Archive for the ‘Film’ Category

Jeffrey P. Nesker brings ELSEWHERE, NY to Cinequest

Jeffrey P. Nesker, director of ELSEWHERE, NY

Jeffrey P. Nesker, director of ELSEWHERE, NY

1Q: Tell us a little about the origins of Elsewhere, NY, from concept to financing.

The story of Elsewhere, NY has to start with Tom Wilton, the writer and my fellow producer. Tom is a gifted filmmaker in his own right, a zen master of zero budget filmmaking, and a guy I’ve had a long standing friendship and collaborative relationship with. Together, along with Neil Rolland and a handful of others, we ran the globe-hopping Bootleg Film Festival, taking it to London, Swansea, Toronto, Edinburgh, and finally New York City.

It was actually on the closing night in NYC that both Tom and Neil essentially held an intervention on me, telling me it was time to get out and make a feature. You see, after beginning my career with a bunch of very successful shorts, I had spent too long sitting on the fence, waiting for that magic ratio of finances and permission to make my debut feature. It was showing on me of course. Here we were, screening features that others had made, and there I was, angst-ridden, disillusioned and more than a little bitter. In truth, I wasn’t much fun to be around.

Tom suggested I return to New York soon, and that we’d just get down to shooting a movie in that no-budget, no-holds-barred way.

And so, on the ride back to Toronto, my sister and I chewed over some simple story ideas. Then, before I knew it, I was back in New York, camera in hand, a screenplay Tom had pieced together and actors at the ready.

Fast forward a month (and a few bucks later), I had exactly the film I wanted to make; challenging, ambitious, but most importantly, true to the uniqueness of the city that never sleeps. I felt that I had really drilled down in authenticity, peeling open a place and just what it can do to people that decide to make it their home.

2Q: Cinequest Film Festival is hosting the US Premiere of Elsewhere, NY. Explain to us how it feels to bring this film before US audiences for the first time, and what do you think their reaction will be to your film?

The film actually debuted last December at the prestigious Whistler Film Festival, Canada, so I was fortunate enough to see it with an audience there. But having its US Premiere at Cinequest is truly fantastic, and I’m a huge fan of the festival, so it’s truly an honor getting to share it with everyone here first.

Of course, when you factor in that Elsewhere, NY is a DIY feature, shot on the sly with a cast of four and a crew of two, it’s exciting to see what people will make of it. The film is certainly aggressive, stylized, and features characters who can be selfish and impulsive. But I think that’s what makes it a compelling (and hopefully refreshing) story to tell.

I was delighted by the audience response at Whistler, and, in many instances, they felt compelled to stop us in cafes and out on the street after to talk about the movie and its themes.

Personally, I’m always curious which of the characters people identify with, and at Cinequest, I hope I’ll be getting to enjoy many more of those conversations.

3Q: What was your best and/or worst experience while making Elsewhere, NY?

Making a no budget feature in a month, with no prep, that’s hard. To do it in New York, a city where even the subway makes no sense half that time, yeah, it’s a challenge for sure. But the truth is that despite all the backaches from couch-hopping, stomach aches from too much dollar pizza, plus all the usual struggles of making a feature film, shooting Elsewhere, NY has been the greatest, and most rewarding adventure of my life. It was pure magic. I had an absolutely terrific cast that came together far quicker than anyone expected, a great script, and, of course, the chaos that is New York City to steer my ship by. It was insane, but I got it, and even learned to love it. It was my kind of crazy.

Still, like any debut feature, there was a definite learning curve. The challenge was always to get the best possible sound, within reason. Of course, New York is one noisy place, and so we made the choice early to just embrace it’s authenticity. As a filmmaker, there’s always a desire  to control your environment, but when you’re in one of the most populated cities on the planet, you simply have to surrender to what New York is.

4Q: Festival audiences often have to make hard decisions about what to see, and the catalog descriptions sometimes run together. In your own words, why should people see your film?

I hope that audiences see themselves – warts and all – in these characters. That they reflect the people we are, the people we’ve been, and also the people we want to be.

Personally, I’m very proud of this movie. I think it’s bold, authentic, and exciting. We have created something that transcends it’s humble production and (so it seems) speaks to people. It’s certainly put me back on track as a filmmaker, and its continued successes as we share it with the world reaffirm why we do this in the first place.

