Independent Magazine Obsessed with Independent Film Since 1978 Fri, 05 Dec 2014 17:58:37 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Filmmakers and their Global Lens: Tony Shaff Mon, 01 Dec 2014 16:56:44 +0000 For this edition of Filmmakers and their Global Lens,  The Independent’s special contributor Dana Knight spoke with Tony Shaff about his film Hotline at DOC NYC last month. Dana Knight: Could you please introduce yourself and tell us what the film is about? Tony Shaff: I’m a Brooklyn filmmaker and my film Hotline is a feature... Read more »

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For this edition of Filmmakers and their Global Lens,  The Independent’s special contributor Dana Knight spoke with Tony Shaff about his film Hotline at DOC NYC last month.

Dana Knight: Could you please introduce yourself and tell us what the film is about?

Tony Shaff: I’m a Brooklyn filmmaker and my film Hotline is a feature documentary about telephone hotlines. It’s about people who call and work on these anonymous and sometimes confidential hotlines. And it’s a look at how we’re communicating and the lost art of voice-to-voice communication in an age where we are a little bit digitally disconnected.

DK: What sparked your interest in this subject?

Shaff: I worked as a telephone psychic briefly. It was a really quick job, just to get my car up back and running. But it was a really intense job. I worked there for about six weeks. I got my car fixed and was able to move on from there. A few years later I moved to New York and I volunteered for a suicide-prevention hotline. And what I found was that the calls to these hotlines were so similar. It was a lot of the same people just looking for someone to talk to, some way to connect with another person. Or just feeling really isolated. And [they] didn’t have anyone else in their lives that they could talk to. So they were reaching out to a stranger and I just happened to be that stranger. So when I was working for these hotlines I wasn’t thinking that I was going to make a film, it wasn’t as if I was embedding myself to take these  stories and make them into something. But it did spark something in me and then over the next few years I started doing preproduction on the film and it’s been a really amazing journey, meeting these people and finding out the universal stories. And also the unique stories that happen when you’re working on a telephone hotline.

DK: What is your background, are you trained in psychology also? I imagine that in order to work for a suicide-prevention hotline you must have some professional training.

Shaff: I went to film school, I was a filmmaker. I have been making films since I was eight years old. But to be a telephone psychic there really weren’t many requirements! And I knew how to read Tarot cards. So I read Tarot cards. I never claimed to be psychic though. And I realized I didn’t really have to be psychic, people didn’t always want to know whether I was or not. I got a few questions like ‘Where are my keys?’ and I couldn’t tell them where their keys were. But people wanted to tell me about the very challenging emotional things that were happening in their lives. They were facing domestic abuse–all sorts of things. I don’t think psychics are trained to be like psychologists, it’s the latter who should be dealing with this. But as a hotline operator, I think it’s really just about being there and listening to what they have to say. And for the person to know that they are being heard, and not being judged, and not feeling like they are going to be revealed, their secrets can be kept between us. And sometimes that is more important maybe than the eight years of school to be a psychologist!

DK: Exactly, its the human connection, the human experience that they are all looking for. It is also a very emotional film. How did you capture those emotions?Im thinking now of Jeff, the lonely guy.

Tony Shaff (Photo by Lauren Belfer) copy

Tony Shaff, filmmaker

Shaff: When we met Jeff, he was almost at a breaking point. He’d been taking all of these calls and when we spoke to him, he didn’t know if he could do it anymore and we caught him at a very vulnerable moment where he just wanted to give so much and he couldn’t anymore. I think we hit a lot of these people at that moment. Whatever it might be, ‘I’m trying to decide if I’m going to be in a relationship with someone I met on a phone line’ or ‘Is the work that I’m doing hurting me too much? Am I going to have some vicarious trauma that I won’t be able to deal with later on?’ I think that the idea of the emotions and the emotional ride that the film takes you on… I was really trying to help the audience feel what it might be like to talk to someone on the phone and to hang up that call and pick up another call. And when you’re working on a hotline, every call is different, you never know what the next emotional moment that you’ll have is. And sometimes it can be really funny, sometimes you can laugh with someone. And the next moment you’re on the verge of tears. So I think it really is just human experience. We are emotional people and I think we may be moving away from it but we don’t have to, we can talk to one another and we can allow each other to feel.

DK: Could you talk about the other characters in the film? There are some memorable people in it.

Shaff: There are several main characters. But I don’t really like to call them “characters” or “subjects.” They are people who share their stories and one of the people in the film is Youree Dell Harris, who is Miss Cleo, a famous telephone psychic. She was very famous for her infomercials; “Call me now” was her big catchphrase. And we also interviewed Tonya Jone Miller who is a phone sex-operator in Portland.

DK: Or as she calls herself: an aural courtesan!

Shaff: Yes, she is an “aural courtesan!” But she also chose to use her real name and her real pictures, which is pretty unique in the phone sex-operator industry. Another of the people that we featured quite a bit is a man named Jaime who is a mobile crisis hotline worker. And he worked on a hotline for quite some time and he is the man the hotline calls to go out and meet with people face to face. He’s been doing it for seventeen years. You can tell he has the experience because he’s reached a point where he is very philosophical about his line of work.

DK: And how did you meet them?

Ms. Cleo (Photo by Tony Shaff) copy

Miss Cleo. (Photo by Tony Shaff.)

Shaff: I don’t like to use the word “casting” but it’s a little bit like that. Casting the net out and trying to find people who represented each of the hotlines, the different “genres” of hotlines. Once into that world, finding people who had unique, interesting stories to tell. And stories that were really relevant right now, anything from calling a hotline and getting referrals to speaking with them personally. It was a really interesting process.

DK: Over what period have you been involved in this?

Shaff: It’s been over four years. It is a large survey film, we had a lot of different characters, a lot of different people we dealt with, a lot of different destinations to journey to. Sometimes we’d spend six hours with someone and other times we’d spend three days with them. Before the cameras started rolling, there was a lot of time just talking to them. I would talk to them on the phone at first, because I think that’s one of the best ways to get to know people for a film like this.

DK: How much footage did you accumulate and how difficult was the editing?

A flyer Jeff Ragsdale posted in NYC (Photo by Tony Shaff) copy

A flyer Jeff Ragsdale posted in NYC. (Photo by Tony Shaff.)

Shaff: The editing process was difficult, we definitely had a lot of amazing stories that ended up on the cutting room floor. I would say we had over 200 hours. Breaking it down to 82 minutes was difficult, we definitely had a lot of tough decisions to make. But ultimately we were very happy with the film and I think that through the various stories that were told, we do get a good sense of what hotlines are in 2014.

DK: You live in NYC, do you have the same perception of the city being a lonely place?

Shaff: Jeff, the lonely guy, speaks about that in the film, that it’s very difficult to meet people in NYC and big cities in general.That’s the thing, you can be surrounded by so many people and feel so completely alone. Even looking at Facebook and Twitter, you can have all of your friends you know, you can have 200 friends on Facebook, but there might not be that one person that you can reach out to and tell them how you’re actually feeling. No matter how many people you’re surrounded by, if you don’t have a way to talk to them, it can be very lonely and isolating.

DK: When is the film being released to the wider public?

Shaff: We are being released on iTunes and VOD. We had a really great festival run. At our very first festival, HotDocs in Toronto, there was something called Distribution Rendezvous where we had an opportunity to meet a lot of different distributors. One distributor that we really enjoyed has decided to take us on and they are releasing the film in North America for non-theatrical and VOD. So it’s very exciting. There’s another company that is taking care of our international sales. So it’s a bit of this business stuff that I’m having to become a little bit educated about, even though I am the director I also have a producer hat. But we’ve been very fortunate because there are so many independent films out there and in order to get recognised and get out into the world, it’s very exciting. Even being programmed at great festivals like DOC NYC is great. They are a new festival and they are relatively young but they are now the largest in the US and my film is in such great company here, screening alongside some of the great films of the year.

DK: Are you still going to film festivals after the US release?

Shaff: We haven’t done any European festivals or any Asian festivals so there is opportunity to take the film internationally but right now in North America we are done with festivals. We are on VOD and iTunes and hopefully other platforms in the near future.

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Filmmakers and their Global Lens: The Yes Men Sat, 29 Nov 2014 16:55:58 +0000 For this edition of Filmmakers and their Global Lens,  The Independent’s special contributor Dana Knight speaks with the comedy troupe, The Yes Men about filmmaking. Knight initially spoke with Mike Bonnano, Andy Bichlbaum and Laura Nix in Toronto in September. Dana Knight (DK): When did the Yes Men become the Yes Men and why the Yes... Read more »

The post Filmmakers and their Global Lens: The Yes Men appeared first on Independent Magazine.

For this edition of Filmmakers and their Global Lens,  The Independent’s special contributor Dana Knight speaks with the comedy troupe, The Yes Men about filmmaking. Knight initially spoke with Mike Bonnano, Andy Bichlbaum and Laura Nix in Toronto in September.

Dana Knight (DK): When did the Yes Men become the Yes Men and why the Yes Men and not the No Men since you’re saying “no” to and revolting against most things?

Mike Bonnano: When we first started doing this, we imagined that we were just going to agree with people. We would infiltrate these business meetings and then we’d be saying “yes” until it amplified what they were saying and it became funny. It also means a “brown nose” or a person who would do anything to get ahead, though it seemed that we were living in a world where everybody was doing that, not looking at the long-term, just going for the short-term gains, so it’s just a way to sum up what we were doing when we’ve got started.

DK: When did you first become involved in political activism?

Andy Bichlbaum: For me it was 1996. Actually it was before that. In the 90s I was living in San Francisco and the Aids crisis was in full swing. I participated in Act-Up to some degree but mainly I was inspired by them, I really wanted to do something like that. They are such heroes, there was so much civil disobedience, they really ended up pressuring the government to come up with a treatment to fund research despite all the forces against that. At a certain point I had the opportunity to do something on my own and I did.

Laura Nix: For me it was late 80s early 90s. It was also Act-Up, being part of a group of people who were challenging the medical establishment, challenging the government and doing a kind of activism that was at that time really unusual and out of the box, it was really infectious and the people in the movement were really inspiring.

DK: Laura, were you with the Yes Men from the beginning? When did you join them?

Nix: I went to college with Mike and to graduate school, and I was around when they first started doing stunts. I pitched in on a few stunts that they were doing at the time. But I didn’t really consider myself a Yes Man, I was just helping out.

DK: But with time you became part of the group, you become a “Yes Woman”…

Nix: A “Yes Woman” or a “No Woman”, as the case may be. And this time around it was a different kind of collaboration because I did get involved as one of the directors of the film. And it was very important to have another person involved to direct the personal story, to have an outside perspective. Because I’ve known them for so long, and I know the story and what they’ve gone through in their collaboration. And I know what their personal lives are like, so I was able to include that as part of what it’s like to be an activist and how to stay together for 20 years.

DK: Judging by the reaction to your film, people seem amazed that you don’t get arrested. However, a stunt or a prank is not really fraud, so in this sense it’s not illegal. Can you shed some light on the confusion people make between the two?

Bichlbaum: Well, most of the laws that are about impersonation in America and in European countries are about trying to steal something. If you’re trying to get something from somebody else,  impersonating somebody is one way to do it. And that’s fraud. But what we’re doing is political speech: impersonating people in order to get a message out there. And that is protected free speech, at least in the US, it is protected by the First Amendment. And there’s laws about parody and satire, these are ways through which people have expressed themselves throughout history. So this is part of that. And if we weren’t believable in the first instance, if we weren’t giving a believable impersonation, then it wouldn’t work, the satire wouldn’t work. So we need to be able to do that, that’s why we’re really lucky to have the Electronic Frontier Foundation that stepped up and represented us pro bono, because you see in this movie that we get sued by the US Chamber of Commerce for impersonating them. And they say that it’s fraud. But the EFF said “We’ll defend you because it’s not fraud and it’s important to us that people express their rights and can fight and use political speech in ways that they want to”.

