What’s Actually Happening – March 3
I feel bad. I feel guilty. Because I started this blog about a year ago at Justina’s (my wife) urging and I was into it and writing fun stuff that was behind the scenes and naming some names and taking some artistic licenses and people were starting to follow it and pay attention to what was actually going on in my life with the stuff that I do.
Then I kept getting busier and busier. Which you would think would make it more and more interesting except that I stopped the actual blogging stuff and just posted press releases and interviews and movie reviews. Which I want everyone to see but that isn’t the point, is it? If I’m asking you to check into this damn thing then I should make it worth your while.
So, I’m taking another stab at it. Because there is A LOT happening and a lot happening with me wearing various different hats. So I’m going to try and stop being a perfectionist with the prose and just start delivering some goods – rough on the edit edges or not.
So, here’s some stuff to look forward to:
DALLAS International Film Festival. I’m into it BIG TIME. We’re like five weeks out or something and there’s great, exciting stuff and there’s “what the hell?!” stuff and there’s a lot of praying – to uhmmm…no one in particular. Because that’s how it works in film festival land. AND, this is the first year with no AFI involvement. Training wheels are off, baby! And I just might throw in some thoughts later as to why I believe that was a HUGE mistake on their part. I’ll give you a hint: It’s the “vision” thing. Or lack of it.
SXSW (or South by Southwest Film Festival for those of you that need this shit spelled out – literally). I’ll be covering the film festival for Movie City News, like I just did for the Sundance Film Festival. And once again, I’ll try to write about every damn thing that happens to me so you’ll have an idea of what the experience is like. Of course, you’ll have to go to Movie City News to read it, since Dave Poland promotes the fact that I’m reporting/writing/reviewing for him, so he’s kind of like you to read it on his pages instead of mine. And since I would kind of like him to pay me for doing that…it works for me.
FESTWORKS. At Sundance, Rose Kuo (Artistic Director), Robert Koehler (Director of Programming and film critic extraordinaire, David Rogers (Festival Producer) and myself joined forces to form our own version of a film festival super group. Hopefully, less like Asia and more like Derek and the Dominoes. But with less heroin and more staying power. Anyway, we all left AFI after beating the odds and the house with AFI FEST last year (if you know what I mean and if you don’t….well, I’ll talk about that at some point too, I’m sure) because we love film festivals in a way that we want them all to be the best damn things ever. And we think we can help various ones do that. Sometimes, it will be just some simple consulting, some times it will be us recommending some kick-ass person we know would be great for the job and a great fit and sometimes will swarm the place, roll up the sleeves and bust our asses side-by-side with the teams in place to make something work. Anyway, I’ll be announcing the first “official” project soon and it will be very, very cool.
STRIPPED. The movie. My first feature film as a director. And the first feature film for Justina and myself as producers. It’s a post-feminist horror film. Three guys on a birthday outing talk their way into the wrong house with the wrong women inside. Think TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE or THE DEVIL’S REJECTS with a “family” of women orchestrating the proceedings…
We are scheduled to shoot this thing at the end of May going into June and as much experience as I have doing various jobs in front of and behind the camera and watching as many films as I do and working with as many filmmakers at the film festivals as I do – well, there is a HUGE learning curve with this thing every single day. Producers on the film include one of the guys responsible for THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE remake and the other producer has cool-ass films like David Lowery wonderful ST. NICK and current SXSWers EARTHLING and AUDREY THE TRAINWRECK under his belt. We already have the horror dynamo known as Tiffany Shepis on board as well as Samrat Chakrabarti, an Indian actor that despite an amazing international filmography we’re getting on the ground floor with because various dumbasses haven’t cast the guy in some weird-ass network sci-fi series where a strange incident has tied a group of random hot people together in a world where truth is false and pretend is sexy….or something like that.
Anyway, Justina and I actually bought the house we’re shooting this thing in. Which I’m living in right now. I’m sleeping in the room that will be inhabited by ‘Crystal’ a hot little sociopath that like the color pink, scrapbooking and uhmmm…cutting things. Our friend Marc Lee is staying in “the killing room.” Fun! So, I’ll clue you into the process as we hurtle along toward the shoot not too unlike one of those test rockets they show in stock footage that would freak you out if you were standing anywhere in the vicinity while it blasts off the blocks and careens not entirely toward its destination.
Here are some fun things about the house: It’s in South Dallas. Which is not a “great” area. But it is a cool two-story four-bedroom place with close to two acres of land and a freeloading horse named “Money” that is taken care of by an old black rodeo guy named “Peewee”. Oh, and we are surrounded by Baptist churches. And a train. One final thing, when we cut the chains that had kept the garage closed since we bought the place we found an old cabinet that had in it (among other things) a bee keepers outfit and smoker, random mason jars with weird stuff in them and two chainsaws! Made to order for Justina and John, the couple that gets romantic when they’re watching OLDBOY.
After that, new stuff that has just come up include doing some stuff with the Texas Frightmare Weekend screenings at the end of April, working with the Las Colinas Studios on a couple projects, possibly the Vision Awards benefit and definitely the Feel Good Film Festival.
I’m sure there is – and will be – more. Because that’s how things have been since January 1st. A very strange year and a very cool year so far.
So stay tuned….
The Complete Sundance Reports #7 – “It was weird. But I knocked (on the bathroom door). I think that was a sign that I was polite.”
Sundance – Day #7
As I was sitting in the theatre waiting for my first screening of the day to begin, my new indie film community nemesis approached me saying, “Hey man, you know I was kidding, right? I was just kidding.”
Hmmm… Kidding about chanting “Fuck John Wildman” repeatedly during some Hate Karaoke (which, frankly I had never heard of, but in a big picture sense kind of admire, actually). Or kidding when he said that he didn’t want to move on, let bygones be bygone, blah, blah, blah, indie film non-partisans, blah because “It was more fun.” not to do so?
Curious. An interesting move obviously to soften me up enough to buy time for him to concoct some elaborate plan of nefarious doings – like trying to convince the Artistic Director of the DALLAS International Film Festival that having me be their PR guy is a mistake again.
