Portrait of A Lady on Fire (2019)

Written & Directed by: Céline Sciamma

Winner of last year’s queer palm at Cannes, Portrait of a Lady of Fire creates something new. By using the form of a period piece, Sciamma was able to create something contemporary. Set in the late 1700’s on a remote island, Marianne (Noèmie Merlant) is commissioned to paint a wedding portrait of Héloïse (Adèle Haenel).

While the age of Enlightenment is taking place, women remain tethered by convention whether in painting, servitude or marriage the women of this film find themselves propelled by outside/social forces. For a time, these women are seemingly protected, isolated from the mainland and patriarchal society before being forced to confront the reason their lives have come together in the first place. The women of this film learn to depend on each other, finding a sense of companionship and balance only to have it abruptly end.

Hailed as a post me-to0, LGBTQ and feminist masterpiece, Portrait of a Lady on Fire is a film most concerned with the artist and the idea of the gaze. This theory can be used a bridge between art as a medium and social theory, integrating politics and art history. While a gaze can be used to confer meaning upon a piece, the relationship of the viewer and the viewed are always in negotiation.

As best stated by [French historian and philosopher] Michel Foucault while studying the function of the gaze in the painting Las Meninas the “observer and the observed take part in a ceaseless exchange. No gaze is stable…subject and object, spectator and model reverse their roles into infinity.” This communication is the exploration of director Céline Sciamma. The relationship between the two main characters blurs until it is unclear who is looking at whom. Through the film, the gaze becomes their mode of interaction. Intimacy and attraction grow as they share in this collaborative act and the painting’s completion serves as tribute.

Héloïse’s journey goes from being an object/the muse to someone who observes the subject and thus becomes the Marianne’s collaborator. This is a really amazing technical performance by Adèle Haenel, which destroys the traditional idea of art as a horizontal relationship to a horizontal one of give and take, or as in painting, layers of alternation.

This film also challenges the assumption that we have progressed as a society as well as in art, or at least that progress happens in a linear fashion. Choosing to place the film in the time of the late 18th century, a time known for a huge rise in female artists who were later censored and removed from art history is a very intentional choice. It is the perfect time to place a critique on the backlash female filmmakers are currently facing. This goes back to the idea of the gaze and one’s in ability to control how one is perceived by others, specifically due to culture and society. As Michel Foucault states “insofar as I am the object of values which come to qualify me without my being able to act on this qualification or even to know it, I am enslaved.”

A truly beautiful and cerebral film that will give you an exciting and new perspective on art and love. It’s a hopeful as well as critical film that offers insight into ideas of identity and personhood.

– Review by Jessie Zumeta


Have you seen Portrait of a Lady On Fire? Well, what did you think? 

TCFF 2019 Documentary Spotlight – ‘Seeing Is Believing: Women Direct’ + Interview with director Cady McClain

On its 10th anniversary, more than 60% of Twin Cities Film Fest’s 2019 program are driven by female filmmakers. It’s something I’m happy about of course, but I wish the general statistics about women in Hollywood is something to cheer about. As of right now, according to Women And Hollywood stats, women only make up for a mere 4% of directors.

So naturally I’m intrigued by documentaries that highlight women filmmakers. I featured the doc Be Natural about Alice Guy-Blaché (the Mother of Cinema). This time I had the privilege of chatting with Cady McClain, the director of Seeing Is Believing: Women Direct.

It’s a documentary film which emphasizes the opportunity for women to use their voice through media to change the social and political landscape and achieve full equality. Focusing on inspiring and uplifting young female storytellers through the mentorship and leadership of four diverse directors, Seeing is Believing: Women Direct opens the conversation up to ask “What is the broader role of storytelling in our society and how can women use filmed media as a unique opportunity to catalyze progress?”

The best documentaries are entertaining, insightful and fascinating. Well, this is one of those documentaries and then some. I love that there are clips from their projects along with the filmmakers’ interviews. I also adore the the stunning animation by Chilean artist Xaviera López that supports the themes of the doc.

I learned that Cady McClain is planning of turning this doc into a podcast series with female filmmakers and I really hope that would happen!


Check out the trailer:

Q&A with Director, Producer, Editor Cady McClain

1. What triggered you to make this film as your first feature? I read that it had started off as a 28 minute short, then an 58-minute version before this one (84 min) doc feature?

I actually started out with the idea of doing a feature. But there were two other women who wanted to make a similar feature and we each have our own vision. We all wanted to support each other but also wanted to have our own journey of going about it, which is kind of crazy but that’s how it turned out. So I didn’t want to compete by making another feature, so I thought I’ll make a series. So the short was supposed to be the first episode, the pilot. So I sent it to Soho Film Festival and they called me and said, ‘you should make it into a feature because they think it would be really competitive in their feature doc category.’

When a film festival called you, it was the encouragement I needed. I mean I never made a documentary before, I’ve never trained in documentary, but at least the short helped me understand what documentaries are. Plus I could build it from there, and the 84-minute film ended up winning the Audience Award at Soho International Film Festival which was amazing.

Then we also had a distributor come around who said, this isn’t long enough for iTunes (because it was under an hour). Now I have a little more understanding of how to make the doc feature I had wanted to make in the first place. So I went back and added more women [filmmakers] that I had wanted to but I hadn’t figured out how to fit them in. It’s like weaving a giant quilt to form a certain pattern, and you’re making the patterns as you go along.

