Weekend Roundup: MSPIFF Reviews – My Internship In Canada | Dragonfly | Mr. Pig

It’s almost Monday again… my goodness, where has the weekend gone? It’s been really quite a whirlwind for me. I had a movie night with my two girlfriends Friday night where we watched Suite Française (well, a rewatch for me), and between Saturday & Sunday I saw three MSPIFF movies. I managed to fit in a 14-minute immigration short film called ELLIS (with Robert De Niro) and re-watched Bride & Prejudice on Saturday night too as we opted to stay in after a long day.

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There’s a bit of a snafu on Sunday afternoon but I only have myself to blame. I didn’t read the ticket properly so I went to the wrong theater to see this Estonian drama The Fencer! The majority of the films are played at St. Anthony Main Theater by the river, but some of them are at Uptown Theater. Well, thankfully there’s still some tickets available to Mr. Pig, which I had missed on Friday night.

Well, here are mini reviews of three of the films I saw this weekend:

My Internship in Canada

My Intership in Canada

This is a political comedy set in Northern Quebec where an idealistic Haitian grad named Sovereign applied to be an intern of Guibourd, an independent Member of Parliament (MP). This French-Canadian movie chronicles their adventure navigating Canadian politics as Guibourd finds himself in the awkward position of holding the decisive vote to determine if Canada will go to war.

I find this movie so delightful and funny from start to finish. I don’t understand much about Canadian politics but it hardly matters. It’s more about the relationship between this MP and his intern, as well as his wife and daughter who have VERY different political views. Patrick Huard as Gibourd and Irdens Exantus (in his debut acting role) as Sovereign are so fun to watch, they have such different personalities but yet they share such an endearing chemistry. The movie is part road trip as well, as Gibourd has a fear of flying phobia so they practically had drive hundreds of miles everywhere. There are some amusing scenes involving the Indian tribes and the truck drivers who constantly block the roads, as well as some hilarious scenes of Guibourd’s past as a hockey star. Philippe Falardeau, the director of the Oscar-nominated Monsieur Lazhar, wrote and directed this political satire. Definitely worth a watch and being this is the first MSPIFF movie I saw, the film festival was off to a good start!

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Dragonfly

This is NOT to be confused with the Kevin Costner movie from 2012. This is a Minnesota-made, female-led independent film set in the Twin Cities. (read my interview with the creators)

Dragonfly

The film centers on struggling artist Anna Larsen who returns to her hometown Minneapolis to help care for her ailing mom. She didn’t have the best relationship with her mom, who never understood her. It’s palpable from the first moment they were in the same room together after years being apart that they did not get along. Anna came from a divorced family and so she dragged years of family baggage along with her as she comes home from Chicago.

When she found a mailbox from her childhood, she embarked on a quest to solve the mystery of its owner. Along the way she had to confront certain things about her past that she thought she had buried behind her, including the boy next door she grew up with. But the core of the story is a mother/daughter relationship getting over their stormy past, as well Anna also facing her own demons.

A still of Cara at Stonearch Bridge, Minneapolis

I immediately connect with the protagonist of the story, played in such natural grace & humor by Cara Greene Epstein. Though I don’t necessarily share her family journey, I can relate to her pain and struggles in reconciling what’s real and what she’s been imagining (and hoping) for her life. There’s a scene at the art gallery (the location of my set visit) that was quite heartbreaking to watch.

The fact that the creators of Dragonfly, co-directors Maribeth Romslo & Cara herself, are both mothers and daughters themselves, they strived to portray authentic relationships on screen and I think they did just that. The relationship between Anna and her brother also comes across very genuine, I guess it helps that Anna’s brother’s played by Cara’s real-life brother David Greene.

The film is beautifully-shot and is simply gorgeous to look at. I also love the use of music in this movie, featuring talented local artists such as John Hermanson, Cloud Cult, The Ericksons, etc. At 76 minutes, this is a lovely little drama that never overstays its welcome.

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Mr. Pig

What I love about attending film festivals is, aside from seeing a bunch of indie gems, I also learn about certain filmmakers I wasn’t familiar with. Now, I knew Mexican filmmaker Diego Luna as an actor (i.e. The Terminal, Elysium) but I didn’t realize he’s also a director. Mr. Pig is Luna’s second feature film, featuring Danny Glover and Maya Rudolph as father and daughter. I think he’s pretty talented behind the camera as well.

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Glover plays Ambrose Eubanks, a down-on-his-luck hog farmer who has nearly lost everything. We first saw him at his extremely messy house and he’s just about to drive to Mexico to transport his last possession, a giant pig with a pedigree named Howard (Howie) that’s worth a lot of money. But things don’t go according to plan, and the last half of the film becomes a reunion of sort (which began reluctantly at first), as his daughter Eunice ended up traveling with him.

