g The Film Panel Notetaker: April 2008

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

May 1st FREE Tribeca Screening - Beyond Borders


Beyond Borders:
The Debate Over Human Migration

A New Documentary

The Beyond Borders screening will take place on May 1st. This is an invitation for a free screening of Beyond Borders before its national release and a chance to participate in a panel discussion afterwards.

The screening will be followed by a Q&A with the filmmaker Brian Ging, NYIC executive director Ms. Chung-Wha Hong, and documentary interviewees Michele Wucker (senior fellow and executive director of World Policy Institute and author of Lockout), and Sandro St. Jean (featured Haitian painter and recent immigrant).

Please RSVP to reserve your ticket for the event. We encourage you to forward this invitation on to friends, colleagues, and family - all of whom are welcome to attend the event.


Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Tribeca Film Festival- Behind the Screens - "Under Our Skin"- April 27, 2008

Tribeca Film Festival
Behind the Screens -
Under Our Skin
DGA Theater
New York, NY
April 27, 2008

Under Our Skin according to imdb :

Arguably the most overlooked and misdiagnosed ailment currently verging on epidemic throughout the United States, Lyme disease and the controversies surrounding its identification and treatment are the focus of this documentary.

Dr. Richard Horowitz., specialist in treatment of Lyme disease
Amy Tan, bestselling author, Lyme Disease sufferer
Andy Abrahams Wilson, Director - Under Our Skin

Robert Bazell

Aaron Dobbs, a programmer for Tribeca Film Festival, is responsible for finding the film Under Our Skin directed by Andy Abrahams Wilson. The director introduced the film by saying that he took quantum leaps along the road of making the film. He couldn’t imagine at the onset of how badly the film really “needed” to be made.

He cited a few tremendous individuals who had contributed to making the film happen.

Kris Newby, the producer, was responsible for researching and finding funding for the project. She also made an appearance in the film, and if he had not mentioned her beforehand, I still would have sensed her passion for the subject from onscreen.

Mandy Hughes and her husband Sean, major characters in the doc, were in attendance. When Andy was putting his feelers out for sufferers to be interviewed, Mandy called the office with the disease’s characteristic slurred speech and expressed that she found it important to record her experience. Despite her husband’s misgivings, her four year-arc from diagnosis to treatment to managing the disease with anti-biotics spanned the course of the film. I admired her bravery and ability to be so vulnerable on film to help us see and learn about not only the affliction itself, but illustrate the long road to recovery in the midst of cultural and academic denial of her condition.

He also acknowledged the editor, Eva Ilona Brzeski, who happened to move to town at just the right time. He also mentioned the non-profit Turn the Corner Foundation, a group in NYC whose mission is Lyme disease awareness. Then finally, the director of course praised Aaron Dobbs, who had singled out and championed the film from the beginning.

I went into this film super curious about what the heck I would need to know about Lyme disease. I knew about the ticks and the New England infections. I thought it wasn’t necessarily that huge of a problem… People could identify the bulls-eye rash, get the pills and get over it, right?

The film started with gorgeous imagery and introduced me to sufferers who all said in one way or another that they went to many doctors, were considered crazy or attention-starved, dropped from their insurance, misdiagnosed and misunderstood. We met some victims, heard from doctors and medical researchers, and the sad state of the health care system in the United States was reinforced. Then we, the audience, were left feeling appalled and disturbed that we aren’t more aggressive about this little Spirochaete costing people their lives.

The discussion afterwards was moderated by Robert Bazell. I know him from NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams and I really wanted to know if he thought all the biotech advertising during his program had any affect on the reporting on such topics.

Four years ago the director didn’t know much about Lyme disease. After many diagnosis, MLS, ALS and finally Lyme, his sister and also a friend in California both got sick, which planted a seed of curiosity about it.

He had no idea how the film would go or what Lyme disease was. To be honest, what drew him in initially was the conspiratorial characteristics of an escaped microbe infiltrating the population. So he put the word out on the Lyme blogosphere where they had clearly tapped into a real need. That’s when Mandy Hughes contacted the office and from there the film gained momentum.

Amy Tan went to 10 doctors for a rash, headache, and neuropathy. She was the one who thought she had psychological problems and that she wasn’t sick. But four and a half years after the infection she was diagnosed with Lyme disease. She went from despair of a future in a wheelchair to back to being a productive individual after treatment.

Dr. Horowitz said that the commonly used test for Lyme has not much more than 50 percent chance of detecting only one particular strain, though many exist. We are in a society of managed care medicine where doctors have less time to spend with their patients to identify the proper patient histories required to nail down the complex organism known to cause Lyme.

Andy said Lyme came at a time in the 70s when medicine was deregulated and politicized. Instead of sharing research; the specifications of Lyme disease became patent protected and the race for the vaccine was on. The surface protein of the micro-organisms had been patented which is just plain nuts.

The Doctor said that the vaccines didn’t even work, people lost their mind, patients got sicker. He refused to give the vaccine to his patients and demanded further research.

The director made a point to not address the psychological symptoms as much as the others since he didn’t want to buy into the stereotype that people with Lyme are experiencing it psychosomatically.

Andy pointed out that the people refusing to acknowledge Lyme’s chronic infection potential did not know or think they were being bad people. They simply had a special interest in Lyme’s economic value, and any time people are doing something in their self-interest, they think they are doing the right thing.

The Doctor reiterated that Lyme is complex as he found that many of his patients were co-infected so he’s developing a format to get a measure of other bacteria, mold and supplemental ailments possibly complicating it further. The population and medical people would want to gloss over and ignore it because it’s too much to absorb.

Amy says none of nature’s interactions are simple. Lyme is this thing that has been unleashed and we can’t go back to a time before it was so rampant. It’s not simple and feels much like Invasion of the Body Snatchers when it happens to you.

The director was driven by the wonder and fascination of the puzzle and hope the film is the beginning of the conversation.


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Tribeca Film Festival - Int'l Press Meet & Greet - April 28, 2008

Tribeca Film Festival
International Press Meet & Greet
Tribeca Target Filmmaker Lounge
April 28, 2008

I met several international filmmakers with shorts and feature length narratives and documentaries from such countries as Israel, Mexico, Australia and more Monday night during a press meet & greet at the Tribeca Target Filmmaker Lounge. The list below are the filmmakers I met with schedules of their films for the remainder of the festival. To view their pictures, please click here.

In addition to meeting all these great filmmakers, I also met Wei Ling Chang, a 2006 Tribeca All Access alumn whose screenplay The FixPoint, a time travel paradox, will be presented as a staged reading as part of TAA On Track, platform for selected festival alums to pitch their feature projects. There will be a screening of Chang's short reel (including award winning shorts that screened in Cannes, Sitges, Buenos Aires, Beijing, etc.) followed by a stage reading of excerpts from THE FIXPOINT on Tues, April 29 at 3PM at City Cinemas Village East, 181 2nd Ave, Theatre 5. The event is open to all industry badge holders.

Being Human
Short Student Competition/World Premiere
In Picture:
Director Mike Palermo, Producer Marco Palermo & Cinematographer Dan Palermo
Thu, May 01, 2:00PM
AMC Village VII 6
Fri, May 02, 10:30PM
AMC Village VII 1
Sun, May 04, 11:00AM
Village East Cinema 2
Film Website: http://www.dvisionentertainment.com/

God Only Knows
Short Narrative Competition/New York Premiere
In Picture:
Director Mark V. Reyes, Producer Manjula Nadkarni and Screenwriter Julie Oxendale
Thu, May 01, 2:00PM
AMC Village VII 6
Fri, May 02, 10:30PM
AMC Village VII 1
Film Website: http://web.mac.com/markvreyes/Site/Home.html

Short Student Competition/North American Premiere
In Picture:
Director Lior Geller and Director of Photography Nadav Hekselman
Thu, May 01, 2:00PM
AMC Village VII 6
Fri, May 02, 10:30PM
AMC Village VII 1
Sun, May 04, 11:00AM
Village East Cinema 2
Film Website: http://vids.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=vids.individual&videoid=2096098565

Moon Mermaid
Short Narrative Competition/International Premiere
In Picture:
Director Psyché Piras and Actor Elie Lison
Wed, Apr 30, 4:30PM
AMC Village VII 5
Sat, May 03, 6:00PM
Village East Cinema 2
Sun, May 04, 4:30PM
Village East Cinema 4
Film Website: http://pbcpictures.com/bin/htdoc.cgi?id=0004361_pbc_home

World Narrative Feature Competition/World Premiere
In Picture:
Director Dan Castle
Tue, Apr 29, 9:45PM
AMC Village VII 7
Thu, May 01, 4:30PM
AMC Village VII 5
Sat, May 03, 1:30PM
AMC Village VII 2
Film Website: http://www.newcastlemovie.com/

Dying Breed
Feature Narrative/World Premiere
In Picture:
Director Jody Dwyer
Fri, May 02, 11:59PM
AMC 19th St. East 1
Sat, May 03, 12:30AM
AMC Village VII 4
Film Website: http://www.dyingbreed.com.au/

Short Narrative Competition/New York Premiere
In Picture:
Dusk Producer Lucas Akoskin, Paraiso Travel Director Simon Brand and others.
Thu, May 01, 2:00PM
AMC Village VII 6
Fri, May 02, 10:30PM
AMC Village VII 1
Sun, May 04, 11:00AM
Village East Cinema 2
Film Website: http://www.terra.com/cine/terrashorts/shorts_es/