2. Out of the filmmakers that were interviewed, I particularly love Lesli Linka Glatter, Li Lu and Sarah Gavron… I love their stories and the way they tell their stories. So how did you choose your subjects?



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A lot of it was happenstance. It was who I knew and who people I knew knew… you know, how certain people connect me to certain people. Suffragette [movie] happened while I was making this film, one of my friends who was a member of the DGA invited me to that screening and I was so blown away by it that I wrote to her agent. She said she was too busy touring for this film, but if you fly to London she’ll make time. So I flew to London to interview Sarah Gavron. I was also so inspired by the careers of the people I interviewed.

One was Joanna Kearns (best known for Growing Pains), who was an established actor before she became a director. Some people said it might be easier the fact that we started off as actors, but it’s still very hard to make that transition and to earn your place [as director]. And also with Lesli Linka Glatter, there is a lot of happenstance that comes in any one’s career. As she said in the film, if she hadn’t met that one man in the coffee shop in Japan, she wouldn’t have gone into directing. I learned that no career is a straight line. It’s helpful for me because intrinsically, you don’t just go to film school and then have a film career. It’s a lot to do with the people you’re in school with, the connections you made there, what’s being made now, what are you inspired to make, how you craft your forward movement, etc. Nothing is guaranteed And if you didn’t go to film school and want to be a director, you really have to look around you, what resources are available to you, who are the people you know and what stories you’re inspired to tell. You really have to work with the circle you have around you instead of thinking it’s out there or you’d have to come to LA and expect things to happen.

3. How has your background as an actress help you as a director?



I feel like I could help comfort the actors, even when they push back. Some actors could get very insecure and some deal with their insecurity by becoming very tough. I learn not to take it personally, and just read it as total insecurity as that’s all it is. They need me to be the one in control, to be the strong one. If I’m not the strong one then they get afraid and nervous, ‘oh she’s not in control.’ So they need to know that ‘I’ve got it. You can be nervous and I’m holding the line here for you and I’ve got your back. Everything’s gonna be fine.’

4. Seeing the grim statistics about women in film, what do you think, from your perspective as a female filmmaker yourself, needs to be done in the industry level?

I think there is a comfort factor for the guys. When they work together there is a code of behavior, I don’t know if I would call it a pack mentality, but there’s an unspoken code of behavior. They call it the ‘Boys Club’ for a reason, it’s like in an athletic club you know, if you think about it like that, there is a code of behavior that’s been long held that they’re comfortable with. So when you introduce a randomness, which is the female into that space, they’d have to get into a learning curve. So is this a friendly person, is she going to judge us for our code? What’s their take?? So as a female leader, I feel like I have to be kind about that, and not be like ‘I’m coming in to blow your game away.’ The way I’d do it is to say, ‘I’m coming in to make your show great, to respect the work that you’ve done thus far and respect your set up here, but now I’ll bring in my intelligence, my talent and ability to the story.’ It does take a certain kind of crafting in that conversation, so we can move from a gender conversation but more about ‘let’s talk about the work.’

5. I’m glad you included Alice Guy-Blaché in your film. I watched her doc Be Natural last year and I felt so guilty that I hadn’t heard of her. So who’s been your fave female filmmakers, or those who have helped path the way for you as a filmmaker?



I saw the film ORLANDO, directed by Sally Potter and I was so blown away by it. It’s such a huge production and it’s a stunning story about gender… a person, a being, moving through bodies, through time… yet there is something so inherently similar no matter whether she was a male or female.

Tilda Swinton in ORLANDO

There was a glimmer of me ‘Could I do that? Is that possible?’ I was trained intensely by my mother that no, it isn’t something I could do. ‘She [Sally Potter] was British, it’s different over there.’ That old argument… You see, my mom was, you know the 1950s mentality, where if you’re going against the patriarchy if you will, the consequences would not be small. You’d have to have a lot of resilience to buck the status quo. I don’t think she felt she had that external or internal support, she was fighting different battles. She wants us to be safe, you know, she wants us to be happy, to survive. Unfortunately, her understanding of the world of what is possible is so limited. I think for her, standing up for what’s right is more satisfying for her.

What’s next for you? I saw you’re in the process of directing two dramatic features (Paint Made Flesh and Journey to Now)?



I’m afraid I can’t say anything about the projects I’m working on, but yes I’m definitely excited to be working on a narrative feature. Storytelling is what I’m about. Although I enjoyed making a documentary, I don’t want to be branded that I’m only doing certain type of things. I like to jump from medium to medium, I’m glad that these films found me and it resonated in our conversations. It worked out, they like me and then I got attached, so now we’re in long conversations of developing something into being. It all came about in a happenstance way, someone I met while making the doc recommended me for one, and someone else I met through the the process of finding more women directors recommended me as a female director, ‘hey think about Cady McClain.’ I think people who saw the documentary thought ‘oh she could tell a good story.’


Follow the film journey online:


Thanks Cady McClain for chatting with FlixChatter!


