Peter Strickland’s “The Duke of Burgundy” (2014)

By Colleen Rowe

It looks as if colored oils are being splashed and organized into figures on canvas before your eyes. Director Peter Strickland’s full-length Drama, The Duke of Burgundy (2014), is like a homoerotic Baroque painting, with its two female leads, played by Sidse Babett Knudsen and Chiara D’Anna, dominating the screen in separate, but conjoined spheres. Cynthia (Sidse Babett Knudsen) is Evelyn’s (Chiara D’Anna) employer, but their relationship escalates quickly with a peer through a doorknob’s keyhole. Looking in from the outside, Evelyn peers into her ruler’s world: Cynthia’s matured body in lingerie as she undresses in unassuming privacy. Does she know that Evelyn is watching her as her dress slips from her waist, down her thighs…and falls upon the floor like a splash of flowing ink?

And so, the ink dries and the women continue with their master-servant relationship. Cynthia orders young Evelyn to do her bidding, which includes cleaning her boots vigorously, her eyebrows raised almost as high as her expectations. Cynthia’s impatience grips Evelyn forcefully, pushing her into seemingly torturous punishments—at first these inflictions are usually unseen, initially; the bathroom door is closed and there are gurgling sounds of a mouth full of water, Evelyn is choking, sputtering…but somehow loving every single moment of it. If the master had been a man, these interactions would have been looked upon with disgust, and people would shake their heads slightly with immense disdain for the abuser. But, as an attractive, mature woman perpetuating the servant’s liking for her punishments, the audience seemed intrigued, and turned on to understanding the parallel roles that are expected of women. Are these expectations acceptable to condone? Of course not, but they are there.

A male “master” can be more frightening to a woman, because of the power men have tried to hold over women since written documentation was first recorded in the grand scheme of time. There is also the vast history of social inequality between men and women that really taints the filters of perspective while watching this film. In the past, women who were unrightfully enslaved were raped by their masters; an account of this was recorded in Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, written by Harriet Jacobs, a true story of a young girl who struggled for equality in a world where her race and sex subjected her to the abuses she faced. Jacobs’ written work was influenced by Samuel Richardson’s famous novel, Pamela, also known as Virtue Rewarded. Pamela is a tale with dense misogynistic undertones and a plot that circulates around a male master who follows, confines, and stalks his servant until she finally succumbs to his rule and has sexual relations with him. Yes, her virtue is rewarded in the end. Let us make it clear that any forced sexual relations are abusive, even if they are “achieved” by manipulation.

A woman ordering another woman to do something is more comfortable, simply on the level of an employer/employee relationship, but one should not assume this is the reason why Cynthia’s inflictions against Evelyn, as they pursue a more personal relationship, are somewhat condoned by viewer reactions. It’s because they love each other, and that’s where gender or sex is stripped of relevance here. These two people love each other, and if the master had been a man, in the context that they truly care for each other, the accepted “abuse” would seem less horrible because Evelyn is constantly begging Cynthia to “punish” her. Evelyn, at one point, asks Cynthia to lock her in a chest that is large enough to hold her small frame. Cynthia allows it, but, she is concerned for Evelyn soon after, asking her to come back into the bed. Evelyn proceeds to tell her to leave her in the chest, as if she is enjoying her opaque cage. Cynthia eventually enters a dreamlike state, where she seems to imagine that she opens the chest and all that is left is Evelyn’s rotted skeleton, lying in the same position that Cynthia left her in. This scene is comparable to William Faulkner’s short story, “A Rose for Emily,” in which the character, Emily Grierson, is found out to have been sleeping beside her dead lover for decades, after a single strand of her hair is found on the pillow beside his skeleton. Morosely similar, The Duke of Burgundy uniquely portrays this implied necrophilia in a series of frames that demonstrate a transient passage of time. With shots focused on a clothed female crotch, delving into all-encompassing darkness, and Cynthia’s venture into the woods to metaphorically revive her skeletal lover, lifting her from the chest that has become her casket, they are swallowed into the darkness together.

There are two scenes that are brilliantly paired in The Duke of Burgundy; one takes place at the beginning, where Cynthia reprimands Evelyn for incorrectly washing and tending to her clothing. Cynthia is the master here, her deadpan glare ripping into Evelyn’s timid demeanor with disrespectful loathing. A flicker of hate for Cynthia might rise in your chest, temporarily, during this scene. Her pretentious, lifeless glare is captivating, and you sort of feel like she owns you, too. In a later scene that parallels this, after the relationship between Evelyn and Cynthia has been established through playful, loving nights as they sleep beside one another, and Evelyn’s obsession with gaining new items and wealth becomes a dominant factor, disrupting their connection, the roles are reversed. Evelyn, the now master reprimands Cynthia, the previously glaring, dominant force within the film, and the woman you once hated, becomes the woman you now feel sorry for. With the dialogue and setting matching the earlier scene, Evelyn’s manipulations to rise above her social class have now succeeded, and as Cynthia cries, Evelyn reaches for her, as Cynthia once did, and whispers to her soothingly.

With profound directing, cinematography, acting, and editing leading this film into the depths of greatness, it’s almost impossible to look away as the storyline progresses and you watch the character development escalate.

This film is a work of art. However you paint the picture, after viewing The Duke of Burgundy, you will find your mind to be a color so incomprehensible that you won’t be able to forget what your eyes were just captivated by.

