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Documentary Film Community Stronger Than Ever at 2014 Cinema Eye Honors

January 9th, 2014 · Awards

By Liz Nord
Twitter: @lizfilm

The who’s who among documentary filmmakers and distributors–or the “documentarati” as Women Make Movies’ Debra Zimmerman called us–came out in force for last night’s Cinema Eye Honors for Nonfiction Filmmaking.

The camaraderie among documentary filmmakers (as opposed to the competitive vibe more frequently felt in the narrative world) is always major draw of the event, and this year was no different. The theme of the evening was “We’re on each other’s team,” and that sentiment was echoed throughout. A shared feeling across presenters and winners was that this past year was a very strong one for docs, and that much of our strength as makers comes from the support of our fellow nonfiction creators.

Michael Moore kicked off the evening with an ode to this notion. “There’s something different about us,” he claimed, “We sink or swim together. We’re all here because somebody helped us in some ways. It’s not a kumbaya plea. It’s a real thing that I’ve seen over the years.” He gave his own initiation into the documentary world as an example. Moore cited his tutelage under filmmaker Kevin Rafferty, adding a humorous twist when he recounted his discovery that Rafferty was a nephew of George Bush, one of Moore’s political nemeses.

Jehane Noujaim, Chris Hegedus, and DA Pennebaker. Photo courtesy of Cinema Eye Honors.

Several presenters acknowledged their mentors. Jehane Noujaim (Control Room) presented two awards with one of her mentors, Chris Hegedus, and referred to the early lessons she learned from Hegedus and her partner D.A. Pennebaker: Stick to your characters, stop shooting when you get bored, and keep to one idea per scene. Kristi Jacobson (Toots), introduced her mentor, Barbara Kopple, who was honored with the Legacy Award for her 1976 film Harlan County, USA, with the words “Barbara taught me how to fight for what I believe in and not be afraid.”

Kopple reinforced the spirit of community by recalling her Oscar win for Harlan County, USA, when all of the documentary nominees were seated together and linked arms as their results were read.

Filmmaker and Cinema Eye co-founder AJ Schnack encouraged the assemblage to move beyond just supporting each other, but to seeking out concrete actions to strengthen our trade. He gave a heartfelt shout out to Laura Poitras, chair of the Cinema Eye Filmmaker Advisory Board, who could not attend the event as she is living cautiously abroad due to her involvement in breaking the Edward Snowden surveillance story. Schnack stated that, “It’s amazing and galling when a good friend can’t produce her craft in her own country,” and plead with the crowd to join Cinema Eye in its commitment for the coming year, to find better ways to protect our rights and our work.

Even film protagonists are not immune to the power of the documentary community, and of the craft. John Fenton, an anti-fracking activist and character in Josh Fox’s Gasland and Gasland II, joined Fox for his acceptance of the Hell Yeah award, in recognition of the films’ political impact. Fenton shared, “A lot of times when you’re trying to make change, there’s a story of ‘I,’ which can be a lonely place, but storytelling brings people together. The common thread among the films tonight is that they take the story of ‘I’ and make it the story of ‘we,’ which can be a very powerful thing.”

Al Maysles and Cinema Eye Honors Co-host and Chair Esther Robinson

Good feelings and mutual admiration lasted longer than much of the crowd, who slowly filtered out throughout the almost four-hour ceremony. Hopefully next year, the production staff will tighten the reins a bit so all of the nominees can feel the love of the whole audience. Fortunately, documentary pioneer and still-working octogenarian, Al Maysles, kept up enough pep to get the crowd laughing at almost midnight.

Maysles quipped, “The thing that strikes me the most are some of the weird stories that have been told,” followed by his own tale of an unintentionally LSD-fueled filming of a Grateful Dead concert early in his career. Maysles took on a more serious tone to celebrate the quality that likely creates so much warmth within the documentary community: empathy. He explained, “The beauty of documentary is that by being with somebody in that intimate way, you so identify with them that you feel like being in that person’s shoes. I was alone with the Dalai Lama at 5 am during his meditation. Anyone seeing that becomes a convert.”

If one wasn’t already a believer in the documentary film community, they certainly would have “become a convert” by attending last night’s festivities.

