AFI Directing Workshop for Women (DWW) Showcase preview

Posted in Uncategorized by johnwildman on May 11, 2009

When I added the press and PR responsibilities for “big AFI” to the “joint custody” agreement I had previously with AFI FEST and AFI DALLAS, one of the programs I immediately looked forward to working with was the AFI Directing Workshop for Women (DWW) program.

Each year, the program gives a handful of women an opportunity to develop a short film script and then direct the film under the watchful eye and guidance of the American Film Institute, yet ensure that they take full responsibility for their own projects. Upon being informed of its existence, it struck me as a workshop that effectively could serve as that connective tissue for talented women that had a career or background in other areas of filmmaking or storytelling, but hadn’t found the way or the means to get themselves behind the camera in a true director capacity on one end of the spectrum or needed to round out their filmmaking experience so they could take the next logical career step at the other end.

And honestly, since I am still learning about the program – that’s simply the way it looks to me from the outside. But even if the truth falls a somewhat short of that potential, it still is giving a dedicated push or assist to female filmmakers. And that alone makes it a very cool, if not absolutely vital program and as far as I’m concerned, a small, but brilliant gem in the AFI crown of programs, film festivals and achievements.

Basically, following the dynamic and ambitious programming and presentation that both AFI FEST and AFI DALLAS have become known for the last couple of years, AFI DWW is one of those things that genuinely makes me proud to be at the American Film Institute. All three are forward looking and thinking celebrations of film and filmmaking artists not rooted in the past, yet taking a respectful lead from the artists that preceded them. Few things are more fun and exciting than a director coming back to AFI FEST or AFI DALLAS with their first feature after we gave them their first red carpet experience with one of their short films. It just gives you a sense that you’re helping somehow, shining the light on someone and giving encouragement to the filmmaker and in a small, but important way – validating the time, the creative energy, the dedication, even the money they had to put out to get their work made. And all of that applies here as well.

I’ll state it bluntly: AFI DWW is one of those programs that makes this place relevant.

So tonight at the DGA Theatre will be the unveiling of the films the seven participating women of the last workshop has created. And the combination of the films together will make for a great program. Perfect? No. Of course not. But across the board, they show great ambition for storytelling and exploring what can be done with film. And what I love the most – no short cuts, no cynical audience assumptions and certainly no laziness here.

Anyway, here are some brief thoughts on each film:

ABUELO
Mary Ann Kellogg’s ABUELO follows the relationship between a little girl and her grandfather following their first meeting. He has come to America from Argentina to watch over her so her father can work. There is a language barrier and she doesn’t make the situation easy on him from the outset. However, the old man has some tricks up his sleeve and watching what transpires is genuinely joyful. Kellogg began her career as a dancer with Twyla Tharp, is an Emmy nominated choreographer and she displays real grace with the film. She even incorporates dance into the story deftly, subtly, beautifully, in a way that reminds you how cool it can be onscreen after garish show-tinny (yeah, I meant “tinny”) things like High School Musical have long convinced you otherwise.

GOSIA’S WITCH
Dominika Waclawiak’s GOSIA’S WITCH also takes a child’s view of things. This time the little girl in question is dealing with a nasty headmistress at her Catholic school. And the way she does so, is through entering the world of a children’s story her mother has read to her. Waclawiak has worked as a visual effects artist on more than a few films and she translates that into delivering a magical little film with hints of Guillermo del Toro’s work. Films focusing on kids can be tough for me to hang with, but she stops well short of cloying with her little actress, telling me her talent isn’t completely tied up with production design and art direction.

VOID
Meredith Berg’s VOID is a supernatural thriller about a female FBI agent investigating a series of grisly murders in a small, desert town. What she finds through her investigation is the involvement of a little boy in a way she never could have imagined. Berg has a love for/background with editing comic books and graphic novels and this short film has the kind of darkly clever premise and twists within it that are borne directly from that world. I don’t want to spoil the ending, but I will say that it bears some DNA from the classic TWILIGHT ZONE episode “It’s a Good Life”. I will also add that Berg doesn’t shy away from the gore – and the horror genre could use a smart female storyteller not afraid or shy to dole out some scares from her perspective.

