Saturday, June 29, 2013

PUNTO DE VISTA FESTIVAL—Oskar Alegria Appointed New Artistic Director

One of the definite highlights of my participation in the recent San Francisco International Film Festival was befriending Oskar Alegria and having the opportunity to watch his transcendent experimental documentary In Search of Emak Bakia (2012) three times, which proved the charm. I'm delighted to announce the following, cribbed from the Punto De Vista Festival website.

Taking over from Josetxo Cerdán, Oskar Alegria will be the Artistic Director of the Punto de Vista Festival for the next four years. The festival is maintaining its policy of having two directors, an Artistic Director, a position that is periodically renewed, and an Executive Director. Ana Herrera will once again be the Executive Director in this new period, having previously held this position between 2005 and 2010. The festival is organized and funded by the Regional Government of Navarre, through Fundación INAAC. In February of 2014, Punto de Vista will be holding an international seminar, the dates for which will be announced soon.

Having trained as a journalist, he began working as a reporter in Madrid for the Canal Plus and CNN+ news programmes. He has been an editor for cultural programmes and coordinated literary programmes on the TV channels Telemadrid (Los Cinco Sentidos) and Euskal Telebista (Sautrela). In 2010, he produced a series of five documentaries entitled Maestros de la cocina vasca for ETB-televisión with the chefs Arzak, Subijana, Aduriz, Berasategui and Arbelaitz. For over a decade, his travel features have been published in the supplement El Viajero de El País and he is the author of an artistic photography project called Las ciudades visibles (Visible Cities), endorsed by the writer Enrique Vila-Matas, who praises the fact that he has "the gaze of a modern-day Marco Polo."

In the academic sphere, for the past five years he has been teaching and coordinating the documentary module of the MA in Audiovisual Screenplays taught at Navarre University and he has led a Workshop on Abstract Photography for children at the Chillida-Leku Museum. His first full-length feature, La casa Emak Bakia / The Search for Emak Bakia (which tells of the search for a mansion on the coast of Biarritz where Man Ray spent his holidays and shot his cine-poem Emak Bakia) premiered at the Zabaltegi section of the San Sebastián International Film Festival in 2012 and in the year following its release it toured 25 festivals (Morelia, Telluride, BAFICI, FICCI Cartagena de Indias, DOC Lisboa, San Francisco International Film Festival, DOXA Vancouver, Shanghai International Film Festival, Sydney International Film Festival), picking up four awards along the way (Best Film 2013 at FIACID Lima, Honorary Mention at RIDM Montréal, Special Mention at PAFID Patagonia and best documentary ex aequo at Nantes CINESPAGNOL). In Pamplona it was presented at a special session during the last Punto de Vista Festival together with an exhibition held in Condestable, entitled: "Emak Bakia, found objects."

Recently, Variety magazine included Oskar Alegria among the 10 most promising Spanish film-makers in its latest special issue dedicated to Cannes. These are some of the many prominent figures that have welcomed his first film.

John Banville: "Is this a poem or a film? I believe it is both."
Frédéric Beigdeber: "Exciting and wonderful, like one long magic show."
Víctor Erice: "A film that would have delighted Man Ray."

FANTASIA 2013: SPECIAL LIVE THEATRE EVENT—Clive Barker's A History of the Devil

Photo courtesy of Julia Milz
The Fantasia International Film Festival (Fantasia) will again be delving into the realm of live theatre with a special three-night engagement of Title 66 Productions' acclaimed adaptation of Clive Barker's play, A History of the Devil. An epic show to stage, History weaves a tale told across thousands of years over the span of a near-three-hour running time. Director Jeremy Michael Segal and his team have created a macabre mounting that writhes with visual invention and primal acrobatics of performance. Black divinity will strike on August 1, 2 and 3, at Place des Arts' Cinquième Salle.

When Fantasia co-director Mitch Davis caught the Title 66 production earlier this year, he wrote: "This thing is alive with ingenuity and flair that productions many times its budget could only hope to attain. Wildly fun—somtimes downright volcanic—performances across the board too. Three hours of dark, inspired bliss. I loved it, as did everyone I was with. Wow."

FANTASIA 2013—A Lifetime Achievement Award for Andrzej Żuławski

Photo courtesy of SIPA Press / East News
For his singular vision, passion and bravery, the Fantasia International Film Festival (Fantasia) is bestowing their 2013 Lifetime Achievement Award to the great Polish master Andrzej Żuławski, director of such individualistic and award-winning acts of filmmaking as Possession (1981), La Femme Publique (1984) and L'Amour Braque (1985). A gifted and enormously unconventional talent, Żuławski has created some of the most breathtakingly unique films you will ever see. Feverishly cinematic and often controversial, Żuławski's filmography explodes with dizzyingly evocative imagery, primal, animalistic performances and raw sexuality and emotion. His work pulverizes societal norms with surrealism, grotesquerie and above all else, honesty, ferociously buzzing with poetry and a black sense of humor. He has remained pure throughout his career, never compromising for the sake of mainstream appeal.

Fantasia will give the award to Mr Żuławski at a special screening of Szamanka (1996) on the night of July 25. We will also be screening L'Amour Braque as a special co-presentation with the Cinémathèque québécoise.

In conjunction with this special event, Fantasia and the Miskatonic Institute of Horror Studies will co-present a rare exhibition of the work of Barbara "Basia" Baranowska—best known in North America for her poster for Żuławski's Possession—the unsung hero of Polish poster art. To kick off the BASHA exhibition, leading scholar of Eastern European cult cinema Daniel Bird will give a talk on the history, styles and influence of the Polish Poster School, including rare clips and stills. By way of introduction, The Horse Hospital offers a write-up on Baranowska.

In addition, Mr Żuławski will be participating in Fantasia's Frontières International Co-Production Market (profiled at IndieWire) with a new project, Dark Matter, to be produced by Marcin Wierzchosławski.

Friday, June 28, 2013


The Fantasia International Film Festival (Fantasia) is coming back, and coming soon. From July 18 through August 6, Montreal will be home to a showcase of over 100 feature films from around the world, along with a wealth of special events, conferences, and parties. Audiences can look forward to discovering numerous World and International premieres, as well as the Canadian debuts of some of the most acclaimed genre works from this year's Cannes, Sundance, SXSW, Berlin, and Tribeca film festivals. Fantasia's full lineup will be announced shortly; but, for now, Fantasia is pleased to reveal a small sampling of highlights to whet proverbial whistles.

The Conjuring (Dir: James Wan, USA, 2012)—For their Opening Night, Fantasia offers The Conjuring, which they describe as "one of the most frightening, intelligent, and well-executed supernatural horror films in recent memory." Before there was Amityville, there was Harrisville. Based on the true life story drawn from the case files of married demonologists Ed and Lorraine Warren, The Conjuring tells the tale of how these world renowned paranormal investigators were called upon to help a family terrorized by a dark presence in a secluded farmhouse. Forced to confront a powerful demonic entity, the Warrens find themselves caught in the most horrifying case of their lives. The Conjuring stars Academy Award®-nominee Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson as the Warrens, and Ron Livingston and Lili Taylor as Roger and Carolyn Perron, the residents of the haunted house. Joey King, who plays daughter Christine Perron, will host the Opening Night festivities. The Conjuring's world premiere took place as the closing night entry at the first edition of Nocturna: Madrid International Fantastic Film Festival, followed by two screenings of the film at the Los Angeles Film Festival.

