TWIN CITIES FILM FEST announces a star-studded 2018 lineup!

TCFF announces a diverse and inspiring lineup of films for their 2018 festival, to be held October 17-27 at Kerasotes ShowPlace ICON Theatres at The Shops at West End with ICON•X. Coming off of a successful September Gala that honored Steve Zahn with the Lifetime Achievement Award and Rachel Mairose from Secondhand Hounds with the Changemaker Award, this year’s festival will officially open their ninth year with Peter Farrelly’s Green Book (November 21, Participant Media and DreamWorks Pictures).

When Tony Lip (Viggo Mortensen), a bouncer from an Italian-American neighborhood in the Bronx, is hired to drive Dr. Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali), a world-class Black pianist, on a concert tour from Manhattan to the Deep South, they must rely on “The Green Book” to guide them to the few establishments that were then safe for African-Americans. Confronted with racism, danger—as well as unexpected humanity and humor—they are forced to set aside differences to survive and thrive on the journey of a lifetime.

Green Book recently won the Toronto International Film Festival’s coveted People’s Choice Award this past week! Producer Jim Burke, Academy Award nominee for “The Descendants,” will be attending.

Opening night festivities will also include a screening of Time for Ilhan, a documentary about State Representative and Federal House candidate, Ilhan Omar, who will be in attendance along with director Norah Shapiro and cinematographer Chris Newberry.

The Centerpiece Highlight on Friday, October 19 is the Newport Beach Film Festival hit comedy When Jeff Tried to Save the World starring Jon Heder (“Napoleon Dynamite). Heder and director Kendall Goldberg will be in attendance. United Skates, a documentary about roller skating and a community’s battle to save an underground subculture will close out the festival on October 27, with producer and Minnesota native Tiffany Fisher-Love in attendance.

Other visiting guests this year include David Arquette and Tom Arnold with the U.S. premiere of Saving Flora, the story of a 14-year-old girl who kidnaps an elephant from a circus to take it to a nature reserve, screening on October 22. Chef Andrew Zimmern will also be in attendance on Thursday, October 25 for the Midwest premiere of Chef Flynn, a documentary about a ten-year-old who transformed his living room into a supper club and achieved sudden fame.

TCFF is also thrilled to feature Widows (20th Century Fox) a modern-day thriller from Steve McQueen starring Viola Davis and Liam Neeson, Can You Ever Forgive Me? (Fox Searchlight Pictures) starring Melissa McCarthy, Boy Erased (Focus Features) starring Joel Edgerton and Nicole Kidman and The Favourite (Fox Searchlight Pictures) starring Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz.

In addition to their regular programming this year, TCFF is pleased to collaborate with the Jewish Film Festival and the Northstar Science Film Festival, showing a slate of thought provoking films while launching a brand new initiative, TCFF Tech. TCFF Tech is a one-of-a-kind 3-day event spotlighting the impact of technology on social issues, innovation, and entrepreneurship.

I’ll post the complete schedule later with some of my most-anticipated selections!

Tickets are on-sale this weekend for TCFF Members and will be open to the public next week beginning Friday, September 28th, 2018. Ticket prices are $12 for General Admission & $20 for Gala Tickets.

Festival Passes can also be purchased as follows: Silver Pass – $50 (5 pack of non-Gala tickets); Gold Pass – $80 (10 pack of non-Gala tickets); Platinum Pass – $120 (12 pack of non-Gala tickets + 2 Gala tickets); Gala Pass – $100 (6 tickets to any Gala Film); and the All Access Pass – $500 (Guaranteed seat in premiere row at ANY screening +more!).


To learn more about TCFF, events, film submissions or to donate, visit the newly-redesigned twincitiesfilmfest.org

 


Oh and as if great films aren’t enough for the 11-day festivities, check out the amazing lineup of FREE EDUCATIONAL events!!


So yeah, TCFF 2018 can’t come soon enough!

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Twin Cities Film Fest’s 2018 Preview Gala Recap + Meeting Steve Zahn

Whew!! What a night!! Thank God it’s Friday ’cause I’m still reeling from the festivities of last night’s event. I’ve mentioned in this post that Steve Zahn was TCFF’s honored guest and the recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award. With 70+ TV/Film works under his belt in his illustrious career, he certainly deserves it!!

I was lucky enough to get a 15-minute interview with Steve just before the Meet & Greet with him at AC Marriot Rooftop Bar Thursday night. Thanks to Jatin Setia (Executive Director) and Bill Cooper (Managing Director) for this amazing opportunity!

I’ll post the interview once I finished transcribing it next week, but let me just say it was truly fun AND inspiring to have a one-on-one chat with the super talented MN-native who remains down-to-earth and kind despite his Hollywood success. We chatted about his theatre background, training at Harvard’s prestigious American Repertory Theater program, before being discovered by Ben Stiler on a NYC play (Sophistry) he did with Ethan Hawke. The play landed both him and Hawke roles in Reality Bites in 1994.

We then talked about some of the highlights of his film career, including working with Christian Bale and Werner Herzog in Rescue Dawn and doing mo-cap acting with Andy Serkis in War for the Planet of the Apes. Bad Ape is one of the highlights of that movie for me, and so it was so much fun to see his eyes light up talking about the experience. I too agree with Steve that Serkis deserved an Oscar for his mo-cap acting work!

Check out this video showing clips from dozens of Steve’s movies and tv work:

This year’s Preview Gala was even more festive as the year before, and I LOVE that they converted the ‘stage’ area into an elegant talk-show setting where the JASON Show host Jason Matheson interviewed Steve prior to the award presentation. Steve was his usual charming and funny self, being ever-so-humble and gracious about his career and even thanking his family and friends/mentors who have helped him along the way.

It was truly a fantastic event which made me all the more blessed and grateful to have been a part of TCFF since year one nine years ago!! This relatively young organization has brought SO much to the Twin Cities community, not just the film community but other non-profit organizations promoting and benefiting SO many social causes. Last night there were even puppies from Secondhand Hounds Animal Rescue Organization along with TCFF annual Silent Auction!

Jatin Setia’s FB post from this AM encapsulated everything about last night’s event…

Here are some pics of the festivities… wish I had been able to play with the puppies but I was busy registering guests at the check-in table. I had a blast volunteering with my friends last night, some of whom I’d be hanging out a ton during TCFF in October, yay!


While you’re at it, check out the brand spanking new TCFF website… check it often so you won’t miss any of the news and highlights!


So yeah, TCFF 2018… here. we. go!

Twin Cities Film Fest Fall Preview Gala 2018 kicks off September 6 w/ special guest Steve Zahn!

The Twin Cities Film Fest is thrilled to announce that acclaimed actor and Minnesota native Steve Zahn will be the recipient of this year’s Lifetime Achievement Award, presented each year at the organization’s annual Festival Preview Gala which kicks off the new TCFF season.

Limited tickets is available here for the Thursday, Sept 6. dinner;  all proceeds go to the organization to support expanded programming and educational events.

Over the past 25 years, Zahn has amassed an unforgettable body of work, appearing in some of the most iconic and critically-acclaimed films of his time. From “Reality Bites” to “That Thing You Do!”, “Out of Sight,” “Shattered Glass,” “Rescue Dawn,” “War for Planet of the Apes,” “Dallas Buyers Club,” and more recently “Valley of the Boom” and “Captain Fantastic,” TCFF organizers cited the range and diversity of his work in bestowing him with this year’s top honor.

