FFF 2017 Day 10–White Sun

May 15, 2017 by

A Beautifully Filmed, Well Written Allegory From Nepal

After the excellent film I Dream In Another Language helped me shatter my unsuspected prejudice about films made in other countries, I was in the perfect frame of mind to watch White Sun.

Set in a remote Nepalese village, this movie tells the tale of a man who just came back from joining the Maoists in their civil war against the Royalists. He comes to the village to bury his recently deceased father. But first, he must encounter his brother, who was on the opposite side of the war, along with the village elders who hold fast to the traditional, misogynistic ways of their Hindu ancestry. To complicate matters, his ex-wife is also present and wants him to sign paternity papers for a young girl who is not his daughter. Without his signature, the archaic laws of this society will not permit her to attend school.

As this tale unfolds in a very personal way, it provides an allegorical backdrop that perfectly mirrors the struggles of an entire country attempting to accept a new constitution which, as a compromise, does not seem to appeal to anyone. It takes the tolerance and wisdom of a very young boy and girl to help these individuals face their ingrained prejudices and find a path forward.

The entire movie is shot on location with a breathtaking backdrop of the Nepalese countryside. Moment by moment, exceptional cinematography and excellent directing move this exhilarating story forward. The script offers great diversity as multiple characters represent different sides of a national conflict. And the actors live up to the challenge, portraying their characters with depth and skill.

The lucky FFF filmgoers who saw this movie were not only treated to an intimate look at a remote country but also an allegory of humanity that can be a beacon of hope for all of us during troubled times.

What a wonderful film.

To make it even better, Mrs. LanceAround, NumberTwoSon and I notice about eight people wearing shirts that say Nepal. We discover that they are a group of Nepalese who live in the Orlando area. They agree to give us an interview after the film. Don’t miss my blog post tomorrow where these Nepalese share their experiences growing up in Nepal and compare it to the movie we just watched.

It’s a fabulous experience that can only happen at the Florida Film Festival!

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FFF Day 10–I Dream In Another Language

May 14, 2017 by

Cultures, Religion and Best Friends Collide

Sometimes I have to be honest with myself and admit that I have prejudices. I suppose when you live in such an ethnocentric society as we have in the USA it’s hard to not let a little bit of American pride creep into your thoughts. For me, I tend to think that our country is the most advanced when it comes to filmmaking. Perhaps it’s true that we have a head start in the industry and along with the advantages of advanced technology and education we tend to create many more films, a percentage of which are bound to be high quality. But as I was watching I Dream In Another Language, I found myself feeling surprised that this Mexican film spoken in Spanish with English subtitles had such incredibly rich production values. That’s when I realized how prejudiced my thinking had become.

This is a wonderful, rich movie.

It revolves around an ancient [bogus] indigenous language called Zikril. According to the film’s mythology, there are only two people left in the entire world who speak this language. When a young linguist named Martin travels to the remote Mexican village to study this language, he discovers the two people who speak it; old men named Isauro and Evaristo, who used to be the best of friends but haven’t spoken to each other in over 50 years. Martin also discovers Fatima, the granddaughter of one of the men, and carries on a relationship with her despite the grandfather’s threats.

From this set up, the story dives deeper and deeper into the culture of the remote village and the religious, cultural and personal beliefs and clashes that shape these character’s destinies. Brothers Ernesto and Carlos Contrears, the director and writer, skillfully weave a tale of humanity and relationships as the movie goes from present day to flashbacks uncovering all the dynamics which have created the present impasse between the two main protagonist. As the film progresses, it seems impossible that it will come to a satisfactory conclusion. Yet the Brigadoon-like climax was both poignant and satisfying. The symbolism of a chair which one man carries everywhere is but one of those rich prop pieces which provides a perfect metaphor.

As I sat in the theatre, mesmerized by the brilliant cinematography, the great acting, the skillful directing, I realized just how jaded my world view had become. I did not expect a film from Mexico to be of such excellent quality. I’m not proud that I felt that way going into the movie. But I am thankful that I could approach the film with an open mind and an open heart and confront my own personal prejudice enough so I could truly appreciate this top notch film.

FFF 2017 Day 10–Dean

May 12, 2017 by

Demetri Martin Writes, Directs and Stars as Dean

The FFF had over 2000 films submitted for acceptance. We had to rely on the Programming Directors and Selection Committee members to narrow that down to the 180+ best films for us to see. Even then, we used the descriptions in the programs and the knowledge of the cast and crews to make the final selections of the movies we want to see.

The same dynamic happens when we go to see a movie at the local theatre. Many of us use RottenTomatoes or MetaCritic to assist us in choosing which film gets our all important box office dollars. Of course, every film producer knows the most valuable reviews for their movies are the powerful word-of-mouth reviews.