And so the dance between adversaries continues…
COUNTDOWN TO ZERO
Lucy Walker’s COUNTDOWN TO ZERO takes up the cause regarding an issue that gets very little play in politics or the public’s consciousness today because frankly one side of the political spectrum (Republicans/Conservatives) can’t make any great hay about it since the other side, led by President Obama has long held this as a major concern and directive. And that is the proliferation of nuclear weapons and the threat they pose if they get in the wrong hands.
But, to be fair to Walker’s very comprehensive and impressive documentary (produced by Lawrence Bender by the way), the film not only lays out the history leading to our current situation, but provides some truly frightening historical footnotes that are not public knowledge as well as illustrating quite simply and clearly what a nuclear blast really WOULD do and how far the destruction would spread.
Talking heads like Valerie Plame Wilson, Howard Baker, the late Robert McNamera and President Carter all give the soundbites you would expect along the lines of nuclear weapons being bad and scary and we really need to get rid of them. In fact, the most significant thing about this part of the film is the number of people and the caliber of the people willing to go before Walker’s camera.
Among the stuff that really gets you are the details of how lax security is in Russia when it comes to guarding the highly enriched uranium which is the key building block for the bombs, or the sheer impossibility to guard against the import of the stuff 100% (there are suggestions that the best way to sneak it in is to hide it in either a shipment of kitty litter or marijuana – think about that one awhile). Then there are the accidents and near misses; a bomb that fell on South Carolina in the early 60’s (five out of six safeguards failed with one standing in the way of catastrophe), a very near miss in 1995 (the world’s collective ass was saved by Boris Yeltsin not being trigger happy), etc.
Throughout, Walker gives us a birds’ eye view of what a five mile radius of destruction would cover in cities like Paris, New York, Moscow, London and throws in details of how that blast would do its damage on both the landscape of the city as well as the landscape of the human body.
I will admit (and I can’t think that I am unique in the least in this regard) that I went into this viewing with a pre-conceived notion that the topic and necessity of nuclear disarmament was somewhat also ran. Consider that opinion corrected. Whew.
SUNDANCE FEVER: It’s a call to action documentary. Always good here.
MULTIPLEX PROSPECTS: Not a “sexy” doc per se, but it’s a slickly produced one. I think it could see some play.
Next up were a couple of interviews. The first one being with the star and director of ALL MY FRIENDS ARE FUNERAL SINGERS, Angela Bettis and Tim Rutili as well as Angela’s co-sat and boyfriend Kevin Ford (who also served as one of the film’s editors). And the interview turned up some facts that may have surpassed the fun strangeness of the film itself.
JW: Let’s start with the obvious question. What comes first, the music or the movie?
Tim: The music. By that much (holding his fingers very close together). Most of it was song that we had completed; we recorded the album about a month prior to filming.
JW: You’ve done music videos and smaller projects before. Why a feature at this point?
Tim: It just seemed like the right batch of songs and the right story.
JW: Angela is such a key for this film, the fulcrum for the story. How did you convince her to become involved?
Tim: I went to her house and Kevin (her boyfriend) was there and he wouldn’t let me talk to her. So then I sat outside the house. I was in a rented car and I sat outside for three days straight. I had juice, I had cigarettes…
JW: So you were on a stakeout?
Tim: And I just waited. And I waited for Kevin to leave and he never leaves. But once he left, there was a basement window that I managed to get open. I crawled in through the basement and went upstairs, looked around but didn’t see her anywhere. I found the bathroom and knocked on the door and she was in the bathroom. I was like, “I’ve got this movie idea.” And she was cool about it.
JW: And this was because you’ve never heard of what they call a “casting director”?
Tim: We did not have a casting director. I think we’re heading for a period of time when casting directors won’t be…an issue.
JW: Obviously, if you are willing to do a stakeout at an actress’ home and hen break into the place, it really is all about her. Why were you so inspired that it had to be Angela?
Tim: There was no one else that could do it.
JW: I would agree with that, actually. And Angela, you were convinced.
Angela: His eyes. He has kind eyes.
Tim: It was weird. But I knocked (on the bathroom door). I think that was a sign that I was polite. It’s weird because most people are dying to do me a favor…
JW: But it was reversed here.
(They both nod.)
JW: Angela, you also have DRONES playing at Slamdance. You have a distinctive persona and presence onscreen. As far as the roles that you choose or end up playing, do you find yourself being sought out? Because, frankly, I don’t know who else falls in your camp, an “Angela Bettis type”. In fact, let’s use DRONES as an example. How did you become involved with that film as opposed to this one?
Angela: It was very similar, actually. They kinda sought me out. So, I guess the answer to your question is that yes, I am sought out.
JW: And Kevin, do you keep her from doing these roles because you’re like her bodyguard too?
Kevin: Yeah, I get really uncomfortable when she’s out of my sight. But Tim wormed his way in and the DRONES people wormed their way in. Because if it was up to me, she’d just not do anything.
Angela: (smiles) He’d just keep me in that bathroom.
Kevin: Tim made up for it. He convinced me that if I played her boyfriend in the movie that it would be alright.
Tim: Kevin also edited the film.
JW: Well, that was good politics right there.
Kevin: He basically bought my permission. That sounds bad, huh?
JW: Angela, besides Tim’s kind eyes there was also a role to play. What about that role got to you?
Angela: First of all, the music. But secondly, there is a universal issue or theme of “letting go” that I felt I could do a little therapy with Tim and these people and myself. Which I did. It kinda worked. With the other people as well.
JW: And there is a different approach to presenting the film. Tim, can you explain what you’re planning to do with it after this?
Tim: Well, the band has been touring and on the tour we play the film and perform a live soundtrack. We’ve been doing that at museums, theaters, and a couple clubs.
After an interview with Lucy Walker, the director of both COUNTDOWN TO ZERO and WASTE LAND (that I’ll add to the next posting) was my attempt to get into a screening of THE KIDS ARE ALRIGHT. Unfortunately, this one had quite the line. I had heard stories of various press peeps getting bounced from the (relatively) tiny confines of the Holiday Village Theatres but it hadn’t happened to ME yet.