At Variety, Justin Chang raves that The Conjuring is "a sensationally entertaining old-school freakout and one of the smartest, most viscerally effective thrillers in recent memory." At Hitfix, Drew McWeeny predicts "The Conjuring is going to be one of this summer's biggest word-of-mouth phenomenons. It does not reinvent the wheel, and it's not a movie that suddenly redefines a genre, but it is confident, it is beautifully acted, and when it gets serious about being scary, it is remarkably tense and terrifying." At The Wrap, Alonso Duralde deems The Conjuring "a contemporary horror classic" and confirms that his screaming out loud "counts as a standing ovation." Dread Central claims "The Conjuring is home to some of the single most frightening haunted house scares ever committed to film" where "Wan manages to clearly ride the line between reality and the absurd as if he were a stone grinding against the blade of a razor." At Film Fracture, Kathryn Schroeder describes The Conjuring as "the horror movie we dream of" because it harkens back to an older style of horror filmmaking, before torture porn, excessive gore, and found-footage held the genre hostage. Interviews with Wan can be found at IGN, Hero Complex, and Entertainment Weekly. IMDb. Wikipedia. Facebook.

The World's End (Dir: Edgar Wright, UK, 2013)—Fantasia's official Closing Night film will be Edgar Wright's hotly anticipated apocalyptic comedy The World's End, starring Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Rosamund Pike and Martin Freeman. As Fantasia was the site of the Canadian Premieres of Wright's landmark 2004 debut Shaun Of the Dead as well as his most recent Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, they couldn't think of a better way to close this year's festival. Five friends who reunite in an attempt to top their epic pub crawl from 20 years earlier unwittingly become humankind's only hope for survival. Wright and select members of the cast will accompany the film's Canadian premiere. Interviews with Wright can be found at IGN (who also boasts a behind-the-scenes featurette) and Yahoo, whereas Collider talks with Simon Pegg. Empire offers individual character banners. Official site. IMDb. Wikipedia. Facebook.

Across The River / Oltre il guado (Dir: Lorenzo Bianchini, Italy, 2013)—A brilliant opposition of new and old narratives, this chilling discovery from Italy is—according to Fantasia—"the most downright efficient atmospheric horror film you'll see anywhere this year, haunting with a slow-building, intense crescendo approach to its atmosphere of disorientation and dread." From the director of Custodes Bestiae (2006). As synopsized by Todd Brown at Twitch, "The story revolves around an ethnologist working in the remote woods, trapping animals and mounting cameras on them so that he can monitor their behavior remotely. The resulting recordings lead him to a remote village, the site of an ancient curse, where he is trapped due to heavy rain fall raising the level of the river and flooding out the only access." World premiere. IMDb.

Big Bad Wolves (Dirs: Aharon Keshales & Navot Papushado, Israel, 2013)—Described in its official marketing as "a brutal comedy for a mad mad mad mad world", this gripping, genre-bending tale of vengeance and fury is one of the greatest films you will see anywhere this year. Its launch at the Tribeca Film Festival deservedly saw it emerge as the single best-reviewed title in the festival's lineup, including accolades from Frank Scheck at The Hollywood Reporter who wrote, "Featuring mind-bending plot twists and generous doses of mordant humor, this fiendishly clever Israeli thriller succeeds brilliantly on its own terms while instantly qualifying for a Hollywood remake." At Screen International, Mark Adams concurs: "In amongst the lashings of torture violence, there are some deliciously dark and funny moments. ...this is a unique and dark and disturbingly left-field film well worth attention." At Film Comment, Laura Kern adds: "Wolves is an extremely well-made work that cleverly toys with genres (blending elements of horror, crime thriller, revenge drama, and black comedy) and with the audience's emotions, making them unsure of what to believe and feel throughout." At Fearnet, Scott Weinberg describes Wolves as a "devious delicacy" and adds that "the intangibles are pretty fantastic as well: Giora Bejach's crisp and gorgeous cinematography keep the film visually appealing while Frank Ilfman's wonderfully Herrmann-esque score manages to become its own character by the time Act III ramps up with some chases, scrapes, and escapes." The film's Canadian premiere will be hosted by directors Keshales and Papushado. IMDb (several more favorble reviews can be found at External Reviews). Facebook.

Cheap Thrills (Dir: E.L. Katz, USA, 2013)—The directorial debut from E.L. Katz stars Pat Healy (Compliance) as a recently fired father facing eviction who agrees to take on an escalating series of insane challenges in exchange for cash payments from a rich couple with a twisted sense of humor. Winner of the midnighter audience award at SXSW and the Director's Choice Feature Award at the Boston Underground Film Festival. The film's Canadian premiere will be hosted by director E.L. Katz. Official site. IMDb. Wikipedia. Facebook.

At Variety, Joe Leydon raves: "E.L. Katz deftly sprinkles dark portents amid the early scenes, so that by the time Cheap Thrills settles into a long stretch inside the claustrophobic confines of Colin and Violet's home, auds are primed to expect the unexpected. But even that won't be enough to fully prepare some viewers for the outrageous twists and reversals of fortune that occur as the pic goes to extremes, and then further, while more than making good on the promise of its sardonic title." At IndieWire, Eric Kohn concurs: "Even when it's fairly obvious where things are headed, the sick ride continues to speed forward, arriving at a gloriously absurd final shot that perfectly encapsulates both the ideas and visceral experience of the movie in their entirety. Ahead of its satiric aims, Cheap Thrills ultimately delivers its titular promise again and again." At Shockya, Perri Nemiroff adds: "It's one thing to show blood and brutality, but it's another to earn it and E.L. Katz's Cheap Thrills is a prime example of a piece that's exponentially more impactful courtesy of quality characters and a well-calculated build that justifies its gore." At Twitch, Peter Martin notes: "Class warfare comes perversely home in Cheap Thrills, a fiendish, fierce, and funny morality tale about the true value of money. It's absolutely convincing, even though it shouldn't be." At Fangoria, Samuel Zimmerman suggests: "While there's nary a viral video to be found in Cheap Thrills, the film is imbued with the culture of now (maybe always) and the fact that despite pleas for peace, we as humans enjoy seeing each other embarrassed, devalued and crushed. It's inherent in reality television and 30 second fail videos, transcends friendships and class, and extends right to the 1% who have so much that the only true entertainment left is the indignities of others." At Film Threat, Don Simpson claims Cheap Thrills "is clearly the smartest hyper-violent film I have ever seen." Interviews with Katz can be found at Diabolique and Ain't It Cool News. For an earlier interview with E.L. and his brother Peter when they produced Adam Wingard's Pop Skull, check out my conversation with them at The Evening Class.

Commando: A One Man Army (Dir: Dilip Ghosh, India, 2013)—Brace yourself for two solid hours of delirious action cinema featuring the superhumanly talented Vidyut Jamwal (Thuppakki), who dazzles in an arsenal of brilliantly choreographed, stunt-packed combat sequences that recall Jackie Chan in his prime. See Commando and you will become an instant Jamwal fanatic. Period. North American Premiere. IMDb. Wikipedia.