Paraiso Travel
Feature Narrative/International Premiere
In Picture:
Paraiso Travel Director Simon Brand, Dusk Producer Lucas Akoskin and others.
Thu, May 01, 6:45PM
Village East Cinema 4
Fri, May 02, 6:30PM
AMC Village VII 6
Sat, May 03, 2:15PM
Village East Cinema 3
Film Website: http://www.paraisotravelmovie.com/

My Life Inside
World Documentary Feature Competition/North American Premiere
In Picture:
Director Lucía Gajá and Sound Designer Pablo Fulgueria
Tue, Apr 29, 8:30PM
Village East Cinema 6
Fri, May 02, 2:15PM
Village East Cinema 3
Sat, May 03, 5:15PM
Village East Cinema 3
Film Website: http://www.mividadentro.com/

Donkey in Lahore
World Documentary Feature Competition/North American Premiere
In Picture:
Director Faramarz K-Rahber
Tue, Apr 29, 2:00PM
AMC Village VII 6
Thu, May 01, 3:45PM
Village East Cinema 4
Fri, May 02, 9:15PM
Village East Cinema 6
Film Website: http://www.donkeyinlahore.com/Home.html

Sita Sings the Blues
Feature Narrative/North American Premiere
In Picture:
Director Nina Paley
Thu, May 01, 1:45PM
Village East Cinema 2
Fri, May 02, 3:00PM
AMC Village VII 3
Film Website: http://www.sitasingstheblues.com/

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Sunday, April 27, 2008

"Glory at Sea" Fundraiser Screening - April 26, 2008

Glory at Sea
Fundraiser Screening
Walter Reade Theater
New York, NY
April 26, 2008

Court 13 International and Rooftop Films presented a fundraiser screening to a sold-out audience of Benh Zeitlin’s short film Glory at Sea Saturday night at the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s Walter Reade Theater. On their way to Austin, TX, from New Orleans, LA, last month for the South by Southwest Film Festival, Zeitlin and members of his film crew got into a terrible car accident, resulting in severe injuries for the young director who was uninsured. Wheel chair bound, Zeitlin (and company) triumphantly gathered for the New York premiere of Glory at Sea, an awe inspiring narrative short film about a post-storm Louisiana community who band together to make a boat from garbage and wreckage to return a man back to the sea. Approximately $5,000 was raised that evening, according to Mark Elijah Rosenberg of Rooftop Films. Zeitlin was met with a standing ovation after the screening.

Zeitlin called all the cast and crew in attendance up to the stage with him where he answered some questions from the audience. He said that so many people in New Orleans were going through so many different conditions and still helped to make this movie.

The first question asked was how they get the boat to stay afloat. Sophie, one of the film’s art directors, answered that it all goes back to the 2nd grade when she learned about bouncy. It was basically a raft, nothing too complicated. It wasn’t really built to withstand anything like what’s depicted in the film, but it still did. Zeitlin added that Sophie did some re-welding on the boat when it was out on the water. It kept on almost collapsing throughout, but it was a miracle that it didn’t.

Zeitlin was next asked where he found his actors. He had been hanging out in New Orleans figuring out what his film would be, and he met a lot of people in a bar. They were mostly non-actors and they all helped to build the boat. Some of them couldn’t even swim, but they got on the boat anyway.

Zeitlin then introduced the little girl who narrates the film, Chantise, who said she’s an actor in the making and that her aunt found out about the audition on Craiglist.

When asked what amount of loss and death the people in his film experienced during and since Hurricane Katrina, Zeitlin answered that they didn’t really talk about it too much. There had been a lot of other filmmakers down there documenting the storm, and he wanted to do something creative instead. That was a relief to a lot of the people.

The final question asked was how may days it took to shoot the film. Zeitlin said it was shot in three phases with different crews each time and took about six to seven months altogether to finish.

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Tribeca Film Festival- Behind the Screens - "Lake City" - April 26, 2008

Acclaimed film actress Sissy Spacek (Carrie, Coal Miner’s Daughter) participated in a discussion lead by Variety's Dade Hayes during the 2008 Tribeca Film Festival after a screening of her latest film, Lake City, written and directed by Perry Moore and Hunter Hill. Lake City is a dramatic narrative feature about a family threatened by violent criminals and a mother and son who must reconcile the past in order to save their home. Troy Garity, Dave Matthews and Rebecca Romijn also star in the film. While much of the audience seemed to sing the praises of the film, I couldn’t help but feel disappointed by it. I felt it was fraught with clichéd dialogue and plotting devices, but Spacek and Garity seemed to pull in compelling enough performances for me to give it a hesitantly half-way recommendation.

Hayes began the conversation reflecting on several private moments that take place within Lake City and asked Spacek how much work she did in terms of filling in those moments for her character for which she responded that she tries to fill them up with her own personal experiences, not so much with her characters’. As a young artist, she studied at the Strasberg Insitute, though she never got past the exercise classes. When she has those moments, she thinks about things in her own life. “Your life is a deep well of research and fodder in your work,” she said.

Hayes further delved into Spacek’s process by asking how she connected with the material. She said she lives in a rural area, like that in the film, now far from where the film was shot. She’s also seen people lose their farms and she has her own family.

The film’s climax has Spacek running through a corn field being chased after in a car by drug lords. Hayes asked Spacek how long it took to shoot that scene. She said it felt like forever. She heard the engines behind her just as she got a charley horse and saw her whole career before her. She prepared for that moment for 30 years. “It was my last hurrah,” she said.

The farm house where Spacek’s character lives seemed to be a character on its own. Hayes asked how the filmmaker’s found that house. Spacek said that co-director Perry Moore is from Virginia and the Virginia Film Office helped them find it. It hadn’t been lived in for 10-15 years. Spacek reminisced that it used to be many films used to always shoot on location. Now it’s rare to get to do that. Often times, films set in Texas or Oklahoma are shot in Canada. She said she had no qualms about Canada, but would prefer to shoot a film set in Canada in Canada.

Hayes asked Spacek what the rehearsal process was. She said there was about a week of rehearsal in the farmhouse, but they could have used a few more days. She said that’s always a complain actors have.

Hayes mentioned to Spacek that at one point in her career, she took some time off. Spacek said at the time she was trying to raise her children. She said there’s a time in Hollywood when an actress turns 40, there’s a hump, but when you get a little older, there’s more parts.

Hayes then opened the discussion up to the audience. Spacek was asked to reflect on a turning point in the film where her character gets annoyed with her son coming back home and how she handled that transition. They definitely have enormous problems in their relationship, but when things turn around, she realized he really needs her, so she gets involved.

Spacek was asked what it was like working for two directors. She said it was good and bad. Usually, they split it up. One was at the camera and the other at the monitor. She said it was really wonderful, but she teases them.

An audience member mentioned that there were some parallels in Lake City to Todd Field’s 2001 film In the Bedroom, for which Spacek was nominated for an Oscar. Spacek compared and contrasted the roles saying that her In the Bedroom character was a mother that convinces her husband to commit murder to avenge her son’s death, while her character as the mother in Lake City is one who re-connects with her family. Different families grieve in different ways. The power of the story is that they’re finally able to understand each other and begin to heal their wounds.

Another audience member asked Spacek how she’s kept going all these years. Spacek said she loves film. She has fun doing this. She realizes how fortunate she is to be working all these years. She had just come from a screening of Terrence Malick’s 1973 film Badlands, her first starring screen role. She couldn’t believe that she was that young once.

One final person asked a question to Spacek that seemed to irk most of the audience. He recalled the scene in which Spacek’s character goes to get a bottle of Coke at a gas station and that he resents product placement. He asked Spacek if she got paid to say that. She responded, “I just wanted a Coke.”

Hayes also broke in with one final thought of his own by asking Spacek to talk a little about her experience moving to New York City when she was really young. Spacek said that she had live in NYC for about five years in the late 60s/early 70s. She loved it. When she moved to California, because she didn’t go their first, she was considered a New York actress.

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Friday, April 25, 2008

Tribeca Film Festival - Conversations in Cinema - "Standard Operating Procedure" - April 24, 2008

Academy-Award-winning documentary filmmaker Errol Morris (The Fog of War) participated in a discussion lead by Jarhead author Anthony Swofford during the 2008 Tribeca Film Festival after a screening of Standard Operating Procedure, Morris’ latest film where he interviews the American soldiers who took the iconic Abu Ghraib photographs.

Swofford began the discussion by saying how he experienced different emotions watching the film. He also saw that each of the film’s subjects seemed to experience different emotions while discussing their experience at Abu Ghraib, Brent Pack (the Special Agent from the Criminal Investigations Division), who had been devastated by the forensic process of going through the photographs. Swofford asked Morris what was his reaction to this.

Morris responded that since this is a movie about those photographs, it was essential. It was a good interview and he had no idea what he was going to hear. He spoke of “the” iconic photographs of the war, the ones that depict torture and abuse that are classified as Standard Operating Procedure (SOP). Morris found this very surprising and ironic at the time. It made him feel we were in bedlam. The distinctions made perhaps made sense to someone, maybe not him.

Swofford said he felt there was an agitated citizen behind the film, that being Morris. He asked Morris why he made the film and tells it from most of the soldier’s (under the rank of staff sergeant) point of view.