In fact, the guy in front of me complained A LOT to the volunteers about his prior misfortunes. This time, the combination of his haughty accent and indignation worked their magic on the poor volunteer he had singled out for haranguing. He got in.
And he was the last one so I got….shut out. Damn.
But the wait gave me some time to notice one of the volunteers wearing a “Vida” hat. Now, it is most definitely a staple of Sundance to hand out the knit caps promoting your movie or product. For example, the place I’m staying at has one for THE VIOLENT KIND and another that says “I (heart) Café’ Bustelo ” sitting on the dining table right now. But something tells me that the guy wearing his “Vida” hat has no idea that Vida is a high-end sex toy line. My guess is that if he knew, then he’d rather have received one of their products from the pretty street team girls I met earlier this week. Or more to the point, his girlfriend would.
Speaking of THE VIOLENT KIND… Midnight at the Egyptian (which incidently is my favorite Maria Muldaur song) has always been good luck for me. OLD BOY (the couples movie for my wife and I), 28 DAYS LATER and GRACE were all witnessed for the very first time at this spot, so I was hoping that lightning would strike once again.
However, first was a short titled STILL BIRDS.
Sara Eliassen’s STILL BIRDS was introduced (by her) as “a dance horror movie.” Okay, go for it, I thought. I’m primed and ready for whatever your crazy little Norwegian mind can come up with.
Well, that is unless what transpires is a mélange of industrial based dread and choreographed nonsense with pale and creepy kids and teens working their way up and down a concrete labyrinth in the service of getting the one kid (a pre-teen girl) to talk into a machine to do some kind of thing to either start something or stop it. I don’t know. I was rooting for her to speak into the machine to say something like, “The End.”
Honestly, the only “horror” I was experiencing was the fact I had to sit through it. When it, indeed, was over, someone seated behind me said, “Seriously, what the fuck?”
THE VIOLENT KIND
The Butcher Brothers’ film THE VIOLENT KIND follows the strange and horrific events that happen following a rough and tumble bikers’ party at a secluded cabin in the woods including some kind of bloody possession of a biker’s girlfriend played by the always reliable Tiffany Shepis. Well, that’s what you would be thinking had you seen or read any of the promo materials and info heading into this screening.
But it’s much more than that. Said bikers and biker babes are “visited” by some eerie/creepy 50s types as well as some kind of Northern Lights shit-storm that would likely be literally tossing everyone to hell in a hand basket if only bikers routinely kept hand baskets in their homes.
Now I can’t say much more than that for a couple of reasons. One, I don’t want to give away any more than I already have. Two, I honestly don’t know or understand exactly what it was that was happening to everyone. I do know that it was all kinds of crazy and weird and bad.
But I do want to take a moment to talk about expectations. Because THE VIOLENT KIND has a whole lot of David Lynchian-style Sci-Fi at its core. So much so that I was almost expecting a Dean Stockwell cameo performance of another Roy Orbison chestnut to be sprung on us at any given moment. My point being that if someone went in expecting a “Who will get out alive?” gore fest, I could easily see them being disappointed. However, if they’re putting their money down for a horror stew of violence, gore, science fiction, and biker movies with some 50s flare, then they’d be exiting with big dazed grins afterward.
SUNDANCE FEVER: It’s all about expectations. And this one is more than just a rough and tumble midnight movie.
MULTIPLEX PROSPECTS: Selective. But handled properly people could really get into it and trip out on it on some midnight-type screens.
Sundance – Day #5
Sometimes films at Sundance can either completely miss the mark compared to the expectations people have built up or be so genuinely wrongheaded in their eyes that they literally inspire rage. Such as it was that while waiting with the press to go into my first screening of the morning that I was surrounded by people trying to one-up each other on how bad they believed 3 BACKYARDS to be. They were just mad at it. Mad, it was so bad.
Which, of course, in a film going perverse kind of way made me want to see it so I could get my hate on too.
Fortunately, my Sundance morning was about to start me off on a great day…
From the opening scene of a spelling bee champion completely losing it while at the mike thanks to some potent marijuana, John Stahlberg Jr.’s HIGH SCHOOL delivers everything you could possibly want in a stoner comedy and most assuredly much, much more.
The story is simple (as it should be): After the opening incident, the school’s smarmy principal institutes a zero-tolerance policy AND a school-wide screening for the very next day, which just happens to coincide with the school’s valedictorian-to-be lighting up for the first time with his estranged boyhood friend who is now the school’s most notorious pothead. The solution the two reunited by necessity friends come up with is to get the entire school stoned on brownies so that EVERYONE will fail the screening test therefore invalidating the entire thing.
Of course, you’re asked to accept A LOT (the typical stoner kids living seemingly without supervision kinda stuff) and humor is mined from the obvious sources; the fallen spelling bee champion’s last name (‘Phuc’), to Michael Chiklis’ giddy portrayal of the tight-assed principal complete with classic fright wig, and Adrien Brody’s “Psycho Ed” baked genius lawyer/drug dealer character.
But all of this soars because ‘Henry,’ the valedictorian and ‘Travis,” the pothead are both legitimately smart guys. Applied differently to be sure and not immune to making wrongheaded strategic moves, but still smart. So as they deal with dilemma upon hurdle upon impossible situation, we never have to fall back on someone being more stupid that the other guy to get out of a sticky situation. This may be a newsflash to some, but apparently just because you smoke marijuana doesn’t mean you’re dumb and just because you’re a “bad guy” in a high (ignoring that pun) concept comedy, also doesn’t mean you have to be a buffoon.
And even though it’s simple stuff at the core, the stakes keep getting ratcheted up and hurdles keep escalating so those arguably cliché deux ex machina moments that routinely sink a comedy like this for anyone that didn’t just love PAUL BLART: MALL COP, are fun and not eye-rolling.
SUNDANCE FEVER: One of the few films offered that everyone can laugh out loud at and enjoy unabashedly before they step into the next film portraying human tragedy or angst.