Doomsdays (Dir: Eddie Mullins, USA, 2013)—Dirty Fred (Justin Rice) and Bruho (Leo Fitzpatrick) are convinced that the world is approaching its end and consequently see no reason to hold jobs or even have homes. An idiosyncratic instant classic "pre-apocalyptic comedy" evocative of early Jarmusch and Linklater, Doomsdays is intelligent, hilarious and genuinely counter-cultural. It's an astonishingly terrific debut from former critic Mullins, initiated by a successful Kickstarter campaign. The film's world premiere will be hosted by writer / director Mullins. Official site. IMDb. Facebook.

Halley (Dir: Sebastián Hofmann, Mexico, 2012)—A haunting and grotesque examination of urban loneliness and emotional decay, Halley reinvents the conventions of the modern zombie film by treating the state of living death as a degenerative medical illness. Premiering at the Morelia International Film Festival, Halley went on to become a major breakout at this year's Sundance and Rotterdam Film Festivals. Halley's Canadian premiere will be hosted by writer / director Hofmann. Official site. IMDb. Facebook.

At Screen Daily, Mark Adams describes Halley as a "disturbingly stylish and surrealistic drama", though "hard to define ... given its strangely compelling story, impressive performances and strange sense of the grotesque." At Twitch, Ard Vijn states Halley "begs sympathy for the zombie" but qualifies that "although Halley is at times revolting, it is not a horror film. The focus here is on human drama, on losing your humanity, on body illness, and loneliness." At IonCinema, Nicholas Bell characterizes Halley as an "exquisite debut" that "combines the existentialist ennui of Reygadas with Cronenbergian body horror. Hauntingly surreal, and sometimes maddeningly oblique, it never fails to be consistently compelling, and Hofmann's eerie protagonist manages to resonate long after its final frames."

I'll Follow You Down (Dir: Richie Mehta, Canada, 2012)—Haley Joel Osment and Gillian Anderson star in this captivating film that is equal parts ingenious science-fiction mystery and heart-wrenching human drama. This is the kind of smart, plausible sci-fi tale rarely told anymore in cinema, a precious gem created with absolute conviction that delivers like an existential powerhouse. From the Genie-nominated director of Amal. This film's world premiere will be hosted by writer / director Richie Mehta and Producer Lee Kim. IMDb. Facebook.

IP Man: The Final Fight (Dir: Herman Yau, Hong Kong, 2013)—The dynamic final chapter of the Ip Man saga! Controversial godfather of exploitation cinema Herman Yau, who helmed the popular prequel The Legend Is Born: IP Man reunites with his award-winning Untold Story star Anthony Wong (an actual martial artist specializing in monkey kung fu) and displays his abilities in all their glory, while his high-caliber thespian skills yield a more nuanced Ip Man than Donnie Yen's signature performance. IP Man: The Final Fight was the opening film at the 37th Hong Kong International Film Festival. Canadian premiere. IMDb. Wikipedia. Facebook.

At Twitch, James Marsh finds The Final Fight a "low-key but enjoyable drama focusing on the twilight years of Ip Man's life. Less an action movie than a love letter to 1950s Hong Kong, the film nevertheless cements the man's position as a modern day folk hero." He adds that The Final Fight "is ultimately less interested with the action and more committed to recreating a particular period in Hong Kong's eclectic past. The soundtrack features a number of classic Mandarin pop tunes from the era, while the script touches on social issues of the day, including union strikes, water shortages and police corruption." At The Hollywood Reporter, Deborah Young observes: "IP Man: The Final Fight is an enjoyable if far less sophisticated tale that nostalgically taps into Hong Kong cinema of yesteryear, while still delivering considerable excitement in the fight scenes. Offshore, it may hitch a ride with dyed-in-the-wool martial arts fans on the coattails of The Grandmaster, but more likely will get lost in the shadow."

It's Me, It's Me / Ore Ore (Dir: Satoshi Miki, Japan, 2013)—J-pop star Kazuya Kamenashi plays a slacker who multiplies himself until his life becomes a bizarre nightmare in this mix of off-the-wall comedy, realistic science-fiction and surreal thriller by genius filmmaker Satoshi Miki (Adrift In Tokyo). The film's Canadian premiere will be hosted by writer / director Satoshi Miki. Official site. IMDb.

L'Autre Monde / The Otherworld (Dir: Richard Stanley, France, 2012)—The director of Hardware and Dust Devil returns with an astonishing documentary journey into life on the other side of the mirror. Dive with him into a place hidden deep in the South of France, untouched by the modern age, known as "the Zone", where magic is currency and the supernatural is a part of everyday life. The Otherworld's world premiere will be hosted by director / co-writer Richard Stanley, co-writer Scarlett Amaris, composer Simon Boswell, editor Patrick Tremblay and cinematographer Karim Hussain. Official site [French]. IMDb.

Library Wars / Toshokan sensô (Dir: Shinsuke Sato, Japan)—In 2019, an elite squad has to fight to save books from aggressive government censorship. Reminiscent of Farenheit 451, yet surprisingly playful, Library Wars will keep you on the edge of your seat with its epic action sequences, brilliantly crafted by Shinsuke Sato (Gantz). Library Wars had its world premiere at Filmart. Its Canadian premiere will be hosted by director Shinsuke Sato. Official site [Japanese]. IMDb.

At Screen Daily, Mark Adams writes: "The fight for freedom of information and expression reaches action-packed heights in Shinsuke Sato's adaptation of Hiro Arikawa's best-selling novel The Library War—which has sold more than 2.8 million copies since its publication in 2006—which delivers engagingly over-the-top militarized mayhem, all in the good name of saving books. ...The book has been adapted before—the Japanese animated series Library War in 2008 and the 2012 animated television film Library War: Wings Of Revolution—but this big screen version is a sci-fi film that makes the most of the most incongruous of action concepts. Casting of cult star Chiaki Kuriyama (from Kill Bill) as Kasahara [Nana Eikura]'s best friend could help international profile, plus the action sequences are expertly staged, especially as the film hits its stride in the thrilling last third."

Magic Magic (Dir: Sebastián Silva, 2013)—Juno Temple and Michael Cera star in this Polanski-esque, paranoia-tinged psychological thriller that haunted all manner of psyches at Sundance and Cannes. In remote Chile, a vacationing young woman begins to mentally unravel; meanwhile, her friends ignore her claim until it's too late. An interview with Silva and Cera can be found at Independent Film Quarterly. Canadian premiere. Official site. IMDb. Wikipedia.

At Screen Daily, Tim Grierson writes: "This psychological horror offering from writer-director Sebastián Silva (The Maid) aspires to do little more than unnerve you as strenuously as possible, and in this regard it succeeds. ...Silva manages to build a mood of general unease with an irreverent tone, suggesting that the filmmaker is enjoying the vague anxiety he's creating in his audience. That playful spirit can also be felt in the lack of explanation concerning Alicia's mysterious condition, which is why Temple's portrayal gives the movie the anchor it desperately needs. ... As a result, Magic Magic turns out to be little more than a one-woman show. Thankfully, Temple is up to the task: She's crazy good." At IonCinema, Nicholas Bell characterizes Magic Magic as an "excellently crafted descent" that recalls "a genre of women and madness features that populated plenty of classic titles from the late 60s and 70s." He concludes, "Its spell will stay with you, creepy crawling down your spine." At Sound on Sight, Josh Slater-Williams adds: "For all its strange turns and moods, Silva grounds his horror of mental unravelling in the real world, or at least a hallucinatory, ethereal version of it. Christopher Doyle and Glenn Kaplan's cinematography makes particularly effective use of stark yellows and blues, and the sound design is impressively oppressive."