The Duke of Burgundy was a part of the Hamptons International Film Festival 2014 program.

Director, Connor Williams talks about his new film, “The Spoilers”

Connor Williams is 17-years-old and is the producer/director/star of “The Spoilers”, which also stars Terry Kiser, the dead guy from Weekend at Bernie’s. Connor financed this film completely out of pocket, with money saved from acting jobs and working at Pizza Hut. Philosophia Verax was curious as to what makes this kid tick. Content produced by Film Syrup.

Connor Williams and Terry Kiser

FS: What made you get into film making?

CW: My family moved to Idaho from California when I was 7-years-old. Unpacking boxes, my parents came across a tape of a commercial I was in as a baby. They didn’t pursue acting for me. That commercial was a total fluke. When we watched the commercial together, I told them I wanted to be an actor.

FS: What was the commercial for?

CW: It was for a Soup restaurant in New York. I googled them a couple years back and they are no longer in business. I didn’t do much but lay there on a table.

FS: No soup for you?

CW: Nah.

FS: So, you were 7-years-old, an aspiring actor in Idaho, removed from California. Where did you go from there?

CW: My dad read about a 48-hour film contest, so he entered in hopes of networking with people that made films in Boise, ID. It was a disaster of a film. We had no idea what we were doing. It was finished on Wednesday, a full three days late. They still showed it in the theatre. The plan worked though, a director needed a kid my age and cast me in his feature film. I never have seen that film as it was rated R and my parents wouldn’t let me go to the premiere.

FS: What was the feature? Have you ever seen it or are you still not allowed?

CW: The feature was called  “Autumn Angel”. Yes, I’m finally officially allowed as I’m 17. That was a long wait. I never did see it, as there were some legal issues with the producers of the film so it stopped being shown.  But it was one of the few times I got my footage. What’s up with people promising footage and never delivering, by the way?

FS: Not everyone can deliver as efficiently as Pizza Hut, I suppose. How many movies have you been in?

CW: To date, I have been in 17 movies. Mostly shorts, but mostly as the lead. I have made many shorts and have won some festival awards. The truth is I only made “The Spoilers” film because I love acting. I’m now thinking differently about directing. I’m one of the leads of a movie “The UnMiracle”, which is going to Redbox in a few months. In fact, they’re  changing the ending so I’m flying back to Chicago to shoot a couple of scenes opposite Steven Baldwin and Kevin Sorbo. I also shot a couple of scenes in Jared Hess’s (Napoleon Dynamite) new comedy opposite Sam Rockwell.

Let me add that I love Pizza Hut! They have been very supportive of me with me traveling to auditions and everything that is involved in acting.

FS: How did you discover the script for “The Spoilers”?

CW: I had never met the writer, Bill Persons. Never even talked to him. I selected him from many writers off of elance. He and I were on the same page from the start. He was awesome to work with. I only had so much money to make this film, so I knew it had to have limited locations and people in the movie. I couldn’t have a scene at a concert with a thousand extras. I couldn’t blow things up, unfortunately. I had to make it all about the characters and the story.

FS: What’s it about?
CW: “The Spoilers” is a lot like The Breakfast Club, but with 2014 teen problems, not 1985. It’s a teen movie where kids are court ordered to school on the weekend for different offences and It’s their last chance to get it together. There’s social bullying, inappropriate teacher-student relations, issues pertaining to sexual consent, gang affiliation, religious beliefs etc.

FS: How did you find your Director of Photography and crew?

CW: I interviewed DP’s from a few different states. I really clicked with Andy and Korie Byrd. They made this movie. They busted their tails to get this done!

FS: How did casting work?

CW: For the actors, I put the break down on Actors Access. We had about 1,500 submissions. From that we (the crew was now involved) selected a ton to audition via tape. We selected the top ten for a callback via tape. We then invited the top 4 to Skype another callback and then top two for the last Skype callback. During that process, a couple of people googled me and discovered I was 17 and bowed out. I tried to hide my age until the end. I wanted everyone to take this seriously. Luckily, my top choices didn’t google me.

FS: It sounds like the internet provided a lot of things you needed to make this movie. Are there any other digital resources for filmmakers you utilized?

CW: Yes! I hired someone from fiverr.com to make the website . I hired someone off that site to write a press release and then when I’m ready to let the world know about the film I will hire someone to send it out to all the different news outlets.

FS: How long did it take to shoot?

CW: We started shooting on August 1st and wrapped on August 17th. We took the 2nd and 3rd off then worked straight through to complete it.
FS: What was it like, your first time directing?

CW: I had been on some pretty good sets, so I knew how it worked. The directors I have worked with put a lot of their faith into the DP. I did the same. I was totally prepared to let the DP know the shots I wanted and to hash things out with the actors, but I really didn’t need to. Andy made a shot list that we both agreed on and after the first day he totally took the pressure off of me. I stepped in a few times, but he knew what he was doing. He shot quickly and efficiently. I couldn’t imagine making this movie without him. He was awesome and he didn’t treat me like a kid. He treated me like a professional. When I wasn’t behind the camera, I would talk to the actors individually about the scene. They were so prepared that they took away a lot of stress. These guys will make it as actors. They are as hungry as I am. Keep your eyes on Brandon Butler, Kathryn Jurbala, Shruti Sadana and Hunter McCade. Props to them!

FS: How did you get Terry Kiser (Bernie, from Weekend at Bernie’s) in your movie?