Had I relied on just Rotten Tomatoes, I might have skipped the movie Dean which currently has a barely fresh rating of 63% and one top critic bemoaning the “second-hand influence of standard bearers like Woody Allen and Wes Anderson.” And other reviewers saying it’s “derivative of better movies” and “a little remote.” I have no idea what movie these reviewers are talking about. I’ve seen almost all Woody Allen films–Dean is better than most of them. And while I love Wes Anderson, this film is in no way similar to his beautiful stylistic masterpieces.

For me, Dean was a breath of fresh air with a unique directorial approach, hilarious hand drawn comics that enhanced the story with their depth and perception and a new protagonist who was both compelling and intelligent. As a first time director and also the author and lead in this movie, Demetri has crafted a delightful coming of age comedy. I can’t wait to see how his talent continues to flourish. I also have no doubt that as this movie gains in popularity, it’s Rotten Tomato rating will go up as well.

FFF 2017 Day 9–Manifesto

May 11, 2017 by

Cate Blanchett as You’ve Never Seen Her Before

Matthew Curtis, Programing Director for the FFF describes Manifesto as a movie unlike anything we’ve ever seen before. He is exactly right.

It is not uncommon for people who are passionate about a given topic to write a manifesto. These documents reflect the convictions and beliefs of their authors. The better ones often become well known. Some even serve almost in the role of a recipe for social change.

Julian Rosenfeldt selected several such manifestos, primarily focusing on artistic writings, and created a film where one actor–the incomparable Cate Blanchette, assumes 13 different roles and recites these manifestos in character.

To further create visual stimulation, backdrops and sets are chosen to enhance the characterization and add body to the recitations of the manifestos. The result is that the written words tend to come alive giving even more weight to the idealism of the authors who wrote them.

If this sounds appealing to you, you will really enjoy this movie. If this sounds strange, dull or weird, you might just want to skip this one.

Within my family, Mrs. LanceAround was very moved by the recitations. I, on the other hand, have a more difficult time with auditory learning and, therefore, could not follow the writings with the same passion as my beloved spouse. I did thoroughly enjoy the fabulous cinematography and the creative costumes and set designs. I also loved some of the more whimsical presentations–like the mother who recited her manifesto as a solemn prayer prior to the family dinner while her husband and two bored children had to listen to her drone on and on.

This film was visionary, creative, beautifully acted and filled with powerful words. Don’t go looking for a brilliant story arc or even a sense of continuity. Just let each scene wash over you from a visual standpoint and touch you with an oratory of powerful thoughts and ideas and you will find this to be the most unique movie you’ve enjoyed in a long time.

FFF 2017 Day 9–The Commune

May 10, 2017 by

Does a Community Ever Live Up to Our Expectations?

Humanity has always seemed to have a love/hate relationship with the communities we develop. On the one hand, we’re communal beings, attracted to living with one another. No man is an island. On the other hand, once we are in a community we struggle to get along. Nowhere is this more evident than in the extremely polarized political society that exists here in America.

For Mrs. LanceAround and I, we spent our lives seeking the best community for our family. When our children were young, we moved into Celebration, FL; a new community designed by Disney World espousing world class schools, exceptional technology, a focus on health and well being and a community of people wanting to create a better life. However, it didn’t take long for us to discover that this high priced development attracted a disproportionate number of extreme conservative minded individuals which made living there a challenge for the hippie-esque, liberal leaning LanceAround family.

Our response was to find a cohousing community in Blacksburg, VA, filled with like minded tofu loving, tree hugging types. At first, it seemed idyllic. But it didn’t take long to discover our new community was far worse. We came to realize that the issue was never one of conservative vs. liberal or old fashioned vs. modern. It had to do with extremists vs. those capable of a reasonable, thoughtful point of view. In our cohousing community, many residents were extreme and just as selfish and unable to hear or appreciate alternate points of view as the extreme right wingers from our other community.

In other words, no matter how idealistic humans are when forming a community, once formed, the community has to deal with the non-idealistic side; the selfish, extremist, uncompromising and uncaring personalities which all of us humans have within us to one degree or another.

The Commune is a film from Denmark/Sweden/Netherlands that explores these issues within the setting of a large house. Professor Erik and his wife Anna inherit his spacious childhood home that appears too large for their family which includes teenage daughter Freja. In a moment of idealism, they decide to invite friends and interesting people to move into the home and form a commune. Ironically, the concept for cohousing was originally formulated in Denmark.

At first, the idea seems to work. Communal swim trips, mostly sans clothing, and weekly house meetings appear to create a wonderful sense of community. Then, the wheels begin to fall off the bus. One member interprets the rules to indicate anything left out by another member may be burned in the campfire. Erik begins an affair with one of his students. When his wife finds out, she suppresses her natural instincts of anger and betrayal and idealistically invites the student to join the commune.