Metro Manila (Dir: Sean Ellis, UK / Philippines, 2013)—A provincial farming family migrates to the heartless big city of Manila and find themselves pulled into a sinkhole of crime and corruption in this gripping, moving thriller that took home the audience award at Sundance. An incredible film. Canadian premiere. IMDb.

At The Guardian, Damon Wise describes Metro Manila as "unpredictable with a poetic and searingly realistic migrant drama that gradually becomes a crime story." Wise dispatches as well to Empire, where he states that Metro Manila provides an "expert combination of genre and naturalism" that convinced him it was "one of the best films of the festival, poetic, authentic and damn near perfect."At IonCinema, Nicholas Bell writes: "At its core, the film features a dynamite lead performance from [Jake] Macapagal, and it's worth noting that the screenplay was written in English, with the actors translating their dialogue to Tagalog. If anything, this third feature from Sean Ellis should definitely cement the filmmaker as one of the most chameleonic and intriguing British filmmakers currently working."

Return to Nuke 'Em High, Vol. One (Dir: Lloyd Kaufman, USA, 2013)—The brilliant, maniacal mind behind Troma Entertainment triumphantly returns to Fantasia with the hotly-anticipated first chapter of his epic new masterwork—and you'd better be ready for Lloyd Kaufman like you've never seen! When evil once more roams the halls of exploitation cinema's most infamous high school, the demented residents of Tromaville must band together one more time to take down bad taste … and replace it with something even more foul! The film's world premiere will be hosted by director Lloyd Kaufman. IMDb. Facebook.

The Weight (Dir: Jeon Kyu-hwan, South Korea, 2012)—A hunchbacked mortician takes delicate care of corpses before they rest for eternity and encounters broken characters as strange as the funeral rituals he sees. Evocative of an especially taboo-smashing version of Delicatessen-era Jean-Pierre Jeunet, The Weight is a major discovery in the annals of subversive cinema. North American premiere. IMDb. Wikipedia.

The Weight had its world premiere in the Venice Days sidebar of the 69th Venice International Film Festival, where it won the 2012 Queer Lion, an award for the "best film with a homosexual and queer culture theme." It is the first Korean film to have won the prize. It also won a Special Award at the 2013 Fantasporto Orient Express Awards. Jeon Kyu-hwan also won the Silver Peacock award for best director at the International Film Festival of India and was awarded Best Director at the 16th Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival where the jurors stated, "Never wavering from his singular poetic style, Jeon Kyu-hwan deftly pulls the audience through a barrage of painful and extreme imagery into what in the end is a very touching film about love and acceptance."

Willow Creek (Dir: Bobcat Goldthwait, USA, 2013)—Bobcat Goldthwait, celebrated comedian and brilliant director of such black comedy masterpieces as Shakes the Clown, World's Greatest Dad and God Bless America shifts gears and veers off into left field with this chilling, subjectively shot horror film about a couple on an exploration into all things Bigfoot who stumble onto things most unusual. Willow Creek's international premiere will be hosted by writer / director Bobcat Goldthwait. IMDb.

At EFilmCritic, Jay Seaver writes: "Ever since The Blair Witch Project kickstarted the boom in found-footage horror a decade and a half ago, there's been a tendency to make the form ever more elaborate, until the likes of Cloverfield and Trollhunter are basically special effects blockbusters in disguise. Every once in a while, though, someone strips the form back down to its roots, and Bobcat Goldthwait does a damn good job of it with Willow Creek." At GoSeeTalk, Andrew Crump claims, "Willow Creek accords only a small portion of its 77 minutes (thereabouts) to actual scares, but invests so much in its characters and gives them such a bounty of material to play with that the terror becomes that much more organic and intense. [It's] slow-burning in the best way possible."

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

FRAMELINE 37—Big Joy: The Adventures of James Broughton (2013)

Big Joy: the Adventures of James Broughton (2013) [Official site / Facebook], a documentary portrait of the famed poet / filmmaker / sexual liberator, has been created with evident affection by co-directors Stephen Silha, Eric Slade and Dawn Logsdon. Big Joy is screening at Frameline only once this weekend, and is on hold-review so I'm not allowed to say much; but, it must be stressed that Big Joy is an absolute must-see at the festival, delightfully visualized through archival footage, crafty and seductive in its poeticized graphics ("Feathers or Lead" is brilliant, breathtaking), and vitally informative as to the history of literary San Francisco, early experimental poetic cinema, and the queer counterculture. This exuberant documentary—one might almost deem it a celebration—underscores what has become over the years (for me, at least) one of the most important strengths of Frameline's programming: the celebration of individual lives within the context of our social evolution, as it is only through the authenticity of individual lives that society and culture can gain momentum towards the future.

Who knew that Broughton and Pauline Kael were lovers when she was working at KPFA in the East Bay? Who knew that Jean Cocteau kissed Broughton on both cheeks at the Cannes Film Festival, exclaiming, "Bravo!! An American who has made a French film in England!" Who knew that Zen scholar Alan Watts considered Broughton the only one who understood the playfulness of his Buddhism? Others perhaps, but not me. And so I salute yet another incredible individual whose maverick and pioneering spirit paved the way for me to discover my own doubled nature in its search for tentative unity. A beautiful and inspiring film that I will hold proudly to my chest for many years to come. Dance, don't walk, to buy your ticket now!!

FRAMELINE 37—Michael Hawley Previews the Line-up

The world's oldest LGBT film festival celebrates its 37th anniversary this year, as Frameline's 2013 edition rolls out in San Francisco and Berkeley from June 20 to 30. Globally, the fest also remains the largest event of its kind, with this year's record-setting 800 submissions being whittled down to a mere 82 features and 155 shorts representing 30 countries. At the festival press conference it was noted that 2013's line-up is top-heavy with romances and comedies, something not necessarily reflected in the seven narrative and four documentary features I previewed.

For queers of a certain age and temperament, the highlight of Frameline37 has got to be I Am Divine, the long-awaited documentary about the "cinematic terrorist" alter ego of one Harris Glenn Milstead from Baltimore. I fess up to being a rabid Divine fan. I know the films by heart and saw him act in the stage play "The Neon Woman." I also own a stack of Divine vinyl and watched him perform those same songs live at The Stone nightclub on Broadway not long before his death in 1988. I even read the book written by his mother. So when Kickstarter came calling, I couldn't refuse. I'm very pleased with the fruit of my (admittedly meager) investment, which shouldn't be a surprise given the participation of director Jeffrey Schwartz, a master at this kind of bio-doc (Spine Tingler: The William Castle Story and last year's Frameline opening-nighter, Vito). I Am Divine is lovingly assembled and succeeds whether you're a newbie or diehard devotee, with ultra rare photos, archival clips and interviews with co-stars Tab Hunter, Ricki Lake and virtually every still-breathing Dreamlander. Personal assistants, ex-girlfriends and boyfriends, mother Frances, Joshua Grannell aka Peaches Christ and of course, the ubiquitous-for-a-good-reason Mr. John Waters, all chime in as well. The festival's "hold-review" policy for this film prevents me from saying much more, but be advised that I Am Divine screens one-time only, at the Castro Theatre on Sunday, June 23. Tickets are still available.