CW: To be honest I wasn’t familiar with “Weekend at Bernies”. Another feature was being filmed in Boise, ID at the same time we were filming “The Spoilers”. There was an article in the paper about that other movie and he (Terry Kiser) was in it. My parents then told me that they had parked cars for him at his Hollywood Hills home thirty years ago, when they were in college. That same day someone heard that I was making a movie, heard about my age and wanted to represent it to sell. He asked if we had a “name” in the movie. Armed only with the valet story, I found Terry Kiser’s agent through IMDB and called her. I told her the story, we negotiated that I would pay for his flight change and two more nights at a hotel and his rate. I was shocked over how easy it was.

FS: What was it like to work with him?

CW: On set he’s all business. When he’s filming a scene, he doesn’t want chit chat. He termed it “WalMart-ing”. Like when you run into someone at the store and have to make mindless chatter. He holds a script in his hands while the camera is being repositioned. He told me later, sometimes he does that to go over lines, but mostly he doesn’t want people “WalMart-ing” him. He’s there to work. He stays focused until the scene is done, after that, he’ll talk about anything. He’s really funny, a cool dude, but very professional with everyone. We wrote four additional scenes for him. We gave him a ton of dialogue at about 4:00pm on Sunday and he knew it all by the time he was due on set at 9am Monday! He was a pro’s pro. I learned just from watching him.

FS: What’s he like as a person?

CW: He couldn’t have been more gracious with us. On the day he was shooting with us, I was throwing a “Thank You!” party for the moms and kids that came out from all across the US, later that night. I asked him if he wanted to come and I couldn’t believe it when he said “Yes!”. We got to know him on a friend level. He invited me and my parents to stay with him at his Austin, TX home if we get selected for their film festival. A couple nights before we wrapped we had a “Weekend at Bernies” viewing at my parents house. It was hilarious.

FS: So… he’s alive?

CW: Most definitely.

FS: Are you sure? No voodoo curses?

CW: … Pretty sure. I did the Bernie Dance with him so I’m 99% sure.
FS: What was the most difficult challenge in making this film?

CW: Scheduling. I was horrible at it. If schedules were changed somehow, I was the one who had to let everyone know. A couple of days, we were off by an hour. Next summer I’m hiring an “A” student from my high school just for scheduling and making sure all actors and production are on the same page. The other challenges were that it really did all rest on me. Needed lunch picked up? I went to get it. Needed a prop? I went to get it. I was the intern. I will have an intern next year. I didn’t get any down time. I worked three nights a week at Pizza Hut the entire time. I was pretty exhausted when it was over. If the cast and crew hadn’t been as prepared as they were, it could have been a disaster.

FS: How did you finance it?

CW: From my own money. 100%. I like to save money. So when I told my parents I was doing this my dad said he wasn’t putting any money in. He made that clear. So because I have been thrifty in the past I had a pretty good amount (or at least for me) saved up. I earned the money from acting and working at Pizza Hut.

FS: That’s impressive for a 17-year-old. Did you have to make a lot of sacrifices to get the movie made?

CW: Besides my wallet ? Well ,sleeping in. While my friends were waking up at noon, I had already been up and worked six hours. Recast a friend of mine, which was a long story, so maybe a friendship.

FS: What are your plans for “The Spoilers”?

CW: I want to sell it. I will submit to film festivals. The first filmfest I’m submitting is Slamdance, a film fest in Utah. I think that will tell me a lot about the movie. Slamdance is fully aware they will be the first festival that I will submit it to. I also am going to the American Film Market in Santa Monica to get in front of decision makers and try to sell my film. I think my age can help me stand out from the rest.

FS: What are your influences, film-wise?

CW: I liked Superbad and 21 Jump Street a ton. I like to be entertained. I know those aren’t the deepest of movies, but they made me laugh and they looked like fun to make.

FS: What are the qualities you look for in movies?

CW: If you’re not going to make me laugh, it better have a great story line. Entertain me. Movies are so subjective. Every element is so important from story line to production to acting. You’re only as strong as your weakest link.

FS: Where are you going from here?

CW: I want to push “The Spoilers” as much as I can. I know I can make a full length feature. I know how much it will cost and I know the mistakes I made that I won’t make again. I’m totally prepared for my next movie. Foster adoption is big in our family. My little brother and sister are foster adopted. I know all the statistics and I have heard some very sad stories. I would like to find a compelling story where I can bring awareness to the 500,000 kids in foster care. I have ideas based on facts but I’m not sure moms and dads are ready to see the truth and what’s happening to kids. It’s a sad situation.

FS: What advice do you have for people who are interested in filmmaking?

CW: If you want to direct and you haven’t yet, what the heck are you waiting for? Just do your own thing. Of course you’ll make mistakes like I did, but you won’t do that the second time around. I have never taken an acting class. Ever. I directed my own shorts (starring me) but I think if you’re honest with the people you’re working with, they will forgive you for your shortcomings. Most importantly: hire a DP that you trust. He/she is the backbone of the production.

FS: What do you have to say to people who think 17-years-old is too young to be making a movie?

CW: I guess I can say I proved myself right and them wrong. Overall, everyone has been very supportive.

FS: One last thing, can you tell me why it’s called “The Spoilers” or would that be a spoiler?

CW: Can you keep a secret? So can I!

For further updates, visit “The Spoilers” on its Facebook page: Spoilers The Movie.

