TCFF Documentary Spotlight: ‘Word Of Honour: Reclaiming Mandela’s Promise’ + Interview with director Kiersten Dunbar Chace


One of my most anticipated TCFF documentaries is playing today and I can’t be more thrilled that I got a chance to connect with the filmmaker to talk about her film. I always love films that immerse me into a world that’s far away from where I live, and gives me a chance to learn a bit more about the struggles they are facing. A large spectrum of the South African population includes the indigenous, Asian, European, Indonesian, Phillipino, Indian of India, and many others. In the Western world, we mostly hear about the Black/White struggle in South Africa, but nothing about the minority ‘Coloured’ people, as they’re called in that region.


kierstenchaceKiersten Dunbar Chace (Producer, Director, Editor) founder of Chace Studios/Mondé World Films, is an award winning indie film producer/director and human rights activist/advocate who for the past 21 years has focused her lens on South Africa. In 2009, Chace produced her first feature length documentary film I’m Not Black, I’m Coloured – Identity Crisis at the Cape of Good Hope which explored the legacy of apartheid from the viewpoint of the Cape Coloured people. The film won an Audience Choice award at the Africa World Documentary Film Festival (Bermuda Int’l Film Festival) and was featured at several US, International Film Festivals and in over 60 major Universities. In September 2014, Chace’s film was one of two selected to present at the prestigious academic conference Migrating the Black Body: Visual Arts and the African Diaspora in Hanover Germany. Her role in the conference will be documented in the upcoming book by the same name.

Most recently, Kiersten was invited to be an observer at the United Nations in Geneva in September 2015 when a Shadow Report was presented/submitted to the Int’l Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination citing South Africa as being in violation of the UN CERD treaty/convention. The film was used as a supplemental neutral piece to help educate UN members on the history of the Coloured people of South Africa.

A documentary film that gives voice to a community questioning the future of their mixed-race/indigenous identity in the new South Africa. Blending poetry, landscape imagery, and rare archive footage with a collection of powerful, indigenous voices, Word of Honour is an introspective look into South Africa’s young democracy as well as a meditation on what may be looming on the horizon. (All South African cast and crew)

TCFF screening: Sunday | October 23 – 3:45pm
Runtime: 73 min


Q: What inspired you to become a documentary filmmaker?

My inspiration was South Africa. In 1995, I helped produce a US concert tour for the popular South African vocal group the Christian Explainers. During that tour, one of young women in the group, in a somewhat fearful confession, shared a secret with me “Kiersten, in my country I am not considered black, I am Coloured.” Like many Americans I was stunned by her use of the term Coloured, but she kindly requested that I maintain an open mind. That was not a difficult task, however, with that open mind I felt this so-called secret would have been a great opportunity to educate Americans about the absurdity and injustice of the apartheid system; beyond the black/white rhetoric perpetuated by Western media. It also saddened me that they had to endure and maintain this awkward situation of telling people they were black South Africans, when culturally and linguistically they were not. Their reasons were centered around the use of the term Coloured in America and they were also embracing and putting into motion Mandela’s promise that they were now part of the majority alongside black/Nguni South Africans. So over the course of the next two weeks Suzanne shared the rich culture and history of her people and I listened closely with great interest.


“Danny Brown, Elsie’s River” – Image Credit: Kiersten Dunbar Chace

Soon after that 1995 concert tour, I was invited to South Africa to visit Suzanne and my other friends. It was on that trip that I began learning more about this community and culture and for the next 5 years I traveled across South Africa meeting various non-profits and developing new friendships. In 2000, I began organizing group cultural tours to South Africa including Open Arms of Minnesota’s first visit, which ultimately led to the development of an HIV/Aid’s nutrition program at the new JL Zwane Center in Gugulethu. No matter how hard I tried to explain the history and culture of coloured South Africans, Americans were always drawn into the exotic tribal cultures of Southern Africa which are the common images portrayed of the African continent in Western media. I learned quickly that Americans don’t want to travel to South Africa to be visually reminded of impoverished communities in their own backyard per se, and that is the image they see when looking at Coloured townships.

Ten years’ post-apartheid, 2004, I organized another American tour group to South Africa. It was on that particular journey that I recognized how quickly the Coloured communities were deteriorating structurally and economically. Foreign investments and donations targeting disadvantaged communities were not filtering into Coloured townships due to their lack of knowledge and various government agencies bypassing Coloured townships. It was then that I knew I had to step up and educate the globe about this community and their existence. To accomplish this, I chose film as my instrument for change.

Knowing very little about the film industry, I went to Daniel Pierce Bergin in 2007, a senior producer at TPT/PBS in Minnesota and asked for his mentorship. His support of my project propelled my confidence greatly. He also connected me with a monthly event called Docuclub at IFP Minnesota where I met the talented Producer and Director Melody Gilbert, who gifted me and many other aspiring filmmakers in the Twin Cities with her years of documentary film knowledge. She gave me the tools and insight I needed to be a documentary filmmaker and in 2009, I release my first feature length film I’m Not Black, I’m Coloured: Identity Crisis at the Cape of Good Hope.

"Freedom Farm Informal Settlement" – Image Credit: Kiersten Dunbar Chace

“Freedom Farm Informal Settlement” – Image Credit: Kiersten Dunbar Chace

Q: How was your background as a humanitarian activist play a part in getting this film made?

After the completion of my first film I’m Not Black, I’m Coloured in 2009, I was surprised at its impact not only in South Africa but other mixed-race communities around the globe, academia and the United Nations. For example, in 2011, a Non-Profit organization in Johannesburg, South Africa used the film to petition the South Africa Broadcast Company to ask them to invest in Coloured television and radio programming. In 2014 I was invited to screen the film at a private academic conference in Hanover Germany ‘Migrating the Black Body: Visual Arts in the African Diaspora’ where 30 top professors gathered to present their academic research papers. Nearly half of the conference attendees were not aware this community even existed. I also learned that several universities over the years altered their curriculum to include this film. And in 2015, I was invited to participate as a human rights observer at the United Nations in Geneva where the film was used to educate UN rapporteurs. It is my goal to return to Switzerland again in March 2017 with the Advocates for Human Rights based in Minneapolis for additional UN training.

Through these experiences and the continual movement of my first film, I came to realize that my role as a human rights advocate was materializing before my eyes, unexpectedly. There is no doubt that these experiences along with the support of community leaders in South Africa gave me the confidence and motivation to produce Word of Honour. So yes, my human rights activism played a major role in this latest production.

