Toronto International Film Festival – part II

ACQUA (2011)

Written & Directed by Raha Shirazi

Country: Canada / Italy

Language: No dialogue

Raha Shirazi’s ACQUA was part of the Short Cuts Programme dedicated to screening Canadian films.  Shirazi is no stranger to the Toronto International Film Festival, having brought her film Four Walls to the fest in 2007.   Beginning with a woman (Shirazi) walking, we see that she passes through what seems to be a variety of climates.  She wears simple clothes, and it’s obviously modern day, but where is she going?  Eventually she comes to a river and wades in with a large glass bottle.  It’s raining as she goes further and further into the river, finally stopping when the water is almost to her waist.  The color palette is very effective, with muted, cool tones.  Her character dunks the bottle into the water and lets it fill up, then repeats her trek to the river in reverse.  Only in the final few seconds of the film are we shown why she did it.  Her mother has died and she must return to her home with water to wash the body.  When she enters her home, the color palette changes to warm, golden tones.  Her face and her mother’s body are illuminated by the flames flickering in the fireplace as Shirazi’s character soaks her scarf in the water and rubs her mother’s arms, hands….  A poignant moment.

In the Q&A following the shorts program, Shirazi revealed that in her own cultural tradition (Iranian) this is something that is done when people die — they wash down the bodies before burial.  And, she added, it’s also something that she did when her own mother died a few years ago.  I found this incredibly touching as well as courageous of her to put herself into a character experiencing the same thing she had to face a few years prior.  It is a beautifully shot film which takes its time and allows the audience to explore its meaning.

UNION SQUARE (2011)

Directed by Nancy Savoca

Screenplay by Nancy Savoca & Mary Tobler

Country: USA

Language: English

I’ll be honest and say firstly that Nancy Savoca’s work is one reason why I’m a filmmaker.  It’s one reason why I write, it’s one reason why I love movies, it’s one reason why film is my passion.  My appreciation of Savoca all started with her 1993 film Household Saints, a perennial favorite of mine for myriad reasons.  So, I was ecstatic to be able to snag a ticket to the screening of her newest film, UNION SQUARE, which she co-wrote with Mary Tobler.    This was a very challenging film for me for a few reasons:  the characters were so well developed that they seemed like real people (complete with painful flaws & haunted pasts), it was claustrophobic (taking place almost exclusively in one place, a New York City apartment), and it was shot in various places throughout as an almost docu-style drama.

The story revolves around two estranged sisters, both of whom are trying to escape their personal pain.  One of them is played by Mira Sorvino, whose character embraces her “Bronx-ness,” has an affair with a married man (she’s married, too), which we find out through overheard phone conversations and some dialogue, and who drinks and wears loud clothing to call attention to her “assets.”  The other sister is played by Tammy Blanchard whose character is very much on the straight and narrow, but she has lied to her fiance about her past (he thinks she’s from Maine) and has hidden her personal history of drug abuse and a mentally ill mother.  When Sorvino’s character “Lucy” hits the city and drops by (after three years of the sisters not speaking or seeing each other), an emotional bomb is dropped on “Jenny” (Blanchard).

Despite the excellent performances, the naturalistic acting, the incredibly effective direction, this film put me on edge more than any I’ve seen since Jim Sheridan’s 2009 film Brothers.   I could feel my heart start to beat faster and my blood pressure rise as I watched.  It was stressful.  It was real.  It felt like some of the worst, most emotionally wrenching moments of my life.  I left feeling confused, emotionally exhausted and with the realization that as together as I think my life is, none of us is really that far away from the emotional trauma explored in UNION SQUARE.  But that’s exactly what makes this film so good.  It’s a film that you can ruminate on and endlessly explore.  This isn’t something I realized in the theatre, or the day after, or the week after, but I finally got to it.

The Q&A following the screening included director/co-writer Nancy Savoca, co-writer Mary Tobler, producers Neda Armian and Richard Guay, and supporting actor Mike Doyle.  Savoca revealed that all of her first choices for actors said “yes,” including the legendary Patti Lupone (mother to “Jenny” and “Lucy”) and Michael Rispoli (“Nick,” husband to “Lucy,” who also starred in Savoca’s Household Saints).  It was filmed in Richard Guay’s (Savoca’s life & business partner) apartment in New York City.  From what I heard, it seemed almost like a charmed production.

THE GOOD SON (2011)

(“Hyvä poika”)

Directed by Zaida Bergroth

Screenplay by Zaida Bergroth & Jan Forrsström

Country: Finland

Language: Finnish

Zaida Bergroth is a genius director.  According to imdb.com, this is her ninth directorial effort and third feature film.  While I’ve not heard of Bergroth before, I took the opportunity I had while attending TIFF to not only see women-directed films, but also to see films by non-North American directors.  Bergroth is Finnish, though that does not have much to do with the story.  THE GOOD SON is about an aging movie star who is a single mother raising two sons, one probably around 18 or 19, the other around 10.   A weekend in the country trying to get away from vile press coverage turns into “Leila” (the mother, played by Elina Knihtilä,) desperately needing attention from a man.  While her oldest son “Ilmari,” (played by newcomer Samuli Niittymäki), serves as her fierce protector, no matter the problems this “new guy,” presents, “Leila,” is often confused and bewildered, switching sides between the weekend fling and her own son on whom she depends for her safety and constant affirmation.

Events escalate and turn violent between the two men after “Ilmari’s” girlfriend tells him a lie about “Leila’s” man attacking her.   While the man himself is guilty for a few rash decisions to become physical against “Ilmari,” the situation becomes even more violent when “Ilmari” tries to not only protect his mother, but himself and their life together as a mother and two sons.  The man accuses “Ilmari,” of living in a sick situation (implying that there is some type of serious co-dependence, or worse, attraction between him and his own mother).  This enrages “Ilmari,” who nearly beats the man to death as his mother sleeps upstairs.  When she awakes, she realizes the horror of what her son has done and secretly helps the man to alert the neighbors.  Talking to her son, we can see she is shaken, but on one level has some type of residual allegiance to her son.  However, as her son rests his head on her lap to sleep for awhile, thinking he’s done the right thing by attacking the man, “Leila” waits for the police to arrive, knowing that she must finally let her son go.

I had no idea what to expect from this film.  I’ve never seen a Finnish film and did not know if there were typical conventions present in the film — perhaps I’ll have to see more Finnish films to understand the broader cultural context of THE GOOD SON as a work of art.  In the end, it’s a solid film which explores the mother-child relationship, teen angst, responsibility thrust upon children, and ultimately, the freedom to defend oneself against a threat.  Definitely a suspense thriller, Bergroth takes her time to develop the story, so simple on the surface, but so dark and complex as she peels away the layers.

BACK TO STAY (2011)

(“Abrir Puertas y Ventanas”)

Written & Directed by Milagros Mumenthaler

Country: Argentina / Switzerland / Netherlands

Language: Spanish

By the time I saw this film I was not keen to sit through another 90 minutes of virtually no dialogue and a story that develops at a snail’s pace.  Only in the days following the screening am I beginning to process it and understand the characters.  Director Milagros Mumenthaler has won some prestigious awards for this film, and I would love to sit down with some of those film festival juries to understand what they saw and why they feel it’s important.  That’s not to say that I do not see the importance of the film, though, but I would like to hear other people’s thoughts on it.

