g The Film Panel Notetaker: November 2008

Sunday, November 23, 2008

A DIY Filmmaker Sujewa Weekend

DIY Filmmaker Sujewa came to town this past weekend. Saturday night, I went with Sujewa and Tambay Obenson of The Obenson Report to see a sneak preview screening of Princeton Holt's DIY feature Cookies & Cream, which was playing at the Sexy International Film Festival. While I thought the concept of the film was quite interesting-- a young woman who works in the adult webcam world and can't seem to settle down with the right guy, all of whom pretty much only go out with her because of her profession, finally finds a guy she really likes whom she doesn't tell about her job, because she wants him to love her for who she is and not what she does...and a pretty solid performance by the lead Jace Nicole as Carmen-- I found the execution the be somewhat amateurish...pivotal scenes are poorly lit, little to no chemistry exists between Carmen and Dylan played by Brian Ackley, and quite a bit of out-of-sync ADR (additional dialogue recording). It's a nice first-time feature effort, but needs a lot of polishing if it plans to travel far. I do understand the limitations of low-budget, indie, and DIY filmmaking, but at the end of the day, the presentation is still very important. Princeton had a great show of support that evening as much of the cast, crew, family and friends came out.

And Sunday, I finally got to sit down and see Sujewa's documentary that I was lucky enough to be one of the interview subjects in, Indie Film Blogger Road Trip. We gathered at Cinema Echo Chamber's Brandon Harris' pad in Brooklyn. It was Sujewa, Tambay, myself and of course Brandon who was preparing for his big day at MoMA where he would be introducing two films for the Best Films Not Playing at a Theater Near You program.

In Indie Film Blogger Road Trip, Sujewa takes a journey on the East Coast from his hometown of Kensingon, Maryland, to New York where he interviews staples of the indie film blog community including Anthony Kaufman, Brandon Harris, Stu Van Airsdale, Tambay A. Obenson, and myself. Then he heads south to Fayetteville, North Carolina and talks with Chuck Tryon of Chutry Experiment (see Chuck's write up of the film here), and even deeper into the South to Atlanta where he meets up with Noralil Ryan Fores of ShortEnd Magazine, and Gabe Wardell and Paula Martinez of the Atlanta Film Festival. And finally back up to Maryland where he talks with Armondo Valle and Erica Ginsberg of Docs in Progress.

I like Indie Film Blogger Road Trip as a social commentary on a growing community...a kind of multi-city film panel discussion on digital video. Sujewa makes great use of a diverse bunch of unique bloggers, each speaking about the state of indie film blogging and how it's evolved from and its affects on more traditional means of film journalism and criticism, what each of us brings to the table, and where we see things going. Structurally however, since the film is a road trip, each interview is shown chronologically. There's no special editing employed to build any sort of thematical archs, so topics are spoken about by each of the indie film bloggers individually one after the other, and no interconnectedness. I was however pleasantly surprised at my own little segment, as I'm usually camera shy, and I didn't seem to fluster as much as I thought I did, and came out sounding intelligible and succinct, though there was one moment where I flubbed and called indieWIRE, Indiepix :)

Indie Film Blogger Road Trip is definitely the first documentary about indie film bloggers that I'm aware of, and I hope it gets some play at festivals. I look forward to hearing reactions from audiences and other indie film bloggers, of course.

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Monday, November 17, 2008

'Mumblecore' Erin's 'Are You From Bingo?' Open For Fundraising on IndieGoGo

'Mumblecore' Erin's 'Are You From Bingo?' Documentary
Now Open For Fundraising on IndieGoGo

ITHACA, NEW YORK, November 17, 2008 - Erin Scherer, the 'Mumblecore Saved My Life' and HOWL (For Lindsay Lohan) YouTube sensation, is preparing to release on DVD her first feature-length documentary Are You From Bingo?, a look inside the history of Binghamton, New York, and its recent economic upswing through community revitalization efforts and gentrification. To raise money to complete the production of the DVDs, Scherer has set up a profile on IndieGoGo.com where fundraising is now open for anyone who would like to contribute to the project.

A Geneva, New York, native and graduate of SUNY Oneonta, Scherer made a stop in Binghamton one night a few years ago on her way back from visiting New York City. There, she learned of attempts by artists and young developers to turn Binghamton around by renovating downtown buildings. Her curiosity got the best of her, so she researched this more and decided to make a documentary about Binghamton's rise as an industrial center; the decline of downtown in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s; and the more recent gentrification and revitalization efforts taking place there.

