TCFF 2016 Reviews: ‘First Girl I Loved’ + ‘My Scientology Movie’ doc

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‘First Girl I Loved’ Review

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First Girl I Loved is a coming-of-age story for the social media generation. Mix this with a narrative about teenage sexuality and you have the new feature film written and directed by Kerem Sanga. It stars Dylan Gelula as Anne, the nerdy high school yearbook photographer, Brianna Hildebrand as Sasha, star of the softball team and the object of Anne’s desire, and Mateo Arias as Clifton, Anne’s best friend who secretly loves her.
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This is a movie that whether you like it may depend on what mood you are in. On one hand, the lead characters in this movie are teenagers that act like teenagers (no deep psychological speeches here). On the other hand, there is a lot of giggling and nonsensical teenager speak that can get annoying.

The narrative at times can be confusing as it’s told in flashback from each character’s perspective. If this was intentional to help the audience understand how conflicted these young people are, it succeeded. Dylan Gelula in particular is a standout in this movie, as she aptly portrays the angst of the high school years. I feel like this movie will really strike a chord with some viewers but unfortunately I am not one of them.

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‘My Scientology Movie’ Review

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I was intrigued by this documentary when I learned of the unconventional method that documentarian Louis Theroux (apparently cousin of actor Justin Theroux) in approaching the controversial subject matter. Directed by John Dower, Louis traveled around Los Angeles to investigate what goes on behind the scenes of the elusive church of scientology. But instead of featuring expert ‘talking heads’ as most documentaries typically do, Louis instead chooses to re-enact some of the practices and speeches, based on recruitment/marketing videos from the church that he got from whistleblowers.
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The style immediately reminds me of The Act of Killing documentary where filmmaker Joshua Oppenheimer exposed one of the most brutal genocide in history that took place in Indonesia with re-enactments of the murderous ‘act’ itself. The difference is, Joshua used the actual perpetrators of the event to re-enact them, whilst Louis hired unknown actors to play the roles of major figures of scientology, including the church leader David Miscavige and the movie star Tom Cruise, the most famous celebrity scientologist in the world.

The result isn’t quite as hauntingly profound as The Act Of Killing, but still it’s quite a revelatory as well as amusing documentary. There are moments that are downright hilarious, such as when people start showing up across the street from where Louis was filming with their own video camera. When they’re confronted, they refuse to say who they are, but there’s little doubt they’re likely sent by the church to investigate Louis’ crew. The church also blocked certain roads and claimed they owned the property, which at the end is proven that it was in fact a public road. These encounters are often hilarious, but that’s not to say there’s no serious nor intense moment in the film.

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The exchange between Louis and Mark Rathbun, a former senior executive of the Church of Scientology who ‘blew’ from the church, is quite intense. There’s a certain unpredictability to Mark given that he was the inspector general of the church at one point. In fact, another whistleblower claimed that Mark had punched him during one of the most controversial practices. The scene where the actors re-enacted a brutal interrogation scene where Miscavige was berating some church members inside a room was quite intense, and I never know if at one point the actor playing Miscavige might snap and start hitting people.

Of course the church denies all the malpractices depicted in the film, including the infamous Hole that’s basically a prison for senior executives they deem as misbehaving. The whistleblowers were candid about the extreme abuse and human rights violation they suffered, to the point that they’d rather die than having to stay in the church. One of the most memorable moments was when Louis and his crew were watching a video of Tom Cruise talking passionately about scientology and they paused at a footage of him with a wild, fierce look on his eyes, as if he’s ready to strangle anyone to defend his religion. But I think its leader Miscavige is just as scary if not more as Cruise was, and he’s even more elusive.

As this is the first documentary on scientology I’ve seen so far, I don’t know if this is the definitive film on the subject. I’d think Alex Gibney’s Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief might give more insights into scientology, just based on Gibney’s previous work. Still, this one is worth a look, an entertaining doc that’d make an intriguing discussion afterwards.

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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!

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What’s in store for Day 5 & 6!

Stay tuned for more TCFF reviews and talent interviews!


TCFF 2014 Day 2 – Interview with Haley Lu Richardson

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One of my fave parts of blogging for TCFF is the opportunity to meet talents whose films are playing at the film fest. Most especially when you meet someone as talented, vivacious and gracious as Haley Lu Richardson.

She has two VERY different films, one is an apocalyptic thriller, The Well, and the other is a teen pregnancy comedy, The Young Kieslowski. That alone is a major accomplishment, but even more so the fact that The Well is her feature film debut. Now, I have seen the latter and no doubt the 19-year-old is a talented young actress poised for stardom.

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Haley in The Well and The Young Kieslowski

Screen charisma is not something an actor can really train for and Haley’s got that in spades. What impresses me most is her versatility, which is what every good actor should have in their arsenal. So check out how Haley got her start and what role she’d like to tackle on next.


FCInterviewBannerI arrived about 10 min early and she was already there as her previous interview got done early. Even at 9:30 in the morning, she’s already looking fresh and bubbly that I immediately feel comfortable chatting with you. I knew it’d be a fun interview, but of course life is not complete without snafus once in a while right? Well, I might’ve had too much fun chatting with her that for whatever reason, either I didn’t turn on my iPhone recorder properly or I accidentally deleted our conversation but that’s what happened. Ah well, so I had to do my best transcribing from my notes and memory 😉

Q: So Haley, ow did you get into acting?