It’s a quiet film, almost painfully so, about three sisters who live in a house together which was recently also occupied by their grandmother (deceased about a year).  It seems as their relationships are extremely strained, each young woman with quite different personalities.  They seem to live in a type of purgatory where little happens, but they are inextricably tied not just as sisters but also as inhabitants of a house where their grandmother’s ghost seems to always be hovering.  The furniture is dated, the dresser drawers are still full of her clothes, the girls use a vibrating/bouncing bed that must have been such the rage when first purchased.  You feel as if you are living their lives, resigned to a life of boredom and uncertainty, completely blindsided when the youngest girl decides to leave with a boyfriend neither of her sisters knew she had.  What is to happen to them all?  Do they care about each other? Why don’t they show it?  There are scars you can only see in the moments of silence shared between them.

WHERE DO WE GO NOW? (2011)

(“Et maintenant, on va où?”)

Directed by Nadine Labaki

Screenplay by Rodney Al Haddid, Thomas Bidegain (collaboration), Jihad Hojeily, Nadine Labaki

Country: Lebanon / France / Egypt / Italy

Language: Arabic, French

About once a year, I see a film that makes me fall in love with film all over again.  I discover the magic that it provides, the exploration it challenges us with, the joy it can reveal in simple moments.  Nadine Labaki’s WHERE DO WE GO NOW? is just such a film.  I’m in love.  A small village in Lebanon made up of half Muslims, half Christians, that has lived in peace for many years, is suddenly turned on its head when an accident spurs a hatred between the two religious groups.  The village’s women take it upon themselves to counterract the violence and animosity that develops between the men of the village, resulting in a riotous series of schemes to get them to forget about their differences.

I will stop here and not go further as I think everyone should see this film, and it is filled with so many joyous little surprises and twists that to write about it would only spoil it.  But I will say that the rhythm of the film, the music used, the structure of the story, and the direction itself, are so effective that it is easy, if not also dangerous, to lose oneself in the film.  Why dangerous?  The beauty of the film and the inspirational story is tempered with the reality of war and the death of a child.  This film made me laugh over and over again, dream of a better world, had my heart soaring at the beauty of film and the love with which Labaki has treated the story and its inhabitants, but it also made me cry bitterly at the reality that exists on a daily basis.  You will be deeply moved by this film.

I am happy to say as well that Nadine Labaki won the Toronto International Film Festival Cadillac People’s Choice Award for this film, which is the top prize of TIFF, a non-competitive festival (no juries to judge films!)  It deserves it, and her winning this prestigious award is a testament to her craftsmanship and the beauty she has captured on film.

Sony Pictures Classics has just picked up this film for U.S. distribution.  I can’t wait to see it in theatres.

MAMACHAS DEL RING: Interview with filmmaker Betty M Park

BIOGRAPHY

BETTY M PARK is a Korean American filmmaker based in Brooklyn, New York, and makes her debut as a feature film director with Mamachas del Ring. She works as a producer and editor in TV, and her work as an editor includes the documentary The Innocence Project, which screened at the 2003 Hamptons International Film Festival.

Betty was born and raised in New York, and graduated from the University of California, Berkeley, with a double major in English and Philosophy. In addition to making films and TV, she continues to encourage others to resist the urge to punctuate her name.

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Her Film:  You work as a television producer and editor, with Mamachas del Ring being your directorial debut.  How did you draw from your producing and editing experience to inform this film?

Betty M Park: Being in the daily grind of telling stories for TV is definitely a kind of bootcamp for storytelling, and while I can’t point to specific links between that work and Mamachas del Ring, I’m sure it has helped develop my craft.

Photo courtesy of Noah Friedman-Rudovsky

HF:  Inevitably, filmmakers learn something about themselves in the process of making a film.  What have you taken away from your experience making this film and what did you learn from the women whose lives you documented?

BMP: One of the things that struck me the most is how similar Carmen Rosa’s experience as a struggling wrestler is to that of an independent filmmaker, or anyone who has an all-consuming passion for that matter. There are distinct choices we make in terms of prioritizing our personal lives versus our work, and these are the choices that in part define us and make us who we are.

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“The film landscape is constantly evolving, and there will always be an infinite number of ways to approach it.”

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HF:  There is a strong theme of self-empowerment in Mamachas del Ring while also showing the cholitas’ reality of “gendered responsibilities” as you say on your website.  What do you think the legacy of the cholitas will be?  

BMP: My hope is that the cholita wrestling revolution has forever challenged and changed the stereotype of Bolivian indigenous women for both Bolivians and those abroad. I also think that, due to media-interest even outside of this specific documentary, cholita wrestling has provided an entertaining and interesting entry-point into a country and culture relatively unknown to your average person.

Photo courtesy of the filmmaker

HF:  Mamachas has screened around the world in front of culturally diverse audiences from Buenos Aires to Montreal, Austria to Uruguay and many places in between.  Do you notice differences in how audiences interpret the story or their attitudes toward the film’s themes?

 

BMP: While I think each audience comes with a different background of information, I’m not sure I could speak to region-specific reactions. 

Generally speaking, I think what initially attracts people to Mamachas is the opportunity to peer into what appears to be a strange and exotic universe of women wrestling in indigenous clothing, but what they take away is a more personal connection with Carmen Rosa and her struggles. 

HF:  Did you have a film festival strategy and if so, how did you decide on where you wanted it to premiere and screen?

 

BMP: The general rule of thumb for me (and for most people, I think) was to try to premiere at a festival that was well-known enough to provide the opportunity to generate some press and “buzz,” in addition to having a strong market where there would be buyers and industry folks in attendance. The regional premieres that followed were also guided by a similar principle. 

I had always thought that Mamachas would have an audience outside of the US, and so for me international festivals were as important as the domestic ones. It was also extremely important to me to have a strong Latin American premiere, since this is a film about Latin America.

HF:  How have you utilized social media and new/online media for Mamachas?

 

BMP: Facebook and twitter have been invaluable in connecting with both fans of Mamachas, potential fans of Mamachas, and the film community. I reached out to a lot of pro-wrestling fans online, and diva-dirt.com was especially supportive. The site focuses specifically on female wrestling fans, and they were extremely generous in helping to promote the Indiepix DVD and VOD release of Mamachas earlier this summer.


Photo courtesy of the filmmaker

HF:  Can you describe your marketing and distribution plan for this film?

BMP: The marketing and distribution for this film relied heavily on connecting with folks in the film community through festivals and general word of mouth. There were a few identifiable audiences that I tried to reach out to, including fans of wrestling, fans of Latin American film/Latin American audiences, and the more general arthouse film crowd. Of course distribution comes down to having the right platform through which people can access the film, and right now it is available in its most democratic form–DVD and VOD.

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“There are distinct choices we make …that in part define us and make us who we are.”

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HF:  Are there any lessons or skills — technical, financial, creative — that you picked up along your journey making this film that you will apply to future projects?

