g The Film Panel Notetaker: October 2008

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

"Manhattan, Kansas" Available on DVD November 18

Carnivalesque Films announced yesterday that it’s releasing Tara Wray’s personal documentary Manhattan, Kansas, on November 18. I watched the film this past weekend with my friend Sarah. We both found it to be very emotional, gritty, perplexing, and inspiring. Sarah plans to write a full review on The Write Bunch soon. In the mean time, here’s some more info on the film.

The parent-child relationship is emotionally charged from the moment a person is born. But it becomes especially complex when your single parent is mentally unstable, as is the case for filmmaker Tara Wray.

In her first film, Wray travels to rural Kansas in an attempt to reconnect with her mother, Evie, for the first time since Evie’s psychotic breakdown five years earlier. She finds a parent still chasing her demons, both real and imagined, struggling to make a career for herself as an abstract artist and searching for the Geodetic Center of the United States, the finding of which, Evie says, will bring about world peace.

When Tara takes it upon herself to help in her mother’s search, it sets into motion a surprising chain of events that may just rescue Evie from a catastrophic fate and help Tara reconcile with her mother on different terms. Manhattan, Kansas breaths new life into the personal documentary form.

Awards, Honors, and Reviews
Best Film, Brooklyn Arts Council 41st International Film & Video Festivals
Best Independent Films of 2007, FilmFest Reloaded Screening Series
Audience Award Runner-up, 2006 SXSW Film Festival
Tallgrass Film Festival Opening Night Gala Selection
New York Foundation for the Arts Featured Artist of the Month

“Painfully intimate, Manhattan, Kansas plumbs a contentious mother-daughter relationship, showing a family’s journey from estrangement to reconciliation and posing lingering questions about the line between mental illness and unconventionality. It’s an honest look about growing up and letting go … it’s everything a personal documentary should be.” Marrit Ingman, The Austin Chronicle

“Anyone who’s ever struggled through a long-standing family rift, only to come back together in tentative fashion, should appreciate Tara’s low-key and no-frills approach to storytelling. Her self-deprecating attitude only serves to amp up the ‘reality’ of the tale. This is not a filmmaker aiming for a huge sweeping statement, but a girl with a camera hoping to reconnect with one lonely parent. The “smallness” of Manhattan, Kansas is what makes the film so engaging.” Scott Weinberg, eFilmCritic.com

“Simple and direct - and emotionally blunt and affecting - Manhattan, Kansas acknowledges that love abides, even when forgiveness is not always easy or possible.” Film Society of Lincoln Center

About the Director
Tara Wray – Director. Wray was born and raised in Manhattan, Kansas, also known as “The Little Apple.” She is an eighth grade dropout with a degree from NYU, and a self-taught filmmaker with a background in fiction writing. Her first film, an autobiographical documentary named in honor of her hometown, premiered at the 2006 SXSW Film Festival where it won an audience award. The Austin Chronicle called it “everything a personal documentary should be.” It went on to screen at New York’s Lincoln Center, and at more than two dozen film festivals worldwide including showings in India, Croatia, Italy and Newfoundland. Manhattan, Kansas received funding from the Jerome Foundation, the New York State Council on the Arts and the Anthony Radziwill Documentary Fund and is a sponsored project of the New York Foundation for the Arts. Wray is currently in post-production on a new documentary called Cartoon College, about a school for cartoonists in Vermont.

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Upcoming Panels at MIAAC Film Festival

Happy Diwali, the Hindu, Jain, Buddhist and Sikh “festival of lights.” In light of this holiday, here’s some news sent to me by the Mahindra Indo-American Arts Council (MIAAC) about their upcoming panel discussions taking place at their 8th annual film festival.

October 20, 2008 (New York, NY) - Film industry professionals from New York and India will participate in panels for filmmakers during the 8th MIAAC Film Festival. The panels will be held at the Recording Studio at the Frederick P. Rose Hall at Jazz at Lincoln Center (Broadway at 60th Street). These panels are part of MIAAC's overall program, which also features 32 Independent and Indian Diaspora films, all NYC or US premieres, plus discussions, seminars, and a concert for peace.

Admission to panels is free, but registration is required.

IFP Industry Panel
Thursday, November 6, 10AM - 5PM
Recording Studio, FIfth Floor, Jazz at Lincoln Center
In conjunction with the Independent Feature Project, MIAAC will present three panels on film festival strategy, financing features, legal expertise, and working with talent. Panelists will include producers, feature film financing, casting directors (Avy Kaufman, Cindy Tolan), festival programmers, film publicists (Sophie Gluck), television producers and programmers. Prominent companies represented include the Crossroads Films (Paul Miller), Belladonna Films and the Hamptons Film Festival (David Nugent). Register for the IFP panels at rsvp.ifp.org.

Friday, November 7, 10AM - 5PM
Recording Studio, Fifth Floor, Jazz at Lincoln Center
In conjunction with New York Film and Television, MIAAC will present panels on financing and acquisitions of documentaries, the state of distribution, and opening strategies in New York. Prominent companies represented include the Sundance Channel (Ann Rose), POV at PBS (Cynthia Lopez), Roy W. Dean Grant Foundation (Carol Dean), Zeitgeist Films (Emily Russo), Fox Searchlight (Derval Whelan), IndiePix (Gauri Sathe), Film Forum (Karen Cooper), Miramax (Julie Fontaine) and the Tribeca Film Institute (Eileen Newman). Register for the NYWIFT panels at https://www.123signup.com/register?id=zftjq.