Morris answered that these people were the ones who took the photographs. His motivation was his curiosity about the photos. They are probably the most widely seen pictures in history. The interaction we have is all these ideas of what they depict, without really knowing what happened.

Swofford said that one of the soldiers (Javal Davis) says if it weren’t for the cameras, no one would ever know about this. What if there weren’t photos taken? How much of it was staged?

Morris said he divides the photos into three categories:
  • When Sabrina Harman first walks into prison, she takes pictures of the prisoner known as Taxi Driver who is stripped naked with panties on his head in a horrible stress position. She walked into this. This was not something she created. These are verité/documentary photos.
  • Then Sabrina takes pictures of the American soldiers who are often smiling and giving a thumbs up along with the prisoners.
  • The strongest photos are those that have been created for the camera, the only reason these things occurred, ie. Lynndie England holding the leash strapped to the prisoner Gus, Gilligan standing on the box with wires, and the prisoner pyramid.

Morris said he never got clear answers about what photos were SOP. In creating these photos, they created pictures of American foreign policy in the broadest sense.

In his 17-hour interview with Janice Karpinski, Morris mentions how Janice got angrier as it progressed. The last three hours were the most memorable. She talks about how she identifies with Lynndie. Janice said (not in the movie) they have these representations of women in the military, ie. heroic woman like Jessica Lynch and they needed villains, which were Lynndie and herself. This is a war of sexual humiliation. It’s no accident that American women were used to strip Iraqi males and humiliate them.

Morris said he was truly outraged that the wrong people took the fall for this. The photographs helped in this in a very odd way. For example, the picture of Sabrina with her thumb up over the dead body of the Iraqi prisoner. The first time he saw this picture, he thought she was a monster. It implicates her and makes her look responsible, but he later found out that the man was actually killed by a CIA interrogator. The entire brass of the prison was involved with covering up the murder. It was not just a couple of soldiers who planned this. Everyone was involved. Was Sabrina involved in the murder? No. She took pictures to show that the military is nothing but lies. She wanted to be a forensic photographer. She took 20 pictures of the body, described as forensic photos. The CIA interrogator, whose name Morris knows, has never been brought up on charges. Sabrina spent a year in prison. Morris says loudly and passionately that the people involved with this have NEVER, NEVER been held accountable. It’s deeply wrong. We saw a glimpse of Abu Ghraib. It stopped us dead in our tracks because we thought we had someone to blame.

Swofford asked Morris if it takes narrative to give meaning to these photos.

Morris said he doesn’t think the photos failed. We didn’t pursue the truth. We stopped. The theory is that George W. Bush won the election in 2004 because of the bad apples. The chips fell into place. Morris wanted to know why the war was going south. People blamed the photos. They became scapegoats for a war. They were blamed so the people higher up didn’t have to blame themselves. It’s a sad story.

Swofford asked Morris if there were more interviews that were not included in the film.

Morris said he interviewed a lot more people. He accumulated tens of thousands of documents. He has a fairly long essay coming out in the New York Times blog (see also Eric Kohn’s Wonderland Stream interview with Morris about the NYT blog) about Sabrina’s smile with an interview with an expert on facial expressions. Morris said he is always fascinated when someone from the Administration says we don’t have to follow the Geneva Conventions. Everything that happened at Abu Ghraib was a violation of the Geneva Conventions.

Audience Q&A:

Q: Did you interview any Iraqi prisoners who were at Abu Ghraib?

Morris said he tried to interview the Iraqi men who appeared in the iconic photos. He tried really hard to find Gus and Gilligan. The military was no help whatsoever. He didn’t know if they were dead or alive. One man came forward as Gilligan. He was an imposter, but actually was a prisoner there. Morris interviewed this man on the phone and asked him about Sabrina. The man said he really liked her.

Q: What was your process of editing the film?

Morris said he never has all the footage he wants, but he kept working away. He jokingly said that he knows when to stop when the producers starts threatening to sue him.

Q: Why did you make the choice to use re-creations in the film?

Morris said his hope is that the images take the audience into moments of the photographs. They re-focus your attention on something specific, for example, the drop of blood or water from the shower head. Certain things have a moral ambiguity.

Q: How much of your interviews are pre-planned?

Morris said he never has a list of questions. He never knows where an interview is going. He expects to be surprised.

Q: What is the real purpose of your movie?

Morris said there are many important questions. Can we have this foreign policy and still call us a democracy? He had a crazy idea that these questions could be addressed by looking at small things. There are big questions contained in this about our country and ourselves. If he achieved that, he thinks he’s done his job.

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Thursday, April 24, 2008

Silverdocs To Honor Spike Lee

SILVERDOCS: AFI/Discovery Channel Documentary Festival will honor Spike Lee at its Charles Guggenheim Symposium during the June fest. The Film Panel Notetaker will return to Silver Spring, MD, for a second year in a row to bring you coverage of the panels, filmmaker Q&As, and more. Stay tuned. Here's my coverage from last year's screening of The Gates (my favorite film I saw in all of 2007) at Silverdocs. And here's Silverdocs's announcement about Spike Lee:

Silver Spring, Maryland, April 23, 2008—SILVERDOCS announced today that it will honor Spike Lee at the Charles Guggenheim Symposium, a centerpiece of the now eight-day documentary festival which takes place in June just outside DC. Spike Lee, an Emmy Award-winning and Academy Award-nominated director, producer, writer and actor with more than 35 films to his credit, was selected for his unyielding commitment to telling stories that challenge America’s consciousness of social injustice, while also celebrating the resilience and power of the human spirit. The Symposium, named after the late, four-time Academy Award-winner Charles Guggenheim, honors a filmmaker who has mastered the power of the documentary to capture current events, frame history and who inspires audiences with powerful explorations of the complexity of the human experience.

“Spike Lee is truly a master storyteller; in both his contemporary and historical films, he uncovers the deep truths and unhealed wounds of the American experience while celebrating our resilience and passion,” said AFI President and CEO Bob Gazzale.

Lee’s most recent documentary work, the Peabody-winning masterpiece WHEN THE LEVEES BROKE: A REQUIEM IN FOUR ACTS (2006), is considered the documentary of record of the aftermath of Katrina and the courage and tenacity of the people of New Orleans.His deep commitment to telling stories of the African American experience has resulted in numerous non-fiction films including: the Academy Award-nominated documentary 4 LITTLE GIRLS (1997) which tells the tragic story of the Birmingham, Alabama church bombing that helped galvanize the civil rights movement; A HUEY P. NEWTON STORY (2001), a documentary film based on the biographical play of the Black Panther leader; and WE WUZ ROBBED (2000), which recounts the stunning story of the 2000 election in Florida with poetic economy. His passions for both music and sports have lead to films on Pavarotti and Michael Jackson as well as football’s All-American Jim Brown. All this is in addition to his powerful and celebrated narrative dramatic films, including DO THE RIGHT THING which AFI has honored as one of the 100 greatest American films of all time.

As part of the Symposium, SILVERDOCS will screen a series of excerpts from Lee’s body of documentary work. Following the screening Lee will be joined on stage by special guests to engage in a discussion of his career. Past honorees include Barbara Kopple, who was joined by Albert Maysles and Elvis Mitchell in 2005; Martin Scorsese, who engaged in conversation with Jim Jarmusch in 2006; and most recently Jonathan Demme, who was interviewed by NPR’s Michel Martin. More details will be released closer to the Festival.

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Tuesday, April 22, 2008

One-on-One Q&A: Director/Screenwriter, Phillip Van

One-on-One Q&A: Director/Screenwriter, Phillip Van

A scene from Phillip Van's She Stares Longingly At What She Has Lost.

She Stares Longingly At What She Has Lost is the title of Phillip Van’s segment of Little Minx, a new web film series produced by Rhea Scott and based on the French parlor game of the same name where the last line of the previous film's script starts the first line of the next film's script. The Film Panel Notetaker conducted a One-on-One Q&A with Van who explains what it was like contributing to the Exquisite Corpse process. He also talks about his new feature-length screenplay Darkland that is in the Tribeca All-Access program at the 2008 Tribeca Film Festival. Van also has a number of acclaimed short films to his credit including the Student Academy Award-winning High Maintenance, Dunny, Flight, and the PSA Lone State for MetLife.

TFPN: How would you characterize the entire Exquisite Corpse process and how did you conceptualize your particular segment for Little Minx?

Van: I wanted to define something that I don’t think there’s a word for in the English language, maybe the closest one is ‘nostalgia.’ But it’s more fatal and meaningful. Other cultures have descriptions of this kind of mood or feeling. In Portuguese, it’s called ‘saudade.’ There’s a type of music called ‘fado’ that they dedicate to it. There’s a cultural movement surrounding it that has been going on for generations. It’s a very visceral sort of feeling, which I know well, but it’s not a major source of art in western culture. It usually relates to a loss of home or a loss of some form or incarnation of yourself. I devised a story around it. I was really into Carl Jung growing up. A lot of his ideas influenced the ideas in the story, especially the idea of the “Animus,” an unconscious conception of a man in the mind of a woman before she knows man and a kind of ideal that she projects onto man. The gender reverse is the anima. Jung had all these accounts of patients he worked with that said things like “I’ve been married to my wife for 10 years and I realized yesterday that I actually don’t know who she is.” Those accounts influenced the Water Man, who is essentially an illustrated version of the Animus in the mind of the little girl in my story.