DK: So intention is key in an ambiguous case like this, and your intention was not to defraud anyone.

Bonnano: There’s the intention and there’s also what actually happens, which is that no one loses any money. And the Chamber of Commerce tried to argue that they had, but it’s an absurd argument they made.

DK: They do lose a bit of their dignity I think!

Bichlbaum: They did lose some dignity yes! But they shouldn’t have any dignity in the first place.

Bonnano: But we hope they lose money, our goal is to assure that they do lose money. Right now we’re in a situation where the oil companies and the Chamber of Commerce, which is basically a spokesperson for the oil companies, have to keep doing what they’re doing, which is extract the oil that they already own underground. But science tells us that if they do that we’re doomed. So they’re going to lose money, they’re going to lose a lot of money. We hope we’ll be a part of making them lose that money. But is that fraud? I think it’s just sanity. And they’re not going to do that voluntarily, so we hope that we’re part of a movement that is going to force them to do it against their will, because that’s the only way it’s going to happen. To give up the right to extract oil and coal …

DK: How do you organise these stunts? I imagine you have lots of ideas and you sit down and talk through many possibilities, how does it all come together?

Nix: From the outside it’s very interesting to watch how they prepare and I’m sorry we didn’t get to include more of that to see the brainstorming process because it’s a process where a lot of ideas are brought up. It’s kind of like “anything goes”, let’s throw it in and see if it sticks. And they cycle through many ideas. Some of them are great and some of them are really terrible and you hope that the final ones are some of the good ones.

DK: I want to hear a terrible idea!

Nix: Oh, I have a list of those! I think that posing as oil men in the Niger Delta was a terrible one.

The Yes Men: We were going to do that?

Nix: Yeah.And I also think that dressing up in Rambo outfits to go to Uganda, I’m glad also that one didn’t happen.

(The Yes Men are laughing)

Nix:I think that the giant inflatable ball that shot out poop at the audience as it was being floated around, I think it’s good that one was left behind.

DK: You mean artificial or real poop?

Nix: Real, yes.

The Yes Men: And I was so attached to that one […]. I wanted to make a big poop soup, that would make the person want to go to the bathroom very badly and poo all over the corporate office.

Nix: What about the one where we cooked a child?When we worked with a celebrity chef and we cooked a child on stage.

The Yes Men: We weren’t really going to cook a child on stage, we would have done it through magic! […] Ultimately, even the worst ideas can be very good. If they are done right.

DK: The film is truly memorable, I was at the public screening and I watched the reaction of the audience, people felt inspired and were also entertained. And I think it’s important to inject humour into a subject which could otherwise be very dry. I think you’ll attract a great deal of volunteers for your next project.

Bichlbaum: That’s good, because that’s what it’s about, inspiring people to act for themselves. So we hope that people want to, we hope everybody will do everything they can in the lead-up to the Climate Conference in December 2015. So that’s the focus of the next year and a half. For everybody to pile on and do everything they can and make a difference.

The Yes Men Are Revolting was shown at TIFF 2014.


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Filmmakers and their Global Lens: Alex Holdridge & Linnea Saasen Fri, 28 Nov 2014 16:36:25 +0000 For this edition of Filmmakers and their Global Lens,  The Independent’s special contributor Dana Knight speaks with co-creators about collaboration, acting and more. Knight initially spoke with Alex Holdridge and Linnea Saasen in Toronto in September. Dana Knight (DK): Could you please introduce the film and tell us what inspired it and how the whole process... Read more »

The post Filmmakers and their Global Lens: Alex Holdridge & Linnea Saasen appeared first on Independent Magazine.

For this edition of Filmmakers and their Global Lens,  The Independent’s special contributor Dana Knight speaks with co-creators about collaboration, acting and more. Knight initially spoke with Alex Holdridge and Linnea Saasen in Toronto in September.

Dana Knight (DK): Could you please introduce the film and tell us what inspired it and how the whole process unfolded.

Alex Holdridge: Meet Me in Montenegro is a love story, it is semi-autobiographical, I co-wrote it and co-directed it with Linnea Saasen. The film follows an American filmmaker as he travels to Berlin where he ends up meeting this woman, a Norwegian dancer, and he has an incredible experience with her. They spend this incredible night together, they have a really strong connection and they decide spontaneously to jump on a train to the Balkans. And it turns into several weeks together and it’s incredibly romantic but it ends quickly and bitterly. She leaves him and only leaves a note saying “Goodbye, let’s end on a high note”. The movie really picks up three years later when the filmmaker is back in Los Angeles and his career is at a major crossroads and he has an opportunity to salvage his career and his film by flying to Berlin and going to a meeting with an actor. And in doing so he runs into Linnea, the Norwegian dancer again. So over a handful of days in Berlin the two reconnect and once again their lives are pulling them apart, she’s heading off to art school and he’s supposed to go back and make his film. And it’s about them connecting over these days in Berlin and resurrecting romance and ideas of travel again.

DK: This is an indie feature but I recognised certain plot-points and reversals of situation that create the same emotional roller-coaster that a Hollywood romance would offer. Was this a conscious choice on your part, have you deliberately structured it according to certain criteria that Hollywood script would be bound to follow?

Linnea Saasen: We shot this over three years and we had a script with a three-act structure. At the very beginning the script had a looser structure but as we worked on it and analysed it and talked about it, it became more compact. It’s also a comment on love and movie-making and it’s also love for movie-making.

Holdridge: I think your observation is an interesting perspective, we haven’t talked about that at all with anyone. The reality is that I was making a film in Hollywood and it fell apart and at that moment in time there really was this idea that romance doesn’t work in movies anymore. A few romantic films fail and […] no one wants to make a romantic film anymore.

DK: Or at least not traditionally romantic, nowadays a romance film would tend to put forward its own ironic view of romance.

Holdridge: Exactly. But this ended up being a very genuine story based on things that happened to us and having the texture of life to it. […] Personally I love romantic films when they seem true. So there is a bit of play with understanding how movies are structured, how romance is structured.

DK: Did you have any films in mind when you wrote and directed this one?In terms of influences…

Saasen: Personally I’m very inspired by a film by Roy Andersson called A Swedish Love Story. It feels very honest and true. Our story doesn’t really look or feel like that maybe. But we strived to find something that’s genuine and try to recreate that. Ingmar Bergman is also a great inspiration. Also the Before Sunset trilogy, it’s about an American falling in love with an European.

Holdridge: For me it was nothing, this one was so loose, such a collaboration. And it was so sprawling, we were shooting so many different stories, there was so much beyond our personal lives and photos and history that it felt like we don’t know what we’re making. But I hope it turns out well.

DK: How did you collaborate at the writing stage? Keeping in mind that this is based on your personal life, were there any disagreements over what goes in and what stays out?

Saasen: It was very natural and organic. When we started writing, it was a very special moment, we were on this trip together and we didn’t really know each other. And at this time both our lives, career-wise, had fallen apart and we were kind of stuck together. And we decided to create this thing, on the train we took from Berlin to the Balkans.

DK: I wasn’t aware that the idea for the film came so early! Basically you thought of making a film based on your encounter immediately after you met.

Holdridge: Yes, we got a little apartment in Sarajevo and we just talked up a hundred different stories. We thought the film would be made up of many stories and ours would just be one of them, that’s how we began. There was this general thing called Berlin Love Stories and it would be told from many different perspectives. By the time we got back to Berlin and started shaping it, it got narrowed down to us and one other couple because we realised it would be huge to include ten stories.

DK: Your initial plan was very ambitious but even having to weave two stories together can raise many problems. What were your thoughts about introducing a second couple in the film, was that an attempt to comment on modern relationships in general or to mirror the tribulations of the main couple?

Holdridge: Each of these couples are looking at love and relationships and ambitions and how they want to live their lives from different angles. Each of them are having obstacles and failures in their personal lives and careers. And they are figuring out what they want to do and having to make that decision. In our case it’s two people coming together for the first time and you have to sacrifice where you’re coming from, what your sense of home is, what your career aims are, your identity that’s wrapped up in that. From the flip side, people that are together for a long time, oftentimes things can start to strain and you have to decide whether to walk away or not and it’s very terrifying. Maybe it’s the right thing to do, maybe not, but in both versions you have to accept a new future and have the energy to rebuild yourself, create a new identity and so on. Looking at love, ambition and failure and how you pick yourself up from that, that was what we were looking at thematically.

DK: On this note, the story of the second couple is very surprising. There is one scene where you think they are so emotionally connected and immediately the following scene contradicts that.

Holdridge: My take is that’s how our life is, how you make decisions sometimes. You’re inching up to making a big decision about your life and you’re consciously not sure what’s motivating you, you want to step away or embracemeet a relationship. And then you do but all of a sudden you see something that freaks you out and you run away from it. So it’s a process that she’s going through emotionally. She’s subconsciously having to make a decision about which direction she’s going to go in life. And on the surface she might have these rushes of emotion about how she feels about what’s happening but then the other parts come into her mind and she has to make a decision. This is based on things that have happened. And people’s own love stories, our friends’ experiences and the whiplash of emotions and decision-making are part of the story. This is what we were trying to capture.

DK: On the style you chose for the film, how did you collaborate on that, how did you make all the stylistic decisions that go into it?

Saasen: It was quite easy because we’d normally go through all the shots and what we tried to capture and then we’d have a discussion about how we want to shoot it. It was very easy to collaborate because we have the same ideas.

Holdridge: Yes and there was so much to do that it took two people working full-time. We didn’t have a huge crew with tons of people. Our best friend, Robert Murphy, he is the director of photography, he said he could come and live with us and shoot in all these locations and live out of a backpack like we did. So Ineke Hagedorn, our friend and producer, would go and find a location and we’d go and shoot there. And she’d find out about this club that is also an art exhibition and we’d go and speak with them and they’d say yes. So it’s a combination of all these efforts coming together, it’s a conversation I think. We didn’t want it to be this one-sided objectification. There’s so many men in movies, all this ego and machismo. So this is a take on love that’s told from two people.

DK: I know the film was very low-budget but did you actually have any budget at all when you started or it was just you living your lives and making this film with friends who came aboard to help you?

Holdridge: It was a little bit of both. It started off with us putting in a little bit. And we knew we could shoot Jenny and Rupert and we didn’t know how much it was going to cost. And it just kept rolling and rolling, year after year. Then people put in a little bit more…

Saasen: All our friends and family pitched in…

Holdridge: We gave it every penny we had until we were borrowing and our accounts were drained. So it was a very low-budget film but it was a budget that grew over the course of three years.

DK: How come you didn’t try Kickstarter to raise money?

Holdridge: We were thinking of it right before we premiered but all of the sudden we’re in Toronto and we don’t have the time to do it properly. But we might do it afterwards depending on what else we need to do.

DK: Had you had a bigger budget, what would you have spent it on?And how much do you think the film would cost if you were to do it without such pressure on your personal lives?

Holdridge: It would have cost a fortune. […]To do it properly, where you’re counting in flying, renting apartments, having proper post-production and crew, doing all the things that we just did ourselves, it would have cost several million dollars for sure.

DK: Acting-wise, neither of you is a professional actor so how difficult was it to act in a film for the first time?

Saasen: It wasn’t easy. Leaving aside that it’s very easy to have chemistry with Alex…But we’re not professional actors and also acting and directing at the same time makes it difficult to know what is right, you need to think of the frame and you still have to be in the moment of acting. And then you see the scene afterwords and realise that it didn’t really play out as you expected. But the good thing was that we were always there and available, we could reshoot and make it exactly how we wanted.

