I started the day off with the Dramatic Shorts. Between these shorts and the opening night shorts I realized that I have developed an interest in short filmmaking! (Again, you care!) It’s amazing what you can say and show in a matter of minutes. There were six shorts in the dramatic section. One thing that I noticed was that there were some really great performance by young people in the dramatic shorts: “The Christmas Tree,” “Spark” and “First Match.”

The next film I saw was Kid-Thing. The director David Zellner has such a strong aesthetic, I feel like even if you didn’t like the film you’d have to appreciate it. He follows a destructive child who steals, breaks things, makes prank phone calls etc etc she’s in need of some direction. The scenes of destruction were beautifully shot, and sometimes funny. It was an interesting watch. I was impressed by Sydney Aguirre’s performance so it was cool to see her at the Q&A.

Next was “Sun Don’t Shine.” I had already seen actors Kentucker Audley and Kate Lyn Sheil in films at last years fest, so I went into the film a fan of both of their performances and they didn’t disappoint. Director Amy Seimetz managed to make a film about a recurring nightmare, while possibly cathartic for her it was crazy to watch. I enjoyed the look of the film and the complexity of the performances. Audley and Sheil did a good job at balancing one another– at times explosive and other times understated they were an interesting team.

The last film I saw on Saturday was “Jeff.” It ended up being the best experience overall as far as the film and Q&A session went. I was completely impressed with the way Chris James Thompson made a hybrid of narrative and documentary. The short scenes of actor, Andrew Swant playing Jeffrey Dahmer worked so well between the really honest and extensive interviews with the interrogator, a neighbor and the medical examiner who were all involved in the life and conviction of Jeffrey Dahmer. Patrick Kennedy, the interrogator was on-hand for the Q&A along with director Chris James Thompson. I’ve been kind of talking everyone’s ear off about the Q&A because it was so interesting, but then so was the film. Thompson got amazing interviews out of his subjects and he managed to make a really respectful film about a serial killer who did really unthinkable things.

In personal news: after “Jeff” I headed to Club Charles for a drink and realized that I had lost my license at some point in the weekend. If you found my license please cut it in half. I got a new one and I don’t want people to use my license to smuggle kidnapped girls across foreign borders to sell them into sexual slavery.. BECAUSE THAT IS WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU LOSE YOUR LICENSE.

part 4

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Wrap Up: MFF (Day 2)

The Source

On Friday, I arrived at the festival in time to catch the documentary “The Source,” by Jodi Wille and Maria Demopoulos. The film documented the Aquarian “family” from California who were led by Father Yod.  One of the members of the cult devoted her time to documenting their every movie which makes up for much of the films footage. It was put together extremely well, with a good variety of interviews from ex-members.. some of whom seem to miss those days and some who regret it. I’m a huge fan of finding out about any sort of counter culture from the past, and I recommend  you check this one out if it becomes available to you.

Next I caught “Compliance,” a film about a prank phone call gone wrong which was based on a string of true stories.  I thought it was well made– there were some serious decisions that had to be made as far as taste goes and I commend Zobel. (One man in the audience did not!) Several people walked out, which was kind of to be expected because the film is about a pretty crazy situation that should make you uncomfortable. I thought Zobel made interesting choices with the characters. Did the film make me uncomfortable.. yes it did. The phone call goes on and on and it starts to feel tedious.. but that’s how the victims felt.  I think the film does a good job at showing the aftermath to “release the tension,” as Zobel put it in the Q&A.  I think it’s important for people to check out movies like “Compliance,” to think about how things like these cases happen.

After “Compliance,” I woofed down a salad (YOU CARE!) and attended a packed screening of Michael Mohan’s “Save the Date.” It was a good balance with the other films I had seen. Mohan (the director and co-writer) provided well written complex characters who felt like real people. I was happy to see that even though we have a “cool girl” with Lizzy Caplan’s character, her sister who was played by Allison Brie wasn’t a one note annoying b. She had a complexity and she knew she was becoming someone she wasn’t. I was happy to see Martin Starr playing a “real person” and a fiancee with a lady! Mark Webber and Lizzy Caplan had a definite chemistry that worked and I think the art work that the film was based on worked well throughout the film. It’s a good look at modern romance. What do we all think about love when most of our parents are divorced or unhappy? “Save the Date” reminded me of a more laid back “500 Days of Summer” with real chemistry and realistic characters.