It's only a short hop from Divine to Disco, the latter being the subject of Jamie Kastner's Canadian documentary, The Secret Disco Revolution. As an early and enthusiastic adherent in that revolution, I can vouch that the film gets it right—especially how the music began as joyful, 4/4 beat, Philly-based soul (The O-Jays, First Choice) being played in gay and black urban clubs in the early 1970's. Crucial early tracks like Barry White's "Love's Theme" and Manu Dibango's "Soul Makossa" get spotlighted, along with dance crazes like the Hustle and the Bump. I lost interest in the scene well before the release of Saturday Night Fever and Kastner's film recounts that period as well. As it spread to the straight, white mainstream, the music devolved into a thumping, narcissistic parody of itself, which lead to the racist/homophobic backlash of Disco Demolition Night. The Secret Disco Revolution pinpoints disco's death date as August 25, 1979, the day The Knack's "My Sharona" knocked Chic's "Good Times" off Billboard's Hot 100 top spot. Our guides through this slice of a music history are a rather silly Mod-Squad-ish trio of disco revolutionary "masterminds" and several "experts" whose pronouncements on the music's socio-politico import can be pretty eye-rolling ("We can see beneath Disco's carefully vapid veneer to its true aim—the mass liberation of gays, blacks and women from the clutches of a conservative, rock-dominated world.") Still, this doc does its job with lots of fun archival clips and interviews with the likes of Evelyn "Champagne" King, Vicki Sue Robinson, Thelma Houston and Harry Wayne "KC" Casey. Oddly enough, the film opens at Landmark's Opera Plaza Cinema on June 28, the day before its lone Frameline screening.

Each year Frameline has documentaries which remind us how dire life is for LGBT folk in many parts of the world. And it's getting worse. Just witness recent events in Russia, Nigeria and Georgia—films about which we'll no doubt see at Frameline38. I became aware of Jamaica's rampant homophobia back in 2009, when U.S. concerts by musician Buju Banton, including one in San Francisco, were cancelled due to pressure from LGBT activists. Micah Fink's tremendously affecting The Abominable Crime—the title derives from the island's colonial anti-gay law labeling homosexuality as "the abominable crime of buggery"—takes a personal look at the situation there via its two main subjects. Maurice Tomlinson is a gay Jamaican LGBT activist who is married to a Canadian minister, and Simone Edwards is a single mother who was shot several times and left for dead, just for being a lesbian. Following continued threats on her life and the denial of a U.S. visa, Edwards boarded a plane for Turkey (for which Jamaicans don't need a visa) and sought asylum during a stopover in Amsterdam. The film keeps returning to film Edwards as she adapts to her new country and awaits reunification with the young daughter she left behind. Meanwhile, a persistently fearless Tomlinson, much to the consternation of his husband, continues the fight to repeal the island's anti-buggery law with the assistance of the British Lord who helped overturn anti-gay laws in Northern Ireland. The end credits reveal that anti-LGBT attacks in Jamaica have risen 400 percent since 2009. Another related doc worth checking out is Chris Belloni's I Am Gay and Muslim, in which a half dozen gay Moroccan men open up about living clandestine sexual lives and how they reconcile that sexuality with their religion. Director Belloni asks provocative, but respectful questions and receives some surprising answers from his uniformly educated, English-speaking subjects.

Moving on to Frameline37's narrative features, my favorite of those previewed would be Yen Tan's Pit Stop, a low-key yet emotionally complex drama about two gay men approaching middle age. Gabe (Bill Heck) is a building contractor who is still actively involved in the lives of his young daughter and ex-wife. Latino warehouseman Ernie (Marcus DeAnda) has just sent his younger live-in boyfriend packing. These two wounded—and ruggedly attractive—men move through life coping as best they can, and it's lovely when the film allows their paths to ultimately cross. Director Tan makes good on the promise exhibited in his second feature Ciao (Frameline32), with perfectly paced scenes, thoughtful camera placement and realistic dialogue (he co-wrote the screenplay). An added bonus is the refreshing blue collar Texas milieu in which the film takes place. The only other U.S. narrative I previewed was C.O.G., which represents the first time writer David Sedaris has permitted a film adaptation of his work. Glee's Jonathan Groff stars as the Sedaris stand-in, a priggish Yale grad who comes to rural Oregon seeking life experience and then tumbles into a series of gnarly misadventures. Despite assured direction from Kyle Patrick Alvarez and several engaging supporting performances, the film comes off curiously flat, suggesting that perhaps Sedaris' brand of humor works best on the written page.

Each year it's interesting to look through Frameline's World Cinema section and see where the majority of new LGBT films are coming from. Last year's edition featured an extraordinary number of works from the Muslim world and its diaspora, and two years before that we experienced a large presence from Latin America. After several years of underrepresentation, it appears that Asia is back in the game and colleague Tony An has done an excellent job of profiling the Queer Asian Cinema selections. The only one I've personally seen is Jun Robles Lana's Bwakaw, a somewhat broad but nonetheless endearing film which was last year's foreign language Oscar® submission from the Philippines. Veteran superstar Eddie Garcia, who has a whopping 556 acting credits in his IMDb profile, gives a memorable performance as a terminally cranky, gay retiree who softens when his pet dog Bwakaw develops a terminal illness.

French language films are normally a significant part of Frameline's line-up, but not this year. I can only guess at why French-Canadian director Xavier Dolan's (I Killed My Mother, Heartbeats) acclaimed transsexual epic Laurence Anyways failed to make the cut, as well as Les Invisibles, the Cesar-winning documentary on French LGBT senior citizens from Sébastien Lifshitz (Come Undone, Going South, Frameline34). What we're left with is Belgian entry Beyond the Walls, a reasonably fun and sexy intergenerational/cross-cultural romance which becomes histrionic and ludicrous once the older partner goes to prison for drug smuggling. Moments of misconceived clunkiness also weigh down two otherwise fine European entries—Free Fall, a taut, well-acted drama about a pair of mutually attracted German police cadets, one of whom is married with a baby on the way, and In the Name Of, Frameline37's Centerpiece Film about a conflicted Polish priest who runs a facility for at-risk youth, which won the prestigious Teddy Award at this year's Berlin Film Festival. And finally there's It's All So Quiet, an enigmatic, but lumbering Dutch film about a joyless, middle-aged farmer which boasts a riveting performance from stage actor Jeroen Willems, who died shortly after filming and to whom the movie is dedicated.

Elsewhere in the Frameline37 line-up are films I'm hoping to catch during the festival proper. I'm a sucker for biographical documentaries and don't want to miss profiles of writers Gore Vidal (Gore Vidal: The United States of Amnesia) and Paul Bowles (Paul Bowles: The Cage Door is Always Open), as well as Bay Area poet/filmmaker James Broughton (Big Joy: The Adventures of James Broughton). Other docs high on my list are Continental, about the NYC bathhouse that launched Bette Midler's career; The New Black, which examines shifting attitudes of African Americans toward LGBT rights, and Born This Way, a look at the fight for LGBT acceptance in Cameroon, which will hopefully be as good as last year's audience award-winning, Uganda-focused Call Me Kuchu. Brazilian director Bruno Barreto (Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands, Four Days in September) appears on the Frameline37 roster with Reaching For the Moon, dramatizing the 1950's romance between American poet Elizabeth Bishop and eminent Brazilian architect Lota de Macedo Soares. If I can summon sufficient stamina, I'd also love to experience Peaches Christ's Midnight Mass presentation of Nightmare On Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge, said to be the gayest of the Nightmare flicks, with a Peaches pre-show, costume contest and personal appearance by the film's star, self-professed male Scream Queen Mark Patton. Last but not least, I won't be missing Interior. Leather Bar, experimental filmmaker Travis Mathews and actor James Franco's meta-polemic re-imagining of the "missing" sex scenes from William Friedkin's 1980 film Cruising.