Q: ‘Word of Honour’ is a sequel to your 2009 film… it is extremely rare to see a documentary sequel, would you speak about the differences between the two?


Image Credit: Antoni Commodore

I’m Not Black, I’m Coloured: Identity Crisis at the Cape of Good Hope (filmed in 2007/2008) explored the legacy of apartheid from the viewpoint of the mixed-race/indigenous Cape Coloured/Khoisan people of South Africa, whose largest population resides in Cape Town (approximately 60% of the total population). After 10 years of witnessing the decline of this community and trying to teach Americans about a marginalized people who identified themselves by the term Coloured, I focused the film on history and identity.

The film also illuminated their diverse ancestry, how they suffered (180 years of slavery and a vast number of forced removals), and their contributions to South African society dating back to the mid 17th century to the dawn of democracy in 1994. So INBIC was historically driven and educational. That film won an audience award at the Africa World Documentary Film Festival in Bermuda, sits on the shelves of nearly 63 major universities around the globe.

My latest film, Word of Honour: Reclaiming Mandela’s Promise, focuses on the first 21 years of democracy – post 1994. It is less historical and more focused on the socio-economic struggles and the marginalization of this community due to discriminatory government policies. It features communities all across South Africa, not just Cape Town. In addition to the difference in storyline, the production value of Word of Honour is much greater and it is structured differently. More artistic yet the focus remains on the voice of the people.

You are correct. It is very rare to produce a documentary sequel. But as I mentioned before, my purpose for entering the film industry was for advocacy purposes, not awards, and as you will witness in this new production, clearly my work was not completed within South Africa. Especially after viewing Jimmy Manyi’s public statement in 2011 about Coloureds being ‘over concentrated’ and ‘should spread in the rest of the country if they want jobs’ my friends, community leaders and myself, became very concerned. Hence the making of Word of Honour. Since I already had a decent university presence with the first film I wanted to continue the dialogue around race, identity and human rights. With the two films together, we have created a more holistic perspective, identified and exposed the root of the problem, and documented a specific time in history that will last for generations.


Q: What motivated you to shine a light on the complexities in identity/ history of the people in South Africa?

There are a lot of misperceptions about South African history internationally and within South Africa. As recent as 2015, trial attorneys who were attempting to justify their client’s discriminatory practices, claimed that coloured South Africans did not suffer as much under apartheid and should not benefit from Affirmative Action policies. This depends on how you define apartheid. Many scholars will argue that the system of apartheid was implemented the moment the Dutch arrived in South Africa and formally legalized in 1948. But others will argue the opposite and define apartheid as only starting in 1948. So it was important for me to focus on history as it relates to their identity, how this community evolved, what they endured and as reflected in this new film their struggle to fit in the new South Africa.


Q: How many people did you end up interviewing for your film? (Vast area that is covers)

For 21 years, I have developed friendships with community leaders, business leaders and political activists all across South Africa. In our discussions, each person was very adamant in sharing their regions unique needs; that their struggles were very different from Cape Town (the largest population of Coloured’s in South Africa). Combine those strong regional or provincial sentiments alongside a lack of unity nationally amongst their leaders, I personally wanted to see if the socio-economic issues facing the coloured communities were different between the various provinces and townships. In the past, I had travelled across South Africa but with a very different purpose. So to observe the country from behind a camera lens with the intent to further educate the globe about this community, including South Africans, I wanted to see if I could capture the similarities versus the differences as well as affirm or nullify the psyche of disunity that seems to be embedded in national rhetoric amongst community leaders.

So our film journey included six of the nine provinces, thirteen cities, drove approximately 7000 km’s, interviewed 27 people and brought home close to 200 hours of footage. All but one of our production locations was pre-planned and budgeted. That one unplanned ‘spur of the moment’ location was Riemvasmaak, a tiny desert community near the Namibian/South African border where we literally knew nothing about this area historically or culturally, nor did we know a single soul who lived there. However, what we captured in 3 short hours (in the middle of the desert) ended up being one of my favorite scenes in the film and possibly one of the most important in terms of using an historical event as a reflection of what the future might be for this community if government policies continue on the path of racial quotas.

Q: Would you share a bit about your collaboration with David Grant, a prominent figure in MN arts/film/writing?

davidgrantI actually met David through a shared interest in genetic genealogy five or six years ago. I was the founder of the Cape Coloured DNA project at Family Tree DNA and we were introduced by a distant blood cousin from Arizona who also shared similar DNA with one of my former cast members in South Africa. Soon thereafter I learned of his gift for writing as well as his respected presence in the Twin Cities arts community. After one long breakfast meeting in South Minneapolis, I knew this was the person I needed to collaborate with.

With Word of Honour, I was taking a riskier more creative approach to my storytelling. I didn’t want this project to be cookie cutter journalistic type documentary film so I searched for someone who would take my artistic vision and goals and help build the storyline. With an arsenal of powerful poetry, rare Mandela footage, great interviews and beautiful landscape imagery I needed someone to help create a piece that made people think outside the box and engage the heart. Being a seasoned writer David understood all of these important elements and was instrumental in guiding me through some difficult storyline and structural decisions.

Q: Who have been some of the people who’ve inspired you, both in term of history/culture or cinema. Any documentarian whose work you admire?

I’m a great admirer of Andrei Tarkovsky’s films and books. He inspired me in my artistic direction, to not be afraid of taking risks and to be confident in your artistic expression. Not everyone will like your work but in the end you were staying true to the vision or your film. Another person who inspires me is Al Milgrom. A longtime friend and walking encyclopedia of film. Our long conversations and his passion for film inspired me greatly.


“Near Polokwane” – Image Credit: Kiersten Dunbar Chace

Q: While traveling around South Africa, what was your greatest take-away from this production in comparison to your other journeys 20 years ago?

There were actually several key take-away’s on this journey but the greatest would be discovering how many Coloured communities across South Africa endured forced removals. I knew of District Six, South End and Sophiatown but I was stunned how many others there were. Nearly every major city in South Africa, including small villages, has a history of forcibly removing Coloured communities.

On a more positive note, I was encouraged by the economic progress in the Eastern Cape province near Mandela’s Qunu home where I spent some time back in the early 2000’s. This was a pretty impoverished area back then but today that has changed. The energy there was uplifting. I just wish I could say the same thing about ‘one’ coloured township, sadly it does not exist.

Thank you Kiersten for taking the time for the interview!

For more info on the film, please visit Word Of Honour‘s official site.

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



‘First Girl I Loved’ Review


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.

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.


‘My Scientology Movie’ Review


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.

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.


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.