The movie started out with Ambrose’s close relationship with his pet hog, but essentially the story is a love letter to our parents… with a pig in the middle. That’s the director’s note on the MSPIFF page, which I hadn’t read until after I saw the film. I have to say I didn’t always enjoy watching this movie, it was rather slow and I really didn’t know where it was going (perhaps a metaphor for Ambrose’s life, but it just wasn’t pleasant to watch). But once Maya Rudolph entered the picture, things started to pick up and the film also grew brighter visually as a result. The final third of the movie, as the three are en route to an idyllic beach in the Mexican Pacific was beautiful to look at. It’s such a contrast to the messy and rather disgusting look of the first part with the pig pens and Howie being sick on a motel bed, etc.

The story is quite predictable as well, but I was still invested in it thanks to Glover and Rudolph’s solid performances, especially the latter who’s immensely likable. This is the first time I saw Rudolph in a non-comedic role and she’s terrific. Her comic timing is effortless, but so is her dramatic chops. She definitely injects life into the film with her presence.

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So that’s my weekend roundup folks. What did you see this weekend, anything good?

Indie film spotlight: DRAGONFLY (2016) & Interview with the creators of the film

Dragonfly

When I first heard about Dragonfly about a year and a half ago, I was immediately intrigued by the fact that it’s a female-led feature and that it’s filmed in the Twin Cities. This is a debut feature for both Maribeth Romslo and Cara Green Epstein (who also wrote AND acted in the film).

I was thrilled that I got the chance to visit the set in early Fall of 2014, at the Public Functionary art gallery in Northeast Minneapolis. It was my first time visiting a film set in Minnesota, so it was so exciting to see the creative minds hard at work making their dreams a reality. Amidst their hectic schedule, both of them greeted me warmly and I had a chat with Cara during filming break.

Fast forward a year and a half later, Dragonfly is one of the indie films that will make its regional premiere at 2016 Minneapolis/St. Paul Film Festival (MSPIFF). It’s one of the films in competition in the Minnesota Made Narrative Feature category.

 

The story of Dragonfly is about homecoming and healing for a Midwestern family divided by divorce and illness.

Struggling artist Anna Larsen’s mother has never understood her. When her mom is diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s, Anna returns home to help but brings years of family baggage with her. As she unpacks her past, Anna rediscovers a mysterious mailbox from her childhood and embarks on a search to solve its mystery. What she learns along the way may just be the key to rekindling her own magic.

Check out the trailer below:


Unfortunately, my conversation with Cara that I taped got corrupted somehow, but the three creators of the film were gracious enough to still grant me an interview via email.

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Q: What’s the inspiration for the story of Dragonfly?

Cara: We were interested in exploring the ideas of magic and discovery – how each of us can create magic in our own lives and in the lives of those around us, as well as how much there is to discover about ourselves and those around us. The idea that each of us has our own truth, and that truth is not absolute. In Dragonfly, we are exploring a moment in time when perspective changes profoundly for several characters and each of them is suddenly made aware that their truth is not the only truth and they are able to see each other more clearly and with greater generosity and care.

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Cara, Mim & Maribeth on set

Q: How long did it take all of you from conception to finally getting the project off the ground?

Cara: I posted on FB on November 17, 2013 that I wanted to film something. Maribeth replied a few minutes later that she “knew a girl who could help. ;)” and I asked Mim about a month later if she wanted to produce this short film I was going to write and act in, so that was late 2013. I actually started writing the script in February 2014 and we finished the entire film on November 5, 2015.

Q: I know Cara, you reside in Chicago whilst Mim and Maribeth lives here in town, but what’s the reason behind filming the movie in the Twin Cities?

Cara: Making a movie takes a village and this is where our village is. It’s where Mim and I grew up and it’s where Maribeth is raising her family and where Mim has always lived. Many of the most important people in our lives live here and we knew (hoped) that they would support us in this endeavor. That said, the generosity and support that we have received, and continue to receive from the MN community has blown us away. The Minnesota arts and production community is brimming with talent. There is no doubt about that. But other cities in the country also have people with talent and skills. However, in Minnesota, the extremely talented and skilled arts, film, and commercial community is also exceedingly dedicated, supportive, adventurous, generous, and kind. It is an absolute joy to work here. From pre production through post, Minnesota lived up to the hype and proved itself to be the nicest state in the country to make a film.

A still of Cara at Stonearch Bridge, Minneapolis
A still of Cara at Stonearch Bridge, Minneapolis

Maribeth: Making our film in Minnesota totally spoiled us. It will be hard to make a film elsewhere after the positive experience we had making Dragonfly in Minnesota. At every step and on every level, Minnesota proved itself to be the nicest place ever to make a film.

We received incredible support from the Minnesota Film Board and the Snowbate Program. We were energized by the everyday kindness and excitement of our locations and supportive community. We were blown away by our 528 donors who made the film possible on Kickstarter. Our film was possible because of the open arms and support we found at every turn in Minnesota.

Dragonfly_Mim_quoteMim: Working as an advertising broadcast producer in the Twin Cities I have such a respect for the amazing talent in film that we have locally. It was extremely important to us to tap into this fantastic film community and give the opportunity for many people to work on a feature film.