MIAAC Panels
Beyond Bollywood
Thursday, November 6, 6PM
Consulate General of India, 3 East 64th Street
Set in New Delhi, Canadian-Indian director Richie Mehta's feature debut AMAL is a tender contemporary fable on the good, the decent and the new India. The screening will be followed by a panel discussion that will address the issues faced by artists of South Asian origin in North America; the place and study of new independent films like AMAL in international cinema; their perceptions, distribution and exhibition in mainstream and community theaters; and their reception by and potential with mainstream audiences in the US. Panelists include Richard Allen, Chair, Cinema Studies, NYU; Ken Naz, President, Eros Entertainment, Inc.; Richie Mehta, Film Director and Richard Pena, Program Director, Film Society of Lincoln Center, as moderator. The screening seminar concludes with a reception allowing for informal discussions with the panelists and members of the audience. To register, email Dr. Mueller at cmueller@hunter.cuny.edu or call 212.772.564

Saturday, November 8, 10AM - 12PM
Recording Studio, Fifth Floor, Jazz at Lincoln Center
Shooting in India, a panel organized by MIAAC, will address questions and issues relating to US producers and filmmakers interested in producing in India. Two American producers who have extensive experience working in India (Lydia Dean Pilcher who has worked closely with director Mira Nair and Tracey Jackson who has worked on both American features and documentaries in India) will be joined by producer Aanand Mahendroo and director-producer Apoorva Lakhia from India who have worked in the industry in Bombay. To register, send an email to shivika@iaac.us.

About the Indo-American Arts Council
The Indo-American Arts Council is a registered not-for-profit arts organization passionately dedicated to showcasing, building awareness, and celebrating artists of Indian origin in the performing, visual and literary arts. Annual festivals of art, dance, playwrighting and film are scheduled through the year, with several special events and book launches. For further information please visit http://www.iaac.us/.

The IAAC Film Festival was born in the aftermath of 9/11 in response to Mayor Giuliani's call to New Yorkers to help rebuild a limping city. The First Annual film Festival opened its doors with Film Diaspora Godfather Ismail Merchant and closed with New York's favorite Indian filmmaker Mira Nair. Three years ago, Mahindra & Mahindra joined forces with the IAAC Film Festival by becoming the lead sponsor, changing the name of the festival to The MIAAC Film Festival. For further information please visit http://www.iaac.us/.

About the Mahindra Group:
The US $6.7 billion Mahindra Group is among the top 10 industrial houses in India. Mahindra is the market leader in multi-utility vehicles in India It made a milestone entry into the passenger car segment with the Logan. Mahindra & Mahindra is the only Indian company among the top tractor brands in the world.

The Group has a leading presence in key sectors of the Indian economy, including the financial services, trade, retail and logistics, automotive components, after-market, information technology and infrastructure development. Mahindra is now poised to make an entry in the two-wheeler segment.

Mahindra's Farm Equipment Sector has recently won the Japan Quality Medal, the only tractor company worldwide to be bestowed this honour. It also holds the distinction of being the only tractor company worldwide to win the Deming Prize. The US based Reputation Institute recently ranked Mahindra among the top 10 Indian companies in its Global 200: The World's Best Corporate Reputation list. For further information, please visit http://www.mahindra.com/.

Mahindra is also one of only four Indian companies to receive an A+ rating from the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) for its first Sustainability Report.


Friday, October 24, 2008

Trachtenburgs Join Fritz Donnelly On Their Way to Times Square for 'Awesome' tothehills 2 Screening

To the Hills filmmaker Fritz Donnelly presented his latest DVD tothehills 2 during a From Here to Awesome screening Thursday night in New York at the Times Square Arts Center. It was quite an ecclectic evening, as the party actually started a few hours earlier at the Lower East Side performance/art fun space HiChristina, where the Trachtenburg Family Slideshow Players (represented by Mom Tina and daughter Rachel, dad was not present) sang Rachel's song "Black Cat." (FYI, last week Rachel appeared at the New York City Term Limits hearing, where she testified that Mayor Bloomberg is "the worst Mayor ever," as documented in The New York Times.) A second and third rendition were performed on the subway on the way over to the Times Square Arts Center. One of those performances was captured on video as seen below with Fritz MC'ing. The Trachtenburgs gave one final performance of "Black Cat" before the tothehills 2 screening, after which Fritz took some questions from the audience. You can hear the Q&A in its entirety in the audio file here: Fritz%20FHTA%20Oct.%2023%2C%202008.dvf

tothehills 2 presents short films in an enterprising way. Between character-driven episodes of "Financial Advice," and "Awkward Social Situations," orange and blue clones fight their way through a Kafka-inspired world, one very like our own. Many of the shorts have won acclaim at festivals such as the audience award at the High Concept Low Budget Film Festival in San Francisco and the curator's choice at Rooftop Films Summer Series 10 year's Best Shorts Program in New York.

"Making art is a compulsion. Sharing art is a choice. Everything we have—our language, our clothes, our money—we've gotten from other people, so I believe in sharing. From Here To Awesome is a way for filmmakers to share their fans with one another. I'm a fan of fans," said Donnelly.

