TCFF 2017 Day 4 – Two great film panels + Reviews of ‘Beauty Mark’ and MN-made drama ‘Cold November’

Saturday was a jam-packed day for me. I’m bummed that I missed the early Filmmaker Brunch as I wasn’t feeling well so I overslept (hey bloggers are humans too!), but my morning started with two great film panels, part of TCFF’s free Educational Programs!

The first panel was on Making, Distributing, Marketing & Watching: What’s the Impact of Digital? at 11:00am

Like many industries, the business of TV and Film distribution is certainly changing due to digital – whether you’re watching on your phone or tablet, dropping the cable package, making a web series or seeing a film online at the same time it’s in theaters…the landscape is shifting quickly.

I learned quite a few things from this very insightful panel… these are just small sampling:

  • Don’t create films in a vacuum
  • Make a beautiful film you believe in and passionate about, but also marketable
  • Marketing/PR is critical for film distribution even if your film is already on iTunes or some other platform, simply because most people don’t even know it’s there

The second panel is one I’ve been looking forward to as I’ve become a filmmaker myself this year…

Film Fatales in the Twin Cities

Members from the newest chapter of this global collective of female feature film directors discuss the power of collaboration in the fight for gender equality within the film industry. 

It’s so inspiring to learn from Lisa Blackstone, Melissa Butts, Norah Shapiro,Missy Whiteman, and moderator Melody Gilbert. Thank you for sharing your stories and experiences making films, and for inspiring aspiring filmmakers like me to keep on keeping on and not to give up on my dream of making my feature film one day!

Here’s my quick thoughts on the two films I saw on Day 4…

This is the kind of heart-wrenching films that’s hard to watch at times, but you’re glad you did. Inspired by true events, it’s a story of a poverty-stricken young mother forced to move out of her condemned house. Anchored by a harrowing, bravura performance by Auden Thornton, the film transports you into her painful reality of a life and forces you to wake up from your comfortable confines of your own.

The protagonist single mother Angie can’t seem to catch a break… taking care of her toddler son and alcoholic, overbearing mother with only sixty five dollars to her name. Slowly it’s revealed she has been abused as a child. As if that wasn’t tough enough, she realized he’s the only person with money she felt she could turn to.

Writer/director Harris Doran made you truly empathize with Angie despite some of her questionable decisions. It’s a truly gritty, upsetting and even haunting film that made you want to scream for the injustices the character suffers.

Spoiler alert (highlight to read) One thing I wish I didn’t see was the topless scene towards the end, given the topic against abuse and sexual objectification of women. Yes perhaps it’s a deliberate choice of the filmmaker, but I feel that there are SO many ways to show what the character does/show without actually showing it to the audience. It’d still be just as impactful IMHO because the character (and likely the actress playing her) has gone through so much in the film. That’s just my honest personal opinion anyways, others might feel differently about this.

In any case, it’s a well-made, phenomenally-acted piece that should be seen. I sure hope to see Aiden in more films as she’s definitely one of the best actresses I’ve seen in my years of covering TCFF.

It’s October, so Winter is definitely coming soon. No, I’m not looking forward to snow at all, especially during my commute. But watching this film makes me appreciate just how beautiful is the Minnesota Wintry landscape. The film centers on a midwestern matriarchy guiding 12-year-old Florence through the rite-of-passage of her first deer hunt.

Bijou Abas plays the young protagonist and this is her feature film debut. I learned that she was in an episode of In An Instant with Hearts Want’s lead actor Peter Hansen back in 2016. I thought she did a wonderful job giving a reserved but assured performance, where most of the time she has to communicate only with her facial expression.

I have to say being that I’m not into hunting at all (can’t even hurt a squirrel!), all I had to avert my eyes during all the deer skinning scenes. The scene of Florence all alone in the woods after she killed her first deer is also tough to watch for me. The rite-of-passage story is nicely-told, as well as the multi-generation familial connections. The story is supposedly told from Florence’s point of view, but I find the film’s lacking a sharp focus. Apart from her aunt Mia (Heidi Fellner), the supporting characters didn’t seem fully fleshed out. At 104 minutes, I also think the editing could’ve been much tighter.

Overall it’s a gorgeous film with a quiet grace. Filmed in Hibbing, Northern Minnesota, at times the film is so beautiful it could double as a Wintry skiing resort commercial. Kudos to writer/director Karl Jacobs (who also played uncle Craig) for creating a compelling MN family drama with a strong young woman that many girls can aspire to. At the Q&A afterwards, Bijou seemed really delighted to play the lead role and sounds like she, as well as everyone in the cast/crew, enjoyed making this, too!

What’s in store for Day 6

Boy, Monday is jam-packed with a ton of amazing films!! Four strong documentaries – ABU, Legends of the Road, Purple Dreams and She Started It. There’s also three feature films, Blue Balloons, Butterfly Caught and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.

I’ll post my interview for the indie drama Butterfly Caught later this week!

So, stay tuned to more daily TCFF coverage!