The complete list of 2014 Cinema Eye Honors winners:

Outstanding Achievement in Nonfiction Feature Filmmaking
The Act of Killing
Directed by Joshua Oppenheimer
Produced by Signe Byrge Sørensen

Outstanding Achievement in Direction
Sarah Polley
Stories We Tell

Outstanding Achievement in Editing
Nels Bangerter
Let the Fire Burn

Audience Choice Prize
Sound City
Directed by Dave Grohl

Outstanding Achievement in Production
Signe Byrge Sørensen
The Act of Killing

Outstanding Nonfiction Film for Television
The Crash Reel
Directed by Lucy Walker
Produced by Julian Cautherley and Lucy Walker

Outstanding Achievement in Nonfiction Short Filmmaking
A Story for the Modlins
Directed by Sergio Oksman

Outstanding Achievement in Cinematography
Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Véréna Paravel
Leviathan

Heterodox Award
Post Tenebras Lux
Directed by Carlos Reygadas

Outstanding Achievement in an Original Music Score
Yasuaki Shimizu
Cutie and the Boxer

Spotlight Award
The Last Station
Directed by Cristian Soto and Catalina Vergara

Outstanding Achievement in Graphic Design and Animation
Art Jail
Cutie and the Boxer

Outstanding Achievement in a Debut Feature Film
Zachary Heinzerling
Cutie and the Boxer

Legacy Award
Harlan County, USA
Directed and Produced by Barbara Kopple

Hell Yeah Prize
Josh Fox
Gasland and Gasland II

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Betwixt Motels and Middleton: Actors’ Dialogue With Martha Frankel, 10/6/13.

October 28th, 2013 · Panel

Betwixt Motels and Middleton:
Actors’ Dialogue with Martha Frankel
October 6, 2013, 10:00am
Kleinert James Art Center, Woodstock New York

With:

Moderator:
Martha Frankel, Journalist

Panelists:
Stephen Dorff, Actor, The Motel Life
Andy Garcia, Actor/Producer, At Middleton

Each and every year at the Woodstock Film Festival, Martha Frankel hosts a panel called Actors’ Dialogue, with one or two actors who have movies at the festival. In the past, she has interviewed Mary Stuart Masterson, Melissa Leo, Lucy Liu, Vera Farmiga, John Ventimiglia,, Edie Falco, Steve Buscemi, and Donal Logue. This year, Martha interviewed Stephen Dorff and Andy Garcia, whose films The Motel Life and At Middleton played at the festival. For Garcia and Dorff both, Independent Film has played a significant role in their careers, allowing opportunities for them to break free of studio typecasting.

Martha Frankel opened with an amusing story of trying to arrange an interview with Andy Garcia to promote The Godfather III. The head of Paramount’s PR department permitted Frankel to interview Garcia on the condition that she attend a test screening and offer feedback.

“They set up this huge screening room, it’s just me, and they show me this movie. It’s so bad, I can’t believe it. I walk out, I do not know what to think.” They asked her, “Do you think we should market this to women, should we market this to men? And I think, ‘It’s just awful! I think, the pottery, the whole thing, it’s just so stupid!’”

The movie that she had been set up to see? Ghost.

“The whole movie had a $28,000 opening. I was right. The next week was 4 million, and the next week was 40 million. I was wrong about [Ghost], but I was right about him.”

[Read more →]

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Tell Me Something @ The Woodstock Film Festival, October 5, 2013

October 16th, 2013 · Panel

Tell Me Something: Advice from Documentary Filmmakers

October 5, 2013, 12:00pm
Kleinert James Center, Woodstock, New York


l-r: Joe Berlinger, Judith Helfland, Liz Garbus, Barbara Kopple, Ron Mann, and Jessica Edwards.

Moderator:
Jessica Edwards, Author, Tell Me Something: Advice From Documentary Filmmakers

Panelists:
Joe Berlinger, Director, Hank: Five Years From The Brink
Liz Garbus, Director, Love, Marilyn
Judith Helfland, Director, Blue Vinyl
Barbara Kopple, Director, Running From Crazy
Ron Mann, Director, Altman

This year’s documentary panel at the Woodstock Film Festival centered around the publication of the upcoming book, Tell Me Something: A Book of Advice from Documentary Filmmakers, which will be published in November. The book was put together by filmmaker Jessica Edwards, who spent a decade doing PR for documentary filmmakers before deciding to strike out on her own. After deciding to make her own films, she often had trouble getting her own projects off the ground. One day, a friend of hers asked what she really wanted to do. She responded, “I just feel like I want to take every filmmaker I love and respect out for a cup of coffee and ask them what I should do.”