With the entire commune as the backdrop, the story focuses on Erik and Anna and how Erik’s new lover impacts their relationship as well as the development of Freja, their daughter. In many ways, what happens between them mirrors what is happening with the entire commune which further mirrors the experiences Mrs. LanceAround and our family had in our quest for the ideal community.

The Commune so skillfully creates its characters and situations, the moviegoer is drawn into an ever evolving dynamic of idealism vs. reality; of the best and the worst humanity has to offer. Extremely well written, well acted and well filmed, this Danish film with English subtitles will have filmgoers spending a lot of time discussing their own idealistic visions of communities and the human foibles that seem to keep them from ever becoming perfect.

FFF 2017 Day 8–Katie Says Goodbye

May 6, 2017 by

Olivia Cooke in the Role of a Lifetime

I knew Mrs. LanceAround was going to be angry after this film. I suspected just about every women in the theatre will be upset. After all, Katie, the gentle, loving, kind-hearted  and sensitive protagonist of this movie is constantly put upon, abused and betrayed by so many people. Given Mrs. LanceAround’s strong positions on issues regarding women’s rights, of course this movie was going to make her upset. I turned to give her a knowing glance, only to find…she’s tearful. She isn’t angry at all. The woman from the FFF selection committee comes to the front of the auditorium to introduce the writer/director of the movie and she’s also in tears. I then notice that almost all the women in the auditorium are blowing their noses.

What’s going on here? I have questions I don’t even know how to ask. And I want answers I’m not sure I’m willing to accept.

My initial reaction at the end of the film is that I didn’t like it. I think I hated it. The protagonist was such a good person. She did not deserve all the heartbreaking betrayals she experienced at every turn. It was so unfair. I realize I’m the one who is angry. In some ways, I’m just as emotional as the moviegoers around me. But while they are tearful, I’m enraged. What happened to this woman is not fair.

I take a breath and attempt to logically sort through my emotions. What did I expect? Did I want the movie to have a happy ending? YES! Did I want the characters who betrayed Katie to have their comeuppances? YES! Did I want everything tied up into a neat bow…YEEEUUUHHHH…wait a minute. It suddenly hits me. One of the reasons I love independent film is because it does not follow the mundane, formulaic, Hollywood, cookie-cutter, happy endings, mindless tripe that we so often get from high budget, low risk films. We love the FFF because the movies are real, gritty, honest and true to life. We love the FFF because the films are, generally, an independent work of art made by filmmakers willing to buck the traditional system and create something…magical…if not occasionally dysphoric

There is no question this is a high quality movie. The characters are well developed, sympathetic and nuanced. The acting is superb. Olivia Cooke gives the performance of a lifetime in the lead role of Katie. The direction is crisp and affecting. All other production elements, sound, lighting, costumes, cinematography, sets, etc. are exactly as they should be. The story is a fresh look at something all too common. The ending…well…without spoiling the movie, all I can say is, you have to watch it for yourself. And it is well worth watching. This was an exceptionally well made movie. It’s understandable why Matthew Curtis, Programming Director for the FFF, said that as soon as the committee saw this movie, they knew they were going to accept it into the festival even though it was very early in the selection process.

Except, it made me feel angry and unsatisfied.

But that was not the reaction of the moviegoers around me. They felt connected. This protagonist spoke to them. Is it possible that so many people in this auditorium experience the same sense of betrayal and heartbreak as Katie. Is it possible they identify with this protagonist?

Wayne Roberts, the writer and director of this film, is at the screening. As he comes to the front for the Q & A, his demeanor is also obviously emotional. He explains that this might be the last time he ever sees this film on the big screen with an audience. It was not picked up by a distributor.

During his talk, Wayne explains that the character of Katie came to him in a vision. “This is her story,” he emphasizes, “I was obligated to write it exactly the way she told me to.”

Normally I would sneer at such an outlandish, metaphysical claim with marked skepticism. Yet I cannot deny the overwhelming vibe coming from all the film watchers. Everyone was touched by this movie. Many are nodding their head in agreement and blowing their noses. They are in complete sync with what the filmmaker is saying.

I’m puzzled. My initial reaction was I didn’t like this movie. But as Wayne speaks, he does so with such earnest passion it’s almost impossible to deny the reality of the very unreal things he is saying. It’s the same reality I saw in the film we just watched. At first, I thought it demeaning to women. I thought it was cruel. Inside I am torn. I’m torn between wanting to see humanity and justice and my appreciation for the artistry that I just experienced and the truth it revealed that so touches those around me.

Make no mistake about it; Katie Says Goodbye is a masterful work of art.

 

Wayne Roberts Q & A

Wayne Roberts During the Q & A

Q: Is this based on a real event?

A: No

Q: So why would she not defend herself?