THE HONEYSTING
Alexa-Sascha Lewin’s THE HONEYSTING shows us some very clear parallels between hunting big game and operating within Chinatown’s black market underworld for the “spoils” of that hunting. What I initially liked about it was the way Lewin refused to show her hand as to the real connections between the two worlds until she absolutely had to. Then ultimately, I was impressed by the fact that she has made a movie with a cause that doesn’t broadcast to you what the cause is. Lewin has spent several years as a natural history filmmaker and I have to believe that it took some doing to show the restraint she does here to allow the narrative of her film deliver the punch, rather than doing so through some preachy exposition.

INK
Marianne Jean-Baptiste’s INK also manages not to preach – to the choir or otherwise – as it shows us the last days of a tattoo artist and single mother dying of AIDS and determined to do so with grace. It is simply told, but not in a way without giving some visual flourishes. There is also a very nice balance between the intensity and immediacy of the emotions (especially between the mother and her young son, struggling to deal with the encroaching reality ahead for the two of them), yet framed by a lyrical quality that is more than understandable knowing the nature of Jean-Baptiste’s acting work as well as her composing background. It also features a wonderfully nuanced performance by Theresa Randle in the lead role – clearly another beneficiary of being directed by Jean-Baptiste.

ROOMS
Joanna Jurewicz’s ROOMS also benefits from the talents of Jean-Baptiste – this time as the actress plays the lead character of an immigrant maid at an airport hotel who cleans up the rooms of the travelers in a solitary daily work routine. It is a subtle work that shows a deft touch in opening up the woman’s lonely world without ham handedly delivering a moment of pathos for the lowest common denominator viewing the film to understand. Instead, the film allows the cumulative effect to creep up on us as we watch the woman allow herself a touch of hope of real human connection with one of the hotel’s guests. And to Jurewicz’s credit, the ending is as expected and melancholy as scenarios like this all to often are.

18
Joy Gohring’s 18 is about a teenage girl facing the decision of whether or not to remove her mother from life support when she is given power of attorney on her eighteenth birthday. That’s the “gift” she receives. The gift Gohring gives the audience is doing everything she can to not address the dilemma directly, not to give us a textbook afterschool special speech from the cool and caring guidance counselor or mentor of your choice and veering as far away as she can from hitting any nails on their heads. Instead, she sends the protagonist off to a pool party in search of the boy she harbors a crush on and possibly a much needed immediate distraction from her situation. What I find special in films that deal with subjects like this are the moments where nothing is being said, because (at least in my experience) the interior monologues and conversations with myself are far more maddening than anything said out loud. Gohring is a comedienne by trade and that time onstage has obviously taught her the economy of words.

There you have it – seven short films by seven women – creating an impressive program that delivers exactly what something like this should: accomplishment and promise. I can easily see each of these films hitting the festival circuit and more importantly, I can just as easily see each of the women taking the next step into feature territory as well.

Looking forward to tonight!

AFI Announces Directing Workshop for Women (DWW) Red Carpet Showcase on May 11

Posted in Uncategorized by johnwildman on April 30, 2009

AFI PRESENTS

DIRECTING WORKSHOP FOR WOMEN (DWW)
RED CARPET SHOWCASE AT DGA THEATER

MARTHA COOLIDGE WILL HOST EVENT ON MAY 11

Hollywood, CA, April 30, 2009 – AFI announces its annual Directing Workshop for Women (DWW) Red Carpet Showcase at the DGA Theater featuring up-and-coming directors Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Meredith Berg, Joy Gohring, Joanna Jurewicz, Mary Ann Kellogg, Alexa-Sascha Lewin, and Dominika Waclawiak.

Hosting the event will be Martha Coolidge, the first and only female president of the DGA and director of notable films including RAMBLING ROSE, INTRODUCING DOROTHY DANDRIDGE and VALLEY GIRL.