“Steve Zahn is one of the most talented, successful and recognizable actors working in Hollywood today,” said TCFF Executive Director Jatin Setia. “We’re so honored to be able to celebrate a Minnesota son who has run so far with his talents, and left such an indelible mark on today’s movie industry.”

In this article in Star Tribune, Zahn says that he doesn’t feel like he’s ready to accept a lifetime achievement award. But I think he deserves it and he’s definitely a much more versatile actor than people give him credit for. Can’t believe he’s been acting for 25 years (and that he’s 50 years old! He doesn’t look a day over 35!)  I enjoyed his performance in That Thing You Do!, Forces of Nature, You’ve Got Mail, Shattered Glass, Captain Fantastic, and even his voice work in War for the Planet of the Apes as the hilarious Bad Ape. He’s got such a charming likability about him that is instantaneous,  and like his That Thing You Do! director Tom Hanks, he’s got that ‘everyman’ quality about him.

I for one can’t wait to see Mr. Zahn and hopefully get to meet him in person and thank him for entertaining us all these years!


GALA DETAILS

The Festival Preview Gala, hosted this year at the Metropolitan Ballroom, is TCFF’s annual industry celebration, fundraiser and unveiling of the new film festival schedule. The program includes dinner, drinks, red carpet, silent auction, honors and select trailers for films that will screen at this October’s festival. Zahn and other honorees will be in attendance to receive their awards.

Steve will be interviewed by local TV & Radio personality Jason Matheson for an intimate reflection on his inspiring body of work. Shannon Paul will emcee the evening with her hilarious banter as your favorite cinematic non-profit reveals TCFF 2018’s most anticipated films premiering this at October’s festival, followed by an intimate evening with Steve Zahn.

6pm-7pm:
Reception
Silent Auction
Red Carpet
Live Music

7:30pm:
Dinner
Previews & Giving- Emceed by Miss Shannan Paul
Retrospective with Steve Zahn- Hosted by Jason Matheson

GET TICKETS »

VIP Table – $1,500 (seats 8 guests)
Table Host – $1,000 (seats 8 guests)
Individual Dinner – $150
General Admission – $40 (non-dinner option)

MEAL OPTIONS:

  • Option 1: Chicken Breast w/Dried Cherry Sauce on Potato Puree & Green Beans w/sweet peppers
  • Option 2: Saffron Pappardelle Pasta with Oven-Roasted Tomatoes, Artichokes and Wild Mushrooms

LOCATION:

The Metropolitan Ballroom
5418 Wayzata Blvd
Minneapolis, MN 55416


 

Short Film Spotlight: ‘This Is Home’ + Q&A with writer/director Jason P. Schumacher

Going into its ninth year, Twin Cities Film Fest is launching a brand new initiative in its INSIDER SERIES program! As a first-time writer/producer who just made my first short film last year, I’m thrilled to see short filmmakers getting a platform to showcase their work. One of the eight outstanding short narrative films screening in TCFF’s first MN Shorts Showcase is a drama made by Jason P. Schumacher, whom many of you might know as the director behind Hearts Want.

Check out my Q&A with the MN-based filmmaker (who also directed the documentary Beyond the Thrill that’s screened at TCFF in 2016):

A coming-of age-story about a young boy realizing that his parents are alcoholics.

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Q: You’ve said that this is a personal film for you. Would you elaborate on that? Was it based on true events?

My co-writer, Jesse Frankson, and I have known each other since elementary school but never really realized we had similar experiences in our upbringing, when it came to our proximity to alcoholism. The film is a work of fiction, but it includes inspiration from things that happened to one or both of us, or things we’d heard from peers with similar experiences.

I’d also looked at the “Laundry List” created by the organization Adult Children of Alcoholics.  Those who grow up around alcoholics often share similar traits with one another; feelings of guilt and abandonment, an overdeveloped sense of responsibility, suppressing emotions, and also a tendency to also engage in addictive behaviors.  In “This is Home”, the young boy is in the early stages of developing and showing these traits, as he begins to realize more and more that his parents are alcoholics.

Q: The film had a child actor (who was about 10 at the time of shoot), who’s terrific in the role. What was the biggest challenge(s) working with a young talent?

Honestly, we didn’t really treat Will Hugo too differently from the adult actors. Working with any actor, it is all about building trust – letting them know that you trust them and earning their trust. The first day of filming was the scene in the river and successfully getting everyone through a logistically challenging and uncomfortable scene like can really be a bonding experiences for the whole cast and crew. The river was also two and half hours a way, so we got to talk on the way with Will and his mom and build rapport and get to know one another more. Will is very involved in various activities in his own life and has great supportive community around him (and siblings too), so we asked him to imagine how different his life might be if he didn’t have those things, which helped him imagine the feelings of the character more.

Jason with Will on set

We’d often talk him through what his character’s feelings are at each moment. He’s a sharp kid and we threw a lot at him. The rest of the cast was really great at working with him too. He was a little shy at first, but by the end he was cracking jokes with everybody, like, “Excuse me, excuse me – lead actor coming through!”

Q: Can you tell me a bit about casting? I recognize the taxi driver was the same actor who played the ringmaster in your other short, Sad Clown.

Even though Darrin Shaughnessy is incredible in Sad Clown, we still made him audition! He’s great at playing characters that seem a little surly but are still sympathetic. When his character enters the bar to pick up the drunks, his face is worth a thousand words. We’ve all been there. We did a pretty extensive casting actually. We had two days with long casting sessions and then a call-back. We knew the film would live or die by the casting.

We needed actors that played the actors as real people, without too many preconceived judgements. And also actors that we could believe were a family. With the wrong casting or performances it could play like a PSA or a melodrama and we didn’t want that. It was very a delicate.

Megan Kelly Hubbell, Sean Dooley (who played the parents) and Will really stood out as the right people to play the family in the film. They just connected with the material. Megan’s audition was one of the best I’ve ever seen for anything. We actually saw a lot of great local talent and instead of performing a monologue, we asked them to tell a story about drinking or being around drinking. We heard some pretty wild stories! The co-writer of the film also appears in the film as Dan, their annoying drinking buddy.

Q: There is an extensive river tubing scene which I’d imagine must’ve been pretty tough to shoot. Would you share about shooting that scene and the toughest part about that particular shoot?

We filmed at a river on a relative’s property that I go tubing on every summer. Tubing down the river each year always felt like one of the most cinematic things I could imagine and I’d never seen tubing down a river in a film before. It became this perfect metaphor in the center of the film, this family drifting somewhat aimlessly together.

On the day we filmed, it was cold! Maybe 62 degrees, so who knows what the temperature of the water was? And it occasionally drizzled ice cold rain on us. We did a lot of the filming from a canoe that we managed to secure the camera and the tripod in. Luckily we didn’t tip. The director of photography (Max Sjöberg), myself, and the boom operator were in the canoe, simultaneously trying to steer it and capture the scene. There were a couple times where a branch almost knocked the camera in the water. It also was a challenge to get our canoe and camera lined up with the actors as the river moved us around. It was the first day of filming, so I was worried the actors would stop talking to me after I stuck them in a cold river all day. But I think it was a good bonding experience for everybody. Despite being uncomfortable, it was a really fun day. It was also the lead actor’s first time tubing.