And on a really raw level, I want this film to inspire more filmmakers to go and make their films – to also stop worrying about the details, and just go do it.

5Q: Time to pre-plan: You just won the Oscar for Elsewhere, NY. Give us your acceptance speech.

A film, even a micro-budget one, is a team effort, and I had a fantastic team. To my actors, Gillian Leigh Visco, Andrew Ruth, Andrew Leland Rogers, and Fiona Graham, I owe you a singular debt. You trusted me to do something very ambitious with no time and no money. We succeeded not because of me, but because of each of you, and that sacred trust.

To my composers, Jason Thomson and Simon Poole, and all the bands that graciously allowed us to use your music, you rolled with a workflow from hell, countless changes after the fact, and so much more noise, if you’ll pardon the pun.Sasha Abramov, thanks again for doing what you do so well – delivering amazing graphics and VFX quicker than it takes me to type out my thanks!

(The orchestra probably starts up here to play me out, so my volume raises in tandem…)

To Elma Bello, who became much more than a Sound Designer. You became a trusted lieutenant. Your belief in the film held the whole ship together more than a few times, and your tireless devotion to making it great is beyond appreciated.

(Music swells…)

To Allon Schemool, Nicole DeWalt, and “Fireman” Sam, who opened their doors, and their lives, to an old friend from Toronto with no other place to go, without you, there would be no film to speak of.  I am forever in your debt.

(Music at deafening volume now. TV broadcast cuts to people more famous than I. They look bored.)

To Tom Wilton, who showed me a kindness and willingness to service my dreams that I will cherish forever. And of course, to my family, who put up with this insane career choice of mine! After years of sitting on a fence, I’ve gone and climbed the mountain top, and it feels damn good standing at the summit looking down. Onward and upward!

See ELSEWHERE, NY at Cinequest!
View the trailer!
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originally posted on popcorn&vodka.

Charles Griak brings THE CENTER to Cinequest

Charles Griak, director of THE CENTER

Charles Griak, director of THE CENTER

1Q: Tell us a little about the origins of THE CENTER, from concept to financing.

I’m always a little embarrassed to admit just how long I have been working on “The Center”. I believe I’ve been writing and story boarding it since 2005. So needless to say, its been a long road to get the film where it is today.

After years of writing in secret, and being completely afraid to share the story with anyone, I somehow found myself making a public commitment to a group of close friends that I would quit holding back and actually make this movie.

Almost immediately after making this commitment, I regretted it. I soon convinced myself that what I was hoping for was all but impossible. Luckily, I received some great advice from a friend. He suggested I simply take one small step forward— even if it was a very small step, even if I didn’t believe it would lead anywhere, even if the results were disappointing, and even if what I was doing seemed completely foolish. I simply needed to take a step that day and start the ball rolling. And then I just needed continue to do that everyday, over and over, for as many days as it took to complete the film.

With that in mind, my wife and I, along with our friend Ramon (who would eventually play Leon in the final film), began to shoot test scenes. We would take some small excerpt of the script and try to film it. We borrowed cameras, and microphones… we used desk lamps instead of lights… we found actors through craiglists postings (many of whom became our final cast)… we shot on street corners, and in churches, friend’s apartments, and abandoned alleys. And whether we knew what we were doing or not, we had started the ball rolling. For the next two years we shot those test scenes. And in enough time we had convinced ourselves that we could actually make a feature film.

Having generated this type of momentum, the means to make a complete feature film started to line up very organically. By sharing some of our test scenes, we were able to connect with two great Minnesota producers, Annie and Judd Einan. They joined our small team and created a very efficient and innovative plan to film the entire feature. Soon after, we able to secure enough financing to shoot for 20 days with a paid cast and crew. And we were off and running…

2Q: Cinequest Film Festival is hosting the World Premiere of THE CENTER. Explain to us how it feels to bring this film before audiences for the first time, and what do you think their reaction will be to your film?

I am beyond thrilled to bring “The Center” to the Cinequest audience! The whole experience so far with Cinequest has been wonderful and it sounds like the Cinequest audiences are filled with true film lovers. That really is the ideal situation for any filmmaker, so I’m really looking forward to our screenings and the Q &A following the premiere.

I hope the film generates a lot of discussion in the audience about cults, human behavior, belief systems and group dynamics. I think there is no bigger compliment than hearing that my film made someone “think”.

3Q: What was your best and/or worst experience while making THE CENTER?