These seven women were picked from a pool of over 200 applicants for the prestigious DWW program. Selected women receive donations and grants not to exceed $25,000, equipment, materials and facilities of the AFI campus and five days to shoot their narrative short films. AFI’s Directing Workshop for Women (DWW) has been a major force in training women in narrative filmmaking since 1974. Over 200 women have been given the opportunity to participate in this innovative and unique training program for tomorrow’s directors. Some DWW alumnae include Lesli Linka Glatter (MAD MEN, THE WEST WING, GREY’S ANATOMY), Randa Haines (CHILDREN OF A LESSER GOD, DANCE WITH ME), Kellie Martin (ER, MYSTERY WOMAN) and Maya Angelou (DOWN IN THE DELTA).

“This is a great opportunity to discover new filmmaking talent. You will not only enjoy the films but have a chance to meet the participants and discuss how this incredible workshop has impacted their future projects and their careers,” said Joe Petricca, AFI’s Executive Vice Dean.

The one-night-only event will include guests from high level agencies such as CAA, Endeavor, and WMA as well as representatives from every studio. Celebrity guests and many other artists from in front of or behind the camera will also be in attendance. Prior to and at the culmination of the showcase, cocktails as well as hors d’oeuvres and desserts (courtesy of Contemporary Catering) will be served in the DGA Lobby.

MORE ABOUT THE AFI’S DWW RED CARPET SHOWCASE
This is a private event with seating limited to industry professionals. For more information, and to RSVP, please visit – http://www.femmafia.com

The 2009 DWW Red Carpet Showcase participants:

Meredith Berg
VOID

About the film:
VOID, a supernatural thriller, follows FBI agent ‘Liz Metera’ as she investigates a series of grisly murders in a small, desert town. She suspects the murders are the work of a serial killer but discovers that whatever is responsible is not human, and is, instead, something far more monstrous. While uncovering clues, she befriends a boy – terrified of his father – who is hiding a powerful and chilling secret. Uncovering his secret will ultimately cost the FBI agent everything she holds dear, changing her life, and the town, forever.

About the filmmaker:
While earning her directing and acting BFA from NYU Tisch, Meredith Berg garnered an Off-Broadway directing credit for her adaptation of Shakespeare’s JULIUS CAESAR. Since then she moved to Los Angeles and delved further into writing, directing, producing and her other great love: editing comic books. Single issues and graphic novels of hers can be found on the shelves of comic book stores, productions on the Web and on television, and she
continues to direct theatrical productions in and around LA.

Joy Gohring
18

About the film:
18 is a dramatic short about a teenage girl who has to decide whether or not to remove her mother from life support when she is given power of attorney on her eighteenth birthday.

About the filmmaker:
An internationally touring comedienne, Gohring has written, directed and performed stand-up and live comedy theatre all over the US, Canada and the UK. In 2000, she was chosen to perform at HBO’S prestigious Comedy Arts Festival as the female comedy team ‘Gohring & Stein.’ She subsequently starred in two TV series for Carsey-Werner-Mandabach Productions & Oxygen based on her own unique brand of comedy, including their first sitcom, GOOD GIRLS DON’T…  Gohring also performs periodically in Wayne Brady’s show at the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas. Experiencing an overdose of comedy, Joy shifted her focus to dramatic storytelling in 2007 and attended UCLA Extension where she wrote and directed her first short, GOOD GIRL, about a teenager who struggles to care for her bed-ridden mother. Her film, 18 explores death and letting go. Already being dubbed an actor’s director, Gohring has a natural ability to draw honest and subtle performances from her cast.

Marianne Jean-Baptiste
INK

About the film:
INK is the tale of a talented tattoo artist and single mother dying of AIDS and determined to do so with grace.