From Here to Awesome, an open-source discovery and distribution film festival that kicked off July 26th in Los Angeles and rolls out over a six-month period with stops in New York, San Francisco, Boston and London, showcases its 12 selected features, including tothehills 2, in all forms of distribution from theaters to living rooms to computers and mobile devices. Filmmakers retain all the rights, see direct revenue from each of the outlets and enjoy global audiences. The goal is to create a direct connection between the audience and the filmmaker.

In addition to making films, Donnelly hosts tothehills movie nights and open mics at venues such as the Glasslands in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and at HiChristina, where he presents music, films, and performance art. Donnelly also presented Vidopedia, a 'counter-conventional' encyclopedia that illustrates verbs, at the New Museum of Contemporary Art on October 11, commissioned by Rhizome.

You can contribute to Fritz's upcoming To the Hills projects on IndieGoGo.com.

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Sunday, October 12, 2008

Woodstock Film Festival - Actor's Dialogue with Mary Stuart Masterson & Melissa Leo - Oct. 5, 2009

2008 Woodstock Film Festival
Actors Dialogue: Mary Stuart Masterson & Melissa Leo
Sunday, October 5, 2009

(Mary Stuart Masterson, center, and Melissa Leo, far right, observe Martha Frankel, far left, making last-minute notes before the Actor's Dialogue as Meira Blaustein, off-camera, makes an introduction) Photo by Brian Geldin.

The always hilarious, often risqué and well-researched celebrity interviewer Martha Frankel (whose memoir Hats & Eyeglasses is now available) followed up last year’s Top 10 panel discussions with another great Actor’s Dialogue at the Woodstock Film Festival this time with Mary Stuart Masterson, a juror this year at the festival and whose feature directorial debut The Cake Eaters was among the festival’s official selections last year, and the sure-to-be remembered at Oscar time for her performance in Frozen River, Melissa Leo, who was at the festival this year with not one, but two short films, Teressa Tunney’s This Is a Story About Ted and Alice and Philip Dorling’s Predisposed (both of which I saw two days prior). Below are some highlights from the Actor's Dialogue.

Frankel: Talk about your films that are/were at the festival and what it’s like to be here.

Leo: I have a short I’ve never seen (Predisposed) and I short I saw in New York at Columbia University (This is a Story About Ted and Alice)…I’m looking forward to seeing it again, because…January had already happened…Frozen River was at Sundance and got the Grand Jury Prize and that’s when my life as you mentioned did in deed begin to change after almost 30 years of doing it…I had a really big part, I get a third single card or something really nice like that in Mary Stuart’s The Cake Eaters. We worked together, oh golly, five hours.

Masterson: We did some additional photography to do some changes to the structure to the narrative…Melissa was kind enough to be in some home movies of a character who’s a mother passed away…Of course, we offered her to be in the head credits…alphabetical, she’s third.

Frankel: (To Masterson) Do you know your Woodstock connection…about your dad?

Masterson: No. You didn’t sleep with my dad?

Frankel: Shut up, I wasn’t go to say who it was. I was just going to say that a friend of mine is getting married and another friend of hers smuggled Abbie Hoffman’s script to your dad and he bought it.

Masterson: He lived with us for a while (as Barry Freed)…I think I was 11 and 12…I think he was a little confused having been underground for so long about this identity. They worked together for a long time on the script.

Frankel: Who did your friends think Barry was?

Masterson: They didn’t meet him. They thought he was Barry, if they met him, just Barry.

Frankel: (To Leo) Did a fugitive ever live with you?

Leo: No comment.

Frankel: You both worked with my favorite actor, so talk to me about Sean Penn. (Masterson in At Close Range and Leo in 21 Grams)

Masterson: It was a great experience. Sean was great. We were very close. I met Sean, I met Christopher (Walker) and James Foley (the director) separately…for a meal. When do I audition?...So I didn’t ever audition and I just ended up in Franklin, Tennessee, working in this very intense way and at one point…Sean had come from the school where…you manipulate the other actor from off camera for what you might want to get out of them for the scene, not necessarily just playing the scene with them, but try to manipulate a response. I was like, ‘you don’t even know what I’m going to do, don’t manipulate me yet, later maybe.’ I gave him some attitude and we got along great.

Leo: I did audition for (At Close Range)...the biggest lesson I learned in an audition…he said, ‘do you have any questions?’…Chris Walken was there. Sean Penn was there…in the room…at least I’ll get some information…I did not understand at this time…’why do you want to make this film?’ Mary Stuart got the role…When I worked with Sean (on 21 Grams) I didn’t work with Sean (not in any scenes together)…but I did get to talk to him in the hours after he returned back to the United States from Iraq.

Frankel: Tell us about The Cake Eaters.

Masterson: We premiered it at Tribeca, then came here…we’re still out their on the circuit…We’re supposed to be in theaters in February and I don’t know that we are going to be as of a couple of days ago. I don’t know what’s going on. I’m usually the last to know…It’s the same story so many independent filmmakers are facing right now, which is that it’s really hard to sell a movie. The traditional distribution models have just totally broken or changed or are about to change, so the state between the old and the new is panic and paralysis…I know that (The Cake Eaters) will be out there at some point in some way, in some order of events either day-and-date and theatrical on a limited basis, then DVD, video-on-demand and all that.