TCFF screening time:
 Tuesday, October 22nd 4:15PM

TCFF 2018 Indie Film Spotlight: LEZ BOMB & Interview w/ writer/director Jenna Laurenzo

Year after year, Twin Cities Film Fest supports women filmmakers, as well as LGBTQ-friendly films. Lez Bomb is written and directed by a woman, Jenna Laurenzo, who also stars in the film, talk about a triple threat! It’s also one of the few indie films playing at TCFF that gets an encore screening. Oh and if you read the interview below, there’s a connection between Jenna and TCFF’s opening night film, Green Book!

Our reviewer Holly Peterson deems Lez Bomb an absolute must-see…The writing is tight, funny, and relatable, and her direction is impressive. Plus it’s got quite a star-studded cast, the likes of Steve Guttenberg, Bruce Dern and Kevin Pollack!

A comedy about a young woman who struggles telling her overbearing mother that the friend she brought home for Thanksgiving is actually her girlfriend.

Review by Holly Peterson

Lez Bomb is a coming out story/comedy of errors about Lauren (Jenna Laurenzo) trying to tell her family that her friend Hailey (Caitlin Mehner) is actually her girlfriend. Unfortunately, Lauren’s parents (Deidre O’Connell and Kevin Pollak) are terrible listeners; the rest of her family is walking, talking chaos; and she’s chosen Thanksgiving as the appropriate moment to drop the “lez bomb”. Lauren tries and fails to be heard through the increasingly unbelievable chaos until she finally finds her moment. Or does she?

Overall, Laurenzo (also the writer and director) put together a great film. The writing is tight, funny, and relatable, and her direction is impressive. This is especially apparent in her direction of group scenes: the audience never loses the thread of the primary conversation or any of the witty one-liners (of which there are many), but the hubbub of the large group still plays naturally in the background.

The cast is subtly star-studded, which makes for a fun group viewing experience. You will constantly be nudging your movie buddy to whisper “HEY, ISN’T THAT ___ FROM ___?!” Aside from that simple pleasure, all of the actors are just good at what they do. Every actor got a fun character to dive into (except Jordyn DiNatale, whose role as a horny teenager escalated way past where it should have and Davram Stiefler, whose unabashed, unwelcome flirtation ruined an otherwise charming character) and everyone (yes, even Jordyn DiNatale and Davram Stiefler) made their characters come to life with a sense of hilarity, whimsy, and believability.

Caitlin Mehner & Jenna Laurenzo

Visually, this is a great film. The shooting style is mostly story-forward, but there are several beautifully shot moments as well. For instance, a perfectly framed close-up of her Lauren’s face when she sprawls out on a bed with her cellphone by her head and a stunning long shot where she walks in front of an ornate building wearing bright red and blue winter clothes.

The comedy of errors element to the script eventually gets out of hand and several scenes at the end of the film are played completely straight (no pun intended) despite the rest of the film being comedically driven. These two things made the end of the movie a little bit harder to track with than the beginning, but the movie is undoubtedly worth seeing regardless.

See it to laugh. See it to star-watch. See it to be glad that your family isn’t quite as dysfunctional as Lauren’s. But whatever you do, definitely see it.

Q&A with filmmaker Jenna Laurenzo

Interview questions courtesy of Holly Peterson

1. Is this movie at all based on real life? I feel like I have to ask when the lead character is named Lauren and your last name is Laurenzo. 

I can’t believe you are the first person to ask about the Lauren – Laurenzo connection! The original character’s name was “Katie.” I used the name Katie in the character I played in Girl Night Stand and had planned to carry it over in Lez Bomb. But when Girl Night Stand went viral and there was interest in potentially developing it as a show, Girl Night Stand became separate to Lez Bomb, and I had to changed my name in the script. Since everyone has always accidentally called me Lauren, because of my last name, I thought I would continue to encourage the confusion and just go with it for Lez Bomb. All that aside, yes, there is so much based on my real life in Lez Bomb. How much so? Depends on who is asking. If my family is asking, I say “loosely based upon…” ha!

2. What was the casting process like for this film? There are so many great actors involved! 

Mia Cusumano is my casting director and guardian angel. Her and Meghan Rafferty cast the film and they did a spectacular job. Mia has been my biggest teammate and support net from the beginning and her enthusiasm has helped drive this project home! In fact, she’s who got the script into our producer’s hands. We spoke endlessly about the family feeling familiar and the importance of the family chemistry and all those dysfunctional family comedy dynamics that would pop and help heighten the comedy. When Kevin Pollak first said yes, I near fell over in my seat. I rewatched The Usual Suspects before he called to get in the Kevin Pollak zone. When he said, “I’ll see you in a month running around the motel in the freezing cold” (that’s a script reference) I was so beyond grateful.

3. What was it like to write, direct, and star in your film? 

It was a lot of work, though I had an incredible support team. From the crew to the cast, there was endless support and collaboration. We had such a tight shooting schedule we had to be precise with every shot. I worked with my acting coach before stepping on set to make sure I knew where I was emotionally each moment, and this allowed the necessary time to focus on the directing. People always ask if I’d do it all again, and I generally say no. But, ask me again in a year when I’ve slept, and it might be a totally different story. I had the opportunity to act in Peter Farrelly’s Green Book which is also out this November. That was an amazing set to be on. In future projects the dream is to act in other’s pieces, and then direct my own scripts.

4. What do you hope people leave this film thinking and feeling? 

I want people leaving the theater on a high note, feeling uplifted, and hopefully with a greater scope of compassion and empathy, but also with a sore stomach from laughing. Can I hope for all that?