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 5 & 6!

Stay tuned for more TCFF reviews and talent interviews!

TCFF 2016 Reviews: ‘Funeral Day’ + ‘In Pursuit of Silence’ doc


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.


Jon Weinberg & Dominic Rains

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.


Mr. Orfield at Orfield Lab in Minneapolis

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 Promise Screening:
Sunday, October 23 | 3:45 pm.

TCFF Indie Film Spotlight: ‘June Falling Down’ + Interview with writer/director Rebecca Weaver


One of the perks about covering film festivals is we get to watch a plethora of independent films and discover new filmmakers! One of my most anticipated indie films playing at TCFF is June Falling Down… a story of love and loss, set in a small town in Wisconsin. 


June tells the story of a young woman living in California who returns home for her best friend Harley’s wedding, a year after her father’s death. Once there, she must confront the rush of memories of her father’s cancer and the fact that Harley and everyone else in her life has moved on without her. It’s as much a family drama as a romantic one, with a compelling and heartfelt portrayal of family dynamic. The theme of loss and learning to let go is one I can relate to. In terms of losing a loved one, it’s not something one simply ‘get over,’ which this film touches upon. The scenes of June with her father in the flashback scenes are particularly poignant, whilst her at times testy relationship with her mother feels grounded and relatable. The scenery of Door County, WI, is gorgeous, it certainly adds to the warm, small-town vibe that also makes for a naturally romantic setting.

June Falling Down marks Rebecca Weaver‘s feature film debut. She previously wrote, directed, as well as acted in two short films, Winter Guest and Cam Companion (Wisconsin and Las Vegas Film Festivals, 2015). She studied theater at Northwestern University and dramatic literature at New York University. Raised in Wisconsin, she currently resides in Los Angeles and is writing her next feature.

Check out my Q&A with Rebecca below on her personal connection to the story, filming in her favorite part of the world, her challenges as a female filmmaker working on her debut feature, and more!


Q: The story of June Falling Down is a personal one for you, as you also lost your father to cancer like June did in the film. Would you say that the film was semi-biographical in a way? What made you decide to turn your story into a feature film?

This is definitely semi-autobiographical – with an emphasis on the “semi.” I lost my dad to cancer a month after I turned 22 and after that it was all I could think about for years. So it’s almost like the story had to come out of me. At that time I had friends growing up and continuing with their lives, graduating from college and some getting married, getting professional jobs, while I dropped out of school for a while and really wasn’t emotionally growing up at the same rate – because I was stuck in my grief. That was the inspiration for the movie.

But that being said, I also took a lot of elements from my life and really exaggerated them and created characters that could tell the story externally of what it felt like to lose a father and go through that. For example, June is a very different character than me, even though I play her. She’s very tough and arrogant and at times rude to people and I’m naturally a more introverted, nicer person in real life. I swear! But it was important to have a character that wears her heart on her sleeve so blatantly because that’s just more interesting in a film.


Q: Given the setting of a small town in Wisconsin, it almost felt like a love letter to the state you grew up on. Would you comment a bit on that and how you choose the filming locations, etc.?

Oh, I 100% wrote this movie to be set in my favorite place in the world – Door County, Wisconsin. I wrote the script imagining my family’s home and I even wrote in the exact names of the local pizza restaurant and bars, all of which we ended up using. It’s funny how growing up as a restless teenager I couldn’t wait to leave Wisconsin, but over the years I’ve missed it terribly (I live in LA now) and I realize how deeply the land and the people there are a part of me. And you so rarely see the Midwest portrayed in films with intelligent, culturally-aware characters and gorgeous landscapes. So it was really important to me to show my home as the beautiful place I know it to be.

Q: Would you share one of the most memorable experiences making this film?

I remember shooting the wedding reception scene with our full cast, about fifty extras, and a blues band playing in an old town hall. I was walking through the crowd filming everyone dancing, and in the original footage you can hear me laughing as the camera moves through the crowd. I was just so grateful and in shock that we were doing this. I couldn’t believe that I had written this movie and somehow, through sheer will, we were making this dream into reality. I was so touched by all the people that had come out and were supporting us by being extras. There were candles lit and a white cake from Costco that my mom helped us find, and everyone was having a blast. It was so unlikely that we were pulling this off. It was such an emotional moment that all I could do was laugh. I’ll remember that forever.


Q: As you wore triple hats in this film as a writer, director and actor, what’s the biggest challenge that you encounter in the filmmaking process?

Trying to juggle everything was really the hardest part. To be honest, writing, directing, and acting were the fun parts. They were all a lot of work, but because I love them they were much easier. But organizing, scheduling the shoot, raising money (we did two crowdfunding campaigns plus credit cards), and slogging through post-production were all really really difficult. I guess when it comes down to it, the invisible administrative work surrounding making the movie was what really killed me and wore me out at times. I definitely need a producer next time! Even an assistant would be heaven.


Q: I asked another female director about this last year… Given that the gender disparity in the film industry is such a hot topic these days, would you comment about your own experience as a female filmmaker working on your feature debut?

I actually feel like I’ve kind of hit the jackpot having an indie film come out at this time when there’s extra attention being brought to female filmmakers. And personally I have been frustrated for years about the portrayal of women in film and that certainly helped motivate me to create a character like June. I remember a while back when Tina Fey and Amy Poehler were becoming famous, several years at least before Bridesmaids, and thinking to myself, there will be a place for me, things are changing. So I’m glad that there’s a ton of dialogue about women in film now. (There’s also a part of me thinking, why has it taken so long for this conversation to really get going…) And I’m also really glad that nothing about me being female or having a female lead hurt me in making this movie as far as I can tell. But that’s what’s so amazing about independent film now with crowdfunding and cheaper cameras – you can tell the story you need to tell without anyone’s permission other than your own.

Q: Lastly, who are your personal cinematic heroes who inspired you? Please share some of your favorite films as well.

I love Richard Linklater’s work. The Duplass Brothers. Nicole Holofcener. Lately I’m just astonished by Jeff Nichols. Midnight Special and Mud killed me. He’s a pure artist. I also love The Piano, I love Almost Famous. It’s hard not to be obsessed with Fargo. There’s something about filmmakers that really know the details of their worlds that I love. I don’t watch movies for special effects and camera moves. I want to feel that the filmmaker loves their characters and just humanity in general. I love tragedy and sweetness paired right up next to each other.