MULTIPLEX PROSPECTS: I think this will happen. I also think people will wonder which character that ‘Mackey’ guy from The Shield was.
Adam Green’s FROZEN is about as straightforward as it gets in horror-land: A snowboarding/skiing threesome (Shawn Ashmore, Emma Bell and Kevin Zegers) find themselves left and abandoned on a chairlift with the prospect of no one discovering their predicament for a week. And yes, the obvious comparison is to OPEN WATER.
On the surface, the one-note nature of the threat (they’ll freeze to death up there if they don’t get down) would give one good reason to be dubious about the prospects of spending an hour and a half watching young people on ice. Or to be more precise – getting iced.
But Green does more than a few things right here. He parses out back story and conflicts between the threesome (a couple and the guy’s best friend) which spares us a ponderous exposition heavy opening and he gives us something else to worry about that’s worse than freezing. In a word: wolves.
So just figuring out a way down before frostbite, etc. claims them isn’t the only challenge for the trio since the wolves have taken the baton from OPEN WATER’s sharks. And again, I’ll stress here that what you think this is going in is likely what you’ll get. And that is more than fine since the tension is built solidly, the inter-relationship crises aren’t overdone, the moments of horror pay off quite well, and above all – no one overreaches. And what a relief that is. I also had great appreciation for the way the ending was handled (which I can’t state here due to spoiler concerns).
SUNDANCE FEVER: I think it is likely satisfying without sending people through the roof.
MULTIPLEX PROSPECTS: It should have a shot – maybe brief – but a shot at it for people wanting some simple chills (couldn’t help that one).
Apparently I have a nemesis. Because, you know, because sometimes the film festival community’s set and subsets rub each other the wrong way and sometimes a film rep might really get worked up over you to the point that they’re solidly NOT in your camp. But to be clear, as MSN’s James Rocchi was nice enough to school me: This person is clearly not an “arch-enemy” otherwise he’d be trying to destroy me. No, he must be a nemesis because he needs me around to fuel his dark hatred of all things…me. Because that’s fun? I’m definitely getting the full film festival experience this go-round.
Rocchi also offered this about the polarizing buzz over HESHER, saying, You either Joseph Gordon Love-it or Hate it.” That’s James Rocchi, ladies and gentlemen; He’s here all week.
12TH & DELAWARE
Directed by Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady, 12TH & DELAWARE takes a heads on view of the abortion debate by focusing its cameras on the title location, a street corner located in Fort Pierce, Florida which is the home to an abortion clinic as well as a Pro-Life pregnancy clinic right across the street.
It’s a simple exercise, but beyond riveting as Ewing and Grady simply let the people (literally on both sides of the street) speak for themselves via their words and actions. We begin by seeing Pro-Life activists up before dawn trying to talk to people at the abortion clinic through he windows, blocking the driveway as much as they are allowed to and carrying signs and posters with graphic depictions of aborted fetuses.
Across the street, teenage girls are “counseled” by being told that having by having an abortion they are likely to get breast cancer, bleed to death, etc. And if that doesn’t change their mind, then maybe typing “Hi, Mommy!” onto a print out of their ultrasound will do the trick.
It’s a remarkable process to watch as a mother of two contemplating having an abortion because her boyfriend is abusive is told, “For all you know, the baby will change him.” Meanwhile, across the street the women entering the clinic are bombarded with please not to abort, and promises of financial support, etc., if they change their minds. Inside, the husband and wife that own and operate the clinic patiently go about their business, counseling the women and literally “minding the store.” And that takes a moment-to-moment diligence, as they have to go to extraordinary lengths to protect the women and the doctors (who are driven in to the facility covered by a sheet to protect their identity).
We follow a particularly threatening Pro-lifer as he does some investigating work, locating the drop off point and discovering who the doctor is. He then follows by all but admitting that they’ll do anything they can to stop that doctor from continuing to perform abortions. And you know that we are talking about the potential of another Dr. George Tiller-type shooting. Across the street, the woman running the clinic shakes her head at the protesters explaining they don’t reciprocate (protesting and trespassing on the grounds of the Pregnancy Center) because they have families to get home to and lives to lead.
But 12TH & DELAWARE is careful not to get pulled into histrionics. Rather, it takes care to allow both sides to speak their piece, calmly, in their own environment. Unfortunately, for the Pro-Life side, that means seeing them misrepresent facts, outright lie to woman after woman, and harass the abortion clinic with the conviction of zealotry. As a group of Hispanic Pro-Lifers convinces a young woman with 6 children to not abort the 7th with promises of financial support, you shake your head as you overhear her being offered a stuffed toy inside their clinic.
Yeah, she should be able to feed that to one of her kids.
SUNDANCE FEVER: Oh boy, this one will inspire a lot of talking. Not debating, mind you. More like “Where can I contribute to Planned Parenthood?” kind of stuff.
MULTIPLEX PROSPECTS: No, this one is going to have a nice run on HBO.
I arrived at the Library Theatre for a photo shoot for a project I’m working on and found Tiffany Shepis outside ready for the premiere of her film THE VIOLENT KIND, smoking. As she explained, she decided to go ahead and smoke for the day so she could relax and actually enjoy it all on her terms without the pressure of “being good.”
And if that keeps her from being the title of her film, then I believe that was some good thinking there…
Finishing the night was a midnight screening of SPLICE. Another theatre manager friend escorts me in early. Having the right friends is KEY here. The music guy from FROZEN is sitting in my row complaining about fan boys knocking the film for its implausibility. His friend’s (a producer) response, “And AVATAR is plausible?!” The producer follows, “I just had the most expensive calzone in my life at Main St. Pizza & Noodle. It was like, 25 bucks for that and a drink!”
Directed by Vincenzo Natali, SPLICE is a gonzo horror treatment of the “Frankenstein” story. Starring Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley as two young, brilliant and ambitious genetic engineers, the film follows the results of their decision to include some human DNA into a new life form they’re creating.