BMP: One of the most valuable experiences I’ve had in this process is connecting with other filmmakers, many of whom have grappled with similar hurdles in the ups and downs of indie filmmaking, some of whom who have become dear friends. The film landscape is constantly evolving, and there will always be an infinite number of ways to approach it. To have a few trustworthy sounding boards within the community is priceless to me, and will be especially helpful moving forward with future projects.

Photo courtesy of Noah Friedman-Rudovsky

HF:  What’s next on your slate of projects?

BMP: I’m currently working on an animation, and exploring a few documentary ideas.

To connect with Betty M Park and learn more about her work, check out the following:

Toronto International Film Festival – pt. I

From September 12-18, the beautiful town of Toronto graced the soles of my vegan shoes as I attended the Toronto International Film Festival for the first time ever.  It’s something I’ve spent more than 15 years thinking about doing and wanting to do, but for some reason, have never done.  Suffice it to say that Toronto was replete with filmmakers, film lovers, film distributors, film journalists, well, you get the picture.

I went to Toronto with intent, not only for a long-awaited stint as a ticket-wielding Jane Q. Public, but also in my role as author of this blog.  With that intent came the welcomed responsibility to watch as many female-centric and female directed films as possible.  I think I got what I paid for: a unique experience that, as stated in the festival’s mission, changes how people view the world through film.

Here are the films that I had the opportunity to see:

THE LADY (2011)

Directed by Luc Besson

Screenplay by Rebecca Frayn

Country: France / UK

Language: English, Burmese (“Myanmar language”)

This film tells the story and recounts the struggle of the Burmese leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, who has spent the last 20 years fighting to establish a democratic society in Myanmar.  Michelle Yeoh portrays Suu Kyi with a grace, dignity and — according to audience members during the Q&A after the screening who personally know Suu Kyi — an admirable authenticity.  While it has been written off in some reviews as a “kitchen sink drama,” the true story it tells is anything but melodramatic.  If anything, it is a sincere look into the personal struggle and very public circumstances that prevented Suu Kyi from remaining in Oxford, England as the wife of an Oxford professor and mother to two young boys, and instead forced her into taking up the mantle her father once held before his brutal murder in the late 1940’s.  Suu Kyi is Myanmar’s greatest hope — a leader duly elected who has been routinely prohibited by the State from enacting or embracing any social or political mandate established by the Burmese people.

A bit formulaic on one hand (evoking tears and shocked looks from the audience), Besson nevertheless insists that you witness some of the terror and horror that existed (if not still exists) in Myanmar today.  This is what Aung San Suu Kyi witnessed and you understand why she did what she did, and what she is still doing even today, as her country struggles to reach a democratic resolution to its tyrannical history.

Ultimately, while the subject  and true protagonist of the film is Aung San Suu Kyi, the main character is her husband, Michael Aris (played by David Thewlis).  He is the main driver of the action in the story, and is the main player in this film as the person who tries to publicize not only his wife’s story, but the story of the Burmese democratic protesters.  He helps to ensure that Aung San Suu Kyi is considered for (and ultimately is awarded) the Nobel Peace Prize, and deals with family life back in England while she lives under house arrest and frequent threat for many, many years.  Understandably, there needs to be a character who drives the action, and living under house arrest doesn’t lend itself to action, so focusing on Suu Kyi’s husband, Michael, accomplishes that need; however, it also limits the exploration of Suu Kyi’s experiences and ultimate impact.

THE LADY was introduced by screenwriter Rebecca Frayn who passed on words from Aung San Suu Kyi herself, for audiences to exercise their liberties and freedoms as a way to remember the continuing struggle for human rights and democracy in Burma and around the world.  Inspiring…

SWIRL (2011)

(“Girimunho”)

Directed by Clarissa Campolina & Helvecio Marins, Jr.

Screenplay by Felipe Bragança

Country: Brazil / Spain / Germany

Language: Brazilian Portuguese

SWIRL takes a fascinating, meditative look into the lives of several people in small-town Brazil, drawing on the real lives of the non-professional actors who, essentially, play themselves in the film.  The filmmakers revealed in a Q&A following the screening that they spent six years researching the town and the people and about four months filming.  Using a very loose script and simple direction, the film captures the subjects (residents of the town) as they go about their lives, creating an almost docu-narrative hybrid style of film with a camera that is more observant than it is decisive.

The story focuses on an old woman (Bastu) who lives with her granddaughter (Branca) in the small town of São Romão.  Following the characters through their daily lives, we see the woman’s husband die, his spirit come to haunt the workshop, the granddaughter decide to leave town for nursing school, and many bits of wisdom shared mostly with the audience.  Music is keenly interspersed throughout the long, quiet shots — the film has little dialogue — sung by various characters, including the woman’s neighbor, a feisty older lady who also sings during an extensive opening scene at a community dance.

The contemplative style of the filmmakers lends itself to ambitious introspection!  Bastu, at the end of the film, stands in shallow water in the river looking out into the distance.  She shares her philosophy of life, almost as if speaking directly to the audience.  She loves life, despite what might be seen as very difficult circumstances (poverty, widowhood), and looks upon it as a blessing not to be ignored.

HYSTERIA (2011)

Directed by Tanya Wexler

Screenplay by Jonah Lisa Dyer & Stephen Dyer

Country: USA / UK

Language: English

Director Tanya Wexler introduced her film, visibly excited at the prospect of seeing it with another audience.  Having premiered it at the festival the night before along with the film’s lead, Hugh Dancy, and main female character, Maggie Gyllenhaal, she obviously adored her film and audiences’ reactions to it.  Often difficult to do, Wexler executed this period piece (set in Victorian England) with downright audacity.   Colors were brilliant; costumes were, well, Victorian (think whale-bone corsets, three-piece suits and furs); body language was cagey.  Informed by a well structured script and clever writing, Wexler most definitely loved this story and had a hell of a good time making the film!  She pulled off some very awkward scenes with hilarity and had the audience in stitches from the very beginning straight through to the end.

The film tells the story of the invention of the first vibrator, and the main character of Dr. Mortimer Granville (played by Hugh Dancy) serves as a composite of various historical figures simultaneously working on such a device.  The Victorian medical explanation for women’s “hysteria” was basically thus:  a woman experiencing stress would often suffer from a “wandering uterus,” (yes, that’s right), which would literally (according to Victorian medicine) wander throughout the body unless it could somehow become grounded back in its rightful place.  To ground the uterus in women’s bodies, these stressed out gals needed a good ol’ “paroxysm” (read: orgasm, but shhhh, because that’s not what it really was, it was simply a scientific inevitability of stimulation, nothing sexual involved here!)  Once they experienced a paroxysm, they felt less stressed, were able to concentrate better, felt happier, etc.  Well, suffice it to say that the young Dr. Granville’s hand became pretty tired, and, along with a budding romance (the I love you, I couldn’t love you, I don’t know, but I think I love you sort), with Charlotte Dalrymple (played by Maggie Gyllenhaal) — Granville’s boss’s determined, class averse, ambitious activist daughter — he stumbled upon an idea for a vibrator.  The world would never be the same again.  Oh, that, and he realized (after being told by Charlotte) that women’s problems which he diagnosed as “hysteria” were due to them working too hard for too many hours and having a husband who would not make love to them (or not make love to them often enough).