TFPN: It seems that Jung’s philosophies also come into play in your short film High Maintenance. Can you talk about that?

Van: I made High Maintenance to touch upon behaviors that I see in excess today among friends and in society; things like rampant consumerism, serial monogamy, lives predicated entirely on connections through technology or some sort of networking platform, and a real, new kind of loneliness. We’re more connected now than we’ve ever been before but somehow, also more disconnected. I think this relates directly to the filters that we use to reach out and connect to one another. The film was a way for me to turn those themes into a story and I did it through the characters of Jane and Paul. Jane is looking for a man by ordering designer robotic men online, tweaking them to accommodate her desires, and making sure the upgrade is better than the first version of the husband she bought. In that process, she tests the degree to which men are interchangeable. In one respect, the film comments on how programmatic love can be in human lives. We’re susceptible to a series of stimuli that induce chemical reactions. When we’re told what we want to hear, our response is mechanical on a certain level. In another respect, by attempting to demonstrate that love is replaceable, the film becomes a strong argument for the opposing truth. It pinpoints a kind of alienation, depravity and need for companionship that is all too human.

TFPN: What is your screenplay Darkland about? How does it differ from your shorts and where did the idea come from?

Van: Darkland bares similarities to my other work, but it’s also very different. All my shorts deal with themes of alienation. To some extent, they also all deal with interchangeability: the degree to which we can be made irrelevant or redundant in the modern world and the fears, anxieties and, at times, comedy surrounding that.

Darkland has political overtones but is ultimately very human. It’s the real love story of my mother and father and the things they went through together in Laos before the entire area fell with the end of the Vietnam War in 1975. It’s also very much a dark thriller. It centers on Thanh, a Vietnamese man raised in Laos, and his conflicted relationship with Lauren, an American woman who works for the USAID and gives resources to starving Lao villages whose trade routes have been cut off by the war. Thanh is in charge of a dam building operation designed to generate money and power. He believes it will fortify the country against communism and the threat of the war next door. But as he tries to put together his workforce, he discovers that all of the Lao workers have already secretly turned to the communist regime. The only way to get the job done is to hire these people and keep quiet. In doing so, he ends up inadvertently funding communist attacks on his own country. Working on the frontlines, Lauren bears witness to the murder that he’s unleashing on his own people, and upon discovering his secret, has to weigh her love for him and ability to keep it covered up against his path of destruction. It’s a story that plots grand dreams of freedom and salvation against the ugly realities of murder, corruption and egomania. As Thanh’s love for his country and Lauren’s love for Thanh become engines for complacent destruction, the story forges a central opposition between love and morality.

TFPN: This seems really relevant with current events.

Van: Absolutely. That’s great that you’ve said that. I’ve stopped saying that. I don’t want to force it down people’s throats. The speeches that Nixon gave at that time with regard to withdrawal from Vietnam, which in a cursory way addressed Laos, were very similar to Bush’s speeches now. I’m sure Bush’s speechwriters are aware of the overlap, but I don’t know why they would be paraphrasing Nixon given his track record. The way that the technocrats in Iraq were disempowered because of misguided decisions on the part of our government is pretty incredible. When you use the government to fire the intelligent working forces in a country they will turn to the anti-establishment, because it’s best game in town. And they have to feed their families. They also have all this knowledge and they have to use it somewhere. The dam Thanh is building is a way to actually show these dynamics at play in a visceral, physical manner.

TFPN: Is Darkland fictionalization or a completely true story?

Van: It’s safe to say that it’s based on a true story, but I’ve changed certain elements around and taken a few, reasonable dramatic liberties.

TFPN: What was the process of being accepted into Tribeca All Access and what does it mean to you to be selected?

Van: It was very much like applying to the festival itself. I turned in the first draft of the script, treatment, synopsis, logline – all of the written material they required. Also a personal statement on why the script and the film are relevant to me. Then it went through a pretty rigorous period. They called me and we had a lengthy interview. I think there were four or five people from Tribeca All-Access on the phone asking me questions. It reminded me of getting into NYU. My script and others in the program aren’t conventional, maybe because of the strong multi-ethnic contingent or subject matter. Prior to writing Darkland, I’d been working on a featurization of High Maintenance that I’m still working on with the writer of the short, Simon Biggs, who’s a great partner. And then this idea for Darkland came up and really took over for a spell.

TFPN: Can you talk more about some of your earlier film influences and inspirations?

Van: I grew up on films in the 1980s before I found any arthouse work. Films from Donner, Spielberg and Zemeckis, like Back to the Future, The Goonies, Raiders of the Lost Ark – all the movies that were completely ubiquitous and still hold up today. There were a few exceptions to the popcorn cinema. I saw 2001 when I was in 3rd grade and Scanners even earlier. I watched the Twilight Zone and all the Friday the 13th, Halloween and Nightmare on Elm Street films at my babysitters. It’s amazing what kids are exposed to by diffusion. When my brain formed out more I sought out Bergman, Godard, Tarkovsky, Antonioni, neo-realism, the new wave. These redefined why I wanted to be in film. I realized what a peripheral knowledge I had through my primary lens and how much I could do with the medium.

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Friday, April 18, 2008

The Emperor Arrives on Monday in The Big Apple

My good friend Jay Paramsothy, whom I worked with on his short film Blinding Goldfish that enjoyed a nice festival run a few years ago, will be directing a staged reading of his new feature-length screenplay The Emperor Has Arrived, co-written by Catherine Torphy, at SALAAM Theatre in New York City on Monday, April 21. Among the list of actors tentatively scheduled to participate in the reading are Anjali Bhimani, Sanjit DeSilva, Aladdin Ullah, Alex Tavis, Nimesh Gandhi, Anna George and others. More details can be found below and also here.

Monday, April 21, 2008 - 7:00 PM (doors open at 6:45pm)

SALAAM 3rd Mondays

Geeta Citygirl, Artistic Director invites you to a reading of a screenplay.


Written by Jay Paramsothy and Catherine Torphy
Directed by Jay Paramsothy

SYNOPSIS: When his estranged father suddenly dies, a young Manhattan architect must perform the traditional Hindu funeral ceremonies in Malaysia, where he comedically clashes with his Indian relatives and their traditions, and discovers a family secret that will change his life forever.


SALAAM Theatre 16 West 32nd Street - 10th floor Between Fifth Avenue and Broadway New York, NY 10001

Reservations RECOMMENDED
Phone: 212.330.8097
Email: rsvp@SALAAMtheatre.org

Donations are encouraged. Nobody is turned away due to lack of funds.

After the reading, please stay to enjoy some refreshments, snacks and our much-loved vegetarian samosas.


Jay Paramsothy studied film and theater with an emphasis on directing at Trinity College in Hartford, CT. He also studied screenwriting and film production at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. After graduation, he worked on numerous independent and studio films as a production assistant, production coordinator and producer. In addition, Paramsothy wrote and produced on-air promotions for HBO’s Cinemax channel and Comedy Central. His first directorial effort was Blinding Goldfish, which premiered in 2005 at the Pan African Film Festival and continued to play on the festival circuit. In 2006, he was a Sundance Institute finalist. He is currently collaborating with Catherine Torphy on their next screenplay.

Catherine Torphy’s short stories were first published while she was an undergraduate at Colby College, where she majored in English with a creative writing concentration. As an undergraduate, she also studied film production and screenwriting at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. Her stories have been published in various literary journals, including New Letters, and have twice been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. After graduating in 1998, she lived in Italy for four years, working as a freelance writer for Time Out and several Italian magazines, while continuing her work on various fiction and screenwriting projects. She returned to the U.S. and completed a Masters of Fine Arts in Creative Writing at the University of Arizona in 2005. Catherine currently lives in NYC, where she works as a web editor and writer.

SALAAM 3rd Mondays kicked off in the year 2000 and we assure you that we will continue to link all peoples and all the arts in the spirit of progressive solidarity. Heartfelt thanks for your donations which are our lifeblood. For an energizing and engaging event, make it SALAAM time. SALAAM Theatre is a proud member of THAW - Theaters Against War. http://www.salaamtheatre.org/

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Thursday, April 10, 2008

One-on-One Q&A: Sue Williams, "Young & Restless in China"

One-on-One Q&A:

Young & Restless in China, a new documentary from director Sue Williams and her company Ambrica Productions, opens April 11 for a week-long stint at New York’s Cinema Village as well as at Laemmle Theatres - Grande 4 in Los Angeles. The film “follows the lives of nine young people over four years as they struggle to find their way in a country changing faster than any in history.” Below is The Film Panel Notetaker's One-on-One Q&A with Sue, who discusses her experiences shooting this and four other previous documentaries in China.

TFPN: What prompted you to make Young & Restless in China? Why did you choose this topic?

Sue: I have made four other films in China. (China: A Century of Revolution – A trilogy of three features: China in Revolution, The Mao Years & Born Under the Red Flag and also China in the Red.) The latter is about how the end of communism was being lived by ordinary people and it came out in 2003. Everyone then was talking about China being the next superpower. I was interested to know what China was going to be like in 10 years time when it’s a major player on the world stage. What are the people like who are going to be running it and who will be important in business and in the arts? I thought it would be interesting to get to know young people in their 20s and 30s and see what motivates them, what interests them, what drives them and what their lives are like. That was really the reason that I started the film.