Don’t miss the second TCFF screening of June Falling Down on
October 28, 2016 7:25 pm


Highlights from TCFF 2016 Opening Night + Review of ‘Blood Stripe’


For the seventh year in a row, Twin Cities Film Fest is keeping up with tradition of opening the film festivities with a strong film. Last year it opened with an inspiring documentary A New High which goes with 2015’s Changemaker series that supported Homeless Youth, along with the heart-wrenching drama Room featuring Brie Larson who went on to win an Oscar. This year’s social cause is veteran support and once again TCFF picked a stellar Minnesota-made film that features an Oscar-worthy performance by Kate Nowlin. Check out my review below…

Highlights from Opening Night

I’m thrilled that I was able to see Blood Stripe on opening night! In fact, I was at the first screening of the night as initially there was only one screening of the film at 8:30, but it was sold out even two weeks before its screening. The film’s writer/director Remy Auberjonois and writer/lead actress Kate Nowlin, along with supporting cast members René Auberjonois (yes, Remy’s own father) and Rusty Schwimmer were on hand for a Q&A following the screening.

It was awesome meeting some people who worked on the film at the red carpet at the bustling Showplace ICON lobby. I had a nice chat with Blood Stripe‘s script supervisor Aleshia Mueller, whom I had met at TCFF gala last month. My pal Kirsten Gregerson, who played a supporting role in the film, was there also with her sister Kim. I also ran into fellow blogger/actress Emmylou Barden before the film started.



‘Blood Stripe’ Review

When I interviewed filmmakers Remy Auberjonois and Kate Nowlin a couple of weeks ago, I hadn’t seen the film yet. I knew it was a terrific film based on the reviews I’ve read out of L.A. Film Festival, well, to say I was floored by it is putting it mildly.


Right from its opening scene when the film’s protagonist first touched down on the airport, I was immediately intrigued by her. Known only as Our Sergeant, she just returned home to Minnesota from her military duty. The film didn’t specify which country she was placed in, though later she did talk about her time in Iraq and Afghanistan. The film isn’t political, nor does it point finger about the cause of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) many soldiers suffer. It’s a story about a combat vet who happens to be a female Marine, and the trials and tribulations she goes through in the film.

Despite the dark subject matter, the film is far from somber. It’s effortlessly engaging, thanks to Kate Nowlin‘s immense screen presence. She is tough, powerful yet vulnerable, and Nowlin embodied her character so beautifully. I have to admit I’m not really into war-themed films in general, but I’ve always been drawn to those that focus on the psychological aspect of the soldiers, i.e. The Thin Red Line. But Blood Stripe captures the brutality of war without actually showing it. It’s a mental torture that the ‘Sarge’ endured, at times she’s on the brink of losing it, and it’s a truly haunting performance. Remy Auberjonois contrasted that mental torment with the striking serenity of Lake Vermilion in Northern Minnesota. This film could practically double as a tourism video of Minnesota’s Arrowhead Region, the scenery is absolutely stunning that it made me want to book a trip there pronto.


I was truly in awe by Nowlin’s extraordinary performance. She also co-wrote the script so she must’ve spent a lot of time with her character, but it’s still quite a feat given that she had no military training prior to taking on this project. I also appreciate the fact that the film utilized all of the supporting cast well, as each had their moment to shine. Chris Sullivan (who I just saw recently in Stranger Things) was terrific as Sarge’s husband, as was Rusty Schwimmer who played the camp’s caretaker where Sarge worked. Tom Lipinski also did a memorable turn as The Fisherman who befriended Sarge. Last but not least, we’ve got the venerable character actor René Auberjonois as the church elder Art who’s the comic relief in the film.

It’s so rare to see female soldiers being depicted on the big screen and I think Nowlin’s portrayal does them justice. The enigmatic ending lingers long after the opening credits, this film certainly adds the conversation to the topic of PTSD in a compelling way. I can’t recommend this one enough to anyone who loves war-themed films, as well as those in the lookout of a captivating, character-driven drama. I sure hope this will get a decent theatrical release around the country as Blood Stripe absolutely deserves to be seen.


What’s in store for Day 2!

Check out all the films playing on Day 2 of TCFF here, tons of great indie films such as June Falling Down, Funeral Day, Road To The Well, as well as great documentaries such as In Pursuit of Silence, I Do? and Have a Baby.

Stay tuned to my interview with June Falling Down‘s writer/director and star Rebecca Weaver!

Spotlight on 10 great documentaries – and they’re all playing at 2016 TCFF!


Just a few days aways until the seventh Twin Cities Film Fest begins on October 19! The 11-day cinematic marathon, running October 19 – October 29, will showcase 100+ films. It’s definitely great to be a film lover living in Minneapolis!

I’ve blogged about some of the films I’m super excited about, but I wanted to talk about the documentaries specifically, as year after year TCFF has always featured great documentaries that are both insightful and entertaining. Before I get to the list, check out the TCFF documentary promo:

Have you gotten your tickets yet? They are selling fast, in fact when I went to the SHOWPLACE ICON THEATRE in St. Louis Park this weekend, the seats are really picked over so don’t delay.

Get your tickets soon!
Click on each documentary title that’ll take you to its respective page on TCFF site.


Here they are in alphabetical order:

Actors of Sound w/ Boom Up

  • October 29, 2016 10:15 am
  • Runtime: 112 min

Director/Producer: Lalo Molina

ACTORS OF SOUND: From footsteps to bone cracks, Foley artists bring films to life with their imaginative sound effects.

I always love learning about the various aspects of filmmaking and foley artists are one of the unsung heroes in the filmmaking process. This sounds like a fun insights into a world we rarely see, but one we’d definitely notice if not done properly.

Beyond The Thrill w/ The Unrelenting Charlie Davies


  • October 24, 2016 5:15 pm
  • Runtime: 76 min

Director: Jason P. Schumacher

Skydiving isn’t just a hobby, but a sport and a lifestyle. These unique athletes compete in the relatively unknown world of competitive skydiving. The Unrelenting Charlie Davies: Charlie Davies was the most promising young striker in professional American soccer until a fatal car accident in October 2009 derailed his career and threatened his life.

I’m afraid of heights so skydiving is one of those bucket-list type of activities I wish I could do one day. But I always get a kick out of living vicariously through people who dared to do these kinds of extreme sports. This one offers something inspiring beyond just the thrill of the sport, and that’s what a great documentary should be about.

The Eagle Huntress

  • October 24, 2016 6:15 pm

Director: Otto Bell
Runtime: 101 min

The Eagle Huntress follows Aisholpan, a 13-year-old girl, as she trains to become the first female in twelve generations of her Kazakh family to become an eagle hunter. Narrated by Daisy Ridley.