5. What was the best part of this process for you?

Showing my family the finished film. Steve Guttenberg plays my uncle in the film, and my uncle sadly passed unexpectedly a few months ago. The last time I saw him was last Thanksgiving, showing him Lez Bomb. I am so happy he got to see the film.


TCFF Screening Date:

Friday October 26th, 2018 7:45 PM


Thanks so much Jenna for chatting with FlixChatter!

TCFF 2018 Indie Film Spotlight: RICH KIDS & interview w/ filmmaker Laura Somers

One of the things I love most about blogging for Twin Cities Film Fest is getting the opportunity to see so many indie gems, as well as insights about making them from the filmmakers themselves. Filmmaker Laura Somers has been such a personal inspiration to me as a newbie filmmaker from the moment I reached out to her to do this interview. For the past four years, day in and day out, she somehow found the energy to push herself to get her film out there. “It’s a crazy form of dedication.” she says, and I can totally relate.

This film has been making ways in various film festivals and rightly so. Such a thematically-rich film (pun intended) with a talented young cast, plus diversity in front AND behind the camera. What’s not to like?

A group of troubled teens from a low-income community break into “Los Ricos”, the local mansion with a border fence, and spend the day pretending to be rich in order to forget their difficult lives.

Twin Cities Film Fest Screening:

Sunday October 21st – 10:10 AM

Q&A with filmmaker Laura Somers

Q1. Before I go into the film itself, I’d like to ask you about your filmmaking background. What makes you want to be a cinematic storyteller?

I have been making films since I was five. My mom and dad bought an 8mm camera and we used to write scripts and act and my parents would shoot and edit them. I got hooked early on, and it’s always been a part of my life. I ended up directing theater for a long time before I decided that for me the stage felt like it wasn’t enough. The biggest obstacle for theater to me is limited audience reach. Being an indie theater director often means short runs in one city – now as a filmmaker my work can live forever and travel around the world – for better or worse!

Whenever I talk to a filmmaker, I’m always interested in what inspires them to make this particular film. How did you come across this screenplay that’s based on an actual event?

The idea for Rich Kids came out of an incident that happened in the neighborhood I grew up in. Our road cut through two completely different neighborhoods, one, a low-income working class neighborhood and the other, an upper middle class neighborhood. Although the road was only eight feet wide, the divide was clear as day.

My house was on the edge of the upper middle class neighborhood at the road. It was a beautiful, ostentatious fortress built incongruously in the neighborhood. The house was a neighborhood legend that the locals spun stories about. School friends and kids in the neighborhood were always breaking in to get a look inside. It wasn’t until I moved out on my own, did I grow to appreciate what that house represented to people who didn’t even have a house. The luxury and tranquility it offered. An escape from the hardships of life.

A few years ago, a group of kids broke into the house. Evidence left behind tells us that these kids lived in the house for a few days, having one hell of a time before it ended in tragedy. We turn on the local news and see stories like theirs all the time. And many people just think, “Well, they were bad kids,” change the channel, and forget about them. But I knew kids from this community, they were my friends. I wanted to use this opportunity to give those kids a voice.

The story speaks about economic and perhaps racial disparity amongst youth, which is a timely subject in today’s climate. Yet the title signifies that ‘richness’ isn’t always about money/materialism. How did you/your team come up with that?

The title was literally the first thing I came up with. It was just the obvious choice. At that time I really only took it as face value – that poor kids were pretending to be rich. The dual meaning grew organically out of the whole process – the writing, the crowdfunding, the acting, the editing, the music. Everyone that has touched this film approached it with so much dignity, so much love for the story and the characters – the themes evolved and presented themselves as we went along. It was truly a magical experience.

What’s the biggest challenge you as a filmmaker faced in bringing this story to life?

I’m a filmmaker, and I’m also a mother to a four year old. I started working on Rich Kids when my son was six months old. I’ve been a stay at home parent with him this entire time, and my husband and I don’t have any family near us in Los Angeles to support us and we couldn’t afford regular childcare. So for the last several years I’ve been juggling these two worlds – new motherhood and indie filmmaker-hood – two dreams have come true at the same time, which is such a thrill!

Since the story is based on a real event, were you able to film it in the location where it happened? If not, how was the location scout process?

We filmed in the actual house the event took place in – it was my childhood home. The location was really the push that we needed to get us going – my parents were preparing to sell the house as we were writing the script – I kept telling them – “I’m doing this film that I want to shoot in the house, but if you have to sell the house, do it – don’t let me hold you back”. So I was really moving fast to get it all done. We shot the film right as my parents hired a real estate agent and they started showing it after we wrapped. Lucky for me that agent wasn’t very good – because after we did our first edit pass, we had to come back a few months later and shoot a few extra days at the house – and it was still available. They’d gotten a new agent by then who literally sold the house a week after we wrapped that second shoot! The universe works in amazing ways sometimes.

I’m interested to hear about casting, as most of the young cast are unknowns. Is that a deliberate choice and did you do a wide casting call to find the right people?

It was a deliberate choice to work with unknowns. I just find it really exciting to discover new talent. I love their energy, they are so joyful because they’re at the beginning of their careers and that really radiates on the screen. There’s so much talk right now about the need for diversity and representing people of color on screen, about lifting each other up. This is the small part I can play in that. If any of the people who worked on Rich Kids can benefit from this film in any way, I’ll be very proud.