TFPN: How did you go about getting funding to film in China?

Sue: That’s a long and difficult process. Some of the money comes from grants. Some of it comes from support from PBS stations. We have a number of private individuals who have foundations or have given money as tax-deductible donations. It’s very hard to raise money for independent films.

TFPN: What was it like filming in China? Did you face any regulations or restrictions?

Sue: Usually when you’re there and you want to film anywhere official, such as a government official or at a large business, you need to have permission. You can get permission through different organizations. We happened to work with CCTV (China Central Television) which is the national television network. They have a department that works with film crews from abroad. So we had someone with us. That’s good because it’s the only way you can get into some places. Then of course sometimes it’s a drag, because they want you to show the positive side of China. We were very fortunate on this one – my other films were much more controversial – for example trying to film one of our characters who ended up in jail! This film I was really more interested in making these portraits of young people. We had pretty good access, even though there are a lot of distressing stories in the film. Those include: the daughter whose mother is trafficked and sold; the migrant worker who works 11 hours a day, 7 days a week; the environmental lawyer who is fighting for individual rights so that the government will acknowledge that individuals have rights in a society as well. Because these issues were very integral to the characters, we managed to spin them pretty positively to our minders. Some of them were quite helpful and sympathetic. I think people have assumptions about China. It’s not politically free by any means, but it is a huge and vibrant country with lots of people going on with their lives, having very little to do with the government. We were kind of moving in and exploring that area.

TFPN: Where else will Young & Restless in China be showing and what are some other projects you are currently working on?

Sue: In addition to this week’s openings in New York and LA, it will also play in Pasadena. And then it will be on Frontline before the Olympics. We’re working on a film about Johnny Cash, something completely different. We have a couple of investigative pieces that we’re also developing with Frontline.

TFPN: What else should people know about your films?

Sue: The reason I keep making these films is because China is such a difficult place to understand. It’s often treated very one dimensionally in the media. It’s all human rights or Tibet or how China makes all the goods we have in this country. All those things are true but it’s not the only story in China. I think that we face many common problems with the collapsing environment and health pandemics. I see that the bird virus has just started to mutate; it’s started to have human-to-human transmissions, which is hugely serious. If we’re going to work together on these issues that are trans-global, we have to start trying to understand each other. I hope people come away and say, “Gosh, I can relate to them. We listen to the same music. We all like sports. We care about our kids. We care about our parents. We all need healthcare, somewhere to live.” As well as having big differences, you see we share quite a few things. After going to China more than twenty times now, I know we do have a lot in common too.

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Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Stranger Than Fiction - "Join Us" - April 8, 2008

Stranger Than Fiction
Join Us
IFC Center – New York, NY
April 8, 2008

Tuesday night at IFC Center in New York, Ondi Timoner’s Join Us, a documentary that chronicles four families who undergo treatment at a cult recovery center in California after being controlled and abused by a pastor in a South Carolina church, played during Thom Powers’ popular nonfiction film series, Stranger Than Fiction.

David Nugent, Hamptons International Film Festival Director of Programming, stepped in for Powers, who was away, to host the program. Nugent began by introducing the film along with Timoner, saying that the film is timely due to the breaking news of the cult in Texas. Timoner said she began filming in 2005 at the only accredited live-in cult treatment facility in the world. She had been inspired to make this film in 2004 when Bush was re-elected, but that’s not what the film is about.

At the Q&A after the screening, Nugent asked where do we draw the line between organized religion and cults when it comes to living in a country that was founded on religious tolerance, to which Timoner responded that the whole idea of religious freedom has gone too far. Giving some religious organizations not-for-profit status is really highly abused thing in our country. The film raises awareness of this and every organization should be transparent and judged accordingly. A lot of cults have some of the smartest members of the population. The film is about our need to believe in and our feeling of belonging to something. She hopes that people of faith won’t be offended, but that they learn to balance faith when they’re ceding their lives to submit.

Nugent asked Timoner if there was anything in her religious background that prompted her to make this film. She replied that she has always been an individualist and was never in any clicks. Her dad is Jewish and her mom was Christian, but converted to Judaism, though they were never really religious.

One audience member asked Timoner what her process and personal involvement was to the characters. She said that these people’s faith had been violated, but when they showed up to the treatment facility, they were so open to being filmed. She showed respect and didn’t ever judge them.

Another audience member asked her how she got access to the Pastor and his wife, Raymond and Deborah. She said she wouldn’t have a film without Raymond. She learned of a book he wrote and contacted him to tell him she was making a film about religion, but didn’t mention that she was also including the ex-congregants.

When asked if any of the subjects have seen the film yet, Timoner said the ex-congregants who did see it, loved it and she thinks Raymond and Deborah have also seen it because someone ordered the DVD from the film’s website that was most likely them.

To purchase a DVD of Join Us, visit http://www.neoflix.com/store/Int03/.

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Tuesday, April 08, 2008

One-on-One Q&A: Paul Krik, "Able Danger"

One-on-One Q&A:
Paul Krik
Writer/Director, Able Danger

Paul Krik’s Able Danger, which premiered at the 2008 International Film Festival Rotterdam, is a fast-paced, very good-looking, modern-day independent film noir about a conspiracy theorist/Brooklyn bookstore café owner who unassumingly gets in the middle of a 9/11 cover up when he helps a femme fatal keep a secret that leads to murder and espionage. Below is an One-on-One Q&A between Paul Krik and The Film Panel Notetaker.

TFPN: How did Able Danger come about? Were you interested in conspiracy theories? Do you have a message?

Paul: The message is that truth won’t be handed to you. There’s a lot going on in the world that most people don’t know about. I wasn’t really a conspiracy theorist before I started writing and researching. When Bush won the last election, I was inspired to do something to contribute to the culture, to try to affect the zeitgeist. The café Vox Pop is a real café. I came to know the owner, Sander Hicks, who’s been an activist for years. I came to be a big fan of his tireless efforts to promote the truth. Vox Pop is a cool hangout place. It’s great for the neighborhood where people come together for wireless Internet and get some coffee. It’s also a bookstore with books you don’t find in mainstream bookstores. He’s also a micro publisher. He wrote a book, which is in the movie, the Big Wedding. My initial feelings about this conspiracy theorist café owner was something ofthe everyman perspective on conspiracy theorists, these sort of kooky whack jobs who are screaming, “Dig for the truth.” But because I liked this café and what he was doing in the neighborhood, I invested the energy to read the book and I kind of fell into the abyss of conspiracy theory. It was such a well-written academic very interesting treatise on 9/11 and also a bigger picture of things that are going on we don¹t know about that will never make it to mainstream media. He was the basis for the main character. He’s not exactly modeled on him, but the idea that hopefully the character is a bit of a goof, but underlies the seriousness of the issues he’s talking about. For a year, I sort of read everything on the Internet and some of the best conspiracy books I could find. I wasn’t a conspiracy theorist before, but on that day something didn’t feel right to me. I’m not a 9/11 academic or researcher in the strictest sense, but I do think that the official story is clearly flawed and covering up quite a bit. That’s really the main point. Everybody acknowledges that, even the official Keane Hamilton report, it’s clearly not a final story. Our understanding of 9/11 completely determines the post-9/11 world and that’s why I think it became an important issue. At the same time, I don’t really want to be the person who’s drudgingup the old issue that no one really wants to think about, but it’s the issue that sort of informs our world more than anything else. I really wanted to start dealing a blow to how we understand it.

TFPN: The black & white cinematography and overall production/art design is really fantastic. How did you put it all together? Was there a limited budget?

Paul: My budget was very limited. It’s a completely self-financed project. I begged, borrowed and stole to get it done. I work in post production for Jump Editorial. I’ve been editing television commercials for a number of years. I did edit it myself, but called in all my post-production favors. I was fortunate enough to enlist the immense talent of a great director of photography named Charles Libin. He was willing to work on the project forless than his normal rate because he liked the script and the subject matter. He certainly informed the look quite a bit. The reason why I chose black and white is that it is a film noir homage. When you’re in the noir environment, you’re assuming that there’s something darker than what appears on the surface. We accept in a noir environment that people have ulterior motives. No one is perfect in a noir environment. The vocabulary of evil can be played with in a way. We live in the noir environment and we can play with it and have witty banter, but it’s sort of understood that things are darker than they appear. For me, conspiracy theorists see past the mainstream media what is offered as the truth. In a way, they live in this noir environment. When I watch news now or read mainstream media, that’s not really the story. We don¹t really want to drop bombs on Iran because they want to develop nuclear weapons, we want to drop bombs on Iran because they’re going to be undermining our economy when they set up a bourse that sells gasoline in Euros, therefore undermining the dollar. But that will never make it to the mainstream media. Originally noir came about because we saw the depths of the depravity of the human condition during World War II. We saw what Godlessness means. I feel like it’s a similar time now, but we are the perpetrators of this sort of Nazi-like evil. Using the noir genre brings us into a space where this moral depravity is a really current topic.

TFPN: I like how you show all the TV broadcasts in color. It’s a bold contrast to the black and white. What was your intention with this? Were you trying to make a statement about the media?

Paul: What we see on the television, because it’s on TV, it’s more readily accepted as true. The cooler the logo and brand are, the more interested we are in watching it and the more we accept it because if they’re paying all this money for production value to sell their news, then it must be true. I think that’s how Americans take their news. The glossier and slicker it is, the more they’ll buy it.