TCFF Coverage: Preview Night of A Place At The Table

It’s becoming a tradition of sort that TCFF kicks off the film fest with a documentary about an important subject. Our first year we have the education-themed Waiting for Superman, the second year we screened Bully which tackles the topic of peer-to-peer bullying in schools across America. This year is no different, A Place At the Table, which takes a look at America’s hunger crisis. It debuted at Sundance under the name Finding North, and Magnolia Pictures has recently acquired the US rights to distribute the powerful documentary from Participant Media, directed by Kristi Jacobson and Lori Silverbush.

TCFF is more than just about films. Each year, executive director Jatin Setia looks for a relevant topic for the film fest to focus on, and he was adamant to showcase A Place At The Table when he saw it at Sundance. Thanks to his and fellow organizers’ persistence, we not only have the film premiere here, but also present an Education Panel discussing this ever-so-important topic. Moderated by MPR reporter Julie Siple, the panelists last evening includes Lori Kratchmer, executive director of the Emergency Food Shelf; Jackie Olafson, executive director of St. Louis Park Emergency Program; Rob Zeaski, CEO of Second Harvest Heartland; and last but definitely not least, Lori Silverbush, co-director of A Place at the Table.

To say it was an eye-opening discussion is putting it mildly. It’s interesting how when people hear the word ‘hunger’ they immediately think of malnourished kids with flies hovering around them in Africa. But the fact of the matter is, hunger strikes even here in America. The documentary shows that one in four children here in the US don’t know where their next meal is coming from, and the panelists expand a little bit what that means and what people might not know is contributing to that very problem.

“Fifty million Americans – that’s not a fringe, that’s not the screw-ups, that’s not the people you probably have in your head as the hungry people – 50 million Americans have to wonder, sometimes daily, sometimes weekly, how they’re going to get food on the table for their families. And that’s energy they’re not devoting to their work, to parenting, to their communities. It’s a great drain.”  – Lori Silverbush (quote from MPR article by Julie Siple)

L to R: Julie Siple, Lori Silverbush, Jackie Olafson, Lori Kratchmer, Doug Peterson and Rob Zeaske

I’m very impressed with director Lori Silverbush, she’s very knowledgeable about her subject matter, and she’s got such strong convictions about what she thinks contributed to the problem in the first place and she’s not afraid to let it be known. It really shows in the film as well, it’s a well-crafted documentary that follows various families across America who are dealing with hunger, and also includes interviews from leading hunger experts such as Stuffed and Starved author Raj Patel, Sweet Charity? author Janet Poppendieck, actor Jeff Bridges, Top Chef’s Tom Colicchio, as well as Congressman James McGovern who’ve taken a leadership role in the fight against hunger at home and abroad.

Silverbush shared that the problem of hunger carries such a great stigma, she saw as she made the film that people all often too ashamed to even go to the food shelter, and some families can’t even bear the thought of getting food stamps.

“One of our biggest surprises in making the film is that hardworking people, people who are playing by all the rules, and absolutely fulfilling their end of the social contract as most people would describe it, are still not able to get by,”

I will post the video of the panel as it becomes available, but I really urge you to see this documentary when it opens in your cities. This is easily one of the best documentaries I’ve seen, right up there with one of my favorite, The Cove in terms of entertainment + insight level. Even though it covers a bleak topic, it’s presented in such a way that it’s not at all tedious. Right from the opening sequence with gorgeous aerial shots, the cinematography is beautiful. The transitions from one family and another, alternating it with various interviews, are done seamlessly that it doesn’t feel jarring or jumpy.

Review from TCFF blogger Emery Thoresen:

Between the Education Panel before and the Director Q & A after the screening, the message was communicated; we need to change how our country deals with food – especially in the school systems. The word “politics” was repeated over and over, and if that is where the blame lies, it is our job to take the initiative and do our part; contact our representatives and vote in the right direction in this upcoming election.

The cause is noble, the issues are presented clearly, but there weren’t solid solutions given that would have sure results. The director did speak about what we should do in terms of politics, but she went on to discuss the issues with food charities. The major conglomerates that back many of the well known food organizations distribute their own food, which generally consist of empty calories. Its a self perpetuating situation; people are malnourished, they seek help, and the help that they receive provides in the most minimal way.

Aside from the shocking statistics and real life testimony, the most memorable part of the night was one of the directors, Lori Silverbush. Her partner in crime (Kristi Jacobson) was not present for the screening, but I can only imagine what the two women would be like in the same room. Lori was extremely eloquent and nothing that came out of her mouth was fluff. During the Education Panel and Questioning after the screening she answered all the questions without being redundant or spoiling the ending.

Documentary films are not my forte, but what I saw was worth it. Pretty scenery, good testimonies (Jeff Bridges is far from being the focal point), and clear presentation.

There are more great films playing at TCFF. Get your tickets now!

TCFF organizers Jatin Setia, Naomi Dahlgren and Bill Cooper with Lori Silverbush

Thank you Lori Silverbush for presenting such a well-crafted documentary that covers such a crucial topic, and TCFF’s Jatin Setia & co. for bringing this film to the premiere!!