Thus began the genesis of Tell Me Something. Edwards interviewed 50 documentary filmmakers, including Michael Moore, Morgan Spurlock, Errol Morris, D.A. Pennebaker, Chris Hegedus, and all of the people appearing on the panel: Joe Berlinger, Judith Hefland, Ron Mann, Liz Garbus, and Barbara Kopple. In addition, esteemed photographers from around the world photographed the filmmakers for the book. To bring the publication of her book to fruition, Edwards conducted a Kickstarter Fundraiser.

Said Edwards about putting the book together: “I came to this being a fan. It’s an honor to be doing this with all of you. I get a little giddy about it, especially when I’m holding the book in my hand. I think it was a crash course in how to make films. But also how to really have a life as a filmmaker or an artist. I don’t really like to use that word very often. I think when you endeavor to have a creative pursuit and live your life that way. Especially if you live in New York City, which is most of the time the thing to do, you need to have a sense of the bigger picture. I think that the book and the Kickstarter campaign to publish the book provided that for me. I feel much more confidence in making a living to make work that I didn’t have a year ago. I feel incredibly lucky to get that.” These were the big pieces of advice from the panel:

Don’t Follow Anyone’s Advice, or “No” is Really “On” Backwards

Errol Morris (read by Jessica Edwards): When I was first interested in becoming a filmmaker, I was introduced to a lawyer in Los Angeles turned President of 20th Century Fox. I was hoping that he would be able to help me find money for some of the projects I wanted to turn into films. He seriously told me that the important thing to remember is that film is a visual medium, and whatever I decided to do, it was important to express it in visual terms. He lent me no money, and I’m not sure if I found his advice particularly helpful. In fact, I felt horribly abused and patronized. It stopped me from really doing anything for a couple of years. But in time, I recovered. The lesson I learned, if there is a lesson, is when you go to people for advice, expect the worst. Whatever anyone tells you to do, seriously consider doing the opposite.

Joe Berlinger: The world is designed to say no. People say no for lots of different reasons. I just find that you’ve got to not take no for an answer. If you believe in something, you just got to fight for it, play for it, and believe in it with all your soul. If you don’t 100% believe in what you’re doing, nobody else will. The gatekeepers might be jealous. Of course, you need people to say “Yes” on certain basic things, but you got to keep fighting until you get that yes.

Barbara Kopple: The worst advice I ever got were from people who tried to stop me from doing what I wanted to do. I remember when I was doing Harlan County, and people would say, “Why does a little girl like you want to make a film like this?” or, “You can’t start your own film unless you have funding!” I would come home after shooting for a long time. The lights would be out, and I would lug all my equipment up the stairs, and I’d take a bath by candlelight, so I’d always figure out a way to compensate. This guy who was directing a narrative feature on Joseph Yablonski, who was murdered by people who were running against him. He, his wife, and his daughter were murdered. [The director] found out I was doing a movie on coal miners. He came to me and said, “I know you don’t have any money, so why don’t I just buy all your Yablonski footage since nobody goes to documentaries anyway. You’ll be compensated, and I’ll thank you in my credit roll.”

What that did to me is that it made me so strong inside. I thought, “You know, you don’t have to take anybody’s advice. I just have to go on my own instincts, my own sensibilities, and go for it.” Which is what I did. I’m also a believer of the idea that if someone tells you not to do it, that’s all the more reason to do it.

Don’t Go To Film School

Ron Mann: I was at the Cannes Film Festival in 1977, and Elia Kazan was the head of the jury. I was thinking about going to Film School, and he said, “Learn everything but film,” which is what I did. I didn’t take film classes. I studied Liberal Arts and Political Philosophy, and then tried to make films. I learned about the History of Art and all sorts of things prior to making films, although I was also making my own short films. That to me is still the best advice.

Judith Helfland: When people ask me, “Should I go to Film School?”, I tell them, “Get a degree in Anthropology or Political Science. Then go ahead and learn how to write people’s proposals and work on other films.” But people don’t always take that advice and go to film school. The advice I always give my students, but especially if you’re a woman, is to learn sound or edit. If you’re a sound woman on the front lines, you’re listening with your heart, and when you’re listening with your heart, the better you hear. You can work every single day, and then you can jump start your own film. You don’t have to create your own work, but if you can, you’re actually in such a better place, and you will always be able to survive.

Kopple: What was very important for me was to build a community of people who I just adored, who I could trust, who could work with you, and who are there for you. One of the filmmakers at this festival, David Becker, he started with me, and he has a film here, To Be Forever Wild, as well as Cecilia Peck, and Paul Betzer. And so many other people over the years that I just had the good fortune to work with. I think that’s what gets you through it. People who care about you, who push you forward, who mentor you, and who you mentor.