I didn’t know there is such a thing as an eagle huntress, so this film immediately intrigues me. Per IMDbStar Wars: The Force Awakens star Daisy Ridley saw an early cut of this film and loved it so much that she wanted to be a part of it. She is now credited as an executive producer on the film. No doubt this will be an eye-opening and awe-inspiring glimpse into an exotic part of world we rarely see.

Free Cece


  • October 29, 2016 2:45 pm
  • October 29, 2016 3:15 pm

Director: Jacqueline Gares
Runtime: 87 min

CeCe McDonald survived a brutal attack, only to be incarcerated for defending her life. After an international movement to free her, CeCe emerges as a leader to interrogate the prison industrial complex and inspire women to fight back when attacked.

lavernecoxThe title isn’t just a name of the film but also the call to action for a movement sparked by the incarceration of CeCe McDonald. Following her release, McDonald became an activist for prison reform and against transphobia. Orange Is the New Black star and activist Laverne Cox is the executive producer of the film and she’ll be attending TCFF and participates in the A Q&A session following the two screenings at 2:45 and 3:15 p.m. on 10/29. As timely as ever, the film highlights the struggles trans women face in prison, a topic I’m not familiar with but an important one to learn and support.

I Do?

  • October 26, 2016 8:45 pm
  • October 20, 2016 7:05 pm
  • October 26, 2016 4:20 pm

Director:Joe Brandmeier
Runtime:79 min

A light-hearted documentary on the “crazy” concept of marriage.

As someone who’s been happily married for over a decade, I don’t know if I’d call the concept of marriage as ‘crazy.’ But of course not every marriage is alike and some of the stories would likely resonate with people, no matter what their definition of marriage is. It’s interesting to note that the filmmaker Joe Brandmeier was inspired by his own marriage to former Minneapolis Kare 11 anchor Joan Steffend to make this doc (per Star Tribune).

In Pursuit of Silence

  • October 22, 2016 10:30 am
  • October 20, 2016 5:05 pm

Director: Patrick Shen
Runtime: 81 min

In our race towards modernity, amidst all the technological innovation and the rapid growth of our cities, silence is now quickly passing into legend. Beginning with an ode to John Cage’s seminal silent composition 4’33”, the sights and sounds of this film delicately interweave with silence to create a contemplative and cinematic experience that works its way through frantic minds and into the quiet spaces of hearts. As much a work of devotion as it is a documentary, In Pursuit of Silence is a meditative exploration of our relationship with silence, sound, and the impact of noise on our lives.

It’s so true that silence has become a lost art in our increasingly noisy and bustling world. I know I find myself struggle to just be still and turn off all the ‘chatter,’ so this is a film that I know will challenge me to look at silence and how it impacts my own life.

Iron Will

  • October 22, 2016 7:15 pm
  • October 22, 2016 7:30 pm

Director: Sergio Valenzuela
Runtime: 120 min

IRON WILL is a journey into the minds and lives of Veterans suffering with some form of (PTSD). Narrated by Billy Bob Thornton.

I’m glad that TCFF’s social cause this year is in support of veteran health as it’s such an important issue that impact so many people who’ve given their lives to keep our country safe. PTSD is another topic I’m not familiar with, so I always welcome the opportunity to learn a bit more about it.

My Scientology Movie

  • October 28, 2016 12:45 pm
  • October 21, 2016 5:15 pm

Director: John Dower
Runtime: 99 min

Louis documents his investigation into what goes on behind the scenes of the infamous church of scientology.

One of the documentaries on scientology I still need to see is Alex Gibney’s Going Clear, but I’m curious about the unconventional approach of this one. British documentarian/ broadcaster Louis Theroux features young actors “auditioning” for parts playing high-profile Scientologists. I’d imagine it’d be a hoot to watch the recreation of accounts from ex-members about incidents involving senior church management. It’s certainly a wacky way to get people to understand the way this religious practice operates.

Prison Dogs


  • October 26, 2016 2:30 pm
  • October 22, 2016 5:15 pm

Director: Perri Peltz and Geeta Gandbhir
Runtime: 72 min

A story of love, loss, and redemption; Prison Dogs focuses on the impact of a unique dog training program that gives two of the most marginalized populations in our society, —prison inmates and veterans, —a second chance.

I love the idea of giving incarcerated people find a path to a second chance at life through their love and care of a puppy. The powerful relationship between humans and animals have proven to help restore the lives of those deemed impossible to save, no doubt it’ll be a heart-wrenching and moving film to experience. I have to remember to bring tissues to this one!

Word of Honour: Reclaiming Mandela’s Promise

  • October 23, 2016 3:45 pm

Director: Kiersten Dunbar Chace
Runtime: 73 min

A documentary film that gives voice to a community questioning the future of their mixed-race/indigenous identity in the new South Africa. Blending poetry, landscape imagery, and rare archive footage with a collection of powerful, indigenous voices, Word of Honour is an introspective look into South Africa’s young democracy as well as a meditation on what may be looming on the horizon. (All South African cast and crew)

This is a rare documentary in that it’s a sequel to the filmmaker’s 2009 film I’m Not Black, I’m Coloured: Identity Crisis at the Cape of Good Hope, which explores the legacy of Apartheid from the viewpoint of the Cape Coloured people and their struggle as a mixed-race people to fit into the ‘new’ South Africa. Once again I look forward to learning more about the racial issue that people in the western world (including me who’ve lived in the US for more than half of my lifetime) have known so little about. We mostly hear about the Black/White struggle in South Africa, but nothing about the minority Coloured community.

Stay tuned for my interview with Kiersten Dunbar Chace that’ll be published next week!

Thoughts on any of these docs? Which one(s) caught your interest?

Counting Down to 2016 Twin Cities Film Fest! Spotlight on the eclectic indie films I can’t wait to see


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 Theatres in 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!


Full Film Schedule & Trailers at TCFF website


So here are the list of films I can’t wait to see… I’m going to start with the Opening Night film and then list it alphabetically:

Blood Stripe


  • October 19, 2016 5:30 pm
  • October 19, 2016 8:30 pm (SOLD OUT)
  • October 28, 2016 3:00 pm

Director: Remy Auberjonois
Runtime: 87 min

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!

Check out the clip below:

After The Reality

  • October 28, 2016 2:30 pm
  • October 21, 2016 7:10 pm

Director: David Anderson
Runtime: 87 min

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!

The Architect

  • October 26, 2016 6:15 pm

Director: Jonathan Parker
Runtime: 95 min

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!