Cross-published on film-415.

Monday, June 17, 2013


Positioned within Frameline 37's spotlight on Queer Asian Cinema, South Korean entry White Night (Baek Ya, 2012) is LeeSong Hee-il's follow-up to No Regret (2006), which emerged as a milestone in Korean gay cinema. White Night had its international premiere in the Dragons & Tigers program at last September's Vancouver International Film Festival, and screened in BFI's Gay & Lesbian Film Festival and the Berlin Film Festival earlier this year, and has continued its presence in various festivals worldwide, landing two screenings at San Francisco's Frameline.

As synopsized by Brendan Peterson, White Night is a "mesmerizing exploration of painful memories and dangerous obsession." Won-gyu (Won Tae-hee) is a flight attendant who has returned to South Korea after two years of self-imposed exile overseas upon learning that the homophobe who brutally bashed he and a friend outside of a gay bar is being released from jail after a minimum sentence. Won-gyu briefly reconnects with his ex, now limping, who wastes no time in blaming Won-gyu for his disabled condition. Apparently, Won-gyu ran away from the assault, leaving his friend to take the brunt of the violence, and then ran away from the country to process his trauma.

Won-gyu runs away one more time and abandons his limping friend at the cafe. Thus, the tone of self-loathing and ineffectuality is set early on as Won-gyu fantasizes on revenge, even as he is no more capable of exacting same than when first assaulted. Enter motorbike courier Tae-joon (Lee I-kyeong), a feisty internet hook-up expecting an easy one-night stand, who is more accustomed to physically fending for himself and who eventually steps in to exact the revenge Won-gyu desperately craves.

The film is primarily a desultory and nocturnal mood piece with brooding attitudes and atmospheric affects draped over a minimal script. Lots of cigarettes are idly chainsmoked, butts crushed underfoot, and lighters flicked open and shut, killing time until Won-gyu has to catch his morning flight back to Europe. The on-and-off attraction between Won-gyu and Tae-joon feels staged and unnatural as the two walk stiff-shouldered side by side through Seoul's neon-lit streets, refusing to look at each other, let alone speak. Visually it borders on the unintentionally absurd with overwrought meaningfulness. At times its silliness made me smile. When Tae-joon complains that he's a "crazy bastard following a crazy bitch", it seemed the most genuine statement made throughout the night's vigil.

The true depths of this film are in its thematic implications, not fully realized by its performances, its script, nor its direction. Those implications are that damaged gays act out and hurt each other instead of learning to love each other, and how self-fulfilling is that? White Night suggests that someone as traumatized as Won-gyu has become incapable of love and that whatever dignity he might have salvaged from that violent attack years ago has turned inwards into self-loathing. Perhaps because he was too weak to defend himself? Perhaps because he ran away, too frightened to help his friend? Perhaps because society doesn't care enough to administer appropriate justice? He desires anonymous sex in public toilets as a gesture of self-debasement. When Tae-joon eventually leans him over and fucks him over a urinal, one doesn't sense pleasure as much as a psychological re-enactment of a punishment Won-gyu believes he deserves, even as one senses a trace of compassion in Tae-joon treating him as he wants to be treated. The power struggle between Won-gyu and Tae-joon can hardly be called love, more the therapy of sexual theater, but it is as close a connection as this one night will allow and sometimes, White Night suggests, that's as good as it gets. Sadly, that's about as good as this film gets.

FRAMELINE 37: PIT STOP (2013)—The Evening Class Interview With Producer Jonathan Duffy

It was my honor to write the Frameline 37 program capsule for Yen Tan's Pit Stop (2013) [Facebook], especially after having been so enamored with Tan's earlier effort Ciao (2008), and which I replicate here for easy reference.

It might be difficult for urban gays to relate to the circumscribed lives of their small-town brethren, where options to assuage loneliness narrow down to limited or missed opportunities. Then again, loneliness is a universal animal, heedless of specific geography other than the vast terrain of the yearning heart, and when the "right one" finally comes along, it doesn't matter whether it's among the throngs of San Francisco or at a pit stop in Texas.

With his third feature, director Yen Tan joins forces with David Lowery (St. Nick, Ain't Them Bodies Saints) to craft a charming romance characterized by Variety's Dennis Harvey as "low key but ultimately deeply satisfying." B. Ruby Rich adds: "Yen Tan's gift for long takes and his comfort with silences makes demands on the audience that films ought to make—and pays them back with a surprising happy ending."

Construction contractor Gabe (Bill Heck) and forklift operator Ernesto (Marcus DeAnda) are caught in compromised relationships: Gabe with his ex-wife and young child whom he wants to responsibly raise, and homebound Ernesto with a young lover anxious to start an independent life in the big city. Despite both being handsome and available, Gabe and Ernesto are insecure about their future chances for love. With heartfelt nuance and patient observation, Tan captures honest performances from an accomplished cast.

Pit Stop was, likewise, one of the twelve films chosen by the San Francisco Film Society (SFFS) to participate in their inaugural A2E Direct Distribution Lab. It was in that context that I met and interviewed Jonathan Duffy, one of Pit Stop's producers. My thanks to Bill Proctor for setting us up to talk.

* * *

Michael Guillén: Jonathan, can you speak to how you became involved with A2E? Are you from Austin?

Jonathan Duffy: I am from Austin but I moved to San Francisco shortly after filming Pit Stop. I came into A2E because we all know that technology is changing and—after hearing all my filmmaker friends discuss their experiences with distribution, some positive, many not—I knew that I didn't have most of the answers. I knew that I needed to know more. A2E sounded like a really great opportunity to listen to the questions other people were asking and maybe pick up a few answers.

Guillén: How did you first hear about A2E?

Duffy: Through Alicia, who invited me to participate with Pit Stop. I'm one of the 12 films invited to the lab, by way of an email they sent out. Pit Stop is an authentic portrayal of two working class gay men in a small town in Texas. There's Gabe (Bill Heck), recently left behind by a lover who was a married man, who's now hanging close to a relationship with his ex-wife. They're working on being parents together. Then there's Ernesto (Marcus DeAnda) who's at the end of a relationship with a younger man and still involved emotionally in a way with an ex who's now in a coma. Both characters are experiencing heartache in one way or another; but, they have eternal hope that someday they will find somebody who will love them like they want to be loved.

Guillén: What most impressed me about Pit Stop was the suggestion that a gay person would want a life other than a life in the big city. It feels almost like a new narrative idea because the cliche is that every young gay man runs away to a big city to find themselves. Yet in Pit Stop you have two strong characters who choose to remain in a small town, even though it complicates and frustrates their search for love. But the truth is that running to the city doesn't necessarily mean they will find love either.