Q: Lastly, what would you like the audience to take away from your film?

The film isn’t a PSA.  I don’t want to spell out a message for anyone, but I will say that alcoholism and low income families are rarely show this way in cinema, yet this situation is so common.  A loving family where the disruption of alcohol chips away at them.  The film a vignette, a glimpse into the lives of others, but for many who’ve seen it, it is a reflection of something they are all too familiar with.

That’s a wrap!

Check out the filmmaking journey of This Is Home


Thanks Jason for chatting with me!

TCFF Insider Series: NOBODY’S SON short film & my interview w/ filmmaker Brian Austin

It’s time for another Twin Cities Film Fest INSIDER SERIES event! One of the perks of being a member of TCFF is you get to see various indie films on the big screen AND also get to partake in the Q&A with the filmmakers afterwards.

This February, TCFF is showcasing a dramatic short filmed in Ely, a beautiful town in the Boundary Waters area in Northern Minnesota. Thanks to TCFF’s managing director Bill Cooper and filmmaker Molly Katagiri, who worked as script supervisor on the film, for arranging the interview with writer/director Brian Austin.

Synopsis:

Dillon (Jared Ivers) has been moved again. A familiar life of being passed from one household to the next, but this time it’s much worse. Dillon struggles with speaking up, in order to expose his abuser. He reaches out to any adult that may hear ; but will anyone really listen?

This event will take place on
Monday, Feb. 19 7:30PM*
SHOWPLACE ICON THEATRES

1625 West End Blvd
St. Louis Park, MN 55416

GET TICKETS

RUSH LINE tickets are still available, be sure to arrive early!

What’s the inspiration for this film? Is there something personal in the story in any way?

I went through a terrible upbringing and I wanted to relive it and put it on screen.

Tell me a bit about your creative process. Did you write the script? If so, how long did it take you to write it and how did Nobody’s Son project come together?

I am a somewhat good writer and with my other writers Charles Dutka and Gerald Dahling, I composed a very good script that I needed to make as a film. I wrote the script myself with Gerald Dahling for LA Film School for my Associates in Film in LA, California Hollywood.2 I had to take two script writing classes and my first script my teacher didn’t like and I only had a few days to finish the second one so I came up with my childhood experiences growing up because it was easy to remember those trying days and I wanted to have a interesting and compelling story to tell.

Would you tell me a bit about filming in Ely? I believe you went to school in that town?

I decided to make the film where the events happened initially… I knew it would be more expensive but money was no big deal.  I went to Ely Elementary school till 2nd grade then moved to a nearby town .. my experiences in ely were mostly bad.. especially since I was raised by my cousin and her husband.. I felt like I didn’t belong anywhere.. and it was a very difficult childhood.. the only thing that helped me escape mentally was baseball. I turned out to be a great baseball player (pitcher) at a young age and that was my love.

How long was principal photography? What’s the biggest challenges for you as an indie filmmaker?

It took 9 days to shoot .. we were up by 5 and stopped around 1 or 2 in the morning.. the biggest challenge was to feel confident in my abilities as a director.. I was relying on a Assistant Director for too much of the shoot because I didn’t believe I could do some of the things necessary to make a quality movie. As I progressed through the days, I decided to fire the AD and work by myself and my DP and script writer to help come up with he shot lists for the next day. I felt very comfortable directing after I fired that AD… ha ha 🙂

Brian with lead actor Jared Ivers who played Dillon

Lastly, what’s next for you? Specifically in regards to Nobody’s Son, or in general about your filmmaking career?

I am making a feature finally.. It will most likely be filmed in LA and should take a few months to shoot.. it will be a very expensive film to make but sometimes you can’t skimp on quality and need to pay for what you get in the movie industry.  I am still trying to pitch Nobody’s Son as a series on TV or Netflix.. We have been with my script writers.. writing several episodes of the tv series already and plan on pitching it soon as a pilot first for tv.

Molly and Brian on the set of NOBODY’S SON

Thanks Brian for taking the time to chat w/ me!


GET TICKETS to Nobody’s Son screening

RUSH LINE tickets are still available, be sure to arrive early!

*6:30pm Reception | 7pm Red Carpet Interviews/Photos
7:30pm Film Screening | 8:15pm Post Film Q&A


TCFF Indie Film Spotlight: FLORA + Interview with writer/director Sasha Louis Vukovic

One of my favorite film genres is sci-fi mystery. It’s also a genre indie filmmakers have thrived at, which includes some of my favorites such as Never Let Me Go (2012), The Machine (2014), Ex Machina (2015), and one of my faves that screened at Twin Cities Film Fest in 2014, Time Lapse.

One of the most intriguing films that played at TCFF this year is a feature film debut by Canadian filmmaker Sasha Louis Vukovic. I had the pleasure of meeting Sasha as well as lead actress Teresa Marie Doran briefly during the film fest, but we didn’t get to connect for the interview until after.

Thanks to FC blogger Holly Peterson for the review and interview questions!

In the summer of 1929 -at the end of the golden age of exploration- an expedition of Ivy League University Botanists enter an uncharted forest on the North American frontier. Tasked to study the native flora, the students unearth a deadly organism and are soon in a fight with nature itself, where they must use their limited resources to understand, survive and escape the wild and terrifying forest that surrounds them.

FlixChatter review (courtesy of Holly Peterson):

A misunderstood villain is not a new idea. Excessive violence perpetrated at the hands of a gentle being goes back at least as far as Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein in the 1800s and I am sure I could come up with an earlier example if I weren’t so gosh darn tired right now.

Point is, that although audiences are used to villains being villainous, we also understand that sometimes a villain just doesn’t have the right tools to express their good will. Everyone would get along fine if they could just talk out whatever is bothering them.

But what happens when a dealer of death, a perpetrator of violence, is not just misunderstood, but completely oblivious? What if it isn’t even sentient?

That’s the story Flora chooses to explore.

A group of intrepid young scientists treks out to a secluded forest to study it, only to find that their point of contact has gone missing. As the scientists try to unravel the mystery of this disappearance, they also begin to study the forest, which they gradually realize is more dangerous than they anticipated. Flora builds a sense of creeping dread with an intense score and several one-off scenes of tempers flaring and traps being set that you can’t help but expect to snap whenever the score begins to build again.

My one quibble with the film is that it wants its audience to see that it is diverse and doesn’t trust us to notice without calling it to our attention. This is problematic because it really isn’t that diverse to begin with. Half of the characters are white males. The Asian character goes off on a weird, unnecessary tangent about his heritage. One of the female characters has a really awful emotional speech about how she’s “just a nurse” because “they” wouldn’t let her study. The other female character doesn’t even get to tell her own story – it is told by a man behind her back and is an annoying soapbox moment about how talented and unappreciated she is because other people in her field cannot see beyond her gender. There is nothing wrong with a character facing adversity because of their gender or their race, but when six people are stranded in a forest, that is probably the adversity we should focus on.

Of course, there were a couple “DON’T GO INTO THE DARK CREEPY HOUSE BY YOURSELF” variety moments, but I think that’s kind of par for the course as far as horror/suspense goes. Humans don’t always use their best judgment and for the most part I thought the “what are you thinking!?” moments felt pretty organic.

The actors’ performances are solid and it is a compelling experience to watch a group of people fight for their lives without fighting against anything. Definitely worth a watch!