A: I grew up in Phoenix, Arizona, got into competitive dancing and was into that for a while. [per IMDb, She was a member of Cannedy Performing Arts competitive dance company for 8 years and has won prestigious titles such as ‘National Dancer of the Year” and the ‘Peoples Choice Award’ at the Young Artist’s competition.] And with dancing, there’s a bit of emoting required as you’re performing, which makes me think about going into acting. So I had a long talk with my parents over the dinner table. I even made a Powerpoint citing the pros and cons about going into the acting business, etc. Fortunately they’re quite supportive and in 2011, my mother and I moved to LA so I could pursue acting. I was also lucky that I was able to secure an agent that got me into some projects. I did a TV movie called Christmas Twister and a few TV projects before I got the chance to audition for The Well.

Q: How was that audition process go for The Well?

A: Normally the audition goes through casting agents and/or through a talent agency but at the time I was so hungry for work that I submitted my tape to an online casting site and though they normally don’t go that route in finding talents, somehow they found me.

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Q: Your character Kendal rarely says what she’s thinking. She is a doer, not a talker. How do you come to approach that kind of character?

Tom [Director Thomas S. Hammock] and Jacob [writer Jacob Forman] and I had a long chat about the story and character, they really took the time to help me get into Kendal’s head. Plus the setting in a barren landscape of the Mojave Desert [about 4 hours north of LA] looks like a real dystopian place so that definitely helps me get into the mindset of a girl trying to survive.

Q: How much training did you do for the action sequences, was that hard to get to do all the fight scenes? 

Yes, it was pretty intense. I had never held a gun before in my life and it’s really quite scary. I had to practice in the shooting range and even though you’re shooting blanks, I’m still fully aware what a dangerous weapon it was. It’s also quite heavy and I had to shoot several rounds. Whenever I’m walking around though, I usually just carry the plastic thing, but when I’m filming a scene, I had to use a real gun with blanks.

Q: There have been several dystopian young adult movies produced over the last several years. Apart from The Well doubling as a revenge tale, what did you do to make sure The Well was different from the other projects?

I think there are definitely similarities in that movies like Hunger Games, Divergent, etc. deal with a young person being put into a situation where they have to fend for themselves. But I’d say that The Well is a quieter movie. There’s not non-stop action or explosions, but a lot of time for the character to reflect on things and the music is also understated to help set the mood. I think it’s a more intimate and even personal film, as it’s more about Kendal’s journey and how she must protect the last remaining well in order for her to survive

Q: Now moving on to your second film The Young Kieslowski, how did you get this part, did you have to audition for the role of Leslie Mallard also?

Fortunately, the same producer [Seth Caplan] that did The Well offered me the part as I was working on that film. And since the stories are so different, that appealed to me. I then met with the writer/director Kerem Sanga and he agreed to cast me, so that was great! Then it took some time for us to cast the role of Brian Kieslowski so it’s cool to be on the other side, the fact that I was already cast. So I had to read with these other actors. I don’t think I had much say in the casting of Brian but I think we knew early on Ryan Malgarini was perfect for the part. He had the right look, down to his hair and everything.

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Q: The Young Kieslowski is centered on Ryan Malagrini’s character, Brian. You are given significantly less screen time. Yet, you make Leslie as multi-dimensional as the male protagonist. What did you focus on doing as you played Leslie?

If I think too much about a certain character then I think it would screw me up. I don’t know that I’ve ever totally become someone else I’m playing, there’s always a bit of me in that character, even if I had never been in her situation, y’know, I never went to college nor have I ever been pregnant. It’s a pretty emotionally challenging role but I just tried to imagine what it’d be like being in her shoes, having to grow up faster than normal given the circumstances. 

The story is actually a personal one for [director] Kerem as his parents had him and his twin brother in college. So he definitely helps me a lot in processing the story and what he wants out of the character.

[SPOILER ALERT]

Q: How was filming that childbirth scene like? Were you nervous about filming that?

No actually that’s one of the main reasons I signed on to do this film. I saw it as kind of a challenge, wow I got to give birth! My parents and I actually watched all these real childbirth videos for research. Filming the scene itself was also a lot of fun to do. The woman who was helping me in the delivery room was actually a pediatrician so she helped me figure out what to do. My voice was gone by the end of filming as I was screaming so much, but it was a lot of fun filming that scene. 

One of the most challenging part is actually wearing the pregnancy suit as they weigh it to make sure it looks realistic. It was really heavy and Kerem had me go up and down the stairs so I get the wobbly walk right and everything.

Q: Ok, last question, but I’m curious that now that you’ve done a futuristic dystopian thriller, a drama and comedy, so what genre or certain role are you interested in tackling next?

A: I like stories that felt real, playing someone you can relate to. So not something too out of this world or improbable. I’d love to play a drug addict, a transformative role that I can really sink my teeth into. 

 


 Check out Haley’s Films at TCFF

The Well

Sat Oct. 18th, 8:30pm


The Young Kieslowski

Sun, Oct. 19th, 3:00pm


Thanks so much for taking the time to chat with me, Haley.
I wish you all the best in your career!

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Hope you enjoyed the interview. Stay tuned for Day 2 reviews tomorrow!