A: She is defending herself. She is incredibly strong. She is not allowing herself to be classified or labeled a victim in anyway whatsoever. The world is simply stacked against her. The world works against her. If she were to defend herself, as a sex worker, I don’t think she’d be taken seriously. She made a promise. As screwed up as that actually is, she made a promise and Katie is someone who, her word is her word. She means it. It’s infuriating for us, at times, to see her go through these things. But in terms of her morality–in terms of her ethics–I think she is a saint. She is something to aspire to. I try to aspire to her way of thinking; certainly not my own, but I’d be a better person if I tried to think like that.

Q: Did you have this cast in mind?

A: Our casting director has an amazing eye. All the credit goes to them. Chris Abbott and I are friends so I had him in mind from the beginning. But everyone else came to us through the agency. They’re not making any money off of this–it’s a passion project for everybody. We found passionate people.

Q: I was going to ask you where you found Katie

A: We found Olivia through her agency. We had another actress who was attached for a long time and it fell through for whatever reason. Olivia’s agency suggested her for the part. Olivia and I sat down and really hit it off. We really lucked out.

Q: She’s British?

A: Yea, she’s a Brit, too. She’s an international talent. I think a talent like Olivia comes across four or five times in a generation. We lucked out to find her and connect with her. She’s an incredible human being, too. Just to know her as a person, one would be lucky.

Q: I’m wondering if you have a distributor.

A: No we don’t. And I got emotional tonight because this might be the last time we get to see it on the big screen.

Q: What advice do you have for filmmakers who don’t have the means to produce such a quality film?

A: Well, I had no means either. I’m still broke, too. Just keep on doing it. You just have to write the strongest script you possibly can. There are so few scripts that are out there that really get people excited about it. If you can tell a story that is true; I think this is a given; you try to make a difference–just aim for that. The rest of the world is already making crap that is just supposed to be pulp and entertainment. Tell a story that can make a difference in people’s lives and you will find that people will be drawn to it. It’s a long road. And even after you make something, life doesn’t change. Just keep at it.

Q: Was there a decision that was made to actually show whether Bruno and the Mom slept together?

A: That’s up to the audience. There’s no reason to really see that. I also felt uncomfortable anytime we left Kate which only happens like 45 seconds in the film.

Q: So it’s up to us to decide?

A: Yup…but they did it. [audience laughs]

Q: How long from the time that you wrote the script until you got it into production, raised the money, got the cast? It seemed like it might have taken awhile.

A: It actually was quite quick. But the idea wasn’t quick. The idea came while I was in college; when I was about 21. If I can’t keep myself in check…if I can’t control my emotions on set…then I have no right to direct that film. So I had to wait awhile. That includes writing the script as well. I wrote the script about four years ago. I wasn’t initially going to direct it myself because I thought…well, I don’t need to get into that…then about six months down the road I sort of had it with the way it was going. I pulled it from what was going on and decided to pursue it myself. It took about a year from that decision to get it on the set. Maybe about a year and a half.

Q: Did you Kickstart it?

A: No.

Q: It’s the first of a trilogy…why don’t you talk about that? [audience claps]

A: Don’t get your hopes up. Katie’s not in the next film. The second film’s a dark comedy. But Kate will come back in the third and final film.

Q: Where did you go to college?

A: NYU

Q: I see Neflix is listing the movie. They say it’s not available yet. What’s the story with that?

A: A computer doing its thing. I don’t think there’s a person typing that thing in, I just think they automatically pull it.

Q: Well, you could save it to your queue, which means they at least have an interest in it…

A: Oh, really? Well…They told us they were not interested in it.

Q: But I see Netflix will allow us to write a review of it.

A: Oh, great. I really want the film to be seen. I think it’s an important film. So if you were drawn to the film–even if you weren’t–please post something. Even rating it on IMDB will make a difference. There are a lot of distributors in the United States who worry about films that might be polarizing or divisive. They don’t want to touch them. Everyone wants to keep their jobs. We’re doing well outside the United States. Inside the United States, we’re not doing well.

Q (From LanceAround): I’m curious to hear about your inspiration for this particular story, particularly the way it ended. What was it that made this be the story that you wanted to tell?

A: It’s odd–the motivation and the sense of this film is never going to get the screening it deserves. I wish that it would. But I felt I had a responsibility to Katie to make the film. Katie came, as a vision of sorts, like 12 years ago; 13 years ago. I felt she had chosen me for something (This sounds crazy, I know) and I had a responsibility to tell her story.

Q: (Follow up from LanceAround): Are you speaking about a real person or just the character?

A: No, just the character who came to me. With that, it just wasn’t really up for debate or negotiation or anything like that. I kept that channel that I had with her–that connection that I had with her–allowed her story to be told; did not interfere with it and made it. But that’s not going to exist–it hasn’t existed yet–for any of my other work. This is the only film I’ve done thus far but the other stuff I’ve done the inspiration is different. It’s much more mechanical. It makes me feel like an engineer; where you feel like a mathematician but not for something like this where you feel like you are channeling something.