Holdridge: Yeah, we did cover our mistakes, we made it acceptable. And when you cast someone like Rupert and Jenny it’s magic, you’re just rolling and they look great and they say it beautifully. For us it’s hard and you get to really appreciate actors who can be so present in the moment.

DK: Going back to aesthetics, in the production notes you mention that  you didn’t want a hand-held “shoe-gazing aesthetic”, what did you mean by that?

Holdridge: That’s funny because I asked for that to be taken out […]. From the production standpoint, independent films made by contemporary, young filmmakers in general, aim at having a certain aesthetic: I’m just going to go like this, we’re going to shoot hand-held, we’re going to shoot in my apartment, everyone is going to dress like shit, the walls are going to be painted, I’m not going to think about set design…

DK: So this is a filmmaking cliche, you think?

Holdridge: I’m thinking that it’s not living up to the standards of all the filmmakers that came before us, for many generations, from all over the world. You watch an old film, from wherever it may be, the same things they are working on are the same things we’re stressing about. And you’re trying to improve your films: the performance, the story, and from a technical standpoint, the angles, the lens, what’s in the background, the set design. And you so appreciate the language that people are taking their time to capture. From an independent standpoint, we have these tiny cameras, we have access now to all these great lenses, even if we have no money and we’re shooting in very difficult circumstances, on the cliffs of Montenegro, in a sex club in Berlin, at an underground club, in the middle of the Christmas market filled with people. Even though these are difficult places, let’s set the bar where we’re trying to have a respectable language of cinema. So we’re going to put the camera on a tripod, we’re going to move the camera when it’s motivated, we’re going to come from that world of aesthetics. Whether we achieved it or not is another thing…

DK: What’s next for you both?

Saasen: We are developing a TV show that is set in Berlin in 1945 directly after the war. It’s a really fascinating moment in time and the city is divided into four sectors, it’s the beginning of the Cold War and the beginning of the CIA and the KGB so there’s a lot of tension.

Holdridge: It’s called Hour Zero, it’s also a moment in time when after all those years of war, the Russians lost so many people and so did the allies but now they are stuck together trying to be friends. But there’s also a renaissance of culture and sex, the gay scene comes alive, people who had been forbidden to dance for years now can go out and dance, jazz musicians are there and all this mixed with complete brutality and death and mistrust. You couldn’t pitch a more brutal concept!

DK: Sounds like a complete change of tone and genre for you!

Holdridge: Yes, we’ve become quite obsessed with that time period so we’ll see how it progresses but we think it could be quite interesting.

Meet Me in Montenegro premiered at TIFF 2014.

Filmmaker Update: Alex and Linnea have recently struck a theatrical deal with Orchard in the U.S and the film will come out sometime in 2015 in theaters.

The post Filmmakers and their Global Lens: Alex Holdridge & Linnea Saasen appeared first on Independent Magazine.

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Filmmakers and their Global Lens: Matthu Placek Wed, 26 Nov 2014 15:46:53 +0000 For this edition of Filmmakers and their Global Lens,  The Independent’s special contributor Dana Knight speaks with the artist Matthu Placek about “Moving Portraits”. Knight initially spoke with Placek at the Toronto International Film Festival 2014. Dana Knight (DK): Will you please give us a background to your work and introduce the very special short film that... Read more »

The post Filmmakers and their Global Lens: Matthu Placek appeared first on Independent Magazine.

For this edition of Filmmakers and their Global Lens,  The Independent’s special contributor Dana Knight speaks with the artist Matthu Placek about “Moving Portraits”. Knight initially spoke with Placek at the Toronto International Film Festival 2014.

Dana Knight (DK): Will you please give us a background to your work and introduce the very special short film that you presented at TIFF 2014.

Matthu Placek: I’m a photographer by origins and I’ve been making films for about five years. This short film is the first in an ongoing body of work of moving portraits. I’m actually making them as artworks in addition to other artworks that have been shown in site-specific installations where they are placed into pieces of architecture that relate to the architecture used in the film.

The title of the film is 130919 A Portrait of Marina Abramovic. The number is the date that it was made and it is also an archive number. I’m really an archivist, in a lot of ways, as a portraitist and in my need to memorize relationships and events and time and catalog them. Everything in my archive is placed in that sequence: year, month, day. Since I was a kid. And if you dive into my artwork, those numbers exist in everything. This is not my film debut but it’s my first moving portrait that I’ve finished, it’s one take and in 3D.

DK: Why one take?

Placek: As someone who’s not trained as a filmmaker, when I approached film I wanted to do it in the same manner in which I do photography, which is very planned and well thought-out images. Then it’s about putting all the pieces together and making it with all the right people who can make that happen. When I approached film, I wanted to do something similar, but not only to learn at the same pace and keep the same thought process, but also to have respect for a medium that I’m not trained in. So I said “I’m going to do this in one take, in a studio, in black and white”. That being said, it’s not simple. […] It was really challenging and I didn’t think I would be able to keep people’s attention but I actually did. And I thought “This is really kind of great”. And for someone who’s really immersed in performance, my social circle and my own personal interests and growing up with dancing, that’s always been a part of it, the performative aspect. I realized I’m getting these really intimate performances from people since there’s no interruption.

DK:  Was there a need for many takes?

Placek: We did seven takes but that’s the first take. It’s usually the first take and it’s always seven takes, everyone I’ve ever done. And before films I made music videos, also with people that I’m close to. But one take is really complicated and I don’t do it just to drive everyone crazy and put everyone through hell […]. I’m incredibly demanding and if I showed you the previous realizations I made for the film, it’s exactly the same thing.

DK:  The film looks incredibly sophisticated and it works amazingly well with the music. What challenges have you encountered in the making of it?

Placek: I was really blessed to have the budget to work with all the right people who do what they do very well. But they weren’t used to doing a one-take film so I encountered a lot of challenges. First it would be “OK, no problem”. Then “No, I can’t do it like that, the camera will pass into the light and there will be a shadow”. So we have to rethink where the camera goes, we can’t move the camera so we have to remove the light but I can’t have the light to the right because it’s not going to look good. So there’s going to be a shadow on each side of the face, you’re going to have to fill it in. One thing after another. So everybody had to think really hard. And I would compromise on occasion but usually no, unless someone has a very good reason. I’d listen to everybody but in the end if my concept is done, it’s done. So we had to work really hard to make it happen.

DK:  This is a film about an artist, made by an artist. Two artistic subjectivities colliding. Was this project collaborative in any way or it is entirely your concept?


Matthu Placek on the red carpet

Placek: In my opinion all portraits are a collaboration no matter what. But the way I make portraits is very selfish, because I’m making these with people that I have a relationship with. I have known Marina and worked with her since 2006. The reason I wanted to make a portrait of her is because she has shown me who she is, and I believe her and I respect that. She’s one of the most sincere people I have ever met. […] We’ve been working together on this but I had the concept. It was initially in a different location and when she told me about the institute that she was building in Hudson, New York, I thought we needed to do it there. This was 3 years ago. So in that way it’s like me learning more about her, and her giving me that valuable time to know these things in order to say: this completes the story, this is your legacy, this is your future, because I’m trying to make a portrait of someone’s past, present and future. So yes it is absolutely a collaboration. But in the end this is my artwork and my interpretation of her in this dramatic way.

DK:  The space is very important in your artworks. I assume the location you chose for your film is Marina Abramovic’s studio?

Placek:  Yes. The architecture in my still images has always been as important as the subjects in them. The space tells the story as much as they do. So with Marina who is 68, at this stage in her life, she’s looking to what she’s going to leave behind, I can assume. I’m 34 now, I can’t imagine what 35 is like until I get there. So to think about what 68 is, I have no idea but I’m drawn to those people because they’ve figured it out.

Marina bought this raw space in a town that’s close to where she lives in order to build a site for long durational performance research and a residency program for performance artists in a space that doesn’t exist anywhere in the world. This is also a place where her prolific 50 year career and everything she’s done to prepare for performances can live and be taught and explored. This is her future, her legacy, this piece of architecture.

Even the lighting and the color temperature of the light is there to tell the story. Her body, which is literally her body of work, is cold and white in the center of this space. And the space is warm and rich, like an amniotic fluid,  So there’s this transition, transfer of energy and attention from performance into the institute.

DK:  I think you managed to capture that brilliantly, there’s a unique atmosphere to the film. Why did you choose to shoot it in 3D and is it the first time you use 3D technology?

Placek: First time, yes. 3D because it is literally a portrait of her body of work and I want the audience or viewer to be present with that body and for the body to be tangible and touchable. As someone who tries to resist technology as much as I can, I love it. And I also hate it because it brings us further apart. But it can also bring us closer together.

In these site-specific public installations, in the way that I show these to the public, the 3D is as essential as the person. I’m trying to give people a new experience of portraiture, a new way of being introduced to someone.

DK:  The musical score is very striking, this is obviously an original score that you commissioned specifically for the film.

Placek: Yes. I wanted to use a piece of music from this brilliant composer William Basinski called The Desintegration Loops. The film’s soundtrack is a piece of music that had […] a historical piece of Balkan music over William Basinski’s score. And that music was used for Robert Wilson’s opera The Life and Death of Marina Abramovic, which I came to Toronto last year to see in order to hear the music, because that was what I initially was going to use. But Marina said “No, that’s for my funeral”. And she said “Why don’t you use this, where I’m singing or speaking”. So I came to see the opera which is fantastic but I didn’t like the piece of music she suggested. It was great but it wasn’t appropriate, it had a negative connotation. My film is about life and death, growth and transformation, and that being a positive thing. And this song had like an ending to it. So I didn’t want that. And I was afraid she might say no because she really wanted that piece of music. And I also didn’t want it to be a trailer for the opera.

So I didn’t use that but in Toronto I met Svetlana Spajić who is the singer and writer of the lyrics and the music. She’s this amazing Serbian woman who is quite close with Marina, a very strong woman who’s a historian of Balkan folk music. So I wrote her this long letter saying “You won’t remember me but I met you in Toronto and I’d be so honored if you worked with me on this to make an original score. I’m hoping there is a Balkan piece of music that you can think of, that speaks of death and rebirth in a positive way”. And she wrote back immediately and we skyped and she agreed to do it. She was so intuitive.

So I asked a good friend Thomas Bartlett, who’s a producer and brilliant musician, if he would produce the music with Svetlana. He agreed so Svetlana came over from Belgrade and they worked in the studio one afternoon with this brilliant violinist, and they made this piece of music. I really wanted a meditative drone for a chant. And they did it and I was really proud of it.

When it’s put in site-specific installation, there’s a similar piece of music that is ten minutes long. That is for the introduction in the space  where people can explore the architecture before they see the film with that music.

DK:  What was Marina’s reaction when she saw the film?

Placek: She loves it. The only person I need to please is the subject. She didn’t see it until I presented it at Art Basel Miami Beach in Florida. And that speaks a lot of her as someone who is supportive of young artists whom she trusts. And I feel that she trusted me but not until she actually saw the film.

So I first presented the film as a site-specific installation at Art Basel Miami Beach and it was in this big strained-glass building, the old Bacardi headquarter, a beautiful piece of Brazilian architecture. And during the art fair, the film screened to groups of 15 people, every 15 minutes, from 9pm till 3am. And it’s quite a way from the beach so you really had to make a decisive decision, “I’m going to do this at night during party-time”. So it was an alternative and I wanted people to slow down and explore this piece of architecture that is being transitioned into artists studios and it’s never before been shown to the public in that way. So people would walk up three flights of stairs with the sound installation I told you about, that builds and mounts and becomes bigger. And I lit the building from the exterior so the inside was very cathedral-like without having religious connotations to it. And after 10 minutes of exploring the space they sat down to see the film.