Though she wrapped principal photography on Are You From Bingo? nearly three and a half years ago, Scherer wasn't quite sure what to do with the film. She took some time off after editing the film to learn the ins and outs of film distribution and marketing by traveling to film festivals, meeting other filmmakers like her, and listening to lectures by top industry professionals. This past year, she attended the South by Southwest Film Festival in Austin, Texas, and the Woodstock Film Festival in Woodstock, New York.

"Self-distribution is becoming more and more accessible for do-it-yourself independent filmmakers such as me," Scherer said. "I'm now ready to take that journey by releasing Are You From Bingo? on DVD, and I'm hoping IndieGoGo will give the film a little extra push off the ground."

To contribute to the Are You From Bingo? DVD, visit http://www.indiegogo.com/AreYouFromBingoDVD .

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Sunday, November 16, 2008

"Intimidad" at MoMA - November 14, 2008

Intimidad: A Home Movie
Q&A with Directors Ashley Sabin & David Redmon, Carnivalesque Films
Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)
New York, NY
November 14, 2008

Intimidad is a love story about Cecy, Camilo and their little girl Loida, a family in Mexico who are slowly earning money from their low-wage factory jobs to afford a parcel of land to build a home on, shot and directed by not only Ashley Sabin and David Redmon, but also by Cecy and Camilo, as David noted during the Q&A after the screening of the film at MoMA Friday night, which was playing as part of the “Contenders” series, as noted by MoMA Film assistant curator Sally Berger during the introduction. Much like Redmon’s and Sabin’s earlier film Kamp Katrina, I felt like a fly on the wall spying on this family. I was so invested in their lives, their circumstances, their love, their pain, their laughter, all of the emotions, that when the film ended, I didn’t want it to end. Also in attendance at the screening were the film’s composer Eric Taxier as well as Kamp Katrina editor Tim Messler. If you missed this screening of Intimidad, I strongly encourage you to go to the encore at MoMA this Wednesday at 8:00pm.

Berger introduced Redmon and Sabin saying that they have received a lot of recognition for compiling these stories in the documentary format, which is much like storytelling where they pick up a character in one film and carry them on in the next film. Redmon explained a little more about this technique in Intimidad saying that film took about five years to make and called it a piecemeal film that reflects the aesthetic existence of the landscape as well as the people in the film, adding that it’s a slow and gentle film, without any condescending or disparaging remarks. “We very much embrace it,” he said.

Here are some highlights of the Q&A with the audience after the film.

Q: Were Cecy and Camilo squatters or did they legally own the land?

Sabin: No, they’re not squatters. They legally own that land. We shot different scenes where they go to seek out land to purchase. It’s actually somewhat problematic…because there’s a lot of companies that open up that say, ‘I have this land, purchase it, make a down payment,’ and then they’ll just disappear after you make your down payment, so you have to be careful who you give your money to.

Q: Some of the scenes were very intimate. Was any of the film scripted or rehearsed?

Sabin: David and I made a distinct choice in the beginning to have this be collaboration. We had a really open dialogue with them with what was going on, what wasn’t going on. They never once said to us, ‘don’t film something.’ In fact they encouraged us…I felt really uncomfortable filming Cecy for the first time when she’s seeing her daughter because I was just expecting this grand reunion, and at one point she actually fingers us over to film. As far as scripted, there’s moments that we missed that (we would ask) ‘can you guys have a conversation about this?’ They would actually get in a really heated discussion about something and we would film it…It is an interesting question as far as a documentary. What is truth and what is not?

Redmon: On the DVD, a lot of that is on the extras. For example, we would shoot a scene. It was spontaneous, but then we would show it to them maybe a year later, and they’d say, ‘no, that’s not really what I was thinking. What I’m thinking and what I’m portraying is not really what I was thinking at the time. This is what I was thinking.’

Q: How did you find them?

Sabin: We are always asked that question…David is from Texas, so had an interest previously in us going down to Mexico and we decided to move down there for three months and make a film. They had pallets…stacked outside of their house so we were curious about it so knocked on their door. Cecy opens the door and then we just had an immediate connection and the next day we were there with a camera. Then filming wasn’t something we had off the bat that this was a great idea. It was sort of a natural progression…and also having interests in wanting to be part of the production. They’re very curious.