Wexler waited for the credits to roll as various historical and current photos of vibrators appeared along with their often very funny names.  It was inspiring to see how in love with her film she was, and she gladly rattled off some of the best taglines she’s heard: “You’ll come again and again.” “The feel-good movie of the year.” “It has a happy ending.”  A Q&A followed with the screenwriters, Jonah Lisa Dyer and Stephen Dyer, who spoke a bit about the atrocious misogynistic mores and “scientific” understanding of gynecology, a history that hugely helped to inform the film.  It touched upon issues of forced sterilization (the punishment for a woman found guilty of stepping outside of the tightly proscribed behavior of the Victorian era), class consciousness, and female empowerment.  Somewhat predictable in how it turns out, in fact, predictable across many of the beats throughout the film, it nevertheless is a people-pleaser.  All in all, a very good film with a great message and even greater laughs.

According to the director, the film does not yet have a U.S. distributor nor a public relations budget.  In fact, she also stated that it has only one publicist (one who was specifically for the Toronto International Film Festival).  To see this film die on a shelf or be relegated to a special late night showing on Oxygen in three years would be a crime against women.  HYSTERIA helps to lay waste to misogynistic characters and gives voice to an important time during women’s history.

THE RED VIRGIN (2011)

Written & Directed by Sheila Pye

Country: Canada / Spain

Language: Spanish

Distributor: Freak (independent film agency)

– NO TRAILER OR CLIP FOUND – (to submit a link to a trailer or clip, please click here)

This fascinating short was included in the Short Cuts Canada Programme 6, and was inspired by a true story from the early 20th century of a woman in Spain who attempted to mold her daughter into a utopian ideal, a free woman.  Ultimately, her daughter refused to live under her mother’s rule and began to express her own thoughts and desires.  As a result, her mother felt that her creation failed to achieve perfection, and she murdered her own daughter.  Shocking as that is, the film shows the delicate balance between creation and destruction, love and obliteration.

Brilliantly portrayed by famed Spanish actress Maribel Verdú, “Aurora Rodriguez” explains herself directly to the camera, in deliberate fashion and stark terms.  She has an ideal that she wants to achieve.  When she realizes she can’t, then she must destroy what she created.  The film is introduced by “Hildegart,” the daughter (played by Ivana Baquero), who explains how she came to be — an experiment more than anything else.  The visual aesthetic is dreamy, almost like a water-color painting, with muted tones and highly controlled performances.  Certainly a film that is  not easily forgotten, the film’s writer-director, Sheila Pye, is currently developing the story into a feature-length picture that is meant to star Maribel Verdú (according to a Q&A which followed the shorts programme).

LITTLE THEATRES: Homage to the Mineral of Cabbage (2011)

(“Teatrinos: Homenaxe ao mineral do repolo”)

Directed by Stephanie Dudley

Screenplay based on a poem by Erin Mouré

Country: Canada

Language: Galician

This charming film is done completely in stop-motion animation, a medium that the director, Stephanie Dudley, wanted to use to explore something that is normally understood as mundane.  In this case, it’s the cabbage.  And the screenplay is a poem.  Erin Moure’s (a Canadian poet) homage to cabbage is the basis of the screenplay which comes to life as a narration in the Galician language.

It is a fast-paced story with brilliant detail in the animation, with lines of the poem showing up as scrolls which unscroll on the screen.  The tricks of stop-motion animation I do not understand, but the beauty of it (along with the painstaking work and long, long hours of slight movements) is impressive.   Dudley was not only the director but also editor, and played still many other roles in the production of the film.

Wanting to do it all: Interview with director-writer-actress Dawn Green

BIOGRAPHY

Director Dawn Green (Photo courtesy of Dawn Green)

DAWN M. GREEN is the winner of The-N’s 2007 Young Voices Fellowship and the 2011 NYU Alumni Web Series Showcase.  Originally from Newark, New Jersey, she studied Film and Television Production at NYU and currently resides in Los Angeles.  Her projects include “Lila, Long Distance” (2011 LA Web Fest Winner), “Side Kick Girls” (2011 NYU Showcase Winner) and “Increase Our Bust Comedy,” consisting of sketch comedy co-written with Aliza Pearl.

Her Film:  You seem to be a really ambitious artist.  You have three web series and a short film.  Can you talk about your work and what you have on the go at the moment?

Dawn Green:  I studied Film and Television production at NYU and almost immediately developed a strong affinity for TV Writing.  After college I wrote and directed a TV pilot called, “Noho, Pa” which won the 2007 Teen Nick Young Voices Fellowship.  Shortly after, I moved to LA and started creating web series.  “Video Pal” was my first attempt and really helped me to reconnect with my writing and get me acquainted with being in front of the camera.  Later, “Lila, Long Distance” came along and is now a 2011 LA Web Festival winner.  It’s currently distributed on Koldcast.TV and Blip.TV.  My newest web series, “Side Kick Girls” won the 2011 NYU Alumni Web Series Showcase.

Dawn Green directing on set (Photo courtesy of Dawn Green)

In between creating web series I’ve had the opportunity to try my hand at directing short films.  My  film, Did You Look For Work This Week? starring Kelsey Scott and featuring Mary Jo Catlett (Glee, Serial Mom), is currently in post-production.  We’re looking to finish up soon and start submitting to film festivals.

In the meantime, I’ve teamed up with writing partner, Aliza Pearl Kennerly and we’ve formed “Increase Our Bust Comedy,” which will consist of sketch videos, musical parodies and web series to be created under our joint production company Age 13 Productions.  This past summer we co-wrote a pilot for a TV drama called, “Whitehall” and submitted the screenplay into the BET Urbanworld Film Festival being held in New York September 14-18th 2011.  We recently learned that our script is one of five finalists and we’re on our way to New York to participate in the festival festivities.  I really enjoy writing and creating projects and I hope to continue to push myself to be more adventurous and fearless in both writing and acting.

HF:  Is there anything in particular about the web series format that you are drawn to or find more accessible than other formats?

DG: When I first ventured into the web series world I loved it because production cost me virtually nothing. “Video Pal Series” was basically a video blog shared by 4 friends living on opposite sides of the US. It was personal and fun to do and very small scale.  It also gave me instant gratification to see my work- my writing and my acting- online so quickly.  That’s what makes shooting web series such a fun experience for me.  That, as well as, the social aspect of the web series world has become addictive.

Dawn Green & Aliza Pearl Kennerly in "Good Morning Newark" (Photo courtesy of Dawn Green)

Whenever I watch other web series and I leave comments I get responses back from the creators or the writers or actors- and that makes my viewing experience more personal.  It’s what keeps me going back to the web series format.  I’ve met so many new people and made new friends through interactions on our web projects.  I doubt this type of connection would be as simple if I tried to reach out to the writers of “True Blood” or “Community,” which are two of my favorite shows right now.  It’s kind of the one thing that the web series world has over the other formats- the people behind the shows are a little more accessible.