So Marina came for that opening  and then we had a salon discussion at the YoungArts Foundation about the project. Just before the discussion Marina asked “Can I see it now?” and I said “Yes but I just want to see this with you alone”. So we went in and watched it alone. And afterwards she turned to me, she took her glasses off and she was crying and she said “Baby, you did it right, this is what’s going on right now, you’ve sealed it in, this is where I’m at and I approve”.

DK:  You collaborated with a lot of other artists in the past, could you mention a few of them?

Placek: I love to work with performance artists. Vanessa Beecroft was one of the first. And the eternal problem with that is: how can you sell performance art? To make a living they have to sell something that looks expensive and that is representative of the performance. So photography is probably the most direct way, they often come to me (or vice-versa, I came to Marina) and say “I need you to make an expensive-looking picture of this”. And then we make a picture. And it’s great fun because I’m also compensated well for it because they own the image, the copyright is no longer mine. So it’s a great way to make a living without doing advertising which I enjoy as well.

So I worked with Vanessa Beecroft, Terence Koh. Then lots and lot of portraits that aren’t commissioned work, Brice Marden,  Kiki Smith, Yoko Ono, Richard Prince and Marc Jacobs. A lot of younger ones, Kristen Baker, Jonah Bokaer. I really focus on contemporary artists, those are the people I really love taking portraits of.

130919 A Portrait of Marina Abramovic was shown at TIFF 2014.


The post Filmmakers and their Global Lens: Matthu Placek appeared first on Independent Magazine.

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Filmmakers and their Global Lens: Kate Chevigny & Ross Kauffman Tue, 25 Nov 2014 15:41:57 +0000 For this edition of Filmmakers and their Global Lens,  The Independent’s special contributor Dana Knight speaks with the filmmaking duo behind E-Team. Knight initially spoke with Kate Chevigny and Ross Kauffman in New York City at the end of October. Dana Knight (DK): How did this project come about and who initiated it? Katy Chevigny: Ross and... Read more »

The post Filmmakers and their Global Lens: Kate Chevigny & Ross Kauffman appeared first on Independent Magazine.

For this edition of Filmmakers and their Global Lens,  The Independent’s special contributor Dana Knight speaks with the filmmaking duo behind E-Team. Knight initially spoke with Kate Chevigny and Ross Kauffman in New York City at the end of October.

Dana Knight (DK): How did this project come about and who initiated it?

Katy Chevigny: Ross and I were looking for a project to work on together, trying to find the right project. At that point we knew a little bit about the work of Human Rights Watch, we knew it was important but we didn’t know a lot about it. And it wasn’t until we had dinner with the members of the E-Team, Anna, Ole, Fred and Peter, and were introduced to them, that we decided to make this documentary. This was many years ago…

DK: How long ago was it?

Chevigny: Seven, approximately. And over the course of that dinner we joked around, got a sense of seeing them together, how they interact with each other, talking about all kinds of things. At the end of that dinner, Ross and I felt that these are really amazing characters who you could imagine seeing in a movie. Our filmmaker brains were saying “I could see Anna, smoking and so impassioned”[…]. We saw their different personalities at work and the contrast between them. So that was the inspiration, what made us want to start.

DK:  And when did you start filming?

Ross Kauffman: Well, we got some funding, which took a long time and we started shooting two days before my son was born on January 11, 2011. And we were in NY shooting a meeting, that was a planning meeting. And they have these planning meetings where they plan for emergencies that happen. You can’t really plan for emergencies but you try to figure out what’s happening in the broad sense and that whole meeting was about Pakistan. Little did we know a week later the Arab Spring would be born. So it was really pretty incredible. So we started at that point and our first mission was Libya. But Katy and I went to Paris before that.

Katy Chevigny: When I was 6 and a half months pregnant and I knew I was going to be out of commission for a little while, we did a trip to Paris and Geneva and to Peter’s farm in the countryside to spend some time at home with them. And at that point Ross had filmed one mission in Libya that fall but we hadn’t filmed in Syria yet because they couldn’t get in. But we knew from the beginning, from planning the project, that we wanted to film a lot with them at home and get to know them as people. Which was interesting, trying to convince them of that, as they understood we wanted to film with them in the field. They were a little taken aback initially: “Are you filming us having dinner again?”. That kind of thing. “And how much of this do you need, of us going to the store? Why do you need to film this?” But we felt strongly that we wanted to show them as people, and the way to do that is to show them not at work as well.

DK:  I suppose you wanted to make a human rightsfilm that is also a human intereststory.

Kauffman: We had great characters, we wanted to make a film about people. People that we could all relate to. So that was really important for us from the moment of inception of this film. So Katy and I knew that filming at home with them is going to be an integral part of it.

DK:  This is very interesting because theres been a trend in documentary filmmaking over the years where filmmakers choose ordinary lives and stress the extraordinary element about them – whereas here, Im not saying the reverse applies, but you definitely picked extraordinary lives and managed to familiarize us with them in a way that makes us feel that they are so much like the rest of us.

Kauffman: I love that you said that. I’ve been trying to figure out how to form that thought and you did it perfectly. They are not ordinary people, yet they are very relatable …

Chevigny: That’s a great insight and it’s hard for us to analyse what the film does because we are involved in it, so that’s really your job in a certain way. We’re trying to have some distance and ask ourselves why we tried to do it this way but we kind of found our way as we went and we don’t have much of that distant view. I will say though that the way we were thinking of it is: we didn’t want to make a piece that was like putting them on a pedestal. And that was in fact what many people thought we were doing at the beginning. “Oh, this is going to be like a hero-worship piece”. And Ross and I wanted it to be a million miles away from that kind of movie. There are some documentaries like that, you’re right, there are documentaries about ordinary people doing extraordinary things and there’s another kind of documentary which is like “let’s look at a hero being a hero”. And we find that, from a creative standpoint, boring. It may be worthwhile, but it is not interesting for us and from a storytelling standpoint, to be like “here’s a hero being a hero, and now is a hero and now is a hero again…”. So we didn’t want to make that. On the other hand these people are kind of heroic, so how do you deal with that? So the way we dealt with that was to say “Let’s have them be as real as possible”. So if you’re someone who doesn’t think completely differently, you can still encounter these people and feel some connection. Even if you don’t go half way around the world to fight for human rights, there’s still a point of connection. So that’s our approach.

Kauffman: It’s like Fred in the airport taking his time and getting massages, that’s human and there’s humor too. And a big part of the film for us was showing the humor, showing the personalities. We kept on saying: “Let’s put more funny moments in the film”! Because that’s what life is. And they have a great sense of humor, they are wonderful people, they are really a lot of fun to hang out with.

DK: Were they at ease with being filmed from the very beginning or did you have to work on that?

Chevigny: It’s always a process of getting them to feel familiar. When you look at the early footage of them there’s a little bit of guardedness, but over time, the difference between filming them at the beginning of 2011 and filming them in 2013, their guard comes down. And that’s the advantage of spending a lot of time with them without the cameras rolling, which we also did. After a while it’s like “Oh, Katy and Ross are here”, it’s not such a big deal.

Kauffman: At a certain point, they said this to me, they sort of forgot that we were making a film: “Oh, Ross and Katy are here because they probably want a break from their families and are hanging out in Paris with us!!”. Their idea of what we were doing sort of dissolved because we became part of their lives.

DK: Theres actually a line in the film that goes: You get used to anything in the end. So they ended up getting used to being filmed.

Kauffman: That’s right. A war documentary being made about you!

Chevigny: And the great thing about the E-Team is that they really got their priorities in order. And their priorities are their work and doing it well, and their families and those obligations. And if there happens to be a film crew there, that’s kind of annoying and in the way but it’s not a big deal for them. People who have more vanity would probably focus more on the film crew, but they were like “I’d like to focus on the film crew but I really got to finish this report about abuses in Syria so I’m just not going to worry that much about those guys”.

DK:  How did you decide on what footage to include in the film and what to leave out? I imagine you accumulated a lot of footage. How many hours?

Chevigny: Good question. 350 hours.

DK:  Thats a lot of sifting through and decisions to be made

Kauffman: We had a wonderful editor, David Teague, he did a film called Cutie and the Boxer that was nominated for an Academy Award. And another film called Freeheld, which won an Academy Award. But we all looked at the footage, we sifted through it for months, to break it down, it’s almost like a piece of marble, chipping away at it…

Chevigny: And it’s definitely a daunting task when there is that amount of footage. And certainly our producer Marilyn Ness was amazing. She was also very good about saying to us: “Guys, we already have hundreds of hours, let’s get started on trying to separate the wheat from the chaff”. Let’s find the good stuff and work with that. […] So part of our process was that Ross and I would screen the footage together, sometimes via Skype, and we would share with each other when the footage moved us. And then we’d make a note of that and share that with David. And David’s job was to pull together what we thought was our strongest material that resonated with us emotionally and to try to make a story out of that material.

DK:  Did you have to kill many of your darlings?

Kauffman: You always have to. There were some great scenes that fell by the wayside but Katy and I were pretty good at saying “We’re telling a story and we want to be very clear and tell the most efficient and effective story”.

Chevigny: Yes, and I also think this may be the advantage of this not being our first film. We’ve seen a lot of films that are too long, we made films that are too long probably over the years. And at this point, we were like “There’s not going to be any extras”. It’s going to be a film that people want to watch first and foremost and if there’s something we love that has to go… This is also the benefit of having a good team, we got co-directors, an editor and a producer and people saying “It’s got to go, it’s got to go”.

Kauffman: I remember there’s one time in particular when I loved this one little scene and pretty much everyone else was “No, Ross!”

DK:  Which scene was this?

Kauffman: It was Peter and the press, he was talking to the media and doesn’t have much patience with them, put it that way.

DK:  Peter is a very candid character.

Kauffman: He is extremely candid, always candid and there was just this moment that I really liked but we sort of hit that beat already. And even though I liked it, Katy and David were very clear: “Ross, no!”

Chevigny: But that said, we did one other thing which I feel is kind of interesting. I feel maybe we shouldn’t even be admitting this because everybody says “you have to kill your darlings”. But at the very end, we had a little stage where Ross and I were like: “We’re gonna put some darlings back in”. And we found some “character moments” , some quiet moments…

DK: And humorous moments probably

Chevigny: Especially humorous moments, and we re-inserted them back in the story because sometimes when you cut down, you lose some of the nuance. That’s another common casualty of the editing process, you lose some of the sweet, off-kilter moments…

Kauffman: Because you’re so busy trying to tell the story, the narrative and you get so streamlined, there’s no flavor. And one example of that is the scene in Syria when they see the strawberry cart and Katy and I said “Let’s put the strawberries back in”. And everybody felt we were nuts in the editing room. But we wanted to do it. And it worked, you get a sense of Anna and her character.

DK:  A scene that really surprised me is when Anna is doing her make-up in the mirror while planning her next incursion into the war zone. Was that scene kind of directedor was it an innocent thing she did

Kauffman: Nothing is directed. That’s the kind of rules we make. And we never ask people to do something again. Our job is just to be open and to just let things happen in front of the camera. That’s the way that best things happen.

Chevigny: And most of the scenes you see in the movie, there are multiple scenes just like that. We included one. We have Anna putting on her make-up 25-40 times!

Kauffman: Not that many!

Chevigny: At least 10. Because Rachel filmed her every morning.

DK:  It just seemed a bit unusual that Anna would do that, were you surprised by that?