*images courtesy of IMDb

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Sasha Louis Vukovic is a filmmaker from Toronto, Ontario, Canada. A graduate of the New World School of the Arts in Miami, Florida, and the Chicago College of Performing Arts, in Chicago, Illinois; his 2017 debut feature, Flora, won Best Feature Film at the London International Science Fiction Film Festival, and Best Original Screenplay at the Amsterdam International Film Festival.

FLORA’s DP Eric Irvin and director Sasha Vukovic on set

Q: Where did the idea for the story come from?

The idea for the story came from my personal lack of knowledge about my ecosystem. I was amazed by how little I knew or understood about the Flora that surrounded and interacted with me everyday. So many people come and go through life subsisting and relying on Flora with very little thought of the life of those organisms. I was also fascinated with creating a non-malicious antagonist. A villain with no villainy. Something beautiful and strong.

Q: What was it like shooting a period piece on a budget?

It was excellent fun. And actually a great creative box within which to imagine and create. Every element of the script was written with budget/period in mind. So I actually found it to be quite an interesting puzzle. The period was far more boon than bane.

Q: What was the most challenging part of the shoot?

The most challenging part of the shoot was by far contending with Nature. As the entire film is shot outdoors, we dealt with bugs, rain, heat, wild rivers, storms and dense forests. In many moments it felt as if we as a team were on an expedition into a dense wild forest as well. Thankfully a little less toxic than in the film.

Q: What is it like writing a script about / acting against a non sentient “villain”?

Again, a wonderful challenge. Creating action sequences in which characters are ostensibly running from a stationary pursuer was intersting.

A lot of the film focuses on the eeriness of how silent the forest is, coupled with the mystery of what befell the past humans who inhabited it. That way, suggestion and ambiguity does a great job at allowing the audience to build up a monster in their heads.

Then, the key is creating a believably toxic environment, from which there is an immediate need to escape. Think about the urgency that befalls people during an earthquake or hurricane. Flora is about non-symbiosis, about what happens if we have to run from nature.

Teresa Marie Doran and Dan Lin on the set of FLORA

Q: How did you find your composer?

Our composer Nathan Prillaman is incredible. He was introduced to me by one of our lead actors/executive producers Dan Lin.

Nathan and Dan went to school together as kids and right around the time that we were hunting for our Composer, they ran into one another -for the first time in years- at a dim sum restaurant. It was fantastic luck, and lead to a great creative partnership.


Thanks Sasha for talking to us about your film!

For more info about the making of the film,
check out this article from Sound & Picture magazine:

Check out this behind-the-scenes video of FLORA:

TCFF 2017 Reviews: Little Pink House + The Ballad of Lefty Brown

There aren’t enough days in TCFF to post all the reviews. In fact, I still have a few more TCFF reviews coming your way next week, which will be interspersed with new release reviews such as Only The Brave, The Foreigner and The Snowman.

Thanks to TCFF blog contributor Andy Ellis for these reviews. Definitely something to check out when it’s released near you.

The Ballad of Lefty Brown
review by Andy Ellis

If there is one thing that makes The Ballad of Lefty Brown stand out from other westerns it’s Bill Pullman‘s performance. The story itself is a different take on the revenge-type western, because the underdog takes center stage. Lefty Brown (Pullman) witnesses his partner get murdered in front of him, and vows to find the men responsible.

For a western it’s great. There’s plenty of gun fights and suspense to go around. And there are definitely scenes that allow the supporting cast to shine. Peter Fonda plays Edward Johnson, Brown’s partner, and does a great job with the limited screen time he has. Kathy Baker is great as his wife Laura playing a woman is suddenly dealing her husband’s death, keeping the farm going, and finding out who killed her husband. Tommy Flanagan shines as the hardened Federal Marshal Tom Harrah and a longtime friend of Johnson and Brown, who is still trying to overcome a tragedy from his past. Jim Caviezel and Diego Josef also have great supporting parts that make for very memorable scenes.

This, however, is Pullman’s film. If there ever was role that would should garner him some sort of acclaim from critics and awards voters, this would be it. He transforms into Brown, a sidekick with a who no one sees as someone who is capable of successfully avenging his partner’s death. He’s got a bad limp so he’s not always the smoothest at moving, may be mentally slow, and other peculiarties as well.

He overcomes all of that, with a few missteps along the way, with a determination to get justice for his friend. Even with everyone telling him someone else will take care of it, he’s going to get it done or die trying. Everyone can come along for the ride if they want.

Yes, the story is about revenege. But it’s also about one man with a really big heart. And despite all the obstacles in his way won’t even let the possibility of death get in the way of getting justice for his partner, a man who gave him everything.


Little Pink House
Review by Andy Ellis

Academy Award-nominated actress Catherine Keener (Get Out, 40-Year-Old-Virgin) may find herself in the running again with Little Pink House. Adapted from the book Little Pink House: A True Story of Defiance and Courage by Jeff Benedict, it’s centered around Susette Kelo (Keener) and the events that led up to the U.S. Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision in the Kelo vs. City of New London. The decision allowed the government to bulldoze neighborhood property for the benefit of a multibillion-dollar corporation.

The story consists of many characters, but there are two that stand out the most: Keener and Jeanne Tripplehorn who plays Charlotte Wells. She’s hired by the governor of Connecticut to convince the citizens of New London to let the government buy their homes. Tripplehorn delivers a great performance as Wells who is undeterred by any obstacles put in her way, but you still really hope she fails.

Keener, who resembles the real-life Kelo pretty well, delivers a great performance of a woman starting over. She just wants to be able to live in her home, but when Wells and the government try taking that away she’s determined, passionate, and rarely loses her composure.

These two women lead a talented supporting cast including Aaron Douglas, Miranda Frigon, and Callum Keith Rennie. They and many others all contribute special moments to the film.

The fact that this is a true story makes it that much more powerful. It’s a story about defiance, courage, and hope. Despite its outcome, this is a movie that have you cheering from your seat.


Have you seen these films? Well, what did you think?

 

TCFF Indie Film Spotlight: DARCY + Interview with filmmakers Heidi Philipsen-Meissner & Jon Russell Cring

I’ve mentioned several times that my favorite parts about covering Twin Cities Film Fest is about discovering new films, filmmakers and talents. Well, one of my favorite discoveries in all three fronts comes courtesy of this coming-of-age drama, DARCY.

Gus Birney, the young starlet of TV’s “The Mist” (based on a story by Stephen King) is making her feature film debut in the independent narrative feature DARCY. DARCY marks the first narrative feature film debut for co-directors Heidi Philipsen-Meissner and Jon Russell Cring. In co-directing DARCY, both John and Heidi made it a priority to consider both gender viewpoints when interpreting the script and its characters’ behaviors, another factor not lost by the film’s cast. Most of the production’s crew was carried by women below and above the line. The film’s ensemble cast includes: Johnathan Tchaikovsky (“Keep The Change”), Paulina Singer (“The Intern”), David Thornton (“The Notebook”) and Bernadette Quigley (TV’s “Mr. Robot”). The 17-year-old newcomer is the daughter of veteran New York actors Reed Birney (Netflix’s “House of Cards”) and Constance Shulman (Netflix’s “Orange Is the New Black”).