The casting process was amazing. I did a very wide open call, reaching out to acting teachers and agents, putting ads online everywhere, including Craigslist! I looked at a ton of people, just trying to find talent who I felt had a similar soul of the characters. My sister and I held a big group audition and we had 10-15 actors in two hour blocks and we did improv and cold readings. Then we had each person spend five minutes talk about why they felt they could relate to the story of Rich Kids and what it would mean to be in a film like it. And these amazing young people just talked and talked – they were so anxious to tell their stories. It was so cathartic for all of us. We went back and used some of the inspiration from the auditions as lines and scenes in the film. Once I’d narrowed down my favorite actors, I spent a lot of time on Skype getting to know them and letting them know me so that we could build a lot of trust and we could use our life stories to craft their performances. And the actors who were finally cast spent a lot of time getting to know each other on the phone and in person, so by the time we walked onto set, we had already built solid relationships.

DP Eun-ah Lee on the set of Rich Kids

What’s your favorite parts about filming? Is this the first time you work with a primarily young cast?

I love working with actors! I really have fun guiding them to great performances, helping them see a moment or movement that they hadn’t considered before. I love all the emotion that gets poured into their craft and I enjoy emoting along with them. I’ve worked many times with a young cast, their creative energy is always invigorating and inspiring to me.

Lastly, what would you like the audience to come away with after watching your film?

Simply that they feel like they’ve been on a really good journey. They walked in as one person and left as another. And they’re excited about what kind of film we’re going to make next.

Check out some exclusive BTS photos from the set
(Thank you Laura!)


Follow RICH KIDS journey online:


Check out the trailer below:


Thanks so much Laura Somers for chatting with FlixChatter!

MSPIFF 2018 opens today! Showcasing WOMEN & FILM, MN-MADE FILMS & Tribute to INGMAR BERGMAN

Drumroll please… the 37th Minneapolis St Paul International Film Festival opens today! From April 12-28, MSPIFF is showcasing 158 new feature films and 120+ shorts representing 70+ countries to audiences throughout the Upper Midwest. The Film Society is making things easier to watch movies and participate in a plethora of events and parties! You can catch a free ride on opening weekend with Metro Transit, you can download the PDF of the entire schedule, or better yet, get the Film Society App … a new tool to fest year round.

Check out the official trailer:

The opening night film is RBG, the acclaimed documentary celebrating the life and lasting influence of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

From filmmakers Julie Cohen and Betsy West, this documentary feature showcases the life and lasting influence of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, also known as RBG and “the notorious RBG.” With unprecedented access to Ginsburg, the filmmakers chart her life as she grows up in Brooklyn, pursues an education, falls in love, accepts an appointment to the Supreme Court, and establishes a friendship with the late Justice Antonin Scalia.

The film and opening night reception and party will take place at St. Anthony Main, a beautiful venue by the river in downtown Minneapolis.

WOMEN & FILM

MSPIFF’s showcase of female directors from around the globe continues to grow every year, and 2018 is no different, featuring a wide variety of outstanding narratives and documentaries from around the world. MSPIFF programmers have brought in women-directed films that are in the vanguard of global contemporary cinema.

“The #MeToo movement has underscored the inequalities in the film industry like never before. Our Women & Film and Chasms and Bridges programs examine the chaotic and divisive world we live in today, as well as the resistance movements that seek to affect change, and we have sought out films that invite discourse and understanding.”
– Susan Smoluchowski, Executive Director of the Film Society.

There’s a specific ‘women directors‘ tag on the MSPIFF schedule page that shows ALL the films by female filmmakers. Here are some of them:

SILICONE SOUL

Let me start w/ this documentary… not only because it’s made right here in Minnesota, but I also happen to know the woman who made it! Melody Gilbert is an acclaimed documentary filmmaker and teacher, and her latest doc is certainly a thought-provoking one. I made a small contribution to its Kickstarter campaign and it’s also scored by Charlie McCarron, who also did an outstanding job scoring my short film Hearts Want.

Love comes in many forms, and in Silicone Soul, the need for companionship and understanding is shown in the bond between humans and their synthetic companions. Tenderly captured by Gilbert, the bonds shown in the film are diverse and layered: from romantic relationships, to friendships, to a recreation of the love between mother and child. Silicone Soul does not allow for its subjects to be easily labeled or judged. Instead, the film is a collection of resoundingly human stories that reflect universal themes—the desire for love, compassion and communication.

ANGELS WEAR WHITE (JIA NIAN HUA)

Xiaomi, a motel cleaner, watches as a district-commissioner checks in alongside two girls, Xiaowen and Xin Xin. On the surveillance monitor, Xiaomi sees the commissioner push his way into the girls’ room, and she decides to record the event with her smartphone. In the wake of the assault, Xiaomi’s story does little good for the girls as they face their unconcerned families and a society that would rather put the blame on them than offend their attacker.

Director Vivian Qu is fearless in her all too true-to-life portrayal of violence against women and how both law and society so often fail to act.