Frankel: I love IMDB because they’re wrong so often. It says ‘Mary Stuart has never done a nude scene, nor has she ever posed nude or topless in her career.’

Masterson: Well I have, they just didn’t put it in the movie…I did a scene with Sean in At Close Range. It was terrifying for both of us…where we meet in the corn field and he sees a trail of clothes and we went behind the corn and I’m naked and running. Don’t run naked, people! Unless you’re Bo Derrick, don’t do it. I don’t know, I was 19 or 18.

Frankel: Melissa said upstairs…and I’m not making this up…she said ‘I haven’t gotten roles because my breasts aren’t big enough.’ Am I making that up?

Leo: It’s the truth…I asked Tommy Lee Jones if he wanted me naked (The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada) of if he wanted me Hollywood naked, and I didn’t really know how to ask Mr. Jones and he really is just the smarted fucking cowboy you’ll ever meet…so I said, ‘I’m not sure what you want here. I’m not just going to take it from the costume and make up department that you want me stark-raving naked on the couch, but if you like it, of course I’ll do it,’ and said, ‘Yep!’…I said, ‘Mr. Jones, I’ve been milked,’ and he said, ‘that’s the most beautiful thing ever.’ That is the man!...Way back, Sexual Perversity in Chicago…one of the first times I was ever flown out to Los Angeles to be tested on something and in the room with, oh what was that boy’s name? Rob Lowe…and they asked at the end of the audition…with the director left behind, and he said, ‘I have to see.’ I don’t think he could say a word for what they were, but his eyes were telling me what he meant.

Frankel: What are you working on now?

Leo: I came up from New Orleans where I was doing this film…Welcome to the Rileys…It’s a lovely title…because it’s very appropriate to the film. It’s a film about The Riles, James Gandolfini and myself, who lost a daughter eight years before. It is the welcome back to themselves that must happen after the loss of a child and a very difficult path to walk. Kristen Stewart, who I didn’t even know…I saw her in Into the Wild and she’s wonderful in that…I didn’t know and I spent a week with her in New Orleans, that she was that remarkable young woman in Mary Stuart’s film The Cake Eaters.

Masterson: She has a neuro-muscular degenerative disease in the film. A lot of people see the film and say, ‘how did you find this disabled actress?’…I’ve been producing a lot the past couple of years and spending a lot of time on the road with The Cake Eaters. I’ve gone to about 30 festivals…I produced a film called Tickling Leo that my husband wrote and directed with my fledgling production company, which is called Barn Door Pictures…Then I wrote a pilot that Fox optioned…It’s called Community Property…about a couple in Brooklyn who are in the middle of a divorce and they still occasionally sleep together, but they live on separate floors in the house, because neither will sell out of their property.

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Thursday, October 09, 2008

Woodstock Film Festival - Conversation with James Schamus - Oct. 4, 2008

2008 Woodstock Film Festival
Conversation with Honorary Trailblazer James Schamus
Saturday, October 4, 2008

Ang Lee and James Schamus at Woodstock Film Festival Awards Ceremony. Photo by Brian Geldin.

Film critic Karen Durbin sat down with Focus Features CEO James Schamus Saturday during the Woodstock Film Festival for a conversation with distributor and often producer/screenwriter of Ang Lee’s films (Crouching, Tiger, Hidden Dragon, The Hulk, Lust, Caution) about his career and what he’s currently up to as he would later that evening be bestowed and Honorary Trailblazer award. Below are some highlights of that discussion.

Durbin: What’s the first movie you ever saw at a theater?

Schamus: It’s so hard because for a lot of us for a certain age, I started film going at theaters under conditions that were quite different than now…back then the theaters didn’t list the starting times of movies…There was a very profound shift in distribution and exhibition practices that came in the wake in particular of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho from Universal who insisted the starting times be published so that people would not be admitted into the theater after the start. It was a publicity stunt. It was something that would change the whole nature of film going, because up until that time, it was also a coincidence the rise in television as a competitor…the movie theater used to have an open door…It’s impossible to have a first movie, because it was more about the experience of being at the theater…It’s really hard. I have so many memories…Like Sarah Palin, I actually dodged the question.

Durbin: I read that at the age of 10, you wanted to be an architect and at the age of 18 you wanted to be an academic in literature. When did you see the light?

Schamus: At the age I’m at now…I still want to be an academic. I did get my doctorate two years ago in English at Berkley…I was hired as a film historian 19 years ago at Columbia and that’s where I still teach…My undergraduate lecture this semester is Introduction to Classical Film Theory.

Durbin: How did you start producing?

Schamus: I was in Berkley and went back to New York for a while. It was at that moment in time when what we called an independent film…the late 80s…when a lot of them were picking up cameras and started making feature length narrative films in a context that was outside of the studio system…It was the work of avant-garde filmmakers, but they were studio filmmakers…Pulling together all these different strands both financing, exhibition and the critical community…it was all happening in the 1980s with Jim Jarmusch and Spike Lee and moved into…Todd Haynes and Christine Vachon.

Durbin: What was your very first movie?