In addition to majority of the cast and crew of Dragonfly being from MN, the soundtrack exclusively showcases MN artists and bands like Cloud Cult, Caroline Smith, John Hermanson and The Ericksons. This film was really a love letter to Minnesota.

Q: Cara, I know you are a writer, actress and director, as some would say you’re a triple threat. Which of the three do you enjoy most and which you find most challenging? I reckon all of you had to wear multiple hats while filming?

Cara: I’m glad that I wore all three hats on this film because I learned SO MUCH. That said, I wouldn’t do it again because I would want to be able to focus more specifically on each role. I could not have co-directed this film without our director Maribeth. I learned so much about how the camera moves and how to frame a shot and how to use a camera to tell the story from her.

I think that acting is so FUN, especially when you’re not also the writer and a director and a producer ;). I had a great time acting and it was so fun to share the screen with incredible talents like Jennifer Blagen, Terry Hempleman, Matt Biedel, and of course, David Greene. But it was also really challenging to put the blinders on and just focus on being Anna when I was so aware of everything else that was going on in production at the same time.

I’d have to say that my favorite part was and is the writing. I loved creating a world and making up characters and breathing life into them. I really loved telling this story.

Maribeth: Independent film is like pushing a boulder up a hill. It’s making the impossible somehow possible. With no time, and with very little money. Given the crazy challenge of it all, wearing many hats is vital. Everyone from the director to a newbie production assistant all have to make smart and quick decisions to keep the production moving forward.

The_500_hats_of_bartholomew_cubbinsI’d be curious to know how many texts have been sent between Cara, Mim and myself over the last 2 years. I’m sure the number is staggering. One favorite that I’ll always remember is in the thick of production on the film, Mim texted a photo of the cover of the Dr. Seuss book The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins. It perfectly captured what making an indie film is. Wearing all the hats to get that boulder up the hill.

Q: Tell us one of the most memorable experiences making this film.

Cara: Oh, there are so many! The last day that we shot with a full crew was the day that you came to set at Public Functionary. That night, at like 1am, we had this hilarious – well, now it’s hilarious but at the time it was incredibly frustrating moment – where we had multiple opinions about how to shoot a small piece of the scene. The shot should have taken 20 minutes, tops, and instead it took like an hour and twenty.

Dragonfly_Cara_quoteAt one point, Maribeth actually stamped her foot in frustration, which, for Maribeth, is like screaming “F*&$!” at the top of your lungs, but she would never do that on set. But then we went back inside and shot this great little improv scene at the bar and then we were done. And I will always remember looking at Mim and Maribeth in disbelief and falling into a group hug with them and just whispering “We did it. I can’t believe we did it. Can you believe we did it?”

Of course, at the time, we didn’t realize that it would be another 13 months before the film was finished. But that was just a completely magical moment. We had taken on this insane challenge, and we had killed it with the help of an absolutely incredible cast and crew.

Maribeth: So hard to pick one, there are so many from production. Shooting at sunrise at the bottom of Minnehaha Falls, a 18 hour day at an art gallery with 40 extras, constantly “holding for plane” because our main location was in a busy flight path to MSP Airport.

But I think the most memorable experience of the whole process was the private screening of the newly finished film that we hosted in November at Riverview Theater. We rented the theater to share the film with our Dragonfly community (cast, crew, family and production supporters) before we shared it with film festivals and the world. Because making an indie film really takes a village, this meant we filled every spot in the 700-seat theater. It was such a beautiful celebration of all of the creative collaboration and hard work, to experience viewing the film for the first time on a big screen with our community.

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Mim: There’s so many but let me tell you about one of the earlier experiences. Originally I came on board to this project thinking this was going to be a short film. We’d shoot a few weekends and we’d be done in a matter of months. Little did I know right? After the first round of creative concepting we realized the story we were telling was much more robust than a short film would allow. And I’ll never forget driving home with Cara, looking out in front of us, and she says blankly “Well…it looks like we’re making a feature” and I said with a gulp “I guess so.” It was so clear that this project had just gotten astronomically bigger in one afternoon but also that this was a daunting adventure that we were ready to embark on. It was the start of everything.

Q: Given that the gender disparity in Hollywood is such a hot topic these days, would you comment a bit about your own experience as a female filmmaker working on your feature debut?

Cara: It’s totally normal to me. I mean, it’s my debut feature so this is what I know. What I will say is that we created a really lovely community of people who care about each other, celebrate each other, and have continued to work together. I’m probably the most proud of that, and I think that has a lot to do with the fact that we are community builders and care takers. The relationships on screen and off are important to us. It was also really important to us that everyone – every single person who worked on the film – felt valued. I don’t know how much of that had to do with our being women, or the fact that 50% of our cast and crew were women, but I do think that when different types of people work together, we are all better for it.