Duffy: Yen did his research. He talked to a lot of people who specifically made the choice to stay behind in small towns. He drove back and forth between major cities in Texas, passing through these small towns that made him wonder if there were gay people there and, if so, why? Why would they be there? Through social networks and message boards he contacted such individuals and asked them that specific question. Yen maintained journalistic integrity in his research and he genuinely cared about the results. We all see these movies where a gay person is beat up or terrible things happen to them, but several of the individuals Yen interviewed had a live-and-let-live attitude, some weren't even necessarily "out", and they were just living in a small town because the people they loved were living there and this was the only life they knew. They already seemed to have a sense that running off to a city was not going to solve their needs.

Guillén: Exactly. Pit Stop also shows that many of the characters and scenarios depicted in all too many GLBT films advocate a certain romanticized irresponsibility. Pit Stop offers responsible, nuanced characters. Gabe's unwillingness to abandon the responsibility of helping his ex-wife raise their child, for example, strikes me as a fresh (and welcome) characterization of a gay male. Several of the films invited to A2E were recommended through cultural agencies....

Duffy: Our's was not. Pit Stop was simply invited by Alicia. I had just moved here and she knew I was interested in having a relationship with the San Francisco Film Society and in meeting more filmmakers. The Pit Stop team were asking questions about distribution, both locally and globally. We wanted men like the characters of Gabe and Ernesto to have the chance to see this movie wherever they lived. That was very important to us but we didn't quite know how to do that.

Guillén: What distribution model did you initially have in mind to get Pit Stop out and about? Was it to circulate the film in niche film festivals?

Duffy: We intended to have a festival run. We had the great fortune to premiere at Sundance, and then got into South by Southwest. We've been fortunate in that festival programmers have welcomed us. But what most consultants will tell you is that most filmmakers are reactive and—after gaining entry into festivals—will wait to see what comes to them. Do people come and offer to buy the film or are they forced into other choices? So what excited me about the A2E Lab was that they were going to talk about tools that can help filmmakers make a plan from the very beginning based on real knowledge about the various platforms and what they offer.

Guillén: They've offered that, I understand, through a kind of "speed dating" process where each filmmaker sits down for 20 minutes with each technical service or launch pad. Are these sessions done separately; the tech services distinct from the launch pads?

Duffy: I can't speak to the launch pads so much because a lot of those groups we haven't intermingled with much except during happy hours; but, the tech platforms we've talked to have basically outlined their levels of expertise, whether international and domestic, or just North American, whether DVD or VOD, some with a semi-theatrical component. I might have had ideas about each of those forms of distribution, either through my friends' experiences or what I've read about online, but what was great and what came out of each conversation was the personification of each organization, which for me matters. It's not some faceless company who's talking about taking 30% in a transaction where the filmmaker has to do this or do that. A film is your baby, you care about it, and you don't want a merely transactional relationship; you want somebody to hold your baby and to show it off to a lot of other people.

Guillén: How many tech services have you spoken to so far?

Duffy: Roughly somewhere around 15.

Guillén: They're tossing ideas at you, possibilities, game plans. Do you feel that any of these suggestions are actually going to help you with distribution for your film?

Duffy: Yeah. Being my first project, I've just been thankful up to this point. I'm really happy that people respond to the film and I feel confident that we'll get a positive result for our stakeholders and all the people who helped us make the movie. What's been uncertain for me is the future life of the film after the festivals and how all of that will take shape. Coming out of the lab, after talking to these services, I feel we have a little bit more of the answers because, for this film, it's a global question. I certainly didn't have answers about how we were going to distribute in the UK or Latin America, what platforms would allow us to do that, and which platforms were really good at doing that. I didn't know if we had to get the film dubbed or subtitled and I've learned that certain countries like certain things. In Germany, for example, they want the film dubbed. Knowing that requires an investment on our part if we want to sell Pit Stop in Germany, which I believe would be a great film for German audiences.

Guillén: Not only is direct distribution one of the suggested tools coming out of A2E, but emphasis on ways to return investment to stakeholders. Have you learned anything at A2E to do just that? Anything to suggest to future investors for future projects?

Duffy: We have definitely learned that there are choices; but, the thing is, though, that it's different for each project. Each project has their own reality. Each project has their own team and you have to know what your team is capable of and willing to do. If we're going to embark down certain paths, you're going to have to keep inspired to do what's necessary. You can't just rely on someone to handle those things for you, which is what has traditionally been done for filmmakers. What's been discussed in these sessions is that frequently when it's done for you—we used the holding the baby example—people are protective of their projects and then let down about the results. What A2E has done is to empower us to not be scared to explore these alternative options. We all know how hard it is to make a movie. Everyone in that lab knows that. They've gone the rounds trying to get investors to believe in their project. Once they've got past that, they have to make the movie, edit the movie, and all of it each step of the way is hard. Even Troll 2 was a hard movie to make.

Guillén: And just as hard to watch!! [Laughs.]

Duffy: But the point is that even these bad movies are hard to make. To make a great movie is even fucking harder. Now we're aware that this other step of direct distribution is equally hard, but rewarding.

Guillén: I know that you're still in the process of assimilating the information you're receiving and recognizing the potential of the tools being offered to you so I understand that anything you say is evolving; but, I'd like to know if there's anything specific you've learned from the A2E lab that you will apply to the future distribution of Pit Stop?

Duffy: For our next step, we have to really think about our audience in a way that goes beyond tailoring it just for gays, and to reach out to our straight constituency. Fortunately, so far, straight audiences have responded well to Pit Stop. Some of that has to do with avoiding stereotypes not only for gay characters but straight characters as well. We don't have the angry straight guy threatening gays, for example. There's also no reliance on dumb country people. Audiences like the characters in Pit Stop. They like them as people, gay or straight, living in the country, or living in the city. I want real people, all kinds of people, to see this movie. So we have to think about audiences, about our initial audience and our projected audience, and we have to think about how our key art is going to catch their attention. Several of these tech providers have talked to me about how we can improve on that.

Guillén: What do they feel is wrong with the poster art as it stands?

Duffy: This is a very touchy subject because Yen is the graphic designer. He's a well-known, effective graphic designer and I think he's made a pretty image that I'm attached to in a lot of ways. But what they've told us is that we're not taking advantage of the good looks of our actors. I don't want to presume what Yen was trying to do with the poster image but what I saw in his work is that he took our ensemble cast and showed how together they are, how interwoven their lives are, do you know what I mean? And I loved that. I think it's brilliant. But from the perspective of someone who wasn't part of our team, they didn't necessarily get that. They said that they couldn't really tell what the film was about from looking at the poster. Whether I like it or not, as the producer I have to listen to that. I had multiple people in that room tell me that they were at Sundance—where we had a good run and a decent amount of coverage—but they didn't even know we were there. And why is that? Was the poster ineffective?

Guillén: Were the colors too muted? Was it not sexy enough?

Duffy: I, for one, loved the colors because we wanted it to be subtle.