“The Center” is my first feature film, so I have a long list of “best” experiences. The first thing that comes to mind is the moment right before our very first take. I remember looking around the location — the crew, the cameras, the lights, the actors — and it felt like a dream come true. I felt (and still feel) incredibly lucky to have the opportunity to create a film. I consider the creative process to be very sacred, and to collaborate with so many great people in that process was a life-changing experience

Another moment that stands out is the first time I was able to share my rough-cut with one of my heroes, Jonathan Demme. Hearing his positive feedback and excitement about “The Center” is a memory I will always cherish.

Another best moment is of course finding out that we were accepted for Cinequest 25!

4Q: Festival audiences often have to make hard decisions about what to see, and the catalog descriptions sometimes run together. In your own words, why should people see your film?

I think people should see “The Center” because it touches on some very real experiences that are rarely explored dramatically. I think a “realistic” look at a cult-like group is a unique thing in a narrative feature film.

But beyond simply the topic, I think the film is emotionally authentic and therefore something that an audience can connect to on a deep level. And ultimately, I think that is why we see films — to connect with the characters, the story, and with, as Joseph Campbell put it, “an experience of being alive”. I sincerely hope The Center gives the audience some level of opportunity for that type of connection.

5Q: Time to pre-plan: You just won the Oscar for THE CENTER. Give us your acceptance speech.

That is certainly a fun thing to imagine! I think I would have so many people to thank that I would be kicked off the stage before I could name them all!

Truly, film is such a collaborative process and I would want everyone involved to get their proper credit. Most importantly, I would want to thank my parents and my wife, Wendy, for all of their amazing support. I also would want to thank Jonathan Demme for all of his guidance and generosity… and our great producers, Annie and Judd Einan, and the cast and crew… see, I could go on and on….

See THE CENTER at Cinequest!
View the trailer!
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originally posted on popcorn&vodka

Bay Area native Veronica Mannion brings comedy-musical to Cinequest

Veronica Mannion, director of BOOZE BOYS AND BROWNIES

Veronica Mannion, director of BOOZE BOYS AND BROWNIES

Cinequest begins this week, and Bay Area native Veronica Mannion brings her film Booze Boys and Brownies for its World Premiere. Veronica was born in San Francisco in her parent’s one bedroom apartment in North Beach and then moved to Marin County. She went to Terra Linda High School and San Francisco State and did some theater in the Bay including Tony and Tina’s Wedding on Fisherman’s Wharf, Alterana Playhouse in Alameda, and also at Center Rep Theater in Walnut Creek.  

1Q: Tell us a little about the origins of BOOZE BOYS & BROWNIES, from concept to financing.

When I moved to LA from my sleepy suburban Bay Area town, I decided to put on a one woman show ala my idol Molly Shannon to “get noticed” in Hollywood. “Booze Boys & Brownies” was performed at the Exit Theater in SF and at the Hollywood Fringe Festival to enthusiastic but small crowds, and some people told me to make it a web series of me playing these different characters and singing these old show tunes, but I always wanted to make movies. I grew up loving films, and if I was truly honest with myself, I knew I had to write my ticket into them. This movie is a twist on very real events of my first year living in LA. I love slice of life films and looking back, I was aware of the juxtaposition of my feelings while BBB was first going on; I was performing my stage show and feeling ecstatic but also reeling from a very difficult break up. I decided this was my story I wanted to share, and after 2 years of drafts and drafts of it, I decided to spend all my savings and just make it. And I’m so happy I did!

2Q: Cinequest Film Festival is hosting the World Premiere of BOOZE BOYS & BROWNIES. Explain to us how it feels to bring this film before audiences for the first time, and what do you think their reaction will be to your film?

I’m extremely excited and nervous to hear the crowd’s reactions! I’ve seen it so many times with my editor and my sound guys, and even my little sister who offered a much needed outside perspective, and we quote certain things and fixate on other random things. I’m interested to see what will land, and what won’t. Also there’s some “industry” jokes that I don’t know will resonate with the Bay Area crowd. But I’m hoping they’ll love it! I’m hoping the songs will get stuck in their heads and they’ll revel in the cheesiness. If one person cries, I will feel like I’ve made it.

3Q: What was your best and/or worst experience while making BOOZE BOYS & BROWNIES?