 

 

 

 

 

FFF 2017 Day 6–Circus Kid Becomes a Circus Man

May 6, 2017 by

Leorenzo Pisoni AKA the Circus Kid does Q&A with Christopher Ramsey

A long time ago, Mrs. LanceAround and I used to work as psychodramatists in a psychiatric hospital in Roanoke, VA. For those who are unfamiliar with psychodrama, it’s a very powerful method of psychotherapy that helps patients by having them re-enact difficult moments from their past, confront old ghosts that have caused them distress, and from the confrontation, this therapy enables them to grow beyond moments that may be holding them back in their current life.

I mention this, because watching the documentary Circus Kid is like watching a psychodrama. The protagonist has issues revolving around his father and this documentary climaxes in a scene where he finally has the opportunity to confront his father regarding several of the issues he experienced growing up in a very unusual family.

You see, as a kid, Lorenzo Pisoni never had to dream about running away to join the circus–he was born into the revolutionary Pickle Family Circus. From before he can remember, his acrobatic father had him doing clown bits while his mother did the books and was the organizational engine for the circus.

Long before Cirque du Soleil, Lorenzo’s father had reinvented the traditional three ring circus by eliminating the animal acts, reducing the rings down to one, and promoting the clowns from their old place where they simply entertained between set changes into being one of the primary focus of this new circus. The father’s perfectionist drive had him constantly repeating the phrase, “Do it again,” until each act was perfected. As a result, the Pickle Family Circus was not only successful, it produced legendary performers such as Bill Irwin and Geoff Hoyle.

Perhaps the most powerful aspect of this well made documentary are the vast archives of photos and films from the earliest days of the circus through its 20+ year run. Documentarians dream of having such a wealth of material upon which to draw.

Father Emphatically Rehearses Every Scene

In the center of it all is Lorenzo. Put under contract at six years old and homeschooled with books borrowed from a librarian, the circus is all he has ever known. Through this, he became an incredible performer. In addition, he accumulated a lot of emotional baggage–particularly revolving around his relationship with his very demanding father.

As Lorenzo skillfully uncovers his personal history growing up in the circus, we begin to understand some of the psychological forces at work. At the age of eleven, Lorenzo’s father is asked to leave (or chooses to leave depending on whose version you believe) and young Lorenzo is left to help run a circus at an age that is far too young.

As he becomes a man, he puts together a one man autobiographical theatre show and then begins work on this film. A climax is reached as Lorenzo films an interaction with his father where he finally gets a chance, as a man, to confront some of the ghosts of his childhood.

It would have made a really good psychodrama. But, lacking a trained psychodramatist, the confrontation falters when it becomes obvious that Lorenzo, the filmmaker, may not be ready, without facilitation help, to fully express the thoughts and feelings of Lorenzo, the man as he talks with his father about some of the more difficult moments experienced by Lorenzo, the young circus kid.

That said, this movie is well paced, expertly documented and provides a wealth of insight into the world of performance art. Definitely a film worth watching.

Q & A with Lorenzo Pisoni
Q: You’re in rehearsal now, aren’t you?

A: Yes, I’m in rehearsal in New York for a little ditty called, Frozen. That will be on the Broad Way.

Q: Really, really enjoyed it. I’m just curious, how’s your relationship with your mother?

A: Interesting. My mother was the one person who’s really reticent about having this be out in the world. And I thought she came across great. But I did use her often as a punchline, I’m realizing now–but a little late. Honestly, she’s the one that stuck around. So, consequently, I gave her a hard time. But now it’s great, especially because there’s a grandson involved. It’s fabulous. She really doesn’t want much to do with me. But I’m slowly getting used to that.

Q: At the very end, you did not answer the question of your daddy when he asked you about your childhood. Can you tell us that? How was it?

A: Well, it’s complicated. Everyone has their thing that they had in childhood. No child is perfect. I got to go around the world. I got to meet interesting people from all over the world. I got a couple of great party tricks. It was pretty good. Now, having a kid, I really don’t understand some of the choices that my parents made. And, at the same time, I catch myself wanting to make my son perform. So I can see the sirens on the rocks. I understand that draw. Honestly, it’s the childhood I had…

Facilitator: …It made you who you are…

A: Yea, for better, for worse, it made me who I am.  I didn’t want to answer it on camera because I feel like the film answers it.

Q: You do the things you were asked to do because you belong to the family, would you like for your son to go through the same type of life?

A: You know, my sister has her own circus and I may send him off to her circus. Just go away for a little while so he and I can have a conversation about it.

Q: Loved it. Beautiful. I understand your answers in regards to how you did not feel it would reflect well for you to answer the question and I agree. What was your favorite trick?