 

“Comedy is vital  to staying sane.”

 

HF:  Monetization is an issue that’s being examined as a way for people using digital distribution to actually make money from it.  Do you have any plans on how to monetize your creative content?

DG: I would love to monetize!  I just haven’t figured out how yet.  The team I worked with on “Lila, Long Distance” made a valiant effort but we didn’t quite get there.  We were lucky enough to be featured on Koldcast.TV and Blip.TV and we realized there was a market for a phone sex comedy web series.  People seemed to take a liking to it.  I think when we return with new episodes in 2012 we’ll have a clearer idea of how to connect with our target audience and really start building a fan base. Then we can think about monetizing strategies.  And we are always open to suggestions!

HF:  What does being a multi-hyphenate (writer-actress-director) mean to you in terms of work-life balance and career progression?

DG: Right now I’m still in that stage where work is all that matters.  I don’t mind shooting 12 hour days on a web series.  In fact, I love it.  It’s just fun for me.  I guess that means there’s really no balance between work and life at the moment.  Work comes first because I have a clear goal in mind.  That goal includes writing, acting and directing so I have a lot of work cut out for me.  There really is only room for the career.  Later on in life, once I’ve reached my goal I’m sure I’ll feel differently and want to balance things out a little more.  But right now I’m pursuing my passions.

HF:  What inspires you as a writer, and do you draw from your own personal experiences for your work?

DG:  I get inspired through my observations of human interaction.  When I first started writing I felt like I had the ‘power’ to decide how people interacted with each other.  I controlled how they treated each other, what they did to each other, what they did for each other and what they said to each other.  It’s fascinating to watch friendships grow, blossom and die in short spurts.  Or watch people fall in and out of love in the blink of an eye.  In real life, you don’t see all the nuances and you don’t appreciate the little things until after the fact. But with writing you can shine a spotlight on the moments you want to emphasize.

I definitely draw from my personal experiences.  “Side Kick Girls” was inspired by and based on my experiences with a close friend and our love/hate relationship.  Every writer I’ve ever talked to has advised me to write what I know.  It would appear, based on the work I’ve created so far, that I know phone sex, dysfunctional friendships and unemployment.  It’s been a challenge getting to a place of complete honesty and vulnerability in my writing but I try to find the humor in even the most awkward or dramatic situations.

Dawn as "Lexi" in "Lila, Long Distance" (Photo courtesy of Dawn Green)

HF:  What do you to build audiences for your work and how do you keep them engaged?

DG:   I’ve tried doing a little bit of everything to build audiences.  Some ideas worked wonderfully, other ideas not so much.  I’m still learning but it gets tricky when it’s small scale and small budget and no big names are attached.  But that’s where we try to keep our stories strong and characters dynamic with the hope that fans will appreciate that and stay loyal to us.  I think with each new project I get a little bit better at this part.  But it’s still a work in progress.  I think the most important thing for me is to interact via Twitter and Facebook and just ask questions, make polls, do giveaways and contests.  The more present me and my cast are in between episodes or sketches, the more interested our audience seems to get.  So we just try to connect with them on some level and make it a personal and enjoyable viewing experience.

 

“I want to create work that  people talk about all the time.”

 

HF:  What does comedy mean to you?  How do your comedy experiences differ depending upon which role you’re playing (as a writer, actress or director)?

DG: Comedy is vital to staying sane.  As someone who continuously finds herself in unimaginably awkward situations, I have to try to find the humor in everything just to get through the day.  I love to laugh- and good comedy is sometimes better than chocolate and peanut butter cookies.  When I’m writing it’s easier for me to do comedy because I can take myself out of the equation and put all my faith in an actor who has great comedic timing and can make a sketch amazing.  I just write the situation and keep it simple- the actors do the rest.

When I’m directing it’s even better because it’s more of a collaborative, improvisational experience for all involved and we usually end up having a lot of fun on set.  When I’m acting, it’s not as easy.  I’m self-conscious and I constantly have to check in with myself that I’m not trying to be funny.  And that’s hard because I want it to be funny and I don’t want to be the person that ruins the funniness.  So I stress out a little bit more when I’m acting which makes the experience less fun.  But that’s something I’m working on improving.

Dawn Green & Aliza Pearl Kennerly in "Side Kick Girls" (Photo courtesy of Dawn Green)

HF:  What goals do you have in terms of work you’d like to do and life you’d like to have?

DG: I still want to write for TV.  That is the main goal.  I’d like to create and write for sitcoms and dramas and occasionally act in them. To have Shonda Rhimes’s and Tina Fey’s careers would really be ideal.  Eventually I would want to write features and have long conversations about time travel with JJ Abrams.    Oh and I would love to be best friends with Damon Wayans Jr., Donald Glover and Maya Rudolph!

In addition to all of that I want to start my own production company.  I guess I still want to do it all.  I want to create work that people talk about all the time.  I just want to become a stronger writer, actor, director- definitely someone that other people enjoy working with.  Along with that, I want to work with my talented friends all the time because it would be (and has been so far) the most fun experiences of my life.  If I could continue to do just that successfully I would be a very happy woman.

To connect with Dawn Green and learn more about her work, check out the following:

personal website

facebook page

“Increase Our Bust Comedy”

Twitter @DawnMelissa

“Lila, Long Distance”

“Side Kick Girls”

No Sleep ’til Fruition: Interview with 18-year old filmmaker MJ Slide

Read MJ Slide’s biography and her first Her Film interview (“Staying True to Yourself”) from September 2010 here.

Her Film: It’s been about a year since your first interview with Her Film when you discussed your film, The Saving, and you took it to the Seattle True Independent Film Festival this June.  Can you talk a bit about your expectations you had for the film and what’s been happening with it?

MJ Slide: The release and reception The Saving has received has far exceeded my expectations. It’s been screened in dozens of the theaters across the US and in the UK. As awesome as getting into festivals is (5 to date for this film) more importantly for myself as a Writer/Director would be the fact that individuals have really connected to the film’s message and passed on the word that this upstart 18-year old filmmaker is serious about making films and making them with quality generally not associated with my age.

Filmmaker MJ Slide at the premiere of her first film, The Saving, in South Carolina. (Photo courtesy of the filmmaker)

HF:  What are the most important lessons you’ve learned in making your first film and navigating the festivals?

MJS: Do your research and if you can, snag a personal contact with someone within the festival structure even before submitting to it. It will go really far once you’re ready to submit. There’s nothing wrong with having an “in.” Be personal and go the extra mile to convince the fest your film is one their festival NEEDS. Also Watch Paul Osborne’s Official Rejection, a documentary on the politics of film fests, and go ahead and buy Chris Gore’s Ultimate Film Festival Survival Guide. Both are invaluable resources to any independent filmmakers prepping to take on the fest circuit.

“Give back to your audience…because honestly, without them, your film is just that, a film…”

MJ Slide with STIFF student block director, Daniel Hoyos, at Seattle’s True Independent Film Festival (STIFF) 2011 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo courtesy of the filmmaker)
HF:  What tools or skills have you found to be the most effective for building an audience?