Follow The Story

Berlinger: A lot of young filmmakers get frustrated and kind of want to force their film into a certain box. You have to follow the story wherever it’s going, even if it means it’s going to take you a year longer than you expected, and even if it means it’s taking you down a different road. To me, the strongest example of that would be Paradise Lost. We went down to make a film about guilty teenagers. We’d read an article about devil-worshipping teens guilty of these horrendous crimes. That’s what the media was talking about, and that’s what everyone thought. We went down there thinking we were making a film about why bad kids turn out bad. HBO had hired us to make a film about that. Halfway through the film, we realized they were innocent.

Have a Supportive Life Partner

Panelist Liz Garbus mentioned that she had done her interview after Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In was published. Her son was sitting in the audience next to me playing Angry Birds.

Liz Garbus: I had a lot of friends who stopped working when they had children, and I don’t know if it made them happier. What I have found is that you just have to do it in order to do it. [And people ask], “How do you do it? How do you balance running around in the world, making this film, or making some other film?” The only way to do it is to do it.

I think an ingredient to that is a fully committed partner who also takes that on. If you’re not living with that partner, a partner who shares responsibility with you equally.

Berlinger: [I was making Brother's Keeper.] We were running out of money, and I had 60 rolls of 16mm film in my refrigerator in the apartment that I shared with my wife, who was then my fiancee. We were about to get married, and we were two months away from our marriage. I open the refrigerator door, pointed to the 60 rolls of 16mm film, and I said, “Lauren, we are getting to the point where we really have to start processing this footage, and we’re out of money. It wasn’t a loaded question, it was a real discussion. We can either delay our honeymoon, or process the film. Without missing a beat, my wife said, “Of course you have to process the film. We can always have our honeymoon, but you can’t always make a film.”

I thought that was very special advice. I feel so blessed that we have this opportunity to go into other people’s lives. As I tell my children, “It sure beats working for a living.” The fact that I can actually do this is just incredible. You have to serve the film.

Get Fresh Air, or do Yoga

Mann: Emile de Antonio was a mentor of mine. He once said, “Every couple of hours, get up and take a walk around the block. Just clear your head.” When you are just physically sitting over time, it becomes a problem. I had a lower back problem for awhile. When you actually feel the pain of working physically, it interferes with what you’re actually trying to do.

What yoga does, is that you don’t think about the past, you don’t think about the future, you just think about the moment and what’s in front of you. I just find it to be a very effective tool. It allows you to be open, which makes your heart open. And you become more compassionate to yourself and to other people, and to your environment. The other thing is that when you’re editing, and you have a problem, doing a posture, or a handstand or a headstand, allows you to see the world differently.

Take Real Chances

Garbus: Every film I make, I try to do something visually different. I try not to shoot interviews the way I shot interviews before. I work very close with my cinematographer to push myself out of what I was comfortable with before into something different that feels right and natural for the film. Oftentimes, I feel that documentaries can be lazy visually and fall back into conventions. I think that everybody always has to be pushing themselves out of their comfort zone to keep things fresh and entertaining.

Kopple: I did sound for 17 years, on my films and on other people’s films. The first time I ever did sound, it was with this wonderful guy named Robert Van Dyke. He used to rent the equipment, and he used to make little slates that you velcro onto your strap, and you’d push it down, and there’d be a number. A tweet would go on your Nagra, and light would go on the camera. The first time I ever did sound, I sounded like I totally knew how to do it. Two people sitting under a tree, the wind is blowing, and whatever. I excused myself, and I said, “Okay, Bob. Two people sitting under a tree, what’s my place? Where do I put it?” Sometimes you just have to go for it.

A year or so ago, I was asked to do a film in South Sudan, and everyone said, “You can’t go to South Sudan!” For me, I wanted to go to South Sudan, and it was a life-changing experience. They see their families killed, or razed, or deceased, and there they were. And they were singing under a tree, and they would see people that they hadn’t seen in so long. I think being a filmmaker, and going out there, you just have the most incredible memories, and the most wonderful experiences, and you’re able to share them with other people. I feel blessed, and really happy to be part of this community.”

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Rebecca Banach, 1985-2013

September 2nd, 2013 · Miscellaneous


Rebecca Banach (left) with Erin Scherer at the Texas State Capitol, Austin, TX.
Taken during their trip to SXSW 2012.