My best experience was that I got to be the star of a musical! That’s never happened to me before. After my first day of choreography with Deborah Geffner (a Broadway multi-talented performer who also plays Sharon in BBB), I realized I had made my own dreams come true. And that felt pretty powerful.

The worst experience was just a few last minute heart attacks- I had to recast the role of Sugar Daddy one week before shooting, and also recast Doug only hours before the shoot because some actors had to drop out. It was stressful and not ideal, but my film was a super low budget thing and things like this happen- but the show must go on.

4Q: Festival audiences often have to make hard decisions about what to see, and the catalog descriptions sometimes run together. In your own words, why should people see your film?

I feel like so many movies today aren’t made for me. They are too fast or violent or kinda gross. I made a movie I would want to watch on a rainy Sunday with my best friends, or make some cookies and watch with my mom, or to nurse me through a breakup. I made that movie that gets better every time you see it, that warms your heart and hopefully makes you think about your life and feel a little lighter.

5Q: Time to pre-plan: You just won the Oscar for BOOZE BOYS & BROWNIES. Give us your acceptance speech.

I’d like to thank my mom for teaching me the most important words in the English dictionary- I AM. This is for all the little chubby girls- you can do anything you put your mind to!

See BOOZE BOYS & BROWNIES at Cinequest!
View the trailer!
Follow Veronica Mannion on Facebook!
Follow BOOZE BOYS & BROWNIES on Facebook!
Follow Veronica Mannion on Twitter!
Follow BOOZE BOYS & BROWNIES on Twitter!

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Previously posted on Popcorn&Vodka.

Santa Cruz Surf Film Festival

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Get ready for the first annual Santa Cruz Surf Film Festival (www.scsff.com), taking place at the Del Mar and Rio theatres in Santa Cruz Sept. 24-26, 2014. This will be Santa Cruz’s first-ever multi-evening celebration of the best in surf cinema.
There is a lineup of 19 films from all over the world, ranging from 3 to 90 minutes long, with a total of 6 different screenings.
The focus of the festival is on high-quality documentary storytelling, as well as beautiful cinematography. The result is a carefully curated roster of films that will appeal to surfers and non-surfers alike.
Feature films will include:
  • The world premiere of Oney Anwar: Chasing the Dream, the story of an aspiring pro surfer from a remote Indonesian village, with the film producer in attendance at the screening for Q&A;
  • OUT in the Line-up, a documentary that follows the founder of gaysurfers.net as he travels around the world surfing and exploring the covering up of homosexuality in surf culture, and includes interviews with well-known pro surfers who have come out of the closet. This film sold out at the San Francisco International LGBT Frameline Film Festival, the Newport Beach Film Festival, and the San Diego Surf Film Festival;
  • Tierra de Patagones, a picaresque tale of two Argentinian brothers who drive and camp their way through Patagonia to experience the wild culture and find waves;
  • Beyond the Surface, a tale of a group of professional women longboarders who visit India and meet the first female Indian surfer. Director and professional surfer Crystal Thornburg-Homcy will be in attendance for a Q&A.
Tickets are on sale now at www.scsff.com/tickets and there’s an early bird (they’re calling it Dawn Patrol) ticket discount available until Sept. 10th.

Paul Lazarus, Director: SLINGSHOT Documentary at Cinequest

Paul Lazarus, Director of SLINGSHOT

Silicon Valley may know Dean Kamen as the inventor of the Segway. But he is an amazing inventor and trying to use his genius to help solve the world’s clean water problem.  We don’t worry much about water here other than our perpetual drought, but we have it good in the USA – our water is clean for the most part.  50 percent of all human illness is the result of water borne pathogens.  Dean Kamen has invented an energy efficient vapor-compression distiller that can turn any unfit source of water into potable, safe water.  Paul Lazarus directed this important documentary.

1Q: Tell us a little about the origins of SLINGSHOT, from concept to financing.

We have been working on this movie for seven years.  When inventor, Dean Kamentold me about his work on providing the world with clean, safe water, I thought it was potentially the most important challenge he’d ever tackled and I suggested we make a movie about it.  We have covered the development of the machine at Dean’s research company, in Ghana, Paraguay and all across the United States.

2Q: Cinequest is hosting the World Premiere of SLINGSHOT.  Explain to us how it feels to bring this film before audiences for the first time, and what do you think their reaction will be to your film?