“The Patron Saints” was like nothing I had ever seen before. Partners Brian M. Cassidy and Melanie Shatzky filmed over a 5 year span at a nursing home documenting the daily life of it’s residents. It works as this powerful assortment of scenes .. a quiet camera in a  room catching what can be sad, happy, funny and almost disturbing moments with these people who are no longer a part of society. You enter a world when you watch “The Patron Saints”and it’s impossible to not think about growing old and what happens to us when we’re alive while our mind and body start to quit us.
part 3 part 4

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Wrap Up: The Maryland Film Festival (Day 1)

Q & A with short film directors, producers and actors

This past weekend the Maryland Film Festival kicked off on Thursday, May 3. Opening night consisted of an introduction to the festival by director, Jed Dietz, the opening night shorts and an outdoor reception at MICA.

“Fishing Without Nets” was a striking short shot in Kenya by Cutter Hodierne about pirates in Somalia. The cast were all Somalian people who were currently living in Kenya. Much of it felt like you were witnessing real people and real conversations in an environment that you’re not used to seeing. Think of a more realistic/less stylized “City of God.”

“I am John Wayne”

“I am John Wayne” by Christina Choe was about a young black man who is dealing with the death of his friend. Actor Jamir Daalyia’s quiet sadness coupled with shots of a horse in the city, and Coney Island made for an interesting combination.

“Modern Man” was a short filmed on an iPhone about a man who abuses his smart phone while he’s supposed to be having dinner with his wife. This one got a lot of laughs probably due to it’s completely relatable material. It was directed by Kerri Lendo and John Merriman.

“Cork’s Cattlebaron” by Eric Steele featured one of the most uncomfortable restaurant scenes I’ve ever seen. With a run time of 15 minutes Steele manages to create extreme tension between a boss and his younger employee. Actors Frank Mosley and Robert Longstreet both play their roles very well, Mosley uncomfortable and annoyed with Longstreet playing one of the most socially inept characters I’ve seen in awhile.

“The Kook”

and finally “The Kook” which was my personal favorite about a member of a strange cult  who finds out their leader, an alien-looking hologram transmitted in the woods may not be who she thinks he is.  It delivers weirdness, humor and some of the best group haircuts and uniformed dress I’ve seen.  The films co-director Gregory Metnick and actress T. Sahara Meer were present for the Q&A explaining that one major problem was the lack of extra yellow sweat suits. Something I found funny was that Meer was unaware of what she was going to have to wear until the day of shooting, and her perception was that it was going to be an amish-style cult. See above: picture of yellow sweatsuits and crazy wig.

The Q&A was both interesting and funny, and questions seemed to be evenly distributed to each short film.

me in the photobooth

free booze!

Afterwards was the reception with an open bar, photo booth, snack food and what-have-you. I had a really fun time, despite the fact that it was raining. That probably made it cooler right? because we were under a lighted tent. After the MICA tent we moved to Club Charles and so started my first night of complete lack of sleep.

part 2  part 3 part 4

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BMORECULTURED: Q&A with MFF selection “Sun Don’t Shine” director, Amy Seimetz

“Sun Don’t Shine” is a a film set in Florida about a couple who are doing “very bad things.” The film was directed by Amy Seimetz, here is my interview with her. 

1) In the past couple of years you’ve acted in a lot of films that have played the Maryland Film Festival. This time you are directing. How did it feel to direct after being directed so much?

It’s all storytelling to me. I started out directing and writing and fell into acting– I was very resistant to the acting mess, but I love performing– it’s physical and emotional storytelling, it’s like writing with your face. I knew everyone in the cast and crew, so there was a shorthand in communication, because we had already been on other sets talking aesthetics, ideas, tone etc etc… I brought a group of people together that are all in their own ways excellent writers. Makes directing easier when you don’t have to explain shot to shot why you are making certain decisions.