MJS:  First and foremost, (and it’s kinda sad how many people overlook this step), have a quality film.  Second, know your demographic, and third, be personable. People like to deal with real people; be genuine, know your stuff, and continue to build relationships with those who are in similar situations. Reach out and connect, it’s a two way street. Give back to your audience, treat them like royalty because honestly, without them, your film is just that, a film…that no one is watching. Cultivate your image both on and offline, and I can’t stress enough how important social media is. It’s one of a filmmaker’s strongest tools. It’s free but it is an investment. Your audience is waiting for you. All you have to be willing to do is put yourself out there in creative engaging ways.

Official development one-sheet for Fruition Hard Line. (Image courtesy of the filmmaker)

HF:  What are you working on now?

MJS:  Several different projects but garnering most of my attention is my very first feature film, an indie steampunk movie entitled Fruition Hard Line.

From the Fruition Hard Line screen test (Photo courtesy of the filmmaker)

 I’m both co-writing and producing. It’s a truly amazing project and the group of people we’ve already assembled in development is by far the strongest, most versatile, and talented set of individuals both myself and my director, Timi Brennan, have worked with in either of our careers. We’re working very hard to push the envelope and raise the bar on what people would consider possible for an independent film shot in what would be considered a less than ideal filmmaking climate.

From the Fruition Hard Line screen test (Photo courtesy of the filmmaker)

The story itself is about a young girl, haunted by immense psychic abilities, who becomes entangled in a bizarre underworld of machinery and magic. I can list on one hand the amount of properly made sci-fi fantasy indie films, and my sincere hope is that Fruition Hard Line will be able to join their ranks. It’s going to be a long haul but I most definitely think it would be worth you guys coming along for the ride. As we say at Magnolia Hideout Pictures, it’s all indie film world domination up in here 🙂

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To connect with MJ Slide and learn more about her work, check out the following:

Junk Ink Films

Fruition Hard Line (film)

The Saving (film)

@MJ_Slide on Twitter

Interview with Screen Stockport

Have Wit, Will Travel: An interview with comedy writer & filmmaker Scout Wise

Biography

SCOUT WISE studied Dramatic Writing at New York University and received a BFA in film from the University of Colorado at Denver. Her short comedic film, A Stan Needs a Maid is winner of a truckload of awards at The UCD Cinefest Awards and will be screened at the Denver Silent Film Festival later in September. Scout is currently working for Uptown 6 Productions in Denver while donating her time to documentary filmmaking.

Her Film:  You studied at the University of Colorado at Denver (in addition to NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts) where you made a comedic film, the only one of a handful of women in the program to do so.  As a writer and someone who has a comedy focus, what are your thoughts about the place women occupy in the comedy world?

Scout Wise:  The place women occupy is Russia of the comedy world. Take what you will from that comparison, ladies, but we female comedy writers are a large, weird, threat, with Gorbachev at our helm. Maybe not the latter, but people are terrified of female comedy writers. They don’t know what to make of us because, now get ready for this sweeping generalization, women aren’t supposed to be funny. Hysterical, maternal, seductive maybe, but comical is for the Arbuckles, Chaplins, and Apatows of the world. Or put simply, it’s for dudes. It’s as if to have wit as a woman is to have a defect. And often times people will make excuses for a woman that’s funny– Joan Rivers is old and weird looking, Roseanne Barr has always been called fat with an annoying voice, and none of this has anything to do with either of their abilities to tell a joke. So if you’re a woman and you’re preparing to take a stab at the world’s foibles with a steak knife made out of comedy material, be prepared to have that steak knife come right back into your heart. I know it sounds graphic, but it’s true. Women writers are undermined at every turn. We’re dismissed as women-centric and only marketed to females while men are deemed “fun for the whole family.” And more than that, women are often treated as though they don’t know what’s funny. But hey, we’re Russia.

Scout Wise (photo courtesy of Fred Kolouch)

No matter how much people put us down, they’re still scared of us and we know it’s because we have just as much power and talent as anyone else. That said, the really great female writers find ways around these rigid mindsets. When women comedy writers can’t catch a break, they make their own. Women comedy writers become their own producers and directors, and they know if their material is strong enough, they’ll survive and maybe even revolutionize the industry– paving ways and whatnot. We conquer when we’re strong and if someone tries to conquer us, we burn down the motherland so no one will enjoy it. I apparently only know Russian history.

HF:  Your UCD film, A Stan Needs A Maid, has one line of dialogue.  What was your idea in making a comedy with such a dearth of language?  How did you approach the production?

SW: No one loves writing dialogue more than I do, but every time I went to write a line, it just felt like a horrible lie was being perpetrated. I for one love to lie, but this time it didn’t feel right. I’m not saying writing dialogue should be easy, but I really couldn’t find a way to fit it into the story. When it came down to it, the absence of dialogue gave the characters more room for physical comedy. That’s my good excuse.

My lame excuse is that I had a $200 budget. “Stan,” the main character, is a hoarder so we had a lot of props to buy for the set. When I was faced with hiring a good sound-recorder or blowing it all on cookie jars, I blew it all on cookie jars. Now I’ve got a great film, untarnished by bad sound and totally enhanced by great visual comedy, and a surplus of crap for many white elephants to come.

“Women comedy writers become their own producers and directors, and…they’ll survive and maybe even revolutionize the industry…”

HF:  Many beginning filmmakers and film school students make “calling card” films, usually shorts.  To master the short film structure can be very difficult (if you can ever really “master” it).  Did you encounter any problems in trying to “get it right” when making the film?  

SW: So so many problems. What is both great and really irritating about comedies is that a gag you wrote may not work on set, and a gag you did on set may not work on screen. I originally wrote a scene with a Furby for the film. I hope I’m the only idiot who ever attempts to get a Furby to act. They just beg you to feed them… kind of like human actors, but human actors can feel pain. So obviously that didn’t work out. Other scenes met their end the same way.

image courtesy of Kelley Kavanaugh

The other issue you always face with a comedy is timing, especially in a short. One beat too many or too short and a comedy becomes painfully awkward. And no matter how hard you may crack the whip on set, your actors can only change wigs so fast in one take. Ask Tootsie. If the gag is great but the timing sucks, you’ll have to kill the gag to save the comedy. My first cut of my short was thirty minutes and twenty of those minutes were me desperately clinging to material with bad timing.

But every problem lends itself to a learning experience. For example, Furby taught us that a fed actor is a good actor. We spent a good amount of money on healthy homemade food and that can make a huge difference when you’re asking a cast and crew to do a fifteen hour day. I’ve worked on sets where you get some white bread with mustard on it. That kind of situation makes you want to launch yourself full force at the director. High quality lasagna means your actors are always on your side.

HF:  What and who inspires you as a comedy writer?  What is it, to you, that makes comedy good?  

SW: I’ll admit I like a lot of dumb things, but I think a truly great comedy is smart. You may think a comedy writer’s job is to make you laugh, but a REALLY good comedy makes you hate. Was it Shakespeare who said it’s a writer’s duty to hold a mirror up to nature? Well I think it’s a comedy writer’s duty to attack nature… with clever prose, of course. A smart writer will get you to laugh at things you never thought you could laugh at. They’ll make you question why you’re laughing. Suddenly you’re questioning your whole existence.