After all this time, it’s a little frightening to bring the film before the public.  We want so badly for the film to succeed and help tell the story of this lifesaving technology and help spread this amazing technology all over the planet.  It feels like so much is at stake.   But, as Dean Kamen says, the safest place for a ship is in the harbor, it just doesn’t do any good there.   We hope that the movie both inspires and entertains the people that see it.

3Q: What was your best and/or worst experience while making SLINGSHOT?

Best was going to Ghana two times and meeting incredible people like Lydia Odum, the headmistress of a small school 90-minutes north of Accra.    And the kids, who always seemed happy to see us. Worst was trying to raise the money to make the film.

4Q: Festival audiences often have to make hard decisions about what to see, and the catalog descriptions sometimes run together. In your own words, why should people see your film?

Too often, especially with issue documentaries, you leave the theater feeling helpless and hopeless.  We believe that people who take the time to see SlingShot will leave the theater hopeful, energized and feeling like they might be able to make a difference.

5Q: Time to pre-plan: You just won the Best Picture Oscar for SLINGSHOT.  Give us your acceptance speech.

Thank you to the hundreds of people who helped create this film.   I hope in some small way it will make you think about the world’s safe water crisis.  I want to quote a man who has devoted over 15 years of his life trying to create a machine that can turn any form of bad, unclean water into safe, pure water:  ”We could empty half of all beds in all the hospitals in the world by just giving people clean water.”

See SLINGSHOT at Cinequest!
“Like” them on Facebook!
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Dean Kamen, Inventor

Sarah Smick, Director/Writer: FRIENDED TO DEATH

Facebook Friends: over 4,000. Real friends: ?

Sarah Smick brings her film FRIENDED TO DEATH to Cinequest on Friday, March 7.  In the valley where Facebook was created, this film should be very popular.

1Q: Tell us a little about the origins of FRIENDED TO DEATH, from concept to financing.

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First, let me offer some context. Friended to Death is a dark comedy feature about a Facebook addict (played by Ryan Hansen from Veronica Mars and Party Down) who fakes his own death on social media to see which of his “friends” will show up at his funeral. It will have its U.S. Premiere at Cinequest in San Jose this Friday, March 7th at 7:15 pm. Tickets available here.
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As for the development and making of the film, my co-writer Ian Michaels had read a story in the foreign press a few years back about a man who actually attempted to fake his own death. The man’s friends weren’t fooled by his futile efforts, but we saw a real hook for a compelling narrative that would capture the sensational voyeurism that can accompany social media. Sensing how timely these themes were (and still are), we proceeded to craft a script that would comment on the ironies of social connectivity and then we hustled like crazy to get it made. Now, many months later, we are thrilled to finally be releasing it out into the world!
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2Q: Cinequest is proud to host the United States Premiere of FRIENDED TO DEATH. Explain to us how it feels to bring this film before audiences for the first time, and what do you think their reaction will be to your film?
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We couldn’t be more excited for our film to make its U.S. debut in the heart of Silicon Valley.  Friended to Death is a “bro-mantic” comedy that will appeal to mainstream, but we are also confident that its commentary on social media will be of keen interest to those who live and breathe trends in connectivity.
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3Q: What was your best and/or worst experience while making FRIENDED TO DEATH?
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The making of this film has been a wild ride as it was my first time directing a feature. As a result, I really had to rely on my cast and crew  for support and feedback. Some of the most rewarding experiences were the many moments during the shoot and post-production when my collaborators exceeded my expectations. I was so often impressed by their boundless creativity and hard work. As for obstacles that we encountered, I have to say that the time limitations inevitably placed on an indie film shoot are always frustrating. What director wouldn’t be glad to have one extra day to shoot?
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4Q: Festival audiences often have to make hard decisions about what to see, and the catalog descriptions sometimes run together. In your own words, why should people see your film?
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First off, it’s funny! (or so we’ve observed from test audiences). People seem to connect with the story and the characters in a palpable way. Friended to Death deals with current issues that audiences seem to relate to. And as social media continues to permeate our daily lives, there is no better time for audiences to enjoy a hilarious, timely perspective on how it’s impacting our relationships. As added incentive, a number of cast and crew, including myself, will be present for Q&As following all three of our screenings. It’s a great way for the audience to be interactive and engage with the film.
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5Q: Time to pre-plan: You just won the Best Director/Writer Oscar for FRIENDED TO DEATH. Give us your acceptance speech.
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What a question! At risk of seeming coy, I’ll say this: my speech would be shaped by the guiding sentiments of gratitude, pride, and grace.
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See FRIENDED TO DEATH at Cinequest!
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Cinequest Film Review: ETERNITY

LOL.