Schamus: Because I had absolutely no skills and I was surrounded by people who were all genius artists, the one thing I could do was say, ‘hey, does anyone need help raising money?’…There were certain limited partnership models and there were also pre-sales, particularly European television that they don’t have any more…you could patch together that, and believe it or not, there were grants. Then finally in the States, there were certain people who weren’t necessarily invested in independent cinema in the beginning, but who opened the door to stabilize and adjudicate at least some of us…for example American Playhouse on PBS…Lastly of course was the rise of video, which people remember when VHS tape came, it was the end of the film industry. Jack Valenti said this is going to kill the studio system…What happened was the first company that ever got capitalized to make and distribute movies for that market was a company called Vestron.

Durbin: What about Good Machine? When did you form that with Ted Hope?

Schamus: It was a great time, because Ted Hope actually knew how to make movies. What the idea was…we’re just here to help get the movie made…We really didn’t care if we were the producers, executive producers, the financiers, the salesman, the line producer, production manager…whatever it took, however we fit into the puzzle, we would just drop our piece in there and make sure the film got made.

Durbin: When did you start writing?

Schamus: I got to New York…and took an internship…I was the oldest living production assistant. I was in grad school…I was 27…It was a lesson in humiliation.

Durbin: When did you hook up with Ang Lee? Is Taking Woodstock a comedy?

Schamus: It still is. We’re shooting our 11th movie right now…Taking Woodstock…we’ve made six suicidingly depressing movies in a row. I realized, this is the longest mid-life crisis in the history of cinema…I don’t think anyone here was laughing too hard at Lust, Caution…I wouldn’t mind if somebody called it (Taking Woodstock) a comedy. It’s like our earlier funnier movies like The Wedding Banquet…they’re not knock it down funny movies. They’re funny because people are funny…(Taking Woodstock) is story based on a memoir…This is very difficult for me to say, but the way we got the material for the movie was that Elliot Tiber who wrote the memoir was in San Francisco. Ang and I were out there promoting Lust, Caution…(Elliot) gave Ang the book…that’s difficult for me to admit...because you get sued every time you read something that hasn’t gone through the agency, but that’s how it happened.

Durbin: What’s the story of Taking Woodstock?

Schamus: Elliot at the time was a schnook. It’s ’69. He was living in Greenwich Village where he’s an interior designer for the mafia at night clubs. Not getting paid. Completely broke. Gay. He has these insane tyrannical Russian Jewish parents who operate a kind of Jewish Bates Motel in a shitty Catskill dump called Bethel…Now it’s really nice. The bank is about to foreclose on (the motel)…which he’s not that sad about…Up in Bethel, he’s the president of the chamber of commerce…One day he hears the radio and it’s news that the town of Wallkill has pulled the permit on this hidden music festival. He goes, maybe I can have it my barn or the motel and he calls up Michael Lang…three weeks later, a half million people show up and his life is completely transformed and the motel is saved. This character has little as possible to do to making Woodstock happen, on the other hand, if he hadn’t picked up the phone, it wouldn’t have happened. We can’t tell the story of Woodstock. It’s too big…there’s too many perspectives on it…it is one of the great stories of American culture.

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Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Woodstock Film Festival - "Were the World Mine" - Oct. 3, 2008

2008 Woodstock Film Festival
Were the World Mine
Friday, October 3, 2008

"Were the World Mine" Director Tom Gustafson. Photo by Brian Geldin.

Tom Gustafson’s Shakespeare-inspired musical Were the World Mine, a hit on the festival circuit this past year, made a stop at the Woodstock Film Festival on Friday. The film tells the story Timothy, a gay prep student who joins the school’s production of A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream and falls for one of his fellow classmates, amidst the scorn of his fellow straight students and the community, until he concocts a love potion that reverses everything. Shot on somewhat of a shoe string budget in Gustafson’s home town of Chicago last year, Were the World Mine is filled with lavish production design and musical numbers. Gustafson noted that the film is actually an expanded version of his previous short film Fairies from 2003. At the centerpiece of Were the World Mine is a stellar performance by Wendy Robie (of Twin Peaks fame) who plays the teacher who casts Timothy in the role of Puck in the school play. She also plays the same role in Fairies. Were the World Mine opens October 31 in Louisville, KY, and then opens in New York and San Francisco on November 21. Gustafson talked more about the film after the Woodstock screening. Below are some highlights of that discussion.

Q: You use trees a lot in the framing of so much in the film. I know it was intentional, why?

Gustafson: It comes back to A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream. We really wanted to have a forest feel.

Q: Why was the film shot in Chicago?

Gustafson: I grew up outside of Chicago. When I did the short film, it was very autobiographical. I had a coach that was very similar to our nice friendly coach in this film…Because of the short we shot there; I really wanted to bring it back. In Chicago, they have a really great tax program for independent films and the community there was really supportive.

Q: Did the actors do their own singing?

Gustafson: They did. Casting was interesting because I kind of did what most independent filmmakers do right off the bat. We thought we were going to get some name actor to become attached so for the teenage roles we went after some of the leads in High School Musical…we literally got told that ‘no way would my client play gay’ or ‘I don’t want my client in a gay film.’ I really thought we were past it. We basically said forget it, we’re going to do our own casting calls…in Chicago, LA and New York and found Tanner Cohen who plays Timothy. Now it’s meant to be. I’d so much rather have him than any of those silly, cheesy high school musical stars.

Q: Has the film been picked up for distribution?