THE BLESSED (LES BIENHEUREUX)

In postwar Algiers, Amal and Samir are a middle-aged couple hoping to celebrate their twentieth wedding anniversary. Drifting through their day, they eventually find themselves at a restaurant. Here, they confront their differences and disillusionment, threaded with the unsettled atmosphere of postwar society. Outside, their teenaged son Fahim and his friends, Feriel and Reda, spend their day on the streets of Algiers. They too reveal ideological differences among them, their banter soon leading to the reveal of hidden wounds left by the Algerian Civil War that shaped their current world.

Sofia Djama’s debut feature employs this multi-layered narrative to craft a stirring drama that illuminates the generational states of unrest left in the wake of the Algerian Civil War.

LET THE SUNSHINE IN

It wouldn’t be MSPIFF without Juliette Binoche! I have seen three of her films at the festival in the last four years.

Joining two icons of French cinema, filmmaker Claire Denis and actor Juliette Binoche, Let the Sunshine In is far from your everyday romantic comedy. Binoche takes the leading role as a newly divorced Parisian artist named Isabelle, who finds herself at a crossroads. Isabelle longs for another chance at love but is not willing to entertain the rolling list of hapless bachelors that drift her way, such as an actor (Nicolas Duvauchelle), a banker (Xavier Beauvois), and a kindred spirit (Alex Descas) who won’t commit.

 

MARLINA THE MURDERER IN FOUR ACTS

I can’t wait to see this one as the filmmaker is from my hometown Jakarta!

Hailed as the first Satay Western, Indonesian director/writer Mouly Surya’s Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts follows a widow’s quest for justice after a brutal home invasion. A multi-national production (co-produced by Indonesia, France, Malaysia and Thailand), Surya’s feature film charts one woman’s fight to reclaim her body, identity and home after a drifter, Markus, and his gang overtake her world.

Told across four acts, Marlina transforms from a docile victim into a lethal avenger, targeting her oppressors with calculating precision. Marlina, having taken vengeance on Markus and his gang, makes her way to the police station to turn herself in and meets her pregnant friend, Novi, along the way. As the two embark on a journey across the land, we are spectators to Marlina’s emotional journey as she comes to terms with her actions and their consequences.

RISKING LIGHT

Another MN female filmmaker made a thought-provoking documentary that’s filmed in Cambodia and Australia to capture stories of forgiveness from two members of Australia’s Aboriginal “Lost Generation.”

Dawn Mikkelson’s Risking Light is a meditation on forgiveness, layered with a theme that is rarely seen on the screen—forgiving the unforgivable. Five years prior to making the film, Mikkelson met Mary Johnson and O’Shea Israel, a meeting she describes as a life-changing event that would lead to the development of Risking Light. It was then she learned that Johnson had chosen to forgive Israel for the murder of her son, which motivates the tone of humanistic mission in the film.

THE RIDER 

I saw this trailer weeks before it was announced it’ll be the CLOSING NIGHT film at MSPIFF. So I absolutely can’t wait to see this on the big screen!

In Chloé Zhao’s resoundingly human film The Rider, the narrative is framed as both documentary and drama focused on 20-year-old rising rodeo star Brady Blackburn (played by Brady Jandreau) as he undergoes a crisis of identity. In America’s heartland, Brady suffers a head injury that almost kills him; forcing him to pick up the pieces of a life that has forever changed. A truly unique feature, the characters in The Rider, including Brady, are members of the actual Jandreau family, who have experienced events identical to many in the film.


MN-Connected Films

One of the highlights of MSPIFF is of course the MN-connected films. I want to highlight a few films either made by or shot in Minnesota that are playing at MSPIFF this year.

Virginia Minnesota

I’ve got my ticket to see this one and I’m looking forward to it!

A story of a fragmented friendship finding new ground, director Daniel Stine’s feature film debut Virginia Minnesota begins with a young woman at a crossroads. A local production, the film was shot during the fall on Minnesota’s picturesque Lake Superior coastline.

My Aqal

For one night, a small hand-crafted shelter glowed in the night. Somali refugee artist Ifrah Mansour, who was behind the project, speaks to art, tradition and collaboration in the face of adversity. Directed by acclaimed MN filmmaker Maribeth Romslo, who’s one of the directing duo of the wonderful feature drama Dragonfly that premiered at MSPIFF in 2016.

CLEAR and Through the Banks of the Red Cedar

Filmmaker Maya Washington actually has TWO films playing at MSPIFF, wow!

CLEAR is a dramatic short under the Chasms and Bridges II block. Synopsis: Ember’s first day home after a 16-year prison sentence for a crime she didn’t commit is bittersweet as she uncovers how her family’s lives have gone on without her after all these years.

Through the Banks of the Red Cedar is a documentary feature. Synopsis: In 1963 at Michigan State University, Head Coach Duffy Daugherty chose 23 black men to play on the college team. From this move came legends Gene Washington, Bubba Smith, George Webster and Clinton Jones. Director Maya Washington, Gene Washington’s daughter, charts the legacy of her father’s career and influence, along with the impact the events of 1963 have shown in the present day.

Grandpa Ben

This film is loving portrait of 92-year-old Minnesota artist, Benjamin Vickery Jr. Directed by MN filmmaker and projectionist Justin Christopher Ayd, this sounds like an intriguing and heartwarming documentary short.

Part of the Freewheelin’ short block.

911 

A 911 dispatcher answers a distressed call from a couple stopped for a suspicious car reported. That’s the premise of this short doc by Alison Guessou and Justin Christopher Ayd. 