We’ve Come a Long Way, but We’re Not There Yet

By Roxanne*

The title “Any Day Now” is able to suggest the contention that is present for homosexuals, throughout history and in this film. The setting is Hollywood, 1979. A sex-worker mother is busted, leaving her disabled 14-year-old son to fend for himself in their shabby apartment building. Drag performer, Rudy (Alan Cumming), stumbles upon the situation.

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Rudy is voracious and speaks his mind, despite social disapproval of his lifestyle.

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His more reserved partner, Paul (Garret Dillahunt) shares chemistry with Rudy while remaining as a strong fatherly character.

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It should also be noted that this is the first time a full length movie features an actor with down syndrome, (Marco, played by Isaac Levya) and he is able to provide as much work for the scenes as his more experienced counterparts.any day now 4

Renderings of custody battles have become a staple in film, but Travis Fine’s film, Any Day Now (2012), sets the bar high in terms of teachable moments through social injustices. While Marco’s mother is incarcerated, Rudy and Paul take in the boy and are able to give him an upbringing that some of us couldn’t even hope for. But their happy family is disrupted and cut short, by the resonance of the issue of gay parenting and LGBT rights, which were virtually non-existent at this point in time.

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Although the plot and character development are enough to sustain this film, the film is brought down a notch in terms of visual flair. There is little variation among the scenery and the quality of the HD film is confusing for a retro styled movie.

In the end, it is safe to say that it is not Marco’s custody that is actually on trial, but the homophobia that was prevalent three decades ago.

Everyone Else (2009)

By Colleen Rowe, originally published on Nocturnal in 2010.

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In the spring of 2010, I watched “Everyone Else” at the Independent Film Center in the West Village [NYC].

The film depicts a couple on vacation and their wavering emotional consistency within a week. There were no tragic deaths, plots to deceive an unfaithful lover, or detrimental tidal waves that threatened to destroy a major city and the lives that depend on its existence. This film, simply, illustrates the moments of tender playfulness that make up the simplest definition of “love” and the everyday hardships that occur within relationships that are continuously thrown beneath thin, silk rugs, only to be tripped over when aged wine on the top shelf is empty and the after-sex high has sunk below one’s realm of consciousness

The scenes are simple and subtle and completely real. The most powerful aspect of “Everyone else” is the abundance of everyday conversation that makes up the entirety of the film, which also happens to be one of its most realistic components. Although major visual occurrences do shock and intrigue us, it is the words that are spoken to us that continue to live in the cave of our minds as famished, hopeless savages that disconnect the stems of our brain cells, as we think  and think and tear away the remains of our mental health.

I often drift off to sleep with nothing but words in me. They are in my fingertips, my thighs, the space between my nostrils. They shout and repeat and sing me to sleep with sweet melodies and unofficial intentions. These words, nothing but emotions that have been conceptualized and given syllables to hang from. Nothing but words. Nothing but emotion. They sleep with us, watch us make coffee in the morning, and drag us through this thing called “life”. There are some days when I do nothing but think about them.

Feature Film “Leaving Circadia”: How Does Art Define its Creator?

By Colleen Rowe

Behind its “feel good” effect, Evan Mathew Weinstein’s feature film, “Leaving Circadia,” is laced with serious undertones circulating around semi-harmless manipulation and the everyday struggles artists, and people, face in a world filled with aesthetically presentable competition.

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“Leaving Circadia” circulates around the life of resident manager, “super,” Tom’s interactions with the people around him—friends, his boss, and initially unfriendly, but occasionally respectable acquaintances. Tom is played by Evan Mathew Weinstein, who is not only the director, but also the writer and executive producer of the film. Portrayed as a somewhat hopeless stoner with limited obligations and a knack for painting, Tom lives his pointless life as if he is a promoter for the nonconformist lazy man. His character, initially likable, even with his untactful commentary, becomes even more engaging as the film progresses. There are times when his manipulations are harmlessly, for lack of better words, cute. His encounters with the noticeably attractive Collette, played by Larisa Polonsky, shed the covering of his comical outer persona and allow audiences to see him beneath his protective guise. As viewers, we remain suspicious of his motives that are intertwined with benign manipulation.

The few side-plots featuring the various characters in Tom’s life are memorable in their brevity—including an interaction between two lovers as they talk in a bathtub. These simple sentiments are some that all viewers can relate to on a personal level. Those moments that are so private, but all-encompassing, portrayed and likened to be interactions that probably have happened in real life situations. They are charming, realistic even—this is what makes “Leaving Circadia” so appealing, with its character stereotypes shaded with the individualistic behaviors that can be found in real people who aren’t performing for a camera. A few shots involving the major characters throughout their day at a park and its surroundings, the sun setting in the distance, remain the most aesthetically memorable throughout the film. A shot of the sunlight between trees—it strikes you suddenly like a glaring focus.

Aside from Collette, his boss plays one of the most important roles in his life, similar to an overbearing father who gives many chances, but also expects too much. Played by Joseph R. Gannascoli, Nat is a self-serving, mercurial individual who often criticizes Tom on his most obvious flaws: slothfulness, irresponsibility, and folly. He rightfully demands Tom’s time, because, as he explains to the aloof stoner, it is his job, but he is unreasonable in his expectations—even if Tom had been a hard-working, reliable character. Nat sheds light on Tom’s inactivity, forcing viewers to see that he isn’t doing enough, regardless of how rudely he interacts with him. As viewers start to see Tom through Nat’s viewpoint, they might wonder: who is in the right here? The supermodel-toting, Bluetooth-obsessed Nat has a valid point, but we are already on Tom’s side because he is so easy to empathize with. Before dismissing Nat as a typical, “jerk” boss, consider his character’s accusations as credible, as he has probably known Tom for an elongated period of time.