Gustafson: We premiered the film in March at the Florida Film Festival and we’ve played a lot of festivals all around the world for the past six months. We got offers from distribution companies to do an all rights deal and we decided…this has been such a labor of love, we’re going to split it up. So we took a risk. The DVD is going to be with Wolfe Video and our cable release will be with Logo and theatrical, we held onto ourselves. We just got booked in 15 cities.

Q: Where have we seen the woman who plays the director of the school play?

Gustafson: Wendy Robie, she was in Twin Peaks as Nadine, who was that crazy woman with a patch who was obsessed with her blinds. She’s done a lot of Wes Craven movies…probably about five years ago, she decided to stop doing film and TV and focus on stage…she’s been doing Stratford Festival up in Canada…she’s been doing all this good work in Chicago and we found her for this short film. Literally I was looking at head shots at this little tiny theater in Chicago and I knew exactly who she was because I had been obsessed with David Lynch my whole life and Corey (the writer) was like, ‘Tom, you have to call her.’ There’s no way that Wendy would do a short no budget film, but I called her and her agent said exactly that, that there’s no way she would do it for no money, and he was like ‘can you just send me the script?’…and the next morning she called and said, ‘I absolutely want to do it. I don’t care what anyone says, but I want to play the teacher, not the mother’ who I thought she was going to play the mother. At that time, the teacher was nothing like it is now.

Q: What’s your next project?

Gustafson: The next feature project is called Mariachi Gringo…which Corey wrote. It’s basically about a guy who’s in middle America and sick of his life and decides to run to Mexico and become a Mariachi singer…I’m also doing a short film called Revelations, which is about a hate group that’s famous for picketing gay people’s funerals.

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Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Woodstock Film Festival - Music in Film - Conversation with Donovan - Oct. 3, 2008

fi2008 Woodstock Film Festival
Music in Film – Conversation with Donovan
Friday, October 3, 2009

Donovan and Doreen Ringer Ross. Photo by Brian Geldin.

Folk rock music legend Donovan known for such songs as Mellow Yellow and Hurdy Gurdy Man sat down with BMI’s Doreen Ringer Ross on Friday during the Woodstock Film Festival, for a conversation about his music career, affiliations with the film world, and the new documentary Sunshine Superman: The Journey of Donovan that screened at the festival on Sunday. I didn’t get a chance to see the documentary, and I also missed the concert Donovan gave Saturday night as I attended the festival’s award ceremony, but it would have been a really nice complement to have done both. It was quite a treat anyway to hear all the stories Donovan told at the panel. Going back to listen to the transcript, I learned a lot about the musical generation that came before me. Below are some highlights of that discussion.

Ringer Ross: How did Sunshine Superman: The Journey of Donovan come about?

Donovan: I’m really pleased to be here. I also have to thank Doreen for replying to my call when I said, ‘where should I present the film?’ this time of year when the distributor was keen to release it, and why not? It’s taken six years to make…The film began two years before my autobiography came out in 2005. Hannes (Rossacher, the director) and I spoke and he said, ‘do you think you’ll be doing a documentary?’ and I became aware of his work…The Untold Story of Freddy Mercury…I invited him into my basement in Ireland and he saw this footage, and he said, ‘nobody’s seen this footage?’ and I said, ‘no’ and he said, ‘OK Don, let’s begin.’

Ringer Ross: Who shot the archival footage of you on the beach in the documentary?

Donovan: Imagine 1966…(a year after) the black and white period of British emerging pop music…Charles Squire (the director of the independent television show Ready Steady Go) said, ‘can you come back down to the life you used to live and we’ll film it.’ It was brave to try to reconstruct it only 18 months after the event…Basically, there were two documentaries, Don’t Look Back, which wasn’t released for a couple of years I believe, Dylan’s documentary that I was part of, and my own documentary which was made called A Boy Called Donovan.

Ringer Ross: Can you speak about the beat writers you read and where you got started on your ideology that permeated everything?

Donovan: From my book, I wanted to comment on the social historical, musical, spiritual event. And that even really for me in all my songs was the Bohemian Manifesto invading popular culture with a will, to invade and bring back to culture poetry…wanting to bring meaning back to the populace…When you think of the early books I was reading, it became clear to me that the early Bohemian scene in America, the beat poets, they were fascinating to me. As a young man of 15, I entered British Bohemia, but all the books were American…They were all thinking that meaningful words in poetry would be returned to popular culture through jazz…I thought it’s going to be difficult to improvise poetry and jazz at the same time…it would be through folk music that meaningful poetry would come back to pop culture.

Ringer Ross: How did you hook up with The Beatles?

Donovan: (Gypsy Dave Mills) and I became really close with these four guys…We had common interests, absolute commitment with experimenting with art and music and a great interest in the roots of the suffering of the human condition. We were reading the same books…George Harrison and I especially. When we hooked up before India, it was through Bob Dylan, because Gypsy (Dave) and I made a B-line to meet the American folk musicians. It was George and I more than the other Beatles that realized, ‘ok, this book that I’m reading (Autobiography of a Yogi)’…he gave it to me, and the book that I was reading, The Diamond Sutra, I gave it to him. We both understood that meditation, the inward glance to actually turn the attention within with a mantra, was the way to understand why the human race was suffering…but we needed a Yogi…his name Mahariji Mahesh Yogi. George and the boys were initiated and I met Mahariji in the states and I was initiated and then we were invited to India. We took four acoustic guitars…and then it began a whole new kind of songwriting or should I say a return to the roots kind of songwriting.