Part of the Looking Out shorts block.

Of course I’m also thrilled to have my short film be a part of MSPIFF this year! As I’ve mentioned in this post, MSPIFF played a key role in this film as that’s where I first met Sam Simmons who became the lead actress. It was a few months before I finished the feature script, but I felt like I had just met my character Lily when I saw Sam who’s also from the UK! But aside from that, it’s a huge honor to be able to screen my indie romance at this esteemed film festival alongside a variety of international shorts from all over the world.

Two former lovers reunite for a play by the drama teacher who first brought them together. They still carry a torch for each other, but will their love survive after the truth is revealed about their past?

Thanks to Jason P. Schumacher and our team of talented MN filmmakers/crew who brought my vision to life. Click on the banner to get tickets!


MASTERS OF CINEMA TRIBUTE

For the 2018 Master Honoree, MSPIFF will honor the memory of the great Swedish auteur Ingmar Bergman. As we near his centennial on July 14th, Bergman films take centerstage, not only here but in venues across the world. A prolific craftsman, with over 60 projects to his name—from narratives to documentaries, theatrical to television—Bergman was also an unapologetic inquirer in the affairs of the heart and the depth of the soul.

I’m thrilled for this as I have a huge blindspot on Bergman [gasp!] Yes I know, I know, I feel bad that I haven’t followed through on people’s recommendations that I should see his films! But hey, there will be THREE screenings of Bergman’s films at MSPIFF, which then leads to a 16-film Bergman retrospective on May 25-June 7. The Film Society is bringing to the Twin Cities the Swedish master’s iconic classics and lesser-known titles in his oeuvre, a feast for cinephiles and admirers of Swedish culture.

  • Summer with Monika—Ingmar Bergman, Sweden, 1953, Narrative
  • Persona—Ingmar Bergman, Sweden, 1966, Narrative
  • Trespassing Bergman—Jane Magnusson, Hynek Pallas, Sweden, 2013This documentary feature from Jane Magnusson and Hynek Pallas highlights the legacy of Ingmar Bergman’s career through the eyes of a group of filmmakers, creatives and artists inspired by his work. “Trespassing” into Bergman’s home, the filmmakers gather together to share their own experiences with the filmmaker’s collection of work, all arguably masterpieces, and what the films meant to them and the wider world of cinema.


Hope to see you at MSPIFF! The full schedule is now online and they even have an MSPFilmSociety app that’ll surely come in handy in the next three weeks!

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FlixChatter Review – Pitch Perfect 3 (2017)

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Directed By: Trish Sie
Written By: Kay Cannon, Mike White based on the book by Mickey Rapkin
Runtime: 1h 33min

I’ve had mixed feelings on the Pitch Perfect movies. As a choir nerd, I appreciate the music. As a film fan, I’ve been unimpressed with the writing, finding the plots forgettable and the comedy (with a few exceptions) underwhelming. I didn’t go into this movie expecting to hate it, but I didn’t think I’d like it any better than the first two.

In Pitch Perfect 3, we see the Barden Bellas a couple years out of college, struggling to find their places outside of the world of competetive a capella. At a performance of the younger Bellas (led by Hailee Steinfeld‘s Emily), the group decides to participate in the U.S.O.’s annual European musical tour and relive their glory days. Once there, they discover that they will be competing against three other musical groups for a coveted spot opening for DJ Khaled at the tour’s final performance- and, for the first time, they will be competing against musicians who use instruments.

While the third installment isn’t by any means a brilliant movie, I was still pleasantly surprised, mostly by how much the cast has improved. Individually, there are plenty of talented members, but I never felt like the girls had any real chemistry until now. They genuinely seem like a good group of friends and their quirky personalities mesh surprisingly well. While they all give solid acting performances, the stand-outs for me are Hana Mae Lee as Lilly and Rebel Wilson as Fat Amy. Lee’s delightfully weird Lilly barely has any lines, and the few she does have are barely audible, but her physical comedy is on point. Wilson’s performance in the first two movies underwhelmed me, but I think that’s more the writers’ fault than hers; the majority of her “funny” lines were about her weight, and that much one-note humor is really only good for a few trailer highlights; it’s not enough to support a whole film. However, they give her a little more to work with in this film, and it shows; while she still shines comedically, she has a few more dramatic moments that show a more serious, sincere side of her, and she handles it incredibly well.

Despite the stronger acting, however, the writing still struggles a bit in this movie. It’s unsurprising that the story centers around a singing competition again-they’re a competetive a capella group- but the way the musicians the Bellas are competing against aren’t very well-handled. At first, it seems like they’re being set up to become friends (or, at least, not enemies) with the Bellas, when the three other acts (Saddle Up, DJ Dragon Nutz, and Evermoist-led by Ruby Rose‘s Calamity) all start performing together during their riff-off against the Bellas, implying that it’s more fun to sing together than to sing against each other. However, they quickly fall into the catty, condescending competitor trope pretty quickly afterwards. The fact that, past the riff-off and the first concert, we never see them perform again, makes this tense competition lose some of its edge as well. It’s a shame, because while the Bella’s numbers are all well-done, it would have been fun to hear more of the other groups than just the couple numbers at the beginning.