Rebecca Banach
May 26, 1985 – August 21, 2013

Former Film Panel Notetaker contributor Rebecca Banach has passed away. She passed away at 2:40 am on Wednesday, August 21, 2013 at Strong Memorial Hosptial in Rochester, New York. She was 28.

Rebecca was raised in Penn Yan, New York, and graduated from Penn Yan Academy. She later attended St. Bonaventure University, where she studied communications with the intention of becoming a journalist. During this period, she interned at The Chronicle Express, Penn Yan’s local newspaper.

I had known of her since childhood, when she was in my mother’s Sunday School class. However, my friendship with Rebecca began in earnest in 2010, when we both worked at The Connection, a call center which closed a year later. When I met her, she was still harboring journalistic aspirations. But she enjoyed her customer service jobs, too. In addition to The Connection, Rebecca also worked at P&C Foods, Morgan’s Grocery, and CVS, her last job before her hospitalization.

Rebecca joined The Film Panel Notetaker in 2011 (her contributions are listed below), and attended two festivals as a contributor: The 360 | 365 Festival (now High Falls) in Rochester, New York; and the 2012 SXSW Film Festival. The latter she considered to be one of the highlights of her life, having the chance to talk with Kevin Smith about Degrassi, as well as meeting Lena Dunham, who was about to rocket to superstardom with Girls. Earlier this year, she helped me work on my own film project, which is based on my experiences working at The Connection. Rebecca had a kind heart and clever wit. She enjoyed her cats, reading books, celebrity gossip, Audrey Hepburn, and TV shows like Saved by the Bell, Boy Meets World, The Gilmore Girls and Girls. Rebecca was an intelligent woman with potential, and it deeply saddens me that she did not live to realize her dreams.

Rebecca is survived by her parents, Sandy (neé Tousley) and John “Skip” Banach; her older brother, Tim Banach; her younger brother, Joe Banach; her sister in law (wife of Joe), Andrea Banach (neé Lucio); and her newborn nephew, Jay Banach. Donations may be made in her memory to The Yates County Humane Society. Also, please consider the life-saving gift of organ donation.

Rebecca’s contributions to The Film Panel Notetaker::

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Filmmaker Norman Jewison Reflects On Prolific Career

July 25th, 2013 · Miscellaneous

Norman Jewison: Maximum Green

MPAA, Washington, DC on July, 22nd

When I think about some of Canada’s best imports I think of things like maple syrup, The Barenaked Ladies and the card game euchre. Until Monday night, I never thought about famed director Norman Jewison, maybe because his films are so iconic and have so perfectly captured the American zeitgeist at various points, that I forget he’s actually from our neighbor to the north.  Jewison was at the Washington, DC, office of the Motion Picture Association of America on to discuss his prolific career. After hearing him speak, I understand now that his vantage point as a Canadian is precisely what has enabled him to make his films. That’s the thing about perspective – those that have it tend to be able to see you better than you can see yourself in a given moment. That is the magic of Jewison and it was on full display at Monday’s event.

The event started with introductions from MPAA Chairman and CEO Chris Dodd, followed by a funny and rousing send-up from Canadian Ambassador to the U.S. Gary Doer. Jewison then took the stage for an intimate conversation moderated by Alyssa Rosenberg, pop culture blogger for ThinkProgress. [Read more →]

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The Art of Documentary Editing: Case Studies @ IFFBoston, 04/27/13

May 10th, 2013 · Panel

The Art of Documentary Editing: Case Studies

Presented by the Karen Schmeer Film Editing Fellowship

Notes by Beth Balaban

Photography by Nellie Kluz

L-R: Garret Savage, Pola Rapaport, Francisco Bello

Panel Moderator: Garret Savage

Panelists: Francisco Bello, Editor, Our Nixon and Best Kept Secret

Pola Rapaport, Editor, Here One Day

The Karen Schmeer Editing Fellowship was founded to recognize, discuss and promote the contributions of documentary editors. The year-long experience honors the memory of Karen Schmeer, a talented, young editor who launched her career by successfully crafting what Errol Morris called an “uneditable” film – Fast, Cheap and Out of Control (1997). She went on to work with Morris and other directors on a large number of feature docs before her life was tragically ended by a hit-and-run driver in 2010.

Garret Savage is a Brooklyn-based filmmaker. His documentary editing work includes the features My Perestroika (Sundance 2010), Ready, Set, Bag! (LA Film Festival 2008), and the HBO series How Democracy Works Now. He was a 2009 Sundance Documentary Editing and Storytelling Lab Fellow.