2) Your film “Sun Don’t Shine” is about “two people doing bad things.” What do you think drew you to explore a darker themed movie?

I think it’s a soup of reasons:

“Sun Don’t Shine” is based on a reoccurring nightmare. I love stories about women who don’t know how to be “good women”. I had a year of dealing with death and dying. I grew up in Florida where the crimes are as wild as the swamps. Florida, in addition to it’s beautiful beaches, is extremely violent– I’m sure it’s the heat. The heat makes you crazy.

3) Kentucker Audley and Kate Lyn Shiel both acted in films that were part of last years film festival. What was the casting process for you/Why did you choose them?

I’ve worked with everyone I cast before, so there was not really a casting process. I wrote the parts specifically for them. Kate has the ability to deliver controlled and understated performances, but in a split second explode into a fireball of emotion. Kentucker is charming and focused and has a brilliant off beat sense of humor. Together they reminded me of a couple that would only make sense in high school.

4) Why do you think people should come out to the screenings of “Sun Don’t Shine,” this weekend? Who do you think it will appeal to?

I think Kate and Kentucker delivered two of the most explosive yet complex performances that I have seen this year (if not since the 70’s). It’s got crime, high stakes, love and all those other key words, but it’s also an extremely intimate portrait of two lovers on the run.

“Sun Don’t Shine” plays:

May 4 @ 5:00 PM  at Charles Theater 2 & May 5 @ 7:30 at Charles Theater 4

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BMORECULTURED: Q&A with Zach Weintraub, director of “The International Sign for Choking”

“The International Sign for Choking” by Zach Weintraub is one of the many films playing this year’s Maryland Film Festival. The film is about a young North American documentary filmmaker having little luck getting a project started in Buenos Aires. He then meets another traveler in a boarding house where they are both staying, and they spark an “unusual relationship.”  Here is my interview with it’s director, Zach Weintraub:

1) According to the Maryland Film Festival’s website this will be the North American premiere for your film, how excited are you?

Really fucking excited. I’ve spoken with past guests and none of them seem to want to shut up about how much fun it is. And then of course I’m totally freaked out too. Because the North American premiere and how people react to the movie is very important to me…you know, as a fellow North American.

2) Your film is about two travelers (both American?) who meet in Buenos Aires. Why did you choose to set your film in Argentina?

The movie is set in Argentina because I spent five months there as a student in 2008, and I wanted to go back. I hate to expose myself as the typical study abroad kid who felt that their experience was important enough to immortalize somehow. I guess that’s exactly what I am, though.

Takal in “Gabi on the Roof in July”

Sophia was pretty obvious. I met her because my first movie was playing in a festival with “Gabi on the Roof in July.” I knew right away that she would be great in the role, but I waited a few months to ask her. It’s kind of weird to say “Hi, nice to meet you. Wanna hang out sometime or maybe fly halfway around the world to act in a movie?” The decision to cast myself was a lot less exciting, but it did feel necessary. Having to bring just one more person along would’ve made the production unaffordable.

4) Were there any difficulties filming in a foreign country? In your film you play a documentary producer who is having a hard time getting his project going– in what way is that a relatable experience for you?

Of course there were difficulties, but somehow I think there were actually less than we might’ve had shooting in the US. Everyone we encountered was, like, unreasonably generous towards us. But the bit about the failing documentary production is unfortunately as factual as it gets. When I went down there to study in 2008 I somehow managed to get myself hired as a “travel correspondent” for a new website. I was supposed to shoot three short documentaries and, like a complete idiot, I didn’t even manage one. I learned the hard way that when experiencing an exciting new place, the last thing I want is to have to pick up a camera. I guess maybe this movie was an attempt to redeem myself. I should send it to my old boss and ask if they’ll still pay me for it.

5) I think traveling can bring out the very best and the very worst in people. What were you trying to capture? Do you think travel is important to the human psyche and for making new connections?