There’s also this weird B-plot involving Amy and her supposedly-reformed criminal father (played by John Lithgow doing a pretty awful Australian accent) in an attempt to add a little action to the movie, and while some of it is entertaining (especially this Mission Impossible-esque scene of Amy sneaking through a yacht), it doesn’t fit the tone of the film or the series as a whole. Its inclusion kind of reminded me of the Spice World, but with less commitment to the ridiculousness. It’s a change from the other movies’ formula, but that’s not necessarily a good thing.

The biggest problem is that, while it feels like all of the Bellas get more equal focus than they have in the previous two, the script tries to fit in too many individual backstories and conflicts in one movie, leading to clunky exposition and shoehorned-in resolutions-some, like Anna Camp‘s Aubrey, not even wrapped up until after the credits start rolling. I admire that they’re trying to add a little more dimension to the characters, but the movie isn’t well-paced enough to do so.

Despite all of this, Pitch Perfect 3 might be my favorite of the series, thanks largely to, of course, the music. As usual, the soundtrack is as fun, pretty, and polished as the Bellas’ costumes, hair, and makeup (seriously, I want to invest in a few sparkly dresses after seeing the wardrobe in this movie). While all of the performers are capable singers, Anna Kendrick as Beca especially shines with her clear, bright tone, and is given plenty of opportunities to do so. And as talented as the Bellas are, the musical highlight for me is the “Riff-Off” mash-up with the other bands, showcasing and blending the musicians’ different styles in a creative arrangement.

If you’re not a musical fan, you may want to skip this, but if you enjoyed the first two, you’ll definitely like this one. The acting is strong, more jokes land than in the first two, and the soundtrack is fantastic. The final installment of Pitch Perfect 3 certainly ends on a high note.

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Have you seen ‘Pitch Perfect 3’? Well, what did you think? 

TCFF 2017 Reviews: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri + Blue Balloons

It’s just two days left in TCFF and I’m playing catch-up with posting reviews! You might’ve noticed I’ve got to post a couple of things in a day at times… too many films too little time (both to watch and to review!)

Well, below are couple of reviews from Day 6 and 7.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
review by Andy Ellis

It’s described as a dark comedy, but writer and director Martin McDonagh’s newest film, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, has a lot more to offer. The film, led by Frances McDormand who plays Mildred who causes some small town chaos by using three billboards to ask local officials why they haven’t found her daughter’s murderer and rapist yet.

A subject such as this must be treaded upon carefully, and it’s done very well here. The humor comes from the fact that none of the characters hold anything back. Mildred has has no problem telling the local priest how she really feels, or anyone else for that matter. Sam Rockwell shines as Dixon,  a small-minded Sheriff’s Deputy with a short temper ends up costing him dearly in one key scene. If there’s a character who keeps his calm the best in the story it’s Willoughby, played by Woody Harrelson, the main target of Mildred’s billboard messages.

It’s also a film with a lot of heart in it as well, and it helps round out the characters. One scene causes causes Mildred to switch moods so fast you’ll realize that beneath that pissed-off no-nonsense barrier is a mother that just wants her daughter back. And this role may even earn McDormond some awards recognition, and then same goes for Rockwell.

The rest of the cast rounds out the story pretty well, too, with each one getting their own chance to shine—and they do. Lucas Hodges plays Mildred’s son Robbie who isn’t all on board with his mom’s methods, and Abbie Cornish plays the Sheriff’s wife Anne. Caleb Landry Jones has great scenes as Red Welby the owner of the billboards, and Peter Dinklage has a very small but memorable role. John Hawkes plays Charlie, Mildred’s ex-husband, and Samara Weaving steals the show a couple times as Penelope, Charlie’s young girlfriend.

This film is a great mix of everything, and throws more than a few a surprises in there as well. The acting is superb and it’ll leave you wanting more. Now if only more films would grab a hold of you like this one did.


BLUE BALLOONS
Review by Ruth Maramis

This is one of the films with a Minnesota connection that I actually didn’t know much about. So I pretty much going in blindly about the story, other than the fact that the story deals with a terminal illness.

Right from the start, this film feels deeply personal. I’m not sure if that’s the case, but Blue Balloons is an honest, realistic story about a family gripping with the complexity of cancer. Written, directed and produced by Emily Troedson, who also acts as the eldest daughter Claire of the Kippson family, the story is told from her perspective. I like that it paints the day-to-day life of the family in a matter-of-fact, candid way… especially in the way Claire is questioning her faith and her existence in a devout Lutheran community.

Chari and Emily in Blue Balloons

The film’s pacing is a bit slow and really tries your patience at times. I have to say some of the acting by the supporting cast aren’t convincing (crying with no tears visible??), but overall it’s a well-crafted piece with genuinely poignant moments as well as interesting artistic choices. I wish there were more mother-daughter relationship being explored here, though I think the dynamic of the family is portrayed pretty well.

Chari Eckmann as Joanne

I connected most with Emily’s character and she did an amazing job juggling so many roles in the film. Being a daughter who dealt with an ill mother at a young age, there are parts that was hard to watch for me. I also have to commend Chari Eckmann‘s performance (as the cancer-stricken Joanne), her emotional transformation and deterioration throughout the film is believable.

Glad to see so many talented writer/director like Emily having their films at TCFF! I sure hope she continues to make films in the future.


There’s more films and festivities to be had at TCFF!