Redmon: We didn’t find out they had a daughter until we started filming them…and thought we were going to make a 28-minute short film. So we go along and they’re going to reunite and it’s going to be a happy ending…We ended up shooting over the course of five years.

Q: How much of their participation in the film might have influenced the outcome of their lives?

Redmon: After Loida came back, he pretty much knew that he and Cecy wanted to save enough money to buy a house. I don’t know if they were doing that just because they wanted us to finish the film or they would have done that even if no one was filming them.

Sabin: Of course it changed things. At the beginning, they didn’t even have a cell phone. We couldn’t text them, so we would just show up. David and I were really skeptical whether or not they were going to get the house. And I don’t even see the ending as necessarily happy. It’s sort of to be continued. I think as an audience member, you decide whether or not it’s happy because of whatever you’re bringing to the film

Redmon: I wish they were here to respond to it.

Q: Did you two help them at all financially to get where they needed to go?

Sabin: We didn’t help them until the end of the film…What really helped was that Cecy started selling the jewelry.

Redmon: We had the jewelry that sold out at the first screening in Austin. She sells it for $5 and she makes less than $5 a day and every weekend she would sell maybe one every thirty minutes.

Sabin: They were just doing whatever they could.

Cecy also sells these tiny angel figurines that she crafts by hand that Ashley showd to the crowd after the screening.

Q: Have they seen the film in a theater or a festival?

Redmon: We asked Cecy, and she’s never been to a movie theater, but there is a new one that was just built recently…and it played in festivals in Mexico, but they couldn’t go there.

Sabin: And we weren’t able to go either…It’s really difficult for them to come over. The visa process is very difficult. To get them all over here and to go back would take months, so we just haven’t been able to orchestrate the whole ordeal and hire a lawyer.

Q: I’m curious about their first meeting back with their daughter. How much of (Loida’s) shyness was because you were there or it was truly a shyness because she hadn’t seen her parents for the two years?

Sabin: I almost want to leave that up to you…It’s again a difficult question. How much (are we) affecting someone’s life?...She looks at Cecy first. She doesn’t look at us. If you notice the first shot, she looks at Cecy. And then she looks away from Cecy and then she looks at the camera.

Redmon: She’s seven now. We asked her about that shot…She says she remembers that her parents had left for a long time and came back…She remembers the doll. It’s amazing because she always talks about lollipops…That’s one of the first words she learned. It’s really interesting how this carries over throughout her life. At the age of four she said she wanted to be a teacher. We see here today and she still wants to be a teacher. She’s an amazing little girl.

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Wednesday, November 12, 2008

MIAAC Film Festival Award Winners

Just received word on the winners of the Mahindra Indo-American Arts Council (MIAAC) Film Festival where I attended a panel on Shooting in India this past Saturday. Below is the list of winners. Congratulations to all.

· Best Short Film Award: Noise directed by Raj Nidimoru and Krishna DK. Cash award of $2,500 presented by Actress Sarita Choudhury.

· Analog Digital Award for Best Documentary Film: Lakshmi and Me by Nishtha Jain. Cash award of $2,500 presented by Analog Digital President, Ayres D’Cunha.

· Best Actor Award: Sachin Khedekar for Bose: The Forgotten Hero. Cash award of $5,000 presented by Author Suketu Mehta.

· Prestige Jewelry Award for Best Actress: Mandira Banerjee for Shadows Formless. Cash award of $5,000 presented by Prestige Jewelry Vice President Dina Kothari and Actress/Director/Author Madhur Jaffrey.

· Time Warner Award for Best Screenplay: Sooni Taraporevala for Little Zizou. Cash award of $5,000 presented by Ambassador Vijay Nambiar and Time Warner Director of Marketing & On-Demand Services Betty Campbell Adams.

· Best Director Award: Sooni Taraporevala (Little Zizou) and Ashish Avikunthak (Shadows Formless). Cash award of $5,000 presented by Director, Mira Nair.

· INDIRA MAHINDRA AWARD FOR BEST FILM: Amal by Richie Mehta. Cash award of $5.000 presented by Author Salman Rushdie, Aalika Mahindra, and Divya Mahindra.


Tuesday, November 11, 2008

MIAAC Panel: Shooting in India - Nov. 8, 2008

Mahindra Indo-American Arts Council (MIAAC) Film Festival
Notes from the Shooting in India Panel Discussion
Jazz at Lincoln Center
New York, NY
Saturday, November 8, 2008

(L to R: Parvez Sharma, Lydia Dean Pilcher, Apoorva Lakhia & Tracey Jackson.) Photo by Brian Geldin.