Chevigny: Yeah. Our choice to include it in the film had to do with showing Anna as she really is. That she is a woman of contradictions. We would challenge you to find somebody who’s tougher than her. And at the same time she takes a few minutes every morning to apply her make-up. So that’s an interesting scene to include because it’s surprising to the viewer. That’s what makes documentaries interesting. There’s some things that happen that are unexpected. And instead of white-washing them out, you include them, and allow the viewer to feel the realness of that.

DK:  When I saw that scene, I asked myself whether there were some thoughts behind it, in the sense of showing Annas feminine side.

Chevigny: Sure.

Kauffman: That’s great that you took that in that moment. Everyone is going to take something different as well. We just put it out there and let people take what they want.

DK:  Another thing I noticed is the difference in the amount of screen time you give to Anna and Ole, I had the impression that Anna was given more screen time. Is that correct, was that a conscious choice?

Kauffman: Once again we sort of followed the story. Anna is in a way the more dominant character, is that fair to say?

Chevigny: She’s the dominant personality, yes. […] We hope we did them justice as the sort of “great man behind the great woman”…

Kauffman: But we didn’t set out to say “We want a strong female character in the lead”. Our job is to film whatever is in front of us and then get into the editing room and listen to the footage. And to feel out the footage and to hopefully express what that footage is telling us in a way that’s really entertaining and works as a movie.

DK: How did your film festival strategy differ for this one compared to your previous films. I noticed you picked up a lot of awards everywhere you went with it.

Kauffman: It’s hard to say. We had the platform of Sundance to launch the film  and that’s always an incredible honor and gives the film some legs.

Chevigny: As a result of being in Sundance we had a lot of festivals from which to choose. So we really selected festivals that we were able to participate in based on our schedule and also ones that we thought would be a good fit for the kind of film it was, that audiences would respond to it. And with the knowledge that we were going to release it this fall in theatres and on Netflix and trying to build some attention for the film along the way. Because we love festival audiences, their experience of the film is always really great.

DK: I did a bit of research on what projects you’re working on next and  I noticed you’re doing a comedy, Ross. Do you feel the need for something more light-hearted?

Kauffman: Well, it’s funny, because with E-team we tried to inject as much humor as we could. That’s part of life. I would love to make a funny and fun documentary one of these days.

Chevigny: We always joke about that: our next movie is going to be a comedy.

Kauffman: But yes, I’ve been writing this film for five years with my wife and it’s a narrative film, a scripted film and it’s just about being moved by whatever story moves you and going forward if it’s a serious film, if it’s a comedy, whatever it is. It’s really about listening to your intuition and going forward hopefully. And Ii’s hard because we throw ten balls in the air and we hope one or two will land. It’s always a challenge.

DK: And what is next for you, Katy?

Chevigny: I’m working on a series with Kartemquin Films, they are based in Chicago, they have made Life Itself. So I’m working on a multi-part series that Steve James is executive-producing right now and also developing new long-form docs. But it’s going to take a while for the next thing to come to life.

The war documentary E-Team opened in select theaters and on Netflix on October 24.

The post Filmmakers and their Global Lens: Kate Chevigny & Ross Kauffman appeared first on Independent Magazine.

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Step Inside the Film House: Filmmaker360’s New Home Mon, 24 Nov 2014 23:46:14 +0000 At the corner of Chinatown and North Beach sits a deceptively small white door, leading to the huge space – and vision – of FilmHouse, the San Francisco Film Society’s new home for Filmmaker360. The building opened this September and, other than FilmHouse, it is still under construction. The FilmHouse space is modern and full... Read more »

The post Step Inside the Film House: Filmmaker360’s New Home appeared first on Independent Magazine.

At the corner of Chinatown and North Beach sits a deceptively small white door, leading to the huge space – and vision – of FilmHouse, the San Francisco Film Society’s new home for Filmmaker360. The building opened this September and, other than FilmHouse, it is still under construction.


Bill Proctor, Publicity Manager, and Michele Turnure-Salleo, Director, of Filmmaker360.

The FilmHouse space is modern and full of light with views of the bay. It was designed specifically to be the center of all Filmmaker360’s programs, after moving from the former office in Japantown. The space includes offices around a central community area. Practicalities, like bike racks, lockers, and smaller rooms for phone calls, exist, of course, but the sum of them are greater than the whole. “At first we thought filmmakers only wanted office space,” says Michele Turnure-Salleo, director of Filmmaker360. “But we learned that filmmakers want a community.” Turnure-Salleo has been its director since its inception in 2009. She’s not only Filmmaker360’s high-energy leader, with her keen eye on its clear goals and purpose, she is also good listener.

Filmmaker360 expands SFFS from exhibition and festivals into filmmaker services and support. Filmmaker360 is one of the (if not, the) largest film grant programs in the US, providing over $1 million annually to support new film talent in both narrative and documentary. The community, in addition to the sponsorship that Turnure-Salleo describes, comes in the form of consultation, mentorships, workshops, training, and connections to a growing network of filmmakers.

The goal of Filmmaker360 is to foster the Bay Area filmmaking community, whether it is supporting local filmmakers or bringing in new talent. “This area is often unrecognized for the arts and we want to shine a light on the work and opportunities here,” says Turnure-Salleo.” We bring new artists to the city, adding to the diversity and showing their work, through things like artist talks and screenings.” Rather than the short intensive labs of Sundance and IFP, she says that “Filmmaker360 is about sustainable careers and long-term relationships.” At 58, the SFFS’s festival is the oldest film festival in the US. “There’s so much going on now outside the festival. It’s become a greater entity.”

Filmmaker360 includes a wide range of programs – all run by four people, two full-time and two part-time – and, consequently, attracts a wide range of talent. The flagship grant is the SFFS/Kenneth Rainin Foundation Filmmaking Grant, which funds narratives like Short Term 12, from director/writer Destin Cretton and producer Asher Goldstein, in 2012; Ryan Coogler’s Fruitvale Station also in 2012, and Benh Zeitlin’s Beasts of the Southern Wild in 2011. (Note: Destin Cretton was on our 10 to Watch list in 2012.) Applicants and/or projects must not only have a connection with the Bay Area filmmaking community, but uplift the community in a professional or economic way. At the end of November, SFFS announced the six projects to receive a total of $300,000 in funding in the latest round of SFFS / KRF Filmmaking Grants. Among the recipients are Dark Forest from writer/director, Elena Greenlee, awarded $35,000 for screenwriting, and Mediterranea from writer/director Jonas Carpignano, awarded $60,000 for postproduction.

Since 2011, SFFS’s Documentary Film Fund (DFF) has awarded over $375,000 to documentary filmmakers nationwide. Grantees must be in post-production with work that drives engaging characters and stories in an innovative way. “We received a huge boost in our film’s credentials by winning the grant,” says Jimmy Goldblum, of his DFF grant for Tomorrow We Disappear. “Having their seal of approval meant a lot for the film, both financially and from a marketing positioning perspective. We came out to SFFS to hang with the incredible staff there. They’ve helped introduce us to buyers and people who can help influence our film’s trajectory. They take pride in seeing their films achieve their potential.” Past DFF winners include Street Fighting Man in 2014 from director Andrew James (one of our 10 to Watch in 2013); American Promise in 2013, from directors Joseph Brewster and Michèle Stephenson; and Cutie and the Boxer, also in 2013, from Director Zachary Heinzerling. (Read about their 2013 Sundance premieres.)

The SFFS/ KRF Producers Fellowship, new in 2013, supports independent producers currently working on narrative films. The fellowship funds people, not projects. So, fellows are working on multiple projects at a time. “An independent producer assumes the risk upfront and we are trying to alleviate that,” says Turnure-Salleo of the funding strategy. Not all projects make it to production. “It can be as important to know when not to do a project as when to do a project,” she says. “We care about the success of our filmmakers – in helping them make the right decisions about their work – and we seek out applicants who can appreciate that.”


Jonathan Duffy

Producer Fellow Jonathan Duffy describes the FilmHouse community as “swimming with a school of fish.” He is one of the 30 filmmakers using the space. “It’s always nice to have someone else to talk with about your work. There are filmmakers here of different levels of experience with different projects,” he says. “We have hiking meetings in the Precidio.” (I can’t tell if he’s kidding about that one or not.) Duffy moved to San Francisco from Austin to participate in the KRF Producer Fellows and FilmHouse Residency programs. He produced Hellion (director Kat Candler), a 2014 Sundance Film Festival selection, and Pit Stop (director Yen Tan), a 2013 Sundance winner, both of which were supported by the SFFS/Kenneth Rainin Foundation Filmmaking Grant.

FilmHouse Residencies provide office space to independent narrative feature filmmakers actively engaged in various stages of film production. FilmHouse residents are not necessarily recipients of another SFFS program, but can be, such as Duffy.“To be accepted into the FilmHouse Residency meant we could immediately tap into a new filmmaker community and network,” says Priya Giri Desai, whose documentary (along with filmmaker Ann S. Kim) Lovesick received a grant in 2011. “We screened cuts at the FilmHouse, learned names of local editors, composers, post houses, etc… to compare prices and styles. And most importantly, we made friends who were going through what we were going through. That is invaluable when you work as an independent.”

Duffy calls the application “a competitive, but honest process.” Each application round typically draws over 200 applicants for about five to seven slots.

FilmHouse bears some similarities to an incubator lab for filmmakers – but that comparison reduces filmmakers and tech entrepreneurs to their stereotypes. Of course, since Filmmaker360 recipients reside in the biggest high-tech area in the US, they have up-close access to digital tools and resources, etcetera, etcetera… (an area which I written a lot about). But, at its core, says Turnure-Salleo, Filmmaker360 is about filmmakers with “first, a great story, and, second, a strong desire to build a long-term relationship with the film community here. This area has a long history of literature, art, political activism, creativity, and culture.” That foundation will serve the Bay Area’s film community well.

The post Step Inside the Film House: Filmmaker360’s New Home appeared first on Independent Magazine.

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Tales from the “Screenwriter’s Festival” Sat, 22 Nov 2014 15:00:12 +0000 The Austin Film Festival and Conference was held this past month in sunny, hip, Austin, Texas. It was my first time at the festival, and it was a thrill. Thinking of going? I hope you like barbecue. First off, the festival had booked a phenomenal set of panelists. Quite often, there’d be up to a... Read more »

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The Austin Film Festival and Conference was held this past month in sunny, hip, Austin, Texas. It was my first time at the festival, and it was a thrill. Thinking of going? I hope you like barbecue.

First off, the festival had booked a phenomenal set of panelists. Quite often, there’d be up to a dozen panels running concurrently which meant that my biggest problem was deciding whether to attend the panel with Tom Schulman (Dead Poets Society), Linda Woolverton (Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King, Maleficent), Craig Borten (Dallas Buyers Club), or Matthew Weiner (Mad Men). Inevitably, I missed some great speakers but the panels I attended were still creative juggernauts for the mind. The festival organizers asked that attendees refrain from taking photographs of the panelists.  However, I took a lot of notes at the panels, and I’m pleased to share some with you.

For the most part, the panelists discussed a broad array of topics, relating to the craft and business of screenwriting. I’m reminded of a talk David Magee (Finding Neverland, Life of Pi) gave at Emerson College once, in which he said that if you asked 100 writers how they broke in, you’d receive 100 different answers. While that’s true, the AFF helped me discover some commonalities to every writer’s experience, which I take as encouraging.

The first panel I attended was with Richard LaGravenese (The Fisher King, Behind the Candelabra, The Bridges of Madison County), Michael H. Weber ((500) Days of Summer), and Vanessa Taylor (Hope Springs, Divergent, Game of Thrones). The theme of the panel was Romancing the Screenplay, including a discussion about writing the process of romantic love into a script. Here’s my top four tips from that discussion:

  1. Romance means knowing thyself. What truths have you personally learned that will translate into an on-screen construction (or deconstruction) of two people coming together?
  2. “Normal is just a disguise word – there is no normal.”
  3. A good jumping-off point when you’re stuck is to ask, “What would really happen?” and then take it from there. Veer from that, if necessary. Defy how other films have done it.
  4. Have a strong obstacle.