The Babymoon


Click on image to view trailer

  • October 28, 2016 5:10 pm
  • October 22, 2016 12:30 pm

Director: Bailey Kobe
Runtime: 99 min

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), Jessica Camacho (Sleepy Hollow, Dexter), Michael Steger (90210), Mark DeCarlo (Curb Your Enthusiasm, Seinfeld, Jimmy Neutron), Phillip Garcia (Telenovela, Fuller House), and Kelly Perine (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.

Burn Country


  • October 29, 2016 8:20 pm

Director: Ian Olds
Runtime: 103 min

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 friend’s 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 home’s 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!

Claire In Motion

  • October 28, 2016 4:45 pm
  • Alternate Screening at IFP (10/21 8pm)

Runtime: 84 min

When Claire’s (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 the SXSW Film Festival and recently Breaking Glass Pictures has acquired North American rights to the mystery drama. (per Indiewire)


Funeral Day

  • October 29, 2016 10:30 am
  • October 20, 2016 3:00 pm

Director: Jon Weinberg
Runtime: 79 min

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 Ken’s funeral. ­ Funeral Day is a darkly funny movie about a man who skips his friend’s 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.

June Falling Down

  • October 20, 2016 2:30 pm
  • October 28, 2016 7:25 pm

Director: Rebecca Weaver
Runtime: 115 min

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.

Stay tuned to my interview w/ Rebecca Weaver!

Miles Between Us

  • October 23, 2016 12:00 pm

Director: Andrew Hunt
Runtime: 91 min

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.

No Light and No Land Anywhere

  • October 27, 2016 1:50 pm
  • October 29, 2016 1:10 pm

Director: Amber Sealey
Runtime: 75 min

Grieving her mother’s 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, Lexi’s 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!


  • October 25, 2016 7:30 pm

Director: Dan Glaser
Runtime: 93 min

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


  • October 27, 2016 8:00 pm

Director: Adam Smith
Runtime: 100 min

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!

Follow | The Eyes of My Mother | Lake Runs Red

October is going to be the best movie-watching month for me. If you live in the area, I hope you’ll make time to check out TCFF!

What do you think of these movies, which one(s) interest you most?

Twin Cities Film Fest (Oct 19-29): The 2016 lineup is here!


The Twin Cities Film Fest (TCFF) is thrilled to announce its captivating and critically-lauded lineup for the 2016 festival. The 11-day marathon, running October 19 – October 29 and showcasing 100+ films, will for the first time expand to a second city; in addition to its core screenings and red carpet parties at the Kerasotes ShowPlace ICON Theatres at The Shops at West End in St. Louis Park, the 7th annual TCFF will also feature a second screening series at the IFP Theater in St. Paul.


Kate Nowlin – Blood Stripe

This year’s Opening Night film, Blood Stripe, is sponsored by Stephanie Dillon and will launch TCFF’s 2016 Social Cause: Military Veteran Mental and Physical Support. This locally-filmed PTSD drama directed by Remy Auberjonois, starring Kate Nowlin and top prize winner at the Los Angeles Film Festival, is a story of the trials and tribulations facing a returned female combat veteran and her intense battle with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Four other veteran-related films have been selected to screen as part of TCFF’s “Changemaker Series,” including IRON Will: Veterans’ Battle with PTSD, a Billy Bob Thornton-narrated documentary produced by Minnesota native Tim VandeSteeg that will make its world premiere at TCFF on Oct. 22.

The official 2016 Centerpiece will be the Sundance Film Festival hit The Eagle Huntress (narrated by Daisy Ridley), which follows Aisholpan, a 13-year-old girl in Mongolia, as she trains to become the first female in 2,000 years to successfully hunt with a Golden Eagle. The true-life adventure screens Oct. 24.


Just some of the great films playing this year!

Two of the mostly highly acclaimed films coming out of this year’s Toronto International Film Festival will be making their regional premieres at TCFF. The critical sensation Moonlight will be the TCFF Closing Night film on Oct. 29 — a coming-of-age story about a young man in Miami during the “War on Drugs” era who finds himself coping with a dysfunctional home life. The story of his struggle to find himself, told across three defining chapters in his life as he experiences the ecstasy, pain, and beauty of falling in love while grappling with his own sexuality, has been hailed by some critics as the year’s best screenplay.

Lion, also screening Oct. 29, is the story of 5-year-old Saroo who gets lost on a train which takes him thousands of kilometers across India, away from home and family. Saroo must learn to survive alone in Kolkata, before ultimately being adopted by an Australian couple. Twenty five years later, armed with only a handful of memories, his unwavering determination, and a revolutionary technology known as Google Earth, he sets out to find his lost family and finally return to his first home.

The festival will also include the family fantasy Trolls, the Michael Fassbender thriller Trespass Against Us, the Parker Posey comedy The Architect, the James Franco, Melissa Leo, Dominic Rains crime drama Burn Country and the documentaries My Scientology Movie, The Trans List and In Pursuit of Silence, which discovers that the second quietest place on Earth is a specially designed room in downtown Minneapolis.


Tickets are now available for Members and Pass Holders. Tickets will open up to the general public this Friday, September 30th. To find out how to become a TCFF Member and for a full list of films playing at this year’s festival please visit

I’ll definitely be blogging more about TCFF in the coming weeks, especially in October leading up to the film fest itself!

Thoughts on 2016 TCFF lineup? Which of these movies have you been anticipating?

FlixChatter Interview with Lea Thompson on ‘The Trouble With the Truth’, career longevity in Hollywood and her directing debut

Though it hasn’t officially starts until October 19th, the festivities of Twin Cities Film Fest has begun! Last Wednesday I got the chance to meet Lea Thompson just before her MN theatrical premiere of her indie film The Trouble With The Truth. I got to meet both Lea and the film’s writer/director Jim Hemphill, here they are at red carpet that night:

I’ve posted my interview with its director Jim here if you haven’t read it yet. I’m glad MN film fans got to see the film on the big screen, and they did a Q&A afterwards.

Thanks to Dallas & Jake for the great shots!

Meeting Lea was definitely the highlight of my week! I was waiting for her at the Showplace ICON lounge waiting to talk with her and was chatting with a couple of people when she approached us. Being from Rochester, Minnesota, she certainly still has the warm Midwestern manner. It’s so lovely meeting her, I mean I grew up watching her films in the 80s… All The Right Moves, Back To The Future, Some Kind of Wonderful, etc.  It’s been three decades since her big break in Back To The Future, yet she still looks as beautiful and youthful as ever, she didn’t look a day over 35! But it’s her wonderful, warm personality that will make me a fan of hers forever.

