dominic Rains (Best Actor award winner at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival for his role in Burn Country, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, The Loner) and many more. Funeral Day is written by Kris Elgstrand, an award winning screenwriter, whose most recent film, Songs She Wrote About People She Knows, premiered at the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival.
A young woman returns home to Wisconsin for her best friend’s wedding – one year after her father’s death.
This sounds like a personal and heartfelt story about loss and friendship that everyone can relate to. As someone who’s lost a parent early in my life, the story certainly appeals to me.
From its press release: June Falling Down was made primarily by a two-person crew – one of whom was the writer-director-lead actress. What begins as a quirky, homespun movie with a mixture of local Door County, Wisconsin actors and non-actors, reminiscent of Richard Linklater’s Slacker, over time reveals itself to be a film of surprising depth and poignancy, a meditation on grief and growing up.
A father and daughter who have been estranged by divorce for twelve years find themselves on a trip across the country that becomes a more complicated journey than they imagined. It’s a story of pain, hope, healing, and redemption.
I had the pleasure of chatting with the lead actor Dariush Moslemi during the filmmakers interview taping a few weeks ago. I was so inspired by his conversation that it made me look forward to his film even more. I enjoy faith-based stories where the spiritual aspect is organic to the story and that it’s not about spewing a certain agenda. Sounds like a great film to take your whole family to.
Grieving her mothers death and her own failing marriage, Lexi (Gemma Brockis) boards a plane from London to Los Angeles in search of the estranged father who abandoned her when she was three-years-old. Based out of a seedy Hollywood motel, she follows a tenuous trail of breadcrumbs, beginning with his aging former in-laws, collecting numbers and addresses in the hopes that one will lead to her father. Along the way, she establishes other unexpected connections: her father’s ailing former second wife (Deborah Dopp), her bitter half-sister Tanya (Jennifer Lafleur) and her caregiver girlfriend (Jade Sealey), and two local barflies (David Sullivan and Kent Osborne). A stranger in the City of Angels, Lexis reckless searching leads to cautious discoveries in this atmospheric and introspective quest.
Another film screened at L.A. Film Festival that won some accolades! This film won The LA Muse Jury Special Mention award. Written and directed by Amber Sealey, it also featured a large female ensemble cast, always a plus in my book!
Three estranged foster brothers rediscover the ruins of their childhood kingdom “Oxenfree”…and face down the monster living within.
There’s something about this comedy fantasy about three brothers that immediately appeals to me. I grew up w/ two brothers and let’s just say we have a rather unusual childhood, so I think I can relate to this story.
Trespass Against Us is set across three generations of the Cutler family who live as outlaws in their own anarchic corner of Britain’s richest countryside. Chad Cutler (Michael Fassbender) is heir apparent to his bruising criminal father, Colby (Brendan Gleeson) and has been groomed to spend his life hunting, thieving and tormenting the police. But with his own son, Tyson (Georgie Smith) coming of age, Chad soon finds himself locked in a battle with his father for the future of his young family.
I almost didn’t mention this film when I initially published this article as I didn’t think it was an independent film. Well it certainly falls under the category of British indie, which was recently acquired by A24 for its US rights. It’s definitely one of my most-anticipated films at TCFF. The pairing of two Irish thespians Brendan Gleeson and Michael Fassbender gets my attention straight away, and it looks like a gripping family gangster flick set in a British countryside.
For Horror/Thriller Fans…
Now, most of you know I have too feeble nerves to handle horror, but since is close to Halloween, naturally there are quite a few horror films playing at TCFF! Here’s a sampling that you should check out, click on the link below the posters for more info!