Francisco Bello is an ACADEMY AWARD® and three time EMMY Nominee. He produced and edited War Don Don which won the Special Jury Prize at the 2010 SXSW Film Festival, and for which he was awarded the first Karen Schmeer Award for Excellence in Documentary Editing. He edited two films that premiered in 2013 Best Kept Secret (2013 IFFBoston Audience Award Winner) and Our Nixon (2013 Rotterdam, SXSW).

Pola Rapaport is an independent filmmaker, editor and sound editor EMMY Nominee. She has been a Guggenheim Fellow and a fellow of the NY Foundation for the Arts. Her work includes Subway: The Musical (work-in-progress), Hair: Let the Sun Shine In, a celebration of the musical Hair (2007), Writer of O (Grand Prix Urti/ 2005), and Family Secret (Grand Prix SCAM, France/ 2000). She also edited the award-winning Grace Paley: Collected Shorts, Auf Wiedersehen and Fine Rain. [Read more →]

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“White Reindeer” Premiere Q&A @ SXSW, 03/11/13

April 2nd, 2013 · Q&A

White Reindeer Premiere Q&A @ SXSW Film Festival

Screening Time:
4:15 PM, Alamo Ritz Theater


Cast & Crew of White Reindeer

Q&A Moderator:
Chad Hartigan, Director, This Is Martin Bonner

With:
Zach Clark, Director, White Reindeer
Anna Margaret Hollyman, Actress, White Reindeer

White Reindeer tells the story of Real Estate agent Suzanne (Anna Margaret Hollyman), who seems to have everything going for her. Her weatherman husband Jeff (Nathan Williams), has landed a plum job that would have them relocating to Hawaii. Unfortunately, just a few days later, Suzanne comes home to find him dead. At the funeral, a close friend of Jeff’s reveals to Suzanne that Jeff had an affair with a stripper named Autumn (Laura Lemar-Goldsborough) during the last year of his life. Suzanne seeks Autumn out at her job, and they wind up forming an unlikely friendship that leads to a period of self-exploration for Suzanne.

At the outset of the Q&A, Chad Hartigan–who attended the University of North Carolina School of the Arts (then called North Carolina School of the Arts) with Clark, revealed that this Clark’s senior year film also had a Christmas theme to it. This served as a Springboard for Clark to explain that Christmastime has served as the backdrop of some of his saddest memories. He thought it was important to capture some of the weirdness that sometimes surrounds the holiday season.

“When I was 12 years old, I had Christmas at my grandparents’ house. My parents were helping my grandmother cook in the kitchen. My brother and sister and I were sitting on the couch in my Grandpa’s library. He was in the early stages of Alzheimer’s and starting to lose his mind. We were kind of just hanging out, and he starts talking about how everyone is out to get him, and that people were stealing from him, and he started weeping. My sister and I–I’m the oldest–were sort of sitting there on the couch, and I was wearing a sweater I’d just opened. He was like (Clark makes a noise). [This happened] right exactly at the time “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year” started to play. That’s the sadness I wanted to show.”

Clark introduced the cast and crew onstage. Hartigan asked his own question, then opened the questions up to the audience.

Hartigan: How did you and Anna Margaret get together?

Clark: I met you (Anna Margaret) at Anthology, and we talked a little before a screening Gabi on the Roof in July. I knew you were an actress, and I remember talking to you, and thinking, “She is the right type [for the role].” She was like the right (makes a knocking sound) tall.

Hartigan: Were you casting at that point?

Clark: We were actively casting at that point. And you (Anna Margaret) told a friend of ours [words not audible here].

Q: I noticed [the movie] was Kickstarter backed, and I would just like to hear a little about how that happened.

Clark: I wrote the movie to be more expensive than we ended up making it for. I tried to go through the traditional funding channels for about a year to try and fund a large amount of money to get it made. It just wasn’t happening, apparently. Hard “R” Christmas movies aren’t super profitable. It was August, and a lot of money hadn’t materialized, and December was coming up fast. When you’re making a Christmas movie, you should shoot it December, because production design is free.

Basically I asked myself, “Do I want to keep trying to do it for the larger amount of money and find myself in the exact same position next year? Because it’s hard to really know when you’re trying to find a lot of money when it’s going to come, or do I want to just pull the trigger, raise the money through Kickstarter, and shoot this December? That’s what we ended up doing.