I mean seriously, LOL.

This film is so awful it’s just about perfect.  And I mean that in the best way possible.

Look, I grew up in the 80s, I LOVED the 80s, and the 80s actually had some really great music, film and fashion.

It also had some of the worst music, film and fashion in history, no joke.

ETERNITY, because I’m 99% positive they meant it to be awful, hits every level of this.

Todd Lucas (Barrett Crake) and BJ Fairchild (Myko Olivier) meet in the 80s and decide to form the greatest R&B band in history, Eternity. The film follows their rise to fame and fortune, their loves, their lusts, their friendship, and finally their falling out and inevitable reunion.

ETERNITY: THE MOVIE is not a tribute to the greatness of the 80s.  I could very well be wrong, but I really think it’s a tribute to the awfulness of the 80s.  There was some really horrid music on the radio back then, and you’ll hear some very similar music in this film (although I actually like the last two songs of the film).  80s fashion could be mind bogglingly terrible, especially for men – and it’s here in all its cheap glory.  Don’t let nostalgia fool you, 80s television was not what you remember either.  And ETERNITY has all the overdramatic arguments from the after school specials, a melodramatic dying scene straight from the nighttime soaps, and the subtle undercurrent of homosexuality blatant homoerotic tomfoolery of the entire decade times infinity.  There is bad acting, bad writing, bad sex jokes, bad ideas and Ridgemont High.  Wait, Ridgemont High is awesome, what wasn’t awesome were all the copycat movies that came after it.

That’s what ETERNITY is, in the most perfect way.

Would *I* watch it again?  LOL.  No.  But I know a lot of people who will love this film and will want to watch it over and over.  ”I get it now, I get it,” says one character near the end of the film.  ”I don’t,” replies Gina Marie (Nikki Leonti) and I started cracking up.  Because that kind of summed up the movie.  I think there is going to be a section of the audience who will be rolling their eyes at this film, and then there is going to be the much larger section cheering and cackling with glee.  It’s all done in good fun, and I think they absolutely accomplished what they were trying for.

See ETERNITY: THE MOVIE at Cinequest!
My interview with the filmmakers!
“Like” them on Facebook!
Follow the film on Twitter!

Cinequest film review: LAWRENCE & HOLLOMAN

I finally had my first big belly laugh just eight minutes into LAWRENCE & HOLLOMAN, and the laughs just kept coming in this must see dark comedy.

Holloman is a white bread and bologna type guy who just cannot win in life and intends to end his troubles, permanently.  But before he gets a chance he comes across the vocabulary challenged Lawrence who seems to win at EVERYTHING in life without even trying.  Promotions at work, great apartment, sexy girlfriend, and the adoration of everyone he comes across.  Lawrence is everything Holloman is not.

Holloman decides to follow Lawrence and see what his secret is.  Is it just the luck of a shiny new penny? Lawrence’s endlessly optimistic outlook? Fate?  Lawrence takes Holloman under his wing and tries to teach him the benefits of looking on the bright side of things.

But suddenly, Lawrence’s luck takes a downturn just as Holloman’s life appears to be suddenly looking up.  What will it take for Lawrence to lose his optimistic outlook?  Is there a reason for the change of luck, or is it the fault of the mysterious mustachioed man?

Daniel Arnold and Ben Cotton are perfectly cast as the unlikely duo.  Arnold morphs believably from a sad loser to a handsome man of luck, and Cotton just continues to be the insufferable optimist no matter how many anvils fall on his head.  The comedy is dark and so well written with that trademark humor I’ve come to expect from Canadian films.  I really enjoyed this film and I know Cinequest audiences are going to love it as well. Put it on your calendars and get ready for those belly laughs!

See LAWRENCE & HOLLOMAN at Cinequest!
View the Trailer!
“Like” them on Facebook!
Follow them on Twitter!
My interview with director Matthew Kowalchuk

Interview originally published at http://popcornandvodka.com/2014/03/04/lawrence-holloman/
 

Mike Whalen, Director/Writer: THE FARMER AND THE CHEF

Mike Whalen, Documentarian

Mike Whalen is a local filmmaker bringing to Cinequest a documentary about the chef from Manresa Restaurant, and the partnership they have with Love Apple Farms.