I have mixed feelings about travel. Sure, it might be important, but not to the extent that it’s generally made out to be. It’s very glamorized, and as a result you have all these kids who feel enlightened because they got drunk someplace other than the US. So I’m very hesitant to endorse travel as something that’s essential. But you are right that it can bring out new sides of people. In the case of my movie, I suspect that a lot of the protagonist’s actions come from a sense of not being in the “real world”. If anything, the message is that travel alone is not any kind of solution.

6) Do you have a favorite travel experience?

I don’t know, I don’t think so. I snuck across the Bolivian border once to avoid paying for a visa. That stands out as memorable.

7) Why do you think people should come to see this movie next weekend?

I just read a review that described it as “something of a hipster Ozu film”. Honestly, I don’t think there’s anything I can say that’s more enticing than that.

Look for “The International Sign for Choking”:

May 4 @ 8:00 PM at Charles Theater 4

May 6 @ 5:00 PM at Windup Space

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BMORECULTURED: Q&A with Craig Zobel director of MFF Selection “Compliance”

This year’s selection “Compliance,” is based off a true story where a manager at a middle American fast food restaurant received a call from a cop accusing an employee of  stealing. The cop said that he was on his way and in the meantime asked the manager to start to search the employee. As time went on the cops instructions became questionable, and the containment of the employee lasted almost 4 hours. “Compliance” raises questions about human nature and compliance.  Here is my interview with director Craig Zobel who will be present for a Q&A which follows the film.

1) The story/stories that “Compliance” is based off of are pretty controversial. What made you decide to make a film about those cases?

When I heard of the multiple real stories from which the film is inspired, I initially found them to be hard to believe. My first instinct was, “Those people must’ve been duped. That’d never happen to me!” Yet days later I realized was still considering the stories, and really reflecting on the fact that this wasn’t an isolated incident—it happened more than 70 times in 30 states over a 10 year period—which means, to me at least, that the incident actually reveals a larger aspect of human nature. And if it was an aspect of human nature I had to really consider whether I was being honest with myself about how “that’d never happen to me.” Some reading of Stanley Milgram’s experiments on behavior and obedience led me to think there was a potentially valuable film that could be made in reflecting on these issues.

2) Your film “Compliance” played Sundance. Can you describe your experience there, how do you think it was received?

The experience was wild. All of us knew that the film raised questions we were curious about, but we were all encouraged that our curiosity translated to a wider audience. Much has been made about it being “dramatically polarizing” at Sundance, which is fascinating as the drama was confined mostly to one screening; I overwhelmingly found people received it in the way I had hoped, and all were passionate to further discuss the film’s themes. And that discussion was the the reason to make it, so it was great. It was one of those things where you’d walk by people on the street and hear them arguing different points of view which I’d previously considered both sides, and it was very humbling and cool in ways I hadn’t anticipated.

3) Were there scenes that were particularly hard to shoot? Knowing the case and how far things went, were there scenes that required a lot of thought on how to not be exploitative?

Yeah, the entire middle section of the film was difficult to shoot. I felt myself and the wonderful actors were always modulating between what would effectively tell the story and not go farther than we were okay with. I actually weighed every decision even down to the gender of each character. We wanted to push the level of audience tension and comfort in the film, but I wasn’t comfortable with ever showing too much visually. The end film is challenging but not gratuitous.

4) How important was it for you to find the right voice for the actor playing the cop?

Great question. Honestly, I watched a lot of hours of the reality show COPS, trying to decide what qualities I was looking for. I came to the conclusion that the only thing I didn’t want to do was cast someone with a voice that “sounds like a cop” because I realized that my expectations of how police officers sound comes mostly from portrayals of police in movies and tv… Cops sound like people. How they assume authority in situations simply with the words they say is what I became more interested in correctly portraying.

5) How do you think the experience of the viewer is different if they are familiar with the case or if they’ve never heard of it?

Both ways of approaching this particular film are equally interesting. I think that people familiar with the case are probably a bit more receptive in the sense that they have likely (hopefully) already had questions and concerns similar to those raised in movie. But I didn’t build the film in a way that you necessarily need to have any prior knowledge.