Aside from acting as the visual muse and emotional stability for Tom, Colette plays a key, inspiring role that transcends Nat’s introspective assessments. She offers her advice to Tom, upon seeing his art for the first time, to sign paintings, sell them—to get his work out there. She sees talent past this major “hopeless” category that Tom is fit into by his peers. Why hasn’t Tom, who is so quick to attempt to win money in poker bets, taken advantage of marketing his immense artistic talent? He answers this later during a reflective moment with a friend: “My dad was an artist, talented. At his easel, cigar in his mouth. The art world is a brutal place. Somewhere along the way, it broke him. I watched that light go out. I was always afraid that would happen to me.”

Tom eventually takes back control of his life, something that Collette is directly responsible for—picking up his art, brushing off the dirt, and offering it as a piece to sell. Before you put your “trash,” the work that made you so horribly mad, to the curb think about its effect on others. It is validated that Tom is not the potential that Collette thought he was, but that he is an artist.

If you’re not going to allow the light to shine, it will never be lit. How will it ever go out? That’s the equivalent of hiding in a dark closet, waiting for your captor to find you. If you leave your protective cage before that darkness you fear discovers your whereabouts, you might just create a perpetual brightness—art that is not tainted by fear.

The people we meet in our lives change us, regardless of how long they stay.

Larisa Polonsky won Best Actress in a Feature Award, lead lady in “Leaving Circadia,” at Long Beach International Film Festival (2014).

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“Leaving Circadia” cast includes: Christian Coulson: Tom Riddle from “Harry Potter”, Joseph R. Gannascoli from “The Sopranos”, Ashley C. Williams from “The Human Centipede”, Larisa Polonsky from “Chicago Fire”, adult actress Stoya, and two time Tony winning actor (and star of Fox’s “Fringe” and Steven Soderbergh’s upcoming series “the Knick) Michael Cerveris.

Photos previously featured found on: Facebook.com/LeavingCircadia

Photo Link:

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The Crisis of Red Photojournalism in “1,000 Times Good Night”

By Colleen Rowe

1,000 Times Goodnight 

juliet binochePhoto taken from the official Stony Brook Film Festival website: http://stonybrookfilmfestival.com/fest14/schedule-1.html

A collective, expressive sigh narrates the audience’s horror as a Middle Eastern Woman is strapped with explosives in one of the first scenes of Erik Poppe’s feature film, 1,000 Times Good Night. Female protagonist, Rebecca (Juliette Binoche) pauses in unison with these outside sound effects produced by viewers, her camera slightly tilted and her eyes expressing an incomprehensible emotion—variations of worry, pain, and, quite possibly, an unannounced interest. Why Rebecca did not attempt to stop this suicide bomber from completing her mission is unclear, but a few suggestions revolve around the easily assumed idea that she did not want to be killed by the terrorist group who organized this mission. There is a subtle, fleeting thought throbbing in one’s head that she could be perceived as a terrorist herself for not stopping the event prior to its occurrence—but, would her interference have really counted in the grand scheme?

Her redemption is her camera, the direct means of her photojournalism that would provide proof that such events actually occurred. With this evidence, a more powerful military force would interfere and save future intended victims. Here, where Rebecca holds a backstage pass to a terrorist mission, arises one of the main themes of 1,000 Times Good Night: How far will someone go to obtain the evidence of a controversial story—will she go so far as to almost be blown up? Repeatedly, this concept is demonstrated throughout the duration of the film through Rebecca’s interaction with her daughters, particularly Steph (Lauryn Canny), and husband, Marcus (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau).

The film is initially misleading—viewers have this idea that the train of events will follow the various photojournalism foreign conflict missions that Rebecca is assigned, but after she suffers an unfortunate injury, the film is shot in her very safe home environment. Regardless of this opposite, seemingly uneventful main setting, we follow her life as if we are a part of it—imagining her tattered, worn traveling-wear that Marcus comments on, from which she smells the dirt and fear from the victims she photographs. Her husband’s distaste for her dangerous career choices along with Rebecca’s feigned, desired carefulness not to frighten her daughters with the possibility of her death become more potent obstacles that she must face. What choice is she to make—a life of criticism by disappointed loved ones on the home front or a physically dangerous, life threatening career of photojournalism in conflict areas? Viewers would be surprised which lifestyle is more difficult to pursue.

A film not shy to portray scenes of mass murder by foreign terrorists in a conflict crisis setting, the different locations are essential to the portrayal of the idea that who we are in the workplace is not who we are at home, and likewise, who we are at home really affects our work in a “professional” environment—even if that environment is pushing us to run for our lives. Photojournalism and violence aside, it is Rebecca’s attitude that is the real shock factor while viewing 1,000 Times Good Night—suggested by her husband: is there ever really a final shot? Her inability to perceive danger as DANGER pierces the audience’s eyes like a rogue bullet and, suddenly—we’re all blind with fury. Why didn’t she leave when the firing commenced? Is a picture worth her life? Such perspectives filtered into an audience’s emotional range boasts controversial filmmaking.