I then attended a round-table discussion in which I was able to speak with Danny Rubin (Groundhog Day), Jason Headley (It’s Not About the Nail), and Vanessa Taylor. Headley mentioned how Michael Arndt’s (Little Miss. Sunshine, Toy Story 3) work had influenced him, especially with regards to character stakes. It was the first time I had heard mention of philosophical stakes in addition to external stakes (plot) and internal stakes (theme). If external is the pursuit of the tangible goal and internal is the emotional goal, then philosophical refers to the values of the wider community versus the individual. We discuses how these can be reconciled and whether they need to be at all.

The next panel I attended was held with John August (Big Fish, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory), Franklin Leonard the creator of The Blacklist, and Ilyse McKimmie the Feature Film Program Director at Sundance Labs. They went over the first three pages of a few competition scripts and discussed what made them want to read the remaining 90-100 pages. While a lot of good tips were thrown at the audience, my biggest takeaway was the idea of energy. Namely, scripts need to have it. Sounds obvious, right? But even in my own classes back in cozy New England, it astounds me how often my students will write in a scene in which a character sits and thinks or sits and studies or naps or sleeps. Keep us moving! It’s lights, camera, action! Not lights, camera, sit! Film is a visual medium and should be written as such. Three other great thoughts from that panel include:

  1. Good enough is never good enough. Be beyond exceptional.
  2. Activate the passive.
  3. Exude full confidence in your story.

My next panel was with the venerable Tom Schulman. He spoke of working with director Peter Weir and how they encouraged improvisation among the cast of the film. On writing, Schulman encouraged us to “trust your instincts amidst the pressure” and to ask ourselves “what does it mean to rebel?” I think you can expand that even further and ask yourself, “what does it mean to ____?” where the blank represents the theme of your film. In Dead Poets, since it refers to rebelling, how do characters show their resistance to change?

The following panel was about development hell and featured Craig Borten, co-writer of my favorite film of 2013, Dallas Buyers Club. Did you know that from concept to finished film, it took 20 years for Dallas Buyers to be made? Borten’s persistence and patience paid off, but it was a sobering reminder of how difficult it could be to achieve any measure of success. Borten discussed writing characters who were outliers and yet how important it was to show them going about their everyday tasks. Of course, how you and I perform everyday tasks would be quite different from how Dallas Buyers’s Ron Woodroof would do it. Borten also cautioned against excessive sentimentality and discussed how characters are often defined by their fates: how it took a death sentence for Woodroof to really begin to live. “A decent character,” Borten said, “will never run out of plot. Make the mundane interesting.”

The following morning, I attended a panel on comedy writing. The panelists included Steve Faber (We’re the Millers, Wedding Crashers), Phil Rosenthal (Everybody Loves Raymond), and Ed Solomon (Men in Black, Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure). It was a lively, and hysterical, discussion. Notes of note include:

  1. If you’re writing a comedy, line it up like a drama all the same. The stakes still need to be important to the character and the audience. There still must be an element of dramatic truth inherent. What would carry the story if it wasn’t a comedy?
  2. Humor = tragedy + time.
  3. Start with an actual situation and push it into different directions. Then keep pushing.
  4. Jokes come last. Story comes first. If need be, go to the darkest place and then bring it backfrom there.
  5. When it comes to developing your own voice, in what are you the only expert?

The next panel included Tom Schulman, Craig Borten, and Jim Uhls (Fight Club). The panel’s theme was Status Quo and how characters attempt to fit into and/or subvert it. Takeaways:

  1. All films ought to be somehow subversive, embracing the idea of rejecting the status quo. And make the audience agree with a character’s reasons for wanting to upend it. After all, hope for the character in many ways means hope for ourselves.
  2. The character who changes the most is usually the most interesting character.
  3. A character typically starts out with a desire to change things for themselves and ultimately changes things for everyone.
  4. Steps in rebelling against the status quo are your main plot points.
  5. There must be consequences for the rebellion. What is sacrificed?
  6. Characters want to live. How do they define that for themselves?

The following discussion I attended was with Linda Woolverton, the screenwriter behind Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King, Alice in Wonderland, and Maleficient. The panel topic was Heroes, Villains, and Happily Ever After. Ideas from this panel included:

  1. Very often, the captive changes the captor.
  2. What are the constant, direct threats?
  3. Why is every character the way they are?
  4. Sidekicks reflect the tone, but they also must possess their own stakes and agendas.
  5. What’s the element of tragedy around each character?
  6. What is the story’s emotional center? This is why you’re writing the story in the first place.

I then attended a talk entitled “Writing Relatable Space Raccoons” with Nicole Perlman (Guardians of the Galaxy). She mentioned how important it was to write down as many ideas as possible, to pay attention to how characters grow together, and ultimately how vulnerability leads to compassion for not only heroes but also for villains.

My final panel was with Mary Coleman, senior development executive at Pixar. It was a hands-on panel, by which I mean that the attendees actually moved about to define signature gestures for ourselves as well as for our characters. A signature gesture is an integrated element, a repeated action a character performs that helps to define a core characteristic. Examples include “Cross your heart!” in Up and WALL-E’s desire to hold EVE’s hand in WALL-E. Signature gestures reinforce that films are visual, and that it’s important to write for the eye rather than the ear. This was an enjoyable workshop, and it was nice to stand up and perform after so many seated discussions.

Overall, I was extremely impressed with the Austin Film Festival. If the hard part is choosing a panel out of so many awesome ones, then they must be doing something right. Quite often, some panelists would appear at the hotel bar, available to talk to any attendees. Even better, everyone in attendance was united by the desire to tell the best damn stories we possibly could. I met some terrific fellow writers and I look forward to keeping up with their endeavors as well as hopefully working with them on future projects.

My action drama sci-fi script, Seize the Sky, was a second-round selection in the screenplay competition. I had heard a terrific podcast on The Handsome Timmy D Express with screenwriter (and Austin alum) Mike Sundy. He had great advice for Austin attendees, but what stuck with me the most was his emphasis on horizontal networking, as opposed to vertical networking. This is the idea that you’ll gain more creative and professional traction from connecting with people at the same professional level at which you are (i.e., other filmmakers with official selections, other second-rounders, other semi-finalists) than with people at professional levels above you (i.e., the writer of Groundhog Day, the writer of Guardians of the Galaxy). I took this to heart while attending the festival, and it was the right way to go.

While at Austin, I came up with an idea for a feature script as well as a pilot. It goes to show, I suppose, that in spending time with the inspirational, you can’t help but take a little inspiration for yourself. If the lessons of the AFF are to write, collaborate, and cheer each other on, then I aspire to continue. And in true Austin Film Festival spirit, let me know if I could be of any help on your projects!


Jared M. Gordon has multiple production credits and teaches screenwriting and film production at Emerson College and Salem State University. He provides script coverage at

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RIDM ’14: The Use and Abuse of Poetry in Documentary Film Sat, 22 Nov 2014 03:14:41 +0000 Gusts of bitingly cold wind eat away at the inch of precocious snow on the ground, offering a fittingly bracing backdrop to the Rencontre Internationales de Documentaire de Montréal (RIDM). Now in it’s 17th year, the festival offers a late-in-the-season “best-of” selection of international and Canadian films that favors essays, cross-genre films and other non-traditional... Read more »

The post RIDM ’14: The Use and Abuse of Poetry in Documentary Film appeared first on Independent Magazine.

Gusts of bitingly cold wind eat away at the inch of precocious snow on the ground, offering a fittingly bracing backdrop to the Rencontre Internationales de Documentaire de Montréal (RIDM). Now in it’s 17th year, the festival offers a late-in-the-season “best-of” selection of international and Canadian films that favors essays, cross-genre films and other non-traditional documentary forms. With 71 occurrences of the word ‘poetic’ throughout the festival literature, staff writer Patrick Pearce invited three filmmakers from the festival to get together around a glass of wine to discuss their work and the idea of poetry in film.

To better follow the procedings, a few summaries and trailers are in order:

Nights, by Québec filmmaker and documentary history professor Diane Poitras, roams the streets and buildings of Montreal after dark, collecting snapshots, accounts and confessions of the city’s inhabitants and night shift N - MADNESS OF REASONworkers. Watch the trailer here

N – The Madness of Reason by Belgian filmmaker Peter Krüger might be described as an experimental biopic essay about 20th century French encyclopaedist, film exhibitor, musician and African adventurerer Raymond Borremans. With this character out to complete his encyclopeadic mission from beyond his tomb, this film draws a shrewd portrait of current day West Africa, it’s culture and spirituality. See the trailer here.

Dream Homes Property Consultants by Amsterdam-based filmmaker Alexandra Handal, is presented as a website for a high-end real-estate agency selling premium Arab properties to the Isreali market. Upon further perusal, viewers discover the homes are in fact Palestinian houses in West Jerusalem that were expropriated in 1948. Through the stories of displaced Palestians, this web documentary-in-disguise shares moving stories of uprooting and loss. Short films can be viewed on the site, and a trailer can also be found here.

Patrick Pearce: “Poetic abuse.” By this, I mean words like ‘poetic’, “poetry’, “lyrical’, ‘dreamlike’, etc. used abusedly in the context of documentary films.

Diane Poitras: I never use the word ‘poetic’ for my film, because often when people say, “I want to make poetry,” it’s a way of saying that if you don’t like it, it’s because you don’t understand my poetry. Sometimes it’s an excuse for not being rigorous, and my answer to that is poetry should be very rigorous.

Peter Krüger: I completely agree about the problem with the word ‘poetic’. It’s the same problem with the term ‘beautiful’. So we wouldn’t read any more that a film is ‘beautiful’, but it’s the same issue actually. If somebody says, “Your film is very beautifully shot,” then I think, “Oh, I have a problem,” because I have never wanted to make beautiful shots. The shots have a meaning and it’s not about beauty.  It’s the same thing with poetic. In this words, there is no structure, no tension. If it’s abusive, that I don’t know but it’s maybe it comes out of an inability to defining the film in another way. You have to label it somehow.

PP: It’s kind of a short cut.

Alexandra Handal: Well I find it very unfortunate that words like poetry, at least the context of documentary, are used so loosely, because they lose their meaning. When you think of documentary, words such as truth and facts and history come to mind. And when you think of poetry, it’s the things we can’t explain, the things that we cannot put our hands on, and that’s very exciting to speak about that with documentary, because documentary wants to be something that’s certain but it’s not.

PP: “Gathering and classifying”


Diane Poitras

Poitras: I had a few pillars on which I could stand on but between that, I was just gathering. For instance, there is a street in Montreal that I know very well because I lived there for 10 years and I knew there were a lot of things happening in that street at night. It’s a little street, not commercial. And every night, at different times of the night, I would say, “Let’s go back to that street,” and people would say, “Oh no, not again.” The director of photography would be against it “because there’s nothing”. I would say, “Wait, there’s actually a lot of things going on.”  This is where we got these women who are smoking, the man who’s doing his laundry, and the dog. And these were the type of things that I wanted to catch in the film. Actually, when I talk about my film, I say it’s a journey, exploring different landscapes and states, nocturnal states. This is what I was trying to do; gather the material what would help me to create that afterwards.

PP: And in your case, Alexandra, you were gathering, I felt, a kind of evidence, perhaps archival evidence.