The inspiration has some typical genre movie standards: The nameless, ominous and cash rich corporate company that they created another kitchen sink life form for (let’s just say it has both fish and fowl in it) so they could harvest all kinds of organic and bio-wondrous material from is ready to make them rich and famous. And the desire of Polley’s ‘Elsa’ character to produce a child new jack style (not so much on the whole birthing thing) so she can deal with her parent/child abuse issues adds to the predictably combustible nature of what will transpire.
And what transpires is ‘Dren,’ a Heinz 57 of animal/human hybrid with a lethal stinger of a tail that gives them much more than they can handle. But, of course they do. They begin to raise Dren in secret, torn between treating her like their child or like the freak result of their experimenting gone off the reservation.
Naturally, I want to steer clear of spoilers. However, if my stating that things go horribly, horribly wrong is a stunner for you then…you’re adorable. But I will say that they go horribly, horribly wrong in wild, freaky town ways that would warm the heart of David Cronenberg. And again, without giving details I will say that (by design) Dren is an exotically beautiful (if really fascinatingly bizarre) creature-woman. And if a horror sci-fi film introduces a character like that, then the immediate question is “Will someone have sex with it/her?” Hmmmm…
So – does the movie work. Ultimately, for me – no. But I also think that depends on your expectations. People want (and I know this because I’m one of them) a really, really cool and very, very scary monster movie. And this one has got ambition to spare, but for me it also took things to a point where scares ceased to be the priority versus the craziness of the vision. A lot of people in my audience laughed at a key point in the film that wasn’t meant to be comic relief. And that laughter said, we’ve now turned off the road from scared-shitless-land and now we’re racing toward “I-can’t-believe-they-just-did-that-ville.
SUNDANCE FEVER: Those that want to be really scared – not liking it. Those that want to see the trippy and crazy – all over it.
MULTIPLEX PROSPECTS: With Brody and Polley – possible. But no sure thing – at all. However, the Syfy channel could chop it up and make a series out of it. It’s the kind of thing they dream about.
The Complete Sundance Reports #4 – “This is an early picture of Michael Jackson. When he was black.”
Sundance – Day #4
Ran into Ella Taylor as I was finding my seat and she was all about the doc, LONG TRAIN HOME. And when a critic like Ella is all over a film to that extent, I have to take notice.
PHOTOGRAPH OF JESUS
Laurie Hill’s film short PHOTOGRAPH OF JESUS is a fun illustration via cut-and-paste animation (that I’m sure has another more respectful term) about the sometimes very strange and fanciful requests the keepers at a photo archive get. Hence the title. People actually request pictures of Jesus. Other fun requests: Hitler at the 1948 Olympics (think about it) and Neil Armstrong and all the other astronauts in a group photo. On the moon. And all of it plays that much funnier because the guy being interviewed is British. Can’t beat that accent for silliness like this.
SMASH HIS CAMERA
Leon Gast’s SMASH HIS CAMERA is a profile of the original paparazzo, Ron Galella. For more than 40 years, Galella has photographed celebrities (and stalked them in the pursuit of those photos according to many) paving the way for the behavior of paparazzi and much of the feverish demand for raw celebrity images that tabloid journalism feeds on today.
Gast takes us both on a chronological tour through Galella’s life and career as he shadows him on a few current outings (an event with Robert Redford, a red carpet appearance by Angelina Jolie, etc.) with particular focus on two key events. The first being a court case brought against Galella by Jackie Kennedy Onassis and the second being an incident when Marlon Brando punched him, knocking out several teeth.
The Jackie O section is telling for many reasons, as Galella built much of his career and reputation on the photos he got of her (he describes the moment he got the “windblown Jackie” shot as his great day. He also puts forth the idea to anyone that will listen that they had a “relationship” through the lens of his camera. And, naturally, the trial between the two wasn’t just all encompassing for the two principals – it was genuinely precedent setting.
In a similar vein, the Brando incident marked another step (infamous as it was) in the celebrity/paparazzi “dance.” Even if you buy in to the explanation of how it all went down and accept that Galella was “innocent of trying to provoke Brando, you can easily see how that was clearly a precursor for the TMZ-style of baiting a celebrity to incite a reaction and create an incident for the cameras.
There is the expected look at the personal side: His romance with his wife, their New Jersey Sopranos-esque house, and his unabashed love for rabbits and bunnies. And there are the dizzying array of photographs through the years with Galella sometimes offering expectedly crass commentary – “This is an early picture of Michael Jackson. Back when he was black.” But Gast also uses his subject as inspiration for a couple bigger picture talking points. A series of talking heads debate the value of what he and his fellow celeb photographers do and discuss their legitimacy as “art. And three of the lawyers that faced off against one another are still ready to start sparring again over the 1st Amendment issues raised by that case. At one point one of them says, “Ron Galella is the price tag for the 1st Amendment.”
This is a “fun” documentary – diverting. It’s like a film version of one of the coffee table books that Galella creates by “harvesting” the 3 million plus images in his archives. Regardless of who you are, it’s damn near impossible not to be compelled to flip through a few of the pages of those things to see what movie star or celebrity images are there. But I also could see the film going through some retooling before it sees a mass audience (if that happens). There is some confusing editing: The Jackie O trial seems to be done, but then it is revived after an extended section having nothing to do with it. But then again, they had a relationship.
SUNDANCE FEVER: Hardcores will probably dismiss it as lightweight. First timers and movie fans will appreciate the counter programming.
MULTIPLEX PROSPECTS: It’s possible. A Leon Gast film that is somewhat light entertainment about movie stars and Jackie O. I could see someone giving it a shot around the country.
Sundance went on pause while I watched the football playoffs with journalist turned producer Don Lewis (THE VIOLENT KIND) and journalist just returned from self-imposed New Zealand exile, Mark Bell. There were also countless other filmmakers and film festival-types coming and going (I’m staying at THAT kind of house), but I couldn’t keep track of what films they were here with and Peyton Manning’s duel with Mark Sanchez AND Brett Favre vs. Drew Brees.