My review of the film:

Billed as “A girl’s awakening in the sunlight of harsh reality,” DARCY is a coming-of-age tale about an innocent teenage girl living with her parents in a seedy motel on the edge town who meets a stranger that changes her world.

The film presented the contrast between the unwholesome surrounding of her family business and Darcy’s innocence and being so sexually ‘green.’ Casting is so important in any film, but especially a film like this where it hinges on the believability of the protagonist. Fortunately Gus Birney did a fine job and you’re immediately taken with her as she attempts to navigate her life without much guidance from her parents. We see the world through Darcy’s eyes, and frankly in this world there’s really no good role model for a young woman. Even her mother at times behaves inappropriately with seductive male costumers coming to her motel. One thing her mom said to her is one every teen should take to heart however… “Don’t be in such a rush to be grown up. It’s not what you think it’ll be.”

The film gets more interesting with the arrival of a stranger… a brooding young writer Luke whom Darcy takes an immediate liking to. I like the moment of their meet-up, innocently enough when she was working the front desk and he came down to borrow a pencil sharpener. The chemistry between the two leads, Birney and Johnathan Tchaikovsky, is palpable. It’s fun to watch them being drawn to each other but each hesitate to get too close. The film takes its time to reveal just what’s really going on with Luke, which adds to the mystery.

Sustaining the motel is the practice of taking in occupants who have until only recently been incarcerated, an arrangement that Darcy’s parents have arranged with the Department of Corrections for a price. Naturally there are unsavory scenes in this seedy operation, but they’re not gratuitous. I have to say I’m not fond of those scenes but they’re there to serve a purpose, to fully understand the world Darcy lives in. Kudos to co-director Heidi Philipsen-Meissner who had to wear multiple hats as a performer as well in the role of Toni. I also think the scenes between Darcy and Luke, the heart of the story, is beautifully-shot and acted.

The film takes place over one Summer. It’s an honest, realistic portrait of an innocent young woman on the brink of adulthood. Don’t expect a neat resolution tied with a big red bow, because often times, life just doesn’t turn out that way either.

FCInterviewBanner

Q: Congrats on your debut feature film! What’s the inspiration behind this project and how much of the story was inspired by real life?

JON: I think when you start from real life and then expand upon it you can find a really cool alchemy in writing. I lived in a motel for over a year and my wife and co-writer has brought a lot of her personal family experiences. Then you stop judging your characters and see where they take you.

Q: Looks like you changed the name from This Is Nowhere to Darcy, what’s the reasoning for the title change?

HEIDI: I think it was just part of our journey along the way. When I started making this first feature, it was with the idea of making it for a super micro budget on a weekend with friends in the biz… and, thus, the title THIS IS NOWHERE felt especially real… almost like a rallying cry… and had to do with the location of where our main character, Darcy, lived and the place that she was in the world: Nowhere. But as the journey of making this film continued, and I worked with one of my mentors Larry Jackson (Mystic Pizza) and Jeff Dowd (aka The Dude) in getting it out there to test audiences prior to completing the final edit, it became evident that the title THIS IS NOWHERE, did not fully encompass the center of the story. Darcy may have felt like she was “nowhere,” and we wanted to take the audiences on that journey through “nowhere,” but, truly, in the end, it was about DARCY… this girl on the cusp of womanhood, who would most definitely not stay “nowhere” in her life.

Gus Birney as Darcy

Q: What makes DARCY different than other coming-of-age films or those dealing with youth growing up?

JON: I grew up on great coming of age films but there always seemed to be this escapism of trying to create your own world outside of adult influence. Sort of the Charlie Brown syndrome. My experience growing up is that your life and decisions are dominated by those older than you. Everybody in this film is trying to get by, but it all comes from a self-centered place. That tends to lead to dark conclusions. Darcy isn’t a simple story, but neither is life.

HEIDI: The majority of coming-of-age that I have seen, i.e. Stand By Me, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, Anne of Green Gables…. Have either been more about the coming of a young male’s life, or very rose-colored and about the coming-of-age about a young female as directed, editing and created by a male. Those are very different eyes and things you focus on… the male gaze versus the female gaze. And, honestly, in many ways, I often most thought about the story of “Lolita,” only we’ve completely turned Lolita on its head and made it about seeing the world through Lolita’s eyes if we could.
Further, this film does not steer clear of those unfortunate experiences that youth sometimes witnesses when the responsible adult is nowhere to be found. (If anything, it’s a wake-up call to our society that we are not connecting to our young ones and losing our sense of connection to those in our communities who don’t necessarily “fit in.”)

Many films try to do the opposite – pretend that all is perfect in the world in spite of life’s hardships. But this one looks at the resiliency of a girl who refuses to be a passive bystander in her own life, even though she has to behave like one to keep the adults in her world from getting on her case even more.

On the set of Darcy with Gus Birney

Q: How did you end up collaborating together as directors and what has the experience been like?

JON: We admired each other’s singular creative projects so collaboration made sense. It also is a story that needs multiple voices, male and female, to tell it. It has been a fabulous process.

HEIDI: In what the big film industry meccas of NYC and LA consider “nowhere” – upstate NY – Jon and I saw talent in each other and the drive and passion to want to do more. Though we are both Type A personalities in our own ways, we found that the fact that we were bringing two different genders together as directors to create the fully equal perspective in our film made the collaboration all the more exciting, fulfilling and eye-opening, while allowing both of our voices to be heard.

Q: Heidi, you also had a supporting role in the film. How does acting in the film help you tell the story as a filmmaker?

HEIDI: When you get into the skin of one of a complex character like, TONI, who is, in effect, both a prostitute, but also a mother and wife, you have to do a lot of research grounded in reality to understand her. You just get so much closer to the creative, evolutionary process of exploring the emotions, the forces driving her, as well as what is holding her back.

You can’t fake those emotions – at least, I can’t. And understanding TONI –who was, in essence, a “Darcy” without a safety net who never left “nowhere,” but fell in through hard times, sex abuse, violence, drug use, probably mental illness, desperation and, ultimately, only had one thing keeping her going: the love for her child, Peanut—was a huge part of unlocking the key to the rest of the characters for me as a director.

Heidi Philipsen as Toni

When I act and direct, this experience does two things for me: First, it keeps me grounded in what my fellow actors have to go through and ensures that I respect their process (because I am going through the same thing), it bonds me closer to them, and, second, it gets my head in the game as a director as to what the story is all about… grounding me in the truth of the imaginary circumstances.

And – okay, I lied – there are three reasons – lastly, it enables me to do something with all of that emotion and energy I am processing as a director. When you are a director, it is more of an analytical process than emotional… and I love being able to go through the full journey to bond with my fellow actors, while steering the “directorial ship” as well.

Q: I’m really drawn by the relationship between Darcy and Luke. Could you tell us a bit about casting Gus and Johnathan specifically?

HEIDI: First off, I have to give props to our Casting Director Caroline Sinclair – I met her while coordinating and working with her on several features prior to producing and directing my own and I never dreamed that she would say “yes.” But when I approached her with the script, she loved it from the beginning and was one of my biggest supporters as both a producer and director.

Caroline is the one who said, “I think you REALLY have a special script, here. Don’t rush this. Give it time and when you are ready, let’s cast it with some great actors.” And she did just that.

Finding “Darcy,” was no easy task. She had to be able to portray that very special age of 15… you know, we are different, much different, developmentally at 15 than we are… even a year later..