Handal: Yes. It’s a bit like picking up remnants and it’s like an archaeological site. I was piecing together, so that’s why the narration took on many different forms. For example, when I say the directions of how to get to a home, I use landmarks. Palestinians, when they’re describing how to get from one place to another, often describe the place by describing who the neighbour is or what shop is next.

PP: The street where a girl often rides her bicycle, for example…

Handal: Yes. So you read the directions of how to get to a home in the present, it’s only later when you view the films that you actually realize that everything you’ve read – all the people, places – basically none of that exists anymore. These people are now refugees and are unable to get to their home. So ‘archive’ is not about that place far away in history; it’s the present. Memory is always about being in many states at the same time. It’s how you understand your present.

PP: By taking elements of the past and recontextualizing them in the present, you’re giving them, of course, irony…

Handal: Yes, exactly. That’s what I wanted.

NUITS 4 (1)PP: Peter, your film is all about classification, but I’m particularly interested in the classification of what is currently going on in West Africa and the conflicts, because your film, despite its fictional qualities, does have a traditional documentary grounding.

Krüger: Yeah, absolutely. One of the reasons why I wanted to make the film has to do with the fact that classification is innocent when it’s just for an encyclopedia. But when you start defining people, i.e.: this person comes from Mali and that person comes from Burkina Faso, it’s the same process of classification. We give them a name; we give them a location; we give them identity cards. It’s also an act of violence in a certain way. In the Ivory Coast, this process of identification led to civil war. Similar to what happened with Jews in the Second World War; it’s something which comes back once in a while in history.

At one point our main character doesn’t know if he really exists or not, is he dreaming or not dreaming. Then in the middle of the film, he realizes that he’s dead. There’s no question about it. He has seen his grave. He died and now he’s a spirit in the world of the living… he doesn’t know why yet and at a certain moment, he has to find a new destiny.

In his perspective he thinks, “Well, I have to continue my work because it’s not finished. So I have to continue to define the world.” And the world he sees today, it’s another world. It’s a world with UN, with rebels and so forth. So I decided, if this spirit has a life beyond that, then it has to continue to define things he has never seen before. So he defines he sees rebels and he says, “R, Rebel” He discovers the UN and he says, “Ah, U-N”. But, of course, these are elements which are not in his encyclopedia, because he never experienced them in his lifetime, but which will be contained in future versions because an encyclopedia goes on and on forever. So this spirit will never have any rest because it has to continue to define.

PP: “Puzzle-solving”


Peter Kruger

Krüger: We had a very clear structure in terms of story. However, I also shot a lot in a very intuitive way. For instance, going to a cut and then other scenes starting, coming from black, going somewhere else. Panning up to the sky, and the next scene starting from the sky panning down, which means in the editing I had a lot of possibilities in going from one scene to another scene but in a very associative way. Of course, it gives an enormous liberty in the editing. It also means that you can create meanings you didn’t expect in the beginning.

Poitras: Well, in my case, actually when I started the editing, I didn’t know exactly what would be the structure. I had this idea of many experiences of the night. There is not just one night; there’s yours and mine, and each of them are different. We saw associations of feelings, association of situations that would help the editing. But i didn’t want the film to rely on characters, so there would be huge spaces for the audience to to project their own experience in the film. So that’s why you go into a room, you see something, you go out. You don’t stay with these people. You see some people sleeping with a baby, but these are just little experience that may trigger memories of people in the audience, that’s what I wanted to do. I need some place to be obscure, not understandable to everybody, not open to everybody. And, for me, night is another form of that.

PP: Which ties into the quote at the end about dark energy…

Poitras: Yes. That makes the three-quarters of the universe…

Handal:Yes. You said four percent of the…

Poitras: Of the universe is made of dark energy and from which we don’t know anything…about which we don’t know anything. I thought that it’s important to bring back these ideas, that we don’t have to control everything, to know everything.


Alexandra Handal

Krüger: As long as the viewers is taken somewhere to a certain place and he wants to watch further, that’s enough basically. It’s very refreshing to know that there is a meaning which we didn’t know of before, and that neither the editor nor me, we exactly know what we are doing. We know that there is a meaning, because we feel it works, the material say it works. If we don’t, we cannot actually express it or define it in words why or what is. That’s very good because that means that we have created something; it was not predicted or foresee before or something. And that, for me, is the essence of creativity.

Handal I’m quite interested in the idea of a moment containing the traces of other moments so that way you can create the threads. In the beginning when you’re perhaps watching something you’re not aware of but at a later moment, it starts to have new meaning. So, for me, it just stayed really when you mentioned ‘train’ earlier. I said to myself, “Wow.” It’s amazing, the image of a train because train has this idea of freedom and the ability to go places and this was actually…the sound was actually of a place that walking into a barrier [a border fence]. And so, you actually can’t move.  How do you bring it back to the human stories – the stories of loss or pain – things that everyone can relate to in a way. For me, looking for that language, the visual language, the tensions, those small moments, this was, for me, the whole work.

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Filmmakers and their Global Lens: Hal Hartley Wed, 19 Nov 2014 16:00:27 +0000 In the second edition of our new series, Filmmakers and their Global Lens,  The Independent’s special contributor Dana Knight speaks with the filmmaker behind the films Henry Fool and Fay Grim. Dana initially spoke with Hal Hartley, about his latest work, Ned Rifle at the Toronto International Film Festival 2014. Dana Knight (DK): You’re known for very serious... Read more »

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In the second edition of our new series, Filmmakers and their Global Lens,  The Independent’s special contributor Dana Knight speaks with the filmmaker behind the films Henry Fool and Fay Grim. Dana initially spoke with Hal Hartley, about his latest work, Ned Rifle at the Toronto International Film Festival 2014.

Dana Knight (DK): You’re known for very serious and deeply philosophical works but what’s striking is the intrusion of a certain kind of irony and parodic elements that subvert the seriousness of your films. I would call that a post-modern sensibility, would you agree to that?

Hal Hartley: Probably, yes. I think of it as funny, it’s funny to contrast seriousness with fairly simple comedy.

DK: How did you develop this style of filmmaking that is so unique and was there from your very first film?

Hartley I think it was in my very first film, yes. I think it comes from listening to my family as a child, my aunts and uncles and mum and dad, there is an oral story-telling and singing culture, they’re Irish and English people who came here from Canada. They’d sit around the table drinking and saying funny things, telling stories to each other and there was an irony in there. By the time I got to film school and I actually started writing, my teachers pointed that out, they said “you have a particularly sad and optimistic voice”.

DK: Sad and optimistic at the same time, this is a paradoxical statement…

Hartley I guess so. But they told me to run with that. I like contradiction.

DK: Regarding your very unique cinematic language, how do you make all the aesthetic decisions that go into a film like Ned Rifle and basically all your films?I’m talking about colour, framing…

Hartley That’s how I started making films. In fact the school I went to didn’t require that we choose a major. We were filmmakers, so we had to learn how to record sound, how to work the camera, how to learn about exposure. We had a lot of writing, we had to edit our own films, we were encouraged to think of filmmaking as an art, plain and simple. As a craft as well because all art entails craft but not all craft is art. They were interested in helping us find jobs too, I guess […] And I always had this idea, that everything should come together. It makes me angry almost when I’m watching films and I see something hanging, that’s an aesthetic gesture that doesn’t have anything to do with anything else. I’m always looking on different levels for how everything coheres.

DK: So you don’t like loose narratives.

Hartley Usually not. But it’s not always about narrativity. I gravitate towards fiction because I see fiction as a very specific thing. And my examples for that came mostly from novels, I’m much more dependent on novels than movies or theatre for that. It always shocked me in the 80s when I was very enthusiastic about what Godard was doing in the 60s and all through the 80s and someone would say: “But that’s kind of non-narrative and loosely-structured”. And I’d go: “No way, this is the most tight art”. He was amazingly good, whether he had tiny bits of money or a lot of money. So everything has to come together, and in his films it does, with the framing and the sound he’s using […]. I don’t know where this comes from except this self-education aesthetically, growing up listening to certain rock music and classical  music, and looking at paintings and reading a lot, and being able to put your finger on the thing that’s not woven in well, that’s just there for a happy ending. I remember early on in my career, I hated all these films that were almost perfect until the last ten minutes, when there was this totally ridiculous ending put on because God forbid there be a sad ending.

DK: Or a less than totally surprising ending!

Hartley Right. Or no explosions!

DK: On the same note, keeping in mind that the tightly-plotted narrative is considered to be a Hollywood trademark, I was wondering if plot is only a pretext for you, like for many other independent filmmakers…

Hartley No, it’s not a pretext, like I said everything has to work together, dialogue, color, framing, sound, editing, pace. But I think I’m representative of a certain type of American filmmaker of my generation, who’s equally influenced by classical Hollywood films of the 30s and 40s as well as the French New Wave.

DK: And you seem to be able to perfectly combine those, which is a delicate balance to achieve…

Hartley: I hope so. That was kind of conscious.

DK: Your dialogues are very dense and there’s a theatricality to them, can you comment on this?

Hartley Sometimes the films can be dense, yes. Fay Grim, The Girl from Monday, these are dense, they are organised to be dense. They are very clear but they insist that you experience them more than once. Because there is a shape there and the better you get to know the shape, the more aesthetic joy you’ll experience.

DK: Can you talk about your writing process?How long does it take to write a script in general, how many rewrites do you do?

Hartley: A lot. It’s been many years since I’ve just sat down and worked on one script for a whole draft. I do a lot, I’m a multi-tasker, I run my company myself, I have many projects going at any one time.

DK: How do you keep organised?

Hartley: Yeah I know!It’s tough and it’s going to be tougher. Well, I guess I am organised, somewhere along the line I acquired the skills to organise myself and put things in boxes like: Tuesday, that’s it, I’m writing on Tuesday. And Wednesday and Thursday I’m going to take care of business. But sometimes when a piece of writing is getting really hot, it’s really coming together, it might be weeks, months of a few days a week writing and good ideas come and it really starts to smolder. And then I have to turn everything off, I just work for two, three days straight. And hope that I have something. And then I always let it sit aside for a while. Ned Rifle was like that, I let it sit for about six months. And then came back to it and it improved a lot.

ned rifleDK: I really liked the line of dialogue in Ned Rifle when a character says that for an artist “being unpopular is a necessity”.

Hartley: I love that conversation. And what I also love about that conversation is the mutual respect that we managed to articulate. Which is important to me in the writing stage. And what I mean by that is that he ddoesn’ttake offence in that remark.

DK: I imagined this character to be a porte-parole for your own vision of the independent filmmaker.

Hartley: A little. I’m not in a position to be willfully unpopular, I can’t make films unless people want to see them. But that’s a zone that artists get into, that a lot of people don’t appreciate.

DK: You’re very well-known to an art crowd audience. Your films are probably too deep, too dense and too philosophical for the mainstream.

Hartley: Yeah. And I’ve never intended to go to the mainstream. Sometimes I kind of came close by accident, but that was never really my intention.

DK: I’m very curious about your work with the actors, they return to your films all the time.

Hartley: Actors [who] have a good time working with me…And I think this group really do, because they’ve been working with me for a long time. They know that it’s about the rhythm of the dialogue and the rhythm of the physical activity, they have to inform each other, they have to rhyme. And that has to be found pretty much when you’re on set. A lot of skill goes into leading them in the right direction. I don’t always have a specific idea but sometimes I do. And Parker is the perfect example of the kind of actor who gets that. She can turn the rhythm of the dialogue into physical activity and vice-versa the way I like. In this case it worked out perfectly because for Aubrey and Liam, who are younger and haven’t worked with me as much, it was all new to them. So it took them a little bit to adjust and learn how to get into that but they did.

DK: So did Aubrey and Liam simply pick up this kind of theatrical, stylized way of acting on the set?