1Q: Tell us a little about the origins of THE FARMER & THE CHEF, from concept to financing.

I first starting thinking about making a “green” television reality doc series. Back in 2009 I had been approached by a number of production companies that I used to work for and they were looking for documentary reality series with a green-environmental theme. It was the “hot” topic back then. As a result it got me thinking about ideas and one of them that came to mind was the amazing work that David Kinch was doing at Manresa. I’m a huge fan of his and any opportunity to work with him was a dream job. I emailed Chef Kinch and we set up a meeting. At that first meeting he made it crystal clear that if we were going to do anything it had to include Cynthia Sandberg and the partnership he has with her farm, Love Apple Farms. That sounded great to me so we set up another meeting at the farm. Now, at this time the farm was Cynthia’s backyard – about an acre and a half worth. She had a couple of apprentices working with her and a handful of volunteers. As I do on any film I started hanging around my subjects to get to know their daily routine and what makes them tick. A guest chef was coming in from Spain to cook with David at Manresa so I decided to shoot that event – from the guest chef and David walking the farm, choosing the veg for the weekend to the actual cooking of the meal. It was an incredible experience but I realized then that this wasn’t a TV show. David and Cynthia were too “normal.” This wasn’t “Hell’s Kitchen” so no network would really go for it. What I saw was the makings of a great documentary film. A chance to really explore the genius behind both of their artistry because that’s what they are…. artists. They create these amazing masterpieces with food.
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I decided it was worth to spend a year filming to capture the essence of their work, their collaboration and their passion. I have access to all the equipment I want at Santa Clara University (where I teach filmmaking) so I could do this for very little money. As is my experience with all documentary films, the story tends to take on a life of its own. After one year of filming Cynthia decided to buy a new, 20+ acre property and sell the old farm. The problem with the new property is that it would take 2 years to get it going at full production. At the same time David decided to remodel the restaurant. I realized then that my little side project was going to take another three years to make but I wasn’t about to stop now because I had a front row seat to an amazing show.
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In the end I have spent about $1500 on the entire film. I paid a little to have some aerials shot of the farm and the final music and other than that the expenses went to hiring sound people and the occasional second unit DP. I have shot and edited almost everything in the film.
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2Q: Cinequest is proud to host the World Premiere of THE FARMER & THE CHEF.  Explain to us how it feels to bring this film before audiences for the first time, and what do you think their reaction will be to your film?
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I love Cinequest and couldn’t be happier to be premiering the film in San Jose. It’s such an amazing group of people from Halfdan on down and they really embrace the independent filmmaking spirit.  I also love how the festival is so committed to empowerment – whether that be children, new filmmakers or social justice. It’s a perfect fit for the type of films that I make. I hope people enjoy my film, obviously, but I really want them to walk away with a new found respect for the commitment to their craft that both David and Cynthia have. These are two people who are going way out of their way to grow, cook and serve the best food you could possible think about. It’s so imaginative. It’s so precise. They really are artists working at the top of their field. I want people to be inspired by this. To be inspired to commit that much emotion and energy to something in their life. It’s not easy to do this. It means taking risks, but the rewards are amazing. Oh, and I hope they leave really hungry!
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3Q: What was your best and/or worst experience while making THE FARMER & THE CHEF?
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The best is easy… getting to know David, Cynthia and everyone they work with. That’s always the best part of being a documentary filmmaker – getting to know people you wouldn’t normally get to meet. They have become friends. David texts me about US soccer scores all the time and Cynthia constantly invites me and my wife up to farm for special occasions. Another aspect that was awesome was the food. I got to taste a lot of what was being cooked in the kitchen and all I can say is that it’s culinary heaven in there. The worst is the feeling that, as a filmmaker, I haven’t done the story justice. I always worry that I’ll let down my subjects and my film won’t honor their lives as strongly as it should. I hope I have, but until an audience sees it you never know.
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4Q: Festival audiences often have to make hard decisions about what to see, and the catalog descriptions sometimes run together. In your own words, why should people see your film?  
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People should see this film because it gives audiences a front row seat to watch two of the most talented people in the world work their magic. I’m talking one of kind stuff here. Nobody else is doing this in the world and this film lets you get inside the minds of these two geniuses. That and the amazing shots of food. It’s almost like eating at Manresa!!
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5Q: Time to pre-plan: You just won the Best Director Oscar for THE FARMER & THE CHEF.  Give us your acceptance speech.  
After picking myself up from the floor because the Academy actually honored non-fiction directing work I’d quickly thank David and Cynthia. We can’t make docs without amazing people letting us into their lives. It’s intrusive and I can’t thank them enough for graciously allowing me into their worlds. I also have to thank my wife – who grabbed a boom pole when I needed it, sat through three years of filming and editing and never let me settle. She pushes me creatively like only a loving spouse can.
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The music must be playing now.
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This interview originally published at http://popcornandvodka.com/2014/02/10/mike-whalen-directorwriter-the-farmer-and-the-chef/