And even when my Executive Producer Kathryn McDermott was urging me, “Don’t cast a child. It’ll be brutal on our schedule, our budget and the expectations of working with child labor laws,” I couldn’t help but see something in Gus that we hadn’t seen in the 18-year-olds coming in. It was that naïve innocence, but also that “I’m becoming an adult and I will conquer the world!”

We girls do think that way – you know—until, unfortunately, as we get older and we are told that we are only special in how we help to define a man in our lives.

I also want to give props to Tracy Nicole Cring… she is the Co-Writer, Director of Photography and Muse of Darcy. I believe, deep down, that she is the original Darcy… Tracy, Jon and I had gone over and over in our creative visualization of art works and styles of the way we saw Darcy.

And so, when Gus walked in, tall, lanky, a bit like a dear-in-headlights, on the one hand, somehow evoking an old English painting, like John William Waterhouse’s The Lady of Shalott, yet fully modern with an undercurrent of tough-girl faith in her dreams, maybe it was subconscious from all the prep we had done, but something just “clicked.” That was it. She WAS Darcy.

As an aside, Kathryn McDermott, who teaches Production Management at the Motion Picture Institute of Michigan, and was my teacher and mentor in film school, tells me that she now has a “caveat” when it comes to teaching her students. The case of Gus Birney and “Darcy” is the only one, she says, where it went “right;” otherwise, she still advises against hiring children on your first feature on a low budget.

In the case of Johnathan Tchaikovsky, who plays “Luke,” that was truly magically, as well. We had done several castings by that time and were, originally, looking for a character with a southern accent, most likely from Tennessee, and the rest of the look – i.e. cowboy hat, boots, torn jeans….

And then, right at the very end, one of the last to be seen, in walks this guy from the Bronx, who reminded me of a young Robert DeNiro, yet had something very zen like Richard Gere in “A Master and a Gentleman.” I’ve never experienced it until that day – this actor literally came in and TOOK that role. He owned it. There was no one else who could do it or WANTED it as much as he did.

And I’m happy to report that both actors were so committed from day ONE. They never backed down or gave us any reason to regret casting them.

JON: Gus Birney is a star. When she came in we knew there was something truly special there. Jonathan reminds of me of a young Brando and their chemistry together was palpable. These characters are struggling with appetites and they break your heart. Their relationship is complicated and evolves and I am also struck by the depth these actors brought.

Q: The nature photography is really beautiful, it’s as if it’s a deliberate juxtaposition to the seedy motel setting. Where’s the filming location?

HEIDI: Again, that was a deliberate action. In partnering with Tracy, our Director of Photography, and all of the creative visuals that we had accumulated to emulate a certain look, we came up with this idea of making the interiors feel so uninviting, cramped, crowded, dreary, lonely, even a bit frightening… while the outdoors would be the opposite: inviting, free, full of life, hope, peace of mind. I have to give kudos to the entire team for making that happen.

We shot the film on location at the Catskill Mountain Lodge in Palenville, NY and in downtown Catskill, NY. Gorgeous – gorgeous countryside there.

JON: We shot in the Catskill region of New York. Tracy Cring as Cinematographer wanted that feeling of two worlds. Where Darcy lives is so completely different from the beauty once you exit the motel. The grass is definitely greener outside.

Q: Lastly, this film is brutally honest and doesn’t have a perfect ending tied w/ a big red bow. What is the main thing you like people to take away from the film?

HEIDI: Not sure if you read my blog in the Huffington Post this past week, but that pretty much sums it up. For me, as a women director, I did not want a “happy bow” ending – and that’s certainly not what Jon and Tracy wrote as co-writers.
As an aside, I will admit that we DID try it after being advised from outside sources – re-edited the entire ending and made it “happy,” –but it didn’t work; our test audiences were too smart and knew that it just didn’t feel right. They rejected it.

And these days, in the wake of the Weinstein sexual harassment cases, I guess you could call it a disruptive innovation statement very true to current times: We women are not going to pretend that our world is rosy when it is not. And the men who respect and love us don’t want us to. At some point, something needs to be said about how we are forced to keep a smile on our face while enduring harassment and abuse and discrimination. But that means facing the flaws and the struggle NOW.

Darcy’s future may very well be rosy – but not just yet.

JON: I really believe it’s a message of empathy. Caring is a political act nowadays. When you live with these extremely flawed people I hope you can feel something for someone who is struggling. It’s easy to box people up and say this is all they will ever be. This film turns those conventions around. As far as the ending, I find tragedy doesn’t come obviously. We survive our own mistakes.


It was so much fun meeting Heidi, Jon and Johnathan at their hotel. It’s palpable Heidi and John had an effortless rapport as they could practically finish each other’s sentences. As we’re about to wrap up on our interview, Johnathan arrived from the airport! What a lovely bunch, definitely one of the highlights covering TCFF for me this year.

Thanks Heidi & Jon for chatting with me!

For more info about the film, visit
darcymovie.com

Twin Cities Film Fest 2017 has wrapped! Check out the list of winners!

It’s one for the books!

The 8th annual fun-filled cinematic marathon has officially wrapped last night with yet another festive closing night party.

Pardon the lack of post yesterday as it was literally an extremely jam-packed day and I’ve also been hit with a bit of a cold and cough. Every single TCFF staff and volunteers pretty much ran on adrenaline around the 11-day film fest, but hey, time still flew when you’re having a great time!

The best part of covering TCFF is discovering new films, filmmakers, and talents. And boy, just in the last two days of the fest, I saw three of my top 5 films…

The three films may seem very different on the outset in terms of setting and plot, but they actually have similar themes of letting go of the past, growing up and celebrating life for what it is. The female-led Instructions For Living, directed by Sarah Heinss based on a script by Heinss and Morgan Owens, deservedly won the Audience Award for narrative feature.

Writer/Director/Actress Sarah Heinss, Writer/Actress Morgan Owens, Actor Drew Paslay, and Producer Maggie Hart were at the red carpet, interviewed by our host Amanda Day, on the first screening of the film on Saturday 10/21.


Two of my fave films starred this year’s Indie Vision Breakthrough Award recipient Josh Wiggins, who’s absolutely phenomenal in both films, playing the teenage son of Matt Bomer in Walking Out and J.K. Simmons in The Bachelors. This 18-year-old young man certainly showed an incredible range as well as screen presence. I think people will hear more of him in the future and I’m glad to say I first saw Josh at TCFF and got to talk to him a bit at the after party.

Here he is being interviewed by one of our awesome hosts Rachel Weber before the Walking Out screening:

On the festival’s closing day, TCFF also honored actress, and Minnesota native, Rachael Leigh Cook (who’s the lead in the modern adaptation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream) with the festival’s coveted North Star Award.

 

On Saturday I started the day with learning from great filmmakers!

Two of those filmmakers’ films are one of the finalists for Best Feature Film award, Alex and Andrew Smith for Walking Out and Kurt Voelker for The Bachelors.