There’s a 60-day limit at Kickstarter. We wouldn’t have made the movie without it [because] we wouldn’t have had production funds. We either got the money, or didn’t. It was a really awful emotional experience. Everyday, I had to come to terms with the countdown. Some days, it would be like, “Yeah, we’re going to make it!”, and other days, it was like, “It’s never going to happen.” But we did it.

Q: I really like the part where the drugs were happening. Who came up with the decision to [words not audible]. I really like that, and I think that’s playful.

Clark: The last movie I made was a beach party movie. And in that movie, there was a ten minute acid freakout scene. I used similar things, they were different colors, and they were in there, sort of disorientedly used during that sequence. They weren’t written into the script or anything. When I was putting the sequences together, I knew that when they were doing the cocaine, I knew that needed a little, you know, every time she did it, and I decided it to be in sort of her thing. It turned out perfect.

Hartigan: What would your dream Christmas Feature be?

Clark: All That Heaven Allows is maybe my favorite Christmas movie, even though it’s not entirely about Christmas. But the parts that are about Christmas are the most similar to this (movie), like the installing of the TV. It had some things that I wanted to try and get at.

The only time I’ve done this, and this was actually helpful, if anyone wants to try it, I watched All That Heaven Allows all the way through, then I made a shot list for it. I wrote down every single shot, and I had to keep track of when they were returning to a shot. It really helped me see how that was constructed and put together, because I wanted to live in the spirit of that movie.

WHITE REINDEER (2013) Trailer from Zach Clark on Vimeo.

Q: Tell me about the Bellican Beer. Why did you pick that?

Clark: You’re pointing out something I have no idea about. (Audience laughs.)

Q: This question is for both Zach and Anna Margaret. Can you guys just talk about working with each other? Zach, what did Anna Margaret bring to the script? Anna Margaret, how did Zach help you as a writer and director on the film?

Clark: Anna Margaret brought everything. (Audience laughs.) It’s true! The script is just words on paper, and you get a human being to turn it into something real and relatable. And she did that. We had a lot of dinners, I showed her some movies. I showed her All That Heaven Allows. The biggest thing that I wanted to go for is that I wanted the movie to be playful and totally crazy, and totally sincere.

Hollyman: He gave me a bunch of movies to watch. We watched [All That Heaven Allows], and it’s such a crazy film. People think Douglas Sirk [words not audible]. Color scheme-wise, totally the way the shoot it, is crazy. I had a good time, and I really, really admired Zach’s work from Vacation and Modern Love, which Melodie (Sisk, the film’s producer) is in, as well as Maggie, who plays the cash register lady at the end.

It’s very rare to find a director who wants to work with his own female ensemble cast essentially. He writes characters that are kinda dizzy, kinda scrappy, and absurd. The reason we watched a David Lynch film, or a John Waters film, or anything else, is that you can kind of co-exist with the film. You’re crying, you’re laughing, you’re depressed, and you’re like “This is sooooo funny!” I felt down to play every woman’s secret [word not audible], and it’s like, “Oh, come here!”, something that we’ve all felt and haven’t seen before. [This extends] to the stripper, who was free enough to do that, which is rare. (To Zach) Thank you for making this film.

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Break It Down: Harmony Korine & His Spring Breakers @ SXSW, 03/11/13

March 29th, 2013 · Panel

Break It Down: Harmony Korine & His Spring Breakers


L-R: Ashley Benson, Selena Gomez, Rachel Korine, Harmony Korine, and Eric Kohn.

Moderator:
Eric Kohn, Indiewire

With:
Harmony Korine, Director, Spring Breakers
Ashley Benson, Actress, Spring Breakers
Selena Gomez, Actress, Spring Breakers
Rachel Korine, Actress, Spring Breakers

One day toward the end of my senior year of high school, trying to fight off senioritis and kill some time, I read Owen Gleiberman’s review of Mike Figgis’ The Loss of Sexual Innocence in Study Hall. One particular quote stuck out and resonated with me:

Has everyone sold out? Thank heaven, no. Every so often, though, you run across an ironic specimen of overcharged integrity. I’m speaking of the person who hasn’t sold out but, in fact, should — the filmmaker, for instance, who cleaves to his Uncompromising Vision like a dog who’s bitten into a bone you can’t pry from his teeth. For me, Woody Allen would top the roster. At this point, if he suddenly agreed to direct, say, Armageddon 2: Hellfire on Earth, there’s every chance that it would be a fresher movie than his latest cranky Upper East Side neurotathon. Two other somber auteurs I’d happily consign to the integrity-overdose list are Mike Figgis, who took a break from his usual longueurs with Leaving Las Vegas and is now back to overinflated form with the lustrously shot, dazzlingly pretentious The Loss of Sexual Innocence, and John Sayles, whose latest plodding fanfare for the common man is Limbo. Quick, will someone please stop these two before they commit creativity again?