Within the depths of family and international conflict, there’s a simpler story and it’s found on the beach that is in close proximity to Rebecca’s house. She often runs, presumably, from an obvious perspective, to stay physically fit, but there is also a very apparent metaphor presented: that she is running from the problems that consume her daily life (a lone runner, classic metaphor portrayed in film and media). In the few minutes where sadness alludes them, Rebecca and Marcus share these beautifully crafted frames where they are laughing, pushing each other into the water—the bright sunset-inspired lighting inviting—no, intoxicating. We run from our problems and attempt to shield them with our sweat, but sometimes they end up finding us and kissing us forcibly on the lips.

Toward the end, after Rebecca’s fears of frightening and disappointing her daughter come true, a riveting, gripping, completely devastating scene takes its place in her car as Steph tells her it might be better if Rebecca died, a statement that she later rescinds. Upon hearing this, Rebecca slowly starts to tear, the close up of her facial features immediate. Her daughter then rapidly starts to take unyielding shots from Rebecca’s camera, paralleling her mother’s common action to take photos of heartbreaking conflict depicting the emotional turmoil of her subjects. It is a silent, rhetorical question asking, how do you like it, mom? This scene could arguably be considered climactic in the plotline.

Ultimately, we feel for all major characters involved in this film, including Rebecca—she is obviously torn between reporting social injustices and pleasing her family, but as the film winds down we are left with this simple realization, verbally portrayed by Steph, that someone MUST do this job. People do, every day, risking their lives for a cause—blatant activism shielded by press motives. Some die, but the ones who live to tell, or rather, show the tale leave us with ideas to promote the enforcement of peaceful change.

Not yellow journalism, I’ll call it “red,” [photojournalism] like the blood from the victims it captures and portrays, bright with yielding tone and explicitly effective in defining a necessary cause.

“Trouble With Women” (2014) Photo Collection (Q&A) : Long Beach International Film Festival

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8/2/2014

Trouble With Women,” Directed by Alan Ginsberg, starring Montgomery Sutton,  Andrew Mauney, & Brian Boswell.

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After Brian Boswell was asked if he was anything like his character in real life, (apparently it happens a lot):

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Alan Ginsberg & part of the cast

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Interview with Filmmaker, Bethany Orr, on her new feature film, Campaign titled: “ICELAND OR BUST”

Sometimes, location is everything and in Bethany Orr’s upcoming feature film,  which is untitled, but being supported by the campaign name: ICELAND OR BUST, this might prove to be true. There’s also the addition of her individualistic ideas that paint her words with originality and sass. Bethany Orr, [Agorable, ] tells Film Syrup and its viewers about her new creative Icelandic adventure and the perks those who support her are allowed.

“No one I know could execute such a bizarre idea, never mind think of it. Definitely worth supporting.” -Cinephile Stephen Les

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Project Title:

Campaign is called ICELAND OR BUST.  igg.me/at/icelandorbust

Film Syrup: Why Iceland? What draws you to its culture?

Bethany Orr: I started having visions of Iceland back in 2012 when I was studying with Werner Herzog. I had just completed my short film, Agorable, and was toying with several different story ideas for my first feature and for whatever reason, things became super clear around that time. Specifically, two of the stories I had been working on merged into one and then showed up in Iceland. And now here we are. I’ve learned you have to trust that kind of stuff when it gives itself to you.

Herzog is a fan of Icelandic mythology and was the one who introduced me to The Poetic Edda, a dense, rich volume of primordial poetry from Iceland (it was on the reading list for Rogue Film School), so that was definitely an influence. Now, I’m pretty obsessed. With everything – the Icelandic people, the economy, the history, politics, landscape. But what I have now is an intellectual and intuitive understanding of the place, being there in September will give us the chance to have a real experience with her.

Film Syrup: How did you and Patrick Kennelly start working together?

Bethany Orr: Patrick is a very exciting director. He and I collaborated on his feature film, Excess Flesh, which shot this past spring. I played the lead role. He knew I was a filmmaker as well as a performer, and the work we did together really transcended any experience I’ve ever had on a project before, my own included. We’ve become good friends since and are looking forward to expanding our creative partnership on the Iceland film. Which, by the way, doesn’t have a name yet. We’re working under “Untitled Iceland Feature.” Maybe our supporters will have a say in that down the road!

Film Syrup: You’re traveling to Iceland right now, but you said in your campaign video that shooting won’t start until 2015 or later. What are you attempting to achieve in these separate travels?

Bethany Orr: It’s a larger project than is realistic for us to crowd-fund a full budget for (we’re not Zach Braff and Veronica Mars), so we’re engaging our fan base for the development funds to help us get this thing off the ground. We have a match-funds offer from an angel investor, which is great. $10,000 will be enough to cover this scouting trip as well as the costs involved with engaging the right producer. Luckily Iceland has a pretty incredible Film Commission, and we have a number of contacts there, so we anticipate having a good experience. It’s an ambitious production no matter which way you cut it. We hope we’ll be back sooner rather than later, but there are a lot of unknowns at this point. One thing we can offer our supporters an insight into the film development process, demystifying things in a way—they will be there for the whole ride. That’s exciting to be able to share.

Film Syrup:What is your involvement with Transatlantic Talent Lab and how will it benefit your creative pursuits?