A: I was an aerial acrobat so I did a lot of teeterboard which is like a seesaw. Anything on the teeterboard was my favorite thing. I think I only show one thing in here. Because it’s weird when you’re making a movie about yourself–that’s a very odd position to be in. But that was my very favorite stuff to do. My clowning really came…I started to enjoy clowning…came long after my father had left. I guess I was 19 when I was like, oh, you know, this clowning stuff is really great.  And it’s easier on my body. I’m going to do that.

Q (From LanceAround): You decide you’re going to interview your father…and you obviously have a lot of emotion about that. Prior to interviewing him, you had to have in your mind some sort of fantasy of what you wanted to have happened and what was going to happen. And then you did the interview. How did the interview live up to the expectation? Did it get you to where you wanted to be? If not, where do you still need to go?

A: That’s a good question. So I interviewed my dad for six straight days. And I didn’t sleep. I was a mess. Then we get to the editing room and all of my producers are like, “You didn’t get any of the juice. What happened?” I was like, “Well, I was sitting with my dad. It’s scary, you know.” To try to answer you question…I had hoped that the interview…he and I would stop performing. Stop. And be real with one another. Then I could get to a place where I could generally ask him anything I wanted. And I never got there, I don’t think.

Q (From LanceAround): Because he wouldn’t let you there?

A: No. He was, like, ready to go. The last day he said to me, finally, “What do you need to ask me? Anything you want.” And all I could muster up was really that last scene that we have together. Which is kind of pathetic on my part. If I’m going to be totally bald and honest about it. But I couldn’t even get to the place of, “What is wrong with you that you would leave? How do you think that that would affect your children? No, you just don’t do that. I don’t care if you’re depressed, go ask for help.” But there’s so much new information that I was getting. I didn’t know that his father had disappeared. I always thought that my father’s the one that ran away. So I was trying to process that. This all happened on the last day. I didn’t know that he had been actually drinking when we were performing on stage together. I didn’t know that he didn’t remember the fact that he was asked to leave. Because the difference between him being asked to leave and him deciding to leave means a lot to me. Because if he decides to leave, then he’s rejecting me, as opposed to the circus saying, “Your time is up.” I was just not prepared..and, obviously, we don’t…or we didn’t, we do now…we didn’t talk about our feelings. We didn’t have an emotional connection. We just talked about how to make things funny. That was our whole world. I just don’t think that I lived up to my responsibility as a filmmaker. Out of just fear. Out of total fear. But he’s been incredibly generous through this whole process. When he saw the film, when I finally screened it for him before I showed it to anyone else, he said, “Why weren’t you more harsh with me? You should have been. There were things there. I’m a complicated person.” And he’s right. Does that answer your question? That was a long winded answer.

Q: Do you think his father showing up and then disappearing just derailed him?

A: Totally, totally. Oh, yea. One thing I don’t really get into it was so hard to figure out how to deal with the timeline in the film. His descent into total breakdown was long. It was very gradual. It’s 1978 until 1985…86 and just goes…goes…goes…and goes. And that’s a very hard thing to figure out. He didn’t drink before his father passed away. He didn’t smoke.

Q: It seems like he wanted that relationship and it was ripped away from him.

A: Oh, he wanted…he was desperate for it. He was absolutely desperate for that. It’s so classic.

Q: Thank you so much for being here. You were obviously the only person who could have made this film being about the relationship with you and your father. But also because of all the archived footage. Did your mother have shoe boxes of photos?

A: So Terry Lorant, she’s interviewed in the film, and she was in the circus kind of from the second year until the demise. She was teaching herself how to be a photographer. She’s now is a very well known photographer in California. But she would come off stage, grab her camera and shoot and then find a darkroom in whatever town we were in and see what she got. She just gave me 10 file boxes full of contact sheets. She said, “Whatever you want. You can have whatever you want.” That’s just the photographs. So I was doing that [theatre] show for four years–started in New York, went to Philadelphia, then Seattle and San Francisco, Los Angeles. And every town that I was in, an envelope or package would show up at the stage door. It was something along the lines of, “I found this footage years ago, I didn’t know what to do with it, I haven’t thrown it away, here you go.” I couldn’t watch it because it’s all on formats I don’t have anymore. I had to find a super-8 projector and I had to buy a VHS player and then find the cables to make it connect to whatever TV I have now–which is more difficult than it sounds. I realized that I have all this stuff. Of course I didn’t look at it until we decided to do this movie.

Q: Thank you so much for being here, I really enjoyed the film. Is there a particular mistake that you fear in the future that you learned from and you try to avoid.

A: I think it’s what I allude to before in terms of making some kind of personal connection with my child outside of any professional space. And I think I’m pretty good with that. I don’t think he’s going to become a performer. I’m going to try to not tip the scales in that direction. Just to be a really honest person with him; to say, “This is what I’m going through–This is really hard–This is really great–whichever it is.” I’ll try to do that. We’ll see how that goes.

Q: How do you feel about the homeschooling?