“Compliance” will screen: 

May 4, 2012 @ 4:30 PM in Charles Theater 1

May 6, 2012 @ 2:30 PM  in Charles Theater 4

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BMORECULTURED: Meet Michael Mohan director of the MFF selection, “Save the Date”

For those of you who don’t already know: The Maryland Film Festival is this weekend, kicking off on Thursday night (May 3) and running through Sunday, May 6. One film to check out in this year’s line up is “Save the Date,” starring Lizzy Caplan, Martin Starr, Mark Webber, Alison Brie and Geoffrey Arend. Here is an interview with the films director and co-writer, Michael Mohan.  

1) Your film “Save the Date” is considered a “romantic comedy,” a genre that seems to be highly criticized. What do you think makes for a good romantic comedy?

Okay, so let’s just be real: almost all films in the “romantic comedy” genre are awful. The characters are flimsy, forced to make decisions no human would ever make. Many of them are totally offensive to women, featuring female leads who act as if they’d never be complete without finding the perfect man.

So while “Save the Date” contains both romance and comedy, I struggle with calling it a romantic comedy because I really don’t want it to be lumped in with all these sorts of films I truly hate. If I were forced to compare it to other films, I would say that it’s a dash of “Reality Bites”, a pinch of “Annie Hall”, and a teaspoon of “Walking and Talking.” Three films that are all kinda sorta romantic comedies but also kinda not.

To me what makes a great movie – not just a romcom – are characters that feel like real people. People who talk like I talk. People who act like I act. It sounds so obvious and simple, and yet there are just so few movies I feel like I can personally relate to these days. And that was the goal with “Save the Date” – at the end of 90 minutes, it feels like you’ve hung out with five of your friends.

2) Who are the main characters in your film?

Sarah (Lizzy Caplan) is a stubbornly independent woman who breaks up with her boyfriend Kevin (Geoffrey Arend) after a botched proposal. Kevin’s only flaw is that he loves her unconditionally. Meanwhile, her sister Beth (Alison Brie) is planning her wedding to Andrew (Martin Starr), Kevin’s bandmate. When Sarah quickly enters an intense rebound relationship with Jonathan (Mark Webber), the social dynamic between these friends/siblings is changed and all of the characters beliefs on life and love are put into question.

3) The cast of the film is pretty impressive. How did you get everyone to come together? How important was it for you to have some familiar faces?

In early 2011, the script for “Save the Date” was completed – this happened in conjunction with a short film I directed called “EX-SEX” premiering at Sundance, as well as one of my producers’ films “THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT” getting nominated for oscars. We quickly made a list of our favorite actors and reached out to all of them.

I do want to say, I didn’t cast any of these actors because of their “star power” – I cast them all because they are, simply put, five of the best actors of our generation. In the case of Lizzy Caplan and Alison Brie – the press might focus on what they are wearing to a premiere or something silly like that, but you can just see from their work – they are incredibly hard working, and just so devoted to their craft. That’s what matters.

4) What do you think is important to capture about modern day relationships?

Something my generation is dealing with is that half of our parents’ marriages have crumbled.And as we are entering long-term relationships, we’re dealing with that – this grey cloud hovers over us. As great as our relationships seem right now, there’s really only a 50% chance it’ll work out.

The sisters in “Save the Date” represent two ways we could look at it. For Sarah, Lizzy Caplan’s character, she’s so stubbornly independent, that she doesn’t believe in marriage at all. And while she thinks she’s so open-minded, it actually causes her to be much more guarded and closed. And for Beth, Alison Brie’s character, she’s engaged to be married and overwhelmed in a way that causes her to lose sight of who she is and what’s important to her.

Through these characters, the film explores two things – the first is that love is absolutely terrifying because it forces you to be in your most vulnerable state, but as long as you don’t change who you are, you’ll be fine. And the second is that this notion of “the one” – as if there’s literally only one other person on this planet that’s meant for you – that notion is total bullshit, and we’ll all be happier in our relationships (and our breakups) if we understand this.

It’s a really interesting time right now because I feel like marriage is being redefined by our generation – but as this happens we cannot lose sight of love. Continue reading

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