TFPN: What was the reaction from audiences at the film¹s world premiere inRotterdam? What was it like doing a Q&A?

Paul: The reaction was amazing. We had three sold out shows with about 400 people in the seats. It was sold out weeks in advance. I’d literally been working 20 hours a day for months. I got into the festival and then actually had to finish it. I was kind of on an insane course just to get it done. And so I showed up and really sort of watched it for the first time finished with a crowd. When you’re doing a Q&A, it distorts your experience, because it’s kind of about you and less about the movie. I’m worried about what I’mgoing to say. For the first screening, it was a little weird, because you’re watching it and the crowd is reacting. At the Q&A, people were really interested. They were asking question for what seemed like at least an hour. They had to boot us out because they were going to shut down the theater. For the third screening, I was able to be a fly on the wall. I didn’t have to introduce the film. I sat in the back and just observed the crowd. It wasactually amazing how into it they were. They were laughing the moments that felt small on a small monitor, but on the big screen these moments got stretched onto a larger canvas and the audience picked up on all the humor. These small moments became real moments. People were laughing as much as I had hoped, but more than I expected and really getting into it.

TFPN: Who are some other filmmakers or films that you admire and that mighthave inspired you for your film?

Paul: It is a noir homage. It’s first and foremost a hats off to Humphrey Bogart, Sam Spade, Dashiell Hammet; that kind of fast talking detective story. I’m also a huge Kubrick and Coen Bros. fan, and of the film Pi. It’s a similar sentiment that there’s a truth that takes a lot of scraping to get at. If you find the truth, you’ll go blind maybe or crazy. My take on my conspiracy theorist character is, he sort of knows the truth and he’sconsidered a kook because of it. For me, the object was to make an entertaining good date movie where hopefully by the end of it, your head explodes, or at least you’re asking questions like, what, that’s really true? I did a fair amount of research and I think in 25 years, pretty much everything that made it in there, what’s considered now an out thereconspiracy theory will basically be common knowledge or will be accepted as true.

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Sunday, April 06, 2008

GenArt Film Festival - "The Ladies" & "Surfwise"- April 5, 2008

GenArt Film Festival
Surfwise & The Ladies
The Visual Arts Theatre– New York, NY
April 5, 2008

Saturday night at the GenArt Film Festival, two really great documentaries played to an enthusiastic audience at the Visual Arts Theatre. The first was a short subject documentary called The Ladies by director Cristina Varos about her two aunts Vali and Mimi from Hungary who live together in New York and work as dress makers. It was a touching and funny portrait of two women. The next was the amazing feature documentary Surfwise by director Doug Pray. Surfwise tells the story of Dorian ‘Doc’ Paskowitz who gave up his profession as a doctor to live a nomadic lifestyle as a surfer and took his wife and nine children along for the ride on a 24-foot RV. GenArt’s Aaron Levine moderated an audience Q&A after the screening with Surfwise producer and second-born son Jonathan Paskowitz, along with producer Matt Weaver, and The Ladies’ director Varos.

Levine: How did The Ladies come to be?

Varos: I had just started film school in New York. My 89- and 93-year-old aunts offered me a place to sleep. The only way for me to not kill them and them to not kill me was to make a movie about them. Mimi would tear the shower curtain open in the morning when I was in it. All the things that would drive me crazy were all of a sudden wonderful.

Levine: How is your dad now?

Paskowitz: He had and osteo-arthritic hip. He’s fine now. He’s limber and surfs every day. He moved back to California. The family has been way more together in the process of making this film and at the reunion my mom put together. Since then, we’ve been closer than ever.

Levine: How did you get all that footage of the family?

Weaver: Just luck. They had all these home movies.

Paskowitz: We got all this free Kodak film.

Levine: Are your aunts still making dresses?

Varos: They’re sort of still making dresses. They still have a few clients. They’ve been joking that they’re going to retire to watch American Idol.

Levine: How did you decide that your life was different than others?

Paskowitz: From the beginning. One of the doctors at the clinic thought we should be in school. My father wasn’t swayed. He made his decisions on his gut impulse. He realized that Hawaii had a huge substance abuse problem. He could see us going down the same path. That’s where the camper life began.

Levine: Matt, how did you get involved with Surfwise?

Weaver: I went to the surf camp. I had read about the family in Life Magazine in 1990. Dorian got me the rights 18 years late for $1. A couple of years ago, the most important thing for me was to get the true story told.

Audience Question: How would your father articulate the mold of his life?

Paskowitz: Family & Sex. He wrote a book on how to choose a mistress. I was stunned what I didn’t know. There’s a ton of social pressure for sex. He really cares about family. Family structure is currently hurting society. I think this film shows that family is key, speaking for dad, even though he’d never see this.

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GenArt Film Festival - Life Through the Movies - April 5, 2008

GenArt Film Festival
Life Through the Movies
The Visual Arts Theatre– New York, NY
April 5, 2008

On Saturday, a panel discussion was held with several of the filmmakers whose films are a part of the 2008 GenArt Film Festival. GenArt’s Jeff Abramson, who moderated the discussion, described it as being a “chill, cool John Favreau/Dinner for Five-like discussion.” There was no formal theme or topic, like last year’s panel, Media Ecology, which I put in my top 10 panels of 2007. I learned so much from that. This year’s panel was more laid back where everything from how the filmmakers’ projects came into being to what their favorite films were among the questions asked.

Jeff Abramson - VP, Film Division, GenArt

Rajeev Dassani – Director, A Day’s Work
Brian Davis – Director, If A Body Meet a Body
Tim Sanderson – Director, Nightlife
Frank Weysos – Nightlife
Christina Voros – Director, The Ladies
Jon Paskowitz – Producer, Surfwise
Gene Stavis – School of Visual Arts

Abramson: The topic of this panel is life through movies. It’s intentionally vague and was conceptualized because it would go well with the film Surfwise. Why does a subject, whether in the narrative or documentary form, warrant having a film made about it? Why is it so important and prolific? How did Surfwise come into being?

Paskowtiz: It was years of people being really into our family who felt we were living a Utopian lifestyle. We gained a lot of press and attention. People were interested in learning the surfing lifestyle. My dad is an 88-year-old physician and still married. He tried to be a regular doctor, but hated it. He would rather go for health and family instead of wealth and prosperity. My dad’s a kind of Yoda in the surfing industry. I thought it was important for his voice to be heard. We were in bliss and ignorant of society. We were very happy living as opossums in an RV. The film is meant to capture my father’s philosophies on life and sex. My brother is a screenwriter in LA. You can work in the entertainment industry and have no education. People have expressed to me that their lives have changes just by meeting my father. Surfing works with all sorts of people from autistic children to someone who needs a lot of zing in their life.

Abramson: Christina, tells us about your film? Why did you choose the subject?

Voros: It’s about my two aunts who have been living together for the past 23 years. It’s a portrait of two people who amazingly love each other even though they want to kill each other. It happened because I had to produce a ten-minute documentary in film school. I happened to be sleeping on their couch during school. I was sort of going crazy and a friend said you should make a film about my aunts. It was originally conceived as a larger project. I was struggling to find a story to fit within a certain timeframe. There were moments that grabbed me that this was their relationship. I was drawn to moments that showed their love and hatred towards each other. I was making the film for me, but also making it for them.

Abramson: Brian, why did you pick the subject for your film?

Davis: It’s about a coroner’s office. I was interested in why they do this type of job and who they deal with it psychologically. It just focuses on the aspect of them dealing with their job. When I started it, it was more of an institutional film about what happens to your body when it goes to the coroner. I didn’t have all my characters then.

Abramson: What connection does your film make with the audience?

Davis: All documentaries have to have something universally appealing or something everyone relates to. In mine, it’s about dying.

Abramson: Rajeev, the subject matter in your film, A Day’s Work, is very real and topical. Why did you choose to make this film as a narrative?

Dassani: The film is about a white American family who hire a day laborer. It came about when by brother used two day laborers in his apartment. They were fascinating characters. I could have made a documentary about them. In the end, I decided to shoot it as a narrative to tell a story about people that’s more involved. It was all improvised. It was like a documentary. There was no blocking. I let the scenes develop naturally. The film connects with people because the subject is really important now, but I’m not an issue filmmaker. I tell stories with characters. This style appeals to me because we all react to things in the world and we’re watching the actors react. I wanted to shoot a documentary that wasn’t a documentary.

Abramson: Tim, you set out to make a narrative in a documentary style and in the horror genre. Why did you pick you subject matter?

Sanderson: The characters were based on reality. It’s all about connection. Walter Murch once said that of all the art forms, film is the most similar to human thoughts. Also when you dream, you dream in cuts. It’s about escape and going to this dreamlike world.

Weysos: In the end, the movie is about friends, busting balls and playing games. The whole film was like that, behind the camera, too. We’re basically vampires. We all had the same goals.

Abramson: There have been a lot of changes in society and culture throughout history. Why does cinema still resonate with society?

Stavis: Cave drawings in France show the very first evidence of man creating images. The drawings depict cattle with 8 legs because they were trying to convey motion. We had a long time to prepare for film. Film still hangs on, no matter what medium comes out. There’s no experience like watching a film on the big screen.

Abramson: Do you get a sense if documentaries are more impacting than narratives?