Guillén: There's certainly nothing wrong with starting out with one idea and graduating to another. I consider that critique a very important one. By way of example, there's a film production in Idaho that I'm monitoring—Smoke, written by Alan Heathcock and directed by Cody Gittings and Stephen Heleker—that recently applied grant funds towards a competition for local graphic artists to create a poster for their film. They held an event where six or seven of these artists displayed their posters to the public and it was fascinating to see how people reacted, which posters were favored over others, and which were bought at auction. As a film journalist maintaining a blog site, poster art is very important to me. Finding appropriate images to supplement my text is one of my favorite efforts and I especially enjoy looking at poster art, particularly when a film has trafficked internationally. It intrigues me how posters vary from country to country, emphasizing one element over the other. This advice you've received to reconsider your poster art reminds me there's an actual mercantile effect to graphic design with a measurable economic reception. I'd always just thought of movie posters as aesthetic.

Duffy: Which is how I've always thought of movie posters as well.

Guillén: I frequently lean on old French movie posters because I find them colorful and dramatic, and I like that sense of international penache.

Duffy: But as a technical point, I would say that to extend the life of the film we would like to do some kind of theatrical, possibly in tandem with or in front of our DVD and VOD release, and there's a lot of things I didn't know about with regard to the rules of how theaters respond to that. Some theaters don't like simultaneous distribution. Others are okay with it. We talked to TUGG who partner with filmmakers to set up theatrical releases in cities only if there's an ambassador there or an organization who will help sell a minimum number of tickets to break even to cover the theater cost. If they can get to that point, they'll do it, and then they split the profits with the filmmaker. That's an exciting way to get the film, let's say, to gay Modesto while not taxing the film's limited resources. For me that's an exciting partnership because it means we can get the film to people without jeopardizing the investors' money and being responsible in spreading the word.

Also, since this was my first film to produce, I didn't know if showing a film in a theater would cannibalize my DVD/VOD release? Apparently, that's a silly question because each of these tech services have claimed the opposite, saying no, it doesn't, it helps it, it accentuates, it builds.

Guillén: It gains pedigree.

Duffy: Yeah, but I was worried about it. I was worried that if we showed Pit Stop in a theater, we would only be getting 35% of the screen fee, that it costs money and we'd be losing money, but if we just sell it on DVD we might get a lot more of that percentage, and isn't that better in the long term? What I heard in the lab is that if you do all of it well, it's better. More people see it, it gains pedigree as you say....

Guillén: Let alone that it creates a complexity in reception; the reception becomes diverse.

Duffy: And, apparently, as part of that process of gaining pedigree, some people want to know if a film has shown first in a movie house before going straight to DVD / VOD.

Guillén: Absolutely. I can only speak for myself, but I am less prone to watch a film that's gone directly to DVD / VOD for fear that it is somehow not as good a film as one that has had a theatrical release. If a film has gone straight to DVD, it tells me that there is something lacking in the film. I may be completely wrong, but that's my impulse.

Duffy: Right! Going straight to DVD is like the scarlet letter. When you make a movie, one of the first things you're always asked is: "Did you get distribution?" Bringing together all these really smart people at this A2E conference has changed the phrasing of that question and taken the "did you get?" out of that question and added instead, "What is your plan? How are you going to be empowered to make this happen?"

Guillén: Namely, direct distribution in the hands of the filmmakers, granting them agency in their film's commercial success. Choosing to no longer play a passive role of waiting for someone else to distribute your film.

Duffy: But also, if you choose to create your own team to distribute your film, that's not a failure. There's proven success everywhere you look in film that self-distribution works. And we're trying not to even use that term anymore. "Self-distribution" doesn't express the team effort with all the different platforms you might partner with to get the distribution done. More now we're thinking in terms of alternative distribution plans that are still aimed towards commercial success. A small film like Pit Stop—with its human themes of looking for love—why should it follow a standard path?

Guillén: Yen's previous film Ciao didn't follow a standard path, yet the film achieved a theatrical run.

Duffy: You're right. Ciao was well-received. I mean, I'm a young straight guy and was fresh out of college when I saw Ciao and I loved it for the same reasons that you've expressed: there were these quiet moments that revealed a true humanity.

Guillén: Some connective tissue between Ciao and Pit Stop is David Lowery's involvement, whose own film St. Nick I deeply admired. Did Yen bring David in for this project? That wasn't a decision of yours? In fact, whenabouts did you become involved with the project as a producer? I first heard about Pit Stop when Yen launched his crowdfunding campaign to raise the seed money.

Duffy: I was involved even then. Basically, Yen had gone through the Outfest Screenwriting Lab a number of years ago and he had talked to James Johnston and Eric Steele, both who have helped produce Pit Stop, and both from Texas: James in Ft. Worth and Eric in Dallas. They were all working on different projects together, but for some reason, trying to find the right catalysts to make a film "go" just wasn't happening. We all started talking about working on Pit Stop together a short time before the USA Artists campaign happened. Kelly Williams, my producing partner, knew I liked Yen's film Ciao so all of us got on the phone and decided Pit Stop deserved the chance to be made. We all read the script and felt passionately about it. We wanted to get it made so we all made the commitment to do that. Right around that time, we got a Texas Filmmakers Production Fund (TFPF) grant from the Austin Film Society and so that built the momentum. It wasn't a lot of money, but it was a helpful amount. So then, as a team we were kind of like, okay, we've made this decision to go and now the Austin Film Society's behind us so now we really got to go. We committed to raise over $30,000 online.

Guillén: Which you did.

Duffy: We did!! We were successful. We were the number one project on the USA Artists website for the entirety of our campaign. That was great! Then we said, okay, we need to raise a little more money and we did that through a combination of grants and investors that we knew. We set about creating a cast and crew of people who we felt reflected the world of the story and that were just generally kind people, people that we liked to be around and either already knew or wanted to know, and they became the Pit Stop family. They all sweated in the Texas heat in the summer and we made the film together.

Then Yen edited the film with Don Swaynos, a talented Austin guy and a funny individual, and they both got in there and looked at all the pieces that we had and made what we all watch now. They did a great job. So that's basically my involvement with Pit Stop. It was my first film to produce. I'd been thinking about doing it for years and I had been reading scripts for a long time, but it was Pit Stop that really got me. I felt it was the right time with the right story.

Guillén: Then the film premiered at Sundance, where it was received well. You got a lot of good write-ups out of that festival.

Duffy: We did! We were very well treated. The write-ups were great, but what was really great were the things that people would come up and say to us. A 60-year-old straight woman came up to me and said, "I want to go home and make-out with my husband for an hour." Who knew this gay film was going to make her say that? It was so great. And then there were other people who loved pets and wanted to know more about Sasha the cat, and about the dog. They knew how important their pets were to them and they could relate to how important the pets were to Gabe and Ernesto.

Guillén: Clearly, being a producer on your first film has been a positive experience for you? You're not done with the Pit Stop project by any means, that's why you're attending A2E, and the film has barely started its festival run; but, I imagine you're going to want to produce again?

Duffy: Totally. Gearing up.

Guillén: Speaking of the film's festival life, Pit Stop will be at Frameline? You'll be accompanying the film in San Francisco?

Duffy: Yes, I'll be there.

Guillén: Yen Tan will be there?

Duffy: Yes, and we hope to have some of our cast at Frameline as well. One of the things I was most excited about in making Pit Stop was that it might play at the Castro Theater and it's made me very happy that Frameline has chosen to do that.

Guillén: I was certainly honored when asked to write Frameline's capsule for Pit Stop. I hope you like it and that it helps draw people in.

Duffy: Thank you for your positive affirmation of the film and your interest in it, and in our journey.