Speaking of Back To The Future, that very movie was playing on one of the TVs right above us. How cool is that! So here’s the transcript of my interview with the Lea:


Let’s talk about The Trouble With the Truth. I love your role as Emily. I find that as a female audience, I find that there are so few meaty roles for women out there. She’s not just the girlfriend, or the wife of so and so.

It definitely was a meaty part. When I got the script, I couldn’t put it down. I just couldn’t believe someone had written a part that interesting. I mean, her perspectives keep changing. At times it seems like a male perspective, and sometimes he’s got the more female [perspective]… So it’s very interesting which is like real life, because people often want to put us into little pigeonholes, but all of us are a lot more complicated than that. So it’s very rare to get great parts like that.

lea_sally_cabaretI’ve had four really great parts in my career. One is Lorraine from Back to the Future, this one [in The Trouble With the Truth, I’ve done Sally Bowles in Cabaret on Broadway, and also the role in a TV movie called The Substitute Wife. So those are my great parts.

I also think Amanda Jones in Some Kind of Wonderful is a pretty great part. I mean initially you think she is this way but she has a certain depth the more you get to know her in the movie.

Yeah, Some Kind of Wonderful is close, but not as great as those other four. I do love that movie.

It is timeless. As a lot of John Hughes’ movies are.

It is. People love it. People love the music, the costume, etc.

So back to The Trouble With the Truth. Is it because of the strong female role that made you want to sign on as producer?

Yeah. I helped cast it, I helped getting it together in some way. So yeah, I’m proud of that. I’m really proud of this film. Y’know, it’s hard to get films that weren’t made by studios to be seen by people, so it’s great to have these independent film festivals where they embrace it. They get people a chance to see it, talk about it, discover new filmmakers and meet new filmmakers. It’s so exciting and I’m so happy that the Twin Cities has a film festival now I spent time at the Guthrie, the Children’s Theater, MN Dance Theater, Chanhassen Dinner Theater, the MN Orchestra is wonderful, so it’s great to see films celebrated too in MN.


There’s a lot of dialog and long takes in this film. How do you approach a role like this? Was there any improvisation or ad lib at all?

There’s hardly any ad-lib, it’s all script. There’s only tiny bit parts when we got up and move to a different location, there’s a bit of improv there, but we stayed to the script. The process was that we rehearse every day for like 2 hours. I mean the shooting was fairly simple but the takes was like 12 minutes long. The takes was hard but it was fun. They had a camera on hand and a camera on me, so it was easier to improv things, not on the words but on how you act it. I can laugh in one take, and cry in another in the same place. So I don’t have to do the same things all the time.

I have to mention Caroline in the City which I love.

Oh thank you, thank you.

You worked on another TV series, Switched At Birth [on ABC Family], which was on fairly recently.

Yes, I’ve been doing that for the past five years. We still have 10 more episodes they’re going to air in January.

Is that season 6?

Yes and I directed the 100th episode which was really nice.

Between working in TV and movies, which one do you prefer?

Oh I’m happy to get whatever job I can get. I mean, I’m directing TV stuff, I’ll be directing The Goldbergs [ABC] in two weeks, and I’m also acting in Scorpion [CBS]. I also just finished my own independent film The Year of Spectacular Men.

I was just going to ask you about that.

So yeah, my daughter Madelyn Deutch wrote The Year of Spectacular Men, she also starred it in and scored it. My other daughter Zoey is starring in it along with myself. It’s a family project and I spent the last year doing that.

Lea with her daughters Madelyn (L) and Zoey (R). Photo courtesy of Huffington Post

Is it too early to talk about the synopsis of it?

It’s about a young girl struggling to figure out what life is after graduating from college. So it’s a Millennial movie. It’s also a story about sisterhood, it’s a love story between two sisters and five horrible boyfriends. Something everybody can relate to.

Is your husband [Howard Deutch, who directed Lea in Some Kind of Wonderful] involved at all in this movie?

He’s a producer, but he doesn’t do too much. I kept him out of the way.

Now that you have two of your daughters in the business. What tips did you give them when they told you they wanted to act?

Well it’s an ongoing thing. I’m always giving them advice, I’m kind of their acting coach. Y’know, we’re kind of contemporaries, we’re at times doing the same job. I’ve been through what they’ve been through or what they’ll go through. I know the ups and down of the business, so it’s nice in that way. I think a lot of people like to hire children of people who have had some success as the kids know it’s work and you have to keep at it. You never just get your big break and everything’s gonna be great. Look, we’re doing an interview under Back to The Future playing on TV right now. I did that 31 years ago and I’m still out here handling my movie that I’m doing.

It’s a testament to your talent and the fact that you’re so prolific in the business!

It’s about the work. It’s not about the fame and all that stuff that’s fake. It’s all about the people you meet and get to meet, the audience. I mean without art, the world is gonna be a complete disaster. We need to make people compassionate, we need to make people feel things, to help people understand how another person live and not be so quick to judge. Artists and stories are super important and I feel that it’s a noble profession. I feel honored that I get to do this for 32 years… no actually I started my first ballet I did here in MN when I was 11. So it’s been 40+ years that I’ve been in the biz.


THANK YOU so much Lea for taking the time to chat with me.
It’s such an honor and privilege meeting you!

Hope you enjoyed the interview! What’s your favorite Lea Thompson role(s)?

My Top 10 Picks from Twin Cities Film Fest


Well, it’s been almost two weeks since the 2015 Twin Cities Film Fest wrapped. I knew the tough part would be selecting the top 10 and so I took my time posting this. I use the same criteria when selecting my top 10 films from a given year. So when I say ‘top movies’ it’s sort of a cross between a ‘best of and favorite’, so these films made an impression on me, combining the virtue of being entertaining, deeply moving, thought-provoking, and indelible.

So with that in mind, I present you my top 10 picks:

[Click on the title to read my full review]

10. Touched with Fire

I really didn’t know what to expect from this, but the subject matter intrigued me. A directorial debut from Paul Dalio, the film seems to have been crafted as a love letter to bipolar artists and creative people. I was quite impressed by Katie Holmes and Luke Kirby who played poets who are manic depressive. It’s a heartfelt and sensitive tale of an unconventional love story.

9. Too Late


This is one of those unique films in which the risky experimentative film-making style paid off in the end. It’s another feature film debut from Dennis Hauck, and it contains only five 20-minute uninterrupted takes, amounting to 100 minutes of non-linear narrative. It’d be a shame if the style was only a gimmick, but thankfully the story is intriguing and actually quite emotional in the end. Plus it’s got an amazing performance from the criminally underrated thespian John Hawkes. His 2015 Northstar Award of Excellence from TCFF is so well-deserved!