* Parvez Sharma, producer-director of A Jihad for Love

* Aanand Mahendroo, producer of Colours of Passion and Managing Director of Infinity Film Completion Services
* Lydia Dean Pilcher (Producer: The Darjeeling Limited, The Namesake), founder of Cine Mosaic
* Apoorva Lakhia, director of Shootout at Lokhandwala
* Tracey Jackson, producer (Lucky Ducks) and screenwriter (The Guru, The Ivy Chronicles)

I saw my first Bollywood film, Devdas, six years ago at the Cannes Film Festival. It was the world premiere, red carpet and all at the Palais. Quite a foray into the world of Indian cinema. Saturday’s panel enlightened me further offering a Shooting in India 101 of sorts where the panelists offered a taste of what it’s like to shoot in India whether from an insider’s or outsider’s perspective, how to get permissions from the government’s ministry and other local agencies, and how despite that, there could be some bribery involved to get things done, which should be factored into your budget. Even discussions of how to market films for the Indian audience versus the American audience of Indian films entered the equation, where language seemed to be the deciding factor on how some films seem to crossover more than others. Here are some of the highlights from that discussion.

On…Shooting in India from an Insider’s Perspective:

Lakhia said, “There’s a misconception that shooting in India is cheap. It’s really not. To get good services, you have to pay top dollar. Top actors and directors can range from $3 million to $10 million. I think the crew is the most important…film production is changing. You get the best assistant directors and cinematographers…do a lot of research…Don’t get scared to come to India and shoot…The most important thing is just be very patient. Obviously if you’ve grown up in the West, things are different. It takes longer. Not everything happens on time. That’s the way they are. They’re not going to change for you, so you might as well change for them because you are their guest for three months.”

Mehendroo said, “(Get) the right crew. Who to hire, who not to hire. Mostly what I notice is that people go to pretty standard cliché places in India to shoot…but there are many much cheaper, similar looking locations and fairly accessible with good infrastructure in terms of hotels and roads.”

On…Shooting in India from an Outsider’s Perspective:

Pilcher said, “The most important thing to do first if you’re someone who isn’t already based in India…is do a scout. Get a sense of the areas and places where you want to film and start to meet some of the production service companies and get a sense of who you would like to team up with. Finding the right partner is going to be important for any producer of filmmaker whose coming in from outside of India…It’s an incredibly complicated culture with many religions. Even though the caste system is legally not supposed to be in existence, I think there’s a myriad of classes that exist. Quite frankly, there’s quite clearly an intense mutual hatred amongst groups which makes for a lot of landmines when you’re doing business. There’s no way for a person who’s outside the culture to even begin to fathom the understanding of that…I love every experience that I’ve had in India. I shot in all different parts in the country. Calcutta was amazing because it had such a strong intellectual tradition. Fantastic theater, an amazing talent. Rajistan because these staggering gorgeous locations, the palaces…Bombay is exciting because the energy that exists there. I think everywhere I go there’s something very different. It’s a country that has so much to offer. It’s a very exciting place to work if you come in with the right approach…and break a coconut on your first day.”

Jackson said, “Nothing is as much fun as making a film there. Part of it I think is what attracts me personally to India. It’s the warmth of the people, the openness. It does take time…You do need patience. You have to go on a different clock and a different schedule…What you get back emotionally just in terms of your product, it’s just so rewarding…Nothing looks as beautiful on film as India…Have a good time. At the end of the day, it’s the entertainment business…You’re there to make something entertaining. The headaches are different headaches from here. I think they’re better headaches.”


Mehendroo said, “Location permissions is the most important thing. It’s not only the ministry permissions, but you have local permissions. If your permissions are in place, and there are many professionals there who can get you these permissions….(If you want to shoot in restaurants or bars)…You can approach location managers who can get you permissions. It depends where you want to shoot.”