Ringer Ross: Did you record Hurdy Gurdy Man with Led Zeppelin?

Donovan: Not exactly, let’s say the genesis of it. It’s too simple to say that those four guys were my back up band, but the elements are there. John Paul Jones and (Jimmy) Page. Page was a session guy. John Paul Jones was a session guy and an arranger…What actually happened with the sound in Hurdy Gurdy Man was an acoustic ballad of mystic qualities, opening a track which developed into a heavy metal chord structure, which would become a signature of sound, and so I kind of opened the door. I don’t know how I was opening it. Two of the members of that band were in that session. Stairway to Heaven would have a similar structure.

Ringer Ross: How did you feel when Hurdy Gurdy Man was used in David Fincher’s Zodiac?

Donovan: There’s a spooky quality to some of my music. It’s not all about peace and love. Season of the Witch also has this spook to it…there isn’t three weeks that goes by to this day where I don’t get a call and the publishing house doesn’t get a call for request for a song in a film…It’s not new. It’s been happening throughout my career because my songs have a filmic quality about them and a dramatic feeling. A friend of mine said in Zodiac, Hurdy Gurdy Man saved them $100,000 worth of shooting because dramatically it was juxtaposition to actually present that scene. The first fan that contacted me that said, ‘why did you let Atlantis be used in Goodfellas in the killing scene?’ and of course I told the truth, it wasn’t the money, it was because of Scorsese…the fan said it’s violent scene and a peaceful song…and then I realized juxtaposition is the whole thing…and they asked David Lynch the same thing, ‘so you’re meditating…and yet you make such violent films.’ And he said, ‘I get this question all the time.’ You don’t have to suffer as an artist to show suffering…I can join that movie world because I was leaving it up to directors and (music supervisors) to make the choice.

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Sunday, October 05, 2008

Woodstock Film Festival 2008 Award Winners

I just returned home from the Woodstock Film Festival, where I had a really great time. I will be posting more of my notes from the panel discussions and Q&As I attended in the days to come. In the mean time, below is the announcement of the winners of the festival that were presented in a ceremony last night that I attended along with Blind Spot director Adolfo Doring and producer Amanda Zackem. (I posted notes from their Q&A earlier). The highlights of the evening had to be Ang Lee’s presenting the Honorary Trailblazer Award to James Schamus (see brief video clip below) and Kevin Smith’s hilarious acceptance speech (parental guidance suggested) for his Honorary Maverick Award.

Ang Lee presents James Schamus with Honorary Trailblazer Award. Video by Brian Geldin.

(Woodstock, NY)—October 4th, 2007—The 2008 Woodstock Film Festival's Maverick Awards ceremony was held Saturday night, Oct. 4th, with director Sean Baker’s PRINCE OF BROADWAY taking Best Feature Narrative and director Jeremiah Zagar’s IN A DREAM winning for Best Feature Documentary. More than 300 indie film movers and shakers attended the gala event, held at Backstage Productions in Kingston, NY just outside the Woodstock arts colony.

Best Feature Narrative PRINCE OF BROADWAY is the story of Lucky and Levon, two men whose lives converge in the underbelly of New York’s wholesale fashion district. Set in the shadow of the Flatiron building and soaked in the colorful bustle of Broadway, the film is as much a brutal drama as it is a tender comedy. Shot in a fast-paced guerilla style that is akin to the hustler lifestyle, the film reveals the lives of immigrants in America seeking the ideals of family of love, while creating their own knock-off of the American Dream. (WFF East Coast Premiere).

Best Feature Documentary, IN A DREAM, quickly turns from a character study to an incredible personal, powerful and stirring drama. It is an unparalleled visceral and emotional experience. Shot over the course of several years, Zagar’s film is the kind of brutally honest and often beautiful look at the tumultuous time in his parent’s marriage that only a son could have captured.

The Diane Seligman Award for BEST SHORT NARRATIVE went to GLORY AT SEA, directed by Benh Zeitlin.

The Diane Seligman Award for BEST STUDENT SHORT FILM went to SIKUMI (On the Ice), directed by Andrew Okpeaha Maclean.

The Diane Seligman Award for BEST SHORT DOCUMENTARY went to PICKIN’ AND TRIMMIN’, directed by Matt Morris.

The Maverick Award for BEST ANIMATED FILM went to BERNI’S DOLL, directed by Yann J (Jouette).

The Haskell Wexler Award for BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY went to AT THE EDGE OF THE WORLD, directed by Dan Stone and shot by Daniel Fernandez, Tim Gorski, Simeon Houtman, James Joyner, Jonathan Kane, Mathieu Mauvernay, and John “Rip” Odebralski.

The James Lyons Award for BEST EDITING of a FEATURE DOCUMENTARY went to IN A DREAM, Keiko Deguchi and Jeremiah Zagar, Editors.
The James Lyons Award for BEST EDITING of a FEATURE NARRATIVE went to WERE THE WORLD MINE, Jennifer Lilly, Editor.