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I will also say that I was shocked to discover just how bad the numbers are for women in Hollywood and the amount of sexism that exists there. It’s crazy and I’m glad that we were able to create a reality where that was not the case. And to prove that you can make a kick ass film in the process.

Dragonfly_Maribeth_quoteMaribeth: I have 4 brothers, so I’m not one to be uncomfortable in settings where I’m the only girl. But I’ve found as a filmmaker it happens so often. I once went to a lighting workshop where in a room of 100 filmmakers, I was one of 3 women. And while I’m happy to hang with the guys, it’s an issue because of perspective. More specifically the lack of diversity in the perspectives of storytellers.

I look forward to the day when things become more balanced and I’m just a “filmmaker”, not a “female filmmaker”. But that’s not possible right now, because only 7% of top Hollywood films are directed by women. And that means that the conversation must continue so we can all work together towards more equality and diversity in the perspectives in our storytellers.

Because the stories we tell and experience shape us.

Mim: It was shocking to us when we realized just how rare it was to see women working in Hollywood. As we worked to build Dragonfly’s cast and crew we so often looked for the best person for the job…who more than 50% of the time ended up being a woman. Cara, Maribeth and myself didn’t look to find other women to work on this necessarily…we looked for the best person for the job.

Dragonfly was built on bringing people into our village and making them feel like this experience was worth their while. We asked everyone coming on board what they wanted to get out of this experience and then we did what we could to give them that opportunity. That, I believe, created an atmosphere where people gave an enormous part of themselves to the project. We really felt like family in the end. Women have a lot of stories to tell and are just as creative, innovative and driven as their male counterparts. That was proven to me time and again throughout the making of Dragonfly.


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MSPIFF SHOWINGS

St. Anthony Main Theatre 1Sun, Apr 10 7:10 PM
Rochester Galaxy 14 CineSat, Apr 16 4:40 PM


Thank you Cara, Maribeth and Mim for taking the time for the interview!
Special thanks to Ben Epstein & Line Producer Matt Brown for facilitating the set visit.

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Maribeth, me and Cara during the set visit in Fall, 2014


Hope you enjoyed the interview. I hope you’d check out Dragonfly when it’s playing near you, or when it arrives on VOD/DVD.

TCFF Day 4: Review of Minnesota Feature ‘Finding Home’

We’re exactly in the halfway mark of our 9-day film fest! Today TCFF is featuring a Minnesota feature that’s filmed in just 10 days in Minnesota and Wisconsin, with a location crew of 13 (including the Director and Producer – all from Minnesota) and 1 camera (RedCam) and a budget of under $50K. During the Educational Panel: MN Filmmakers last Saturday, director Chars Bonin shared some insights into his experience shooting in an absolute remote location, and how they were blessed with good weather and no rain as it would’ve wrecked havoc on their schedule and budget.

I don’t know how to categorize Finding Home, it’s the kind of film that starts out as one thing and in the end it sort of shifts to become something else entirely. Wesley (Brian John Evans) & Katie (Lindsay Marcy) seems like a happy couple who’s going on a camping trip on a remote island in the Boundary Waters area in Northern Minnesota. Right away you get the sense that Katie isn’t as excited about the trip as Wesley is, and as time goes on, it’s obvious that something is bothering her.

Once they get to the camp site, it doesn’t take long before they start bickering and the more Wesley prods his girlfriend and find out what’s on her mind, the more Katie pushes him away. It’s an intriguing character study of two people who are on two different state of mind, seems that even though they’re physically together, they’re not moving in the same directions. Wesley is the picture of a perfect boyfriend, not only is he gorgeous but he’s unbelievably patient with the testy Katie and her mood swings. The tormented Katie can’t seem to get out of whatever it is she’s going through, and I must admit I became irritated with her and wants her to just snap out of it already.

This simmering conflict is set against the backdrop of an absolutely gorgeous Autumn scenery. It’s as if the peaceful setting of the tranquil lake and serene woods is contrasted with the tumult that Wesley and Katie is going through. For 90% of the 90-minute film, we are only seeing these two people interacting with each other on screen and nothing else except nature that surrounds them. So it’s key that we actually care for the characters and want to know just exactly what’s going on between them. Fortunately the two lead actors managed to do just that. I found out later that Evans and Marcy have not acted before in a feature film, that’s quite impressive given that both of them have to carry the movie only with their performances to rely on.

As I’ve alluded to before, the film shifts its tone in about the last third of the film and I feel that it’s a bit too abrupt for my liking. I saw this film before watching/reading anything about the film and I was quite taken aback by it. I think the less you know about it the better so I’m not going to delve into the plot any further other than it deals with quite a dark and controversial topic that would understandably make or break even the closest of relationships.

I think Bonin did a decent job in his first feature film, and he’s certainly got talent in getting good performances out of actors, though I have to admit it drags quite a bit in parts. Overall it just wasn’t gripping enough to keep my interest so I think the editing could’ve been a whole lot tighter than it is. I feel that there are far too many indulgent scenes, if you will, andthe overly s-l-o-w pace threatens to grind the film to a halt.