About the filmmaker:
Marianne Jean-Baptiste received Academy Award,Golden Globe and British Academy Award nominations for her feature-film debut role in Mike Leigh’s  SECRETS AND LIES. Other film credits include THE CELL, opposite Vince Vaughn and Jennifer Lopez, 28 DAYS opposite Sandra Bullock and SPY GAMES  opposite Robert Redford. TV credits include THE MURDER OF STEPHEN LAWRENCE, written and directed by Paul Greengrass. As a composer, Jean-Baptiste wrote the score for Mike Leigh’s feature film CAREER GIRLS. As a writer she has sold a script to Working Title. She is a graduate of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and is currently starring in the CBS hit drama, WITHOUT A TRACE, portraying FBI agent ‘Vivian Johnson’.

Joanna Jurewicz
ROOMS

About the film:
An immigrant maid at an airport hotel goes through the routine of erasing traces that guests have left behind.

About the filmmaker:
Joanna Jurewicz is from Poland and resides in New York. She is a graduate of NYU- Tisch School of the Arts graduate film program. Her thesis film, GOYTA was screened at the Cinefondation competition at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival. The film went on to win a variety of awards and eventually was sold to and aired on ARTE TV. Jurewicz is currently writing her first feature film while working for a theatre company in NYC.

Mary Ann Kellogg
ABUELO

About the film:
ABUELO traces the special relationship between a grandfather and his granddaughter.

About the filmmaker:
Mary Ann Kellogg is making her directing debut with the short film ABUELO. Kellogg began her career as a professional dancer with Twyla Tharp Dance Company, performing with the company for eight years. She is an award-winning choreographer in film, television and video with substantial industry recognition, an Emmy nomination and a Choreography Media Honors Award for her work on Showtime’s REEFER MADNESS THE MOVIE MUSICAL and two American Choreography Award nominations for her work on SUPERSTAR and THE GURU. She received a fellowship from AFI’s Directing Workshop for Women for the film ABUELO.  is a member of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, holds a BFA from Cal Arts and is an alum of both the AFI Conservatory and AFI’s Directing Workshop for Women.

Alexa-Sascha Lewin
THE HONEYSTING

About the film:
THE HONEYSTING is a riveting ride down the dark alleys of Chinatown’s underworld, where the slightest misstep can trigger the deadliest of consequences.

About the filmmaker:
Alexa-Sascha Lewin spent eight years working as a natural history ¬filmmaker. Her work found her trekking mountain gorillas through rebel-infested Rwandan jungles and hanging
out of a helicopter to capture stampeding white rhinos in the South African bush. Lewin began her career in narrative features, interning for Robert Redford’s South Fork Pictures and Propaganda Films. After working in television and documentaries for PBS, ABC/Kane, Discovery Channel, A&E, and the BBC, Lewin wanted to transition back to narrative features. She collaborated on the development of several independent films with the Mount Film Company, and worked in Lithuania on Ed Zwick’s latest film, DEFIANCE, as the assistant to the producer. Lewin was awarded the Panavision New Filmmaker grant and ACE grant for her first narrative film, THE HONEYSTING. Lewin holds a BA from Wheaton College, and studied at the University of Television and Film Munich, and Brown University.

Dominika Waclawiak
GOSIA’S WITCH

About the film:
A young polish immigrant, ‘Gosia’, delves deep into her imagination to overthrow the punishment she receives at the hands of a cruel headmistress at her Catholic school.

About the filmmaker:
Dominika Waclawiak, originally from Lodz, Poland, graduated from Cornell University with a degree in architecture, and worked as a production designer and art director on many shorts as well as in the art department of such features as FLAWLESS under the art direction of two-time Oscar nominee Jan Roelfs (GATTACA) and Emmy award winning Production Designer Sarah Knowles (THE NOTEBOOK). Waclawiak transitioned into CG visual effects due to her previous work in stop motion animation. She has worked as an visual effects artist on such films as LAND OF THE LOST, THE INCREDIBLE HULK, the Oscar-winning films THE GOLDEN COMPASS and HAPPY FEET, SUPERMAN RETURNS and THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA, to name just a few. As a director, her stop-motion short PIEKNI played at many international festivals and is currently distributed by Ouat Media.