THE HONORARY LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD was presented to cinematographer Haskell Wexler, by writer/director/actor John Sayles, producer Maggie Renzi, and actor David Strathairn (award previously announced).

THE HONORARY MAVERICK AWARD was presented to director/screenwriter/actor/editor/comic book writer, Kevin Smith, by producer John Sloss (award previously announced).

THE HONORARY TRAILBLAZER AWARD was presented to James Shamus, CEO of Focus Features and award winning writer/producer, by director Ang Lee and actor Melissa Lee (award previously announced).

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Woodstock Film Festival - "Blind Spot" - Oct. 3, 2008

Woodstock Film Festival
Blind Spot
Friday, October 3, 2008

(L to R: Adolfo Doring, Max Fraad Wolff & Amanda Zackem) Photo by Brian Geldin.

After a nice 2 ½ hour drive from Astoria, Queens, to Woodstock, NY on Friday (I drove most of the way on I-87 this time around, avoiding going over the George Washington Bridge through New Jersey as I did last year), I went to pick up my press badge where I was greeted by Woodstock Film Festival Founder Meira Blaustein and Press Officer Ilene Marder in the press office, where I collected my press badge and tickets. I then went to check in at Twin Gables, the same Bed & Breakfast where A.M. Peters and I stayed last year (this year I was minus A.M. Peters, but plus Erin Scherer who arrived a day earlier).

Finally I was able to make it over to the Bearsville Theater where Adolfo Doring and Amanda Zackem (whom I met a few weeks ago at the festival launch party) were screening their documentary Blind Spot. Adolfo directed and Amanda produced this documentary about the effects of oil consumption on Americans as told by leading scholars and experts in the areas of energy, climate control, the economy, and the environment. It’s highly informative and looked super sharp on the big screen as it was shot in HD. Adolfo and Amanda answered a few questions from the audience, along with Max Fraad Wolff, an economist and one of the interview subjects in the film. Below are highlights from that discussion.

Q: Can you comment on what’s going on in other Western civilized countries?

Doring: I think we’re (the U.S.) the biggest consumers of energy per capita...2 to 1 with Europeans. They are more forward thinking. The reason the film focuses entirely on America we felt at the beginning that moment you put a shot of Saddam Hussein or mention anything that goes outside of the United States immediately people have this mechanism that, ‘Oh, it’s Saddam Hussein’s fault.’ It’s always somebody else’s problem. It’s diffusion of responsibility. We wanted to really contain it within the States.

Wolff: On a conceptual basis, not on the film because I had no influence over picking the subject matter or the nationality. A lot of people discuss energy and oil…as though they’re national. There are these imaginary lines in the economy, state borders. That’s dated and quite honestly wrong. Since you have an integrated global energy market…and affluence…the nation state borders that may be a big deal on our passports are of less and less important to the economic consumption, distribution, benefit and pollution costs of all the energy usage patterns. You can pick any major producer or consumer and you get a bit of a snapshot of a global market, because even if you’re relatively more efficient and I’m relatively less efficient, if there’s a big scramble for oil or my inefficiency pushes up the oil crisis, all your greater efficiency will give you some marginal benefit.

Q: How do you feel the current economic crisis is playing out and how does it relate to the oil situation?

Wolff: I think there’s actually a very great similarity. The denial of interdependence allows everyone to watch a sort of collective collapse and be pretty sure that it’s there own choice on whether or not they want to get into it or not. Then you get into a funny situation where everyone has an analysis that’s predicated on falsely rejecting the interdependence. I couldn’t think of a more dramatically painful example of that than the House votes on Monday where we’re having a huge debate on whether or not we need a bail out, when we basically have a patient, the national economy, that’s flat lining on the table. Whatever the hell you think about this or that bail out, if something doesn’t shock that heart into beating again, the organism dies…We have a crisis because big corporations and banks didn’t give a shit and feel co-dependent with the people they lent to so now they have a crisis because people can’t pay back and they’re insolvent. And then the general public says, ‘hey, who needs banks?’…you do.

Adolfo: What about the role of energy as it is playing out? If we had tons of oil, would the picture be different from what’s happening now?

Wolff: It would certainly be beneficial to whoever has oil in these markets particularly given their trend. Even if they’re down to $93 a barrel off of $147 on July 15, they’re still a lot up from $28 when George Bush was elected. If you do have a price of something that’s an input energy to virtually every production process, if it spikes up, the way that works in a market economy is it redistributes money from everything else. Given we’re a highly energy-dependent general public…the spiking price of oil sucked hundreds of billions dollars a year out of the U.S. economy, moved it to the oil exporters who then loaned it back to us creating the international problems that we have in our credit market.

Q: Like An Inconvenient Truth, do you have some kind of educational campaign behind your film?

Doring: Whatever needs to happen for it to get out there. One of the things I came out of An Inconvenient Truth feeling was that there was some kind of message at the end that was two fold. One was there was these giant things that the government can do…which is pull a switch and make everybody change their carbon emissions…changing your light bulbs, buying a Prias. After all those things, Amanda and I both felt that the main thing we wanted was to create awareness of a problem that is certainly dire but could get a lot worse.

Zackem: We wanted to create a dialogue on a deeper level, not just to use energy efficient light bulbs, but to look at everything on how heavy it is and how deep it really goes, because you have to start somewhere. I think it needs to be spoken about first.

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