Next up was a party for Lewis’ THE VIOLENT KIND. Organized by the agency repping the film, it was typical: Free beer, toothpicky things with meatballs on them, and lots of photo ops with the film’s publicist doing yeoman’s work both wrangling and posing the stars and the directors in the thick of celebrating making the finish line and being told over and over again how great they were and how much that particular person loved them. That sort of thing.
After being attending several years now and having gone to numerous parties like these, it’s still a lot of fun to see someone like Lewis get to enjoy that part of the film festival experience. Especially at the Sundance level.
One of the stars, Tiffany Shepis was offering disclaimers about potential strange behavior since this was the first event like this for her since quitting smoking 20 days ago. One of her co-stars, Mackenzie Firgens, returning to Sundance with a film for the first time since GROOVE (in 2000) was marveling that the festival has red carpets now.
TIFFANY: Are WE having a red carpet?
ME and MACKENZIE: (silently nodding)
Instantly, you could see the wheels begin to turn as Tiffany was obviously rethinking the next day’s clothing choice…
“The Human Face of Climate Change” Directed by Michael Nash, CLIMATE REFUGEES is the latest in a series of films imploring us to wake up and smell the incoming tide. The film offers the next logical conclusions and issues that face our world if we accept that global warming does in fact exist. And that is the potential for mind boggling large scale human displacement and migration from lands that will either be under water or uninhabitable due to the lack of water.
Actually, to the film’s credit, it doesn’t just hang its activist hat on the science of global warming. It also throws a bone to those theorists that believe that this is just a cyclical thing – out of our control. And the message to those people is pretty simple: Well, if that’s the case, then we’re screwed that much more because it’ll be harder to correct or fix.
What the film does well is to present in simple terms how the math works: “Climate Change is a threat multiplier. It puts more pressure on areas that are already stressed.” It illustrates this by showing situations that are already dire in areas like Bangladesh and Indonesia and then follows up with a handy map and arrows showing us the likely destinations of those displaced peoples (for those of us dependent on USA Today-style pie charts). And if that doesn’t get the message across, then maybe a little visit to the Island of Tulalu (which is damn near already completely submerged) or a trip back in recent memory lane to the aftermath of Katrina is in order.
Where I believe the film misses the boat (so to speak) is when it resorts to close ups of threatened or displaced people in the style of one of those Sally Struthers plea for help ads or Sarah Mclachlan animal shelter spots. I don’t think the corporate conservatives, nor the isolationists in our country can be made to care any more just because they see a few sad music close ups of suffering big eyed Africans or Tulaluans with nowhere to go. I have to believe it’ll play like annoying do-gooder liberal muzak to them.
If you are onboard with a film like CLIMATE REFUGEES you hope that the right messages resonate with its audiences the way it has with you. And one of the final messages within the film is that the likely result of all this displacement and impossible living conditions (if nothing is done to counter where the world is headed in terms of global warming) is that the number of desperate people will increase dramatically, and they will likely fall prey to or under the influence of evil people. Then it becomes an even larger problem that potentially affects us all. It’s tough stuff and ultimately the movie gives some think locally, act globally-type solutions, but it thankfully doesn’t let the viewer off the hook or downplay the difficulty of righting the ship.
SUNDANCE FEVER: This is the kind of doc that always hits a happy spot in Sundance.
MULTIPLEX PROSPECTS: This goes directly to PBS. Not enough of a gimmick to send it to theaters. It’s just straight message/call to action stuff.
“THE VIOLENT KIND” AND “LOVERS OF HATE” PRODUCERS
UNVEIL “STRIPPED” TEASE
PARK CITY, UT (January 26, 2010)—Jeffrey Allard (THE VIOLENT KIND, THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE) and Adam Donaghey (LOVERS OF HATE, ST. NICK) announced plans to produce the horror feature STRIPPED with Tiffany Shepis (THE VIOLENT KIND, NIGHTMARE MAN) confirmed for the cast.
Written by Justina Walford and John Wildman, the film will mark Wildman’s feature directorial debut after recently departing AFI as the Head of Press and Public Relations.
Described as post-feminist horror, STRIPPED follows the events surrounding a birthday outing with two brothers and a friend which turns into a horrific fight for survival after they become trapped in a house with a “family” of malevolent women.
Along with Shepis, negotiations are also underway with Samrat Chakrabarti (FINDING GRACELAND, KISSING COUSINS) to join the cast. Financed independently, filming is set to begin in Dallas, Texas in late May following Wildman’s work as the PR Director for the DALLAS International Film Festival (April 8-18).
“Adam and I have been looking for the right project to team up on,” said Allard, “And this script immediately got my attention. It’s exciting that this has all come together at the same time we both have films at Sundance.”
Donaghey agreed, adding, “Justina and John have not only created some iconic female genre characters that jump off the page, but Jeffrey and I were also impressed with John’s directorial approach to the material.”
President and founder of Indie Entertainment LLC, a film finance and production company formed in 2002 and located in the SF Bay Area, Allard produced THE VIOLENT KIND with Producers Malek Akkad (HALLOWEEN II, HALLOWEEN), Andy Gould (HALLOWEEN II, HALLOWEEN, HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES) and Directors Mitchell Altieri and Phil Flores aka The Butcher Brothers (THE HAMILTONS, APRIL FOOLS DAY). The film made its world premiere Monday at the Sundance Film Festival. He executive produced (with Michael Bay) THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE and THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE: THE BEGINNING.
Upcoming projects from Allard include A DARKER REALITY, starring Daniel Baldwin with several projects in development including GROO THE WANDERER, an animated feature film with Marc Toberoff (PIRANHA, BOTTLE SHOCK, I SPY) and THE PRODIGAL, a SF based dramatic thriller with Paul Zaentz (THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY, GOYA’S GHOST) and Brad King (TECHNOLUST).
President and founder of Zero Trans Fat Productions, Donaghey produced Bryan Poyser’s LOVERS OF HATE and Clay Liford’s short, MY MOM SMOKES WEED, both of which screened at the Sundance Film Festival, with LOVERS OF HATE making its world premiere on Sunday. Previous projects include David Lowery’s ST. NICK, a Grand Jury Prize for Texas Filmmaking at AFI Dallas, and Francisco Diaz’ EL REGRESO WAY.