Still I think it’s a worthwhile effort and the cinematography is beautiful! I’m certainly glad TCFF hosts its world premiere here in town. Hopefully this will inspire other filmmakers to shoot their films here in my neck of the woods!

2.5 out of 5 reels


Check out fellow TCFF blogger Mitch’s review of Finding Home

Here’s the behind-the-scenes video at the end of the review with filmmaker Chars Bonin who wrote and directed the film:



Thoughts on this movie? Do share your thoughts in the comments.

Weekend Viewing Roundup: Three Musketeers (2011) & Lambent Fuse Premiere

Happy Monday all! Did you watch an Irish-related movie or were you at the cinema watching 21 Jump Street? I have zero interest in seeing it but surprisingly that movie’s a hit w/ the critics AND audiences to make #1 at the box office!

My hubby and I got Apple TV over the weekend and we absolutely love it! So instead of renting through Amazon on Demand, we now rent stuff via iTunes and the streaming quality is actually a lot better. Anyway, as is customary with most of my weekend viewings, I like to mix up different genres. I was thisclose on renting My Week with Marilyn but we wanted something with a bit more action so we went with The Three Musketeers, well suffice to say we regretted our decision within 10 minutes!

Last night my friend Astrid and I went to the Lambent Fuse premiere, the one I featured last Wednesday. We met briefly with the director Matt Cici who introduced the movie. We’re also treated with a mini concert from a local folk singer (who can rap as well as he sings!) before the movie, definitely making the $10 bucks ticket even more worthwhile!

Here are my mini reviews of the two:

THREE MUSKETEERS (2011)

As I’ve alluded to in my intro, the latest Alexandre Dumas adaptation is a dud! I actually put this on my most-anticipated of 2011 as I love the cast, but was dissuaded by the dismal reviews. But I figure it’s at least worth a rental right? Ahah, well barely.

Ok, I have to admit the three musketeers look good in tight leather 😉

I’m not even going to write about the plot as most of you certainly already know about the tale of the famous French guards: Arthos, Porthos and Aramis and the young D’Artagnan. Paul W.S. Anderson, whose films Mortal Kombat, Event Horizon, Resident Evil, etc. are definitely NOT my cup of tea, promises a re-imagining story of the legendary swashbuckling adventure. Well, this tells me to NEVER trust a film by this UK director again, no matter how good the cast!

Speaking of which, I really think it’s criminal to waste such a plethora of talents, including Christoph Waltz, Mads Mikkelsen and the three actors playing the musketeers: Matthew Macfadyen, Luke Evans and Ray Stevenson. We know all of these actors are capable of so much more given their resume, but they’re given so little to do and the inept script is practically cringe-worthy! Now, Milla Jovovich as the seductive and skilled assassin and the wildly-ornamented Orlando Bloom are right on their element here as neither of them have any business as an actor.

Oh Christoph, just what are you doing in this movie??!

The worst part of all is of course the D’Artagnan casting. 20-year-old Californian Logan Lerman is so out of his league in that role of a supposedly daring rascal, as he lacks any kind of charisma believability even for a fantasy flick like this one. To say he’s a far cry from Gabriel Byrne’s portrayal in The Man in The Iron Mask is putting it mildly. I really think that if someone with just a smidgen more talent (perhaps someone like Nicholas Hoult?) this movie might have a teeny bit of saving grace. Lerman didn’t even bother attempting a British accent, yes I know the Musketeers are supposedly French guards but at least it’d be more consistent if the actors all speak with the same accent.

The action sequences are nothing new, pretty much a rip-off of Matrix and other similarly-styled action flicks after that. Even the music sounds like a rip-off of The Dark Knight, Gladiator & those Pirates of the Carribean movies! The preposterous plot is topped with the air-ships where a lot of the fighting takes place. Logic doesn’t seem to be a factor in this movie, as these articulate & complex ships seem to have been built in a matter of days! And we’re not talking of just ONE flying ship, but an entire armada! Perhaps the director has secretly wished he had directed a Pirates movie?? [shrugs] The only decent thing about this movie is the set pieces which I thought looked beautiful, but really, set pieces alone don’t make a movie!!

Final Thoughts: Unless you are die-hard fans of any of the cast, I’d say skip this one. Seriously, it made even the 1993 version with Charlie Sheen as Aramis (ha!) seemed like an Oscar contender, at least Tim Curry looked like he had more fun as the Cardinal than Christoph did. Mr. Dumas must be spinning in his grave!

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LAMBENT FUSE (2011)

As I’ve described in detail in the interview post with director Matt Cici, this film is a character study of six characters whose decisions and life scenarios somehow get entangled with one another. Each of the characters have a certain condition that practically takes over their lives to a degree, ranging from kleptomania, deep depression resulting from a personal loss, to irrational obsession.