Stavis: It’s impossible to say. It’s whatever interests an artist. We’re dealing with an art here. Worthiness s a big question.

Abramson: What were some crucial moments in your cinematic upbringings that made you realize the power of film?

Davis: I used to live in New York working at a shitty paralegal job. I made a film with friends in Virginia. It was fun and I wanted to go to film school. I liked American Movie. I identified with those guys.

Stavis: I just showed Little Fugitive in my class. It influenced New Wave cinema and cinema verité. It’s been forgotten over the years. It was the beginning of the independent film generation. We acquired this theater because we wanted to have people experience films the way they were meant to be seen.

Dassani: My parents weren’t overly thrilled with my career choice, especially parents of Asian Indian descent. The idea of being an artist to my father was a nebulous question. He grew up watching Bollywood films. It’s possible for films to transcend that. I showed him Amores Perros. I told him this is the kind of film I’d like to make and he got it.

Abramson: Do violent films have a negative influence?

Weysos: I rented Goodfellas when I was 12 years old. Two years later, I saw Reservoir Dogs. I plastered my walls with violent posters. My mom was concerned. I never became violent, but it did affect my mentality.

Sanderson: It affected him on set, too.

Voros: I find that argument about the use of sex and violence in films is getting kind of tired. I saw a film about two Jews in Kabul that was an amazing human story. Someone got to make this and it’s playing in theaters. If you can do it in a way that’s timely and powerful, you can do it.

Stavis: People have survived 100 years of movie. The world goes in circles. There’s always going to be people who say it’s damaging and those who say it’s not. The jury will always be out on that question. I can’t tell you how many people have been emotionally destroyed by Bambi.

Audience Question: What’s your favorite film(s)?

Dassani: I have two. 1) Amores Perros and 2) The Japanese film Afterlife.

Davis Wong Kar Wai’s Falling Angels.

Sanderson: Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Weysos: Goodfellas.

Abramson: Empire of the Sun, Fearless, Brazil.

Varos: Les Enfants Du Paradis, The Big Lebowski.

Paskowitz: I’m torn between the Japanese animé Ghost in the Shell and Wuthering Heights.

Stavis: The last great movie I showed was East of Eden. It always gets to me.

Abramson: You can constantly be changing your favorite film.


Saturday, April 05, 2008

ND/NF - "My Olympic Summer" - March 30, 2008

New Directors/New Films
My Olympic Summer
Walter Reade Theater – New York, NY
March 30, 2008

Daniel Robin’s My Olympic Summer, winner of the Short Filmmaking Award at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival, played last Sunday at the Walter Reade Theater during New Directors/New Films, a joint program between the Department of Film at MoMA and the Film Society of Lincoln Center. My Olympic Summer preceded the feature film Jellyfish. Below is my review of My Olympic Summer along with some notes I took during the audience Q&A. I also had the chance to correspond with Daniel for further insights on his film a few days later for a One-on-One Q&A, which you will find directly beneath that.

Film Review & Audience Q&A Notes:

My Olympic Summer is a fictional re-telling of the events of the 1972 Munich Olympics where Israeli athletes were killed by terrorists, told through home movies of Daniel’s mother and father who seemingly go through a rocky relationship, to which Daniel parallels with his own divorce. These are real home movies, however the events are manipulated into what I feel to be an artitistic and compelling story. If this were completely fiction, it would still have an impact, but the fact that Daniel creatively took movies and elements from his real life and turned into in a fictional account of a historical event, doesn’t make it any more or less artistic. Filmmakers have been fictionalizing historical events since the beginning of filmmaking, so why not mix two genres together to create a new artistic expression? Unfortunately, some audience members reacted negatively. The Film Society’s Joanna Ney opened the Q&A by asking Daniel to elaborate on his quote that photos conceal a certain mark of living. Daniel responded that most of the film is fiction and on one level, the film works on how we read images. Several audience members said they were offended that they didn’t know in advance that this was not all a true story and that they felt it was making light of an historical tragedy. Daniel said he wasn’t trying to dupe anyone and the most important thing is how you view the film emotionally. Another audience member asked him where he came up with the idea for his film. He said he was really interested in crossing narrative filmmaking over into documentary with an historical backdrop.

One-on-One Q&A with Daniel Robin:

TFPN: How do you feel the screening and Q&A at ND/NF went? What inspired you to make My Olympic Summer?

Daniel: When the audience member asked where I came up with the idea for the film I answered that the idea came from me wanting to find the best way to (cinematically) talk about my own, somewhat mundane, experiences going through a failed marriage, and still engage the audience. I feel for this particular film, combining narrative and documentary forms was the more interesting path to follow to get at the heart of the emotions I wanted to talk about.

TFPN: What has been the reaction from audiences at festivals where the film previously screened?

Daniel: In Amsterdam at IDFA, many audience members were outspokenly upset, saying they felt betrayed. However, their frustration came from the emotional attachment they had developed from the film rather then being upset about me re-orchestrating historical events. The funny thing was that with each of the five screenings at IDFA, other audience members would get up from their seats and tell those who were upset that it didn't matter if it's real or not, but that it's how you feel emotionally. And I couldn't agree more. My barometer for the success of my film, or for that matter any film I watch, is what I am left with emotionally, that's the truth of the film. So when I'm not present at screenings, which is a whole lot because the film is playing at many festivals, I'm not concerned whether or not the audience knows of my formal manipulations. And when I am present, and able to have a Q&A, which certain festivals won't even allow, then it's a bonus to be able to provoke discussions about how we read the surface of images and text in a film. What are our expectations of a documentary?

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Thursday, April 03, 2008

ND/NF- "Ballast" - March 30, 2008

New Directors/New Films
Walter Reade Theater – New York, NY
March 30, 2008

On Sunday during New Directors/New Films, a joint program between the Department of Film at MoMA and the Film Society of Lincoln Center, Lance Hammer took questions from the audience following his narrative feature film Ballast, about the effects of a suicide on a family in the Mississippi Delta. The Film Society’s Marian Masone started with the first question.

Masone: You used no music as the soundtrack. That’s a really ballsy move. So many times, music is used so badly. Why did you choose not to have any music?

Hammer: From the get go, I realized there would be no music. I played with it for a while. My intuition was to capture the experience of the Delta. To fully communicate the Delta, nothing could construe against the sound.

Q: What inspired you to make your film in the Delta?

Hammer: I was from Los Angeles and visited the Delta 10 years ago. It was an experience of being overwhelmed emotionally. I let the film articulate what I was feeling. The history of racism is a sadness that’s literally a part of the landscape. I’m an outsider. I was interested in capturing the sorrow and grieving. I had to figure out a narrative element to base it on. My girlfriend told me about a story of identical twins brothers, one who killed himself. I thought that would be an interesting place to start. Over two years ago, I wrote the script. The more time I spent there and people I met, I realized how little I knew of the racial relationships there. It was important for me to cast people from the region. There’s a ratio of 9:1 blacks to whites. The people we cast would bring their own experience with them. We improvised a lot. The emotions in the scenes come from the actors. I hope it was communicated. All were non-professionals except for the white neighbor. I did the most work with him.

Q: Did the improvisations change the script?

Hammer: I never showed the script to the actors. I gave them a contrived scenario and they filtered it themselves.

Q: Did you always plan to have the story reveal itself slowly?

Hammer: I did in the writing process by structuring the cadence and pacing. The films I enjoy are the ones where I’m confused. You piece together the clues of someone’s life slowly. I’m offended by films that properly tell the back story. That’s not the way it works in reality.

Q: Did you choose the climate to shoot in?

Hammer: It took 45 days to shoot. I wanted rain and cloud cover. The film was shot with a handheld camera for two reasons. First for aesthetics and second because it was important that the actors could do whatever they wanted. The camera had to follow them. Setting up lights doesn’t give you 360° capability. I wanted to make something as beautiful as possible without the limitation of film.

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Wednesday, April 02, 2008

ND/NF- HBO Films Roundtable: New Directors and Beyond - March 30, 2008

New Directors and Beyond
Walter Reade Theater – New York, NY
March 30, 2008

New Directors & Beyond Panel at ND/NF

Sunday during New Directors/New Films (ND/NF), an HBO Films Roundtable entitled New Directors and Beyond took place with ND/NF veteran filmmakers who talked about the beginning of their careers, where they are now, and new technologies that are changing the way they make films. Overall the discussion was nice, though I kind of wish moderator Joanna Ney would allow the panelists to further answer one particular audience member's question about how the panelists connect to their audiences via online social networks and grassroots promotion versus traditional marketing. Ney said that this wasn't a marketing panel. True, but this was still a relevant question because many filmmakers are now utilizing these resources to their advantage, and it would have been interesting to hear more thoughts on how the panelists may or may not be using them, being that they come from a previous generation where these tools weren't necessarily available to them when they were starting out. Speaking of audience questions, there was another really good one: To what extent do you feel the choices you made in your career were your own vs. external factors, to which Lodge Kerrigan answered, "That's a fascinating question."