Donaghey’s upcoming releases include Frank V. Ross’ AUDREY THE TRAINWRECK and Liford’s EARTHLING. Donaghey is a film columnist for Houston Bay Area’s SCENE Magazine and produces the Houston, Dallas and Austin Film Races.
Wildman currently serves as the Director of PR for the DALLAS International Film Festival, the Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles and the Feel Good Film Festival (Los Angeles). He is also part of the film festival consultation group FESTWORKS (along with former AFI FEST top liners Rose Kuo, Robert Koehler and David Rogers) that was recently announced at the Sundance Film Festival. In addition, he writes about film and film festivals for outlets such as Movie City News, Moving Pictures Magazine.com and Envy Magazine, as well as his popular blog at wildworx.wordpress.com.
No sooner did I get comfortably back home in L.A. than I was immediately in the thick of things with the Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles and all of the AFI stuff (Life Achievement Award, AFI Conservatory Thesis screenings and the upcoming DWW showcase), oh AND The upcoming edition of The Vision Awards. So my apologies for the lack of “original content” in between the plethora of press releases, but I’m still figuring out how to do all of this stuff at once.
Anyway, I have had some time to think and think and think some more about this year’s AFI DALLAS Film Festival, and I feel there is so much to write about that I have decided to do it in three of four parts.
So in no particular, in fact very random order – here goes:
Part One – The Ladies of AFI DALLAS
One of the overriding themes for me this year was the influx of very cool women that came to Dallas for the festival. Some of these women I have known, known of, and in some cases been a fan of for a little while now. Yet most of these women I met for the very first time at AFI DALLAS and thrilled that I did. They are (in alphabetical order):
Alice Krige – We had Anthony Fabian’s thoughtful drama SKIN at AFI FEST last fall and we were fortunate enough to have it come to AFI DALLAS for an encore of sorts since it became part of AFI’s very cool Project 20/20 program. The program basically travels various filmmakers that have had their films play at the AFI film festivals around the world to literally and truly use film and filmmakers as a way to build a bridge between cultures. It’s a shining example of AFI taking an ambitious lead to do something outside of trotting out classics for another look and promote and utilize film for the next generations. It’s one of those things that make me proud to be here.
Anyway, we got a huge bonus at AFI DALLAS by having Alice Krige come to town to represent the film with the director, Fabian. She provided one of those high expectations payoffs by putting the “red” on my carpet to shame with a crimson gown that just stopped everyone in their tracks. Not only that, she exuded all kinds of ethereal grace and charm. Great moment.
Jordan Ladd – I almost have to include Jordan’s father, David with this shout out because I really spent time with them both while she was in Dallas. Let me begin by saying that if I was a cheerleader for any single film this year, it was for Paul Solet’s creepy instant classic GRACE. And Jordan gives the kind of performance in the film that transcends genre and should place her several rungs up the respect ladder if the right people are paying attention. So, I kinda almost willed both the film and her and Paul to be at AFI DALLAS (thank god that James Faust and Michael Cain will listen to me sometimes with recommendations for this festival). But beyond that, within moments of talking to her and her father, I wanted Jordan to move in to my condo so my wife and I would have the prototypical nicer-than-nice and coolest neighbor that anyone could conceive of. Unassuming is a word. And two words that trump that one are “Jordan Ladd”. And her father, David Ladd was great too. If you didn’t know your film history or (as I was) could be lulled into forgetting it, you would think you were just hanging out and talking to a proud dad just happy to be there and see the attention his daughter was getting for her new movie and not a guy who has forgotten more than a lot of us will ever know about film production and the business. Even if that movie involved her as a mom dealing with a newborn baby with a bloodlust for mommy. If we could have, we would have extended both of their visits for the duration of the festival.
Karina Longworth – I was looking forward to having Karina attend a film festival of mine for some time now. Tough, tough writer and critic and I was anxious to have her around not just to weigh in on the programming (in this case) that AFI DALLAS offers but frankly because I wanted an opportunity to hang out with her and get to know her a little. And the truth is, I didn’t get to spend nearly as much time with Karina as I had hoped. But watching her moderate a panel and then give MSN’s James Rocchi all he could handle at a lunch afterwards was more than worth the price of admission. Listening to the give and take between those two was fun. I have to think that if you were a movie blow hard then she would scare the shit out of you. But if you can hold your own, have something to say, and are willing to lay it out there with her then I have to think she gets the automatic invite to any party (movie-related or otherwise) you might want to throw.
Heather Matarazzo – I kid you not, AFI DALLAS scored Heather to be part of our jury this year because we are Facebook buddies. I had admired Heather not just due to her work in film but her outspokenness regarding her choices and career. And from the moment she arrived, I had everyone at AFI DALLAS thanking me for reaching out to her. Never for a moment do I believe I’m the only one that cares as deeply as I do about this stuff, but Heather combines that damn near uncompromising notion of what potential is out there for us too achieve through film, but goes about delivering her opinions – which are strong and direct to be sure – more gently and considerately than I could hope to. You hope for an “ambassador” when you ask someone to serve on a film festival jury – and she was the epitome of that.
Carri McClure – Here’s the thing about personal publicists: They can make the dealings with their clients a joy or a wanna-slit-your-wrists job – bottom line. I came from personal PR, and it kills me when the personal pub is simply a road block. Either out of a lack of imagination, laziness, or just because they happen to be a sour pain-in-the-ass, it is rare, rare, rare to find a personal publicist that both “gets it” and is genuine in their dealings with you. Carri does. In consecutive years, we have had her clients Ron Livingston (twice) and Robert Towne come to Dallas and the experience all three times has been near-flawless because Carri knows what she’s doing. And she also plays fair. And let me be clear – she is tough on the facts and the details on behalf of her clients. She is no push over by any means. BUT she also works toward the greater good of the event and her client to make sure that things will run smoothly and logically – as opposed to just standing in the way of everything. And I mean EVERYTHING. There are actors and actresses that I advise the people in charge of film festivals and events I do to cross off their lists because life is just way too short to deal with the person in charge of their PR. Carri is at the other end of that spectrum. And that trust and working relationship make me want to give her first “dibs” with her clients whenever I do events.