The film doesn’t preach about certain morality so much as presenting in a non-chronological manner, what the characters’ choices affect others and their own. As Matt mentioned in the interview, “… and audience watches this film and becomes more of a participant rather than just a viewer. They may impart judgement on what’s right and what’s not right…” and I find myself doing just that as I’m watching it.

The one character I’m taken with the most is Freddie Goone (Rhett Romsaas) who lost his sister in a hit-and-run accident one night and is overtaken by grief and vengeance pretty much wrecks his relationship with his girlfriend Allison (Heidi Fellner). I feel like his journey up until the explosive ending is the most engaging than the rest, and his encounter with the unlikely ‘enemy’ if you will is done quite well.

The nice things about watching a locally-made film is that we’re not focusing on the unknown actors and our predisposed feelings about them, but more on the narration. By the same token though, I feel that some of the actors are not as experienced and thus compromise the quality of the film. The emotional scenes between Freddie and Allison for example, could’ve been much more heart-wrenching but I didn’t really feel the connection between the two actors. The robbery scenes are whimsical and get the most laughs but again, most of these characters are so unsympathetic it’s hard to really connect with them. Speaking of whimsical, the fast-paced finale taking place at the Mpls/St. Paul airport ends up being unintentionally comical to me than I’m sure it’s intended to be. I also think the link between all these characters isn’t as strong as I would have liked it, but the concept is certainly intriguing.

Overall I think Lambent Fuse is a worthy debut from Matt Cici. Despite some of the really slow parts, there are much to be enjoyed here, and I do think the cinematography is beautiful. The use of music also adds to the mood without overpowering the story, and it’s great that he collaborates with local musicians for this film. I think the fact that he chose such a challenging non-chronological style is to be commended, the story is quite dense and hard to follow at times because there are so much going on, but I was able to digest quite a bit of it in my first viewing.
Final Thoughts: This is not a ‘feel-good’ movie, in fact it’s more of a somber, melancholy affair. I enjoyed it for the most part, and in some degree the story still lingers with me even hours after I watched it. A promising debut from Matt Cici, I hope he continues to make films in the future!
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3 out of 5 reels

So what did you see this weekend, folks? Thoughts on either one of these films, please do share in the comments!

FlixChatter Interview: ‘Lambent Fuse’ director Matt Cici

Hello everyone! Today we’ve got a very special post courtesy of an indie filmmaker Matt Cici, whose film Lambent Fuse will have its Minnesota premiere this coming Sunday. I regretfully didn’t get a chance to see it when it premiered at TCFF last year, so I’m excited to see it this weekend!

Before I get to the interview, here’s some information about the film:

Lambent Fuse is a character-driven drama that illustrates human connection and choice. This complex narrative unfolds in a non-chronological timeframe as the lives of six main characters intertwine.

99 minutes (1hr 39min)

Premiere Info: March 18, 6:00pm
Location: St Anthony Main Theatre
115 Southeast Main Street
Minneapolis, MN 55414

Tickets: http://tickets.lambentfuse.com

Check out the trailer below:


1. Firstly, please share just a bit of background of how you got into filmmaking. How long has film been a passion for you?

I was first introduced to the aspects of filmmaking through my brother. He made videos for his Spanish class with a group of his friends. Through these, however, I had one small acting role. It was a pretty embarrassing role, but then again I had never acted before (on camera or on stage).
One day not so much later, I was reading for the character of Peter in the Diary of Anne Frank in one of my English courses at Osseo Junior High (8th Grade) during a “popcorn” session (someone reads for as long as they feel of something and shouts “popcorn” and the name of the person they want to read after them). I said one phrase, something I can’t remember anymore, but the thing I do remember is that people laughed. And it clicked within. I felt this incredibly giddy feeling in my stomach, and felt like pursuing acting very strongly.

It was only a year later that my energies shifted. In my 9th grade social studies course, I made a baseball film for a project. I worked with my brother on this project: writing, shooting, acting, editing it all together. We shocked the class. That was 2003.

I’ve been making films for fun ever since. I say fun, because it is, even when you’re serious about it.
2. Now, I’m curious about the title of your film Lambent Fuse. What’s the significance of that title to the story and how did you come up with that?

Haha, everyone asks that question. Well, it’s the entire plot of the film neatly knit into two words.

The first, Lambent, has several definitions:
1. running or moving lightly over a surface: lambent tongues offlame.
2. dealing lightly and gracefully with a subject; brilliantly-playful: lambent wit.
3. softly bright or radiant: a lambent light.

We chose to borrow and use the descriptions: “dealing lightly… with a subject” and “playful.”

And “Fuse” is: a tube, cord, or the like, filled or saturated with combustible matter, for igniting an explosive.

There are multiple characters in this story and all of their lives intertwine. They make choices, as everyone does, that cause events that may or may not affect the other characters and their choices. An audience watches this film and becomes more of a participant rather than just a viewer. They may impart judgement on what’s right and what’s not right, following another character down a different path. They may even come to the conclusion that there is no right or wrong choice. This is that “playful” definition. And the characters in the film all deal lightly with each other leading, along the line of a story’s plot to the climax, to an explosion.