For me, the most inspiring comedy writers are the ones that make me hate things about myself, about the world, and about the way things are. But they also give me a tool to deal with it– a sense of humor. My favorite writers are all very different, but share that in common — Woody Allen, Tina Fey, Charlie Chaplin, Roseanne Barr, Jean-Pierre Jeunet, the Coen brothers, Lily Tomlin, Dave Chappelle… the list goes on and on.

“…as a filmmaker I have incredible power to change things. Sometimes when you’re an artist you feel like you picked a career that is totally useless to improve the quality of life on this planet, but that’s just simply not true.”

HF:  You’ve also worked on projects for artists and musicians.  Can you describe what that type of work entails and how those relationships differ from film-focused ones?

SW: So far my work with musicians and artists has been immensely positive. It’s like working with a commercial client, only the client is awesome. They come to the table knowing exactly what they want. It’s much easier to work for someone who has an artistic vision as opposed to a client who only has an idea of what they DON’T want. I worked with two local Denver bands, Hideous Men and Night of Joy, on a press package video. Right away they had a vision and a will to collaborate. They wanted to put in just as much creative work as they expected me to put in. And when you work for artists you usually get to do something pretty outrageous. You gotta love clients who get you kicked out of the mall.

HF:  What is your role on the production of the upcoming feature 16-Love?  What is the film about?

SW: Well it’s every little girl’s dream to work on a teen romantic comedy. So eat your heart out, this little girl gets to work on marketing materials for this one! 16-Love is a hot little number about tennis star, “Ally Mash,” and her fall from athletic grace when she injures her ankle. When she teams up with buff but clumsy tennis player, “Farrell Gambles,” she starts to get her groove back (and maybe more! wink). I really got into film from watching great teen romantic comedies like Clueless and Heathers while growing up. 16-Love is in the vein of such greatness so I’m really thrilled to be a part of it.

A STAN NEEDS A MAID Director of Photography, Rob Shearer, and Scout Wise (photo courtesy of Scout Wise)

HF:  Documentary work is also in your repertoire, and you’re working on a doc now with a topic that’s very intriguing.  Can you describe the film and its topic?  What has attracted you to the project?

SW: In large part I think I’m torn between comedy and documentary. You know how most comedians are terribly depressed? How we laugh to keep from crying? Yeah well I cry all the time. The only thing that makes me feel better is knowing that as a filmmaker I have incredible power to change things. Sometimes when you’re an artist you feel like you picked a career that is totally useless to improve the quality of life on this planet, but that’s just simply not true.

The director of the film, Jessica Lance, is a former professor of mine at UCD. When she told me the story they were pursuing I saw an incredible opportunity to expose audiences to an unknown problem and I took it. In the throes of helping with the documentary I’ve learned a lot about how powerful a true story is.

The documentary is called The Golden Hour and it focuses on Piyush Tewari, the Indian visionary behind The SaveLIFE Foundation. Piyush founded SaveLIFE in response to the roadside fatality epidemic in India. India has immense road engineering problems with incredible traffic. These make up the ingredients for a country with the highest roadside death rate in the world. India doesn’t have a public EMS system or trained paramedics like we do in the US. Instead, people will often times get hit and lay bleeding in the road for over an hour while bystanders gather offering no help. So when Piyush’s cousin lost his life due to this lack of care, he started The SaveLIFE Foundation. He began by training Delhi police officers in basic trauma life support, and is now expanding to the citizens of Delhi.

The documentary follows him as he prepares to train over 8,000 people to be emergency responders. It’s the first event of its kind and could very well change the way emergency systems are operated in India. The program has already seen a lot of success in the way Delhi Police treat roadside accident victims.

“…you never know who might love your content.  With transmedia you make yourself limitless as a filmmaker.”

HF:  The film is directed, written and produced by three women, and the production company is all-female.  Is it important to you to work with women in the film industry? 

SW: Yes. Yes. Yes. It’s no secret, I’m a feminist. And it’s no secret, women are discounted because of their sex, especially in the film industry. I’ve been there, and if you’re a woman and you haven’t, I’d be surprised. The film industry is competitive and that means people will do unconscionable things to better their careers. This includes women putting other women down just as much as men do. How is any talented, skilled, and hard-working female filmmaker supposed to get the opportunity she deserves if both men and women are working against her? So hell yeah I think it’s important. I think it’s important to work with anyone as long as they’re good at what they do, but for women, even if you’re incredibly skilled, the opportunity is not there. If we want equal opportunities, we’re going to have to make them for each other. They’re obviously not being handed out by anybody else.

HF:  A lot of attention is paid to women breaking through (or not), within the film industry and commanding large budgets (or not) or basking in big box office (or not).  What are your thoughts on how women filmmakers find audiences and create sustainable models for their film work?  

SW: I think the most affective thing female filmmakers can do to be successful is compete on a level that is higher than what’s demanded of them. Like I said, female filmmakers are expected to make something that’s marketable to other women. Kathryn Bigelow didn’t do that. She exploded a bunch of stuff in the desert. That’s thrilling no matter who you are. Now she has the notoriety to make more films and get the money to do it. I’m not saying making films for women is bad, it’s half the market after all. I just think that successful women in the industry don’t let their reputation control their film. I think the more you can command your content and surprise audiences, the more they will trust your vision and independence in the future.

A STAN NEEDS A MAID actor Nathan Lund sleeping on set (photo courtesy of Scout Wise)

HF:  Do you engage in transmedia or interactive storytelling to complement your film work?

SW: I do. Especially when it comes to documentaries. Typically documentaries tell a story that demands some kind of change in the world. Without transmedia, audiences are helpless to change anything. Reaching out to audiences is one thing, you have to give them a way to reach back. For example, with The Golden Hour we have ways you can get involved with SaveLIFE as it grows and expands across India and across the world. We use all of the social media platforms to post smaller clips and give glimpses of Piyush’s story to get people involved who may never even see the whole film.

I think in general it’s really hard to get a film on the big screen so transmedia is a great way to expose people to your story without hemorrhaging money. Besides you never know who might love your content. They could live halfway across the world and internet is the only access they have to you and your work. With transmedia you make yourself limitless as a filmmaker. Anyone with internet access becomes your audience.

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To find out more about Scout Wise’s work, check out these links:

The Golden Hour  (official website)

16-Love  (official website)

A Stan Needs a Maid  (watch online)

Other work by Scout Wise (documentary & narrative)

“Kinks”: Guest interview by filmmakers Juliane Block & Virginia Kennedy

Juliane Block and Virginia Kennedy are the filmmaker duo who created Kinks, a feature mockumentary about two sisters who meet while shooting a kinky American reality show in Malaysia and fight because one is the Host and the other, the Censor.

Virginia & Juliane about Kinks:

How did you get to work together?