Hartley: I don’t think of it as theatrical. It’s technique and it’s movement and you have to remember the frame. They had to get comfortable with me giving them physical activity that doesn’t make logical sense for their character. That’s the real leap, once they can do that, then their own creativity is brought forth.

Ned Rifle was shown recently at TIFF 2014. In the next interview for the Filmmakers with a Global Lens Series Dana Knight speaks to the creators of E-Team, Ross Kauffman & Katy Chevigny.


The post Filmmakers and their Global Lens: Hal Hartley appeared first on Independent Magazine.

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Filmmakers and their Global Lens: Eugene Green Tue, 18 Nov 2014 16:20:45 +0000 In this first edition of our new series, Filmmakers and their Global Lens,  The Independent’s special contributor Dana Knight interviews the industries emerging and established filmmakers about their work, recent projects and their place in a global setting.  Dana initially spoke with Eugene Green, about his latest work, at the Toronto International Film Festival 2014. Dana Knight... Read more »

The post Filmmakers and their Global Lens: Eugene Green appeared first on Independent Magazine.

In this first edition of our new series, Filmmakers and their Global Lens,  The Independent’s special contributor Dana Knight interviews the industries emerging and established filmmakers about their work, recent projects and their place in a global setting.  Dana initially spoke with Eugene Green, about his latest work, at the Toronto International Film Festival 2014.

Dana Knight (DK): I found your film exquisite from so many points of view, a real masterpiece. I would like to ask you first about the title of the film, La Sapienza, this must be a special word for you since your theatre company that you set up in the 1970s was called the same.

eugene green

Writer & Director, Eugene Green

Eugene Green: Yes and actually even the theatre company was in honour of Borromini because his greatest church and most beautiful work is Saint Yves at La Sapienza Palace in Rome. I was already fascinated by Borromini at that time, that’s why I gave that name to the theatre company. The word itself has a lot of meaning for me but it’s not used anymore in French. Sometimes people translate it as wisdom or knowledge but I think it’s neither wisdom or knowledge, it’s the knowledge that leads to wisdom. So it’s important in the modern world to think about that because a lot of people accumulate knowledge but it just becomes a good that they sell or a means of power. Whereas the only use for knowledge is knowledge that creates an interior opening, an interior renewal. So “la sapience” is something that is very important.

DK: Tell me about the writing of the script, how long did it take and how did it all come together?

GREEN: Actually, I had the idea of doing a film about Borromini as far back as the 1970s when I was studying art and I wanted to do film. But it was more like a dream, I did not know how to do it. At the time I imagined something like a biography, something historical, and using his architecture to capture his presence today. Finally I was able to make films very late in life and even if I’m very interested in the Baroque period, I can’t imagine making a historical film, trying to reconstitute another period. For me the essence of cinema is to try to capture elements of reality and then to use them to make visible what is hidden in reality.So the idea of making a biographical film didn’t interest me at all. But I kept the idea in my head and then I went several times to Locarno Film Festival with my films. And it’s very difficult to get there from Paris, you have to take a plane to Milano and then you drive to Locarno and you pass by Bissone which was the native village of Borromini. And it was very shocking when I first saw it because it’s completely surrounded by a highway and then there’s a crossway on the lake of Locarno that cuts it in half, which is like the worst intrusion in modern urbanism in a very beautiful natural setting. So that’s probably what sparked it all. In 2007 when I was in Locarno I first had the idea of this architect who is fascinated by Borromini. I write very quickly, especially a script. Once the idea came, I wrote the script in a few months. But it took a very long time for it to be produced because I wrote the script in 2007 and we only shot in 2013, now we’re in 2014 and the film will come out in France before the beginning of the next year.

DK: Whom do you admire and who are your influences in the film world?I know that Jean-Luc Godard took a great interest in your first film…

GREEN: Yes, it was very nice of him to say nice things about my first film, Toutes Les Nuits, because it was very difficult to make and that helped things because he said it in Cannes and immediately it had international repercussions. In any case I don’t belong to any group. There are a certain number of cineastes, very important to me, that had an influence on my work. And in the current cinema, I think the most important filmmaker in France is Bruno Dumont, in Portugal Miguel Gomes whom I like very much, in Asia also there are very interesting directors. But I’m more or less isolated, I don’t belong to any group or school.

DK: Your conception of cinema seems to be truly unique, that’s what makes the film such a great discovery. Could you elaborate more on that, you wrote a book on this topic. How do you see cinema?

GREEN: That’s a very big question!

DK: Let’s say cinema in comparison to theatre. You did theatre for so long and recently you felt the need to do cinema.

GREEN: Yes that’s true. For me cinema and theatre are absolutely opposed […]. In order to be true, theatre must be forced and the problem with current theatre is that they try to do cinema on a stage and it doesn’t work. That’s why when I was doing theatre, I did a lot of research in artistic applications of Baroque theatre, which I tried to do in the same way that musicians interpret Baroque music. That is, to come as close as possible to the way it was done when it was contemporary theatre, to find the same energy that it had. In Baroque theatre, everything is done through conventions and everything is artificial. It’s by being artificial that things become real, you can attain a certain reality of inner truths. But cinema is the only art, besides perhaps photography, that has* movement and time in it but the unique quality of cinema is to take its raw material from reality so every frame in a film is a fragment of reality which has been captured in a certain way, within a certain frame, with a certain disposition. And then the frames are put together and when the film really works it enables the spectator to see in these fragments of reality what is hidden, what he wouldn’t have seen if he had seen them in their natural context. That’s basically my conception of cinema. There are of course many things to develop, I wrote two books about cinema, it’s a rather big subject.

DK: Some film critics compared your film to Rossellini’s Voyage in Italy. Is this a film you had in mind when writing La Sapienza?

EG:  I had no idea at all about Voyage in Italy. When I wrote the script, this was a Rossellini film which I only saw once and which I didn’t like at all. I saw it several times since and my judgement became more nuanced. What I liked in the film was the documentary aspect, Rossellini was great as a documentarian, all the real aspects of Southern Italy, of Naples are very well-filmed and have a great charge. What for me is less successful is the dramatic part with the two actors, with Ingrid Bergman who plays an English lady with a Swedish accent. Those two characters are not very interesting and I have no sympathy for them. The last few times I saw it, the scenes where she goes to the underground cemetery and the procession, those scenes are so strong that it gives something to the dramatic story, the last few frames are moving. But it’s not a film that I admire particularly. Even among Rossellini’s films, there are others that I admire much more.

DK: How do you work with the actors?

la sapienzaGREEN:  First of all I choose them, that’s very important. I choose them for their interiority and a certain “sympathy” in the etymological sense, when I feel a deeper understanding in them. Then I simply have them read the script, we do that once or twice together, and if they start putting psychological intonations on the text I ask them to remove it. And that’s about all, actually.

DK: And why do you ask them to strip their speech of any psychological intonations?

GREEN: Because what interests me is the real interiority. And psychological interpretations are always intellectual, the actor is always thinking about what he should be doing to express a certain emotion so it cuts off the natural flow of energy. And also all the intonations that they put on, people have got used to them, they think that they are natural but they are not natural. They come from theatre actually.

DK: At first glance it seems like a very stylized way of acting, almost like a de-naturalization of acting, but when you look closer it brings out certain elements that you wouldn’t notice otherwise and it also draws attention to language, which has great importance for you.

GREEN: Yes. And the goal of the language in the film is not the same as in theatre where language lives by itself. The goal of the language in film is to bring out emotions in the person who’s saying the sentences. It’s not like in Baroque theatre where nothing is natural, everything is codified. What I ask actors to do is to speak with natural intonations but to speak as if they were speaking to themselves. When you speak to yourself you make no rhetorical effects. So it’s really even. But the intonations are really the natural intonations, like when you speak naturally. For instance, when there is a comma you make a descending cadence on the syllable and when there’s a full stop you make a big descending cadence. And that’s what they do, except they are speaking in a very even way.

DK: There is a lot of humour in your film, a very deadpan, dry and very surprising humour, much closer to English humour than French humour, wouldn’t you say?

GREEN: Perhaps, I don’t ask myself the question, humour comes naturally to me, even in tragic or dramatic situations. But I don’t like humour that is like a hammer blow telling you that you have to laugh.

DK: Your humour is very subtle.

GREEN: Yes it’s very subtle. I like it that most often it just makes you smile, not laugh.

DK: And the dialogue sometimes veers off in very unexpected directions. For example, the comment about “L’academie Francaise”, that came completely out of the blue.

GREEN: Yes, that sort of humour comes naturally. But there’s often a sense of irony that’s very French but generally maybe it is closer to English humour, I don’t know. But in any case, when my films were shown in England, they were appreciated by the British public.

DK: You’re very attracted to satire as well.

GREEN: Yes. My deepest concerns are very serious things, especially spiritual things. But since I live in the world and a lot of things are wrong with the world, rather than moralising, (I hate works and art films that moralise) I try to show the absurdity of certain things through satire.

DK: Visually the film is striking, how did you come up with such a unique aesthetic and the innovative take on the shot-counter shot?

GREEN: It’s something that came naturally in my first film Toutes les nuits. It’s because a lot of high points in my films are around dialogue. And when I speak to a person I like to be facing the person because a great part of the expression comes through the gaze, the eyes, the facial expression. So I think it’s very important that the spectator receives that also in the dialogues. In the editing, every time […] there’s a change of speaker, there’s a change of shot, so it’s shots and counter-shots. Every time that the dialogue is very intense, I want the spectator to get all the energy that the person who’s in front of the person who’s speaking receives. So I put the camera between the two people and it becomes what in French is called “regard camera”, the actor looks directly into the objective, but it’s not really a look into the objective or a look at the spectator, it’s natural actually, they are looking at each other.

DK: You have a predilection for symmetry when composing the image and symmetry is an artistic gesture that belongs to classicism. Does that come from a contradictory love for both baroque and classicism in your work?Because they are almost opposites in their aesthetics, one is a reaction to the other.

GREEN: That’s a thing that I wrote a lot about. Classicism doesn’t exist except in the 18th century. But in French baroque there’s a lot of symmetry and even in the Italian baroque. And I think that you should choose frankly when composing a frame, and look either for consonance or dissonance. There are some frames where I look for dissonance but it’s more rare, it’s usually when there’s a negative character or it’s very dramatic. But otherwise, if there’s a certain peace, I look for consonance and the easiest way to create that is to look for symmetry.

DK: Symmetry is pleasing to the eye and in this case it enhances the story, it brings out the meaning of the story. And on this note, what is the meaning of the story for you?Is love the larger theme that brings together all others?

GREEN: Well, there’s several themes, it’s very complex. Yes of course it’s about love but there’s also the idea of sacrifice, it’s about the meaning of art in civilisation. For me art is not something superficial. For our politicians, culture and art are on the periphery of life, very negligible things. But on the contrary, I think art is central. And in a certain way, a real artist makes the sacrifice of his life, he becomes the sacrificial victim in all religious traditions. And the sacrificial victim always takes on himself the faults of the community, so he’s impure, but at the same time he becomes saint. And I think Borromini is an example, he consecrated his whole life to his art. You can make a parallel with the Eucharist and the Mass in the Christian tradition, it’s God himself who became the sacrificial victim and that ended the bloody sacrifices of animals or human sacrifices and it just became a peaceful sacrifice. And Borromini is almost a Christ-like figure, his art enables the characters in the film to have a personal spiritual experience which enables them to love and become positive members of society.

La Sapienza was shown at TIFF 2014. In the next interview for the Filmmakers with a Global Lens Series Dana Knight sits down with Hal Hartley.


The post Filmmakers and their Global Lens: Eugene Green appeared first on Independent Magazine.

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