Bethany Orr: Being accepted to the Lab is a major opportunity. It was specifically set up to give highly focused support to a handful of filmmakers from Europe and the US who are making their first feature. This is my first feature, not Patrick’s, but neither of us have shot out of the country before. And since Iceland is our shooting location, it really does feel like the Lab was tailor made for me and where this project is at. I’m very excited.

Film Syrup: Where did you come up with the ideas featured in your very creative campaign?

Bethany Orr: We’re not running the typical crowd-funding campaign. We worked hard to try and distill the message down to it simplest form, but I don’t know. It’s pretty impossible to communicate this stuff inside me, and anyway that’s what the film is for. So we tried to capture the essence of the script as much as possible by using some unusual, even disturbing imagery in the campaign video. It’s weird. I’ve always had a unique take on the world, and Patrick and I share complementary points of view on a lot of things. Our most meaningful work deals with universal struggles—emotional violence, anxiety, depression, guilt, social acceptance, grief—through a kind of fucked up but visually engaging filter. But I believe audiences still truly want and need to be challenged and can take it.

Film Syrup: Tell us and our viewers more about what you’re offering your contributors in exchange for their support on this campaign.

Bethany Orr: We’ve got some pretty crazy rewards – like playfully sinister cross-stitch art, a short film made just for you, a handmade Viking tomahawk, a 3-night stay at a Hawaiian B&B (in case you’re feeling contrary). If you’re particularly well humored, we’re even offering the special opportunity to “Adopt-a-Dong.” I can’t tell you about that one, you’ll have to look it up yourself!

We’ve also got some tamer ones, like script coverage or some beautiful photographs we’ll be bringing home from Iceland. And for anyone who contributes $25 or more, we’ll make you into a superhero…

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Film Syrup: What is the basic premise of the film and who do you believe will be your most interested viewers?

Bethany Orr: The film is a psycho-sexual drama about four strangers who meet in Iceland to discover their lives are interrelated.

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It’s actually a movie about grief, although you may not be able to tell that exactly from our campaign. We decided to take a humorous approach to the presentation, but the subject matter of the film itself is dead serious. The story is filtered through an absurdist lens, but yeah, it’s about human loss… and freedom. I happen to agree with Shakespeare that the veil between comedy and tragedy is very thin, so I exploit that line an awful lot in my work.

The script uses a lot of stark, visceral imagery, things that really haven’t been seen before. I can’t say too much about the particulars of the plot, but it revolves around the central idea that the grieving inhabit a world of alternate logic. The logline is: Mourning is an island with its own set of rules. There’s nowhere else on earth I can imagine doing more justice to this film than Iceland.

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Film Syrup: What does this film mean to you?

Bethany Orr: It’s all of me. I’m very serious about it. I heard an interview with a guy awhile back who had adopted 13 children from foster care. The interviewer asked if he had a favorite. And he said, “Yes. The one I happen to be with at the moment.” I feel that way. On any given day there’s a dozen ideas screaming around in my brain and body. This is the one that’s telling me it’s ready, so it has my full attention.

In fact, I just found the mission statement I wrote to accompany Agorable in application to Rogue Film School. This will give you a good idea of my approach to creating:

In America you are twice as likely to kill yourself than to be murdered. We are– empirically– our own worst enemies, and we treat each other with emotional and physical violence as an extension of our self-loathing. As an actress I’m drawn to desperate, brutally flawed or flayed characters. As a filmmaker, for me it’s life or death every time. Well-humored, naturally. A little blood never hurt anyone.

I’m captivated by the notion that ANYONE is capable of doing ANYTHING (even committing the most heinous of acts), under the right circumstances. Doubt and fear are our great equalizers; none of us is any better or worse than any other because of what we have or have not yet been driven to do…

(Interview conducted by Film Syrup Managing Editor, Colleen Rowe)

Stony Brook Film Festival Photo Collection

Andrej Landin at Stony Brook Film Festival’s Q & A for his short film: “Into the Silent Sea.” Wednesday, July 23rd, 2014Andrej Landin

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Don Cherel at the Q & A for his short film “Sorta’ Horny”, Tuesday, July 22, 2014

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Film Syrup model & contributor, Paige Skelly with Daphne Rubin-Vega (Smash, RENT [Broadway]) after the showing of “Fall to Rise.”

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Cast members and director, Jayce Bartok during the “Fall to Rise” Q & A. Saturday, July 19th, 2014.

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Interview with Co-Founder & Writer/Director of Congested Cat Productions, Christina Raia

Film Syrup interviewed Co-Founder & Writer/ Director of Congested Cat Productions, Christina Raia, hoping to bring to the surface this resourceful production company’s in-progress projects and creative motives. Read the following series of questions that Film Syrup presented to this independent filmmaker. Congested Cat Productions, based in the New York City area, is made up of an inspiring team of young creatives, including Raia. 

265783_10151092273807919_62753384_oFilm Syrup (FS): Among the short films you are currently working on, which do you foresee your audiences receiving best, relating to most closely, and responding to through social media, writing, etc.?

Christina Raia (CR): I think both shorts, “Not Our Living Room” and “We Had Plans,” will appeal to our audience, but the latter may resonate more with the audience we’ve acquired from our past collaborative work, “Kelsey.” Our fan base for the series was predominately female and within that mostly comprised of lesbians. I think the “Kelsey” fans appreciated that we created a series centered on a lesbian whose sole existence was not wrapped around her sexual orientation. Yes, that was a prominent aspect of her identity, but she was an individual with experiences and emotions that all people go through, who also happened to be gay. We believe in portraying people as people, and expect our audience to look at them that way, and relate to them on an emotional level. We don’t do caricatures or stereotypes. We aim to do the same with both of these shorts. However, since “We Had Plans” is about sisters (while “Not Our Living Room” is about brothers), where one is a lesbian, I believe it’ll draw in our audience a little more.