The quote still resonates, and I think Gleiberman has a point that certain directors might benefit from leaving their comfort zone once in awhile. With Spring Breakers, Harmony Korine sells out in the best possible way. Before Spring Breakers, the name “Harmony Korine” probably didn’t come to mind. In fact, when I was in high school, the delinquent skateboarders of Kids and the cat murderers of Gummo were about as far removed from the vacuous Spring Break culture of Spring Breakers, and for this high school student, that’s what made him so cool.

But it was the bacchanalia of Spring Break and it’s darker side that drew Korine to create Spring Breakers. With Spring Breakers, Korine manages to take Girls Gone Wild, MTV’s Spring Break, Skrillex (who scored the film, and whose song “Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites” played on a loop before the panel), Britney Spears (Britney’s song “Everytime” gets played on a grand piano by James Franco, and the girls do a rendition of “Baby One More Time”), twerking, Dirty South, and Crunk, and subverts expectations by showing the bleaker undertow of contemporary youth culture. Even what appears to be the stunt casting of Disney Channel starlets Vanessa Hudgens and Selena Gomez are part of the whole, rather than a mere selling point. The only things that could’ve made this more “pop” were the presence of Bieber and Miley (though some people don’t necessarily think that Miley’s lack of presence is a bad thing). Korine concieved the film with the idea that “I wanted the film in a lot of ways to be like pop music, with choruses, mantras, and things that would come back and get in your ear.”

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Sustaining a Career in Indie Film @ SXSW, 03/11/13

March 28th, 2013 · Miscellaneous

Sustaining a Career in Indie Film


L-R: Bryan Poyser, Kat Candler, Craig Zobel

With:
Bryan Poyser, Director, The Bounceback
Megan Gilbride, Producer, The Bounceback
Kat Candler, Director, Black Metal
Craig Zobel, Director, Compliance

It’s hard for me to believe that it will be ten years in May since I graduated from college. My goals, I have moved along in my career have adjusted and evolved as I’ve gotten older and have had more experience. Way back when, I was informed you either “made it”, or didn’t. That Hollywood was the premiere destination for those who wanted to “make it”. I was in my early twenties and my tastes in film were evolving…Hollywood hadn’t. People who I showed my scripts to were not interested in taking my projects on. One reader who worked at a Universal Production shingle suggested I go high-concept or die.

During that period, I read a book by Lance Olsen titled Rebel Yell that introduced the concept of having a writing career without waiting for a jackpot to arrive. I think I secretly wished that a similar guide to film had been written. I made a documentary that didn’t really go anywhere, or didn’t go as far as I would’ve liked it to go.

Then one day, I logged into Netflix, and a movie popped up on my list of recommendations. It read, “If you like Slacker and Stranger Than Paradise, you’ll like Mutual Appreciation. It was directed by Andrew Bujalski, a 29-year-old substitute teacher from Boston. My thought after seeing the movie, and then watching the trailer in the extras section and seeing the number of festivals it had been to was, “People still make movies like this?”

Perhaps the resources didn’t exist then, but I think I would’ve appreciated seeing this panel while I was still in college. Actually, I think seeing a panel like this in college would’ve saved me a ton of grief.

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One-on-Three interview with J-P Passi, Sami Helle, and Toni Välitalo: “The Punk Syndrome”.

March 25th, 2013 · Miscellaneous

One-on-Three interview with J-P Passi, Sami Helle, and Toni Välitalo: The Punk Syndrome – Winner, SXGlobal Audience Award


Pertti Kurikka’s Name Day

With:
J-P Passi, co-director, The Punk Syndrome
Sami Helle, bassist, Pertti Kurikka’s Name Day
Toni Välitalo, drummer, Pertti Kurikka’s Name Day

by Erin Scherer

Erin: My first question is for J-P. What compelled you to make a movie about this band?

J-P Passi: The anarchy of the guys. We have two directors, and the other one saw them on TV on a news program. It was a news flash on the band, who were still in the very early stages of their career.

Sami Helle: Four years ago.

J-P Passi:He told me about the band and asked if I would be interested.

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