Dana Nachman, director: THE HUMAN EXPERIMENT

Dana Nachman, director

Dana Nachman is a local filmmaker from Los Altos. This year she is bringing her film THE HUMAN EXPERIMENT to Cinequest.  See below for show times.

1Q: Tell us a little about the origins of THE HUMAN EXPERIMENT, from concept to financing.

I was a producer for NBC Bay Area and I was assigned a series about keeping your home toxic free. It was through that story that I learned that most products that we have in our homes are not tested for their safety before they get onto the market place.  I didn’t believe it was true and after a little bit of research I realized it was true! When I’m shocked about something it usually turns into my next documentary.

This film took a lot of research and a lot of pre-production because it is such a massive topic. I am not a lifelong environmentalist so it took me a while to understand and come to know the players working on this issue and it took a while to figure out which people and storylines we should focus the film around. Research started in earnest in 2010 and we began shooting in 2011.  Financing also took a while and still continues as we raise money for our engagement campaign.  We financed the film in three main ways.  We got investors for part of the budget. We received grants for another chunk and we deferred part of our salaries for the rest.  And finally after all that we had enough money to make the film we wanted to make!

2Q: THE HUMAN EXPERIMENT has done well at previous film festivals. Will you be less nervous now at Cinequest? Does this process ever get any easier?

No, it’s always nerve-wracking to be at a film festival! Always!! It’s this kind of scenario that really brings out my insecurities!! If I sit for the film, I’m constantly analyzing the crowd. Do they like it? Do they get it? Why are they so quiet? It’s not fun to be in my head while the film’s going on! Then there are the Q and A’s… I really have a fear of speaking in public that I’ve had to get over. But still it’s hard. I always think of a better way I could have answered the questions two hours after the Q and A is finished.

3Q: What was your best and/or worst experience while making THE HUMAN EXPERIMENT?

My best experience for this film and all my film is interviewing and then developing a relationship with the people in the film. It really is such an honor to be able to tell people’s stories and then after that to have such inspirational people in my life! I really feel like it is a gift!

The biggest challenge with The Human Experiment is that we feel so much pressure to get this film out into the world because we believe this is such a critical issue that is under exposed! Films take so long from inception to the time they can be seen by the world, so sometimes I get impatient (I’m a little like that) but I know in due time everyone will see this film and help make a change!

The very worst experience is always the raising of the money. I find that very difficult because it’s just a hard thing to do… to ask for money… over and over and over again! It’s hard to be a sales person when you’re really a filmmaker but I think all of us realize that at the end of the day we have to be both even if we don’t want to!

4Q: Festival audiences often have to make hard decisions about what to see, and the catalog descriptions sometimes run together. In your own words, why should people see your film?

The Human Experiment takes audiences on a wild ride… if people want to sit back in their seats and be shocked about an issue that is very personal to them – guaranteed – this is the film they should make sure they come to see! And say hi when you do! I’ll be there answering question!

5Q: Time to pre-plan: You just won an Oscar for THE HUMAN EXPERIMENT. Give us your acceptance speech.

Oh gosh…  I just watched the Oscars last night so I’m super inspired! But I feel like I’m going to jinx it if I really put a speech on paper!!

But I will say, there is so much self doubt and so much rejection in this business that I feel so thrilled for every artist who is given that amazing spotlight, because I know they have all been in a dark place at some point before, because when you put yourself out there as an artist there are always many critics!! I hope to be there one day for sure!!

See THE HUMAN EXPERIMENT at Cinequest!
View the Trailer!
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This interview was first published at http://popcornandvodka.com/2014/03/03/dana-nachman-director-the-human-experiment/

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