We were sitting in a Caribou, like most of our writing days, except this one was just after our first audition for the pre-trailers back in August 2008. We renamed the film using a thesaurus, as I feel most people have never heard the word “Lambent” before Lambent Fuse (as was the case with myself).

Actor Rhett Romsaas (Freddie Goone) practices his lines with Producer/Sound Designer Blake Hosler in Ginger Hop in northeast Minneapolis.


3. How long was the process of bringing this project to life and were you involved in the screenplay process as well?

Before we filmed, we spent 2 1/2 years working on the project. And yes, I served as co-writer. David Marketon, Co-writer/Producer, wrote me a Facebook message some months before we met back in March 2008, nearly four years ago asking if I would like to write a film with him. I accepted. He had been friends with my brother for some time (and they were the ones working on that film I acted in so long ago). At the time we had just imagined writing and selling the screenplay. But, as I began directing several award-winning shorts, I became too attached to the piece and wanted to direct it myself.
The reason why it took 2 1/2 years was because we first started shooting a trailer with the intention that it would help raise funds for the film. We delayed the project a year for two reasons: 1) It needed to be shot in summer, and 2) we applied for a grant and won it. The grant was for studying the techniques and methods of screenwriting as the elements of Lambent Fuse (specifically multiple characters, non-chronilogical plot, and intertwining storylines) challenged many screenwriting theories. During that time we also shot several Character Trailers and had a massive pre-production marketing strategy to generate awareness for the project.

Actors Heidi Fellner (Allison Swanson) and Rhett Romsaas (Freddie Goone) sneak a laugh in the rehearsal of a scene from Lambent Fuse in Ginger Hop in northeast Minneapolis.

4. Your last two projects, Eidolon and The Writer focus on people suffering from some form of psychological affliction, schizophrenia and writer’s block, respectively. Lambent Fuse also carries similar themes of depression, kleptomania, and obsession. Why does that subject matter interest you?

Lambent Fuse
, did not begin as a project that focused on mental illness. It molded into a story like that when I made my decision to direct it.

I am interested in the pursuit of developing a storytelling voice that is true and explores the depths of everyday life. The messages in today’s society are too sensationalized and, all too often, they’re not useful. An example of this is the movie, A Beautiful Mind, where the real-life schizophrenic, John Nash, is shown as a violent man. Sure, it provokes interesting discussion to show schizophrenia in this light, but it is an inaccurate portrayal of the condition, of reality, of truth. The movie received a lot of attention—winning 31 awards—but did a grave injustice to schizophrenics and their families. It is important to research the truths of life and explain them; an audience watches a film for entertainment, but film has also become one of the most powerful ways to send a message.

This film explores the depths of kleptomania, depression, and obsession — aspects of the human condition that are real but often underrepresented or misunderstood.

The overall goal of Lambent Fuse is to shift the paradigm of the stereotypical mental conditions shown in mainstream cinema by portraying the reality of mental illness and human choices in an eye-opening and innovative manner. Eidolon is a 30-minute short film about a man wrestling for control as a schizophrenic was said to be one of the best representations of schizophrenia by a practicing psychiatrist. The careful illustration of each characterʼs true emotions and actions will showcase the psychological landscape in an educational and insightful way. This will give the audience a unique opportunity to experience these conditions along with the characters, forcing viewers to challenge their preconceived notions about mental illness and to approach the conditions with more understanding and empathy.

Director/Co-writer Matt Cici scans the screenplay while the main cast Rhett Romsaas (Freddie Goone) and Heidi Fellner (Allison Swanson) rehearse.

5. The complex narrative unfolds in a non-chronological timeframe as the lives of the six main characters intertwine. What are some of the challenges in filming in such a format?
There are so many. This is what our grant time focused on. Most stories have one or two characters for viewers to follow and become attached to. They are most used to doing this in a simple-to-follow chronological way. We all think stories should be told in order of the events that happened.


But film has the ability to change that, in fact all art does. A story is best told the way it is best told—when it’s most impactful. Events in a film draw emotion and drama from each other, and when aligned in a way that pushes the story forward, they make the audience feel something. Our story also had multiple characters, because it’s not supposed to be about any single one of them. It’s the sum of their lives blended together that make the story what it is.


We risked losing a lot of our audience by complicating our film with these factors, so we did our best to make it feel as if it were chronological. Film is all about suspending disbelief. So, even if it doesn’t feel like that’s an actor in front of you on a giant screen, she is. If done right, it’s invisible.

From left to right, Production Sound Mixer Aaron Huber, Director of Photography Zachary Nelson, and Director/Co-writer Matt Cici examine the framing and lighting in a scene from Lambent Fuse in northeast Minneapolis.

6. What has been your most memorable experience from making this film?
So many experiences are memorable, and it’s too hard to name one over another. I can say the fact that I’ve made a feature is something I hold as a memorable experience. All of the people who helped me along the way have made completing this film incredibly rewarding.