TCFF announced its 2017 award winners Saturday evening, recognizing films in ten top categories. The 11-day event showcased more than 140 titles — 60% of which were directed by women — and facilitated a broader conversation around the social cause of addiction (our theme for this year’s Changemaker Series)

The full list of 2017 award winners:

  • Best Feature Film: “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” directed by Martin McDonagh.
  • Best Documentary: “Human Flow,” directed by Ai Weiwei
  • Best Short Film: “Cat Killer,” directed by Wes Jones.
  • Audience Award, Narrative: “Instructions For Living,” directed by Sarah Heinss (Runner-Up: “Aquarians,” directed by Michael M. McGuire)
  • Audience Award, Non-Fiction: “Coyote,” directed by Thomas Simmons (Runner-Up: “Victor’s Last Class,” directed by Brendan Brandt)
  • Audience Award, Short Film: “Hearts Want,” directed by Jason P. Schumacher (Runner-Up: “Wet Dreams: One Woman’s Chance at Touching Gold,” directed by Darren Coyle)
  • Indie Vision Breakthrough Award — Narrative: Madelyn Deutch (screenplay, “The Year of Spectacular Men”)
  • Indie Vision Breakthrough Award — Non-Fiction: “8 Borders, 8 Days,” directed by Amanda Bailly
  • Indie Vision Breakthrough Award – Best Performance: Josh Wiggins (“The Bachelors” and “Walking Out”)
  • Fun Is Good Bill Murray Comedic Shorts Award: “Lady Lillian,” directed by Amber Johnson
  • North Star Award for Excellence: Rachael Leigh Cook

TCFF 2017 Changemaker Award: Lexi Reed Holtum, executive director and lobbyist of the Steve Rummler Hope Network, for her work advocating on behalf of Steve’s Law and the 2015 state funding that enabled first responders to have the resources they need to implement the law.

Congrats to ALL of the TCFF 2017 winners!!

You can watch the video of the awards ceremony on FB by clicking the image below (the LIVE video cannot be embedded here)

Of course THIS was the biggest surprise of the night… at least for me!

Apparently the TCFF Award Finalists were announced on Friday 10/27 afternoon, but I didn’t check it until much later. To be a finalist amongst these great short films is just unbelievable… I’m still pinching myself!!

Best Short Film: “Afterword,” directed by Boris Seewald; “Cat Killer,” directed by Wes Jones; “Hearts Want,” directed by Jason P. Schumacher; “Resolutions,” directed by Tamara Fisch; and “Sundogs,” directed by Elizabeth Chatelain.

We didn’t win Best Short but as you can see in the picture above, we did win the Audience Award, woot woot!! That’s a second one for our director Jason P. Schumacher, his short film Sad Clown won the Audience Award in 2014.

Most of our cast/crew reunited on the TCFF red carpet on Thursday 10/26

I was a nervous wreck on the red carpet as you can see below… but hey I survived 😉 Check out Jason’s blue hair for Halloween, inspired by X-Men’s Mystique!

I’m so thrilled to have my dear friend & Hearts Want‘s lead actress Sam Simmons in town for the main TCFF premiere! She flew in from L.A. just hours before the red carpet and looked stunning as ever. So fun seeing Sam reunited w/ her co-stars Peter Christian Hansen and Noah Gillet last Thursday. I gotta say our short film’s cast are VERY easy on the eyes aren’t they? And they’re all so darn talented and fun to work with, too!

 


Here are some of the pics from Hearts Want‘s red carpet on Thursday night. Thanks to Dallas Smith, TCFF’s lead photographer for some of the photos.

See the recap of TCFF festivities in images
(again thanks Dallas & team) in Smugmug.


Well the film fest may be over but I’ve still got a few more reviews I’ll be posting in the coming weeks (Ruin Me, Flora, Walking Out, The Bachelors, etc.) as well as my interviews with the filmmakers from Darcy, actor Adam Ambruso, and more!). For a daily recap with reviews/interviews, etc., check out the TCFF page.

We’ll be back for TCFF 2018 next October!

 

TCFF Reviews – ‘Legends of the Road’ doc + various short films in Comedy, Thriller, Global Perspective & Documentary short blocks

We have passed the halfway mark! What a hectic, whirlwind week it has been. I spoke to TCFF Managing Director Bill Cooper the other day and he said something about all the staff having ‘festival brain’ and that’s definitely how I feel. I’ve watched so many films it’s kind of a blur!

Thankfully I have awesome guest bloggers to help me out… such as Sarah Johnson who’s helped me with reviews of the short films, as well as the Legends of the Road documentary. Being a huge baseball fan, that’s the one Sarah couldn’t wait to see!

So here are her reviews:

Full disclosure: I am a big baseball fan and love the game’s history so am not the most unbiased person to review “Legends of the Road” and therefore I will not be giving it a rating. However, as soon as I saw this movie on the schedule I knew I wanted to see it. As a reviewer often has to see and objectively review movies that may not be appealing to them personally, I felt the opposite could also be true.

The film itself is well done, directed and edited by award-winning documentarian Gary Thomsen, who also happens to be a former Seattle teacher. It tells the extraordinary story of Thomsen’s students from Chief Sealth High School in Washington and their classroom project: to uncover the history of barnstorming, a baseball phenomenon from the early 20th century where all black teams traveled throughout the country playing in money tournaments against local white town teams for a cut of the gate. The project then culminated in a summer long re-creation of this era with a 5,100 mile, 71 day trip done on bicycle while playing 33 games along the way.

These ballplayers (some may have heard of the most famous ones including Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson because they also played in the more well known Negro Leagues) helped dispel the notion of white supremacy, not just on the field, but in society, leading Martin Luther King to say that “they laid down the first plank in the civil rights movement.” This is where the film really shines – the story is about much more than baseball. Former Negro Leaguer Buck O’Neil, who came to national prominence with his vivid descriptions of black baseball in Ken Burns’s PBS documentary “Baseball,” is also one of the stars of this film. “This is about the history of our country,” O’Neil says at one point.

One of the other large aspects to the film is another thing that is not new: adults underestimating what kids can accomplish and bureaucrats not in classrooms dictating how students should be taught. “This is not part of the curriculum, nor is it part of anything I’ve seen in vocational education. I don’t understand why you want to do this,” June Rimmer, the chief academic officer for Seattle Public Schools, said. I’d like to check back with the students involved in this project in 20 years and hear their memories on their breadth of work that was “not part of the curriculum.”

For this project, students conducted all of the research, honed public speaking skills to make presentations to companies in the hopes of securing sponsors for the trip, managed logistics of food, lodging and game preparation…as well as shot footage to be used in the documentary. There were two distinct groups of students involved with the trip – those on the logistics and production side and the baseball players who rode bicycles from town to town (often covering more than 100 miles per day) and then played in games throughout the trip. “It was incredibly challenging logistically,” Thomsen says at one point. Gee, you think? At one point I began to wonder if young people could have been the only ones to pull this off – the movie doesn’t mention anything about how (if at all) the bike riders went about training for this adventure. Perhaps that’s something you don’t need to worry about when you’re in high school – oh, to be young again.

The film is very comprehensive in covering all aspects of the project, from the origination of the idea to the celebration at the Negro Leagues Museum in Kansas City at the end of the trip. Just because I’m a fan of baseball history, the one thing that left me wanting more was the end product of all of the research – where did all of that information end up? I’m assuming it was sent to the Baseball Hall of Fame but even a mention of this at the end of the film would have helped. Baseball fans will certainly appreciate “Legends of the Road” but other audiences should also enjoy this addition to our nation’s ongoing conversation on race and education.