Joanna Ney, ND/NF Selection Committee Member & Producer, Arts Programming, Film Society of Lincoln Center

Lodge Kerrigan (Clean Shaven, ND/NF 1994)
Philip Haas (A Day on the Grand Canal with the Emperor of China, ND/NF 1988; Music of Chance, ND/NF 1993)
Tom Kalin (Swoon, ND/NF 1992)
Jim McKay (Our Song, ND/NF 2000; Everyday People, ND/NF 2004)
Michael Almereyda (Another Girl, Another Planet, ND/NF 1993)
Tamara Jenkins (Family Remains, ND/NF 1994)
Su Friedrich (The Ties that Bind, ND/NF 1985; Rules of the Road, ND/NF 1993)

Ney: After your initial films, was it easier or more difficult to make your second film?

Kerrigan: Clean Shaven was an amateur film. It took two to three years to make and cost about $60K just to correct it. If I started shooting, then I’d be so much farther than just talking about making a film. At the end of the day, it was a good experience. When it ended, it was such a strange experience. I thought I had to make something else. I sent it to Telluride where Roger Ebert saw it, and then it was selected by ND/NF. I went to a writer’s workshop in France and got my second project produced. People look for a blueprint on how this happens, but in my experience, there is no blueprint.

Haas: My third documentary about Hockney was the film that got me attention. ND/NF positioned me. I then got another film, Music of Chance. I thought that would get into Sundance, but the festival committee didn’t like it. The financiers were in a panic. The only thing we could do was change the music. The along came ND/NF to show the film. Music of Chance was more successful for its esteem than as a commercial success.

Kalin: I started as an experimental filmmaker. My first film grew into a feature. I got involved with Christine Vachon and Todd Haynes in an AIDS activist group. I continued to make experimental shorts. I fell in love with the book Savage Grace, a light-hearted story about Irish-Catholic women, a sweeping epic story that ends in tragedy. We never made the musical version of it, because Andrew Lloyd Webber had the rights at the time. I still wanted to do Savage Grace and re-optioned it. It came about because I never fell out of love with the project.
McKay: I thought my second film would be easier to make. I financed my first film, Girls Town, myself with credit cards. It got a distributor, but I kind of got cocky and thought I knew how to do it. Then I wrote Our Song. It’s about the project itself, not about what you did before. I remember Steven Sodergbergh did Sex, Lies & Videotape, and then he did a lot of smaller films after. For my second film, I cobbled $100K. That got into ND/NF, probably my best filmic experience for me. I was asked to get involved with HBO’s Everyday People. For my next script, Angel Rodriguez, they wanted to make that, too. It was a much smaller film. That time has changed just because of corporate changes at that place. I think they decided to stop making smaller films. I never cast someone because they would bring in money, and that’s sad. I like to watch films with people who don’t have a lot of baggage so you can get to know their character.

Almereyda: I had a rough time on my first movie, Twister (not the blockbuster Twister from 1996). No one was paid except for an elephant from New Jersey. It’s a very eccentric film under one hour long shot in pixelvision. It’s kind of magical. It had an odd history on the festival circuit, but was never released. It’s not even on DVD. I was lucky that some people saw it and liked it such as David Lynch and his wife. They were excited about getting involved with my movies, but couldn’t get the money. I then made Nadja, which is about vampires and also kind of eccentric. It’s easy to underestimate how difficult it is to make films, but things are shifting.

Jenkins: My first film was a half-hour film that played at ND/NF and was financed by ITVS. I finished film school and applied for a grant called TV Families. I got to make a weird black and white movie and got paid to do it. It was my first semi-pro film. Probably one of the purist experiences I ever had. Prior to making films, I was a performance artist. Theater companies encouraged me to make my own material. I realized when you get frustrated; you can make your own thing. I went onto film school eventually, then got my lucky break by getting this grant. At Sundance, it won the prize for best short. It led to me making Slums of Beverly Hills as a broke emerging artist in a post-grad stupor living very frugally. At Sundance, I met Michelle Satter who asked if I had a feature. She had a great new timing quality. I sent her this unfinished screenplay and got it into the Sundance Screenwriter’s Lab. I’ve been saved many times in my life by institutions. Those have been like my mother. I developed the script at Sundance. American Playhouse was going to make it, but Federal funding went away. Eventually, I made it with Fox Searchlight. I never had to negotiate with executives before that. I think they should teach that at film school.

Friedrich: My film The Ties that Bind from 1984 was a stunning moment for me because I had only been making films for a couple of years. It was only 54 minutes long and it was selected for ND/NF. There was a full-page review in the Village Voice for it. I am really grateful for ND/NF for choosing my film. I’m different than these other panelists because I don’t work with commercial films. I didn’t get investors to give me money to make my films. I did get a stipend to go to Germany. It gave me time to think about what to do next. I proceeded to get grants and made Rules of the Road, a 30-minute film, in 1993 about a woman I know. At that ND/NF screening, I was sitting near a couple I didn’t know who said they didn’t know lesbians live their life like that. I thought that was a great moment. It’s not all an easy road.

Ney: How has technology affected your filmmaking? Is it evolving? Does it have an impact?

Friedrich: I always shot on film until 2002. I wish I could still afford it, but I can’t. My new short is on video. It’s a great boom to have this medium, but you have to deal with lousy projection, except here at the Walter Reade Theater.

Almereyda: I’ve shot in about every medium. Shooting in film is cumbersome and expensive. William Gibson said the future of film is not evenly distributed.

Kalin: I work only in film. Started with 8mm and eventually graduated to 16mm. Savage Grace was shot on 35mm. Julianne Moore means something financially, but she was also the right person for the role. Technology will continue to move forward. People tend to choose what the economy dictates and what stories dictate. It depends on aesthetics. I’m mostly drawn to lyricism and romanticism. You also have to embrace the limitations.

Kerrigan: It’s important to couple technology with the discovery of distribution. How will you get people to see your film? It’s based largely on advertising.

McKay: When digital cameras came into being, everyone could make a movie, but I don’t know where they all are. Sherman Alexie was quoted as challenging directors to make something for less than $1,000. A personal story is possible, but where are they? We have 100 million people making videos of exploding Coke bottles on YouTube. It’s still an elitist group of people who are telling you what to see. The next film I’m producing that’s directed by Josh Fox is shot with a handheld camera and mixes fiction and documentary. My company invested in it and one year later the director came back with something completely different. It’s hard getting it into festivals. It’s all video and looks like crap at times intentionally, but it works when you’re in a small room of people or watching it online.

Friedrich: I’d like to respond to Jim’s remark. We’ve all heard that all this great work will happen. The problem with things on YouTube is because of distribution. I teach and all my students think they’ll be filmmakers. Odds are it won’t happen. How do you support yourself? Me for example, because I came from a time where there was a circuit to show work. There’s a limited amount of space to show this work. There’s a lot of talented filmmakers who are justifiably desperate. It’s just a bad scene.

Kalin: The Rodney King beating was kind of a watershed moment in video. It’s kind of awful this idea turned into YouTube.

Kerrigan: The music industry is under increasing pressure to offer music for free and make up revenue through concerts. This will be applied to the film industry, too.

Friedrich: Theaters in America can show a short before a feature. IFC Center is the only place I know that does that.

Audience Q&A:

Q: To what extent do you feel the choices you have made in your career have really been your choices verse external voices?

Kerrigan: That’s a fascinating question. Your environment determines what you really want. When I was younger, I was determined to take my time. As I got older, I had to support myself and family. I’m now attached to direct a studio film. I want to do it, but question where this comes from. So much of people’s really interesting vibrant work happens early in their career. When you get too relaxed, you somehow lose certain focus.

McKay: Bingham Ray once said that indie film is the realm of the young and irresponsible, which to I add people who also want to live in New York City and don’t want to have a family. I lived on people’s couches. After that, I had a family. Comfort is a part of it. Is it my dream choice to direct an episode of Law & Order? No. I’d rather make my own films, but this allowed me to make my films. My wife wrote a script which I’ll now direct. I never did anything I wasn’t crazy about.

Kalin: I made my second feature 15 years after the first one. I was barely paid to make it. I’ve chosen not to pursue other offers except my own work. I also teach. It’s been completely rewarding. I still want to make opinionated films.

Q: Do you continue to work with the same talent and crew from your first films?

Kalin: On Swoon, I worked with Ellen Kuras and then worked on several shorts with her after. There’s also a great reward working with new people.

Haas: I’ve worked with different people over the years. I started working with my wife, but not anymore. It’s good to have continuity, but also to be open to new situations.

Jenkins: I worked with an entirely different group of people on The Savages. It always feels the same making movies. The problems always feel the same, like where to put the camera. I feel the same anxieties.

Friedrich: I’d like to make a remark. There’s something to do with age. I think there’s a problem in this country regarding mania for youth. It used to be as you go along, you get better, ie. Kurosawa. We need to remember if there isn’t going to be any support, you have to be 24.

Kerrigan: This is tied to economics. When you’re young and have potential, people see it, but that can’t define it. Studios think perhaps they’ll evolve into a great talent, but potential can diminish.

Haas: It’s also a question of perception. More commercially successful films get pigeonholed. It’s reassuring and depressing to hear this.

Q: How easy is it to connect to your audience? Have you experimented with social networks or grassroots promotion versus traditional marketing?

Kerrigan: It’s usually best if you already have a brand. It could be very effective, but how much of your time can you devote to setting up this mechanism.

Haas: It works best when it goes hand in hand with traditional marketing.

Q: Is it important to live in New York City to do creative things or has technology made it easier to live anywhere and do it?

Kerrigan: Filmmaking is like any other industry. It’s centered on relationships. You can write a screenplay anywhere, but you have to develop relationships.

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