Jackson said, “If you’re coming from the States, (get) the proper permits from the Indian government…a lot of people bystep that process, thinking they don’t have to. They think they can just go in and shoot…I know many people who have gone in and shot and they had their film confiscated, their cameras confiscated. There’s a lot of police. If you’re shooting a film and you can hand over a document that’s stamped by the government that you’re permitted to shoot in India, it’s a little extra ground work and paper work…it makes a huge difference when you get tapped on the shoulder by a policeman or an official when you’re in a crowd or a train station trying to get shots.”
Pilcher said, “One of the things you need to get early on is a permission from the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting…It’s an overall filming permission. You need that every step of the way. Basically, you send them a script. If you are a little nervous about some of the things they might flag, you might think about that before you send the script in. Maybe you think about a version that would be acceptable. There are certain things that can really draw flags in terms of sexual content or language. Animal rights protection is huge. On The Darjeeling Limited, I don’t know if any of you have seen that, Wes Anderson directed it. We had a snake on a train…was one of the biggest deal that we dealt with the entire way and I couldn’t believe that at the end of the day, it held up the release in Bombay. I think there were filmmakers who were arrested for working with tigers in Rajistan a couple of years ago, so animal rights is something that is taken extremely seriously. They really are opposed to films using any kind of animals that are considered wildlife.”

Lakhia said, “We don’t have to go to the Ministry…The only thing is getting permission from the Army or shooting in areas that are near the border or on trains. In Bombay, there’s a huge deposit and I don’t know if the deposit comes back…when you’re coming in from abroad, I think when you want to shoot the most important thing is you should know the correct location manager and line producer…We kept 30,000 rupees a day as bribe money. 15,000 before lunch and 15,000 after… That should also be included in your budget. It shouldn’t be coming as a surprise to you…Be more flexible because you never know where it’s going to hit you from.”

On…Crossing Over:

Sharma: Slumdog Millionaire which has got a lot of acclaim and showing at this festival…it’s a foreign/non-Indian filmmaker who’s gone into India and created a remarkable film, but there’s a difference in lens and perspective. Everybody’s talking about going to India. Bollywood being the next big thing. What is going to be the next big crossover film? With Monsoon Wedding, people realized a film shot entirely in India and a film that had no reason to succeed as much as it did with audiences here, but there was some kind of crossover happening with a very Indian theme. I think Slumdog Millionaire is going to do the same thing…Most of the film is in English. That’s why a lot of people now think it will be nominated for an Academy Award. The language question is a very important one.”

Lakhia said, “I make commercial films in India. I’ll be very honest with you, we make films for the Indian audience. An Indian filmmaker making a crossover film is going to be very difficult. It has to be from an Indian coming from the outside to make a crossover film, because we make movies for an Indian audience. It has to be two hours long. It has to have the full songs. It has to have crying and there has to be an underdog, which eventually takes over the world. That’s what all our films are about…And we make films for the Indian audience that’s living abroad. You will not see our films go to a lot of festivals, because our distributors and our producers make it a point to…not to premiere it in festivals. It’s just the way it works…In India there’s two kinds of films and two kinds of filmmakers. The basic revenue comes from the masses and the classes. The classes means the metroplexes where the opening on Friday, Saturday and Sunday decide if the film is doing well or not. And then there’s the masses which are the cinemas that has 2,000 seats…in smaller towns where the place is very moderate. You have two kinds of balancing acts.”

Jackson said, “The Guru was a film that started in 1995, so it was really long before this crossover…Americans weren’t really making films about India in 1995. I was approached by Shekhar Kapur who was just on the scene. He was in pre-production on Elizabeth, so he had to become a part of the American dialogue. He had done Bandit Queen, which was a big hit in India, but hadn’t really done that much here. Shekhar's India perspective and my love of India and then my knowledge of American structure that we were hoping would be one of the first crossover films, which meant it had American structure, and then it had dancing, it had the underdog, it had all the moments of an Bollywood film, but with the structure of a typical American romantic comedy. It played really well in the UK…and it did horribly in America… it’s going to be very hard to get the American audience into the film to make it a huge hit….you need to come and make an Ocean’s 11…It’s hard to get small American films seen. It’s a struggle. I think it’s gotten better since we did The Guru.”

Pilcher said, “I think it’s all a new frontier. I’ll watch and see how it plays out. I have a (literary) agent at ICM who called me yesterday…he’s interested in selling books in the Indian market now…he wanted me to talk with him about it. That was a very interesting phone call because he is one of the most literary agents in Hollywood. The fact that he really wanted to explore that was indicative with what I think is happening. I also feel that…it seems like there’s a generation of younger directors coming up in India who are more influenced by Western media and movies and some of the style of the Bollywood film is shifting.”

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