8. Remember


As I mentioned in my review, there have been so many Nazi vengeance tales been made on screen before and yet this one manages to inject something new and different into the sub-genre. That alone is a feat in and of itself. Director Atom Egoyan made this with not much frills but the film is brimming with mystery and suspense. Boasted by an astute and heartfelt performance by Christopher Plummer, I was engrossed in the story despite not much action in the film. That finale packs quite an emotional punch, and it’ll make you forgive the generic and boring title, as it actually fits the plot VERY well.

7. It’s Already Tomorrow in Hong Kong


Films that contain mostly of dialog between two people is tricky because a lot is required of the chemistry two actors AND of course, the script. Well, director Emily Ting in her directorial debut certainly managed to create a compelling film thanks to those two ingredients. Bryan Greenberg and Jamie Chung (who I found out was a real-life couple after I saw the movie) have an effortless chemistry together. Everything flows nicely and in a natural way, the actors seem comfortable and fit the roles perfectly. But the strength of the film is in the dialog (also written by Ting), which comes to life as the night wears on.

6. A New High


A homeless shelter in Seattle took a novel approach in helping their residents overcome their addictions, and that is to give them an epic goal to summit one of the most dangerous mountains in the country, the 14,400 ft Mt. Rainier. The film shows the residents train for that mission and the drama that happens in the group, led by former Army Ranger Mike Johnson, who spearheaded this unorthodox rehabilitation project. The film asked the question, ‘will their personal mountains be too steep to overcome?’ and it certainly made me ponder about that in my own life. It’s quite riveting to see each recovering addict face their demons head on, plus the vast splendor of the mountain is absolutely stunning to watch. Directors Samuel Miron & Stephen Scott Scarpulla also had to train for mount climbing as well in order to make this film. Their dedication and their labor of love definitely paid off on screen.

5. The Last Great Circus Flyer


There are a ton of great documentaries playing at TCFF every year and so it’s no surprise they made up nearly half of my top 10 list. This one certainly has one of the most intriguing subject matter. In 1982, Miguel Vazguez performed ‘the greatest feat in all of circus history’, that is the quadruple somersault, during a Ringling performance. He certainly had a fascinating life journey to tell and director Philip Weyland certainly did his story justice. It’s one of the most entertaining and moving documentary that showcase not only a series of amazing–you could say impossible–physical feat, but also a portrait of a truly extraordinary and inspiring individual. Even if you’re not a fan of circus or trapeze act, I highly recommend this one.

4. Thank You For Playing


Critics have called this film one of the most important film about video game ever made and it certainly lived up to that. It’s a tear-jerker of a film but one that’s also incredibly uplifting. The story chronicled the Green family, as Ryan and Amy deal with their son Joel who’s diagnosed with a terminal cancer. Ryan is a video game designer and he embarked on creating a most unusual and poetic video game to honor Joel’s life. Most video games deal with a lot of deaths, that is people getting shot or chopped to pieces violently. But never has a game dealt with death the way That Dragon Cancer game does it, tackling the issue of death head on in such a personal, affecting and encouraging way. This well-crafted film should encourage everyone going through a tough time in their lives, and also inspire people to channel their emotion, whether it’s grief or joy, into something truly creative.

3. Raiders! The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made


When I saw this on the TCFF schedule, I knew this would be one I had to see with my husband. We’re both such huge fans of Indiana Jones and we LOVE Raiders of the Lost Ark! The film has a huge dose of exhilarating fun that matches Spielberg’s adventure masterpiece, as it’s truly the greatest homage to a film fueled 100% by genuine passion and creativity. You can’t help but root for the three guys who remade the film shot for shot when they were 11 years old and reunited 30 years later to finish it. It’s also interesting to see how their families share this unusual journey over the span of three decades. Watch for some extra special surprises that would definitely make you want to get up and cheer. A must-see for Indy fans, but really, anyone who loves a good story would be entertained by this.

2. Room


I’m thrilled that there have been a lot more female filmmakers as well as talents represented this year, one of the reasons I love TCFF! So it’s especially gratifying that two of the main gala screenings feature a strong female performer in the lead. I actually saw Room at a press screening before TCFF started, but I’m still going to include it here as this was TCFF’s opening gala.

Room is one of the most well-acted films I saw the entire year, emotionally heartbreaking but not a dour, depressing film. Featuring one of the strongest lead performances this year, Brie Larson shines as a doting mother who’s kept in captivity in a single room for years. The believable relationship between Ma and her young son Jack is crucial to the film and both Larson and Jacob Tremblay nailed it. It’s a deeply immersive film that really get you into the emotional psyche of the characters, thanks to a shrewd direction by Lenny Abrahamson.

1. Brooklyn


It’s always wonderful when a film lives up to your already lofty expectations and then some. Saoirse Ronan is the perfect leading lady to tell the story of Eilis, a young Irish immigrant who moves to Brooklyn and becomes torn between the new city and her homeland. The story is deceptively simple, but I was swept away by the rich, engrossing human drama that’s brought to life by the nuanced performances of the cast.

This is such a gem of a movie and watching Ronan is her understated yet layered portrayal of Eilis is nothing short of mesmerizing. She’s able to convey internal battle within her with just her eyes or a subtle smile, as there’s a great deal of economy of dialog in this film but everything has a purpose. I’m also impressed by Emory Cohen, and actor I’ve never seen before but I certainly want to see more of. He has a James Dean-esque vibe here, charming but vulnerable, certainly a worthy suitor to the film’s protagonist.

No doubt this is Ronan‘s best work among her already illustrious career and I’d love to see her get major acting nominations come award season. Kudos to director John Crowley and screenwriter Nick Hornby for crafting a beautiful story that’s engaging and full of heart. I mentioned this in my review already but it bears repeating: lest Hollywood forget, well-written story is the greatest special effects of all.

HONORABLE MENTIONS (in random order):

Just because these didn’t quite make my top 10, I still think these films are excellent and definitely well worth your time. In fact, I’m pretty sure Anomalisa would make a lot of critics’ top 10 of the year. I love how film festivals always offer *a cure for the common flicks* so to speak, a breath of fresh air from what you see in mainstream Cineplex today.

THANKS AGAIN Twin Cities Film Fest for the awesome lineup!

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What are your thoughts on my Top 10?
Which one(s) of these films have you seen or look forward to?