A: I think the way that I experienced homeschooling was not the best. I know that there are programs now where homeschooling is a misnomer. It’s like a university. You’re with a group of kids. And you get to learn from people in the fields where you go study. That sounds a bit more rigorous and interesting to me. My experience with it really drove me to more traditional schools. I did go to high school. I was working every vacation and every weekend, but I went to that school. I went to college back east with ivy on the brick walls and everything because that’s what I wanted. My experience was not good. But I know kids that were also homeschooled and it was great.

Q: You have some heavy hitters on producers. You have Jon Hamm and Daniel Radcliffe. How’d that come about.

A: Dan Radcliffe, he and I did a play together in New York a few years back and we got to be very close, Equus. I carried Dan around for eight months while Warner Brothers told me I couldn’t drop him because he still had two more movies to make. He and I became very close I think partly because of the whole child performer thing. He became like my little brother. When I started out doing this I said, “I’m doing this crazy thing. I don’t know if I should do it. I don’t know if anybody will ever see it. What am I doing?” “If I can help, let me know.” So I got to a point and I needed some help and I said, “Hey, do you want to help?” And then Jon and Jennifer Westfeldt, I was doing another play with Jennifer Westfeldt, they were an item at the time. This is all her fault. I didn’t want to do this at all. She said it should be a documentary. She said we should do it. She took me out to dinner with Jon and said, “Hey, let’s make this into a thing.” And I said, “That sounds like a terrible idea.” And that’s how that worked. It was through Jen and Jon that the DP, William Rexer, became the DP and he’s done all sorts of crazy things. I was the least experienced and the person who should not be directing–except that it was my story.  It was an amazing experience.

Q: Did the theatre show help you structure the documentary?

A: It’s almost like the documentary is the answer to the show. There are certain keystone pillars in the show that I kind of use in the film. I knew that it was going to basically start with him as a young man and end with him breaking his back and that sort of thing. But we tried to stay away from the play as much as we could. Mostly for my sanity, because I was over it.

Q: Do you have any perspective on clowning and comedy today having grown up with it and then seeing Cirque du soleil; a perspective and an opinion? Where do you see a place for it today?

A: Clowns we’ve had, jesters, medicine men, forever and a day. We’ve always had it. I think there’s a true power in that figure in our society. There’s late night shows: Stephen Colbert, John Oliver, Sacha Baron Cohen is great and all that stuff is amazing that he got away with before people figured it out. So every time I see someone doing that stuff…here’s the problem…for me…When I see these guys, and gals, Samantha Bee and whoever, doing their stuff, I don’t just sit back and watch it. I sit there and I say, “Okay, here’s the setup. Here’s a bridge line. I’m going to get the punchline in a second…And there it is!” For me, personally, it’s a slightly bizarre experience. I feel like there’s a need we all have that clowns provide. They provide this outlet. Thanks to my father I have had exposure to a lot of these people. The first films I ever saw were Keaton films. Because my father didn’t have a babysitter and didn’t have VHS he would just take us to a movie theatre. I feel like there’s this incredible place for clowns and comedy. Especially in a very divided country that we live in at the moment. Where we need these people to make ourselves laugh at ourselves.  Just to like, hey, we’re all human, just a reminder. It’s really important.

FFF 2017 Day 5–How To Build Your Own Stradivarius Violin

April 28, 2017 by

Stefan Avalos, Moderated by FFF  Doc Selection Committee Member Christopher Ramsey, Gives the Audience a Behind the Scenes Look at His Exceptional Documentary

Despite the fact that there was a lot of positive buzz around the FFF for Strad Style for some reason, as I watched the trailer and read the preview information, it was not appealing to me at all–until Mrs. LanceAround and I saw it.

When the movie was over, Mrs LanceAround leaned over and said, “What an amazing film.”  I agreed. Moment by moment this well made film spun its web and drew the audience deeper and deeper into the life of its sole protagonist.

As I struggled with trying to figure out how I was going to approach my review of this film, I quickly realized this movie somehow, some way, rises above its individual components to become something truly special. It does so in a way that is difficult for me to describe–especially being careful not to reveal any spoilers.

The elements are simple:

A man in rural Ohio, Daniel Houck, a recluse who suffers from Bi-polar Disorder, attempts to recreate one of the world’s most famous violins–even though he has no formal training in violin making.

He manages to contact Razvan Stoica, a Romanian violin virtuoso who has been recognized across the world as the best violinist under the age of 30, and they begin communicating online.

An actual, local violin maker in Ohio offers a minimal amount of support and assistance, although Daniel appears to think he can accomplish his task without a lot of outside help.

Without steady income, poor and living alone in a house without much heat during the frigid Ohio winters, Daniel diligently works on his violin–when he does not get distracted by other things.

From there, the movie teeters between the unbelievable and the precipice. Does the virtuoso really want to have a relationship with this violin maker or is he just humoring him? Can Daniel really make a violin or is he just freakin crazy? Is there going to be a storybook ending or will this man who takes medicine for his mental disorder just wind up falling off a cliff?