Juliane: When I finished my first feature Emperor I already thought about the next film. And there was one thing I haven’t tried out yet – Acting. I knew Virginia from some Indie film meetings in Kuala Lumpur and thought maybe it’s a great fit. I knew she was keen on directing her first feature, so I approached her. First, just with the idea of having collaborative writing sessions, but [to tell the] truth I already thought about asking her as director or co-director at an early stage.

Things progressed and Virginia came on board!

Virginia: The first time I saw Juliane she was selling a short film she had made and I was blown away by this opinionated German woman’s strength. She was fiery and powerful. I was too scared to even make contact with her. I hid in the back and made a silent escape. The second time I met her, a film distribution friend of mine thought I should meet this “female” director. It was Juliane! Up close and personal we actually had a lot in common and I realized I had as many if not more scary qualities like her. And honestly she is FAR from scary. She is strong and honest and all great qualities. I was so lucky to meet her. Julie said she had an idea for a feature film and I was looking to work with someone who made things happen. Juliane was that someone!

Betty's Elimination. (Photo courtesy of the filmmakers)

Working together to create Kinks:

Virginia: Firstly Juliane has an amazing work ethic. Working with her was perfect for me. She is driven to achieve, so our writing schedule was regular and geared to succeed. Within a year we had a full feature script. We found that we worked well together. Only arguing maybe three or four times… and those arguments were usually when I was on a diet or needing relationship advice! Juliane was a great couch therapist and within that year I wrote a script with her and healed a broken heart! Great achievement.

As the shoot day came nearer, I also realized Julie has an amazing producing ability. Her organization skills are better than a lot of the professionals I have worked with and we had to work around crews that were working for no budget.

Juliane: I think Virginia and I have a very good set of skills we were able to bring to Kinks. Virginia is great in writing and I have experience with low budget producing. Additionally we have both our own experiences about living as white women in Asia and all those experiences we could use to add into the story of Kinks. The finished film is really our collaborative product. I think both of us learned a lot!

Movie poster for "Kinks" (Image courtesy of the filmmakers)

What do you plan to do with Kinks?

 Juliane: We finished Kinks a couple of months ago and are currently looking for distribution. We are on the festival circuit, awaiting the replies of some of the big ones. However, knowing it’s always very tough to get even into the Tier 2 festivals, we are working on our blog and alternative social media strategies to make Kinks public. We want to release it around May 2012 on itunes and other internet outlets, and have time to build our audience till then. Of course a big festival premiere would help, so fingers crossed!

Virginia: Our plan for Kinks is to entertain and enlighten. Julie and I have both lived in Malaysia and we have a lot of respect for Malaysia and Malaysians. I personally love Malaysia. It is warm and sweet and caresses you like a buttery muffin. I love Malaysia but like all countries they have their “ways” and this can be cause for humor just as western culture can be made fun of.

Kinks celebrates all cultures. It looks at Malaysia which is different from my western upbringing and looks at it in a humorous way from the perspective of shooting a crazy reality program in Malaysia. We want everyone to appreciate Malaysia by seeing Kinks.

What did you learn so far?

 Juliane: I think the biggest thing I learned is that you need to put money aside for your distribution. I came along with a range of skills to actually kickstart production and to last with almost no budget until the film is finished. However, now we are realizing that distributing the feature film is an entirely different challenge, as difficult as creating the film itself. Well, once you realize that, it sounds logical, but when you are on it, you might just overlook some very important aspects – like the distribution 🙂 I recommend anybody who wants to make a film – double the production budget, keep 50% for distribution!

Virginia: I learnt how wonderful Malaysian actors are and how generous and willing they are to work hard. I learnt that you need to prepare even harder for distribution. Shooting is the easy part but getting it out there on a no budget production takes work and strategy. I learnt, with the help of Julie, how to create a strategy for selling an independent film. Without her I probably would have given away all rights to the film and it might have been left on the shelf. I also learnt that you have to LOVE your script from the beginning. It is a little like a marriage because you have to stay married to it for a long time.

Production of "Kinks" (Photo courtesy of the filmmakers)

SYNOPSIS OF Kinks

Kinks is a mockumentary style feature film. The movie takes a cynical but nevertheless humorous look at two inter-racial sisters who appear far from alike. Inside and outside. One is white and one is dark.

Split up as children, because their parents divorced, the film starts when they finally meet again after years growing up on separate continents. On meeting it is obvious their agendas are as different as their looks. The fiercely competitive, western educated Caucasian looking Jay wants international success for her cross cultural dating show. She returns to Malaysia to produce her dream, a reality show for the American market. To succeed she needs it to be as outrageous as possible. Jay’s Malaysian sister, Joythi, the Indian looking darker one, happens to work for Ministry of Culture. She is more introverted and has to learn to stand up to her sister while desperately trying to keep her job, while in charge to establish some decency in Jay’s misguided production.

Clashes are inevitable!

The story of this mockumentary feature evolves during the two weeks production of the dating show pilot. Through the seemingly different sisters, Jay and Joythi the audience will witness first hand all the bruised egos, crazy accusations and extreme cultural clashes and misconceptions between East and West but also the similarities of two sisters being eventually just humans.

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Short CV Juliane Block

My filmmaking career started in Germany as special FX make-up artist on an underground Zombie flick (“Mutation,” released on DVD in 1999) followed by producer & screenwriter credits on several other shorts (e.g. “Killerbus,” released on DVD in 2004). I got hooked. Even though I have a design masters from the university of art in Braunschweig, I continued with film making.

In 2005 I migrated to Asia to pursue Asian cinema. I directed and produced a no budget feature in 2008 (“Emperor”) which screened at the Asia Pacific festival of 1st Films in Singapore and won the feature category at the Portable Film Festival. Since 2007 I directed, wrote and produced 13 shorts which have been screened in film festivals around the world, and my 2nd feature (“Kinks”) just completed post. I participated in the Berlinale Talent Campus in 2008 and my short film “It could happen to you” was chosen for production in the BTC Hands on Training “Garage studio”. I’ve held lectures about low budget film making in Hong Kong (Hong Kong Int. Film Academy) and Singapore (SAE Institute).

After living the last 6 years in Asia (Hong Kong, Malaysia, Thailand & Indonesia) I just returned to Germany to pursue my next feature film projects.

I love my life!

Short CV Virginia Kennedy:

I started out working as a special effects editor and animator in commercials in Australia and South East Asia. Designing program openers and promos for CHANNEL 7 in Melbourne. I then moved to Sydney and into Advertising.

I was offered a job in Malaysia and was excited to travel so the first time I left Australia was to live overseas. Soon I moved into directing music videos and commercials in 1994. I have shot many commercials all around the globe and won Malaysia best MUSIC VIDEO (AIM) four times. In 2007 I shot a Music Video in LA for Karkis.

I moved into films with a Malaysian 60minute telemovie Jalan Berangan which I wrote and directed for the “Festival Series” on NTV7 and after a few short films, a horror, “@traction”, and a sexual revenge drama “I’ll Trust this January.” I wrote and directed Kinks with Juliane Block.

I have completed shooting a magic realism, short film “Thread” I wrote and directed and will be submitting to festivals in 2012. I am continuing writing with two completed feature film scripts.

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