Bob Kendrick, the president of the Negro Leagues Museum in Kansas City, being interviewed by TCFF host Amanda Day

SHORT FILMS reviews

Humbug

“Humbug,” the short film highlighting those with no holiday spirit, will appeal to those who greet that time of the year with dread. As I am one of those people, I appreciated the premise of this seven minute piece. When Scarlet (Jessee Foudray) crushes a gingerbread cookie offered by her peppy neighbor Betty (Milly Sanders, also the writer), Betty decides to embark on a series of steps worthy of a horror film to change her mind. “We’ll have to do this the hard way,” Betty calmly tells Scarlet.

The scenario is well played by both actresses and the mix of over-the-top Christmas imagery and ghastly bodily functions will satisfy those who have had enough December cheer to last a lifetime. The ending was a little too convenient for me but overall this short film is an entertaining one.

Girl Meets Roach

I have reviewed full length and short films for the Twin Cities Film Fest for several years and sometimes I come across a piece of work that I’m not sure if it was meant to be reviewed. Such is the case with “Girl Meets Roach,” the 17 minute short film by brother and sister team Alison Zatta (Writer and Lead Actress) and Christopher Zatta (Director). In his bio, Christopher writes that he formed King Fish Productions as a platform to write and direct independent material.

I can only hope that they are using “Girl Meets Roach” as practice to hone their skills. The premise and execution of this story are entirely cliché – girl gets dumped by her boyfriend, we cut to obligatory scenes of her listening to old messages while moping around her house, the best friend comes over, the jilted girlfriend plans revenge…it just goes on. I appreciate the role of film festivals to support new work by independent artists and hope “Girl Meets Roach” was merely a practice turn to get experience in this field.

Afterword

Describing “Afterword,” Director and Co-Writer Boris Seewald explains it as “A film about loneliness, self-discovery and one person’s pursuit of glory. It examines not only the wider journey of appreciation, but also the need to be heard by those who love and loved you, and the need to be heard by yourself.” Lofty goals for a ten minute short film.

What follows is a woman (Marama Corlett) bringing you into her world of philosophical ramblings on…well, pretty much anything. (One line in this film is “if you are a bird, watch where you poop.” I am not making this up.) The only highlight is the performance by Corlett – with her pageboy haircut, red beret and piercing stare she admirably draws you into her stream of consciousness. The rest of it still has me baffled.

Tagati

“Tagati” Director Bill Haley is upfront about his short film being a sort of trailer for a feature film based on the concept presented at the Twin Cities Film Fest. “The Sopranos” in a roadside diner is how I thought of the opening scene, as Aja (LaTonya Grant) meets with a hitman named only as Badass (Mark Simms) to do away with her husband.

It’s a peek into a stylish film noir thriller complete with pulsating music and expert direction. Trailers are supposed to get audiences interested and excited to see the full length movie – this piece certainly succeeded.

Marieke

“It’s not just a piece of cheese.” While there have been negative consequences about the advent of the internet and social media, one of the fun things has been the ability for people skilled in a particular niche to connect with others who share their passion. Such is the case in “Marieke,” the seven minute short film by Director/Editor Thomas Johnson, who profiles acclaimed Dutch gouda cheesemaker Marieke Penterman from Thorp, Wisconsin.

I am not a cheese connoisseur but I can relate to one’s appreciation for the finer aspects of a certain hobby or profession. (I am a big baseball fan and could spend all day talking about it.) Penterman cheerfully takes you into her cheese adventures, explaining how her cows have personality and the process that goes into hand painting a skin around the yellowish rounds to preserve it but still let it breathe. “Marieke” was a refreshing look into her world.

Science Olympiad

High school was a long time ago for me so watching films like “Science Olympiad” give me hope for the next generation. It not only features teenage students, it was also made by a teenage student, 17 year old Elise Tsai from the Twin Cities. She focuses on an extra curricular activity in which teams of 15 students compete in 23 events involving science, technology and engineering. The film focuses on Mounds View High School (a suburb of Minneapolis) and their incredibly successful team – winner of 11 state championships and five consecutive top ten finishes in the nation.

“You have to spend a lot of time looking up parts, trying them out and if it doesn’t work you have to try it again,” one student says. Seems like the work you need to put into anything in life to succeed. (Indeed, at the end of the film it notes that one of the participants is going to be studying Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at Johns Hopkins University.) Although their creations are fascinating, the kids are really the stars of the show and their positive energy and enthusiasm is infectious. As one student says, “at its core, it’s just fun.”

Double talk

What a delight this film was on a familiar but rarely highlighted craft! In “Double Talk,” director Jessica Bernstein-Wax features the work of Spanish actor Joan Pera, who has worked as an onscreen dubber for famous actors, most notably Woody Allen. Often denigrated as the ugly stepchild in the film industry, it’s clear Pera takes pride in his craft, especially in the scenes with his son who also works in the same line of work.

He and his son enjoy a friendly rivalry when the father is called in to dub some of his son’s work. “There’s always room for improvement,” the son says, critiquing the job his father did. “In my case it’s hard,” the father replies. I don’t speak Spanish (or Catalan, the regional dialect also featured) but, having seen many Woody Allen films, it’s amazing how Pera replicates Allen’s voice intonation and mannerisms. Bernstein-Wax’s first film has been well received, garnering the Jury Award for Best Short Documentary at the Sonoma International Film Festival earlier this year. I can see why.

The Courtesy of Angels

Created by a French filmmaker, Valerie Theodore, “The Courtesy of Angels” has taken a universal story around the world. It tells the story of Louise (Delphine Theodore), a young caretaking assistant, and her interactions with an amnesic old man, Mr. Vadim (Andre Oumansky). This short film is in French with English subtitles.

The theme of interconnectedness among generations is global and I found myself drawn to one of the movie’s main lines – “well being is the courtesy of angels.” Theodore ably highlights the fragility of life and good health, something that translates in any language.

Tourvall II: Into the darkness

I’ve said before in doing reviews on short films that sometimes I’m amazed how filmmakers are able to create a fully developed plot in under ten minutes. At only seven minutes, at first I felt that Writer/Director Sean Skinner’s “Tourvall II: Into the Darkness” was taking too long to get to the point. After watching the entire piece, I came to the conclusion that there isn’t a point. But to the film’s credit, that didn’t make it any less entertaining.

We see Sven Skarnestad (Mick Karch) visiting former pro wrestler Tourvall “The Terrible” Johannsen (Joe Berglove) on his deathbed and reliving some of his past glory. The film aptly spoofs the crazy world of professional wrestling and the interjection of Jorge Gundersen (Edward Linder), an eager convalescent home employee, was an unexpected and amusing touch. (As Sven is sitting bedside, Jorge hands him a brochure and says, “Please take a moment to fill out the survey. We would love to your Yelp review. We’re also on the Twitter: #notjustaplacetodie.”) Silliness for sure, but what’s wrong with that?


Hearts Want’s premiere

Hearts Want‘s main TCFF premiere is today, Thursday 10/26 at 5pm (with red carpet interview at 4:30). There are a few tickets left for tonight, but act fast before they’re gone. Click on the banner below to get tickets.


Coming up tomorrow…

Two Minnesota-connected films are playing back-to-back tomorrow night… Twin Cities is actually produced by the director of Hearts Want, Jason P. Schumacher!

Stay tuned for interviews with writer/director of Twin Cities David Ash and one of the main actors of Ruin Me, Alex Galick.


The daily TCFF coverage continues…