Skillfully directed and superbly edited by documentarian Stefan Avalos, this movie is a gem. All of the above questions get answered as the tale winds it’s way to an unexpected conclusion. All of it engulfed by a soundtrack featuring beautiful violin music most of it played by Razvan Stoica himself.

Seek this film out. It’s a beauty.

FFF 2017 Day 5–Menasche–A Rare and Intimate Look Into the World of Hasidic Judaism

April 28, 2017 by

A Rare and Intimate Look Into Hasidism

If, like me, the sum total of your knowledge of Jewish culture stems from seeing movies like Fiddler on the Roof or A Serious Man prepare yourself to be immersed into a world of Hasidic Judasim unlike anything you’ve probably ever seen before. This film, Menasche, is a gem.

According to the program, parts of this movie were filmed in secret in the midst of the orthodox Hasidic culture in New York City. It’s also the first major film in Yiddish to be made in over 70 years.

It’s a very simple story that deals with a widowed father and his desire to raise his young son despite the Hasidic tradition that dictates the son must be raised in a family with two parents.

This isn’t a movie with a lot of action, fireworks or a happy ending. The story doesn’t follow a strictly traditional arc with a beginning, middle and end. It’s what I like to refer to as a “slice of life” movie that provides a window into a world we seldom see; a man tries to navigate his way through the traditions and requirements of his culture.

Extremely well filmed and crisply directed, this movie proceeds at a gentle pace that allows the moviegoers to gradually immerse themselves, along with the protagonist, into the trials and tribulations of a single father. His struggles, despite many cultural differences, are similar to issues faced by single parents everywhere. The acting was sublime and effective.

A poignant yet delightful film that is well worth a look.

FFF 2017 Day 4–Stevie Salas Shows Us The Indians Who Rocked the World

April 28, 2017 by

Stevie Salas & Christina Fon Rock the Audience During the Q & A

Mrs. LanceAround’s maternal side of the family came from rural Minihaha Springs, West Virginia. Her mother’s grandmother was a full blooded Native American. Like many people who lived in that part of the country at that time, this was a source of shame and embarrassment for Mrs. LanceAround’s family. Therefore, it was not talked about.

Rumble: The Indians That Rocked The World is a documentary that demonstrates just how much Native American influence there is in modern day rock and roll music. Ironically, the reason it’s not known is the same reason that Mrs. LanceAround’s family never spoke about her great grandmother’s heritage.

This fascinating documentary takes a look at some of the most popular songs of our era and demonstrates how they were directly influenced by Native American culture. Indeed, several prominent musicians may have been assumed to be black but were, in fact, Native Americans. These include such musical icons as Jimi Hendrix, Link Wray, Charley Patton, Mildred Bailey, Jesse Ed Davis, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Robbie Robertson, Randy Castillo and even movie Executive Producer and 1988 lead guitarist for Rod Steward, Stevie Salas, who was in attendance for this film.

The film provides side by side comparisons of old, indigenous tribal ceremonies compared to modern pop music where the rhythm and drumming is demonstratively identical.

One point of interest was an old photograph that showed three bathroom doors. One was labeled “white,” one was labeled “black,” and the middle one was labeled “Indian.” This kind of blatant prejudice is seldom exposed in our school systems.

This well made film will open your eyes to a piece of our American history that has been unspoken for far too long. After the film, Executive Producer and featured subject Stevie Salas spoke with the audience.

Stevie Salas Speaks About His Experiences as an Indigenous Musician and Making This Documentary
You know, if you look at my birth certificate, it says my mother’s white and my father’s white. If you ever saw a picture of my mother and my father you would laugh at that. They’re not even close to white. I’ve got nothing against being white. As a matter of fact, when I was playing rock and roll in the early days with Rod Stewart, I never felt like I looked Native. I felt like I fit right in with the rest of them.

Native American people don’t have a lot of role models to look up to. We can’t look up to Geronimo forever. We wanted to find some new ones. It sounds crazy, but it’s true. There was an unwritten history of influence going on.

We all thought Charley Patton was a black man.

Has anyone ever seen a photo–you always see ones in American history that say, “black bathroom, white bathroom”–I’ve never seen one that said, “Indian bathroom.” I’ve never seen one. They [my other producers] found one.

How we got so many big stars is most of these guys I knew and I grew up with. We all came up together. I was able to call people personally. If you’ve got to call an agent it never really works, it’s one in a million and it’s all bullsh**.

Being in the film wasn’t just about being an Indian. Every Indian just doesn’t get in the film. This was about Native American people who influenced pop music history.

I’m a guitar player, who wanted to be a rock star, who happened to be an Indian.

Tell all your friends–we’re going to go theatrical this summer and we want to do some good box office.