So, I’d have to say that people’s belief in me and this project is the most memorable. I will always remember everyone who sacrificed their time and efforts in order to push this project forward. It was a Minnesota film made for Minnesota by Minnesota. I think that all came full-circle when we sold out TCFF and everyone finally got to see the film. It was a moment that they could all be proud of themselves for working on the film.

7. Has Lambent Fuse been screened at other film festivals or events after Twin Cities Film Fest? How has the reception been for your film?
It screened at Highway 61 Film Festival in Pine City, MN. We won Best Drama Feature at that festival, following Best Minnesota Feature from TCFF. I’m going to be honest about reception, because I encourage honesty with feedback. Film is an art, and therefore it’s subjective.


The response from those that have seen it astounds me every day. It really challenges people and they enjoy that challenge. It’s not something that’s complicated to watch; it’s just hard topics presented in a digestible way. So, to answer your question, we couldn’t be happier by hearing how much people enjoy the movie and are surprised that it was made in Minnesota with a micro-budget. And the reviews that are coming in from around the country are very rewarding. As far as festivals are concerned for Lambent Fuse, it’s all about length, major actors, and the film’s mood. Many feel that a 99 minute movie (1hr 39min) is too long. That’s confusing when the industry defines a feature film as 90-120 minutes. Programming film festivals is a very tough job. You’re never going to make money by running one, so your main concern is to fill seats. And major actors bring a crowd. Because we set out to make a Minnesota film, we chose not to hire out. That hurt us in the festival circuit, but it only empowered the film we feel.

And our film is different than most. It’s a non-chronilogical tale of multiple characters whose lives intertwine. It focuses on mental illness and isn’t a “feel-good” movie. It stands out. When planning a festival, programmers like to make all films play nicely with each other, and ours complicates that.


Nonetheless, we keep trying. Any festival or event we’ve gone to we’ve brought everyone with, promoted it like crazy, and packed the house every time. We’ll continue to do so.

8. Who are your inspirations in the film industry? Tell us your favorite filmmaker(s) and actor(s).

I am inspired by people who look for a challenge. I am a large supporter of Daniel Craig and Tom Cruise (although I remain very picky). I especially like watching Gary Oldman, Leonardo DiCaprio, Christian Bale, Rooney Mara, Elijah Wood, Tilda Swinton and Maggie Gyllenhaal.

I enjoy many directors: Wong Kar-wai, Coen Brothers, Steven Spielberg, and recently Jochaim Trier, David Fincher, Steve McQueen, Tomas Alfredson, and Sofia Coppola.
9. Now lastly, please share your top five favorite film dramas and why.
I think my list will always change as I grow older, and that excites the heck out of me. Film is about learning and adapting. Changing and improving. You learn from everything. I can say that I’ve learned the most of the craft of filmmaking during recent years from these films:
  1. Reprise
    This fights with Layer Cake every day as my favorite film ever. It’s simply beautiful. One of the most attractive and photographic films I’ve seen in a long time. Because it focuses on mental illness, I was very much inspired by this film before starting to write Lambent Fuse. It has inspired me ever since, and I can say this will be first on my to-do list before starting any film. This film is my mood film.
  2. Layer Cake
    This film introduced me to Daniel Craig, and at that time I really enjoyed crime dramas (not saying I don’t now, just have widened my tastes). Everything about this film: story, cinematography, acting, music, etc. were so precise it was ridiculous. It’s engaging and educational. This out of the entire list is probably the most entertaining film.
  3. Shame
    I can honestly say that this film changed my perception of 2011 as becoming the best year for film (for me). With The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Tree of Life, Drive, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, and others released that same year, Shame put the year up where many years probably won’t ever touch.

    Shame
    is literally perfect. The most well-crafted film I’ve been graced with for as long as I can remember, with its use of transitions, acting, and color. The music became a character of its own. Just as in Lambent Fuse, the music allowed the audience the ability to understand the characters, not just feel for them. I cannot wait for this movie to come out.
  4. A Clockwork Orange
    Wow! If I ever press play, I can’t stop watching. It pulls me in. Stanley Kubrick’s best film in my opinion, and many disagree. I’m not quite sure what draws me to this film the most, but I think the wonderfully unique Nadsat language and acting by Malcolm McDowell do it most. It’s stuck with me ever since.
  5. 2046
    Although I feel like In the Mood for Love was Wong Kar-wai’s strongest film, this is the film that introduced me to him and Asian cinema in general, which is one of the greatest blessings I’ve ever had in film. If I was stuck, at any time, when trying to decide what to watch on Netflix, I’d watch anything from Asia.

    After seeing what I put on this list, I noticed that the subject matter is pretty indigestible for most people, but I guess that’s what attracts me to them. After all Netflix describes my genre as: Dark, visually-compelling, foreign dramas.

Thank you Matt Cici for granting me this interview!
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What do you think of the Lambent Fuse’ trailer? Please share your thoughts on the interview and Matt’s top five list.