Monique Parent – Another My Space and Facebook pal. My first year at AFI FEST, Monique allowed me to publish an article she had written about the intricacies and oftentimes awkwardness of shooting explicit love scenes for films. But we had never actually met until this year when we had an idea for a filmmakers’ panel for Women in Film Dallas. I wanted her presence and opinion on that panel and knew she would have the right personality to bring to town. And that thought was right on all counts. Monique is smart, beautiful and a straight talker. You could see a filmmaker wanting to write a part for her just for the excuse to have her on set – let alone raising the game of their film. She has done plenty of service in the land of soft core and really, really deserves someone giving her a Tarantino-type spotlight role in a cool indie thing somewhere.
Robin Wright Penn – Robin’s publicist Mara Buxbaum (who is a friend) more-or-less made it clear to me that the only way Robin would be coming to Dallas was if I could…let’s just say…uhm…take a personal interest in her well-being while she was here. No problem. Now Mara had been to Dallas with the Wilson brothers a year or so ago so she knew what to expect (and more importantly knew it was “safe”), but this was a specialized situation. And frankly, it’s important to have someone like Robin come to the festival – not just for this particular one but for the future well-being celebrity-wise. Because, AFI DALLAS only being in its third year is still in that process of forming a reputation as a destination for people of Robin’s ilk. And you know the “ilk” I’m speaking of, don’t even pretend. Therefore, even though I had Mara’s trust in this case, we still need to impress each and every big league actor and actress and send them away very happy and gushing with praise with how we run this particular film fest machine. Because they’ll tell two actors and then they’ll reassure two actors and they’ll convince two more actors and so on and so on…
Two, Robin was coming to town to support a documentary, HAZE, about teenage binge drinking – which I personally thought was an important one beyond just being a good film. And as the spokeswoman for The Gordie Foundation which was deeply involved, if not the outright inspiration for the film, it was important to Robin for her participation to be done properly. And that’s what impressed me. Because we get “demands” all of the time. And a lot of the time, those demands come from a place of personal comfort or convenience or sheer “testing” to see how much they can get away with (like the old lion film reviewer we flew into town – gruff but not lovable). And Robin’s specifications (I won’t even characterize them as demands because I want to make sure the context is precise here) were all in the service of what she thought was right for the film, for The Gordie Foundation and for her friends Leslie and Michael Lanahan, who began and lead that foundation in honor of Leslie’s son, Gordie. Robin has seen that documentary and the testimonials countless times by this point and I saw it still bring her to tears after all this time and all of those repeated viewings. Seeing that made me want to be just that much more careful to help navigate the tricky press and publicity waters for her and them. She was patient and dutiful on behalf of the film and the foundation and deserving of a lot of respect for making the trip.
Lisa Rosman – When Kim Voynar isn’t writing for Movie City News, I think she serves as Lisa Rosman’s (who works and writes for US Magazine and Flavorpill) publicist. She sold me on the fact that I needed to bring Lisa to Dallas to be a panelist and talk movies because in one bought plane ticket and hotel room we would be instantly upping the ante on the AFI DALLAS coolness quotient. And, as I have come to trust – Kim was right on the money. After moderating one panel with Lisa as a participant and one dinner rife with banter and provocative topics – film and otherwise – I became an instant fan. She has style, she’s got a knowing awareness spiced with just the right amount of acerbic – and all in a classic dame package. I became an instant fan – simple as that.
Tiffany Shepis – Again, thank you facebook. And, to be fair – thank you very much Loyd Cryer at Texas Frightmare Weekend because he teamed up with me to make Tiffany’s appearance possible. Some people were scratching their heads a bit on why I instantly jumped at the idea of bringing Tiffany to Dallas to be a panelist but I knew it would be great. And once again, she exceeded all expectations for the couple of days she was there. There are people who are game for whatever you’re gonna throw at them and then there are people like Tiffany. Instantly, you can see why she is an evergreen draw at the Fangoria-type conventions and why she is one of those actresses in the genre that is seemingly always working. If you are a fan or a filmmaker in horror I have to imagine that a crisis ridden internal debate would be “Watch Tiffany on screen or have Tiffany on my set – what’s more important to me at this very moment?!”
Kim Voynar (and her daughter Neve) – Even though technically (by my own rules for this blog) I shouldn’t – I have to include Kim in this list. I’ve known her and had her attend my film festivals a few times now, but frankly, she kind of sets the tone (or should if I was choosing the person that got to) for how film festival behavior and “dialogue” between film fans and filmmakers and journalists should go as far as I’m concerned. I just flat out like Kim’s writing and her viewpoint on film and socio-politics. She is possibly the most effective devil’s advocate writer around right now. She’ll offer up a contrarian’s position from a balanced, inquisitive place that few people have either the guts or the talent to delve into. And her daughter, Neve (pronounced with a “long E” not like the Canadian SCREAM queen) is primed to follow right in those impressive footsteps. Smart, sweet and fun, Neve had the poor timing to get sick just after she arrived in Dallas after she had been looking forward all year to coming to the festival following her first visit with Kim a year ago. It sucked for her – obviously – but I was also genuinely disappointed. You see, Neve is not just a great, smart kid, but seriously, she has the beginnings of her mom’s writing talent. I was hoping to have her weigh in on our Family Friendly section as only she could. Instead, my goals for her were lowered to hoping I could help Kim get Neve well and feeling better before she had to go back home.
Last week, I was having a conversation with AFI FEST Artistic Director Rose Kuo about the fact that just screening movies does not a film festival make. It just doesn’t. If that’s what you think, then you’re fooling yourself. That’s film without the festival as far as I’m concerned. It’s the filmmakers, the actors, the jurors, and the journalists. It’s the people that are there doing Q&As, participating in panels, talking up movies in the lounges that make a film festival unique and special and a place you want to be or should want to be. And this group of women were a major reason that AFI DALLAS was something special this year as far as I’m concerned.