 

FS: What are your long term creative goals in your management at CongestedCat Productions, LLC? What message do you wish to send to audiences? Do you think this message has previously been achieved?

CR: CongestedCat Productions started as a branded umbrella for me and my collaborators to produce and release our creative content. However, in the three years that we’ve been around, we’ve evolved more into a company that believes in unifying and empowering independent film and filmmakers. We believe in creating and showcasing innovative and original content, not just by ourselves but by our peers as well. This is how our free monthly film screening series, IndieWorks, got started. Ultimately, we believe in portraying and giving voices to underrepresented individuals, both in terms of the content creators and content created. I do believe that is something that sets us apart from other production companies or teams because not many that I’ve encountered have made diversity and challenging social norms a priority.

 

FS: What components of your company do you feel are very essential to the industry it is based in? Is there a gray area where film meets business that takes away from creativity, or that makes business more creative?

CR:Our company was started not as a way to profit, but as a way to create. So, for us, artistic merit and creativity comes first and then it’s a matter of figuring out our strategy in gaining funding and/or an audience for each individual project. I personally never aspired to be on the business side of film but no one was knocking on my door offering to bring my work to fruition; so I had to create that opportunity for myself. Because of this, it’s been a bit of a steep learning curve for me since founding the company three years ago. However, all the team members (we like to think of ourselves as a team rather than just a company) are under 28 years old, which I think benefits us because we’re sort of coming up in this new generation of film making and film technology. We’re very aware of the more traditional methods, but are most open to more innovative ones. Often filmmakers feel pressured to conform to mainstream expectations in terms of creative choices as well more production-based aspects like casting, even in the festival circuit. Since our team aims to make less mainstream, more diverse content, we’re much more into modern digital based distribution platforms and options. For instance, creating a web series worked well with our more youthful appeal and approach both on a creative side as well as in advancing the new-media industry reach of our company.

 

FS:Where did the name “CongestedCat” derive from? Do you think it influences your interested audiences to view your videos, website, or general media? (Cats are apparently in right now).

CR: I founded CongestedCat Productions with my childhood friend Chris Carroll (who mainly acts as resident photographer and graphic designer within the company). When trying to name the company, we knew we wanted the title to have two C’s to represent our names. We tried to think of what we had in common, and the two things that came to mind were that our zodiac sign is cancer and we both love cats. The former wasn’t so appealing name-wise, so we decided to work with the latter. Chris typed into google “C Cat” and the first thing in the drop-down menu was “congested cat.” Chris said it jokingly and we laughed about it for a while, not seriously expecting to use it. However, the more we said it, the more it grew on us. We felt that when heard, the name would likely not be forgotten by people. Additionally, since the intention was for originality with a touch of familiarity to become a bit of a company trademark, we thought it’d work well because it was offbeat in a way that would force people to presume that the content they’d be seeing from us would be anything but generic or predictable.

Because the name came before we really established the team or the content we’d produce, it has very little to do with our target audience. I suppose if people like cats, though, they may be drawn to viewing our work. Our crowdfunding campaign is under the name ‘CongestedCat Shorts’ in order to attract our already existing audience that associates our company name with the content they enjoyed and supported (most notably “Kelsey” but also my upcoming feature ‘Summit,’ past shorts films or IndieWorks).

FS:Do you think the viewership of short films are majorly different from the viewership of full feature length films? Specifically, how does this question apply to CongestedCat Productions?

CR: I think that traditionally people who enjoyed short films were exclusively filmmakers themselves or cinephile types, while feature films appealed to people across the board. However, with Youtube and Vimeo becoming the norm for how people consume media content, there’s a deeper appreciation, I think, for short form content and the ability to tell a compelling story in a short amount of time. For CongestedCat, this is beneficial because we enjoy short form content and believe it’s a useful way to reach people quickly and effectively. With that said, we do have a plethora of stories and styles we want to convey; so feature films are definitely part of our long-term plans. They’ll be more of passion projects that we’ll choose to work on very selectively, and hopefully be able to build an audience around through our future shorts.

 

FS: What is the main premise of IndieWorks? What is the viewer turnout like for the screenings at People’s Lounge & Bar?

CR:IndieWorks is a way to showcase and support local filmmakers in New York City, and create a sense of community in an environment that can often be overly competitive and about stepping on each other. Ideologically, we believe in working toward a middle class of indie film where we’re all supporting each other and rising together (while still showcasing what makes us all unique), rather than hoping to be the chosen one in a group of many. So, for us, we wanted to start an event free of the politics and capitalism that tend to overrun the festival circuit and, of course, Hollywood, and create an environment where we can see and appreciate the work of our peers and allow discussions and networking that could spark collaboration and support. We have one screening of 6 films every month and average about 45 people at each event. The weather often plays a part in the turnout. The least we’ve ever had was 30 people. The most was 120 at our 1st year ‘Best of Fest’ screening 2 months ago.

To find out more about CongestedCat Productions & Indieworks: http://www.congestedcat.com/